Digging through some boxes and photo albums the other night, I came across the above item, my Marvel “No-Prize.” I treasure this empty envelope, and I’m glad I still have it, in relatively pristine condition, save for a thumbtack hole in it and a little dirt around the edges.
Stan Lee started sending out this lighthearted prize around 1967 in response to readers pointing out continuity errors in the comics. Other companies sometimes sent out something as a reward for finding such errors, but Stan decided instead to give out the “No-Prize,” because, as he put it in Fantastic Four #26, “There will be no prizes, and therefore, no losers.” At that point, Stan just published the letter that pointed out the error in whichever book’s letter column. Early No-Prizes were given for other reasons than continuity errors, such as questions Stan asked.
The No-Prize became a physical thing around 1967, when Marvel started mailing out the empty envelope shown above. But people didn’t get the joke. My own mailman, who was friends with my parents, delivered my prize, and told my mom that it was an empty envelope, there must be some kind of mistake. I knew exactly what it was, and I was thrilled with it. I was one of the chosen few!
Captain America #112 and the panels in question. TM & © 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc.
My No-Prize originated with a 2-panel sequence in Captain America #112, the April 1969 issue. Written by Stan and drawn by Jack Kirby (with inks by George Tuska), this particular issue has its own interesting history. Plopped smack-dab in the middle of Jim Steranko’s amazing 3-issue run of Cap, this “Album Issue” was reportedly cranked out by Kirby over a very short period of time (like a weekend) when Steranko missed his deadline. It focused on a history of Cap, since Steranko apparently killed him off at the end of issue #111. But there on page 8 was the fatal error I caught (and I’m sure other people did, too): in recounting the death of Bucky Barnes, Cap and his sidekick drive a motorcycle up a ramp to stop a rocket. In the first panel, they’re in costume; in the very next panel, they’re in blue onesies. Error, error, error! I rushed off a letter to Stan, pointing out this major error and the severe repercussions it had on my young life. (Okay … I sent him a letter about it. I was okay with it otherwise.)
My No-Prize arrived on a cold day in February and was there when I got home from school. My mom didn’t get it either (“It’s an EMPTY envelope!”), but I was 13 and it was one of the highlights of my young life. I had been recognized by Stan “The Man” Lee and Marvel! I was sure he and Kirby had a long and meaningful discussion on how this kid from small town Pennsylvania had caught them in such a blatant error. Who was this kid? Should we hire him? Perhaps he should proofread all our books?, were all questions I was sure were bandied about.
Alas, no job offer ever came, nor did one years later, when I sent a “script” to then-editor Roy Thomas at Marvel that amounted to the first 2 pages of a Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. tale that had Dum Dum Dugan revealed to be a Hydra agent out to kill Fury. I assured Roy I’d send more, soon as I figured it out. I got a polite form letter in return, but no job offer. Sheer genius is sometimes hard to recognize, I guess.
But I now contend that they ripped off my Dum Dum Dugan Hydra agent “plot” and hijacked it for the new Captain America series! I’d call my attorney if I had one.