James Galton, Savior of Marvel Comics in the 1970s, Dies at 92

Under his watch, the company launched an animation studio in Los Angeles with Stan Lee at the helm and acquired rights to 'Star Wars.'
Courtesy Sayles & Winnikoff Communications
James Galton

James Galton, the former president and CEO of Marvel Entertainment Group who is widely credited with saving the famed comic book company from bankruptcy in the 1970s, has died. He was 92.

Galton died Monday surrounded by his family at his home in Naples, Fla., a family spokesman announced.

When Galton took the job at Marvel in 1975 after he was fired from his post as president of a paperback publishing company owned by CBS, the company was struggling and estimated to be worth about $12 million.

"My friends told me, 'The comic industry is dead. Don't do this,'" he said in a 2010 interview with the Naples Daily News. "But I had four kids — two in private school, two in college — and two mortgages. I had to take the job."

Galton cleaned up the company's distribution woes, selling directly to the consumer and comic-book collectors' shops instead of using the newsstand model, and exposed characters like Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man to international audiences.

Perhaps most importantly, Marvel under his watch acquired the rights to make Star Wars comic books and in 1980 launched an animation studio in Los Angeles, with Marvel icon Stan Lee heading west to head operations there.

Galton failed to get Marvel into the movie business, but when he left his post in 1991 to pursue special projects related to overseas expansion, the company was said to be turning an annual profit of more than $70 million and was the largest comic company in the world, publishing more than 1 million copies a year.

(In the interim, Marvel had been bought by New World Entertainment in 1986 and then sold again three years later to Ronald Perelman’s Andrews Group for $82.5 million.)

Marvel would file for bankruptcy protection in 1996, but in 2009, the Walt Disney Co. purchased the company for $4 billion.

Galton always maintained that comic books were a legitimate form of literary expression that deserved respect, and he used the medium to advance social causes like energy conservation, civil and women’s rights, child abuse prevention and universal literacy.

A native of Lawrence, N.Y., Galton graduated from Antioch College in Ohio in 1946 and became an accountant. He worked as an auditor at Main & Co. and as a treasurer at Cortes & Enloe Advertising and Popular Library (Pines Publications), where he rose to become president in 1968.

Survivors include his wife of almost 50 years, Lydia; his children Beth, Jean, Maggie and Edward; and his grandchildren Ben, Nora, Claire, Sofia, Katya and Nadia.

Donations in his name may be made to the Naples Botanical Garden and Literacy Volunteers of Collier County. A private memorial will be held at a later date.

 

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