SPOTLIGHT ON

MARVEL UK's
SPIDER-MAN COMICS WEEKLY #1

(FEBRUARY 1973)

 

 

SPIDER-MAN
"The Man called Electro!"
(22 pages)
Full reprint, originally published in Amazing Spider-Man #9 (February 1964)
Story - Stan Lee
Pencils & Inks - Steve Ditko
Lettering - Artie Simek

THOR
"The Stone Men from Saturn!"
(13 pages)
Full reprint, originally published in Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962)
Story - Stan Lee
Pencils - Jack Kirby
Inks - Joe Sinnott
Lettering - Artie Simek

The cover is composed of cover artwork by Steve Ditko from Amazing Spider-Man #19 and John Romita from Mighty Thor #169

 

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1
(UK, 17 February 1973)

 

 
 


Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(UK, October 1972)

 

WELCOME TO THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL ...

On the last Saturday of September 1972, a new comic book appeared on British newsagent stands. Cover dated "week ending Oct. 7, 1972", Mighty World of Marvel #1 heralded the beginning of Marvel UK (as the House of Ideas' British imprint would soon be known as).

The first issue of Mighty World of Marvel (which would quickly acquire the affectionate acronym of MWOM) started out with the origin stories of the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, and quickly proved to be the huge success Marvel no doubt had hoped for. A little more than four months and 19 issues after the launch of MWOM, Marvel UK made its next move to increase its share of the British market by launching their second weekly on February 10th 1973.

... HERE COMES THE SPIDER-MAN !

Swinging his way out of the pages of MWOM, Spider-Man became the leading character and star of Spider-Man Comics Weekly (SMCW for short - both editorial and the readers loved acryonyms), which also introduced Thor as a backup strip.

 

 
British comic books at the time were generally published weekly and black and white in order to cut down on costs. Marvel UK followed the weekly publication schedule but decided to use single tints of so-called "spot colours" on certain pages in order to set their comics apart from other titles.

While MWOM would feature a green tone (which worked well with the Hulk material), the tone chosen for SMCW was red. Again a fairly obvious choice, it certainly gave the interior pages printed that way a very different feel, compared to the standard black and white printing readers would get from other publisher's titles.

 

 
It may also have served the purpose of justifying the higher price - whilst Spider-Man Comics Weekly started out at a price of 5p, other and indeed more established UK titles could still be purchased for 3.5p (Tiger), 3p (Wizard) or even just 2p (the asking price in 1973 for both The Dandy and The Beano).
 

 

  Attractive as it could be, printing some interior pages with spot colours certainly added to the overall production costs.
Nevertheless, Marvel UK even added a second spot colour (yellow) to certain pages as of their third weekly production cycle, and thus first appearing in Mighty World Of Marvel #3 in mid-October 1972.

Whilst still miles from full colour rendition, it did look rather snazzy and certainly gave the end product a higher production value look. It may also have spurred the regular demands from readers for full colour interior pages - something which of course was out of the question (as editorial patiently kept reminding readers on the letters pages) for reasons of printing cost and resulting cover price for a single issue.

 


Mighty World Of Marvel #3
(UK, October 1972)

Spider-Man Comics Weekly continued the by then established practice and also featured a few interior pages printed in two spot colours, i.e. red and yellow. It really made quite the difference to just black and white.

 
Of course the addition of yellow was actually just the absence of any other mixing colour, since yellow is what is called a "subtractive primary" in basic colour printing. Mixing it with "cyan" (blue) produces green colours, while yellow mixed with "magenta" (purple) results in reds. Since yellow was involved anyway, it was therefore not much of an added expense to just use 100% yellow in some places (and 25% in others for a lighter composite colour) instead of just flat-out 50% to render green or red spot colours.

The spot colours lasted until mid-1973, with Mighty World Of Marvel #42 and Spider-Man Comics Weekly #23 (both on sale at the news agents the week ending July 21st 1973) being the last to feature them. From there on out, interior pages were all black and white, the only colour present being on the (by then) glossy covers. Even though Mighty World Of Marvel #43 and Spider-Man Comics Weekly #24 - the first issues without spot colours - introduced Marvel UK's very own Bullpen Bulletin, no mention of this change was made. There was also no immediate reactions in the letters pages of both titles, so either readers had never really cared for the spot colours, or editorial decided to just let it go without any further ado (inclduing not printing any letters commenting on the fact).

 
Since Spider-Man had been one of the three features of Mighty World Of Marvel since the get go of that title (the other two being the Hulk and the Fantastic Four), the reprints of his US material simply continued into Spider-Man Comics Weekly. As a consequence, readers who picked up SMCW #1 without ever having read a single copy of MWOM would be at something of a loss as to who and what Spider-Man actually was. Some sort of introduction page, would have been a possibility, but Marvel UK seemed to give priority to advertising FOOM (more of this later) and thus the total page count was put to that use and Spidey was simply set loose with a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #9 (February 1964).

The story marked the first appearance of Electro, which was reprinted in full. At the time, there was still more than enough distance in time between the publication of the original material in the US and their reprints in Britain. However, given the weekly schedule of Marvel UK's titles, they would get through the original material (that had been and still was published monthly) rather quickly. Adding more features to their titles would allow Marvel UK to slow that process down a bit, and full reprints of US issues would soon become the exception.

 
Thor, on the other hand, although having featured in some haphazard 1960s UK reprints before, was a brand new addition to the ranks of Marvel UK.
 

 
The Mighty Thor made his first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962) as "the most exciting superhero of all time" (according to the cover blurb), and it is this origin story - recounting how handicapped Doctor Don Blake discovers Thor's hammer in a cave in Norway and then turns into the Norse Thundergod himself by tapping his cane on the ground - that is reprinted in full in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1.

Thor stands out somewhat from the other early Marvel superheroes, being an Asgardian god and not the result of scientific experiments (such as Ant-Man or Iron Man) or mishaps (as in the case of the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man). According to Stan Lee, it was the result of musing about a new superhero.

"How do you make someone stronger than the strongest person? It finally came to me: Don't make him human - make him a god [and] delve into the old Norse legends (...) After writing an outline depicting the story and the characters I had in mind, I asked my brother, Larry [Lieber], to write the script because I didn't have time." (Stan Lee, in Lee & Mair 2002).

Of course, as is par for the course for any first generation Marvel superhero, Jack Kirby would later contest Lee's version regarding the creation of Thor and claim sole authorship himself.

"I created Thor at Marvel because I was forever enamored of legends, which is why I knew about Balder, Heimdall, and Odin. I tried to update Thor and put him into a superhero costume, but he was still Thor." (Jack Kirby, in Van Hise 1985)

And as always, these questions tend to be answered by some people based more on what they prefer to believe than actual hard facts.

 

  Kirby was in charge of the artwork (inked by Joe Sinnott) and thus most certainly came up with the soon-to-be-classic visuals of Thor (whilst the Stone Men from Saturn, on the other hand, were a clear swipe by Kirby from his own work, a 1959 story he did for DC's House of Mystery).

But as far as actual characterization and content goes, everything points to Larry Lieber, who was writing actual full scripts based on Lee's outline plots (Thomas, 1999). There was no "Marvel Method" (i.e. giving artists little more than a general plot and leaving the layout of the pages to their discretion) in the beginning of Thor's adventures in Journey Into Mystery.

"Larry definitely did the first Thor, and he may have written the copy for Iron Man. What I did was give him the plot and he wrote it." (Stan Lee, in Thomas 1998)

Also rather unlike most Marvel superhero yarns at the time, the Thor stories in Journey Into Mystery remained uncredited until issue #86 (November 1962). For obvious reasons, that was thus also the case for Thor's introduction in SMCW #1.

Initially, both Thor as a character and his storylines felt somewhat strange, as he indiscriminately battled aliens, time-travelling villains and communist bad guys alike. It took a while for the Asgardian epic to settle in, but once it did, Thor became one of Marvel's major and best-selling superheroes.

 
Thor's origin story in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1 was reprinted using the same "spot colour" technique as the Spider-Man story, resulting in black and white pages as well as those with red and red plus yellow hues. The latter was used, to quite a stunning effect, on the page showing the first transformation of Don Blake into Thor.
 

  Back in the US in 1962, readers were told that Thor would be a regular fixture in Journey Into Mystery, and while the same was true for the UK in 1973, the title required the obvious change to Spider-Man Comics Weekly.

Editorial at Marvel UK also took the opportunity to correct a spelling mistake in the original (Thorr) and to replace the US term "newsdealer" with the British "news agent". Initially, quite an effort was put into "anglicizing" what Marvel UK's editorial felt was too American in terms of language, or a reference British readers would not understand.

Some alterations, however, seem rather arbitrary or even puzzling - and the ending of the Spidey story in SMCW #1 might be considered a case in point.

The original last panel of Amazing Spider-Man #9 ends with no reference really needing a correction (as would be the case in "see you next month"); nevertheless, the last box of text was completely changed. Was it to keep pushing the new title ("Spider-Man, the top star of Marveldom Assembled"), or did editorial not want readers to think that Spider-Man was "the super-hero who could be - you"?

The person doing those alterations in 1972 and 1973 was 23-year-old Dave Gibbons (who would later go on to create Watchmen with writer and fellow Brit Alan Moore).

"I did all the anglicizing of spelling in the first year or so of MWOM. As it generally involved lengthening words ("colour" for "color", say), I often had to redo whole lines of copy." (Dave Gibbons, in Stringer 2007)

 

 
It all started right at the outset of Marvel UK, and - as one would suspect - it was a tedious job.

"I got a call from a guy called Rob Barrow [who had] heard from a lady called, I believe, Pippa Melling who was the de facto editor of the about-to-start MWOM. The production prints they'd received from the States still had US spelling. Rob knew that I'd done lettering for Fleetway and thought I would be just the man. I met up with Pippa in the offices they then had in High Holborn and agreed the details (...) I worked on high quality prints mounted on heavy board, using strips of patch paper to do the corrections. A fiddly business (...) I had to cut the patch with a scalpel held at an angle, to chamfer the edges and prevent shadow, then go round each edge with white-out, just to make sure (...) I would get pages through the mail, do the corrections and mail them back, usually under a tight deadline. I can't remember when or how I stopped, but I would guess that they took to doing the corrections in the US." (Dave Gibbons, in Stringer 2007)

 

 

SPREADING THE NEWS

 
When Marvel UK started out in October 1972 with Mighty World of Marvel #1, it wasn't just about reprinting material previously published in the United States - after all, most of it had already been published in the UK in the 1960s in some shape or form. The real novelty was the inclusion of the Marvel house style.

Inspired by the way how William Gaines and his EC Comics reached out to and involved readers of their titles in the early 1950s, Stan Lee understood (possibly like no other) the magic of creating something of a club atmosphere and making readers feel that they were actually part of something special.

"I didn't want us to be doing these books in a vacuum, because you know comic books had no advertising budget, no promotion. There were no ads on television, on the radio, in newspapers - you just printed your comic book and it was out there, and I was (...) on a crusade, a mission, to let the world know about the marvelous world of Marvel. So in that sense, I guess I was a little bit of a huckster." (NN, 2003)

 
 

In the case of launching Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1, however, it seems that Marvel UK did in fact run a few TV commercials (Carroll, 2019). But the main advertising space was, of course, Mighty World of Marvel, and it served that billboard function well.


In-house ad from Mighty World of Marvel #19 (February 1973)

The first issue featured Stan Lee "sounding off" in his very own column (quite like his soapbox in the US titles) in his usual style of avuncular hyperbole.

"Remember when we told you that mighty Marvel was taking over the world? Hah! And you thought we were kidding!"

Apart from a plug for Mighty World of Marvel (where Daredevil was to take Spider-Man's now vacant spot, heralding the shape of things to come as more classic Marvel characters would gradually be introduced to UK readers), Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1 was also used to promote the UK branch of Marvel's in-house fan club FOOM (Friends Of Ol' Marvel), the "secret" of which had been trumpeted up in several previous issues of MWOM.

Launching FOOM (Marvel's third fan club after the original Merry Marvel Marching Society of the 1960s and the short-lived subsequent Marvelmania International) was a clear indication that the House of Ideas had identified the UK as a very promising market and was looking to increase and strengthen what would today be called "customer loyalty" amongst its current and future readers.

 
Keeping up the British comic book tradition of free gifts in the first few issues of a new title (Mighty World of Marvel #1 came with a Hulk iron-on transfer), Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1 promised nothing less than a Spider-Man Mask on its cover. In a somewhat sobering reality check, this turned out to be nothing more than a printed paper bag (Stringer, 2007).
 

 

BE PUBLISHED FOR LONG AND PROSPER

 
Spider-Man was the flagship character of the House of Ideas (although the Hulk always came a close second in the UK in terms of popularity), and Marvel UK no doubt had high hopes that Spider-Man Comics Weekly, alongside Mighty World of Marvel, would take their entry into the British comic book market to the next level. And it did.
 
Ultimately, Spider-Man Comics Weekly would become the longest-running UK Marvel comic book (enjoying a continuous run over a period of 12 years), although it changed its title name several times (and with increasing frequency once it was beyond the 150 issues mark):

- Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes (as of issue #158)
- Super Spider-Man and the Titans (#199)
- Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain (#231)
- Spider-Man Comic (#311)
- Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly (#334)
- Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly (#376)
- Super Spider-Man TV Weekly (#450)
- Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (#553)
- Spider-Man Comic (#634)
- Spidey Comic (#652)

 

 

 
 

 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

CARROLL Michael Owen (2019) "Branding: Spider-Man Comics Weekly", Rusty Staples Comics Blog, published online 16 January 2019

LEE Stan & George MAIR (2002) Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, Simon & Schuster

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

STRINGER Lew (2007) "Marvel UK: The early years", Blimey! The Blog of British Comics, published online 13 March 2007

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

THOMAS Roy (1999) "A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber", in Alter Ego, Vol. 3 #2, TwoMorrows Publishing

VAN HISE James (1985) "Superheroes: The Language that Jack Kirby wrote", in Comics Feature #34

 
 

 
 

The illustrations presented here are copyright material and are reproduced for strictly non-commercial and appreciative review purposes only.
Text is (c) 2022-2023 Adrian Wymann

Page uploaded to the web 15 January 2023