Thursday, 29 March 2012

When Marvel reprints became more than mere filler

Since 1990, or thereabouts, I've been working on a book about Marvel's own line of British comics, as still published today by Panini. It didn't start out as a book at all. I was just trying to find out what stories hadn't been reprinted in the UK - besides the obvious lack of Western, War or Romance stories - so that I could purchase those issues that interested me. One rather large pile of notes later, I realised I had far, far too much material just for a personal want's list, and so decide to turn it into the UK version of those wonderful George Olshevsky Marvel guide books.

There was precious little material out there on the history of the company back then, and not much more on USA Marvel's history in the days before (the greatly missed) Comic Book Artist, Alter Ego and Back Issue et al. Repeated attempts to expand a sketched out skeleton chronology, well, repeatedly faltered. That was until I took a look back through a few boxes of old fanzines and comics magazines I'd hung on to, and discovered that I'd had some useful slivers of background material sitting there all the time. With this as a foundation, and with various comics folk spurring me on to delve deeper, I began writing to various US comics magazines, and started to receive replies from creators and editorial folk who'd previously worked on the UK comics on both sides of the Atlantic.

The growth of the internet, and the introduction of e-mail, greatly accelerated this, and I've been very fortunate to have spoken to a whole host of people right across the creative spectrum. The result of all this effort is that the history part of the book, which eventually settled with the title "From Cents to Pence!", now far exceeds the number of pages occupied by the indices that started the whole perishing thing off!

A work in progress cover (2011)
For various reasons, it's taken a little longer than I anticipated to come to a point where I can finally tie everything together (as far as you ever can with a reference work), but the advantage of this was that I finally managed to get in touch with the one person whose role in the story of Marvel UK's earliest days has never been told - Ray Wergan. What he had to tell me (and the level of detail was quite astonishing) far exceeding what I'd long hoped for, entailling a hefty re-write and expansion of what I'd managed to put together thus far on his involvement.

It wasn't so much that what I had written previously was wrong, it's just that there was so much more to it than that, and there were other factors which actually connect a lot of seemingly disparate events, on both sides of the Atlantic, together... but I'm telling you all the plot!

The icing on that cake came while doing some additional research (into a few specifics of elements that had surfaced through my conversations with Ray) when I stumbled across an on-line inventory for the Stan Lee archive at Wyoming University. It's an amazing treasure trove of material that I've only scratched for my immediate purposes, although I've just learnt that Danny Fingeroth (who also figures strongly in "From Cents to Pence!") has also made very good use of other parts of this archive for his own, recently published (by TwoMorrows), Marvel-ous book "The Stan Lee Universe".

Over the rest of this year I will be continuing to assemble, and then re-design, all the final material that I need to insert at the appropriate junctures in-between working on some of the other projects you will be reading all about on these pages. In the meantime, Back Issue will be running a little something from the book early next year :)

It's going to be a hectic, but very enjoyable, year ahead!

I'll try to keep you updated whenever there's something a little more concrete that I can tell you.

Nuff said for now :)


  1. I keep hearing about this book. I want to buy this book. I sincerely hope it's not too much longer before the blessed thing sees the light of day!

    More power to your elbow Mr Kirby.



  2. Hi Peter,

    Well, as you can see from the stories posted here, I'm juggling the final writing on the Marvel UK book alongside re:VOX magazine, which hasbecome more time-consuming since the band reformed. Fear not, though! The Marvel UK book is a project very dear to my heart and it will be finished just as soon as I can do so.

    In the meantime, well, you might well want to check out Back Issue #63 next spring ;)


  3. Thanks Rob, I will be reading that edition of Back Issue!



  4. Thanks! Sorry, I don't seem to be getting notifications that i have posts to moderate - will have to recheck my settings :)

  5. Hi Rob. Do you realize that 'official' British Marvel only lasted around 23 years (1972-'95) until Panini took over? That means you've been researching this book for almost as long as Marvel U.K. existed. Having said that, I can't wait to read the thing when it comes out. I really do hope it contains some information (and a photo, which was promised back in 1972 but never happened) of Pippa M. Melling, who was listed in the indicia of MWOM as editor. Please tell me you're going to do this - the book won't seem complete without such info. Cheers.

  6. Hi Kid,

    Sorry for not putting htis up here sooner - I didn't get a notification it was awaiting moderation for some reason.

    An interesting definition of Marvel UK :) I've been asked this before, and I use Marvel America as an analogy to explain why the book doesn't stop there... (not that it even starts there in 1972 anyway, as it's now about all things concerning Marvel in Britain.

    Timely/Atlas/Marvel was family run, of course, but when Goodman sold the company to Perfect Film/Cadence, it still remained Marvel although no lponger under his ownership. The company didn't suspend printing and life went on as normal under a variety of owners.

    To my point of view, the same is true in the UK. Marvel set the original division up in 1972 and later it was overseen by Panini after Marvel's acquisition of the company along with Toy Biz et al, but it was actually a few years before Marvel were forced to sell off Panini after escaping Chapter 11 protection, and at that point Marvel UK as we knew it was them run by Panini.

    As with America, the owner of the UK division might have changed but there was no break of publication, so everything that has happened since is equally chronicled in the book.

    And at the 'encouragement' in the past of various folks, the book looks at everything that happened in Britain prior to MWOM#1. I'm glad I added this material as we now know why the UK division was started, so it provides a perfect bridge into the creation of MWOM.

    No photo of Pippa, alas. But howabout new input from other early editors such as Matt Softley (really Maureen, of course), hopefully Peta Skingley (alias Peter Skingley/Peter Allen etc) and never published archive quotes from radio interviews with Neil Tennant and Nick Laing? Plus detailled commentary from Ray Wergan, Alan Murray and a certain Mr Skinn... and that's only the UK side of the first half of the history :)

    And we have some rare, vintage 70s photos, many unpublished, to add to the 80s and 90s hoard now!

    Thanks for your support - keep watching the blog and Back Issue etc for more details in the near future.