Sunday, 31 August 2008

Who needs a Bullpen when you can have a Bulldog?

Greetings, once more, for another plod down memory lane in the world of Marvel UK.

Bear with me today. My PC's monitor has reached the ripe old age of 18 months. It's a Samsung flatscreen, which came bundled with my current machine when we purchased it. For over a year it functioned perfectly well, and we enjoyed many an evening viewing forums, resizing scans for this blog, and the occasional bout of trying to to make Nottingham Forest a world power on Football Manager (Heck, I can dream)...

But no longer. This happy affair has come to an end. I've been trying to post a blog on The Braddock family for over a week. But it seems that after every 45 minutes that the screen is on the bloody thing decides to switch itself into some kind of standby mode, and bounce a box around the screen telling me that the signal is not in "Optimum Mode" along with suggesting what resolution the screen should be in.

Coincidentally, that's the very resolution that Windows is already set to...

And it would seem I'm not alone:

Most annoying. But it seems to work again if I switch it off for another forty minutes.

I think some lengthy Customer Services calls are in order.

But less of my moaning. Hopefully we'll get through this one in one go...

I'm sure that all readers of Marvel Comics out there will be familiar of the concept of the Marvel Bullpen, and the regular segment "Bullpen Bulletins" which appeared somewhere within each of Marvel's monthly titles. It was a 1 page segment of each issue which dedicated itself to telling the reader just what else was going on in Marvel's other titles that month, what else was on the horizon, maybe a profile of an artist or writer, and of course the legendary "Stan's Soapbox," in which Stan Lee would vent his spleen or simply talk shop on whatever he fancied that month.

(You don't get that, anymore. It's kind of been replaced, post 2000, by Joe Quesada's "Cup of Joe". No bad thing, just sayin'.)

Anyway, those used to turn up in Marvel UK imprint titles too. At least to begin with. But at some point in late 1993 these began to be replaced by the Bullpen's ingenious British Cousin - Bulldog Bulletins!

The format was effectively the same, but Bulldog Bulletins concentrated on the comings and goings at Marvel UK. And this was kind of cool, because it allowed Marvel UK to tailor the bulletin to focus on their titles and creators - which realistically was not likely to happen in the main US bulletin.

Over next few months I'm going to be tracking some of these down from my longbox and posting them up for folks to see. The first of these I've found today came from the October 1993 batch of Marvel UK titles (If we really want to nitpick, this one was in the back of Dark Angel #14) and is celebrating Marvel UK's 21st birthday (Click for a larger view).

As you can see this was very much from the 90s heyday of the imprint, with things going very well indeed. The photo at top right is of Marvel UK's former Offices in Arundel House. I can recall seeing a couple of the documentaries that were done on Marvel UK. There was a genuine buzz around it all - a real sense that British comics could compete in the American market - and as a plucky teenager I found myself thinking that this was genuinely the kind of place I wanted to work when I grew up. Sure, I couldn't draw to the kind of standard that these guys did (Much as though I wanted to, I couldn't master comic book art of this kind) but I had ideas - and thought I could write. Sadly, by the time I was leaving school Marvel UK had been gone almost a full year. I was gutted. ;D

I do believe that I saw the Opening Shot documentary. But sadly I've been unable to find any reference to it online, to date. That's really the kind of thing that somebody aught to stick up on YouTube if they had it on VHS somewhere.

I'm sure that none of you will have missed the staff profile at the bottom left - with a picture of a very young looking Mr Liam Sharp, hard at work. Now is it just me, or is anybody else picking up a very distinctive Conan vibe, there...? ;D

As you can see Marvel UK really were putting out a lot of titles there. Just count the numbers across the bottom - The established ongoings like Motormouth and Death's Head through to the start the Marvel Frontier Books (note to self: Must do a piece on Children of the Voyager). These were good times - Sharp, Abnett, Lanning, Larroca, Pacheco, all in one place. The very positive (At least from a fan's POV)expansion of the line, and it was looking good!

Such an incredible shame it had to come to an end :(

What are your memories of Marvel UK? Feel free to post them up or drop us a line. Monitor permitting I should have that other piece up by midweek.


1 comment:

  1. Ah, Marvel UK. I have fond memories of them. through the UK Transformers comic, and their spin-offs I was introduced to the world of comic books. I followed Death's Head's adventures to his own series (always hard to find in UK newsagents - comic stores being a strange and exotic beast in far away towns)and always kept an eye out for his appearances.

    There's a couple of key things that happened around then for me - the discovery in 1990 of Marshal Law in 'Kingdom Of The Blind' (reprinted for British news stands by Apocalypse) which in turn lead me to Toxic! the following year. Finding seemingly the only copy in exsistance of 'The Body In Question' (seriously, what was the print run on this? 5?! I've never seen another copy of this since I got mine back in October 1990) and later the 'life and times of deaths head' which promised a new limited series (and another redesign - oh how little i knew at the time). The last piece of the puzzle was an indepth interview in Comic Collector with Paul Neary (which I still have) outlining Marvel UK's big push into US comics.
    As Toxic! had proved a brave, but fleeting read (i loved it - and it was suprisingly ahead of the times) I was more than happy to wait for the new fortnightly, Overkill. Particularly as I was excited to see if Death's Head would get a look in - his 'all new' appearance having been mentioned breifly in Havoc! Issue 6 (cover by a certain Liam Sharpe).
    Well, Overkill Issue One came out in May 1992 and I was hooked. I was overjoyed with these London centric characters, and best of all, they felt real and relevant and weren't too 'Superhero-y'. They were, as Neary promised, slightly edgy and street. I stuck with Overkill 'til its bitter end (with issue 52). I even got a letter printed in issue 21 (which I was very excited about! Bonus as well, as that issue had a retrospective of the original Death's Head!
    Where Marvel UK became a cropper, was in expanding too quickly and churning out identi-kit team books. Particularly stuff like the 'Genepool' imprint of mutant titles. A bit unnescessary as Marvel US had about 14 X-titles on the go at the time. The over -reliance on guest stars (normally Wolverine, predictably) to sell the books seemed to drag them down - Hell's Angel is shocking in its use of the X-Men. They have more story pages given over to them than the titular heroine and its not even their book! There was also the sad decline of the original 5 books of the Marvel UK launch. All of them showed signs of running out of steam after eight issues - none more so than Motormouth & Killpower. Perhaps by over-commiting the relatively small pool of writing staff.

    However, their were some original concepts creeping out. the Frontier Comics line was a worthy experiment and tapped into Vertigo territory (which is never a bad thing), although some of the nudity in Bloodseed did seem like titilation (sorry, Liam). Stuff like Shadow Riders and Wild Thing seemed to hint at darker and more futuristic themes (I er, wont mention Universal Soldier rip-off 'Super Soldiers'!)and their seemed to be a real desire to push the boundaries and tell more interesting and thought provoking stories.

    I didn't collect many of the US format Marvel UK books, but still keep an eye out for them as they bring back many fond memories! If only Marvel US would bring them out of exile as they once promised (Lionhearts was mooted in late 1994 in a brief article in Comics International, but alas it never materialised).