The source of a great deal of my vintage Marvel knowledge comes from the George Olshevsky Marvel Comics Indexes which were produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These pre-dated the later Official Marvel Handbooks, and the Marvel-produced indexes, and were really the only source of comprehensive information about a given title in those long-ago days.
I bought my first index, the volume covering FANTASTIC FOUR, on my first trip to my very first comic book specialty shop, the Heroes World store in Levittown, somewhere around 1979. A recent convert to Marvel comics and the Fantastic Four in particular, I walked in intending to purchase the oldest FF issue that they had. That plan went bust when the earliest issue they had was #1, which they were selling for the unattainable price of $75.00. Instead, I would up with FF #51 (a classic) and this index, which showed the cover of each issue and gave a very basic listing of elements, such as title, credits, guest-stars and other miscellany.
That first index fired my imagination, as each black and white cover implied a story that I wanted to read. I began to seek out specific issues (typically in reprint) based on those covers, and my desire for those stories. The index also let me in on one mind-blowing secret: The Crusader, the villain whom I’d read about in FANTASTIC FOUR #164, was actually a hero from the 1950s, Marvel Boy–at that point, I hadn’t found the second part of that story. That idea electrified me–not only that there was this long, inter-connected history, but also the idea that a hero from the past could reappear as a villain in the present.
I’ve since replaced it, but i still have that first copy of the FANTASTIC FOUR INDEX. Its covers have separated at the spine, and it’s got my name and address written in it, along with a bunch of notations–I’d indicated what issues I owned, which I had in reprint, and the value of each issue. (Kids seem enamored of the idea that their old comics will be worth something one day, almost as an excuse for loving them so much–they must have value if people are willing to pay so much for them!) I had intended, I think, that I would take it around with me when I went looking for back issues, although that quickly became unnecessary, as through repeated reading I pretty well memorized its contents.
A year or two later, for Christmas, I got the remaining Indexes, save the Spider-Man and Conan ones that were then out of print. And eventually, the X-Men and Daredevil volumes were released. And I studied all of them in the same way, like the Torah, taking in all of that information, examining the width and breadth of a Marvel Universe that was still less than twenty years old, and becoming something of an expert on these books. It was never work–it was entirely pleasure–but I absorbed that information effortlessly.
In the years since then, Marvel has released a number of new iterations of these indexes, some of which I’ve even worked on. And yet, none of them have been as good, to my old nostalgic eyes, as these originals. The later versions seem too focused on giving extended story synopses to me–no doubt I would have welcomed such synopses when I was reading my Indexes, but I feel like that takes some of the imagination out of things. Also, to my eyes, the newer indexes have made the cover reproductions too small, to the point where you can hardly make anything out. I don’t need the covers to be huge, but I do want them to be sizable enough so that I can see them, and be intrigued by them.