Sunday, 9 February 2020

Exposed: Myths of Marvel's Silver Age - Part 1

BACK IN THE EARLY 1960s, Marvel comics was a small publishing house that no one really cared about. After some bad luck and at least one disastrous business decision during the 1950s, owner-publisher Martin Goodman, who was married to Stan Lee's mother's niece, was presiding over a company that had definitely seen better days.

But before I get too deeply into that, let's first pause to expose one of the minor myths of Marvel - that Stan Lee got his job because he was related to Martin Goodman. 

It wasn't publisher Martin Goodman who got Stan Lee his job at Timely (later Marvel) in 1941, but Stan's Uncle Robbie Solomon, who was also Goodman's brother-in-law.
In fact, Stanley Martin Leiber (I'm pretty sure the "Martin" was a coincidence) was largely unknown to Goodman. It was Stan's uncle, Robbie Solomon, who secured an interview for Stan with then-Timely editor Joe Simon - and probably pressured Simon to hire young Leiber - that resulted in Stan working for Goodman. So Stan's claim, in his biography Excelsior - The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, that "Martin and I had never had much to do with each other before I started working at his company" is probably true. "My first day on the job at Timely, Martin seemed surprised to see me," Stan continues. "He sounded puzzled as he asked me, 'What are you doing here?' I didn't know if Robbie had neglected to mention that I had been interviewed and accepted by editor Joe Simon, or if Simon himself had forgotten to tell him."

Joe Simon has disputed that story, for example, when interviewed by Mark Evanier at the 1998 San Diego Comic Convention. "That story can't be true. We only had three offices and a bunch of [Goodman's] relatives in the building." But then later in the interview, Simon make an interesting throwaway comment. "[Goodman] had all his relatives around him. He had Uncle Robbie there, taking care of Uncle Robbie."

That says more to me about how Stan ended up working for Goodman than anything else. It seems pretty certain that it was Robbie Solomon who got Stan the job. Goodman may well have not known about it. Because "Uncle Robbie was taking care of Uncle Robbie." As in, he was taking care of his own family, not Goodman's.

That Stan Lee worked directly for Editor Joe Simon has given rise to another Marvel myth - the idea that Stan Lee ratted on Simon and Kirby's moonlighting at DC during 1941, leading to the Captain America creators being fired from Timely. But first, some background. 

When Martin Goodman first got into comics with the prophetically titled Marvel Comics 1 (Oct 1939), he had used a comics "shop" run by Lloyd Jacquet, First Funnies Inc. Jacquet was also contracted to supply all the material for Marvel Mystery Comics and sister magazine Daring Mystery Comics. A third magazine, Mystic Comics, used material supplied by Harry Chesler.

For reasons unknown, Marvel Comics became Marvel Mystery Comics after its first issue. In short order, Martin Goodman added Daring Mystery Comics and Mystic Comics to the lineup. But neither enjoyed much success and were marked by irregular publication and constant lineup changes.
With Goodman wanting more, Jacquet assigned Simon to write and draw a Human Torch knock-off The Fiery Mask for Daring Mystery Comics 1 (Jan 1940). Goodman liked the character and invited Simon over to the Timely offices for a chat. Goodman asked Simon what Jacquet was paying him. When Simon replied, Goodman said he’d pay more for Simon to create original, selling concepts for Timely. So Simon started freelancing for Timely. In December 1939, Simon answered an ad in the New York Times and became the editor at Fox Features Syndicate, while continuing his freelance work for Funnies and Timely. He began working with Fox artist Jack Kirby on a Funnies project for Novelty Press, Blue Bolt. In the spring of 1940, Simon quit Fox and joined Timely as Editor, bringing Kirby with him. I explain all of this to show that working for more than one company at a time was considered normal in the early days of comics.


Another bit of important background. At the end of 1939, a couple of months after the release of Marvel Comics 1, MLJ published Pep Comics 1 (Jan 1940), featuring the first appearance of a red-white-and-blue super-hero The Shield. MLJ was co-owned by Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit (Martin Goodman's first business partner in publishing), and John L. Goldwater, and would later morph into Archie Comics. Maurice Coyne is the name to watch, here.

MLJ's The Shield was the first superhero to dress up in the America Flag. Created by Harry Shorten (who would later edit Tower Comics in the 1960s) and Irv Novick, first appearing in Pep Comics 1 (Jan 1940). A later issue of Pep Comics - issue 17 (Jul 1941) - would debut a hero called The Hangman.
Back at Timely Comics, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby began to churn out material for Goodman's comic range, their key characters being Red Raven and all the backup features in Red Raven Comics 1 (Aug 1940), Marvel Boy in Daring Mystery 6 (Sep 1940), The Vision in Marvel Mystery 13 (Nov 1940) and, of course, Captain America and Bucky in Captain America Comics 1 (Mar 1941).

With Captain America Comics, Joe Simon had negotiated a better deal for Kirby and himself. He got Goodman to agree that Simon and Kirby would get 25% of the profits of Captain America Comics. For the first few issues, Simon and Kirby broke their backs to make Captain America the best comic they could, and their efforts were rewarded when sales rose to over one million copies. After Captain America 6 (Sep 1941) came out, pitting Cap against a villain called The Hangman, MLJ's John Goldwater, already smarting because Captain America was far outselling his own Pep Comics character The Shield, considered Timely's Hangman to be an infringement of his own Pep Comics hero, The Hangman, and threatened Goodman with a lawsuit. Goodman placated Goldwater by promising to never use The Hangman again. And that appeared to be the end of the matter.

However, is a strange turn of circumstance Maurice Coyne, who also worked as Martin Goodman's accountant at Timely Comics, drew Joe Simon aside, not long after the Hangman incident, and told him that Goodman was piling Timely expenses against Captain America Comics, so such an extent that the million-selling title wasn't showing a profit. And that Simon and Kirby were unlikely to get their 25%.

With the enormous success of Captain America Comics, Goodman capitalised by putting out further vehicles for Captain America ... All Winner Comics, USA Comics and Young Allies, all edited, written and drawn (to some extent) by the Simon and Kirby team.
Simon was furious, especially given that other Timely titles, USA Comics, All-Winners and Young Allies also featuring Captain America were selling near to a million copies a month too. So he put out feelers to National Comics publisher Jack Liebowitz, to see whether he and Kirby could jump ship. Liebowitz was delighted and quickly agreed to Simon's price of $500 a week, way more than the $85 and $75 Joe and Jack were getting from Goodman.

Simon and Kirby quickly rented office space and began working on concepts for National on their lunch-hours and in the evenings. But office junior Stan Lee began to get curious about where Simon and Kirby were disappearing off to and followed them one day. Realising they moonlighting on other projects, Stan pitched in to help, continuing as their gopher of the side project as well as in the Timely office. They swore Lee to secrecy and continued to work on concepts for Liebowitz.

Then one day, at Timely, Simon and Kirby were confronted by Goodman family members, including Robbie Solomon, who accused them of working for other publishers behind their backs. I'm not sure why this would have upset the Timely management so much. Moonlighting was pretty normal in these first, formative days of comics. Martin Goodman had actually asked Simon to moonlight for Timely while he was still at Funnies Inc. So the idea of Simon and Kirby moonlighting for another publisher while they were working at Timely surely couldn't have been a surprise.

Simon and Kirby were fired from Timely, but were forced to finish the current issue of Captain America first (10, Jan 1942), putting the date of the incident early to mid-September 1941.

A lot of people knew about Simon and Kirby's plans to move to National, but Simon recounts that Kirby always suspected Stan and that he commented, "Next time I see that little son of a bitch, I'm gonna kill him." (He didn't.) I'm not even sure why Kirby was upset. He and Simon were planning to leave Timely anyway. And even if Stan did tell the Goodmans - and there's no evidence that he did - they were his family, and Simon and Kirby weren't.

So with no evidence other than Kirby's general irritation with Lee to back it up, it seems as though the idea of Stan being responsible for Simon and Kirby leaving Timely in 1941 is a myth.


Was 1960s Marvel limited to eight titles a month?

This one is neither simple nor straightforward to answer. It's true that in the wake of the Great Atlas Implosion of 1957, Martin Goodman was forced to ask National publisher and rival Jack Liebowitz to distribute his Magazine Management publications, including the comics. As part of the deal, the comics were indeed limited to eight titles a month. That much is true. But it's not the full story. 

The popular myth is that Marvel limped through the 1960s with just 16 titles until it came time to renegotiate the contract with Independent News in 1967 and suddenly, with one bound, Marvel was free. But I looked at the Marvel line-up from 1957 to 1967 and the truth is a little bit different.

Westerns must've been struggling as the 1950s ended. Goodman cancelled Wyatt Earp, a title that began in 1949 and replaced it with the Archie Comics style My Girl Pearl (itself a revival of a 1950s title). Monsters were good business though, as Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish were promoted to monthly.
Yes, it is true that in the early days, Goodman was forced to cancel one title if he wanted to launch a new one. But that rule was eased as early as 1960 when, by the end of the year, the line had expanded by switching Strange Tales (with 78, Nov 1960) and Tales to Astonish (with 12, Oct 1960) from bi-monthly to monthly. Wyatt Earp with issue 29 (Jun 1960) was cancelled, its slot taken by My Girl Pearl 1 (Aug 1960). So Marvel was publishing nine titles a month.

1959 1960 1961
Odd months Even Months Odd months Even Months Odd months Even Months
Gunsmoke Western
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Love Romances
Mille the Model
My Own Romance
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Battle
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Strange Tales
Strange Worlds/Kathy
Two-Gun Kid
World of Fantasy/Date with Millie
Wyatt Earp
Gunsmoke Western
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Love Romances
Millie the Model
My Own Romance/Teen-Age Romance
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Battle/Rawhide Kid
Date/Life with Millie
Kathy
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Strange Tales
Tales to Astonish
Two-Gun Kid
Wyatt Earp /My Girl Pearl
Fantastic Four
Gunsmoke Western

Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw

Love Romances
Millie the Model
Linda Carter
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Teenage Romance
Two-Gun Kid/
Amazing Adventures

Journey into Mystery
Kathy
Life with Millie
My Girl Pearl/Amazing Adventures
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Rawhide Kid
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
8 slots 8 slots 9 slots 9 slots 12 slots 10 slots

By the end of 1961 Goodman had added Fantastic Four and Linda Carter as bi-monthlies. Two-Gun Kid and My Girl Pearl were cancelled, to be replaced by the monthly Amazing Adventures, leading to a net increase in titles to ten on even months and 12 on odd months.

Another long-running western comic Two-Gun Kid  was a casualty in 1961, cancelled with its 59th issue, making way for another monster title, Amazing Adventures. My Girl Pearl also went, but Linda Carter - Student Nurse was put on the schedule.
In 1962, Amazing Adventures became Amazing (Adult) Fantasy and motored right on as a monthly, until August's issue 15, when it was cancelled and Fantastic Four took over its monthly slot, with issue 6. Much has been made of the conflict between Stan Lee's editorial text in Amazing Fantasy 15, promising that Spider-Man would be the lead feature in future issues, and Stan later saying that he put Spider-Man in the magazine because he knew Goodman was cancelling it. They can't both be true. Given the timing of the cancellation and Fantastic Four's increasing sales, it seems to make the most sense that Goodman was winding up Amazing to clear the way to make FF a monthly. After all, he could always change his mind later, couldn't he? Similarly, with Fantastic Four doing so well, I think Goodman asked Stan for another superhero title, so he cancelled Teen-Age Romance (with 86, Mar 1962), making way for Incredible Hulk as a bi-monthly in May. The result was there were no net gains in 1962, with Goodman continuing to publish 12 comic titles one month and ten the next. Oh, and Two-Gun Kid returned in November.

Martin Goodman cancelled Teen-Age Romance with its 86th issue. That's a pretty good run for a general romance book. He still had Love Romances in that genre. The burgeoning Fantastic Four was moved to a monthly schedule with issue 6, but Amazing Fantasy was a casualty.
The following year 1963 maintained the number of titles, but there a few casualties. Sales of Incredible Hulk were disappointing, so Goodman cancelled it, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos as a replacement. 

I'm starting to see a pattern, here. Goodman apparently gave a title a year to prove itself. If it didn't make good sales, it was gone. Just like The Incredible Hulk, cancelled after six disappointing bi-monthly issues. In its place, a reliable war-themed book, Sgt Fury, but done in Lee and Kirby's successful Fantastic Four style.
Gunsmoke Western headed for the last round-up and its slot was taken by new team-book The Avengers. To accommodate the other team book Lee launched that year, The X-Men, Marvel's last love story anthology Love Romances called it a day.

1962 1963 1964
Odd months Even Months Odd months Even Months Odd months Even Months
Amazing Fantasy
Fantastic Four
Gunsmoke Western
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Linda Carter
Love Romances
Millie the Model
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Teenage Romances/Incredible Hulk

Amazing Fantasy/Fantastic Four
Journey into Mystery
Kathy
Life with Millie
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Rawhide Kid
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish

Fantastic Four
Gunsmoke Western/Avengers
Incredible Hulk/Sgt Fury
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Linda Carter/Amazing Spider-Man
Love Romances/X-Men
Mille the Model
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Two-Gun Kid
Fantastic Four
Journey into Mystery
Kathy
Modelling with Millie
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Rawhide Kid
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Fantastic Four
Gunsmoke Western
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Mille the Model
Sgt Fury
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Two-Gun Kid
X-Men
Amazing Spider-Man
Fantastic Four

Journey into Mystery
Kathy/Daredevil
Modelling with Millie
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Rawhide Kid
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
12 slots 10 slots 12 slots 10 slots 13 slots 11 slots

By 1964, Goodman was adding even more titles, sometimes increasing his slots by making the more successful bi-monthly titles monthly ... For example, the teen humour title Kathy was cancelled with issue 27, a respectable run for that kind of book. In its place came Daredevil, originally scheduled to launch alongside The X-Men and The Avengers

Even making Kathy a little bit less like Archie and a little bit more like Millie the Model couldn't save it, and it was axed with issue 27 (Feb 1964). Daredevil would have launched in 1963 - probably the month before or after The Avengers and X-Men, but Bill Everett struggled to get back into the swing of things and the book ran almost six months late.
The Avengers went monthly with issue 7. Meanwhile, Sgt Fury increased frequency in August Modelling with Millie went monthly in September, Millie the Model stepped up from bi-monthly in October, giving the Millie franchise an impressive four titles, including the two bi-monthly spin-offs Patsy and Hedy and Patsy Walker.

Goodman had started sneaking in reprint 25-centers, under the guise of them being annuals. In fact, the first two Marvel Tales were designated annuals on the cover, but that pretence would be dropped the following year. And when the titles proved successful, Goodman did his usual trick of copying his own success and canned poor old Patsy Walker to make way for another low-budget reprint book, Fantasy Masterpieces.
1965 remained quite stable for Marvel. Modelling with Millie dropped back to bi-monthly for the first half of the year, but was again monthly from the summer onwards. In December, X-Men went monthly, pushing Marvel's title-count by the close of the year to 15. Patsy Walker's final issue was 124 (Dec 1965). That would be replaced in 1966 by the bi-monthly Fantasy Masterpieces. Other reprint titles had been sneaking in on an irregular basis. They too would go on the schedule ...


1965 1966 1967
Odd months Even Months Odd months Even Months Odd months Even Months
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Fantastic Four
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Mille the Model
Sgt Fury
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Two-Gun Kid
X-Men
Amazing Spider-Man
Daredevil
Fantastic Four
Journey into Mystery
Kathy
Modelling with Millie
Patsy & Hedy
Patsy Walker
Rawhide Kid
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Fantastic Four
Journey into Mystery
Kid Colt Outlaw
Marvel Tales
Mille the Model
Sgt Fury
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Two-Gun Kid
X-Men
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Daredevil
Fantastic Four
Fantasy Masterpieces
Journey into Mystery
Marvel Collectors Items
Mille the Model
Modelling with Millie
Patsy & Hedy
Rawhide Kid
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
X-Men
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Daredevil
Fantastic Four
Kid Colt Outlaw
Marvel Tales
Mille the Model
Not Brand Echh
Sgt Fury
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Thor
Two-Gun Kid
X-Men
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Daredevil
Fantastic Four
Fantasy Masterpieces/Marvel Superheroes
Marvel Collectors Items
Mille the Model
Modelling with Millie/Not Brand Echh
Patsy & Hedy/Ghost Rider
Rawhide Kid
Sgt Fury
Strange Tales
Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish
Thor
X-Men
12 slots 15 slots 15 slots 16 slots 15 slots 16 slots

In 1966, the reprint books Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors' Item Classics became regular bi-monthly titles. Journey into Mystery became Thor (with the same numbering) so that doesn't really count as a cancellation and launch. The number of titles was further bumped up by Daredevil becoming a monthly as well.

Daredevil and X-Men were last two Marvel super-hero titles to make the switch from bi-monthly to monthly. In 1966, the only bi-monthlies Goodman still had were the untested Fantasy Masterpieces, along with other two 25c reprints Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors' Items ... the westerns Kid Colt Outlaw, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid ... and Patsy and Hedy.
But 1967 was where it became really crazy. The Independent News contract was coming to a close and Marvel comics were gaining sales in leaps and bounds. In addition, IND - along with parent company National Periodical Publications (better known as DC) - were bought out by Kinney National, a cash-rich company with lots of car parks. Where DC sought to curb Marvel via their pointless restrictions, the new Kinney management soon tumbled to just how much money they were making distributing Marvels. It was in their own best interest to try to keep Goodman happy, because for the first time in ten years, he didn't really need them any more. With his sales figures, he could probably strike a deal with any distributor he chose.

Perfect Film owner Martin Ackerman also controlled Curtis Circulation, who counted two of America's biggest selling titles in their portfolio. He was obviously keen to add rising star Marvel Comics to his line-up and would buy Marvel, if that's what it took.
It's not very clear what happened next. It does appear that Goodman revised the terms of his distribution deal with Kinney/IND towards the end of 1967 - the tenth anniversary of having to go cap-in-hand to DC's Jack Liebowitz to get his comics on the newsstands. This allowed him to release more titles and would have been part of Goodman's plan to sell Magazine Management. The more titles he was publishing, the higher price he could get for his company. And I think this is the point where Goodman decided to give the co-stars of his anthology titles their own comics.

In retrospect, it looks like the first seed of Goodman's expansionism was sowed here, with a tentative new war title, Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders, a spin-off from the Sgt Fury title. The title was cover-dated Jan 1968, but actually went on sale on 9 Nov 1967.
Some critics have said that this decision was the beginning of the end for Marvel. Saleswise, the company was doing terrifically well, overtaking DC Comics in total copies sold, at 50 million a year. Expanding the stories in the split titles from 11 pages a month each to 20 pages put a big strain on Stan and the Bullpen and the quality inevitably slipped. But the point is Martin Goodman didn't care! He was aiming to sell the business, not make great comics.


After Captain Savage, Goodman next tried a new costumed character in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes (in reality, a re-named Fantasy Masterpieces). Initially published to secure the name and prevent others trademarking a superhero with "Marvel" as part of his name, the character would be part of the 1968 Marvel explosion.
And sure enough, in 1968, it was revealed that Goodman had been in talks with Marty Ackerman to sell Magazine Management to Perfect Film and Chemical. Ackerman was also negotiating with Curtis Circulation, which distributed Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal among others, around the same time. So adding Marvel Comics to that acquisition would have made for a very attractive deal.

Goodman's expansion began more aggressively at the beginning of 1968. Tales of Suspense became Captain America with issue 100 (Apr 1968, on sale 2 Jan); Iron Man and Sub-Mariner were put in a holding book, on sale the same day; Tales to Astonish was renamed Incredible Hulk with issue 102 (Apr 1968, on sale 9 Jan); Iron Man and Sub-Mariner then graduated to their own titles, cover-dated May 1968 (on sale 1 Feb).

Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish were the first of the Marvel anthology books to be expanded. I was delighted to be getting 20 pages of Kirby Captain America every month and I also couldn't get enough Gene Colan Iron Man ... imagine my disappointment a few months later.
Relentlessly, Marvel kept on going ... Captain Marvel was awarded his own title a week later, also cover-dated May 1968, on sale 8 Feb; June cover-dated additions were Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, both on-sale 1 Mar. The big surprise was Silver Surfer's own new title, cover dated Aug 1968, on sale 1 May. It was a brilliant, if expensive, time for Marvelites.

Captain Marvel was one of my favourites, as I was a major Colan fan. And when Gene took over Doctor Strange, the title really came to life for me. Steranko's SHIELD comics were a delight, but he couldn't sustain the pace and Buscema's artwork on Silver Surfer was just sublime.
The net result was that Stan Lee's top artists were stretched thinly across the range. Jack Kirby would continue to draw Fantastic Four and Thor, and his 11 page Captain America assignment would go up to 20 pages monthly. Sixty pages a month would be tough sledding, even for speed-demon Kirby. Gene Colan would continue with his 20-page Daredevil gig, but his Iron Man would go from 11 pages to 20, and he also had 20 pages of Captain Marvel to draw. He only lasted four issues on that title. Stan would look to Colan in the next few months to take over Doctor Strange, so he also dropped Iron Man with issue 2 - which is where I lost interest in the title. John Buscema would take over Sub-Mariner art from a revolving door of artists -  including creator Bill Everett, Werner Roth and even Gene Colan - while continuing to pencil The Avengers - he would add Silver Surfer to his workload a few months later.

1968
Odd months Even Months
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Captain Marvel
Captain Savage
Daredevil
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Four
Incredible Hulk
Iron Man
Kid Colt Outlaw
Marvel Superheroes
Marvel Tales
Mille the Model
Nick Fury
Sgt Fury
Sub-Mariner
Thor
Two-Gun Kid
X-Men
Amazing Spider-Man
Avengers
Captain Marvel
Captain Savage
Daredevil
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Four
Incredible Hulk
Iron Man
Marvel Superheroes
Marvel Tales
Mille the Model
Nick Fury
Not Brand Echh
Rawhide Kid
Sgt Fury
Silver Surfer
Sub-Mariner
Thor
X-Men
19 slots 20 slots

But it wouldn't be long before the cracks began to show ... by the beginning of the year, Kirby would relinquish Captain America to Jim Steranko for three glorious issues before Stan began musical artist chairs on the title. For the two following months, John Romita and John Buscema each took a swing at Cap before Stan settled on Gene Colan, who provided pencils from issues 118 to 137. Doctor Strange fared a little better. After a shaky start with Dan Adkins artwork, Colan took over that one too and powered Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts through the next 11 issues ... but in May 1969 the title dropped to bi-monthly (along with Captain Savage) and was cancelled with Doctor Strange 183 (Nov 1969). For me that was a terrible development, as it was one of my favourite Marvel titles at the time.

On the SHIELD title, Steranko managed 1 - 3 and 5 before quitting, when Stan hired veteran Frank Springer as a substitute. My 14 year-old self wasn't impressed. The title limped along till the end of 1969, when it was cancelled with issue 15 (Nov 1969). And 1969's final casualty was Captain Marvel, suspended as of issue 19 (Dec 1969). But by that time, Goodman had sold Marvel Comics to Marty Ackerman for $15 million, so he didn't care. Ackerman didn't care either, as he'd paid Goodman far less than what Magazine Management was worth.

In the very next entry in this blog, I'll look into the prevailing wisdom that:

  • Marvel overtook DC in sales in 1971 with their on-again off-again price hike
  • Stan Lee invented the "Marvel Method" of creating comics
  • Stan Lee was fed up with kids comics so he came up with Fantastic Four.



Next time: More musings on Marvel Myths



21 comments:

  1. You've been doing your research, Al, haven't you? A fascinating read. One point I'm not clear on (hey, it's nearly 2 a.m.) is what you're saying about Stan's conflicting accounts over AF #15 being intended as the final issue, while at the same time touting Spidey as an ongoing series in the mag. It's clear that Stan didn't know that AF would be cancelled when he put Spidey in it, but I'm not sure whether you agree with this or not. "Much has been made..." seems to suggest "...but it's not true", which I don't think you mean, but I'm not sure. Goodman cancelled AF purely because it wasn't selling, so the fact that FF then went monthly was really a side-benefit, not the main reason that AF was cancelled. That's probably what you meant, but I found it a little ambiguous. Probably just me though, 'cos I'm tired.

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    1. I've edited the text a little above to try to make it clearer. My contention was that Stan has always said he only put Spidey in Amazing Fantasy because he knew Goodman was cancelling it. That seems unlikely, as Stan trailed future issues of AF right after the Spider-Man story, indicating that he had no idea Goodman planned to cancel it. Looking at the point where AF stopped and FF went monthly, the two appear to be related. Check out my comics database here for a clearer picture - http://www.thestoryworks.com/comics/default.asp

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    2. Yeah, now I understand. We're both on the same page as to whether Stan knew AF #15 was the final ish when he put Spidey in it - he didn't. I also agree that FF went monthly when AF was cancelled (interesting that they both had the same logo style for several issues), but what I was trying to suggest was that (obviously) had AF been a better seller, it would probably have been another mag that got cancelled. So FF took AF's place, but that was as a result of AF's poor sales, not primarily or solely to allow FF to go monthly. All of which I think you were saying, but I sort of got lost in it. (However, in my defence, I AM a Grade A, triple-strength thicko.)

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    3. Yes, I'm going to be looking at the reasons for the similarities between the Amazing Fantasy and Fantastic Four logos, among other things, next time ...

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  2. As Amazing Spider-Man #1 and #2 had shorter stories probably intended for AF #16 and #17, I suspect Amazing Fantasy was cancelled suddenly.

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    1. Me too! I cover that idea in this earlier blog entry - https://marvelsilverage.blogspot.com/2015/08/catches-thieves-just-like-flies.html

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    2. Thank you for the link. I agree with your main premise about the intended continuation of Amazing Fantasy but not on which stories were originally intended for Amazing Fantasy. The Chameleon story in Amazing Spider-man #1 contains the Peter Palmer error, and because of that, I think it was intended for Amazing Fantasy. Stan often mentioned his poor memory, but I think when writing the main feature for Marvel's first true #1 costumed super-hero comic book in the 1960's, he would have gotten the Alter ego name right. (I don't count Fantastic Four #1 and #2 as super-hero books as they have a mixture of Challengers of the Unknown and Marvel Monster Comics attributes but no real super-hero feel. The Human Torch and Thing are monsters for the most part) I think Amazing Spider-man #1 was a major experiment for them, dipping their toes in a regular no-monster costumed super-hero book for once. I suspect the Peter Palmer error happened because Stan neglected to proofread the inventory story.

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    3. Interesting points, Chuck ... but your theory about the ten-pagers being intended for AF 16 & 17 seems unlikely. Because if Stan had two ten-page inventory stories, he could have fitted them in ASM 1, which Goodman (who hated inventory) would certainly have preferred. He couldn't do that with two 14-pages, hence the ten-pagers are the fillers, not the 14-pagers. Also, Stan's mistakes aren't a yardstick of his familiarity with the character. After all, he called Spidey "Superman"in ASM 3. We may just have to agree to disagree on this one ...

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    4. I suspect it's more likely to have been a lettering mistake with 'Superman', Al. If Stan had scripted it that way, the letterer would most likely have corrected it. Guess we'll never know for sure though.

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    1. You're welcome ... I hope you get a chance to have look through some of the other articles here ...

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  4. Interesting post! Perhaps someday you could carry forward the monthly roster of Marvel titles into 1969, 1970, and 1971. The superhero titles were cut back and replaced with a few good titles, like Conan and Kull, but also with quite a few others that signaled an overall decline in quality.

    One minor correction. Playboy was distributed by Independent News, not by Curtis. Another point worth mentioning is that Perfect Film wasn't just buying Marvel but all of Magazine Management, including the men's sweat magazines like Stag and Male, most of which fizzled out over the next ten years as they tried to compete with Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler. For a while those magazines were converted from spicy adventure mags to color slicks with nude pictorials and overtly sexual material. By then Stan was publisher, presiding over both a comic book line and a line of third rate sex magazines. He managed to keep his association with nude slicks under wraps.

    Since you're trying to dispel myths, I urge caution about your assertion that Marvel overtook DC in 1967 or 1968 rather than in 1971 or 1972. You've been saying this in several posts and I checked the source you cited in an earlier post. It's an unreliable source that misinterpreted the data and contains some glaring internal inconsistencies. Marvel didn't overtake DC until 71 or 72 -- that's fact, not myth. If you really want to take a run at that one, I recommend you not just rely on that one source.

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    1. Well, I wouldn't presume to speak for Al, but he usually checks his facts pretty thoroughly and isn't given to making unsubstantiated claims - though nobody's infallible when it comes to interpreting all the conflicting pieces of information flying around out there. Just out of interest, TOC, on what do you base your conclusions, and can we be assured that the sources you rely on are any more reliable than the ones you discount? I'm not saying they're not, you understand, but I'd just like to know what they are and why you put such great faith in them.

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    2. I think, from prior posts, that this blog is relying on a chart posted on http://zak-site.com/Great-American-Novel/comic_sales.html, which I took a look at. The chart purports to graph comic sales for Marvel and DC from 1950 to 1987. The chart shows Marvel selling about 7 million copies per month in 1966 and 7.5 million copies per month in 1967, passing DC by about 1 million copies per month. 7.5 million copies per month translates to about 93 million copies per year – by Marvel, in 1967.

      The first clue that the something is off with the graph is that “the spikes are because I chose just a single issue in the summer and one in the winter,” creating the possibility of a sampling error. The second clue comes from the table that appears right below the graph. It purports to list the 12 best selling superhero titles in 1966. The top 11 are by DC. Batman tops the list at 898,000 per month, which reflects the popularity of the Batman TV series, but Superman is number 2 with 719,000 copies, followed by Superboy with 608,000, and so on. The highest Marvel seller was Spider-Man, at number 12 with 340,000 copies. The 11 DC titles that topped Spider-Man totalled 5,971,000 copies. This doesn’t equate to sales per month, because most of those titles were published 6 or 8 times a year; only 3 titles (Action, Adventure, Detective) were monthlies. Still, the best selling titles gave DC a big lead over Marvel in 1966, before the sales of titles not in the top 12 are factored in.

      Is it possible that the lower selling titles not on the chart permitted Marvel to edge out DC once all the titles are added in? Not really. Take a look at http://www.mikesamazingworld.com/mikes/features/newsstand.php, which can be used to display the output of each comic book publisher for any particular month. Sorting by date of publication, Marvel published 188 comics in 1966 and the same number in 1967. DC published 373 comics in 1966 and 362 in 1967. In other words, DC’s output in both years nearly doubled Marvel’s.

      In theory, if Marvel published half as many comics as DC in 1966, it could match DC’s sales if the average Marvel title sold twice as many copies as the average DC title. If so, Marvel would be dominating the Top 12 chart for that year. But it didn’t – Spider-Man was the only title to crack the Top 12, and both Superman and Batman more than doubled Spider-Man’s sales. So things don’t add up.

      To be continued ...

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    3. Continued from preceding reply ...

      There are other clues that the aforementioned chart is misstating the data. For 1965, the chart says Marvel was selling 7 million copies per month, which annualizes to 84 million copies a year. However, the same post reproduces “a house ad for retailers,” prepared by Marvel, that states 1963 sales to be 22,530,000 copies, 1964 sales to be 27,709,000 copies, and estimates 1965 sales to be 32 million, which is about what happened. Marvel’s sales were increasing year by year, I don’t dispute that.

      The chart at the top of that page appears to be a graphical representation of sales figures provided by an unnamed reader at the bottom of the page, set forth in a table that purports to state monthly sales for both DC and Marvel from 1950 to 1987. The table claims Marvel’s monthly sales were 3,755,184 in 1963, 4,612,986 in 1964, and 5,404,393 in 1965, which annualizes to 45 million in 1963, 55 million in 1964, and 64 million in 1965. That’s DOUBLING the sales figures claimed by Marvel in a contemporaneous representation to its retailers. I’ll go with Marvel’s own figures over the numbers claimed in that table.

      I’ll also go with what Les Daniels wrote in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, a 1991 book that was written with lots of cooperation from everyone at Marvel. On page 154, he writes: “As 1971 drew to a close, publisher Martin Goodman initiated an ingenious sales strategy ... that gave Marvel a commanding lead in overall circulation. Marvel had been growing steadily for a decade, but Goodman’s new maneuvers finally put it over the top.” Also, if you look at Mike’s Amazing World site, cited above, and set the Way Back Machine for April 1972, you’ll see that Marvel by then was matching, and soon surpassing, DC on the number of titles published.

      In short, this blog is making an honest mistake, relying on bad data posted elsewhere. This doesn't detract from the many interesting and original insights published on this blog.

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    4. To be honest, when it comes to numbers, I get lost when I hear someone chant "2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate...?" It's the numerical equivalent of giving me a slip of paper with 'P.T.O.' written on both sides - I'm confused for hours.

      I'm confident that Al will have a reason for seeing things as he does and I'll leave it to him to address the issue in either a comment or his next blog post. For my own part, however, I've seen it claimed that no sales charts from the period are accurate and they were just made up as required, so, if true, I don't think any such figures are totally reliable.

      Incidentally, I don't think Les Daniel's book can be thoroughly relied on for accuracy, as it repeats the demonstrable myth that Spidey was put in Amazing Fantasy #15 because it was the last issue.

      Right, I'm off to lie down in a darkened room for a few hours. "2-4-6-8..."

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    5. I'm not just relying on Les Daniels. It's been widely reported that Martin Goodman took his staff out to celebrate at a restaurant across from DC's offices. If Goodman understood anything, it was how to read sales reports.

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    6. A quick question to assist in my understanding. Are you saying that the number of mags DC published is the same as the numbers sold?

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    7. I'm saying that DC published twice as many titles per month as Marvel during the 1966-67 period, and a number of DC's titles had much higher average sales than Marvel's top seller, Spider-Man. Those two facts indicate that DC was still outselling Marvel by a considerable margin, although Marvel's sales were gradually rising and eventually passed DC around the beginning of 1972.

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    8. Depending on what sales figures one goes by it would seem, and there appears to be a difference of opinion on which ones (if any) are more accurate. I'll wait to see how Al develops his theme before I make up my mind, as he's not usually one for making rash statements.

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  5. When Marvel began publishing more magazines in 1968 they totally went downhill. Stan's writing became repetitive and Roy Thomas at his best was nowhere near Stan. The artwork suffered terribly, I really liked Sal Buscema's work, though. When I first saw Johnny Severin on Sgt. Fury I was amazed! Such powerful drawing. I couldn't stand Iron Man anymore. Kirby had a terrible inker on Captain America & Joe Sinnot was turning Kirby's artwork on the Fantastic Four into cartoon caricatures with balloon muscles. Dick Ayers was always a better inker than artist, just compare Joe Kuberts WWII DC comics to Ayer's on Sgt. Fury - no comparison! John Buscema blew me away when he took over the Sub Mariner for a while, too. But I went into High School in 1970 & lost interest in comic books, also.

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