Elusive UK Editions of Planet Comics Including Matt Baker, at Auction

For a company that published 24 short-lived comic book titles 1944-1954, UK publisher Locker is seemingly as obscure as they come.  Publishing UK editions of comics material from publishers like Fiction House, Quality Comics, St John, and possibly others along with some comic books apparently using their own material, very little has been documented about the specifics of much of Locker's comic book output.  But perhaps the best-known comic book title that Locker published was a UK edition of the iconic American science fiction series Planet ComicsPlanet Comics collectors consider the Locker editions to be scarce, and Planet Comics #4 (Locker) also contains a spectacular Mysta of the Moon story by Matt Baker. There are two issues of the five-issue run with Planet Comics #4 (Locker, 1951) Condition: VG+ and Planet Comics #5 (Locker, 1951) Condition: VG+ up for auction in the 2022 May 29-30 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122222 at Heritage Auctions.

Planet Comics #5 (Locker, 1951)
Planet Comics #5 (Locker, 1951)

"Locker" is actually publisher R & L Locker, run by the husband and wife team of Raymond Locker and Lilian Locker.  Further, there are actually at least five interconnected companies involved in the Locker publishing operations: R & L Locker, Archer Press Limited, Harborough Publishing, Verlock Press, and Trent Book Company Limited — and possibly a sixth company called Leisure Library (NSFW link) that published Archer Press material in digest form in the U.S.  The operation is best known for its paperback publishing businesses, which focused on genre fiction and the kind of racy thrillers with sexy covers that rose to prominence in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  As noted genre publishing historian Richard Bleiler put it, "The British paperback publisher R & L Locker was established in 1944 by Ramond and Lilian Locker. In 1948, the Lockers acquired Harborough Publishing, also in 1948, they established Archer Press. From 1944 to 1954 the three presses published nearly 300 books, the majority of which were soft-core erotica but approximately 17 percent of which were crime and mysteries. Only Harborough Publishing survived, starting publication (in 1957) of Ace Books."

Interestingly, in November 1950, the offices of two companies run by Raymond and Lilian Locker, Archer Press and Trent Book Company, were raided with 15,000 copies of a number of books and magazines purported to contain obscene material seized and ordered to be destroyed.  Trent Book Company was described as a wholesaler at this time, but perhaps unsurprisingly the Lockers kept it around for other uses at a later date.

While Bleiler's Reference Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction and Steve Holland's The Mushroom Jungle: a History of Postwar Paperback Publishing have both R & L Locker and Archer Press ceasing operations in January 1954, it seems this is not strictly true.  But the January 1954 period is relevant here, as it's the date that one of the Lockers' racy paperback publishing rivals, Reginald Carter of New Fiction Press (and related companies) was tried, convicted, and sent to jail under the UK's Obscene Publications Act for publication of several Hank Janson novels.  Carter's publishing output was highly similar to the Lockers', with both regularly using prolific good girl cover artist Reginald Heade.  This trial led to others 1954-1955 and seems to have been precipitated at least in part by the brutal 1953 murder of a five-year-old child by a 24-year-old man named John WilkinsonAmong the reading materials found in Wilkinson's room was a copy of the Hank Janson novel Vengeance, which sparked considerable public sentiment against the Janson books and similar material.

The Lockers' misgivings about the paperback market must have been short-lived, because they resurfaced with Verlock Press the next year in 1955 publishing the same type of material, and also transformed Harborough Publishing into Ace Books (confusingly, no relation to the U.S. paperback publisher of that name) in 1957.  And despite ceasing paperback publishing operations with R & L Locker and Archer Press Ltd, it appears that the Lockers may have continued to publish comic books using those companies past that January 1954 date.  Relevant to our Planet Comics discussion here, it's notable that GCD (and the Heritage auction listing) dates of 1951 for these issues are incorrect.  The Planet Comics #4 Locker edition has an ad for a UK edition of St. John's Three Dimension Comics #1 on the back cover.  This was cover-dated in the U.S. for September 1953.  The Planet Comics #5 Locker edition has an ad for the UK edition of the pulp digest Space Science Fiction Volume 2 #2 on its back cover, which was also cover-dated in the U.S. for September 1953.  Given these dates for U.S. versions, it's likely that the UK editions were published a short time later, placing the end of the Locker Planet Comics run towards the end of 1953, and perhaps into early 1954.

It appears that they then used Archer Press Ltd to publish comic books from similar publishing sources shortly afterward, starting sometime in 1955.  Again here, the GCD dates appear to be incorrect, given the presence of the Comics Code seal on all covers (interestingly enough, since they are obviously UK publications, indicating perhaps that the material was prepared in the U.S. via Editors Press Service) and material from 1955 U.S. publications on the interiors. And somewhere in there, Trent Book Company comes back into play to briefly publish more Fiction House material along with some DC Comics romance material.  Once again here, the GCD dates look a little off, but there's not much to go on in this case.  At the least, there's some 1955-1956 material present.

All of which is to say, a large portion of the Lockers' publishing output is difficult to get at best, and this is particularly true of their comic book output.   A little-known UK version of an iconic science fiction series, there are two issues of the five-issue run with Planet Comics #4 (Locker, 1951) Condition: VG+ and Planet Comics #5 (Locker, 1951) Condition: VG+ up for auction in the 2022 May 29-30 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122222 at Heritage Auctions.

Planet Comics #4 (Locker, 1951)
Planet Comics #4 (Locker, 1951)

Planet Comics #4 (Locker, 1951) Condition: VG+. UK edition of issue #4. Not listed in Overstreet.

Planet Comics #5 (Locker, 1951) Condition: VG+. Joe Doolin cover. UK edition of issue #5. Not listed in Overstreet.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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