Marvel Comics, sometimes called by the nickname House of Ideas, is an American comic book company. Its best-known comics include The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and X-Men. Since the 1960s, it has been one of the two largest American comics companies, the other being DC Comics. Located in New York City, Marvel was originally headquartered at 387 Park Avenue South but has since moved to 10 East 40th Street.
In the beginning
Marvel Comics was founded in the 1930s under a constantly changing set of names, the most cited being Timely Comics. Its first major publication was Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939), featuring the first appearance of the superhero Human Torch and the anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner, which would become the publisher's first superstar characters, spinning off into their own magazines almost immediatelly.
During the 1940s, Timely was also known for publishing the patriotic hero Captain America, which was the first character to debut in his own magazine. Superheroes were the bulk of the publisher's output, but none would be as successful as the "big three". As was the norm with the industry, most comics at the time were 64 page anthologies with various characters, some of these still remembered by hardcore fans, including the Whizzer, Miss America and The Mighty Destroyer . Timely also published one of Basil Wolverton's best-known features during this period, Powerhouse Pepper .
In the 1950s Marvel fell on dark times, along with the rest of the industry, thanks to the end of World War II and the "witch hunt" promoted by psychologist Fredric Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent. In order to survive, the company diversified its output into a variety genres, including funny animals, western and romance, with varying degrees of success; perhaps the most remembered feature from this time was Dan DeCarlo's Willie Lumpkin . An attempted superhero revival in the mid-50s failed.
In 1957, Marvel almost closed its doors due to the bankruptcy of their distributor. During this time Marvel primarily published monster comics, generally with a light science fiction bent. In this decade the company was generally known as Atlas Comics.
In the wake of DC Comics' success reviving the superhero genre in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Marvel decided to follow suit, and so two of its employees, editor/writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four, modeled in a fashion after DC's Justice League of America. The book was a success, and Marvel began publishing further superhero titles. The most successful of these was undoubtedly The Amazing Spider-Man, by Lee and Steve Ditko.
Marvel's comics were noted for focusing on characterization to a greater extent than most superhero comics before them - Spider-Man in particular, its young hero suffering from self-doubt and mundane problems like any other teenager. Marvel superheroes are often flawed, freaks and misfits, unlike the perfect, handsome, athletic heroes found in previous traditional comic books. Some of the Marvel heroes looked like villains and monsters. In time, this non-traditional approach would revolutionize comic books.
Lee became one of the best-known names in comics, with his charming personality and relentless salesmanship of his product. In later years it became clear that the artists often had as much to do with Marvel's product and success as Lee -- Kirby in particular is often credited as the true brains behind The Fantastic Four while Ditko is recognized as the driving artistic force of the beginning period for Spider-Man -- but Lee, although a true "company man", surely deserves a great deal of credit as well.
In the early 1970s Lee stepped aside from running day-to-day operations at Marvel, and a series of new editors-in-chief oversaw the company during another slow time for the industry. Once again, Marvel attempted to diversify, and achieved moderate success with new horror, sword and sorcery and science fiction titles. Some of these comics were published in larger-sized black and white magazines, targeted for mature readers.
In 1974, company founder Martin Goodman sold Magazine Management Co., the trade name used by Marvel Comics at the time, to Cadence Industries . Marvel was renamed as Marvel Comics Group, but it was affected by the collapse of the newsstand distribution. Goodman would try to create a new company called Atlas Comics, but the effort didn't last a year. An attempt to buy DC was frustrated by their refusal to sell their entire library of characters (DC wanted to retain control of Superman and Batman, and they were sold to Warner instead).
By the end of the decade, though, Marvel's fortunes were reviving, thanks to the rise of direct market distribution (selling through comic specialty stores instead of newstands) and the revived X-Men title, most popular under the team of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne.
By the 1980s, one-time wunderkind Jim Shooter was Marvel's Editor-in-Chief. Although a controversial personality, Shooter cured many of the procedural ills at Marvel (including repeatedly missed deadlines) and oversaw a creative renaissance at the company. This renaissance included instutionalizing creator royalties, starting the Epic imprint for creator-owned material, and launching a brand-new (albeit ultimately unsuccessful) line named New Universe, to commemorate Marvel's 25th anniversary, in 1986. However, Shooter was responsible for the introduction of the company-wide crossover (Contest of Champions, Secret Wars) and was accused by many creators, especially near the end of his tenure, of exercising his job in a draconian manner and interfering with the writers' creative process.
In 1981 Marvel purchased the DePatie-Freleng Enterprises animation studio from famed Looney Tunes animator Friz Freleng and his business partner David H. DePatie . The company was renamed Marvel Productions Ltd. and it produced well know animated TV series such as G.I. Joe, The Transformers and Jim Henson's Muppet Babies and movies based on the G.I. Joe and The Transformers TV series. Following the acquisition of Marvel by Ronald Perelman Marvel Productions sold its back catalog to Saban Entertainment and Marvel management permanently closed the animation studio opting to have its animation projects contracted out to third party production companies.
In 1988, Marvel was bought by investor/entrepreneur Ronald Perelman, who made Marvel a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and oversaw a great increase in the number of titles published by the company.
Marvel earned a great deal of money early in the 1990s due to the comic book boom going on at the time, but by the middle of the decade the industry had slumped and Marvel filed for bankruptcy, amidst accusations that Perelman had strip-mined the company for his own gain. The casualties include the comic book distribution industry in 1994, when Marvel announced it was acquiring Heroes World as its exclusive distributor. The potential loss of the industry's largest company threw the majority of the comic book distributors out of business. Although Marvel's plan fell through, only Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. now exists as the major distributor of comic books in North America, a development most industry experts believe profoundly damaged the business status of the industry.
Investor Carl Icahn attempted to take control of Marvel, but after protracted legal battles, in 1997 control of the company landed in the hands of Isaac Perlmutter , owner of the Marvel subsidiary Toy Biz . With his business partner Avi Arad and their appointed (and controversial) publisher Bill Jemas and Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, Perlmutter helped Marvel back on its feet. In addition to revitalizing the company's comic books, several of its properties have been licensed to become hit movies, most notably X-Men and Spider-Man.
Creatively and commercially, the 90s were dominated by the use of cheap gimmicks to achieve sales, such as variant covers , cover enhancements and regular company-wide crossovers that threw the universe's continuity into disarray. In 1996, due to poor sales, Marvel relaunched some of their oldest flagship characters such as The Avengers and Fantastic Four in the Heroes Reborn universe, where Marvel defectors Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were given permission to revamp the properties from scratch. After an initial sales bump, bad reviews forced the project to be aborted after one year, and the characters returned to the Marvel Universe proper. In 1998, the company retried the concept with Marvel Knights, a line helmed by the soon-to-become editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, where they revamped less known characters such as the Inhumans or Daredevil, this time with more success.
With the new millennium, Marvel escaped from bankruptcy and once again began diversifying its offerings. In 2001, Marvel Comics withdrew from the Comics Code Authority and established its own rating system, the Marvel Ratings System for comics. It also created new imprints, such as MAX, a line intended for mature readers, and Marvel Age, developed for younger audiences, including children. The company has also revamped their graphic novels division, establishing a bigger presence in the bookstore market.
Marvel remains a key publisher in the comics business, even as the industry has dwindled to a fraction of its size decades earlier. Stan Lee is no longer officially connected to the company, save for the title of "Chairman Emeritus," but remains a visible face in the industry and occasionally remarks on his fondness for the characters. His relationship with the company turned more acrimonious when he sued successfully for a share of income related to movies and merchandising of Marvel characters based on a contract between Lee and Marvel from the late 1990s; Marvel had tried (unsuccessfully) to get out of paying him his fair share through the use of Hollywood-style "creative accounting." Marvel has also become a key player in Hollywood, with many of their characters being turned into successful film franchises.
The Marvel editor-in-chief has great power and oversees many creative decisions taken within the company.
Sources: , , .