As I've gotten older, I've become a more selective collector. I'm more interested in gathering complete runs of certain books, whether its a nostalgia bug for a character I love (The Thing solo series) or an under-appreciated run that will likely never be collected into a colossal omnibus editions (like Gerard Jones' outstanding work on Green Lantern). One of my recent objectives is to amass a full set of Fireside's Marvel books.
Fireside was a Simon and Schuster brand that published Marvel collections in a format we'd recognize today as the trade paperback, before that ever became a term synonymous with a bound collection of comic books. The big seller for Fireside was How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which is still in print, but it's the collections that I have the most nostalgic attachment to. Like the orange-spined Crestwood Monster books, the Fireside Marvels were the hottest things in the elementary school library for kids of a certain generation.
These books were always checked out, and if one was actually on the shelf -- didn't matter if you'd read it before -- you checked it out and read it again. The one I had memorized was The Incredible Hulk, and it was the first one that I purchased for myself as an adult (from a backwoods antique shop) that set me on the path to nabbing them all. Some of the books are assembled by theme (Origins of Marvel Comics, Bring on the Bad Guys, The Superhero Women) while the ones that centered on specific characters contained their origin issue and usually three or four stories that captured the essence of the characters, as curated by Stan Lee.
I'm assuming Lee curated them, as he gets sole cover credit as the writer on all of the Fireside books, whether he wrote all of the interior tales of not. There's no credited editor on the books, but the small bits of prose and historical context that separates the issues within the Fireside books certainly sounds like Stan Lee (and he does credit the respective creators within the interior pages). Because of the time in which they came out (late 70's, while the Marvel Superheroes were just over a decade old) and because Lee supposedly picked the stories, the Firesides provide a timely snapshot of what Lee felt defined these characters (most of which he had a hand in creating). You end up getting these superheroes in their purest forms, and the Fireside books remain one of the best ways to quickly learn about Marvel characters.
Most of the Firesides can be found for peanuts on Amazon and eBay, with the exception of Fireside's Silver Surfer -- the only book that tells a full-length original story and ended up being the final collaboration between Lee and Marvel cornerstone Jack Kirby. If you have kids in your life, interested in Marvel from the blockbuster films, the Firesides still can't be beat.
According to Wikipedia, the Fireside collections are as follows:
- Origins of Marvel Comics (1974)
- Son of Origins of Marvel Comics (1975)
- Bring On the Bad Guys (1976)
- The Superhero Women (1977)
- The Best of Spidey Super-Stories (1978)
- The Incredible Hulk (1978)
- Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles (1978)
- The Amazing Spider-Man (1979)
- The Fantastic Four (1979)
- Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts (1979)
- Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty (1979)
Links to purchase through Amazon are provided above, and the books are pretty much all available in both paperback and hardback versions. Wiki doesn't list Mighty Marvel Team-Up Thrillers, a 1983 collection that looks just like a Fireside book (including the "By Stan Lee" cover credit), but without it here in front of me, I can't confirm that it's actually from this publisher.