On May 25th, 1977, theaters across the country premiered a little film that you might have heard of… and thereby saved the comic book industry. After the Star Wars comic came out, Marvel sold millions of copies, going back to press for numerous reprintings and outselling Marvel’s best-selling title Amazing Spider-Man by a factor of five.
Tagged: Roy Thomas
“Congratulations, young man,” I said. “You scored in the ninety seventh percentile on the comic book writing aptitude exam and so you’re my new Batman writer. I’ll need twenty-two pages by the end of the week.”
He smiled and left my office. A moment later, I glanced through the open door and saw him waiting for the elevator, straightening his tie. From forty feet away I could admire the gleam on his shoes.
Okay, it didn’t happen that way, or any way like that. It couldn’t, because there is no aptitude exam for aspiring comics writers. There is, as a matter of woeful fact, no defined career path, and if there were one, it would probably be changing about now.
But the god of full disclosure, if such there be, compels me to admit that, matter of fact, once there was a test for comics writing wannabes and I took it and I passed and that explains my life from about age 25 on. Roy Thomas, who had recently joined Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, sent the test to me at the office of the small newspaper where I was working and pissing people off. It consisted of four pages drawn by, I’m pretty sure, Jack Kirby, a piece of a comic book that was lacking words. The task was to add word balloons and maybe captions. Well, wouldn’t you have done it? Simple, easy, kind of fun. I typed something or other and sent it to Roy and late one evening a week or so later, he called offering me a job. I got into my battered station wagon and started trekking east…
I can’t say that I began a career in comics because I don’t consider what I’ve done a “career.” That term – career – implies planning and goals and maybe a timetable. None of that for me, thank you. It was catch-as-catch-can, a series of jobs, meeting the right people at the right time, screwing up, being given second chances, getting fired, getting hired, finally settling into a position that was everything a butcher’s kid from north St. Louis could ask for and retiring still young enough to get angry at politicians.
So I am not the guy you come to for advice on how to become the next Neil Gaiman or Frank Miller or pick your personal favorite comic book success story. I didn’t do what those guys did and maybe I couldn’t do what those guys did. But will that stop me from pontificating on the subject? Who you talking to?
Ergo: next week I’ll share with you the paltry few strategies I employed when my various editorial gigs required me to hire staff members or freelance creative types.
The thrills just keep coming…
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases is Whedon Out Women
We thought this was settled by now. Certainly Marvel Comics should know it. But apparently not. In the recent trade paperback, Spider-Man Fights Substance Abuse, we find this blurb on the credits page:
The creators of Spider-Man, Storm, and Power Man are unknown.
Apparently, Marvel is having some substance abuse problems of their own over there, or this is the latest salvo in the Disneyfication of Marvel where they decide they own everything, and it was all created by nameless workers.
Since some people at Marvel appear to be on drugs themselves, let us make this perfectly clear:
- Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
- Storm was created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum.
- Power Man was created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject:
Hopefully, we won’t have to repeat this. But knowing Marvel of late, we probably will have to repeat it. A lot.
Last week, the Internets were all aflutter with the story about how Disney/Marvel successfully defended itself against Gary Friedrich’s Ghost Rider lawsuit. This was hardly surprising. Just ask Marv Wolfman or the ghost of Steve Gerber.
Then Disney/Marvel turned around and demanded $17,000 from Gary for the Ghost Rider prints he sold at comic book conventions – you know, just like hundreds of other artists do at every artists’ alley at nearly every comic book convention held in the past decade. This was very surprising. And quite disgusting. Not to mention overwhelmingly petty.
Well, those of us who followed Disney’s Air Pirates lawsuit weren’t surprised at all, but that’s another story.
When Gary filed his appeal and the noise went into the can for a while, I whipped out Marvel Spotlight #5. On that very first Ghost Rider story, the credits read “conceived and written by Gary Friedrich.” (Emphasis mine.) That was unique for comics at that time. The lawyers discouraged publishers for printing creator credits lest said creators pull what is affectionately known as a “Siegel/Shuster.” I remember being a bit surprised – perhaps impressed is the better word for it – back when I read that issue back in 1972. Nonetheless, Gary lost his case.
This wasn’t the only thing that surprised me. I was also surprised that Marvel plowed over the name of their western hero, first and last seen in his own seven-issue series back in 1967. It was a clever use of recycling intellectual property.
I remembered that Ghost Rider rather fondly. It was a good, solid macabre western character told in then-contemporary Marvel style featuring some of Dick Ayers’ best art in years. So I whipped out Ghost Rider #1, cover-dated February 1967. And then I took a look at the credits.
Please note that both Ghost Rider origins were edited by the same person, a guy named Stan Lee. And Roy Thomas was involved in both – as co-dialogist on the western, and as “aider and abettor” on the motorcyclist. And Gary Friedrich was a writer on both.
That didn’t give Gary any legal coverage, but it’s an interesting chain-of-evidence. Core to the issue of who owns what – in a moral sense but not legal – is the derivation of the original Ghost Rider. The first one. The one before the two published by Marvel Comics.
The one that was damn near exactly the same as Marvel’s western, right down to Dick Ayers’ artwork and design. The one that was published by Magazine Enterprises in various of their titles, including one called “Ghost Rider.” That one lasted twice as long as Marvel’s. The feature got its start in their Tim Holt title. This original version was, as noted, drawn by Dick Ayers and written – some say created – by editor Raymond Krank, who later replaced himself with Gardner Fox. Many of those Tim Holt covers were drawn by Frank Frazetta, who also illustrated a Ghost Rider text story.
This wasn’t the first time Marvel assumed the name of a character they did not create, as geriatric Daredevil fans know all too well. But that, too, is another story.
Ghost Rider has had an interesting history, one that isn’t over. It’s a good example of how the whole comics creation thing is a can of worms. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman and Clark Kent and Lois Lane, but they did not create Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Kryptonite, among a great, great many other vital Superman concepts. If their estates wind up owning Superman, what happens to Perry and Jimmy and the rest?
Good grief. Back in the day, nobody was supposed to take all this seriously. But I think I know how either version of the Ghost Rider would have handled it.
Screw the lawyers. We’ve got us our six-guns, and one mother of a bike.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil
Yep, the gift-giving holidays are upon us once again. Here’s three recent releases that are among the top of my list.
The Stan Lee Universe, by Danny Fingeroth and Roy Thomas TwoMorrows Publishing, $39.95 hardcover; also available in softcover and digital
If you’re asking “who’s Stan Lee and why should I care about his universe?” then I’m asking “why are you reading a website called ComicMix?” I’m not going to waste bandwidth establishing Stan’s street cred. The Stan Lee Universe is not the definitive biography of Stan Lee; even at 89 years of age (in three weeks), he’s continuing to create new comics properties and appearing on television shows and in movies and his story remains a work in progress. As a life-long comics fan and practicing professional, I find great comfort in that.
The Stan Lee Universe is a massive gathering of articles, interviews, tributes, and – best of all – items from the Stan Lee Archives from the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. All this stuff was hoisted up and organized by two of the medium’s best, Danny Fingeroth and Roy Thomas, both having served time at Marvel Comics with Mr. Lee and both having an encyclopedic knowledge of the field. The folks at TwoMorrows (Alter-Ego, Write-Now, The Jack Kirby Collector) did the design and layout, and the result is a black-and-white and color extravaganza that actually taught me a thing or two about both Marvel and Stan… and I’ve been here forever.
Danny and Roy knocked themselves out, and it shows. No matter what you think you may know about all this, you’ll learn a lot from The Stan Lee Universe and I recommend it most highly to anybody the least bit interested in comics or our American heritage.
Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Volume 1 by Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson, consulting editor Mark Evanier, forward by Jimmy Breslin Fantagraphics Books, $39.99 in hardcover.
Everybody’s been reprinting the great classic newspaper strips with such effort that it almost gives a fanboy like me religion. This Pogo series was announced back when Albert the Alligator lost his egg tooth, leaving Walt Kelly’s many fans panting.
It was worth the wait. We get all the dailies from the long-defunct New York Star from the beginning on October 1948 through January 1949, the series nationally distributed by the Hall Syndicate from May 1949 through December 1950, and the initial year’s run of Sunday strips in color from 1950. Reproduction is first-rate; the paper isn’t quite as good as I’d like, but that’s being really picky.
A lot of the conventions with which we are familiar from Pogo were birthed during this period, and most of the characters with which we are most familiar have already been fully realized during the initial Dell Comics run. Walt Kelly’s wit and charm is unmatched in the history of sequential storytelling, and is in evidence here fully developed.
I’d get this book for Jimmy Breslin’s introduction alone. Go. Read this. You’ll charm the pants off of yourself.
The Art of Joe Kubert, edited by Bill Schelly • Fantagraphics Books, $39.99 in hardcover
I have previously gone on record in this and other venues that Joe Kubert is my all-time favorite comics artist and, once again, I will not establish Joe’s bona fides. I’m running out of room, and that is what Google is for. Fan/historian Bill Schelly who, like Roy Thomas is from the first generation of organized comics fandom, knows his stuff and it shows. This is the definitive biography of Joe Kubert, and I would say it is lavishly illustrated but the word “lavishly” pales in comparison by even a quick flip-through of this 232-page tome.
Pure and simple, this is the tribute that Joe deserves. From his youngest adolescent days working for Will Eisner’s shop (obviously, Will was oblivious to child labor laws) to his golden age work to his innovations at St. John’s Publishing to his latter and most familiar DC work to his current efforts as a graphics novelist, The Art of Joe Kubert truly covers, well, the art of Joe Kubert in all its four-color glory. This is an entertaining read, one that will motivate the young wannabe and illuminate the cultural historian. It even taught me a bit about my own roots as an Ashkenazi-American.
For about a hundred bucks, less if you can talk your comics shop owner into ordering them for you for a discount (c’mon, it’s a guaranteed sale), you cannot go wrong with these three books. A couple decades ago, I would have been thrilled with any one of them during a given year. In 2011, all three were released in recent weeks and that is simply breathtaking. Kudos to all.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil
Tony Stark isn’t just a cool exec with a heart of steel. He’s also the technological hero called Iron Man. And with Iron Man 2 coming out this Friday, we’re sure to see new suits of armor with cool improvements. Over the years, Tony has constantly redesigned and updated his armor. There’s been stealth armor, undersea armor, space armor, briefcase armor, armor that has horned face plates, armor with extended shoulder pads, etc., etc.
But some changes are not all they’re cracked up to be and perhaps should’ve been left on the drawing board. So let’s take a look at some of the silliest upgrades Iron Man has made to his famous armor.
The Steam online digital distrubution system announced that Atari PC games would be added to their catalog of programs. One of the games, Atari 80 Classics in 1, is more of a bargain then meets the eye. A collection of retro Atari games from the arcades and the Atari 2600 game system, the package includes a bonus not listed in any of the marketing materials.
Each game in the collection has an Extras bonus content section. Usually this includes box art and original manuals. But the Atari archivists were very thorough and included the bonus mini-comics that were published in conjunction with DC Comics. These comics, while never valuable, do entertain on a cult status level. Atari comics had surprisingly high quality for what was essentially a marketing pack-in item.
Comics included in the collection are as follows:
Swordquest #1-3. Written by Roy Thomas and Gerry
Atari Force #3. Sci-fi from Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas. Artists included Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Dick Giordano and Mike DeCarlo. Atari Force proved popular enough that DC Comics published a second volume in the regular, monthly comic format. Unfortunately, the games collection only includes one of the issues since the rights for the other games that included the comics are no longer held by Atari.
Centipede #1. A light-hearted kids’ book in the style of Harvey Comics. An evil wizard turns Oliver the Elf’s forest friends into monsters. Who knew Centipede had a deep back story? We thought we were just shooting bugs.
Atari 80 Classics in 1 is available at Steampowered.com for $18.95. That’s 80 games and five hard-to-find comics… Why not?
He calls himself the "Super Adaptoid" of comics and we can easily say he’s done it all – from Sgt. Fury to the Justice Society and from Millie The Model to Conan. How did a school teacher from Missouri end up writing so much comics history for the last four decades? Roy Thomas tells The Big ComicMix Broadcast all about it in an exclusive interview!
Meanwhile we’re covering more title changes at DC, MTV’S VIdeo Music Awards get remixed and we rundown of a bunch of new stuff on the web to look at if you get bored over your three-day weekend.
You have the day off, so PRESS THE BUTTON and let’s party down!
As we pack up our ComicMix t-shirts and check our lists a few more times, The Big ComicMix Broadcast is ready to fly west to San Diego ComicCon International 2007 — but we have a LOT to leave you with.
This BIG Big ComicMix Broadcast has news on a new face for The Punisher, new voices for some of DC’s biggest stars and great stuff to grab in San Diego. Plus we talk to Walt Simonson about saying goodbye to Hawkgirl, listen to Roy Thomas tease us on the future of Alter Ego and still have time for a visit to one of the best loved amusement parks of the midwest, circa 1968!
Press The Button and tell the flight attendant we need more snacks!
O.K. I’ve got to admit this: I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun with something I’ve pulled out of my weekly Diamond Distributing box., Betty Boop blow-up dolls notwithstanding.
At first glance, The Marvel Vault might appear to be just another well-designed history book. And who better to write such a tome than master comics writer and former longtime Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas and noted comics historian Peter Sanderson? Well, Roy’s a noted comics historian too, but I’ve got a thing for the "editor-in-chief" title. Whereas there have been somewhat more comprehensive histories of Marvel (more-or-less including "corporate-approved" volumes), everything you need to know to understand and appreciate the publishing house is here, along with a great deal of inside information and well-informed observation that other books are lacking.
Nope. What makes The Marvel Vault amazing fun is the surplus of bells-and-whistles. It’s subtitled "A Museum-in-a-Book with rare collectibles from the World of Marvel" for a reason: it’s got tons of removable reproductions of all kinds of cool stuff produced by Marvel and its predecessor imprints Timely and Atlas over the past 70 years. To name but a few: original sketches of the early 1940s Sub-Mariner and Human Torch by Carl Pfeufer, including work from the history-making 50 page crossover from Human Torch #8; Bil Everett’s illustrated postcards to his daughter; a John Severin color piece denoting himself and fellow Atlas artists Bill Everett and Joe Maneely; the plot synopsis to Fantastic Four #1, a ton Merry Marvel Marching Society stuff; the program book to the 1975 Mighty Marvel Convention, Bernie Wrightson’s Howard The Duck For President art; Marvel Value Stamps from 1974; the Marvel No-Prize Book; a Marvel stock certificate from 1993; Andy Kubert’s Wolverine sketches from Origin… and, as the saying goes, a lot more.
The spiral-bound Marvel Vault was designed by Megan Noller Holt, and she deserves notation and praise. The Marvel Vault makes for a wonderful gift, particularly to yourself. It’s available at comic book stores (either in-stock or by special order), online retailers and better big box outlets. When it comes to being a Marvel fan, if, on a one-to-ten scale, you are anything north a "2" you’ll love this book.
The Marvel Vault, by Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson
US $49.95, CAN $60.00, UK £29.99
Published by Running Press