Monday, May 15, 2017

King Conan #1 and #NN: More follies and anomalies and stains...

Anomalies are like stains you can't remove, and as much as you may try to ignore them, they catch your eye even as you try to look away. So instead of ignoring them you deal with them the best you can and try to make some sense of them, and with a little luck the frame shifts just enough to make a virtue of their presence. 

When I first presented my two editions of King Conan I avoided the temptation to muse on possible publication dates. I knew I didn't have enough information, the indicia was unhelpful, and they presented a new Yaffa conundrum to me which I knew I was ill-equipped to deal with at the time. One was a $0.70 issue designated #1, the other an unnumbered facsimile reprint with a $0.75 cover price, so all I really knew was that, based on the cover price, the #1 was published before the #NN.

With my profile of Yaffa's Marvel editions to hand I was able to make sense of a parallel scenario concerning the two editions of What If Spider-Man Joined The Fantastic Four? In both instances there were two digest editions of the same issue, the first being a $0.70/#1 digest issue of a suspended series, and the second issue being a $0.75/#NN facsimile recycling of the respective #1 issue.

So it should have been a relatively straightforward exercise to apply the same criteria to the King Conan issues and come up with a sensible solution as per the What If... issues. Ah, the best laid plans... For this is when the dreaded anomaly struck!

As per the What If... #1, the $0.70/#1 issue of King Conan conforms to the schema I've been outlining. There is a 4 pencilled on the cover, which suggests it was published c. February 1982, after the 'long' editions had superseded the 'short' editions in late 1981, but before the 'short' recycled editions returned mid-1982 with a $0.75/#NN designation.

'By rights', the $0.75/NN King Conan 'should' be a 'short' edition, but it's not - inexplicably it is a 'long' edition! Further, it has a 9 written on the cover, suggesting a publication date of July, but which year? 1982? 1983? Neither make sense according to my schema.

If you've been following this drama you'll recall a similar anomaly regarding formats occurred in my review of Daredevil #5 and Iron Man #5, in which the most feasible and palatable resolution appeared to be to concede that there may have been some degree of overlap between formats.

So let's step back a bit and consider what we know about Yaffa's Marvel issues between early-1982 and mid-1982. This was evidently a rather concentrated period of extreme flux: 'long' $0.70 digest editions at the end of the licence expiring c. May 1982, overlapping with $1.10 regular size recycled editions, before finally settling into a sustained period of  'short' $0.75 recycled editions by mid-1982. Now consider that there is the odd 'long' $0.75 recycled edition slipping in and overlapping the $1.10 and 'short' $0.75 issues - what might be deemed both a remnant of the $0.70 era and a transitional object towards the $0.75 editions.

And lets consider that if my schema for January-June 1982 is starting to look a bit rickety, maybe it's symptomatic of the indecisive - if not desperate - state of Yaffa's Marvel office at the time, a desperation and lack of direction likely instigated by a perfect storm of rising costs and end of licence panic or neurosis.

Let's also consider that the 'long' $0.75/NN King Conan is truly anomalous - I don t have, nor have I seen another such issue. This doesn't mean there are no others at all, but it does suggest to me that they are very few and far between, which again implies a short-term flux before a settling.

It's confusing, and it's frustrating, but in the end, some semblance of sense out of disorder is established.  

I'm going to run with this theory until further evidence turns up. If I find a few more scattered samples of 'long' $0.75 recycled editions I'll deem them transitional editions in the flux of mid-1982. If a rash of them start appearing I'll have to rejig my schema accordingly. 

My conclusions on dates largely rest on deeming newsagency markings reliable. They are all I have to go on to designate a month of publication. My suspicion is that some are more reliable or genuine than others. The  next step is to verify as many as possible by checking them against other copies. 

Another thought occurs to me regarding the recycled $0.75 editions. From my sample of recycled digests I note that roughly half of them retain their parent titles, whilst the other half are retitled with contrived designations such as Sorcerer Supreme and Creatures Attack, with the occasional partial concession to the parent title such as Spider-man the Invincible. I wonder whether retitling was a conscious post-licence strategy to mask the continued publication of material which Yaffa no longer had the rights to. At this stage the indicia still reflected the Marvel copyright but had long dispensed with asserting the Yaffa copyright authority for publication. I note that the $1.10 recycled editions were not retitled. Could it be the recycled editions started with the original titles and then transitioned to the retitling strategy? I don't know, it's just a hypothesis, but I think it's worth following up. 

Oh, and before we settle comfortably, allow me to make one more observation: The $0.75/NN King Conan is slightly - just slightly - wider than the $0.70/#1 issue. Maybe by a millimetre. And the image on the $0.70/#1 issue has a bit more detail represented at the bottom. Just a little. Just enough to cause a tiny stain...

Update: Mark Cannon's copy of King Conan #1 also has 4 written on the front cover.  

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