Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mammoth Comic Annual: The Missing Link

I think it’s fair to say that when I first came across this Mammoth Comic Annual I was stunned.

Up to that point I was unaware of the existence of such an issue. Although there were a few Mammoth Annuals circa 1957-1963 that I had yet to encounter, I had every reason to believe the issues I was seeking were orderly numbered objects, albeit with a query over their precise publication dates. In other words, even though they were proving to be elusive, and slightly mysterious for all that, I nevertheless expected I had a pretty good handle on what it was that I was seeking. The object of my quest was clear and I was accustomed to the process.

Or so I thought. I would soon understand that finding a long-sought-after item is one thing; discovering an unknown species – indeed, a missing link - is quite another!

Cue the forensics report:

Superman: Superman, Stuntman!
Alvin Schwartz/Al Plastino
(Action Comics #120, May 1948)

Johhny Quick: The Man Who Hated Water!
Otto Binder/Charles Sultan
(Adventure Comics #140, May 1949)

Superboy: Around the World in 80 Minutes!
Bill Finger/ Ed Dobrotka
(Adventure Comics #138, March 1949)

Hopalong Cassidy: The Powder-Keg Rider!
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

Superboy: The Man Who Could See Tomorrow!
John Sikela
(Superboy #1, March-April 1949)

Batman: Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!
David Vern Reed/Dick Sprang/Charles Paris
(Batman #56, December 1949-Jan 1950)

Superman: The Courtship of the Three Lois Lanes!
William Woolfolk/Wayne Boring/Stan Kaye
(Superman 61, December 1949

Superboy: Telegraph Boy!
John Sikela/Ed Dobrotka
(Adventure Comics #139, April 1949)

Aquaman: The Treasure Beneath the Lake!
John Daly
(Adventure Comics #129, June 1948)

Batman: A Greater Detective Than Batman!
Bill Finger/Jim Mooney
(Batman #56, December 1949-January 1950)

Johnny Quick and his Magic Formula: The Slowdown of Johnny Quick!
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Superman: Superman Returns to Krypton!
Al Plastino
(Superman #61, December 1949)

Zatara: A Dog-Catcher's Life!
(World's Finest Comics #34, May-June 1948)

Superboy: The Boy Vandals!
John Sikela
(Superboy #1, March-April 1949)

Hopalong Cassidy: The Tenderfoot Outlaw
Don Cameron/Gene Colan/Joe Giella/Sy Barry
(Hopalong Cassidy #87, March 1954)

plus Peg (1 page); Blockbusters (1 page); Quick Quiz (1 page)

As anyone who is familiar with the Mammoth Annual series can readily attest, this is not a typical resume of contents for a Mammoth Annual.

Mammoth Annuals (and Gigantic Annuals) were lucky dip compilations comprising unsold coverless comics returned to the publisher, rebound into whopping huge editions, and resold as specials. Each edition contained three newsstand comics at random, hence the contents of any particular issue of Mammoth Annual (or Gigantic Annual) were unpredictable. The only thing one could reasonably expect is that the issues had been published within the preceding 12 months.

The sheer heft of these volumes was quite something for the young reader to behold. They were formidable tomes to be reckoned with, not slight pamphlets to be folded and shoved in one’s back pocket. Even by today’s standards the page count is tremendous, exceeding that of the average trade paperback or hardcover Archives volume.

The first few editions proudly boasted “Biggest Comic Printed Ever! 292 pages!” (Gigantic Annual #3 even managed to score 352 pages due to a few 116-page comics!) The tally at the end of the boast may have decreased steadily over time but the claim to fame was to endure for a number of years.

Towards the end even three rebound comics could only muster a relatively meager 164 pages. Indeed by the time the comparatively modest “Super-Size Comic Omnibus!” was emblazoned on the cover Gigantic Annual #16 in 1975 – probably in response to the Trade Practices Act 1974, of which a summary was being printed in the comics themselves at the time - the Mammoths and Gigantics were rather slight and gaunt facsimiles of their former robust selves, and about to fade altogether.

And that is one of the things I noticed when I took a closer look at the newly discovered Mammoth Comic Annual – the anticipated heft, the sense of density and mass was absent. It was still a substantial magazine, and appreciably larger than the regular comics, but it was certainly not a clutch of rebound issues. In fact it felt more like a 148-page Colossal Comic…

And that’s when it hit me. It may have looked like a ‘missing’ Mammoth Annual, but it was in fact the ‘missing link’ between the Mammoths (and Gigantics) and the Colossals. It foreshadows the ongoing Mammoth Annual by title, but sets the template for the Colossal Comic series.

The Colossal series was also a repository of previously published K.G. Murray DC reprints, but unlike the Mammoths and Gigantics, Colossal did not contain rebound issues. Colossal reprinted stories previously published by K.G. Murray in the pamphlet-size series such as Superman, Batman and Super Adventure Comic. (I’ll be discussing Colossal Comic in greater detail in a forthcoming blog).

Mammoth Annual, Gigantic Annual and Colossal Comic form what I think of as the ‘massive’ line of compendiums, as distinct from regular ‘centurions’ (Century Comic, The Hundred Comic Monthly and Five-Score Comic Monthly by name, and the 100-pagers in general).

There is nothing to suggest that this issue was intended as anything but a one-off special. For one thing it is unnumbered, so there is no suggestion of any intention towards a series or subsequent issue. For another, as already mentioned, it consists exclusively of material which had already been published earlier in various other titles by K.G. Murray which, to the best of my knowledge, had not been done before.

Consider also that it may have been a 'rush job'. No doubt the Olympic rings motif was a deliberate cover element. (As obvious as it is, I must admit I did not even notice it until a few days later when my friend David Studham pointed it out – hey, I did say I was stunned!) It’s quite possible that a special ‘holiday season’ issue was in the works for the summer of 1956, and that it was decided at the last minute that the hot ticket in town was the Olympics, and the yuletide would keep.

This appears to have been the thinking behind the covers for Century #’s 5, 6, 7 and 8, which appear to have been crammed into the Olympic/Christmas season of 1956 - Century #5 has an advertiser’s date code suggesting it was published in November 1956; Century #6 sports an Olympic flag and MCG cover without an advertiser’s date code, but presumably followed #5 in November or December; #7 has a December advertiser’s date code and a conventional anthology cover, suggesting it was the ‘proper’ December issue; and #8 has the Happy New Year banner, so presumably that was published in January 1957. I assume from this that the Olympics/MCG cover was ‘rush-released’. (The Hundred Comic Monthly issues were not similarly affected in this period).

Almost all the main features in Mammoth Comic Annual are presented in a greyscale form. The exceptions are the opening Superman story and the two Hopalong Cassidy features. When I first saw these I assumed it had something to do with the source prints. Unfortunately I have not been able to compare them to their previous prints side-by-side.

However, I no longer expect this is the reason for the grey tone, for two reasons.

The first reason is that I understand that the Batman story “Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” was originally published in Australia in Batman Comics #2, July 1950 as "Ride, Batman, Ride". I have not verified this, but based on the cover image, in which “Bat-Hombre” is replaced by “Batman”, it is more likely than not to have also been altered for the splash page in Batman Comics #2.

(“Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” also happens to be the lead feature in Giant Batman Album #16, June 1968, but as this was sourced from the US edition of Batman #193, aka Batman Giant #14, aka 80 Page Giant #G-37, July-August 1967, it does not help in answering this query.)

The second reason is that at this point in time the K.G. Murray catalogue of DC reprints was experiencing an overhaul in terms of format and presentation. As discussed in a previous blog the 100-page format was being tested for the first time, as was full colour printing in the pamphlet format comic books. There were even a couple of 100-page Color Giants produced. I now believe the greyscale of Mammoth Comic Annual was another experiment in upping the ante on the previous standard black and white printing model.

It was also given a run in a few other titles in 1956-57, for example Colossal Comic Annual, All Favourites Comic Annual, The Mighty Comic Annual, and possibly others. I will discuss these issues in greater detail in an upcoming blog, but for the moment it is enough to note that the greyscale was not exclusive to Mammoth Comic Annual.

I should note there was another unnumbered Mammoth Comic Annual published a few years later, a conventional Mammoth edition of rebound coverless comics from 1959. This was released after the second ‘proper’ Mammoth Annual in 1958, and a few years before the third ‘proper’ Mammoth Annual in 1962.

Which leaves 1960 and 1961 as Mammoth-less years… at least as far as I know, for there could be more unnumbered Mammoths to be discovered!


mcannon said...

The Mammoth certainly could be seen as a prototype for the long-running “Colossal Comic” title. Even the contents are a similar mix to that of the early Colossals, with a strong emphasis on Superman, Suprboy, Batman and the lesser lights of Green Arrow and Aquaman.

So the question is – when KGM came to start a regular title with such contents, why didn’t they just stick to the title “Mammoth”?

One possibility that springs to mind is that by the time that KGM decided that a regular extra-large reprint book was a goer as a regular title, they’d already started to use the “Mammoth” title (along with “Gigantic”) for a new program of rebinding and reselling 3-issue compilations of unsold comics. At the time, it probably made a sort of sense; “Hey, we’ve already published a big comic called Mammoth, so let’s use the same title for these rebound compilations – kids might recognise the name and buy it”. But it meant that when KGM _then_ decided “Let’s start publishing an ongoing, extra-large reprint title, like that Mammoth book we did a while back”, they needed a new title – hence the nicely alliterative “Colossal Comic”

Of course, for this theory to have any solid basis it needs these books to be a published in the order outlined above, and I don’t know that for sure. But it sounds plausible.

Oh, and just to confuse things further, the first couple of issues of the long running All Favourites Comic were published as “All Favourites Annual”(in 1957 and ’58 according to James Zanotto’s fine site), with a similar “Colossal Comic-like” format (I only have #2, but the cover of #1 indicates that its similar in format)!

BTW, as a young lad, I pronounced “Colossal” as “COLLAR-sal” – but hey, I was only about 6 when I first saw an issue of the comic.....

Mark Cannon

spiros xenos said...

Mark, you've pointed out a little problem with my theory - the first Colossal Comic Annual was published August 1956, which predates the Mammoth Comic Annual by a few months if it was out in November/December 1956.

However, I'm not 100% certain that Mammoth Comic Annual was published at the end of 1956. Certainly there is evidence pointing to that date as I've stated. However, there's another a clue to the date which I haven't quite solved.

On the rear cover of the comic is an advertisement for Humpty Dumpty's Magazine for Little Children. I've managed to trace the US version (the image is slightly different with extra elements in the frame, but it is clearly the same source) and it is dated February 1954. That's almost 2 years between the US edition and the one advertised in December 1956 (assuming that's the date).

I've discussed this with James, and he suggested that it was possible Mammoth Comic Annual was published up to a year before the Melbourne Olympics. This cannot be discounted. I concede that identifying the date on the Australian edition of the Humpty Dumpty magazine would also possibly not be conclusive, but it would likely narrow down the date a bit. I understand the US magazine was monthly, so the Australian version probably was too.

Anyway, what it means is that there is reason to think that Mammoth Comic Annual may have been out earlier than December 1956.

Consider however that regardless of the precise release dates, it does appear both Colossal Comic Annual and Mammoth Comic Annual were part of the new format experimentations of mid-1956 (100-pages, colour 32-page pamphlets, the greyscale 'colour'). They were possibly even conceived of at the same time. As such, Mammoth Comic Annual is still a 'missing link' between the ongoing Colossal and Mammoth series, even if it does not, strictly speaking, predate and thus 'set the template' for Colossal

Uhm, howzat for rescuscitating my theory!?

Identifying the Humpty Dumpty magazine will hopefully solve some of this.

At least I'm sure that the first Mammoth Annual and first Gigantic Annual were published after 1956 - unless there's some others lurking out there I'm unaware of!

And you are correct about All Favourites Comic Annual - - The Mighty Comic Annual is another in this format, and I'll be covering them shortly.


mcannon said...

Hah! Ah well, that's the trouble with nice neat publishing theories - sometimes the facts just stubbornly refuse to fit in with them!

>>I've discussed this with James, and he suggested that it was possible Mammoth Comic Annual was published up to a year before the Melbourne Olympics.>>

That's certainly possible - there's no reason why every example of Olympics-related imagery has to have been published in 1956. After all, while the hype surrounding the Sydney Olympics naturally climaxed in 2000, there was still a gradually-escalating build-up for a couple of years beforehand.


spiros xenos said...

Very gracious of you Mark.

It's a trusim that when it comes to these KGMs, almost every neat lttle theory develops a little kink.

It's like a recurring dream in which you once again prepare for the final bow after a performance or a speech, and you cock an ear for the inevitable whoopee cushion.

Ah well - we shall see. All that remains is to track down that elusive Humpty Dumpty magazine, and hope it solves our questions - and not to mention also salvages some credibility!


Anonymous said...

I might need to put another slight question mark against your theory.

I'm guessing from your comments on "Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride" that you may have picked up the information about Australian Batman Comics 2 from my site. I have to admit I can't confirm that the story in issue 2 is called "Ride, Batman, Ride". I can't find any notes to suggest why I have that on my site and I don't think I have sighted that issue. Which leads me to conclude I guessed.

... an educated guess, of cause, as they tended to do those sorts of things... Particularly for those poor Australian Children who wouldn't know what a hobre was, and were still new to Batman.

Also, I'm now inclined to guess the dates of the All Favourites Annuals a little earlier. Based on the information I now have, I think that All Favourites, The 100-Page Comic 3 is probably late 1957 -- which could put the first two "Annual" issues as 1955/1956 or 1956/1957.

As another small guide, the newest identifiable story in All Favourites Annual nn [1] is February 1954; the newest in The All Favourites Annual 2 is from July 1954.

Part of the problem is that I initially thought the change in format more likely to respond to changes in import restrictions in 1959. (I've always been suspicious of the impact of television as I grew up in provincial Queensland, where TV didn't start broadcasting until the late 1960s.) However, I now suspect they were a reasonably direct response to the introduction of television in September 1956.