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.

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!!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

From Cents to Pence! - a story told via 65 original interviews!!

Just  to whet your appetite's while I'm still resting up from a very spiteful viral buggy, here at last is a rough list that I started compiling a few weeks back, listing of all the exclusive interviews that I've conducted for From Cents to Pence!. There will be a few names here that you probably won't be expecting to see ;)

However, as I'm certain will be quickly obvious to many of you, if you don't see a name here it doesn't meant that someone doesn't appear, only that I've had to dig in the archives to find some contemporary commentary - often from some unexpected places. So you should certainly expect to read about the likes of Sol Brodsky, Martin Ackerman and Albert Landau (although in Al's case, alas, only through some detailed personal testimony from close working colleagues) amongst many others from the 1970s to date.

Anyway, here's the list in order of first appearance in the text. I rather suspect that in my still slightly fogged state I may have missed mentioning someone, so apologies immediately in advance.

Ray Wergan, Beryl Clampton, Dez Skinn, Roy Thomas, Gordon Robson, Tony Isabella, Jim Salicrup, Mike McGrath, Tom Orzechowski, Peta Skingley (aka, variously:Peter. L. Skingley, Peta L. Henley and Peter Allen in print), Cassie Tillet (first cousin to Peta), Alan Murray, Robert Greenberger, Rosemary Hull, Maureen Softley (aka Matt Softley in print), Matt Softley (Maureen's son), Nick Wergan (Ray Wergan's son), Doug Moench, Ted Polhemus (author, curator and exhibition-maker), Neil Tennant, Herb Trimpe, Dave Sim, Pablo Marcos, Howard Bender, Ed Hannigan, Scot Edelman, Jay Boyar, David Anthony Kraft, Larry Lieber, Dave Hunt, Jeff Aclin, David Kasakove, Danny Fingeroth, Elitta Fell, Frank Springer, Alan McKenzie, Steve Parkhouse, David Lloyd, Simon Ellinas, Tim Quinn, Mark Oliver, Jenny O'Connor, John Freeman, Dicky Howett, Hassan Yusuf, Lew Stringer, John Tomloinson, Richard Starkings, Jamie Delano*, Hunt Emerson, John Ridgway, Mike Collins, Irene Vartanoff, Chuck Rozanski, Gary Russell, Tim Perkins, Steve White, Liam Sharp, Cam Smith, Mark Harrison, David Leach, Dell Barras*, Alan Cowsill, Tom Spilsbury, Scott Gray.

* = Courtesy of unpublished interviews taped for Comics World magazine by Paul Birch back in the late 1990s.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Vince Guaraldi - Is it James or Charlie? *

As Derrick Bang very kindly mentioned on his blog at Five Cents Please just a few hours ago (, if you’ve read my essay in the Security Blankets paperback, then you’ll know that it was the Peanuts cartoons which were primarily responsible for switching me on to the joys of Jazz (definitely to be capitalised!) and also of Vince Guaraldi's work in particular.

I’d seen a few of the Charlie Brown specials during the 1970s, in all their grainy, over-played glory, but it wasn’t until the advent of ‘Breakfast TV’ in the UK in the mid-1980s that I would have the chance to video almost all of the early specials, to enjoy them again at leisure, as I’m sure many Stateside fans will also have done in the days before home video releases in stores were common place. I even made up my own audio mix-tape of favourite cues (although I doubt I’m the only one in the world to have done that either) – disruptive dialogue, sound effects and all. Cue strange looks when that was played at work once!

A few years later I chanced upon a review in Record Collector of one of the first Vince Guaraldi CD releases by Fantasy, eagerly snapping up the Trio’s first album and both of the CBS soundtrack albums. These were being imported into the UK through Ace Records at the time, so they came complete with their US long-box cardboard mounting cases (as pictured here), a method of packaging which was later abandoned in the States.

But those two soundtracks hardly scratched the surface of all the potential music which Guaraldi had produced for the shows along with his various sidemen – if any of it still existed, of course (especially from a British perspective of knowing how poor many organisations had been in neglecting to archive their history). Fortunately, we weren’t to be disappointed, it was just that the wait would be a long one. And so it wasn’t until the unexpected release of Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits in 1998 that it became clear that there was indeed at least some new material still to be released. Disappointingly, that seemed to be it. But then a saviour arose in the mid-Noughties, when Guaraldi’s son David uncovered various recordings, in various states of repair, and started to make this fresh material available; first through Bluebird Records and then by resurrecting his father’s previously formed D&D record label.

By then DVD had surmounted video as a much more versatile (pun fully intended) format for adding additional supporting material to collections of archive TV and films, thus making (what were also much slimmer) box-sets a much more-affordable reality at last. Yet, even with the advent of DVD, there were still a good handful of the first fifteen Charlie Brown specials that were frustratingly not yet available, and those that were would sometimes be placed as extras on those individual discs of later shows that were starting to be made available. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we could finally view all fifteen Guaraldi sound-tracked specials chronologically thanks to the excellent 1960 and the first two 1970s box sets.

You can blame Derrick’s excellent book for what happened next! After a full Christmas 2015 devouring of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, many months after it had been purchased (and following one previous attempt to find time to read it all the way through that had stalled after reading the introduction and then getting too busy with other things to continue with it), I was suitably inspired to complete the long-planned purchase of just about all the Guaraldi CDs I’d been intending to buy but hadn’t got around to yet, and a few others besides. It was then that I looked back at the web-site, and one of the Music Use Sheets for an episode caught my eye. I knew the first cue listed there wasn’t right at all, as I could clearly recall that show starting with a completely different track instead, one that could be found on the first Lost Cues CD. This got me thinking – always a dangerous sign!

Suitably inspired, I then decided to see if I could work out exactly where all the tracks on the CDs came from, bearing in mind the helpful pointers provided on this website about incorrectly named tracks on some of the compilation albums and the shows they actually belonged to rather than what their booklet and sleeve notes might otherwise say. The results threw up several major surprises, a few revisions to information that had previously appeared on Five Cents Please, as well as some other seriously interesting discoveries, all of which will I hope make it easier to see just what original TV music is now out there on CD. As Derrick has mentioned on his latest blog entry, you'll now need to buy at least two more albums than you previously expected to if you’ve only been purchasing those that so obviously do contain TV music! Had I not had that mad buying spree to fill in the many gaps in my collection whilst everything was available, I'm sure I would never have attempted this when I did.

If you've got this far in, and if you're interested in how I approached this project, then read on.

It seems to me that when these TV shows were originally being compiled, names were often given to the cues as a means of describing their purpose, or as an indication of the mood of a scene, rather than as the sort of firm title that they would have automatically acquired if they’d been planned for commercial release at the time. Because these titles weren’t fixed, as they would have been if they were pop songs or other compositions, they are by no means consistent across all the shows. So much so, that some of the more popular tunes that were re-recorded over and over for each show they appeared – often in increasingly different arrangements until they became almost unrecognisable – also went on to acquire several different names too as time passed. Meanwhile, and muddying the waters further, two completely different pieces of music in the same show turn out to share exactly the same name.

Confusing, isn’t it?!!

Although I’ve kept closely to the style and terminology that was carefully set out for the original on-line episode guides on this web-site, you’ll quickly see that I’ve narrowed the focus here to concentrate on identifying where specific TV cues can be found on CD, adding separate notation in blue type indicating where other, later re-recordings of some of these cues can be found on CD that are not yet available on any Guaraldi album in any of their on-screen TV variations.

As Derrick says elsewhere on his web pages, whilst some of the TV soundtrack recordings that have escaped on to CD can be heard in full within the original TV episode, this is by no means always the case, and in many instances only selected segments of some recordings are utilised within the final cut of the animated shows. In addition, it’s become clear, in listening through all the TV shows, that most episodes had several different versions of the same cues recorded, which came in varying tempos, moods, arrangements and instrumentation (as we’ve heard from the ‘alternate’ versions of familiar cues that keep slipping out on to CD every few years). As you'll have seen, I’ve tried to reflect these variations by adding in some extra descriptions of my own in an attempt to more clearly define these differing versions, such as [brass version] or [guitar version] for instance. Some of the differences are very slight and require several listens to properly identify, but most are much easier to spot.

It was only after embarking on this project that I happened to wander over to his blog, only to discover that Doug Anderson had already helpfully worked his way through the Christmas special, although using far more hi-tech methods than I have at my disposal (but then I’ve spent many decades working in music identification, picking out remixes and alternative versions of songs for other projects, so I have certain methods that I use too). Strangely enough, I’d also marked up the cue sheets by the time positions that they appear on the DVDs. The only difference you’ll find between what Doug set down, and what I’ve assembled here, is that I’ve split some of the cues up further, as to my ears some of them are actually individual tracks separated by the tiniest of gaps.

On the spreadsheets I appended to my previous post Ive highlighted rows in bold type on the TV episodes guide to make it easier to see those cues that can be found on CD, with a note guiding you to the album it appears on, along with its track number. I’ve done the same thing over on the CD album guide to indicate which tracks on each album featured as a cue in an actual TV episode (noting its position within that show by the cue numbers I’ve assigned to each episode). In the final column at the end of each row I’ve added various notes about the music – a mixture of previous posted information and some new additions. But beyond what’s already been posted about some of the tracks, you’ll also find a few suggested corrections in green type where things are not quite what they initially seemed to be.

Thus, after a six month period of comparing the soundtracks to the specials alongside the material scattered across various CDs, swapping headphones between the DVD and the CD players to play and replay the music to run full A/B comparisons, this is what I’ve come up with so far. Oh, and I also took a brief side-trip in to classical-land while I was delving deeper into the TV shows, and managed to lock-down both the precise details of those classical tracks that were documented previously on the original Music Use Sheets compiled for each episode, but I’m pleased to say that I have also managed to identify a few of the other classical works about which there were no details at all, although by no means all – at least one cue of which has unfortunately escaped identification as yet.

But let’s hope this isn’t the final word on this. One can only hope that there’s yet more material waiting somewhere to be discovered and released. It would be great to fill in some more blanks. As it presently stands some specials still sadly remain entirely unrepresented on CD. If I hadn’t already thought so before I started this, a chronological box set of Guaraldi’s music for the Charlie Brown TV specials is now definitely long overdue, although it would be a herculean task to compile, especially with material scattered amongst various archives at present. Nevertheless, I’d love to help trying to identify any material that did surface, as I know others would be too. The fact that Fantasy keeps dipping into Guaraldi’s catalogue convinces me that if a wider audience could be reached then a full-blown collector’s set would be a worthy project. If this research helps in any way to further that possibility, then all the better, but I’m just happy to have finally got to grips with what’s already out there, hence my desire to get this information out to as many of Guaraldi’s admirers as possible.

Happiness is… listening to more Vince!

P.S. In answer to this article's title - referencing one particular TV music cue - the answer is Brown!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Vince Guaraldi - an in-depth guide to his scores for the early Charlie Brown animated specials

During the early part of 2016 I found myself drawn into further investigating the exact origins of the music that Vince Guaraldi recorded especially for the various Charlie Brown TV specials and documentaries, as originally aired during the 1960s and early 1970s, with the aim of trying to locate which cues had actually appeared on various compilation CDs.

The results were a surprise, to say the least!

Although it was known that some of the more recent CD's had inaccurate track listings and/or annotation, even that didn't tell the whole story, and even more exciting was discovery that two other non Charlie Brown albums also contained additional a track each that had actually featured on the TV shows.

Once I was sure that I'd gone as far as I could with all the cross-referencing, and having failed to locate the source of the final classical piece of music (possibly it isn't by Beethoven as a couple of other cues were also by other classical composers), I passed the information over to Peanuts author Derrick Bang for potential inclusion, in some form, on his excellent, in-depth Five Cents Please website.

Fortunately, Derrick didn't bat an eyelid at the density of the information I ended up with - as illustrated below - and is about to finish incorporating the information from these spreadsheets on to his website (, asking me the other night if I could post up the original spreadsheets here, which I've been more than happy to do. As I couldn't see a way to load PDF's on to here, I've had to make numbered jpegs from each individual page instead.

Here's hoping more Guaraldi TV classics surfaces on CD soon!

In the meantime, please find the two indices directly below.

The first run of pages that follows attempts to codify almost all of the music used on each special that Guaraldi was involved in before his untimely death...

Page 1 - A Boy Named Charlie Brown:

Page 2 - A Charlie Brown Christmas (first sheet):

Page 3 - A Charlie Brown Christmas (second sheet):

Page 4 - Charlie Brown's All-Stars:

Page 5 - It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown:

Page 6 - You're in Love, Charlie Brown:

Page 7 - He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown:

Page 8 - Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz:

Page 9 - It was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown:

Page 10 - A Boy Named Charlie Brown (feature film):

Page 11 - Play it Again, Charlie Brown:

Page 12 - You're not Elected, Charlie Brown:

Page 13 - There's no Time for Love, Charlie Brown:

Page 14 - A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:

Page 15 - It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown:

Page 16 - It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown:

Page 17 - Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown:

Page 18 - You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown:

Page 19 - It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown (final page):

This second, and final guide, presents a chronological album-by-album guide to the Charlie Brown TV music as it can presently be found scattered across the many, and varied, Vince Guaraldi CDs issued over the past decade or so...

Album 1 - A Boy Named Charlie Brown (CBS Special Soundtrack):

Album 2 - A Charlie Brown Christmas:

Album 3 - Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys' Chorus... plus
Album 4 - Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits (first sheet):

Album 4 - Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits (second sheet):

Album 5 - The Charlie Brown Suite & Other Favorites:

Album 6 - Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues... (Volume 1):

Album 7 - Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues... (Volume 2):

Album 8 - The Definitive Vince Guaraldi (first sheet):

Album 9 - The Definitive Vince Guaraldi (second sheet):

Album 10 - Peanuts Portraits - the Classic Character Themes (final page of index):

Hope you find something in here useful :-)

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Tennant's Extra!

Apologies it’s taken me a few months more than expected to conjure up a few choice morsels to whet appetites further for what’s to come in From Cents to Pence!, so without further ado lets whizz back a few months once again...


Neil Tennant: This is all such a long time ago, it was literally forty years ago.

Rob Kirby: Yes, it hadn’t really struck me until you said it. A quick question to start with. Had it always been you’re intention to go into journalism?

Neil: No, it hadn’t. My long term plan in life… well, I had two parallel plans. One was to become a successful song-writer and pop star, kind of thing, but I recognised that that was a difficult thing and an unlikely thing to achieve, and so I did my degree in History. I realised I was going to get some job, but my initial thought when I finished my degree was to do post-graduate [studies], an MA maybe. But, as you [say]… All the way through this period at Marvel and indeed through MacDonald Educational I’m also writing songs at home, y’know; little cassette demos of them. And I was always interested in music, and so I did vaguely think that I would like to be a music journalist because I was just so interested in music and rock music and all the rest of it. But anyway, as you accurately say, right when I finished my degree, a friend of mine who was a mature student –  I should say in her thirties – she’d been a journalist in Fleet Street, used to get the UK Press Gazette and pointed out this advert saying ‘Production Editor needed for Marvel Comics’. And she said ‘If you were ever thinking of going into journalism, which I must have said to her, this looks to me the sort of job that’d be a great beginning’.

Rob: This is always the thing, isn’t it… [getting that first foothold].

Neil: I went in and Ray Wergan interviewed me and they offered me the job, and so three weeks, I think, after I finished my degree, I had a job. I took the degree in June and by the beginning of July I had a job at Marvel Comics! (Laughs) As I always said to him, ‘I still haven’t had the cap yet!’ (more laughter). I knew Marvel Comics because, in the late Sixties I think, there was a different British version of Marvel.

Rob: Yeah, the Power Comics.

Neil: Yup. And my brother Simon used to buy them, but I used to read them. They were sort of quite a thing if you were sort of thirteen/fourteen in the late Sixties. There were quite a few of them I used to read. So that was my real introduction to Marvel Comics.

Rob: So, it was always on the British side, not on the American side, y’know, the American imports as well?

Neil: No, you might see American comics occasionally. The newsagent would have a sporadic distribution of them, y’know, up in Newcastle.

Rob: Exactly. Which was, of course, their whole reason for eventually setting up [in this country] rather than licensing, as you’ve mentioned, through the Power Comics or TV21.

Neil: Yes, yes. What happened to Power Comics? Did they go down the pan?

Rob: They did, yes. They had a huge explosion… they probably put out too many titles, the pound dropped, so they merged and merged and then stopped. They then put some stuff in TV21, again to save an ailing comic, and again that didn’t work…

Neil: TV21. We [referring to his brother, who bought the comic and shared it with him] used to love TV21. Yup.


Neil: I realised quite early on that the production thing was a bit boring, but it had to be done, obviously. But I could use the fact (laughs) of supposedly being editor of the Marvel London operation to pursue my own objectives, which were to write articles myself and to put them in there, particularly to do with music, and also maybe there could be a comic originated from there. Which I felt would be a really interesting thing to do. Alex Harvey had had comics’ graphics on at least one of his album covers and so he did the interview, and I tried to get one with Paul and Linda McCartney, but they wouldn’t do it. And I also tried to get one with the Bay City Rollers, who were also Marvel Comic fans, but they wouldn’t do it either.

Rob: We wondered if you were latterly going to try and arrange another interview with Marc Bolan around the time of his TV show, a couple of months’ before he died.

Neil: No, I wasn’t there then, I’d moved on. I was at MacDonald Educational by then. And we also only really needed one, I think, although I think Marc Bolan did suggest that he’d quite like to write a comic, but I don’t think I ever took that seriously. But he was a very sweet person, Marc Bolan. It was the first time I’d done an interview, bearing in mind I went on to edit Smash Hits, and I went to his publicists’ office in Earls Court, with a cassette recorder that Alan in the office had lent me. And we started talking by a table in this room and I turned on the cassette recorder and then we sat on the sofa and I just left the cassette recorder there. And Marc Bolan obviously thought I was an idiot (laughter) and he walked across the room, got the tape recorder, walked back across the room, put it between us, like ‘this is what you do’! And it was very, very sweet of him. One of my few regrets of my life is that he gave me a copy of the album Futuristic Dragon, and I was too cool to ask him to sign it.

Rob: (laughs)

Neil: And, to this day, I bitterly regret that I do not have a copy of this album that says ‘To Neil, Love Marc’, because I still like T-Rex’s records, y’know.


Neil: I was astonished that you’d spoken to people in the American office, and they’d said such nice things about these nice English guys. I had no idea what they thought of us, really (laughs). They probably thought I was a bit of a pain because I was relentlessly complaining about Captain Britain. Marvel in the US was… You must remember in these days, phoning up New York in the afternoon was like phoning up the moon!

Rob: Hmmmm!

Neil: I mean, this wasn’t the period when everyone had been to New York and America several times – no one had been to America. America was a sort of dream land. And so to phone up Cadence Communications in New York in the afternoon, and get through to whoever I had to talk to, it was incredibly exotic. It actually was thrilling, to be honest. Phoning up New York, and saying ‘Sorry, I’m on the phone to New York’ (laughter all round). Y’know, I was only 21, so it was really like phoning up the moon! (chuckles) And I was interested to see again, in your book, that you’ve spoken to the American guys.

Rob: Hmmm, oh yes!

Neil: And we did have this thing where they would occasionally send me a record. Because in those days, of course, a record could come out in America that didn’t come out in Britain.

Rob: Of exactly, well that’s still the case now [to a lesser degree].

Neil: And so they sent a single by Bob Dylan that I really wanted called ‘Hurricane’, which wasn’t available in Britain, it wasn’t released, and it came over by the courier. And then I bought them a Mike Oldfield single.

Incidentally, Jim Salicrup still remembers that copy of Don Alfonso that Neil sent him!

Marvel-lous Neil Tennant!

No, it's not a conspiracy at work.

I stupidly managed to delete the original column I posted under this heading back on September 30th, so here it is again - thank god for internet caching!

I may try writing comments off site in future and then pasting them in at the end to avoid draft versions.

Technology, don't talk to me about technology ;)

It was 44 years today, that the smilin' one had his say...

On the 30th September 1972 something special happened, and I'm not the only one who feels that way! A drought was ended. For almost year, bar a solitary Annual, no regular weekly comic in Britain had contained any Marvel reprints, but with the arrival of The Mighty World of Marvel everything changed. And that instant hit quickly birthed a line of comics that by 1976 had surpassed the number of titles that their predecessor Odhams had grouped together under the Power Comics banner back in the late 1960s.

There was something in that blend of artwork and story craft that appealed to me in a way that no indigenous comic had ever done. I'd read comics for years, but as a regular reader and no more, moving from the Pippin to TV Comic to Tiger and Scorcher and briefly Look-In, taking the same sort of age progressive steps between titles as was expected of most readers. But the US titles weren't written that way, and the artwork was wildly different too. But even so, that expectation that eventually you'd switch from reading the UK weeklies to collecting the US colour monthlies when you were older was still there, as much amongst some fans as it was in the plans of Dez Skinn when he took over the UK wing in late 1978. But I'd become too loyal to the UK titles, so as they expanded and diversified into pocket books and monthly magazines, and then ever greater origination (for a time), I kept buying them alongside a small selection of US comics that seemed unlikely to ever see print over here, and many years into the Panini era nothing has changed.

This perspective, and a collection to fall back on, eventually took me down the path of first indexing what had been published, both reprinted and originated, and then - with a few prods - looking ever deeper into the story behind Marvel's British division, and then in the wider context of their relationship with Marvel in America, as well as Marvel's many appearances in British comics before the Mighty World of Marvel commenced, dating as far back as 1951.

Along this journey it's been my privilege to talk to some fascinating creative people from many different walks of life - writers, editorial, artists, editors, production artists amongst them - and almost every discovery then led to an even more surprising one. I'd always hoped to speak to Ray Wergan, but he'd long retired from his business, Transworld (UK) Ltd., from which those early British Marvel comics had issued forth, so finding Ray in 2011 was a huge joy. What he told me then led to the Stan Lee archives housed at Wyoming University, and with all this information I was then able to construct a much more detailed picture of life in the UK Bullpen. This helped enormously when I then located two of their early editors - Peta Skingley and Maureen Softley - as the more information you have to begin with the more it helps to spark long-buried recollections and revelations.

But there have always been others that I'd still like to speak to, and looming high on that list was the one man that almost everyone I've come into contact with has asked about at some stage. As of Monday this week, as those of you who follow me on Facebook will already know, I can now answer that query in the affirmative, as it was my huge pleasure to chat at length with Neil Tennant about his time at the British Marvel tiller. Having sent him copious extracts selected out of the drafts from From Cents to Pence!, and aided by some additional questions (okay, two pages of questions and factual prompts!), this hugely helped the conversation zero in on specific areas where Neil had more to say. I've yet to transcribe the tape - hey, it's been a busy week at work too (especially having had Monday off to conduct the phone interview) - but I can tell you that there are some very interesting new revelations and additions to come.

Oh, and he's every bit as charming, funny and insightful as any interview you've ever seen or heard. And well-prepared too. Not only had he clearly gone to the trouble of carefully studying the extracts I'd sent over, but he'd checked back through his earliest diaries to see what he'd written during the last few months before he left Marvel for MacDonald Educational Books. Now that's class! I must admit that I'd never thought I'd get the opportunity, and it's thanks to an unexpected set of circumstances that it happened at all, so I was hugely grateful that Neil was happy to spend so much time speaking about his early career with such candour and humour.

It's strange, but had I spoken to Neil before 2011, long before all the information I spoke about above came to light, I very much doubt that our chat would have been as long or as detailed. It does sometimes feel that I've been led on a certain path in completing this work. So, once I've looped back to add in and contextualise these latest findings, I will return to revising and updating the remaining few chapters - sorely neglected after half a decade spent on a period spanning 1960-1981, but most specifically within that period 1970-1979.

I'd love to say that I will be finished by the end of the year, but I'm sure you'll forgive me if work leaks into the New Year a bit further than planned!