A lot of people love reading collected editions, sometimes called “Graphic Novels” by people trying to distance them from their roots as comic books.
There is a difference; a collected edition is a gathering together of material that was originally written and presented as single issue comics which have been collected into a single volume. A graphic novel is a long-form comic book that was originally presented as a single volume.
Nowadays almost every comic story worth reading is collected and available for purchase very soon after the comics they are collecting hit the stands. In some cases, the collected edition hits the comic shop on the same day as the last issue it collects! I know a lot of people who have sworn off periodical comics altogether and only read them as collected editions. That was not always possible…
For the purposes of this Blog entry, I’m going to concentrate on Marvel Comics collected editions of the 1970s (because that was what I primarily bought in my early days of collecting and reading comics).
Take a look up above. Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee. This is the very first collected edition I ever saw. And did my eyes bug out when I saw it! It was 1974 and I had been collecting for 4 years, all Marvel Comics, and I don’t think I’d ever seen the origin stories of the characters before. My Mom got this this for Christmas 1974 and it was my favorite present. The interesting thing about this book was it didn’t just have the origin stories, it had the first stories and then an issue from later in the run and you could really see how the characters had developed over several years, additionally we got a couple of pages of introduction to each character by Stan the Man in his signature rollickin’ prose style.
We got Fantastic Four #1 (Stan & Jack Kirby) and also #55 (still Stan & Jack). The Incredible Hulk #1 (Stan & Jack) and also #118 (Stan & Herb Trimpe), Amazing Fantasy #15 (Stan & Steve Ditko) and Amazing Spider-Man #72 (Stan & John Romita), Journey into Mystery #83 (Stan & Jack) and The Mighty Thor #143 (still Stan & Jack), and finally Strange Tales #115 (Stan & Steve Ditko doing Dr. Strange’s Origin) followed by Strange Tales #110 (Stan & Steve on the 1st appearance of Dr. Strange) and finally Dr. Strange from Strange Tales #155 (Stan & Marie Severin). I almost read the covers off this book. The FF, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Dr. Strange! What a line-up! I have an affinity for these characters to this day.
Well, if it worked once, let’s do it again! Son of Origins of Marvel Comics came out the next year, 1975, and featured The X-Men, Iron Man, The Avengers, Daredevil, Nick Fury, The Watcher (?!?!), and the Silver Surfer. 1976 brought us Bring on the Bad Guys with Dr. Doom, Dormammu, Loki, The Red Skull, The Green Goblin, The Abomination, and Mephisto. If a hero is defined by the villains they must face, we got some of the greats in this volume. In retrospect, I’d have replaced The Abomination with Magneto, but it was a very solid collection.
The final volume of the quartet came out in 1977, The Superhero Women, moving away from strictly origins and presenting some key stories featuring Medusa, Red Sonja, The Invisible Girl, Ms. Marvel, Hela, The Cat (who would later become Tigra), The Wasp, a fairly random story with Lyra the Femizon (they were stretching to find enough female characters to fill the book, they should have run a second Black Widow story), Shanna the She-Devil, and Black Widow.
Also in 1977, as The Superhero Women was coming out from Fireside at comic book size, Marvel “went small” with collections from Pocket Book that were the size of a standard paperback book (shown above with Origins to demonstrate the size difference) and were in full color. Amazing Spider-Man reprinted Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-6 while Fantastic For reprinted FF #1-6. Thematically, these are much closer to the collected editions of today, if not in size, at least in the fact that they were presenting a run of issues for a single character or team.
What we got in 1978 on the “full size” front was a bit different than the origins volumes. It was an original 100 page Silver Surfer story by Stan & Jack, square-bound and not distributed on the comic racks. THIS was a graphic novel. Historically not the very first one, but the first one I ever saw. I got mine at Pic ‘n’ Save for 79 cents! But we’re concentrating on collected editions, I just threw this one in to show the difference between an OGN and a collected edition…
1978 was the most prolific year for the Pocket Book collected editions. We got a second volume of Spider-Man with issues #7-13, a volume of Doctor Strange with his stories as presented in Strange Tales #110-129, 2 volumes of the Hulk with #1-6 of his original series and then a fairly random assortment of stories (but he was popular because of the TV show). Also popular was Conan, we got 3 volumes, but from Ace instead of Pocket books.
What made the Conan books notable was that instead of reducing each comic page to the size of a paperback book page (which made many panels very small), Ace chopped up and reformatted things so they could present the art at something closer to the original size (splash pages excepted). The downside was we only got 3 issues in a volume instead of 6, but they were sure easier to read.
1979 brought a 3rd volume of Spider-Man with issues #14-20, a 2nd Doctor Strange with his stories from Strange Tales #130-144, and Captain America reprinting Avengers #4 and a variety of stories from Tales of Suspense.
1980 gave fans 2 volumes reprinting the Spider-Man newspaper strip in color. These are wonderful, Stan Lee & John Romita, unfortunately I only have the 1st one. This was, unfortunately, the last hurrah of the paperback-sized collected edition format. Marvel limped out more volumes (3 of which I own and are pictured below) in 1982 under the Marvel Illustrated Books banner, but these were black & white and just were not the same as the color volumes.
This should give a bit of the flavor to collectors today about how the early days of collected editions stack up. All I can say is that people who like to read long-form comics a volume at a time are lucky to be living today with the rich landscape of available reading compared to what was available in the late 1970s and early 1980s…
Bob Bretall: firstname.lastname@example.org
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