Friday, March 29, 2013

A look at the Masterworks and Archives

This is part one of a two part blog about Marvel Masterworks, DC Archives and archives from other companies. The second part, coming next week, will be about current pricing and availability.

The Masterworks and archives, from their beginning with Superman Archive #1, have always had a forward from a famous or important contributor. So, for this discussion, I turned to the great Roy Thomas to write the opening introduction to my blog. Roy has written at least 75,000 forwards to the 500 books we are discussing!

 Barry has asked me to write "an introduction to his blog about introductions"--and how can I not comply? The man is a walking, talking treasure trove of archives from the Silver Age of Comics, who in addition has done me a zillion favors for Alter Ego. Besides that, I, like everybody else who knows him, will want to see what he has to say about the intros to the DC Archives and Marvel Masterworks. With his weird turn of mind, there's bound to be an insight or three therein worth pondering. For my own part, I just find myself wishing I could take back each and every one of the intros I've written for Marvel and DC and write them over again, or at least correct the inevitable error that seems to work its wicked way into each one. So Barry... be erudite... be thorough... even be funny... but above all, please be kind!

The first introduction written for an Archive was done by Jim Steranko in Superman Archives #1. Steranko gives a brief but in depth look at this era of comics, discussing the people who drew and published Superman, and how the character will change over time. Steranko comments on the actual reproductions, mentioning where and why they were touched up. At that time, and for a few years to follow, neither Marvel nor DC consistently published a Table of Contents, where they would eventually list the credits.

DC published a Table of Contents, featuring credits, starting with the very first volume of Justice Society reprints from All Star comics (1991). However, the TOC was left out of the first volume of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman and Batman archives published the same year. They became a permanent DC feature in 1994.

Marvel’s first Table of Contents, in the early 1990s, did not list credits. Later, by 1993, a separate page of credits were added to all Masterworks. Just a few years later the credits were added to the TOC.

This is important because: It often became the province of the writer of the introduction to place these credits in history. If they didn’t do it, the credits would be lost forever.
Batton Lash writes:

I think closer attention could be paid to correct credits. I've seen some pretty sloppy mistakes when it comes to identifying art styles . . . I urge the staff on the volumes to reach out to fandom and double check for accuracy if in doubt. After all, the collections are for posterity.

Tony Isabella has mentioned that the intros, in his opinion, became too credit-conscious and did not concentrate enough on the stories.

I have seen firsthand how people such as Mike Vassallo and Nick Caputo work hard to identify an artist. Doc V and Nick Caputo spent an entire afternoon tracking down a credit for a story, The Room That didn’t Exist!, in the Strange Tales Masterworks #1, Soon they realized that the opening splash was taken from the cover and the rest of the story was done by a different artist. After they recognized that artist as probably Mike Esposito, they checked and made sure that Esposito was working for Marvel at the time. That is an important point. On the Grand Comic Database, someone erroneously gave a cover inking credit to Wally Wood for Strange Tales #153. Nick not only saw it was NOT Wally Wood, but knew that Wood was NOT working for Marvel at that time.

To draw attention to the book, publishers know Marquee names are important and no name is more marquee than Stan Lee. I am a big fan of his. But his intros were rarely more than two pages, are often more promotion than information. He’ll mention the names of the stories and perhaps the artists, but those now can be found in the table of contents. In his intro to Tales to Astonish Archives #1, he says that the bullpen is fighting over the credits, who did what? Well, there was no real bullpen in the 1960s and there is certainly none now, so who was arguing? Lee asks the readers to submit their opinions. Lee, of course, compliments the artists for each collection, but he says almost the exact same thing for Jack Kirby in the Fantastic Four intro as he does in the Thor. Lee’s intros are fun and interesting, but not detailed or historical.

I was asked to do the five page introduction to Tales of Suspense Masterworks #4. I would have done more, but there was money involved here, and the fee for those five pages was all I could afford to give Marvel. I think this is contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs, but there were no restrictions and only one suggestion: Make it self-contained. That is, I referred to Mike V’s (and Nick Caputo’s) forwards so as not to repeat important information. It was suggested that I just spell it out. That’s it.

Roy Thomas has done countless, (yes, I gave up counting) forwards to both the Marvel and DC archives and now he is doing them for PS Publishing (The Heap, Phantom Lady and others) and my blog!!!!!! Roy is unique in this area; he can approach a volume as a fan who read these stories in the 1950s, an author who wrote them in the 1960s, and as editor who packaged them in the 1970s. As the creator and editor of Alter Ego he can do all three at once!

Roy’s forwards often have different perspectives. Roy will often give a culture background or setting to a volume. He will describe where the industry was at the time and how that title impacted it. I love his early essays for the Golden Age DC comics that don’t mention Marvel and his essays for early Marvel that don’t mention DCs. One of Roy’s first forwards, if not the first, was for DC’s The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told. Roy does not discuss much about the actual stories here , but he presents the business side of the Golden Age and DC’s relationship with All-American Comics. Roy writes about the personalities that put together these stories and even the process of cutting up the original comics to get the artwork for this publication. Roy even mentions the racial stereotyping that was going on. I often think that this became the template for other authors' introductions.

Almost 20 year later, Roy writes an intro to The JSA All-Stars. Here Roy concentrates ONLY on the characters, giving a background to The Atom, Red Tornado, Captain Mid-Nite, Wildcat and Mr Terrific stories republished. After six volumes of Wonder Woman, what more can you say about her? Well, in volume seven Roy talks about the individual stories and gives interesting backgrounds to their creation. He takes us to the Marston Art Studios and we are given great information gathered by Roy and Jerry Bails. Great stuff.

The backgrounds of the stories are often as important as the stories themselves. Dr. Michael Vassallo has done over fifteen intros for Marvel. Along with giving a history of the company and background of the artists, he gave a history of the times. He needed to discuss the Comics Code and how it changed the stories in such comics as Journey into Mystery. Mike needed to tell of the timing of the United States involvement in Korea in the 1950s to show how the comic Battlefield changed. All this in five pages at a time! Mike also had the weirdest experience of anyone I know writing an introduction. A few people on various lists really criticized him for his pointing out how the stories had changed after the Comics Code had been introduced and how the writers had trouble adapting to the code in the beginning. Instead of appreciating his accurate reporting and bringing forward details they never got elsewhere, they blamed Mike for everything from lack of sales to Hurricane Sandy.

Many times celebrities (someone famous but really on the outside of comics) were hired to write the intro. Too often they knew nothing about the stories in the book. Many then just rehash their character’s origin and powers and add nothing new. Some have made a great many technical errors getting dates and credits wrong, and others just do five pages of promotions. One writer admitted not only to having not read the stories but not liking the ones he did read. Universally, the Ronin Ro forward for Marvel’s Daring Comic’s Volume I is often discussed as being the template for the wrong stuff. He not only seemed totally unfamiliar with the stories, it seemed like didn’t particularly like them when he quickly rushed through them. Contrast that to the next introduction for Volume II by Will Murray, who knew the material and took great care and fondness in writing about it.

Will Murray writes:

"When I was assigned to write the introduction to Daring Mystery Volume 2, I looked at Volume 1 to familiarize myself with what had gone before. Seeing what the previous intro writer had done, or should I say, not done, I wrote my piece so that it covered ground he had missed. In that sense, my introduction covers both volumes. Thankfully, my editor, gave me extra space to make it all work out right. 

Famous comic book writer Tony Isabella has referred to this era as the Golden Age of reprints. But now, this era seems to be fading a bit. The costs of Marvel Masterworks, Omnibuses, and DC Archives have been going up and the page counts have generally gone down. DC and Marvel are cutting back and printing one half to one third as many. Many fans have also noticed that there are no second editions to many of these publications. If you missed one, you may not be able to find it, new or used, at a reasonable price.

Here are the inside flaps to Avengers Masterworks Volume 1 (1988) and Daredevil Masterworks Volume I, five years later. Note that the price has gone up $5 but the inside copy was the same for all books.

Originally, in the late 1980s, Masterworks were $30, quickly going up to $35. DC Archives were $40.  There was no on-line shopping then.With Superman Archives Volume 4, in 1997, DC prices  jumped to $50, skipping over $45 and Marvel soon did the same. I was able to get them on line for about $35.  This started a riff between me and my comic book store which would not match Amazon's, or anyone's price. Sadly, that store is gone, as is so many others. But I had a choice, I could pay less and buy more, or buy less and pay more.

Now the Marvels list for $75 for the Golden Age Masterworks and $70 for the Silver Age ones. All DC Archives are now $75 and about $50 on line. Last year, the latest Green Lantern Archive was listed at $60. In 2013, the next Metal Men archive will be $75. This blog will be concerned with only the Omnibuses whose reprints were NOT featured in Masterworks. Originally $100, Omnibuses now list for $125. On line they are now about $75, up from about $65.

I will discuss, next post, some great deals. I did buy three Archives for $7.50 each just last month.

DC usually saves its Omnibus editions for artist’s collections, such as the Jack Kirby Omnibuses and the Steve Ditko ones. Two exceptions have been the Challengers of the Unknown and Green Lantern Omnibuses. DC is more likely to publish sets of comics out of their archive series. These include Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Deadman. DC also has a Giant-Size Absolute series, publishing comics from the 1980s and later. 

There has been a substantial difference in quality in the publishing of these books. Some of the early Marvel Masterworks did not always look right. I remember many people questioning the art in the first Daredevil Masterwork, many thought it looked redrawn and the coloring was off.

 I was very dissatisfied with the printing, and especially the coloring, of the first Golden Age Marvel Comics Masterworks. But, boy has it gotten so much better since. The Marvel Comics Omnibus was terrific and so are the subsequent publications. DC’s Archives have been a bit more consistent, but this does not mean they are better. Marvel scans are sharper. Marvel scans at 600 dpi. DC scans at 400. This lack of detail shows up in the latest Wonder Woman Amazon Princess Archive. 

The exact number will change even as I write this, but so far DC has released about 210 Archives titles. Forty five of them were for comics such as Thunder Agents and The Spirit which were not originally published as DC (or American) comics, so we will be looking at the other 165.

Marvel has published about 190 Archives and 10 (original) Omnibuses with stories from Marvel’s Silver Age.

The Golden Age:

Marvel has published about 30 Golden Age Masterworks.
DC has published about 80. Most DC characters, Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern and the Justice League had their creative roots in the Golden Age.

Marvel’s Non Masterworks reprints of Captain America (1998) left out the filler stories that appeared in the original comics. Those stories are now included in the current Masterworks along with those thrilling and exciting two page text features that we all read thoroughly. 

DC generally only gives the stories of the Archive title characters. So the Action Comics Archives only prints the Superman stories and the Detective Comic Archives only prints Batman stories. The first Superman archives did have wonderful ads and features reproduced but those were eventually dropped. The early 1940s (separate) Superman and Batman stories that appeared in World’s Finest comics are printed in separate volumes, two volumes (so far) for the Superman stories, another two for the Batman ones. Popular fillers, such as the Black Canary and Aquaman are reprinted their own Archives, not in the titles where they originally appeared. Dr. Fate, the star of More Fun Comics, gets an archive that does not even mention More Fun on the cover. The similar Marvel ones do mention their original comics, such as Tales of Suspense.
DC had some archives that didn’t quite fit a defined category. They released DC Comic Rarities which featured World’s Fair Comics (which eventually became World’s Finest) issues I and 2, and The Big All-American Comic Book. An exception for DC, these featured the entire comic as originally printed. It had stories with such varied characters as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder and Mutt and Jeff. DC also included the text features here. Comic Cavalcade was a similar archive featuring stories from the comic of the same name. It also had stories by various heroes: Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, as well as the returning Mutt and Jeff and other comic stars. You even get to see an ad from M.C. Gaines’s Picture Stories from the Bible!

Leading Comics had The Seven Soldiers of Victory which currently are contained in three archives. The Seven Soldiers were a Justice League type group featuring the Green Arrow, Speedy, Crimson Avenger, Star Spangled Kid, and the Shining Knight. These books also feature their individual tales. My favorite of this eclectic bunch is The JSA All-Stars, which  features many of the JSA members in stories from several different comics: Wildcat, Hour Man, Johnny Thunder and many more. This was a fun trip and I learned the origins of many of the supporting characters of  DC’s Golden Age Universe.

 All Star Comics Archives Volume 0 was the last of the 12 volume series and was a bit different.  Volumes 1-11 reprinted the 55 issues of that comic and featured the Justice Society of America (issues 3-57). Volume 0, the last of the archives, reprinted All Star Comics #1 and #2. which featured the non-team (or pre-team) stories starring The Spectre, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Flash and many others. In Roy Thomas' revealing introduction, he points out the anomalies, the odd features of many of these stories.  

While DC has published almost three times as many Golden Age books as Marvel, neither company has reprinted many of the non-super-hero stories of that era. That changes as we get to the 1950s. 

The 1950s:

Marvel has published nearly 30 Archives spanning the entire decade of the 1950s. This included Atlas’s brief attempt at reviving Captain America, Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch in 1954. It also included a volume on Venus and three with Lorna, the Jungle Girl along with one with both the Black Knight and Yellow Claw. Marvel has given us over twenty, wonderful non-super-hero, sci-fi and war anthology stories from the early and mid-1950s. These include Journey Into Mystery, Menace, Battlefield, and Strange Tales. All of them are a great part of comic book history. We get to read the stories that were published just before the comics code and those just after.

DC has done none of this in their archives. House of Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, Strange Adventures, and Mystery in Space are not represented here unless a super-hero, such as Adam Strange, was involved. As for the end of the 1950s, along with Tales of Suspense and the others, Marvel has given us a taste of their westerns with the Rawhide Kid. There have been no western archives from DC. We did however, however, we did get Sugar and Spike from 1956!

For the early and middle fifties DC has only published three The World’s Finest Archives. 1958 and 1959 are represented in a handful of stories that are included in volumes that continue into the 1960s. These include the Challengers of the Unknown, Green Lantern, Sgt. Rock and Supergirl from Action Comics. An exception, of course the first Flash story is from 1956.

But now, the publishing of the Marvel Masterworks for this era and the Golden Age, have virtually stopped, although trade paperbacks are being released.

The Silver Age
While DC has its roots resolutely in the Golden Age, Marvel’s are firmly the 1960s. Marvel has produced about 140 Silver Age archives, including 10 Omnibuses,

DC has done about 80. You might have thought that DC would have more Silver Age reprints; after all, they were the leader in sales for that decade. Superman, was their biggest seller and  has only appeared in three Superman Family archives from the Silver Age. (Man of Tomorrow I & II and Lois Lane.) Batman also has appeared in only two. Because they were not part of their families I wasn’t counting the ten Justice League archives, but you can if you want.

The Wonder Woman archives are very interesting. DC published 7 Wonder Woman archives, covering the entire run of its creator’s, William Marston Mouton’s scripts with H.G. Peter’s art. His last one was in 1945, he died in 1947. The new Wonder Woman series, just beginning, picks up 10 years later, in Wonder Woman, Amazon Princess with Kanigher scripts and art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Once again, DC ignores its 1950 heritage. DC has hidden all those Alien Batman stories from the 1950s, when the Comics Code ruled the Earth.

Batton Lash: I noticed DC has stripped mined everything on Batman-- except the aliens/monster phase from the late 50's/early 60s! Sure, a lot was awful, but you think the target audience (baby boomers, I assume) would snap them up, as that was our introduction to the character. DC works in very mysterious ways! 

DC now is producing less than half as many archives as they were just a few years ago. I suspect, but I cannot confirm, that DC reduced the run of many of their archives. I found Batman Vol. 7 and Wonder Woman Vol. 5, among others, hard to find and their prices have gone up considerably.
Many of the archives take me on a voyage back to my childhood. The stories, like baseball and ice cream, often seemed better then, but are still fun to read now. The first comic I ever held was Lois Lane #1 and the first comic I ever read was World Finest, The Caveman from Krypton. It’s great to be able to see those once again. I began getting bored with The Legion of Super-Heroes about 1966. Now in reprints, I get bored by those same stories. Sadly now, the DC business plan is most obvious and is pointed out in many forwards: They thought that they only had readers for about five years, so could repeat material at that time. Marvel, in the 1960s, didn’t think that way, in fact, things often got better as time when on. This could also be why, with the exception of the JLA and Legion, DC’s Silver Age Archives do not go beyond their character’s fifth year.

Even, the current Warren reprints, Creepy and Eerie, by Dark Horse, have slowed down. They were originally published at a rate of three or four a year, now they seem to be down to one or two. Dark Horse also reprinted 6 Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery from 2009-2011 but those seemed to have stopped since then. Dark Horse’s Archie Archives seem to be going strong.

The color EC archives by Russ Cochran stopped about two years ago, perhaps a quarter of their way through the line. Dark Horse is now re-printing the EC stories differently, compiling stories by artists, not by the books. PS Publishing is doing fine on its run of Harvey and ACG 1950’s classics, and now has added the Heap and Frankenstein to its ranks. There will always be random reprinting of books. We have gotten Herbie Volumes 1-3, Silver Streak, Nemesis, Doctor Solar, etc.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kirby Takes On The Comics: 1982

                  Comics Scene by Howard Zimmerman

I spoke with Jack Kirby at his mountainside home in Thousand Oaks, California, where the Kirbys have lived for over a decade. Even be‑fore introductions were finished, Mrs. Kirby was directing us to the table for lunch. While we ate, Kirby told stories about growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression era. They were hard times, but Kirby has some fond memories—especially of the hundreds of gangster, adventure and romance films that he devoured, when he was not busy reading the Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy or Terry and the Pirates newspaper strips.
            I was there to do The Kirby Story: how he got started in the business, where he got all those wonderful ideas for Captain America, Fantastic Four and New Gods, some anecdotes about the comics industry and the people with whom he had worked, his personal philosophy and vision. We covered all of this territory, but another theme kept recurring. It is that which concerns many and frustrated him throughout his legendary career: the inequities built into the structure of the overground comic industry and the in-fighting that results from of it.
            Kirby has been outspoken in his support of the movement to have the rights of the creative artists recognized by the comic publishers. And he has good reason. As the most successful and prolific creator in the history of comics, Kirby has suffered the most from the system which he considers grossly unfair and harmful to the very industry that it is designed to help.
            Though his creations have brought him much glory, the profits have always gone to his employers.
            Kirby is now voluntarily drawing a book for free. It is Eclipse Enterprises’ Destroyer Duck. In fact, all of the people helping on this book are working for free. Duck is a fund-raising enterprise to help writer Steve Gerber with his lawsuit against Marvel Comics. Gerber is suing Marvel for owner‑ship of them: Howard the Duck.
            Kirby is contributing his efforts for a variety of reasons. “I don’t know how it’s going to affect me,” he says. “I’ll certainly gain Steve’s friendship, I hope. Steve is a very original kind of guy. A man who can make something out of a duck like he did can come up with something important. I think Steve is a fine writer.
            “And even if it wasn’t Steve Gerber,” Kirby explains, “I would still do the same thing. Because I feel that change has to be made. The comics may not be important to me, right now, but they are important. It’s important that all the media stay alive, so that the ordinary guy can get his chance, without having to pay some ugly price for what he wants to do. The industry could fight tooth and nail on that and it could continue; but the chance that it could change is the important thing in pursuing Gerber’s case.”
            Another, more practical reason why Kirby is willing to contribute his time and artistic energy to the Duck book is that he retains the rights to his work for the title and all of the original art will be returned. This is a rare thing in the over-ground comic industry, which Kirby feels will self-destruct unless the rules are changed.


            “I feel the independent publishers are going to grow,” Kirby says. “Only a fool can function under the old comics structure. Why should a man draw a good picture if they are going to give it to three other guys? Why should a man write a good story if the company keeps it? Why should a man even ink, when he’s not sure whether  the company will take care of him or not?”
            Kirby views the overgrounds as “ads for toys. They don’t get sales, but they make awfully good looking ads for toys. They aren’t comics—they’re just an approach to a toy franchise.
        “We need a lot more innovation,” he says. “Under new structures, guys will get the incentive to do new things.”
            Kirby is currently doing Captain Victory for Pacific Comics, an up-and-coming independent publishing house. “I’ve been working with a young inker, Mike Thibodeaux, on Captain Victory. He’s young, he’s good and he wants to do comics,” Kirby says. “People are giving me breaks, I give other people breaks. I feel that Mike should have his. I’ve never turned anyone down in my life. I feel that if people cooperated with people instead of hindering them in some way, I think they would get the chance to develop into whatever they want to be, and there would never be any conflict. My religion is cooperation, not power. That’s why I’m so adamantly against the rigid structure of comics.
            “I cooperate with Pacific Comics and Pacific cooperates with me. It’s a good relationship, without conflict. It’s living proof that if you give the next guy a fair break, or cooperate with him, he’s going to help you. And it’s certainly not going to hurt the world.”
            Cooperation is something that Kirby feels he did not get during his last tenure at Marvel (1976-1979). When he is asked what changes he would institute were he in control of a comic company today, he speaks with the voice of experience. “I would institute the use of discipline and standards,” he says. But then he adds, “I would take the guys who I know are plotting and scheming to orchestrate the death of a book and fire him. I couldn’t blame them for impatience with another man, to get their shot at what he’s doing. I’m not against competition, but I’m against unfair competition.
            “The health of a comic book can be manipulated by the staff alone. You fill up a book with knock letters [negative criticisms in the letters pages]. The reader who picks up the book and reads all those knock letters knows that the book he’s reading ... well, it’s not so hot. And if you do it consistently, it becomes ‘a bad book.’ I haven’t seen anything like a bad book anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of guys trying. I’ve seen a lot of guys who’ll never get the chance to develop. And you can’t develop with two or three issues. You’ve got to give a man a chance to stay in there—either take his beating or succeed. And comics have not done that today.
            “A guy will create a book, another will fill his book up with knock letters—he’s off in five months, or three months, and the other guy’s got his shot.” Until now Kirby has spoken in even tones. His voice quiet, firm. Now emotion breaks through. There is an anguished look in his eyes and a touch of bitterness in his voice as he says, “I see it as a serpent’s nest. And in a serpent’s nest, nothing can survive. Eventually all the snakes kill each other. Eventually they’ll also kill whatever generated them.
            “When I said that Marvel or DC were really ads for toys, I meant it. They’ll give the staff the chance to develop, but not the men who create, who participate, who are in the arena. It’s the guy who is in the arena who counts. He’s selling your book. And not only that: he’s creating a silent movie. I mean, it’s a visual art.
                        “So you need standards,” Kirby continues, his voice calm once again. “You need certain standards and discipline and professionalism. Any sort of pettiness or vindictiveness, any sort of toughness, is harmful to a good enterprise. A good enterprise needs all the cooperation it can get. I’m sure that, today, they’ll have a conference at any one of the publishers and they’ll sit down and say, ‘Come up with ideas.’ And there are men who will come up with ideas, but they’ll all be second-rate. They are all capable of first-rate ideas, every one of them, but not _within that structure.”
                        All of the work done today for the regular overground comics is contracted for on the basis of “work-for hire,” a sore point with many of the creative people who feel that they should own what they create. (After all, there is nothing harder to come up with than a good idea, and there is nothing harder to protect.) Kirby’s definition of work-for-hire is simple and direct: “It means that everything that comes out of you, they own.”

                        WORKING FOR MARVEL

                        Kirby’s contributions to Marvel Comics are legendary. When asked what he received in return, he says, “A lot of ingratitude. It hasn’t left me bitter, it’s just that it shouldn’t work out that way. If there’s anybody who knows Stan Lee, I’m the guy who knows him. Stan Lee as a person is no better or worse than anybody else. 1 wasn’t competing with Stan. I got along very well with Stan. We were very good friends. And, my God, I came up with an army of characters!” Yet, when Kirby returned to Marvel in the mid-seventies, things seemed to have changed. “I felt that his Lee’  plans, somehow, didn’t mesh with mine. Stan was already a publisher at that time and could call the shots. If you can call the shots on somebody ... you win.”
                        Kirby first worked for Marvel (then known as Timely Comics) in the early 40s at which time he co-created Captain America with Joe Simon. Kirby rejoined Marvel in 1959 after he and Simon had tried publishing on their own for a while. Their company, Mainline, was formed in 1954 and was dissolved two years later during the comic slump of 1956. A return to Marvel became a logical choice.
                        “My business with Joe was gone. I did a few things for Classics Illustrated which drove me crazy. I wanted a little stability, and I needed the work. Marvel seemed to be the place, and comics seemed to be the only thing I was really good at. And I already had responsibilities; I was a father, I owned property. I had to work.
                        “Marvel was going to close,” Kirby recalls. “When I broke up with Joe, comics everywhere were taking a beating. The ones with capital hung on. Martin Goodman publisher of Marvel had slick paper magazines, like Swank and the rest. It was just as easy for Martin to say, ‘Oh, what the hell. Why do comics at all?’ And he was about to—Stan Lee told me so. In fact, it looked like they were going to close the afternoon that I came up. But Goodman gave Marvel another chance.”
                        At that time, Marvel had Western, romance and monster titles. Kirby worked on all of them. Then, in 1961, Kirby and Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four. In his Bring on the Bad Guys, Origins of Marvel Comics Villains, Stan Lee explains the genesis of the group: “Much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t produce our little Marvel Masterpieces all by myself. No, mine was the task of originating the basic concept, and then writing the script....
                        However, I’ve long been privileged to collaborate with some of the most talented artists of all, artists who would take my rough-hewn plots and refine them into the illustrated stories.... Heading the list of such artists ... is Jolly Jack Kirby.”
                        Kirby remembers it somewhat differently. “I wrote them all,” he states flatly. But what about all those “Smilin’ Stan” and “Jolly Jack” credit boxes? Kirby responds diplomatically. “Well, I never wrote the credits. Let’s put it that way, all right? I would never call myself ‘Jolly Jack.’ I would never say the books were written by Lee.
                        “I did a mess of things. The only book I didn’t work on was Spider-Man, which Steve Ditko did. But Spider-Man was my creation. The Hulk was my creation. It was simply Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I was borrowing from the classics. They are the most powerful literature there is.
                        “I was beginning to find myself as a thinking human being. I began to think about things that were real. I didn’t want to tell fairy tales. I wanted to tell things as they are. But I wanted to tell them in an entertaining way. And I told it in the Fantastic Four and I told it in Sgt. Fury... If I wanted to tell the entire truth about the world, I could do it with Robinson Crusoe, and do Robinson Crusoe for the rest of my life.
                        “My mother was a great storyteller,” Kirby reveals. “She came from somewhere near Transylvania and she told me stories that would stand your hair on end. I loved my mother and I loved those stories. The art of storytelling, certainly, is in all of us. But to tell it dramatically, to tell it right, you have to be influenced, I think, in a certain manner. Somewhere along the line, whoever is good has been raised by people who are good in the same manner. It happened to me in comics. The men who originated comics were looking for guidelines. They were older men than I was. They knew what they were doing, and whatever they did I took a step further and tried to galvanize it. I like to galvanize whatever I’m doing, but I’ve got to find the right way to do it. And I do. I’m an experimenter at heart,” Kirby says. “I’ve never done anything that’s already been done.”
                        Why, then, has Kirby chosen to do Captain Victory for Pacific, where he was free to do any kind of book that he wanted? Hasn’t he told essentially the same story several times, in Fantastic Four, New Gods, The Eternals?
                        Kirby says that he chose to do Captain Victory as a kind of warning. .”I think there’s a complacency now among the young. Sometimes we go overboard on trust.” As an example, Kirby cites Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “I thought his Raiders of the Lost Ark was terrific, but I felt that he was too much of an idealist in Close Encounters.” Kirby feels that Spielberg’s vision of the benevolent aliens was as far off base as the peaceful greeting they received from the American military and governmental advisors.
                        “One guy published a theory that we are descended from killer baboons. I believe that,” Kirby says. “Forty years ago we just got through shoving people into ovens—on a very, very flimsy reason. We did that. Nobody else did.  Man has a drive for domination.” Therefore, so do Kirby’s aliens, whom he sees as a reflection of, or another side of, humanity.
                        “We have a fetish for putting up walls,” Kirby observes. “We like to live in houses. We like limited space. Not only that, we don’t want to go out of our house, so we decorate them, make them livable. We like all the space that we can accumulate and fence up—that’s the kind of animal we are. We’ll do that with the planets, when we go out. Getting out into space for us may be the worst thing that’s ever happened to the other creatures in the universe.
                        “The solar system to me is a mass of sheltering debris that circles around us, protecting us.” Kirby believes that when space-faring aliens do arrive they will be “people just like us. They may have weaponry that’s more sophisticated than ours; they may be a few thousand years ahead. They may have the heads of eagles or lions, or whatever creature developed on their planet into intelligent human beings. I believe that they are human. I believe that anything that can think or act as we do is human—I don’t care what it developed from.
                        ‘The dinosaur was on Earth for 750 million years,” Kirby says. “Do you mean to tell me that it didn’t have the intelligence of ... a dog? When I did Devil Dinosaur, I did a thinking dinosaur. My belief is that the dinosaurs were intelligent. I mean, if we acquired the intelligence we have, say in a short period of about four million years, what might the dinosaur have accomplished in 750 million years7 I’m not saying that it built cities, or that it built anything. It might have lived in a perfect environment that it didn’t want to change.”

                        THE “FOURTH WORLD”

                        Themes similar to those found in Captain Victory were explored in the “Fourth World” books Kirby did for DC (Mister Miracle, New Gods and Forever People). How he got to do those books is an interesting story all by itself.
                        DC approached Kirby in 1970 to speak to him about their cornerstone character. “I was living here in California, in Irvine. I get a message that Carmine Infantino is out in California and wants me to come up to his hotel. To make it short, they wanted me to save Superman. I said, well, I wasn’t too happy with what was happening at Marvel. I thought, maybe this is the time to change. But, I said, I don’t want to take work away from guys who have been doing it for years. I said, I’ll take that book, Jimmy Olsen. I’ll take the one that has no sales . . . and I’ll do my own books, titles of my own.
                        “He said yes, because he felt that I could do it. He had every confidence in me. I had confidence in nobody but myself. That’s the type of guy I am,” Kirby says. “If I’m going to do a job, any job—and believe me I’ve done quite a variety of jobs—I will think it out, I will find its key, and I will make it sell. So, I turned Jimmy Olsen into something different,” he says with a flair for understatement.
                        “I took a risk. I changed Superman into a human being. Because Superman is a human being, except that he has these exceptional qualities.” Kirby feels that the character has never been treated as a real, vulnerable person.
                        “Superman, in reality, would live a very short life among us. If he lived next door to me I would feel very uncomfortable. I wouldn’t care if he were for truth, justice or anybody. If I ever got into a fight with him, I wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. And I depicted that in the book. I had the heavyweight champ go up to Superman and he says, ‘I don’t feel like a champ next to you.’ He didn’t like Superman because there was no way he could beat him. Human beings do not like superior people.
                        “In fact, human beings love villains. It was the gangster movies that made the most money during the Depression years. Innately, we feel that we are not perfect—that you and I are going to make mistakes, and some of those mistakes are going to cost us. And we’re going to have to take them in stride.
                        “My villains are people who are either taking the easy way out, or who have psychological flaws.
                        “People like villains because they know that inside us the villain lives. The villain is as valid as the hero. The villain is simply the other side of Superman. Superman can lapse into weakness. He can be betrayed, as Samson was. Samson was Superman and he was betrayed by a girl, because he liked women. There’s no saying that Superman couldn’t be betrayed by Lois Lane, or Jimmy Olsen, or anybody else he trusts. ‘
                        “Jimmy Olsen was the only way that I-could prove that I could make money for DC,” Kirby explains. “On the New Gods [Fourth World] books, I was allowed to do what I wanted to do. I can’t fault Carmine for that because that can be risky. If he had any trepidations at all, he didn’t show them—but he had a right to have them.”
                        Kirby feels that those books he did for DC were inspired; some of the best work that he’s ever done. “I felt there was a time that a man had to tell a story in which he felt—not anybody else—in which he felt there was no bullshit. There was absolute truth.
                        “There was a scene in the New Gods
                        . they pull the sea god out of the river, and he’s dead I issue #41. He’s been killed by one of the evil gods. And Orion gives him a big funeral. He sets fire to the entire pier—he gives him a Viking’s funeral. And, of course, Darkseid is around the corner and he watches it. But he knows the truth. He says: ‘How heroes love to flaunt their nobility in the face of death. Yet they know better than most that war is but the cold game of the butcher.’ And he’s right. In a war there is no glamour.
                        “Darkseid never told a lie; he never deserted his son. When he meets this old man with his little grandson in Happyland, he says, when you’re asleep and you have a nightmare, I’m the guy you’re seeing—the other side of yourself. Because the other side of yourself is insecure. It’s villainous, it’s treacherous. And don’t tell me that there may not come a time when, in considering your life against someone else’s, you would betray him.”
                        As significant as Kirby’s Fourth World books might have been, they were short-lived. Mister Miracle ran for 18 issues, the New Gods 11 issues, Forever People 11 issues. But it was not because sales had fallen off. “They were in [DC’s] top 10, I can assure you,” Kirby says. As each title was killed, Kirby introduced new ones for the duration of his contract. These included Kamandi, OMAC and The Demon. “Carmine made no move to stop me from what I was doing, but when it came time to renew the contract, differences arose that couldn’t be resolved.

                        MARVEL REVISITED & ON TO THE FUTURE

                        But there was a parting of the ways and Kirby was back at Marvel, this time with a little leverage—he was given creative control over Captain America. “Yes,” he affirms, “in fact, I got my originals back ... until the inkers became adamant about it. They said, well, why should I get my originals back and the others don’t. Having my own standards, I felt that I was right—I should get my originals back. If the other guys wouldn’t fight for theirs.... I fought for mine; I cajoled for mine. I did anything to get them back. They had no right to them. All they had are the first publication rights; but the drawings remain your own—nobody can take them away from you. And today they have all the drawings I did in the sixties. But I’d have to sue them for it.” There is no bitterness in his voice, and yet it is obvious that it hurts. That same emotion comes through when he talks about his second tenure at Marvel, during the seventies.
                        “I didn’t really get a shot,” he says. “In fact, it was developing rather well.” Kirby was doing Captain America, the Black Panther, 2001, the Eternals, Machine Man and Devil Dinosaur during that period. “At the beginning, I think I probably had the best circulation in the line. I enjoyed every one of them. And they were all heading toward things that would astound you. I was giving Marvel all I had; that’s part of being professional.” But he feels that certain Marvel employees actively worked to undermine him and his books, and that they were successful. “I know who’s part of it,” he says, “but naming names won’t help the situation any. It was a vicious competition,” Kirby states, putting a fitting epitaph on that ultimately frustrating part of his career.
                        During the course of his career, many of Kirby’s creations have achieved the status of international stardom. When asked if he has a favorite creation, Kirby says, after a moment’s hesitation, “I love the New Gods. I love them all. Of course I’m associated with Captain America, and I probably always will be. But that’s like a symbol.... We exist on images. If someone were going to conjure up Kirby, they would probably conjure up Captain America at the same time. But as for the other characters, they were all human to me,” Kirby says with obvious affection.
                        As for the future, Kirby has plans to make live-action films. Not specifically science fiction or fantasy; he feels that he has many stories left to tell. One of them is particularly intriguing. “I’d like to make a movie about what the comic book industry was really like,” he says, referring to the early years.
                        Though his Sky Masters comic strip in the 50s was a satisfying experience,
                        Kirby has no intention of doing another syndicated ‘strip. “I wouldn’t want to work on strips any more. The fact is, they’re being squeezed out by advertisers; being made smaller and smaller and you can’t read them. When I worked on strips they were large and the color was beautiful. The men who did them were great guys and it was a time to really feel great. I think that’s what drew me to comics—that the people who worked in them were just great guys. I didn’t go overboard as a fan, but I wanted to do the same kind of thing that they were doing.”
                        Finally, Kirby says that he might still be willing to change hats and try his hand at publishing once more as he had done with Joe Simon in 1954. “I would publish again. And it would be something to be proud of,” he says. “Each guy working for the corporation would really be proud. He’d be his own man. I’ve always done what I’ve always wanted to do, and I have no regrets. I’ve done the best I can. But I’ve written my own script. I had my chance to be a villain and I took my shot at being a hero—just to see what it was like. Not that I wanted to be a hero, but merely as a professional.”
                        Indeed, Kirby steadfastly refuses to identify himself as a hero, although to several generations of comic book fans he is a superhero. “I’m no hero,” he says with a shake of his head. “I’m a survivor.” Kirby reflects on this self-description for a second and then amends it: “I’m a master survivor.” And his goal continues to be the same as it’s always been: “I’m out to be a genuinely, competently, fulfilled human being.”

            Kirby—An Historical Perspective

                        Jack Kirby was born Jack Kurtzberg on August 28, 1917, in New York City’s
                        Lower Eastside. He started working professionally at the age of 17, as an inbetweener on Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons at the Max Fleischer studios. When the Fleischer studio moved to Florida, Kirby got a job with the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate as a political, gag and strip cartoonist.
                        There Kirby produced a wide variety of strips under a host of pseudonyms, doing all the artwork and most of the scripting. He experimented with different styles; he used a woodcut technique for The Black Buccaneer, an early pirate strip, while Abdul Jones was more in keeping with the look of humorous strips of the time. His most popular strip of this period was Socko the Seadog, an obvious Popeye imitation (which Kirby did not create). Two early science fiction strips also came out of this period: the Solar Legion, in 1938, and Cyclone Burke a year or two earlier.
                        Kirby’s first comic book work was in 1938 with Will Eisner and Jerry lger on Jumbo, an oversized comic. In it he did an SF serial and an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo.
                        Kirby then joined the Fox syndicate and took over the art chores on a strip featuring one of the earliest costumed superheroes, the Blue Beetle. At Fox, which also published comics, Kirby met another young staffer by the name of Joe Simon. Together they produced Blue Bolt for Fox and the first full issue of Captain Marvel adventures for Fawcett (1941).
                        They ran into each other a third time at Timely Comics. The Timely line was headed by two superstars: the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. To fill out the line Kirby created Tuk the Cave Boy, Hurricane, Mercury, The Vision, Red Raven, and Comet Pierce (1941). He teamed up with Joe Simon to produce Marvel Boy, The Fiery Mask and Captain Daring in Daring Mystery comics.
                        (The following quotations are excerpted from The Steranko History of the Comics, Vol. 1)
                        Kirby: The production pressure was overwhelming. I had to draw faster and faster and the figures began to show it. Arms got longer, legs bent to the action, torsos twisted with exaggerated speed. My pace created distortions. I discovered the figures had to be extreme to have impact, the kind of impact I saw in my head.
                        Steranko: He developed a kind of impressionistic shorthand. He made the difficult look easy, the impossible an everyday occurrence.
                        Kirby: Long underwear heroes were a dime a dozen. Everybody was creating one, and publishers couldn’t get them out fast enough. Superman set the style; we had to keep the pace and come up with a winner. Steranko: Then, in early 1941, his talents coalesced into an achievement. Of necessity, Captain America was born. “The time demanded it. I was seeing mankind in its noblest terms, human beings not as they were but as they might be. The country was almost at war; we needed a super-patriot,” Kirby recalls.”
                        Kirby’s mastery was implicit in every line and gesture and punch. Cap leaped from the tops of panels. Muscles rippled. Limbs stretched. Backs arched. Movements were magnified, action aggrandized. Body English was more extreme than reality allowed. Jack reinvented the human figure. Embodiments of exaggeration, they soared out of panels.
                        Muscles medical students never even heard of were exerted in symphonies of strength. Cap and Bucky moved with jolting, violent speed. Mass battle scenes were expertly choreographed. Stories became pure orchestration of motion....
                        From the heights of action and ideals to the depths of hatred and horror, the Kirby pencil drew only extremes, all of them extremely effective. Panel sizes ran grandly off the deep end. Issue four featured the first full-page panel in comics, pencilled and inked by Kirby himself. With issue six the tradition of Kirby double-page spreads began. The medium was utilized with staggering impact. Kirby was the first comic book artist to steadily employ visual dynamics. As he says, “I became a camera and evolved a storytelling style that came closest to motion pictures.”
                        The Kirby formula: a maximum of excitement in a minimum of time and space.
                       The summer of that same year, 1941, Simon and Kirby created the “kid gang” genre with The Young Allies and the Tough Kid’s Squad. Moving over to DC, the team created The Newsboy Legion and The Boy
                        Commandos, in 1942. Then, they were drafted and left the comic books to fight the war in person.
                        After returning from the Army, Kirby and Simon again teamed up, this time for Harvey. There they did Boy’s Ranch, Boy Explorers and Stuntman. Then, in 1947, Kirby and Simon went to McFadden Publications, where they created the first romance comic, My Date. Two years later they began a line of books for Crestwood, including Young Romance, Young Love, Black Magic and Fighting American.
                        In 1954 Simon and Kirby started their own publishing house, Mainline, putting out Foxhole, In Love, Police Trap, Bullseye and Win-A-Prize. In 1956, suffering with the rest of the field, they sold their line to Charlton Comics and the team split up. Kirby went back to the syndicated comic strip field.
                        Kirby’s most prestigious and popular strip of this period was Sky Masters, a visionary look at the coming age of space exploration. Inked by Wally Wood, the strip lasted from 1957-59. At the same time, Kirby had returned to do some work for DC, including creating, writing and drawing Challengers of the Unknown.
                        Finally, in 1959, Kirby went to work full-time for Marvel, formerly Atlas-Timely.
                        In 1961, he created Fantastic Four with Stan Lee. Dozens of superheroes and super-villains followed, including the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, the revived Captain America, Dr. Doom, the Watcher, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, Galactus and the Inhumans. Kirby also designed and drew the first issues of The X-Men and The Avengers. Kirby didn’t draw Iron Man, but he designed the character and plotted the origin story. Spider-Man, which was drawn by Steve Ditko, was suggested by Kirby. The character was one that he had developed for his own company, Mainline, but never got a chance to do.
                        In 1970 Kirby left Marvel for DC. He took over the failing Jimmy Olsen, and created a whole new world of his own, the “Fourth World,” including New Gods, Mr. Miracle and Forever People. He also created Kamandi, The Demon and OMAC.
                        In 1975 Kirby returned to Marvel. He once again picked up the reins of Captain America and took over a revived Black Panther. During his last stint at Marvel Kirby also produced 2001: A Space Odyssey, its spin-off Machine Man, The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur.
                        Most recently, Kirby has been part of the Ruby-Spears team that has created the Saturday morning animated sword-and sorcery hit, Thundarr. In 1981 he teamed up with independent publisher Pacific Comics for Captain Victory, and Eclipse Enterprises for Destroyer Duck.
                        Material for this historical perspective was gathered from The Steranko History of the Comics, Vol. 1, by Jim Steranko, published in 1970 by Supergraphics, and Kirby, by Neal Kirby and David Folkman, published in 1975 by the Museum of Cartoon Art.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Two Interviews from 1968/74: Stan Lee on Critique; Vanderbilt University with Lee, Kirby, Trudeau and Wilson

I thought it would be fun to look back at two interviews: one from 1968, the other from 1972

In the first interview, Joel Scott for Critique, on WFMU radio, interviews Stan Lee about the Marvel Age and it's readers, who Stan says are “...sort of one big happy family.”

Later the same year, at Vanderbilt University, Stan is interviewed along with Jack Kirby, Garry Trudeau and Gahan Wilson, not a group you’d expect to see together.  Portions of this, I believe have been printed elsewhere, but this is the complete version.

Critique, January 1968 on WFMU radio

Joel Scott: Mr. Lee, what is with the Fantastic Four lately?
Stan: They are back on Earth after a sojourn in the stars. They’re back in their headquarters in New York.
Joel Scott: Have you always written super hero comics?
Stan: No, I’ve written every type of comic book: westerns, adventure, funny animal, war, just about every type.
Joel Scott: When were you born and about how long ago did you first start writing comics?
Stan: I was born Stanley Lieber in 1922. I started writing comics about 26 years ago.
Joel Scott: How did you get the name Marvel? Did it have anything to do with Capt. Marvel?
Stan: No, actually Capt. Marvel was published by a competitor of ours, Fawcett, in the 1940s. We had the name Marvel for six years (starting in 1961). Now, we have had many names and when we started this new line of superheroes (in 1961), we decided we wanted something different, so we chose the name Marvel.
Joel Scott: Where did the name Golden age come from?
Stan: When this new age started, the readers termed the old age, the Golden Age. We actually had nothing to do with it.
Joel Scott: Have you revived any of your Golden Age heroes?
Stan: Yes, Capt. America, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, but we have changed them. Take Capt. America, he is the same but we made him into sort of a Hamlet, always soliloquizing and having his secret sorrows and psychological hang-up problems.  The Sub-Mariner we changed from a wild Altantean to the majestic Prince of Atlantis speaking aquatically. The Human Torch we changed from adult android to a teen member the Fantastic Four.
Joel Scott: Why did you change your heroes?
Stan: We wanted to try a new approach. We wanted to aim beyond the bubble gum brigade. We wanted adults to read our titles and we did this through human characterization, humor and satire.
 Joel Scott: I don’t understand, how did you humanize the characters?
 Stan: Well, actually we tried to make fairy tales for grownups. Once the fairy tale’s outlook of the hero was accepted, we placed him into human society. We changed the illogical to the logical
Joel Scott: Do you think that it is successful because of the times now?
Stan: No, if it had been done 20 years ago it would have been just as successful
Joel Scott: Were you (Marvel) always on top?
Stan: We have always been financially a success but now the impact on our readers is different.
Joel Scott: Have you improved over the years as a writer? Have you changed your style?
Stan: I have always been a good hack writer.  I’ve always been able to write whatever has been necessary. For example, in the Army I used to write training films and I had never written films before. But they turned out great. I’ve written advertising, novels, just about everything. My style has changed only recently when we started our new line. The style I am writing in now is the one I am suited for, though.
Joel Scott: Is the super-hero your company’s only best seller?
Stan: No, we have several war books which are written in the same style as the Fantastic Four and they sell just as well.
Joel Scott: It sold just because they were Marvel?
 Stan: Well, that would be true for  maybe the first or second or even third issues, but it’s sold through all the way.  It’s just that our magazines are written pleasingly, they contain a large degree of satire, we avoid a standardized comic. All our titles are written differently.
Joel Scott: What’s your competition? Is it strict?
Stan: Well they sell more but they cater to younger age group and so as far as I’m concerned we have no competition.
Joel Scott: To what things do you attribute your success?
Stan: Well, our magazines are basically pleasing, well-written, beautifully drawn and we treat the whole thing as an advertising business. We are informal with the reader. He feels that he’s in sort of in a club. Sort of one big happy family. It’s a fun thing and we tried to make it this way. Also, we don’t write them for youngsters in fact, the only concession we give our younger readers is that our magazines contain no sex and no real violence.
Joel Scott:  I’ve noticed that none of your heroes get killed off. Could you comment on this?
Stan: Well, one reason is that they are too popular to kill off. We’ve killed off a few that we got a flood of letters protesting. So I had to bring them back.
Joel Scott: So far you have stressed that you make your magazines to entertain. I don’t think so. You do it to preach and give your beliefs and ideas to the readers.
 Stan: Our first aim is to entertain. Our second aim is to sell magazines. We are in the business to make money. However once we are popular, we do give a message because we realize that we are  sort of the “father” to a large group. We are well aware of the responsibility that we have. We have  run stories against bigotry and dropping out of school. We don’t quickly take sides, though we support the boys in Vietnam, but we don’t say we think we should be there. We just aren’t qualified enough to do so. We are definitely in favor of patriotism and civil rights, however.
Joel Scott: I can see your point. They worship and admire you. Especially the youngsters. You can mold all the young minds so yours is a wise choice.
Stan: We are aware of this.
Joel Scott: How do your super heroes now differ from those in the Golden age?
Stan: Today we have a different degree of satire and our heroes are treated differently. But our competitors still basically treat it the same. Take, for example, in our competitors’ magazines, if a hero walks into a restaurant and orders something, none will notice him. But in our magazines, they will, realistically, make a fuss over him and say, “Who is that weirdo.” In a nutshell we add more realism in ours.
Joel Scott: Could you talk about your villains and how they are treated?
Stan: Surely. Firstly, he has to have a power equal or greater than the hero because if he was weaker it just wouldn't be fair and we’d get thousands of letters thinking that our hero was beating up on someone. Also, his crime is almost always on a grand scale because of the Comics Code, which is sort of like the movie censor in Hollywood, which states that if a criminal commits a crime, he has to be punished.
Joel Scott:  Who is your publisher?
Stan: Martin Goodman has been my boss for 27 years now, I consider him the greatest publisher in the world. I am only the art director and the editor of the comics.
Joel Scott: Why haven’t you gone out on your own? You certainly are successful enough.
Stan: Actually, I didn’t think about it. Besides I’m not interested in working for anyone else.
Joel Scott: Are you the only writer of the comics? Can anyone write comics?
Stan: We have hired two really bright writers, Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich. I can’t possible do all the  writing. Not just anyone can write comics. It has to be the perfect marriage of script and art so the writer has to have a knowledge and feeling for the art. Also they have to be comic magazine oriented and a good writer. We have had professional writers come in and try to write for us and it just didn’t work out. There are many comic oriented artists who have no talent at writing.
Joel Scott: How does Jack Kirby help you?
Stan: Well, to begin with, Jack is the greatest artist in the world. He also is a great story man. He does all the breakdowns and basic plots and I dialogue. We didn’t start that way but Jack and I think so much alike. It isn’t the same with every artist. Some artists I have to sit with three or four times and sit down and type out a detailed script.
Joel Scott: Which characters are your favorite?
Stan: All the ones I am writing now Spider-Man, Thing, Thor, Hulk, are all my favorites, and I like Capt. America because he is such a big cornball.
Joel Scott: Have you done any research for say, Dr. Strange, or for any other characters?
Stan: No,  but I read a lot when I was young. I have no time now. We make up all the terms in Dr. Strange, etc. We create the whole thing.
 Joel Scott: What are the common fads among your readers?
Stan: Jean Shepherd, Tolkien, Mad Magazine, Playboy. I’m flattered that we are there too.
Joel Scott: Do you feel that parents are in favor of your comics?
Stan: We have almost no complaints from any. In fact,  many of our fans are parents. I could see their parents in the 40s but now we write them for adults. We wouldn’t use a word just because of we were afraid a younger reader might not understand, for example.
Joel Scott: Do you do TV shows about your heroes?
Stan: No, we don’t. We only give them the rights to use them. Gratray-Lawrence and Hanna Barbera. Our older readers, of course, don’t like them and the younger readers do. They are for the younger readers. We, in fact, are not at all concerned with the show. We are concerned only with the magazines. Most of our readers know this and accept this.
Joel Scott: Do you put your own characterizations into your characters?
Stan: Yes, I guess I do. I guess that when Spidey talks it is Stan Lee talking. I don’t think of myself as the Hulk, though.
Joel Scott:  Do you enjoy what you do?
Stan: Well, I work seven days a week and if I didn’t enjoy it would be hell. We live with these books. Every two days we do one book, you know.
Joel Scott: Would you like to get closer to fandom? Have they been mad because you aren’t available?
Stan: No, they understand we read all the letters and answer them so we are available. I hope the readers liked me: I like them. We want them to be friendly with us.
Joel Scott: Do some people think Stan Lee doesn’t exist?
Stan: Yes, in fact one of our competitors stated that Stan Lee is just 12 different writers signing one name. We, however, tell our readers exactly who writes and draws them because they like to know.
Joel Scott: Mr. Lee, one last plaguing question. Who is Irving Forbush?
Stan: Well, we thought up a name to wrap up a lot of humor around. It caught on and we almost find yourself believing in it.
Joel Scott: Thank you Mr. Lee I wish to congratulate you for making these books, and making so many happy with your realm of fantasy.



  Vanderbuilt University, 1974 Stan Lee; Jack Kirby; Dave Berg, Gary Trudeau and Gaham Wilson

Question: Mr. Wilson, do you feel your work has been influenced by Charles Addams?
Gahan Wilson: Who’s Charles Addams?
Question: Mr. Berg, if someone had a story for Mad and drew up the completed story with finished artwork and sent it in, would there be a chance of having it published?
Dave Berg: Not with the art. There is a pretty fixed art staff. But writers they’re always looking for. Type up your script, mail it to the editor. It will be looked at. They have a staff to look at it. Believe me, they’re always looking for writers. That’s the hardest job of all. Look at it this way: it’s harder to write a short letter than a long letter, and it’s harder to write a short story than a novel, and novelists tell me that the kind of work we do at Mad is the hardest work of all. Now does not make me smarter than them—it makes me stupid for taking the hardest work in the world. But if you have a script, send it. It will be looked at.
Question: Who is Charles Addams?
Lee: Charles Addams is the New Yorker cartoonist who draws those macabre cartoons. I gotta mention one thing. I was stationed with Addams in the army, and you know he always drew this one gal, a sort of Vampirella type, with the long black hair, the straight, stringy black hair. Well, I met Charles Addams’s then-wife at the time . . . beautiful, but she looked just like her.
Wilson: One of the great compliments, and seriously, yes ,I do know who Charles Addams is, and yes, he was a very definite influence, and all that, you bet! But one of the great things, and I’m very proud of this, is that I remember when I was a kid there was a recurrent rumor that Charles Addams was put away annually in a booby hatch. And now I hear the same rumor applies to me.
Question: Mr. Lee, when will you solve the problems of characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk?
Lee: Well, if I can help it, never. I’m sure Allen (Saunders) will agree with me that as long as these characters have their problems we hope that that holds the audience. I think all of you here are interested in characters who have problems, so maybe I’ll never solve them.
Question: Mr. Lee, who is your best-selling character at Marvel, and who is your favorite character?
Stan Lee: Well, the best-selling one is Spider-Man. Spider-Man is absolutely amazing. It’s been the best-selling one ever since it started. That’s been over ten years, and it’s never not been the best-selling comic. And I really don’t have a favorite. It’s like asking a parent who’s his favorite child. Whichever one I write at the moment is my favorite at that moment. But I like them all, really.
Question: Mr. Lee, as a satiric story, how do you think the idea of a “Student Prince”, possibly as a loser in a student/college environment, would fare in comics form?
Lee: Well, the funny thing is that anything is a good idea. I would say that would be perfectly fine. When people say, “Where do you get your ideas from?”—not just to me, but to everybody here and in any creative field—I find myself that ideas are just about the easiest thing. The original idea is easy. It’s then what do you do with it? Now your “Student Prince”—fine. Maybe I could come up with something great if I used that idea and maybe I’d fall on my face. Maybe Dave could take it and make it a great feature in Mad, or Allen could use it in Mary Worth, or Gahan in a cartoon. There’s no such thing, to me, as a really bad idea or a really good idea. Everything depends on how it’s executed. I hope I’ve evaded your question successfully.
Question: Mr. Lee, why do the monsters always have such terrible dialogue?
Lee: Why didn’t I stay home? Well, I don’t know. I guess you can have such dialogue if you’re being satirical. Maybe the dialogue sort of points out the satire. Anyway, any monster who has dialogue—well, you were being satirical by asking the question and thank you for giving us a laugh.
Question: Mr. Lee, how do you keep your head straight trying to keep up with so many characters?
Lee: I don’t. I have a lot of assistants like Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich. Every time somebody says to me, “Hey, Stan, what happened to so-and-so,” I say, “Hey, Roy, what happened to so-and-so?” Now Roy is the greatest; this man is all memory. If I were to write something, he’d say, “No Stan, you wrote that in issue #12 of the Hulk” or something. With guys like that I don’t need a memory, and that’s lucky for me because I’m afraid I don’t have much of one. But our stories aren’t all that authentic, as some of you have intimated, and the big thing is that we just keep rolling along and hope that there’s enough excitement and enough going on that people won’t realize how many boners we’re making.
Question: Mr. Saunders, do you write your strip in day-by-day pattern or in a continuous sequence?
Allen Saunders: I am a creature of habit and over the years I’ve found that the simplest thing to do is to sit down in my little cubbyhole of an office—I can’t work at home because there’s too much confusion and I might be asked to rake the yard or something—so I come in and decide,
“Well, today might be a good day to write a week of Steve Roper or a week of Mary Worth” and I write the copy for one week almost always in one day—that’s six dailies and a Sunday page. Then these beautiful drawings have to be done, and I go home and sit in front of the television set—I used to do this with radio because you could draw and listen and nothing happened, and I thought when television came in “Why, those days are gone forever.” Seems they haven’t gone forever at all since there’s so little on television that you really want to look at. I can still sit there in front of the television and draw. So I do the entire copy for one strip in the daytime, and put the sketches in that night.
Question: Mr. Lee, do you enjoy seeing the Marvel characters on television, and do the TV shows affect your books in any way?
Lee: Well, from an aesthetic point of view I think it’s horrible, because we try to do Spider-Man for an older audience, and on television they do it for the six-year-olds. I don’t think it helps or hurts. I think that the people who watch it on television don’t necessarily buy the books, and the people who buy the books don’t necessarily watch it on television. It’s a totally different market. And I was very interested in the television series in the beginning. I flew out to the coast, and I discussed these things with Hanna-Barbera and Krantz Films and so forth, until I realized discussing it meant nothing because all they’re interested in doing is pleasing the sponsor. Not the network, not us, but the sponsor. But the sponsor is only interested in the four, five, and six-year-olds who will buy the breakfast food or whatever. So it is such a totally different thing that, except for having the names of our characters, there’s almost no relationship.
Question: Mr. Lee, approximately what age audience do you try to pattern your comics for?

Lee: We try the impossible. We try to gather everybody together as our audience. But what happened is: in the beginning comics were read by kids from four years old up to about twelve or thirteen, and maybe an occasional serviceman in World War II, and that was about all. But little by-little, and I’d like to think since the advent of Marvel, we have been upgrading the audience, too the point now where just about every college and university has a core of Marvel fans. There are adults who read them, so it’s certainly not unusual to see seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen year-olds reading Marvel. To answer your Question more specifically, what I try to do in writing the stories is to get enough human interest, drama, good characterization, dialogue—as much as we can within the confines of the comic strip format to interest the older reader, and we try to get enough color and action and excitement not to lose the younger reader, and it’s very difficult. We’re always straddling the fence. If we get too good we lose a lot of the younger readers and we really can’t afford to do that; we need those sales. If we cater to the younger readers, we’ll lose the older readers, and we certainly don’t want to do that. So it’s a real ulcer situation.
Question: Mr. Lee, I was looking at the cover of this comic handed to me at the door, and it says “Approved by the Comics Code Authority.” I was wondering if that was composed of people in the industry or the Subversive Activities Control Board or what?
Lee: It’s like the Motion Picture Authority, really. Years ago there was a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham who decided that all the ills of the world were caused by comic books. He got a lot of publicity, and he was really hurting the comic book business, and he was about to go after other industries in the media, so we banded together and the publishers appointed a “comic book czar”—not a man in the industry, actually he was a judge at the time. He has since resigned, and there was a woman who was head of many women’s organizations who did the job. There is now an attorney who has the job of “comic book czar.” Totally independent of the publishers, and we really listen to them. If they find something that’s objectionable, they tell us and we change it. But that happens very rarely. In comics, really, the most you can object to is that they might be boring, you might have read the story before, or we might have made a lot of mistakes. But I don’t think there’s anything for anyone to make a big fuss over.
Question: Mr. Wilson, how closely do you work with Hugh Hefner?
Wilson: Well, that’s very interesting. Hef wanted to be a cartoonist; he’s a failed cartoonist. He really is. He did cartoons, tried to sell them, failed. Actually, they were awful. He went to great expense to publicize them, went on TV shows, and in early issues of Playboy you find several cartoons signed “Hef.” But he went on to become a very good editor and realized he was a lousy cartoonist and fired himself. As an editor though he’s really the best. No kidding! The best I ever worked with. Lots of times cartoon editors will give you lots of talk, and it really doesn’t sharpen the cartoon. But Hefner has a really extraordinary ability to take the particular artist, and his criticisms will be supremely apt for that artist. Beautifully so, I mean he’s really good!
Question: Should a cartoonist be ethical?
Berg: On the Question of being ethical, Mad Magazine was in peril when a mid-western minister wrote an article about Mad which eventually turned into a book. It was Rev. Vernon Ellar, and the book was called The Mad Morality, where he claimed Mad was often better than Biblical ethics. He made the point that we don’t think things are evil, we think things are stupid. Now Mad was terrified that the “Establishment” was cheering us. One of the things he said, for instance, was that “underneath the pile of garbage that is Mad Magazine beats the heart of a rabbi.” Now frankly, I don’t know who he’s talking about, because I’m not a rabbi—a prophet, maybe—but not a rabbi. It really got us uptight.
Question: What restraints do you feel you’re working under? Are they political, or social or .. .
Lee: (facetiously): Economic. If something can make money for Marvel Comics, it is good. What’s good for Marvel Comics is good for . . . Stan Lee’s country . . . but I don’t know. As far as what’s right and what’s wrong, I don’t think those things ever really change. I think everybody has a different conception. It seems to me that anything you can do that doesn’t hurt anybody else and pleases you—that would seem pretty right to you. My only taboo is something that might be injurious in some way to other people, and if it isn’t, I don’t care what anybody says, we’ll go ahead and do it . . . unless we lose money.
Garry Trudeau: But how do you think such a thing can be determined? I’ve found that there’s a complete double standard as to what’s acceptable on the comics page and what’s accepted in the rest of the newspaper. There are so many subjects which editors feel should not be found with the comics—that it should be a tranquilizing experience.
Lee: Well, let me tell you a story about the newspapers. This may be a little known fact, but I had a couple of newspaper strips a few years ago, and it was a frightening experience. It was like Alice in Wonderland. I had an editor, who shall be nameless, and I remember I did a gag, and I thought it was kind of funny, and the punch line involved a pogo stick. I don’t remember what the gag was, but the two words pogo stick were part of the punch line. This editor, in his benign wisdom, said to me, “You know, Stan, you’re from New York.” Well, I didn’t think that was so terrible, but what does that have to do with a pogo stick? “Our strip goes all around the country, boy, and there are people who don’t know what a pogo stick is. You know in Slow Falls, Iowa, they may not know that. We better appeal to everybody.” And he told me to change it to roller skates. Now as I said, I don’t remember the gag, and you’ll have to take my word for it. This gag was not funny in the context of roller skates. You know, it’s like the word pickles which is funny, and the word peach isn’t funny. Now pogo stick had a funny sound. Anyway, he was the editor, and we changed the words to roller skates, and I might add that the strip was eventually dropped by the newspapers, and this is my defense: I was working for an editor who thought that roller skates were better than a pogo stick. But this type of censorship, to me, is almost indecent.    
            Whether the artist is Garry Trudeau or the writer is Allen Saunders or what, you hire somebody, I assume, for the talent they have, and there might be certain taboos. But it seems to me that if a person is doing something creatively, and he feels that’s the way it ought to be done, you’ve gotta let him do it. That way you either don’t let him do the strip at all, or let him do it his way. But I think too many strips, too many motion pictures, too many books have failed because at some point they were emasculated by an editor. And because the artist, or the writer, or the musician, or the actor, or whatever is desperate for the job, he compromises, he feels it should be done one way, the editor wants it done another way, and they compromise. I don’t think anything good artistically has ever been accomplished that way. And excuse me. I didn’t mean to make a speech.
Trudeau: Are there any questions from the audience?
Audience member: Would anybody care to comment on the connection between writing as an art and the art itself?
Lee: I’ll make this short. The art of writing is to write the story, and the art of drawing is to draw the pictures. Now some people just write the stories, some people just draw the pictures, and some guys do both. And if anybody can add anything to that .. .
Jack Kirby: I’ll grab hold of this. I’ve worked with writers and artists. I know that the writing helps the art, and the art is supposed to help the writing. Combined, they’re supposed to have an impact upon the reader. Some cartoons don’t have writing at all, and I suppose you can call that graphic manual art. That’s what makes them work. Sometimes the writing will make an adventure strip work. Sometimes, if you get the right man to write the strip, you can get a strip with a lot of impact. So the writer is necessary to the strip because that’s been the format all along. Someone has to write the balloons. If you’re an extremely talented artist you can write the script yourself; that’s been done too. Writing and drawing are both arts, and the combination of both fields can make a very fine product. They’re separate arts, but not inseparable. They help each other in the best way possible.
Saunders: I think a badly drawn strip is the hardest thing in the world to sell next to rotten eggs, or something like that.
Audience Member: What do you think of comic books like Green Lantern/Green Arrow which use relevance as a theme?
Lee: Is that for me?
Audience Member: That is for you and Mr. Kirby.
Lee: Well, let Jack go first.
Kirby: I feel that doing any story on a very serious situation in a comic book is wrong. Because of the restrictive nature of its own format, a comic book cannot do a definitive analysis of a given issue. It can do it in a general way, it can probably gloss over it or mention it or maybe devote a segment of the story to it, but it cannot give a definitive opinion of the issue. If I thought Green Lantern had done anything constructive in that direction, it would be fine. But I thought they couldn’t have given the whole story and possibly left out an important part of the issue. So I felt they were right by doing it, but they missed the point by not doing it in a different format. They should have done a bigger Green Lantern, a book of say 200-250 pages. That would tell a really good story on any given issue, and it would have meant something. Because those issues are not entertainment; they’re really problems. And I feel a problem should be extremely well-defined. A comic book, as it is now, really labors to put it across. Certainly, those books did a good job, as far as they went. But I feel they should have been given more of a chance to really tell the story. Because that’s what you want, if you have a serious issue, you should get the story, every detail. And that’s my opinion on the Green Lantern book.
Lee: Well, since Green Lantern is a competitive magazine of ours, I think the book is already too big. I must disagree; I don’t agree with Jack about comic books not being a medium for serious messages. I’ve always felt that comics are a legitimate art form, really no different from movies, radio, television, novels, plays, what have you. I think that anything you can say in any other medium, you can say in a comic. Years ago, when I was in the army, one of the things I did was write comic books on very serious subjects for training. I taught people how to operate Sherman tanks and how to avoid venereal disease. Very important subjects, but they used the comics format. We were able to get a message across clearly, succinctly, and briefly and very effectively we found through the use of comics. As far as Green Lantern is concerned, basically, I think the editors of National Comics and we at Marvel have basic, have a total disagreement in editorial policy on the way these things should be handled. I do agree when Jack said comics are entertainment; of course they are. Our purpose is to entertain our readers as best we can. I love trying to get messages into the stories. I love trying to moralize, sermonize, but it has to be done in a subtle way, in almost a subliminal way. On the other hand, at National they love the idea of their books being “relevant” now. And my own feeling is a personal feeling—they try to hit the reader over the head with their “relevance.” Their covers say, “Hey gang, this is a relevant issue. Look at the guy with the needle in his arm.” and they may be right, but it is totally in opposition to the way I feel about these things.
Kirby: May I add just one point? I think that’s one thing they did right. And I think that’s one thing the other books did right, is the fact that they do show that. I felt that, as long as they did do it, showing the problem as it is, the needle in the arm is the only way to portray the drug, the only way to portray the issue. Because that’s essentially what it is. There’s no other way to do it. Green Lantern from that point of view I think was good. They didn’t take any other way around the issue. I felt that they didn’t say enough.
            I wanted to see a bigger Green Lantern in a more definitive way to tell the real story of drugs. When the real story is told and people can take a good look at it and see what it’s really like, then I think the people who are inclined to slip into that sort of thing will hesitate to do so. So the needle in the arm, I think, is a symbol of what the problem really is, and if it’s ugly, let’s face it, it’s ugly, and we have to show it. And I think they were very honest to do that, and very right to do that.
Audience Member: I was wondering, I have a comic here, and it has these ads on “How to throw a groovy party for under $5” and “How to lose ugly fat.” I was wondering if these things were really necessary to be in your comics, for them to go on sale. Do you need these to make it economically possible?
Lee: Let’s try to dispose of this quickly. I couldn’t agree with you more. Yes, they are necessary in order for the comics to be financially successful, but they show a tremendous lack of judgment and discretion on the part of our advertising department. For years the ads in comic books have been a source of great embarrassment to me and as soon as possible I intend to try to upgrade them. We had one I thought was a horror, and I insisted they remove this ad. I didn't know about it until I saw it for the first time in the book that I was reading. I don't know if you remember it from a few months ago, but it said "You can be taller. Increase your height by three inches." And I went to my then-publisher and I said, "How can you allow a thing like this in the book?", and so we did take the ad out. Unfortunately, it's just one of the things we haven't had too much time to think about, but I agree with you 100 percent.