Between 1974 and 1979 Fireside Books published 11 collections of reprinted comic book stories starring Marvel Comics characters –now widely considered to be the first trade paperbacks – as well as one of the first Graphic Novels, and both of these new formats would have a far reaching impact on the industry (scroll down to the bottom of this page for links to my individual reviews of those books). However, in summing up the Fireside Books it seems only fair to draw attention to the other 12 collaborations between the two publishers that took place during this time, books that concentrated more on younger readers.
Since Fireside Books was the young reader’s imprint of Simon & Schuster, it’s not surprising that out of this second batch of books (published between 1976 and 1979) nine were activity and puzzle books: The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book, June 1976; The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book #2, June 1977; The Mighty Marvel Fun Book #3, July 1978; Marvel Mazes to Drive You Mad, October 1978; The Mighty Marvel Fun Book #4, 1979; The Mighty Marvel Fun Book #5, 1979; Marvel Word Games, August 1979 and The Mighty Marvel Jumbo Fun Book, 1979. Out of this selection I only have one, Marvel Mazes to Drive You Mad. This 92 page book features 30 maze puzzles each introduced by a one or two page comic featuring a selection of Marvel characters – Spider-Man, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Nova, Captain Marvel, etc – with artwork reprinted from the comics in which they appear. The mazes are also integrated into the story – for example, in the first maze Spider-Man is fighting The Green Goblin when the Goblin throws a gas bomb at the hero and the reader must solve the maze on the next page in order to complete the story (and for those who couldn’t the solutions are printed at the back).
Published in September 1976 The Mighty Marvel Comics Strength and Fitness Book, written by Ann Picardo and illustrated by veteran DC Comics inker Joe Giella, features 13 sets of themed exercises starring different Marvel characters spread over 128 pages. For instance, the warm-up exercises feature the Human Torch, the stretching exercises with Mr Fantastic, and the bike riding exercises are demonstrated by The Ghost Rider – you get the picture. There’re also chapters on calorie counting and health and beauty tips. The instructions are short and to the point while Giella’s drawings are very much in the comic book style.
Next up is my favourite of the bunch, The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook from September 1977. Ever wondered what Thor’s Cabbage Rolls taste like? Fancy impressing your friends with Hulk’s Jumbo Shrimp in a Basket followed by Iron Man’s Peachy Cake for dessert? Then look no further. Joking aside, the book is great fun – there are almost 200 recipes, as well as cooking and safety tips and the emphasis is on good healthy food that kids can easily make and have fun doing so. The design of the book reinforces the easy-going nature of the text while Joe Giella returns to illustrate.
Published a year later How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way is undoubtedly the most well known of this batch of Fireside Books. Written by Stan Lee and illustrated by John Buscema (and featuring reprinted artwork by Jack Kirby) this 160 page book explains the basics of the comic book story-telling art and has proved so popular that it is the only Marvel/Fireside Books still in print. The book is broken down into twelve chapters that cover such essentials as perspective, shading, figure drawing and composition as well as framing a drawing to increase it’s impact and sense of action. The text is kept to a minimum with the emphasis clearly on the drawings and it’s still a good read despite being over 30 years old, proving that the basics to comic book’s visual language haven’t changed that much in the succeeding years.
Lastly we have The Mighty Marvel Pin-Up Book from November 1978, which sadly I don’t own – and as it’s currently changing hands for over £70 a copy I won’t be getting it anytime soon either. From what I can gather the 48 page book featured a selection of full page pull-out posters with text introductions by Stan Lee.
Although there were no more Marvel stories published under the Fireside Books banner after 1979 that’s not to say these were the last collaborations between Marvel and the publisher. During the late Seventies and early Eighties Simon & Schuster published a range of Marvel reprint books reformatted to paperback size and published under their Pocket Books imprint. And in 1983 one more Fireside Book saw print – well, sort of. Mighty Marvel Team-up Thrillers was in the same vein as the previous Fireside collections but was published by Marvel themselves, and was one of the first trade paperbacks released directly by the publisher, acting neatly as a bridge between the old books and the new wave of trade paperbacks that swept the industry.
And that’s your lot! I’ve had a great time revisiting these books and reviewing them for this site has been fun, almost as fun as rereading those classic old Marvel stories. With the exception of The Best of Spidey Super Stories, these books were clearly aimed at a more mature audience, one more used to reading ‘proper’ books and one not too familiar with comics. Stan Lee’s light-hearted and informative introductions, where he discusses the genesis of the stories and praises the artists, brought an air of legitimacy to the books and the older reader theme is reinforced by the superb painted covers. These books were revolutionary at the time and helped usher in the age of the trade paperback and Graphic Novel, which today are cornerstones of the comic book industry. These books represent a small, but important piece of comic book history and I encourage any Marvel fan – or any fan of the medium – to seek them out.
Although I began reviewing these books in publication order I strayed a bit about halfway through so I thought it might be helpful to include a list of the books in chronological order, with links to my reviews:
Origins of Marvel Comics, originally published September 1974
Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, October 1975
Bring on the Bad Guys, October 1976
The Superhero Women, November 1977
The Best of Spidey Super Stories, January 1978
The Incredible Hulk, July 1978
The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, September 1978
Marvel’s Greatest Superhero Battles, November 1978
The Amazing Spider-Man, May 1979
The Fantastic Four, September 1979
Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, October 1979
Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty, October 1979
Here are a few more pages from the Marvel/Fireside collaborations: