MARVEL MULTI-MAGS TRIVIA
THE PECULIAR CASE OF THE
1976/77 "YELLOW & GREEN ON WHITE" LABELS

 

 
 
MARVEL
MULTI-MAGS

  In the early 1960s, the comic book industry witnessed two radically different developments. On the one hand, it saw the hugely successful comeback of the superhero genre (which had been clinically dead for most of the 1950s) and a subsequent streak of new creativity which was met with an almost unprecedented enthusiasm for the medium. On the other hand, the industry's traditional sales points were fading away, as small stores which had carried comic books for decades were being pushed out of business by larger stores and supermarkets. At the same time, newsagents were increasingly viewing the low cover prices and therefore tiny profit margins comics had to offer as a nuisance.

Many ideas on how to turn these developments around were put forward by different publishers, but the most successful concepts strived to open up new sales opportunities and markets and thus tap into a new customer base.

 
One place these potential buyers could be found was the growing number of supermarkets and chain stores. But in order to be able to sell comic books at supermarkets, the product would have to be adjusted.
 
Handling individual issues clearly was no option for these outlets, but by looking at their logistics and display characteristics, DC Comics (who came up with the Comicpac concept in 1961) found that the answer to breaking into this promising new market was to simply package several comic books together in a transparent plastic bag. This resulted in a higher price per unit on sale, which made the whole business of stocking them much more worthwhile for the seller. The simple packaging was also rather nifty because it clearly showed the items were new and untouched, while at the same time blending in with other goods sold at supermarkets (most of which were also conveniently packaged).  
 
Outlets were even supplied with dedicated Comicpac racks, which enhanced the product appeal even more since the bags containing the comic books could be displayed on rack hooks in an orderly and neat fashion.
 

  DC's "comicpacks" were a success - so much so that other publishers quickly started to copy it. Marvel produced a series of Marvel Multi-Mags in 1968/69 but then seems to have dropped the idea again.

However, by the mid-1970s, the House of Ideas had once again fully embraced the marketing concept of selling multiple comic books packaged in a sealed plastic bag to a customer base which comic books could hardly reach otherwise: people shopping at supermarkets and large grocery stores.

It didn't really matter therefore that buying these three comic books in a comicpack for say 89 (rather than from a newsagent for 90 in that case) clearly presented no real bargain - it was the opportunity and convenience to pick up a few comics at the same time parents and adults did their general shopping. Neatly packaged, it almost became an entirely different class of commodity.

 
When Marvel reintroduced its MARVEL MULTI-MAGS in late 1972, the label at the top of the plastic bags underwent a design change which would be used consistently up until the early 1980s. If featured the product's name in central position (also emphasizing that these were MARVEL comics) and two roundels on each side, featuring a classic John Romita Sr. Spider-Man pose to the left and the content and price information (such as 3 comics for 89) to the right.

While the first two elements never changed, the third roundel had to be adjusted whenever there was a price increase (or, far less frequently, a change in the number of comic books contained). Such a change would often be accompanied by a change of colours used on the labels, and it seems that Spidey's costume was popular and well-known enough to withstand even the most garish colour combinations. As a result, there are roughly half a dozen different colour combinations between 1972 and 1983 (some of which would be used repeatedly), so the reason why the "yellow and green on white label / 3 comics for 89" stands out has nothing to do with its colour combination, but rather with the way bags with this label were sealed.


THE PECULIAR CASE OF THE
"YELLOW & GREEN ON WHITE LABEL / 3 COMICS FOR 89"
MARVEL MULTI-MAGS


 

  Other than obviously having a sealed top and, once the comic books were inserted, a sealed bottom, the polybags used for Marvel's MULTI-MAGS also had a third seal line below the label, as indicated by the arrows in the example shown here (a February 1973 MULTI-MAGS containing 4 comics for 79).

Heat sealing the bag at this point served two purposes. On the one hand, it provided a somewhat strengthened label (which of course also doubled as a hanger for most displays, which explains the "strenthener rings" applied to earlier MULTI-MAGS). On the other hand, it provided a tighter fit for the comic books by restricting their vertical movement inside the bag.

All the bags used by Marvel for their MULTI-MAGS followed this pattern (as did those of most publishers putting out comicpacks at the time), but when a new label had to be produced to reflect an increase of price from "3 comics for 74" to "3 comics for 89" as of October 1976 (after Marvel had raised the cover price for its standard comic books from 25 to 30 in September 1976), something strange happened.

In effect, the new label used - which was white with yellow and green printing and priced the 3 comics at 89 - lacked the third seal line.

 
Although sealed around the edges (shown here, below, with the green line, #1) like any and all other polybags used for MULTI-MAGS, the lack of this third seal line (the red line, #2) was caused by the topmost quarter of the polybag's length (including the label) actually forming a slip-over fold (the arrows are pointing to the bottom edge of this, #3). Depending on whether this overhang came to end up inside the polybag or on its outside (examples of both are known) resulted in two entirely different effects on how enclosed the comic books contained in such a polybag were.
 
If the fold ended up inside the polybag, the contents of that MULTI-MAGS were, to all intents and purposes, sealed inside, since the overhang covered the top quarter of the comic books from inside the polybag; the sealed side edges made it virtually impossible to insert or extract anything from that bag without clear tell-tale signs such as creases.

However, if the fold ended up outside the polybag, it wasn't fully enclosed and remained open for the entire width of the plastic bag (orange circle).

Some MULTI-MAGS with this problem have been "fixed" by stapling the bag below the label where the the sealing line would normally be (blue circles), but there is no telling at what point in time and by whom those staples were attached.

 
 
  If the fold was on the inside of the polybag - as is the case in the example shown here - there was no need for staples.

But visuals aside, the lack of the sealing line below the label results in a major fault with regard to how well the packaging protects its contents, since the comic books inside a MULTI-MAGS polybag of this type are not restricted from moving about into the label part of the sealed bag - quite unlike those packaged inside a "regular" MULTI-MAGS polybag (i.e. with a sealed off label).

 
 
 
 

  The potential physical damage which can result in repeated such movement (which could have occured frequently even during the original packaging, shipping, storing and handling throughout) can easily be seen with the two outer comic books of this specific MULTI-MAGS example; in spite of having been contained in a sealed polybag, they both display major blunting and scuffing to the bottom and top of their pages.

Another clear indication that this damage is due to vertical movement inside the bag is the fact that the comic book in the middle - Marvel Premiere #32 - is virtually in pristine condition, having been somewhat cushioned and protected by the two outer comic books.

 
The presence of the aforementioned staples may have added additional confusion to the nature and, to a degree, even authenticity of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS bearing the "yellow and green on white / 3 comics for 89" label. A number of these 3-packs show up regularly at online auction sites and are often described by (cautious) sellers as "unopened" rather than "sealed". And since these polybags differ so prominently from regular MARVEL MULTI-MAGS ones, a certain aura of suspicion remains - could they even have been tampered with?

There is sufficient evidence to show that this type of bag was indeed used for actual MARVEL MULTI-MAGS for a period of around six months between October 1976 and Spring 1977. The shortcomings of this type of polybag would however not have gone unnoticed (correctly sealed bags with green and blue labels were used concurrently as early as late October 1976), and it seems that the culprits were phased out long before actual stocks were depleted - a fact which can be deduced from the number of unused polybags of this type still being offered for purchase (often on the same online auction sites as the actual MULTI-MAGS for which those polybags were used at the time).

 
  The regular availability of these "production proof bags" does, however, also mean that anybody can easily insert anything into those polybags and then seal them - a task easily accomplished, and something which was in fact a common practice in the early 1980s and 1990s.

"Distributors (...) were able to buy empty Whitman plastic bags & they could fill them with random leftover comics & then heat seal them." (Stl Comics, 2006)

Given the availability of unused "yellow and green on white / 3 comics for 89" labelled polybags for, assumedly, decades, such a practice is at least something that needs to be considered and taken into account.

 
Most of the comicpacks filled and sealed by third parties at some later point in time often display one or more tell-tale signs, such as containing comic books from mixed publishers (Metarog, 2006) or titles from different years (Stl Comics, 2006), making it all but obvious that they are not from the original packing and distribution process. A few "yellow and green on white / 3 comics for 89" MARVEL MULTI-MAGS do, however, pose a slightly more subtle conundrum, and the example we will be looking at in more detail here is a point in case.

As a general (and extremely reliable) rule, MARVEL MULTI-MAGS not only contain issues from the same cover date production month only, but issues which actually went on sale the same day or within a week or two of each other - and there are examples of late 1976 and early 1977 MULTI-MAGS with a "yellow and green on white / 3 comics for 89" label which conform perfectly to this rule. In contrast, the dates of the issues contained in this example MULTI-MAGS vary quite a bit:

- Ringo Kid #29: cover date September 1976, on sale 22 June 1976, bi-monthly
- Marvel Premiere #32: cover date October 1976, on sale 6 July 1976, bi-monthly
- Fantastic Four #175: cover date October 1976, on sale 27 July 1976, monthly

So is this simply a rare case of an exception to the rule - after all, most rules have them?

Answering that question is extremely difficult, not the least because the "rules" behind Marvel's Multi-Mags are extremely hard to make out. Unlike rival DC, whose equivalent Super Pacs were published throughout the 1970s and early 1980s in a very orderly fashion (which, for example, lets us know that the rule was to publish four Super Pacs every month), Marvel's Multi Mags didn't seem to follow any hard publishing rules at all - or at least the available data doesn't allow us to see them today.

At least the relative closeness of the publication dates of the three issues raises less suspicion than one or two other known cases of "problem polybag" MULTI-MAGS which contain issues which are even several months apart in terms of cover dates. Ultimately, however, we may never know if any tomfoolery was involved or not.

Either way, the case of the "yellow and green on white / 3 comics for 89" labelled MARVEL MULTI-MAGS remains a peculiar one. The main question it raises is not, however, whether or not they are sealed, but rather who sealed them, and when.

And just to make things even more confusing - Marvel had already had the same problem with a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS polybag before, with the culprit being a handful of "red and blue on white / 3 comics for 74" labelled ones - while the vast majority of bags with that label were actually sealed correctly. But that is definitely a story for some other time...

 
Here are some known examples of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS with the "yellow and green on white / 3 comics for 89" label; the price tag for MARVEL MULTI-MAGS was 89 from October 1976 until December 1977.
 

OCTOBER 1976

MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (3 for 89)
Fantastic Four #175
Marvel Premiere
#32
Ringo Kid
#29

Contains a mix of cover date months: September 1976 (Ringo Kid #29) and October 1976 (Fantastic Four #175, Marvel Premiere #32).

Only the second known Western title to feature in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

Likewise, this is only the second known instance of an issue of Marvel Premiere being packaged in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

       

OCTOBER 1976

MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (3 for 89)
Marvel Double Feature #18
Daredevil
#138
Marvel Super-Heroes
#60

All issues carry the same cover date (October 1976).

This is the only known instance of an issue of Marvel Double Feature being packaged in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, while the two other titles were featured often and regularly.

       

OCTOBER 1976

MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (3 for 89)
Master of Kung Fu #45
Tomb of Dracula
#49
Marvel Spotlight #30

All issues carry the same cover date (October 1976).

All three titles are rarely featured in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

There is a concurrent MARVEL MULTI-MAGS with a green title label which also features Marvel Spotlight #30 but instead of Master of Kung Fu #45 and Tomb of Dracula #49 carries Daredevil #138 and Ka-Zar #18.

       

JANUARY 1977

MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (3 for 89)
Avengers #155
Thor #255
Marvel Triple Action #33

All issues carry the same cover date (January 1977).

All three titles were regularly packaged into MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

A second example of this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is known to exist, albeit with Thor and Avengers as the issues facing the outside of the polybag.

       

FEBRUARY 1977

MARVEL MULTI-MAGS (3 for 89)
Captain America #206
Marvel Tales
#75
Ka-Zar
#20

All issues carry the same cover date (February 1977).

There are a few instances of Ka-Zar featuring in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, while both other titles appeared frequently and regularly in Marvel's threepacks.

Several identical examples of this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS are known to exist.

       
 
 
 
  The MARVEL MULTI-MAGS we are looking at here features three titles - Ringo Kid #29, Marvel Premiere #32, and Fantastic Four #175.

As already pointed out, these are not all from the same cover date run, with Ringo Kid #29 being the odd one out with a September 1976 cover date whereas the two other issues are from the October 1976 publishing run.

The fact that this MARVEL MULTI-MAGS contains isues from two consecutive cover date months also means that there's two for one Bullpen Bulletins: A Quaff of Quixotic Quips to Quench Your Quakes and Quanderies! (September 1976) and A Ragbag of Riotious Repartee for Our Resplendently Rarified Readership! (October 1976).

Both also feature, of course, Stan's Soapbox, and in the September edition Stan Lee gives a shoutout to his brother, Larry Lieber - and provides US readers with a rare moment of awareness that the World of Marvel reaches beyond the Atlantic Ocean:

 
 

"Larrupin' Larry Lieber (...) has also come aboard to handle the issues which we produce for an ever-growing army of Marvel fanatics in Great Britain. Wouldja believe they're on sale weekly over there; so we're bettin' that Larry'll be kinda busy."

  Lee was referring to Marvel's own UK imprint, launched in September 1972 and commonly known as Marvel UK.

However, the fact that the House of Ideas was popular in the UK and many European countries could also be glimpsed from the small ads pages, where an English comic book dealer advertised his services.

 
 

 

 

RINGO KID #29

September 1976
(bi-monthly)
On Sale:
22 June 1976

Editor - Archie Goodwin, Roger Stern (reprint editor)
Cover - Gil Kane


Ringo Kid is one of the lesser known characters of the Marvel Western Universe (which includes Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt,) who made his debut in the 1950s Atlas Western comics range, created by an unknown writer and artist Joe Maneely. Dressed all in black, the Ringo Kid is a 19th century Old West gunslinger who is treated as an outcast because of his mixed heritage (being the son of a Caucasian father and a Native American mother) and the fact that he is on the run after being wrongly accused of a crime. His sidekick is Dull Knife, a warrior from his mother's tribe, and his horse is named Arab. The Ringo Kid is essentially an outlaw who isn't one and strives for just law enforcement while observing a vow of not to kill.

Marvel reprinted material from the original series in Ringo Kid (vol. 2) over a run of 30 issues from January 1970 to November 1976. Ringo Kid #29, the penultimate issue of the series, features three Ringo Kid and one unrelated stand-alone stories.

 
None of the material reprinted in Ringo Kid #29 carries any indication as to its original publication, which for all four stories is Ringo Kid Western #19 (July 1957).
 

Fang, Claw and Six-Gun!
(5 pages)
Writer unknown
Art by Joe Maneely

 

The Phantom of Coronado
(5 pages)
Writer unknown
Art by Joe Maneely

 

Empty Holsters
(4 pages)
Writer unknown
Art by Jack Keller (signed)

 

Man-Killer!
(5 pages)
Writer unknown
Art by Joe Maneely

 
 
  Question marks regarding this "yellow and green on white" MULTI-MAGS aside, there is only one other example of a MULTI-MAGS known so far containing a Western title - a June 1976 pack featuring Mighty Marvel Western #45 (together with Ghost Rider #18 and Black Goliath #3).

The Ringo Kid even made it into the present day Marvel Universe - together with Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt and Night Rider - in a time travel plot featured in Avengers #142 (December 1975).

 
 

 

 

MARVEL PREMIERE #32

October 1976
(bi-monthly)
On Sale:
6 July 1976

Editor - Archie Goodwin
Cover - Howard Chaykin (pencils) & Al Milgrom (inks)

"Monark Starkstalker"
(17 pages)
Story - Howard Chaykin
Pencils - Howard Chaykin
Inks - Howard Chaykin
Lettering -
Annette Kawecki, Jim Novak
Colouring - Glynis Wein


Marvel Premiere was one of three "tryout titles" launched at the time of Stan Lee's promotion from writer and editor to president and publisher (the others being Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature).

The purpose of such tryout books was that they gave the publisher a means to assess a feature's popularity without the marketing investment required to actually launch a new series (which also meant that the financial loss and potential blow to the publisher's image would be minimal in case a new character tanked with readers).

 

 
Tryout books could thus give established characters a first shot at a starring role, reintroduce characters who no longer had their own titles, or introduce all-new characters.
 
But as the letters page of Marvel Premiere #32 explains, there could be subtle conceptual differences which set the tryout titles apart:

"SPOTLIGHT is a try-out book for previously-introduced Marvel characters, such as Sub-Mariner, Moon Knight, and the Warriors Three. In PREMIERE, however, we want to establish a slightly different bent, showcasing new ideas and concepts - such as Bill Mantlo's furry fellow [i.e. Rocky Racoon] and Howard Chaykin's manhunter of the far-flung future."

This had not, however, been the case originally, as Marvel Premiere #1 (April 1972) featured a revamp of Adam Warlock before Doctor Strange took over as of Marvel Premiere #3 (July 1972) for a total of twelve issues before leaving for his own re-instated title.

   
 
The Sorcerer Supreme was followed by new character Iron Fist who made his debut in Marvel Premiere #15 (May 1974), who in turn after 13 issues got his own title. It was really only starting with Marvel Premiere #26 (November 1975) that the title followed the route outlined in the letters page of Marvel Premiere #32, introducing a long line of characters which would only appear in one or two issues (of which some of the earlier ones were Woodgod, the legion of Monsters, or 3-D Man). In the late 1970s, some better known Marvel characters made an appearance (such as Ant-Man, Falcon or Black Panther), alternating with some more outrageous features (such as Alice Cooper). Even Doctor Who, of TV series fame, got to appear in some of the last issues, and the final curtian came in August 1981 when Marvel Premiere #61 featured Star-Lord.
 
  Howard Chaykin's single-handed creation Monark Starstalker turned out to be just a passing stranger in the Marvel Universe. However, his adventure from Marvel Premiere #32 was reprinted in early 1978 for the French market in Eclipso #62 (albeit in black & white only), in October 1979 in Italy for Editoriale Corno's Gli Eterni #20, and finally in April 1980 in Marvel UK's Star Wars Weekly #111-113 (also in b&w and in three five to six page segments).

This is only the second known instance of an issue of Marvel Premiere being packaged in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS.

 
 

 

 

FANTASTIC FOUR #175

October 1976
(monthly)
On Sale:
27 July 1976

Editor - Roy Thomas
Cover - Jack Kirby (pencils) & Joe Sinnott (inks)

"When Giants Walk the Sky!"
(17 pages)

Story - Roy Thomas
Pencils - John Buscmea
Inks - John Buscmea
Lettering -
Joe Rosen
Colouring - Janice Cohen


The Fantastic Four and the High Evolutionary face off against Galactus, but are saved in the nick of time by... the Impossible Man...

Plus: The Thing regains his full rocky form (the previous loss of which he had compensated by wearing an exoskeleton).

 
   
 
 
 


Fantastic Four #175 was one of many "classic" FF issues which Marvel reprinted in September 2018 as part of their $1 price tag True Believers series.

 
 

 
FURTHER READING ON THE THOUGHT BALLOON
 
 
  "Comic packs" not only sold well for more than two decades, they also offer some interesting insight into the comic book industry's history from the 1960s through to the 1990s. There's more on their general history here.
 
  There's more on the background and the history of the Marvel Multi Mags here.
 
  There's more on the background and the history of Marvel's UK imprint of the 1970s, commonly referred to as Marvel UK, here.
 
 

 


More on comic packs / More on Marvel Multi-Mags

 

 



(c) 2021

uploaded to the web 22 August 2021