By the mid-Sixties comic book giant Marvel had gained a reputation for publishing titles that featured larger-than-life-superheroes. But in 1966 the company went in another direction, and published six comics that were anything but large.
Featuring some of Marvel’s most popular characters — Spider-Man, The Hulk, Thor, Sgt. Fury, Captain America and Millie the Model (don’t scoff, she was a big seller) — and measuring a teeny 2cm in height, these Marvel mini-books were distributed via gum-ball machines throughout the US. Marvel Editor Stan Lee announced the launch of the books in the Bullpen Bulletins page of all Marvel July 1966 comics, claiming that over 10 million of the tiny books had been printed. The comics were also given away to members of Marvel’s fan club, the M.M.M.S (The Merry Marching Marvel Society) between 1967 and 1969, and, somewhat bizarrely, they were also sold as cake decorations.
The books ran to either 48 or 52 black and white pages with a single colour cover. Due to the comics’ diminutive size the stories are pretty basic. Captain America, for example, faced off against three foreign spies while Thor battles a beast named after a dried fish dish. Spider-Man‘s book featured the web-slinger’s origin story (as well as a truly terrible joke), while Millie the Model deals with a jealous rival. I’ve no idea who wrote or drew the stories, although one of the panels from the Spider-Man story does feature a reprinted drawing by legendary Spidey artist Steve Ditko, while Marvel writer Roy Thomas received a name check in the Sgt Fury comic.
Although largely forgotten today the mini-books do hold a few prominent places in comic book history. First off they were acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest comic books ever published. Secondly, the covers came in six different colours — blue, red, orange, green, yellow and pale green — which makes them one of the earliest examples of variant cover marketing that are now common place in the industry. And lastly, keen-eyed reader’s will spot the appearance of a certain caped superhero at the end of the Spider-Man story, a full decade before the official Superman vs Spider-Man team-up of 1976.
Today the Marvel mini-books are much sought after by collectors, with good quality editions selling for anywhere between £30-£60, ($36-$72), each — not bad for something that originally sold for 1¢. But for those who don’t have £200 to spare, here are the internal pages from all six books just so you can see what you’re missing.