The history of Marvel UK in the 1970s
Foreword: Alan Class Comics
In the early ‘60s, while American comic book readers enjoyed a revolution in the comic book industry thanks mainly to Marvel Comics’ new roster of relatable and fallible characters, UK readers had a more difficult time enjoying this renaissance. For a while the only way readers in this country could read a US comic was by hunting for second-hand copies in flea markets. But if you were lucky enough to be on holiday at one of Britain’s many seaside resorts then you had the opportunity of reading Marvel stories courtesy of Alan Class Comics.
In 1959 Alan Class (who was only 21 years old at the time) signed a licensing deal with several American syndication companies to reprint their material in this country. For over 30 years (until his retirement in 1989) Class’ black and white anthology comics, which numbered over 20 titles, reprinted Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician as well as a large selection of Marvel stories. These included Spider-Man, Giant-Man, X-Men, Daredevil, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, Dr Strange, The Avengers, Iron Man, Human Torch and the Silver Surfer who were featured in eight titles: Astounding Stories; Creepy Worlds; Out of this World; Secrets of the Unknown; Sinister Tales; Suspense; Tales of Action and Uncanny Tales.
Class’ comics were mainly available at seaside resorts or from train station newsagents and were clearly aimed as disposable holiday treats. They were printed in black and white with a four colour cover which was usually a reworking of an original Marvel cover. They were cheaply printed and reasonably priced, perfect as a distraction for kids on holiday.
The Class comics were unusual for a number of reasons. The comics were printed at the more square size of 235mm × 185mm, resulting in wide margins around the artwork. And none of the titles were dated. The reason for this was simple: Class requested that all unsold copies be returned to him undamaged so they could be redistributed to different areas of the country at a later date. This resulted in copies being in circulation for months, if not years, after they were printed. Although this was a canny strategy from a financial perspective it did result in a problem for regular readers and potential collectors: stories were not continued from one issue to the next or printed with any regard for continuity. If a reprinted feature consisted of a two part story then the second part would not be featured in the next issue leaving readers ignorant of the story’s ending.
Although Class lost the rights to the Marvel catalogue in 1966 when Odhams Press bought the rights from Marvel, old copies featuring those characters stayed in circulation for several years. There is now a small but healthy collectors market for these comics with good quality issues swapping hands for £3 or more, not bad considering most of the comics originally cost around 8-10p.
I must admit that before I started researching these articles on Marvel reprints I’d barely heard of the Alan Class titles, and originally had only planned to include them in the spirit of being thorough. But once I stared talking to friends about them I was taken aback by how fondly remembered these comics are. I suspect that for some the comics availability at seaside destinations, and enjoyed as holiday entertainment, is intrinsically tied in with memories of childhood holidays. I bought a couple of copies from eBay (they illustrate this article) and I must admit they do have a certain sentimental charm.