This past May, reports surfaced that an edict from Disney stated that all Marvel superhero content needed to originate from the United States, effectively ending the era of Marvel comics produced specifically for the British market.
Marvel UK started as a reprint-only imprint in 1972, then grew to produce its own material, with Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Alan Davis, David Gibbons and more major names all receiving crucial early exposure through the publisher. Neil Tennant — who went on to be one-half of pop duo Pet Shop Boys — actually served as Marvel UK editor for two years during the '70s, in a Pop-Up Video-worthy piece of trivia.
Italy-based company Panini acquired the Marvel UK license in 1995, and as of late published three ongoing titles with UK-originated content: Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Heroes and Spider-Man and Friends.
Writer Simon Furman and artist Simon Williams recently contributed a Hulk vs. Death's Head story in Marvel Heroes, and talked to Newsarama about the impact of Disney's decision, the legacy of Marvel UK and what the move means to British comics as a whole.
Newsarama: Questions go to both Simons: How surprised were you to to hear the report of no more UK-originated Marvel content from Panini? Was there any indication (or perhaps speculation following Disney purchasing Marvel in 2009), or was iout of the blue?
Simon Furman: It was very much a bolt from the blue. I’d heard no rumbles to this effect at all when I took on the Hulk vs Death's Head for Panini. In fact, I was hoping that the strip would lead to more work for Panini UK, so the news was a blow on a professional level and on a wider personal level. Very much — end of an era.
Simon Williams: To be honest, as soon as I heard that Disney had bought Marvel I thought to myself it would only be a matter of time. While I can kind of see it from Disney's point of view business-wise, it still came as a surprise and certainly a bitter disappointment to me when I heard the news that Panini would no longer be able to originate work featuring Marvel characters. I had just finished work on the Incredible Hulk/Death's Head strip in Marvel Heroes when I found out, so knowing what was going to happen after that issue made that a very bittersweet deal for me, and certainly for the other creators involved on those books.
Nrama: A lot of American fans might not know the role Marvel UK has played in Britain. Given the reports of Panini losing the rights to produce original Marvel content, from your perspective, how big of a loss is that? Seems to be a blow to British comics in general.
Furman: It’s a huge blow to British comics. In their heyday, Marvel UK (before it became Panini UK) was turning out a vast amount of originated material — from licensed titles like Transformers, Zoids, Thundercats, Doctor Who and Real Ghostbusters to UK originals like Dragon’s Claws, Death’s Head, Motormouth, Sleeze Brothers, Knights of Pendragon, Warheads, Dark Angel and many, many more. Along with 2000AD, Marvel UK was the biggest single producer of original comics content in the UK during the 80s and early 90s. The fact that Panini continued the tradition of UK-originated strips, albeit on a smaller scale, was, in my view, worth preserving/encouraging.
Williams: It certainly is a big blow to British comics. Over the years, Marvel UK has played a very important role in not only the UK comics industry, but I think comics in general. Look at the wellspring of home-grown talent that started out working, or honing their talents with Marvel UK who have gone onto work for Marvel US (creators such as Alan Davis, Steve Dillon, Bryan Hitch, Simon Furman, Andy Wildman and Richard Starkings to name a few). Panini are one of the few companies here in the UK which produce comics featuring originated material, and Disney's new ruling now means that the many freelancers who worked on those books are now without work.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite Marvel UK-produced stories from the past — either as a reader or among ones you've worked on?
Furman: On a personal level, I’m particularly proud of Death’s Head, because he’s one of the few UK-originated characters to make the crossover to Marvel US (and still be around 25 or so years later). But there’s so much amazing stuff — Captain Britain, Night Raven, Abslom Daak and all those others mentioned above. But probably, for me, head and shoulders above everything is Alan Moore and Alan Davis’s defining run on Captain Britain. Just so influential!
Williams: Marvel UK have produced a lot of material over the years — classics such as Steve Parkhouse and David Lloyd's Night Raven in the 1979 Hulk Comic; Alan Moore and Alan Davis' classic run on Captain Britain; the originated Doctor Who material featuring the work of Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon and John Ridgway to name a few — plus the 90's wave of Marvel UK comics as well which proved very popular at the time — titles such as Death's Head II, Motormouth & Killpower, and the Knights of Pendragon — featuring the work of the likes of Liam Sharp, Dan Abnett, Gary Frank and Gary Erskine - all of whom who have again, gone on and worked for Marvel US. My personal favourites however would be the classic Death's Head, Dragon's Claws and Transformers UK work that Simon Furman, Geoff Senior and co produced in the late 80's — this work was what made the biggest impression on me out the the UK stuff, and it was a thrill to be part of the (albeit short but sweet) return of Death's Head a few months ago.
Nrama: Marvel Heroes, where the Death's Head story appeared, is aimed at an all-ages audience, with shorter, self-contained stories. How unique is the Panini/Marvel UK content from the stories being currently produced by Marvel in the US?
Furman: I think all UK-produced stories are unique in that they bring a very unique UK-centric mindset to these familiar characters/situations. Instinctively, the UK creators just seem to understand their audience. What works in the US doesn’t necessarily translate to a UK audience, and that’s ultimately why I think it’s a great loss not to have UK creators front and centre.
Williams: I think the point is that Panini have a great understanding of their target audience — and produced comics that was suitable and popular to their readership. This is something that I hope Disney will be able to grasp on and continue with. The stories featured in both Marvel Heroes and it's companion title Spectacular Spider-man Adventures (which won an Eagle Award in 2008 for favourite British Colour Comicbook) were separate from the ongoing US Marvel continuity — which led to a lot of great fun, self-contained stories. Plus the talent on both books is a veritable who's-who of the UK comics industry — including Ferg Handley, Mike Collins, Andie Tong, Staz Johnson, Jon Haward, John Royle, Gary Erskine, and Kev Hopgood. I'm very proud to have worked on these titles as well — and I shall certainly miss working on them.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!