Monday, August 08, 2011

50 years of the Fantastic Four... or is it 45?

According to reliable news sites such as The Beat today officially marks the 50th anniversary of The Fantastic Four. Judging from date stamps on copies of the time, August 8th 1961 was the day newsstands in America received their bundles of issue one. (Although FF #1 is cover dated November, but U.S. comics always had an advance date on the covers.)

Some copies also had earlier date stamps, such as August 3rd or 6th. At any rate, early August was the time the comic came out in the States. Over in the UK, distribution of American comics then was patchy and slow, so it would more likely be November or much later when FF #1 appeared here.

By coincidence, early August is also the anniversary for The Fantastic Four's debut in a British weekly comic... but that was five years later! On August 1st 1966, Wham! introduced The Fantastic Four to its readers. Reprinted from the original Marvel comic, but in black and white, the strip ran across five pages. The first week only reprinted part of FF #1. The rest would be serialized over the next few weeks. After all, Wham! was an anthology of UK humour and adventure strips, so the editors didn't want The Fantastic Four to dominate it. Even so, five pages was quite a chunk considering most British strips only ran to one or two pages in those days.

If you're unfamiliar with how Marvel reprints were presented in British weeklies back then you'll have noticed that the original U.S. pages were redesigned to fit approximately two American pages onto one British page, due to the larger UK format.

This wasn't the first time a Marvel strip had appeared in a British weekly. The Hulk had begun in Wham's sister title Smash! only a few months earlier, in May 1966. (See here for details.) Unusually, The Fantastic Four strip also appeared in Smash! the same day as it debuted in Wham, and part two appeared in both comics the week after too, making sure the readers of both comics were aware of the strip. After that, Wham became the FF's only home... until Wham! merged with Pow! in 1967... and then Pow! merged into Smash! in 1968, with the FF strip being part of the merger both times.

Incidentally, FF #1 was also reprinted in one of the Alan Class UK comics, Creepy Worlds in the 1960s although as none of Class' comics bore dates I'm not sure if this was before or after it appeared in Wham!

Today, Panini UK publish Fantastic Four Adventures every four weeks. A titanic 76 page full colour comic presenting recent material and a classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s reprint (currently up to reprinting issue 72).

The Fantastic Four ushered in the Marvel Age of Comics; Stan Lee's new style of writing that slowly but surely brought better characterization, tighter continuity, and cross-comic interaction to comic books. Marvel's celebration of this historic comic event seems to be very low key, even non-existent at present. Perhaps things are planned for later this year but today is the day it should really have been commemorated.


Norman Boyd said...

Great posts Lew. As you know the appearance of the Marvel characters in the Power Comics were the first time lots of us ever saw any of them in the UK, and in Malta I tripped over them that way, but was lucky enough to also see a few "Fantasy Masterpieces" - but they confused me by reprinting Capt. America and - what I saw as - crude art of Kirby from the 40s!

Lew Stringer said...

The first Captain America strips I read were those 1940s reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces. Oddly perhaps, I preferred them slightly to the 60s ones as they had a raw energy about them and creepier villains. Sadly, those FA reprints had certain panels censored or redrawn, due to them being pre-code stories.

Phil Rushton said...

The Alan Class reprints definitely predated the FF's first appearance in Wham! (or the Hulk's in Smash! for that matter) as they were the first Marvel stories I ever read. As I remember it my uncle presented me with copies of Creepy Worlds no's 34 and 35 (featuring the stories from FF no's 4 and 3 - in that order for some reason), and I was so impressed that I rushed to Stoke Market where the latest American issues on sale were no's 22 and 23. I guess that would place the publication of CW no.32 sometime in late '63 or early '64.

Tony Howson said...

I saw the differences years later when I bought the 50th anniversary reprints. The phantom hound of cardif moor sinks it's fangs through Cap's arm in the uncensored version. Six year old me was spared that by Fantasy Masterpieces, but it wouldn't have bothered me as much as a scene they actually left in, where Cap breaks the hounds neck at the climax of the story. I found that more upsetting at the time.

Great post on the FF by the way. I first encountered them in Smash! in the same week. Very traumatic memory. I'd missed the end of Hulk vs Metal Master the previous week because we were on hoiliday and my dad wanted to watch some football thing on the telly (I think England beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley) So I rushed out to buy Smash! 27, flipped through it, saw the Thing where the Hulk should have been and had a WTF moment in the shop. Got a slap from my mum over that. But all ended well. Back home I found three pages of Hulk vs Gremlin in the front of the comic (printed well out of continuity in that charming Odhams way)and the FF went on to became one of my favourite series of the late sixties.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Phil. I had a suspicion Creepy Worlds predated Wham. I suddenly remembered reading a copy of Mystic around 1964/65 which reprinted Avengers No.2.

locusmortiis said...

Perhaps Marvels recent screwing over of the family of FF co-creator Jack Kirby has somewhat put a dampener on Fantastic Four celebrations?

Also, regarding the reprinting of FF in Wham, when they were reconfiguring the pages, were some panels excised? Its hard to see how they could do it otherwise.

Lew Stringer said...

Seems Marvel will be celebrating the FF's anniversary in November, rather than on the actual anniversary.

The reprints had panels resized, - either cropped or extra bits drawn in (badly) to fit the different format.

Dredge said...

Locus you can see how it was done by looking at the pictures on this blog just above your comment.

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