Wednesday, 1 January 2020

From Cents to Pence! - 2020 update: a story (now) told in 36 chapters!

Since returning to work on From Cents to Pence! with a vengeance in 2018, various discoveries have lead to the expansion of several chapters, and in some cases where they were becoming too unwieldy - and as noted in an earlier post here - sometimes cleaved them in two (or more). In the past year this has happened several times again, increasing the previous of 34 chapters up to 46 in all. As you can imagine, this alone has it made it a busy year, so this has been the first opportunity I've found to finally fill you on what I've been up to over the past year or so.

Oh, and there was also an article on the secret history of Transworld, and its connection to Marvel, that Roy Thomas kindly ran in the Stan Lee tribute edition of Alter Ego (#161) a month or so ago, itself a prequel to an earlier piece that appeared in Back Issue (#63) a few years ago (both from the ever-expanding TwoMorrows Publishing stable). I've included links to the sale pages for both of these issues, should you wish to get a taster for what's to come in From Cents to Pence!

The most recent cause for a further, more modest, expansion in the number of chapters - after those caused by Captain Britain updates and a huge development of the Overkill era - was the discovery of an on-line archive for the entire run of The Real Ghostbusters. I'd been previously unable to say much about the comic, as it wasn't a title that I'd bought at the time, mainly because it contained no mainstream Marvel Universe material unlike the supporting strips in the Transformers and Thundercats etc., and of course I had no idea that I'd start working on any such book until a few years later, and by then it was far too late.

I've almost finished slotting in all of the TRG material now - from a considered overview of the comic's changing contents, its creators, and some previously published extracted interview material - so I should soon be able to return to the final two outstanding areas: the most recent Panini chapters at that end (which need tidying up and extending to a conclusion reaching the end of 2019), and an overhaul of the Doctor Who content to introduce some more personal research on another less-written about side of the magazine (the results of a year-and-a-half-long on-and-off analysis of the title and all the Specials).

For now, here's how the 46 chapters fall, still replete with newly uncovered information from personal archives and copious interviews with the personnel involved with the British division from its origins in both the New York and High Holborn/Sevenoaks Bullpens (and then back to London again through the Kentish Town/Redan Place/Arundel House years before heading back to Kent again)...

1-4: A brief history of Marvel in America; Marvel in British comics up to 1970.

5-19: The secret origin of British Marvel; The confluence of initially unrelated business decisions that led to the formation of the UK wing, and how Stan Lee, Albert Landau and (yes) Chip Goodman became involved; a tale of two cities - how it was all run under the watchful gaze of Sol Brodsky and Ray Wergan; the backstory behind all the comics they produced from 1972-9.

20-26: The Marvel Revolution!; The inside line on the whys and wherefores of the re-shaping of the UK line in 1979 and the comics they produced.

27-43: Title-by-title, from Paul Neary's post-'Revolution' publishing explosion to the 'Marvel UK'-branded years, and from Captain Britain right through to the last knockings of the Overkill-era of UK created American colour comics (which also includes an in-depth title-by-title look at many of the titles that didn't quite happen during that period).

44-46: The Panini years - the story to date.

Anyway, that's the outline of the history portion of the book as it now stands (and apologies again for the lack of any images here). Hopefully I'll have more news soon... and well before the end of 2020 at that!

Panini Comics - a major birthday, and a sudden change...

It should be a joyous time, but the New Year anniversary I'd marked in my diary has suddenly been overshadowed.

January 1st 2020 marks the 20th Anniversary of Panini's take-over of the Marvel UK line. Prior to that, the Marvel UK operation had been merged with that of Panini UK for several years, but was still ultimately owned by Marvel. Having successfully managed to escape Chapter 11 protection in the US (for reasons far too long and complicated to go in to here), Marvel was forced to divest themselves of various acquisitions during 1999 as part of the deal, and this included the sale of Panini. It was also agreed that Marvel UK was to be retained by Panini, who would then promote and license material throughout Europe and other territories. The only sign of the handover was a slight change in the wording of the copyright indicia in all of their publications, from Doctor Who Magazine all the way through to Marvel Legends, and normal publication continued uninterrupted.

I remember being surprised at the time about the Panini move, as even then they'd become almost solely identified with their collectable sticker and album business, but it quickly became clear they had the organisation and resources to run a comics line, as they've also done successfully right across Europe for many years now. Even so, its been another tough year in publishing in many sectors, and sadly Panini seems to be affected too.

To begin with 2019 was the first year since 1967, when there were no Marvel-themed hardback Annuals placed on sale in the late autumn by Panini (or any other publisher). Following that unexpected discovery, there was then the sudden cancellation of The Mighty World of Marvel, just as it was promoting a relaunch with a new #1. This would have featured stories taken from The Immortal Hulk US title amongst other strips.

Unfortunately, I have more sad news to report today.

Picking up the latest edition of Marvel Legends in WHSmiths today (they sometimes put new issues out on sale on a Wednesday here), I noticed that the squarebinding (which the title had been the last in the Collectors' Edition line to adopt in July 2018 after Deadpool Unleashed kicked off the format back in spring 2017) had been dropped, as had the price, which has slipped back down to just £4.50 again. Then I realised that the issue felt thinner too, and a quick look at the contents - as issues still remain unpaginated - confirmed that the comic is now only 52 pages, with Iron Man nowhere to be seen. The cover also advertises a free, centre-stapled fold-out A3 poster, perhaps intended as a way to (ever-so-slightly) soften the shock.

The 76 page Collectors' Edition format has also been an unusually enduring one too, and was due to celebrate its own anniversary in October this year. Until now, only 1997's Marvel Heroes Reborn had been presented in a 52 page format, and that was only for its first 16 editions.

Although there's been no announcement of this reformatting yet on the Panini Facebook page (but then it is New Year's Day, after all, so that's not a criticism), I'm expecting to see the latest edition of The Astonishing Spider-Man in the same format as well, when it gets put out on the shelves tomorrowAnd then there's those occasional bumper-sized 100 page editions to consider. Will these shrink instead to that previously standard 76 page size, or will they die out altogether? Hopefully not.

Apologies for being the bearer of less than glad tidings, and also for the lack of images in today's posts. I'm presently unable to access any images to upload on here to brighten things up a bit, but can always add something retrospectively.

Wishing you all a peaceful and very happy New Year, wherever you are in the world.