Friday 30 September 2022

Fifty Years Ago... the birth of Marvel UK!

As you know, I use this blog to promote my business but I hope you'll excuse me going off at a tangent today as this is a significant date for something else, although it does relate to my work as you'll see...

It was FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY when Marvel UK launched their first comic, The Mighty World of Marvel, reprinting classic Marvel strips for a new British audience. This would prove highly significant for many of us as a few years later it would be Marvel UK who gave us our first break in the industry. I sold my very first professional cartoons to Marvel UK in 1983 and they kept me busy for the rest of that decade creating Robo-Capers, Combat Colin, Macho Man and other strips. A very active period for other (then) young creators too. Who knows where we’d be now if the company hadn’t been formed 50 years ago?

I’ve written an article about the first issue of Mighty World of Marvel over on John Freeman’s Down The Tubes blog, which you can read here… 



Manic Man said...

yep, important date.. Oh and minor issue.. "Matvel UK" ^_^ easy thing to do

Tony Howson said...

Just been over there and read your piece. A great article but it baffles me how this can be 50 years ago. That makes me older than my father was at the time.

I saw those TV ads that you missed and spent two fruitless days scouring local shops before finding a huge pile of issue #! in a WH Smith in the next town. Like you, I'd been an Odhams fan, so much of the content was familiar. The Hulk and FF strips had been reprinted at least once in Fantastic! and Wham! (not to mention the US annuals) but the AF#15 Spider-man was new to me and a story I'd searched for over many years.

The surprising thing was how many of my school contemporaries thought this was an all new comic. How could they have missed Odhams, Alan Class and the US colour titles that seemed to be in every newsagent until the end of the 60's? I guess that's testimony to Mort Weisinger's theory about the readership turning over every three or four years.

My French teacher, a very old man of at least 24, seemed to remeber the earlier issues. "Dear God are these things still published?" he asked while confiscating copies. Or perhaps he cried "Mon Dieu! est-ce que ces bandes dessinées sont toujours publiées ?"

Lew Stringer said...

It's strange. In 1972, it felt longer than four years since Fantastic and Terrific had ended. I think that, for me personally, it was due to me being at a different school by then and having grown up from a 9 year old child to a 13 year old teenager. Such big changes in my life, so the sixties seemed like long ago, even in the early seventies.

Perhaps also, MWOM was better distributed than the Odhams comics? I had Pow, Fantastic, and Terrific on order because not all shops had them, so perhaps that's why your school pals missed them?

Tony Howson said...

Yes, it did seem that an eternity passed between Odhams and Marvel UK. I was born March 1960 so the sixties neatly encapsulated the first decade of my life and have always felt a long time ago, whereas the 70s still feel comparatively recent.

Many of the things I liked disappeared or changed radically at the turn of the new decade - Odhams was gone; Jack Kirby had left Marvel; the Beatles split, England were no longer world champions; there was a new Doctor Who; the X-Men were cancelled and Adventure Comics quietly dropped the Legion of Superheroes. I know most of those events actually played out over a couple years before 1970 but in my memory it was like a curtain descended at the end of 1969. Mort Weisinger's iron curtain of time maybe ?

The biggest disruption was the increasingly patchy distribution of US Marvels from around 1971. They seemed to be everywhere in the 60s but suddenly dried up around the time the US price increased from 15c to 20c. So getting a regular fix in the form of MWOM was very welcome, even if much of the material was familiar.

I'm not a creative person but Odhams and Marvel UK had a strong influence on me and even today, when Marvel has become a world conquering subsidiary of the House of Mouse, I retain a soft spot for the excitement and wonder of their first dozen years.

Lew Stringer said...

Interesting. From what people have said, Marvel distribution seemed to be patchy in some areas. They were certainly plentiful where I live because I was buying several titles on a regular basis from 1971 onwards. Not every newsagent had them of course, and sometimes one shop suddenly couldn't get them but the distributor would send them to another shop instead, so it was a case of shopping around. Even today I can't walk by a newsagents without going in to see what comics they have, even though I know it'll only be the inevitable handful of pre-school activity mags.

Tony Howson said...

Yes, regional factors probably played a part. In summer 1975 Blackpool had noticeably more choice and wider availability of US Marvel titles than I found at home.

My home experience was in the North East, specifically industrial Teesside. I lived on the main street of a small town, very close to three newsagents, a grocers, an off licence and an adult book shop. All of them sold Marvel and DC monthlies so I was spoiled for choice in the 60's. As you say, it paid to shop around because the selection of titles carried was random, I regularly visited all six, though depending on who was serving I sometimes got chased out of the book shop.

It all started to change over the summer of 1971 and by December of that year they were only selling DC. From Dec 71 to around Feb 74 the only place I could find Marvel was in a large branch of WH Smith in the next town.

The change seemed to coincide with that stunt Martin Goodman pulled to get more US market share by tricking DC into raising their price to 25c, while quickly dropping the Marvel price back to 20c after the first month. There was a 1.5p price differential in the UK, which may have affected choices on what to stock.

Might also have been a change of distributor. DC continued to have a cents price and a UK price stamp from (I think) Thorpe & Porter whereas the Marvels in Smiths now always had a UK price appearing in the corner box.

In 1974 it got worse and there were no Marvels at all for about 6 months. Towards the end of the summer they started appearing again, but the Marvel Comics cover banner was replaced with Marvel All Colour Comics (even spelt the UK way) so a lot of US purists consider these to be variants. I think there were a few short editorial pieces publicising this in the Marvel UK weeklies.

It was a frustrating few years and I missed quite a few titles I'd have liked to read but there was also some fun to be had searching out comics in obscure backstreets, never knowing what you might stumble across. Walking into a dedicated store and ordering from Diamond previews just isn't as exciting.

Lew Stringer said...

The distributor changed in 1974, which was why no Marvels were imported to newsagents anywhere in the UK between March and July of that year. When they returned with the August cover dates they'd risen from 6p to 7p (but I was so pleased to see them back I actually started buying more of them every month).