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Mark Evanier on Marvel’s Eary ‘70s Box Cover Format
posted February 19, 2006
As I recall, the switch to the boxed cover format came about at the point when Marvel pulled ahead of DC in sales. When a paper/printing increase forced both companies to raise prices from 15 cents, DC went to a 25-cent format offering 48-page comics, about a third of which were reprints. Marvel went that way for a month or two, then switched back to 32-page comics for 20 cents and they darn near put DC out of business. Readers hated the 25-cent package. I don't think anyone has ever had any success with a format that mixed new stories with reprints, nor did readers of the time ever favor a more expensive comic over a cheaper, regardless of how many pages you got for your money. When you add to that the fact that the 20-cent package allowed Marvel to kick a little more money towards the retailers and wholesalers, you have Marvel pretty much controlling the newsstands.
Someone at Marvel -- Charles Goodman, I suspect -- decided it was therefore a good time to try and make their comics more distinct from the DC product. It was the same way DC had tried those Godawful "go-go checks" to make sure consumers didn't mistake the competition's books for theirs, and it was equally successful. Marvel started the box format with the issues cover dated November, 1971 (or thereabouts) and dropped the idea ten months later.
The other factor then was that Stan Lee was then getting busier with concerns other than the day-to-day comic book output and with Marvel adding new titles, he was spending an awful lot of his time supervising covers. So he warmed to the border idea as a way of simplifying cover design. To further expedite the process, Marvel also made a deal with Gil Kane to draw most of them. (You or I might think that if you're afraid of readers confusing your books with DC product, you shouldn't have all the covers done by a guy who'd recently done so much work for DC and still had stuff coming out from them. But Marvel editorial policies have rarely been all that logical.)
As I said, the format lasted ten months, which suggests to me that they dumped out of it as soon as they got in some solid sales figures on the second month of those books.
This might interest you. Back in '96, someone over at DC or MAD got the idea that MAD might sell better if its covers revived the old border format that had been used on the early magazine issues. To test it, a number of issues were printed two ways. Part of the press run had a yellow decorative border around the cover; the rest of the press run used the same cover art but without the border. The "no border" versions sold better and that settled that.