Alan Class Comics
||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (November 2013)|
|Former type||Comic book publisher|
|Products||Anthology reprints of U.S. comic books from 1940s - 1960s|
Alan Class Comics was a British comics publishing company between 1959 and 1989, owned by Alan Class (born in London, England July 21, 1937). The company produced anthology titles, reprinting comics stories from many U.S. publishers of the 1940s to 1960s in a black and white digest format for a U.K. audience.
Alan Class initially imported limited numbers of remaindered copies of American movie, romance and detective magazines for U.K. distribution. To avoid the cost, supply and importation difficulties he had encountered, in 1958 he set up a publishing business to produce his own magazines and entered into an agreement with an American comic and comic strip syndication company for the rights to reproduce U.S. comic strips and titles under their control for a U.K audience.
The various Alan Class black and white anthology titles that appeared in the U.K. from 1959 to 1989 contained reprints of stories ranging from the 1940s to 1960s. These were from U.S. comics publishers such as Timely, Atlas - and their later incarnation, Marvel Comics - ACG, Charlton, Archie and their Red Circle and M.L.J imprints, Fawcett, King Features comics and newspaper strips, Lev Gleason and Sterling. Included in these reprints were many early mystery, superhero and monster stories by artists such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby that are now regarded as classics of the 1950s and early 1960s. During the 1960s and 1970s these reprints were the main, if not the only, medium through which most British children were introduced to the aforementioned monster and mystery stories and most non-DC or Marvel superheroes.
Across the titles, the cover art ranged from only slightly adapted versions of the original comics the stories came from to new covers, many produced from adapted pages or panels within the stories or pasted-up montages of various panels. Many of these covers were originally drawn or painted by classic comics artists of the time, especially Ditko and Kirby. Since the books were wider than the American originals, all the cover art was visible where American printings were cut-off . The reason: By the 1960s the width of American comics shrank while artists used the same size art boards. So the American versions look cut-off while Alan Class covers don't. Variations on these covers were often used more than once across the titles, as were the stories. To complicate things further, none of the comics had anything to identify their date of issue on the cover, or inside the comic in many cases; and many were not numbered. This was a deliberate policy to extend the shelf life of the titles - the comics often remained on the racks longer than dated issues from other companies. Additionally, it helped Alan Class devise a system to maximise profits whereby warehouse stocks of unsold comics were returned to him; these were later re-issued over a number of years' summer seasons to capture the market for reading material during the summer holidays. "Every copy was of value to me, and some wholesale houses wanted to 'shred' unsold copies. I insisted that all unsold copies were returned back to me complete … because during the summer period, May–September, a new market would become available. Beach and coastal resorts were thronged with thousands of holidaymakers with their children, who at certain times had to be kept quiet and happy, and what better way than to read a comic".
As well as the monster, horror and mystery story reprints, many Alan Class comics featured superheroes. Early Marvel Comics tales of Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko respectively, Giant-Man, Ant-Man and The Wasp, the Human Torch, S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko, odd issues of Iron Man, X-Men, Captain America and Doctor Strange were published in random order with no regard to continuity - any references to next issue's story in the original run were often covered over before printing, and there was no guarantee that any character would appear in consecutive issues of a title, or even in the same title. One of the few exceptions to this was when 'Creepy Worlds' #32-38 nearly reprinted the first Fantastic Four stories in sequence (missing only #7). Archie/Radio Comics' characters Jaguar, The Fly and Mighty Crusaders, Charlton's Captain Atom and Judomaster, ACG's Magicman and Nemesis, King Features Flash Gordon, The Phantom by Reed Crandall and Mandrake the Magician, among others, also appeared on a random basis across many titles. Golden Age superheroes such as Novelty Press's Blue Bolt and the 1940s Timely Captain America and Human Torch tales were similarly treated. Almost exclusively, only characters published by National Comics (now DC Comics) were unrepresented, as the syndicated merchandising deal did not include them. The balance of each comic was made up with short stories from other comic book titles and the occasional text story. Superheroes did not necessarily get cover billing in any issue, they were treated with the same importance as any other story.
Alan Class Comics began as 68 page titles, containing a mix of stories reproduced in black and white with colour covers, and selling for 1s. Each issue measured 235mm × 185mm (9¼" × 7¼"), slightly wider than the original American versions allowing for all of the original cover art to be seen which was cut in the originals.
During 30 years of publishing, Alan Class produced 26 b/w anthology reprint titles, some 1455 comics. Six of the titles - Astounding Stories, Creepy Worlds, Secrets of the Unknown, Sinister Tales, Suspense Stories and Uncanny Tales - lasted almost through the entire publishing history of the company. However, a number of Alan Class titles were un-numbered short-run or one-off issues. These were experimental titles testing the market for different genres of comics such as Romance (My Secret Confessions, which anthologised ACG love story reprints, and Uncensored Love), War titles (Journey Into Danger #1 - 8, reprinting Atlas war stories, and 2 issues of Tales Of Action), and Westerns (3 issues of Blazing Trails featuring Charlton and Fawcett Western stories, and one issue of Hell-Fire Raiders(1966) reprinting Fawcett Tom Mix, Tex Ritter and Lash LaRue stories). None of these went on to become longer-running titles - Alan Class would later say of the whole line "Only the suspense/space stories stood the test of time." Interestingly, although many of the reprints scattered across the successful anthologies were science-fiction stories, titles themed solely on science fiction were comparative failures. Class tried first with one issue of Race For the Moon (1959), anthologising Harvey science fiction reprints, followed by Outer Space(1961), featuring mainly Charlton reprints, which ran only 10 issues, and Race Into Space the same year, which again only lasted one issue. The same year Class published probably the only science fiction title that was a deliberate one-off - Space Adventures Presents Space Trip To The Moon (1961), which was a reprint of Fawcett's 1950 one shot Destination Moon, itself an adaptation of the 1950 film of the same name with short story fillers. It is possible that this was part of Class's licence for the Charlton inventory as that company had reprinted the tale in Space Adventures #20 (March 1956). Later in the 1960s, the science fiction title Out Of This World ran for two separate series, the first run of 23 issues - advertised as a "new Mystery Space series" - mainly reprinting Charlton stories (including the 'Tales of the Mysterious Traveler' by Steve Ditko), and a 10 issue run in the 1970s.
Class also issued several short run titles in the humour and crime genres. There were five issues of 'Just Dennis' (1965) with reprints of the American version of Dennis the Menace together with Atomic Mouse and Atom the Cat reprints (the series was not titled 'Dennis the Menace' to avoid copyright issues with DC Thomson's British Dennis the Menace character), and two issues of 'Super Mouse' featuring Charlton humour reprints. Their one attempt at a themed crime stories title, Tales of the Underworld, featuring Charlton and Fawcett crime stories, only lasted 10 issues.
In 1963, Alan Class bought the inventory of L. Miller & Son, Ltd., a U.K. publisher since the 1940s that had also reprinted many U.S. comics in b/w format. This included the asbestos printing plates from which Miller had produced their comics. However, it is unclear what inventory titles this gave Alan Class. Many of the companies that Miller had published material from, such as Charlton and Fawcett, had already been reprinted by Class; and most of the Fawcett superhero material that Miller had specialised in - Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. and the rest of the Marvel Family especially, were not reprinted as a result of the long-running case between National/D.C. and Fawcett over Captain Marvel.
Alan Class Comics lost the right to their leased Marvel Comics characters after 1966, when Odhams Press began publishing their Power Comics range in January 1967, and licensed the Marvel Comics superheroes for their own titles. There was some overlap, with both companies reprinting Marvel superhero stories for some time. The available reprint material was reduced even further when, sometime between 1968 and 1971, King Features Syndicate sued Alan Class over publishing rights to their titles and characters, including The Phantom. As a result of this diminution of the accessible stories, the Alan Class titles began to issue more and more reprints of the material already printed in earlier issues. The standard 68 page format began to vary, with page counts ranging from 48 to 100 pages, and cover prices from 10p to 55p, with the six surviving long-running titles settling for a while at 48 pages for 25p before continuing an inexorable upward increase in price to 55p in the 1980s. Eventually slow sales and distribution problems combined with the rise of the specialist comic shop and the decline of newsagent purchases, together with easy availability of new U.S. comics and (relatively) back issues ended the line in the late 1980s - "the reality was in 1989 costs were escalating,sales were falling – Marvels were on everybodies wish-list, and my comics were at 55p which I didn’t feel could be increased – enough was enough!" Nothing comparable has been published in the U.K since.
On 15 May 2005 30th Century Comics in London announced that they had obtained the rights to sell Alan Class's personal collection, including the original printing plates for the comics range.
The Alan Class titles in themselves did not directly reflect that Class was interested in comics above and beyond his publishing them. However, in the 1970s, Alan Class published four issues of Ally Sloper (October 1976 - February 1977), a magazine in a totally different style to the all previous Alan Class publications.
Edited by comic historian Denis Gifford, and named after one of the earliest comic characters, 'Ally Sloper' showed a love for old British comics, comic strips and artists. With a cover strap-line "First British comic hero 1867, First British comic magazine 1976," Ally Sloper contained an eclectic mix of strips and articles. Some were in the style of British comic strips from the early 20th century, while others were created by classic artists such as Frank Hampson's 'Dawn O'Dare' and Frank Bellamy, who provided Swade a 3-page black and white western without words for issue #1 (his last work as he died before completing the second strip). Also featured were newer British artists such as Kevin O'Neill (issue #2) and Hunt Emerson (issue #4).
Unfortunately, the title suffered from poor distribution, and (although critically acclaimed by the fan press) insufficient public interest, and it disappeared from the market after only four months.
List of Alan Class Comics titles
Most Alan Class comics were undated, and many un-numbered. The following is a list of the Alan Class titles, with dates of first publication when known.
A definitive catalogue of the contents of each issue has never been published. 30th Century Comics website has probably the most complete information publicly available on Alan Class Comics contents.
- Amazing Stories – 2 issues (dates unknown)
- Astonishing Stories – 1 issue (date unknown)
- Astounding Stories – #1 - 195 (February 1966 - April 1989)
- Blazing Trails – #1 - 3 (dates unknown)
- Creepy Worlds – #1 - 249 (August 1962 - April 1989)
- Eerie Tales – 1 issue (date unknown)
- Hell-Fire Raiders – 1 issue (1966)
- Journey Into Danger #1 - 8 (dates unknown)
- Just Dennis – 5 issues (1965)
- My Secret Confessions' – 1 issue (date unknown, 1966?)
- Out Of This World (series 1) #1 - 23 (dates unknown 1960s)
- Out of This World (series 2) #1 - 10 (dates unknown 1970s)
- Outer Space – 10 issues (1961)
- Race For the Moon 1 issue (1959)
- Race Into Space – 1 issue (1961)
- Secrets of the Unknown – #1 - 249 (October 1962 - March 1989)
- Sinister Tales' – #1 - 227 (January 1964 - January 1989)
- Space Adventures Presents Space Trip To The Moon – 1 issue (1961)
- Super Mouse – 2 issues (dates unknown)
- Suspense Stories – #1 - 241 issues (May 1963 - March 1989)
- Tales Of Action – 2 issues (dates unknown)
- Tales Of The Supernatural – 1 issue (date unknown)
- Tales of the Underworld – #1 - 10 (date unknown)
- Uncanny Tales – #1 - 187? (May 1963 - unknown)
- Uncensored Love – 1 issue (date unknown)
- Weird Planets – #1 - 23? (1962–1963)
- Ally Sloper #1 - 4 (October 1976 - January 1977)
- "An Interview with Alan Class by Terry Hooper". ComicBitsOnline.
- Barnett, David (2009-07-13). "What became of comics' summer specials?". Book Blog (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- Fantasy Advertiser #91, June 1985
- Alan Class at The Magic Robot
- List of Archie/Red Circle superhero characters appearance in Alan Class comics at Mighty Crusaders Network
- Detailed information on Alan Class comics including sale of his collection
- List of Alan Class comics containing stories featuring King Comics characters
- Alan Class Comics at "Taint The Meat website