Monday, September 28, 2015

Bronze Age Babies Guest Review – Marvel-Con ’76 Program

Karen: Today our regular commenter Colin Bray has a special treat for us: a review of the program for the 1976 Marvel Comic Convention! Many of you might not have even been born yet (!), and for some of us, New York was pretty far away, so attending this show was just a dream. But through artifacts like this, we can at least get a sense for what it might have been like. So without further ado, here's Colin -

Colin: Welcome to a guest review of the second annual Marvel-Con ’76 Program!

This in-house Marvel convention was held at the Hotel Commodore between April 23 and 25. At the time I was a five year-old Londoner so picked up my program copy a little late at a London convention back in 2002 or so.

The program itself is fascinating, being 48 pages in length - and card covers aside - printed wholly in black and white. The contributing artists are listed as Neal Adams, John Buscema, Tony DeZuniga, Frank Giacoia, Al Milgrom and Mike Nasser.

Intriguingly the program is not published by Marvel comics but rather by Vince Colletta directly. I would be interested to know how and why that publishing deal came about, it seems quite unusual.
The contents page can be seen below, including a nice variety of blue-chip Bronze Age themes and material, from Conan to martial arts to the bicentennial focus on Cap. Beyond this, Marvel are clearly using the program to appeal to both fan and trade markets as this review will make clear.

Enough with the preamble let’s look at the features of particular interest, starting with those aimed at the trade market. I am curious about this emphasis because with no direct market in ’76 who was Marvel talking at precisely?

Statement of Market Share

So, the Curtis Circulation figures show that in 1975 Marvel sold 41.9% of comics in the market, and by 1976 this went up to 45.6%. The latter figure is nearly double the DC share of 23.4%. Surprisingly, at least to me, Archie had 13.8%, Harvey 10.5% and Gold Key 6.7%.

Marvel liked this data so much that they triumphantly repeat it elsewhere in the program with Cap declaring that ‘we’re number one!’

Marvel Comic Advertising Rates

This is a lot of fun – for $182.00 you could purchase one-half inch in the entire Marvel Comics group (“11,000,000 ABC circulation”). All you needed to is submit a “camera-ready” ad. The page gives copy deadlines and closes with – ‘think of the incredible return on your investment.’ Indeed.


The program includes adverts for the Aaron Banks New York Karate Academy (I believe they laid on a demo at the Con), John Buscema’s Art School, Ivy Film 16 (film distributor) and both large/small ads for then-current Marvel comic titles.


Reprint of the first Cap story – Case No.1 Meet Captain America (1941)

Clearly reprinted to tie into the bicentennial, this black and white reprint is a somewhat tough read due to the demands of the small A5 format shrinking the original 40s art. But it must have seemed cool to an audience starved of GA reprints.

Spidey at the Marvel Comics Convention ’76

This is a two-page curio, in which Spidey attempts to sneak into the convention (for reasons unknown) only to be scared off by ‘too many spirited fans’. Odd. Art by Thomas Sciacca and Frank Giacoia, Letters by ‘P.C.C’er’. I’m guessing the writer and letterer didn’t care enough to be identified with the strip.

Selected Features

Jack Kirby – The Man Who Is King

Written by Thomas Sciacca, this two-page article coincides with Kirby’s return to Marvel and must have been an attempt to connect Kirby with all the super-young fans at the convention. Not at all interested in raking up old controversies, I’m still struck by the claim that:

‘there was a time that only Stan, Jack, Sol Brodsky and the late Art Simek were Marvel comics, with Jack drawing almost every feature, occasionally helped by Sol and Larry Lieber.’

Why wasn’t Ditko on that list?

Saving America in 15 Chapters

This is a review of the 1944 Captain America serial and accompanies a showing at the convention. Interesting personally because I previously didn’t even know the serial existed, and more generally because this is no whitewash piece. The writer (‘James Glen’) pretty much dismantles the series for contemporary fans, criticising in particular the way the series deviated from its comic book origins. A familiar lament until the modern Marvel Studios. An aside – the series can be found in its entirety on YouTube.

Spider-Man Live!

A photo-heavy piece about a 1974 16mm student film based on Spidey that was also shown at the convention. The article includes several stills but little other useful info.

After a bit of digging I discovered the film was called ‘Spider-Man Versus Kraven The Hunter’,based on Amazing #15 and was apparently pretty well-made. However, the film has apparently never been seen online because the producer, Bruce Cardozo, refuses to release it. So if you were at the ’76 Convention you remain in select company…

For reasons of space, the following pieces aren’t reviewed here:

Introduction to Kung Fu (written by Thomas Sciacca)

Captain America: Great Symbol of America (written by Jim Burns)

Conan the Barbarian: A Profile (a Buscema art page)

A Day with Stan Lee (not as interesting as it sounds)

Roy Thomas Profile (ditto)

Comic Collecting Article (written by Dominick Corrado)

Autograph Page (sadly, in my copy this page is empty)

Photos from the convention are surprisingly difficult to find but a good selection can be seen here

To conclude…

While some of the content in this ‘76 program is slight, taken as a whole it is a fine emblem of the High Bronze Age. I’m gripped by the themes, the creators, the picture of fandom and most of all how Marvel sought to portray itself, on the cusp between the super-creative, but sometimes chaotic early 70s and the gradual transition to Jim Shooter and a more corporate approach as the 70s became the 80s.

Were any Bronze Age Babies at this convention or own this program - or indeed, know anything about the first, 1975 Con?

And can any good people here add to our knowledge of its occasionally obscure content?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. So by 1976 Marvel had a 45.6 % share of the comics market while DC only had a 23.4 % share - I've often heard the claim that the Star Wars licence "saved" Marvel so how did DC manage to survive when they had only half of Marvel's market share and no Star Wars ?

Humanbelly said...

If I've gathered my comics corporate history correctly, Colin J, survival was tricky for DC at this point as well. They were playing catch-up ball with a wildly expanding Marvel, and were in the midst of a 2 or 3 year period where they launched almost five-dozen new titles (!). It culminated in something called the DC Explosion in early '78. . . which was followed a very few short months later by the so-called "DC Implosion", where they cancelled an enormous swath of books-- several only after an issue or two of publication. It's when we *sniff* finally lost Kamandi, too.

So times fer DC, they was tough. I imagine being the older, more stable, business-like company also helped them ride out the crisis--- although it was just brutal for the artistic staff.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, HB. I've always been a bit dubious about the "Star Wars saved Marvel" claim though - if DC survived then I'm pretty sure Marvel would also have survived if they had twice the market share by the late '70s.

Redartz said...

Interesting artifact and article, Colin! The inclusion of business-oriented info (sales figures, ad rates) does indicate that the con was intended as more than just a fan gathering. One wonders if enough "X-Ray Specs" were sold to cover the cost of those ubiquitous ads; there must have been a kid on every block who ordered a pair...

Dittos to your observation that Steve Ditko got short-shrift. Odd that he would be excluded from the article. Granted, it was about Kirby , but if they mention Larry Lieber they certainly could have noted Ditko's contribution to the efforts.

I unfortunately couldn't attend the con- way too far from Indiana for this teenager at the time. I do recall that attendees could get discounted admission to the conventions (1975 and 76) if they presented a completed Marvel Value Stamp album. The album even had spaces on the back cover for convention admission stamps. My album,sadly, never got one.

ColinBray said...

Colin J - in 1976 DC had already been part of Warners for several years. This gave them fundamental protection from bankruptcy even if the comics division lost money and had to restructure itself.

A bit later it could be argued that the Superman movie did more for DC than Star Wars did for Marvel. As the licensing company Warners surely made more money from Superman merchandise than Marvel did from the Star Wars comics alone.

But, just maybe, Star Wars comics were a more effective gateway drug to the rest of the Marvel comics line than Superman was for the DC line...?

Humanbelly said...

Yes, Warners would have been a MUCH more savvy and corporately-supportive parent company to DC than, what was it-- Cadence Industries?-- ever was to Marvel. Warners, after all was an entertainment/media company even then, whereas I have no memory whatsoever of Cadence's corporate/industrial niche. Could've been Spacely Space Sprockets or World Wide Wickets or Ronco Vegematics,y'know?

Also, this is an oddball little snippet of memory, but according to a question on Hollywood Squares at the time, Superman's solo book was still the top-selling individual comic book in the mid-70's-- which I thought was astonishing. So, corporate protection and a still-dominant flagship trademark would help create a very stable foundation for the company, whereas we KNOW Marvel did nothing but get raided, sold, re-raided, and re-sold over the next few years. Great marketshare can't be counted on to save a company if it's assets and capitol are being destroyed by short-sighted greed-monsters and/or incompentents manning the helm.

I can certainly see that, if STAR WARS was selling enough units to pay folks' salaries and fees for a short time, it could certainly have been the one factor that kept the lights on. (Think George Bailey's honeymoon kitty that he used to keep the Building & Loan open-- with only $2 to spare at closing time. . . )


david_b said...

Colin Bray, your assessment seems very spot on. Just because Marvel had nearly twice the market, it was by-in-large not a healthy market by the mid-70s compared to other print media.

I suspected DC had other supplemental income (not tied to comic sales) that kept it healthy, such as Warner Brothers and of course whatever they had coming from the lucrative 'SuperFriends' licensing and later the 'Adventures of Batman' Saturday morning fare.

ColinBray said...

HB - Cadence were involved in magazine distribution and pharmaceutical sales alongside publishing. In fact they also owned Curtis Distribution whose distribution figures are quoted in the Con programme above to garner advertising.

An interesting conflict of interest to be sure - were they ever independently audited? Perhaps Colin J is right to be surprised about market share.

Humanbelly said...

Wasn't there a film or film-processing arm in there somewhere, too, early on? Hoo-boy, perfect background for running a comic book publishing outfit. . .

I was rather wondering how many more years Marvel did its own dedicated convention like this one? It's sure a Stan-type of venture, isn't it? I wonder if he brought the idea to the table?


ColinBray said...

HB - the Cadence Wikipedia entry gives the whole tangled story -

There were two conventions, in '75 and '76 and I would interested to hear their origin story too. I'm also curious to know the precise convention schedules because this detail is notable for it's absence from the '76 program.

Anonymous said...

Wooboy Marvel-Con 1976? Who knew?

I certainly didn't - I was all of 5 and a half years old at the time! Oh yeah, and living in T & T had something to do with that too ... Hmmm wonder when the first ever comics convention was held? Anyone? Anyways, this looks like more of a trade fair or business expo than what we nowadays would call a true comics convention.

HB & Colin, I too have had my doubts about the 'Star Wars saved Marvel' story. If indeed Marvel had such a strong share of the market (and most businesses would kill to have those market figures nowadays!) back then, they wouldn't have needed to license Star Wars. Getting Star Wars probably just consolidated their market share.

The thing which got me most excited about this program is the student film with Spider-Man and Kraven! Man, I'd love to see that, cheesy effects and all. Somebody should have a chat with this Bruce Cardozo cat .....

- Mike '1976 was a blur to me!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

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