Saturday, 10 December 2016

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!


  1. Rob,
    I'm down a rabbit hole of my own researching Marvel elsewhere in the world and can't wait for Cents to Pence!

  2. Ah, is this our intrepid New Zealand writer/researcher checking in? :-)