Tuesday, 15 January 2013

DISCOVERING MARVEL U.K. - GUEST POST BY NIFTY NICK CAPUTO...


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

You lucky Criv-ites - do I have a super treat for you!  Nifty NICK CAPUTO has kindly agreed to write a guest post for this blog.  I thought that all my weary readers would welcome a respite from my usual incomprehensible nonsense and appreciate some quality content instead.  So let's not waste a second - over to you, Nick!

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When asked if I would do a guest post for 'Kid' Robson's blog, I considered what would make a worthwhile topic.  Kid often muses over his comic collecting childhood, taking us on a tour of not only the comics, but of a time and place in his life.  I thought I would continue a little in that direction, jogging my memory banks to recall my first encounters with Marvel's British reprint line.

Although there may have been a passing comment in the Bullpen Bulletins about Marvel's British division, the first time I really took notice was in the pages of Marvel's house fanzine, FOOM #11, September 1975.  The Mighty World of Marvel, The Avengers  The Savage Sword of Conan (now there was an odd combination) and The Super-Heroes.  The new covers attracted my attention, being nicely designed with art by Dave Hunt and Keith Pollard.  A reply to a fan letter explained that these mags were reprints produced for Britain.  A later issue showed how what was originally a Killraven story in the States was altered to become a Planet of the Apes tale.


Since the comics were produced weekly, as opposed to monthly or bi-monthly as in the States, material was used up at a much faster rate, leading to desperate measures at times.  In that same period (mid '70s) I bought my first Marvel U.K. mag from a dealer at a comic con.  It may have been The Super-Heroes #1 along with #31, featuring a cover of the X-Men welcoming The Cat and Ant-Man to their pages, with art by Keith Pollard.  This was the same cover I'd originally seen in that issue of FOOM.

I was fascinated by these reprint titles and sought them out from time to time, although there were not that many to be found at local conventions in New York.  Also around that period I received an overseas letter from a teenager who lived in England.  He'd seen my letter in Marvel Team-Up #39 (my first published letter, which was a thrill in itself) and was looking for pen pals.  He wrote a little bit about himself and his interest in comics, asking if I'd be interested in trading any U.S. comics for some from the U.K.


I should explain to younger readers that corresponding by mail was often an inexpensive way to keep in touch with other fans.  Today we're blessed with instant communication by the click of a mouse, but it wasn't always so.  'Phone calls were expensive and the World Wide Web wouldn't become a reality for another decade or two.  I recall I was sent some Captain Britain comics (which featured new material!) along with some non-Marvels like 2000 A.D., which he quite fancied.  We corresponded for some time and I still have those letters buried away somewhere.  I wonder if he remained a comics fan.

I can't quite recall when I learned of an even earlier line of British reprints including Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific, titles that reprinted Marvel's superhero characters in the 1960s.  There wasn't a lot of information in '70s and '80s fanzines about them, and it wasn't until the advent of the internet that I was able to get a detailed history of both Odhams Press and Marvel's U.K. division.


While the earlier Odhams' line used stats of covers that were from Marvel's original publications, Marvel's '72 U.K. line alternated original covers with new material, drawn by an array of talented artists who were instantly recognizable since they were also prolific in the States.  One such artist was none other than Jim Starlin, who pencilled many fine covers early in his career for The Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly, often inked by old pros like Joe SinnottFrank Giacoia and Mike Esposito.

Starlin's talent was noticeable early on, and although he's never discussed these U.K. covers, I was thrilled and surprised to discover them, along with others by pros such as Rich Buckler, Ron WilsonHerb Trimpe, Larry Lieber, Pablo Marcos, Keith Pollard, and also occasional work by veterans like John Buscema, Gil KaneSal Buscema and Dick Ayers.  Inkers included Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione.


In recent years (thanks to Kid's blog, especially) I learned that a young Barry Smith drew pin-ups for early Odhams' Marvel reprint titles before he came over to the States and began working on X-MenDaredevil and a certain sword-wielder named Conan.  I've also been lucky enough to have corresponded with Tony Isabella in the past few years and was able to learn a little more about his involvement.  Aside from writing a ton of comics for Marvel in the 1970s, Tony was also in charge of putting the British weeklies together.

My interest in Marvel's British line of comics has led me down other, equally fascinating roads.  I've read about Alan Class, who reprinted many pre-hero Marvels, as well as stories from companies like ACG and Charlton;  seen foreign reprints from Spain, Germany, Australia and France (which produced many beautiful covers based on the originals) and I've even had some articles translated in Marvel Italia, so I guess I've come full circle, actually being published in a foreign Marvel reprint comic!


In my role as indexer for the GCD, I've been able to use my skills at distinguishing artists' styles, crediting many of Marvel's U.K. cover artists.  Over 35 years have elapsed since I learned of Marvel's British division.  I'm older, hopefully wiser, but haven't lost my enthusiasm for the comics medium, which is yet full of surprises.

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I'd like to give Nick a huge vote of thanks for taking the time to grace my humble blog with his fascinating reminiscences.  You'll find Nick's own excellent blog by clicking here.  And below is the letters page from MTU #39, featuring Nick's first ever Mighty Marvel epistle.


11 comments:

baab said...

FIN FANG.
FOOM!

Andrew May said...

It’s interesting to see an American perspective on British reprints of American comics! As a Brit of a similar generation, my experience was pretty much the inverse of this. I first encountered "Power Comics" (as the Odhams line was called) in Spring 1968, and was immediately taken by tales of the Avengers, the X-Men et al without realizing they originated in the US. I thought they were written in London by two really cool guys calling themselves Alf and Bart (who were really only the editors of Power Comics). So I was confused during that summer (I was only 10 at the time) when I picked up some American imports featuring exactly the same characters, but with some character by the name of Lee claiming to have written the stories. I eventually worked out the correct order of things, and became an assiduous collector of American Marvel Comics (and huge fan of Stan Lee), but I still retained a nostalgic sentiment for the larger format, black-and-white Power Comics. So when "Mighty World of Marvel" and the other British titles appeared in the 1970s, I started to collect them as well even though they were inferior in most respects to the US comics. I never had much interest in the Alan Class comics, though -- they were too random in their content to form any attachment to them.

Kid said...

That was more or less my exact same experience as well, Andrew. I remember being amazed when I discovered U.S. mags featuring the same characters, especially as the art had 'developed' somewhat - even when, in Kirby's case in particular, it was by the same artist. And what about the different names? In Wham!, the FF fought the 'Apemaster', but in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics it was the 'Mad Ghost'. It seemed like I had stumbled onto a product from an alternate universe somewhere. As for Alan Class comics, I don't think that I even knew they reprinted Marvel superheroes until around 1972 or '73.

Nick Caputo said...

Andrew,

I love hearing stories like yours. I'm curious, did the Odhams line eliminate the splash page credits for Lee and company?

Kid,

I didn't know the Red Ghosts name was changed to Apemaster. Was that to remove any communist references?

Kid said...

Nick, all the credits were eliminated from the Power Comic titles. (I think a credit box was overlooked in a Hulk tale in Smash! once 'though.) Also, American references, street names, spelling, etc., were revised.

As for the Apemaster, I suspect the communist reference may have had something to do with it, although maybe it was simply because the tales were printed in black and white. (The Purple Man's name was changed to The Controller in an issue of MWOM a few years later for that reason.) Also, Ivan was the master of three apes, so Apemaster may just have seemed a more obvious choice to Alf, Bart & Cos. (Power Comics editors.)

Natasha (Black Widow) was changed to Natasia, which I believe is the correct spelling - even 'though it's pronounced as Natasha.

Weird, eh?

Nick Caputo said...

Interesting info, Kid. Maybe they should have changed the {urple Man's name to the Zip-a-tone man!

Kid said...

You're right, Nick. He had a fair amount of Zipatone - as well as a green tint in some panels if I remember correctly. Must dig that issue out one day and refresh my memory.

Benny l said...

kid and nick i found your blogs and they have truly been great reads!im more than a decade removed from comics and following them but iv been catching up on lost time with a fury since about oct in fact im writing/illustrating one now with no reference or research of any kind to just kinda see where my art and storytelling skills are at right now raw without any sort of insight now before beginning a graphic design program in march,my art throughout my adult life has consisted of pretty mundane marketable stuff like tattoo flash and band art an shirts just as a way to keep drawing and supplement the income but lately iv been fancying myself abit of a storyteller and getting back to my comic kid roots and its been a really great experience although overwhelming! i took a stab at wolverine cuz its what i know and i was wondering if you are aware of anything out there reputable where people can submit their fan fiction for critique by any chance? thanks! cheers!.....can you only leave comments on blogspot??? i couldn't find a way to message users off their profiles?!? stupid computers!

Darci said...

See http://tonyisabella.blogspot.com/2012/12/more-untold-stories.html#comment-form for Tony's comments about preparing material for Marvel UK. Apparently there's a book in the works on the subject. I wonder who is writing it?
Thanks!

Kid said...

Benny, sorry, I'm not aware of any place, but I'd imagine that some must exist somewhwere on the net. Cheers.

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Darci, it's a fella by the name of Rob Kirby who's writing the book. He's been working on it for over 20 years, so I'm guessing it'll be a large volume.

Kid said...

Oops! I meant to say that it was in The Mighty World of Marvel that Ivan Kragoff was called the 'Mad Ghost'. In Marvel Collectors' Item Classics (and FF #13) he was, of course, known as 'The Red Ghost'.

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