Weird Wonder Tales ran for 22 issues beginning in December, 1973 and ending in May, 1977. Of all the reprint books Marvel produced during the early 1970s, WWT was the only one to be an artists' book, featuring more name artists and fewer giant monster stories than any of the other reprint books (Crypt of Shadows ran a close second).
Marvel was no a stranger to reprint books, having had success with Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors Item Classics. These books sold well and were cheap to produce, since it wasn't until the 80s that comic creators were paid for reprinted work. However, both books were super hero reprints and this is what makes the early 70s reprint books such a departure.
For the reader of today, who is used to the Archives editions, these reprint books can be rather disappointing: paper stock is cheap, printing is poor and credits are nearly non-existant. What may seem even more shocking is that the stories themselves were routinely cut and edited for space and, at times, even re-lettered to change the content, something we older readers take for granted (I have 3 different printings of the marriage of Reed and Sue from Fantastic Four Annual #1 in various incarnations). Even with these faults, Weird Wonder Tales is one of the few places to to read, and savor (without a large loan), the non-super hero material that Marvel printed in the 50s and 60s.
Marvel produced new covers for each issue of WWT. Cover identification on most of the Marvel titles after 1970 is sometimes a roll of the dice, since the covers were not always drawn by the artist who did the interior. In the case of the reprint books, the covers were often done by whoever was available. In the gallery that goes with this article, Weird Wonder Tales, I have attempted to identify most of the cover artists, but there are some covers that defy identification (NOTE: The gallery, and this article, were updated in 2011 using material from The Grand Comic Book Database ).
Issues 12, 13 and 16 present a challenge, since they could be by anybody...just not anybody really good. One of the first jobs aspiring artists usually found at Marvel was cover artist and many covers during this period are by new artists. Issue 12 looks like the main figure could be Kane, but the figures in the foreground are anybody's guess. The distortion of the figures on issue 13 (seen at left) suggests Val Mayerik, but it could also be any number of other young artists. Maybe Brunner? (NOTE: The GCD credits this cover as possible Ed Hannigan pencils with inks by Al Milgrom) Issue 16 looks like early Rich Buckler based on the face and body shape, but it too could be most anybody.
No discussion of Marvel is complete without including Jack Kirby, even when it comes to covers, and here is where some really interesting tidbits come up.
On the left is the cover of Tales To Astonish #1 with art by Kirby. On the right is the cover to Weird Wonder Tales #4, which is a reprint of the TTA #1 cover with a slight difference, aside from the obvious changes. The monster breaking out of the gate has been redrawn. Why? That is a mystery, since this issue of WWT reprints the story from TTA #1 that the cover was based on and, in the story, a giant turtle breaks out of the gate. One possible answer is that the original image was not considered threatening enough. It certainly isn't any better in the new version.
Similarly, the ape on the right side of the cover of issue 7 looks like it was drawn by Kirby in the style he was using in the 70s. The hand holding the test tube also looks like Kirby's work, with the hand holding the scalpel possibly done by someone else. The rest of the cover is possibly Don Perlin with (maybe ?) inks by Colletta, but this seems rather late for him to be working for Marvel. In any event, this again looks like a paste-up or re-drawing.
This brings us to the second, and more complicated theory. It has been documented that Kirby began to think about leaving DC in the early 70s when he didn't like the way he was treated by them. By sometime in late 1973 or early 1974, he decided to return to Marvel under a contract that would require a set number of art pages per month (many of them covers). Kirby then worked ahead on all his DC material to fulfill his contract and then began working on Marvel material while the DC material was still being published. The first batch of covers hit the stands with a November 1975 cover date. I have yet to find, however, how early Kirby began his Marvel work.
With these facts in mind, it is possible, that these covers (or at least WWT #7) may have been the beginnings of Kirby's return to Marvel, or were audition pieces he sent to Marvel in order to gain work, since Marvel did not welcome him back with open arms. Although the dates seem a bit of a stretch (cover date for WWT 5 was August 1974 and the cover date for #7 was December of the same year), it is probable, at least in the case of issue 7, that these covers are undocumented Kirby art.*
*NOTE: The speculations in the preceeding paragraphs were written back in 2003 and since then, a lot of research has turned up in the GCD. Much of this information comes from the artists involved or publishing records. While I don't dispute the veracity of this material, I don't think it is at cut and dried as the credits would make it seem. In regards to WWT 5, I find it hard to believe that the woman is drawn by Leiber or inked by Milgrom. She does not look like the work of either artist. In a similar fashion, the gorilla in the foreground to WWT #7 is done in a different art style than the rest of the cover. While I am willing to agree that my identification of these covers as work by Kirby was specualtive at best, I'm afraid I don't agree completely with the credits as listed on the GCD.