Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Reader Phillip A. tweeted to me yesterday to ask, "Do you know of any place I can find out how Marvel's page count, in terms of pages with story on, has varied over time?"
Sure, Phillip, how about right here! :)
When Marvel began, comic books were 68 pages long (and cost 10 cents). In the early days of comic books, they naturally wanted to qualify for magazine postal rates, which were the cheapest of the postal rates of the era. However, to qualify as a magazine, a periodical would have to include at least two pages of pure text. Thus, comic book companies quickly decided to just have two-page text stories in every issue. Stan Lee's very first work for Marvel Comics was as a writer of the throwaway text pieces in Captain America Comics. His first story appeared in Captain America Comics #3.
Later on, letter columns qualified and then eventually, the restrictions changed so it stopped mattering. In the early days, it was important, though, as it factors into the page count of the comics.
So anyhow, as noted, in the earliest days of Marvel, comic books were 68 pages long. Of those pages, 2 of them were devoted to text pieces and then roughly 60 pages were devoted to comic book stories.
Those 60 pages were separated into a bunch of stories of varying lengths. For instance, in Captain America Comics #6, the stories were the following lengths (plus a 2-page text piece, of course):
Totaling 59 comic book pages.
The next issue, Captain America Comics #7, had the following story lengths:
Totaling 60 comic book pages
Things changed in 1943, when costs had gone up but Marvel (then Timely) and all the other comic book companies were sure no one would pay more than a dime for a comic, so they instead reduced the size of the comic book from 68 pages to 60 pages.
This move knocked it down to about 53 comic book story pages (plus the 2-page text piece). In the first issue at 60 pages, Captain America Comics #28, the stories were split into the following page counts:
Totaling 53 comic book pages
The end of 1944 saw another cost increase, leading Marvel to reduce their books to 52 pages.
These comics would have 45 pages worth of comic book stories. The first issue at 52 pages was Captain America Comics #42...
and the stories were split up at the following page counts:
Totaling 45 comic book pages.
The next big change wasn't until early 1948, when the biggest drop yet took place, going from 52 pages to 36 pages long. This was huge because 36 pages is actually the lowest that you can reduce a book and still have it be, well, a book. The next step would be 18 pages, which obviously is too small. So comic books were now locked in at least 36 pages long.
The page counts in the stories in that first Captain America Comics 36-page issue were:
Totaling 25 comic book pages.
Marvel would then maintain roughly that page rate for the rest of the 1940s and all of the 1950s, 23-25 pages worth of comic book stories, with 2 pages of text pieces. Eventually the text pieces ceased existing, so it was 25 pages of comic stories.
When Fantastic Four #1 debuted, it was 25 pages of comic book stories within...
However, that title would soon have a letters column, and the two pages for that came from the 25 pages of story, so it soon became 23 pages of comic book story and then 2 pages of letters.
Starting at the end of 1964, it became 22 pages between story and the letters column, so 20 for comic pages (but some leeway, so that if you wanted an extra comic page, you'd have less of a letter column, etc.). Fantastic Four #30 had 20 comic book story pages in it...
That was the case in the solo titles. The anthology titles had one extra page to play with, so, say, Tales of Suspense #59...
would have a 12 page Iron Man story, a 10 page Captain America story plus a 1 page letter column.
By this point, by the way, Marvel had given up on the whole "holding the line at a dime" price point and had gone to 12 cents per comic.
Anyhow, they went with this set-up for the rest of the 1960s, but mid-way through 1970 (by which point comics were 15 cente per issue), Marvel Comics went to 19 comic book story pages.
Again, do note that throughout all this time (heck, throughout comic book history), there would always be exceptions where a comic would be given an extra page or two to work with. 19 pages, though, was the standard.
Towards the end of 1971, Marvel tried a bold plan, one that got them into trouble with the United States Government. They increased their price from 15 cents to 25 cents but also increased their story pages from 19 to 34!
But then reduced the price to 20 cents the next issue and lowered the page counts to 21...
The government had a strict "no inflation" rule at the time, so they busted Marvel for this and forced them to add a special glossy insert into a future issue of Fantastic Four as a "give back" to the fans.
By mid-way through 1972, 21 pages became 20 pages...
A year later, 20 pages became 19...
A year later, despite a price increase from 20 cents to 25 cents, 19 pages became 18...
1975 saw a few drops to 17 pages, but they mostly stayed steady at 18 pages, until the end of the year, when they finally succumbed to it and the books became 17 pages of comic book story.
Someone must have said, "Okay, we really have to draw the line at 17 pages," as it remained 17 pages throughout the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s. Instead of lowering story counts, they raised prices, going to 30 cents mid-way through 1976, 35 cents mid-way through 1977, 40 cents in early 1979 and a big jump to 50 cents mid-way through 1980.
It was likely that big price increase from 40 cents to 50 cents, coupled with the influx of money from the then-new direct market, that led to Marvel raising the page counts towards the end of 1980 from 17 to 22, a HUGE five-page increase!
(the move was actually not all together loved by Marvel artists now well-used to 17 pages per issue, even though they would now get paid for 5 more pages per issue).
Marvel then maintained the 22-page story count for the next THIRTY YEARS!
With a few changes over the years, of course. In mid-1997, Marvel raised their prices from 1.95 to 1.99 and began including a two-page recap section at the beginning of every issue (it would fold out from the cover)....
A little over a year later, the recap became a one-page recap. Then in early 2000, it was eliminated entirely. In mid-2002, Marvel then started doing "Previously" pages at the start of their comics, which pretty much continue to this day.
Finally, in late 2011, Marvel Comics pretty much all went to a 20 comic book story pages per comic book setup (of course, there are always exceptions, but that's the basic standard page count now)....
And they've been at 20 pages ever since. Which is the same page length as each part of "The Galactus Trilogy" and three more pages than most of the issues in "The Dark Phoenix Saga."
So there you go, Phillip!
If anyone ELSE has a question they'd like to see me address, drop me a line at email@example.com!