Like so many Americans of the Baby Boomer generation, I grew up reading comic books. In fact, comic books have been a part of my life for so long that I can’t recall ever having not read them. At first, it was Walt Disney Comics & Stories and other Dell type funnybooks—and funnybooks as said and meant by parents was one word. Then came Superman and Batman and the Flash and Gold Key movie adaptations and even Classics Illustrated.
While DC’s art was uniformly excellent (for comic books): such standouts as Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, and Murphy Anderson did fine work year after year. Fine if borderline sterile, almost devoid of energy and joie de vivre. Only Joe Kubert’s work was edgy, and he confined himself almost exclusively to war comics at the time.
Yes, I confess a liking for Hot Stuff, probably because he was a little devil—at least to a kid like me who grew up in a Leave It To Beaver neighborhood. Fortunately, I do not have to confess to liking other comics of this ilk, such as Richie Rich, Little Lotta, and Dot, none of which I could read, even as a kid.
But for an actual babyboomer (born six years after the end of WWII, to me the tail-end of the post-war explosion of) no longer interested in Casper and Hot Stuff and such stuff, comic books were in a sorry state in the early ’60s: only National Periodical Publications (known to everyone as DC Comics) was publishing superhero titles, and their biggest heroes, notably Superman and Batman but just about all of them, had left being merely staid behind and were now downright stodgy!
So it was that by the time I was 12-years old, I no longer read comic books with any regularity. Oh, I’d pick one up now and then—usually the weird ones with stories that attempted to be science-fictiony. And I still found the Classics Illustrated (think of them as primers for Cliff Notes) titles enjoyable. But as for costumed crimefighters—there were none that were fun. . . .
Jon May turns me on and tunes me in and I drop out
During the late summer of 1964, I was still several weeks shy of 13. And while I was still somewhat of a nerd for the time, I was growing out of my pimples and crewcut stage. My friend Jon May invited me to spend a week at his family’s little cabin at Harvey’s Lake in Northeastern Pennsylvania. 1
There I was introduced to Marvel’s line of superheroes. Notably the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Iron Man, the Avengers, and Dr. Strange. I was fascinated and read each of Jon’s comics several times. There was a tiny Mom & Pop store called Puterbaughs at the lake entrance and Jon took me down there and the proprietor watched as I pulled every Marvel comic she had off her spinner and paid for them!
The only DC title that I read prior to my Marvel Conversion and the one that I continued reading during my addiction to Marvel stage. The amazing Joe Kubert’s gritty, sketchy art (he was a bit of a minimalist, especially with his inking) was at odds with the niceness of the company’s usual stable of artists.
By the time we returned to Warren Avenue in Kingston I was hook-line-and-sinkered into the whole Marvel superhero phenomenon. While I can’t claim to have been in on the ground-floor (that would have had to occur three summers earlier when I was nine), I can claim to be the oldest such fan most comic book collectors have ever met! And this is not intended as a bragfest, just an observation: I don’t know how many Marveladdicts there were in 1964, but I know that I never met a one until I had become one.
I spent the next few days hunting down every store in the area that could be reached by bicycle that carried comics and I bought as many of the then current Marvel titles that I could find. I was hooked! Here are my first purchases:
Way, way back in the ’60s, the distribution of comic books from the local one-stop (who may have also provided stores with magazines, candy, soft drinks, tobacco products, and even personal items such as condoms) was spread over a week. Prime stores might receive their new titles on Monday and Tuesday while secondary shops received their on Wednesday and Thursday. Consequently, when I went looking for marvels, I hid a few local stores and found several months (the dates on the front covers) worth of books!
Listed below are the Marvel comics that I bought in chronological order of the cover date. I have included the three 1964 annuals, whose cover date was almost irrelevant, as many stores kept them in stock for months rather than weeks (due to the higher profit margin on a 25¢ book versus a 12¢ book.)
There are many websites devoted to Marvel comics; for this article, I elected to use the Marvel Database at Wiki.com as my go-to site. All links below connect to a page on that site.
An explanation of the creators’ credits
While Stan Lee received all of the credit as each story’s writer. we later found out that both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko assisted Lee, usually with suggesting ideas, plotting the story, and sometimes essentially writing the story. That is,it means that it is likely that the two artists plotted or actually wrote the story and that Lee finished the script and wrote all of the dialog. They were neither credited nor paid for this work.
So, when I list each comic’s credits in the articles to follow, it will often state “Writer: Stan Lee (with Jack Kirby),” indicating that Kirby may have had a hand in the writing of the story. Ditto for Ditko. 2
For artists, the first name is the man who designed, laid out, and drew the pages in pencil. The second name is the person who inked those pencilled pages with brush and quill. When the same artist inked his own pencilled pages, his name is listed twice.
An explanation of Addiction Level
Yeah yeah yeah. I was an addled teenaged boy addicted to comic books. Marvel comic books. So for this article I have prepared a ridiculous Addiction Level (AL); his is a grade that indicates my personal response to each individual series. It is a combination of things: the character, the story line, and the art. The grade is an overall response to the combination. Great characters like Captain America received lackluster scripts (Lee and Kirby) accompanied by solid if uninspired art (Kirby).
Or the incroyable Hulk was lost as a character, Lee uncertain as to his status as straight if misunderstood hero with a heart of gold, or a more ambivalent anti-hero. And the art! Kirby’s was the most appropriate but he was too damn busy. Ditko’s was inappropriate; as much as I loved his work on Spidey and Dr. Strange, it was just plain wrong on the green-skinned brute.
So my AL grade is simply how I responded to the ongoing series of stories that appeared in each issue of each title. Here is a breakdown of their meaning:
1. Blah. I had interest in this strip or book simply because it was Marvel and I bought all things Marvel in 1964. Only a few Marvel strips rated this low a response from me. On the other hand, a 1 is what I considered many (most?) DC comics to be in ’64. 3
2. Yeoman. Mediocre Marvel endeavor: good but unexceptional character and/or story and/or art. Fortunately, there were not a lot of 2s at Marvel. On the other hand, a 2 would be a good DC comic.
3. Excellent. Fine work all the way around. On the other hand, few DCs rose to this level, and when they did it seemed to be an accident rather than by design, as the excellence was not carried through issue to issue.
4. Inspired. This was why Marvel was Marvel! And the 4s always involved Kirby or Ditko.On the other hand, I was unaware of any DC comic reaching this height until the latter part of ’60s. until the second half of the ’60s, when National Periodical’s management finally realized that Marvel was overtaking them and rose to the occasion with a new batch of exciting young writers and artists.
A favorite among the many Classics Illustrated titles was Caesar’s Conquests, based on adaptation of Caesar’s Gallic War by Annette T. Rubinstein, it featured artwork by Joe Orlando.
The splash pages of the titles below always credited Stan Lee as the sole ‘writer.’ This was not accurate: both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were responsible for parts of the story, including basic plots and continuity. After Lee agreed to the stories that the two artists turned in, he would then write the actual comic book script. Lee was almost completely responsible for the dialog and the humor.
Note that I only list and comment on the main stories (the features) and related featurettes; I do not list secondary suspense, monster, cowboy, etc. stories or any of the text stories. Most (all?) Marvel titles had a letters page that was often a hoot to read, especially when they introduced the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
Lee, Kirby, and Ditko and not much else
The success of the Marvel revolution of the ’60s was based almost exclusively on the creative efforts of two teams consisting of three men: editor/scripter Stan Lee with either plotter/artist Jack Kirby or plotter/artist Steve Ditko. To the former can be attributed the regular Fantastic Four, Thor, and Captain America series, and to the latter the regular Spiderman and Doctor Strange features. Without these characters and these features, the whole Marvel thing would never have occurred.
Three of the comic books that turned me into a Marvel madman by introducing me to Jack Kirby’s fantastic foursome—Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the inimitable Thing—and Steve Ditko’s Spiderman and Doctor Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts. Alas, these will not be discussed in the series of articles that follow.
Two other artists played regular if secondary roles during the first few years: Dick Ayers and Don Heck. These two men usually picked up a series after it was conceived and begun by Kirby or Ditko. These strips included The Avengers, the Human Torch, Sgt. Fury, Iron Man, and Giant Man. Marvel used several regulars inkers on the prolific Kirby pencils during 1962-64, notably Vince Colletta, Joe Sinnott, and Chic Stone.
Finally . . .
This article, “addicted to marvel comics 1964,” is the first of twenty-four (24) articles devoted to the original batch of Marvel comic books that I bought during the summer of 1964 on my way to becoming a Marveladdict. I am doing this in small sections for two reasons:
1. So that the search engines can focus on one title at a time when crawling the Internet.
2. So that it does not take forever to publish the damn thing! (And so that I don’t keep Jon Pilon waiting much longer.)
Note that this article, “addicted to marvel comics 1964,” is the first of several I intend to post concerning my comic book collecting in the ’60s under the tentative umbrella title of “addicted to marvel comics 1964.” The second scheduled piece deals with a shop on North Street in Wilkes-Barre so tiny that it made Puterbaughs look like an emporium! The old man that owned it paid 2¢ apiece for used ‘funny books’ and sold them for a nickel.
Finally, this article was originally posted on Rather Rare Records on February 27, 2015. Several friends—notably Bill Burkard, who often counts as several friends at once—pointed out to me that when a record collector comes to a site with a domain name like ratherrarerecords.com for the first time and encounters articles on anything but records or music, it may cause him to click out of there as fast as he clicked in! So I am moving the handful of comic book articles from there to here . . .
1 Once a humble retreat for working class families from the area, like so many things that have followed Reaganomics, Harvey’s Lake is now a playground for the higher wage earners: all of the public beaches are gone along with the blue-collar cottages. Jon May remembers:
“In the Summer when we lived at the lake, we had a Friday ritual of going to Dixon’s Restaurant in Dallas for dinner. Then my mother and grandmother would than shop for the week at the Acme store which was next to Dixon’s. My Dad, brother, and I usually went for a country drive and then we’d all meet back at the lake house.
For a young kid eating at a sit-down restaurant, there exists an ETERNITY from the time you order until the time the food comes. Fortunately, Dixon’s had a magazine rack so after ordering, or maybe before, I’d scrounge a dime and go buy a comic book to read at the table until the food came. I know that was a weekly ritual that probably got me into comics.”
2 But I hold Lee entirely responsible for confusing at least one generation of comic book readers as to the meaning of the word penultimate.
3 You had to have been there to know the haughtiness which we Merry Marvel Marchers felt and the condescension we leveled at regular readers of the Justice League and Wonder Woman and The Atom and the other b-o-r-i-n-g characters populating the DC universe. I have changed my opinion considerably since then, learning an appreciation of the DC approach and the damn near perfect comic art of Infantino, and Anderson, Kane, and others.