05 May 2012


I think I've mentioned before that the shelf to the left of my desk is full of old collections of Marvel comics that were published in the 1970s. Well, that and DVDs. Oh, and the hardcover collections of Jack Kirby's DC Comics output from the '70s – the Fourth World books, Kamandi, OMAC, The Demon, The Losers... Oh, and there's a homemade Darkseid figure that Jonathan Ross gave me last year. I have a soft spot for all that stuff, and there's just enough space in these built-in shelves to collect it all into one place. 

These old books from the '70s are kind of the pride and joy in terms of my overall collection of comics, though, primarily because many of them are things I saw and wanted as a kid, but never had. The books Marvel put out with Fireside Books, especially. I never had a one of those, but I remember seeing them in bookstores, and I had a friend who tore one of them apart to turn its contents into what he felt qualified as the individual issues. That same friend had a copy of Fireside's Fantastic Four book, too, which compiled  Fantastic Four #'s 4, 48-50 and 86, and that was my first exposure to the original "Galactus Trilogy."

Books I actually did own were Pocketbooks' "Pocket Comics," collecting the early issues of Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Tales of Suspense-era Captain America and nearly all Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales. I had most of these, but eventually got of rid of them in one of my many ill-advised purges. When eBay first started, buying them all back was one of my first goals.

There's something really cool about the design on all the Fireside books. The same collections were reprinted by Marvel back in the '90s, but with more "contemporary" covers and they just pale in comparison. Yes, the painted cover art is very '70s looking, but it has personality – each one says something about the times.

For instance, Origins of Marvel Comics features what are presumably the hands of Stan Lee at a typewriter, and apart from the grating inference that Smilin' Stan was solely responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe, the typewriter itself is something very firmly based in that time period. As little as a decade later, typewriters were seen as a relic of the past, with word processors and computers taking their place, but the one pictured here is very much of the '70s.

The word balloon motif used on the author credit for Son of Origins and the title of Bring On the Bad Guys is kind of cool, too, and I feel like it was the first time I'd really seen that done back then, but the main thing that interests me about these covers is the characters they focus on. For instance, on Son of Origins, the sole member of the X-Men to appear is Jean Grey aka Marvel Girl, as opposed to say, Cyclops or Professor X. This was right around the time the new X-Men featuring Wolverine, Storm and Colossus were only just gaining popularity, so including a member of the X-Men at all likely wasn't a high priority, but I'm willing to bet the reason Jean was included over Scott was to add another female character to the cover, both for balance and for a concession to equality.

And with Women's Lib being a hot topic in the '70s, that same reasoning was probably behind a collection of stories featuring "the fabulous females of Marvel Comics," too. Is there a version of this available today? I'd look, but I kind of shudder to think what the cover illustration would be now. Even with as little as she's wearing, I don't think Red Sonja has ever looked more wholesome than she does here.

The smaller "Pocket Comics" collections are less interesting to look at in terms of cover art – it's all just pull art, nothing new to see here – but they're still neat little books. Even though I was well-trained in the art of hunting down Marvel's reprint mags to read up on the past adventures of my favorite characters, these books pretty much educated me on the very earliest Marvel stories and were nothing short of a godsend.
I don't know if this was the first of these books or not, but it was the first one I bought, via mail order even. I'd read a couple of these stories before, but having Fantastic Four #1-6 together in a single volume was nothing short of mind-blowing for the pre-teen me. I never understood why only a single FF book was published, but I happily picked up the dual volumes of Incredible Hulk and Doctor Strange.

Both the Doctor Strange and Amazing Spider-Man books – and there were three volumes of Spidey, collecting ASM #1-18 – were more or less my introduction to Steve Ditko. I'd seen some of his work in then-current comics like Micronauts and Machine Man, but I immediately recognized this was better. I hadn't been a huge Spider-Man fan up to this point, but I loved the stories in these books. 

I honestly can't tell you why these books are so important to me, but I love being able to look over at them while I'm sitting at my desk. There's just something comforting about them, and while I'm no luddite, I always feel a twinge of sadness when I consider the likelihood that generations to come are going to miss out on the unique memories created by print. I'm willing to admit I could be wrong, but I tend to doubt that pouring over files on a computer or a tablet will evoke the same type of feelings looking at these wonderful old books do...