I already wrote about what could be considered the first comics in my article Who Invented Comic Books? The history of comics is something that interests me grandly. That’s why I would like to continue to write about it, because there are some subjects to explore, like this one:
What Was the First Marvel Comic?
It’s not really necessary to introduce Marvel Comics to anyone nowadays, everybody has at least heard about the superhero movies that make big at the box office multiple times a year. But the story didn’t start with that.
In fact, Marvel Comics was not always known as Marvel Comics. Founded by Martin Goodman in 1939, during the era that is now commonly called the Golden Age of comic books, Marvel was then a corporation known as Timely Publications.
It turns out that the first comic put out by Timely was Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939. In it, you could have read stories from writer-artist Carl Burgos featuring the Human Torch, Bill Everett’s anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner, Paul Gustavson’s the Angel (a costumed detective), Al Anders’s Western hero the Masked Raider, Ben Thompson’s “The Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great,” and Tohm Dixon’s Jungle Terror—FYI, this was recently reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Marvel Comics Volume 1.
Marvel Comics #1 first printing (of 80,000 copies) was quickly sold out and Goodman produced a second one the next month. With approximately 800,000 copies sold, it was a success and Timely Publications was launched. Writer-artist Joe Simon was hired as an editor and he brought with him artists like Jack Kirby and Syd Shores.
Starting spring 1941, Timely Publications became Timely Comics, Inc. Coincidentally, that’s around the time that Captain America Comics #1 was published. For the anecdote, after 10 issues of that book, Simon & Kirby moved to DC Comics. Of course, Kirby will come back later. One man stayed behind, young Stanley Lieber, but you may better know him as Stan Lee. He was a cousin of Martin Goodman by marriage and had been serving as an assistant since 1939, at age 16. Just before turning 19, he was promoted to interim editor.
From Timely to Atlas
A decade later, as the market changed after the war, so did Timely. The company became Atlas Comics in 1951. Superhero comics were a bit out of fashion (Captain America Comics was canceled after #75 in 1950). Goodman expanded his comic line into a wide variety of genres, from horror to romance, westerns, war, Bible stories, and more. Everything was regrouped under the umbrella of the Atlas New Company (Goodman used a lot of shell companies for his businesses). The Atlas logo was then put on everything.
In 1954-55, Atlas tried to reanimate the superhero comics, but that didn’t take. Sub-Mariner and Captain America came back for only a few issues before going away again. In 1956, Jack Kirby briefly came back to work for Goodman, but only did freelance jobs on a few issues. However, he came back full-time to work for the company in 1958 (and stayed for 12 years). It was just after Goodman lost his distributor and was forced to sign with Independent News, the distribution arm of National Comics (aka DC Comics). This relationship was not ideal, but it kept the company alive.
The Official Birth of Marvel Comics
Things didn’t go well for Atlas Comics, that’s probably why, in 1961, there was another change of logo on the cover of the comics. This time, it was an “MC” that was put on the books. MC for Marvel Comics of course. The first time it happened was with the science-fiction anthology Journey into Mystery #69 and the teen-oriented Patsy Walker #95, both were cover-dated June 1961.
It turns out that it was not the first time Marvel Comics published something. In fact, MC was one of the shell companies through which Timely Comics was published in the past (at least since 1944). In fact, All Surprise Comics #12 (Winter 1946–47) and a few other titles were labeled “A Marvel Magazine.” That said, Marvel Comics really started a bit more than 60 years ago now, the same year that the company launched The Fantastic Four.