Kirby FantasticFour 1500 copy

addicted to marvel comics 1964 part 1

LIKE MANY KIDS 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.

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.

 

FantasticFour27

This is one of the first comics that turned me into a Marvel madman by in­tro­ducing me to Jack Kir­by’s fan­tastic foursome—Mr. Fan­tastic, the In­vis­ible Girl, the Human Torch, the inim­itable Thing, and here, the Sub-Mariner. Dr Strange made one of his few ap­pear­ances out­side of Strange Tales for this tale.

Jon turns me on and tunes me in

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!

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.

 

Spiderman15

This is one of the first comics that turned me into a Marvel madman by in­tro­ducing me to Steve Ditko’s Spi­derman, aka Peter “Puny” Parker. Here Spidey bat­tled The Hunter, one of Lee and Ditko’s less fan­tastic vil­lains.

Explaining 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 pen­ciled pages with brush and quill. When the same artist inked his own pen­ciled pages, his name is listed twice.

 

StrangeTales123

This is one of the first comics that turned me into a Marvel madman by in­tro­ducing me to Doctor Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts. In this issue, he had a run-in with an­other mys­tical master, Loki, nemesis of Thor, both godlings from Norse mythology.

Explaining the 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.

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.

 

The Marvel Tales An­nual was is­sued for the summer of 1964 and I found it later in the year on the wall of a drug store that didn’t rush its re­turns. For a quarter, I was able to read the ori­gins of six of my fa­vorite ti­tles years be­fore I would ac­tu­ally own the comics in which they ap­peared.

Lee, Kirby, 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. 

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.

 

Addicted to Marvel

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. 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 …

 


 

FOOTNOTES:

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.

 

One of the few DC ti­tles that I con­tinued reading during my ad­dic­tion to Marvel was Our Army At War. The amazing Joe Ku­bert’s gritty, sketchy art was at odds with the nice­ness of the com­pa­ny’s usual stable of artists.

 

 

 

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