Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Early Marvel House Ads

My indexing for the GCD often leads to interesting roads. I've been adding lettering and coloring credits to Marvel’s titles, circa late 1950’s through the 1970’s. While going over some early Amazing Spider-Man interior credits (adding Stan Goldberg’s coloring credit, since he  colored just about all Marvel’s product from the late 1950's to around 1968) I included info on the early letters pages and many of Ditko’s outstanding pin-ups.
One credit I corrected was a house ad in Amazing Spider-Man # 1: “A Personal Message from Spider-Man”, which is actually a personal message from Stan Lee, explaining that a new letters section would soon be appearing.  

"A Personal Message from Spider-Man" from Amazing Spider-Man # 1, Mar 1963, as reprinted in the Marvel Milestone Edition. Kirby and/or Brodsky art. Lee calls for letters and explains why they won't be printed in the 2nd issue

The GCD had Steve Ditko credited with the art, but that is clearly not the case. I suspect this is a quick drawing by Jack Kirby, likely inked by Sol Brodsky.  Ditko never drew Spider-Man with broad shoulders  nor did he draw the webbing on the side of the arms in that fashion.
This got me thinking about Stan Lee’s house ads and promotional work in the early days of Marvel. While promotions early on consisted of copy, sometimes crudely lettered (perhaps by Lee himself) scrawled on the top and bottom margins of story pages, Lee soon began to take up full pages to promote specific comics or new titles. This was not surprising, since house ads were prolific in the Timely era, also likely written by Lee. In time, though, a narrative was beginning to take shape, and Lee’s energetic style and dynamic copy set a pace that stood out.

An early full-page ad for Amazing Adult Fantasy and the Fantastic Four, from Strange Tales # 95, Apr 1962. This would have appeared at the time FF # 3 was on the stands. Ditko drew the top half; an inventive 3 panel vignette; Kirby drew the bottom half, with inking by Sol Brodsky. Lee bombastically proclaims the two comics "the greatest new fantasy magazines in the world!" It's worth noting that Lee was giving attention to his co-creators early on. The cover to this issue features a caption that reads:

 "Also..another off-beat little classic by Lee and Ditko..."   

Lee's ad copy for the Fantastic Four is over the top but compelling. What kid wouldn't be interested in reading it? From Strange Tales # 97, June 1962

Lee singled out Amazing Adult Fantasy in his ads, which appeared on the last page of his Ditko written stories in the other fantasy magazines. Alas, the title failed to sell, although the last issue featured a character that went on to some degree of notoriety....

Lee scattered these ads for the new Hulk comic throughout his fantasy line. For all I know he sneaked them into Millie the Model! The first two examples are from Strange Tales # 97, June 1962. The last one is from Fantastic Four # 4, May 1962. It's likely that the crudely lettered ones are by Lee himself. The copy that appeared in FF # 3 is probably by Artie Simek. Sol Brodsky and Flo Steinberg were the extent of Marvel's office staff at this point, so anyone who walked in the door usually pitched in at one time or another.

Lee promotes the new Amazing Spider-Man # 1 in the letters section of Fantastic Four #12 (Mar 1963). The Fantastic Four, coincidentally, made an appearance in that issue, as did the Hulk in the FF's current issue. Even in the humor titles Lee's characters intermingled. Lee's marketing skills inspired brand recognition and under one guiding hand it was a success.   

"The Greatest SYMBOLS in Comics" . An early Marvel house ad focusing on the superheros who were growing in fan interest and sales. Art by Kirby and Sol Brodsky. Spider-Man figure probably penciled by Kirby and inked by Ditko, similar to - but not the same figure - as the one on the cover to Amazing # 1. 

By the time this ad appeared in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic Four #14 Lee was hitting his stride. He now had a corner symbol that identified his characters on the comic book racks (invented by Steve Ditko); a company Logo (Marvel Comics Group, a recycled name originally used on occasion in 1950's ads); and a distinctive slogan: "The House of Ideas!" The super-heroes were rapidly becoming an essential part of the line, and Lee promoted them with authority.       

I guess we'll never know if Lee was two pages short and needed to fill space, or deliberately used those pages to promote the new Sgt. Fury comic; the next issue AND Fantastic Four Fan Clubs! (Fantastic Four # 15, June 1963). Note that Sgt. Fury is advertised "In the Fantastic Four style". Lee was aware of Dr. Doom's popularity, and his use of Ant-Man was an attempt to raise sales on a weak title. The Dr. Doom figure, as well as the Torch (who looks very awkward) may be swipes by Sol Brodsky, although Ant-Man may be penciled by Kirby and inked by Brodsky.        

Finally, we have a coming attraction page that appeared in Avengers # 2, Nov 1963. The Sub-Mariner was the main antagonist in early Marvel Superhero comics; taking on the FF and the Avengers, along with appearances in Strange Tales (the Human Torch feature), and later the X-Men and Daredevil, before he eventually returned to a feature role in Tales to Astonish. The heroes had a common foe to unite them (and the line) and Namor was a compelling and sympathetic character. Jack Kirby pencils, Sol Brodsky inks.   

Lee's promotional skills continued to improve in the years ahead. The house ads, combined with letters pages, Bullpen Bulletins and the MMMS fan club formed an identity for Marvel - a fresh face among their conservative competition. Coming soon will be a look at some of the MMMS ads, including one written and drawn by Marie Severin which was noticed by Publisher Martin Goodman, leading to her obtaining penciling work at Marvel. 


Kid said...

It's interesting to note in that ad from Hulk #1 that the logo design of FF and AAF was one and the same. ('Borrowed' from The Twilight Zone.) Something I knew years ago, but you wouldn't have thought Marvel would draw attention to it by having them on the same page.

I'm not convinced that Spider-Man figure is pencilled by Kirby, Nick. First of all, the figure is too tall in relation to those around him - suggesting being added later - and his feet are too small in relation to the rest of him in comparison with the other figures. Not saying it definitely isn't - just not persuaded that it is.

Interesting post.

Nick Caputo said...


I'm certainly not positive myself, although Kirby had trouble with proportions from time to time. Kirby had a lot of work in this period and likely batted out house ads while he was in the office. Still, Brodsky may have had a hand in that figure.

Kid said...

Having said that, the more I look at the arms, the more they look like Kirby arms, although if Ditko inked the figure he'd have made a better job of the hands. I think the Thor figure was probably moved down to accommodate the corner box, which has resulted in Thor and Spidey seeming out of proportion to each other, which probably wasn't the case (or not as noticable) to begin with.

It's definitely a tricky one. I wonder if the Spidey figure is a 'cut and paste' from another source, stuck over Kirby's original figure? (Which may not have been Spider-Man.)

Nick Caputo said...


I'm going to have to look that illo over again. It certainly could be a paste job, with alterations by Brodsky, but it could just have easily been rushed out by Kirby and Ditko. I love dissecting this stuff and am glad others enjoy it as well. It's certanly "minute" enough!