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

by  in Comic News Comment

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…


And Stan Lee’s response was quite interesting…


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

The winner was announced in Fantastic Four #6…


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…


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


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…


The winners are announced in Fantastic Four #31…



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…


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!

In Fantastic Four #33, Stan Lee, for the first time, offered up a no-prize to the fan who could explain a seemingly unexplainable situation. And check out the fan who inspired this idea by Lee…


The winners were announced in Fantastic Four #35…


By this time, Lee obviously realized how much a kick fans got out of receiving stuff from Marvel, hence the beginning of the Merry Marvel Marching Society…


And soon, knowing fans like to see their name in print…



But the good ol’ distribution of No-Prizes continued, as we see in Fantastic Four #39…


with the winner announced in Fantastic Four #42…


Fantastic Four #45 saw the introduction of the Bullpen Bulletins page in Marvel Comics, as FF no longer was the centerpiece of the whole Marvel Universe. Now there was a page for that sort of stuff in every book…


The no-prize contests continued, though.

Fantastic Four #51 had an odd one…


Which they sort of acknowledge in Fantastic Four #55…


In Fantastic Four #56, Stan thanks the fans for embracing the No-Prize concept…


What he is alluding to here is the fact that Mort Weisinger, perhaps the pioneer in fostering a fandom among the readers of the Superman titles, had been giving out ACTUAL prizes for years at this point, frequently sending fans original pages of art (they did not treat art very well back then). So there’d be little kids with original Curt Swan pieces for no good reason.

It is interesting that they celebrated how understanding their fans were when in reality, a number of fans were complaining about the idea of “no-prizes.” I don’t know how many fans actually complained, but there were some.

On the next page, then, see the introduction of the physical No-Prize!

Therefore, it was interesting to see the reply in Fantastic Four #63…


Were they referring to a new type of No-Prize?

Sure enough, in the next issue’s Bullpen Bulletins, they revealed the introduction of the new TANGIBLE No-Prize!


This was the item we see at the beginning of this article, an envelope with nothing in it, hence, a “No-Prize.”

So for the next few years, they would send these envelopes out whenever they had a No-Prize contest. When Stan Lee left as Editor-in-Chief in 1972, however, the distribution of No-Prizes were left to the various Marvel editors and thus, for many years, there really was no set reason for why someone would get a No-Prize.

Heck, check out this bit from Fantastic Four #163, where Editor Roy Thomas sent out No-Prizes for people noticing an extremely minor error…


In 1986, Mark Gruenwald had had enough. In Avengers #269, he wrote:


(as we have seen, Gruenwald is mistaken that there was ever really a tried and true method to how No-Prizes were awarded, but whatever, his main point was right on the nose, that it FOSTERED nit-picking)

He continued in Iron Man #208 with a dramatic announcement…



Amusingly enough, that same issue’s letter column had a typical modern take on what a No-Prize attempt would be…


That, though, was just GRUENWALD. He asked other Marvel editors what their policies were, and they responded:

What is your policy concerning the awarding of no-prizes?

Ann Nocenti, X-MEN editor: “The spirit of the no-prize is not just to complain and nitpick but to offer an exciting solution. Do that and you will get one from me.”

Carl Potts, ALPHA FLIGHT editor: “If someone points out a major story problem I’m not aware of and solves it to my satisfaction, I’ll award a no-prize. I give away very few.”

Mike Higgins, STARBRAND editor: “No no-prizes for New Universe no-no’s no way!”

Larry Hama, CONAN editor: “No one writes in for them in the CONAN books so we don’t award them. On G.I. JOE, which I write, I give them to people who get me out of jams if they are very ingenious about it.”

Archie Goodwin, EPIC editor: “We acknowledge our mistakes in print, but Epic Comics doesn’t award no-prizes.”

Bob Budiansky, SECRET WARS II editor: “If someone finds a clever enough explanation for what seems to be a mistake, I’ll send them a no-prize.”

Bob Harras, X-FACTOR editor: “My policy is if a certain mistake wouldn’t have bothered me when I was a kid, it’s not worth a no-prize. But if someone does really help us out, I’ll send them one.”

Don Daley, CAPTAIN AMERICA editor: “First I place a temporal statue of limitations on no-prize mistakes. If the mistake is more than six issues old, it doesn’t qualify anymore. Second, I only give them out for things that count, not trivial nitpicking and faultfinding. Third, the explanation should not only be logical but emotionally appealing. I don’t award many of them.”

James Owsley, SPIDER-MAN editor: “We only mail them out to people who send us the best possible explanations for important mistakes. Panels where someone’s shirt is colored wrong do not count. We send out the no-prize envelopes to everyone who gets the same best answer, and sometimes will send out postcards to runners-up who come close.”

Ralph Macchio, DAREDEVIL editor: “The no-prize is an honored Marvel tradition. Of course I give them away– for just about any old stupid thing. I have a million of them.”

In the late 1980s, when Marvel was purchased by Ronald Perlman, they pretty much dropped sending out No-Prizes.

Tom DeFalco returned them in 1991, but with a new criteria (from Amazing Spider-Man #347)…


That was pretty much it for the No-Prize for the early 1990s.

In 1997, however, Stan Lee began doing Stan’s Soapbox again on Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins page, and he would answer fan questions and he would give out a No-Prize to anyone whose question he published…


A couple of months later, one of the winners in the first column was none other than future comic book writer and inker, Derek Fridolfs!


Lee would do other No-Prize contests here and there…


and he even got No-Prize winners free dessert at Marvel Mania restaurants!! Sadly, Lee was too optimistic about their future as a business…


When Lee’s column ended and as letter columns disappeared, No-Prizes pretty much went away.

However, Marvel has continued to occasionally give out digital No Prizes through e-mail.

Tom Brevoort, being such a master of Marvel history, also occasionally gives out actual No-Prizes to people (he gave David Tennant one), presumably notable folks who are visiting Marvel’s offices. Brevoort is awesome.

I have an idea – how about you folks write to me at bcronin@comicbookresourcs.com with YOUR stories of receiving No-Prizes over the years and I’ll compile them and put them into their own column.