The Hulk Comic Strip/Coloring Book

By | Thursday, April 08, 2021 Leave a Comment
In the late 1970s, in an effort to capitalize on the relative success of the television show, Marvel started an Incredible Hulk comic strip. That the main character is called David Banner, and not Bruce Banner, is the key pointing back to the show of course. The scripts were credited to Stan Lee, and the art duties got shifted around to various artists like Larry Lieber, Rich Buckler, Alan Kupperberg, Ernie Chan and Frank Giacoia. The strip only lasted a few years (from October 1978 and until September 1982) and was retired with little fanfare as a minor point of Hulk trivia.

But I stumbled across this piece of ephemera, which has my brain cogs spinning...
Hulk Coloring Book
It's a 1980 coloring book featuring the Hulk. Except it's formatted like a comic strip. And pretty short with only sixteen pages. And while the illustrations aren't terribly elaborate, they do seem unusually detailed for a coloring book. The strips are credited to David Anthony Kraft (writing), Win Mortimer and Sal Brodsky (pencils), and Chic Stone (inking).

Given the timing and the format, my first thought is that it's artwork from the comic strip, just repurposed for this book. The "all new" starburst on the cover, though, suggests that these strips were never published before. Also, as far as I can tell, none of the creators here actually worked on the Hulk strip. So where did this come from?

My initial guess was that these were strips that were intended as a try-out for the comic strip, but veered too far from the newspaper characterizations and were rejected based on that. The comic strip itself was produced by Marvel. That they had a series of artists working on it suggests that it was farmed out to whoever was available, and were relying on the Hulk name itself as the selling point. With perhaps some additional emphasis on Lee's name as the face of Marvel. Of course, Lee's name went on a lot of material that he didn't write, and it was in fact Lieber who wrote the strip under Lee's byline for several months after Lee had actually stopped writing it.

The strip, as I noted, followed the characterizations from the TV show. The Hulk never spoke, and the antagonists were, by-and-large, not of the supervillain variety. In the coloring book, not only does the Hulk speak (much like the comics) but the storylines are much more in line with the comic books as he faces off against The Leader and The Rhino.

It's also interesting to note Mortimer's art here. While he did work at Marvel on occasion, particularly during the 1970s, he had never worked on the Hulk before (or since). But he HAD spent the better part of a decade years earlier drawing the Superman newspaper strip, so he was clearly comfortable with the format. He was also familiar with the TV-tie-in property idea, having worked on Spidey Super Stories.

One last thing to notice. I can't confirm whether or not this was actually published by Marvel, but it was almost certainly NOT published by Whitman. Which is noteworthy because Whitman was pretty much THE go-to publisher of licensed property coloring books at the time. In fact, any other Hulk coloring book from that period you will find bears a large Whitman logo in the corner of the cover. Why wouldn't they haven't published this one as well?

My theory is that Marvel first pulled together these strips in early 1978 to shop around as a tie-in to the TV show. They got Kraft (who seemed to be the ubiquitous Marvel writer of the late 1970s) to write a few weeks' worth of material and pulled in Mortimer as someone familiar with the comic strip format/pacing. After taking it to a syndicate or two, they got feedback saying something to the effect of, "Sure, great idea! But this doesn't look like the TV show at all. Make it more like that and we'll buy it." So they went back to Lieber for the rework, with Lee getting pulled in for some name recognition. Kraft's and Mortimer's strips were left lying around for a couple years before someone had the coloring book idea to make at least some money off this already-produced-and-paid-for artwork. Whitman probably wouldn't do it since A) the stories are too short, and B) the format is radically different than the 8x10 size they always go with. It simply wouldn't fit in with the rest of what they were already set up to work on. Marvel put it together in some other package (it originally came with a set of markers as well) and hopefully managed to at least recoup some of their losses before this fell into the scrapheap of transient superhero tie-ins.
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