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!

Saturday, 7 April 2018

When Two become Four...

Okay, well I promised you all that I'd try and keep you updated much more frequently with work on From Cents to Pence!, so here's the latest on work - very much - in progress. In fact, so much so, that I completely missed the opportunity to run a post on the 45th anniversary of the first edition of the long-running (in it's many guises) Spider-Man Comics Weekly back in late February 1973. Hopefully, the following flashback will make up for that a little!

Then called Spider-Man Comics Weekly, this was the first copy that I purchased after
seeing the classic 1960s animated cartoon show on TV that summer, the next 
copy I bought 
had changed to adopt the unique Landscape format first brought into being by The Titans

Back in June 2015 we ran a story that featured a rough breakdown of what you could expect to see in the book. That's slightly changed now, as you may have guessed from the headline to this post, cheekily riffing on a certain Spice Girls song (with apologies). From 2011 up to 2016, the bulk of my research and updating had centred on the period covering 1951 to 1979, with little done to later chapters over that span of five years. In picking up on where I'd got to after my illness last year, I restarted reading through the chapters from 1980 in order to make sure that the text read consistently, whilst also making final additions to the latter half of the book. A lot of this was fine, but it was clear to me that one of the chapters was now far too long and had got chronologically muddled thanks to later additions and amendments.

I was also somewhat embarrassed to discover that I'd actually omitted a significant portion of information on one topic, after I'd needed to go back to my original stack of resource pages to check on something related to that. This was one area of the book that had changed relatively little since I'd first begun writing a proper history back in the early years of this century, and so was still written in a much more basic way. Carefully placing this information into the narrative soon made it clear where I would now need to sub-divide both that chapter, and a later one, so as to create four instead (and giving rise to the title of this post, of course). This has greatly benefited the whole structure, which has since been grouped under various a series of headers representing (mainly) multiple chapter clusters.

In the midst of all this, I've also been chatting to one-time features writer Pete Scott and to Les Chester, a familiar face (as pictured here, from a clutch of rarely seen photos he's kindly provided) on the convention circuit during the 1970s and 1980s.

Les Chester - ready for action!

So, here's an updated breakdown of the chapter divisions as they presently stand.

Origins
1: A brief history of Marvel in America, and their key writer and editor - the man who would lead the push for Marvel to cross the Atlantic.

Rivalry (1951-1971)
2-5: A detailed examination of Marvel in British comics from 1951 through to 1970; plus the secret origin of British Marvel; The confluence of what, initially, would have seemed unrelated business decisions that led to the formation of the UK wing, and how Albert Landau and (yes) Chip Goodman all became involved with Stan Lee's vision.

Synergies (1972-1978)
6-17: A tale of two cities - how Marvel's new UK operation was organised under the watchful gaze of Sol Brodsky in New York and Ray Wergan in London; the backstories behind all the comics they produced from 1972-9.

Independence (1978-1994)
18-33: 'The Marvel Revolution'; The inside line on the whys and wherefores of how Dez Skinn came to re-shape the UK line in 1979 and the comics they produced; The post-'Revolution' period under Paul Neary, and an exhaustive journey through the Marvel UK years from Captain Britain's reappearance through to the final days of the Overkill-era of UK created American colour comics, plus the lowdown on some of the proposed titles from that period, and earlier, that didn't quite happen for one reason or another.

Turbulence (1992-1999)
34: The most turbulent period in US Marvel history and their amazing salvation from chapter 11 protection, which saw the UK division sold to the giant of collectable stickers Figurine Panini.

Continuity (1999 to present)
35-36: The reinvention of Marvel's place in the UK marketplace, and in complete contrast the calm consistency that has marked Panini's UK Marvel output throughout the present century.


Anyway, that's the new outline for the history part of the book, but there's still some more work to do yet on the final 19 chapters before giving them all a final proofing. Bear with me. It's all looking good.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Mighty World of Marvel - 45 years young!

For comic fans of a certain vintage, today marks a rather special anniversary.

Flicking back 45 years through the back pages of comics’ history, life at the turn of the 1970s was tough for Marvel fans. Throughout the latter half of the previous decade their superheroes had rampaged through the pages of such weekly comics as Pow!, Smash!, Wham!, Fantastic and Terrific – grouped together under the banner of Power Comics – and after they ended, resurfacing briefly within the pages of the second volume of TV21. But when TV21 folded into Valiant during 1971 – that Marvel magic not extending the lifespan of the title by as many months as I’m sure Marts Press would have liked – nothing followed it. And with a revival of Smash having already turned its backs on featuring any more Marvel material. It seemed that was it for their special blend of mayhem reappearing in any future weekly comic.

Yes, there were still the undated Alan Class anthologies, but they didn’t reprint sequential material, and in any case all too often concentrated on material from the Atlas era of Marvel. There were, of course, the US imports too… if you could find anywhere that stocked them! And if you could find them, the selection wasn’t consistent from month-to-month and it wasn’t unusual to find that some copies were water-damaged too. Perhaps those living nearer the south and south-east coasts had it a little better, as distributors would ship down multiple copies of many comics, filling up all those creaking spinner racks which cluttered up corners of the plethora of seafront souvenir stores that somehow used to survive side-by-side in the most popular seaside resorts.

Apart from the usual Marvel-themed Annual in your Christmas stocking, things were looking grim as 1972 clocked in – nothing had changed… or at least it seemed that way; behind the scenes it was very different. Plans were afoot. By now Stan Lee had become both President and Publisher at Marvel in New York, and one pressing item in his in-tray was a not insubstantial investment that had previously been made in a British weekly comic which had come to naught earlier that spring. With Lee no longer beholden to former owner Martin Goodman’s whims, the project’s salvation was swiftly determined in a collaboration between the returned Sol Brodsky, Chip Goodman, Albert Landau (the manager of the New York-based Transworld Feature Syndicate Inc., who distributed prints and film across the world for Marvel and other comic companies alongside their main business creating feature material, and supplying stock photos, for use in national newspapers and magazines) and his UK manager, Ray Wergan.

What they came up with was a new anthology weekly comic. This time it would be produced by the Marvel Bullpen up in New York, with local editorial and advertising content being created over in London, utilising office space within Ray Wergan’s UK outpost of Transworld’s global business. The comic would no long contain that sometimes awkward mix of traditional British humour strips and adventure material sat alongside the Marvel pantheon. This time the comic would present pure Marvel mayhem from cover to cover. It could only be called The Mighty World of Marvel! Well, that’s not really true, as it very nearly kept its original title of The Wonderful World of Marvel, until concerns that it might upset Disney led to that subtle title alteration. Mark-up on a copy of the artwork used for the first advert to appear in Inside Football and Striker shows that this was a very last minute change.

Inside Football and Striker (30th September 1972)

45 years later, and The Mighty World of Marvel is still with us, albeit in a four-weekly, full colour 76 page iteration unimaginable to comic readers back in 1972, where a few colour poorly recoloured pages were the height of luxury.

Times and tastes may have changed, but thanks to, what was then known as, Marvel UK operating until the aegis of Figurine Panini since 1995, when their parent company Marvel had to divest itself of various investments in 1999 to come out of Chapter 11 protection relatively unscathed – many companies would never make it out the other side intact – Panini was sold off and Marvel’s British line stayed with them. This was a surprise move, but the decision turned out to be a very good one and all these years later Panini are still producing comics for British and European audiences, editorially directed in those countries, that retain a local flavour. Indeed, the introduction of the Collector’s Edition format in 1995 became so influential that it was eventually adopted, in the sincerest form of flattery, by Titan Comics when they later launched their own line of DC Comics reprint titles after Panini had published a Batman Legends title for a few years in the Noughties.

So here’s wishing The Mighty World of Marvel a very happy 45th birthday and a massive three cheers for everyone who worked on, and then built the legacy that is Marvel in Britain, all of which started with this legendary anthology comic.

MWOM #272 (14th December 1977) - one of many original covers by Pablo Marcos

But for the full story as to why Lee and Landau wanted to publish in Britain, and how Ray Wergan – a respected former sports journalist – came to be involved, never mind how Chip Goodman fitted in to all this… well, that’s just one part of the tale of Marvel's UK adventures still to be told within the pages of From Cents to Pence!

And that, at last – after a delay of several months, due to what became a much serious viral illness – is a little nearer than you might think after all these years. Promise!!