Author Rob Kirby has been researching the history of Marvel UK for as long as I have known him – and that’s as far back as when Marvel UK was still in existence, and I was working there! Now, after two decades since he started working on it, he’s revealed his meticulously researched book on the company, From Cents to Pence, is finally reaching the end of its “manuscript” stage.
This much-anticipated book will chart the origins of Marvel UK in the 1970s, its rise, incredible success, and eventual fall in the 1990s. Rob reveals more about this incredible project and its current status below.
Be warned, however, that completing the manuscript is only half the battle for Rob, whose research for the project has unearthed many rare gems, including, for example, a recently-revealed video recording of a British appearance by Marvel’s Stan Lee at the Roundhouse in London in 1975.
Design on what is looking to be a large format book is the next stage, still set to be published by Dez Skinn, running to hundreds of pages and some 50 chapters, although the good news is, this definitely won’t take as long to do as it has writing From Cents to Pence!
“If, and that’s a tentative if, I really can get finished post-Christmas, then I think we’d be talking at least a year for the production side (this not being the day job), as it’s become a monster,” says Rob, looking at a 2022 publication date – the 50th anniversary of the launch of British Marvel itself.
“The price will depend on initial demand and the best print deal we can get on the back of that, but it’s going to clock in around the 400 page mark, I’d say, in a deluxe large format, so your guess is as good as mine for a prime slab of 70 years of Marvel history.”
A busy designer and writer, Rob’s been researching this in-depth book on Marvel UK for the past two decades, and since 2001 has also been running re:VOX, a magazine concerning everything to do with the group Ultravox. Longtime comics fans may also remember Rob’s first excursion into the world of comics research, the fanzine, Amalgam, published between 1983 and 1990.
What Rob reveals below about the content of From Cents to Pence has simply renewed my enthusiasm for the book. I’m sure there are many of you who are also looking forward to this finally reaching our shelves!
From Cents to Pence! – A story now told in 50 chapters (and no more than that, I promise)!
Here’s an update on progress with From Cents to Pence, and it’s all good news for once, as I have been rather productive…
As I promised in my last post over at A Distant Beacon on the project, I’ve worked through much of the material assembled while I was furloughed, as well as exploring a few extra tangential research topics that I wasn’t expecting to touch. (And was that really all the way back in January? And did I really imagine the book would run to just 46 chapters? Hah!). Recently, that included completing a rather nifty lengthy archive audio transcription featuring Stan Lee at the Roundhouse in London, back in 1975. (More on that here).
Right now, that leaves me with two main areas to complete, which I’m cracking on with at the moment, both of which involve the last four or five chapters of the book, in the main. And that should be it – my manuscript is at last complete!
The upshot of my current writing on those latter chapters dealing with the Panini era – and the Stan Lee audio transcription creating the need to divide a chapter as well – is that there are now no less than 50 chapters to From Cents to Pence. I’m going to ensure that they don’t get too big that they need subdividing, as 50 is a rather tidy number to work with… and it also fits so neatly with the subject matter at the start of the final chapter that you’d think it was always planned that way!
Anyway, here’s a more exact chapter breakdown as the book should now appear (and should you so wish, you can play compare and contrast with that previous listing as it stood back in January… well, should the fancy take you, anyway!).
Chapter 1: A brief history of Marvel in America, with a view to highlighting how the early years of Stan Lee’s career pointed the way towards the formation of a British magazine division.
Chapters 2-4: Marvel in British comics from 1951 up to 1970; and developments at Marvel in America that lead up to the start of the British project.
Chapters 5-20: The secret origin of British Marvel; the confluence of initially unrelated business decisions that led to the formation of the UK wing, and how Stan Lee, Albert Landau and Chip Goodman became involved; a tale of two cities – how it was all run under the watchful gaze of Sol Brodsky and Ray Wergan; the backstory behind all the comics they produced from 1972-8.
Chapters 21-27: The Marvel Revolution! – the inside line on the whys and wherefores of the re-shaping of the UK line in 1979 and the comics they produced.
Chapters 28-36: Title-by-title, through Paul Neary’s post-‘Revolution’ publishing explosion and the start of the “Marvel UK” branding; the third coming of Captain Britain; the company’s huge success in licensed (toy) comics.
Chapters 37-44: From Marvel UK’s first toe-tip into publishing comics also sold in America, right through to the last knockings of the Overkill-era of UK created American colour comics (which also includes an in-depth title-by-title look at many of the titles that didn’t quite happen during that period), and all the UK comics released during that period.
Chapters 45-47: How Marvel UK was merged with Panini’s UK operation under Marvel America’s control, as the company on both sides of the Atlantic re-orientated after the direct market crash; The birth of the Collector’s Editions.
CONTINUITY (1999 to present)
Chapters 48-50: The sale of Marvel UK to Panini in the wake of Marvel America’s Chapter 11 deal; The expansion of the Collector’s Editions; Bringing the story up to date.
If you’d like to keep up to date on progress on From Cents to Pence, head over to A Distant Beacon, which I set up back in 2001 to bring all my various activities under one (electronic) roof.
Our thanks to Rob for bringing us up to speed on From Cents to Pence. Rob has been hugely supportive of our much smaller efforts to document Marvel UK projects, providing plenty of information, for example, to add to our “Marvel UK: “Genesis ’92” – Looking Back and What Might Have Been” resource. We wish him the very best of luck completing his book in 2021
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.