Marvel UK was an imprint of Marvel Comics formed in 1972 to reprint US produced stories for the British weekly comic market, though it later did produce original material by British creators such as Alan Moore, John Wagner, Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon and Grant Morrison.
It now forms part of Panini Comics.
Reprints of American Marvel material had been published in the UK during the 1960s by Odhams under their Power Comics imprint. Titles such as Smash!, Terrific and Fantastic featured a mix of Marvel reprint material (such as the Fantastic Four) and original non-Marvel work. This lasted until 1969 when the last superhero strip was removed from Smash!, leaving no Marvel titles being reprinted in the UK on a regular basis, although occasional Marvel reprints still turned up in the various anthology titles published by Alan Class.
Seeing a gap in the popular weekly comics market of the UK at the time, Marvel Comics formed their own British publishing arm. Starting with The Mighty World of Marvel (commonly shortened to MWOM ) in 1972, Marvel began publishing black and white (though early issues of MWOM did feature some colour) reprints of The Hulk, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. As was the custom of British weekly titles, the first issue featured a free gift. MWOM #1 featured a Hulk iron-on t-shirt transfer.
The title proved to be a huge success and a few months later Spider-Man Comics Weekly was released. Again this carried on reprinted American Spider-Man material originally started in MWOM. The Spider-Man weekly comic would continue until 1985 when it was canceled after 666 issues. It was relaunched 'Spider-Man and Zoids' in March 1986 and managed another 51 issues before ending for good. Further titles followed, including Avengers, Planet of the Apes, Dracula Lives, The Titans Vol 1, The Super-Heroes (UK) Vol 1, Fury and Complete Fantastic Four Vol 1.
During the next few years Marvel UK established themselves (also during this time, Neil Tennant was employed as editor) as a major publisher of weekly comic titles along with D.C Thomson and IPC. However, with the exception of some new covers drawn by Marvel Comics American staff, no original material had yet been produced (although some US originated Killraven strips were partially redrawn, re-lettered published as 'Apeslayer' strips in the Planet of the Apes weekly).
This changed in 1976 when Captain Britain Weekly was launched featuring a hero created for the British market by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe. Captain Britain Weekly featured new stories in colour as well as reprints of Nick Fury and Fantastic Four strips as backup. It was initially a success but eventually combined with Marvel UK's Spider-Man reprint title (now called 'Super Spider-Man') after 39 issues. Captain Britain joined Super Spider-Man's masthead with #331 and remained there until #352, though the British originated strip ended in #348, the next four issues containing reprints of a Spider-Man/Captain Britain story from Marvel Team-Up.
Marvel UK had began publishing a weekly Star Wars title after the film was released in the UK in early 1978. By 1981 it had transformed into a monthly which also published original Star Wars stories by British creators, as well as reprinting American Marvel Comics material. Many, but not all, of these original British stories were reprinted in the 1990s by Dark Horse Comics. The Marvel UK Star Wars comic was published in various formats until 1986. Marvel UK also published its own version of the Savage Sword of Conan magazine (aimed at an older age range than the weeklies, and featuring material reprinted from its US published progenitor title) in November 1977, which lasted 93 issues until July 1985. In the mid 1970s, they also produced at least three volumes of 'The Marvel Collection', bound volumes containing several seemingly random, presumably unsold copies of various weeklies.
Marvel UK had begun to weaken in this time and it was on a visit to the UK that Stan Lee headhunted Dez Skinn to revamp the ailing company. Giving Skinn freedom to do what he felt best and knowing Skinn had huge experience in British comic publishing, Lee saw Skinn as a British version of himself. Skinn even had his own catchphrase in Sez Dez which was inspired by Stan Lee's catchphrases from the 1960s.
Skinn set out to change Marvel UK as he saw fit. The first major change he would bring was to have original material produced by British creators. Many of these creators had already worked with Skinn on his title, The House of Hammer a few years earlier, plus some new young talent.
The first title to show this mix was Hulk Comic which started out with originally produced Hulk stories created by Steve Dillon, Paul Neary, Dave Gibbons and John Stokes among others. Back up strips included reprints of Fantastic Four stories as well as originally produced Nick Fury material drawn by Steve Dillon, and Night Raven by Steve Parkhouse, David Lloyd and John Bolton. Also included was the Black Knight, a minor Marvel character but revamped to take in Arthurian concepts as well as featuring the return of Captain Britain from comic book limbo. Later issues included a British produced Ant-Man strip, too.
Skinn also revamped other titles such as The Mighty World Of Marvel and created further new titles in a bid to boost the company. Also published was his Starburst title which had been purchased when Skinn joined Marvel. Other titles in publication around this time included Savage Sword of Conan (originally launched as a short lived weekly in 1975, which had ended up merging with the Avengers weekly, then relaunched as a monthly magazine in the same format as the US version from 1977-1985), Future Tense (a science fiction oriented weekly starring the Micronauts and others), Valour ( a sword and sorcery tile later merged with Future Tense), Forces in Combat, Marvel Action, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Super-Adventure and Captain America, amongst many others. There was also a range of digest sized Pocket Books published between March 1980 and August 1982 with various titles including Star Heroes, Marvel Classics Comics and Chiller.
Arguably Skinn's most important decision was to launch Doctor Who Weekly based on the BBC TV series. Doctor Who Weekly featured comic strips by John Wagner, Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons among many others, plus articles and features on the show itself. It proved a huge success and by now Skinn had transformed Marvel UK back to being a major publisher of not just weekly comics but monthly titles such as Starburst. Other monthlies such as Blockbuster, Savage Action, Blake's 7 and the humour title Frantic soon followed.
Skinn was not happy with how creators were treated in regard to ownership of characters, so he left to form Quality Communications in 1981. One of his last acts was to give Captain Britain his own strip in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes as written by Dave Thorpe and drawn by Alan Davis. Thorpe left to be replaced by Alan Moore in one of his first major ongoing strips.
By 1982 Marvel UK had almost completely stopped publishing weekly titles (though some new weeklies were still launched, including Incredible Hulk, Thor & X-Men, Fantastic Four and The Thing is Big Ben) and moved mainly to monthly titles such as The Daredevils (featuring Moore and Davis's Captain Britain), Rampage Magazine (home of Mick Austin's Timesmasher strip), Indiana Jones and The Mighty World of Marvel, which by now was firmly established as a monthly title. However many of Marvel UK's titles wouldn't last long before being combined or cancelled outright due to poor sales. Attempts to crack the younger market with titles such as Rupert (starring classic children's character Rupert the Bear), Scooby Doo and Worzel Gummidge (starring a then popular kids' TV character played by former Doctor Who actor Jon Pertwee) were also not notably successful. Around this time, Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett began providing short (usually three panel) humorous cartoon strips, mostly based on Marvel characters, which ran on the editorial or letters pages of the weeklies; these were all nominally set on a world called Earth 33⅓.
In January 1985 the first issue of Captain Britain Monthly appeared with its titular strip written by Jamie Delano and drawn by Alan Davis. This title lasted 14 issues before cancellation and would prove to be the last major new title for several years. However new material was still being produced such as Zoids strips (written by Grant Morrison) for Spider-Man and Zoids Weekly, but not on the scale or diversity had been previously seen. One long running title which proved the exception to the rule was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, a bi-weekly title which ran for 80 issues from 1985-1987 and reprinted not only both the original Secret Wars series and Secret Wars II, but also most of the issues those books tied into (albeit often in a heavily re-edited form).
For the remainder of the 1980s the company published only a small handful of titles that appealed to superhero fans, but it had considerable success on the UK news stand with licensed titles such as The Real Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Transformers and many others. These all featured original strips as well as some US reprints.
Transformers, in particular, was a major seller for Marvel UK, selling 200,000 copies a week at its height. Its main writer, Simon Furman, would eventually take over the Marvel US version of the title as well, and continues to work on the franchise to this day, though it is no longer published by either branch of Marvel Comics. This series, running 332 issues, is regarded as the most important collection of Transformers fiction, reprinted by Titan Books in the 2000s, and is on a par with the Lee-Ditko run on Spider-Man and the Lee-Kirby run of Fantastic Four. As such, it remains one of Marvel UK's most important historical titles.
It was Richard Starkings who first pushed for Marvel UK to publish its own US format comics, beginning with Dragon's Claws and Death's Head ( a spin off character from Marvel UK's Transformers title ).
It was Steve White who launched the first critically-acclaimed volume of Knights of Pendragon, written by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson with art by Gary Erskine, which mixed superheroics and Arthurian myth. It also featured Captain Britain among many other Marvel Comics heroes such as Iron Man. Sleeze Brothers was a creator-owned title by John Carnell and Andy Lanning.
When Paul Neary became editor-in-chief at the company he launched a number of US format comics at the behest of Marvel US, beginning with Death's Head II (a recreation of Simon Furman's cyborg bounty hunter). The titles were set in the existing Marvel Universe but with more of a focus on Science Fiction and magic rather than Marvel's usual superhero fare. Titles such as Warheads (wormhole hopping mercenaries), Motormouth and Killpower (streetwise girl and escaped genetically-modified super assassin hop around the universe having adventures) and a second volume of Knights of Pendragon. These were all linked by plots featuring the organisation Mys-Tech, a shadowy group of Faustians bent on world domination. Some of these titles were also reprinted in a monthly UK anthology Overkill.
Where US Marvel characters were featured, all the storylines were approved by the editor then in charge of that book. Some were more responsive than others to the outlines, with editors such as Bobbi Chase offering useful feedback for Marvel UK's editors, who included John Freeman, Stuart Bartlett, Jacqui Papp and Bambos Georgiou.
In the US, these comics were initially immensely successful with some issues being reprinted to keep up with demand. Unfortunately, despite an impressive line up of creative talent that included Liam Sharp, Simon Coleby, Bryan Hitch, Graham Marks, Dan Abnett and many others, too many titles were launched too quickly in a market which was already swamped by the early 1990s comics boom. By 1994 Marvel UK had ceased publishing in the US market and was now only printing a handful of titles - mostly reprint - for the UK market, as well as the long running Doctor Who Magazine.
When Marvel UK was wound up in 1999, the licence to publish titles under the Marvel UK name was acquired by Panini Comics, who had been part of Marvel Europe, and had already been reprinting American material across Europe for several years. Casualties of the original merger with Panini included editor-in-chief Paul Neary and Managing Director Vincent Conran. Conran now runs a books company, Bishop and Barncoat, in Cornwall.
Thanks to this licensing deal reprints of American Marvel Comics material was published in the UK by Panini from January 2000. Each book would contain approximately two or three Marvel US strips in one issue with possibly a 'classic' comic printed as a substitute for a comic in the current run, whilst being priced at a reasonable level. Initially the lineup consisted of only Astonishing Spider-Man and Essential X-Men and followed the continuity of the US comics, however it was approximately 2-3 years behind the current run in America.
In addition to reprinting the mainstream US comics, Panini also published a monthly (later every three weeks) oversized comic, entitled The Spectacular Spider-Man, for younger readers to accompany Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which began broadcasting in the UK in the mid-90s. Initially, the stories were simply reprints of the US comics based on the series, but eventually the title moved to all-new UK-originated stories, marking the first Marvel UK material featuring classic Marvel characters to be produced since early 1994.
Since then Panini extended their line to include other characters within the Marvel Universe. Wolverine Unleashed was introduced in the late 90s following the success of the first two titles, in which Wolverine's solo comic was reprinted. The comic ran for approx. 50 issues before it was renamed Wolverine & Gambit to allow reprints of the Gambit series, and subsequently Wolverine and Deadpool when the Gambit material had been exhausted and Deadpool was introduced as a replacement in 2004. Marvel Heroes Reborn was released in 1997, to introduce the new Heroes Reborn saga, and expand the range of characters in Marvel UK's lineup. It was initially published with only two strips (or 56 pages) but this was expanded to 76 pages (commonly 3 strips) from issue 17 onwards. Unfortunately, this title was short lived due to continuously lagging sales, and was eventually cancelled in 2000.
Later titles include Avengers United, Fantastic Four Adventures, a new Mighty World of Marvel as well as the introduction of the Ultimate Marvel imprint, consisting of Ultimate Spider-Man & X-Men (which was originally two titles, which merged since it was reprinting the stories too fast for Marvel US to print them) and Ultimate Fantastic Four (cancelled because of low sales, and because it was only a few issues behind the US title by the end).
Alongside these mainly reprint titles, Panini continues to print Doctor Who Magazine which still features originally produced comics by British creators, something Panini do in their other titles. This includes the first new Captain Britain story by a British creative team in over a decade which was created by Jim Alexander, Jon Haward and John Stokes in Spectacular Spider-Man (UK version ) #114 published in March 2005. Also published from 2004 onwards was Marvel Rampage, which like Spectacular Spider-Man was aimed at a younger audience, and similarly featured all-new UK-originated material, this time featuring characters from all across the Marvel universe. Several of those short stories were written by noted Spider-Man writer Roger Stern.
In March 2006, Marvel Entertainment and Panini S.p.A announced that they had renewed and expanded their publishing agreement under which Panini retains a master license for producing translated versions of Marvel comics for Europe and selected Latin American countries. The new agreement includes a major expansion of editorial projects in which Panini will originate new content under the creative supervision of Marvel.
Comics trade news site icv2 reported that Panini will continue to develop its Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Rampage children's magazines and will also originate a third magazine aimed at younger readers and develop new short Marvel comic strip stories for syndication in newspapers and periodicals throughout its licensed territories.
Marvel's new owners (Disney) have since decreed that no new strips featuring Marvel characters can be originated outside the USA. As a result, Panini have had to cease production of new UK originated stories.