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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Make Mine Marvel...uh, Class!


According to the Marvel data base, which should know -right?

"Alan Class Publishing was a small British publishing company owned by Alan Class (obviously) which between 1959 and 1989 published approximately 1455 comics under 26 different titles, most of them squarebound anthologies reprinting material from numerous American publishers including Timely Comics, Atlas Comics (1950s), Charlton Comics, Red Circle, Fawcett, Archie, King Features, ACG and Marvel.

A huge amount of material by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and countless pre-Marvel short stories by Stan Lee were reprinted (some of them several times over in different books), notably in six long running core titles: Astounding Stories, Sinister Tales, SuspenseCreepy WorldsUncanny Tales and Secrets of the Unknown, but also in shorter lived titles including Blazing TrailsJourney into DangerSecrets of the Underworld and the somewhat misleadingly titled Uncensored Love(!) None of the books were dated (a deliberate ploy to extend their shelf life), and unsolds were returned to Class only to be reissued a few months later, typically in the school holidays.

Most issues featured a more or less random selection of material, often including stories from several different publishers in one book (issues of Suspense, for instance, featuring both Spider-Man and Archie's Fly-Man) though short, one-off science fiction or horror stories tended to be the preferred fare, and where characters such as Nick Fury, Thor, the Jaguar or Captain Atom appeared, it was invariably in single stories, no storylines being continued from one issue to the next.

In 1963, Class bought the rights to the back catalogue of L. Miller & Son, publishers of Marvelman, but by the late sixties they had lost the rights to reprint material from most of the larger publishers (including Marvel) and were sued by King Features for reprinting their copyrighted material without permission.

Unlicensed reprints continued to appear however, including Marvel material, since the company was so small (and, of course, not based in the US) that they pretty much went unnoticed most of the time, eventually ceasing to trade in 1989 purely because Class could not compete with the rising number of specialist comic shops."

Now, if you've read my Alan Class interview you will note that this Marvel data base, shall we say "borrows"?, information that only came tolight in that interview. Since it is known Marvel (via Marvel UK) got heavy handed and after the rights were withdrawn, because Marvel was now publishing in the UK, there were no illegal reprints.

But Marvel is Marvel. Or, rather, Di$ney is Marvel so they can re-write any history.

And, we've discussed before how "fools and their money" are regularly tricked by Ebay dealers into buying "First Edition" Fantastic Four and "First Silver Age Iron Man appearance".  Lies.  Let me also point out that I have three UK comic titles in which both those stories feature.  Spend your money on the Masterworks or if you really want a black and white version the Essentials books.

Now, I really should know but I only have a passing knowledge on the Timely/Atlas/Marvel monster books. So, please forgive me if I've added a monster reprint here that is not from that company. Ditko and Kirby worked for so many -especially Kirby- it gets hard trying to keep track.

The Avengers reprints ran up to, at least, as far as I am aware, around Avengers #77. Certainly you will find "The Coming Of The Vision" with that iconic cover -I have that one, too.  These Class titles were great value for money because, unlike UK weeklies such as Pow!, FantasticTerrific and others where a single US issue could be split up into 3-4 parts, in a Class book you got the whole issue!

POW! was 7d and there were 12d to 1/- so two weekly issues was 1/- 2d and as you might have to get four issues that was 2/- 4d against Class' 1/- for the full story!   And Fantastic and Terrific were 9d each so you work that out!  Class won pennies down!

Your parents/'grand parents taking you on holiday or for a day at the beach saw the slim 7d comic and the 1/- thick comic and they knew, too, which would keep you occupied more!

These Class books were completely different than a weekly from Thomson or Fleetway. Talking to Fleetway/IPC management who were about at this time they all say that they "never got" why kids would bother with a "cheap reprint" over their titles.  They had, of course, British heroes and even super heroes but the lack of understanding what kids wanted meant they treated Class and the comics as a passing fad or something to be ignored.

But Class outlasted them to an extent!

Look at these covers.  Don't get me wrong because I know there were many great British comic covers, but look at these!  I mean -Titano!  And -WHAT??!- The Avengers fighting the X-Men! (this was back when the X-Men and Avengers meant something even to British kids).
 Just look at the Astounding cover featuring the X-Men. This confused some of us who might not have known the X-Men had changed costume -though some of us lucky enough had caught their adventures in Fantastic so were in the know.

 The Avengers.  Time travel. This comic or Pow!......ooh. Let me think!!

If there is one reason why Marvel took off more in the UK it was because kids had a basic or good knowledge because of the Class Comics.  I will not go into how I picked up Fantastic Four 1-5 and X-Men 1-7 from a junk shop in St. Werburgh's or what happened to them.  I'm still in trauma 40 years later and not over what they would be worth.

As I've written before, the UK had no real comic shops so the local tobacconist-newsagent was the main source of any US comics if you could find them.  Those and junk shops because somnewhere amongst the old crockery, three piece suites and paperbacks you knew there would be a tatty box with comics in. At 2d or 3d a time who was going to argue?

There are many other Marvel reprints the covers of which are not here -I have some of them but both my A4 and A3 scanners are not working.  So apologies but maybe, one day, and up-date?

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