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Monday, September 24, 2012

40 Year Flashback: Mighty World of Marvel No.1

This coming Sunday, September 30th 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of The Mighty World of Marvel No.1, - and 40 years since Marvel UK set up business. (Even though, initially, the comics were edited and designed in New York, with a London office just handling advertising, printing and distribution.)

Marvel UK no longer exist under that name of course. For several years now Marvel have been represented in Britain by Panini UK who have the license to publish UK editions of Marvel Comics (and a great job they do too). However, Marvel UK had a good run and it all kicked off four decades ago with the comic shown in this post.

For whatever reasons I missed the TV advertisements on September 30th for the launch of the comic and the first I knew about it was a few days later when my Mum and I were about to embark on a day trip to Blackpool. Nipping into the bus station newsagent to buy a bottle of pop for the journey I spotted a pile of copies of The Mighty World of Marvel on the counter and my eyes must have popped out of their sockets. A British Marvel reprint comic to replace the much-missed Fantastic which had folded four years earlier! And with a brand new John Buscema cover to boot!

Needless to say, a good portion of the coach journey to Blackpool was taken up reading the comic from cover to cover. The weather was pleasant that day anyway, but I don't think I'd have noticed if it had been lashing down with rain. 

Although Odhams had previously published Marvel material in their late lamented "Power Comics", and Alan Class comics had haphazardly reprinted some Marvel classics, Marvel UK had been set up to introduce Marvel to Britain for a new generation. Therefore Mighty World of Marvel was printed Web Offset on matt paper (like Tiger and Cor!!) so it resembled the familiar British format. Like Fantastic, it was an anthology of three strips, reprinting half of each of the original comics, so we were given the first 10 pages of The Incredible Hulk No.1, the first half of Fantastic Four No.1, and the Spider-Man origin story from Amazing Fantasy No.15. (Subsequent weeks would continue this serialised approach, so issue 2 presented the second halves of Hulk and FF and the first half of Amazing Spider-Man No.1, and so on.)

Having 40 pages The Mighty World of Marvel (or MWOM as it was often referred to) was a bit more substantial than the average 32 page UK comic, and its 5p cover price reflected that. (Most UK adventure comics of the time were around 3p.) Like most British comics back then, full colour on every page was out of the question if they wanted to keep costs down, but rather than print in black and white MWOM alternated between green spot colour and pale green paper. (I know some readers hated this but I really liked it. Unfortunately it was dropped several months later and contents became entirely black and white.) 

Only 5 pages were in full colour (increasing to 8 a few weeks later). Issue 1 used the colour of one page for a pin-up by recolouring the cover of Fantastic Four No.1. 

The centre pages of MWOM were used for self-promotion, and who better to present those pages than Stan Lee himself? (Although there's no guarantee he wrote his own editorial every week.)

The rest of the spread was taken up with teasers for 'The World's Greatest Free Gift Offer', encouraging readers to clip out the coupons over 11 weeks and send them in for a mystery gift. Clues were provided every week ("It's bigger than a breadbox") and eventually it was revealed to be an excellent full colour poster drawn by John Buscema of Spider-Man, Hulk, and the FF. (Yes, I clipped out the coupons and sent away for it, and had the poster on my bedroom wall until I left school and decided I was perhaps a tad too old for superhero pin-ups.) 

The free gift in MWOM No.1 was heralded as "A Green-Skinned Monster T-Shirt Transfer". It was of course The Hulk, but bearing in mind this comic was aimed at a brand new readership, the words "Green-Skinned Monster" in the topline may have been more effective. 

With such an incredibly strong line up of characters and featuring some of Marvel's most iconic stories, how could it fail? Although I'd read some of the material before in Odhams comics and American reprint comics such as Marvel Tales I bought Mighty World of Marvel avidly every week. I was 13 at the time, perhaps getting a bit jaded by traditional British comics of the day, so this was just the ticket. Seems a lot of other people felt the same, as Marvel UK swiftly expanded with more comics, - Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, Planet of the Apes, Dracula Lives, The Superheroes and numerous others. Some were successful, some were complete flops, but Marvel were firmly established as part of the UK comics scene. 

The back page of MWOM No.1
As the message in issue one said, "The excitement is just beginning". It certainly was. I could never have dreamed back in 1972, reading Mighty World of Marvel No.1 on that coach journey to Blackpool, that I'd be a contributor to MWOM's second series in the 1980s with some of my earliest cartoons appearing in its pages alongside Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davis. 

That second run was short lived, but after a gap of about 20 years Panini UK revived The Mighty World of Marvel for a third series a few years ago, followed immediately by a fourth series. Published every four weeks, that incarnation is still running and the latest issue (Vol.4 No.40) will be published this Thursday. The original MWOM had 40 pages for 5p with only a handful of colour. The current issue has 76 pages in full colour for £2.95. Not a bad evolution for the price. 

The latest issue, on sale September 27th.

Coincidentally, the 40th anniversary of MWOM on Sunday 30th September will see the launch of another new comic, - the first issue of Aces Weekly, the brand new digital title from a new publisher. More about that in my next blog post.


Dr Andy Oliver said...

Similar thing happened to me in 76. I leapt from IPC Whoopee, Monster Fun and the like on to Marvel UK titles. I was a Marvel Zombie for a good for years, even buying up all of the back issues of the UK titles up to and including MWOM no 1. I hung on to the MArvel UK collection but sadly not my IPC comics - of course I now regret this.

Lew Stringer said...

I'd grown out of most traditional UK comics by 1975 (the year I left school) but I carried on reading the Marvel UK weeklies and imported American comics. (And in 1977 2000AD was a must-buy of course.) It wasn't until around 1980, when I decided to quit my job and focus on cartooning, that I started to buy comics such as Buster, Tiger, etc again, looking at them from a different perspective in regards to learning about comics.

Robert said...

Great post. I really enjoyed the Marvel UK titles in the late 70s that really did attempt to emulate the IPC/DC Thomson comics by reducing the size of the images and running about seven or eight different stories in one comic. Particularly fond of Hulk Weekly, which included David Lloyd doing Night Raven and, I think, a British originated Black Knight, as well as Forces in Combat. I guess it must have been a headache for the editors at the time shrinking and editing the formats of the original to fit the British model though.

Dr Andy Oliver said...

My earliest comic memory is from MWOM 1. Its where the FF after gaining their powers join hands. My mom must have bought on the off chance as I dont remember subsequent issues. I do remember getting Shiver and Shake no 1 the following March though and that was me happy with the IPC range for several years. After all those years my fond memories of the comic remained, particularly Creepy Creations. It prompted me to buy back some of my childhood when Ebay arrived and I acquired a full set of Shiver and Monster Fun.

Phil Rushton said...

I still find it hard to believe that the Marvel Universe was only about a decade old when MWOM made it's debut - in addition to which Stan's distribution deal with DC comics limited him to a mere handful of titles for the first few years. As was the case with Power comics this meant that there was only a limited amount of top-notch material to reprint on a weekly basis before they had to start scraping the barrel with series like Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders!

Forty years later, of course, Egmont have an almost unlimited back-catalogue to plunder, and their only problem is choosing strips that aren't too old-fashioned for a modern audience.

SREW said...

Great article. I read MWOM avidly from 1976 to 1979, aged 5 to 8, before I could read actually, so I coloured in every panel to my heart's delight. Is your MWOM #1 really so white and perfect??

Lew Stringer said...

Near enough. Bear in mind I was 13 when that issue came out so I looked after it carefully. The scan made it look a bit brighter than it is though. I actually have two copies of No.1, - the copy I bought in 1972 and one I bought a few years later from a mart.

Robert, re: those later issues and resized panels. That's when Dez Skinn was brought in as the new editor to give the comics a boost. (Sales had been falling on MWOM and other titles.) Dez decided to make them look more British, by putting more panels on each page. It was a technique that Odhams' Wham!, Smash! and Pow! had used previously in the 1960s when they reprinted Marvel strips.

Dr Andy Oliver said...

Dracula Lives was very good. Although not in colour I think a lot of grey shading was used for the strips - so thy were not completely black and white like those you can see in the reprint series Essential Tomb of Dracula. The grey shading really had a great effect on Ploog's artwork for Werewolf By Night and Frankenstein, and also for Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula strip. It made them very atmospheric and over and above the US colour versions I would say.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I enjoyed all of those early Marvel UK weeklies and Dracula Lives was a favourite. I remember buying it one evening from my corner shop, along with Planet of the Apes No.1 which launched on the same day.

I do think though that chopping the stories up into 2 or 3 weekly parts did them no favours sometimes. It worked ok with the early sixties Marvels but by the 1970s the rhythm of the stories was a bit different and it affected the flow somewhat. Thankfully today, the longer page count of MWOM etc means they can run three complete issues in one title.

I'd like to see Panini launch a Marvel Monsters comic reprinting the full issues of Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night and Man-Thing but it'll never happen. Apparently today's readers don't care much for classic Marvel, which is why they dropped the older stories from the Panini comics.

Phil Rushton said...

I liked the British edition of Marvel's 'Planet of the Apes' - not least because of Mike Ploog's 'Future History Chronicles' that were reprinted from the US magazine; and the cover for the first issue was pretty spectacular (Bob Larkin?).

After a while, though, I seem to remember that they became a bit desperate for 'ape-related' material with strips like Don McGregor's 'Kilraven' been redrawn as 'Apeslayer' or somesuch...! :-)

John Parker said...

A wonderful post,Lew. This comic was a turning point for me. I had always been a comics reader and being one of seven children,had read a lot of comics (Eagle,TV21,Smash,Wham,Terrific, Pow! etc). But with MWOM, I started collecting and went on to discover fandom,fanzines, comic marts and the like. The 70s was a great time to be a collector. Thanks again for posting it. Is there any chance of your doing a similar-type post on POW! some day?

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks John. I did one on Pow! five years ago:

There's quite a bit about the Odhams comics on my blog, and no doubt I'll do more in the future as they're my favourite comics. If you put a search for a keyword such as Pow, Smash, Terrific, etc in the search window at the right hand side of this blog you should find a few results.

NP said...

The TV ad, voiceover by Stan himself, was what alerted me to this comic- wasn't it great to see this early Marvel stuff presented so enthusiastically? A lot of my svhool friends had never seen early marvel stories and I would astound them with my predictions for what Spidey and the Hulk would be up to next week! "The Sandman?! Why, Spiderman could simply vacuum him up!" "The Metal Master?! Why, a plastic and cardboard gun painted to look like metal would so alarm him that the Hulk could get close enough to clobber him!"
Granada TV began showing Sesame Street that Saturday, the first UK screening, and trailed it as often as they showed the marvel ad. It was like 'America' weekend!

Lew Stringer said...

I think I'd stopped watching Saturday morning TV by then so that might be why I missed it. (I'd watched 'Zokko', and Tiswas was yet to start, so there didn't seem a reason to tune in as I recall, except when they showed the movie 'Days of Thrills and Laughter'.)

I presume you had 'Zokko' televised up your way? It was a compilation of cartoons, hosted by a talking pinball machine. Naturally.

Phil Friel said...

Fantastic article, Lew. You have an absolutely awesome blog here. I LOVE it!

MWOM #6 was my first Marvel UK purchase, and was the one that first got me into US superheroes, after six or seven years of reading only the traditional British weekly comics (particularly the Lion, the Valiant, Eagle and Countdown/TV Action). I was so smitten by MWOM #6, which I thought was so superior to the other rather bland, colourless British weeklies, that I immediately nagged my dad to give me the money for the first five issues of MWOM, and sent off a postal order for the princely sum of 50p (25p for the five issues, plus 25p postage) to Marvel UK. When they arrived, I thought it was Christmas!

My life was to never be the same after that. I became a Marvel junkie for the entire duration of the 70s, buying both the Marvel UK weeklies and the US monthlies for the best part of an entire decade, up until I finally dropped out of comics for many years from 1982 onwards.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks, Phil.

Good point about how MWOM made British comics look bland. I'm sure that the increasing number of Marvel UK comics must have damaged the sales of rival comics such as Lion etc. for that very reason. The dynamic approach of Marvel and their pally editorial manner did make traditional British comics look stuffy and reserved. Things balanced out a bit more in the mid to late seventies when Battle, Action, and 2000AD came on the scene but Marvel definitely had an impact on the UK.

j43ms said...

I also loved the use of spot colour in the early 70s editions. Green for Mighty World of Marvel and Red for Amazing Spiderman (obviously in deference to their respective lead characters). The full colour pages made up for their lack of definition with a beautiful garish warmth (both due to the type of paper used) that was lacking in the original American issues.

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