Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Secret Origins: The Bullpen Bulletins

One of the more distinctive features of the Marvel Comics of the 1960s was the Bullpen Bulletins page. About 1/2 hype, 1/4 advertising, and 1/4 legitimate news, the BB's functioned as Stan's Soapbox (and eventually, they even added a special section on the page entitled just that).

But like everything at Marvel, the Bullpen Bulletins page did not debut in a flash of inspiration; rather it evolved over time. Initially "Marvel" only had one superhero comic, The Fantastic Four, so there wasn't much need for a BB page, although starting with the third issue, Stan did put in a letters page, which is where the Bullpen Bulletins actually started. In FF #5, Stan appended a little comment at the end of the letters column:

You could argue that was the beginning of the Bullpen Bulletins, and I wouldn't disagree too hard. In FF #10, though, come some unmistakable signs:

Note the lack of a hyphen in Spiderman.


In FF #13, the letters column included a "Special Announcements Section":

As I have mentioned in the past, this was about the time (April 1963) that Marvel could credibly have a "line" of superheroes, and the next issue saw the debut of "Marvel Comics" on the cover, and the continuation of the Special Announcements Section:

This lasted until FF #20, when the Special Announcements Section got bigger (taking up almost half of the second letters page), and a key change was made:

It's not quite the Mighty Marvel Checklist, but it's the beginning of one. In FF #26 we get the first appearance of "Item":

I never quite understood the need to say "Item" in front of every tidbit, but it became a very durable part of the Bullpen Bulletins.

In FF #33, we saw the first named appearance of the Mighty Marvel Checklist:

With FF #38, Stan did away with the Special Announcements Section, in favor of sprinkling the announcements throughout the letters page. In FF #41, we saw the first appearance of the Merry Marvel Bullpen Page, although it was really just an ad for FF tee shirts and the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

Finally, in FF #45 we got a look at the future:

Incidentally, while I appreciate Marvel's Essentials and DC's Showcase reprints as a good way to read these issues on a budget, it is a shame that filler material like this is almost never reprinted. I got these scans from Marvel's 2005 complete FF collection on CD-ROM, which are an even better value and contain beautiful scans of every page of every issue.

Coming soon: A complete index to the Bullpen Bulletins for each year!