OF THE 1960s

Part One (1962-1965)




It all began on August 8th 1961.

On that day, a comic book sporting the title The Fantastic Four and a cover date of November 1961 (cover dates on comic books were always two to three months ahead of the actual publication date in order to prolong their shelf life) hit the newsagents for the very first time.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fantastic Four #1 continues to hold a few unanswered questions as to the exact circumstances of its creation (McLauchlin, 2018), making the "big bang" of the Marvel Universe not unlike the one to our own habitat - but the new "Marvel Age of Comics" was introduced with a flash, and it was to usher in new and exciting superheroes and concepts and change the world of comic books forever.


Fantastic Four #1 (Nov 1961)



It all began on July 3rd 1962.

On that day, The Big Strange Tales Annual #1 hit the newsagents. Devoid of an actual cover date other than "1962", it was distributed along with other Marvel Comics titles carrying cover dates of September and October 1962.

The rest is Marvel Comics publication history.

Strange Tales Annual #1 holds the distinction of being Marvel's first ever annual, together with The Big Millie the Model Annual #1, both of which were published on the very same day. But unlike the latter, which was made up of 72 pages of "All New Stories" (as a cover blurb pointed out), Strange Tales Annual #1 contained no new material at all. Instead, it repackaged 12 "sci-fi-monster" stories which had been the staple contents of Marvel's 1950s "Atlas era" titles Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery, Tales Of Suspense and Tales To Astonish.


Strange Tales Annual #1 (1962)

"Annuals" had been published since the 1920s, often assembling previously printed material into a compilation - Fawcett's Hooey Annual (first published in 1932), for instance, featured a "collection of the year's best cartoons". The 1950s saw a growing number of annuals by various publishers, but the format was especially popular in the UK and Australia, where the first DC superhero material annuals (featuring Superman and Superboy) were published in 1953. DC only put out its first US market annual in 1960, Superman Annual #1, followed by Batman Annual #1 in 1961 - both featuring reprint material from the 1950s.

Hailed as an "epic issue" in its cover blurb, Strange Tales Annual #1 was actually more of a eulogy to those five to seven page stories featuring monsters from outer space (often drawn by Jack Kirby and given double consonant names by Stan Lee, such as Bruttu, Orrgo and Zzutak) and supernatural fables (often drawn by Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Paul Reinman): In the wake of the success of the new "Marvel Age of Comics" they had run their course, and now their titles were given over to superheroes.

When Strange Tales Annual #1 went on sale on 3 July 1962, Thor had already taken over Journey Into Mystery (as of issue #83, cover date August 1962, on sale 5 June 1962), Ant-Man had done the same with Tales To Astonish (as of issue #35, cover date September 1962, on sale 5 June 1962), and the Human Torch would take over Strange Tales as of issue #101 (cover date October 1962, on sale 10 July 1962) only a week after Strange Tales Annual #1 hit the newsagent stands. Tales Of Suspense would remain the sole sci-fi-monster sanctuary until Iron Man took over on 10 December 1962, as of issue #39 (cover date March 1963).

Even though Marvel's top selling title in 1962 was Modelling with Millie, it became increasingly clear that more and more readers wanted superheroes rather than monsters. But experienced publisher Martin Goodman knew how to make good money with reprints from back when he published novel paperbacks in the 1940s. Back in those days he had had a few run-ins with the Federal Trade Commission for "representing that books or other publications contain original, complete or unabridged novels, stories or articles when such is not a fact" (Vassallo, 2014), but he had learned his lesson. The sci-fi-monsters weren't the flavour of the day anymore, but with a reduced expenditure baseline (comic book creators got paid once and that was it) the profit margin simply was too good for a seasoned businessman such as Goodman to pass up. And so Marvel seized the opportunity and put out an anthology of monster reprints.

It was the first step in Marvel's long run of reprinting material and ultimately packaging it in its own dedicated publication format.



It was still early days, however, for the new Marvel Age of Comics, and Goodman and Lee were primarily and foremost focusing on expanding Marvel's range of monthly and bi-monthly superhero titles. If anything, this called for more new material, and reprints were thus still something of a sideline, restricted to the "annual" format.

When Strange Tales Annual #2 went on sale on 11 June 1963, it once again featured 10 sci-fi-monster and supernatural stories reprints from 1958 and 1959 (taken from Strange Tales, Strange Worlds and World of Fantasy), but this time the cover story was a Stan Lee (script), Jack Kirby (pencils) and Steve Ditko (inks) Human Torch and Spider-Man story with 18 pages of new material.


Strange Tales Annual #2


Of course Strange Tales had been the Human Torch's title for more than half a year by then, so this made perfect sense. Mixing new superhero and monster reprint material made good business sense too - it drastically reduced the requirements on original material needed to produce an annual of 72 pages.

Marvel's approach to reprinting previously published material took on a new direction when yet another annual, Fantastic Four Annual #1, went on sale on 2 July 1963. Together with new material it also included a reprint of the first 13 pages of Fantastic Four #1 (i.e. minus the Mole Man story), billed on the cover in Stan Lee's typical hyperbole as "the most requested saga ever printed".

It was the first time Marvel reprinted material from its recent superhero output - even though in this case the first page was altered to add the word Origin and the looks of the Human Torch, the Thing and Reed Richards were updated to reflect their contemporary appearances (which had evolved quite a bit since Fantastic Four #1).


Fantastic Four Annual #1


Goodman and Lee were continuing to test the waters regarding reprint material through their newly created annuals. In 1963 Marvel was still very successfully publishing a whole slew of titles which featured female main characters; originally designed as humor titles somewhat akin to the "Archie formula", they began to lean more towards romance content and "girl interests" in the 1960s.

Published alongside the flagship and all-new material Millie the Model Annual, Patsy & Hedy Annual #1 (which went on sale July 2nd 1963) was made up entirely of material which had been published previously between 1958 and 1962 in Patsy Walker, Patsy and Hedy and Miss America.

It was only the second annual ever published by Marvel to feature only reprint material, following Strange Tales Annual #1 in 1962. But unlike the latter title, there would be no more Patsy & Hedy annuals after the 1963 issue, and Goodman and Lee would stick with orginal material for this genre until 1966 (when Millie the Model Annual #4 would be made up entirely of reprint material from 1962 and Millie the Model itself be cancelled in November 1966 with issue #143).


Patsy & Hedy Annual #1 (1963)



Goodman and Lee introduced a brand new spin on things when Marvel published the 72-page anthology Marvel Tales Annual #1 on June 11th 1964 . Hailed as a "collector's item" on its cover, it featured the first appearances of:


Marvel Tales Annual #1

  • Spider-Man (from Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962)
  • the Hulk (Chapter 1 from The Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962)
  • Ant-Man (Tales to Astonish #27, September 1962)
  • Giant-Man (Tales to Astonish #49, November 1963)
  • Sgt. Fury (Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1, May 1963)
  • Iron Man (Tales of Suspense #39, March 1963 & Tales of Suspense #48, December 1963)
  • as well as Thor (Journey into Mystery #83, August 1962)

Marvel Tales Annual #1 truly kicked off what would subsequently become Marvel's dedicated reprint title output - although the word reprint would be diligently avoided for most of the time at this stage. Even though published as an annual, there was no ongoing comic book Marvel Tales; this was not a summer bumper extra issue, but rather a newly created vessel for the sole purpose of reprinting previously published material - and it was Marvel's first.

At a very early point in the publication history of the new Marvel Age of Comics, the "House of Ideas" was thus enabling new readers to rediscover the original first appearances (which often were also the origin stories) which they had missed when originally published. Significantly for its own perception and branding, this included introducing readers to the individuals who created and produced this as well as the current material - the "gang in the merry Marvel bullpen" - by means of a two-page photo gallery featured many staffers and freelancers alike, including Stan Lee, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Sam Rosen, Artie Simek, Flo Steinberg, Vince Colletta and many others.

It made perfect sense - after all, Stan Lee's friendly and chatty comments and phrasings (which went all the way from avuncular to tongue-in-cheek and over the top) were essential in creating a sense of community, which in turn was a big part of the success Marvel was enjoying.

"What I always tried to do with Marvel was to make it seem like a club, like an inner group that we knew about and the outside world wasn't even aware of. If you read Marvel you were on the inside, you were hip, and it was sort of an exclusive thing, limited just to Marvel readers. And I tried to talk to the readers as if they were friends, not readers, so that not only - hopefully - did they enjoy the stories, but they enjoyed being part of the Marvel mystique if you might say." (Stan Lee in NN, 2003)


Marvel Tales Annual #1 (1964)


Fantastic Four Annual #2


For the September 1964 cover date publishing cycle (but actually on sale 2 July 1964), Fantastic Four Annual #2 again contained reprint material much the same way as the first FF annual had done a year earlier.

As Doctor Doom featured prominently with a brand new origin story, it made perfect sense to slot in a reprint of Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962), featuring the first appearance of Doctor Doom. It once again made it easier (and cheaper) for Marvel to fill the 72 pages of the annual, but it also provided readers with an easy access to earlier but coherent material.

A year later, for the September 1965 cover date publishing cycle (but actually on sale 1 July 1965), Fantastic Four Annual #3 would contain even more reprint material, as the now famous wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm story was complemented by full reprints of Fantastic Four #6 (September 1962) and Fantastic Four #11 (July 1963) - the "2 most requested F.F. issues since #1", as the cover blurb put it.


Fantastic Four Annual #3


Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965)



Stories and characters from the American Old West frontier started to appear in comic books in the early 1940s, and the popularity of these "Western comics" peaked around 1960 with large parts of the American public being exposed to a huge number of Western movies and series on television.

Before relaunching the superheroes line for Marvel in 1961, Stan Lee took the slew of previously published Atlas Western titles from the late 1950s and, together with Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers, gave them an overhaul. After a hiatus of almost three years, Marvel relaunched Rawhide Kid (first published in 1955) with issue #17 (continuing the Atlas numbering) in August 1960. Almost as though Lee was test driving his "hero with a flaw" concept, the Rawhide Kid was now a short and soft-spoken juvenile fast gun who was constantly underestimated by bullying villains. An additional "flaw" was added when the Kid wounded a cattle rustler in self-defense, which in turn led to his life as a fugitive from the law.

Similar makeovers were applied to Kid Colt Outlaw and the Two-Gun Kid (both characters went back to 1948), and the three titles formed Marvel's "Big Three" of 1960s Western comics.



Two-Gun Kid #75
(May 1965)


All three titles had regularly reprinted 2-page text stories from the 1940s which were accompanied by one or two vignette-type illustrations (a feature required in the 1930s and 1940s to qualify for cheaper postal service rates), but when Two-Gun Kid #75 went on sale on February 4th 1965 (cover dated May 1965) readers unwittingly were faced with a first: a five page back-up story formerly printed in Rawhide Kid #34 (June 1963).

It was the first time since the inception of the new Marvel Age of Comics that a regular comic book (published bi-monthly in this case) featured reprint material as part of its regular content.

There was no cover blurb alerting readers to any "classic material", and the only pointer was the small box on the splash page reading *FORMERLY PRINTED IN...

Martin Goodman had, for the first time, simply slipped material published two years prior as a filler into a regular comic book.


Two-Gun Kid #75
(May 1965)

It would become a familiar and proven pattern a few years down the road, and Westerns - together with Horror stories - would become a prime mining quarry for reprint material. For the time being, however, Two-Gun Kid was still an exception, albeit followed by Kid Colt Outlaw which would also see the continual use of reprint back-up stories as of issue #124 (September 1965).


On 1 June 1965, Marvel published Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 as well as Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (featuring the Mighty Thor) for the August/September 1965 cover date publishing cycle. While Spidey's first annual a year previously had featured nothing but sparkling new material, readers found no less than three reprints of Amazing Spider-Man #1 (March 1963), Amazing Spider-Man #2 (May 1963) and Amazing Spider-Man #5 (October 1963) this time around.


Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2


Other than some new "profile pages" of Spider-Man's "famous foes", Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 thus only featured 20 pages of original story material - plus, as the cover blurb put it, "3 of Spidey's earliest, greatest, most-requested full-length epics!".

A similar formula was applied to Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (the 1966 edition would carry on the numbering but change its title to Mighty Thor Annual), although readers got even less original material here: a new 15 page story plus a double-spread map of Asgard.

This was complemented by a total of no less than five reprints featuring - as readers were once more told via a cover blurb - "the most requested first appearances of Thor's most deadly foes!" from Journey Into Mystery #85 (October 1962), Journey Into Mystery #93 (June 1963), Journey Into Mystery #93 (June 1963), Journey Into Mystery #95 (August 1963) and Journey Into Mystery #97 (October 1963).


Journey Into Mystery Annual #1


Sgt Fury Annual #1


A very similar approach was set to work with another of the Summer 1965 annuals. Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (on sale 1 June 1965) featured 15 page original story plus a number of portrait-style pages introducing the members of the Howling Commandos, their friends and enemies, plus their tactical bases.

This was backed up by a total of 45 story pages reprinted from Sgt Fury #4 (November 1963) and Sgt Fury #5 (January 1964). Cover insets pointed to the two stories with the simple add-on "complete in this issue" - possibly the most subtle way of selling a reprint, but also cutting it dangerously close to Goodman's troubles with the Federal Trade Commission nack in the 1940s.

Inside the covers, however, reprint material was always clearly marked as such with the addition of a box at the bottom of the first page of every story, advising readers that the material was "originally presented in ...".


In-house ad for 1965 annuals

For now, everybody seemed to be happy: readers got stories they might have missed, Marvel got an easy way to assemble a 72 page annual, and Martin Goodman got a great way to sell the same thing twice.

Marvel Tales Annual #2
(October 1965)

  Marvel's next full reprint title went on sale 3 August 1965 and took full advantage of this win-win-win formula when Marvel Tales Annual #2 added yet more "complete and unabridged" classic material which "truly started the Marvel Age".

Spread out over 72 pages readers found complete reprints of X-Men #1 (September 1963), Hulk #3 (September 1962), the origin of Doctor Strange from Strange Tales #115 (December 1963) as well as Avengers #1 (September 1963).

Also included was a totally random 5-page Lee/Ditko sci-fi/monster story in the classic Atlas 1950's style from Amazing Adult Fantasy #8 (January 1962) which in some ways was the shape of things to come: in the 1970s Marvel would put out a slew of horror titles filled with nothing but 1950s monster reprint material by Lee, Kirby and Ditko.


Marvel Collectors' Item
#1 (1965)


Marvel's next full reprint title went on sale October 5th 1965, illustrating yet another aspect of how the House of Ideas wanted its reprints to be perceived by its readers, emphasizing early material as being "classic" and "collectable".

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1 (which was part of the December 1965 cover date distribution cycle) was an 68-page 25-cent "king-size bullpen book" reprinting

- Fantastic Four #2 (first published January 1962)
- Amazing Spider-Man
#3 (July 1963)
- the Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #36 (October 1962)
- plus the first "Tales of Asgard" featurette from Journey into Mystery #97 (October 1963).

The cover of Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1 tellingly also spoke of "now out-of-print classics" and promised "real collector's finds" presented "exactly as originally printed" with "not a panel omitted" (and thus also including the famous typo from page eight of Amazing Spider-Man #3 where Doc Ock calls Spider-Man "Super-Man").


In "A Message form your Bullpen" (the added exclamation mark was par for the course with "bullpen ramrod" Stan Lee) readers were once again made to feel that they really played a part in the Marvel Age of Comics - "this one you're REALLY the editor of!"

It is hard to say if readers really had been showering Marvel with requests for this type of comic book (which was planned as a quarterly publication acoording to the indicia at the bottom of page 1), but it sold well enough at the newsstands to secure a subsequent run of 22 bi-monthly issues before changing its title to simply Marvel's Greatest Comics in 1969 (after which it extended its publication run by yet another 74 issues before its demise in 1981).

Back in the mid-1960s "those grand and glorious issues" from "the early days of the marvel Age of Comic" certainly didn't feel to readers like just any stale old reprint.


As 1966 rolled along, so did a big conceptual change with regard to reprint material at Marvel Comics: it became, quite literally, an ongoing business. Marvel's publisher Martin Goodman "would notice what was selling, and we'd put out a lot of books of that type" (Stan Lee in Daniels, 1991), and based on Goodman's previous experience of making good money with paperback reprints in the 1940s, he knew exactly what kind of business opportunity he was looking at. Better still, Stan Lee had turned the whole concept on its head by now: when it came to Marvel Comics, previously published material was now classic and collectable.

As a result, Marvel proceeded to create specific reprint titles and slot them into a regular publication schedule as of 1966.



continued in:
OF THE 1960s
Part Two (1966 to late 1967)



DANIELS Les (1991) Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, Harry N. Abrams

McLAUCHLIN Jim (2018) "The Enduring Mysteries of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (and their possible Answers)", in Newsarama, published online 8 August 2018

NN (2003) "Stan Lee Interview", extra feature on the double disk DVD release of the movie Daredevil (personal transcript)

VASSALLO Michael J. (2014) "Martin Goodman: The Crime Digest Paperbacks", Timely-Atlas-Comics Blog, June 2014


The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.

(c) 2019


uploaded to the web 23 March 2019
last updated 21 May 2019