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Colour Comics: Big Anthologies

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Around 1956/57, a new style of DC reprints appeared in Australia: monthly anthology titles weighing in at 100 pages (including covers).

Century The 100 Page Comic Monthly 1, 1956
Massive monthly dosage: The 100 page anthology titles heralded a new era. (Century Comic 1, 1956?)

These massive square-bound volumes were a dramatic change from Murray's 24-32 page pamphlets, and the the new series emphasised it with their titles. First came Century, the 100 Page Comic Monthly and The Hundred Comic Monthly; followed later by Five Score Comic; Mighty, the Hundred Page Comic; and All Favourites Comic.

These comics reprinted a wide range of super-hero stories mixed with western, science fiction, animal and adventure stories.

The Hundred Comic is most known for Flash and Wonder Woman, while Century Comic printed mainly Superman family tales.

Five Score Comic had a long run of Doom Patrol reprints, but mainly included non-super-hero titles such as Strange Adventures (Captain Comet), House of Secrets (Eclipso, Mark Merlin), Mystery in Space (Space Taxi), and Star Spangled Comics (Ghost Breaker, Captain Compass).

100 pages image
Let there be no doubt: From 1958, the band on the left of the cover emphasised the large size compared with other Australian comics of the time.

Mighty Comic began reprinting Wonder Woman, Showcase, The Brave and the Bold, science fiction and western tales, but is most known for its long run of Justice League of America reprints beginning with issue 24. Stories from Mystery in Space, Tales of the Unexpected and Strange Adventures were regularly included.

The final new title, All Favourites Comic, was inconsistent in contents and began by reprinting non-DC adventure, mystery and jungle stories. The series later regularly reprinted Mystery in Space (Adam Strange) and Challengers of the Unknown, plus other team stories, including Justice League of America in the mid-1960s and again and early 1970s.

The New Format

These titles remained black and white with colour covers. They generally had 100 pages including covers, but some issues were larger, such as the various issues of The Hundred Plus Comic "with 16 extra pages".

Gigantic Annual 12, 1972
Bigger and better: The Gigantic and Mammoth Albums re-bound coverless returns from newsagents for resale. (Gigantic Annual 12, 1972).
Dual Pricing: Conversion to decimal currency in 1965 and 1966.

Each issue had a diverse range of reprints, including older silver and golden age stories alongside regular features from recent DC titles. Some of the older stories have never been reprinted in the USA.

With a tripling of the page count, there was also a doubling of the price to two shillings (2'-), a price that effective lasted into the 1970s in pre- and post-decimal currency forms..

During the change to decimal currency in Australia, dual imperial and decimal pricing was printed on comic covers—two shillings (2'-) and 20 cents (20c). The Currency Act 1963 provided a transitional period of one-and-a-half to two years following "C-day", 14th February 1966. The comics included the dual pricing from about August 1965 until May 1967.

Giant Superman Album 5, 1964
Giant Albums: Giant Superman Album 5 (1964?) substantially reprinted the US Superman Annual 5, Summer 1962.

From the mid-1960s production costs soared, but Murray kept the reprints at 20 cent by progressively reducing the page count. In May 1965 the comics shrank to 84 pages, and then most dropped to 68 pages in July 1969. In March 1971, a 20 cent comic had 52 pages, but a new 68 page format was introduced  costing 25 cent.

The contemporary US DC Giant Annuals and 80 Page Giants were also reprinted in Australia with titles such as Giant Superman Album and Giant Batman Album. The contents of the Giants were similar to the originals, although printed in black and white, and including some story changes to match the different page count and lack of advertisements.

Even more massive reprints were produced throughout the period. The 1960s Colossal Comic provided 148 or 164 pages of reading for 3'6 (later 35 cents). The issues reprinted mainly Superman, Batman and Superboy tales from the 1950s and earlier, but also included characters such as Aquaman and Johnny Quick, with the regular Henry Boltinoff comedy fillers.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, comics returned from newsagents to the supplier for a refund with all or part of the cover removed. These coverless returns were re-bound under a generic cover, and re-released as Gigantic Annual and Mammoth Annual. These 352 page whoppers, billed as the biggest comic ever printed, were initially 5'- and later 50 cents. The contents of these giants are a "lucky-dip" as they depended solely on what returned issues were at hand. Two copies of the same numbered issue will most likely be composed of different issues from across the whole range.

Why Change?

The impetus for the revamp of Australian reprints probably came from both domestic politics and changes in the DC comics source material.

Super Adventure Comic 6, 1960
Restarting at number 1: A revamped title focused on the Superman family. (Super Adventure Comic 6, June 1961)

Following the official launch of television in Australia in September 1956 and the lifting of import restrictions in 1959, US publications became available in Australia and the demand for locally-produced American-style periodicals declined. The different style of product put KG Murray in a position to survive these developments.

The impact on comics of this sales decline may have been limited, as only a few American titles became readily available in Australian. Despite US titles such as Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Justice League of America, Plastic Man, Metamorpho, and The Metal Men having general Australian distribution in the 1960s, core DC titles featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman remained unavailable. As the available American titles were mostly not reprinted, the situation most likely reflected contractual arrangements.

In his 1994 reflection, "The Comic Book Industry in Australia", Australian artist Richard Rae reports that distributors Gordon & Gotch treated comics as a mass supply item and  imported them only under the generic coding of "comic books", not individual titles. He comments:

"Basically, Murray's deal with DC involved the "no customer choice ploy", which meant that Murray would reprint Superman, Batman, and so on, only if DC didn't export the original full-colour issues to Australia. This meant that anyone wanting to buy Superman comics had no choice but to buy the inferior black and white reprints." [Burrows and Stone: 1994]

During this period when Murray was introducing new titles, DC comics was undergoing a superhero renaissance. In October 1956, Showcase 4 launched a new Flash and the "Silver Age". A stream of creativity followed by 1958 with new titles Challengers of the Unknown and Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane; and the first appearance of characters such as Brainiac, Legion of Super-Heroes, Adam Strange and Space Ranger. The creation of Supergirl, and the revamped Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Aquaman followed in 1959.

Superman Supacomic 4, 1959
Second Wave: With the Silver Age in full swing, KG Murray produced more titles. (Superman's Supacomic 4, December 1959)

Next Wave

With the Silver Age in full swing, a further wave of 100 page reprint anthologies hit the market in early 1960. These new titles were predominantly super-hero focused, and took over when the previous Superman, Batman, Superboy and Super Adventure "pamphlets" were cancelled.

Superman's Supacomic, which was quickly renamed to Superman Supacomic, initially had a set format of two/three Superman stories (from Action or Superman), two/three Batman stories (from Detective or Batman) and two/three Superboy or, later, Legion of Super Heroes stories (from Adventure). At times, the lead Superman story was replaced by Superman and Batman tale from World's Finest Comics. As the page count dropped over time and the stories grew longer, Superman largely took over the title.

Justice League logo
An international league: America deleted from the artwork (Mighty Comic 52, 1966)

An enlarged, revamped Super Adventure Comic also hit the stands, with its numbering restarted. The new series no longer focused on the World's Finest Superman/Batman team, but the Superman family. Each issue reproduced several stories from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen; Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane; and Supergirl from Action Comics.

The final 1960s title, All Star Adventure Comic generally reprinted adventure and science fiction during its early period, particularly from Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. Toward the end of its run it was routinely reprinting super-hero stories such as Superman team-ups from World's Finest and a solid run of Superboy with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Replacements and Other Comics

In April 1965 all of the 100 page titles were reduced to 84 pages, creating a crisis for the "100 page" titles (The Hundred, Century and Five Score). They were cancelled and immediately replaced by new series: Superman Presents World's Finest Comic Monthly; Superman Presents Wonder Comic Monthly; and Superman Presents Tip Top Comic Monthly. These comics continued the diverse and varied range of stories, with some consistency.

World's Finest Comic, despite the title, consistently rotated Flash and Wonder Woman as the cover feature, while Wonder Comic focused on the US World's Finest, Aquaman and Atom, among other stories. Showcase, Eclipso and the Doom Patrol were significant early reprints in Tip Top. Later issues focused on Teen Titans and the title was ultimately taken over by Batman.

Red Mask, Mighty Comic 75, February 1970
More than DC: KG Murray reprinted Magazine Enterprises' Red Mask With its then innovative "3D" artwork breaking the panel frame. The pane also shows the problem of printing colour art is black and white—what happened to the rest of the title? (Mighty Comic 75, February 1970)

Between 1964 and 1968, Murray was also printing digest size comics, including the 100-page and later 84-page Superman Super Library. These reprinted 1950s (and earlier) tales from Superman, Action and World's Finest. Artwork was generally not reduced in size, but the panels were rearranged and extended/clipped to fit the smaller page. There were two to three panels per page, with stories that were originally around ten pages running to over twenty digest size pages. Covers were created from the first panel of the first story.

DC's non-super-hero titles were also picked up by KG Murray, including romance, western and comedy—such as the then-popular The Adventures of Jerry Lewis.

Changes and Peculiarities

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, western, mystery and science fiction stories continued to be regularly reprinted alongside super-heroes in these anthology titles, providing a diverse reading experience.

Until the mid-1960s, some non-DC stories were included, such as science fiction/fantasy stories from ACG comics, and western/adventure from Magazine Enterprises.

Mighty Comic 63, February 1968
A bad day at the office: The new spelling doesn't fit and, whoops, a word missed! (Zatara in "Arabian Knight", Mighty Comic 63, February 1968)

By the late 1960s, the trend to continuing plot lines had forced more consistency in the various anthology titles. US stories were reprinted regularly in certain titles and these stories began to appear around 12 months behind the US originals.

Changes to the original artwork, such as the removal of the word "America" and US spellings, continued to occur throughout the 1960s.

Mighty Comic 40, April 1964
Stretched to fit: To replace internal advertising, artwork was given a whole new dimension. (Roy Raymond in "The Case of the Fabulous Frauds" Mighty Comic 40, April 1964).

Original artwork was also frequently stretched with extra white (or black) space to fill in for part-page advertising in the original editions. The Australian reprints rarely had internal advertising except for "house ads". Other advertising was limited to the inside front and back covers.

More Changes

These Colour Comics reprints continued until May 1973. The rapidly changing price and page count in the early 1970s suggest pressure to survive in a changing market—and KG Murray responded with the Planet Comics imprint.

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