Friday, May 24, 2013

Easy Reader Says: "This Blog Is Easy To Read"

In my frenzy to index every comic book I get my hands on for the GCD, I recently borrowed issues of Spidey Super Stories from Barry Pearl (whose Pearl's of Comic Book Wisdom Blog can be accessed in the favorites section). Spidey was a co-production of the Children's Television Workshop, known for Sesame Street. The Electric Company was geared to young children, teaching then reading and punctuation skills while entertaining them with skits, animation and music. Included in the cast were well-known performers such as Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno and - before he rose to stardom -  Morgan Freeman. In 1974 CTW added a segment featuring Spider-Man,  although their version never spoke. If I recall correctly they used word-baloons and captions in place of Spidey actually talking. The Electric Company was a popular show, running from 1971-1977. A new incarnation exists today.


Back cover to Spidey Super Stories # 1, Oct 1974. Art by Win Mortimer and Mike Esposito, with some touch-up work by John Romita.

The Spidey Super Stories comic book debuted in the summer of 1974 to coincide with his appearances on the show, produced under the supervision of Children's Television Workshop. The early issues were written by Jean Thomas, drawn by Win Mortimer (Don Heck drew a story in issue 2) and inked by Mike Esposito. Artie Simek and Ray Holloway lettered most of the stories. John Romita drew all the early covers, which were simple, uncluttered and attactive, unlike many of the concurrent Amazing covers, which were often very busy and relied on an abundance of captions and word balloons. Romita's Spidey covers harkened back to his exceptional mid-1960s work, when Marvel relied more on strong images to sell a cover.


Spidey Super Stories # 6, March 1975. Cover by John Romita and Mike Esposito

It was fun to look through these stories. They were, of course, prepared for a younger audience, but Win Mortimer, a long-time pro who drew everything from Superman and Batman to romance stories, had a style that complimented the material. The storytelling was clear and simple, and Mortimer's poses often showed the influence of Ditko and Romita, who he clearly looked to for reference.


Back cover to Spidey Super Stories # 14, Dec 1975,by Win Mortimer and Mike Esposito.


An example of Win Mortimer's storytelling skills. While his art was not flashy and did not fit into the "Marvel" mold, he was well-suited to realistic settings and people. Nevertheless, he did a fine job molding his skills on Spidey Super Stories. Inside back cover to issue 17, July 1976.     

Here is an interesting look at Mortimer's pencils, from the back cover of Spidey # 14:



Included in many issues were feature pages such as this one, based on a similar scene that appeared in Spider-Man Annual # 4. Most of the feature pages were redrawn versions of the Ditko pages which explained Spidey's powers, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 1. From Spidey Super Stories # 2, Nov 1974. Jean Thomas script; Win Mortimer pencils; Mike Esposito inks, Artie Simek letters.

The format for Spidey Super Stories was usually three stories per issue, with one an adaptation of an Electric Company Spidey story. The comic was 36 pages, no ads and priced at 35 cents. 

While there were no outside ads in Spidey Super Stories, the
    back page was often used to promote subscriptions. Here Spidey and Easy Reader do the honors. Art by John Romita; letters by Gaspar Saladino. 




John Romita had the opportunity to render some attractive illustrations in these ads. Spidey Stamps were similar to Marvel Value Stamps, with many drawn by Romita. Back covers to  Spidey Super Stroies #'s 18 and 24. Lettering likely by Irving Watanabe.

The inside front covers and sometimes the interior feature pages were often used to provide background on the villains and guest-stars. Here, Lockjaw, a popular character in the Spidey universe is featured. Win Mortimer pencils; Mike Esposito inks; Ray Holloway letters. Script by either Ralph Macchio or Kolfax Mingo (which sounds like a pseudonym to me). From Spidey Super Stories # 24, July 1977. 
  

In some respects Spidey was similar to Marvel Team-Up, since most issues had Spidey meeting a Marvel hero. Medusa, Iceman, Shanna, The Cat, Falcon, Storm and Captain America were introduced to the younger set, and issue # 16 included a team-up that never occured in the Marvel Universe....




Spidey Super Stories # 16, April 1976. John Romita cover.

No this wasn't a cross-over with the famous Steven Speilberg film. Since Jaws was such an overwhelming hit, there were a lot of covers that used sharks in that period, and the hero guesting in the cover-featured story was Sub-Mariner (although he was only refered to as Namor, perhaps because they thought it was an easier name for kids to pronounce). It was THIS long-time character who finally met up with Spidey...

     

Splash page by Win Mortimer and Mike Esposito.

That granddaddy of western heroes, Kid Colt, finally met up with Spidey, courtesy of writer Jim Salicrup.

In the "Spidey" universe Lockjaw can teleport through time. He takes Spidey and the Electric Company to the past to clear Kid Colt's name. Interestingly, four months prior Steve Englehart had the Avengers travel to the past for the first cross-over with the western heroes, in a story illustrated by George Perez and Vince Colletta. In that story the Avengers met Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid and the Ghost Rider (Avengers #'s 142-143; Dec 1975-Jan 1976) . I enjoyed the Marvel westerns and was thrilled when Englehart added them into continuity. While there were requests in the letters pages from time to time for a cross-over, it never happened when Stan Lee was editor. At the time George Perez was an energetic, talented young artist who was recently assigned to the Avengers. While he did a fine job illustrating the story, in retrospect I would have liked to see Don Heck draw the two-parter, since he was inspired when working in the western genre. It would have been interesting to see his interpertation of the characters, since, although he drew many genre stories, he rarely worked on the starring characters..



I asked writer Jim Salicrup about this story, thinking perhaps he was influenced by Englehart's story, but he replied that using Kid Colt's appearance may have been requested by Children's Television Workshop. Salicrup thought that perhaps they noticed the Avengers story and figured it might be interesting to use Kid Colt.  Salicrup worked on Spidey Super Stories for some time, usually with Win Mortimer and Mike Esposito. He recalled that the folks at CTW were pleased with Mortimer's work and Salicrup noted that he was a gentleman. 

Other creators that worked on Spidey included Byron Preiss, Ralph Macchio, Nick Cuti, Bill Mantlo and Dave Kraft on scripts; Don Perlin and Riccardo Villamonte penciled and inked some stories. Tony Mortellaro often assisted Mike Esposito on backgrounds. Later covers featured the work of Sal Buscema, Al Milgrom, Dave Cockrum and even Jack Kirby on a cover or two!



Even Thanos got into the act! Spidey Super Stories #  39, March 1979. Al Milgrom pencils ? Mike Esposito inks ? Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

Spidey Super Stories continued until # 57, March 1982, a solid eight year run. While researching I was surprised to learn that the Electric Company also produced its own magazine, which included 4-5 page Spidey stories in many issues, as related at Spiderfan.org:


John Romita even provided a few covers:


Writers and artists on these stories included Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Steven Grant, Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney and Alan Kupperberg. This blog includes two stories; one by Sal Buscema (an origin story without Uncle Ben or the Burglar) and another by Alan Kupperberg:


The magazine ran longer than the comic, lasting into the late 1980s.   

 While rarely mentioned when discussing Marvel's 1970s line, Spidey Super Stories was an example of the growing influence Marvel characters had outside of comics. Like the earlier animated series, Spidey took the strong foundation of the Lee, Ditko, Romita era characters and simplified them for a younger audience.     


The Impossible Man pops up in a back page ad from Spidey Super Stories # 25, Aug 1977. Art likely by Al Milgrom. 



With special thanks to Gentleman Jim Salicrup and Bashful Barry Pearl.

6 comments:

Kid said...

I just wish they could strike a balance nowadays and produce 'all age friendly' comics that kids and adults could both read and enjoy.

Comics don't seem to be FUN anymore.

Nick Caputo said...

Kid,

Most of the fun has gone out of comics and I also would like to see that balance struck.

Jacque Nodell said...

I totally agree, Kid.

As a big Mortimer fan, I hope to collect more of these issues in the future!

snorkledorf said...

As a kid in the '70s it was my dream to collect all the issues of Spidey Super Stories, though I only ever managed the first 10 or 15 issues. At the time the art of the main Marvel line was much "scratchier" and the cleanness of the art here appealed much more to 3rd-grade me.

I also remember looking at the explanation of how his web-shooters worked, and was all "Technical details, yay!" The stories — not so important to me apparently...

Nick Caputo said...

Jacque,

I admit to not being the biggest Mortimer fan, but I've grown to appreciate him more in later years. I suspect when I was younger he didn't appeal to me because he didn't seem suited to superhero or mystery work.

I've seen that his style works better on quieter stories such as romance and his clean style was perfect for Spidey Super Stories.

Nick Caputo said...

snorkledorf,

Those feture pages were pretty much lifted from earlier Spidey Annuals by Ditko and Kirby. It was a great idea to recycle them for use in Spidey Super Stories.