Friday, February 10, 2017

FANTASTIC 50th!

Fifty years ago, on Saturday 11th February 1967, Odhams launched Fantastic comic, a new weekly that is still fondly remembered to this day. Odhams had been presenting reprints of Marvel strips in their other comics for several months by this time; The Incredible Hulk in Smash!, The Fantastic Four in Wham!, Spider-Man and Nick Fury in Pow!, but those reprints were sharing space with traditional British humour and adventure content. With Fantastic, the content was 90% Marvel reprint, (later 100%), making the comic unlike any other weekly on the stands in 1967.  
We're talking about classic Marvel material too, with strips by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck and more from the dawn of what Stan coined as "The Marvel Age of Comics". (Not that Odhams called it that. They changed references of Marvel to Power, to suit their Power Comics imprint.) Although it reprinted the strips in black and white, and usually cut into two or three parts, the reproduction of the strips had never been so crisp and clear. 
For many readers, Fantastic was a great introduction to the Marvel Universe and we became hooked on the comic. It was exciting and dynamic, making traditional British comics such as Victor look terribly dull in comparison. An advert in the Daily Mirror proclaimed Fantastic as "The new comic book that's so different!" and for many of us, that was part of its appeal. It had 40 pages, so was thicker than most other comics of the period, although that necessitated a 9d cover price meaning it was also one of the most expensive comics in 1967 too. (Most comics were 7d, Dandy and Beano were still only 3d.)
Sadly, perhaps the majority of British kids had more conservative tastes, or 9d was too expensive, for Fantastic only lasted for 89 weeks. Clearly it was ahead of its time (as were its loyal readers) because that similar template of packaging three Marvel stories into a 40 page comic was used with more success in 1972 with Marvel UK's The Mighty World of Marvel, and is still pretty much the format still used today in the popular 76 page Marvel Collector's Editions published by Panini UK.
The back-up strip in Fantastic was brand new; The Missing Link, superbly illustrated by Luis Bermejo. The Link would later evolve into UK superhero Johnny Future but here's the first episode when he was still a lumbering brute...



The free gift in Fantastic No.1 was suitably different too; a soft plastic pennant that could be used for various purposes. (I used mine as a pen holder for a while, and, yes, I still have it.) Artwork to insert into the pennant was on the back page of Fantastic and different characters were on the back pages of Wham!, Smash! and Pow! that week as well.



From a personal viewpoint, I have fond memories of Fantastic. It was a bit expensive, and my parents were already buying me several comics a week, so my Aunt Joan used to buy me Fantastic (and its soon-to-follow companion comic Terrific). I remember her bringing them for me every Saturday afternoon when she'd finished her shift at the bakehouse. (I'd save Terrific to read on a Sunday.) Happy times, long gone, but comics can be great artefacts for stirring up memories. 

I know some feel that 50 years ago was just like yesterday, but I must admit it really does feel like a very long time ago to me, when one considers the numerous things that happen in one's life over such a period. They were good days though, and Fantastic made the swingin' sixties swing even more. 

Here's how Fantastic was advertised in the Daily Mirror on Friday 10th February 1967. (Yes, I've kept this clipping for 50 years!)
...and how it was heralded in Pow! a week earlier (Pow! No.4, on sale 4th Feb 1967)...

As they told us, there's no doubt about it. It certainly was Fantastic!

11 comments:

James Spiring said...

It's no surprise that the Link ended up getting retooled - he's basically the Hulk in that first episode - which is quite redundant when one of the other Power Comics was actually running The Incredible Hulk.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Lew. I'm kind of surprised that Marvel never tried to reconfigure those Bermejo LINK strips into HULK ones and run them somewhere (the HULK b+w magazine immediately springs to mind, if not back-ups in a color annual)…
ILYA

Lew Stringer said...

Well, Marvel don't own the Link as he was originated by Odhams. I guess Time Inc. own him now.

Mike Mittelstadt said...

Wish I still had my copy of Fantastic No. 1...

Lew Stringer said...

My original copy of No.1 was coverless and falling to bits, Mike, so I replaced it in the 1980s. I completed my collection of Fantastics during that time too, for 50p each. Worth a little bit more today, but not too expensive. Issue 1 would cost a bit more though I'm afraid.

I've blogged about issue 1 before on this blog but I thought I'd gather the info together for the 50th anniversary.

Phil Rushton said...

When we heard that there was going to be a fourth Power Comic to join Wham!, Smash! and Pow! I had a bet with a friend at school that it would have to be called 'Zap!' (not having heard of the American underground book). The title 'Fantastic' came as a real surprise!

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I think I was of a similar mindset, Phil. Fantastic was a great name though.

John Pitt said...

Well , 50 years ago today ( well, it was a Saturday anyway ), I went to Walsall market with our Uncle Albert, ( who incidentally never once started a sentence with ".... During the war...." ) and I was glancing through a copy of this to see what all the fuss was about, after seeing it heavily publicised in Smash and Pow. Uncle Albert immediately bought it for me and once we got back to my Granny's house and I read it, well I just HAD to get this every week!
Anyway, in recent times I have looked for the other 3 Power comics' pennants on the net and found these on EBay and bookmarked the page, if anyone's curious to see what they looked like?
http://www.ebay.co.uk/gds/Power-Comics-Fantastic-Pow-Smash-Wham-Pennants-/10000000011703423/g.html

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks, John. Wham! is the only one from that week I don't have so it's nice to see those pennants. (A mate of mine had that issue 50 years ago but I haven't seen those two pennants since then.)

Moveover0 said...

Wow, does this bring back memories.
I seem to recall that the vanishers costume was green on the cover of fantastic?

Lew Stringer said...

It should have been green but they coloured it red so he'd stand out more. See my latest post.

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