Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Praise of Reprints

Karen: When I was working on my recent Marvel Tales post, it got me to thinking about the importance of reprints to me (and probably many of you). The regular reprint books, the Treasury reprints, and books like Origins of Marvel Comics were exciting, because I was discovering the "history" of the Marvel Universe. Even though by 1972 what we knew as Marvel had only been around 11 years, it seemed like it was already a complicated web of interconnected characters and concepts. Characters in different books knew each other. They would recall past meetings when they got together, and if you hadn't read those stories already, it seemed very intriguing. Had Spider-Man really tried to join the Fantastic Four? Had the Avengers and the FF teamed up to fight the Hulk? Or what about finding out about past details of heroes you'd been reading about? What do you mean, Iron Man used to wear a big ugly suit of grey armor?The Hulk was grey too?

Karen: Finding out these 'facts' made the Marvel Universe seem almost real. There was depth to these characters and the world they lived in. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. It completely drew me in.

Karen: Now, the only exception to my enjoyment of reprints is when a reprint was run in a regular title, when the 'dreaded deadline doom' had struck. In the middle of an interesting storyline -like the Serpent Crown Affair in Avengers say - it could be annoying. But otherwise, they were great.

Doug:  At Karen's request, I'm going to drop a couple of statements.  I'll echo everything Karen said about the "big books", like the Treasuries and those wonderful paperbacks at left.  Those were anticipated Christmas gifts for several years in a row (five to be exact!).  However, I must confess a bit of snobbery about titles such as Marvel Tales, Marvel's Greatest Comics, etc.  At some point in my young life, an older kid told me to leave those alone -- they were reprints (like it was a four-letter word!).  He said they were worthless...  Of course, he must have had some knowledge of the burgeoning collector's market of which I had no perception.  As far as I knew, comic books came out every so often at the drug store.  But, not wanting to be dumb or uncool, I heeded his wise-beyond-his-years warning.  Silly me, as now reprints are the only comics I buy!  And like Karen, I grew really uptight when I opened a title that I regularly collected, only to be greeted by Kirby's blocky fingers and that annoying little box "Originally presented in XXX".  Funny how times change, isn't it?  I need to run an updated photo of my comics room, with the 270+ reprint/resource volumes!

Karen: In those early days, most of us didn't have a comic book shop to go to, and who had the money to buy all those old issues? The reprints were the same price as the regular books, and usually reprinted the story in its entirety (there were a few exceptions). Was it an easy way for Marvel to make some more money? Sure. But I look back on those books now as performing an invaluable service -teaching me about the Marvel universe I have so enjoyed for all my life.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Like Doug’s friend, I hated the reprints, and in terms of Marvel Tales etc, Triple Action, Marvel Super Heroes, etc I still do. And here’s why: a reprint of Spider Man 1, FF 1, Xmen 1, etc contains exactly the same story, probably on better paper, and almost certainly in better condition that the original if you got your hands on it, but there is something about having your hands on the actual artefact that is FF#1, the physical piece of paper that is Spider Man 1, the real McCoy that is Xmen 1 (sorry), that no reprint can ever replace and the fact that it exists in cheap reprint form somehow for me, devalues the thrill of getting hold of the original, and of course literally devalues the original itself.

Having said that, when I bought the leather-bound hardback edition of Watchmen back in 87 or whenever it came out, I thought....WOW ! This is the future of comics.

Although that sounds like a contradiction, the commonality between the originals and those kinds of deluxe editions is what you are physically holding in your hands.

I like TPB’s because of the respect they give the material and the grown-up-ness of what amounts to a hardback comic, but they still ain’t got it. I guess it comes down to what is more impressive to the individual ...the Gettysburg address carved in marble on Lincoln’s memorial or the actual Declaration of Independence in its frame down the road.

As a separate issue, I do like the ‘collectedness’ of editions that gather together a single tale. It seems to bring something of the quality of reading a novel or seeing a film which you don’t get from a stack of individual comics. The Thor Treasuries which reprint #125-130, and #154-157 are a vastly superior way to read those stories than the original issues. I’m not sure the same can necessarily be said for the Holiday Grab Bags.


humanbelly said...

Actually, by the mid/later 70's my main aggravation with the reprint titles was that they didn't, in fact, print the entire story. Marvel's Greatest Comics (FF reprints) did a HUGE disservice to the original Galactus Trilogy by "trimming out" what the editors considered to be the sub-plot storylines. Marvel Super-heroes had settled into doing Tales to Astonish/Incredible Hulk re-prints. . . and I'm pretty sure I remember the High Evolutionary storyline in TtA being trimmed a bit (like, two half-pages) to gain a page of advertising.

The problem, of course, was the rapidly shrinking page-count alotted for story content by the late 70's (hadn't it gotten as low as 17 pages by that point?). Even w/out a dedicated letters page, there were still often cases where a 20, 21, or 22(!) page story was being slashed away so it could fit into a 17 or 18 page window.

That being said-- I don't recall Marvel Tales taking that route as egregiously. And the oddly-reverse was true with the introduction of Classic X-Men (remember that title?)-- where the original stories were 17 or 18 pages long. Since Jim Shooter had by that time re-instated the 20-to-22 page story standard, those reprints ADDED new internal content to the story. This was never terribly successful to my eye, because the supplememental art couldn't begin to compare to the prime Cockrum and Byrne pencils it was always surrounded by. Geeze, what a lose/lose scenario for that poor guy (John Bolton, mostly, IIRC. . . )

As far as buying the reprint titles goes-- I was such a nutsy, youthful, zombie Hulk fan that I still picked up the Hulk-based Marvel Superheroes for quite a long time after it started reprinting ORIGINAL ISSUES I ALREADY OWNED. . . ! Happily, that led to a much-need self-appraisal of collector's common-sense. . . (sheesh!)


Rip Jagger said...

Love reprints!

It's all I read now for the most part, and back in the early days of my interaction with the hobby, the reprints in Marvel Tales, Marvel's Greatest Comic, Secret Origins, and others were amazing, and with no comic book shops anywhere around (or even extant for that matter) the sole way to find the early material.

Now the reprints have value all their own. The DC 100-Pagers are extremely collectable, the early issues of Marvel Tales and Marvel Collector's Item Classics are fantastic books to read.

Following stories like Namor's Quest in the annuals was a real treat, with real suspense from summer to summer. Likewise the Hulk saga from his run in Tales to Astonish took several years to unfold, each collection rich with fantastic art. These early collections had the artwork which had been glimpsed the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoons, the sweet stuff indeed.

Give me reprints, because new comics by and large pretty much stink.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

You guys both pretty much sum up my own views on the reprints (and yes, those Fireside paperbacks pictured were also Christmas presents for me as well).
The fact is, reprints were a big part of the fun of being a comics fan back in the 1970s and 1980s. I pretty regularly read most of the Marvel reprint titles, and I think you're both a bit remiss for failing to mention another abundant source of reprints back then: the DC digests. They reprinted tons of great material from the Golden, Silver and Bronze Ages - I used to have a big stack of those.

Dougie said...

Today's post rings true for me! I used to sigh when picking up a Marvel circa 77/78 and finding a Kirby reprint with the Dreaded Deadline Doom cited. Yet, I learned about the history of the MU through Marvel Tales and Marvel's Greatest Comics.

Nowadays, I snap up Essentials, Showcases and Super-Specs. Last week, I whiled a way a couple of days re-reading Golden Age reprints in the Fourth World books.

MattComix said...

My local library had these books in stock along with Superman: From the 30s to the 70's and also one just like it for Batman. There's was also one called The Great Comic Book heroes by Jules Feiffer.

All these books were an awesome way for a kid to get engrossed with and up to speed on comicbook history.

William Preston said...

One of those stories in which comics are connected to a strong emotion: By the beginning of high school, I'd become a Marvel fanatic, announcing that by having the Marvel school folders. I knew, by then, a reprint from the real thing. I got the flu at some point and was stuck at home and had to ask my parents to pick up some comics for me. I was only collecting a few at the time, really just the major titles. I remember my father bringing home, among other things, an issue of Marvel's Greatest . . . and instead of whining that he hadn't picked up the actual FF comic, I didn't let on that he'd grabbed something that, to me, was worthless. He went away satisfied, thinking he'd managed this task. The moment feels to me like, for one, a rare moment of maturity, but also a moment when, as a kid, I actually withheld saying something so as to protect a parent, to not hurt the parent's feelings.

One other thing, as long as I'm here: My friend Paul was still getting Marvel Tales at the time (I think I had to explain to him about the nature of reprints; he never looked at that copyright information, whereas, as a bibliophile, I studied books as objects), and he was reading things I'd read by way of a collection of Romita-drawn work I'd bought from a friend of my mother's. Paul kept saying there was this Spidey villain who was cool . . . The Shumeer. (Almost like the Yiddish "schmeer.") I finally realized he meant The Schemer . . . but Paul, whose reading level was not terribly high, hadn't figured out how to decode the villain's name.

J.A. Morris said...

Another great topic!
I loved reprints, still love them, that's why I blog about them! I remember one birthday, I was sad to learn that 'Son Of Origins' was hard to come by. I never got a copy, but I'm glad to work in a library that owns it. It's been somewhat superseded by all the Masterworks books.

But one of the best things Marvel ever did was restart Marvel Tales from the beginning of Spidey's adventures in the early 80s. Sure, sometimes the stories were silly & dated, but it felt good to experience the stories and they enhanced my knowledge of Marvel's history.

david_b said...

Perhaps I was just a brainiac in school, but quickly I would read the copyright info on the bottom in fine print and it would read the actual year it was originally published..: You first had the current date listed ((c) 1973), then the actual date when the material was reprinted (1966, 1967) from a couple of lines down.

'Declaring my geekness here..

Anyhow.., my first reprints were MGC 44 and 45, depicting the great FF fight with Blastaar and Sandman. Ah how glorious they were..! As I mentioned a few weeks ago, they immediately brought me back to the old FF cartoon memories.

And other than some remarks about past TOS or TTA issues, I had no clue the titles 'Tales of Suspense' and 'Tales to Astonish' existed until a few years later.

Furthermore, reprints brought a simpler mindset. Instead of all the melodramatic, anti-heroism themes that permeated some on-going Bronze storylines, they strutted you right back into the 'done-in-one' or single cliffhanger stories showcasing just how monumental Lee/Kirby showcases (among others) could be.

What made me 'really get' our beloved Marvel Universe would be the sneaky way the Bullpen would add hints about current story lines. For instance in the '73 King Size FF (reprinting the Reed-Sue Wedding..), they add a comment about the current Reed-Sue storyline in FF right on the splash page. On the one hand, it made sense when a wedding reprint was presented right when the seemingly divorce storyline was going on in the actual mag, and 2nd, it was a sneaky way to advertise the current title (much like the old exclamation verbiage you use to see on the bottom of Marvel pages..).

Oh, what proud hucksters they were back then.

Garett said...

As a kid I was fascinated by the DC reprints from the '40s, in the back of those 100 pagers. There was something robust and simpler in the art styles and stories--the JSA, Hawkman, original Flash and Green Lantern. It was a window into another time, exotic.

There was also a giant size Superman that reprinted the original Action comics. Loved Joe Shuster's style, and the more primitive, bounding Superman.

Anonymous said...

Hi William – how we used to pronounce names as kids is whole other topic. I used to pronounce everything more or less how it read. So John Byrne was John Byron, John Buscema was John Bus-kem-ah, Frank Giacoia was, literally, Frank Gee-ya-coy-ya.

Strangely, the problem seems to have beset my girlfriend later in life. Where she was perfectly capable of pronouncing ‘Thor’ for many years, she now pronounces it ‘Phwoar!’ (including the exclamation mark). Anyone have an explanation of this curious linguistic phenomenon? Karen?


William Preston said...

. . . Is she suddenly missing her front teeth? That would explain it . . . though I guess you would have noticed that. ;-)

david_b said...

On a slightly separate tangent, I'm actually trying to hunt down an early printing of 'Origins of Marvel Comics'..

Must be a supply lull, since I haven't seen any on Amazon or eBay of late.

Back to Triple Action and MGC, as you all know, you can really catch some nice newly drawn cover scenes on those reprint covers. An assortment of Steranko, Buscema, Romita.., collecting some pristine reprint covers is a hightlight of the Bronze Age, some much better than the original covers. A fav reprint cover of mine is Marvel Tales 44, reprinting ASM 61.

Edo Bosnar said...

david_b, if you're looking for the trade paperback edition (rather than the HC) and it doesn't absolutely have to be the first printing, you should check out Lone Star ( - they have some reasonably priced options available.
Funny you brought that up, by the way: I was just doing one of my periodic web searches for my favorite of those Fireside editions, Marvel's Greater Super-hero Battles. Alas, it's impossible to find anything cheaper than $30, and usually the condition's a bit iffy at that price...

J.A. Morris said...

Speaking of reprints, I had a question for Doug:
Do you know if the issues in 'Legends of the Dark Knight:Jim Aparo' have been re-colored? I'm getting ready to review that book and I don't have any of the original issues, I thought you could save me the trouble of picking up back issues. If not, that's okay, thanks,

Doug said...

Hi, J.A. --

I don't believe I have a single issue of the originals contained in the Aparo B&B book, so my answer is going to be non-definitive (anyone with a knowledgeable opinion, please chime in here).

Just from looking through the issues I've reviewed, I am going to say that the remastering of the coloring was pretty faithful to the original presentation. I think it stands in contrast to what Adams has done with his re-issued work (Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volumes 1-3 for example -- you can find scans of that art on the sidebar of the BAB). The Aparo book seems to be somewhat standard four-color, and the paper is not too glossy, giving it a real traditional feel.

That being said, a couple of years ago we ran an Open Forum on "Reprint Aesthetics"; it might be fun for some of you so inclined to search for that and revisit the conversation.



Fred W. Hill said...

My feelings as a kid collecting comics in the early '70s, and knowing the difference between original stories and reprints, was the same as yours, Karen. It enhanced the whole experience for me, even at the age of 11, knowing that there was a history to the characters that mattered -- that they developed over the previous decade and changed in reasonably believable ways. And, yes, I was curious about their back stories that was already deep from the vantage point of where I came in with those reprint mags. While I would have preferred the original mags, not only for the full story but also for the letters pages and just for the sake of having the originals, until I reached adulthood and had more money and discovered the joys of comics shops, original back issues were entirely beyond my reach and I was just as happy to read the stories in whatever form I could get them. Of course, I didn't appreciate all those reprints interrupting the main mags either. Heck, I didn't even really like an original but fill- in story that had nothing to do with the ongoing main storyline, although I did enjoy Gerber's infamous Howard the Duck #16, the Dreaded Deadline Doom issue.

Anonymous said...

I fall squarely into the category of readers that loved reprints. I bought and read Marvel Tales, Marvel's Greatest, Marvel Triple Action (and Marvel Super Action), and many others. I came along too late for the early 25c giant-sized Marvel's Greatest Comics (FF, Dr. Strange and Iron Man reprints all in one mag???? Wow!), but the thrill I experienced with Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action 1 and 2 had to be comparable.

I also really liked when Marvel Tales rebooted and started reprinting Spidey from the beginning. I remember debates about updating references to popular media, and also adding modern-day letters pages to the reprinted stories.

I also really dug the Silver Surfer reprint mag, especially when it ran the Warlock serial along with the Surfer stories. THAT was awesome, since I hadn't read either the Surfer or the Warlock stories previously.


Matthew Bradley said...

Tabulate me as another (qualified) pro-reprint vote. Can't remember when I first recognized them for what they were, but I think it was pretty early on, so I wasn't bothered by seeing older stories re-presented. Quite the reverse: I was already aware how elusive and expensive the originals would be, so my feeling was, if I could get the same story in an affordable and accessible form, why the hell not? I bought all of Marvel's regular reprint mags religiously, and in most cases that is still the only form in which I know most of the Silver-Age stuff.

I say "qualified" because, in going through those early stories systematically for Marvel University, I have come to realize that cutting them was more the rule than the exception. Since it isn't practical for me to re-acquire all of this stuff in other, more expensive formats, I just have to grin and bear it now, but of course back in the day I was blissfully ignorant of that fact. I liken it to watching THE 4:30 MOVIE before I knew how savagely they butchered many of the films they were showing. It wasn't unusual for them to remove one, two, or even three pages of the original material in reprints.

Of course, there were other howlers, as well. There was an issue of FF in which Reed was trapped in the Negative Zone, with the rest of the team watching him on some sort of giant viewscreen, portrayed in a two-page spread. When they reprinted the story in MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS, the morons repaginated it and put the two-pager BACK TO BACK.

Then there was the time when two different issues of MARVEL DOUBLE FEATURE used the exact same cover only nine issues apart. As some of you may recall, they did not reprint the Captain America and Iron Man stories from the same issues of TALES OF SUSPENSE; Cap was running nine issues behind Shellhead. One time they used the original TOS cover...but it was the cover from the issue in which the IM story they were reprinting first appeared, and not the Cap story, so the cover (which featured Cap) had nothing to do with the Cap story in that issue. Nine issues later, when they DID reprint the Cap story that WAS in that issue of TOS, they used the same damn cover on MDF!

Karen said...

Matthew, I remember that gaffe with Marvel Double Feature - back then I could recall the cover of every comic I had (ah to be young) and when that hit the stands I was really confused!

When I first started getting the reprint books, it was right before they began printing the "originally appeared in such and such # X". That made it pretty darn clear that the stories were from long ago -like 6 years!

The missing pages are a problem. It seemed like that happened a lot in the Treasury editions. That's why I love the DVD roms -they have everything! If the masterworks would include every page, I'd probably be buying more of them. Sometimes what you find in the letters page is really significant.Case in point: I'm working on an article for Back Issue on the Champions. In issue 6, the letters page explains how the book came to be, that it was originally conceived as a Giant -Size, who the original team was supposed to be, etc. This helps a lot, especially if I can't get interviews with the creators. This has happened with other articles I've done too.

Matthew Bradley said...

Loved THE CHAMPIONS, another book that died way too soon, especially with Claremont and Mantlo attached at various points. Sigh.

William said...

I've been a big fan of reprint trade paperbacks (and single comics) since I was a kid. The books like "Origins of Marvel Comics", "Son of Origins" "The Superhero Women", "Marvels Greatest Superhero Battles", etc. were a great way to explore the rich histories of my favorite characters, plus they offered a way to get a lot of comic stories all at once for a great price.

I remember when I was around 11 years old I got a Fantastic Four pocket book that reprinted FF #1-6 "All in color! Complete and unabridged" for $1.95. I bought it at a convenience store called "The Top Banana". I got it because it was six comics for one bargain price. I had never been a big FF fan until I read that book, but after that it became one of my favorite comics. A short time later I saw an ad in a comic for the exact same thing, but this time it was an Amazing Spider-Man pocket book that reprinted Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-6. I quickly clipped the coupon and mailed it in an envelope with $1.95 in change. Yes I actually sent my entire payment in quarters, dimes and nickels in a regular envelope through the mail. Amazingly a few days later my book arrived and I had never been more excited to receive anything in my life. As much as I loved the FF volume, I loved the Spider-Man book even more. I must have read it cover to cover at least 3 times in the first couple of weeks I owned it. I still have both of those books, plus several other "pocket books" of the same type such as Amazing Spider-Man vol. 3 (never found ASM vol. 2), Captain America vol. 1, The Incredible Hulk vol. 1, etc.

Then when I was around 12 or 13 I had a part time job at the dog kennel where my sister worked. I made about $12 a day (a small fortune for me then). The first thing I bought with my very hard earned money was "Origins of Marvel Comics" and "Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles" at my local comic book store. I followed those up with "Son of Origins" (which I liked even better than "Origins") and "The Superhero Women". For some reason I never bought "Bring On The Bad Guys", which I still kind of regret to this day. I still have all of those books as well.

I also remember that when I was in 9th grade I was consuming a steady diet of Marvel Tales (which was reprinting the old Ditko issues of Spider-Man at the time), Marvel's Greatest Comics (FF reprints), Marvel Triple Action (Avengers), and Amazing Adventures (which was reprinting early issues of the X-Men with new covers by John Byrne). I loved those books as much (and sometimes more) than a lot of the stuff that was currently being released at the time.

Back in the early 90's (right after I got married) I sold off most of my comics. I have since replaced all my favorites (Byrne's FF, Miller's DD, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, etc.) with hardcover and trade paperback reprints, such as Marvel Masterworks and Marvel Omnibus volumes, etc. So you can definitely count me among the supporters of comic book reprints.

Unknown said...

I loved reprints when I was a kid. The things you could find out be delving into history blew my young 70's mind.

The DC 100 Page Super-Spectaculars were my favorites. There was usually a decent new story (good era for DC), followed by a really interesting reprint selection. I still remember being mystified by that green bald guy in the cape when I saw my first Sekowsky-era JLA reprint. And I'm still mystified by Snapper Carr.

The JSA reprints really fascinated me. Alternate versions of Flash, Green Lantern, Atom? Weird and wonderful.

I never bothered with Marvel Tales, etc for two reasons:

1. The printing always seemed sub-standard to me back then.

2. A teenager lived by my grandmother, and he had a complete Marvel collection dating back to FF #1. He used to let me check out 10 mags a week. He didn't have to, but I think my enthusiasm won him over. Anyone here feel like throwing bricks at me?

James Chatterton

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I loved the re-prints edited or not because it gave me access to stories I couldn't afford to get. The Tresury Editons and the DC equivalent were the best thing ever in my 70's collecting days.

To me that format has never been duplicated. At least not at the same price of $1.50. I had boxes of them until I had to sell off my collection to repair my car.

The DC 100 page 50 cent reprints gave collectors a chance to read stories from the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's. Something you can't do today ! That is unless you invest in the pricey hardcover or soft cover. Today, I can't look at the "modern" versions of the characters. They are mostly hit and miss.

Back in the 70's "Origins of Marvel Comics" and it's sequels was unheard of in bookstores. The book store managers and clerks couldn't understand why anyone would want a paperback or hard cover of comics. I lived in an area where comics were considered "bad" reading material.

When I look at what passes for entertainment for young people today it's laughable to think that Marvel and DC comics were considered "bad".

spencer said...

Like many on here, I disliked reprints when they interrupted a storyline, but loved the regular reprint mags. At age 10 or so, I didn't realize that they were reprints, but sometime later I figured out that by checking the small copyright print stuff on the splash page it would tell you. My only complaint was the jumping around that often went on, like when marvel triple action switched from ff to Avengers. Also, not being a huge DC fan until much older, I did love dc's 100 page spectaculars. Manhunter!

Brian Jay Jones said...

I LOVED reprints as a kid -- how ELSE was I ever gonna see any of those great Golden Age stories (even though, at the time, I had little concept of the Ages...) Our mom gave my brother and I three oversize editions: a collection starring the Batman Villains (which reprinted one of the scariest Golden Age Joker stories ever), a reprint of Flash #1 (with backups featuring Hawkman, Johnny Thunder, and a TERRIFYING ventriloquist backup story), and a collection of old JLA stories under a Super Friends cover. We read those things until the covers fell off.

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