Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Original Ghost Rider Volume 1, with Dick Ayers

After a long wait, the first edition of the ORIGINAL Ghost Rider western series arrived at my door. As a surprise, the Incredible Tony Isabella wrote the introduction.  Few people know that Tony’s first name is “Incredible” as he was named after the Hulk.

Many readers are only familiar with the Marvel versions of Ghost Rider. Their first one was a western, the second and more famous one, is the super-hero on a motorcycle.  But, from 1949-1951 Magazine Enterprises, owned by Vin Sullivan, published the first Ghost Rider, a western drawn by Dick Ayers, who would go on to draw Marvel’s first Ghost Rider in 1967!!



Dick Ayers: “Vin Sullivan told me The Calico Kid (introduced in issue #6) was becoming The Ghost Rider (issue #11). Some renegades were to overpower (him) and his assistant and kill them. They would meet the spirits of successful famous lawmen in Purgatory who would teach The Calico Kid their superior skills. The publisher had the first script written and The Ghost Rider debuted in 1949 as a backup feature in Tim Holt. In developing the character … Sullivan told me to think about The Headless Horseman by Washington Irving, and also asked me to draw The Ghost Rider thin and lanky so he would appear “ghostly”…The Ghost Rider also utilized this black lining to completely disappear into the darkness just like The Shadow... I also suggested that Ghost Rider use ventriloquism—another Shadow specialty.” He went 14 issues, but appeared in 58 other comics.”

When trademarks expire, names and even characters can become “fair game” for other publishers to use.  In February 1967, with Dick Ayers as artist, Marvel began to publish another western entitled Ghost Rider. Dick Ayers, “Stan Lee assigned me to do a new Ghost Rider series. The character was changed but I drew him in the same costume.” It told the story of Carter Slade, who was left for dead by evil cattleman. Flaming Star, the “local” Comanche medicine man tends to Carter and he gets better. Carter is given some “mystical” devices, luminescent substance that could be used to make clothing, guns, horses and suchlike glow in the dark. He only lasted seven issues.

While we are in a “golden age” of comic reprints had been missing a great deal of the 1950s material. While EC is an exception with almost everything available, DC and Marvel have lagged behind in 1950s material. PS publishing has recently done 70 volumes from that era including works from ACG, Harvey and Avon among others. “Crime Does Not Pay” is also being reprinted.  However, three genres from the 1950s are sorely missing from all companies: western, war and romance. Even PS Publishing has bypassed these genres.

(When I write on the web, I have learned you can’t write, (briefly) in generalities because someone always has to show they know more than you!!!!  Among the 30 or so Masterworks from that era, Marvel did two volumes of Rawhide Kid and one war, Battlefield. However, Marvel had many war and western titles at that time.  DC has done four Sgt. Rock volumes and some black and white Showcase editions of their war and suspense comics. 



In the beginning of The Marvel Age of Comics (1961) there were basically two writers (Lee and Lieber) and four artists (Kirby, Ditko, Heck and Ayers) who carried the load. (There were a few others!!!)  Even back then, I thought DC had a house style for artists and anyone who did Superman or Batman had to make sure that the characters looked much the same.  I never thought that of Marvel.  In my opinion Marvel had a “house” layout (Jack Kirby’s, of course) but their artists could personalize their art. Don  Heck and Dick Ayers were not as innovative in their styles as Kirby and Ditko, but were wonderful storytellers and fine artists and they very much brought their own vision to their illustrations. That is why I felt they did their very best, not on creatures from outer space, but on REAL people in romance, westerns and war comics.  Ayers excelled in the last two. The Ghost Rider stories in this volume are great examples. Dick Ayers liked to tell a story at his own pace and the Marvel method was ideal for him.  In his later years we became friends and I, along with Nick and John Caputo and Mike Vassallo visited Dick and his  lovely wife Lindy in their house in Westchester, near Professor's X's school for exceptional children.  Dick never ran out of funny and great stories about him and Stan Lee and how much he liked working with him.





These Ghost Rider stories actually start in “Tim Holt” Comic #11, (1949) when his origin is given. And faster than you can say “Amazing Spider-Man I and II” the series is rebooted in “Ghost Rider” #1 (1950).  The second version uses much of the first origin but expands it into a supernatural world where Rex Holt meets famous dead western heroes. Fortunately, those first stories are included here, but are featured last, after the first five issues from Ghost Rider. I guess they want you to get “fixed” first on the second incarnation. 


While Rex Holt, Ghost Rider does not seem to have supernatural powers he tries to convince all the bad guys he does by speaking in word balloons that have more ridges. 





In many ways he reminds me of the Shadow, although he does not cloud men’s minds, but does raise some dust and often speaks in that "otherworldly" and "all knowing" tone.



These are not modern comics with modern story telling. There is little to no continuity and each story stands on its own. After the origin story you can read the stories totally out of order.  There are flashes of violence but none that are severe. None are gratuitous, they are always used to advance the storytelling.  Still these are pre-Comics Code stories and it shows. . These are fun stories but don’t try to read them all at once, they get repetitive.   Stretch the book out a couple of days.

 The reproduction, the print quality is okay to good, but certainly not exceptional. Sadly, with so comics from so many companies no longer with us, the original artwork, or original photographic plates have long since disappeared. This is the best we will get, scans from the original comics, which originally may not have been printed that well to begin with.  

As with so many comics of that era, you may cringe a bit at the portrayal of some Native Americas (called Indians here) and of his “sidekick,” the Asian Sing-Song. Sing-Song is probably the smartest person here, but speaks in broken English throughout the run. I think he is related to Chop-Chop. But Ton is right again when he says, “Take these stories for what they are.”  They are just fun to read.

Most of the stories were written by Gardner Fox and some of the covers were by Frank Frazetta

Ghost Rider’s In the Sky

One more note: Take a look from time to time of the Ghost Rider on his horse. It doesn’t fly, but is drawn that way.  Using shadows, and “disappearing” background, in both versions, Ayers draws the horse as if it is totally off the ground.



"Tonyilocks"

Dick Ayers told us a “Goldilocks” tale involving Tony.  Ayers said he would get scripts from certain writers and they were too long and detailed and he couldn’t tell the story at his own pace, he had to squeeze everything in. Others would give him summaries that were way too short and without substance and he felt he had to make up too much of the plot.  But Tony? Tony’s were just right and loved working with him.


You can see Ayer’s wonderful pacing in the telling of these stories. Nothing seems rushed.

There was one thing I didn’t see in the comic books but saw in the actual artwork, which he had in his home. Incredible detail!!! It was just wonderful, but it didn’t show up well or distinct in the comic book reproduction.

Dick’s inking was superb and he was just the right guy for the beginning of Marvel’s Age. His consistency linked the characters that were being drawn by different artists.  He placed them all in the same “universe.”  I think that is too often forgotten.




In regards to writing about comics Tony is unique as far as comic book creators go. He has the heart of a fan and can write as one, not just as the “all-knowing insider.”  Tony was obviously excited to see these stories go into print. His intro here is just right. He gives the history of the strip and tells you what to look for in the stories.Tony  had also included the first Ghost Rider comic in his wonderful, informative and fun “1000 Comic Books You Must Read!!” Now Tony only has to do 999 more introductions. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Stan Lee Article: Newsday June 8, 1978 (With Frank Springer)

Here is an article from the Long Island newspaper, Newsday, from June 8 1978.  It had Stan Lee on the cover. Also check out a feature from the paper, about how Marvel comics are created, located on the bottom of this blog. It features Frank Springer!



A special thanks to Albert Bigley  at 
http://bigglee.blogspot.com/ 
for prodding me to put this up! Check out his great blog!!!





By Maureen Early

“Here I am in my 50s, and I still wonder what I’m going to be when I grow up and get into the real world.”
Stan Lee—magnetic mogul of Marvel Comics and creator of nearly a hundred comic book crusaders---was musing in his Madison Avenue office. orchestrating the output of the $25 million organization, even as he was affably giving an interview.
In the wondrous world of comic books, Lee has become a byword, idolized by young fans such as those who’ve been showing up recently at Hunting-ton’s Cartoonerville Gallery. During the past , month, the gallery, at 105 Woodbury Rd., has been holding “Six Super Saturdays”—a salute to Lee and the other artists and writers in his Marvel group—and Lee, himself, will appear there this Saturday, from 2 PM to 4 PM. Admission is free.
Serious art collectors have been bidding up the prices of original comic illustrations at New York auctions, but a good part of the Cartoonerville turnout were youngsters often with their portfolios in hand who seem determined to make it big as comic book artists—or as another Stan Lee.
Strangely enough, it was never Lee’s intention to become the wunderkind of comic books. While growing up in the Bronx in the 1930s, he had no more interest in comics than any other kid. His real ambition was to become an actor. But a stint with a WPA theater (with Orson Welles) convinced him that he couldn’t make much money that way.
During spare time in high school, Lee got several writing jobs—one updating celebrity obituaries for a news service (“so depressing because I was writing about living people in the past tense”), another publicizing a hospital (“I could never figure out why. Should I convince people to be sick, or tell them, ‘Hey, folks, don’t use their hospital, use ours!’ “).
At 17, he became a part-time go-fer, copywriter and proofreader for Timely Comics, later to evolve into Marvel It was supposed to be temporary. But a few months later his two bosses decamped, and the publisher asked Lee to fill in as editor-art director until he could find someone old enough for the job. In his book, “Origins of Marvel Comics,” (Simon & Schuster), Lee comments, “Well, working in comics must age a fella real fast because he never did replace me and I’ve been there ever since.” Yet he says, “I still think of it as a temporary job.”
It was Lee’s fertile mind that created the many superheroes who were eventually to make Marvel mighty Among them: “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Mighty Thor,” “Captain America,” “Ms. Marvel,” “The Fantastic Four,” “The Avengers,” “Dr. Strange” and “Daredevil.” It was a tiny staff, and by the mid-’60s, as editor, art director and head writer, Lee was turning out four or five complete comic books a week.
At the Cartoonerville Gallery the other day, Lee fan Richard Martin of East Meadow put it this way: “Lee’s incredible imagination rejuvenated a dying industry.” It was Lee who innovated reasonably dimensional characterizations, made the stories more relevant and satirical and wove in subplots. And it was Lee who revitalized the language of the comics, gearing it to a college level while teasing it with alliteration.
Says 24-year-old Rick Gray of Levittown, who developed Marvel mania at age 12: “When I started reading, I would have to sit with a dictionary to understand Lee’s stuff. It’s hard for a kid to understand a word like ‘apocalypse.’ “ Contrary to popular opinion, the demography of comic book readership extends well beyond the pre-teen group. About half of Marvel Comics readers are 15 and older. Says Lee: “In the last two decades, comic books were discovered by college kids, who are becoming a big and important market. Until then, comic book publishers concentrated on the 5-and-10-year-olds.”
What’s the attraction for young adults? Lee answers with contagious enthusiasm. “Everyone loves fantasy. Anything that’s bigger than life, that takes you out of yourself. It starts when we’re little kids, weaned on fairy tales and legends. The reason for the success of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters’ was not, because they’re sci-fi, but because they are fantasy. We try to provide that in our comic books. It’s not that all of a sudden the public likes that sort of thing. But that people are beginning to realize that’s what the public likes.”
Such people, it seems, as television programmers, movie makers and book publishers, who are making Marvel’s future even more favorable. Marvel’s “The Hulk” and “Spider-Man” are already on CBS in prime time, and an animated cartoon of “The Fantastic Four” will begin as a series in September. Universal Studios has an option on another 11 of Marvel’s mythic miracle-makers, some of which are now in development. “Dr. Strange” will be released as a made-for-TV feature film this fall, and, says Lee, the studio is working on “Captain America” and trying to decide what other characters to do. Back in New York, staid Simon and Schuster will soon be publishing “The Silver Surfer” as a 100-page original novel in comic strip form, created by Lee with artist Jack Kirby. Meanwhile, Marvel is grinding out 40 comic books a month, many translated to sell at newsstands from Europe to Japan.
Are there more heroes on the horizon? Not for now, Lee says, just better presentations. The famous firm plans to produce a new line of superhero sagas printed offset on glossy paper which, Lee hopes, will make comic books even more acceptable to an older audience. “They’ll be better physically, more permanent, more like books, and more expensive,” he explains They’ll sell for $1.50. (If you haven’t checked recently, the pulp kind go for 35 cents).
“But breaking into this business is just about as tough as breaking into show biz,” says Avonne Keller of the Newspapers Comics Council. “You don’t need a formal education, but it helps to be a genius.” There are many facets of cartooning. Newspaper strips, for instance, are mainly handled by feature syndicates, which, Keller says, get about a thousand submissions a year. But, she says, there are no guarantees even if a syndicate contracts to take your work out on the road. “If it makes it, great! Some last a year, some last forever. The syndicates have no idea what will take off.”
On the comic book end, Lee says, the writer has the most difficult start, and he advises: “Somehow, you have to get a job on staff—as a proofreader, an associate editor, a production person. Little by little you get to know the editor and he gives you the opportunity to write something.” Free-lance ideas from writers are barely looked at because they are hard to visualize. But ideas from an artist are different. “If you’re really damn good, we’ll find a way to give you something to do.”
Still, as artist Frank Springer warns, “You’ve got to be better than the people they’re using.” Once you’ve been published, he adds, one job begins to lead to another.



How ‘they’re created

How does a comic book caper work? It’s literally assembly-line produced, says Marvel artist Frank Springer, and he describes the process:

Step 1. The Writer. Working with the editor, he conceives a story line and writes a general synopsis without dialogue, broken down into so many finished pages. Writers earn approximately $22 a page, Lee says, and a good writer can turn out a 17-page story in a day or two.

Step 2. The Penciler. The storyline is turned over to a penciler, who interprets the story in sketches. According to Lee, pencilers earn about $47 a page. Depending on their pace and how tightly they draw, they can do one to five pages a day.

Step 3. The Writer. The penciled product goes back to the writer, who adds tightly written dialogue.

Step 4. The Letterer. Now it goes to a letterer, who follows the script and places the balloons and captions. The pay. approximately $7 to $9 a page. Production: six or seven pages a day.

Step 5. The hiker. He takes over, making it sharp for the engraving camera. “The inker does more than just trace over the penciler’s work,” Lee says. “A good inker can improve a penciler’s work and a bad inker can spoil it.” A few pencilers prefer to do both Inkers’ pay: $28 to $30 a sheet, with a production of two or three a day.

Step 6. The Colorist. Photostats are made from the inked copy and sent to the colorist, who indicates to the engraver what color goes where—usually with a magic marker or water color The engraver does the final coloring. A colorist gets $5 a page and can do eight or nine a day

Step 7. The Proofreader. Final step before printing: The proofreader looks over the work for misspellings, anachronisms, inconsistencies. (This is a staff job.) —Early

Saturday, August 2, 2014

This is not your father's Guardians of the Galaxy: A Review


For The Blu-Ray/DVD review of
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Or Three Days of the Falcon
(You see Robert Redford starred in the Spy-Thriller 
(Three Days of the Condor)
But this one has Sam Wilson)


The Captain America movie fits right into the Marvel Universe. But, unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, it expands and helps define the movie version of it. It also changes events on the TV show, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and makes it better…. 
See the full review at:

This is not your father's Guardians of the Galaxy: A Review from someone who bought the original when it first came out.


This is not your father’s “Guardian of the Galaxy!”

Nor is it his type of review. For that you can go to Rotten Tomatoes. 

This is a review from a student of comics, mostly, 1961- 1977 who will not discuss spoilers, but will try to place this within the frame of the current Marvel Movie Universe.

First, it fits right in. 











My guys would NOT fit in, partially because they would be in the wrong time frame.  My Guardians were introduced in 1968 in a story written by Arnold Drake and illustrated by Gene Colan. In the distant future, 3015 AD,*the Badoon (From Silver Surfer #2) have taken over a large part of the Galaxy. Four people from different planets unite to fight their common oppressors. Their members are: Charlie 7, a human genetically engineered for strength and invulnerability; Martinex, a crystalline entity who can survive the Plutian atmosphere; Vance Astro with psionic powers and Yondu the last of his race, a hunter of the Zatoan tribe of Centauri IV.

They appeared again in Marvel Two-In One #5 (1974); Marvel Presents 3-12, 1976-77 and Thor Annual #6 1977.

Roy Thomas: “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which somehow grew from an idea of mine about a future in which the Russians and Chinese had conquered America into a space story…(It didn’t make)  any great impact,



Only two characters come from my “time.” Star Lord appeared in Marvel Preview # 11, 14-15, as part of Marvel’s mid- 1970s black and white line. He was a noble character out to save slaves and planets and nothing like the character here.  Groot, another eternal Lee and Kirby creation originally appeared in Tales to Astonish #13, November 1960. An alien tree-like creature, Groot came to Earth to capture humans for experimentation. Not a nice guy.

The Guardian movies take place now, not in the future, with threads to the Thanos revelation in the Avengers movie. But this movie, thankfully, is very self-contained, you need not know anything about the Marvel Universe to enjoy it. And if you know the Marvel Universe, the references are there and entertaining: The Kree, Ronan the Accuser, the Nova Force and much more.

The film is directed and co-written by James Gunn, who clearly had a great vision for the movie. It aligns with the M.U., but looks nothing like the Avengers, Iron Man or Thor. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper star;  John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro have long cameos. The casting throughout was perfect, except for Vin Diesel:  he appeared a bit wooden. J

It also doesn’t sound like a M.U. movie.  Instead of using a new music score, most of the soundtrack consists of 1970s music. And that point is worked in the actual storytelling in an intriguing way. I saw the movie in Imax 3D and it has the best 3D effects I have ever seen. The visuals were just outstanding and the surround sound was used to its fullest.  Other than the first five minutes, nothing in this movie takes place on Earth and the extraterrestrial landscapes are imaginative and beautiful. The outer space shots are also outstanding.


Major pluses:
  • There is humor throughout the entire movie and it is not juvenile, it is very adult. Well, maybe it does get a little juvenile at times.  Chris Pratt, for example, plays a Han Solo type of character and even wittily acknowledges that!
  • Surprise: There is a plot, something that is often missing from these space movies. Slightly complicated, perhaps, but very easy to follow.
  • Thank gosh that when they introduced the five major characters, they do NOT go into the almost mandatory long (and boring) origins. Instead they briefly bring us up to date and lay down some seeds for future revelations.
  • I have gotten very bored with the long action sequences in current movies, especially when you know who will win (or lose). The sequences tend to be short and to the point.
  • A great example of the fine pacing of the movie is the prison sequence. Sent to a prison planet I thought we’d, once again, have to spend 20 minutes learning who the cellmates will be. Not so, the action doesn’t stop.
  • The outrageously gorgeous  Zoe Saldana, covered with green make-up, is only gorgeous here.
One minus:
Too many of these movies are about the end of the world.  Enough!!!!!!

The movie ends by telling us that the Guardians will be back, but wait until the end of the credits before you leave.

I give the movie a grade of "A."


*After Disney

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jay Maeder, Comics Interview with Stan Lee, 1974

I was deeply saddened to read about the passing of Jay Maeder in yesterday’s Daily News. He was most famous in the comic book world for being the last author of the Little Orphan Annie, I had personal contact with him on another matter.

I have collected a lot of articles regarding the creators of the Marvel Universe and in 2008 Roy Thomas asked if he could reprint some in Alter Ego. They were ALL out of copyright, but I wanted to get the permission of the original authors and have payment sent directly to them and not to me. There were other authors involved, including Norman Mark, and they were all generous.

I tracked Jay down and he was nothing but generous and a pleasure to work with. He was also surprised that anyone would be interested in publishing an old article and he would get some (very little) money for it.  It was a wonderful experience.

He was a very nice guy.  He passed at the age of 67.


Comics Feature: STAN LEE: 1974

By Jay Maeder 

There are probably worse things to be than the wildly celebrated king of the comics. I imagine you rather enjoy being Stan Lee
It wasn’t always this way, I must admit. In the first fifteen years or so that I was the head writer and editor at Timely and Atlas, I remember, my wife and I would go to cocktail parties and somebody would say, what do you do, and I’d say, oh, I’m a writer. Really? What do you write? And I’d start getting a little nervous and I’d say, uh, magazine stories. Really? What magazine? And I knew there was no way of avoiding it, and I’d end up saying comic books, and suddenly the person’s expression would change . . .oh. . . isn’t that nice . . . and walk away, you know, looking for some television or radio or novelist celebrity. That’s all changed now. I go to places and I’m held up as one of the more interesting celebrities . . . and people go over to the playwrights, you know, and say hey, I want you to meet Stan Lee, he’s the head of Marvel Comics, he made up Spider-Man. And I must say I’m very happy that this has happened. It’s like achieving one of my goals, because I remember I wrote an editorial, it must have been a good fifteen years ago, and I said one of our main objectives would be bringing some additional measure of respect to comics, that I would consider myself and our company successful if we found a way before we were through this vale of tears to elevate comics in the minds of the public. So that if somebody said, I write comics, or I draw for comics, that people would say, hey, really? Tell us about it. And not say, a grown man like you? You know what I mean? So from that point of view I’m very happy now.

How did you get where you are?
Sheer accident. I never wanted to be a writer particularly. As a kid I joined the WPA Federal Theatre, I wanted to be an actor. But there wasn’t enough money . . . and I always loved advertising and the closest I could get to it was I found a job writing copy for a news service, and then I started writing obituaries for people who were still alive, and I was writing publicity releases for the National Jewish Tuber-culosis Hospital in Denver. All of which was pretty depressing. A million things, you know. I was an office boy for a trousers company, I was an usher at the Rivoli Theatre. Anyway, they had a contest at the Herald Tribune, an essay contest, which I won three weeks running, and whoever the editor was at the time called me and asked me to stop entering the contest. And he asked me what I intended to be. I was just out of high school, you know, and I said, well, I don’t know, an advertising man or an actor or a lawyer or something, and he said why don’t you be a writer? Coincidentally I learned of a job that was opening up at Timely Comics. They needed a gopher. Timely Comics then had Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and they had just sort of created Captain America, and they were doing the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, and I came in, and before I knew it- they had me writing Captain America and they had me doing some editing . . . Shortly thereafter Joe and Jack left, and I was like the only guy there and the publisher asked me if I could fill in as editor until he found someone else. And he never found anyone and I’ve been there ever since.

I never thought of it as a permanent job. I never particularly wanted to be in the comic book business and I always figured, hey, this is great, I’ll stay here a year or two or three until I make some money and then I’ll go out and be a Hollywood director or I’ll write the Great American Novel. And for years and years I stayed in the job, never thinking of it as my permanent career. For years this went on. And I was too dumb to realize, hey, this is what you’re doing, Stan, this is it. I always had this feeling of temporariness. And business got bad and we had to fire a lot of people...I was left with a skeleton crew, which consisted mostly of me. And we were living at Timely under the conditions where every few years there was a new trend. We’d be very big in westerns and suddenly the western field dried up and we had to find a new trend, and we’d be doing a lot of superheroes and then there was a lack of interest in superheroes so we had to find a new trend...and we’d do romances or mysteries or funny animals. Whatever. And there was no...I mean, I’d write one as well, or as badly, as another. It never made a difference to me what type of thing we were doing. The Code was no problem to me. We never put out books that I felt were too violent or objectionable. They certainly weren’t sexy. I never had trouble putting out books that would be acceptable to whoever had to accept them. So when this period came around, it was just like another new trend. Okay, we’ve got to drop the so-called horror stories and now we’ve go to find something else to do. And we did. We came out with...I don’t even remember what we came out with, but I assume we found something.

The whole Atlas thing... this was not the greatest period the comics have ever known...
Yeah.

Atlas is into the journey into unknown world thing, you know, you and Kirby and Ditko are doing variations on the Japanese monster film, Fin Fang Foom and all this...and somewhere in here you start dreaming about a whole different approach, and what I’m asking is this: was this an accidental thing or did you guys sit down and very deliberately create a revolution.
Both. It was accidental and I did it deliberately. What happened was, like I say, I’d been thinking it was a temporary job, you know, I’m waiting till I’ve saved up enough money so I can quit and go do something else. And my wife said to me one day, Stan, when are you gonna realize this is permanent? And instead of looking to do something sensational in some other field, why don’t you make something sensational about what you’re doing? I mean, you’re writing, you are creating...do something really good. Well, of course, up until then I had always done mostly what the publisher wanted. As you mentioned, it was not a glorious period for the comics. Certainly not for our company. And our publisher, who also published other types of books—movie books and crossword puzzle books and so on, the slicks—by this time he had left the comics pretty much in my hands. He didn’t have any tremendous interest. They weren’t doing all that well and he wasn’t that much concerned, I suspect. And coincidentally my publisher walks in one day and he says, you know, Stan, I just realized, I was looking at some sales figures, and I see that National Comic’s Justice League seems to be selling pretty good. That’s a bunch of superheroes, Stan, maybe we ought to form a team of superheroes. Maybe there’s a market for that now.
So all three things came together: my wife telling me why don’t you do something good, the fact that I was able to do almost anything because the publisher wasn’t that much on top of what we were doing, and the fact that he wanted a superhero team.
So I figured okay, I’ll do it as I’ve always done it, I will do as he says and give him a superhero team. Only this time I’m going to make it totally different from anything before. As different as I could make it. I figured, I’m sick of stories where the hero always wins and he’s always one hundred percent good and the villain is one hundred percent bad and all that sort of thing. So I figured, this time I’m going to get a team of characters who don’t hew to the mold. Fighting amongst themselves...the Torch wants to quit because he’s not making enough money. The Thing wants to get out because he’s not getting enough glory and he thinks Reed Richards is hogging all the headlines. Occasionally a crook gets away or beats them up. They’re evicted from their skyscraper because they can’t pay the rent because Reed Richards invests all their reward money in stocks and the market takes a nosedive...I tried to do everything I could to take these super-powered characters and in some way to make them realistic and human. To have them react the way normal men might react if those normal men happened to have super-hero powers.
And then I carried it forth with Spider-Man. So he’s got the proportionate power of a spider, or whatever. Isn’t it still conceivable that he might have halitosis or fallen arches or dandruff or acne? Mightn’t he have problems with money? Does it follow that just because he’s Spider-Man all the girls are gonna love him?
I tried to figure how many fallible features I could give Spider-Man. Almost all of our characters. Iron Man with his weak heart, and the fact that he’s a munitions maker and a capitalist and people hate him and think he’s a fascist. And Captain America who felt he was an anachronism because here he is a big patriotic figure at a time when patriotism really isn’t in vogue...And I suddenly realized I was enjoying what I was doing. I could have been writing movies: I was worrying about characterization; I was worrying about dialogue...When I wrote Thor I had him speaking in a semi-Shakespearean manner. Everybody told me I was crazy. They told me that no little kid is going to read stories whose characters say thing like get thee hence, varlet! And I said the hell they won’t. Well, Thor became one of our most popular characters, and I used to get letters from college kids who’d say I’ve been reading Thor and I’ve just noticed that you’re actually writing in blank verse, the meter is perfect, it scans, and they started discussing it in class and so forth...and I’d get letters from kids who were doing term papers on the origins of Doctor Strange’s incantations and they’d say, well, it’s obvious from my research that you’re basing this on old Druid writings. Which was nice to know, considering I’d never read old Druid writings...So I felt I was doing things that hadn’t been done before. I was able to get away with it because nobody was really paying very much attention.
I tried to introduce style. Heretofore nearly all the stories had been done, ours and the competition’s, in the same style...the caption would say “therefore” or “the next day” or “meanwhile”...that was the extent of the captions. I tried to write captions that said something. I tried to develop an informal breezy method of communicating with the reader. We inaugurated the Bullpen Bulletin Page, kind of a club page, where we brought the reader into our little circle and made him a friend rather than just a fan or a reader...

Your instincts are in advertising and promotion...
Funny you should say that, I was just thinking about that the other night. Thinking back, the whole thing was treated like an advertising campaign. The catch phrases, like “Make Mine Marvel” and “Face Front” and “Excelsior”...I did it unconsciously, but it all was in the direction as though, I guess, as though I was building a product. I wanted to make Marvel Comics a product that people...would love.

It probably has a lot to do with the general frame of mind of the industry in that doldrums period...because, you know, you’re telling me that your wife is saying to you, well,..look, Stan, how come you don’t try to do something good. Because the implication here is that this is something that just never occurred to you
 .Well, that’s right. See, I was always thinking that the good things I did would be done outside of comics. Because what the hell good can you do in comics? You know.
So if I’d get an idea for a story, I’d never say this would be great for Captain America, I’d say, hey, wouldn’t this make a great movie, I’m gonna make a lot of it. Someday when I have a chance I’ll do a screenplay. So finally she said do something good in comics. And that really had not occurred to me.
Luckily and coincidentally, it began to happen at a period of time when a spirit of informality was pervading society...

Yeah, Marvel did to comics, I think, pretty much what the Beatles did to music, and of course we’re talking about approximately the same period of time. It was a pretty creative period in general. You must have felt really swollen with fertility.
Yeah. It’s true. It was a very exciting period. And the best thing about it, it hasn’t ended. I think I have the same feeling of excitement at this moment that I had fifteen years ago.

Just how much have things changed? What are your current readers expecting from Marvel?
 They’re expecting us to be in the forefront. If there are innovations they expect Marvel to come up with them. We try not to let them down...I think there’s a feeling of quality. We’ve sort of become known as the Rolls Royce of the comic book industry. They expect our artwork to be a little better, our stories to be a little better...I don’t know that we always succeed, but we’re surely always trying.
The change in our position now...the only problem is our own success has made it difficult to continue the way we’re going, because we’re putting out so many books...And a lot of it is a personal problem of mine: it’s hard for me to turn down...if we have an idea for a book that I think is good it’s hard for me to say, well, look, we don’t have the time to do it, we don’t have enough men to do it, let’s forget it. Because I figure, no, it’s a good idea, and the time is right, we’ll find a way to do it, we’ll get another artist...And we have such a tremendous workload now that, unlike other people in other fields, our problems are never knowing what to do. We know the stories to do, we know the artwork we should be using, we know what the reader wants. We never have the problem of, my God, what if they stop liking our stories, what if we’re doing the wrong things...We think we know the right thing to do, but it’s hard to find the time to do it.

And this is a recurring criticism of the Marvel Group is some segments of the fan press. That it spreads itself too thin.
And they’re right. But for every one that criticizes us for that, there are fifty others who say why don’t you guys put out more science fiction, why don’t you guys give us more...anything, you know. And we always try to satisfy them and we always try to satisfy our own enthusiasm.
What we should do as we add new books is drop old ones, but from a business point of view, even our worst selling books are making fairly good money. And you simply cannot drop a property that is making money, when other companies are just looking for anything that will show a profit.

Who is your market? Who reads Marvel?
Our market is not the same as our competition’s. There are books for younger kids, like the Archie group and the Harvey group...Our closest competition, the DC line has pretty much our market but I don’t believe, and they might deny this, I can’t speak for them, I think we have far and away the largest older audience, and by older I mean of college age and in many cases older than college age. I do a lot of lecturing on campuses probably a minimum of twice a month, and I usually lecture to very large and enthusiastic audiences. In fact, I would say I’m probably one of the most in demand college lecturers today.
The incredible thing about it is here we are one form of media that not only seems to appeal to older people but we still have as many younger readers as any other comic book group, if not more. We seem to have luckily found the way to produce a product that can be enthusiastically enjoyed by kids from the age of six to twelve and also enjoyed and appreciated by one of the most sophisticated and hardest to please groups in the world, which is the high school and college kids. So I’m very proud of that. I would think that’s one of our biggest successes.
Well, I don’t want to sound smug. Sure, I have great feelings of satisfaction but there’s a lot that I think we’re doing wrong. I’ve been trapped into, as I say, I think I made a mistake somewhere by having so many books, and I don’t know what the answer is to that, it’s frustrating. I don’t have time to personally supervise every one the way I did years ago. You remember I told you this company published other magazines as well, the slicks, well, I’ve been made publisher of those too. I don’t have a minute to turn around. And I wish there were more hours in the day because some things aren’t being handled as meticulous as I would like to do them.
..
Which brings us to something that is bound to be a fairly big item in the fan press...Yeah.And, okay, a couple of years back you moved out of the editor’s chair, and it was widely believed at the time that Roy Thomas was your heir apparent.
Yeah.

He isn’t in that editor’s chair anymore, and apparently you will be devoting more of your energies to the day to day editorial product, more so that you have been in the last couple of years.
Right.

What’s going on up there?
Well. Roy...who I think is just one of the most talented guys that...we have been so lucky to have had him all of these years...he’s made it possible for me to go on to somewhat other duties and still feel secure for the comics...but...for one reason or another, Roy felt that he’d rather spend more time writing. I think Roy...I don’t know how you’re going to write this, and I don’t know how to word it so it will sound right..as you move higher in the executive level here, it involves getting more involved the business area. And there are certain decisions made in business that sometimes go against the grain creatively but which have to be lived with. And I’m aware of these things and Roy...would fight them. Quite a bit.
And I just felt there was getting to be almost a political problem. Not between Roy and me. But just, I felt Roy was spending, I think Roy felt this too, he was spending so much time having to worry about conflicts between the business end and the creative end. And so forth. We sort of decided that it might be better if Roy just...he’s going to still be an editor, he’ll still edit the books he’s doing. And he’ll be editor emeritus, so to speak.
And I felt also, maybe it is better for me to get back into this as much as possible, because Marvel in the beginning had been so much a, well, I don’t want to say a one-man operation, but...I just think maybe it’s easier if I’m a little closer on top of everything.
And I have a feeling I’ve said this wrong and I’m going to hate the way you write it.

Well, corporation politics are interesting...I’m not sure to what extent, though, that...
Please don’t make it sound like I’m knocking the corporation.

Yeah, I understand that you’re not. I think we’re going to need to deal bluntly with the circumstances of the resignation. Was it entirely voluntary on his part?
I think it was, yes. I mean, Roy and I are very friendly. He’s going to be working exclusively for us. It’s just...he’ll be able to devote himself purely to the creative end. He’ll not have to be bothered with all the matters of company policy, you know, at the business level.

Because it’s been common rumor in the fan press for a while that Lee simply hasn’t been very happy with the directions the line had taken. The thing with, you know, there was a story about Stan Lee picking up a copy of Thor after not having seen it for months, and...
 I remember Brancatelli writing that. He wrote many things that weren’t true...you know, you’re faced with these things, and what you can do, I don’t have time to write refutations. I had picked up a magazine, that was one instance out of thousands of instances, I’m always picking up the magazines and I was usually always saying hey Roy, Jesus, I just looked at the FF, what a great story, you never-told me about that plot, it’s sensational...I just picked up this, where did you get this artist, he’s the best on I’ve seen...One day I picked up a Thor and I said, hey, you know, a few of these words, the sentence structure seems to be a little bit different...I don’t even remember what I disagreed about. I said, I have the feeling he’s a little off the track here, and I wanted to mention it, we spoke to the writer and...I mean, it was an absolutely nothing incident.

Would it be fair to say that, inasmuch as you are planning to return to closer control of the day to day product, that there was, to one degree or another a feeling on your part that things were off the track?
No, I just feel that it needs somebody...it probably needs one person who would be able to have the...correct overview. And I think, at the moment, I’m the logical person.
You see, we had so many books it was virtually becoming impossible for Roy to edit them. If you’re producing fifty books a month, how the hell can you edit them if you’re one person. There ain’t even time to read them. After a while an editor becomes almost a traffic manager...I really don’t think that editorially we had gotten off the track. And I’m not saying this politically. Don’t forget, I was always in editorial control, I was always determining what books we would put out and what the style would be. I would oversee the covers. And Roy would discuss with me any major policy changes if the storylines were going to take unusual directions.
But I left the actual editing and art direction to Roy. And I was perfectly happy, the books were absolutely in the direction I wanted them to be. Had they not been I would have changed them. Because it’s much too important a business, and too personal a business, for me to allow the books not to be the way I feel they should be.

In any case, you’re going to be taking a firmer stance at the helm, and the question is what’s going to happen now at Marvel in ways that the Marvelite will find apparent?
I don’t think there’s going to be much difference. We have some very good other editors. We have Marv Wolfman who’ll be devoting himself to the black and white books mostly. We have Len Wein, who will be devoting himself to the color comics mostly. We have John Romita who I’m going to be working with closely.
And we still have Roy, who’s going to be writing most of our important books and who’s going to be available to consult with me just about all the time. He’ll be doing Conan, probably the Fantastic Four, Dracula...it will be his choice, whatever books he wants to do. I’ll give him that option, certainly.

Will you be doing any writing at all?
I would love to, but at the moment it doesn’t look as though I’m going to have time. The one book I’ve been wanting to bring back, the Silver Surfer...I keep delaying it, because it’s one character I don’t want to bring back unless I can write him myself. And...I don’t know, it looks like I just get busier and busier. There are screenplays I’m supposed to be writing, that I’ve committed myself to, and I keep putting those off because I don’t have time. And I have a feeling we’ll have to do a sequel to the book, the Origin of Marvel Comics, and I don’t know when I’m going to write that.

What are Marvel’s top selling titles today?
Spider-Man is still our biggest character. And Conan is very big. The so-called vampire, werewolf, that particular field, whatever you call it, that’s doing well. The kung fu has done fantastically well. The beautiful thing is that the difference between our top-selling books and our just regular books isn’t very great. Virtually everything we’re doing is doing well. I have the feeling that Cadence Industries is really totally delighted with the progress of Marvel.

The success you’ve had with the vampire material is interesting in its own right, because it wasn’t so many years ago that you couldn’t produce something like that. Do you think the code will loosen up any more?
Not really that much more. You know, we’re still always conscious that we’re producing a lot of books for very young kids. I don’t see how it can loosen up much more. But by the same token the Code has to be reasonable. If any little kid six years of age can go to movies and see pictures that are just one bloodbath after another and can watch things of that sort on television hour after hour...apparently it’s the feeling of the Code that it’s very silly not to allow even the mention of the name “vampire”...But I think that, compared to most of the other things that kids are exposed to, our books are still rather tame.

Why did Jack Kirby leave Marvel?
Oh...I don’t even know the real reason. I suspect that Jack just felt maybe like I felt after all those years, I wanted to do something different...that he wanted to do his own thing. The first few years of his career, so many things said by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby...I suspect he woke up one morning and said, gee, all these years everything has said by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and he probably wanted to prove how good he is on his own.
I know we never had a fight. We got along beautifully. I have the utmost respect for his ability and I wish he’d come back.

There was talk, at the time of the trilogy folded, that he was in fact returning to Marvel.
Yes. I’d met Jack once or twice and told him I’d like to have him back and he seemed very interested. But the last time...I don’t know. Jack is a rather personal person. He keeps things to himself. I dont know what his plans are at this point.

What’s your competition doing that you enjoy?
I don’t want to sound like the kind of guy who isn’t up on what’s happening in the field but I simply, in the past six months, haven’t had time to look at their books. I look at the type of books they’re putting out...the sixty cent books and the twenty cent books and so forth, but I haven’t really read anything of theirs.
And I wonder what predictions you might have on what effect the new Goodman line will have on the market.
Oh, I’d be very surprised if it has much of an effect. I think it’s reached the point where there isn’t much that can happen...We’re by far the biggest selling company now and have been for quite a while. The only thing that could really hurt us would be ourselves. If we start slackening in our own efforts to produce good material. If we start getting careless. But it would be unlikely that any external source could affect things too much.

The last area I’d like to discuss is the economy. Publishers, like everyone else, are caught up in the inflationary spiral... just how bad are things? What is the outlook? How will Marvel deal with the problems that there are?
I think that we’re really in a pretty good position. The biggest problem, of course, is the increase in the price of paper, the price of printing...when we get a printing raise, in one fell swoop that means a quarter of a million dollars more or somewhere in that neighborhood each time the price is raised. But basically I think we’re in a pretty good spot. We have our audience, we think we know what our audience wants, we seem to have the staff to provide it, and we hope that we’re bright enough and alert enough to move with the times. We’re always trying to anticipate problems. We try to build cushions into our budgets to provide for them.
I worry a little. I wonder after a while if the. economy itself goes sour how long people will be able to afford to spend money on the higher and higher priced publications, not only comics but all of them.
However, I must say that so far there seems to be no diminution of sales. And I really don’t expect that the comic book field will change that radically, because I think there’s always going to be a market for color comics. Because they’re still one of the cheapest and apparently most satisfying forms of entertainment. Luckily, even in a recession, people want to be entertained, they want to take their minds off things. And one of the things that Marvel gives them is entertainment. Just sheer basic entertainment.

And I’m rather hoping that people will always have a quarter or a half dollar or whatever in their pockets for a few hours of entertainment.