These days, thanks especially to the global reach of the Marvel Studios films, you can’t turn around but for bumping into some piece of merchandise based on the Marvel characters. There truly is a cornucopia of stuff out there, both wonderful and less-than-wonderful. But in the early days, before the characters had exploded in popularity, and when comic books as a form of storytelling were still looked down on as a medium for children and idiots, Marvel merchandise was a bit harder to come by–and it was less regimented in its execution. Some of this stuff is amazing, and some of it is bizarre. I’ve been gathering images of formative Marvel products for several years now–so it’s time to share at least a few of the things I’ve seen with you.
This group of five Marvel slogan buttons was offered on the Bullpen Bulletins page via mail order in the mid-1960s. They would also occasionally be included with the M.M.M.S. membership kit, depending on supply levels. They’re incredibly hard to come by today, particularly a full set.
Back in 1941 when the series launched, Captain America offered readers membership in his Sentinels of Liberty Club for just a dime. What that dime got you was this cool badge, membership card, and a poster of Cap and Bucky suitable for framing. Eventually, the war department cracked down on non-essential use of metal, and the badges were discontinued. But it’s a lovely piece, designed by Joe Simon.
A perennial part of the M.M.M.S. promotional package for several years, the Marvel Swingin’ Stationary kit included letterhead, note paper and envelopes emblazoned with the images of the Marvel heroes. The whole thing came in this terrific orange folder with the signatures of the all of the characters on the back. If I remember right, this would cost you a buck.
Perhaps the best remembered product licensed by Marvel in the 1970s was the Spider-Man and Hulk Toilet Paper roll. This featured an all-new story by Jim Salicrup and Michael Higgins, one that I don’t think has ever been reprinted.
Another great toy from the 1970s was the Spider-Man Web-Shooter. it was essentially a dart gun with a string attached to it that you would strap around your wrist–but it was oh-so-satisfying. I had one of these. (Mine was in blue)
And of course there were the ubiquitous Mego Marvel Super Hero action figures, not all of whom are pictured here. These were six inch plastic molded figures, in scale with Mego’s other offerings, including Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, SWAT, Happy Days and of course the DC Heroes.
Here’s a jigsaw puzzle from 1968. Poor Sue not only gets stuck in a tube, but she’s cropped off of the box art entirely!
Now, this thing was a beauty! This 1974 Amazing Spider-Man Playset unfolded from its carrying case into a little three room structure–there was Peter Parker’s apartment, the Daily Bugle, and an underworld laboratory. And it came with cardboard stand-ups of many of Spidey’s friends and foes.
Speaking of the M.M.M.S. as we were earlier, the Merry Marvel Marching Society membership kid included a number of different things over the years the club was in operation. This particular iteration included the membership certificate, membership card, a cool Marvel button, a scribble pad with pencil and a couple of the Marvel Mini-Books that were being sold in gumball machines. There were still copies of that membership certificate floating around the Marvel offices when I joined in 1989.
We also still had copies of these bumper stickers produced to promote the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon around the offices in 1989. I wasn’t smart enough, though, to grab myself a set.
Speaking of that show, here’s a TV listings circular from the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper promoting the cartoon on its cover in 1966.
I’ve got plenty more of this sort of stuff that I’ll be sharing in the weeks ahead.