Monday, December 21, 2009

Ghost Rider In Australia


The history of Ghost Rider in Australia is a slightly frustrating one. Despite some classic tales being reprinted, there remains a large portion of the title that never saw the light of day in an Australian reprint comic, instead, luckily, these issues were available in their original, American Marvel, form at newsagents and specialty shops during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Created by writer Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog, Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5, dated August 1972, to graduate to its own solo title in September 1973. The theory that the character was spawned from an earlier Friedrich concept, Hell-Rider, which was published by Skywald and drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, is supported by similarities between the two characters, and there is a strong argument that the concept of Ghost Rider was the next step in the evolution of the Hell-Rider. Marvel assigned the name, Ghost Rider, in order to lock up the rights to the name in the same vein as they did Captain Marvel. This was necessary as the company had discovered that they didn’t have the full rights to the original Ghost Rider, a western character as developed by Vin Sullivan and Dick Ayers in the 1950s, as they had previously been led to believe. By creating an all new character the name could be used and reserved while the rights to the pre-existing character were sorted out. Once the rights were cleared up the original Ghost Rider was renamed, first as Night Rider and then as the Phantom Rider. In a spirit of conciliation the original Ghost Rider would meet the new Ghost Rider in issue #50 of the first series.

Despite being a perfect character for to be featured in the glut of horror and fantasy titles in Australia in the early 1970s Ghost Rider wasn’t picked up for reprinting until Newton Comics acquired the rights to reprint Marvel. K.G. Murray, via its Kenmure imprint, had been sporadically reprinting Marvel for the first part of the 1970s, after Horwitz, who initially had the rights to reprint Marvel in Australia, had ceased. Oddly enough Page, an imprint of Yaffa which will be discussed in detail shortly, had acquired the rights to reprint the Horwitz material, and by default Marvel (westerns and war), meaning that two companies were reprinting Marvel in the early part of the ‘70s. K.G. Murray, via it's Kenmure imprint had focused on reprinting predominantly fantasy and action titles and had at least four dedicated titles that featured Marvel. These titles were Climax Adventure Comic, a few issues featured stories from Conan, Daredevil, Yellow Claw and Tales To Astonish. Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu began around 1974 and reprinted martial arts stories, mainly Shang-Chi: Master Of Kung Fu stories from the USA Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine. Savage Tales was probably the best known of all the titles and contained a healthy mix of fantasy alongside horror and super-hero, in the form of Conan, Kull, Dr Strange, Thor, all alongside stories from Tales To Astonish and Chamber Of Chills and the occasional horror story from Charlton. The fourth title, Super Giant, was probably the longest running of all the K.G. Murray/Kenmure titles with Marvel as the focus. However, Super Giant started out reprinting Marvel, but once Newton entered the scenes the title became a haven for Charlton and ACG reprints. The title ran for twenty seven issues, but only twenty one had Marvel content. Super Giant focused ion reprinting classic monster and horror stories from Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Steve Ditko, via the pages of Tales Of Suspense, Amazing Adult Fantasy, Strange Tales and Tales To Astonish amongst others, but also featured more mainstream fare as Thor, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil, Iron Man, Werewolf By Night, Warlock, The Incredible Hulk and more. The interesting point to note is that K.G. Murray/Kenmure featured fairly recent reprints for the time. In the case of some of the Conan stories the reprints would have been appearing at roughly the same time as then USA originals were arriving into Australia.


Newton Comics acquired the rights to reprint Marvel in late 1974, with a view to publishing by early 1975. This goal was reached and one of the first titles published was Dr Strange. It was in the pages of Dr Strange that the first four issues of Ghost Rider ran as a back-up feature. These reprints were fairly untampered with, although Newton had the frustrating trend of suddenly cutting stories off halfway through in order to fit them into an eight to ten page back-up. Once the Newton Dr Strange ceased publication in January 1976 (as a direct result of the now infamous Newton Comic purge of December 1975) Ghost Rider was also scrapped. Due to the hodgepodge way the stories were published, it took eight issues of Dr Strange to reprint the first four issues of Ghost Rider.

Strangely enough Newton didn’t reprint any of the earlier Ghost Rider issues published in Marvel Spotlight and instead focused on reprinting the first four issues of the main title. This might have been due to the lack of suitable source material at the time, as Newton were dependant upon the distributor/art agency Transworld to supply stats and art as required, and as has been discovered in research elsewhere, Newton had a tendency to publish any and all the material supplied by Transworld (and Marvel). Newton never announced a Ghost Rider title proper, nor where there any moves to ever create one, and no further Ghost Rider stories appeared in any other Newton comic so it is likely that they only ever had access to the first four stories.

Newton Comics published the following Ghost Rider stories:
Doctor Strange #4
A Woman Possessed by Gary Friedrich & Mike Ploog (Ghost Rider #1) (Part I)
Doctor Strange #4a
A Woman Possessed by Friedrich and Ploog (Ghost Rider #1) (Part II)
Doctor Strange #5
Shake Hands With Satan by Friedrich, Jim Mooney & Syd Shores (Ghost Rider #2) (Part I)
Doctor Strange # 6
Shake Hands With Satan by Friedrich, Mooney & Shores (Ghost Rider #2) (Part II)
Doctor Strange #7
Wheels On Fire by Friedrich, Mooney & John Tartaglione (Ghost Rider #3) (Part I)
Doctor Strange #8
Wheels On Fire by Friedrich, Mooney & Tartaglione (Ghost Rider #3) (Part II)
Doctor Strange #9
Death Stalks The Demolition Derby by Friedrich, Mooney & Vince Colletta (Ghost Rider #4) (Part I)
Doctor Strange #10
Death Stalks The Demolition Derby by Friedrich, Mooney & Colletta (Ghost Rider #4) (Part II)


Once Newton ceased all publication the Yaffa Publishing Group then stepped in to reprint Marvel within Australia. In addition to reprinting USA publishers, Yaffa had acquired rights and material from Australian publisher Horwitz, who had ceased publishing mainstream comic books. Established by David Yaffa in 1928 to sell comic strips, news stories and other editorial content produced by America’s King Features Syndicate to Australian newspaper and magazine publishers, The Yaffa Syndicate had acquired the rights to reprint Marvel Comics in Australia from 1976/77 through to approximately 1982/83 when those rights were taken over by Federal Publishing. The bulk of these reprints came via an imprint called Page Publishing, which also published magazines. Page Publications was founded in the early 1960s as a separate publishing entry to the Yaffa Syndicate. It began to publish comic books in the mid 1960s and continued until the early 1990s. During its publishing life, Page reprinted comics from companies as diverse as Marvel, Charlton, Skywald, Atlas and Archie.

Yaffa/Page began reprinting Ghost Rider stories in a logical order, as they did the bulk of the material that they reprinted. They overlooked the first few stories from Marvel Spotlight, as did Newton previously, and instead concentrated on reprinting the USA title in numerical order. Yaffa/Page published nine issues of Ghost Rider, from 1977 through to approximately 1982. The oddity here appears to leap in issue numbers. There appears to have been no issue #6 of the title printed, despite an issue #5 and an issue #7. The first five issues were in an oversized, magazine format, the last four were smaller, digest sized issues. Each issue would feature three stories, printed in black and white, and often with covers reprinted inside without any copy.

The first five, magazine sized issues, were:
Ghost Rider #1
A Woman Possessed by Gary Friedrich, Tom Sutton & Syd Shores (Ghost Rider #1)
Shake Hands With Satan by Friedrich, Jim Mooney & Shores (Ghost Rider #2)
Wheels On Fire by Friedrich, Mooney & John Tartaglione (Ghost Rider #3)
Ghost Rider #2
Death Stalks Demolition Derby by Friedrich, Mooney & Vince Colletta (Ghost Rider #4)
And Vegas Writhes In Flame by Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Mooney & Sal Trapani (Ghost Rider #5)
Zodiac II by Tony Isabella, Friedrich, Mooney & Trapani (Ghost Rider #6)
Ghost Rider #3
And Lose His Own Soul by Isabella, Mooney & Jack Abel (Ghost Rider #7)
Satan Himself by Isabella, Mooney & Trapani (Ghost Rider #8)
The Hell-Bound Hero by Isabella, Mooney & Trapani (Ghost Rider #9)
Ghost Rider #4
Ghost Rider by Friedrich & Mike Ploog (Marvel Spotlight #5)
Desolation Run by Isabella, Sal Buscema, Tartaglione & George Roussos (Ghost Rider #11)
Phantom Of The Killer Skies by Isabella, Frank Robbins, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito (Ghost Rider #12)
Ghost Rider #5
You've Got A Second Chance, Johnny Blaze by Isabella, George Tuska & Colletta (Ghost Rider #13)
A Specter Stalks The Soundstage by Isabella, Tuska & Colletta (Ghost Rider #14)
Vengeance On The Ventura Freeway by Isabella, Bob Brown & Don Heck (Ghost Rider #15)

The second four, digest sized, issues were:
Ghost Rider #7
Blood In The Water by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta (Ghost Rider #16)
Prelude To A Private Armageddon by Isabella, Robbins & Colletta (Ghost Rider #17)
Salvation Run by Isabella, Robbins & Colletta (Ghost Rider #18)
Ghost Rider #8
Resurrection by Isabella, Robbins & Colletta (Ghost Rider #19)
Two Against Death by Wolfman, John Byrne & Don Perlin (Ghost Rider #20)
Deathplay by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane & Sam Grainger (Ghost Rider #21)
Ghost Rider #9
Nobody Beats The Enforcer by Conway, Heck & Keith Pollard (Ghost Rider #22)
Wrath Of The Water Wizard by Jim Shooter, Heck & Don Newton (Ghost Rider #23)
I, The Enforcer by Shooter, Heck & Dan Green (Ghost Rider #24)
Ghost Rider #10
Menace Is A Man Called Malice by Shooter, Heck & Tony DeZunigia (Ghost Rider #25)
A Doom Named Dr Druid by Shooter, Perlin & Sam Grainger (Ghost Rider #26)
At The Mercy Of The Manticore by Shooter, Perlin & Green (Ghost Rider #27)

In addition to these issues, Yaffa/Page also reprinted all 17 issues of The Champions, a team book that also featured the Ghost Rider. These 17 issues were condensed into six individual reprint books (a Super-Villain Team-Up story fleshed the last issue out) which will be looked at shortly. By the time issue #10 was released, Yaffa had decided to wind the Page imprint up and all Marvel reprints had ceased. Interestingly enough the title had almost caught up with the USA original, in terms of what was available at newsagents in Australia at the time (American comics generally appeared approx 2-3 months after their release in the USA).


In 1982 Yaffa/Page relinquished the license to reprint Marvel Comics in Australia. Into the void came Federal Publishing. The Federal Publishing Company (FPC) was formed when Hannanprint bought a number of publications from the Packer Family's ACP Publishing. Part of this expansion by Hannaprint included the K.G. Murray comic line, which meant that, for the first time since the early 1970s, both Marvel and DC Comics were being reprinted in Australia. Unlike the early ‘70s though, the two lines would remain separate, although ads for both appeared at random. The result of this relaunch was that all the Marvel Comics (and DC for that matter) were re-started with first issues. Federal also published in both colour and black and white and the emphasis was on recently printed issues, as opposed to reprinting Silver and early Bronze Age material. Prices for Federal Comics started at $0.99 and gradually increased to a cap of $1.25. As with the Yaffa/Page reprints, most of the Federal Comics featured three individual stories in their black and white comics, and one and a half to two stories in their colour comics. Much like their predecessors, Federal also chopped and changed panels to ensure that stories fit into the required page count. This would, at times, mean that three pages would be reduced to fit into two, with reduced panels (mainly splash pages and large panels). In some cases title splash pages were eliminated entirely to give the stories both a seamless feel and a reduced page count. This was most notable in the last issue of Ghost Rider (Federal, issue #6) when all three stories were edited down to one story, minus two splash pages, which gave the issue a sense of continuity that would not have been immediately evident in the sequential issues of the USA originals. Fortunately though, Ghost Rider didn’t suffer as much as other Federal titles when it came to cutting down the individual stories to fit into the required page count and format, which, for the Marvel reprints, were a standard sixty four pages per issue. The other bonus with Federal was that, similar to the Yaffa/Page titles, there was no advertising on the inside pages, unlike the original American counterparts.

Keeping in format with other titles published at the time, Federal ignored where the Yaffa/Page reprints left off and instead began issues that were roughly six to eight months old. This gave them enough leeway, with their policy of three issues in one title, to keep to a regular schedule and also managed to keep the title fresher. The downside to this was that Federal was clearly relying on readers not having already bought the relatively recent USA originals, or, if they had, not minding that they were doubling up. The benefit was that shortly after Federal began to reprint Ghost Rider Marvel relaunched the title with a new creative team, consisting initially of writer Roger Stern, penciler Bob Budiansky and inker Joe Rubenstein. Rubenstein would last for one issue before being replaced by Dave Simons to create one of the best known creative teams on the title for the latter part of the run. Simons left the title after six issues to be replaced by Kevin Dzuban and Stern would also bow out to be replaced by J.M.DeMatties, both of whom remained with the book until cancellation.

The Federal reprints were standard comic book size.

Ghost Rider #1
Ghost Rider by Gary Friedrich & Mike Ploog (Marvel Spotlight #5)
The Kiss Of Doom by Michael Fleisher, Jack Sparling & Tom Sutton (Ghost Rider #64)
The Lair Of the Loan Shark by Fleisher, Sparling & Sutton (Ghost Rider #65)
Ghost Rider #2
The Witch In The Whirlwind by Fleisher & Sutton (Ghost Rider #66)
Holding On To Sally by J.M. DeMatteis, Don Perlin, Tom Sutton & Dave Simons (Ghost Rider #67)
The Curse Of Jonathan Blaze by Roger Stern, Bob Budiansky & Josef Rubinstein (Ghost Rider #68)
Ghost Rider #3
Personal Demons by Stern, Budiansky & Simons (Ghost Rider #69)
Freaks by Stern, Budiansky & Simons (Ghost Rider #70)
The Tears Of Adam Henderson by DeMatteis, Perlin & Danny Bulandi (Ghost Rider #71)
Ghost Rider #4
Temptations by Stern, Budiansky & Simons (Ghost Rider #72)
Tears of a Clown by Stern, Budiansky & Simons (Ghost Rider #73)
Remnants! by DeMatteis, Budiansky & Simons (Ghost Rider #74)
Ghost Rider #5
Beware The Steel Wind by DeMatteis, Budiansky & Simons (Ghost Rider #75)
Ghost Rider Unleashed by DeMatteis , Budiansky & Kevin Dzuban (Ghost Rider #77)
The Empire of Sleep by DeMatteis, Budiansky & Dzuban (Ghost Rider #78)
Ghost Rider #6
Shades Of Gray! by DeMatteis, Budiansky & Dzuban (Ghost Rider #79)
Stained Glass and Shadows by DeMatteis, Budiansky & Dzuban (Ghost Rider #80)
The End of the Ghost Rider by DeMatteis, Budiansky, Dzuban & Budilandi (Ghost Rider #81)

Despite there being ample material for Federal to draw upon to reprint, the decision was made to cancel the title with the last stories, keeping it in line with the USA original series. This means that no issue between the last Yaffa/Page reprint (issue #27) and the first Federal issue (issue #64, not counting the reprint of issue #1) was ever reprinted in Australia. Once Federal was wrapped up, in early 1986, Marvel reprints ceased to be published in Australia until the 2000s. Sadly no Ghost Rider stories would be reprinted in Australia after Federal.


Anonymous said...

Danny, a small correction, there was no Climax Adventure Album from K.G. Murray, only Climax Adventure Comic. Also, I note you refer to Kenmure as an imprint of Murray. I understood Kenmure Press Pty Ltd were simply printers used by Murray. Cheers, Spiros.

Daniel Best said...


I believe that Kenmure were an imprint to K.G. Murray in the same way Page was to Yaffa. After all - Kenmure = Ken Murray.

I'm sure that James over at the Aust DC site will correct one of us.



Anonymous said...

Danny, I take your point that Kenmure is affiliated to Murray in some way, but I think of Planet Comics and Murray Romance Library and Colour Comics Pty Ltd as Murray imprints. I've only seen Kenmure mentioned in the indicia as the printer of Murray comics. Have you seen Kenmure referenced in Murray comics in any other manner or capacity? Cheers, Spiros.

Scott said...

Interesting read, even though I've never seen any Australian comics. One question, though: are you speculating on the reasons for Marvel creating a second GR, or has there been documentation that they were concerned about rights to the name? I've not heard that before.

James said...

I have to agree with Spiros -- I've never seen anything that led me to consider Kenmure an imprint or brand for the KGM output.

I've only ever seen it associated with the phrase "Printed by Kenmure Press Pty Ltd". The printer varied over time with comics "printed by" various companies (eg, "Associated Newspapers Ltd", "Sungravure Ltd", "The Argus and Australiasian"). Kenmure was common, and as you say, owned/run by Murray. (I've never looked into the details.)

The various brandings generally had a logo on the cover (eg, Planet Comics).

The only exception I can think of is a variety of non-Super Hero comics (romance, western, horror) that had in the indicia "for the proprietors Sport Magazine Pty Ltd".

One of these days I'll do some work to find out how that differed from "the proprietors Colour Comics Pty. Ltd"--and how it related to "produced by The K. G. Murray Publishing". It was a name also used for Murray's sporting publications-- magazines, not comics (eg, "Australian speedway", " Australian Motor Racing").

Comics published under the "Sport Magazine" name for part of their run included Devil Doone, Ringo, Doomsday, and Secret Dreams Romances.

A couple of further footnotes to your article:

* The earlier Dick Ayers "Ghost Rider" was extensively printed in many early KG Murray anthology and western titles.

* The Marvel stories of Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu were only reprinted in early issues of KG Murray's Kung Fu. By 1975/6 this series was printing European material from the Spanish Selectiones Ilustradas agency. The change seems to coincide with Newton gaining the rights to reprint Marvel.

And... if anyone has further information on early KG Murray Kung Fu issues, let me know. I'm a bit sparse on info at


Daniel Best said...

I'm happy to concede the point, but it was my belief that Kenmure was an imprint. Certain it was owned by Murray, as you've pointed out James.

As for Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu - keep watching James, that was going to be my next article - I have what I expect is the complete run, Newton, Murray and Yaffa.