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Friday, February 01, 2008

The Road to Marvel UK - Part 3

By 1970 TV21 was a shadow of its former self, and was being packaged by a company called Martspress. The license to publish strips based on Gerry Anderson's shows had not been renewed (instead it went to Polystyle and Countdown) and tv content was minimal. The Star Trek strip was its major draw, now taking up all three full colour pages, and the rest of the comic (reduced in size from its tabloid heyday) was a mixture of a couple of other tv strips (Land of the Giants, Tarzan) and new non-tv adventure strips.

Later that year, more budget cuts were evident, dropping all tv strips except for Star Trek, and adding several reprint strips... including a handful of Marvel characters.

Putting Marvel superheroes in TV21 seemed a bizarre move, but by that time the name of the comic had become irrelevant to its content anyway. However, Spider-Man had been on British tv... well, in certain regions anyway, a few years earlier when the sixties cartoon series had aired. This seemed to be justification enough for Spider-Man, Ghost Rider (original cowboy version), The Silver Surfer, Ringo Kid, and Homer the Happy Ghost to arrive in the weekly's pages.

Ringo Kid was a western strip that Marvel had published in the 1950s. It had some nice artwork by the excellent Joe Maneely and John Severin. Unfortunately, like all the Marvel reprints in the comic, artwork was edited to fit more panels on a page to make it look more like a traditional British comic format. Odhams had also done this in the sixties, and Dez Skinn would do it again when he became editor of Marvel UK in the late seventies, but it's a technique that doesn't always work if panels are cropped or extended badly.

Homer the Happy Ghost was a Marvel humour strip from the mid-Fifties. Obviously inspired by Harvey Comics' Casper the Friendly Ghost, these strips were presumably added to give the comic a balance with humour and adventure. Although written by Stan Lee, the strip wasn't that great.

Initially Spider-Man (or The Spider-Man as TV21 called it) took up the centre pages in full colour. The strips were recoloured by Martspress staff, which didn't necessarily improve on the originals. Stories were also re-lettered because dialogue was often altered, - sometimes slightly, sometimes a lot.

The most radical changes in script came at the end of TV21's run. Issue 105, the final issue, wrapped up a condensed Silver Surfer story from Marvel's Silver Surfer No.18. In the original version the Surfer battles The Inhumans, who are as heroic and misunderstood as the Surfer himself, then flees to vent his anger at the stars. In the TV21 reprint, the story changes them to "mad creatures who were bent on self destruction" and the Surfer helps to destroy these "forces of evil", leaving them all apparently dead!

The Spider-Man strip in that final issue also changes the script, with Spidey being pardoned by the city and deciding to retire at the end of the story. By this time (September 1971) TV21 was published by IPC, and they were about to merge it into Valiant. As had been their attitude when they took over Smash!, superheroes had no place in IPC's traditional weeklies.

Just before TV21 folded, the TV21 Annual 1972 was released, published by World Distributors (presumably packaging material farmed out to them by IPC) and contained the same Marvel characters as the weekly had. Again, the strips were edited and re-formatted to fit more panels on each page. (This was the only TV21 Annual to feature Marvel material.)

However, IPC's license to publish Marvel strips in the UK hadn't expired with TV21. A year later, in Autumn 1972, they published the undated Marvel Annual. This 128 page hardback featured early stories of Spider-Man, Conan, The Fantastic Four, and The Hulk. All the strips (except Conan) had been reprinted just a few years earlier in the Odhams weeklies, but here the pages were not reformatted.

I once heard a rumour that around this time IPC were planning a Marvel weekly, and this annual (like annuals always are) had been prepared in advance to tie in with that. Whatever the truth of it, that same year Marvel Comics set up a British office and The Mighty World of Marvel No.1 was launched at the end of September. Marvel no longer needed a UK publisher to handle their strips. They were doing it themselves, - editing and designing the comics in New York and using a British office to deal with printing, advertising and distribution. Eventually of course the UK office would expand to edit and package the comics themselves. Marvel UK had arrived.

Interestingly, IPC published a second and final Marvel Annual in 1973, after which Marvel UK took on that job too. Alan Class, who had reprinted so many Marvel strips in his comics in the sixties, carried on reprinting old Marvel monster/mystery stories for years afterwards, but dropped the superhero material.

Marvel UK went on to have its highs and lows of course, all of which will be told in Robin Kirby's book on the history of the company, to be published by Quality. Hopefully this long awaited volume will be out this year as I understand the finishing touches are being put to it right now. I'm not sure if the title has been decided upon yet (although I did suggest "Wham! Bam! Thank you Stan! Marvel Comics: Over priced, Over-sexed and Over here" - but I'm not sure if they're going with that. :-)).

I've touched upon the pre-Marvel UK days on this blog the last few days but Robin's book will cover it in much more depth. This is an area of British comics history that's often dismissed as "just reprint" but there's been much more to it than that and it needs to go on record. From what I've heard, the book will certainly do that, as it interviews staff and freelancers who worked for Marvel UK. More details will be given here in due course when the book is released.

Click here for Part 1:

Click here for Part 2:



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reviews and the blog it has helped me go from being a comic reader who only knew about the basics to knowing a load of intresting stuff like i never noticed and would never had cared when beano comics had the names of the writer on them so well done and keep the good work up.

Paul said...

Thanks for that insight into pre-Marvel UK reprints, Lew. As someone born way after Marvel UK was established it's always fascinating to read about what was happening before my time. I never knew that comics were flashed with "adult comic" warnings so early on, for example! I'm looking forward to Robin's book immensely.

Anonymous said...

An excellent three-parter, bringing back a lot of memories. I often thought that at the end, the TV content in TV21 was practically non-existent, with only Star Trek justifying it still carrying the name. Spiderman was a bit tenuous, as it had only been on a few ITV regions. I'll be interested to see the book when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

'Wham, Bam, Thank You Stan' is a good one. My contribution was 'The Blighty World of Marvel!".

Great trio of blogs this week. Thanks.

Lew Stringer said...

Thank you Wil. I try to vary the topics a little here. I know some visitors prefer just traditional British comics and nothing else, but the Marvel reprints are just as much a part of UK comic history as Valiant or The Dandy. Glad you liked the features.

Anonymous said...

Almost painfully nostalgic series of blogs, this; thanks for putting so much work into this, Lew.

David Simpson

Lew Stringer said...

No problem. Most of it's from memory anyway (and I just verified the facts when I dug the comics out) so it didn't take too long to do. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the kind words. Yes, we do have a title - as some of you may have seen if you flick over to Simon Williams excellent Facebook site, wherein you'll find a new Q&A section for me to use and the first in a series of press releases about the book - it's full title is:

Marvel: From Cents to Pence - The Definitive Guide to Marvel's British Comics 1971-2007.

Just waiting to get some IT problems ironed out and then we can finally start designing it in earnest - all the material's in place, and more is still coming in :)


Angelo said...

May I ask you if you have a copy of the Marvel Story Book Annual, published in 1967 and of the other Marvel UK books?
And when we will able to find the book about all the Marvel in UK?
Thank you,

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, the comics and books shown in the features are ones I own. As for the Rob Kirby book on Marvel UK, I don't know when it'll be published but I'll mention it here as soon as details become available.

Angelo said...

I know we have to wait, but may I thank you for this magnificent blog and thank Robin Kirby for his book? I really can't wait to have and read it? Is it possible to buy it directly from him? May I pre-order it now?
I really look forward to have it.

Lew Stringer said...

I don't think there's any publication date or price set yet Angelo, so no pre-order facility as yet.

Angelo said...

I come here everyday to see if there are news. I really like to know everything about the UK Marvel comics. For example you wrote you thinked to talk also about the new characters in Pow! Annual 1971. Is it still possible? For example, are they in the Marvel Universe or outside?
Thank you very much,

Lew Stringer said...

I think it's going to be several months before any date is set for the Marvel UK book.

The characters in that Pow! Annual you mention have no connection with Marvel. Pow's connection with Marvel had expired by then and the book featured brand new characters owned by the publishers Odhams (or IPC as it would be by then).

Anonymous said...


Lew Stringer said...

There was a Power Comics Index published several years ago, Amrick, but unfortunately it's out of print now. Foolishly I loaned mine to someone who never returned it.

Angelo said...

Hi to everybody!!!
I know I am annoying but may I ask if are there news about the Marvel UK book, please?
Thank you very much,

Johnny South said... this book ready yet? It's been a couple of years now. Come on guys!

Anonymous said...

I see there is some news about the book 'From Cents To Pence' on Dez Skinn Dot Com, also a sneak preview of the cover. Should be ready soon by all accounts!

Lew Stringer said...

If you look closely you'll see that's only a dummy cover. The actual cover (when it's done) will have a better design and real quotes. Still no definite word as to when it'll appear unfortunately. With Marvel UK's 40th Anniversary in 2012 it might be better if Dez waits until then perhaps?

Shaqui said...

Didn't the latterday 'Eagle' of the late 1960s also reprint some Marvel strips, at the time when it was under Odhams? I have some recollections of 'Thor' (although I think it was called something like 'Tales of Azgard'?), and one or two others appearing in it, which was a surprise when I obtain some issues a while back...

Lew Stringer said...

Tales of Asgard was the only Marvel strip to appear in Eagle, Shaqui. I covered that in Part 1.

Eagle also featured "The Iron Man" but he was nothing like Marvel's Iron Man.

Rob Kirby said...

Well, I completely agree with Lew about the second volume of the TV21 comic. Putting Marvel reprints into TV21 did seem an odd mix, but then the title was struggling by then, and the material was cheap… so why the heck not if it sold a few more copies – sounds cynical, but it seems to hold true, as you showed people with that Eagle cover! Although, having said that, Homer the Happy Ghost?!! But the again, I suppose it had some similar qualities to some of our humour fare that wasn’t in the more anarchic vein seen elsewhere.

And don’t get me started on the slicing and dicing of strips! There’s more than enough about that in the book (I had to agree to differ with Dez when we first spoke back in 1990, because although I could understand his reason for using it, I felt it not only desecrated the artwork but destroyed Marvel UK’s USP too, in that they didn’t look or read like any of the other UK comics. Besides, cutting up all that artwork was really time-consuming, so it’s no surprise to me that page-for-page reprints, and glossy covers, returned a few years after the Marvel Revolution in 1983/4. It’s what a lot of readers had clamoured for!

I love that TV-inspired 'The Spider-Man' logo TV21 used, although their re-colouring was very poor. I’m not surprised that some of the stories were partially rewritten, as Spider-Man particularly featured obviously truncated instalments, but I wasn’t aware of how they ended the reprints as I’m missing those later issues at the minute. I wouldn't mind having some high res. scans of both that Silver Surfer conclusion, and the Spider-Man one, if possible, as I really ought to mention that! Thanks for bringing that little nugget to my attention!

Well, I’d be surprised if IPC ever really considered publishing a superhero comic, they were never interested later on, but do tell me if you know anything more than that. Then again, there was that still-born comic through Martspress, as advertised in the trade press in the autumn of 1971. And it turns out that it was the failure of that comic to launch that forced Marvel to wade in and create not only their own title from scratch but also their own satellite operation too. They had to, as they’d invested too much money in it not to try and do something fresh. Just the sort of challenge that Stan would have loved, I’m sure. Indeed, and despite what you might have read in the past about his work post-writing, he was certainly VERY involved with the whole UK set-up.

In fact I now feel that Lee’s whole stint as Publisher has been unfairly denigrated, as people don’t seem to believe that he could have been planning and arranging things behind the scenes. But why not, Stan was an ideas man, and he had bags of enthusiasm, and the moxie to try things and the charm to persuade people to try them. And more often than not they worked. But I’ll have to save that whole story for the book, as it’s far too involved to relate even partially here, and it will surprise you no end by how the story of Marvel UK slots in to events over in the States… but more of that anon, after all, I would like to sell a few copies of From Cents to Pence!

And, yes, that is the title that we’ve stuck with, sorry! :)

Anonymous said...

Yes i coloured some of those Spider-man strips at that time Martspress did not understand the characters, i did but wasn't that interested in Spider-Man we cut the strip up and re pasted it on board but the colour would not take to the photo print that's why the coulour looks bad. The drawing up of the pages was just a joke and no one realy cared. From John Peter Britton

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