Wednesday, 1 January 2020

From Cents to Pence! - 2020 update: a story (now) told in 36 chapters!

Since returning to work on From Cents to Pence! with a vengeance in 2018, various discoveries have lead to the expansion of several chapters, and in some cases where they were becoming too unwieldy - and as noted in an earlier post here - sometimes cleaved them in two (or more). In the past year this has happened several times again, increasing the previous of 34 chapters up to 46 in all. As you can imagine, this alone has it made it a busy year, so this has been the first opportunity I've found to finally fill you on what I've been up to over the past year or so.

Oh, and there was also an article on the secret history of Transworld, and its connection to Marvel, that Roy Thomas kindly ran in the Stan Lee tribute edition of Alter Ego (#161) a month or so ago, itself a prequel to an earlier piece that appeared in Back Issue (#63) a few years ago (both from the ever-expanding TwoMorrows Publishing stable). I've included links to the sale pages for both of these issues, should you wish to get a taster for what's to come in From Cents to Pence!

The most recent cause for a further, more modest, expansion in the number of chapters - after those caused by Captain Britain updates and a huge development of the Overkill era - was the discovery of an on-line archive for the entire run of The Real Ghostbusters. I'd been previously unable to say much about the comic, as it wasn't a title that I'd bought at the time, mainly because it contained no mainstream Marvel Universe material unlike the supporting strips in the Transformers and Thundercats etc., and of course I had no idea that I'd start working on any such book until a few years later, and by then it was far too late.

I've almost finished slotting in all of the TRG material now - from a considered overview of the comic's changing contents, its creators, and some previously published extracted interview material - so I should soon be able to return to the final two outstanding areas: the most recent Panini chapters at that end (which need tidying up and extending to a conclusion reaching the end of 2019), and an overhaul of the Doctor Who content to introduce some more personal research on another less-written about side of the magazine (the results of a year-and-a-half-long on-and-off analysis of the title and all the Specials).

For now, here's how the 46 chapters fall, still replete with newly uncovered information from personal archives and copious interviews with the personnel involved with the British division from its origins in both the New York and High Holborn/Sevenoaks Bullpens (and then back to London again through the Kentish Town/Redan Place/Arundel House years before heading back to Kent again)...

1-4: A brief history of Marvel in America; Marvel in British comics up to 1970.

5-19: The secret origin of British Marvel; The confluence of initially unrelated business decisions that led to the formation of the UK wing, and how Stan Lee, Albert Landau and (yes) Chip Goodman became involved; a tale of two cities - how it was all run under the watchful gaze of Sol Brodsky and Ray Wergan; the backstory behind all the comics they produced from 1972-9.

20-26: The Marvel Revolution!; The inside line on the whys and wherefores of the re-shaping of the UK line in 1979 and the comics they produced.

27-43: Title-by-title, from Paul Neary's post-'Revolution' publishing explosion to the 'Marvel UK'-branded years, and from Captain Britain right through to the last knockings of the Overkill-era of UK created American colour comics (which also includes an in-depth title-by-title look at many of the titles that didn't quite happen during that period).

44-46: The Panini years - the story to date.

Anyway, that's the outline of the history portion of the book as it now stands (and apologies again for the lack of any images here). Hopefully I'll have more news soon... and well before the end of 2020 at that!

Panini Comics - a major birthday, and a sudden change...

It should be a joyous time, but the New Year anniversary I'd marked in my diary has suddenly been overshadowed.

January 1st 2020 marks the 20th Anniversary of Panini's take-over of the Marvel UK line. Prior to that, the Marvel UK operation had been merged with that of Panini UK for several years, but was still ultimately owned by Marvel. Having successfully managed to escape Chapter 11 protection in the US (for reasons far too long and complicated to go in to here), Marvel was forced to divest themselves of various acquisitions during 1999 as part of the deal, and this included the sale of Panini. It was also agreed that Marvel UK was to be retained by Panini, who would then promote and license material throughout Europe and other territories. The only sign of the handover was a slight change in the wording of the copyright indicia in all of their publications, from Doctor Who Magazine all the way through to Marvel Legends, and normal publication continued uninterrupted.

I remember being surprised at the time about the Panini move, as even then they'd become almost solely identified with their collectable sticker and album business, but it quickly became clear they had the organisation and resources to run a comics line, as they've also done successfully right across Europe for many years now. Even so, its been another tough year in publishing in many sectors, and sadly Panini seems to be affected too.

To begin with 2019 was the first year since 1967, when there were no Marvel-themed hardback Annuals placed on sale in the late autumn by Panini (or any other publisher). Following that unexpected discovery, there was then the sudden cancellation of The Mighty World of Marvel, just as it was promoting a relaunch with a new #1. This would have featured stories taken from The Immortal Hulk US title amongst other strips.

Unfortunately, I have more sad news to report today.

Picking up the latest edition of Marvel Legends in WHSmiths today (they sometimes put new issues out on sale on a Wednesday here), I noticed that the squarebinding (which the title had been the last in the Collectors' Edition line to adopt in July 2018 after Deadpool Unleashed kicked off the format back in spring 2017) had been dropped, as had the price, which has slipped back down to just £4.50 again. Then I realised that the issue felt thinner too, and a quick look at the contents - as issues still remain unpaginated - confirmed that the comic is now only 52 pages, with Iron Man nowhere to be seen. The cover also advertises a free, centre-stapled fold-out A3 poster, perhaps intended as a way to (ever-so-slightly) soften the shock.

The 76 page Collectors' Edition format has also been an unusually enduring one too, and was due to celebrate its own anniversary in October this year. Until now, only 1997's Marvel Heroes Reborn had been presented in a 52 page format, and that was only for its first 16 editions.

Although there's been no announcement of this reformatting yet on the Panini Facebook page (but then it is New Year's Day, after all, so that's not a criticism), I'm expecting to see the latest edition of The Astonishing Spider-Man in the same format as well, when it gets put out on the shelves tomorrowAnd then there's those occasional bumper-sized 100 page editions to consider. Will these shrink instead to that previously standard 76 page size, or will they die out altogether? Hopefully not.

Apologies for being the bearer of less than glad tidings, and also for the lack of images in today's posts. I'm presently unable to access any images to upload on here to brighten things up a bit, but can always add something retrospectively.

Wishing you all a peaceful and very happy New Year, wherever you are in the world.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

MARVEL UK - Anniversary Roll Call: March 2019

This March sees two Marvel UK anniversary's arrive for the price of one.

It was forty years' ago that the next phase of Dez Skinn's multi-pronged Marvel Revolution kicked in with the launch of Hulk Comic (#1, cover dated: 7th March 1979). With the launch unaffected by any industrial action this time - which in certain regions had blighted the relaunch of Marvel Comic and Spider-Man Comic thanks to the haulier's dispute at the tail-end of the 'Winter of Discontent' - a huge financial investment had been placed in the title, which finally delivered on the oft-promised goal of producing a comic with material originated in the UK. The success of the initial issues in support of the popular Hulk TV show - with the lead comic strip closer to that world, to a degree, and superb back-ups in the form of Night Raven, The Black Knight and Nick Fury - was hugely helpful when it came to their next all-originated comic, Doctor Who Weekly, later in November.

Moving on just five years, and by 1984 glossy covers had returned to the Marvel weeklies. yet, 35 years' ago, that year's The Thing is Big Ben (#1, cover dated: 28th March 1984) was an odd exception with it's thick, paper-covered covers. It was also the first, and the only, time that any member of the Fantastic Four would receive their own UK comic, with The Thing's comic running with the final few issues from Marvel Two-in-One Team-Up, supported by other first run reprints from The Invincible Iron Man, as well as from the Kerry Gammill-era of Power Man and Iron Fist (taking over after four weeks of Captain America). 

The only real surprise inside the short-lived comic's 18 issues came from the regular presence of Hunt Emerson's bizarre one page Donald Dogfly strip featuring the lurking menace of Piggy Gruntbeast. As to how that came to appear in the weekly in the first place, and indeed where Piggy was slated to appear next... well, that's yet another story to be told in From Cents to Pence! in the very near future, so keep watching this blog!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

In this month (40 years ago)... The Marvel Revolution marches on!

It seems impossible, but it was 40 years ago this week that the next, and first major, phase of the 'Marvel Revolution' hit Britain (as advertised in a four page section the week before - one page of which is shown here)... or at least it should have done, if not for the 'Winter of Discontent'.


This rapid escalation of industrial action made re-launching strikingly different versions of their two flagship weekly comics - The Mighty World of Marvel and Super Spider-Man (whose final issue is shown below) - absolutely the worst time to be doing a re-branding, but it was too late and plans were too far advanced to change anything by then.

Super Spider-Man #310 - the final glossy covered issue
For a period of several weeks deliveries to newsagents were severely disrupted, and where I lived the final editions of the old style weeklies eventually trickled out after the shockingly different new and slimmed own, paper-covered editions had already begun appearing.

Marvel Comic #330
This was far from a smooth transition, thanks to the haulier's strikes, with issues arriving at any day of the week, and in an entirely random sequence as distributors attempted to clear the backlog from their warehouses. Until the middle of February, the result was continued chaos.

The covers of the comics reflected this period of turmoil, as shown here. After the first 'new-look' issues of both the renamed Marvel Comic (#330, cover dated: 2nd January 1979) and Spider-Man Comic (#311), from their second editions various combinations of issue numbers and/or cover dates began disappearing from the front covers during this period. Fortunately, the London Bullpen realised that there was nothing to stop them adding an issue number above the copyright notice along with the new editorial credits, so there is no difficulty in identifying the correct sequence of these affect issues.
Spider-Man Comic #312 (undated)

In the end publication of both comics, and the similarly afflicted Star Wars Weekly was halted for several weeks, with a five-week date skip between Spider-Man Comic #312 (31st January 1979) and #313 (7th March 1979), for instance, and a four-week jump between Star Wars Weekly #54 (14th February 1979) and #55 (14th March 1979).

This break in publication was never referred to in print and in the confusion was never apparent at the time. It's only when you take a look back across all three weeklies from this period that this time jump is revealed.

Fortunately, the strikes ended, and with a considerable sum of money already invested in their first new title that March, this time the debut of Hulk Comic would suffer no such disruptions.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Stan Lee Story - as told by Roy Thomas

Taschen Book’s latest tome in a series of recent Marvel releases is The Stan Lee Story by Roy Thomas.


Initially released in a very limited signed edition of 1,000 copies, this latest packed volume features a new foreword by Stan fronting Thomas’ in-depth biography, with “complete facsimile comicbook reprints of Stan’s greatest hits and coveted rarities from throughout the decades (at original size) tipped-in throughout the book. This edition also includes a separately bound reissue of Stan Lee’s 1947 Secrets Behind the Comics!”, in addition to the main substance of the book (as illustrated here).




Printed on archival paper and housed in a clear acrylic slipcase – and displaying “more than 1,000 images, including intimate photographs and artifacts from Stan and Joan Lee’s personal archives, with new reproductions of original art and rare comicbooks from the vaults of the world’s premier Marvel collectors” (using a couple of scans from my own collection) – this will soon be available directly from Taschen Books at a cost of £1,100.




A standard trade edition will follow once this limited edition has sold out.




Feel free to repost this information using the following tags: #TheStanLeeStory and #StanLeeTASCHEN

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

MARVEL UK – ANNIVERSARY ROLL CALL: MAY 2018

It was 35 years ago this month that Marvel UK brought The Mighty World of Marvel back to life as a partially full-colour monthly magazine, just one month after its first run had ended with #397 (May 1983), having long since become the monthly Marvel Superheroes, after its previous weekly reboot as Marvel Comic had failed to gain sufficient traction with readers.

While the contents of early issues of MWOM were welcome as a way to continue with stories taken from The Uncanny X-Men, who had been homeless since Marvel Superheroes had ended, the magazine really came into its own when The Daredevils merged into it with #7 (December 1983), bringing Captain Britain and the Night Raven text series into the mix. The magazine also introduced the feature Marvel Showcase, which brought several new names into mainstream comics including the team of Mike Collins and Mark Farmer, presenting fresh material by Kev Hopgood and Simon Jacob, amongst others.

MWOM (Volume 2) #12

When the magazine folded with #17 (October 1984), its final issue a slimmer all B&W affair, it was only Night Raven, Marvel Showcase and some of the text features that survived the transition into (deep breath) The Savage Sword of Conan, featuring The Mighty World of Marvel with #85 (November 1984). Fans of Captain Britain needn’t have fretted much, he was soon to return in his own magazine once more. The moment had been prepared for, but that’s a whole other story!

Meanwhile, and moving onwards five years, this also month marks the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of Action Force Monthly #1 in May 1988, a successful evolution from the weekly Action Force comic that had previously clocked up 50 issues until its cancellation in early February 1988. This became part of Marvel UK’s first clutch of three US format titles – the others were Death’s Head and Dragon’s Claws – to also go on sale in America. In this instance, US readers would get a customised edition of Action Force Monthly, resplendent with the title G.I. Joe Special Missions. This reflected the different names then being used for the toy ranges on both side of the Atlantic at that time.

ANNIVERSARIES PASSED...

After my post on MWOM last year, it was my intention to continue referencing notable Marvel UK dates, as the 45th anniversaries of the early weeklies came up, but things rather slipped after that. In seeking to remedy this, I’ve since plotted all the upcoming anniversaries coming up over the next two years, extending the range to cover all the key birthdays throughout from 1972-1999 before Panini took over.

To begin with, here are the anniversaries that have already passed us by. Please note that the dates mentioned here represent the days that each comic actually went on sale, as opposed to the off-sale dates that appeared on their covers.


UPDATED (25/9/18)... If you’ve been following the on-going conversation below this post, I’ve now amended the entries below to reflect the actual cover dates, with on-sale information where it was included in press adverts and editorial pages at the time. There’s also a brand new entry at the end for this month, too!

In January 2017… it was 35 years ago that saw the release of first merger issue between two monthly titles creating Marvel Superheroes, including Savage Action from #382 (dated: March 1982).

In March 2017… it was 40 years ago since the launch of Fury #1 (dated: 16th March 1977) – the battle was short-lived, and after 25 issues he staggered back into MWOM and enjoyed a much longer run in the comic the second time around – the series had started there originally a few weeks before it had switched over to Fury. In other anniversaries this month, it was 35 years ago since the release of Monster Monthly (April 1982), and later that same month The Incredible Hulk (date: 31st March 1982) went on sale. This month also saw 30th birthdays for Action Force #1 (dated: 7th March 1987) and Thundercats, which according to the adverts debuted on 16th March 1987.


Fury #18 - Carlos Ezquerra
In April 2017… it was 35 years ago since #1 of the unusually lower case-titled cinema (May 1982) went on sale during April 1982. In other anniversaries this month, it was also 25 years ago since the fortnightly Overkill #1 (24th April 1992) went on sale on in early April, anthologising a small fraction of the company’s new and growing US output at the time.


In June 2017… it was 25 years ago since the short-lived W.C.W. #1 (July 1992) went on sale during June 1992.

In September 2017… it was 40 years ago since the arrival of The Complete Fantastic Four #1 (28th September 1977) and it’s free gift of a small, light blue plastic aeroplane kit. In other anniversaries this month, it was 35 years ago since the launch of Fantastic Four #1 (6th October 1982) – slap-bang on the 10th Anniversary of MWOM’s launch – which was advertised as going on sale on the 30th of this month back in 1982. It was also 25 years ago since the debut of the packed, four-weekly 100 page magazine The Exploits of Spider-Man #1 (21st October 1992), which was advertised as going on sale on 24th of this month in 1992.

In October 2017…we previously covered the debut 45 years ago of the original iteration of The Mighty World of Marvel, when it went on sale on the final Saturday of September 1972, but it was also 40 years ago since #1 of Rampage, starring the Dynamic Defenders (19th October 1977) continued the new trend for comics with a complete story in every issue. Rampage was then joined a week later by Marvel UK’s first monthly magazine. Adverts surprised readers with the return of The Savage Sword of Conan #1 (November 1977) on 20th October 1977, just two years after its abject failure as a weekly comic after only 18 issues.

In November 2017… it was 25 years ago since Doctor Who Classic Comics #1 (9th December 1992) first ‘vworped’ in to view according to contemporary adverts on 12th November 1992.


Doctor Who Classic Comics #13

In December 2017… it was 35 years ago since #1 of Marvel UK’s first semi-originated magazine since the weekly Hulk Comic some three years’ earlier, when The Daredevils #1 (dated: January 1993) went on sale during the final month of 1982.

In February 2018… and as mentioned the other week, it was 45 years ago since the launch of the many-titled, and exceedingly long-lived, Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1 (dated: 17th February 1973), said to have gone on sale on the 10th February 1973, but it was also 35 years ago since #1 of the comic that helped save Marvel it Britain (just as its parent comic would across the Atlantic), when Star Wars Weekly #1 (dated: 8th February 1978) arrived in stores at the start of that month.

In April 2018… it was 35 years ago since The Mighty Thor #1 (dated: 20th April 1983) was advertised as going on sale on 14th April 1983, followed the next week by The Original X-Men #1 (dated: 27th April 1983) on the 21st April 1983, while 30 years have elapsed since the monthly (and slightly larger than US-sized) full-colour Alf #1 (dated: May 1988) arrived in newsagents during April 1988.


In September 2018… a mere 30 years have now passed (gulp!) since the launch of the fortnightly anthology comic The Marvel Bumper Comic #1 (dated: 1st October 1988) when it went on sale on two weeks earlier in mid-September.

And that brings us bang up-to-date...at least until next month!