Poisoned Chalice Part 7: A Warrior Stumbles

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 – Prehistory, 2 – Marvelman Rises, 3 – Marvelman Falls, 4 – Intermission: 1963 to 1982, 5 – Prologue to Warrior, 6 – A Warrior is Born]

When Dez Skinn had started Warrior, he wanted the creators to own their own creations, which they all did, more or less. Marvelman was an exception to this, in as much as it had already existed prior to the start of Warrior but was, as far as Skinn was concerned, in the public domain and available to anyone that wished to claim it, who could acquire the rights by the act of publishing it. However, in keeping with the ethos of the magazine, he decided to give the majority of these rights to the creators, so gave Alan Moore and Garry Leach 40% each, keeping the remaining 20% for the publisher, Quality Communications.

Once Alan Davis took over from Leach, however, this arrangement began to cause problems. Although his earlier work on Marvelman was done, not as work-for-hire, but at the usual Warrior rates, Davis was, understandably enough, unhappy to continue to be working on that basis on a magazine where everyone had rights to the properties they were working on except him, so Skinn suggested a compromise situation. If everyone who already owned rights to Marvelman gave Davis 10% each, then he would have 30% of the rights, as would Moore and Leach, leaving Quality with the remaining 10%.

There are other, incorrect, versions of how the percentage share on Marvelman was worked out, sometimes told by the same person at different times. I have also seen the initial share as one-third each for Moore, Leach, and Quality Communications, leading to a quarter each for Moore, Leach, Alan Davis, and Quality later on. Or a version where originally Moore, Leach, and Quality had a third each, Moore and Leach gave Davis 5% each, and Quality handed over 18.3%, leaving Moore, Leach and Davis with 28.3% each, and Quality with 15%. But, as this document shows, it was 40% each for Moore and Leach, and 20% for Dez Skinn in his own name, as of the 3rd of March 1982.

MM Share Document

LETTER OF AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE PARTIES HEREIN UNDERSIGNED ON THE 3RD DAY OF MARCH NINETEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTY TWO

In connection with the characters appearing in WARRIOR Magazine known as Marvelman, YOUNG Marvelman, KID Marvelman, GARGUNZA and the Marvelman FAMILY and any other related concepts initially established during the 1950s and 1960s by the publishers L. Miller & Son Limited.

It is hereby agreed that prior to any development work done on the characters mentioned above and concepts involved, the available copyright on such is divided in the proportions detailed.

This copyright agreement relates only to the basic concepts as they existed initially, before WARRIOR issue one was published and entitles the undersigned to their proportionate percentage of any licensing or merchandising ventures.

This copyright does not entitle the undersigned to any royalty fees for work which appears in WARRIOR or any other Quality Communications publication.

Alan Moore 40% ~~~~ Garry Leach 40% ~~~~ Dez Skinn 20%

Dez Skinn’s suggestion was acceptable all ‘round, so the issue was resolved, although the question of who owned how much of Marvelman would come up again, later on. The two Alans, Moore and Davis, continued to work together on Marvelman, to great acclaim. They were also still working together on Captain Britain for Marvel UK, and they had created DR and Quinch for 2000 AD, which first appeared in issue #317 on the 21st of May, 1983. Alan Moore and Alan Davis were the most highly regarded writer and artist team in British comics, regularly winning awards for their work together, and seemed set to go on forever. It was almost inevitable that something would go wrong, and it did.

Alan Moore was becoming unhappy with how he, and other people, were being treated at Marvel UK. He had been having a dispute with their accounting department about unpaid invoices, he didn’t like how his friend Steve Moore had been treated by them, and he was particularly unhappy with the way that he felt they had dealt with Bernie Jaye, who had been the editor of Daredevils, where Moore had not only been working on Captain Britain, but had also been producing a number of articles, fanzine reviews, and other bits and pieces for her at little or no extra cost. After she left he dropped all of the extra work he was doing for Marvel, finished out his run on Captain Britain, and didn’t work for them again. (I should point out that Bernie Jaye left Marvel UK of her own volition, to pursue work elsewhere, and was not fired, as is sometimes alleged.)

Moore also refused permission for Marvel in the US to reprint his Captain Britain work over there, a decision that would have very long-reaching consequences: Moore refusing permission for his Captain Britain work to be published in the US obviously meant that he was also stopping Alan Davis from being able to see his Captain Britain work published there, meaning Davis had no exposure in the American market. Moore, on the other hand, had started writing Saga of the Swamp Thing for DC Comics, beginning with #20, cover-dated January 1984, which was the beginning of his rapid climb to where he is today.

There were also problems brewing at Warrior. In the beginning, Moore had been very happy with the set-up there. In an interview with Eddie Stachelski in Fantasy Express #5 in January 1983, he says,

Working for Quality Comics is great! It’s cartoon heaven. The basic deal is that all of us creators work for about half of the going rate up front, but hopefully more than make up for that by way of the many side benefits we receive. For instance, once Warrior has passed the sales breakeven point the profits are split down the middle between Quality Communications and the creative people involved. So if it sells well, we stand to make about as much again as the sum we’ve already been paid as a flat rate. Maybe more. On top of that, we get a very healthy whack of the copyright in so far as it relates to reprint rights and merchandising deals. I’ll give you an example to show you what I mean.

Me and Dave Lloyd own V for Vendetta between us. It’s our character and in the unlikely event of us parting company with Quality Communications, V goes with us. We get paid the basic flat rate for it, and a few months later we hopefully receive our bonus, depending upon sales. When we’ve done about ten or twelve episodes we’ve got enough material to fill an album… A number of album publishers have already expressed an interest in syndicating some of the stuff in Warrior, so say they bring out a Vendetta album in France or Spain or whatever, me and Dave get about 60 or 70% of the royalty money and the rest goes to Quality Communications for setting up the deal in the first place. If V becomes really popular and they decide to make a film out of the character, then the same thing applies. Likewise posters, badges, T-shirts and stuff like that. If Palitoy decide to market a V for Vendetta Junior Home Terrorist outfit then it’s me and Dave who stand to reap the lion’s share. This is great. This is how it should be. The end result is that the creators are spurred on to do the best stuff possible because it’s them that stand to gain from its success.

I know that DC and Marvel in the States are starting to make some inroads into this sort of area, but it’s going to be a long time before they can approach the sort of deal we’ve got at Warrior. It’s the sort of deal that could only be instigated by a small independent company. Big corporations don’t really have a chance of matching it, if only because of the restrictions inherent in their corporate structure.

Quite apart from all this, the major benefit of working for Warrior is that we’re all allowed to do more or less what the hell we like. Dez knows we’re all competent professionals and tends to trust in our judgement on aesthetic matters. From the response we’ve had I don’t think we’ve let him down so far. If anything I think Warrior has benefited immensely from the diversity and outlandishness of much of its content. It sets us apart and makes us different. It enables us to make artistic progressions of a sort that the major companies are too nervous to even contemplate. And on top of that we’re all great buddies, we enjoy working together, we enjoy getting drunk together, and by and large it’s a shit hot way to round out one’s third decade upon the planet Earth.

Later on, however, Moore would have less flattering things to say about Quality Communications, and about Dez Skinn. At the beginning of their relationship, Skinn had been the superstar comics editor, fresh from his revamp of Marvel UK, and had been a major player in the UK comics scene for quite a number of years. Alan Moore, on the other hand, had only appeared on the scene with his short stories in Doctor Who Weekly and 2000 AD in 1980, two years prior to Warrior, and hadn’t as yet produced any major piece of work, so wasn’t at all well-known at the time. This was all to change, however, as Moore became the rising star of British comics, particularly for his work in Warrior, and what was to have been Skinn’s big project began to be seen as Moore’s own personal showcase. Inevitably, I suppose, tensions arose between them. In March 1982 Moore and Skinn were a year on either side of thirty years old. Both of them were ambitious, driven, and passionate about their work. They were also both stubborn young men who could not possibly have imagined that their youthful hotheadedness from half a lifetime ago would still be being aired thirty years after the event. What is obvious is that the two of them clashed, and that this was having a detrimental effect on Moore’s work for Warrior.

Nor was this the only problem besetting Warrior. In May 1984, between issue #18 and issue #19, Quality Communications published Marvelman Special #1, whose cover material read, Back in Their Own Title – After 20 Years – The Mightiest Family in the Universe! The contents consisted of four old Marvelman stories, reprinted from the L Miller & Son issues, and all attributed to Mick Anglo as writer, and to either Don Lawrence or Roy Parker as artists, with a small copyright declaration beside each story saying © Mick Anglo. Specifically, there was Marvelman Family and the Invaders from the Future and Marvelman and the Foam Fanatic, both drawn by Lawrence; and Marvelman and the Dreams and Young Marvelman and the Moon of Doom, with art by Parker. Marvelman Family and the Invaders From the Future had been previously published in Marvelman Family #1 in October 1956, but I’ve been unable to chase down the original publication information for the rest of the pieces. [EDIT: I’ve since been told where they originally appeared – see this comment, below] As well as the four Marvelman stories, there was a Big Ben story called Big Ben Versus King Arthur, which is attributed to Edgar Henry as writer – actually Steve Moore under another pseudonym – and Ian Gibson as artist. This piece had originally been produced in 1977 for Skinn’s abortive British Super-Heroes magazine, created for Thorpe & Porter’s Williams publishing division, which never saw the light of day. The whole magazine is wrapped up with four pages of framing device, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Alan Davis, tying it into the strip’s current continuity.

When Skinn had originally published Warrior, he had been very careful to distance Marvelman from the already existing Marvel Comics, not wanting to run afoul of their proprietorial interest in all comics with the word Marvel in them. However, by the time he got around to publishing Marvelman Special #1 in 1984, he had decided that he was safe from any interference from that quarter. After all, he had been publishing Marvelman in Warrior for over two years at that point, and there was also the fact that Marvelman himself predated the existence of Marvel Comics by a good seven years. Not only that, but both Warrior the magazine and Marvelman the strip had been mentioned and recommended a few times in various Marvel UK publications, both in letters’ pages and by the editorial staff. From issue #2 Warrior had, just to be safe, run a line of text along the side of the first page of every Marvelman strip that said,

Marvelman is based on, and a continuation of, the 1954 L Miller and Son Ltd copyright character and is in no way associated with Marvel Comics Ltd.

As well as this notice there was also a copyright declaration attached to each strip, originally reading © Alan Moore / Garry Leach / Quality Communications, 1982, and changing as it went along, to incorporate the changes in creative personnel, and the attendant changes in the shareholdings. Also, from issue #3, both the name Marvelman and a small image of the character were regularly featured on the cover in a sidebar column, and the actual cover itself was given over to illustrations of Marvelman on a few occasions. It seemed, by 1984, as if Marvel UK weren’t concerned about Marvelman after all, but it would turn out that this supposition could not have been more wrong. But before that, there were even more problems in store for Warrior.

Since its first issue in 1982, Warrior had received enormous critical acclaim. The publication and its creators virtually swept the boards at the Eagle Awards in 1983, taking or sharing eight of the ten awards in the British section. These were for Favourite Writer, Favourite Comic, Favourite Comic Character, Favourite Villain, Favourite Supporting Character, Favourite Single or Continued Story, Favourite New Comic, and Favourite Comic Cover. Four of these were directly related to Marvelman (Favourite Comic Character, Favourite Villain, Favourite Single or Continued Story, and Favourite Comic Cover for Warrior #7), and one other shared, as Alan Moore won the award for Favourite Writer, which would have been not only for his work on Marvelman and V for Vendetta, but also for work with Marvel UK and 2000 AD, for whom he was still writing at the time. Despite all this acclaim, Warrior never really sold as well as it should have. A look through the letters pages shows that there always seemed to be some problems with distribution and availability. As the sole publication of a new publisher, it would have been difficult for Warrior to come to the attention of either the newsagents who would have been selling it on the one hand, or potential readers on the other. Certainly it won awards, but this didn’t necessarily mean an awful lot more awareness amongst the general public.

Alan Moore once remarked that ‘the comic industry awards are all voted for by thirty people in anoraks with dreadful social lives’, and this may not have been too wide of the mark, with the Eagles being voted on by between 500 and 600 people in 1983. Whereas British comics fandom was wild about Warrior, Marvelman, and Alan Moore, this didn’t necessarily mean that anyone outside a very small group of British comics fans had any idea who or what they were. Even copies that did make it to newsagents’ shops didn’t necessarily sell and, as these were being offered to them on a sale-or-return basis, large quantities of the magazine were returned to Quality Communications unsold. Skinn found that, almost from the beginning, he had to subsidise the magazine from the profits of his comic shop – Quality Comics in New Cross, near Greenwich in London – in the hope that sales would pick up.

As well as this, creative and other problems were starting to appear. The antipathy between Alan Moore and Dez Skinn was escalating. Skinn had wanted Moore to incorporate the Big Ben character into the Marvelman story, and Moore had responded by turning him into a sort of sub-human, a failed reject from the same technology that had produced Marvelman. It all finally reached a head over suggested revisions to one of Moore’s scripts, brought about by the age-old conflict between commerce and art. In a telephone interview with Moore about Marvelman he told me:

The problems arose, I remember… It was something really stupid. It was probably one of the later ones, and I’d got a scene, probably taking place mostly inside the mind of Johnny Bates, where I had – there was somebody had called him a queer, a virgin, I think it was probably his adult evil self – he called him a queer, a virgin, and there was some other vaguely controversial, or apparently controversial piece of dialogue, and I remember Dez Skinn phoning me up and saying that he didn’t like these things and he wanted them changed. And I said that I didn’t want them changed because I thought that they were natural, they were a part of the characterisation, and also I didn’t see what the purpose of that was. Warrior was aimed at a fairly intelligent readership, we hadn’t had any complaints, and I tended to think that this was a hangover from Dez Skinn’s days at Marvel, and he mentioned lots of things – why offend even one reader? – to which I responded, because the alternative is to gear your entire product to the most squeamish and prudish member of the audience. I said that I’m not happy going along with that.

Eventually, the argument got down to, well, if I’d just change one of them, and it didn’t matter which one it was. At which point I said, so, basically, they’re all alright to go in, but you want me to change one of them? And Dez Skinn had said, yes, and that it was a matter of him not losing face, at which point I said, no, that’s an even more ridiculous reason for changing what – I mean, I take all of my stories quite seriously. I put things in them for a reason. And because Dez had manufactured this situation unnecessarily, where he was asking me to make changes, and then had said, well, if I could just change one, so that he didn’t lose face, at this point I said no, I was not prepared to change any of them. And that was how it went down.

Probably the breaking point came in a meeting in the New Cross offices. We were arguing over some other issue, at which point I had reminded Dez that he had rung me up about a week or two before and had asked me to change a piece of the story, it didn’t matter which part, simply because he didn’t want to lose face. At which point he said, ‘That never happened, Alan.’ This was calling me a liar about something we both knew was true in front of, I suppose, Garry Leach and Steve Moore. At this point I was halfway across the office, and Steve Moore and Garry Leach were saying, ‘Leave him, Alan, he’s not worth it,’ and at that point I ceased my work for Warrior. It was just that I couldn’t have somebody lying about me and my honesty.

The three instances were all from Warrior #7, and involved Kid Marvelman calling his alter ego Johnny Bates a ‘snotty little virgin’, a hospitalised terrorist calling Evelyn Cream ‘chocolate’, and Liz Moran telling Mike Moran ‘I’ve missed my last two periods’.

MM7 Snotty Little Virgin
MM7 Chocolate

MM7 Periods 2

I asked Dez Skinn about this, as well, and he said,

I never fell out with him, I can’t speak for Alan. I think things got tarnished when I suggested we edit out such words as ‘chocolate’ (about Evelyn Cream), ‘virgin’ (in the context of a 12-year old boy) and ‘period’ (about Liz missing hers) – all from the same Marvelman script (#7, I’ve just checked specifics). We’d lost WH Smiths only a few weeks earlier because somebody’s mum had complained about the ‘adult nature’ of the Zirk strip in #3. This was a few months after #3 went on sale, about when I was checking fresh scripts for #7 (we had to work two extra months ahead, printing in Finland). I couldn’t afford a trade backlash against us, I’d no outside financier and wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and my shop funded the magazine.

But I didn’t want to go ahead and change things without consulting creators. That wasn’t the way we did things, we weren’t IPC, DC Thomson or Marvel UK. The whole approach was one of discussion, over everything. Hence the idea of me wanting changes reared its head at our next monthly meeting. But before I could raise my concern about how it would affect the magazine’s viability – thus everybody’s income – if there were any more complaints, Alan suddenly announced, ‘I don’t believe in editors!’

This was a huge shock and I guess a potential stand-off. We’d always been very close in the past with him phoning me at great length at all hours (often getting me out of bed – I wasn’t a family man so I wasn’t an early riser!) I felt like replying, ‘So go find a magazine that doesn’t have an editor or do your own!’ but amazingly chose to be discreet and said nothing. I guess I lost a lot of credibility with everybody there by backing down. But it was a very difficult position Alan put me in.

Anyway, my non-assertive silence obviously paid off, Alan kept on contributing scripts right up to the final issue, so even if I did lose face, there were more important things… like proving to the world a new approach (first rights, returning artwork, etc) could be seen to be working. So things continued relatively smoothly. Either way, he still carried on contributing to the magazine. Which to my mind is what it’s all about, professionalism and the end product. Personalities can get in the way with anything creative (one writer told me it was ‘unfair’ that Alan Moore was getting the lion’s share of the magazine, obviously oblivious to quality being the determining factor). But as long as the magazine comes out, that’s the main thing. Everything else is tittle-tattle which we should strive to rise above.

Obviously the altercation with Dez Skinn happened quite a bit later than Alan Moore remembered. None the less, things were starting to unravel at Warrior, and worse was to come.

To Be Continued…

Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher.

Poisoned Chalice Part 6: A Warrior is Born

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 – Prehistory, 2 – Marvelman Rises, 3 – Marvelman Falls, 4 – Intermission: 1963 to 1982, 5 – Prologue to Warrior]

Warrior took nearly a year from its original inception in the spring of 1981 to finally reaching the shelves in March 1982. The contents of that first issue were, in order, an eight-page Marvelman story called …A Dream of Flying, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Garry Leach; a five-page Spiral Path prologue, written and drawn by Steve Parkhouse; a two-page one-off story called A True Story?, written by Steve Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons; the first part of The Legend of Prester John in seven pages, by Steve Moore and John Bolton; The Villain, the six-page first part of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta; a six-page Father Shandor, Demon Stalker story by Steve Moore and John Bolton called Spawn from Hell’s Pit!; and, last but not least, a six-page Laser Eraser and Pressbutton story written by Steve Moore and illustrated by Steve Dillon, who also supplied the cover for that issue. The issue also contained a one-page text piece by Dez Skinn called Freedom’s Road, introducing Warrior; a three-and-a-half-page text piece, again by Skinn, called Marvelman, Mightiest Man in the Universe; and, at the back of the magazine, a feature called Warriors All!, which consisted of brief self-penned biographies of most of the contributing creators, where Alan Moore famously described himself as A baffling hybrid between Renaissance Man and Piltdown Man. The writing breakdown for that first issue, ignoring the text pieces, was twenty-one pages by Steve Moore, fourteen pages by Alan Moore, and five pages by Steve Parkhouse. This page share would eventually tip in Alan’s favour, with him doing an average of sixteen pages per issue in the first dozen issues, as opposed to Steve Moore’s average of fourteen pages an issue, while Steve Parkhouse maintained a small but steady five pages an issue, and Paul Neary’s Madman appearing for a few pages up until #7. That pattern would change later on, when things turned sour, but for the time being the template for Warrior was largely set.

And this is where I come in. Despite the fact that thirty years have passed since I did so, I can distinctly remember the day I bought that first issue of Warrior, in a now defunct Dublin bookshop called The Alchemist’s Head, which stocked an eclectic mix of science fiction and occult books, with a rack of new comics in the back. I actually bought it in early 1983, because I remember going back in as soon as I could to ask them to get me as many more issues of this magazine as were available, which they did. I was 23 in 1983, and I’m 53 now, and it is no exaggeration to say that a lot of what and who I eventually became goes back to that day in 1983, and to Warrior #1. I was seeing things I’d never seen before in a comic, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the writer who was writing the strips I was most interested in was Alan Moore. For my sins, I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before then, but I was to devote a growing amount of my waking hours to his work from then on. And Moore wasn’t the only one I’d never heard of. Marvelman was completely new to me at the time, so much so that, despite the three-and-a-half pages of text filling us in on his back-story, I remembering wondering if this was some sort of carefully constructed imaginary history, and that he was really appearing in Warrior for the first time anywhere. It became obvious very quickly that this was going to be a superhero strip unlike anything I’d seen before. For a start, it seemed to be populated by real people with real lives, and was drawn in a very realistic, very grounded style. There was obviously some sort of back-story attached to it, which we would begin to see revealed as the story progressed. I was absolutely fascinated by this and, judging by the response on the letters pages in subsequent issues of Warrior, I wasn’t the only one. This was something new, something different. Something we hadn’t seen before. The writing sang off the page. In issue #2, while Marvelman is trying to explain to his – or, more correctly, Mike Moran’s – wife about his life as he remembers it, she laughs at the silliness of it. There is a memorable frame where he says ‘Damn you Liz, you’re laughing at my life!!’, accompanied by a caption that reads ‘The floor is solid oak. He splinters it to matchwood…’

Moore’s attempt to place his silly fifties superhero in the cynical eighties was pitch-perfect, and breathtaking to watch unfold. Probably the most memorable line in those early issues for me, a definite sign that this strip was going to take us places we hadn’t gone before, as well as a foretaste of themes that would later appear in work like Watchmen, was in the series of captions in issue #6, accompanying Marvelman’s aerial fight with Kid Marvelman over London, that says,

They are titans, and we’ll never understand the alien inferno that blazes in the furnaces of their souls.

We are only human.

We will never grasp their hopes, their despair, never comprehend the blistering rage that informs their every blow.

We will never know the destiny that howls in their hearts, never know their pain, their love, their almost sexual hatred…

…and perhaps we are the less for it.

It was when I read the words ‘their almost sexual hatred…’ that I knew that there was something new here, a complexity and depth that I’d never seen before in a comic, something I very much wanted to see more of.

As the months passed, and more issues of Warrior appeared, it quickly became evident that Marvelman was the most popular strip in the magazine, closely followed by Alan Moore’s other strip there, V for Vendetta. It must also have been well thought of editorially, as it was virtually always the first strip in Warrior, just after the contents page. The strip started to run into problems early on however as, although Garry Leach was only drawing between six and eight pages an issue, he was taking the whole month to do so, to the exclusion of any other work. Eventually he decided that he couldn’t continue to work like that, so he gave up the strip. Fortunately, there was someone else waiting in the wings.

One of the things that Dez Skinn tried to do with Warrior was to issue a Summer Special for 1982. The Summer Special, generally with a higher page count than the standard weekly comic, was a peculiarly British publishing institution started in the 1960s, presumably to give all those children in all those British seaside holiday resorts something else to buy, as well as to bring in some extra revenue for both the shopkeepers and the publishers, because it spent longer on the shelves than the usual weekly issues. Skinn thought it would be novel to try this out, alongside the regularly scheduled issues of Warrior, but ran into difficulties, and ended up publishing the Warrior Summer Special 1982 but amalgamating issue #4, scheduled for August 1982, into it, causing all sorts of problems at the distribution and retail end, as well as for people looking out for a clearly marked Warrior #4, who were not to know that what they wanted was called the Warrior Summer Special 1982 instead.

However, there was at least one good thing to come out of all the confusion. One of the strips in the Summer Special was a one-off Marvelman story called The Yesterday Gambit, a story that was not part of the ongoing continuity established in the previous three issues, but rather set a few years in the story’s future. The ten-page story was composed of three different parts, drawn by three different artists: Steve Dillon, Paul Neary, and Alan Davis. Alan Davis was at the time the artist on Marvel UK’s successfully relaunched Captain Britain strip, then running in Marvel Super-Heroes. The writer, Dave Thorpe, had left the strip, and Davis had suggested bringing Alan Moore on board as the new writer. Moore in turn suggested to Dez Skinn that Davis would be a good replacement for Garry Leach on Marvelman and, although Skinn had reservations about the only two superhero strips in British comics being written and drawn by the same two people, he none the less went along with Moore’s suggestion.

To ease Davis in, and so as not to have too sudden a change from Leach’s artwork to Davis’s, Davis only did the pencil art for issues #6 and #7, with Leach inking over his work. Indeed, Davis originally thought that he was only coming in as a stand-in artist to allow Leach to catch up on his own work, which may well have been the case initially, but it became evident that Leach wasn’t coming back to Marvelman, and Davis found himself the permanent artist on both pencils and inks. In private correspondence with Davis, he told me:

When I was first asked to pencil Marvelman I never regarded myself as Garry’s long term replacement – I was only asked to pencil two issues for Garry to ink. I believed I was simply doing some donkey work to help Garry make up time on deadlines – perhaps it was a test to see how I coped. When I was subsequently asked to pencil and ink an issue, and then another, I still made no long-term commitment. Firstly, I don’t know what led to me being asked to draw Marvelman or who championed my involvement – I have heard various contradictory explanations – but I was well aware that I was never Dez’s first choice – and I didn’t blame him, I was an utter novice – there were any number of seasoned/recognised artists Dez could have chosen IF he had more financial backing.

Secondly, it was never ‘work for hire’ because I sold a ‘first English language publication only’ use of my work which guaranteed that I retained ownership of the pages I drew and the images, and character designs, they contained. This is one of the common confusions with people not understanding the difference between the trademark and character copyright as opposed to the ordinary creative ownership of any work originated by the creator – and the variety of ways parts of those rights can be sold.

When it was finally made clear that Garry was going to quit Marvelman, to work on Warpsmith, I said I would only agree to continue drawing Marvelman if I was given an equal percentage of the trademark and character copyright Dez, Garry and Alan claimed to own. Each gave me a percentage that made me an equal quarter partner. Remember, Warrior was paying £40 per pencilled and inked page as opposed to £80-£95 from Marvel UK or 2000 AD so working for Warrior was a gamble to secure an equitable, or enhanced, payscale through royalties.

By the time Garry Leach was finished with Marvelman he had only actually drawn twenty pages of art, and inked a further fifteen pages of Alan Davis’s pencils. None the less, he established the look and the tone for the art that was to follow. Leach’s art wasn’t completely gone from the pages of Warrior, however, as there was a two-part Warpsmith story called Cold War, Cold Warrior, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Leach, which ran in issues #9 and #10. The Warpsmiths, an alien race co-created by Moore and Leach, would turn up in Moore’s Marvelman stories, beginning in the flash-forward story in the Warrior Summer Special, and would particularly feature in Olympus, the third and last book of Moore’s run, where they, along with their ancient enemy, the Qys, would play an important role.

The Warpsmiths would also turn up in the pages in another Moore and Leach story, called Ghostdance, in the first issue of A1 in 1989, an anthology comic edited by Leach and Dave Elliott, and published by their own publishing company, Atomeka Press. This had originally been submitted to Warrior, but turned down by Skinn. He had already temporarily lost distribution to WH Smith, a leading British book and magazine retailer, due to what they felt was explicit material in a strip called Zirk, Silver Sweater of the Spaceways by Steve Moore and Brian Bolland, which appeared in issue #3. Skinn felt that they might take issue with the Warpsmith story on the same grounds, possibly permanently this time, so erred on the side of caution, and decided not to publish it.

The Warpsmiths, and more particularly their sworn enemy, the Qys, play a very important part in Moore’s version of Marvelman. He had used the name Qys for a ‘starhopping alien race’ in perhaps the earliest comic strip story he wrote, the four-page Once There Were Dæmons, which appeared in Embryo #5, published by the Northampton Arts Lab, edited by Moore himself, and cover dated 18/11/1971, which would have been his eighteenth birthday. In the same story there is mention of a character who is ‘a blind warper from Algol’, so it would seem that the Qys and the Warpsmiths may have been at the back of Moore’s mind, waiting for a home, for some ten years or more before he used them in Marvelman.

Embryo 5 Daemons 01.1
In the Miller-era comics, young Mickey Moran just changed to Marvelman by saying his magic word, Kimota!, and no further explanation was deemed necessary. What Moore did was provide a reasonably believable way for this change to happen. In Moore’s story, a Qys spaceship crashes in Wiltshire in 1948, allowing UK Airforce Intelligence, and particularly Emil Gargunza, who was working for them at that time, to back-engineer the ship’s technology, and specifically to figure out how and why the pilot seemed to have two bodies, both attempting to occupy the same space. This leads them to learn how to clone superbodies, which they deposit in infraspace, with a post-hypnotic keyword to transfer a person’s consciousness from one to the other, and consequently to create superheroes. As he said in his initial proposal to Dez Skinn,

The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. […] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.

Therefore, the modern version of Marvelman is inextricably bound up with the Qys and their technology, concepts that belonged wholly and solely to Alan Moore and Garry Leach. Much later on, I’ll be referring back to this, as it’s important.

Moore’s early work on Captain Britain with Alan Davis provides another intriguing glimpse of his ideas about Marvelman. On the third page of the very first full episode he wrote, in Marvel Super-Heroes #387 (Marvel UK, July 1982), while describing the unstoppable Fury, an organic-machine hybrid created to kill superheroes, there is a caption that reads,

The Fury doesn’t worry. It is used to superheroes. Ten years ago it battled the Iron Tallon who could become invisible. It killed him.

It battled Colonel Tusker and his killer toys. It battled the atomic powerhouse called Miracleman. It killed them. It had become used to superheroes.

A month later, in Marvel Super-Heroes #388, Captain Britain finds himself in a graveyard, where there are gravestones for The Arachnid, Gaath, Colonel Tusker, Android Andy, Iron Tallon, Captain Roy Risk, Puppetman, and Miracleman. These are all analogues of old British comics characters The Spider, Garth, General Jumbo, Robot Archie, The Steel Claw, Colonel Dan Dare, Dolmann, and Marvelman, quite a number of whom would turn up many years later in Albion (WildStorm, 8/2005 – 11/2006), plotted by Moore and written by his daughter Leah and her husband, John Reppion.

About a year later, in Daredevils #7 (July 1983) we see a woman called Linda McQuillan having a nightmare. She is actually Captain UK, a Captain Britain analogue from an alternate Earth, Earth-238 (as opposed to Captain Britain’s Earth-616), and it was on her Earth that all the superheroes got killed by The Fury. In her dream she is talking to her husband Rick, who turns out to be Young Miracleman, which can be seen by his uniform, and his being called Rick – as opposed to Young Marvelman, who was called Dick – and once again there is a list of superheroes that have been killed by the Fury: The Talon, Gaath, Android Andy, and the previously unmentioned Tom Rosetta, who had a magic stone that makes him invulnerable, like Tim Kelly from the old British Kelly’s Eye strip. And this time we get to see several of the characters who had previously only been referred to by name. In the last panel on the page the caption says,

Rick! Look! Miracleman! It shot Miracleman. B-But… but that’s impossible…

It Shot Miracleman

In the frame we see the back of the character referred to as Miracleman, wearing the uniform of Marvelman. It seems obvious that Moore had come up with a possible alternative name for Marvelman from very early on, as evidenced here and in the last part of his original Marvelman proposal to Dez Skinn.

To Be Continued…

(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)

Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.

Poisoned Chalice Part 5: Prologue to Warrior

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 – Prehistory, 2 – Marvelman Rises, 3 – Marvelman Falls, 4 – Intermission: 1963 to 1982]

Born in Goole in Yorkshire on the 4th February 1951, by 1982 Derek ‘Dez’ Skinn already had a long and successful history working in British comics. He had started producing the comics fanzine Derinn Comicollector in 1967, followed by Oracle in 1968 and Eureka! in 1969, and a spell editing longstanding UK comics fanzine Fantasy Advertiser from 1970 to 1975. In the meantime he had qualified in organic chemistry and got a job with Croda Chemicals, a few miles from where he lived. It was obvious to all that he wasn’t really suited to the job, though, and the managing director suggested that he might be better off pursuing a career in journalism, as this was obviously where his passion lay. He did, and ended up at the Doncaster Evening Post, but only stayed there for six months before going to London in 1970 to try to find work in comics. His first port of call was Mick Anglo, then working on Thorpe & Porter’s Super DC, repackaging DC strips for the UK market, but Anglo was a one-man-show by that time, and neither needed nor wanted an assistant. He directed Skinn to Marts Press, who in turn sent him to IPC/Fleetway, where he was finally taken on as a trainee sub-editor. After five years at IPC he was headhunted by Warner Brothers to become Group Managing Editor of their Young Magazines Group, and in particular to edit their British version of MAD Magazine. In 1978 he set up Starburst Magazines Ltd to produce Starburst, a science fiction movie magazine that is still going to this day. From there he was persuaded by Marvel ComicsStan Lee, who was visiting Britain in 1979, to take over the editorship of the ailing Marvel UK. He only stayed there for fifteen months, but made important and lasting changes while he was there, launching titles like Hulk Comic, Doctor Who Weekly, and Frantic, and giving work to old co-workers Steve Moore and Steve Parkhouse, as well as a number of up-and-coming British comics talents, like John Bolton, Steve Dillon, Dave Gibbons, and David Lloyd. After his time in Marvel UK Skinn set up a design company called Studio System Ltd, and on the 4th of January 1982 he registered Quality Communications Limited, to produce a good British alternative to the comics that were then available, as well as to provide a showcase for talented British writers and artists. The first thing Skinn needed for his project was a title, so he revived a name he’d used previously in 1974. That name was Warrior.

With a publishing company and a name in place, the next thing was to find content for the magazine. Warrior was going to be an anthology, a format that had always done well in the UK market, as opposed to the single-story-per-issue format popular in the US, although it would be monthly, unlike the weekly British comics. Skinn had seen the sort of material that was popular for the comics companies he had worked for, particularly at Marvel UK, so knew what sorts of strips he wanted for Warrior. There had always been a dark streak in British comics, and Skinn was happy to allow some of the strips in Warrior to reflect that. He did, however, feel that he should include a superhero strip, to appeal to the American market, as much as anything else. Skinn’s plan for contributors was fairly radical for Britain at the time: He was going to offer less money up front (either a half or two-thirds of the going rate, depending on who you listen to), but was only buying first printing rights from them, and they would retain ownership of their creations – rather than surrender all the rights, as was usually the case with comics publishers – and would therefore be able to sell them to other markets abroad, as well as in collected reprint editions, and actually earn good money from doing so. To facilitate this, Skinn encouraged his writers to write story arcs that would run over the course of a year, which could subsequently be collected in book form. Skinn was also intending to set himself up as an agent for this work, to try to sell it abroad, primarily to the lucrative American market, as well as to the thriving European markets.

By 1981 Dez Skinn had been working in British comics for over ten years, and had made it all the way to the top, so he was not short on talented potential contributors for his magazine. He already had his old friend Steve Moore on board as his main writer, along with Steve Parkhouse, who was both writer and artist, and Paul Neary would also write and illustrate a strip. Other artists on Warrior would include Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Alan Davis, Steve Dillon, Dave Gibbons, Garry Leach, and David Lloyd, all of whom made significant contributions to the magazine, and most of whom would go on to become huge names in the comics industry, both in Britain and in America.

There was of course one other major contributor to Warrior. Since his childhood, Alan Moore had been fascinated by comics, both the home-grown British ones, and especially the imported American monthlies, which eventually led him to meet and befriend Steve Moore, first through the pages of the burgeoning British comics fanzines, then later through the regularly held London comic marts, where they finally met in person. He also became involved with the Northampton Arts Lab, a sort of artistic multimedia cooperative which encouraged its members to become involved in as many different artistic disciplines as they could. While there Moore wrote a lot of content, particularly poetry, for different magazines, as well as being involved in various bands, and at least one stage play, Another Suburban Romance, which never actually got produced. In his mid-twenties Moore decided that if he didn’t pursue his dreams of being a fulltime writer and artist then, he probably wouldn’t ever do it, so he gave up his day job as an office clerk at Kelly Bros Pipe Fitting Company and started sending out submissions. Soon enough, he found himself contributing a daily strip, called Maxwell the Magic Cat, to the Northants Post, which would run from the 25th of August 1979 until the 9th of October 1986. At much the same time he also started submitting work to Sounds, a weekly British music paper.

Stars My Degradation

The strips in Sounds were Roscoe Moscow: Who Killed Rock’n’Roll, which ran for sixty episodes from 31 March 1979 until 28 June 1980, and The Stars My Degradation, which ran for one hundred episodes from 12 July 1980 until 19 March 1983. Moore drew both strips, and wrote most of them, with Steve Moore coming in as writer for the latter part of The Stars My Degradation. He realised, however, that he was not cut out for a career as an illustrator, so began to concentrate solely on his writing.

In 1981 Moore started getting work published in IPC’s weekly comic 2000 AD. Although 2000 AD had only been around for three years at the time, it was easily the most important thing to happen to British comics for many years, and would provide a launching pad for the careers of any number of British comics people, both writers and artists. Moore started submitting short pieces, Future Shocks or Time Twisters, as they were called. These were often only two or three pages long, giving him an ideal opportunity to perfect his craft. More work followed, with Moore contributing short one-off pieces to the newly revamped Eagle, as well as to Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Weekly. Later on, he would be offered the opportunity to do longer work at both IPC and Marvel UK. For 2000 AD he would eventually write Skizz in 1983 (effectively written to cash-in on the huge media frenzy surrounding the forthcoming ET movie, but only similar to it if you imagine that, instead of being marooned in a Disney-perfect, Hollywoodesque America, the extra-terrestrial crash-lands his ship in a dour and depressive Birmingham, deep in the throes of the worst excesses of Thatcherism), and The Ballad of Halo Jones in 1984 and 1985, which still stands as one of his finest and most touching pieces of work. In the meantime, in 1982, he would take over writing Captain Britain for Marvel UK. His first ongoing strips, however, were Marvelman and V for Vendetta in Warrior, where, with all due deference to the considerable talents of the other contributors, Alan Moore was perhaps the single most important creator to appear there. But Moore had not been part of Skinn’s original plan.

Skinn had decided that, if he was going to include a superhero strip in Warrior, he wanted to revive an old one, rather than try to create a new one. He’d been successful in revitalising the Captain Britain character in Hulk Comic whilst at Marvel UK, and there was really only one other British superhero that had ever had any success, so he decided that he’d bring back a character that hadn’t been seen on the shelves since 1963. That character was Marvelman. Various stories have been told over the years about how Skinn might have got the rights to Marvelman. For a long time the most widely accepted story was that L Miller and Co Ltd had gone bankrupt in 1963, and that their assets had been seized by the British Government’s Official Receiver, from whom Skinn subsequently bought the rights to Marvelman, and more crucially, this is the version of events that Alan Moore has said he was told.

This is wrong on several fronts, of course: the Millers didn’t go bust, in 1963 or at any other time, and even if they had, it is unlikely that the Official Receiver would have held onto the property, intellectual or otherwise, of a bankrupt company for close to twenty years, as it would have been sold off at the time to pay off any creditors, meaning there would have been nothing there for Skinn to buy in 1982. On top of which, I don’t think there is a single instance in print of Skinn being quoted as saying this at the time, or of subsequently verifying that it was true. Which is not to say that he might not have said it, or something similar to it, and indeed there is some hint towards this in later communication between Skinn and the legal representatives of Marvel UK, where he says, ‘Considerable expense was involved in securing and relaunching the 1950s and 1960s registered property,’ a particular statement that is actually backed up by Skinn himself, elsewhere.

When he was setting up Warrior, and actually had some people on board, he sent out a few internal memos [which are all to be found at the bottom of this post]. The first of these, dated the 24th of June, 1981, says, in referring to Marvelman, that ‘we’ve almost got the rights tied up…’ In the second memo, dated the 1st of August, 1981, he says:

Marvelman: Mick Anglo, creator/writer/sometime artist/all-time letterer of the original strip came up to the office last week. He gave the new version his blessing and was really pleased to hear that (as he did in the 1950s) a group of people are getting together to produce an alternative comic to the corporation products. He was reassuring us all no end, saying that it worked incredibly well in the 1950s, and he can see no reason why it shouldn’t work now. Mick is remarkably cued up on the current state of the industry, knowing the USA Warren approach and the Spanish & Italian album market. He’s totally behind us, offering any help or assistance he can.

Another internal document called Warrior Setting-up Costs – undated, but obviously from around the same time period – listed, amongst other costs,

Halberstam – Legal advice re Marvelman: £75.00
Woodham Smith – copyright information: £227.70

Obviously there were other issues relating to copyright at Warrior, besides those relating to Marvelman. After all, they were launching a magazine with all sorts of new rights being offered, and they would have needed legal advice for these, too. None the less, it’s still interesting to see these figures, and to speculate on what they might mean. After all, Woodham Smith, a now-defunct London legal firm, specialised in the field of Intellectual Property, so it seems likely that at least some of their advice had to be in relation to Marvelman.

Other elements of this version of events are actually close to the truth: L Miller and Co hadn’t gone bankrupt, but the company nevertheless no longer existed, so couldn’t own the copyright to Marvelman, and there didn’t seem to be any other clear owner, so, although it wasn’t being held by the Official Receiver, it was arguable that the rights were available for whoever wished to take them. Dez Skinn gave his version of events to George Khoury in Kimota! in 2001:

I knew the character was in the public domain, not because of the usual time lag after the end of the strip like when Stan [Lee] took Daredevil after the Lev Gleason run finished or anything like that. It was simply because the company had gone out of business and no longer owned anything. There wasn’t a copyright holder. It wasn’t a person; it was packaged – work-made-for-hire by L Miller and Son Limited through Mick Anglo Studios. Mick couldn’t claim copyright really, because he did the lettering and he gave the scripts – which were often photocopies of Captain Marvel comics – to the artist and said ‘Make this more English! Change the costume to Marvelman instead of Captain Marvel.’ The reason it felt close to Captain Marvel was because they were Captain Marvel stories.

Yeah, so nobody really owned it. There was no copyright holder.

Dez Skinn’s plan all along for Marvelman included republishing some of the old adventures from the 1950s as flashbacks, so he got in touch with Denis Gifford, the great British comics historian, to see what he could tell him about the status of Marvelman. Gifford directed him to Mick Anglo – who Skinn already knew of old – who Dez then talked to, to tell him that he wanted to use his old work, and to pay him for it. Anglo seemed to be the only person who still had an interest in the rights to the Marvelman, as shown by his copyright notice in Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties in 1977, but this doesn’t seem to have come up when he talked to Dez Skinn. Both of them have referred to their discussion at various times. Talking to Khoury in Kimota!, Skinn said,

I got in touch with Mick Anglo. I met with Mick and I said, ‘Look, I know you don’t own it but if we bring the character back and it’s popular… You have thousands of pages of material’ […] because it would be nice for an old guy like Mick Anglo if we could reprint stuff that he was involved in and pay him.

And this is Mick Anglo, again talking to George Khoury in Kimota!,

[Dez Skinn] contacted me and he wanted to revive [Marvelman] and I said go ahead and do what you like, as far as I was concerned.

Despite the number of times that Anglo could have stated that he thought he owned the rights to Marvelman, including the time that Skinn went to talk to him in 1982 about republishing it, or when George Khoury interviewed him in 2001 for Kimota!, I still haven’t been able to find an account of him having actually said so in plain unvarnished English, although he does claim to have created the character in a few different places, a claim which itself could be open to question. If anything, he tended to distance himself from the character, and from his history with it. Could it be that he had lost interest in it, only five years after publishing a book containing a page of art with a copyright notice newly added to it? Or that he believed that, despite his copyright notice in 1977, he actually had no rights to the character that would stand up to scrutiny? Or simply that he thought that it was hardly worth bothering over, as more comics magazines folded after a few issues than ever survived?

One thing I’m pretty sure about is that he wouldn’t have stood for Dez Skinn using Marvelman against his wishes, and that if he felt he owned the character, he would have made this clear. Mick Anglo had been the boss of his own studio – where he reputedly once threw one of his artists down the stairs when he was annoyed at him – and had been a boxer and a soldier, to boot. In 1982, even if he was sixty-six years old, he was unlikely to allow himself to be pushed around. It simply doesn’t make sense to me that he opposed Skinn, or even that he had any interest in Marvelman at that point, as he would definitely have made this known, so the only conclusion I can draw is that he had no interest in Marvelman in 1982, and wasn’t claiming it as his own at that time.

SA Detail 2
In the summer of 1981, when Dez Skinn started putting together his plan for Warrior, he had never heard of Alan Moore, as far as he knew, not remembering that he had given him work about a year and a half beforehand, doing a two-page Christmas gag feature called Scant Applause in The Frantic Winter Special (Marvel UK, 1979). By the middle of 1981 Moore was working as an illustrator on The Stars my Degradation in Sounds, as both writer and artist on Maxwell the Magic Cat in the Northants Post, and as a writer of various short one-off pieces in 2000 AD. He was certainly up and coming, but his name wasn’t on everyone’s lips back then, as it would be later. Alan Moore had said in the Society of Strip Illustration Newsletter in May 1981 that he wanted to write Marvelman, but there’s no way of knowing if Skinn would have seen that, or paid it any heed if he had, even though he planned to revise it – although this appears to mean that, by some huge coincidence, both Moore and Skinn, at pretty much exactly the same time, and unbeknownst to one another, wanted to see Marvelman revived, each for their own reasons. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely a coincidence, at that – Skinn was planning Warrior from early 1981, so it’s possible he was talking about the possibility of publishing Marvelman then, perhaps even to people like Steve Moore. It’s further possible that, in conversation, the two Moores had already discussed Marvelman, and that Steve Moore could have said to Alan Moore in early 1981 that there was a publisher interested in publishing something to do with the character, causing it to come to mind. The timing of it all is fascinating: Skinn was planning Warrior from about April, the interview with all the comics writers was in the SSI Journal dated May and, by the end of June, Skinn had produced the first internal newsletter for Warrior where he listed, amongst other titles,

‘Dream of Flying’ written by Alan Moore, drawn by Garry Leach. Set in 1981, England. The first episode builds up to re-introducing a hero who represents the (inevitable) super-hero content. And (gasp, shock) it turns out to be none other than Denis Gifford’s old pal, Marvelman. We’ve just about got the rights tied up…

Of course, it may simply have been that talk of the character was in the air, without anyone deliberately focusing on it, and that this caused both Moore and Skinn to think of it in terms of actually making a go of it, and that their apparently both fixing on it separately may simply have been both of them unconsciously responding to a raised interest in it in general. One way or the other, though, it’s unlikely that Moore’s announcing he wished to write Marvelman was made without him knowing that the possibility of that happening actually existed, it seems to me.

The supposition that Dez Skinn didn’t know of Alan Moore at the time, as he has claimed, is also open to scrutiny. Although he was new to comics writing, by 1981 he had already made enough of a name for himself for David Lloyd to include him in the list of ‘Five of the most respected and reputable strip writers in British comics’ that he sent his questions to, and David Lloyd would also go on to suggest Moore as the writer for the strip that would eventually end up as V for Vendetta. Meanwhile, Steve Moore, originally intended as Skinn’s anchor writer for Warrior, surely couldn’t have discussed the possibility of using Axel Pressbutton as a character with Skinn without mentioning the artist who had drawn the various strips he had appeared in. And, if Skinn was on the lookout for good British talent for his magazine, and particularly since he was very much involved with the British comics industry, how could he not have noticed this interesting new writer, although everybody else had? If nothing else, there just weren’t that many British comics, and it is likely that Skinn would have been familiar with all of them, and who was doing what. On the other hand, if Skinn had met Alan Moore, he’d definitely have remembered him, as there’s no way you would forget him. It may all just be Skinn wishing to play down how things happened at the time, for whatever reason.

In 1981, Dez Skinn had first offered the Marvelman strip to Steve Parkhouse, who wasn’t interested in it, and then to Steve Moore, who also passed on it, but who supposedly said that his friend Alan was dead keen to do it. Skinn was cautious about offering the strip to an unknown writer, but agreed to allow Moore to submit a proposal for the strip, initially unpaid, so that Skinn could see what he was intending to do with it, with the proviso that he wanted to use the 1950s material if possible, whether it be as a dream, a flashback, a what-if, or something else. Moore’s extremely detailed five-thousand-word proposal was a revelation, and Skinn knew he had found the writer he needed to revive Marvelman. Moore’s pitch is reprinted in its entirety in George Khoury’s Kimota! , so I’m only going to quote a few short passages from it here.

Briefly, what I’d like to do with Marvelman runs as follows… I’d like to make some very radical changes in the basic conceit to bring what was basically a silly-arsed strip into line with the nineteen eighties. At the same time, there are some elements of Marvelman which are obviously worth hanging onto… otherwise we wouldn’t be reviving it. What are these elements? Well, firstly there’s the obvious fact of his being a superhero. […] I know this’ll sound very pompous and ambitious but what I really want to attempt here is not just the definitive Marvelman, but the definitive superhero strip as well.

The second important element is that Marvelman is an old fifties superhero, so there’s a strong element of nostalgia. Nostalgia, if handled wrong, can prove to be nothing better than sloppy and mawkish crap. In my opinion, the central appeal of nostalgia is that all this stuff in the past has gone. It’s finished. We’ll never see it again… and this is where the incredible poignance of nostalgia really comes from. So, without deviating in fact from the naive and simplistic Marvelman of the fifties, I want to transplant it into a cruel and cynical eighties. The resultant tension will hopefully provide a real change and poignance.

The third point relates to both the ones above. The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. […] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.

So basically what I’m after is a spectacular nineteen fifties superhero in a blue costume who says a magic word and was given his power by a wise old wizard and who now operates in the nineteen eighties and who is totally scientifically credible!!!! Sounds tough, huh?

Towards the end of the pitch Moore says,

In the event of us not getting the rights to Marvelman then obviously I’ll have to rework all these notes. But possibly we could still do something featuring a pastiche character called Miracle Man who transformed himself with a cry of ‘Raelcun!’ or summat.

Talking about preparing to write Marvelman when interviewed by Eddie Stachelski in issue #5 of Fantasy Express in 1983, Moore said,

When I researched Marvelman, I tried to get right back to the roots of the superhuman and sort out exactly what made the idea tick. I read obvious things like the Greek and Norse legends again, I read a lot of science fiction stories that touched upon the superhero theme… things like [Olaf] Stapleton’s Odd John and Philip Wylie’s Gladiator. I even read a few comics.

There were other influences on Moore’s Marvelman, too. When I interviewed him in 20112, I asked him about the influence Robert Mayer’s Superfolks had on the character of Marvelman:

Well, I have read Superfolks. […] But it was by no means the only influence, or even a major influence upon me output. […] I can’t even remember when I read it. It would probably have been before I wrote Marvelman, and it would have had the same kind of influence upon me as the much earlier […] Brian Patten’s poem, ‘Where Are You Now, Batman?,’ which was in the 1960s Penguin Mersey Poets collection, The Mersey Sound, and that, which had an elegiac tone to it, which was talking about these former heroes in straitened circumstances, looking back to better days in the past, that had an influence. I’d still say that Harvey Kurtzman’s ‘Superduperman’ probably had the preliminary influence, but I do remember Superfolks and finding some bits of it in that same sort of vein. I also remember reading Joseph Torchia’s The Kryptonite Kid around that time. I found that quite moving. […] Like I say, it probably was one of a number of influences that may have had some influence upon the elegiac quality of Marvelman. I can’t remember any specific […] things that I might have been influenced by, other than that general post-modern elegiac feel.

In Lance Parkin’s The Pocket Essential Alan Moore (Pocket Essentials, 2001) Moore is quoted as saying,

[Superfolks was] a big influence Marvelman. By the time I did the last Superman stories I’d forgotten the Mayer book, although I may have it subconsciously in my mind, but it was certainly influential on Marvelman and the idea of placing superheroes in hard times and in a browbeaten real world.

According to Lance Parkin, the quote was actually taken from a handwritten annotation to the proof by Moore himself, after he read a draft of the book in manuscript form, one of only three such annotations, so at the time he certainly must have felt strongly that he wanted to acknowledge the debt Marvelman owed to Robert Mayer’s book.

[There’s more information about the influence of Robert Mayer’s Superfolks on Moore’s writing in these two articles, if you’re interested: Alan Moore and Superfolks Part 1: The Case for the Prosecution and Alan Moore and Superfolks Part 2: The Case for the Defence.]

Dez Skinn had originally offered the artwork on Marvelman to Dave Gibbons, who was too busy to take it on, and then considered offering it to Brian Bolland, but decided that, whereas Bolland’s work was extremely good, he was also very slow. Eventually, apparently on David Lloyd’s recommendation, Skinn asked Garry Leach, an artist unknown to him at the time, but who would also eventually end up as Warrior’s art director, a job he described as being much more glamorous in its title than its actuality. Leach had been working as an artist for 2000 AD since 1978, and had previously collaborated with Alan Moore on the short story They Sweep the Spaceways in issue #219 in July 1981, at the same time that Dez Skinn was starting to put his plans for Warrior in order.

The pieces were in place, and the stage was set for Marvelman to once again take his place in the forefront of British comics.

To Be Continued…

WARRIOR Update 1.1
WARRIOR Update 1.2
WARRIOR Update 2
Warrior Set-Up Costs
(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)

Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.

Poisoned Chalice Part 4: Intermission – 1963 to 1982

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 – Prehistory, 2 – Marvelman Rises, 3 – Marvelman Falls]

In the nineteen-year gap between L Miller and Co Ltd‘s publication of Marvelman #370 in 1963 and Dez Skinn’s Quality Communications Ltd revitalisation of the character in the pages of Warrior #1 in 1982, a number of the parties involved in the extended story of Marvelman continued to be active in their own fields, and some of the future participants were getting ready to take their place on the stage.

——————————————————————————————
Although L Miller and Co Ltd stopped publishing Marvelman titles in 1963, they did continue to publish other comics titles for about another year, although most of their business at this stage was in wholesaling and in distribution, for books, newspapers, and magazines, as well as comics. It seems that, by 1964, the Millers had finally given up publishing comics for good.

The Miller family received a major setback in 1966 when Leonard Miller, the company’s founder and namesake, died at the comparatively young age of sixty-seven. From that point on his wife, Florrie Miller, took over as managing director, although the company never produced any more comics, having in 1963 sold the asbestos printing plates for a lot of their comics to Alan Class Comics, another London based comics publisher, also specialising in American reprints. However, it seems likely that the Marvelman work was not included in this deal. The Millers found themselves with another setback in 1970 when they were prosecuted under the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955, for distributing certain American horror comics. The irony of this was that it was partially due to the Millers themselves, particularly Arnold Miller, that this act was brought into being in the first place.

During the 1950s, Britain reacted in much the same way that America had to the growing number of horror comics that were appearing on the shelves. In America it was particularly the work published by Bill Gaines’s EC Comics that had caused the concern, especially after Dr Fredric Wertham wrote his book Seduction of the Innocent (Rinehart & Company, 1954). Likewise, in Britain, various groups of concerned citizens, as well as other groups with more overt political agendas, like the Communist Party of Great Britain, started holding meetings and writing to the press and to politicians. Amongst the titles singled out for criticism in a letter written by George Pumphrey to the Times Educational Supplement, published on the 17th of September, 1954, were two that had been published by Arnold Miller’s ABC imprint. According to A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign by Martin Barker (Pluto Press, 1984),

In it, he drew attention to a ‘recent comic’ issued by the Arnold Book Company. Entitled Haunt of Fear, it ran to only one edition in Britain. This comic was the one most quoted in the entire British campaign, along with a related publication, Tales from the Crypt. (Indeed, when the Home Secretary strode to the dispatch box to introduce the Bill’s second reading on the 22nd February 1955, he borrowed a copy of the latter to carry with him.)

Both comics mentioned, Haunt of Fear #1 and Tales from the Crypt #2, were published by ABC in 1954, and mostly consisted of reprinted material from the EC Comics titles of the same names. Whilst in America the comics companies banded together to deal with the problem themselves, which they did by forming the Comics Magazine Association of America, and introducing the Comics Code Authority, whose Seal of Approval was to appear on nearly all comics for decades to follow, in Britain it quickly became specifically a political issue, leading to the drafting of legislation to deal with the perceived problem.

ArnoldBook_1955 from Times Online 2
[There’s a larger version here, if that’s too small to read.]
Arnold Miller’s Arnold Book Company was mentioned in an article on the front page of The Times for Friday, April 22nd, 1955, reporting on the second reading in the House of Lords of a proposed bill to do away with what were variously described as ‘debasing forms of literature’ and ‘abominable publications.’ It’s worth quoting bits of this:

Lord Mancroft, Under Secretary, Home Office, moved the second reading of the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Bill.

He said that at the request of Lord Jowitt he had put examples of horror comics, with which the bill was solely concerned, in the library of the House, and peers who had examined them would share his astonishment that anyone should want to read such boring, uninteresting nonsense. But their views were not shared by a large readership who were undoubtedly harmed by them.

[…] Earl Jowitt said that at one time six specimens of horror comics were placed in the library, but when he went there this morning, only three were left. (Loud laughter.) He had studied them and never in his life had he come across more disgraceful, discreditable, and abominable publications than those.

The names of the people responsible ought to be made public. One of the comics was printed by the Arnold Book Company of 2, Lower James Street, Piccadilly. […] He hoped that those persons were thoroughly ashamed of the publications they had issued. They were so thoroughly disgraceful that the House would be failing in its duty if it did not assist the Government to take steps to stop them.

The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1955 was passed into law on the 6th of May, 1955 with the core of the act being this,

This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying –

(a) the commission of crimes; or
(b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
(c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;

In such a way that the work as a whole would tend to incite or encourage to the commission of crimes or acts of violence or cruelty, or otherwise to corrupt, a child or young person into whose hands it might fall.

The act was originally due to run for only ten years, but it was renewed in 1965 and, to the very best of my knowledge, is still in effect today. There were various comic titles put forward to the Attorney General to be considered for prosecution as the years went by. However, in all those years, from 1955, when the law was first enacted, until now, there was only one case ever actually pursued under the act. This was in 1970, when L Miller and Co Ltd, along with a newspaper shop manager and a distributor, were successfully prosecuted for making a number of titles available to the public. According to Martin Barker in A Haunt of Fears,

Although various applications were made to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it is not clear when the first prosecution was made under the act. The Williams Report asserts that there were several successful prosecutions. However, it may be that the earliest was not until 1970, when L Miller and Co, the last survivor of the 1950s reprinters, was prosecuted at Tower Hamlets Magistrates Court for putting out a series of comics (part reprints from the 1950s, part newly and poorly drawn originals) called Tales from the Tomb, Weird, Tales of Voodoo, Horror Tales and Witches Tales. Because it was said to be the first prosecution under the 1955 act, Miller was fined only £25.

In the end, Florrie Miller paid the fine, and wrote to their supplier, World Wide Distributors in New York, telling them to stop supplying them with horror comics. The story of Marvelman and the Millers is full of odd and unique moments, and this story of their being partly responsible for the introduction of a piece of legislation that, fifteen years later, would involve them in the only prosecution taken under it, is as bizarre as any of them. (You’ll find a bigger version of that letter here.)

Although at the time of the prosecution in 1970 Arnold Miller was one of the company directors of L Miller and Co Ltd, according to the company’s headed paper – the others being Florrie Miller and Doreen Lewis, his mother and sister respectively – he had actually been pursuing an alternative career as a filmmaker since 1959, using his full name of Arnold Louis Miller. Perhaps uncoincidentally, 1959 was not only the year Arnold Miller started pursuing filmmaking professionally, but also the year that the company name changed from L Miller and Son Ltd to L Miller and Co (Hackney) Ltd, and there are certainly rumours of there having been a split between the senior Millers and their son around this time. His first film for distribution, River Pilot, which he produced in 1959, was a twenty-minute-long documentary, following a river pilot through a day’s work on the Thames. After River Pilot, though, his filmmaking took a different direction. He became involved in, for want of a better name, sexploitation film making, producing, directing and writing documentary films with names like Nudist Memories (1961), Take Off Your Clothes and Live (1963), and Primitive London (1965). By the middle of the sixties he had started to move away from documentaries into feature-length fiction filmmaking, although still with a strong sexual element, making comedies with titles like House of Hookers (1970) and Sex Farm (1973). He was also making horror films, like The Blood Beast Terror (1968). Perhaps the most famous film with which he was associated, though, was Witchfinder General (1968), starring Vincent Price, on which he was co-producer. He eventually decided that he wasn’t interested in directing actors and returned to making documentaries. His last film, The British Riviera, appeared in 1984.

By 1972, it seems that the remaining Millers decided that the L Miller & Co (Hackney) Ltd had run its course. Florrie Miller was over seventy years old, and Arnold’s time was taken up with his film work. Len Miller, who founded the company, was six years dead, and the prosecution in 1970 for importing horror comics must have been a shock to them all. It was time to call it a day, and they decided to put the company into voluntary liquidation. Steve Holland, in a post on his excellent Bear Alley blog in November 2006, said,

The decision was made at a meeting of directors on 21 June 1972 and the company was officially wound up on 24 September 1974. […] It was a decision made by the directors (Florrie Miller, Arnold Miller and Doreen Lewis), debts and wages were paid off and the company was shut down.

And that was that. By the end of 1974 L Miller and Co (Hackney) Ltd was no more. Its property was sold off, and the plates for most of its comics had already gone to Alan Class Comics over ten years previously, when the Millers had stopped publishing comics. However, there still remains the question of what happened to the small quantity of original work that Miller commissioned, and in particular the question of what became of the rights to the Marvelman properties.

One thing is certain, which is that they couldn’t have remained the property of L Miller and Co, as the company was now no longer in existence, so – obviously enough – couldn’t own anything. And in all the intervening years since the company closed down in 1974, nearly forty years ago now, it seems that nobody has come forward with any paperwork or other proof to show they had bought or otherwise gained the rights from the Millers before they finished up. So, what became of the rights to Marvelman? Did any of the Millers decided to keep the rights for themselves? Did the rights somehow revert to Fawcett Publications in America, as the characters were a direct copy and continuation of their Captain Marvel characters, quite possibly with their explicit knowledge and agreement? Were they simply abandoned? Or did the rights belong to Mick Anglo and his company, Mick Anglo Ltd, who claimed to have taken a major role in facilitating the transformation of Captain Marvel to Marvelman?

There is reason to suspect that Mick Anglo might have believed he was the rightful owner of the copyright on Marvelman. In the mid-seventies he wrote a book called Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties. The last chapter in the book was called The Age of Marvelman, and this was accompanied by a reproduction of a page from Young Marvelman #38. Along the edge of one panel on this page is written ‘Mick Anglo Ltd – ©’ in Anglo’s own handwriting. The thing is, this copyright notice doesn’t appear in the original issue when it appeared in 1954. There is a standard copyright notice on the inside front cover of that comic, as there was on all issues of Marvelman and Young Marvelman, saying ‘All stories and illustrations are the copyright of the publishers,’ that publisher being explicitly stated as Miller. There are rumours of the artwork in other issues of the Marvelman comics containing similar notices claiming copyright for Anglo, but I have only been able to find one example of these having existed at the time, despite a considerable amount of searching and enquiry on my part. Occasionally there was a signature in the artwork, but without the copyright notice. The cover of the 1958 Young Marvelman Annual, for example, has the words ‘Mick Anglo Ltd (London)’ written in small writing in the bottom right hand corner. So, why was Mick Anglo publishing a copyright claim on Young Marvelman in 1977 on behalf of his company?

One possibility is that he knew that the Millers had wound up their company, and that the Marvelman properties were without clear ownership at this time, and took the opportunity, whilst writing about Marvelman, to add a copyright notice to the page of artwork he was including in his book. At that time, fourteen years after any of the Marvelman characters had last been published, and five years before Dez Skinn would revive the character in the pages of Warrior, he may have been the only interested party who had any sort of possible claim on Marvelman. He had previously recycled some of the Marvelman material in the short lived Captain Miracle comic he published as Anglo Comics in 1960, which would seem to indicate that he felt, rightly or wrongly, that he had some sort of rights to the character, and it’s entirely possible he still felt strongly about this in 1977. Perhaps the fact that the Millers seem to have turned a blind eye to his re-using this material in 1960 shows that they either accepted he had some rights to the character, or that they were so unsure themselves of the legitimacy of their own copyright that they just let it go. Either way, however, adding a notice claiming copyright to a reproduction of previously published work probably doesn’t add up to actually owning that copyright, and of course it is always possible that he was only claiming copyright in the art, rather than in the character himself, although this kind of detailed subdivision of rights, whilst commonplace today, might not really have been prevalent at that time.

I don’t even know for sure when the copyright notice on the artwork was actually added, other than it must have been at some point between 1954, when the comic was published, and 1977, when Nostalgia was published, Although I’m inclined to think that it was more likely to be towards the latter year, rather than the former. And it’s worth bearing in mind that, when George Khoury asked Anglo about the ownership of Marvelman in 2001, he said, ‘I don’t know; that was Miller’s sort of thing’. If Anglo had wanted to claim the rights to the original Marvelman, this would have been the ideal time to have done so, with no other claimants in evidence, but he didn’t do so. His actions seem to show that he believed he owned some sort of rights, but he appears to never have unequivocally stated this in words.

So, who owned the copyright to Marvelman once L Miller and Co Ltd closed down? Was it Fawcett Publications, as the character was a copy of their Captain Marvel? Or perhaps Arnold Miller, who had been present throughout its heyday? Or Mick Anglo, who liked to tell the story of how he rescued the Millers from their dreadful crisis in 1953? Did DC have any claim, as Marvelman was a copy of Captain Marvel, who was a copy of their Superman character? Or was the copyright abandoned once the Millers closed down, leaving Marvelman in some sort of legal limbo, and therefore possibly in the public domain? Eventually, I’m going to attempt to answer some of these questions.

[The issue of the copyright notice on Young Marvelman #38 is covered in more detail in two posts on my own blog, if you’re interested: Marvelman Copyright: I Found My Smoking Gun and Marvelman Copyright: Same Comic, Different Gun.]

——————————————————————————————
On the other side of the Atlantic, DC had continued to aggressively protect its most famous and valuable asset, Superman. In June 1959>MLJ Publications, publishers of Archie Comics, trying to get on the bandwagon of the Silver Age revival of interest in superheroes, had published the first issue of a comic called The Double Life of Private Strong, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, which featured a character called Lancelot Strong, who fought crime under the name of The Shield. His father, a scientist called Dr Malcolm Fleming, had developed a method to create a superhuman by means of expanding the mind, a technique he used on his young son, Roger. After Roger’s father was killed by enemy agents, he was found and adopted by a farming couple called Strong, who raised his as their own son, and renamed him Lancelot. When he reached his teenage years, Lancelot discovered that he had unrealised super powers, like strength, flight, invulnerability, super vision, and so on. DC thought that this was all too similar to Superman’s origin and powers, and sent MLJ a Cease-and-Desist letter, and Private Strong never got beyond his second issue. However, it seems to me that the character’s origin owes at least as much to Philip Wylie’s Hugo Danner in Gladiator as it does to DC’s Superman.

MLJ had published an earlier character called The Shield in the 1940s, which was eventually licensed to DC for their Impact Comics line, which ran between 1991 and 1993. Earlier on, DC had in much the same way licensed Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. After Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel comics in the 1950s, they were left with a group of characters that they could no longer use, as part of the agreement they reached with DC stated that they would never publish those characters again. However, there was apparently no block on them licensing them to others, other than the fact that DC would go after whoever else published them, for the same reasons that they’d gone after Fawcett. Unless, of course, the company publishing them was DC themselves. And that’s exactly what happened in 1972. DC started publishing new Captain Marvel stories, starting in Shazam! #1, cover-dated February 1973. Although they might have originally preferred to have called the comic Captain Marvel, they couldn’t, as Marvel Comics had published a title with that name in May 1968, and held the trademark on the name Captain Marvel for a comic book. And it’s unlikely that DC would really have published a comic with a rival company’s name as part of its title.

Despite the fact that Marvel never had much commercial success with their Captain Marvel comic, they none the less are required to publish something under the title every few years, with various different Captain Marvel characters, as otherwise they would lose the rights to it, and they didn’t wish to lose the rights to a title which reflected the company’s name, regardless of how it sold. DC were left having to name their title Shazam! after Captain Marvel’s magic word, leading to some people thinking that it was actually the name of the character. At that time, as the copyright was still owned by Fawcett, DC were obliged to pay Fawcett for each individual use of Captain Marvel or any of the related characters, which may have gone some way to redressing the huge payout Fawcett had to give DC back in the early 1950s. Eventually, in 1991, DC bought the rights to the Captain Marvel characters in their entirety from Fawcett, and proceeded to attempt to fully integrate the characters into the DC comics universe. Despite all of this, Captain Marvel has never really found his place there, and his heyday in the 1940s has never been matched, nor is it likely to be.

Marvel Comics, in the meantime, were taking advantage of the fact that Philip Wylie’s Gladiator was out of copyright. In their quarterly black and white comic magazine Marvel Preview they ran the first half of an adaptation of the novel, under the name Man-God, in issue #9, published in the winter of 1976. Despite the note on the last page saying ‘If you’d like to learn the rest of Hugo Danner’s amazing story, let us know – soon!’ it appears that it failed to find favour with the public, as the second half was never published, and presumably sits in a drawer at Marvel to this day. The story is accompanied by an article called Supermen in Science Fiction by Don and Maggie Thompson, which mentions the supposed influence it had on the creation of Superman, although it does take the time to challenge the claim that Jerry Siegel had paraphrased dialogue for Superman from Gladiator.

——————————————————————————————
In the summer of 1965 an eleven-year-old Alan Moore was on holiday with his family at the Seashore Caravan Camp in North Denes in Great Yarmouth, a popular seaside holiday resort on the coast of Norfolk which the Moore family visited every year (as seen in this photo shamelessly lifted from George Khoury’s The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore – that’s Alan on the right, with his cousin Jim), and he was looking for something to read. The distribution of comics in the UK at that time was, to say the very least, haphazard. While there were certainly regular weekly titles from publishers like DC Thomson and Fleetway Publications that could be expected to turn up when they were due, there were also lots of other old comics and annuals that would turn up in shops pretty much at random. There were distributors, like Miller, for instance, with warehouses full of old comics – their own, those of other small British publishers, and those that they had imported – that would be sold in job lots to newsagents, particularly in seaside holiday spots like Great Yarmouth, where they’d get bought up by bored children on summer holidays looking for something to read on rainy days, instead of going to the beach. And this is exactly what happened.

This is how Moore described it to George Khoury in Kimota! In 2001,

I’d probably been about 11, and I’d gone on holiday to Yarmouth, which is a seaside resort in England, and I was looking for comics to spend my money on. Sometimes you get a different sort of comics turning up in a different town because the distribution system was much vaguer than it is now. I remember that there were a bunch of Marvelman annuals and for once there was nothing better to buy; I picked them up and I found them a lot more charming than I had remembered. There was something about them that I quite liked.

He hadn’t originally been a fan of Marvelman, however, as he says, again in Kimota!,

I think when I was around seven, which would have been 1960 – I’d have been six or seven – was when I saw my first American comics, when I saw my first The Flash and the first Superman/Batman comics that I used to pick up. It would have been around this time that I’d seen Marvelman. But Marvelman, even then, just seemed a flimsy imitation. These were sort of black & white flimsy, coloured, cheap little comics – although I didn’t know about Captain Marvel at the time, didn’t realize that Marvelman was a reinvention of Captain Marvel for copyright reasons. I think that I always kind of sensed that there was an inferiority to the product. I liked the idea of there being an actual British superhero, I just didn’t think that he was very good.

There’s a slightly different version of these events in an article called Miracleman: It’s a Miracle in Speakeasy #52 (ACME Press, 1985), in which Moore says,

In about 1966 I read some Marvelman album reprints and I knew a little bit about comics – I knew that Marvelman hadn’t been printed for about two or three years and that Marvelman had vanished… It occurred to me then ‘I wonder what Marvelman’s doing at the moment?’ three years after his book got cancelled. The image I had in my head was of an older Mickey Moran trying to remember the magic word that would change him back to Marvelman. If I had done it at the time, I would probably have done it as a Mad-style parody strip.

There was one other pivotal purchase at this time, as described once again in Kimota! ,

Around the same time I picked up one of the Ballantine reprints of Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad which has actually got the Superduperman story in it, and I remember being so knocked out by the Superduperman story that I immediately began thinking – I was 11, remember, so this would have been purely a comic strip for my own fun – but I thought I could do a parody story about Marvelman. This thing is fair game to my 11-year-old mind. I wanted to do a superhero parody story that was as funny as Superduperman but I thought it would be better if I did it about an English superhero. So I had this idea that it would be funny if Marvelman had forgotten his magic word. I think I might have even [done] a couple of drawings or Wally Wood-type parodies of Marvelman. And then I just completely forgot about the project.

Moore describes much the same version of events to Kurt Amacker in a September 2009 interview on Mania.com,

The origin of the [reinvented] character, as far as I was concerned, was, as a small boy I’d been visiting Yarmouth with my parents, which is a British seaside resort that we used to go to every year. And, I remember that the little seaside bookstores used to sell comics and books that would, presumably, have been on a different distribution circuit. And, sort of, you’d get titles turning up that you wouldn’t get at your newsagent and bookstores at home. I had picked up a copy of a Young Marvelman annual, which was a strange hard-covered thing that would be completely unfamiliar to an American audience. But, this was a collection of Young Marvelman and Marvelman strips by Mick Anglo. I also picked up a copy of one of the Ballantine paperbacks of Harvey Kurtzman’s brilliant Mad. It was the one that had Superduperman. Since I picked up these two things on the same day – and bearing in mind that I was 12 – it occurred to me that maybe I could do a brilliant parody like Superduperman, but of an English superhero. So, I started to imagine a kind of a parody of Marvelman, where he had forgotten his magic word. I don’t know where I was going to do this obviously derivative piece of work, and it never happened. But the idea did kind of lodge in my mind.

(The Mad reprint volume that Moore picked up was almost certainly The Mad Reader, originally published by Ballantine Books, New York, in 1954, and republished innumerable times since then. This is the volume that reprints Superduperman.)

The idea that had lodged in his mind was obviously still there some years later, when David Lloyd, who had recently taken over the running of the Society of Strip Illustration, a London-based organisation of British comics professionals, sent out a questionnaire to several British comics writers of the time, including Moore. The questions and answers were published in an article called From the Writers Viewpoint in Society of Strip Illustration Newsletter #40 in May 1981. The last question Lloyd asked was, ‘What ambitions do you have for ‘strips’ as a whole?’ At the end of a lengthy answer, Moore said,

Kimota 1.1

My greatest personal hope is that someone will revive Marvelman and I’ll get to write it. KIMOTA!!

His wish was about to come true.

To Be Continued…

(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)

Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.

Poisoned Chalice Part 3: Marvelman Falls

Poisoned Chalice Part 3:
Marvelman Falls

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1: Prehistory, 2: Marvelman Rises]

The actual work on the Marvelman titles was done by various artists, and Mick Anglo goes into quite a bit of detail about them and their different styles in Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties. The outstanding Marvelman artist amongst all of them, however, was undoubtedly Don Lawrence. There’s an interview with Lawrence, conducted by Peter Hansen, in George Khoury’s True Brit: A Celebration of the Great Comic Artists of the UK (TwoMorrows, 2004), where he recalls his time with Anglo’s Gower Street Studios:

Well, I had decided to do strip work after an ex-student had come back to the college to show off a page of cowboy artwork that he had done. So I went to see a man called Ted Holmes at Amalgamated Press who gave me a tryout, which I failed!! […] Anyway he paid me for the art and he said, ‘Well look, why don’t you try Mick Anglo,’ who was the bottom of the bottom, you know, you can’t get any lower than Mick Anglo. So I did and he paid me a pound a page for black-and-white and he gave me a tryout and he said okay, and that’s how I started. […] He just sort of said ‘off you go’ and he gave me a few scripts to start with, but after a while they dried up and I started writing my own stories.

In general, the creative process on the Marvelman stories seems to have been as described by Don Lawrence; a little editorial guidance at first, and then, as they got the hang of it, the artists were left more and more to create their own stories. Lawrence, again in True Brit, said,

I did everything except the lettering. I mean I pencilled in the word balloons and the lettering, but Mick would ink the lettering. We would agree on the story and I would write it out, then Mick would rub out my lettering and put something totally different in his own language when he got it back.

In 1954 Anglo created the character Captain Universe (‘The Super Marvel’) for Arnold Miller’s ABC imprint, who only appeared in two issues of his own title, Captain Universe. According to Frank Motler’s article The Miller’s Tale in From the Tomb #15 (Peter Normanton, January 2005),

Gower Studios launched Captain Universe (ABC), derived from Captain Marvel. After two issues, the title was scrapped following threats of legal action.

Possibly the source of the threats of legal action would have been Fawcett Comics, as it seems unlikely that Leonard Miller would have threatened legal action against his own son, relating to a comic being published by a subsidiary of his own company. I asked Frank Motler about this, and he told me he had based his information on this piece from the Don Lawrence website which appears to have been written with some haste, and has a number of simple factual errors,

Don started his career with drawing superheroes. In his case it was Marvelman, a comic based on Captain Martin [sic] and originally was called Captain Universe. But after the threat of a lawsuit, the editor changed the name in Marvelman.

It’s hard to tell whether there’s any truth in this, or whether it’s just a story inspired by misunderstanding various other parts of the Marvelman prehistory, but if there is, then it would seem to show that Fawcett in America had a good idea of what was going on over in England, and would prompt the question, why would they object to Captain Universe, but not to Marvelman, unless they already knew about Marvelman, and had given it their approval?

The Don Lawrence website also says,

Don Lawrence was one of the first artists working on Marvelman. Together with Norman Light and Denis Gifford he was involved with the creation of Britain’s first superhero. The comic was produced by the Gower Street Studio owned by the legendary Mick Anglo. The company L Miller and Son were the clients for whom comics like Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket were also produced.

Don is the creator of the spin-off Marvelman Family, which he had made up all by himself.

At one point in the article in Nostalgia, Anglo describes Lawrence as ‘the first of the Marvelman artists.’ However, once again, it’s very difficult to nail down the exact timing of these events for this crucial point in time. Don Lawrence studied art at the Borough Polytechnic in London from 1949 until 1954, and his Marvelman work was his first professional comics work, so it’s entirely possible he was working freelance for Mick Anglo before he quit art school to go professional, which would have Lawrence working for Anglo at least on a freelance basis in the critical period towards the end of 1953 when all this would have occurred. On the other hand, as I’ve pointed out before, Anglo’s memory is notoriously unreliable when it comes to fine detail, so it’s impossible for me to either confirm or deny what I’ve been told.

In the meantime, six months after the launch of Marvelman, Mick Anglo formed the company Mick Anglo Limited, which was registered on the 21st of August 1954, with a nominal opening capital of £100, not an inconsiderable sum in 1954, split into one hundred shares of £1 each, with ten of those shares being drawn down and allocated, nine to Mick Anglo, and the other one to his wife, Minnie. (The reason I can quote from the documents of Mick Anglo Limited in such detail is that the company is still in existence, meaning that Companies House in the UK still have records of them which, once again, I’ll be coming back to later on.)

Marvelman and Young Marvelman continued appearing weekly throughout the 1950s, and were eventually joined by a monthly The Marvelman Familytitle in late 1956, with issue #1 appearing in October (making it the only Marvelman title of that period to have an issue numbered one), which featured not only Marvelman and Young Marvelman, but also Kid Marvelman, who had made his debut in Marvelman #101 on July 20th, 1955. And Young Nastyman, more or less the equivalent of Captain Marvel’s nemesis, Black Adam, had made his first appearance in Young Marvelman #57, on September 18th, 1954.

A few years in, though, cracks began to show. Mick Anglo managed to lose his best artist in 1958, as Don Lawrence explains in True Brit:

Mick and I had a row about the quality of my last story for him and he said it wasn’t up to my usual standard. I said that my worst page on my worst day was better than anything else the other people he had working for him were producing, and he said, ‘You know that may be true, but I’m paying you for your best,’ so I quit.

By the time 1959 and 1960 rolled around, however, several things seemed to go astray more or less all at once. In the first half of 1959 Leonard Miller had changed the name of his company from L Miller and Son Ltd to L Miller and Co (Hackney) Ltd, perhaps reflecting a falling out between himself and his son, Arnold. Certainly Arnold Miller had managed to bring the company some bad publicity a few years previously, resulting in his Arnold Book Company being decried on the front page of The Times in 1955. It was also in 1959 that Arnold started to seriously pursue his subsequent career as a filmmaker. In November 1959 Miller ceased publication of The Marvelman Family at issue #30, just three years after it had started, presumably due to poor sales.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the British government finally lifted its restrictions on the importation of non-essential goods from the USA in late 1959, restrictions which had been imposed at the start of the Second World War, twenty years beforehand. This is what had led, amongst other things, to a ban on comics imports from the US, which caused the gap in the market that allowed the Millers and other like them to successfully exploit the reprint market in Britain for American comics. After the ban was lifted Thorpe & Porter immediately started distributing American-printed Marvel and DC comics in the UK, with the first American comics to appear being cover-dated November 1959, which would normally have been on sale in the US two months beforehand, in September 1959. Due to their being shipped by sea to the UK they actually appeared on the shelves there in January 1960.

There also appears to have been a falling out between Len Miller and Mick Anglo at about this time, as Anglo formed his own short-lived comic imprint called Anglo Comics, and published nine issues of a comic called Captain Miracle, whose eponymous title character was essentially the same as Marvelman, since it was redrawn strips from the Marvelman titles.

The result of all this was that Marvelman and Young Marvelman both changed from weekly to monthly schedules, beginning in both cases with issue #336, cover-dated 3rd February 1960. From this point on the majority of the material, if not indeed the entirety of it, was reprints of previously published material. Sales had slowed down on the Marvelman titles in general, and by the beginning of 1960 L Miller and Co Ltd only had a handful of titles left in print. The inevitable end wasn’t too long in coming, and both titles ended on issue #370, cover-dated February 1963. In The Origin of Marvelman Matthew H Gore postulated that there may have been another reason that Leonard Miller chose to stop publishing his Marvelman titles. He says,

Len Miller published his last issue of Marvelman in February 1963. He had been reprinting Atlas Comics for almost a decade including at least some of the superhero titles. Two issues of golden age Human Torch and two issues of golden age Captain America are known to exist, for example. By 1963, Miller’s bestsellers were filled with horror and fantasy stories from the old Atlas and emerging Marvel titles. It seems likely that Miller, who always had a strong profit motive, abandoned his Marvelman titles in order to placate the rising Marvel Comics with whom he maintained a reprint contract arrangement held over from Atlas days.

Sales of Marvelman and Young Marvelman had been declining for several years but they were not, in 1963, so low that Miller would normally have abandoned the title. Sales were, in fact, reportedly stronger for the Marvels than for a number of Miller’s other titles which were not cancelled in 1963.

Marvelman and Young Marvelman had been in reprints since 1960 and were costing Miller very little to produce. There certainly was no shortage of reprint material with over 300 issues of both titles having been produced before reprints began. Sales may have contributed to Miller dropping the Marvelman titles from his line, but it could not have been the only factor. America’s Marvel Comics almost certainly had to play a part in the decision.

It’s certainly tempting to want to believe that Marvel Comics were somehow involved in the affairs of Marvelman all the way back in 1963, but there really is no evidence to support it, I’m afraid. Although Miller had about thirty-five titles over the years either wholly reprinting titles, or at least containing some material from Atlas, the vast majority of their business with Atlas had been between 1954 and 1957, and by 1963 it was down to a trickle. And while Miller did reprint issues of Human Torch and Captain America, that was back in 1954, nearly ten years beforehand. Between 1960 and 1964 Miller was using very little material from Atlas, usually only occasional stories for some of their anthology titles like Voodoo and Zombie, rather than complete reprints of pre-existing American Atlas titles. There’s certainly no indication of any kind that they were taking more material from Atlas, or Marvel Comics, as it became in 1961, and I’m afraid there’s absolutely no truth in a statement like, ‘By 1963, Miller’s bestsellers were filled with horror and fantasy stories from the old Atlas and emerging Marvel titles.’ I can find no more than four different Miller titles that had Atlas material in them in that time period, and nothing indicates to me that they were trying to somehow court the rising Marvel Comics, particularly seeing as they never actually reprinted any of their output subsequently, or distributed their comics to the UK market, or indeed had any kind of business relationship with them beyond the minimal one they had had since 1950. As I said, it’s tempting to want to put Marvel Comics in the Marvelman story as early as 1963, but there’s absolutely no proof of any kind, despite my having looked quite extensively.

Marvelman and Young Marvelman had run for 346 issues each and, between the three Marvelman titles, there had been a total of 722 comics published in all. There had also been 19 annuals between 1954 and 1963, as well as at least three ‘Magic Ink’ colouring books during the mid-fifties. I believe there may have been other merchandise too, like costumes and games, but I’ve never actually seen any. They were probably the most successful comics to come out of that time. In a country whose comics’ readers generally didn’t have any time for superheroes, the Marvelman titles were a notable exception, and have the distinction of being the longest-running British superhero strips. It wouldn’t be until Alan Moore’s take on Captain Britain in July 1982, just after his own version of Marvelman first appeared, that the British would take another one to their hearts.

To Be Continued…

(You can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)

Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.

Poisoned Chalice Part 2: Marvelman Rises

Poisoned Chalice Part 2:
Marvelman – The Miller Years I

[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1: Prehistory]

If American comics can be said to have begun with the publication of Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics in 1933, their British equivalent began half a century earlier with Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, first published on May 3rd 1884. That first appearance of Ally Sloper was followed a half dozen years later in 1890 by two comics published by Amalgamated Press of London, Comic Cuts and Illustrated Chips. The first British comic aimed specifically at children was AP’s The Rainbow, which ran from 1912 until 1956. However, it was not until DC Thomson published The Dandy in December 1937, quickly followed by The Beano in July 1938, that British children’s comics really found their place, and the British comics landscape would be dominated right up to the present day by those two companies at opposite ends of Great Britain, DC Thomson in Dundee, and Amalgamated Press and its bewildering array of successors in London.

The Dandy and The Beano appeared in Britain at almost exactly the same time as Superman and Batman were first appearing in the US, and American comics began to make their way across the Atlantic soon after they were published. According to Matthew H Gore’s Comic Monologues Vol 1 No 1 – The Origin of Marvelman (Boardman Books, 2006),

Within a few months of the first ‘modern’ format comic books hitting American newsstands, they also appeared in Britain. Although there was no official distribution of [American] comic books, or any other periodicals for that matter, in Britain, large quantities did arrive on British shores nonetheless.

Most of them ended up in the hands of marketplace book and magazine dealers but some actually were distributed through the Woolworths discount chain. In Britain, the American 10¢ cover price was meaningless. American comics sold at Woolworths for two pence or roughly 6¢ at the 1939 exchange rate. For British children American comics were an exotic novelty. There was nothing even remotely like them on the British market even though some British comics began using American reprints as early as 1937.

Later on Gore says,

As awareness of ‘real’ American comics grew, so did the British demand for them. Both TV Boardman and Gerald G. Swan were quick to capitalise on the American publications, securing them from shipping companies and distributing to various sales outlets. The success of this venture was short lived, however. The start of World War II on September 3, 1939, put an end to the quasi-official import of American periodicals, even as ballast.

It was the British declaration of war on Germany in 1939 which provided the impetus for British comic companies to begin to publish their own American reprints, as it had the effect of immediately halting the importation of American comics into the United Kingdom to allow room for higher priority cargoes.

All the above hopefully relevant potted history of British comics, and general scene setting, finally brings me around to the future publisher of Marvelman, Leonard Miller.

Leonard Miller was born into a London Jewish family around the end of the nineteenth century, probably in 1899. Len worked as a street trader in the 1920s, and had his pitch in Whitechapel, where he sold, amongst other things, comics shipped over from America. Mick Anglo, in an interview in Alter Ego #87 (TwoMorrows, July 2009), recalls buying comics from Miller in his youth,

Len Miller, the boss, started out literally as a street trader by selling various small-time British publications and American import titles brought over as ballast on ships. He sold these from two humble canvas-topped stalls situated on the corner of Cambridge Road in Whitechapel, London, in the 1920s. Well, as a schoolboy, on Saturdays I used to buy from Len small serialized Western comics from the USA at 1d each […] I loved reading those old yarns and would go home, sit on my bed, and devour them!

Len Miller eventually became a wholesaler and distributor and, after Britain entered the Second World War in 1939, he became a publisher as well, publishing pretty much anything he could get his hands on, occasionally sourcing original work in the UK, but usually concentrating on reprints of material bought in from the USA. Although he’d been publishing virtually since the war broke out, it wasn’t until 1942 or 1943 that he finally legally formed the company L Miller and Son Ltd, along with his son, Arnold Louis Miller, then twenty one-years old. The company spent most of its working life in their warehouse at 342-344 Hackney Road, in Hackney in North London.

The earliest comic by Miller of which there is a record of is Tip Top Comics #1, cover-dated December 1940, a black and white reprint of material supplied by United Features Syndicate in the US. United Features continued to be their only source of American material until 1943, when they published an unnumbered issue of Wow Comics, the first title in what would be a long and fruitful relationship with Fawcett Comics of New York. From then on Miller’s greatest single source for reprinting American material was definitely Fawcett Publications, and it was the material they got from Fawcett’s comics division that became the cornerstone of Miller’s publishing business.

And, unsurprisingly, their most popular comic was Captain Marvel, along with its related titles. Actually, after their first reprint comic of Fawcett material, that unnumbered issue of Wow Comics in 1943, their next titles from Fawcett were all Captain Marvel related: Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, and Mary Marvel, all in 1944. Later on, in 1946, they would add The Marvel Family to this list. All these titles, much like the rest of the Millers’ output, were originally published sporadically, with no real consistency of numbering, all the way up until 1950, when they re-launched some of the titles on a monthly schedule. Miller had a habit of starting the numbering of some of his comics at #50, so Captain Marvel ran from #50 in 1950 to #84 in 1953, Captain Marvel Jr ran from #50 in 1950 to #85 in 1953, and The Marvel Family ran from #50 in 1949 to #89 in 1953. These titles were by all accounts hugely popular.

In 1953 the Millers decided to once again restart their Captain Marvel titles, this time on a weekly basis, and beginning at #1. On August 19th 1953 L Miller and Son Ltd published Captain Marvel #1 and Captain Marvel Jr #1. Within a few weeks, as mentioned at the end of the last chapter, they found themselves with a major problem on their hands, as they realised that their supply of original material from America was soon to be permanently cut off, due to Fawcett’s undertaking to no longer publish any of its Captain Marvel titles, a prohibition that presumably extended to their licensing of those titles overseas, in this case to the Millers in the UK.

I have to say, ever since I started looking into all this more closely, this particular situation has always puzzled me. The Millers had been doing business with Fawcett for ten years at this point, which was presumably profitable for both parties involved, and one would imagine that they would have built up a closeness over those years, or at the very least a strong and amicable business relationship. None the less, it certainly appears as if the Millers weren’t aware of Fawcett’s problems with DC until quite late. It had been at the end of August 1951 that Judge Learned Hand had stated that Captain Marvel was, after all, a copy of Superman, and in 1952 Fawcett had settled out of court with DC, which is when they undertook never to publish Captain Marvel again, and when the first of the Captain Marvel titles was closed down. Why did it take until late 1953, two years after Judge Hand’s judgement, for the Millers to learn of this? I know that the Atlantic was, metaphorically speaking, a lot wider in the early ‘fifties than it is now, but even so it strains credulity to think that Fawcett would not have mentioned to an old and valued customer that the most popular characters they both had were soon to be no more until well after this had come to pass.

Also, presumably the Millers didn’t just wake up one morning and change the schedule on the Captain Marvel titles from monthly to weekly, so there must surely have been a certain amount of time before the re-launch in the middle of August 1953 when they would have planned this, which surely should have involved them informing Fawcett in America that they were doing so, and talking about getting more material from Fawcett’s back catalogue – by this time, Captain Marvel and related characters had been running for a dozen years in at least nine different titles, so Miller could only have published a fraction of what was available – but this also appears not to have been the case. Indeed, it appears from all the available evidence that neither side spoke to the other, meaning that the Millers suddenly found themselves with a hugely popular group of comics that were very soon to have their contents irreversibly cut off. They certainly didn’t want to give up their most popular characters, and most valuable properties, but what could they do? What they did, apparently, was call Mick Anglo.

Mick Anglo was born Maurice Anglowitz in the Bow area of London’s East End. He claims he was born on the 14th of June, 1916, even though his birth certificate gives the date as the 19th of June. After school in the Central Foundation Grammar School in Cowper Street in Islington, Mick got a scholarship to the Sir John Cass Art School in Aldgate. He left school at eighteen and eventually got some freelance work drawing clothing designs for one of the London fashion houses. In 1939, at the age of twenty-three, he enlisted in the army at Oxford, becoming an infantryman in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and at one point found himself working as a cartographer at Earl Mountbatten’s headquarters in Sri Lanka. After he returned to civilian life Anglo went looking for work in comics, and the first company he worked for was Gerald G Swan, followed by work for a lot of others, including Paget Publications, for whom he drew Wonderman (not to be confused with the short lived American character Wonder Man, an early copy of Superman), and Martin & Reid, for whom he ended up working as an editor, and for whom he wrote a number of books, including thirteen ‘Johnny Dekker’ private eye novels with titles like Rods and Redheads and Gowns & Gunsels, for which he also drew the covers.

And it would have been around this time that Anglo would have first dealt with the Millers himself. In an interview with Roger Dicken in Alter Ego #87 (TwoMorrows, July 2009), Mick Anglo describes how he first came upon them:

As I recall, it was a still drab post-war Britain, and I’d been doing this, that, and the other to keep body and soul together. One day in the early 1950s, my next-door neighbour showed me a couple of bright American-style comics bearing the distinctive triangular logo L Miller and Son, an English company, with a 6d price on them, and he suggested I check them out for some further artistic work. I duly visited their warehouse headquarters in Hackney Road, London, and was fortunate to meet the son, one Arnold Miller, who, it turned out, had formed his own branch of the company to publish original British space comics, as the bulk of the lines up until then were American reprints, such as Captain Video. Anyway, he was raring to do a series under his own banner ABC (Arnold Book Company), and I was very interested, as you can imagine. I showed him some of my work I’d brought along, though what it was escapes me, and he was suitably impressed. It was then, during discussions, to my surprise I discovered that the boss, Arnold’s father Len, was in fact the same man who once sold me comics as a kid! […] After some in-depth discussions re could I create such-and-such and find other artists, etc, things started to buzz, and very soon I formed Mick Anglo Limited, and found myself searching for suitable premises for a studio. Eventually I located some rooms at the top of a rickety flight of stairs in an old building at 164 Gower Street, London NW1, long since demolished, which became the Gower Street Studios.

It certainly appears that Mick Anglo and Arnold Miller hit it off from the start. In the same interview he says, ‘Arnold Miller was an ex-Royal Air Force commando, a tough fellow but absolutely straight to deal with. I got on with him fine and we were good friends.’ And in The Age of Marvelman in Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties (Jupiter Books, 1977) he describes Arnold as ‘ex-RAF, physically tough, shrewd, scrupulously fair and honest in his dealings.’

Some of the dates for events Anglo mentions in the above quote don’t quite line up, however. In the Marvelman article in Nostalgia he says, ‘At the beginning of the fifties I had a studio in Gower Street, Euston,’ which is fine as far as it goes, although also maddeningly vague. However, documents from Companies House in London show that Mick Anglo Ltd wasn’t registered until the 21st of August 1954. Nonetheless, incorporated or not, Mick Anglo’s first work for L Miller and Son was Ace Malloy of the Special Squadron #50 in August 1952, published under the Arnold Book Company imprint, at which point Anglo was apparently already in his studio at Gower Street. Further work for the Millers followed, both for Arnold Book Company and for L Miller and Son Ltd itself, including titles like Space Comics (1953), starring Captain Vic Valiant of the Interplanetary Police Patrol, and, later on, Space Commander Kerry and Space Commando, both in 1954.

And all of that might explain why the Millers called Mick Anglo when they had their problem with Captain Marvel at the end of 1953, even though he’d only been working for them for a year, at that point. He was one of the only people in the UK running an American-style comics studio, and, at the age of thirty-seven, had a lot of experience in the field and a huge body of work behind him, both for the Millers themselves and for lots of other people besides. He recalls the events at the end of 1953 in his two main biographical sources, Nostalgia in 1977 and Alter Ego in 2009. Firstly, there’s Nostalgia, where he says,

Among Len Miller’s most successful series were the Captain Marvel titles, reprints of Fawcett’s of New York: Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, The Marvel Family, and Mary Marvel. One day Len phoned and said he wanted to see me urgently. Fawcett’s were involved in some legal trouble with Superman over Captain Marvel; an injunction had been slapped on them, and Len said it looked as if his supply of American material for Captain Marvel would be cut off. Had I any ideas

Meanwhile, this is what he had to say in Alter Ego:

One day in late 1953, I think, the Millers rang me to say, ‘Come over, Mick – urgent – very urgent!’ I went to the warehouse premises, and much consternation! Len was in a right old mood. It seemed that in the USA Fawcett had lost a court fight with Superman comics, etc, and could no longer market their Captain Marvel character; thus Miller, in turn, wouldn’t receive further supplies of the comic plates to print Captain Marvel. They held the license to reprint the comics in Britain, and he was one of their very lucrative lines. This created big problems! […] So boss Len needed a substitute real fast and could I come up with something?

Mick Anglo says that he went back to Gower Street and thought about it, and decided that what they needed to do was create a British copy of Captain Marvel to step into his shoes, and to carry on instead of him. The character Anglo suggested to take Captain Marvel’s place was virtually a carbon copy of him. The name Billy Batson was turned into Mickey Moran, with Moran becoming a young copy boy for the Daily Bugle newspaper, as opposed to Batson’s position as a reporter for Radio Whiz; the costume was changed from red to blue, and the cloak was done away with; the dark hair became blonde; the magic word SHAZAM!, given to Batson by the wizard Shazam, was replaced by the word KIMOTA! – a slightly altered back-spelling of the word ATOMIC – given to Moran by Astro-physicist Guntag Barghelt. All that was needed was a name. According to Derek Wilson’s article From SHAZAM! To KIMOTA! – The Sensational Story of England’s MARVELMAN – The Hero Who Would Become MIRACLEMAN, also in Alter Ego #87,

The first name change suggested – and most obvious one – was finally adopted […] although other names were seriously considered, including Miracleman and Captain Miracle, which were registered as possibilities.

That ‘first name change suggested’ was Marvelman.

In a lot of ways, though, Marvelman was more like Superman than Captain Marvel. Like Superman, his powers were science-based, rather than being magic-based, like Captain Marvel’s. Like Superman, he had his initials on his chest. And his name owed at least as much to Superman as it did to Captain Marvel, being a single word name with ‘-man’ at the end. Unlike either of his predecessors, however, Mickey Moran didn’t seem too obsessed with people seeing him change into his alter ego. Perhaps this was a difference caused by it being produced in Britain, rather than in America. After all, in America, a lot of people had a sort of duel identity of their own, being Irish, or Italian, or Jewish, or whatever their old identity was, as well as being their new American identity. And a lot of them were just like Superman, a stranger in a new land, so issues of identity would be more relevant – closer to the surface, perhaps – in the American psyche than they were ever likely to be in England.

Mick Anglo gives his version of the creation of Marvelman in various places. In Alter Ego he says,

I went back to Gower and […] I gave it considerable thought and eventually came up with the idea of a Brit clone. I worked out a storyline, and so it was that Micky Moran, a teenage copy boy at The Daily Bugle, becomes Marvelman by shouting the all-power-producing word KIMOTA which of course is ATOMIC spelt backwards, using K for a stronger sound.

In a short interview with George Khoury in Khoury’s excellent and invaluable Kimota! The Miracleman Companion (TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001), Anglo says this,

Yes, it was my creation except everything is based on somebody else. A bit of this and a bit of that. With Superman, he’s always wearing this fancy cloak with a big ‘S’ on his chest […] I did away with the cloak so that I didn’t have to draw the cloak, which was awkward to draw, and played with a gravity belt, and they could do anything without all these little gimmicks.

Presumably Anglo’s suggestion was approved by the Millers, so their next task was deciding how to handle the change over from Captain Marvel to Marvelman. In Nostalgia, he says,

In the last of the Marvel titles we announced that Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. were so well known as marvelmen that in future they would be known by the titles Marvelman and Young Marvelman and would each have a weekly comic of their own, and the Marvel Family would henceforth appear as the Marvelman Family in a monthly comic.

Bizarre as it may now seem, this is exactly how they did it. In Captain Marvel #19 and Captain Marvel Jr #19, both cover-dated December 23rd, 1953, there was an announcement to the readers, purportedly from Captain Marvel himself, that said that Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman were both going back to their lives as normal boys, but that they had found two replacements for themselves, called Marvelman and Marvelman Jr. This is what appeared:

Dear Boys and Girls,
I can hardly wait to tell you of the most startling and astounding news I’ve ever had the good fortune to announce. Seeing as how this is Christmas week, it has come at a most fitting time.

Holy Moley! I can almost hear you saying, get on with it or we’ll never know what it’s all about. Sorry, chums, it’s just that I’m a bit excited – but here it is.

Boys and girls, it is my great pleasure to introduce Marvelman – what, another of the Marvel family – well, yes, in a way, for you see Marvelman is going to step right into my shoes. He is to follow the Marvel tradition of finding and fighting evil wherever it exists.

Now I guess you’re all wondering where I fit into this; please allow me to explain. For an awful long time I’ve been worrying about Billy Batson. Billy, as you know is a grand boy, and I feel he is not being given a break. In other words, a chance to grow up. I went along to old Shazam and told him my worries, and between us we’ve decided to give Billy the chance to settle down. In order that this might be achieved, I shall soon be returning my powers to old Shazam and changing into the character of Billy Batson for the last time. This will give this grand lad a chance to develop into the type of citizen that I know you’ll grow into.

Naturally we couldn’t leave the door of the world wide open for evil – hence Marvelman of whom I feel you’re just busting to know more. What could be better than to ask him to say a few words to you. It’s all yours, Marvelman:

‘Well, this is great. I mean my being able to introduce myself even before my adventures are being read, and I sincerely trust that you will follow them as closely as you’ve followed Captain Marvel’s, especially as some of them take place right here in England. You can rely on me to fight evil wherever it exists. All for now, your new and true friend – Marvelman.’

Thank you, Marvelman. I’m certain that the boys and girls will be just itching to read your first comic which will be appearing shortly.

Well, that’s all for this week chums, except to say have a good Christmas and mind how you go with the pudding.

Your sincere pal,
Captain Marvel

For the following four issues, this message continued to be hammered home: Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr were going to be replaced by Marvelman and Young Marvelman (which Marvelman Jr was quickly changed to). There was a letter from the editor in issue #20 of both comics to that effect, and the names of the comics started to undergo a change as well, as they moved towards their new titles. Captain Marvel became The Captain Marvel Man and The Marvelman, Captain Marvel, whilst Captain Marvel Jr went through a similar transformation, with issue #23, for instance, bearing the title Captain Marvel Jr The Young Marvelman, and contains this letter from the editor:

Dear Boys and Girls,
The news that Captain Marvel Jr. is retiring and that his place is being filled by a new hero, namely YOUNG MARVELMAN, has spread far and wide. I’ve had letters from all over the British Isles, from Lands End to John o’ Groats. Outside this land of ours, letters have arrived from as far away as Malta, the Persian Gulf, and even India. Overnight my mail has swollen to gigantic proportions.

All of you are anxious to learn more about your new hero. What does he look like? How is he dressed? Does he use the same magic word as Captain Marvel Jr.? How old is he? Is he English or American? Can he fly? Is he strong? Will the new adventures be on sale every week? What is the new Club going to be like?

STOP! Steady on. Allow me to collect my thoughts. One at a time please.

Now then, let me see if I can possibly answer your enquiries. What does he look like? Well in the first place he’s very much like Freddy Freeman, about the same build and age, and just as loyal to his job. He works as a telegraph boy.

Like his predecessor his aim is to fight evil wherever it exists and to help those that are poor and weak. As soon as he encounters some wrongdoer he utters a magic word – No, not Captain Marvel, but another word just as powerful – that unfortunately must remain a secret until the comic is published. In an instant he is changed to the YOUNG MARVELMAN, and woe betide any criminal who happens to cross his path. YOUNG MARVELMAN, his steely blue eyes flashing, muscles rippling like a panther, is a match for any of them.

The Mightiest Boy in the Universe has fair hair. His build and strength are enormous. He fits his skin tight red costume, as if he were poured into it. Unlike our old hero, he doesn’t wear a cape, and on his chest is the insignia YM, which stand for, you guessed it, YOUNG MARVELMAN. He is able to fly like a bird faster than sound, and he also has the power to go forward or backward in time.

His strength and remarkable brain power are the envy of every criminal in the world, who are constantly trying to find a way to outwit him, and some come very close to doing it.

But I mustn’t tell you too much about this Universal Crime fighter, as you must read all about him yourself in the new weekly comic. Only then will you discover what a Pal you have in YOUNG MARVELMAN.

Your Sincere Friend,
The Editor

There were also fan clubs for both original characters run by the Millers, which were apparently hugely successful – Mick Anglo mentions a figure of six thousand members at one point – and these were simply transferred over automatically to their respective new characters on the 31st of January 1954.

The last issue of Captain Marvel, issue #24, was published by the Millers on the 27th of January, 1954, with plenty more urgings to its readers to remember to order their copies of Marvelman the following week. I imagine it must have been an anxious time for Len Miller, as well as for Mick Anglo, waiting to see if they’d done enough to persuade their readers to continue to pick up the titles when they had finished their transformation. Wednesday the 3rd of February 1954 must have been a tense day in Hackney Road and in Gower Street, as Marvelman #25 and Young Marvelman #25 appeared on the shelves of newsagents all over Britain (both titles had continued their numbering from the previous titles). The truly remarkable thing is, it worked. The children of Britain dutifully bought that first issue of Marvelman, and continued to do so for the next nine years. According to Anglo, writing in Nostalgia,

There was no hitch, no hiatus. The new titles were greeted with increased sales, and letters poured in from enthusiastic kids demanding a Marvelman Club.

And that, it seemed, was that. Marvelman had successfully launched from the ashes of Captain Marvel, without a hiccup. Sales were brisk, perhaps even better than before and, unbelievable as it may seem in these considerably more cynical times, the comic-buying public accepted the changeover without question.

To Be Continued…

(You can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)

Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.

Poisoned Chalice Part 1: From the Start of Superman to the End of Captain Marvel

Poisoned Chalice Part 1: From the Start of Superman to the End of Captain Marvel
[Previous chapters: Introduction]

Action Comics 1 Superman, co-created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, first appeared in Action Comics #1 in June 1938, published by Detective Comics Inc, a fore-runner of National Periodical Publications and DC Comics. Virtually overnight it became a huge seller, and is running to this day, with uninterrupted publication for well over seventy years. A vast amount has been written over the years on the history of Superman, and by people substantially more qualified than I, but one claim, that Superman was based on the character of Hugo Danner, from Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1930), has some relevance to the larger story of Marvelman and, although I decided that it might be too far back to start this series of articles, if you’re interested in reading what I have to say about it, you should go read this article, and then meet us back here.
[Read more…]

Geoff Johns to Conclude His Green Lantern Run with issue #20

After ten years working on the character, and reigniting one of DC’s struggling titles into one of their most popular franchises, Geoff Johns has announced that he will be leaving the world of Green Lantern with the giant-sized issue #20 in May.

[Read more…]

Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman – Introduction

poisoned chalice cover 20130208

 (Poisoned Chalice cover art by Michael Carroll)

[Editor’s note: The Beat is pleased to serialize this of work of comics history by Pádraig Ó Méalóid, a known expert on things Alan Moore, British comics, and SF. In Poisoned Chalice he wades in to one of the strangest and thorniest knots of all of comics: the history of Marvel/Miracleman and still unsolved question of who owns this character. It’s a story that touches on many of the most remarkable personalities in the comics industry—Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Todd McFarlane, Joe Quesada and more—and one of the most fascinating. It’s a sad fact about the comics medium that only in the last few decades have its most talented and passionate creators been able to present their work with a guarantee of equity and ownership; I feel that it is no coincidence that since this began, the medium has risen in popular and critical regard. The story of Marvelman touches on the darker places of comics history, springing from the prehistory where greed ruled the day; it’s a tangled tale that I have occasionally attempted to untie myself, but Pádraig is far better equipped to do so, as I think the following will show, bringing the research and attention to detail the story requires. It’s a piece of scholarship that I am proud to present. 

It’s my intention to serialize Poisoned Chalice over the next few months; but I would hope to see it published in a more complete form at some time. So with no further ado, let’s begin the story of Marvelman.]

Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman – Part 0: Introduction

By Walt Howarth The comic character Marvelman has a fascinating – and probably unique – history in the field of comics. His extended origin goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the American superhero comics industry, and it seems likely that his ongoing story will stretch on well into the future. It involves some of the biggest names in comics. It’s a story of good versus evil, of heroes and villains, and of any number of acts of plagiarism and casual breaches of copyright. [Read more…]