Martin Goodman's background is obscure. He was probably born in Brooklyn. He reputedly traveled in hobo camps early in the great Depression. He was then hired as a salesman for Independent News. His colleagues included John Goldwater and Louis Silberkleit, who would both go on to found MLJ Comics (modern Archie Comics).
In 1931, Goodman, Silberkleit and Maurice Coyne co-founded Columbia Publications. It was an early publisher of the so-called pulp magazines. Goodman left the company early to in attempt to create one of his own. Coyne would go on to become the other founder of MLJ Comics. (M for Maurice, L for Louis, and J for John). Goodman started publishing his own pulps in 1933, under corporate names such as "Western Fiction Publishing" and "Red Circle". The inconsistent naming of the publications was considered strategically sound by Goodman. The best remembered character from these days of the company is Ka-Zar, who later became a Marvel character.
By 1939, comic books were all the rage and many publishers jumped on the bandwagon of this craze. Goodman decided to follow this trend. He contracted Funnies Inc. to provide him with material for his first comic book magazine. If it sold well, Goodman would commit himself to publishing more of them. Funnies Inc. was an upstart company whose only previous publication was the one-shot "Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly" (April, 1939) which had introduced Namor and his supporting cast.
The material Funnies Inc. provided to Goodman was published in "Marvel Comics" #1 (October, 1939). It reprinted the first Namor story, colored and with additional pages. Also included were the first stories of the Human Torch, the Angel, Masked Raider and a comic book version of Ka-Zar. The issue was a sales hit with 80,000 copies sold. Goodman authorized a second printing. To his amazement c. 800,000 copies were sold. Goodman naturally authorized the publication of more comic books.
He originally simply bought material from Funnies Inc., which officially still owned Namor and the Human Torch. By the end of 1940, Goodman outright bought the rights to the characters. While starting to hire his own writers and artists. He hired several of the previously freelance artists who worked with Funnies Inc.' Notably including Joe Simon, who became the first editor of the new line. Simon worked with his partner Jack Kirby to produce "Captain America Comics" (March, 1941), another sales hit.
The magazines published by Goodman continued to have inconsistent corporate names. For example the name "Timely Comics" was briefly used in 1942 but quickly abandoned. Comics historians eventually adopted that name to call all Goodman comic book publications of the 1940s. By the 1950s the naming of Goodman publications was becoming a bit more consistent. Many of his comic book publications went by the corporate name "Atlas". Conventional magazines and "men's adventures" titles (successors to the pulps) were published under the corporate name "Magazine Management Company". Paperback books, mostly novels and sport-related nonfiction were published under the corporate name "Lion Books". Until Goodman sold that particular line in 1957.
Goodman authorized his company to publish comic books of virtually every genre available: superheroes, teenage humor, crime fiction, horror, anthropomorphic animals, etc. He was also eager to respond to any ongoing trend by flooding the market with related material. While westerns were popular, "Atlas" would publish dozens of short-lived western magazines. When war stories seemed to sell well, it was time to publish dozens of war-stories magazines. And so on.
Publication was a relative easy matter for Goodman. But distribution would become a major problem in the late 1950s. From 1951 to 1957, Goodman operated his own distribution company. Named "Atlas", which was why that corporate logo was on many of his publications. From November 1956 onward, Goodman trusted in the corporate giant American News Company to distribute his comic books. The Company was the single largest distribution company at the time. But Goodman had picked the wrong time to work with them--American News Company's practices violated a number of laws against monopolies, resulting in a Justice Department lawsuit. In 1957, the the former corporate giant folded.
Goodman was left with no way to distribute his comic books and had to find an emergency solution. He managed to close a contract with Independent News Distributing, the distributing branch of National Comics (modern DC). By its terms Goodman's company could publish 8-12 different series a month. Which would be distributed alongside the various DC comic books.
By necessity this would require to cutting down on the line of magazines. Atlas could publish up to 60 different titles a month. By the new contract "Atlas/Marvel" could publish up to 24 bimonthly series. Less demand for material and a drop in sales forced Goodman to dismiss most of his staff. (One member of his staff whom he did NOT dismiss was Stanley Martin Lieber, who in time was destined to take over for him.) This contract remained in effect to 1969. But the company had a number of sales hits throughout the 1960s, allowing it to eventually renegotiate the contract and expand its publications.
Goodman continued to own Marvel until 1968. He then sold most of his small publishing empire to the "Perfect Film and Chemical Corporation," and Marvel became part of a subsidiary called the Magazine Management Company. By terms of the contract Goodman would remain publisher of both Marvel Comics and their line of "men's magazines, which expanded inn the late 1960s and early 1970s to include "erotic magazines" (porn) such as Stag and For Men Only.
Goodman retired from Marvel Comics in 1972. Taking more of a consultant position to the other publications. Due to beneficial terms in various corporate deals since 1968, Goodman could retire in wealth. But he had an expectation from his corporate associates. He wanted to see his son Charles "Chip" Goodman installed as editor of Marvel Comics. Alas, Chip was regarded as a non-entity by both corporate executives and the Marvel staff, and the request was ignored. Instead, Stan Lee took over first as chief editor, and then as publisher, of Marvel Comics, and remained with it for years.
Goodman retaliated by returning to action. He launched a new comic book line under the names Atlas Comics and Seaboard Periodicals in 1974 and 1975. While Chip was nominally in charge, Martin continued making many of the real decisions. He offered high-payment rates to well-known creators. He also offered them creative rights over the characters they would produce. This was a pioneering decision, and among those interested were such names as Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Russ Heath, John Severin, Alex Toth and Wally Wood. Ditko and Wood, in particular, were wooed away from Marvel to join Goodman's company.
A total of 23 comic book series and five black-and-white comic magazines were published. But their originality and quality were questionable, none of them lasting more than four issues. Atlas/Seaboard also acquired the pornographic magazine Swank in this period, though it, naturally, did not include comic material.
The low sales necessitated the folding of Atlas/Seaboard, and Goodman retired in defeat. He remained a publisher or co-publisher for porn magazines at least to 1977. Chip took over the line of porn left by his father and continued to publish Stag, Swank, and various lesser known publications to c. 1993, mostly under the corporate name of Swank Publications. That year both long-lived magazines were sold to the Magna Publishing Group. Stag apparently did not survive the 1990s, whereas Swank was still an ongoing publication in 2009.
Martin Goodman himself died on June 6, 1992, at the age of 84 years.
But though Goodman himself may be dead, his legacy lives on with Marvel Comics, Swank and recently with renewed interest in the Seaboard characters.