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.
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.)
[There’s a larger version here, if that’s too small to read.]
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.
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?
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.)
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.)