I’m going to stick with the good Captain for a little while.

Having read the previous entry, some of you may have been a little confused about the “Marvel All-Colour Comics” banner. What can it mean? Here is what my copy looks like again—pay special attention to the top of the cover:

Compare that with the scan below and you’ll note a few differences. The price is no longer 25c, but 8p (yep, three dollars to the pound back then—halcyon days!), and the “Marvel Comics Group” banner is replaced by the previously-mentioned “Marvel All-Colour Comics” one. So, what happened?

Captain America #182 -- American version

During the 1960s, various Marvel comic strips were reprinted in the UK in a variety of weekly comics. Titles such as Pow, Smash and Fantastic abounded under the “Power Comics” tag. City Magazines weren’t above putting Batman and Superman tales in TV Tornado, a dying TV 21 chopped up Spider-Man and Silver Surfer stories, and even that venerable organ, Eagle, home of Dan Dare, eventually got in on the act, reprinting some Tales of Asgard in its final days.

Finally,in 1972, Marvel took the decision to stop licensing its characters to other publishers in the UK and took on the job itself. That year they began publishing The Mighty World of Marvel, a weekly comic that featured reprints of the Hulk, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. After a few months, the project was successful enough to spawn a spin-off, and Spider-Man was given his own weekly, called, imaginatively enough, Spider-Man Comics Weekly. His back-ups were Thor and Iron Man, while Daredevil took his vacated spot in MWOM. And so began the long and fruitful career of Marvel Comics UK, although, in those early days, the comics were produced and packaged in the US, with the UK address merely being an office for traffic control and mail.

Now, once they started the British operation, Marvel restricted the importation of the American comics. This was intended to give the British comics a good start in newsagents as they wouldn’t be competing against their American cousins. Suddenly it became difficult to find Marvel comics in this country; for example, I never saw an American Spider-Man or Hulk comic until the early 1980s, I had to make do with the British reprints. However, after a few years, Marvel relaxed their rules a little and a small range of comics were allowed into the country. That was the time when I saw Captain America #182.

The British reprints were published weekly and featured a colour cover with black and white interior art (initially the interiors were two-tone: green for Hulk and red for Spider-Man). They were also larger in size than their American counterparts, being roughly 11″x8″. They ran 36 pages, and in order to pack in all the strips, the original comics were serialised, so a single issue of the US Spider-Man comic would be run over, say, three issues of Spider-Man Comics Weekly. Clearly that caused a shortage of cover images, and so a variety of artists passing through the bullpen at Marvel US were pressed into service providing new cover images for the British weeklies. Stan Lee’s brother, Larry Lieber, did the lion’s share, but there are covers by the likes of John Romita, John Buscema, Carmine Infantino and, yes, even Jack Kirby. New splash pages and “story so far” panels also had to be provided for each weekly installment.

Once Marvel allowed the American comics to be distributed again, they needed to differentiate them in some way from the British comics. I’d imagine they still didn’t want the American material to compete with the British reprints, and so they tried to ensure that potential buyers were getting something different for their money. Yes, you could read the adventures of Captain America in Titans Weekly, but if you forked over your 8p for this you get ALL-COLOUR stories, as opposed to the black and white weeklies. Why, they’re as alike as chalk and cheese—why not buy both?

The American comics market has long turned its nose up at these British-ized versions of the their comics, with their price in pence and that troubling extra “u”. The belief persists that these comics are reprints, or second editions, and are considered of little value. There is no truth in this. These comics were printed at exactly the same time as the American copies. All that happened was that, at a certain point in the cover printing process, a switch was flicked and the black plate changed to reflect the British price and banner. It’s even been claimed that the British versions were actually printed first, while the presses were run up to speed. Really, there is no difference whatsoever other than the cover price and banner; the interiors are exactly the same.

Marvel All-Colour Comics. After the austerity of the black and white, chopped up strips, these were a revelation to my young eyes.

Images ©2011 Marvel Characters, Inc