Never was a dollar bill so well spent as the one I sent to New York City back in 1966. Believe me, it wasn’t a dollar that was spent on a whim. My purchase was not one of compulsion. It was calculated and my spending impulses were put to the test. The lure to spend that dollar on 8 comic books and a bag of candy was very tempting, but I resisted.
It was a further test of my pending manhood when after sending the dollar I had to wait a few weeks for my purchase to reach me in sunny city of Huntington, West Virginia, but I waited.
Then the day came when I heard the clank of the mailbox and in it was my package. In unlikely child fashion I carefully opened the package. I did not tear into it like a hungry animal as I did with Christmas gifts. No. I wanted to save the package it came in because I knew “he” must have touched it and prepared the contents himself, just for me.
It was now official. I was now a bought and paid for member of The Merry Marvel Marching Society. I had the badge, the membership card, the certificate and the record to prove it. In my 6th grade stalker like mind, Stan Lee and I were pals!
I couldn’t believe that Stan and the gang now knew where Huntington, West Virginia was. They knew my name. They knew me! This was better than porn, crack, whiskey or any other addiction you could name.
The first thing that I did was play the record of Stan and the bullpen members on my little mono record player. No phone sex-operator could ever thrill me as much as hearing the voice of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood and the others members of the bullpen as they spoke to me from what I imagined was the bullpen in the Marvel offices where these guys hung out and had fun making comics. They all sounded like the tough guys I saw in all the movies about cops and robbers in New York. It was like a grown up version of The Bowery Boys.
Other than hearing Stan’s voice the biggest thrill was listening to my favorite artist, Don Heck, speak. It was like the Beatles and The Beach Boys had come to my house just play music. Never in my wildest comic reading days did I ever imagine that one day I would not only talk to Don Heck, but also be friends with him. If I would’ve known that then my crew cut head would’ve exploded. It’s true that God will only give you as much as you can handle. Trust me? I couldn’t have handled it then.
Through the help of former owner of Eclipse Comics, Dean Mullaney, I am able to give you this link to the recording of Stan and the gang and how they sounded on that record. Here is the link. I hope you’re able to make it work on your computer:
As exciting as it is to hear all these great Marvel creators, there is a sad tone to it as well in the fact that a good portion of those talented people are no longer with us. Having their voices captured for all time is a creative gift.
Through my 20 years in the comic books I have always said that Stan Lee has contributed as much to the marketing of comics as he has in creating them. His writing style has always been a major influence on me, but as a marketing person he has had an even bigger impact on me. He laid out the most pure common sense blueprint of marketing that there is. “Sell what you know best”. “Sell yourself”.
Stan knew the one product he knew best was Stan Lee. So he turned the volume up a little and sold Stan Lee. He knew that if you liked Stan Lee, then you’d like Marvel Comics. He sold likeability. That’s a product that few really know how to sell because there has to be a large chunk of it in your personality. Some can fake it pretty good, but after a while the layers wear off and you’re exposed for what you really are.
Stan had a way of making the readers feel like a part of the club. I know this because the when I discovered Marvel Comics that was the difference between them and DC Comics. At the time it felt like DC kept the readers at arm’s length where Marvel opened the door and invited you to join the party. They gave their super heroes character. The kind you could invest your own emotions in.
The Merry Marvel Marching Society is still one of the greatest pieces of marketing in the history of comic book publishing. It was in the time of 1966-67 that Marvel laid the foundation to what you as readers have been enjoying ever since. In the business world true history was made in late 60s. One that stands to shine no matter what business you’re in. Low cost, grassroots marketing and the ability to really KNOW who your readers are proved that you can build a lasting relationship with consumers to endure decades.
The genius of Stan Lee was selling his own likeability and that of the Marvel characters. He knew that the writers and artists could tell the exciting stories, invent and design the costumes and fantastic situations, turn them in on time, but he knew the readers and what they really wanted. They wanted characters they could like and either relate to or wanna be like.
Even though we as a business have lost our way a bit I think that we can still turn it around and once again give readers what THEY want and not what WE like and try to force feed them or in a better case, hope they’ll like. To do this we have to not only know our consumers, but we have to know our characters.
We can’t ride off the fumes of love and loyalty of the characters that Stan and others established many years ago forever. Like a garden or a crop, things have to be taken care of and all the technology in the world isn’t gonna bring those crops to fruition if the basics are left out. Expensive ads in Wizard, retail incentive covers and all the message boards in the world aren’t enough. The real answer lies in the basics of what Marvel Comics did in the mid to late 60s. Every time I think of The Merry Marvel Marching Society, The Marvel Bullpen Bulletin Page, Stan’s Soapbox and individual comic book letter pages I think of the basics? know your readers and know your characters. Put the two together. While the other guy is sending emails and posting blogs we should be shaking hands, calling voice to voice and knocking on doors.
I know that those simple, nostalgic days of my youth will never come back and I don’t kid myself about that. But the basic business plan is still there and will work today. Like parenting and other things in these PC times, too many things are over thought and made more complex than they are. Common sense is not something that needs to be tweaked and made heavy with technology. In it’s own true form it’s a gift and we should use it and be thankful for it.
As a creator, an editor and a publisher, ask the reader across the convention table what they want and not what you’re gonna give em’.
You’ll have to pardon me now? I think I hear The Merry Marvel Marching Society theme playing and I better fall in and start marching.
In case you’re wondering where the Busted Knuckles Babe Of The Week and The Busted Knuckles Manly Cover Of The Week are? due to computer problems and a lifestyle soaked in booze, babes and brawls I had to put the regular features off until next week. Just quit crying and save a spot on your screen for next week. These images will have to do until next week? ya big crybaby!
Lois:”Uh…Why Is Beau Laying There Naked looking At Me?”
Lana: “Awww, man….He’s Just Gross.”
Manly Mini-Cover Of The Week
Captain America #3
As always, I look forward to your comments and the money you owe me.
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