Since I was sick last night, FUNday gets moved to Tuesday this week. I know, I know, it doesn’t rhyme. Thanks for all the “What happened to FUNday?” emails and also thanks to whoever called the police to report me missing! This week’s post will give you some info about 1980s comic book printing too, which is even more fun!
Marvel Age #33
Marvel Age was a monthly series featuring previews of upcoming comics, news articles about various subjects, advertisements, humorous pieces, and the occasional interview with creators and Marvel staff. Long removed from the Internet age, it was a great way (sometimes the ONLY way) to get news about what was going on in the world of Marvel Comics. Puck appears in this issue on the back cover.
This issue was concurrent with Alpha Flight #29 and solicited issue #30 in the section, “Marvel Coming Attractions”:
ALPHA FLIGHT #30 – Alpha Flight is once more a team. It also has a new headquarters and an ulimited [sic] government-backed budget! Only one problem: Someone has marked Heather for death! “Scramble, The Mixed-Up Man” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Mike Mignola and inked by Gerry Talaoc. 65¢.
It was also concurrent with The X-Men and Alpha Flight Limited Series #1 and solicited issue #2:
THE X-MEN AND ALPHA FLIGHT (Limited Series) #2 – The X-Men and Alpha Flight vs. Loki and the Frost Giants! The prize: Utopia! Written by Jim Shooter, Ann Nocenti, Denny O’Neil and Chris Claremont, penciled by Paul Smith and inked by Bob Wiacek. 48 pages. Mando paper $1.50.
Mando paper? What the heck is that? Back in the early 80s, the quality of the paper used for printing comics was quite a big deal and Marvel went out of its way to point out which comics were printed on what paper. For the previous 50 years, comics had been printed on some of the lowest grade paper, so this was a sea change in the industry, causing price increases but also quality increases. Newsprint was the lowest grade, Mando was better, Hudson paper was a shiny improvement on Mando and the best was Baxter paper. For comparison between Mando and Baxter, get out your copy of Marvel Fanfare #28, which was printed on Baxter paper and you’ll see the difference.
The Top Ten list in the Newswatch section lists Marvel’s ten bestselling direct sales titles for June 1985:
- Secret Wars II #4
- X-Men #198
- West Coast Avengers #1
- Alpha Flight #27
- Web of Spider-Man #7
- Avengers #260
- The Vision and Scarlet Witch #1
- Fantastic Four #283
- New Mutants #32
- Daredevil #223
Alpha Flight had dropped from #4 in Apr 1985 to #7 in May 1985 and rebounded nicely back up to #4 again in June 1985. This would mark the fifth month (out of five listings) that Alpha Flight made it into the top ten!
In the section, “Newswatch Extra”, there was an interesting article about Flexography, a new printing process used by Marvel on select titles. Alpha Flight was one of the first books to switch over, in issue #20. It wasn’t without its problems, and some fans (especially those who received copies from later in the print run) weren’t happy with it. Here is the entire article, including the unfortunately splotchy and misaligned color charts:
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT FLEXOGRAPHY . . .
There was something different in that new batch of comics you bought recently. Oh, it wasn’t just that the new Limited Series you were looking forward to had finally started. And it wasn’t that MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE finally had that interview with your favorite artist. No, it was something completely different.
On your way home you decided to sneak a peek at the week’s titles nestled safely in the paper bag you were carrying. And that’s when it struck you. A couple of your favorite books were brighter somehow, more colorful than you ever remembered them being before.
So, what in the world happened to make some of Marvel’s best selling titles even better? Where did the bright colors come from? Well, we can’t keep it a secret any longer! Some of the books are now being printed with a new process called Flexography. Remember that name. It just may take the printing world by storm!
What is Flexography? It’s a process that uses a water based ink that prints colors brighter, cleaner, and more eye-catchingly than the traditional letterpress process.
Marvel is experimenting with the process for a number of reasons and the test books are the training ground being used.
“There was no reason why we picked the titles we did,” said Marvel’s Vice President and Director of Manufacturing, Dennis Dwyer. “We’re
doing this in conjuncture with World Color Press (Marvel’s printer) to come up with an alternative to the old and outdated letterpress process.”
“Flexography gives us brighter colors through a more up-to-date, 20th century process,” explained Dennis. “Letterpress, which uses oil based ink, is strictly 19th century technology.”
Flexography, according to World Color Press, is gaining popularity because of its simplicity and economy, which is another consideration here at Marvel. Avenues which will help keep cover prices down are always being explored and studied. And as the process evolves and improves along with technology, it should get even better.
“There are still a lot of problems with the process and it’s still in the experimental stage as far as comics are concerned,” said Dennis. “But we expect
For your edification: The fist-ever Flexographic color chart!
to work everything out in a few months’ time, not years.”
The process is environmentally attractive because the ink used is water based. There is also no need for expensive dryers, pollution control equipment, or the high energy and floor space taken up by many other more conventional printing processes.
One of the first runs after World Color Press converted one of their comic letterpress units at Spartan Printing to the new process was a joint effort between Marvel and the National Coalition For The Prevention of Child Abuse. The comic received national recognition because of its subject matter and was the beginning of Marvel’s involvement with this printing experiment. “Much of our experimentation will depend on World Color Press,” said Dennis. “They are looking for a way to replace the old, failing letterpress economically and with modern equipment. It’s still too early to tell if all our books will go to this process, but it is one alternative that we’re trying.”
This very issue of MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE is a good example-every page is Flexography in action. World Color Press is working to keep prices down and making the art look better, and Marvel is involved every step of the way to insure that we keep producing the very best in comic entertainment.
– Bill Slavicsek
And now, one day late but worth the wait, the FUN part of FUNday: the calendar! The back pages of many Marvel Age issues featured a comical calendar with staff birthdays, one-liner jokes and parodies of various Marvel characters. The back cover of this issue had a calendar for September 1985 featuring cartoon Puck on the 4th, announcing letterer Ken Lopez’s birthday. Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize the name: Ken Lopez wasn’t an Alpha Flight letterer. They probably put Puck in because long-time X-Men penciler Paul Smith had a birthday the same day and they needed someone small to put into the same box as Wolverine. Credits for the calendar are w-Jim Salicrup, a-Ron Zalme and c-Adam Philips.