Superhero Merchandise

Before the wide spread availability of comic book retail stores, access to comic book merchandise was very hit-or-miss. While most big stores stocked some things, not every single thing that you might want was readily accessible. Beyond that, you might not even be aware that certain things existed.

One operation that closed that gap was SUPERHERO MERCHANDISE, which would eventually become HEROES WORLD. These days, the name HEROES WORLD carries with it another connotation, as the operation was eventually purchased by Marvel in an attempt to establish an exclusive distributor for the company’s output. This move dealt a crippling blow to the Direct Sales Market of the period, ultimately driving all other distributors out of the field save one–Diamond, which for more than a decade has been the one and only exclusive distributor for Direct Market products.

But back decades before that, SUPERHERO MERCHANDISE was an operation set up by Ivan Snyder. Snyder had worked directly for Marvel during a period in the 1970s when the company was direct selling its own merchandise, including the Treasury Editions, calendars and a small line of T-Shirts. When the operation was phased out, Snyder established SUPERHERO MERCHANDISE on his own, to continue doing the same thing, and used his relationship with people at Marvel to give him a leg up on getting established. Eventually, he’d build the business into a line of 12 retail stores and a distribution outfit–again, all before selling out to Marvel.

The first SUPERHERO MERCHANDISE catalog I ever got came around 1976 or so. I didn’t send for it–it just arrived one day. What I’ve since put together is that at the time, I had subscriptions to FLASH and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and by 1976 it seems that Snyder had been given access to DC’s subscriber lists as well as those of Marvel–probably as part of a deal that saw him taking out full page ads in both company’s comics to advertise products featuring their characters he was selling.

It was a bit of a treasure trove, and over the years, I ordered all sorts of stuff from SUPERHERO UNIVERSE, not just comics per se, but also Mego action figures and assorted other toys and paraphernalia. And every time I’d order something, I’d both receive a new copy of the current catalog, and get added onto the mailing list for catalogs yet again. At a certain point, I must have had a stack of fifty of them–and my absolute reticence to throw out or otherwise destroy a comic book meant that they wound up stacked up in a corner of my room for years.

The catalog itself was an interesting specimen. It was printed on the same presses off which rolled the comics themselves, and was printed on the same paper. It used no photographs, but rather had accurate drawings made up of the various items the business was selling.In later years, the job of crafting the artwork for the catalog was freelanced out to the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning, meaning that it’s very likely that some famous comic book artists got to first see their work reproduced and in print for the first time in one of these magazines.

I don’t remember everything I ordered through SUPERHERO MERCHANDISE, but I know for sure that I got my first two Kitchen Sink SPIRIT magazines, #17 & #18, that way. Also, my first exposure to the classic EC Comics in the form of a set of 8 reprints produced and sold in the early 1970s. I can remember reading through them on the couch one afternoon and being profoundly unsettled by stories like “The Monkey”, about drug addiction.

I also ordered the hard-to-find Mego Green Arrowcar, which fired blunt-headed darts from its bow. Mine arrived damaged so that the firing mechanism never worked properly, But my Green Arrow figure still drove it for years. (And how strange is it that not only was there a Green Arrow figure made in the mid-1970s, but they produced his car as well! I’m guessing his one-episode guest appearance on SUPER-FRIENDS had something to do with it.)

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