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:
- The Star Wars title (9780960414680) is a collection of stories only seen in the UK Star Wars Weekly comic.
- For Your Eyes Only, the 68-page James Bond adaptation, was produced in one week, according to writer Larry Hama.
- 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|
|9780960414604||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of star wars: the empire strikes back||mass market; May 1980; Marvel Super Special #16|
|9780960414628||Spider-man Pop-Up Book|
|9780960414635||Stan Lee presents the Incredible Hulk : pop-up book|
|9780960414642||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of For your eyes only.||Marvel Super Special #19|
|9780960414659||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Dragonslayer.||Marvel Super Special #20, mass market; 1981|
|9780960414673||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Spider-Man : his greatest team-up battles.||mass market|
|9780960414680||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Star wars.||mass market; reprints UK stories|
|9780960414697||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of The Incredible Hulk.||mass market; 1982|
|Marvel Comics EAN prefix: 978-0-939766|
|9780939766000||Star Trek: The Further Adventures of the Starship Enterprise!||Marvel Illustrated Books; 1982|
|9780939766017||The Uncanny X-Men||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766024||Stan Lee presents the Fantastic Four||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766031||Spider-Man Pop-Up Book “The Schemer Strikes”|
|9780939766048||The Amazing Spider-Man Pop-Up Book: Attack of the Tarantula|
|9780939766055||Stan Lee Presents the Incredible Hulk Pop-Up Book, “Ringmaster and His Circus of Crime”|
|9780939766062||Stan Lee Presents the Incredible Hulk Pop-Up-Book, “Trapped”|
|9780939766079||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Conan the barbarian||Marvel Illustrated Books; repackaging of Marvel Super Special #21|
|9780939766086||Stan Lee presents Captain America: Battles Baron Blood||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766093||Stan Lee presents The Avengers. The Origin Of The Vision||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766109||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Blade runner||repackaging of Marvel Super Special #22|
|9780939766116||The Death of Captain Marvel||Marvel Graphic Novel #1|
|9780939766123||Elric||Marvel Graphic Novel #2|
|9780939766130||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Spider-Man 2.||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766147||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Star Wars 2: World of Fire||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766154||Dreadstar||Marvel Graphic Novel #3|
|9780939766161||His Master’s Voice In America. Ninety Years of Communications Pioneering and Progress:||General Electric Co; First Edition edition (1991)|
|9780939766185||Stan Lee presents the Marvel Comics illustrated version of Daredevil, the man without fear!.||Marvel Illustrated Books|
|9780939766192||The Dark Crystal The Official Comics Adaptation of the Jim Henson Epic Fantasy Adventure Film||Marvel Super Special|
|9780939766208||New Mutants||Marvel Graphic Novel #4|
|9780939766215||Star Slammers||Marvel Graphic Novel #6|
|9780939766222||X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills||Marvel Graphic Novel #5|
|9780939766239||The Dark Crystal||repackaging of Marvel Super Special #24|
|9780939766246||Star Wars (Return of the Jedi)||9780517551578 = RH Value Publishing?|
|9780939766277||The Challenges of Krull : coloring and activity book|
|9780939766284||The Puzzles of Krull : coloring and activity book|
|9780939766291||Heathcliff at the circus : coloring book|
|9780939766314||Heathcliff, #1 cat at the show : coloring and activity book|
|9780939766321||Heathcliff our hero : coloring and activity book|
|9780939766345||Crystar Crystal Warrior Coloring Book the Tournament|
|9780939766383||Fantastic Four vs. the Frightful Four coloring book|
|9780939766390||The alphabet pet battles the X-Men : a Marvel super activity book|
|9780939766406||Marvel Super Heroes Super Activity Book|
|9780939766482||G.I.Joe a Real American Hero: The Trojan Gambit|
|9780939766499||Krull: The Storybook Based on the Film|
|9780939766505||GI Joe: Operation Disappearance||A Mighty Marvel Storybook|
|9780939766512||G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: The Spy Eye!||A Mighty Marvel Storybook|
|9780939766529||Heathcliff : the fish bandit||A Big Looker Storybook|
|9780939766536||Heathcliff : the trickiest cat in town||A Big Looker Storybook|
|9780939766543||The amazing Spiderman : the big top mystery||A Big Looker Storybook|
|9780939766550||The Fantastic Four : the island of danger||A Big Looker Storybook|
|9780939766567||Crystar Crystal Warrior The Origin of Crystar||A Mighty Marvel Storybook|
|9780939766574||Crystar Crystal Warrior: To Capture the Magic Crystal||A Mighty Marvel Storybook|
|9780939766581||Stan Lee Presents the Marvel Comics Illustrated Version of Star Wars, Return of the Jedi||mass market paperback; repackaging of Marvel Super Special #27|
|9780939766598||Killraven||Marvel Graphic Novel #7|
|9780939766604||Mighty Marvel Team-up Thrillers||hardcover|
|9780939766666||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book: The Crown of Rulership|
|9780939766680||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Activity Book: The Rescue of Ringlerun|
|9780939766697||The forest of enchantment||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons storybook|
|9780939766703||The Treasure of time||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons storybook|
|9780939766734||Heathcliff Coloring Book: The Haunted House|
|9780939766765||Official Marvel Comics Try-out Book|
|9780939766772||Super Boxers||Marvel Graphic Novel #8|
|9780939766789||The A-Team Storybook: Comics Illustrated|
|9780939766819||Futurians||Marvel Graphic Novel #9|
|9780939766826||Heartburst||Marvel Graphic Novel #10|
|9780939766840||The Marvel Super Heroes’ Christmas Coloring Book|
|9780939766901||The Amazing Spider-Man and Wolverine in The crime of the centuries||Secret Wars; Coloring Activity Book|
|9780939766932||Spiderman’s Stamp Fun (Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars)|
|9780939766949||Marvel super heroes secret wars : the secret of Spider-Man’s shield!||Sticker Adventures|
|9780939766956||Marvel Super Heroes Sticker Adventures Secret Wars The Tower of Doom!||Sticker Adventures|
|9780939766963||X-Men Legends: The Dark Phoenix Saga||#2|
|9780939766970||The power of Iron Man||#3|
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.
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.
Jim Starlin’s “Death of Captain Marvel” (1982) was the first original Marvel graphic novel I remember.
In terms of the re-formatted mass paperback reprints, Marvel’s first foray into that type of publication was with the Lancer books from the 1960’s.
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.
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!
Tim, I found the EAN listed on WorldCat.
The Library of Congress lists it as a paperback.
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