Monday, 24 September 2012

THE AMERICANS ARE COMING! (TOO LATE, THEY'RE HERE!)


 
BARRY PEARL, author of THE ESSENTIAL MARVEL AGE
REFERENCE PROJECT and blogger of BARRY'S PEARLS OF COMIC
BOOK WISDOM (here), recently asked me for my personal reminiscences
as to how I first discovered American comicbooks. (Just like STAN LEE,
I prefer to render it as one word.)

First of all 'though, let m
 relate what I can recall of the
earliest comics I encountered
when I was but a few years old.
It would be impossible to list
them in the sequential order I
first experienced them, as my
memories of that particular
period of my life tend to run
into one another and it's difficult
to separate them at this late stage.
However, I remember being
aware of SUPERMAN from
about three or four years of
age, and even reading one of
his comics, doubtless bought by
my older brother. Whether it was
a U.S. original or U.K. reprint is beyond my ability to recollect - not that I'd
have known the difference at that young age anyway.

Back in the early and mid-'60s, which is the time I first became aware of
them, Britain still had a decent comics industry, with myriad publications
vying for the pocket-money of post-war 'baby-boomer' children. Titles such
as BEANO, DANDY, BEEZER, TOPPER, SPARKY, VICTOR, HOTSPUR,
VALIANT, LION, TIGER, EAGLE, BUSTER, TV COMIC, TV CENTURY
21, and a whole host more - the majority of which were aimed mainly at boys.
Girls had their own 'pictorial papers' to amuse and entertain them. Unlike
American comics, their British counterparts were published weekly, so U.K.
kids were spoilt for choice when it came to having something to read.

I probably first became aware
of American comicbooks (as
American comicbooks) around
1964 or '65, while visiting an
honorary 'Aunt' whose son bought
them. Sometimes he would even
let my brother and me take some
of them home - to keep. These
were usually from the stable of
NATIONAL PERIODICAL
PUBLICATIONS (DC COMICS
nowadays), and included such
titles as SUPERMAN, BATMAN,
THE FLASH, etc. As most readers
will know, U.S. comics came to
Britain as ballast in ships, and
were usually displayed on spinner-
racks along with other magazines in a shop corner, whereas U.K. comics were normally given space on the newsagent's counter. This perhaps
accounts for why I didn't discover 'yankee' superhero mags sooner.


I first became acquainted with the MARVEL COMICS heroes in 1966, in
the pages of a British title called SMASH!, published by ODHAMS PRESS.
First THE HULK and then THE FANTASTIC FOUR (the foursome's origin
being reprinted in two comics simultaneously), followed soon after by the rest
of the mighty Marvel pantheon in sister-publications such as WHAM!, POW!,
FANTASTIC and TERRIFIC. Three of these weekly comic papers (Wham!
Smash!, and Pow!) ran the Marvel reprints alongside home-grown humour,
adventure, war, and sports strips, typical of what British comics had been
producing from the '50s onwards. Of course, British comics go back much
further than that, and Glasgow comics historian JOHN McSHANE has
unearthed evidence that appears to suggest that comics first originated
in Scotland - the real 'home of the brave and the land of the free'.
 
As for comicbooks from before
my time, I first became aware of
them through reprints in 80 page
GIANTS and, later, when DC
COMICS upped their price to 25
cents an issue in the early '70s
and included 'Golden Age' tales in
the extra pages. Classics such as
THE BOY COMMANDOS, THE
NEWSBOY LEGION, THE
SANDMAN, etc., re-presented
for a (then) modern audience,
added to my knowledge of (and
appreciation for) what had gone
before. I learned about early
U.K. comics from books by
collector and historian, the late
DENIS GIFFORD, whose collection contained periodicals unknown to
even the British Museum.  

So, that's how it all happened in my case, and I'm pretty sure it's not too
different for those U.K. readers of a similar age and background to myself.
I'd like to thank Barry for allowing me to indulge in my favourite pastimes -
comicbooks and reminiscing about the past. (Or 'talking about myself', as
some cynics might prefer to describe it.)

8 comments:

moonmando said...

Good to see you back Kid!
I really cannot imagine a life growing up without that unique and endlessley fascinating genre of literature, which is of course the "comic".Simple as its name suggests yet totally sublime in its scope and ability to inspire,exhilarate and transcend the mundane,taking kids such as myself then, with poor education and limited aspirations on a journey way beyond that which other forms of media could only begin to grasp at.
Yes,long live the Comic!

Kid said...

And long live Moonmando. (And me.)

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Pretty interesting to read it right now. At least they found their way to the UK at all.

Kid said...

And thank goodness they did, Chris. They brightened up many a childhood.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

I only simply recall in the 80's noticing both Marvel and DC putting UK prices on their books and not being sure why they did that (I guess it made sense when they were pricing them to Canada as usual).

Kid said...

In the '60s, DC and Marvel comics also sometimes had U.K. prices on them - 10d and 1/-. What they did was remove the plates after the U.S. print run, change the price to British currency, and then print a fresh batch for U.K. distribution. In the case of Marvel, they removed the date from the small cover box which also contained the issue number, and added 'Distributed by Thorpe & Porter' to the indicia. However, issues also made their way over here simply rubber-stamped with the U.K. price on the cover.

As for the '80s, with the advent of comic speciality shops and an established U.K. readership, it made sense to include the price on the cover. Previously, U.S. comics were mainly used as ballast on ships - in the late '70s and early/mid-'80s, they were now a genuine American export in their own right.

Ken Garrett said...

I remember reading about American comics being on sale in Woolies in Liverpool during WW2 with some even having slight water damage. Amazing to think that these comics had survived the U-boats and all the other hazards to land in some kid'a lap. I expect the GIs here may well have passed on a few here indirectly if stationed here pre D-Day. Imagine getting a Superman comic and a Hershey Bar as a child during those dark days!

Ken.

Kid said...

I don't think I've ever tasted a Hershey Bar, Ken. Heard of them 'though.