Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Marvel UK: The early years












Reprints of US Marvel Comics for the British market had met with limited success prior to the 1970s. The 1950s had seen UK black and white versions of Human Torch and Captain America, the sixties had the Odhams "Power Comics" such as Fantastic (as well as the Alan Class titles such as Creepy Worlds) and even the latter issues of TV21 in 1971 had featured edited reprints of Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Ringo Kid and the Western Ghost Rider.

After IPC published two annuals of Marvel reprints in 1971 and 1972 (called simply Marvel Annual) there was speculation that the company was about to launch a weekly. Whether this was true or not it never came to pass, as Marvel US was about to take charge of its own destiny where their British readers were concerned.

On Saturday September 30th 1972, the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel took readers by surprise, heralding the start of Marvel's UK operation. (Even though, in those early days, the comics were actually edited in the USA by Tony Isabella but printed in England.) This 40 page first issue had real impact, kicking off with a cover by John Buscema and contents starting with the origin stories of The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man its intention was clear, - forget the Marvel reprints of the past which were handled by others, this was a new beginning from day one with Marvel firmly in the driver's seat. To accentuate its authenticity it even contained an editorial from Stan Lee.

The comic only had four pages in full colour. The rest used spot colour (green, mainly for the benefit of the Hulk strip). It would be several years before full colour was used throughout Marvel UK comics. (By which time the original MWOM would be gone.)

Previous British comics featuring Marvel material had always used reprinted covers from US comics, but MWOM had the luxury of brand new covers, many, from issue two's powerful Hulk cover, were by a young Jim Starlin, who was also wowing his readers in the USA with his work on Captain Marvel. (Some of Starlin's covers for Mighty World of Marvel can be seen above.)

With the success of Mighty World of Marvel, Marvel UK launched their second weekly on February 10th 1973. Spinning out of the pages of MWOM , Spider-Man became the star of Spider-Man Comics Weekly, which introduced Thor as a back up strip. The first issue was also used to promote Marvel's new fan club F.O.O.M. (Friends Of Ol' Marvel) with a 50p subscription form. It was now clear that Marvel saw the UK as a lucrative base to recruit new readers.

The emphasis wasn't all American though. Keeping up the British tradition of free gifts in first issues of new comics, MWOM had given away an impressive iron-on transfer of the Hulk. Spider-Man Comics Weekly promised a Spider-Man Mask! Excitement was short lived though when the "mask" turned out to be... a paper bag, which when worn looked more like a Klan hood (see photo).

Daredevil filled the space left by Spider-Man in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel, as the plan to gradually introduce more characters to UK readers took shape. The fact that all of these strips had previously been seen in the Odhams comics only a few years earlier apparently made little difference to the sales of the two new weeklies. Why were MWOM and Spider-Man Comics Weekly succeeding where previous Marvel reprints had failed? Perhaps because readers knew these were "proper" Marvel comics? Perhaps because they had lively attractive covers? Or possibly because the time gap between origination and reprint was wider now and these weeklies were the only opportunity of obtaining the early Marvel material.

September 15th 1973 saw the third Marvel UK weekly appear. Simply titled The Avengers its format was slightly different to its sister papers. Unlike MWOM and Spidey it had glossy covers, although this was at the cost of having no interior colour pages. (Although by this time the other two comics were also losing their spot colour interiors.) The back up strip for The Avengers was Doctor Strange, whilst over in Spider-Man Comics Weekly the 20 page Spidey stories were about to be halved to accommodate reprints of Iron Man.

Soon, Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly both adopted the same format as The Avengers: 36 pages including colour glossy covers. They would soon be joined by an onslaught of companion titles; Dracula Lives!, Planet of the Apes, The Superheroes, Savage Sword of Conan and many more. Some would fail (Conan lasted just 18 weeks) whilst others would triumph (Spider-Man underwent many title changes and restarts and still survives today in the form of The Astonishing Spider-Man).

The Mighty World of Marvel had a long run, swallowing up various flailing weeklies from diverse titles as Planet of the Apes to Fury. Eventually, its own dwindling sales required it to have a revamp and new editor Dez Skinn simplified its title to Marvel. Perhaps the changes came too late, and it folded, but was reborn as The Mighty World of Marvel volume two, a monthly, in the early 1980s. Sadly, that failed, but the title was revived again a few years ago and The Mighty World of Marvel volume 3 (now published by Panini, who handle all Marvel's UK output) has been successful. The impressive 76 page full-colour monthly is now up to its 53rd issue. Together with its group of companion comics, from Avengers United to the newest title Marvel Legends, it would appear that Marvel are once again firmly established in the UK.

To find out more about current UK Marvel editions visit the Panini UK website:
http://www.paninicomics.co.uk/Home.jsp


36 comments:

Mick Dickens said...

Surely MWOM and Spiderman weekly had eight pages in full colour? Cover, back page, centre spread, pages 10-11 and 30-31? But by mid 1973 the colour pages were gradually phased out.

Lew Stringer said...

My mistake. The first issue of MWOM had five pages in full colour, with a few more added from issue 5. As you say, the interior colour pages were phased out in 1973, even the spot colour pages.

Lew

Khayem said...

Hi Lew,

I missed the first editions of MWOM, Spider-Man and The Avengers as I was a tad too young. Visiting my first comic in Bath as a teen in the 1980s, I managed to cram a rucksack full of back issues, at the bargain price of 5p each! I've since acquired full sets of the aforementioned, though I never did get that free Spider-Man mask! Great stuff - you know, Panini ought to commission you to write a "History of Marvel UK" series for their Collectors' Editions line...

Cheers, Kieron

Lew Stringer said...

Very kind of you but I'm afraid my knowledge of Marvel UK is, like my collection, rather patchy. Those issues I've scanned in for this article are all I have of the very early days of Marvel UK (plus a few other subsequent first issues). I gave away tons of my old Marvel UK comics for an RSPCA rummage sale years ago.

However, someone else is working on a book which details the history of Marvel UK. It's been years in the making but hopefully will be released in a year or two.

Lew

Rol Hirst said...

Hi Lew,

Very nostalgic seeing those old Marvel UK covers again... though most were just slightly before my time. Hope to see you post more again soon... they bring back happy childhood memories.

All the best,

Rol.

Paul Burns said...

Just wallowed in nostalgia reading your piece on early Marvel UK. I remember my first Spider-Man UK comic-it had Peter Parker and Harry Osborn on the cover shouting at each other-with Spidey and the Green Goblin behind them-Ross Andru was such a fantastic artist. Also have fond memories of The Titans and attempting to draw the centre-spread pin-up of The Black Panther in one of them. It's great Panini are serving us so well with 7 Collector's Editions, and I agree that we need a book detailing Marvel UK history from 1973 to now.
Great article Lew

Dave said...

I did all the anglicizing of spelling in the first year or so of MWOM. As it generally involved lengthening words ("colour" for "color", say), I often had to redo whole lines of copy. A lot of work for not much money, but it was a foot in another door of the business!

Lew Stringer said...

Interesting Dave! Tell us more. Did you do the art changes too, such as (if I recall correctly) changing President Nixon into President Ford? Or was that after your time?

What did you work on? Film or high quality proofs of the artwork?

Lew

Lew Stringer said...

It just struck me. Dave the letterer: Are you David Gould who did a great job lettering my Tough Guy strip back in the 1990s? (And who lettered for Odhams way back when?)

Lew

Dave Gibbons said...

Sorry to be so mysterious, Lew, but now i've changed my Blogger settings, the true identity od "Dave The Letterer" should be revealed!

To answer your questions: I have no recollection of changing Nixon into Ford or of doing art changes.

I worked on high quality prints mounted on heavy board., using strips of patch paper to do the corrections. A fiddly business!

Lew Stringer said...

Nice to hear from you Dave! Interesting stuff. I knew you'd done some lettering for IPC early in your career but didn't know about the Marvel UK work. (Unless I'd forgotten in some pub-related haze. ;-))

I remember doing similar fiddly cut n paste work from my fanzine days. Kids today don't know they're born. ;-)

Lew

Dave Gibbons said...

I had to cut the patch with a scalpel held at an angle, to chamfer the edges and prevent shadow, then go round each edge with white-out, just to make sure...

Literally ten times faster with Photoshop!

Lew Stringer said...

Ah, if I'd known that back then. I didn't chamfer my paste up edges when I was doing my fanzines, hence why the photocopies picked up shadow. There's the difference between pro and amateur!

Lew

Rob Kirby said...

Hi, and thanks for the quick plug re: my work on the Marvel UK book - now finished and ready to be co-designed by Quality Communications and myself for publication in the near future. Look out for the preview web pages soon - I'll let Lew know when they're 'switched on'! For those who haven't followed the project through the pages of CI, it'll be around 400 pages, lots of artwork, ads and covers, plenty of unseen artwork and dummies, a huge history that will eat up the first 1/3 - 1/2 of the book, plus indices to just about every story that's ever been published (UK and reprint), plus guides to the comics, free gifts, a creators printography... and loads more besides! End of plug.

A few questions for Mr. Gibbons, if I may? I was unaware that you had any involvement with Marvel UK pre-Doctor Who. How did you come to be doing (just?) lettering corections for them during that first year or so? How did you get the job? When and why did you leave? Any and all memories greatly appreciated. Sounds like another untold story I need to slip in before we go to print! Thanks.

Dave Gibbons said...

>>A few questions for Mr. Gibbons, if I may? I was unaware that you had any involvement with Marvel UK pre-Doctor Who. How did you come to be doing (just?) lettering corections for them during that first year or so? How did you get the job? When and why did you leave? Any and all memories greatly appreciated. Sounds like another untold story I need to slip in before we go to print! Thanks.<<

I got a call from a guy called Rob Barrow, who was and still is, very active in fandom. He'd heard from a lady called, I believe, Pippa Melling who was the de facto editor of the about-to-start MWOM. The production prints they'd received from the States still had US spelling. Rob knew that I'd done lettering for Fleetway and thought I would be just the man.

I met up with Pippa in the offices they then had in High Holborn and agreed the details. I think I got paid per correction, though quite how pitiful an amount I can't exactly recall...

I would get pages through the mail, do the corrections and mail them back, usually under a tight deadline. I can't remember when or how I stopped, but I would guess that they took to doing the corrections in the US.

Strange job, in that I was working for Marvel Comics, which was a great thrill to the fanboy wannabee I was then, but that my success lay in the invisibility of what I did!

Nialli said...

Wow...this blog takes me back. Thanks Lew. I remember a weekly that Marvel did called, I think, Titan Weekly, which printed in the landscape format and reduced the original pages to A5 size, so you could get two on a single printed page. If I recall correctly, it led with the Inhumans reprints, but I can't for the life of me remember the other reprinted series. I think they rotated the covers and it lasted about six months. Anyone know?

Lew Stringer said...

"The Titans" was indeed in an odd landscape format, and Marvel UK's Spider-Man Comics Weekly soon followed, retitled as "Super Spider-Man and the Superheroes". I think The Titans ran for over 80 issues, but I'm not sure. Contents would change from time to time but they included The Unhumans as you say, plus Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner, Nick Fury, Captain Marvel (I think) and others.

Lew

Nialli said...

Yep, you're right about Nick Fury. I remember seeing Steranko's art printed in thumbnail size and feeling like sobbing!

Lew Stringer said...

Were the Steranko Fury's in The Titans? I thought those were in Captain Britain as a colour back up?

Lew

Nialli said...

Ah...you could be write...maybe it was the Neal Adams' Inhumans being produced in micro size that really wound the teenage me up!

Lew Stringer said...

I think the John Severin Nick Fury strips may have been in The Titans though.

Lew

Rob Kirby said...

Firstly, thanks for the details, Dave - another one of many 'last minute' inclusions I'll slip in without Dez noticing!

re: The Titans, it was actually 58 issues in total. Wonderful format - loved the panoramic posters - shame the newsagents hated it, really! Mind you, it was a tad content hungry, with a full strip often at the start of each issue - nearly made Spider-Man catch up with the States at one point too.

Rob

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks for clarifying the run of The Titans Rob. I had them all originally but gave away most of my Marvel UK comics to the RSPCA years ago.

I remember The Titans also had a logo running up the right hand side, so that newsagents could stack it sideways if they wished, but that meant it flopped over (as the spine would then be at the top). A good value comic but awkward to display.

Keep in touch regarding your book Rob. I'll be more than happy to promote it here.

Lew

Wil Overton said...

A real treat to see those early UK Marvel covers. I started with #11 of MWoM at the tender age of 8 and must of followed pretty much every every title they released at some point until 2000AD started up and I moved more onto the US versions. I distinctly remember running around with the paper bag Spidey mask on!

Is it just me but does anyone else think that the way covers were put together back then (and this applies to US comics of the age, too) was just, well... better. The logos, typography and overall graphic design just work really well together. Comic logos and cover design (especially for superhero titles) in general seems really poor now (or maybe it's the nostalgia getting to me - damn your blog Lew :))

Lew Stringer said...

I think typography has improved in many respects in American comics, but in regards to UK children's comics I agree. I really dislike the haphazard cover layouts of most UK comics: logos slapped all over the place, across the figures of the characters themselves, etc.

I know the design idea is to look busy and exciting but it just looks sloppy and hard on the eyes to me.

Lew

Rob Kirby said...

I'll certainly let you know when the books ready, Lew :)

Incidentally, forgot to chip in on the earlier debate about the contents of the Titans. The Fury/SHIELD strips did indeed go through most of the Steranko run from Strange Tales, with Captain Britain picking up with the later, way-out there instalments - in colour, natch - before moving on to all but one of the first five or six issues of SHIELD Volume (missing out the Dinosaur/movie issue).
And yes, that's exactly how one of the oldest newsagents in my town - a family business no longer with us, sadly - used to display Super Spider-Man with the Superheroes and The Titans.

Happy days.

Rob

Nialli said...

Anyone remember a poster appearing in Spiderman Comics Weekly once by the original Dan Dare artist Frank Hampson? I remember it being quite an unusual depiction of Spidey, with the costume quite loose and more realistic than the usual Marvel depictions.

Lew Stringer said...

That's right. The pull-out centrespread appeared in the comic when it switched to a landscape format. Hampson did two; one of them featuring a take on Dan Dare I think.(I may still have them. Must try to dig them out.)

I don't know how well they were received by the readers. Great and groundbreaking as Hampson was on Dan Dare, his Spider-Man, with creases in the costume etc must have seen very out of step for 1970s Marvel readers.

Lew

Andrew Walton said...

The covers brought back a lot of memories for me too. I also remember wearing the paper bag spiderman mask many years ago!
I had quite big collections of a number of the British Marvels from the 1970's but they've all gone to charity now.
The only thing I seem to have left is a full-size fabric cover of a Spiderman comics weekly edition from 1974. (Designed to sew on to a T-Shirt) This was an offer advertised in the comic (in 1975, I think) which I sent away for. It's called a limited edition Marvel cover patch. I wonder if anyone else out there remembers this?
I recall that there was also a MWOM cover patch as well, but my mum wouldn't give me the money to send up for that one as well!

Steve RP said...

Hi Lew/Nialli,

I thought all my Spidey mags had been thrown away years ago, but I retrieved them two days ago.

I checked back to the one when the issue changed to landscape, but alas I must have put the pin-up on the wall. Still I've got plenty of bed-time reading to get on with.

Steve

Mike Mittelstadt said...

Just found this site. Great nostalgia. I lived in the UK while growing up (1964-75) and followed Marvel UK as well as the Odhams Power Comics before them. I was born here in the U.S. and was about 8 years old when I moved to England, but didn't discover Marvel until about 1965. Then I bought many of the imports (with the 10-shilling cover stamos) and UK reprints. I had some letters published in MWOM and still have those back issues and few others.
Best
Mike Mittelstadt
Watertown, NY

Mike Mittelstadt said...

mistakes in my last post: The price of U.S. comics in England, was, of course, tenpence (ten pennies under the old, pre-1971 monetary system) and later one shilling (twelve of the old pennies)
And that word "stamo" should read "stamp." (Some imported comics were printed with the U.S. price and had either a rubber-stamp mark or a sticker with the British price. Others, printed in the U.S. for import, had the U.K. price instead of cents on the cover. This may still be the case. I'm out of touch.)

Mart said...

Mike Mittelstadt! Now there's a name I remember . . . always wanted a cool name.

Great piece Lew - that Avengers 1 cover just took me back to my younger days in an instant. Shang-Chi and, later, Conan taking over that comic were two of the worst days of my young life!

Zokko said...

I can remember getting steamed up at not finding 'Marvel Treasury Editions' such as 'Holiday Grab-Bag' and 'Hulk On The Rampage' on sale when they were extensively promoted by 'M.W.O.M' and 'S.M.C.W.'. I fired off a complaint to Marvel U.K. and bingo, the later ones ( '2001: A Space Odyssey', 'Giant Superhero Team-Up' etc. ) duly appeared. I recently caught up with the ones I missed thanks to eBay!

Remski said...

Does anyone remember the commercial for Spider_man comics weekly in where a kid puts on a paper mask and climbs up the wall?

I was really young at the time when I saw it but it would be great to see it again, I wonder if anyone has uploaded it.

Trojan said...

Great stuff! I certainly think Marvel's attempts to crack the UK market in the early seventies warrants greater attention. I wrote to Brady Webb at Panini a couple of years back suggesting the publication of a book illustrating the best of the British Marvel comic covers, posters, in-house ads and pin-ups from the period, as there were some really fine pieces from the likes of John Buscema and Jim Starlin, but the lack of a response seemed to indicate they weren't convinced of its potential. It's a great shame as these comics provided an introduction to the mighty world of Marvel for so many young Britons now nostalgic for the days of their youth.

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