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Knowledge Waits: The History of Marvel’s No-Prize

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This is the latest in a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me. Here is a collection of all of the installments in the feature so far.

Today, we look at the history of Marvel’s No-Prize.

While there had been some attempts of fostering fandom by Stan Lee earlier than the 1960s, it was really the surprise success of the Fantastic Four that led him to first believe that he really had something here. The earliest letters to the Fantastic Four typically ran along the lines of congratulations to Marvel for having a hit book out of nowhere – even the response by Lee tended to run a bit along the lines of, “Wow, this is cool.”

But with more readers, you’re also bound to draw more nit-pickers, and the letter pages for the fourth issue of Fantastic Four had a fan write in to critique this sequence in Fantastic Four #2…

gemff2

And Stan Lee’s response was quite interesting…

ff4

Yes, the first prize of the Marvel Age of Comics was, well, an actual prize!

The winner was announced in Fantastic Four #6…

ff6prize

Over the next year or so, the letter page for the Fantastic Four became the place where Lee would interact with the entire Marvel fandom, which continued to grow as Marvel added more and more new characters like Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc. Only Spider-Man got his own letter column initially.

Anyhow, Lee would do polls and stuff like that (Should Invisible Girl get kicked off the team? Should Reed not be in charge of the FF?) but it was not until Fantastic Four #22 that we got the very first mention of no prize, on a contest involving which fan has the largest comics collection, and the “no prize” was simply Lee saying that no prizes would be awarded for the winner of the contest…

ff22letter

The winner was announced in Fantastic Four #25, and here is where the prize was first dubbed a “No-Prize”…

ff25letter

The next issue, Lee announces the next contest, but rather than offering up a “No-Prize,” he once again reiterates that there will be no prizes awarded…

ff26letter

The winners are announced in Fantastic Four #31…

ff31letter1

ff31letter1a

That same column, they reference some other contest that I honestly don’t know where it appeared, but anyhow, I only mention it now because Lee references running out of no-prizes. He’s obviously joking, but as we later see, it was not so obvious to Marvel fans out there…

ff31letter2

On the next page, discover when Lee first gave out a No-Prize for someone who explained away a Marvel error and, well, “marvel” at the fan who inspired the idea!

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31 Comments

I know I asked about this just the other day, but you must have had this column ready-to-go. Thanks!

Gonçalo Azevedo

February 11, 2016 at 2:19 pm

And yeah, it is that George R. R. Martin. :)

Didn’t they bring back the no-prize briefly in the late 90’s when they re-introduced Stan’s Soapbox? If I remember right, it was only given to letters Stan found interesting enough to mention in his column.

Yeah, that was what I had in mind with “it still popped up here and there through the late 1990s.” :) But fair enough, I’ll specifically add that to the piece!

It might be also be worth noting that Marvel once published a Marvel No-Prize Book celebrating some of the most fun errors to earn a No-Prize, with Stan Lee as narrator written by Jim Owsley as Christopher Priest was known as then. An abridged version is included in The Marvel Vault book with accessories.

Avengers #269 just might be the only time I’ve seen a “To Be Continued…” in an editorial comment.

That is to say, the Marvel Vault is a book with accessories. I don’t mean that the abridged comic has any accessories.

I have one. Just felt like bragging.

I have a vague memory of a GI Joe letters page that was complaining about people trying to get No Prizes for the number of planes on an aircraft carrier and trivial stuff like that. I assume that was Larry Hama laying down ground rules.

So Stan was onto ‘crowd-sourcing’ long before social media was thing.

The T shirts and posters… I wonder if any one still have some of them

… and so tickled was he by the concept he helped define, GRRM started handing out no-prizes in all the plots and storylines of his own books…

Nice article. Always interesting to learn a new thing about comics culture. (And how much it drove editors batty)

And… it might’ve been THAT GRRM, but I’m guessing it wasn’t THAT Ron Perlman.

I believe the person who bought Marvel in the ’90s was Ronald Perelman, not Perlman.

I’m kind of surprised they were actually soliciting ideas for things like character origins. That’s the sort of thing that could’ve opened them up to nuisance lawsuits if someone thought they’d stolen a story idea. Maybe it was a less litigious time back then.

Back in the ’80s or so, my father, who was a radio host, had a gig as the sidekick on a comedy call-in show, and they had a shtick where the host would announce a fake contest and say “You could win…” and then my father would cut in and say, “…A SWELL PRIZE!” in a booming game-show-host voice. They had this whole routine about their Swell Prize closet where they kept the imaginary Swell Prizes, though they never specified what they were beyond just “A SWELL PRIZE!” When I found out about No-Prizes, I realized they were the same sort of thing. I don’t know if they were an inspiration, though; my father was never much into Marvel, as far as I knew. But I was interested when I listened to the old Superman radio show from the ’40s — often they would give out prizes to their listeners, and the announcer really would often really call them “swell prizes.” My father was the right age to have listened to those as a kid, so maybe that’s where he got it.

Man, I remember reading the Bullpen Bulletins, Stan’s Soapbox, and the letters page in various Marvel comics. Back then, I used to wonder what a No-Prize was. Anyway, you brought back a lot of fond memories, Brian! Thanks for this article.

Unless it;s a false memory implant – I was reading PK Dick then, too – I remember the first use of the term came in response to a fan question re DC. Julius Schwartz was giving out ORIGINAL INFANTINO ART for best letters. To which Stan first said “Here’s a No-Prize.”

I don’t know if it’s the same Steve Perrin, but a Steve Perrin of California later wrote an rpg game called Superworld, which was played by George R. R. Martin and friends. That game inspired the Wild Cards series, edited and with stories by George R. R. Martin.

Do I get a no-prize? Or is it fodder for a Comic Book Legends Revealed?

I got a No-Prize in about 1988, even though my letter was never published. I still had it until about 5 years ago.

MarkR – as a fan of Chaosium’s Superworld, that is the exact same “Steve Perrin” question I was going to ask. That is actually a serious Comic Book Legend for Brian Cronin to investigate.

GET ON IT, BRI!

…and that’s the Soapbox where Stan forgets about Hawkeye who’s 40% deaf on both ears . He was reminded in the next.

This make me think: were there any case in which a solution proposed by a reader (awarded or not) in the lettercolumn “made canon” and was actually mentioned later in a story?

This make me think: were there any case in which a solution proposed by a reader (awarded or not) in the lettercolumn “made canon” and was actually mentioned later in a story?

There’s an example above: a fan selected the last name for Alicia Masters.

An actual, physical No-Prize appeared in the Dan Slott She-Hulk series, where Stu (the resident continuity maven for She-Hulk’s law firm) used it to inspire his friends to help come up with a creative solution for the problem she was facing.

You mentioned that DC used to give away artwork for their contests. I won one in the early 1960s (I was 8 years old) and received a great Bruno Premiani Doom Patrol page that hangs on my wall today.

“Picture this- a nation of people who love fault-finding… who only speak to each other to inform them of their imperfections! I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

-Mark Gruenwald.

I just want to know what a Baldy Award was.

Since we are pointing out letter writers who went on to fame, I wonder if the Bill Dubay with the huge comic book collection is the same Bill Dubay who went on to work for Warren comics and created the Rook (among other characters)? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_DuBay

I won one of Mark Gruenwald’s Letter of the Month’s once. They sent me the printer’s proof (four colour layered plastic sheets) of a recent cover of the comc (Avengers). It was pretty neat.

“Don Daley, CAPTAIN AMERICA editor: “First I place a temporal statue of limitations on no-prize mistakes.”

He meant STATUTE of limitations! Do I win a no-prize?

Yeah Phred, that’s what stuck out to me too. At least Mark didn’t live to see the Internet become big.

As a kid I always wanted a no-prize. Now I know better…
The no-prize book has been in my collection for years and it is awesome!

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