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Re-Visiting Marvel's 'Picture Frame' Cover Era

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

Reader Fred S. wrote in about an era of Marvel Comics history that interested him a lot, enough so that he put together a neat chart for the era. That era is the so-called "Picture Frame" cover era of Marvel. Starting with books cover-dated November 1971, when Marvel made the jump from 15 cents per comic to 20 cents per comic, Marvel instituted a uniform cover design where each of the books would have a "frame" around the edges of the cover with the main image placed within that frame.

Contrast Avengers #92...

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with Avengers #93, from the first month of the "picture frame" era...

Each of the books would have different colored frames...

So Fred marked down each cover in this era, which ended with books cover-dated December 1972, so just 14 months worth of titles, and kept track of which color they used on the frames and whether there were word balloons.

Fred also had some questions about the era, so I went to the expert, the great Roy Thomas, to get the low down. Fred wanted to know whose idea it was to do these covers and Roy explained that it was Stan Lee's idea, likely inspired by DC's 1960s idea to make THEIR covers uniform (with their "go go checks" covers). Roy did not recall exactly why the idea stopped, but he noted that he personally did not like the idea (although he admitted that it DID certainly make putting in copy easier, which might have also been a reason for the design) and so perhaps he pushed for it to stop (with Stan's approval, of course, as Stan had total final say at the time). Roy also could easily see Stan just getting tired of it himself.

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Fred also wanted to know what the deal was with these four "frameless" covers...

Roy first noted that he's pretty sure that Captain America #155 IS a traditional frame cover, it just used a black frame, so it looks different.

However, for the other three, Thomas noted that all three were done by John Romita Sr., then Marvel's quasi-official Art Director (a role he would eventually officially get), and, as you can see, the covers BASICALLY form frames of their own, so he thinks that Stan and/or Romita just felt that the three covers still counted. If they weren't done by Romita, though, they likely wouldn't have gotten to be that creative with the format.

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Thanks so much to Roy Thomas for the information about this distinct era in Marvel Comics history (I believe, by the way, that it was during this period that Marvel first caught up with DC Comics for overall sales).

Anyhow, as noted, Fred put together a chart of each of the covers. Enjoy!

Thanks, Fred! And thanks again, Roy!

If anyone else has something interesting that they'd like to share, or if they have an interesting piece of comic book history that they'd like to see me spotlight, just drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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