Even in the early 1960s, the comic book industry realized that in spite of the hugely successful comeback of the superhero genre (which had been clinically dead for most of the 1950s) and the subsequent streak of new creativity and the enthusiasm it generated, its traditional sales points were fading away. Small stores that had carried comic books were pushed out of business by larger stores and supermarkets, and newsagents started to view 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 most other goods sold at supermarkets 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.


The MARVEL MULTI-MAGS we are looking at here features three titles: Marvel Double Feature #18, Daredevil #138, and Marvel Super-Heroes #60, all from the October 1976 cover date run. This meant that they were actually on sale at newsagents in July 1976, although there could be quite a delay in terms of actual availability of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS at some sales points, resulting in Multi-Mags on display that contained "semi-recent books (typically about nine months old)" (Brevoort, 2007). Considering the packaging and distribution process, this doesn't really seem too surprising.

This specific three-pack is somewhat special in that it belongs to a small number of late 1976 and early 1977 MARVEL MULTI-MAGS that came with a yellow and green on white (3 comics for 89) label and display the anomaly of not having a seal-line below the label. Heat sealing the bag at this point served two purposes. Firstly, it provided a somewhat strengthened label (which of course also doubled as a hanger for most displays), but secondly - and just as importantly - it also provided a tighter fit for the comic books, by restricting their vertical movement inside the bag.

The lack of the sealing line below the label is in fact a major defect 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).

  In some cases - as the example here shows - this protective partition was achieved (to a degree) by the use of staples.

These could have been applied by some resellers upon delivery (or even years later by third parties), but It is doubtful that this took place at the original packaging facility.

In any case, the staples did what they were intended to do in this case and prevented any excessive physical damage to the three comic books inside the polybag, especially when compared to issues that were allowed to "move freely" in such a MULTI-MAGS.

No titles had permanent slots in the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS. The Hulk featured often and regularly, both in his own title as well as through his reprint mag Marvel Super-Heroes, while issues of Daredevil would show up every now and then but on a far less regular schedule. Marvel Double Feature, however, was a singular rarity as this is the only known instance, to date, of an issue of that title being packaged in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS - the way in which individual issues were selected for inclusion in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS does, at times, seem slightly haphazard.

But even with regulars such as the Hulk, there was no guarantee of an uninterrupted flow of consecutive issues - and therefore a distinct possibility of missing out on a part of the storyline. On top of this, the continuity of the Marvel Universe of the 1970s was such that plots and storylines usually evolved over more than one issue.

This didn't exactly make the MULTI-MAGS an ideal way of getting your Marvel comic book fix. However, one needs to bear in mind that this was a common fate of the average comic book reader in the 1970s Bronze Age, whether his or her comic books came packaged in a plastic bag or as single issues from a display or spinner rack. Back in those days, an uninterrupted supply of specific titles simply was not guaranteed. Not worrying too much about possible gaps in storylines became something of a routine - besides, you would usually get a recap of "what happened so far" on the first page.

  So all in all it simply was a part of being a comic book fan in the 1970s - as were the monthly Bullpen Bulletins (which were the responsibility of the editor-in-chief) and the in-house advertising (often with mouth watering cover reproductions).
In October 1976, the Bullpen Bulletin was still on its way through the alphabet as far as its title was concerned, arriving at the letter R - which resulted in the typically alliterative and somewhat nonsensical title "A Ragbag of Riotious Repartee for Our Resplendently Rarified Readership!".

The big news - and the headline item of Stan Lee's Soapbox column - was the promotion of Archie Goodwin to editor-in-chief. Lee mentioned the "illustrious list of former editors-in-chief, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Gerry Conway" but diligently avoided pointing out that this position had fast become a revolving door affair, with those four gents successively at the helm between 1972 and 1976, all of them stepping down to be able to spend more time writing (with Conway only lasting six weeks as EIC).


Also not mentioned by Stan Lee on this occasion was the fact that Archie Goodwin only agreed to fill the position on the assumption that it would be temporary, until a permanent replacement could be found; ultimately Goodwin would resign at the end of 1977 (Howe, 2012).

As for the actual Bullpen Bulletins' various ITEM! bullet points, they were - as usual - mostly concerned with new and changing assignments to various writers and artists, as well as Marvel's ever expanding line of titles - in this case the major push was given to the Super Treasury Edition of Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey, an adaptation of the movie. It would be followed in December 1976 by an ongoing series of the same title which, however, would find few favours with readers and be cancelled after a mere ten issues.

The final item of news was both bad and not really news at all - Marvel's need (for reasons explained in this Bullpen Bulletin in a separate box) to raise the cover price for their regular comics to 30. Following a few tests in select markets to gauge buyer reactions to the 5 hike, the higher price was introduced as of September 1976 (cover date), i.e. the previous month. The price for a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS rose accordingly, to 89 for three comics instead of the previous 74.





October 1976
On Sale:
6 July 1976

Reprint Editors - Archie Goodwin, Richard Stern
Cover - Jack Kirby (pencils) & Frank Giacoia (inks)

"If this be... MODOK!" (CAPTAIN AMERICA)
(10 pages)
Story - Stan Lee
Pencils - Jack Kirby
Inks - Joe Sinnott
Lettering -
Sam Rosen
Originally published in - Tales of Suspense #94 (October 1967)

"Alone against A.I.M.!" (IRON MAN)
(8 pages)
Story - Archie Goodwin
Pencils - Gene Colan
Inks - Johnny Craig
Lettering -
Artie Simek
Originally published in - Iron Man #1 (October 1968), first 8 pages

Marvel Double Feature was one of Marvel's many superhero titles of the 1970s reprinting material from the 1960s, but stood out somewhat because it followed the "double bill" format of Tales of Suspense.

The need to split one comic book between two main characters grew out of the fact that Marvel had to use Independent News as its distributor since the late 1950s, which by contract limited the House of Ideas to a monthly publishing output of only eight titles (Cooke, 1998). The snag: unlike what the name suggested, Independent was in fact owned by National Periodical - who also happened to own Goodman's rivals DC Comics.

The well-known outcome of this was that Stan Lee juggled with a mix of bi-monthlies, cancelled Romance and Western titles, and turned Horror books into Superhero titles - all in order to get the distribution slots freed up for what was selling in the early to mid-1960s.

Iron Man took over Tales of Suspense and was joined by Captain America as of issue #59 (November 1964). Marvel Double Feature, launched in December 1973 as a bi-monthly reprint title, followed this pattern from the start, but for reasons only known to editorial never actually featured Captain America and Iron Man stories from the same issue of Tales of Suspense.

The page count of the original material allowed for an easy reprint, with no editing required - up until this issue, Marvel Double Feature #18, which featured the first 8 pages from Iron Man #1, the story of which ran across 17 pages.

Superhero reprint titles were quite popular, since they afforded readers access to "classic" material which was already at the time attracting collectors' prices for the original titles, and these superhero reprint titles did feature fairly regularly in MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, although primarily those reprinting Spider-Man and Hulk material.
  To date, this is the only known instance of an issue of Marvel Double Feature being packaged in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, and whatever the decision behind this selection was, it came very late, since Marvel Double Feature would drop Iron Man and replace him with Black Panther as of issue #20, before being cancelled outright after issue #21.




October 1976
On Sale:
6 July 1976

Editor - Marv Wolfman
Cover - Gene Colan (pencils) & Tom Palmer (inks)

"Where is Karen Page?"
(17 pages)
Story - Marv Wolfman
Pencils - John Byrne
Inks - Jim Mooney
Lettering -
Joe Rosen
Colouring - Michele Wolfman

STORY OVERVIEW - Daredevil is in Los Angeles looking for a kidnapped Karen Page and clashes with Death's-Head and the Smasher. Meanwhile, Johnny Blaze is after Stuntmaster who he's learned has kidnapped Karen Page, and as Daredevil is struggling, Ghost Rider roars in to help the Man without fear...

The story continues from Ghost Rider #19 and concludes in Ghost Rider #20.

From time to time a Marvel title would feature a story which would be concluded in a different title (and which possibly even started in a different title, such as is the case here).

More often than not, this procedure - which commonly served the purpose of giving one of the two titles a shot in the arm as far as sales were concerned - was a nuisance, since there was a fair chance that your local sales point might not carry that other title. It was, of course, totally hopeless for buyers of MARVEL MULTI-MAGS, since the chances of finding that "other title" in a three-pack bordered on zero. Which meant the only thing to do was to enjoy what you had as an episodic interlude.

Interestingly enough, there is no editorial information as to the fact that this story started out in Ghost Rider #19, but as is typical for a mid-1970s Marvel comic book, readers simply get pulled into the action straight away, no matter what.


  In this case, it is fair to assume that the title in need of some additional readers was the bi-monthly Ghost Rider, and editorial would be hoping for a few Daredevil readers picking up that title too so that they would learn how the story ended.
On the bright side - and it was a very bright side indeed - readers got some awesome artwork of the Ghost Rider by John Byrne thanks to this episodic interlude, along with his dynamic approach to DD and the panel structure of a comic book page.






October 1976
(published 7 times a year)
On Sale:
13 July 1976

Reprint Editors - Archie Goodwin, Richard Stern
Cover - Marie Severin (pencils) & Frank Giacoia (inks)

"Above the Earth - A Titan Rages!"
(18 pages)

Story - Archie Goodwin (pages 1-9), Roy Thomas (pages 10-18)
Pencils - Marie Severin (Layouts), Herb Trimpe
Inks - George Tuska
Lettering -
Artie Simek
Originally published in - Incredible Hulk #106 (August 1968),
minus 2 pages (4, 13)

STORY OVERVIEW - The Hulk battles it out with the Missing Link and is sucked into a Cold War stand-off between a S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier and a similar Russian device.

Marvel Comics had set up reprint titles almost as soon as their very first superheroes became smash hits, and as mentioned earlier, they proved rather popular since they allowed fans to read "classic" material which otherwise would be hard or outright impossible to come by - since this was way before the concept of the "collected edition" was even thought of.

Publisher Martin Goodman's business experience from reprinting paperbacks in the 1940s and Stan Lee's skill at selling just about anything connected to Marvel combined to form a winning formula for all sides involved (with the notable exception of the artists, who stood to gain absolutely nothing from having their work reprinted).

Marvel Super-Heroes was, in fact, Marvel's very first regular reprint title (i.e which wasn't an annual), starting out as Fantasy Masterpieces and launched in February 1966. Originally reprinting only horror and sci-fi material from Marvel's pre-superhero age (hyped by Stan Lee as a "nostalgic journey to yesterday's fantasy wonderland"), it changed its title to Marvel Super-Heroes (while keeping the numbering) as of issue #12 in December 1967 and featured a mix of new material alongside reprints.

Hosting a changing array of new characters or known ones who were given the spotlight in a giant-sized format of 68 pages backed up by reprint material, Marvel Super-Heroes converted to the standard page count size as of issue #32 in September 1972 and also switched from featuring Iron Man and Daredevil to the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner as its "reprint feature" (which was possible as the original source material used were the shorter Hulk and Namor stories from back in the days when they shared the pages of Tales To Astonish). It was never, however, a complete consecutive run of reprints, with a number of issues being left out.

As of Marvel Super-Heroes #56 (March 1976), the Sub-Mariner reprints were dropped and the title became an exclusive Hulk reprint book as the source material had reached the point where the Green Giant had branched out into his own title, resulting in longer stories - with in fact more pages than Marvel offered in 1976, resulting in the omission of 1 or 2 pages of the original material.

  Several issues of Marvel Super-Heroes were packaged into MARVEL MULTI-MAGS between 1976 and 1981, making the Hulk a frequent feature of the MARVEL MULTI-MAGS both in his ongoing and his reprint title.

  Today, any MARVEL MULTI-MAGS is a time capsule; opening this plastic bag right here offers a nostalgic glimpse into what it was like to be a comic book reader in October 1976.

So what else was going on back then?

  The US Billboard Chart saw three number 1s during October 1976: Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band with "A Fifth of Beethoven" as well as Chicago with "If you leave me now" for one week each, while Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots got two weeks at the top with "Disco Duck (Part 1)". In the UK, ABBA with "Dancing Queen" and Pussycat with "Mississippi" topped the charts for two weeks each - clearly not reflecting at all the fact that 1976 was the year that Punk Rock exploded onto the British music scene.
  The New York Times Bestseller list for October 1976 was topped by Leon Uris's "Trinity", a spot he occupied since June; by the end of October, however, the number one position would go to Agatha Christie's posthumously published last Miss Marple book, "Sleeping Murder"..
  In October 1976 John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" was the most popular movie in the US. Overall, "Rocky" was the US top-grossing movie while "Jaws" (which had been released in 1975 in the States) topped the 1976 list in the UK.
  In the US, all of the three most popular TV shows came from ABC, with "Happy Days" taking the top spot. Numbers for the UK are sketchy, but it appears that the TV premiere of James Bond's "Goldfinger" got the most viewers to sit down in front of the telly.

  "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 background information and discussion of the "yellow and green on white (3 comics for 89)" label MARVEL MULTI-MAGS here.
  There's more background information and discussion of Marvel's 1960s reprint titles (and how and why they became such a successful venture for the House of Ideas) here.

BREVOORT Tom (2007) "Marvel Multi-Mags", Blah Blah Blog, originally published online 28 April 2007, reposted 18 April 2020

COOKE Jon B. (1998) "Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas", in Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998

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





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uploaded to the web 27 September 2021