Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This Month in Marvel: April 1964

  • Before I resume these posts, I wanted to kick off a new mini-feature at this blog. As already seen, by this time Stan had taken to including a "Special Announcements" section in the letters pages, listing all of the comics coming out that month, and a short description of each. It's one of those brilliant yet obvious moves from the canny Stan - waiting until the readers had reached the end of the story, presumably wowed and delighted with the exciting tale they'd just read, then springing forth with the trained hawker's cry of: "But wait - there's MORE!" Out of the many factors contributing to Marvel's rise to dominance in these early years, this simple trick is one that's likely overlooked.

  • (Click to enlarge.)
  • Of course, you may notice that the column shown here doesn't list Marvel's flagship title amongst the offerings. That's because the excerpted example comes from the letters page of Fantastic Four #28 - and it would be rather silly, wouldn't it, to tell the readers about the comic they'd just finished reading? (Although, in a similar vein, I recently laughed upon discovering that 1979's Justice League of America #166 from DC Comics contained a full-page house ad ... for Justice League of America #166. Oh, how the readers must have boggled!)

  • I was surprised, though, when I stopped to compare the "Special Announcements" sections of various titles from the same month ... and discovered that the descriptions were different in each one! For instance, in FF #28, you can see that one of the blurbs reads as follows:
    - DAREDEVIL #2 is on sale now - drawn by famous Joe Orlando, and featuring the thrilling battle between the man without fear and Electro, the awesome menace who almost defeated Spider-Man! Until D.D. gets his own letters page, we'd appreciate your sending your comments right here to the F.F.
    while the one in Amazing Spider-Man #14 says:
    - Well, although Big Bill Everett didn't have the time to continue drawing DAREDEVIL after the first issue, we were extremely lucky in getting an old friend, Jolly Joe Orlando to take over beginning with ish #2. (Now on sale). Joe's art is really in the Spider-Man style, and we hope you'll get the same kick out of it that you do out of Smilin' Stevie's. You may have seen Joe's delightful drawings many times in MAD Magazine, as well as in many old-time Marvel mags. As for Big Bill, we won't stop trying to lure him away from his present job in New England, and when we do, you can bet we'll have a new mag for him to do. And, by the way - Daredevil tackle's Spidey's old enemy, Electro, in the current ish, so it'll give you a chance to compare Spidey's fighting style with that of Marvel's newest star.
    This was, frankly, stunning to me. The number of duties for which Stan was responsible, as both writer and editor, already beggars belief. But while these blurbs were obviously a great idea, wouldn't the smarter move have been to write out a description of each book once, then keep it by his desk for ease of copying into each mag's letter column? Isn't writing from scratch every time unnecessary, and akin to reinventing the wheel? The only thing that makes any sense to me is that Stan was such a prolific writer, and the words poured out of him with such speed and ease, that it literally made no difference: Coming up with the words each time really wasn't measurably faster, for Stan, than copying that which was already writ. There are so many reasons why Stan Lee forged such a legacy in the 1960s, and made such an enduring mark out of such small circumstance. This, then, is simply one reason more.

  • So: Going forward, I intend to kick off each new Marvel month with a scan of one of these pages, as a preview of what's to come. (And thanks once again to Barry Pearl, author of The Essential Marvel Age Reference Project, who has agreed to provide direct scans of these "Special Announcements" for this very purpose.) Observant readers may have already noticed the "This Month's Reading List" sidebar, which has graced the front page of this blog for the past few months and mirrors the same function; the difference there is that the comics in that box are listed in the order I plan to review them - so anyone who wishes to read the next comic in advance of the postings can do so.

  • Now let's get back to the comics!