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!!