Stan’s Soapbox – Marvel Age #135 (April 1994)

Hi Heroes!

We referred to them as “split books” in those days.

No, we didn’t cut them in two with knives, though that’s not a bad idea. What we did was, we featured two separate stories, starring two separate super heroes in each issue.

The names of the mags were STRANGE TALES, TALES OF SUSPENSE and TALES TO ASTONISH. We might have published even more split books, but alas, we ran out of descriptive titles.

Personally, I loved editing those three mags because they presented such a challenge. Whereas our other superhero titles had feature-length stories running anywhere from 20 to 25 pages, our three “splities” only had room for a pair of ten-page yarns per dish and, if you’ve ever tried to tell an exciting, Marvel-type action story in only ten pages, you’ll realize how difficult the job was. But the greatest challenge came from the characters themselves. For example…

TALES TO ASTONISH had Ant Man as the featured strip. Soon thereafter, ol’ Henry Pym metamorphosed from Ant Man to Giant Man. Then, it became a split book when the Incredible Hulk was added to the mix. 1 So T.T.A. was a Hulk/Giant Man title – until Giant Man retired and the Sub-Mariner replaced him. 2 Getting dizzy yet? Me too, so let’s move on…

In the early days of STRANGE TALES, The Human Torch was the featured do-gooder. After a while, wee added a separate series starring Dr. Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts. 3 So, once again Marveldom had a split mag to reckon with. Then, for reasons which I’ve long forgotten, the flaming one was replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of Shield 4 – and the rest is history!

Y’know, we made quite a few attempts to revive STRANGE TALES since the early ‘70s. We tossed in almost every feature imaginable, such as Warlock and Brother Voodoo, but to no avail. Then in the eighties we brought back Dr. Strange in company with Cloak and Dagger, but before long, our very own Sorcerer Supreme was safely back home in his own DR. STRANGE title.

Of course, no erudite essay such as this would be complete with a celebratory mention of TALES OF SUSPENSE! Just to further confuse you, T.O.S. was the literary vehicle for Iron Man, and also presented an unforgettable saga of the Watcher for a while. 5 Then another hero made the scene when Captain America began to share the mag with Tony Stark’s greatest creation! 6 At least, I think that’s how it happened. Hey, it was more than thirty years ago!

(As a matter of fact, in case you didn’t know, if you go back even further all three titles – ASTONISH, STRANGE, and SUSPENSE – were originally monster mags before we saw the light and switched to super hero doings!)

As difficult as it was to do those split issues, I must admit I enjoyed working on them. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to do the covers. Should we feature one of our star superheroes on the cover, or both? If both, which character should be drawn more prominently? Should we split the cover design horizontally or vertically? And, where would we find room for two heroes, two heart-pounding danger-filled scenes, and two titles and blurbs – all on one cover?

And the two-for-one mags served as a great training ground for new artists. Since the stories were only 10 pages long, we could have them drawn by your younger, less experienced artists – sort of like interning before opening your own medical practice!

Come to think of it, maybe we should revive those titles again, perhaps featuring three stories per book! You’d get more variety and more stories per fish. In fact, maybe four stories per mag, or five – or, in the words of that great comic book maven, Irving Forbush – “Festina lente!”