Following are excerpts from “Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture” by Mark Voger ($43.95, TwoMorrows Publishing, ships Oct. 5).
New kind of comic hero
Liverpudlians. Rock ‘n’ rollers. Comic book heroes. It’s little wonder that the creators of comics used the Beatles as characters in their work. After all, these four living, breathing human beings were always perceived as “characters” anyway. “A Hard Day’s Night” is sometimes like a live-action cartoon.
Readers in the 1960s saw the Fab Four enter the four-color realm and rub elbows with comic-book characters — typically lovestruck teenage girls and costumed heroes. Perhaps the Beatles’ earliest appearances in the comics happened in Betty and Veronica #104 (1964). In an essay titled “Here Come the Beatles,” an uncredited writer notes of the Fab Four: “As a group they are very talented, haven’t changed with their terrific popularity and acclaim, have an impish philosophy and are very articulate.” The boys are shown in a (likewise uncredited) illustration that looks to be good light-table work, based on an iconic 1963 publicity photo (above).
Before long, the Beatles became part of the illustrated stories — “cast members,” if you like. But care was not always taken by comic-book artists to get the Beatles’ likenesses strictly correct. (At the time, these artists were usually World War II veterans who viewed the Beatles as a passing fad.) A happy exception was Dell’s The Beatles (1964), an “official” comic book depicting the Beatles’ rise. Dell — and Beatles fans — hit the jackpot with artist Joe Sinnott, who inked more than 200 issues of Fantastic Four, chiefly pencilled by Jack Kirby and John Buscema. Sinnott was a pro.
Beatles in the DCU
In Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #79 (1964), the first panel of “The Red-Headed Beatle of 1000 B.C.!” (above) encapsulates the head-scratching weirdness of the Jimmy Olsen comic book series. Jimmy wears a red Beatle wig (to match his own hair color, natch) and dances as he watches the Beatles on TV, exclaiming, “I always seem to enjoy their music more when I wear my personal Beatle wig!” The mind reels. Story by Leo Dorfman; art by George Papp.
The most famous band in the world met the least famous superteam in the world in Metal Men #12 (1965). This really was an alternate universe, in which the Beatles, in their first flush of world fame, begged the Metal Men — who were not exactly the Justice League of America — for their autographs. (Tina, then the Metal Men’s sole female member, asks the all-important question: “Is your hair real?”) Story by Robert Kanigher; art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.
That dastardly British baddie, the Mad Mod, wreaked havoc in Teen Titans #7 (1967). In “The Mad Mod, Merchant of Menace,” the Titans are enlisted to accompany Wonder Girl’s favorite English pop star, Holly Hip, and break up a smuggling operation spearheaded by the Mad Mod, a haberdasher for London’s swinging set who says things like “Jolly good show!” and “Cheerio!” Story by Bob Haney, art by Nick Cardy. The Mad Mod returned in Teen Titans #17 (1968), taunting the Titans, “Aye, me duckies, it’s your old friend!”
The Gears are … gear!
Cooler than the Beatles? Kookier than the Kinks? That’s what the cover type of Millie the Model #135 (1966) promised regarding the Gears, Marvel’s fictional quartet based on real-life British Invasion bands. The story was by Roy Thomas and the art by Stan Goldberg, making them the co-creators of the “group.”
“I don’t recall (Marvel editor) Stan Lee and me discussing the Gears in any way, shape, or form,” Thomas told me via email in 2021. “It was an idea I brought up to Stan Goldberg, who was the penciler and had been, I suspect, basically doing the plotting on the Millie comics for some time. Stan G. liked the idea, so we went ahead with it. In later contacts with him, he often brought up (the Gears) as one of the things he most liked doing in Millie.”
Said Thomas of the band’s moniker: “The name ‘Gears’ came from ‘Hard Day’s Night’ — some producer saying a line like, ‘Gear, fab, and all the other pimply hyperboles.’ ”