Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fantastic Four Fan Base


It's usually fun flipping through back issues if you just want to re-read one of your favorite stories, of course--but sometimes you can find some interesting trivia in some of those older Marvel issues that were published when the company was really making an effort to light the match under new readers and get everyone excited about "the Marvel Age of Comics" that the Fantastic Four comic book ushered in. The best place to really find a virtual grab-bag of such items shuffled in with a comic's story was in the pages of those early Fantastic Four issues--mainly because it was the flagship mag of Marvel's growing line, and thus the perfect venue for Marvel to reach the bulk of its customer base in terms of announcements.

For instance, have a look at the first ad for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, from FF #15:



I wasn't clear on what they meant by "in the Fantastic Four style," unless the Sarge and his commandos were exposed to cosmic rays and they fought as the first super-team in the war. (A later ad clarified that the wording simply referred to the mag having the same writer-artist team of Lee and Kirby.)

In FF #14, Marvel establishes what it calls its "trade mark" graphic,
with the FF leading the way:



And here I'd been calling it a "corner box" all this time. Marvel followed up the announcement in an ad that took the opportunity to also push its other titles and new characters:



Next: was there trouble in paradise? As early as FF #10, there were rumblings in FF fandom of people wanting to actually add new characters to the team (which I'm assuming meant booting out the present ones if they wanted the title to remain unchanged):



Three issues later, though, the matter was settled:


Let's all breathe a sigh of relief.  Because you know that the Howling Commandos would have "wah-hooed" their way into FF membership at some point.

Question: What exactly does an FF fan club do? Haven't you wondered? Is it like a book club, where you read the latest issue and then meet as a group at a "clubhouse" to discuss its fine points and subtleties? However they were set up, they were really popular at the time, and Marvel knew a promotional opportunity when it saw one:



Define "nearest," because otherwise you're trying to get readers jazzed about regional FF fan clubs. Kinda sucks for members who can only be at meetings in name only because of distance. I don't think the local members were going to spring for a speaker phone and long distance charges to accommodate their members in absentia.

Remember when the first Incredible Hulk series had the plug pulled on it after six issues? It was at the time when the Hulk met the Thing for the first time, in FF #12--and if you wanted to then check out the Hulk's mag, you would have found yourself reading its final issue, due to its cancellation. A skeptic might have thought that Marvel simply promoted the Hulk in that FF issue in order to send fans scurrying back to their comics stores to check out the Hulk mag so that dealers wouldn't be stuck with all those unsold Hulk #6 issues. So thank goodness Marvel "levelled" with readers in FF #17:



Why does that explanation not really hold up? Because if you're spreading yourselves too thin with a new book, you don't announce on the same page that you've got a lot of new product coming down the pipe:



And speaking of titles that didn't exactly set the comics world on fire, there was this item in FF #22 about comics fandom figure Jerry Bails (who passed away within days of Dave Cockrum) and his opinion on one of Marvel's newest titles, X-Men:



I hope Bails took that bet. I never found such a follow-up letter (at least in Fantastic Four). The original X-Men title actually had a semi-respectable run of 63 more issues, but with its shifting directions and creative teams it's unlikely it ever attained the status of being one of Marvel's most successful sellers (though correct me if I'm wrong on that).

Finally, here are a couple of firsts for you: the original announcement of the first Marvel fan club, the "Merry Marvel Marching Society" (M.M.M.S.), as well as the first Bullpen Bulletins page, from FF #s 35 and 45, respectively:



The Bulletins items (along with the Marvel checklist) had been formerly crammed into the FF letters pages as a "Special Announcements Section," so a separate promotional page all its own was kind of a bonus page in the comic, and proved to be a big hit during the Silver Age runs of Marvel's books as well as the early part of the Bronze Age--and it made sense to devote an entire page to it, as it was also the main standard-bearer for the M.M.M.S.

To bookend this nostalgic mix of snapshots from Marvel's growth in the 1960s, we'll soon sample a few noteworthy letters from the "Fantastic Four Fan Page"--a/k/a the book's letters page, where we'll see that a number of fans who wrote in would themselves turn out to be some of Marvel's future writers and editors.

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