I got my first Marvel comics by swapping various comics with the boy next door. I would have preferred Batman, but I took what he had. There were a few of the non-superhero fantasy shorts by Kirby or Ditko, then a Strange Tales featuring the Human Torch meeting the Sub-Mariner and an early story of Dr Strange. There was a sense of a new and complicated world, quite different from the simplicities of Superman and Batman. In this world, as brought home to me by an Avengers issue, the first I read carefully, the heroes argued amongst themselves, boasted of their power, and were sometimes defeated, artists were celebrities and stories continued over several issues. I noticed smaller differences that intrigued me, like the way heroes’ names weren’t always printed in bold, as they were in DC comics. One night, in a chip shop / newsagent in the neighbouring housing estate, I bought Thor Annual #2 and I was hooked. Lee and Kirby had swept me into their world.
I still read the British comics I had read before, which became easier and cheaper as they all merged. But the stories and characters now seemed one-dimensional and the art pedestrian, with the exceptions of Franks Bellamy and Hampson.
Then a new comic was launched in the UK called Fantastic!. It consisted almost entirely of black and white reprints of Marvel comics from previous years. Fantastic! featured Thor, the X-Men and Iron Man, and a companion was soon launched called Terrific! which featured the Avengers among others. Some editing was done – word balloons with American spellings were overwritten, sometimes crudely, and all references to the USSR (which frequently featured as a villain) were changed to fictional names or ‘an Iron Curtain country’. But here was all the background I needed to make sense of the characters I was coming to love in the Marvel Universe. You could see the development not only of the characters but also of the artists, particularly Kirby from his early naturalistic style to the exaggerated and chaotic but exciting style of his heyday.
Saturday morning was the time I would walk across to Whiteletts, the nearest R S McColls newsagent that stocked Fantastic! and Terrific! I’d all but lost interest in pop music at the time, save for a few hits I liked; that Saturday morning walk is forever associated in my mind with Cat Stevens’ Matthew And Son.
Marvel heroes and Marvel styles began to dominate my slate-scratching, and when I came to discover other Marvel fanatics at school, probably a year into the obsession, I began to transfer my drawings to paper, and to dream of following in the footsteps of Kirby, Ditko, Romita, Colan and Buscema to the Madison Avenue headquarters of the Marvel ‘Bullpen’.
© Norman Lamont 2005
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