Following the recent announcement that Marvel Comics is teaming with Scholastic for a series of all-ages graphic novels, we’re taking a look back at some of the publisher’s earliest bookstore offerings. Read on for a history lesson of the many formats and titles Marvel released in the early days of the graphic novel.

In the early 1980s, both DC Comics (via Warner Books) and Marvel Comics (via Fireside and Pocket Books) realized that there was a market for comicbook books in both comic shops and the book trade. Both companies set up their own in-house publishing houses and began selling a handful of titles each year, featured in bespoke spinner racks for both B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks bookstore chains. (This is where I discovered most titles in 1984. Later, I would buy Life In Hell and Bloom County there as well, in the humor section.)

UPDATE: Ben, in the comments below, noted that there was a previous EAN prefix which predates these 100 titles: 978-0-9604146. As noted below, the prefix is listed among those held by Marvel Worldwide, Inc., but Books In Print does not list any titles under this early prefix. 

These ten titles were published from 1980-1982. By searching for mass-market editions of Marvel Super Specials, these titles fit in perfectly between the Pocket Books licensed editions and the following 100 below.

Of these ten titles, two are pop-up books, the rest are mass-market reprints similar to the full-color Pocket Books titles. Three titles of note:

  1. The Star Wars title (9780960414680) is a collection of stories only seen in the UK Star Wars Weekly comic. 
  2. For Your Eyes Only, the 68-page James Bond adaptation, was produced in one week, according to writer Larry Hama. 
  3. Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of The Incredible Hulk collects stories plotted by Harlan Ellison.

There are two unknown titles on this first list. My conjecture is that 978-0-9604146-1-1 was originally reserved for a repackaging of Marvel Super Special #17, Xanadu (unlikely, as it was a bomb and not even offered as a three-issue miniseries) or #18, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which did get a three-issue miniseries, as well as a 68-page comic (similar to an annual). Xanadu might be one of the rarest of the Super Specials, second only to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (It seems likely that Marvel stopped repackaging the Super Specials due to declining sales. After The Dark Crystal, only Return of the Jedi was repackaged. These Super Specials, being magazine sized, occupied a different niche in the newsstand ecosystem separate from the comics rack.)

9780960414666 is more unknown. There is not gap between Dragonslayer and Conan the Barbarian in the Super Special paperback reprints. Perhaps it was an anthology reprint, similar to the Spider-Man or Hulk editions?

Here is a listing of Marvel’s first 110 titles, as best as I can discover online. There are gaps, possibly due to a title which was scheduled but later cancelled, or which was never released into the booktrade system.

The books follow certain formats:

    • The “Marvel Graphic Novel” series were graphic albums, similar in size to magazines.
    • Marvel Illustrated Books were comic book stories reformatted into a mass market format. Some were Marvel Super Special movie tie-ins, reformatted. Sometimes in color, usually in black-and-white.
    • Briefly, Marvel tried pop-up books.
    • There were also many activity books. The best known are the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars titles, which were recently reprinted during the coloring book craze. Marvel also published tie-ins to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Heathcliff.

Of interest to collectors are the Big Looker Storybooks, which were picture books produced by Sol Brodsky’s staff, which included work by John Romita, Sr. and Marie Severin! Also of note is Berni Wrightson’s adaptation of Frankenstein, and a rare hardcover collection of Marvel team-up stories which appears to follow the series of anthologies published by Fireside Books.

I don’t know if these were successful, per se (most got reprinted later as graphic novels), but Marvel has kept publishing titles since then… Fireside keeps How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way in print, but that’s the rare title that’s stayed in print. I suspect even DC has retired the original edition of Watchmen, replacing that edition with the corrections from the Absolute Edition.

The cut-up paperback format/tradition goes back to at least the 1950s, with MAD Magazine. I don’t know the history of mass market paperbacks and comics… there were a few, like VIP and Dennis the Menace and Peanuts. Also the occasional anthology reprints of gag panels, by subject. The Berenstains did a series of original humor books. (Yes, the Bear couple.) The mass market format for comics vanishes around 2000, as trade editions (Garfield horizontal, Calvin and Hobbes square) become popular. Tor was still publishing a few DC titles in mass market editions, such as The Superman Story at the turn of the century.

Most of these early titles are curiosities. Either the original comics are easy to acquire, or Marvel has reprinted them more recently. If you’re a fan of the Smurfs, A-Team, Dungeons & Dragons, G.I. Joe, or Heathcliff, then you might be interested in the activity and storybooks.

Methodology: I did an initial search of the each ISBN prefix in Books In Print, then, using the progression, I calculated each unique EAN/ISBN and searched those via Google and WorldCat. 37 titles are unknown.


Marvel Comics    EAN prefix: 978-0-9604146
EANTitlenotes
9780960414604Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of star wars: the empire strikes backmass market; May 1980; Marvel Super Special #16
9780960414611
9780960414628Spider-man Pop-Up Book
9780960414635Stan Lee presents the Incredible Hulk : pop-up book
9780960414642Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of For your eyes only.Marvel Super Special #19
9780960414659Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Dragonslayer.Marvel Super Special #20, mass market; 1981
9780960414666
9780960414673Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Spider-Man : his greatest team-up battles.mass market
9780960414680Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Star wars.mass market; reprints UK stories
9780960414697Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of The Incredible Hulk.mass market; 1982
Marvel Comics    EAN prefix: 978-0-939766
EANTitlenotes
9780939766000Star Trek: The Further Adventures of the Starship Enterprise!Marvel Illustrated Books; 1982
9780939766017The Uncanny X-MenMarvel Illustrated Books
9780939766024Stan Lee presents the Fantastic FourMarvel Illustrated Books
9780939766031Spider-Man Pop-Up Book “The Schemer Strikes”
9780939766048The Amazing Spider-Man Pop-Up Book: Attack of the Tarantula
9780939766055Stan Lee Presents the Incredible Hulk Pop-Up Book, “Ringmaster and His Circus of Crime”
9780939766062Stan Lee Presents the Incredible Hulk Pop-Up-Book, “Trapped”
9780939766079Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Conan the barbarianMarvel Illustrated Books; repackaging of Marvel Super Special #21
9780939766086Stan Lee presents Captain America: Battles Baron BloodMarvel Illustrated Books
9780939766093Stan Lee presents The Avengers. The Origin Of The VisionMarvel Illustrated Books
9780939766109Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Blade runnerrepackaging of Marvel Super Special #22
9780939766116The Death of Captain MarvelMarvel Graphic Novel #1
9780939766123ElricMarvel Graphic Novel #2
9780939766130Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Spider-Man 2.Marvel Illustrated Books
9780939766147Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Star Wars 2: World of FireMarvel Illustrated Books
9780939766154DreadstarMarvel Graphic Novel #3
9780939766161His Master’s Voice In America. Ninety Years of Communications Pioneering and Progress:General Electric Co; First Edition edition (1991)
9780939766178Smurfs#1
9780939766185Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Daredevil, the man without fear!.Marvel Illustrated Books
9780939766192The Dark Crystal The Official Comics Adaptation of the Jim Henson Epic Fantasy Adventure FilmMarvel Super Special
9780939766208New MutantsMarvel Graphic Novel #4
9780939766215Star SlammersMarvel Graphic Novel #6
9780939766222X-Men: God Loves, Man KillsMarvel Graphic Novel #5
9780939766239The Dark Crystalrepackaging of Marvel Super Special #24
9780939766246Star Wars (Return of the Jedi)9780517551578 = RH Value Publishing?
9780939766253
9780939766260
9780939766277The Challenges of Krull : coloring and activity book
9780939766284The Puzzles of Krull : coloring and activity book
9780939766291Heathcliff at the circus : coloring book
9780939766307
9780939766314Heathcliff, #1 cat at the show : coloring and activity book
9780939766321Heathcliff our hero : coloring and activity book
9780939766338
9780939766345Crystar Crystal Warrior Coloring Book the Tournament
9780939766352
9780939766369
9780939766376
9780939766383Fantastic Four vs. the Frightful Four coloring book
9780939766390The alphabet pet battles the X-Men : a Marvel super activity book
9780939766406Marvel Super Heroes Super Activity Book
9780939766413
9780939766420
9780939766437
9780939766444
9780939766451
9780939766468
9780939766475
9780939766482G.I.Joe a Real American Hero: The Trojan Gambit
9780939766499Krull: The Storybook Based on the Film
9780939766505GI Joe: Operation DisappearanceA Mighty Marvel Storybook
9780939766512G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: The Spy Eye!A Mighty Marvel Storybook
9780939766529Heathcliff : the fish banditA Big Looker Storybook
9780939766536Heathcliff : the trickiest cat in townA Big Looker Storybook
9780939766543The amazing Spiderman : the big top mysteryA Big Looker Storybook
9780939766550The Fantastic Four : the island of dangerA Big Looker Storybook
9780939766567Crystar Crystal Warrior The Origin of CrystarA Mighty Marvel Storybook
9780939766574Crystar Crystal Warrior: To Capture the Magic CrystalA Mighty Marvel Storybook
9780939766581Stan Lee Presents the Marvel Comics Illustrated Version of Star Wars, Return of the Jedimass market paperback; repackaging of Marvel Super Special #27
9780939766598KillravenMarvel Graphic Novel #7
9780939766604Mighty Marvel Team-up Thrillershardcover
9780939766611
9780939766628
9780939766635
9780939766642
9780939766659
9780939766666Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book: The Crown of Rulership
9780939766673
9780939766680Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Activity Book: The Rescue of Ringlerun
9780939766697The forest of enchantmentAdvanced Dungeons & Dragons storybook
9780939766703The Treasure of timeAdvanced Dungeons & Dragons storybook
9780939766710
9780939766727
9780939766734Heathcliff Coloring Book: The Haunted House
9780939766741
9780939766758FrankensteinBerni Wrightson
9780939766765Official Marvel Comics Try-out Book
9780939766772Super BoxersMarvel Graphic Novel #8
9780939766789The A-Team Storybook: Comics Illustrated
9780939766796
9780939766802
9780939766819FuturiansMarvel Graphic Novel #9
9780939766826HeartburstMarvel Graphic Novel #10
9780939766833
9780939766840The Marvel Super Heroes’ Christmas Coloring Book
9780939766857
9780939766864
9780939766871
9780939766888
9780939766895
9780939766901The Amazing Spider-Man and Wolverine in The crime of the centuriesSecret Wars; Coloring Activity Book
9780939766918
9780939766925
9780939766932Spiderman’s Stamp Fun (Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars)
9780939766949Marvel super heroes secret wars : the secret of Spider-Man’s shield!Sticker Adventures
9780939766956Marvel Super Heroes Sticker Adventures Secret Wars The Tower of Doom!Sticker Adventures
9780939766963X-Men Legends: The Dark Phoenix Saga#2
9780939766970The power of Iron Man#3
9780939766987
9780939766994

7 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting. I went to my bookshelf where I have a copy of Star Wars: Four New Adventures in Full Color, reprinting four issues from the Marvel series at the time. It has a first edition copyright date of November 1981, which seems to predate this list. But comparing it to the copy of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi which is on this list, it has a higher catalogue number (02726) and ISBN (0-9604146-8-1), which would seem to indicate it post-dates these first 100 entries. And the Stan Lee presents: The Fantastic Four would seem to be a reprint of the Pocket Books paperback reformatting of the first six issues with a copyright date of November 1977 (ISBN 0-671-81445-1). I have a first six issues of Spider-Man from the same series (ISBN 0-671-81443-5) with a copyright date of two months earlier.

  2. Is there any way to confirm that there was a HC of Marvel Team Up Thrillers? I’ve never seen one and I’ve been searching all things Marvel/Fireside For 30 years.

  3. The Lancer books were my introduction to Daredevil, Spidey and the FF as a kid. Only later, when I read the actual comics, did I realize how many pages were dropped for those paperbacks.

  4. Tim, sometimes, books are announced, but then cancelled.
    Given that these titles are 40 years old, I don’t have a good way of verifying the information.
    I will ask editors from that era what they recollect.

    Ben, I searched Books In Print for that specific ISBN (0-9604146-8-1) and found no exact hit. The prefix (0-9604146) also did not return any hits. That prefix is small, allowing for only ten titles (0-9).

    BIP’s listing for “Marvel Worldwide, Incorporated” (the current corporate name) does list that prefix.

    I searched for Marvel Super Special reprints before “The Empire Strikes Back”. #15 was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, and that mass market is part of the Marvel Pocket line (ISBN: 0-671-83563-7).

    Sadly, #17, the adaptation of “Xanadu” was not reprinted, full stop. No mass market, no three-issue comic book series. #18, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was reprinted as a 68-page comic, similar to an annual, as well as the three-issue miniseries.

    Since it is only ten books, I will post an update above.

    Thanks for tip, Ben!

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