Continued from 1975
- 1977: EXPANSION, MERGERS - AND CAPTAIN BRITAIN !
|1978 - AND THE FORCE WAS WITH THEM TOO|
|On its home market USA, Marvel had been careening towards a wipe-out financial crash by mid-1977 when, virtually out of the blue, the House of Ideas was, according to Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief at the time), saved by the release of the first issue of their adaptation of George Lucas' Star Wars in July 1977 - an assertion also made by many others in the industry at the time (Kirby, 2011).|
The book was a giant success in the US and ran for a staggering 107 issues before being cancelled in July 1986, so it was no surprise that Marvel UK - which had its own serious market problems by the beginning of 1978 - would also turn to galant jedis and laser swords in the hope of finding and boosting a new readership. And so, on February 8th 1978, Star Wars Weekly made its debut on the stands of British newsagents.
And the hopes invested in this new weekly would be fulfilled very much in the same way as seen with Marvel's US Star Wars monthly. The UK weekly would run for 117 issues before being renamed Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back with issue #118 (29 May 1980).
then went monthly as of issue #140 in November 1980
before being renamed Star Wars in July 1981 with
issue #159. The monthly magazine (it had by that time
long moved away from being a pure comic book and featured
a large share of photo material and interior text) was
finally cancelled with issue #171 in July 1982. However,
the one problem with Star Wars Weekly was that
although it sold well, it did not really generate a new
readership which would also be or become interested in
Marvel UK's line of superhero themed titles.
Whilst SSW did alleviate the financial worries of Marvel UK to a certain degree, the pressure on the superhero weeklies remained high, and this time the almost inevitable cancellation took place as a double take in June 1978.
Rampage and Complete Fantastic Four ceased
to appear at the newsagents after 34 and 37 issues
respectively - to a large part as victims of their own
publication formula which, due to full US issue length
reprints, ate up over three years of US continuity in
less than a year alone (Kirby, 2011).
Whilst the Fantastic Four were duly transferred to Mighty World of Marvel as of issue #298 (14 June 1978) in the established tradition of previous mergers and cancellations, Rampage followed the previous example of Conan and reappeared as a monthly magazine - Rampage Monthly - in July 1978. Just like Marvel's US range of magazine-format black and white publications, the painted covers of Rampage Monthly promised content aimed at a more adult readership - in the case of Rampage Monthly, however, the covers belied the contents, which continued the reprints from the weekly with the Defenders and Nova (a character specifically aimed at pre-teen readers) as backups.
|The rest of
the year showed no outward signs of any further
upheavals, but behind the scenes the waters were nearing
boiling point as Stan Lee himself was growing
increasingly concerned and disappointed about the
downward sales figures of Marvel UK. Something had to be
done, and so the New York offices hired the editor of UK Mad
Magazine and House of Hammer, Derek
"Dez" Skinn, to write a report on why Marvel UK
was now doing so badly (Khoury, 2001).
Taking note of Skinn's findings, the spiritus rector of the House of Ideas came right to the point:
Skinn took up the offer and hence the editorial reigns at Marvel UK's offices - which had moved from London to Sevenoaks, Kent in 1977 (Kirby, 2011) - in late autumn 1978 and started out with a bang:
This meant that editor Nick Laing had to move out, following in the footsteps of Neil Tennant who had quit previously (Kirby, 2011) but always displayed a very active enthusiasm in his job. However, in the end he ran up against the fact that promotional endeavour and grabbing the general public's attention don't automatically trigger gratification through sales figures.
December 1978 production run of Marvel UK was the first
to list Skinn as editor, and he quickly began to
implement his new concepts and ideas whilst moving the
bullpen back to London, although this time to Kentish
Town (Kirby, 2011). Addressing readers under the heading
of Dez Says (which harked back at Stan's
Soapbox), Skinn introduced the collective label of
"The Marvel Revolution" as a clear signal to
the readership and the market that Marvel's UK imprint
was on a mission to reposition itself.
In terms of real life events Skinn's "Marvel Revolution" could not have launched at a more difficult point in time as the UK was facing the 1978-79 "Winter of Discontent", during which widespread strikes by local authority trade unions coincided with blizzards, deep snow and the coldest temperatures since 196263 to make many people's everyday lives fairly miserable up until February 1979 (Hay, 2010). These circumstances stopped publication of the weeklies for about a month, precisely after the first Marvel Revolution print run should have been distributed - resulting in "old style" and "new style" issues appearing on the shelves at sheer random as whatever got through the picket lines was dumped at the newsagents' doors. Marvel tried to disguise the gaps by dropping dates and even issue numbers on the covers, but naturally the contents revealed the jumps in the storylines they carried (Kirby, 2011).
|The extent of Marvel UK's accumulated market weakness was displayed by the fact that one of the first moves by Skinn was to rename Marvel UK's flagship weekly Mighty World of Marvel to simply Marvel as of January 1979 - a clear sign that the brand MWOM had lost most of its previous selling power.|
descriptions of what Skinn did and why are scattered over
the world wide web, but they are all characterized by a
high degree of repetitive statements and an invariably
high weakness with regard to reliable source indication -
although Skinn's own website now has more background
information and Kirby's From Cents to Pence (to
be published) will provide further improvement. What is
clear though is that the new editor was hired by Stan Lee
for one purpose, and that was to turn around Marvel UK
and make it profitable again.
Leaving aside possible details leading up to decisions which Skinn made in this process, the resulting changes which arrived on the newsagent stands really speak for themselves. It is obvious that one of the main conclusions arrived at was that after a couple of years of simple reprints of US material for the UK market, the titles put out by Marvel UK had lost favour with a growing share of the potential readership. This was further aggravated by the fact that UK priced copies of the original colour Marvel comic books were available throughout Britain by that time, although the distribution of certain titles was curbed at times when the character appeared as a UK reprint. This market protection move did not win Skinn any favours amongst the US import fans, and caused a flare of outrage in fanzines when Uncanny X-Men was taken off the import schedules because they regularly appeared in Rampage (Kirby, 2011).
The downgrading of Mighty World of Marvel to a simple Marvel Comic was accompanied by a downgrade in the quality of paper used for the hitherto glossy covers. The resulting new look was a much closer resemblance to the outward appearance of "traditional" British comic books, indicating that Skinn had arrived at the conclusion that potential buyers shied away from Marvel UK's weeklies because they looked unfamiliar. The same transformation process was simultaneously applied to Super Spider-Man, which continued the numeration but simply became Spider-Man Comic and was given a more Britsih overall appearance.
Spidey, the title featured the Fantastic Four, the
Avengers, Thor, the Sub-Mariner, and Nova, whilst Marvel
Comic showcased the Hulk, Dracula, Conan, Skull the
Slayer, Shang-Chi and Daredevil - six and a half years
after the launch of Marvel UK, the House of Ideas' own
character offerings for the British market had virtually
collapsed into only two remaining weekly titles.
But even with such a reduced production output, Skinn was constantly reminded of the reasons for his call to action. After only five issues into its new image run, Marvel Comic #335 had to be stitched together in an emergency move as the regular material was not ready in time to meet the printing schedule. As a result, readers who picked up the issue only found fill-in stories featuring the Angel, Conan, Wolverine, Hercules and Cyclops. The problem persisted and readers had to wait until Marvel Comic #337 to be able to read on from where the stories had left off two issues ago.
|It was not an ideal way to launch a "Marvel Revolution" (Skinn's promotional umbrella slogan for the relaunch of the weeklies), but these woes were temporarily overruled by the launch of a new weekly title.|
March 1979 the Hulk, long-time supremo of the Mighty
World of Marvel and a constant favourite with
British readers, received his very own title in the form
of Hulk Comic #1.
Making the comics look more like their British competition on the newsstands was, on the face of things, simply adapting the packagaing. However, the concept of "Britishness" was indeed the core element of Skinn's approach and the changes he made as editor, and it ran far deeper than just concerning itself with glossy or non-glossy covers. Above all, Skinn wanted homegrown content in the titles to increase their appeal to their home market.
Hulk Comic was launched to fill the void. Apart from very early 1960s Ant-Man reprint material, the title featured original black & white Hulk, Black Knight, Nick Fury and Night Raven stories. The new Hulk material produced in Britain for the weekly was drawn by Dave Gibbons and Steve Dillon and was heavily influenced by the contemporary Hulk TV series (to which most covers made explicit reference in an aim to cash in on the show's popularity) and thus deviated somewhat from the Hulk as portrayed in the US material of the time. The original material depicting S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top agent Nick Fury was also drawn by Steve Dillon, who was seen as a great talent in spite of his very young age of a mere 16 years only.
included was a new Black Knight strip (the character
originated in Atlas comic books from the 1950s) which
also featured the return of Marvel UK's first attempt at
producing original material for its home market - Captain
Not content with featuring new original material produced in the UK but featuring established US Marvel characters and bringing back "Britain's very own superhero", Skinn went all out and threw in a brand new character created entirely by Marvel UK for Hulk Comic #1 - Night Raven.
Conceived and fleshed out by Skinn himself in collaboration with Richard Burton, the initial Night Raven stories were scripted by Steve Parkhouse (who already had a lengthy working experience in UK comic books) and pencilled and inked by David Lloyd (whose later work would include V for Vendetta) and, later on, John Bolton (Kirby, 2011).
general style as well as the storytelling of the Night
Raven feature showed a heavy influence of pulp fiction
characters of the 1930s, which was also the period of
time in which the plots were initially taking place
before the vigilante and crime fighter was moved from
prohibition-era America to contemporary times - a common
procedure sooner or later applied to virtually all
non-Western characters as Marvel liked to keep its
Universe neat and simple in terms of timeframes.
Hulk Comic was truly pioneering work launched by Dez Skinn, but as is the case so often, it would need to falter first and then be re-discovered at a later stage before reaching its full bloom. In the case of Hulk Comic, this meant that the original UK produced stories and artwork were mostly discontinued after twenty issues and gave way to US material reprints again. The British Nick Fury stories featured in Hulk Comic #1-19, Night Raven in Hulk Comic #1-20, and the Hulk in Hulk Comic #1-6, 9-20 and 26-27. Only the Black Knight managed to hang on longer (Hulk Comic #1, 3-30, 42-55 and 57-63) and, as an oddity, Hulk Comic #48-49 ran original UK material featuring Ant-Man.
between, Marvel UK reverted to reprinting its own
original material from the first issues of Captain
Britain as of Hulk Comic #31.
What had thus started in January 1979 as the British "Marvel Revolution" and gained real speed with the launch of Hulk Comic #1 in March was virtually all over again by July and issue #20. However, the weekly publication schedule made sure that there had been enough original material produced and offered to the readers to make a lasting impression and nurture the concept and understanding that there could, indeed, be more to a British imprint of Marvel than to only reprint US material. Skinn had proven his point, attracted a lot of new attention from the market, and opened up opportunities for artists who would later become highly successful, such as Alan Moore, John Wagner, Pat Mills, Steve Moore, Dave Gibbons, John Bolton, and David Lloyd.
It had been a success in many respects, but the market was still something else, and so July 1979 not only saw the exit of most of the original British material in Hulk Comic but also what seemed like yet another of those cancellation/mergers.
Marvel Comic ceased publication after issue #352
the title was merged with Spider-Man Comic,
consequently retitled Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly
and Marvel Comic as of issue #334.
When the reference to the cancelled title was dropped after only three weeks, it seemed as though the last trace of Marvel UK's first weekly published in Britain - which had been so programmatically named Mighty World of Marvel - was erased by the end of August 1979.
However, as the September production schedule rolled around, it became clear that Skinn had in fact launched another major change for Marvel UK's line of superhero titles.
Re-appearing for September 1979, Marvel Comic, following the brief guest appearance in Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly, was now titled Marvel Superheroes and was to be published as a monthly, rather than a weekly, comic book.
"Marvel Monthly" continued the numbering from Marvel
Comic and when it hit the newsagent stands in
September 1979, Marvel Superheroes #353 featured
black and white reprints from US Avengers, X-Men and Ms.
Marvel stories. These features would remain on board for
the remaining 3 issues published in the Bronze Age
decade, with sources including the US Super-Villain
Team-Up apart from regular Avengers and X-Men
titles. Marvel Superheroes would enjoy a lengthy
run of 45 monthly issues before being cancelled after
issue #397 in May 1983.
Hulk Comic #43 was the last issue to appear in 1979, featuring an original black and white Black Knight story as well as black and white reprints showcasing Hulk, Ant-Man, Silver Surfer and the Defenders. Hulk Comic was published for a total of 63 issues before being cancelled in May 1980.
Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly #355 was the last issue to be published in 1979, and the title went on to become the longest continually published and numbered comic book by Marvel UK, although changing its title frequently.
the Weekly in April 1980 (Spectacular
Spider-Man #372), became Spider-Man & Hulk
Weekly in May 1980, Super Spider-Man TV Comic in
October 1981, plain Spider-Man in October 1982
to coincide with issue #500, The Spider-Man Comic in
May 1985, and finally Spidey Comic in August
1985 before bowing out at long last with issue #666 in
Rampage Magazine #18 was published in December 1979 (having changed its name from Rampage Monthly with issue #6 in December 1978), and the title would eventually see a total of 54 issues before cancellation in December 1982.
the days when the superhero titles held the key to the
commercial success of Marvel UK were long a thing of the
past. In fact, the presence of the House of Ideas on the
UK comic book market wasn't even depending on traditional
Marvel comic book characters anymore by the end of the
1970s. Whilst Marvel UK shared the financial boost of the
Star Wars title with Marvel USA, the British
side of the business even went one step further by
launching Doctor Who Weekly #1 on 17 October
1979, based on the long-running British science fiction
television series Doctor Who (first produced in the UK in
1963, it only reached the US television screens as late
as 1978). Given official approval by the BBC as copyright
holder, it tapped into an enormous fan pool of readers
outside the traditional Marvel or even comic book
readership and quickly provedto be a complete success.
After going monthly in September 1980, it saw several
smaller changes to its title over time (this was, after
all, a Marvel UK publication) but has been continually
published since and celebrated its 30th anniversary in
October 2009 (currently published by Panini as holder of
the Marvel publishing rights in the UK).
Skinn left Marvel in 1981 to launch and co-own a London west end design group, Studio System, working for various high profile clients before returning to the comic book industry where he revived Starburst Magazines Ltd (renamed Quality Communications) and launched the anthology title Warrior. Skinn's personal view and recollection of his time at Marvel UK is precise and brief:
|Marvel UK's presence on the British comic book market during the Bronze Age period was to a large extent tied to its first and flagship title, Mighty World of Marvel. Since the relaunch of the title as plain Marvel Comic in January 1979, the label Mighty World of Marvel had vanished from the newsstands. However, following the cancellation of Marvel Superheroes in May 1983, a second volume of MWOM was launched in June 1983 which ran for 17 issues until bowing out in October 1984.|
HAY Colin (2010) "Chronicles of a Death Foretold: the Winter of Discontent and Construction of the Crisis of British Keynesianism", in Parliamentary Affairs 63 (3), 446470
KHOURY George (2001) Kimota! The Miracleman companion, TwoMorrows Publishing
KIRBY Robin (2011) personal communication
PRICE Markie (A.N.) Neil Tennant - The Marvel comics years, available online at Absolutely Pet Shop Boys www.petshopboys.net/html/interviews/othermag39.shtml and accessed 21 October 2009
SKINN Dez (A.N.) Personal statement available online at www.linkedin.com/in/dezskinn and accessed 21 October 2009
THOMAS Michael (2000) Jim Shooter Interview, accessed 5 May 2008 and available online at www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=147
The illustrations presented here
are copyright material
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first published on the internet 4 November 2009
reposted 1 March 2014
last updated 11 October 2015