Friday, January 15, 2016

The Making of The Essential Marvel Age Companion, 1961-1977

I have always been reluctant to write about my own book as it seems too self-promoting.  However, at the same time people need to know what’s inside and I wanted to share the story of how it was made.  I have included here many page scans, including the Table of Contents!!  It's been fifty years in the making and it was written in real time, with the real, original comics as they were released.  The book is a PDF that is made into two versions, and you may choose either one or both.  By making the book a PDF I did not have to limit its size - this is 1,250 pages!  It also contains a ton of audio-video material, including interviews, music, animation and more.  I also made a version for Ipads and such which does not have AV material.  

Coming Soon!

There are also over a thousand scans, ALL from the original comics!!!!!

I was proud, fifteen years ago, to have done all this work by myself and produce a very good book.  It’s now a great book, not just good.  What made it go from good to great?  Nicholas Caputo, Michael J. Vassallo and Marcus Mueller.  At one time total strangers, they saw what I was doing and helped, contributed, and put up with me for so long.  Marcus Muller runs the  Unofficial Handbook of Marvel's Creators. I think I saw a way I could help his site and after we started an email friendship, he saw ways to help my book and put in a lot of time with suggestions.  Even now he keeps me updated.

 None of this would have happened if it weren’t for one terrific guy:  TonyIsabella.  When wondering if I should put this all together, I reached out to several famous people in the comic book industry.  Tony was the only one to respond, and respond he did!!!  He spent a lot of time helping me with the book, giving me insight into the industry and, frankly, giving me a lot of copy that I used.  Not only did Tony encourage me to reach out to others, he told me where to find them.  My biggest compliment was when Tony called me “his brother from another mother!!!”  This book would not be here if it wasn’t for him..

I am NOT a typist.  So no comments about the cross-outs when I show you the decades-old index cards!!!!   I had hoped that I would “sell” this idea to a publisher and have them retype this - in the old days before computers and word processors that is how it worked!!!  I didn’t know any publishers then or now, but Tony convinced me to continue (thank God) - I just didn’t know how to proceed.

The Synder/Ditko Effect

Even before I became friends with Robin Snyder, he and Steve Ditko had a profound effect on my life!  Really!!  You see, Robin had been a writer and editor for comics and Steve Ditko was always a creative genius.  Robin publishes a wonderful periodical, “The Comics”, which features great material by comic creators and fans.  He also works with Mr. Ditko to produce great and different publications featuring Mr. Ditko’s words, pictures and stories.  And how do they do this”  THEY SELF PUBLISH!!!!!!!!  Emulating them, that's what I was going to do.  My only problem is that Steve Ditko had an abundance of talent, and I had none - but I did have a computer and Adobe Creative Suite!!! 

Introducing: Jack Kirby

The first comic book I ever read was World’s Finest, #102, “The Caveman from Krypton!”  Ironically, I read it the week that George Reeves died, in June of 1959.  I really enjoyed it.  Once, when I had the measles or something, my mother brought “Challengers of the Unknown” #8 home for me to read.  I loved the story, the art and the concept - “they were living on borrowed time.”  I had no idea who Jack Kirby was as DC did not list credits, but it was love at first sight.  The next issues of Challengers were NOT so challenging and it would take me a couple of years to find that excitement again.  Ironically, it would also be about four people, like the Challengers, having their lives changed after a rocket ride.

For me The Marvel Age of Comics starts with Amazing Adventures #1, a few months before the first Fantastic Four.  I was slowly drawn away from the other brands.  While I can say it was the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men etc., I began to learn early on it was Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Heck and a relatively few others.  I was lucky.  My Aunt Gussie owned a candy store and I got to read every comic that came out!!!!  But I kept the Marvels, often buying them at my local candy store.

Marvels were re-readable so I kept them.  Well, most of them.  I did trade away some early Ant-Man (Tales to Astonish) and Human Torch mags (Strange Tales).  This was an era where older comics cost LESS than new ones and new ones were 12 cents!!!   As Marvel developed their continuity and started printing more and more two parters, I wanted to keep all their comics for re-reading in batches. 

To keep track of them, I started typing on index cards which comics I had, with titles and dates, summaries of the plot and full credits as listed.  For the first few years, credits were NOT fully listed and I added them later as they became known.  Marvel was interconnected, so I put on the index card what other titles and issues that story was connected, or linked to.  Every month I read the comics as they came out and then, on the last Sunday of the month, I re-read them and typed up the index cards.  I did start to buy the reprint comics, mostly to get the Ant-Man and Human Torch stories I had foolishly traded away.  But, one day I took a batch of “other comics” to Robert Bell’s Comic Store in Sunnyside, Queens, and traded them for the ten comics I bartered away!!

Here are a few of my original index cards, with my original notes.  Each one was written as the comics came out.  Look below to see what they were morphed into when I show the actual pages from the book.

Marvel would often alter the contents of a comic and even its title.  As Marvel turned to super-heroes, Tales of Suspense featured just Iron Man and, later, the Watcher, who was eventually dropped and replaced with Captain America.  Then the magazine changed its name to “Captain America.”  So each title actually had its own history and I wanted to keep track of that too!  So on the index card dividers I would keep track of the history of each title, listing the series, name changes and anything else that cropped up.

The cards were a good starting point and I added so much more information as I re-read the comics.  When I designed and composed my book, all those mentioned elements and cards “morphed” into these pages.  Since the cards were written in absolute chronological order as the comics were actually being published, there was no hint of the future or even next month, so they were a very good guide. For example, who knew that the Black Panther or the Silver Surfer would be major characters?  Or that Wyatt Wingfoot would fade into obscurity. 

I wanted to keep a log of where the villains and heroes appeared, as  Marvel had their title heroes guest-starring all over the place and I wanted to keep a record of that.  But Marvel, different from DC at the time, also “shared” its villains, so Dr. Doom would appear in both the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, as would the Sandman.

But there is a bit more.  Marvel’s villains were often connected and more than that.  That is, the Pharaoh from Fantastic Four #18 may have been Kang, who may have been Dr. Doom, all masters of time travel.  So I wanted to connect all that.  I didn’t have a name for it then, but I typed up a second batch of index cards, these ones in blue, which I now call “the Character Map.”  (This is actually a pun.  This is also the name of a Windows font app.)  It lists the major characters and all their appearances in real time (not Marvel time) in chronological order.

My private life took a bad turn and I had a long stay in hospital.  Partially out of boredom, I wrote Stan a fan letter and a silly poem, “The Rime of the Sub-Mariner.”  The next thing I knew, I got a letter back (which I still have) and huge stack of comics to read.  It was sent by him and Fabulous Flo Steinberg.  Wow, it was just what I needed.

I also had as reading material, Jules Feiffer’s “The Great Comic Book Heroes”, a wonderful book which, at that time, was about the comics of a forgotten era.  I didn’t want this Marvel Age forgotten, so I thought I'd covert my notes into a book.  Not knowing that reprints would be so important to the company, I even fantasied that my book would contain many Marvel stories.

At the time that the Marvel Age had thirteen series in just ten comics each month, I thought I would write an introduction explaining the characters and their place in the Marvel Universe. (M.U.)  But that Universe greatly expanded and I found that the introductions became rather repetitive.  For example, a lot of what needed to be said about Sgt. Fury also needed to be explained in Captain Savage and Combat Kelly.  So I began to write chapters at the front of the  book and greatly shortened the introductions.

Table of Contents

The book starts off with a history chapter, but it’s real sub-title is “Or what you really need to know to get the most out of this book!”  And it emphasizes the contributions and importance of Lee, Kirby and Ditko.  This leads into a GREAT illustrated chronology of Marvel, from 1900 to 1975, written by Mike Vassallo, Nick Caputo and me.  Broken down by years, it is about 130 pages, containing a grid from each year, starting in 1939 and listing every Marvel comic published.  It mentions not just the business and behind the scenes material, but what was going on in the actual comics at the time.

It is followed by many essays on the rise of Marvel, the creation of the M.U. and, yes, even the decline of Marvel in the mid 1970s.  After all the Marvel Age does end.

While the Marvel Universe was created by Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Heck and Ayers, it was completed by Jim Steranko, who took them out of the cold war.  That is one of my favorite pieces here.  In fact, Steranko wrote me to say, “Your overview of the genre is spectacular--and elevates Marvel history to areas that have not yet been defined by so many others.  Congratulations, amigo!”

Many creators contributed to pieces about them:  Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella, Jim Steranko, Dick Ayers, Rich Buckler, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Joe Sinnott, Marv Wolfman, Julius Schwartz, Carmine Infantino, Arnold Drake, and Tom Palmer.

The comic book listings begin with a list of ALL the comics and the artist who drew EVERY COVER.  This was done mostly by Nick Caputo, aided and abetted by Marcus Mueller, who also helped me with several inside credits (as well as the layout of the book).  There is also a similar section for the Magazines!!!

In the same section, next to each issue I have the actual projected delivery date to the news stand.  But wait!!!!!

It often took up to ten days for a local delivery service to get all the comics out.  I lived in Queens and my dealers got deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while a few miles away the dealers got deliveries on Monday and Wednesday.  However, Manhattan dealers got theirs a full week earlier!  This was true throughout the country, so the date represents the LAST day the comics should be out, not the first.  Things changed in the mid 1970s when Comic Stores opened and got direct deliveries;  no distributor was used, but newsstands were still getting comics from distributors.  There was now a two week window and the due dates were incorporated into the beginning of the month.
Not only is there a list of the Comics of the Marvel Age, complete with a chart of name changes, here is the first page of the Series of Marvel, where their characters started out....and where they often ended up!
Of course, the most important part of the book is the listing of every comic and every story from that era.  See how the pages use the information from the cards shown above, but expand on it!!!

Notice how Captain Marvel's introduction has information from the Index Dividers!

Throughout the book I reference earlier material that influenced the current comic. Here we see a panel from the original Combat Kelly.

Many Marvel comics had two features in one comic!!!!

Character Map

I have combined 1 1/4 pages here to show the Character Map

Speaking of Characters, there is a credit section that lists the creators: Editors, Writers, Artists, Inkers, Letterers and Colorists!  

As I mentioned earlier many Marvel Characters had their roots in earlier generations, I am showing a feature on Thor here. Throughout the book you'll find features like this.

There are also features listing ALL the Marvel Stamps and where they appeared, dozens of pages of Marvel Ads and self-promotion and a complete list of the Timely Atlas Comics that preceded the Marvel Age.

 I left a lot out, please discover and be surprised. 

No history of Marvel could ever be complete without mentioning the fate of Irving Forbush and that nearly completes the book. 


When you buy the book, I will send you the Marvel Special Announcements and Bullpen Bulletins 1961-1977 as an extra, 318 page download.

Before Marvel had the Bullpen Bulletins and Stan’s Soapbox, the Special Announcement section was included their letter columns. It told you what books were out and what was yet to come!  

The book is available for downloading on this page or at :

Once again, a big shout out goes to Kid Robson.