Back in the early 1960’s, in the UK and Ireland, comics were not the world – conquering communications medium that they are now regarded as. After the pleasures of the easily accessible, more locally produced children’s comics[bought at the newsagent shop with the daily newspaper], any imported from,for example, America, were more of an “underground” pleasure in that they had to be sought out from obscurity and were erratically distributed.In Ireland and the UK, unlike in America, distribution was, at best, spotty. Many comics were loaded into ships’ holds as bundles of ballast that eventually filtered through to small family -run Mom and Pop shops in towns across the country. They ended up on spinner racks or in a haphazard bundle in the corner of the shop. They were treated as cheap goods for children to be bought with the newspapers and cigarettes.They had certainly not become the world -straddler that inspired film directors to make large amounts of money nor indeed re-branded as “graphic novels” to conjure up critical intellectual reviews in the quality newspapers.
“WHERE IS TONY ROCHE ?”
CLICK ON ABOVE COVER TO SEE A FLIPBOOK OF THE COMPLETE ISSUE.
Wham had been launched as a rival to the Beano comic and featured some great artwork from ex -Bash Street Kids artist Leo Baxendale among others. By the time Tony Roche’s letter appeared in issue #140 in February 1967, the comic had begun to feature reprints of Marvel Comics characters such as the Fantastic Four.
Tony’s enthusiasm for comics spilled off the page and he mentioned that he was starting a new “fanzine” dedicated to the form.That is where I came in. I was fourteen ,and quite infected by comics madness ever since my uncle Paddy had bought me the Topper and The Dandy weekly comics, as a boy.I was already a “collector”, reading every kind of comic that I could find. There were all manner of American DC comics around such as Batman , Superman , the Flash and Green Lantern. The fat annuals and “80page Giants” were a great way of finding older “origin” stories.Dell, Gold Key , Charlton produced solid comics work too but they hadn’t the more glamourous characters even though they featured excellent artwork. Then there was this strange little dowdy company ,”Marvel”. with its oddly coloured covers and cheap inner paper.These comics were radically different . I had been buying the Alan Class thick reprint collections at a shilling each, before I ever realised that much of these tales were old Marvel horror stories drawn by Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. I was already reading the, then very rare Marvel comics and had come across Spider-man #9 and several other titles and was ready to get involved further. So “Merry Marvel Fanzine” was arguably the first substantial attempt at a magazine about comics anywhere in Ireland or the UK.
In the beginning , known comics fandom seemed to consist of about only thirty five of us enthusiasts . That would have been the extent of the first print runs.From such small beginnings……..
You can link to a FLIPBOOK of a complete issue of MERRY MARVEL FANZINE # 2 here : http://www.calameo.com/read/00274690234ada4f74160
The first fanzine in the UK and Ireland, subsequently ran for three issues from 1966/ early 1967 and then the successor “HU” was laid to rest after issue number seven in the Summer of 1969.
After this came a plethora of zines each taking advantage of the new technologies. The Merry Marvel Fanzine and Heroes Unlimited, created and edited by Tony Roche and aided and abetted by the likes of Ken Simpson, Ges Cleaver, and Paul Neary were, by general consensus, the first comic fanzines in the UK and Ireland, though, and like their creator are increasingly very difficult to find anywhere. I became one of a small group of subscribers, supporters and letter writers. Fortunately , as a natural collector, I kept the majority of mine and bought back most of the remainder at some quite high prices . I haven’t now got my old issue of MMF #1 [ the long foolscap issue] so if anyone is interested in sharing scans of this first issue, let me know! I still remember , as a fourteen year old fan , painstakingly one-finger typing out a copy of MMFANZINE #1 on a rackety old Remington typewriter so that fellow comics fan Eugene Murray could have his own personal copy and share in this great new discovery.The original was printed in that old blue fuzzy ink . Unfortunately Eugene’s copy could only be reproduced in black and white. There were no handy scanners or photocopying machines in the library back then. Dedication was a requirement!!
I have now uploaded “Flip Book ” versions my two issues of the “Merry Marvel Fanzine” and the full seven issues of “Heroes Unlimited”. You can find links to them above but in the meantime here are some covers and pages to give a flavour of our teenage passions.I’ll scan and add as many as possible in the future , time and patience permitting. Tony dropped out of sight after Heroes Unlimited(See below for an update) , probably pursuing other teenage interests like girls and music, but my own artistic leanings were to take me to art college three years later where I re-acquainted myself with comics through imported copies of classic underground comix and Dez Skinn’s door opening”Fantasy Advertiser”.
The first wave of American underground comix was all but spent by then but such was the alternate underground press that copies were coming through from the Real Free Press in Holland and UK versions were being produced too.I picked up a copy of a UK produced version of Robert Crumb’s “Fritz the Cat”, whilst an art student in Leeds. An excellent bookshop named “Books” was the initial source . This excellent shop stocked all sorts of literature and was where I found a treasure trove of bundles of underground comix and books on art.
It was situated just off the student campus. I happened upon an advert for Dez Skinn’s “Fantasy Advertiser inside this comic. That was my re-connection .
At this time I’d begun attempting some comic strip ideas myself, spurred on by the idea of those underground comix ,which required much less space and materials to produce than large oil paintings…..
Tony was long out of circulation by this time.I hadn’t seen him for about six or seven years by then and had , at this stage ,personally evolved into a long-haired hippy Fine Art student.He still remains ,in large measure, some fifty years later, somewhat like Steve Ditko creator of Spiderman, an enigma. A part of my teenage past. Not entirely forgotten though.
It doesn’t take much, but Dez Skinn’s [Who started off his career in those same little fanzines and subsequently became Mister Comics UK, the Stan Lee of UK Comics and the originator of most of the comics spawned here in this past thirty years.}
kind words of praise [ …see comments below….] has encouraged me to upload some of these fanzines in their entirety so if you flip the tabs above you will find drop-downs for various issues of HEROES UNLIMITED as I find time to upload them.Recently, whilst browsing with Dave in Liverpool’s Waterstones, I came across Teal Triggs “FANZINES” and therein was the cover of a hand-coloured copy of HEROES UNLIMITED # 2.
I wonder was that one of Ges Cleaver and Robert Poole’s artistic jobs on Paul Neary’s artwork. It’s a funny old world out there.
You will find more detail of my involvement in MERRY MARVEL FANZINE and HEROES UNLIMITED in a nostalgic ramble over four web pages at the following link ….
and hopefullyas I scan and upload a selection of individual issues in the future, you’ll be able to check them out on the individual dropdown tabs above in this section.
Also of interest is this link which appears to further bring the story up to date, especially page 17-22 which references my own memories .http://efanzines.com/JourneyPlanet/JourneyPlanet22.pdf
Below here is my own copy of “Merry Marvel Fanzine #2 ” which has somehow become part of the focus for Dublin’s bid to bring the World Con to Dublin in 2019…