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.