Last week I mentioned that the new Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles book did so well they announced a second printing. Second printings have been the way to go for publishers the last couple of decades, if a book hits big with the public they announce a second printing to satisfy the unmet demand. Remember how crazy the Spider-Man Obama issues were? I think that book ended up getting five printings in total.
I was going through some books to put up on eBay and found this old pile of Marvel reprint issues from the mid-1960s and found myself reflecting on how things have changed since the beginning of the Silver Age.
The distribution model was quite different in the early 1960s, there was no direct market and there was a lot longer lead time needed for sales data, immediately getting a reprint out to the drug store comic racks just wasn’t a thing.
The first Silver Age Annual was Superman Annual #1 from 1960, it reprinted popular stories like the first Supergirl Appearance in Action Comics #252 and Lois Lane #1. Marvel jumped into the game when it published Millie The Model Annual #1 and Strange Tales Annual #1 in October of 1962. The Strange Tales Annual #1 reprinted some Atlas Monster stuff.
Modern-day Marvel as we all know it was born in November of 1961 with the publication of Fantastic Four #1, fresh winners soon followed in 1962 with Hulk, Ant-Man, Thor and Spider-Man and then 1963 gave us X-Men, Doc Strange, Iron Man, Wasp, The Avengers and many more. The Marvel Revolution was underway. New readers were jumping on in droves. I looked at the 1962 sales figures for comics and not one Marvel Hero book cracked the top 50 or 100,000 copies. By 1966 though Marvel titles like Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Thor had sales over 300,000 copies per month.
We’ve all grown to know and love the way Marvel tells their stories, they all seem interconnected and have endless references to past cross overs and character meetings. Marvel found themselves needing to fill in the back story for all the new readers even though these back story issues were only two or three years old. The 1st important publication to help solve this problem for Marvel was Marvel Tales #1, it was actually a Marvel Annual but they did choose wisely and filled it with reprints of Amazing Fantasy #15, Hulk #1, Tales of Suspense #39 and Journey into Mystery #83, Marvel did this again in 1965 with the publication of Marvel Tales Annual #2, both were greatly needed issues but neither were enough to satisfy the demand for the growing number of True Believers. By 1965 Marvel introduced Marvel Collectors Item Classics as a recurring title devoted to just reprinting the early stories and in 1966 Marvel turned Marvel Tales #3 into a bi-monthly devoted to just reprints, no longer an annual, this was now an ongoing reprint title.
These titles were unique in comics, you did not see DC Comics nor Dell Comics nor any of the other published have the necessity to create ongoing reprint titles, these other publishers had mature and stable levels of readership for their long-running titles that did not necessitate a title like Marvel Tales.
I think these Marvel reprint titles proved pivotal in securing success for the Marvel revolution. Getting these early stories into the hands of eager readers only a couple of years removed from their release dates would not have felt like some sort of nostalgia trip, it was not like you and me picking up a Marvel Masterworks, these would have read as current and relevant stories that filled in holes and answered questions.
Marvel continued with these reprint titles and even added new ones into the late 60s and early 1970s but by then most of the important work had been done. I’m trying to think of another comic era that had anything like this and I can’t but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t, if you have anything to compare these to please comment below.
I know a couple of readers of this column were actively reading comics during the mid-1960s, I’m hoping you folks can share some insights into these important comic publications.