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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Spider-Man In Australia: The Strange Case Of Amazing Fantasy #15

The great thing about Australian reprint comics is that it's fairly easy to trace the history of a particular title from conception to end. What's not so easy is tracking down all the issues in a particular run, and some of what is known is merely supposition on the half of many researchers, myself included. The best part of such assumption is that, in the majority of situations, patterns are so consistent that any educated guess will more than likely be correct. Having said that, there are abnormalities that appear to make no sense at all. The case of the first story featuring the Amazing Spider-Man is just one of those sagas that falls into the category of 'what were they doing?'

The first appearance of Spider-Man in Australia came in the pages of Strange Tales #5, as published by Horwitz. The cover of the comic featured an excellent Ditkoish cover by Australia's Maurice Bramley, the man responsible for the bulk of Horwitz's output, in particular their lines of Marvel (Atlas) reprints. Bramley supplied high quality cover art with fine rendering and detail often not featured on the American originals and more often than not Bramley also had a one to two page story as a back-up. In this case no Bramley story was featured.

The contents of Strange Tales #5 are a straight reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #1. Interestingly Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, was not reprinted at this point in time. Dating this comic is proving to be a tricky topic. According to an ad on the rear of the comic, the comic could be dated to August 1963, meaning it might well be one of the first ever reprints of Amazing Spider-Man #1 outside of America. This date matches up with Strange Tales #6, which dates from September 1963, and, as an aside, this also allows me to clear up the mystery of the two covers for Strange Tales #4. The first copy of Strange Tales #4, which features a cover image of The Impossible Man, dates from July 1963, the second cover, featuring The Hulk, Iron Man, the Torch and Mr Fantastic, is actually a reprint, dating from September 1965. Hopefully that puts a few issues to rest.

The next appearance of Spider-Man that I can safely track down came when Newton Comics obtained the rights to reprint Marvel within Australia. In the twelve years between Strange Tales #5 and The Amazing Spider-Man #1 I can't find a single case of any Spider-Man story being reprinted in Australia, which is a surprising situation when one considers the popularity of the title in America and other parts of the world. I am half expecting that someone will prove me wrong - in fact I demand it - but if companies such as Page (which reprinted the bulk of the Horwitz line, but not superhero material as near as I can establish) and Kenmure, which were reprinting Marvel during the late '60s and early '70s appear to have overlooked Spider-Man. In the case of Kenmure and K.G. Murray, Marvel characters such as Daredevil, Conan, Warlock, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Shang-Chi, Werewolf By Night, Dr Strange, Ka-Zar and the Sub-Mariner all were reprinted, but not more popular mainstream characters such as the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man. Therein lies a mystery. The best guess would be that the reprint rights for the more popular characters and stories were cost prohibitive compared to what might be referred to as the 'second tier' characters in the Marvel stable. In the case of Conan, the character might have warranted the extra expense. Also worthy of consideration was the comparative ease that mainstream Marvels, such as Spider-Man, could be obtained in Australia at the time, compared to titles that sold less.

The Newton Amazing Spider-Man #1 also reprinted the first story from the American original, along with the entire contents of the second issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Again, in a strange move, there was no sign of the origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15.

The Newton Amazing Spider-Man #1 offers an edited splash page, removing both the job number and a blurb that advertises a recap of the origin story.

Later that year Newton Comics again reprinted the first Amazing Spider-Man story, in Giant Team-Up Annual Featuring Spider-Man. In this case the story was a back-up feature to more 'modern' Bronze Age Marvel stories, in particular four stories from Marvel Team-Up.

Unlike the first reprints, this edition does feature the job number and the blurb advertising the existence of a prior issue featuring the origin story. As Newton was recycling this story, I expect that they merely went for an un-edited reprint from the original stats as supplied by Transworld.

The next appearance of Spider-Man in Australia came with the Yaffa Publishing Groups Amazing Spider-Man series. Unusually Yaffa didn't begin the series with a first issue, instead beginning their numbering at #173, the first issue I can find in the series (if there's an earlier number then I wanna know). The best theory that I can offer is that Yaffa began their series with issue #173 as it was the first American issue that they had to reprint - the comic reprints the American Amazing Spider-Man #173. This issue also reprints the first American issue of Amazing Spider-Man, in it's complete form. As the title has this story included, it can then be reasonably concluded that this is the first in the Yaffa line.

Much like the first Newton issue, this issue also cuts off the 'previous issue' blurb and is missing the job number.

It would take until 1979 for the first true Spider-Man story to be reprinted in Australia. Issue 190-191 of The Amazing Spider-Man in the Yaffa series would not only finally reprint the origin story of Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy #15, but also the entire contents of that issue, unedited. Thus this issue marks the reprinting of the first appearance of The Amazing Spider-Man in Australia.

The splash page appears to be a straight reprint from the American original and, considering the existence of the remainder of the issue, is more than likely taken from stats of the original issue. This is a fair assumption as Marvel did have the contents of Amazing Fantasy #15 in their possession until the now infamous art theft of the late 1970s/early 1980s. The original art has since been donated to the American Library Of Congress, (donated by, rumour has it, the original thief of the art) meaning that stats can once again be taken from the original art.

Yaffa surrendered the rights to reprint Marvel in Australia in the early 1980s. The Federal Publishing Company then stepped in and snapped up the rights to reprint Marvel, concentrating, for the most part, on reprinting current issues of Marvel Comics. In the case of Spider-Man, Federal began reprinting comparatively recent Spider-Man stories, with the occasional Silver Age reprint in the main Amazing Spider-Man title.

Federal Publishing would also reprint Silver Age Spider-Man stories in their Marvel Tales Starring Spider-Man title. This title would also reprint Amazing Fantasy #15, but used an altered cover as featured on the American Marvel Tales #137.

This reprint of the first Spider-Man story also features an altered splash page. In this case the job number is missing and the page has been cropped, with the signatures of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko being moved to just under Peter Parker's feet.

In the mid 1980s Federal's contract with Marvel would expire and Marvel reprints would effectively cease to exist in Australia until the early 2000s. Marvel would attempt to launch it's own Australian Marvel line, which consisted of the regular American versions of it's comic books with an Australian price inserted, much in the same way that UK prices had been printed on American Marvels for distribution for the English market. Sadly the days of large sized (and digest sized) black and white Marvel reprint comics, with issues averaging sixty four plus pages were gone, never to return.

This story hasn't ended, so keep your eyes peeled for further updates and additions. Also, feel free to ask for information or the history of any Marvel title within Australia and I'll do my utmost to discover what I can.

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Many thanks to Robert Thomas for lending me his copy of the Horwitz Strange Tales #5 so I could finally scan it and record it's contents! Cheers mate!

2 comments:

Robert Thomas said...

Daniel you're most welcome! Pleased to see it provided a 'hook' to lead into a detailed history of Spider-Man reprints in Oz.

The Bramley issue I bought from the fabulous "Old Book & Comic Emporium" in south-western Sydney sometime in the early 2000s. I recommend a visit to the shop for book and comic enthusiasts when passing thru Sydney way.

The issue was among a pile of other common Australian reprints and was the first time I had become aware that Horwitz had reprinted Marvel stories at almost the same time as their US counterparts. So began another collector hunt!

Daniel are you also aware of the one-off Spider-Man digest sized reprint in 2008 by Otter Press? At 194 pages it reprints the classic Lee/Romita Amazing Spider-Man #53 to #61 in colour to boot!

Brüs NaGrom said...

Confirming your remarks "The next appearance of Spider-Man in Australia came with the Yaffa Publishing Groups Amazing Spider-Man series. Unusually Yaffa didn't begin the series with a first issue, instead beginning their numbering at #173, the first issue I can find in the series (if there's an earlier number then I wanna know). The best theory that I can offer is that Yaffa began their series with issue #173 as it was the first American issue that they had to reprint - the comic reprints the American Amazing Spider-Man #173. This issue also reprints the first American issue of Amazing Spider-Man, in it's complete form. As the title has this story included, it can then be reasonably concluded that this is the first in the Yaffa line."

Looking back through my collection, the ASM 172 I bought at the time is the US edition. Then from 173 to 183 are B&W monthly Australian reprints with backup Ditko stories, then from 184/85 to past #200 are B&W bimonthly Australian reprints. I don't have box 200-249 to hand right now. According to my recollection, I was told that the US editions were banned from AUS sale, due to an exclusive licence arrangement between Marvel and Yaffa. Hope this is of interest.