In the nineteen-year gap between L Miller and Co Ltd‘s publication of Marvelman #370 in 1963 and Dez Skinn’s Quality Communications Ltd revitalisation of the character in the pages of Warrior #1 in 1982, a number of the parties involved in the extended story of Marvelman continued to be active in their own fields, and some of the future participants were getting ready to take their place on the stage.
The Miller family received a major setback in 1966 when Leonard Miller, the company’s founder and namesake, died at the comparatively young age of sixty-seven. From that point on his wife, Florrie Miller, took over as managing director, although the company never produced any more comics, having in 1963 sold the asbestos printing plates for a lot of their comics to Alan Class Comics, another London based comics publisher, also specialising in American reprints. However, it seems likely that the Marvelman work was not included in this deal. The Millers found themselves with another setback in 1970 when they were prosecuted under the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955, for distributing certain American horror comics. The irony of this was that it was partially due to the Millers themselves, particularly Arnold Miller, that this act was brought into being in the first place.
During the 1950s, Britain reacted in much the same way that America had to the growing number of horror comics that were appearing on the shelves. In America it was particularly the work published by Bill Gaines’s EC Comics that had caused the concern, especially after Dr Fredric Wertham wrote his book Seduction of the Innocent (Rinehart & Company, 1954). Likewise, in Britain, various groups of concerned citizens, as well as other groups with more overt political agendas, like the Communist Party of Great Britain, started holding meetings and writing to the press and to politicians. Amongst the titles singled out for criticism in a letter written by George Pumphrey to the Times Educational Supplement, published on the 17th of September, 1954, were two that had been published by Arnold Miller’s ABC imprint. According to A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign by Martin Barker (Pluto Press, 1984),
In it, he drew attention to a ‘recent comic’ issued by the Arnold Book Company. Entitled Haunt of Fear, it ran to only one edition in Britain. This comic was the one most quoted in the entire British campaign, along with a related publication, Tales from the Crypt. (Indeed, when the Home Secretary strode to the dispatch box to introduce the Bill’s second reading on the 22nd February 1955, he borrowed a copy of the latter to carry with him.)
Both comics mentioned, Haunt of Fear #1 and Tales from the Crypt #2, were published by ABC in 1954, and mostly consisted of reprinted material from the EC Comics titles of the same names. Whilst in America the comics companies banded together to deal with the problem themselves, which they did by forming the Comics Magazine Association of America, and introducing the Comics Code Authority, whose Seal of Approval was to appear on nearly all comics for decades to follow, in Britain it quickly became specifically a political issue, leading to the drafting of legislation to deal with the perceived problem.
[There's a larger version here, if that's too small to read.]
Lord Mancroft, Under Secretary, Home Office, moved the second reading of the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Bill.
He said that at the request of Lord Jowitt he had put examples of horror comics, with which the bill was solely concerned, in the library of the House, and peers who had examined them would share his astonishment that anyone should want to read such boring, uninteresting nonsense. But their views were not shared by a large readership who were undoubtedly harmed by them.
[...] Earl Jowitt said that at one time six specimens of horror comics were placed in the library, but when he went there this morning, only three were left. (Loud laughter.) He had studied them and never in his life had he come across more disgraceful, discreditable, and abominable publications than those.
The names of the people responsible ought to be made public. One of the comics was printed by the Arnold Book Company of 2, Lower James Street, Piccadilly. [...] He hoped that those persons were thoroughly ashamed of the publications they had issued. They were so thoroughly disgraceful that the House would be failing in its duty if it did not assist the Government to take steps to stop them.
The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1955 was passed into law on the 6th of May, 1955 with the core of the act being this,
This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying –
(a) the commission of crimes; or
(b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
(c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;
In such a way that the work as a whole would tend to incite or encourage to the commission of crimes or acts of violence or cruelty, or otherwise to corrupt, a child or young person into whose hands it might fall.
The act was originally due to run for only ten years, but it was renewed in 1965 and, to the very best of my knowledge, is still in effect today. There were various comic titles put forward to the Attorney General to be considered for prosecution as the years went by. However, in all those years, from 1955, when the law was first enacted, until now, there was only one case ever actually pursued under the act. This was in 1970, when L Miller and Co Ltd, along with a newspaper shop manager and a distributor, were successfully prosecuted for making a number of titles available to the public. According to Martin Barker in A Haunt of Fears,
Although various applications were made to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it is not clear when the first prosecution was made under the act. The Williams Report asserts that there were several successful prosecutions. However, it may be that the earliest was not until 1970, when L Miller and Co, the last survivor of the 1950s reprinters, was prosecuted at Tower Hamlets Magistrates Court for putting out a series of comics (part reprints from the 1950s, part newly and poorly drawn originals) called Tales from the Tomb, Weird, Tales of Voodoo, Horror Tales and Witches Tales. Because it was said to be the first prosecution under the 1955 act, Miller was fined only £25.
In the end, Florrie Miller paid the fine, and wrote to their supplier, World Wide Distributors in New York, telling them to stop supplying them with horror comics. The story of Marvelman and the Millers is full of odd and unique moments, and this story of their being partly responsible for the introduction of a piece of legislation that, fifteen years later, would involve them in the only prosecution taken under it, is as bizarre as any of them. (You’ll find a bigger version of that letter here.)
Although at the time of the prosecution in 1970 Arnold Miller was one of the company directors of L Miller and Co Ltd, according to the company’s headed paper – the others being Florrie Miller and Doreen Lewis, his mother and sister respectively – he had actually been pursuing an alternative career as a filmmaker since 1959, using his full name of Arnold Louis Miller. Perhaps uncoincidentally, 1959 was not only the year Arnold Miller started pursuing filmmaking professionally, but also the year that the company name changed from L Miller and Son Ltd to L Miller and Co (Hackney) Ltd, and there are certainly rumours of there having been a split between the senior Millers and their son around this time. His first film for distribution, River Pilot, which he produced in 1959, was a twenty-minute-long documentary, following a river pilot through a day’s work on the Thames. After River Pilot, though, his filmmaking took a different direction. He became involved in, for want of a better name, sexploitation film making, producing, directing and writing documentary films with names like Nudist Memories (1961), Take Off Your Clothes and Live (1963), and Primitive London (1965). By the middle of the sixties he had started to move away from documentaries into feature-length fiction filmmaking, although still with a strong sexual element, making comedies with titles like House of Hookers (1970) and Sex Farm (1973). He was also making horror films, like The Blood Beast Terror (1968). Perhaps the most famous film with which he was associated, though, was Witchfinder General (1968), starring Vincent Price, on which he was co-producer. He eventually decided that he wasn’t interested in directing actors and returned to making documentaries. His last film, The British Riviera, appeared in 1984.
By 1972, it seems that the remaining Millers decided that the L Miller & Co (Hackney) Ltd had run its course. Florrie Miller was over seventy years old, and Arnold’s time was taken up with his film work. Len Miller, who founded the company, was six years dead, and the prosecution in 1970 for importing horror comics must have been a shock to them all. It was time to call it a day, and they decided to put the company into voluntary liquidation. Steve Holland, in a post on his excellent Bear Alley blog in November 2006, said,
The decision was made at a meeting of directors on 21 June 1972 and the company was officially wound up on 24 September 1974. [...] It was a decision made by the directors (Florrie Miller, Arnold Miller and Doreen Lewis), debts and wages were paid off and the company was shut down.
And that was that. By the end of 1974 L Miller and Co (Hackney) Ltd was no more. Its property was sold off, and the plates for most of its comics had already gone to Alan Class Comics over ten years previously, when the Millers had stopped publishing comics. However, there still remains the question of what happened to the small quantity of original work that Miller commissioned, and in particular the question of what became of the rights to the Marvelman properties.
One thing is certain, which is that they couldn’t have remained the property of L Miller and Co, as the company was now no longer in existence, so – obviously enough – couldn’t own anything. And in all the intervening years since the company closed down in 1974, nearly forty years ago now, it seems that nobody has come forward with any paperwork or other proof to show they had bought or otherwise gained the rights from the Millers before they finished up. So, what became of the rights to Marvelman? Did any of the Millers decided to keep the rights for themselves? Did the rights somehow revert to Fawcett Publications in America, as the characters were a direct copy and continuation of their Captain Marvel characters, quite possibly with their explicit knowledge and agreement? Were they simply abandoned? Or did the rights belong to Mick Anglo and his company, Mick Anglo Ltd, who claimed to have taken a major role in facilitating the transformation of Captain Marvel to Marvelman?
There is reason to suspect that Mick Anglo might have believed he was the rightful owner of the copyright on Marvelman. In the mid-seventies he wrote a book called Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties. The last chapter in the book was called The Age of Marvelman, and this was accompanied by a reproduction of a page from Young Marvelman #38. Along the edge of one panel on this page is written ‘Mick Anglo Ltd – ©’ in Anglo’s own handwriting. The thing is, this copyright notice doesn’t appear in the original issue when it appeared in 1954. There is a standard copyright notice on the inside front cover of that comic, as there was on all issues of Marvelman and Young Marvelman, saying ‘All stories and illustrations are the copyright of the publishers,’ that publisher being explicitly stated as Miller. There are rumours of the artwork in other issues of the Marvelman comics containing similar notices claiming copyright for Anglo, but I have only been able to find one example of these having existed at the time, despite a considerable amount of searching and enquiry on my part. Occasionally there was a signature in the artwork, but without the copyright notice. The cover of the 1958 Young Marvelman Annual, for example, has the words ‘Mick Anglo Ltd (London)’ written in small writing in the bottom right hand corner. So, why was Mick Anglo publishing a copyright claim on Young Marvelman in 1977 on behalf of his company?
One possibility is that he knew that the Millers had wound up their company, and that the Marvelman properties were without clear ownership at this time, and took the opportunity, whilst writing about Marvelman, to add a copyright notice to the page of artwork he was including in his book. At that time, fourteen years after any of the Marvelman characters had last been published, and five years before Dez Skinn would revive the character in the pages of Warrior, he may have been the only interested party who had any sort of possible claim on Marvelman. He had previously recycled some of the Marvelman material in the short lived Captain Miracle comic he published as Anglo Comics in 1960, which would seem to indicate that he felt, rightly or wrongly, that he had some sort of rights to the character, and it’s entirely possible he still felt strongly about this in 1977. Perhaps the fact that the Millers seem to have turned a blind eye to his re-using this material in 1960 shows that they either accepted he had some rights to the character, or that they were so unsure themselves of the legitimacy of their own copyright that they just let it go. Either way, however, adding a notice claiming copyright to a reproduction of previously published work probably doesn’t add up to actually owning that copyright, and of course it is always possible that he was only claiming copyright in the art, rather than in the character himself, although this kind of detailed subdivision of rights, whilst commonplace today, might not really have been prevalent at that time.
I don’t even know for sure when the copyright notice on the artwork was actually added, other than it must have been at some point between 1954, when the comic was published, and 1977, when Nostalgia was published, Although I’m inclined to think that it was more likely to be towards the latter year, rather than the former. And it’s worth bearing in mind that, when George Khoury asked Anglo about the ownership of Marvelman in 2001, he said, ‘I don’t know; that was Miller’s sort of thing’. If Anglo had wanted to claim the rights to the original Marvelman, this would have been the ideal time to have done so, with no other claimants in evidence, but he didn’t do so. His actions seem to show that he believed he owned some sort of rights, but he appears to never have unequivocally stated this in words.
So, who owned the copyright to Marvelman once L Miller and Co Ltd closed down? Was it Fawcett Publications, as the character was a copy of their Captain Marvel? Or perhaps Arnold Miller, who had been present throughout its heyday? Or Mick Anglo, who liked to tell the story of how he rescued the Millers from their dreadful crisis in 1953? Did DC have any claim, as Marvelman was a copy of Captain Marvel, who was a copy of their Superman character? Or was the copyright abandoned once the Millers closed down, leaving Marvelman in some sort of legal limbo, and therefore possibly in the public domain? Eventually, I’m going to attempt to answer some of these questions.
[The issue of the copyright notice on Young Marvelman #38 is covered in more detail in two posts on my own blog, if you're interested: Marvelman Copyright: I Found My Smoking Gun and Marvelman Copyright: Same Comic, Different Gun.]
MLJ had published an earlier character called The Shield in the 1940s, which was eventually licensed to DC for their Impact Comics line, which ran between 1991 and 1993. Earlier on, DC had in much the same way licensed Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. After Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel comics in the 1950s, they were left with a group of characters that they could no longer use, as part of the agreement they reached with DC stated that they would never publish those characters again. However, there was apparently no block on them licensing them to others, other than the fact that DC would go after whoever else published them, for the same reasons that they’d gone after Fawcett. Unless, of course, the company publishing them was DC themselves. And that’s exactly what happened in 1972. DC started publishing new Captain Marvel stories, starting in Shazam! #1, cover-dated February 1973. Although they might have originally preferred to have called the comic Captain Marvel, they couldn’t, as Marvel Comics had published a title with that name in May 1968, and held the trademark on the name Captain Marvel for a comic book. And it’s unlikely that DC would really have published a comic with a rival company’s name as part of its title.
Despite the fact that Marvel never had much commercial success with their Captain Marvel comic, they none the less are required to publish something under the title every few years, with various different Captain Marvel characters, as otherwise they would lose the rights to it, and they didn’t wish to lose the rights to a title which reflected the company’s name, regardless of how it sold. DC were left having to name their title Shazam! after Captain Marvel’s magic word, leading to some people thinking that it was actually the name of the character. At that time, as the copyright was still owned by Fawcett, DC were obliged to pay Fawcett for each individual use of Captain Marvel or any of the related characters, which may have gone some way to redressing the huge payout Fawcett had to give DC back in the early 1950s. Eventually, in 1991, DC bought the rights to the Captain Marvel characters in their entirety from Fawcett, and proceeded to attempt to fully integrate the characters into the DC comics universe. Despite all of this, Captain Marvel has never really found his place there, and his heyday in the 1940s has never been matched, nor is it likely to be.
Marvel Comics, in the meantime, were taking advantage of the fact that Philip Wylie’s Gladiator was out of copyright. In their quarterly black and white comic magazine Marvel Preview they ran the first half of an adaptation of the novel, under the name Man-God, in issue #9, published in the winter of 1976. Despite the note on the last page saying ‘If you’d like to learn the rest of Hugo Danner’s amazing story, let us know – soon!’ it appears that it failed to find favour with the public, as the second half was never published, and presumably sits in a drawer at Marvel to this day. The story is accompanied by an article called Supermen in Science Fiction by Don and Maggie Thompson, which mentions the supposed influence it had on the creation of Superman, although it does take the time to challenge the claim that Jerry Siegel had paraphrased dialogue for Superman from Gladiator.
This is how Moore described it to George Khoury in Kimota! In 2001,
I’d probably been about 11, and I’d gone on holiday to Yarmouth, which is a seaside resort in England, and I was looking for comics to spend my money on. Sometimes you get a different sort of comics turning up in a different town because the distribution system was much vaguer than it is now. I remember that there were a bunch of Marvelman annuals and for once there was nothing better to buy; I picked them up and I found them a lot more charming than I had remembered. There was something about them that I quite liked.
He hadn’t originally been a fan of Marvelman, however, as he says, again in Kimota!,
I think when I was around seven, which would have been 1960 – I’d have been six or seven – was when I saw my first American comics, when I saw my first The Flash and the first Superman/Batman comics that I used to pick up. It would have been around this time that I’d seen Marvelman. But Marvelman, even then, just seemed a flimsy imitation. These were sort of black & white flimsy, coloured, cheap little comics – although I didn’t know about Captain Marvel at the time, didn’t realize that Marvelman was a reinvention of Captain Marvel for copyright reasons. I think that I always kind of sensed that there was an inferiority to the product. I liked the idea of there being an actual British superhero, I just didn’t think that he was very good.
There’s a slightly different version of these events in an article called Miracleman: It’s a Miracle in Speakeasy #52 (ACME Press, 1985), in which Moore says,
In about 1966 I read some Marvelman album reprints and I knew a little bit about comics – I knew that Marvelman hadn’t been printed for about two or three years and that Marvelman had vanished… It occurred to me then ‘I wonder what Marvelman’s doing at the moment?’ three years after his book got cancelled. The image I had in my head was of an older Mickey Moran trying to remember the magic word that would change him back to Marvelman. If I had done it at the time, I would probably have done it as a Mad-style parody strip.
There was one other pivotal purchase at this time, as described once again in Kimota! ,
Around the same time I picked up one of the Ballantine reprints of Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad which has actually got the Superduperman story in it, and I remember being so knocked out by the Superduperman story that I immediately began thinking – I was 11, remember, so this would have been purely a comic strip for my own fun – but I thought I could do a parody story about Marvelman. This thing is fair game to my 11-year-old mind. I wanted to do a superhero parody story that was as funny as Superduperman but I thought it would be better if I did it about an English superhero. So I had this idea that it would be funny if Marvelman had forgotten his magic word. I think I might have even [done] a couple of drawings or Wally Wood-type parodies of Marvelman. And then I just completely forgot about the project.
The origin of the [reinvented] character, as far as I was concerned, was, as a small boy I’d been visiting Yarmouth with my parents, which is a British seaside resort that we used to go to every year. And, I remember that the little seaside bookstores used to sell comics and books that would, presumably, have been on a different distribution circuit. And, sort of, you’d get titles turning up that you wouldn’t get at your newsagent and bookstores at home. I had picked up a copy of a Young Marvelman annual, which was a strange hard-covered thing that would be completely unfamiliar to an American audience. But, this was a collection of Young Marvelman and Marvelman strips by Mick Anglo. I also picked up a copy of one of the Ballantine paperbacks of Harvey Kurtzman’s brilliant Mad. It was the one that had Superduperman. Since I picked up these two things on the same day – and bearing in mind that I was 12 – it occurred to me that maybe I could do a brilliant parody like Superduperman, but of an English superhero. So, I started to imagine a kind of a parody of Marvelman, where he had forgotten his magic word. I don’t know where I was going to do this obviously derivative piece of work, and it never happened. But the idea did kind of lodge in my mind.
(The Mad reprint volume that Moore picked up was almost certainly The Mad Reader, originally published by Ballantine Books, New York, in 1954, and republished innumerable times since then. This is the volume that reprints Superduperman.)
The idea that had lodged in his mind was obviously still there some years later, when David Lloyd, who had recently taken over the running of the Society of Strip Illustration, a London-based organisation of British comics professionals, sent out a questionnaire to several British comics writers of the time, including Moore. The questions and answers were published in an article called From the Writers Viewpoint in Society of Strip Illustration Newsletter #40 in May 1981. The last question Lloyd asked was, ‘What ambitions do you have for ‘strips’ as a whole?’ At the end of a lengthy answer, Moore said,
My greatest personal hope is that someone will revive Marvelman and I’ll get to write it. KIMOTA!!
His wish was about to come true.
To Be Continued…
(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)
Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.