Thursday, August 25, 2022

Not quite comics: Marvel Big Book of Fun And Games

I have a general policy against reviewing most Marvel & DC stuff, but I'll make an exception with one of the weirder reprints from the 1970s: Marvel Big Book Of Fun And Games. This is a collection of the late 70s comic book that did not feature comics; instead, it featured mazes, word searches, trivia, secret codes, and other activities for kids. For a 10-year-old me obsessed with both comics and puzzles, this was the best thing ever. I had already gotten my hands on The Mighty Marvel Fun Book series that Fireside Books was publishing at around the same time, which had extremely obscure trivia about Marvel characters in addition to things like mazes and crossword puzzles. However, I could buy Fun And Games for 50 cents along with my other comics, and fill it out while waiting with my mother in the grocery store. 

This experiment lasted for 13 issues, and I suspect it died it in part because the newsstand was dying out. I bought my comics from a magical place called The Front Page, a small shop jammed to the gills with magazines, newspapers of all kinds, tobacco, and even the obscure Marvel magazines like Marvel Preview and Epic Illustrated. That place was heaven, the guys who ran it let me hang out as long as I wanted, and a trove of comics was available for just a few bucks. I remember when titles like The Micronauts, Ka-Zar, and Moon Knight were made available to comics shops only in the early 80s. It was just another sign that the newsstand, a haven for kids for well over fifty years, was on its way out. 

The series was drawn and conceived by a Canadian artist named Owen McCarron. He actually pitched the idea to Stan Lee, who was always looking for an angle and a new way to profit from his characters. McCarron already designed his own puzzles and games for his own newspaper in Halifax, and he had been doing them for thirty years. A veteran of Charlton comics and early Marvel work (he was a pinch-hitter here and there), McCarron was given carte blanche on the comic, and he ran with it. His ability as a style mimic was simply remarkable, and his puzzles were just challenging enough. These comics were also funny and sometimes silly; he stroke a perfect tone as he drew in a Marvel house style that touched on Kirby and Ditko but was also in the vein of Win Mortimer's style on Spidey Super Stories (which McCarron also contributed to): simple, sleek and stripped-down. 

The book was published by Abrams, so it looks nice. Some more recent puzzles were added to the book, like strips involving Star-Lord and Groot. It is unfortunate but not surprising that McCarron is not credited anywhere on the cover for nearly 150 pages worth of work that came straight from his pencil. He's only credited by Roy Thomas in his introduction and in the indicia. Obviously, these aren't his characters, but the puzzles and the gags were entirely his. Work-for-hire strikes again, although I imagine this was de rigueur for him. Still, the result is clearly a delightful labor of love, and I'm glad it exists again for kids to enjoy. 

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