Friday 6 November 2015

1980: EPIC ILLUSTRATED ISSUE 1 (Marvel Comics)

From Spring 1980: the first issue of Marvel's new magazine for the new decade: EPIC ILLUSTRATED.

This first issue was largely assembled by Marvel man Rick Marschall but he was replaced by the familiar face of Epic, the much loved Archie Goodwin, prior to launch.

EI was another example of Marvel's ongoing efforts to break out of the low margin world of comic books and conqueror other shelves at the news stand. 

The black & white magazine line had floundered, as had PIZZAZZ (Marvel's move into the teen market with a me-too version of DYNAMITE) so, this time, Marvel used HEAVY METAL as their starting point. 

EI offered a wide range of strips and genres, all pitched at the older comics connoisseur, from a variety of creative teams. The magazine format allowed better presentation of the material (although, unlike MARVEL SUPER SPECIAL, this wasn't full colour throughout), supporting text features (such as the interview with Glen Larson in the second issue) and allowed Marvel to attract upmarket advertisers (like drinks companies) that wouldn't (and couldn't) be associated with the colour comics. 

EPIC, despite regular plugs in the core line and MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE, never became a breakout hit but did tick over nicely for an impressive 34 issues before a sudden decision to shutter it left the final part of the Bryne/ Austin collaboration "The Last Galactus Story" unpublished. The final issue went on sale in early 1986.

Marvel, for the most part, avoided loading EI with their established characters. The multi-part Galactus story (26-34), and the Lee/ Buscema Silver Surfer collaboration herein, were the rare exceptions. Maybe a higher profile roster of character may have bolstered sales, but the desire to do something different (and a need to keep clear blue water between adult material and the company's more traditional fare) won out. 

The EI legacy was the creation of the EPIC COMICS imprint in 1982. Jim Stalin's DREADSTAR had first been introduced in the pages of EI issue three. The Epic remit was to utilise the burgeoning direct sales industry to challenge the rising independents with Marvel's own line of creator-owned and mature readers titles. A couple, like GROO, ELFQUEST and DREADSTAR AND COMPANY, also went to newsstands. 

Marvel also tucked mature readers title featuring their own characters, like Elektra, into the Epic line. This helped keep them out of reach of younger readers and bolstered the bottom line by mixing some (relatively) strong sellers with more marginal material. 

The Epic offering could occasionally be eccentric. It soldiered on into the Nineties by offering the likes of WILLIAM SHATNER'S TEKWAR and the HEAVY HITTERS sub-set of books. Epic was struggling for attention within the industry, and love within the Bullpen and senior management, and - when the industry imploded - Epic was one of the fringe Marvel lines ripe for the chop. 

Also posted below is the traditional reader survey, introduced by no less than Stan (or someone in the circulation department who could fake his style), which was loosely inserted into this opening edition. 

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