|1967, wearing my free Iron Man transfer on my T-shirt. |
It's highly likely I wouldn't be in this business if not for Marvel reprints in British comics. Let me explain; my favourite comic when I was a child was Smash! in its original incarnation published by Odhams. The mixture of wildly reckless funnies such as Bad Penny and The Nervs and bizarre adventures such as The Legend Testers and Moon Madness was enough to hook me, but what really kept me coming back week after week was following the saga of The Incredible Hulk which started in issue 16 in May 1966. That first story (actually reprinting Hulk No.2, not issue 1) drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko was creepy, menacing, and unmissable!
I didn't know it was an American reprint at the time. My 7 year old self wouldn't know about American comics for another year, but I knew I liked the Hulk! I also liked the Fantastic Four that another favourite comic, Wham!, started reprinting a few weeks later. I was becoming a Marvelite without even realising it.
(Smash! also reprinted the Batman newspaper strip, which was OK, but DC didn't have that Marvel magic.) Pow!, Fantastic, and Terrific followed in 1967, all reprinting various Marvel strips. A school friend told me they were American reprints and gave me a stack of Marvel comics. That blew my mind! American comics? Comics actually from America? And my corner shop sold them! It all seemed so exotic in those days long before comic shops. A life changing moment as I started buying any Marvels I could afford. Inspired by these exciting superhero comics I began to create my own comics, just for the amusement of myself and my immediate family...
The Odhams comics were sadly short-lived and all gone by early 1969, but then came Marvel UK in 1972, kicking off with The Mighty World of Marvel. Another must-have comic, as were all the Marvel UK titles that followed during my teen years.
Here's the thing; if it wasn't for Marvel UK (and American imports) keeping my interest in comics alive I think I'd have dropped comics altogether when I left school, like most kids did. By 16 I'd given up buying most British comics such as Dandy, Whoopee! and Valiant because I'd simply grown out of them. Marvel (and DC, and Atlas etc by then) seemed more mature, so I carried on buying those.
One week, around 1975, the Marvel UK comics carried an advert for fanzines. I was already a subscriber to FOOM but I had no idea there were also fanzines produced in the UK. I sent away for them and received a few including Comic Media published by Nick Landau (now a publisher of Titan Comics). The 'zine carried adverts for comic shops in London. Actual shops that sold nothing but comics! This was something I'd actually dreamed about when I was a little kid!
Well, a trip to London a year later and a visit to Dark They Were And Golden Eyed and I came away with a bagfull of new comics and fanzines, and here's a photo of me on that very warm summers day in 1976...
Discovering comics fandom was another turning point. I began to contribute to 'zines and also produced my own. It re-ignited my childhood ambition to work in comics and I quit my boring office job in 1980 to pursue it. I started buying traditional British comics again but this time I was studying them with a professional eye. Well, it took four years of rejections, and I was about to give up, but then good friend Alan Moore introduced me to Bernie Jaye, his editor on The Daredevils. Another life-changing moment when Bernie accepted my What If cartoons. Here's my first professional sale from 38 years ago that appeared in The Daredevils No.7, July 1983...
That led to lots more work for Marvel UK on titles such as The Spider-Man Comic and eventually creating Combat Colin for Action Force and The Transformers. I also started getting work from other publishers such as IPC, Fleetway, Viz, DC Thomson, Panini, and it continues to this day I'm glad to say with The Daft Dimension in Doctor Who Magazine.
Now I know some collectors of British comics deplore American reprints, but I have to say that comics like Smash!, Fantastic, and The Mighty World of Marvel not only kept my interest in comics alive but also nurtured it. I owe my career to them!
Bringing things up to date, and to give a plug to my friends at Panini, you probably know that there haven't been any British Marvels for 12 months because of the pandemic and lockdowns. It felt strange to have a break in that long tradition and see no UK Marvels on the shelves of WH Smith but the good news is they're coming back! Not the titles that were published before, but a whole new line of reprints in great value-for-money formats.
Here's the Press Release and covers...
NEW TITLES! Amazing Spider-Man launches on 25th March priced at only £2.99 48 pages every 4 weeks Running two stories every issue, continuing with Nick Spencer's run, on the HUNTED story arc.
Marvel Universe X-Men launches on 15th April £7.99 for 112 pages every 4 weeks Ushering in Jonathan Hickman's incredible Dawn of X story arcs, and kicking off with House of X and Powers of X, we'll run through all the supercool tie-ins (Marauders, Hellions etc), presenting the stories in the intended reading order, as we arrive at X of Swords and beyond.
(DC) Batman Guardian of the Night launches on the 6th May £2.99 for 48 pages every 4 weeks Launching with James Tynion's Batman run and ably backed-up by Brian Michael Bendis' Batman Universe.
Marvel Essentials launches on the 27th May £7.99 for 112 pages every 4 weeks Featuring Dan Slott and Al Ewing's epic Avengers/Fantastic Four EMPYRE storyline, and Donny Cates’ VENOM story arcs, this is the title where the big events and crossovers will feature (unless it's X-Men). There will also be the odd surprise from the editors, given the wealth of great material coming from Marvel right now! New titles available from supermarkets, newsagents and online at:
They've also been publishing a few specials recently, with Falcon and Winter Soldier being the latest, which came out yesterday.
My story of how important Marvel reprints were in guiding my career path isn't unique. Speak to many artists, writers, letterers in the UK and they'll tell you similar stories. Who's to say that the new comics from Panini won't also have the same impact with some young kids out there and set them on a course in the comics industry of the future? To all those future creators, I say good luck and best wishes! It'll be an exciting journey!