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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Road to Marvel UK - Part 2

Like most British weeklies of the Sixties, all of the Odhams "Power Comics" had hardback annuals, with the exception of Terrific. However, unlike their weekly versions, Smash! and Wham! annuals never featured any Marvel reprint. Fantastic Annual and Pow! Annual more than made up for that though.

Although Marvel reprint had vanished from Smash! by March 1969 (and the rest of the Power Comics line had also folded) the annuals continued for a little while longer. The books for 1970 (prepared in early 1969) being the last to feature Marvel material. As I understand it, these books were edited by a different staff than those who had handled the weeklies, which may account for the colour scheme of some characters being very off-model. Witness a red-costumed Fantastic Four with a grey-skinned Thing from Pow! Annual 1970...

...and a yellow costumed Thor with bare legs (instead of blue) from Fantastic Annual 1970:

At the same time that Odhams and Alan Class were reprinting Marvel strips in their comics, World Distributors published several hardback annuals starring Marvel superheroes. Clearly, Marvel were quite intent on breaking into the British market in one way or another.

My knowledge of World Distributors is quite limited. They published numerous annuals based on popular TV shows of the day, (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Tarzan, Huckleberry Hound, etc) and also the Batman and Superman British annuals. They had the licence to reprint not only the US Dell/Gold Key Comics material in UK books (Flash Gordon, Star Trek, Flintstones, etc) but also DC and Marvel. (But not within the same books.)

From what I've seen, their annuals were rarely 100% strip material, but instead contained American strips alongside new UK text stories featuring the characters, and a smattering of puzzle pages.

World's first venture into Marvel material appears to be the Marvel Story Book Annual, published in 1967. Back then, at eight years old, I was a new and eager Marvelite and this book was a treasure that had to be possessed. However, it was somewhat disappointing to find it contained not a single comic strip.

There were text stories throughout, but the tone of the adventures seemed quite tame and somewhat dull, lacking the patter and humour of Stan Lee's comic scripts. The illustrations didn't help either, being quite stiffly drawn figures or copies from comic panels. Nevertheless, in those days, anything "Marvel" was a must-have.

Two years later, in 1969 according to the indicia, World published the Marvel Comic Annual. It was the same format as the previous book but this time featured comic strips throughout. A curious selection too. Marvel strips from the sixties (Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) alongside Marvel reprints from the Fifties (Sub-Mariner, Captain America).

Actually, they were reprints of reprints, as they featured the same editorial blurbs as those that had appeared in Marvel Tales and Marvel Super-Heroes in the USA around the late sixties.

The same year, World published two Fantastic Four books; a softback and a traditional annual hardback. The softback, titled The Fantastic Four Comic Album, was available long before most Christmas annuals as I recall (possibly in the summer). This full colour book, reprinting four Fantastic Four stories, is notorious for getting the colours of the main characters completely wrong. The Thing was purple, the FF had red and yellow costumes, the Silver Surfer was solid blue, and Doctor Doom was an explosion of primary colours. Obviously World were just working from black and white pages and making up their own colour scheme. Thankfully, at least the cover was accurate.

The Fantastic Four Comic Annual which World also published was a much better affair. Again, four FF strips reprinted, but this time it looked like Marvel had supplied the colour overlays too as they looked identical to the American comic oroginals.

A year later, in 1970, World dabbled with the Fantastic Four again. Another Fantastic Four Comic Album (below) was produced and amusingly this time the contents were entirely in black and white. To save money or to save their embarrassment I wonder?

1970 also saw another Fantastic Four Comic Annual published. This one seems the most memorable amongst fans as it reprinted the four part FF story which was inspired by The Prisoner tv series. (Issues 84-87 of the original FF comic book). To have this story arc in its entireity within one book almost makes this annual a forerunner to the graphic novel.

Again UK colorists were allowed to define the book in their own way, but at least this time the colours of the FF's costumes, and the Thing's rocky hide, were correct. Doctor Doom however, didn't fare so well again, and was given a clash of colours instead of his green and grey combination.

I don't know if World published any more Marvel annuals, but these were the only ones I saw at the time. Not that UK kids would be starved of such material for long though, as several Marvel reprints were about to begin featuring in an already established British weekly...

To Be Concluded

Click here for Part 1:

Click here for Part 3:



Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing the covers (and some interiors) to those marvelous (no pun intended) old annuals, some of which I had a lifetime ago, and some I wouldn't mind getting hold of! Brought back a lot of memories. I'm glad you mention that Smash! and Wham! annuals don't feature any Marvel/DC content; I won't be looking for them in jumble sales or flea markets on that basis.

Lew Stringer said...

That's a shame as there's some good material in those books: Ken Reid in Wham annuals 1966 and 1967 for example, and the Pow! Annual 1971 is packed with brand new UK superhero characters that have never appeared anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, what I meant was that while I'd snap up a Smash! or Wham! annual I'd be more inclined to had there been some Marvel material within. I remember seeing a Wham! annual 1967 on my local flea market and having a quick look inside it and wondering where the Marvel stuff was. In the end I didn't have enough money. I suppose it's a question of differing tastes. I had the Pow! annual 1971 with the new superheroes - wonder if it was a try-out vehicle?

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, that Pow! Annual with the all-new heroes is a bit of a mystery. I'll cover it on this blog at a later date.

Anonymous said...

A couple of those annuals may still exist in my mother's attic in Bedford. Unfortunately it's tough to check from 5,000 miles away and 33 years hence. Can't afford the air fare these days. I know I had one of the FF albums, which I bught at a local Woolworth's.

--Mike Mittelstadt
Watertown NY

Nialli said...

Wow Lew, you're on a roll! That 1970 Fantastic Four annual was one of my most treasured childhood possessions and the incorrect colouring of Doc Doom irritated the innocent 8-year-old to such a degree I even wrote to Marvel about it! Hadn't appreciated just how awful the cover was though :o(

Hypersonic said...

I got that Pow! 1970 annual from my gran when I was 5. I read it to death and I think it got sent to a jumble sale sometime in the early 80s.

Anonymous said...

It's great seeing you write about these, as my first steps into comicdom were an old second-hand copy of the 1970 Fantastic Annual, and Transformers comic - which I'd I'll alawys skip to the back and read Robocapers first!

Lew Stringer said...

Robo Capers was good fun to do. I should post an item about it here one day.

Rob Kirby said...

No, I can see why you were wondering if Marvel had any intention of breaking in to the UK market when Odhams first took up the baton of Marvel UK reprinting, and when World Distributors started their initial dribble of Annuals too, but I don’t personally believe that was the case then. I think that came later, after they began to realise that their material would continue to be treated as filler over here. From what I’ve seen, other countries seemed to far more often use their material solely to create new anthologies, whereas UK publishers tended to try and integrate it alongside more standard, home-grown fare – which, to me, just never worked when I eventually came across copies years later. Back then I would still have been reading TV Comic ;)

And maybe Stan being something of an Anglophile helped too – after all, he was married to a British gal!

But it was only the early Annuals by World that featured text material too; later ones definitely became strip only affairs. And there is definitely a copyright 1968 Marvel Annual, but I’ve yet to track it down – I saw its contents listed in an old U.S. Koch advert several times over in CBG – although I can’t be sure if this is the only early Annual that I don’t have now, as for a while I kept finding another one I hadn’t seen before popping up on E-Bay, such as the gorgeous one with the pink and yellow FF logo that you’ve shown us here. So, yes, there are a few more Annuals to the bulk of those shown here :)

I think the B&W albums served an entirely different purpose, though, because some of their colour albums and Annuals were later reprinted in B&W in the 1970s and sold as colouring books, as later advertised on the back of the Marvel UK weeklies!

Judith said...

I have a good Fantastic 1970 annual if anyone is interested? Thanks.

Judith said...

I have a very good Fantastic 1970 annual if anyone is interested. Thanks.

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