OF THE 1960s

Part Two (1966 to late 1967)





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.

The first Marvel comic book with a 1966 cover date to feature reprint material was Kid Colt Outlaw #126. Neither the cover nor the letters page made any reference to this fact, only a simple editorial text box on the splash page of the 5-page backup story "Gun Duel in Dorado" indicated a reprint from Kid Colt Outlaw #102 (January 1962).

But in Stan Lee's now already typical manner it was labelled as "another classic", and the way to avoid the no-no word "reprint" was to present is as being "re-told by Mighty Marvel!". The well was primed, and as of the April 1966 cover date production all three of Marvel's Western titles - Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt Outlaw and Two-Gun Kid - featured reprints as backup stories to the original material.


Kid Colt Outlaw #126
(January 1966)


From here on, Marvel was ready to continue on to the next logical step: to create specific reprint titles and slot them into a regular publication schedule.

Interestingly, Goodman had those titles published not directly by Marvel Comics but rather by subsidiaries of his publishing conglomerate Magazine Management, e.g. Animated Timely Features (Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1-18) or Non-Pareil Publishing (Marvel Tales Annual #1-2). The reasons for this are not readily apparent, but the reprint character could not have been the cause as Non-Pareil was also indicated as publisher in the indicias of the first 67 issues of Amazing Spider-Man. But then even Roy Thomas was puzzled by Goodman's company structure:

"I was startled to learn in '65 that Marvel was just part of a parent company called Magazine Management." (Thomas, 1998)

When Marvel put out its first reprint title with a regular page count (i.e. 36 as compared to "annaul style" 72-pages) and a regular publication frequency (bi-monthly in this case, as opposed to quarterly or annually), the publisher was yet another brick in the wall that was Magazine Management: Zenith Books Inc.


Fantasy Masterpieces #1
(February 1966)


Fantasy Masterpieces #1 went on sale 2 December 1965 with a cover date of February 1966 and featured five reprints: "Beware! The Ghosts surround me!!" (Strange Tales #76, August 1960), "I found the Things from Nowhere" (Journey Into Mystery #60, September 1960), "I became a Human Robot!" (Tales Of Suspense #5, September 1959), "I saw the Other World" (Tales To Astonish #7, January 1960), and "Those who Change" (Amazing Adult Fantasy #10, March 1962).

The inside cover featured a photograph of Stan Lee, relaxed on a stool and holding a rolled-up copy of Fantastic Four, with speech ballon text inviting readers to accompany the bullpen on a "nostalgic journey to yesterday's fantasy wonderland". Readers were then given soem background information on the artists involved (Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Dick Ayers) and their connection to Marvel's then current output - Fantastic Four, Avengers, Thor, Captain America, Sgt Fury, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange.


Fantasy Masterpieces #1
(February 1966)

None of these characters, of course, were actually featured in the material reprinted here. Lee was trying to draw reader's attention to the various artists' styles and how they might be reflected in their current superhero work, but in essence, Fantasy Masterpieces opened up the reprint playing field to material stemming from before the "Marvel Age of Comics", i.e. a time before those Atlas/Marvel SciFi and monster titles - Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery, Tales Of Suspense and Tales To Astonish - played host to superheroes.

Lee made a brave attempt at selling this one, but Fantasy Masterpieces #1 was not only Marvel's first regular reprint title, it also set the tone that reprint titles might sometimes call for a lowering of expectations. But one thing was certain: "Meritorious Mentor, Merrie [sic] Marty Goodman" (as Lee called him in his classic alliterative style on the inside cover of Fantasy Masterpieces #1) had discovered a wonderful business opportunity, and he was intent on making the most of it - or as "ol' cornball" Stan told readers: "there'll be more of the same coming your way next ish!"

Incidentally, "Beware! The Ghosts surround me!!" from Strange Tales #76 (August 1960) - a Stan Lee / Don Heck 6-page story about a fugitive who hides in an abandoned house and is then faced with aliens from another dimension who turn him into an immaterial state and leave him there forever - became the first material to be reprinted twice in a Marvel comic book: first in Strange Tales Annual #1 in 1962, and now in Fantasy Masterpieces #1 less than four years later. It seems fair to assume that this happened for no specific reason at all and, given the quantity of Atlas sci-fi material at hand, simply reflected a lapse of editorial memory.


Marvel Collectors' Item
(April 1966)


Two months later, the April 1966 cover month output from Marvel actually featured not just one but two reprint titles: Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #2 and Fantasy Masterpieces #2.

But unlike the latter, Marvel Collectors' Item Classics (on sale 4 January 1966) was still a "King-Size Bullpen Book" and featured exclusively superhero content, reprinting Fantastic Four #3 (March 1962), the Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #37 (November 1962) and Amazing Spider-Man #4 (September 1963).

The formula of providing readers with reprints from (to use the words of "bullpen big-wig" Stan Lee) "those fabled days of the earliest triumphs of MARVEL" worked. It appealed to Martin Goodman from a business point of view, and it appealed to readers, who could pick up stories that were directly connected to the ever popular Marvel line of superhero comics.

And so the "Message from your Bullpen!" revealed that Marvel Collectors' Item Classics would now be published bi-monthly as well, rather than just quarterly.


Marvel Collectors' Item
(April 1966)


As befitted Stan Lee's salesman style, the reason for this was communicated as "because YOU wanted it" - a phrase which was already becoming a standard Marvel proclamation. But in essence and setting aside the hyperbole, Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1 had obviously sold well.

Marvel's reprint title initiative had clearly taken off, and taken off for good.

Fantasy Masterpieces #2
(April 1966)

  On sale almost exactly a month later than Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #2 (namely 3 February 1966) but also with a cover date of April 1966, Fantasy Masterpieces #2 continued what its premier issue had started: reprinting sci-fi-monster stories from before the dawn of the Marvel superheroes. But unlike the first issue, there was no special editorial other than the blurbs on the cover.

These placed the reprints inside the covers as being "from the Golden Age of Marvel" and proclaimed that these were "more of the early fantasy thrillers of your favorite Marvel madmen!".

They also stressed that "each tale" was "complete and unabridged! Not one dazzling word or picture omitted!" This was, of course, a nice and highly euphemistic way to avoid and circumvent the explicit label "reprint", but it also illustrates Marvel's strength at designating earlier material as "classic".

The three stories were also promoted on the cover by linking them to a creator, the names of which would have been increasingly known to comic book fans. Fantasy Masterpieces #2 thus featured "Jack Kirby's Fin Fang Foom" (from Strange Tales #89, October 1961), "Steve Ditko's Those Who Lurk Below" (from Tales Of Suspense #12, November 1960) and "Don Heck's Orogo!" (from Journey Into Mystery #57, March 1960).

Whether or not these stories could be seen as classic material in early 1966 is debatable; the somewhat cult status of Fin Fang Foom only materialized many years later, and while both Ditko's and Heck's stories are typical for the Atlas period of sci-fi-monster stories, they certainly had less mainstream clout to readers in 1966 than the material reprinted in Marvel Tales Annual and Marvel Collectors' Item Classics.

But then the verdict on these questions could be at least partially suspended because Fantasy Masterpieces was about to undergo a radical transformation.



On sale March 10th 1966 with a cover date of June, Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #3 (June 1966) was an 68-page 25-cent "king-size bullpen book" reprinting Fantastic Four #4 (first published May 1962), the Iron Man story from Tales of Suspense #40 (April 1963), the Doctor Strange story from Strange Tales #110 (October 1962), the Watcher story from Tales of Suspense #49 (January 1964) plus the Incredible Hulk #3 (September 1962).

Marvel Collectors' Item
Classics #3 (June 1966)


The line-up had changed in comparison to the previous issue (Iron Man, Hulk and Doctor Strange were on board instead of Spider-Man and Ant-Man), but the formula was of course the same. Now a bi-monthly title (albeit its "king-size" format), the editorial work of blowing the trumpet for these "classics from Marvel's early days of triumph" was now mostly to be found on the cover.

Also distributed within the June 1966 cover date lot but on sale almost a month after Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #3, on 5 April 1966, Fantasy Masterpieces #3 made it clear through its cover that there was some substantial change happening to this title - it now featured "Tales of Captain America as he appeared in the hallowed, halcyon days during the birth of comic magazines!".

What this exactly meant was spelled out in yet another cover blurb: "Captain America's original adventures from the 1940s, rediscovered - greater than ever!"


Fantasy Masterpieces #3
(June 1966)

Fantasy Masterpieces #3 had also increased its page count to 62 and still reprinted four Atlas sci-fi stories from Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales and Tales Of Suspense (including early Gene Colan artwork), but these were bookended by two Captain America stories.

Fantasy Masterpieces #3
(June 1966)

  Both "The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder" and "The Weird Case of the Plundering Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies!" had been thought up by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and originally published in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941).

The reason for this sudden change of concept was a copyright claim by one of the original creators of Captain America - Joe Simon.

The successful line-up of Marvel's new range of superheroes included the re-interpretation of some older characters from the Timely era of the 1930s and 1940s, and while Martin Goodman had had no problems securing the rights to the Human Torch (wrangling out the original creator, Jack Burgos), Simon's claim was a problem.

There was a lot of money at stake as the merchandising machine was just starting to really kick into high gear, and there was even a TV cartoon show in the works, so Goodman started to reprint 1940s material but without the original Joe Simon & Jack Kirby credits.

In July 1966, Kirby (who evidently did not want to get caught on the wrong side of this dispute with regard to his current employer) signed a deposition which stated that all his work on the character in the 1940s was left to Timely (Howe, 2012).


Marvel Tales #3
(July 1966)


The changes made to Fantasy Masterpieces weren't the only alterations Marvel applied to its steadily growing range of full reprint titles. The next makeover happened when the third issue of Marvel Tales Annual went on sale on 5 April 1966 - this time around simply as Marvel Tales #3.

Still spread out over 64 interior pages, the title was now to be published bi-monthly as well - which no longer made it an Annual.

No changes were, however, made to the content formula, which still consisted of reprinting four superhero titles - in this case Amazing Spider-Man #6 (originally published with a cover date of November 1963), the Human Torch feature from Strange Tales #101 (October 1962), the Thor story from Journey Into Mystery #84 (September 1962), and the Ant-Man adventure from Tales to Astonish #38 (December 1962).


Marvel Tales #3
(July 1966)



By mid-1966, Martin Goodman and Stan Lee had found, tested and established their reprint formula: king-size titles with 64 pages and published bi-monthly for 25.

Annuals still carried some new original content along with reprint material (e.g. Sgt Fury Annual #2, August 1966, featured one new story and two reprints), as did the regular Western titles (with their reprint backup stories). But in terms of dedicated reprint titles, Marvel now had a clear-cut publishing strategy.


Marvel Collectors' Item
Classics #4 (August 1966)


Marvel Tales #4
(September 1966)


Fantasy Masterpieces #5
(October 1966)

  Marvel Collectors' Item Classics and Fantasy Masterpieces were slated for the same bi-monthly publishing slot (e.g. August) while Marvel Tales would be put out in the month between (e.g. September).

In terms of content, Marvel Collectors' Item Classics and Marvel Tales continued to feature reprints of four issues, while Fantasy Masterpieces continued to feature 1940s Captain America reprints with Atlas era Sci-Fi monster stories mixed in.


Kid Colt Outlaw #130
(September 1966)

  Gradually Fantasy Masterpieces started adding other 1940s superhero material which included the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch, thus living up to its cover banner "From the Golden Age of Marvel".

Putting out previously published material as king-size bi-monthlies was such a business success that it even led to an oddity.

Kid Colt Outlaw #130 was originally compiled as an annual for the September 1966 cover date slot (as can be seen from the style of box in the upper left hand corner of the cover), with 64 pages going for a cover price of 25 and featuring previously published material only - but then somehow someone changed their mind and Kid Colt Outlaw #130 was put out as simply another king-size bi-monthly reprint title.

This continued for another two issues, until Kid Colt Outlaw #133 (March 1967) reverted back to a regular 12 title (with, again, new material plus a reprint backup story). Interestingly enough, none of the reprints were marked as such at all other than the (vague) indication in the cover blurb.

By mid-1966 Marvel's comic book operations had expanded to the point where Martin Goodman's office space at 625 Madison Avenue just got too cramped, so he moved Stan Lee and all the bullpen down the block to number 635.

"Goodman stayed behind with his magazines; from now on, Stan Lee would have a little more room to breathe, a little less attention from the boss." (Howe, 2012)



Stan Lee's growing freedom at the editorial reigns of Marvel Comics would start to show rather quickly, and even more so as a reported total annual sale of 33 million comic books provided him with even more "good business" leverage towards Goodman - proudly trumpeted in the May 1966 Bullpen Bulletin by quoting an article in the National Observer which also mentioned fan readers setting up chapters of the Merry Marvel Marching Society at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.


And things were only about to get bigger as a growing media diversification took place in late 1966. First off, Marvel joined rival DC on television.

"Marvel super-heroes on TV! Here's the official scoop so far - our first stations will begin showing animated films of five - yep, FIVE - of our Marvel heroes in the middle of September. The characters to be featured will be: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk - all in full color! What's more, we'll use exactly the same art and stories which have made our mags the sensation of the nation! Production is under way right now, at the famous Grantray-Lawrence Animation Co. in Hollywood." (October 1966 Bullpen Bulletin)


A major visibility push for Marvel's comic books and characters, the resulting 65 half-hour episodes (comprising a total of 195 7-minute segments, which initially ran in broadcast syndication from September 1st to December 1st1966) were produced with very limited animation using photocopied images taken directly from the comics and manipulated to minimize the need for animation production. Not surprisingly, the result feels very close to the actual comic books, and while contemporary viewers didn't much approve of it, they have plenty of charm for today's nostalgic viewers.

But TV wasn't all - the October 1966 Bullpen Bulletin featured a lengthy list of merchandising products, including records packaged with actual comic books and paperback books. The latter were a result of a cooperation between Marvel and Lancer Books and featured black and white reprint material (from Fantastic Four #1, #6, #11, #31 and Fantastic Four Annual #2) which was reformatted to fit the paperback size. As with regular paperback novels, this "Collector's Album" was emblazoned with critical acclaim from respected newspapers such as The Village Voice and The New York Herald Tribune, as well as testimonial voices from Yale and the University of Chicago. Spider-Man, the Hulk and Thor would get the same treatment in 1966, followed by Daredevil and a second FF book in 1967 (Bagnall, 2014).


Fantastic Four Collector's Album (Lancer Books, 1966)


Although obviously outside the scope of actual reprint titles, both the animated series and the Lancer books show just how adept Marvel had become at repackaging and reselling existing material.

Returning to comic books proper, Marvel introduced another full-reprint title in October 1966.

Marvel Super-Heroes #1 was another king-size offering featuring reprints of Avengers #2 (originally published for the November 1963 cover date production), Captain America #3 (May 1941), Daredevil #1 (April 1964) and Marvel Mystery Comics #8 (June 1940). Although announced as a quarterly, it would remain a one-shot - at least for the time being.

Coming full circle with Marvel's media diversification of 1966, Marvel Super-Heroes #1 is often seen as a tie-in to the animated series, which obviously carried the same title. However, given the line-up of the TV series and the comic book there is little evidence to support that view. Also, the Bullpen Bulletins of 1966 mentioned both the series and the comic book, but never in conjunction.


Marvel Super-Heroes #1
(October 1966)



Marvel Comics were in full swing, and Stan Lee clearly enjoyed the added editorial freedom which came as a benefit of commercial success and his boss not being in the same office anymore.

"At the top of our hectic heap sits the king-of-the-hill, Merry Marty Goodman, publisher, and peerless purveyor of profound policy, pulsating plaudits, and palpable pay-checks! When he speaks, we listen! When he frowns, we tremble! When he smiles, we know that somewhere one of you had bought another Marvel mag!" (December 1966 Bullpen Bulletin)

As far as the reprint titles were concerned, this resulted in a change of terminology. Whereas Goodman's business sense, honed in the 1940's and 1950's paperback novel market, told him to avoid the word "reprint" by all means, Lee had a different approach. Yes, it was selling old wine in new skins, but that wine was marketed as a vintage Grand Cru.


Marvel Collectors' Item
Classics #6 (December 1966)


For Stan Lee, it truly was all about content, and so he started using the word "reprint" more freely - with his usual spin, of course, as in Marvel Tales #4 where the contents were "reprinted by popular demand". At the same time, the king-size reprint titles were increasingly labelled as bargains - which from a buyer's point of view wasn't unreasonable.

1966 was also the first year that the "Alley Awards" (first handed out in 1961) started honouring the "best all-reprint title" as well as the "best combination new & reprint material title". The first was snatched up by Harvey's The Spirit, while the latter went to Marvel's Fantastic Four Annual.

Reprints had definitely found a happy place with both the industry and the fans, and Marvel's role in this was highly prominent.

Annuals continued to combine new original stories with classic reprint material: Thor Annual #2 (September 1966) ran a 30-page original story and two reprints from Journey Into Mystery #96 and #103, while Spider-Man Annual #3 (November 1966) featured a 21-page original story and two reprinted regular stories from Amazing Spider-Man #11 and #12.


Fantasy Masterpieces #6
(December 1966)


The Ghost Rider #1
(February 1967)


Basically the same formula was applied when a new bi-monthly western title was launched as part of the February 1967 cover month production: The Ghost Rider #1 contained new material and a reprint backup story from Kid Colt Outlaw #105 (July 1962) - the by now standard editorial procedure for all of marvel's western titles.

The Ghost Rider only lasted for seven issues before being cancelled again in November 1967. Based on a pre-comics code character by Magazine Enterprises and reimagined by Marvel when the copyright lapsed, the Ghost Rider (who was retroactively renamed Night Rider when Marvel used the name for its motorcycle hero in 1973) infused the western theme with a touch of the supernatural. In a similar approach to broaden the genre, the regular western titles saw an increasing number of masked bad guys who had a slight or even pronounced super-villain touch (such as the "Scorpion" from Rawhide Kid #57).


Rawhide Kid #57
(April 1967)

All throughout 1967, the three king-size reprint titles Marvel Tales, Marvel Collectors' Item Classics and Fantasy Masterpieces continued their bi-monthly publication schedule as well as their established content formula, with Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors' Item Classics typically displaying the four covers of the stories reprinted.


Of course Marvel wasn't the only comic book publisher reprinting their own material. In fact, Marty Goodman and Stan Lee had taken more than just inspiration for their annuals from market leader DC Comics. But as imitation is the highest form of flattery (as 19th century English author Charles Caleb Colton put it), Lee also liked to throw in some ribbing,

"figuring it would be fun for us to needle some of the outfits who were older and bigger than we." (April 1968 Bullpen Bulletin)


80 Page Giant Superman #G-18
(January 1966)

  DC Comics had dropped the Annual title back in 1964 and turned their 80-pages reprint titles into an ongoing series published nine times a year. Called the 80 Page Giant Series it ran for 15 issues before the format then continued into the pages of several DC ongoing series which gained the 80 Page Giant heading in addition to their regular title. Running for a total of 93 issues the format was dropped in August 1971.

Unlike most of Marvel's Annuals, DC's 80 Page Giants mostly contained nothing but reprint material, often sourced from Golden Age issues from the 1940s and 1950s. The cover design was very similar to Marvel Tales, Marvel Collectors' Item Classics and Fantasy Masterpieces, but the difference in philosophy between the two publishers is summed up by the cover of 80 Page Giant Superman #G-18 (January 1966), where potential readers are told to "show this story to your Ma and Dad!" and Superman points out that "now you can read Superman stories published before you were born!" - definitely nowhere near as hip as being part of the comic book revolution called the Marvel Age of Comics and reading up on its classic stories from just a few years back...

And as if this wasn't enough already to draw readers over to Marvel, Stan Lee was about to stick another finger in DC's eye.


Sgt Fury Special #3
(August 1967)


In mid-1967 Marvel dropped the label "Annuals" as well, now calling them "Specials" - and marketing them as "All New!" and containing "not a single Reprint!" - which is exactly what readers got.

The first of these Specials were Sgt Fury Special #3 (on sale June 1st 1967 with an August cover date) and Avengers Special #1 (on sale July 11th 1967 with the September cover date batch), followed by the also "all new, not a single reprint" Amazing Spider-Man Special #4 and Fantastic Four Special #5, both on sale August 1st 1967 and cover dated November 1967.


Avengers Special #1
(September 1967)


Marvel Tales #10
(September 1967)

  It was another nifty marketing ploy to make DC look bad - and headline news in the September 1967 Bullpen Bulletin: whereas readers got some rather stale Golden Age material from the "Distinguished Competition" (as Stan Lee at times liked to call DC when he wasn't refering to them as "Brand X") for their 25, Marvel gave them all brand-new stories.

Of course this came at a price, and the additional creative workload involved for writers and artists who were already in overdrive at times couldn't be sustained for long - by 1969, Avengers Annual #3 carried nothing but reprints.

But then Marvel didn't really need to take additional shots at DC; overall sales figures for 1967 showed that the House of Ideas had overtaken DC and was now the new industry leader.

"Thanks to the loyalty of you fabulous fans, and to the hard work, talent, and dedication of our beloved Bullpenners, we've managed to make ourselves the undisputed leaders of the comic book industry." (April 1968 Bullpen Bulletin)

Marvel Comics sold just over 7 million copies in 1967 (up from 6.6 million in 1966), whereas DC was down from 7.3 million copies in 1966 to 6.3 million in 1967.

Apart from the "no reprints" Annuals/Specials in mid-1967, Marvel's reprint titles kept to their appointed bi-monthly publication schedules - until the December 1967 cover date titles rolled around.


continued in:
OF THE 1960s
Part Three (late 1967 to 1969)



BAGNALL Bill (2014) "Marvel/Lancer paperbacks (1966-67)", published online at 'Tain't The Meat

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

HOWE Sean (2012) Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Harper Collins

THOMAS Roy (1998) "Stan the Man & Roy the Boy - A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas", in Comic Book Artist #2


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 21 May 2019