In 1957, Goodman had decided to close down his own Atlas magazine distribution company and strike a deal with the third party distributor American News to get his publications to the stands. Just months later, American News went out of business, leaving Goodman's magazines, including the comics, with no route to the newsstands. In the end, Goodman was able to do a deal with arch-rivals Independent News (distributors of DC Comics), but was forced to accept an eight titles per month cap on his comics line.
|At the beginning of 1959, the old Atlas Comics company was limping along, using the few artists who'd stuck with Stan through the lean years. No sign of brash newcomer Jack Kirby on any of these Jan 1959 titles.|
Lee turned to his newest star artist Jack Kirby and together the pair concocted The Fantastic Four - a strange and different kind of superhero comic in which the main characters didn't wear costumes, didn't have secret identities and didn't like each other very much. Presumably so as to fly under the DC radar, Stan had Kirby make the new comic look not-much-different to the oddball monster titles the former Atlas - by-then known only by the mysterious "MC" box on the covers - was publishing at the time.
|The same month that Fantastic Four 1 came out, November 1961, Marvel companion titles like Amazing Adventures and Strange Tales didn't look very much different, with their giant monsters dominating the covers and the subdued colour palettes.|
|The very first ever Marvel Masterwork Pin-up (though they weren't called that at the time) featured Marvel Comics' most enduring character, Ben (The Thing) Grimm; pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by George Klein.|
Tellingly, readers would have to wait until the following year for a pin-up of the fourth member of the quartet, when a pin-up of Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl, finally turned up in Fantastic Four 10 (Jan 1963). It's hard to tell now why Stan didn't think the readers wanted an Invisible Girl pin-up. Lee would later make the effort to make his female characters more than just secretaries to the heroes, but this early in the game I don't think the idea had occurred to him.
The next issue would feature a pin-up of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Was this because Stan was positioning Namor as a possible love-rival to Reed Richards for the affections of Sue Storm?
Interestingly, the story length in this issue was 22 pages, so the Namor pin-up was making up the standard 23 pages - no bonus here. The following issue, Fantastic Four 12 (Mar 1963) had 23 pages and no pin-up. But it did have The Hulk, though. With Fantastic Four 13 (Apr 1963), the story length would drop to 22 pages, which would be the standard page count - with a few variations - until Fantastic Four 30 (Sep 1964).
|Finally, a pin-up of the entire team. It looks to me like there may have been some art department bodging of Sue's face, as this doesn't really look like Kirby's version of the character. Pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers.|
The readers apparently did and must have responded to Stan's campaign of pin-ups in Marvel's burgeoning line of superhero titles. The following month, July 1963, Stan included pin-ups in three separate, non-FF, Marvel titles.
There was a Steve Ditko drawn Spider-Man pin-up in Amazing Spider-Man 3, a Cyclops pin-up (pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Chic Stone) in X-Men 6 and, rather strangely, a Pepper Potts pin-up (pencils and inks by Don Heck) in Tales of Suspense 55, though that may have been just Stan acknowledging that Heck drew really pretty girls.
A few months later, Stan went all-out with a veritable blitz of posters. The November 1964 issues of The Avengers, Journey into Mystery, Sgt Fury and The X-Men all had pin-ups, though the regular story page count of 21 pages also dropped to 20. Captain America was the featured pinup in Avengers 10, pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Sol Brodsky. Thor was the subject of Journey into Mystery 110's pin-up, pencilled by Kirby and inked by Chick Stone. Sgt Fury was featured as the pinup in Sgt Fury 12, pencilled and inked by series artist Dick Ayers and The Beast was the star of X-Men 8's pin-up. Unlike the other "Marvel Masterwork Pin-up" logos, which sure looks like it was lettered by Artie Simek to me, the lettering on The Beast pinup is by Sam Rosen ...
I don't know if it's a coincidence, but these issues and the Marvel Comics that immediately followed them were all caught up in the Great T&P Distribution Snafu of 1964, and as a consequence have traditionally been tagged as "rare" or "scarce" in the UK.
|For the December 1964 issues Stan commissioned these pin-ups of the heroes of Daredevil (Daredevil, of course), Rawhide Kid (Rawhide Kid, natch), Strange Tales (The Thing) and Tales to Astonish (The Hulk) ...|
|... The remaining December 1964 Marvels had pin-ups of villains from The Avengers (Kang), Journey into Mystery (Loki) and Fantastic Four (The Sub-Mariner).|
|The Fantastic Four pin-up is a bit of a strange one ... not the best composition that Kirby's ever done. Perhaps it was prepared for some other purpose. The Marvel Girl is much more of a traditional pin-up, as are the two Ditko posters.|
Then, just when we were thinking that surely Stan and the Bullpen must be running out of steam by now, there was another tranche of pinups in the spring of 1965. This was probably the last few that Stan was trying to squeeze in.
So readers were treated to two more Steve Ditko Spider-Man pinups in Amazing Spider-Man 21 (Feb 1965) & 23 (Apr 1965), and a Wally Wood Sub-Mariner in Daredevil 7 (Apr 1965). And then, suddenly, it was over. Practically overnight, the Marvel Masterwork Pin-up series ground to a halt. Except ... not quite.
It might have seemed like Stan still had a few pinups left in a drawer somewhere, because a couple of years later, some pin-ups turned up in random places that suggested that might be the case.
In the Marvel reprint books Marvel Tales 7 (Mar 1967) and Marvel Collectors' Item Classics 10 (Aug 1967), there appeared three pages of artwork all dressed up in Masterwork Pin-up livery. The two in Marvel Tales look like recycled sketches that were likely done for something else and Stan had two pages to fill in that issue. The Spider-Man is a Ditko, but appears to be printed same size as the original art. Fellow Marvel blogger Nick Caputo identifies this as a Ditko drawing given out to fans in the early 1960s. Nick has suggested that the Thor pinup is by Marie Severin, possibly over a Jack Kirby pencil sketch.
The Dr Strange pin-up had been produced by Ditko back in late 1964, some time before he left Marvel. This one must have sat in a drawer somewhere for almost two years before someone dragged it out, dusted it off and used it to fill a page in the reprint book.
For all that, the question remains, Why did Stan commission twenty pinups in the final months of 1964, then abruptly stop? I think the answer lies in the editorial page counts of the Marvel books of the period. In the first half of 1964, the editorial page count of Fantastic Four ran to 22 pages of story, plus letters pages. With issue 31 (Oct 1964) the story page length dropped to 21 pages. And by issue 33 (Dec 1964) it had gone down to 20. It does look like Stan was dropping in the pinups to cushion the blow to readers. Or perhaps he'd been told by Martin Goodman to reduce the story page count, but already had some longer stories in production when the edict came in, and had to use pinups to pad the shorter story issues.
I guess we'll never know for sure, as none of the interviews from those present at the time that I've ever seen have alluded to the page counts of those old Marvel books.
|During his run on Fantastic Four in the 1980s, John Byrne would use Stan's Marvel Masterwork pin-up idea to evoke a sense of the Silver Age - and not without some success, I'm happy to admit.|
And of course the Marvel Annuals were a bonanza for pin-up fans, but I'll cover those in a separate post, some other time.
In the meantime, as I've probably missed a couple, please feel free to list any missing original pinups from the Silver Age Marvels in the comments section below.
Next: The Mighty Marvel Reprint books