Marvel UK was an imprint of Marvel Comics formed in 1972 to reprint US produced stories for the British weekly comic market. Marvel UK later did produce original material by British creators such as Alan Moore, John Wagner, Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon, and Grant Morrison.
|Genre||Science fiction, action, superheroes|
|Neil Tennant, Dez Skinn, John Freeman, Paul Neary|
There were a number of editors in charge of overseeing the UK editions. The first was the then 21-year-old Tony Isabella, whose first job at Marvel was overseeing the UK weeklies, although based in the USA. He was succeeded by UK-based editors Peter L. Skingley (aka Peter Allan) and Matt Softly – both of whom were women who adopted male noms de plumes for the job. In reality they were Petra Skingley and Maureen Softly. They were then replaced by Neil Tennant who later found fame with the pop group the Pet Shop Boys. Nick Laing succeeded him, but with a turbulent market seeing falls in sales was let go so that Dez Skinn could take over. Skinn lasted less than two years and the reins were taken over by Bernie Jaye and later John Freeman. Paul Neary was editor in chief at the time Marvel decided to close the UK arm in 1995.
Panini Comics obtained the license to print Marvel material in 1995 and took over the UK office's remaining titles.
Reprints of American Marvel material had been published in the UK during the 1960s by Odhams Press under their Power Comics imprint. Titles such as Smash! and Fantastic featured a mix of Marvel reprint material (such as the Fantastic Four) and original non-Marvel work. This lasted till 1969 when the last superhero strip was removed from Smash!, leaving no Marvel titles being reprinted in the UK at all.
Origins: MWOM and Spider-Man Comics WeeklyEdit
In 1972, seeing a gap in the popular weekly comics market of the UK, Marvel Comics formed their own British publishing arm, Marvel UK (under the corporate name of Magazine Management London Ltd.). Though publishing comics in England for a British audience, Marvel UK was under the editorial direction of Marvel's New York offices, overseen by the young American writer/editor Tony Isabella.
Starting with The Mighty World of Marvel (commonly shortened to MWOM), Marvel UK started with black-and-white (though early issues of MWOM did feature some colour) reprints of The Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. MWOM proved to be a huge success, and a few months later Spider-Man Comics Weekly was released. Again this carried on reprinted American Spider-Man material originally started in MWOM,with the adventures of Thor starting as a back-up feature. The new title allowed an entire issue of the US The Amazing Spider-Man to be reprinted every week in the UK publication. The Mighty World Of Marvel, in one form or another, was published continuously until 1984, while the Spider-Man weekly comic (under many different name changes) would continue until 1985.
In 1973 Marvel UK launched The Avengers - starting with material from issue 4 of the US series which reintroduced Captain America (issues 1-3 were reprinted in MWOM). The new title introduced glossy covers around a smaller 36 page comic, down from the previous 40 page format of MWOM and Spider-Man Comics Weekly. Dr Strange was the back-up feature. Glossy covers were to be a distinctive feature of Marvel UK weeklies until the Marvel Revolution in 1979. The other two titles also changed to this new format. In Spiderman the decrease to 36 pages marked the reduction of Spiderman material so that now only half a US issue was reproduction in the UK weekly and Iron Man was added to the line up. (MWOM and SMCW had started at 40 pages but dropped to 32 before the launch of The Avengers.)
In 1974 two new weeklies were added that departed from the usual superhero fare. These were Dracula Lives! and Planet of the Apes, the latter reprinting material from the American black & white Marvel Monster Group brand. In 1976 Dracula Lives! was cancelled and merged with Planet of the Apes as of issue 88. The Apes adventures lasted until 1977, the final months as a co-feature with Hulk) in MWOM from issue 231. The non-superhero launches continued in early 1975 as Savage Sword of Conan was added as a weekly title.
In March 1975, Marvel UK launched a new weekly title called The Super-Heroes (simultaneously with SSOC). Although it originally starred popular characters like the Silver Surfer and the X-Men, it eventually began reprinting stories starring such obscure characters such as Doc Savage, Ant-Man, The Cat, Scarecrow, and Bloodstone.
Marvel UK's fifth superhero title, also debuting in 1975 (October), was The Titans, which was notable for its use of a "landscape" orientation. Although this format allowed two pages of Marvel U.S. artwork to fit onto one (magazine-sized) Marvel UK page, reader reaction was mixed, as it made the text small and often difficult to read. The Titans featured well-known characters like Captain America, Captain Marvel, the Sub-Mariner, the Inhumans, and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Super-Heroes lasted fifty issues before being cancelled in early 1976, at which point it was merged into Spider-Man Comics Weekly, (which changed its title to Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes). At this point the book also changed orientation to become a landscape-format comic like The Titans. The aforementioned Titans title ran 58 issues until late 1976, when it too was cancelled. Towards the end of its run, the Avengers were moved over from The Mighty World of Marvel to be The Titans' lead strip. As with The Super-Heroes, with The Titans' cancellation it was merged with the weekly Spider-Man comic (which changed its title again, to Super Spider-Man and the Titans).
Tennant and Laing eraEdit
Marvel UK began to establish itself as a major publisher of weekly comic titles (along with D.C Thomson and IPC) under the direction of editor-in-chief Neil Tennant (later one of the Pet Shop Boys). Tennant was responsible for anglicising the dialogue of the comics to suit British readers, and for indicating where women needed to be redrawn more decently for the British editions.
However, with the exception of some new covers drawn by Marvel Comics American staff, no original material had yet been produced by Marvel UK. This changed in 1976 when Captain Britain Weekly was launched, featuring a hero created for the British market by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe. Captain Britain Weekly featured new stories in colour as well as reprints of Nick Fury and Fantastic Four strips as backup. It was initially a success but eventually combined with Marvel UK's Spider-Man reprint title from #39.
It was Neil Tennant's suggestion to create an original British Marvel war comic to compete with titles such as Warlord and Battle Picture Weekly. While no original material was commissioned the concept of a war comic found fruition as Fury which ran from March to August 1977 before merging with MWOM. It reprinted Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders.
Tenant left in 1977 and was replaced by Nick Laing. In early 1978, Laing oversaw the launch of Marvel UK's Star Wars Weekly title, soon after the film was released in the UK. The weekly issues split the stories from the US monthly issues into smaller installments, and it usually took three weekly issues to complete a US monthly issue. In May 1980 the title became known as The Empire Strikes Back Weekly, and in November 1980 it transformed into a monthly publication. Marvel UK's Star Wars comic also published original Star Wars stories by British creators as well as reprinting the US comics material. Many, but not all, of these original British stories were reprinted in the 1990s by Dark Horse Comics. The format changed back to a weekly in June 1983 with the adaptation of Return of the Jedi (which also became the new name of the publication), and remained so until its last issue in 1986. Prior to the Return of the Jedi comic, the strips in the UK Star Wars comics were printed in black and white, even those taken from the American color versions. The UK comics also reprinted several other supporting strips in each issue from other Marvel properties (such as The Micronauts, Tales of the Watcher, Star-Lord, etc.). While the comic was in a weekly format, the supporting strips often made up the bulk of each issue.
Skinn era ("The Marvel Revolution")Edit
By the late 1970s, sales of Marvel UK titles had begun to fall and it was on a visit to the UK that Stan Lee headhunted Dez Skinn to revamp the ailing company. Knowing Skinn had significant experience in British comic publishing, Lee gave him freedom to do what he felt best. Skinn had his own catchphrase in "Dez Sez," which was inspired by Lee's catchphrases from the 1960s. Skinn set out to change Marvel UK as he saw fit, dubbing the changes "The Marvel Revolution". Taking over in late 1978, the first major change he brought was to have original material produced by British creators. Many of these creators had already worked with Skinn on his title The House of Hammer a few years earlier, plus some new young talent.
Skinn wrote: "[T]raditional British comics were at the time selling 150,000+ a week, firm sale, no returns. If Marvel and Spider-Man could look British enough for some of that to rub off, everybody would be happy ... But fixing the covers to resemble the non-glossy generic look of weekly anthology titles was one thing ... Having "splash" pages and then five or six frames a page just didn't stack up against Warlord, Action, Battle, and the rest with their nine to 12 a page." So the US artwork was re-sized to fit several pages onto one and emulate the look of the more established UK boys' weeklies.
Skinn reasoned that Marvel superhero weeklies had been effectively competing with each other in an already crowded market. So while the Spider-Man Comic was to be the flagship superhero comic (with Thor, Iron Man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Nova), The Mighty World of Marvel was re-launched as Marvel Comic, in the tradition of UK boys' adventure titles. Dracula, Conan the Barbarian, and Skull the Slayer joined (or re-joined) established strips Daredevil and Hulk (although the Hulk was replaced three issues after the re-launch by Godzilla, as the Hulk left for his own title).
The Hulk was a popular character – Rampage Weekly which starred The Defenders had been added to Marvel's list of publications under Tennant's editorship as a second vehicle for the green giant – and now with his own TV series Skinn saw the Hulk as the lead feature of another adventure style comic. Hulk Comic started out with originally produced Hulk stories created by Steve Dillon, Paul Neary, and John Stokes, among others, which reflected the green-skinned behemoth as depicted on the TV. Skinn explained: "As with Marvel Comic, I was wanting an adventure anthology title more than a superhero one. Super-heroes had never been big sellers in the UK, we had plenty of legends of the past to spin fantasies about. So I went that route, picking existing Marvel characters who weren't really cut from the super-hero cloth." Originally produced stories were included, such as Nick Fury drawn by Steve Dillon, and Night Raven by Steve Parkhouse and David Lloyd. Also included was the Black Knight, a minor Marvel character but revamped to take in Arthurian concepts, as well as featuring the return of Captain Britain from comic book limbo. As well there was the usual US reprint material, such as Ant-Man and in later issues the Beast from Amazing Adventures, and even The Defenders were moved in from Rampage Monthly to increase the dose of Hulk action.
Arguably Skinn's most important decision was to launch Doctor Who Weekly in 1979. Based on the BBC TV series (which at that point had already been running for 16 years), Doctor Who Weekly featured original comics stories by John Wagner, Pat Mills, and Dave Gibbons, among many others, plus articles and features on the show itself. It proved a huge success, and by now Skinn had transformed Marvel UK back to being a major publisher of not just weekly comics but monthly titles such as Starburst. Starburst had been created by Skinn before he joined Marvel UK, but was purchased by Marvel when he joined the company.
Skinn was not happy with how creators were treated in regard to ownership of characters, so he left Marvel UK in 1980 (eventually forming Quality Communications in 1982). One of his last acts was to give Captain Britain his own strip in the pages of MWOM, as written by Dave Thorpe and drawn by Alan Davis. (Thorpe left in 1982, to be replaced by Alan Moore in one of Moore's first major ongoing strips.)
In March 1980, as part of the "Marvel Revolution", Skinn launched the Marvel Pocket Books line with four 52-page titles. The line began with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Star Heroes (featuring TV tie-in Battlestar Galactica and the toy-based strip the Micronauts continued from their previous run in Star Wars Weekly), and Chiller (starring Dracula and the Man-Thing with occasional appearance from other horror-related characters). Following Skinn's belief that much of Marvel's strongest material was that published in the 1960s and early 70s, many of these titles showcased strips from that period.
Skinn drew on the design of the traditional UK Picture Library titles which boomed in the 1960s to establish a definitive look for the Pocket Books. Skinn wrote that they "emulated the look in their Combat Picture Library covers ... that was the look I wanted, to pull the line of pocket books together visually and make them different to any of our other titles ..." 
The first four titles were later joined by Hulk, The Titans (reprinting the 1960s stories of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man), Marvel Classics Comics (featuring comic book adaptations of classic literature), Conan, and Young Romance. Some titles were not a success in terms of sales: Hulk, Conan, The Titans, Marvel Classics Comics, and Young Romance were cancelled after 13 issues, while Star Heroes (which had replaced The Micronauts with the original X-Men from issue #10) was re-launched as X-Men Pocket Book from #14. All other Pocket Books were cancelled after issue 28 in July/August 1982.
Classic Marvel material was by no means completely abandoned after the demise of the Pocket Books. The Hulk strips continued in a newly launched The Incredible Hulk Weekly and similarly the classic Fantastic Four strips resurfaced in a weekly title in October 1982. Both of these eventually folded into Spider-Man Comics Weekly, where the strips continued on and off until it changed into The Spider-Man Comic, aimed at younger readers. The classic Spider-Man material continued in the first few issues of The Daredevils.
With Skinn's departure, Bernie Jaye took over as Marvel UK's editor-in-chief. In October 1981, inspired by the success of its Doctor Who title, Marvel UK began publishing a monthly Blake's 7 title, edited by Stewart Wales. However, as the television series itself went off the air in late 1981, the magazine itself lasted less than two years.
Despite a flurry of new weeklies post-Skinn (Forces in Combat, Marvel Team-Up, Future Tense and Valour), by 1982 Marvel UK moved mainly to monthly titles such as The Daredevils (featuring Moore and Davis's Captain Britain) and The Mighty World Of Marvel, which under the name Marvel Superheroes was by now firmly established as a monthly title. However, many of Marvel UK's titles wouldn't last long before being combined or cancelled outright due to poor sales. Jaye left the company in 1983.
In January 1985 the first issue of Captain Britain Monthly appeared with its titular strip written by Jamie Delano and drawn by Alan Davis. This title lasted 14 issues before cancellation and would prove to be Marvel UK's last major new title for several years. However, new material was still being produced, such as the Zoids stories (written by Grant Morrison) for Secret Wars and Spider-Man and Zoids, but not on the scale or diversity had been previously seen.
For the remainder of the 1980s the company published only a small handful of titles that appealed to superhero fans, but had considerable success on the UK newsstands with licensed titles such as The Real Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, Transformers and many others. These all featured original strips as well as some US reprints.
Transformers, in particular, was a major seller for Marvel UK, selling 200,000 copies a week at its height. Its main writer, Simon Furman, would eventually take over the Marvel US version of the title as well, and continues to work on the franchise to this day, though it is no longer published by either branch of Marvel Comics. The Marvel UK Transformer series, running 332 issues, is regarded as the most important collection of Transformers fiction, and on par with Stan Lee's runs on Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. As such, Transformers remains one of Marvel UK's most important historical titles. (The Marvel UK Transformers series was reprinted by Titan Books in the 2000s with some omissions, notably all of the UK exclusive stories prior to issue 45. Although these have now been reprinted by IDW Publishing along with the rest of the weekly and Annual stories as part of The Transformers Classics UK collections.) From 1988, it was The Real Ghostbusters that became the top seller; it ran for 193 issues, four annuals, and a Slimer spinoff, and its characters were used to anchor several other titles like Wicked!. and The Marvel Bumper Comic.
In 1988, Marvel UK letterer/designer Richard Starkings pushed for the company to publish its own US-format comics, beginning with Dragon's Claws and Death's Head (a spin-off character from Marvel UK's Transformers title).
The Sleeze Brothers (1989–1990) was a creator-owned title by John Carnell and Andy Lanning. It was Steve White who launched the first critically acclaimed volume of Knights of Pendragon (1990–1991), written by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson with art by Gary Erskine, which mixed superheroes and Arthurian myth. It also featured Captain Britain among many other Marvel Comics heroes, such as Iron Man.
By 1990, Marvel had told its UK branch that long miniseries were too expensive and that it should produce four-issue minis (John Freeman recalled "some legal or distribution restriction in the US on publishing three-part mini series, which the company would have preferred") that would try out new characters. John Freeman and Dan Abnett first wanted to revive Death's Head, give a miniseris to Strip character Rourke, and spin off Doctor Who Magazine's Abslom Daak as an original character. This last one was dropped as Marvel felt Doctor Who was "a 'dead' franchise and there was no value to Marvel in seeking to extend a brand they did not themselves own".
Paul Neary became Marvel UK editor-in-chief circa 1990,[not in citation given] appointed to revamp the company and make another attempt at the US market. As a stop gap, he had two short-lived reprint titles created: Havoc and Meltdown (which reprinted Akira).
The US-format titles began with Death's Head II, a recreation of Simon Furman's cyborg bounty hunter. The titles were set in the existing Marvel Universe but with more of a focus on cyberpunky science fiction and magic than the traditional superhero fare. Titles such as Warheads (wormhole-hopping mercenaries), Motormouth (later Motormouth and Killpower, a streetwise girl and escaped genetically modified super assassin hop around the universe having adventures) and a second volume of Knights of Pendragon. These were all linked by plots featuring the organization Mys-Tech, a shadowy group of Faustians bent on world domination. Some of these titles were also reprinted in the UK anthology Overkill.
At some point during Neary's run but before the market crash, Marvel UK was running low on money. They requested an emergency meeting with Marvel Entertainment executives Bill Bevin and Terry Stewart to approve a £1m last-ditch strategy. While they got the money, writer Sean Howe would later be told that Bevin was livid about being called to London for a mere one million, asking "why are you wasting my time?"
Neary instituted a deliberate policy to feature Marvel US guest-stars in the Marvel UK stories. However, they would only be featured on eleven pages, and these pages were designed to be able to cut from the main story; the eleven pages without the guest-star were run in Overkill. This policy was dropped after market research showed people expected to see superheroes in Marvel ("that included watching a group of teenagers rip Overkill apart from behind a two way mirror", according to Freeman). Where US Marvel characters were featured, all the storylines were approved by the American editor in charge of that book. Some were more responsive than others to the outlines, with editors such as Bobbi Chase offering useful feedback for Marvel UK's editors. Very few Marvel US comics referenced any of the original characters or major events that occurred within the Marvel UK comics, with an exception being The Incredible Hulk in August 1993.
Nevertheless, in the US, these comics were initially immensely successful, with some issues being reprinted to keep up with demand. Marvel UK massively expanded and trading cards were made of their characters. During this flush period, Tom DeFalco requested they make a new hero called Red Squirrel Man. A entire sub-imprint called Frontier Comics was created in 1993, patterning itself after DC's Vertigo Comics and Marvel UK even showed up at the Lord Mayor's Show in 1993, with staff members dressed as superheroes and Death's Head II.
Despite a lineup that included Liam Sharp, Simon Coleby, Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Graham Marks, Salvador Larroca, Dan Abnett and many others, too many titles were launched too quickly in a market which was already swamped by the early 1990s comics boom. In late 1993, Marvel UK would be devastated by the comics market glut and subsequent crash; in September 29, their new Director of Sales, Lou Bank, reported that they were being hurt by "inadequate display of product" at retail "[that] has hindered salethrough" and that it was failed there was "simply no room to display" all the comics being made.
Dark Guard, Cyberspace 3000, Wild Thing, Black Axe, Super Soldiers, and the entire Frontier imprint were cancelled. A large number of projects in the works, from those just proposed to some that had been solicited, were also cancelled. The Red Mist 20:20 crossover was killed so late that Roid Rage #1, a Super Soldiers spinoff, was cancelled while at the printers. Mark Harrison's Loose Cannons was cancelled shortly before it was meant to run (January 1994), despite being almost complete; was later put online by Harrison. Paul Neary told Comic World that this was a "trimming of fat" to allow Marvel UK to focus its marketing efforts on "our strongest characters" and claimed the cancelled projects would see the light of day in 1994. Two titles that did still run were spinoffs of Death's Head II in November, with house ads brashly comparing them to other popular comics as part of a marketing strategy to portray the new Marvel UK as a lean, hungry company that could hold its own against larger (and implicitly duller) competition.
In 1994, Marvel UK had ceased publishing in the US market and was now only printing a handful of titles — mostly reprints — for the UK market, as well as licensed titles like the long-running Doctor Who Magazine. Death's Head II was cancelled at #16, of which distributor Capital only sold 7,400 copies. Various creators began looking elsewhere for work and Lou Banks left for Dark Horse. Neary planned a four-title relaunch of their US format line, including Nocturne (an updated Night Raven), The Golden Grenadier, and new titles for Captain Britain and Death's Head. (David Leach's proposal for Death's Head started as a Third Doctor joke, "that we should completely overhaul him, reduce his power, lose the time travel aspect and set it in present day England".) The Golden Grenadier would have been a 1950s superhero, a grenadier guardsman who worked for a secret organisation run by the Queen Mother. The launch never took place.
With the failure of its US titles the company's assets were bought by Panini Comics, who had been part of Marvel Europe, and had already been reprinting American material across Europe for several years. Casualties of the merger included editor-in-chief Paul Neary and managing director Vincent Conran.
Thanks to this licensing deal, reprints of American Marvel Comics material continued to be published in the UK by Panini from the mid-1990s. They continued printing two existing Marvel UK titles Astonishing Spider-Man and Essential X-Men and followed the continuity of the US comics, however it was approximately two–three years behind the current run in America. Each book contained approximately two or three Marvel US strips in one issue with possibly a "classic" comic printed as a substitute for a comic in the current run, whilst being priced at a reasonable level. In addition to this Panini continued Doctor Who Magazine.
In addition to reprinting the mainstream US comics, Panini started publishing a monthly (later every three weeks) oversized comic, entitled The Spectacular Spider-Man, for younger readers to accompany Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which began broadcasting in the UK in the mid-1990s. Initially, the stories were simply reprints of the US comics based on the series, but eventually the title moved to all-new UK-originated stories, marking the first Marvel UK material featuring classic Marvel characters to be produced since early 1994.
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- Altered Vistas: Steve Moore interview (comments by John Freeman)
- Down the Tubes: "Genesis ’92″: Looking Back and What Might Have Been"
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- STARLOGGED: 1994: COMIC WORLD REPORTS THE MARVEL UK GENESIS MASSACRE