In the United Kingdom, slim, hardcover publications called annuals are very popular. As the name suggestions, they’re published annually, usually around Christmas, and are marketed primarily to children but can be fun for the whole family. Annuals are dated the following year, meaning an annual published in December of 2009 will be the 2010 annual. They often focus on popular television programs (cartoons in particular), movies or musicians. The annual as a type of publication dates back to the 1820s, when they contained poems and stories of high literary value. During World War II, I believe, annuals based on comic books or comic strips were introduced, and these continue to be published today. In the late 1950s, annuals based on television programs started to appear.
I don’t actually own any annuals, and not being British I don’t truly understand the phenomenon, but I find them interesting nonetheless. Here’s a BBC News article from December of 2006 reporting that the latest Doctor Who annual has surprised booksellers by becoming the most popular annual of the year, beating The Beano Annual (which features a character called Dennis the Menace, entirely unrelated to the comic strip — and later television — character popular here in the United States). And here’s a BBC News article from May of 2010 about a rare 1973 annual up for auction. Because annuals are published in the United Kingdom, they’re hard to come by in the United States, although eBay has hundreds available at any given moment.
Two great resources for television annuals I’ve found are TV Annuals and the galleries put together by Tony’s Trading. What’s really interesting about annuals is that a show like The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was given an annual despite the fact that it wasn’t all that successful when it was broadcast in the United States. Three different annuals were published for The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., in fact, for 1968, 1969 and 1970 (likely published in December of 1967, December of 1968 and December of 1969, respectively). Shows like The Dakotas, Gemini Man, Logan’s Run, Man from Atlantis and The Quest also had annuals. Even Manimal was given an annual.
This suggests to me that either the companies publishing annuals weren’t picky about the shows they gave the annual treatment or that Manimal and Man from Atlantis were much more popular in the United Kingdom than in the United States. Planet of the Apes, which was a failure for CBS in 1974, nevertheless received three annuals.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t own any annuals, so I can’t talk about the contents. Based on the covers of some of the annuals, like The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., it’s possible that they contained reprinted stories from comic books (Gold Key published five issues of a comic book based on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.). There was also a magazine about The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. for a while, so perhaps articles and stories from it were reprinted in the annual as well. The Man from Atlantis annual could contain reprinted stories from Marvel’s comic book based on the series. But what about Manimal? It likely contained articles, interviews and pictures about the show.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has read annuals based on any of the aforementioned shows. And if any of the information I’ve given is incorrect, please let me know.