With the 1950s backlash against comics, led by the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, and propagated during the televised debates about comics leading to juvenile delinquency, as part of the Kefauver hearings, several publishing houses folded. This caused a problem for the printers, as detailed by Joe Simon:
- "Comic book publishers were dropping out of the business in wholesale numbers. The printers grew frantic. It was a necessity of their business that the presses keep running. When the presses were silent, printing companies still had to pay overhead, so they were more than willing to back a new comics organization if it showed promise."
George Dougherty Jr., a paper and printing salesman for (among others) Crestwood/Prize encouraged Simon and Kirby to start their own company. The two had long wanted to self-publish, and may have been facing problems from their then-publisher Crestwood over royalties. They further wished to "create comics for what was perceived to be an adult market; the demographics of the day suggested a comics-reading 12-year-old of 1940 was now a 25-year-old comics reader of 1953".
Mainline Publications, Inc. (or Mainline Comics) was set up in late 1953/early 1954, "in the offices of Harvey Comics at 1860 Broadway," (unofficially at first) with Nevin Fidler, (previously an editor with Prize Western and office manager at Crestwood) as their business manager. Fidler "dealt directly with the distributors and other vendors necessary to make a comic book company function," and also as something of a buffer between Simon & Kirby and Crestwood, for whom they were still producing work under contract (not least in case their venture failed). Deciding that readers enjoyed westerns (and as Shane had recently won an Oscar), Mainline began publishing Bullseye: Western Scout. Since EC and Atlas were having success with war comics, Simon and Kirby created Foxhole - promoting it "as being written and drawn by actual veterans". As their earlier Romance comic Young Love was still being widely imitated, its creators devised In Love, while their fourth title Police Trap similarly "mimicked EC's crime comics," while claiming that its stories were "based on [genuine] accounts from police officers."
The duo worked on Mainline's titles, while continuing to create stories for Crestwood/Prize, and signed a deal with distributor Leader News Co., which also carried Bill Gaines' EC comics, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito's self-published Mr. Mystery Mr. Universe (MR Publications), Get Lost! (MikeRoss Publications), "and many other titles through a still little-understood quasi-partnership with Stanley Morse." Despite Mainline's dissimilarity to the beleaguered EC (and other) which were then under constant attack, copies of Bullseye and Foxhole were reportedly used as exhibits by Wertham in the Senate hearings against comics, and seen by millions through the nationwide television coverage of the same.
In a "clever" attempt to save on the cost of original artwork, Simon decided to recycle an earlier story (published by parent company Crestwood), providing a new story and title to fit the existing art. This was spotted by a Crestwood employee, and legal advice taken over possible repercussions. Mainline's contract, however, did not prohibit such an action, so Crestwood's retaliation came in the form of delaying monies owed to the two for their work. In November 1954, Simon & Kirby's lawyer arranged for an accountant to audit Crestwood, leading to a meeting between, on one side: Simon, Kirby, their attorney Morris Eisenstein and their accountant Bernard Gwirtzman; and on the other Crestwood publishers Teddy Epstein and Paul Bleier as well as general manager M. R. Reese.
Eisenstein demanded monies owed his clients by "Crestwood, Feature Publications, and Headline Publications, among others," entailing "advances, royalties, and other monies for Fighting American, Young Brides, Black Magic, Young Love, and Young Romance." Epstein countered that all monies had been paid, and no royalties withheld, so Gwirtzman clarified that the claimed funds derived largely from overseas sales, and that over the previous seven years the total was around $130,000. Crestwood's attorney responded that the company couldn't pay that much, and, were it to go to court "would simply close down." Offered a $10,000 settlement and the recently-delayed payments, Simon and Kirby returned to working on Mainline, but under increasing strained circumstances - even the Simon/Kirby relationship was now fraught, the two "barely [speaking] while working in the same room."
With the continuing attacks of (particularly) Wertham and Senator Estes Kefauver (D-Tennessee), publishers continued to fold, "and the number of comics published dropped from 650 to 250." Carmine Infantino, a friend of Kirby's who then worked for DC recalled that Jack Liebowitz (publisher of National Comics), Martin Goodman (of Timely-Atlas Comics) "and the people from Archie [MLJ Comics], got together and created the Comics Code, which promised parents they would have no more blood and stuff like that." With the advent of the code effectively gutting EC Comics (who commentators have suggested was the main target of the Wertham-led attacks), a knock-on reaction threatened the whole comics industry generally, and impacted on many areas specifically. Distributor Leader News "no longer had enough money to advance to small companies like Mainline," and with its implosion brought about the end of Simon and Kirby's company in late 1956.
The unpublished materials for Mainline's titles were sold off to Charlton Comics, who published them and, in some cases, continued the titles under new names. With the demise of Mainline, the long-standing partnership between Simon and Kirby also ended, although they would collaborate on a few more comics. Joe Simon left comics for a time to take up a role in advertising, and Kirby returned to National (DC) Comics, taking with him "the final project of the Simon & Kirby team" (with Simon's blessing) - Challengers of the Unknown, which appeared in DC's Showcase #6 (Jan-Feb 1957).
Mainline only publishished 4 titles:
- Bullseye: Western Scout (western), 5 issues. Charlton published #6-7
- Foxhole (war), 4 issues. Charlton published #5-7
- In Love (romance), 4 issues. Charlton published #5-6, then renamed it "I Love You")
- Police Trap (crime), 4 issues. Charlton published #5-6
- ↑ Simon, Joe, with Jim Simon, The Comic Book Makers (Crestwood), quoted by Robert Lee Beerbohm in "The Mainline Story", Jack Kirby Collector #25
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Ro, Ronin. Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the American Comic Book Revolution (Bloomsbury, 2004)
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "The Mainline Story" from Jack Kirby Collector #25, by Robert Lee Beerbohm. Accessed March 26, 2008
- ↑ Also spelled "Blyer" by Ronin. An Interim Report on "Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency" listed Prize Comic Group as owned by "Michael M. Bleier" and "Paul Epstein"; Ron Goulart has an entry for "Teddy Epstein" in two of his comics histories, however.