Comics : Official Marvel Try-Out Book #1

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: Aug 2013.

Background...

This is the very first Official Marvel Try-Out Book, published by Marvel in 1983.

The purpose of the book was three-fold.

Firstly, Marvel has always made a real effort to educate their fans about how comics were created. Marvel's How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way in 1977 was a ground-breaking book, being the first to really try and show fans the mysterious inner workings of the comics creative process. At least, it was the first to succeed. Stan Lee's earlier effort "Secrets Behind the Comics" from 1947 made far less impact.

Secondly, the book was a competition, with winners to be judged in the quality of their completed, returned pages in several categories including Coloring, Lettering, Inking, Script, Plots and Pencils. There was always a chance that Marvel might discover some extra-ordinary talent.

Finally, at $12.95 it was a premium book with a long shelf-life. Sure, it took Marvel a few years to unload all the copies they printed (they were still running advertisements [see image] to clear old stock as late as 1987, after the competition had actually ended). But it was almost certainly a profitable enterprise in the long run.

In Detail...

"Personals"
Official Marvel Try-Out Book #1
Year 1983 : SM Guest
Summary: Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus
Plot/Script:  Jim Shooter
Pencils:  John Romita, Sr.
Inker:  Al Milgrom
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The book is physically very large... one of the largest Marvel book's every produced. It is 11" x 17". It only contains 32 pages, but the pages themselves are very substantial cardboard making it a quarter-inch thick.

Inside the printing and colouring quality is top-notch. The book features an original Spider-Man/Doc Ock story named "Personals!" The first three pages are given as a completed story. Then there's:

  • four inked pages for you to colour
  • four penciled pages that need inking
  • two scripted pages that need lettering
  • five plotted and pencilled pages that need scripting
  • five plotted pages than need pencilling
  • a section for you to write your own plot

At the start of each section is a one-page background on what is expected from you, including a few pro-tips to set you on the right path.

In General...

The pencils are by the wonderful John Romita, Sr. the half-dozen inked pages are courtesy of the masterful Al Milgrom. The plot and script are the product of the not-particularly-inspiring Jim Shooter.

The story certainly has some "human interest" potential. It features Spider-Man tangling with some street thugs, Doc Ock escaping from prison, and a young girl seeing Peter Parker from a distance. The girl (Janet) and Spider-Man exchange a couple of letters via the Daily Bugle "Personals" column, inspiring Peter with the confidence he needs to tackle Doc Ock.

Meanwhile, Ock has captured Janet and is holding her hostage, a pawn in his attempt to seek revenge on his web-slinging foe.

How will it all end? Well, that's actually up to you!

Overall Rating...

Jim Shooter was an unpopular and heavy-handed Editor-in-Chief. Unfortunately his plotting and scripting is equally clunky, lacking the subtlety necessary to successfully carry off a delicate "people" story like this one tries to be.

That's a shame, because the rest of the product is fabulous. It's built from top-notch materials, and is a delight to behold. The chapter introductions are educational, and the whole thing is fascinating and attractive.

Even Jim's below-par storyline can't persuade me to give this book anything less than a highly-recommended "Four Web" rating.

Footnote...

So who won the competition?

Well... the book was published in 1983, but it took Marvel until 1985 to print the certificates... but then they didn't announce the winners until February 1986! Here's a scan of the Bullpen Bulletins from that month. Look carefully and you may recognise a certain young lad named "Mark Bagley" among the winners.