The mid-1960s. With the ongoing success of the digest sized Battle Picture Libraries and similar comics, Fleetway ventured into a new title in January 1967 with the launch of the Fleetway SUPER Library. These books carried twice as many pages as the standard Picture Library for just 50% more money. At 132 pages for 1/6d (7 and a half pence) The Fleetway SUPER Library looked great value for money.
|Ad from VALIANT dated 14th January 1967|
Those latter two characters were of course very familiar to readers of Valiant and Lion weeklies as serial strips, but the Super Libraries gave Fleetway the opportunity to present them in long, complete stories. Fantastic Series No.1 kicked off with The Steel Claw in The Raiders of F.E.A.R. illustrated by Carlos Cruz...
|Carlos Cruz doing a good job of ghosting Jesus Blasco|
With the second batch of releases, a month later in February 1967, something strange happened. With no explanation, Fantastic Series was suddenly renamed Stupendous Series, a title it would retain for the rest of its run.
The decision was made so quickly that the cover mock ups shown on the advert for the books on the back of Buster Adventure Library for February just had a blank space where the series category should have been...
The reason for the change? I strongly suspect that it was due to Odhams launching Fantastic weekly in February 1967 and Fleetway didn't want to cause any confusion amongst retailers and readers. (Both Odhams and Fleetway were subsidiaries of IPC.) A pity, as Stupendous wasn't anywhere near as good a title.
As it turned out, it seems the Super Library line wasn't too successful. The books ran for just a year, ending in January 1968, all at issue 26. A great shame, as they represented a good attempt to break away from the traditional British comics format. With each book carrying complete 122 page stories (plus reprint features as back-up) they could be considered to be the first UK graphic novels.
|Art by Aldo Marcuzzi for STUPENDOUS No.8|
Why did they ultimately fail when the 1/- war digests still proved popular? Perhaps at 1/6d they were simply too expensive for the time, or perhaps the older reader they were aimed at felt the characters were too juvenile for them? Perhaps the market for digest comics was just too crowded to support any more titles?
|Art by Francisco Cueto for STUPENDOUS No.20|
|Lively artwork by Giorgio Trevisan|
Similarly, although regular Steel Claw artist Jesus Blasco only drew two of the digests (Nos.5 and 13), other artists such as Carlos Cruz and Massimo Bellardinelli attempted to "ghost" his style.
|STUPENDOUS No.5 Art by Jesus Blasco|
|STUPENDOUS No.3 Art by Massimo Bellardinelli|
|Reg Wooton's SPORTY was the back up in SECRET AGENT Series|