|Edited by Jon B. Cooke||Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
The chariot awaits: Stan shared a number of personal pictures with CBA - the above shot of Stan and his wife Joanie with their vintage Rolls Royce was the most prominent of the bunch. Stan added this caption: "This is the last time we buy a car that's more photogenic than us! (Circa 1985)"
Stan the Man & Roy the Boy
A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas
From Comic Book Artist #2
What follows is less an interview and more a conversation between the two most prominent creative forces working at Marvel Comics in the early 1970s: the legendary "Smilin'" Stan Lee and "Rascally" Roy Thomas. The discussion was conducted via telephone in two sessions during May 1998.
STAN LEE: What on earth could you possibly ask me that hasn't
been asked before?
Stan: You just ask and I will answer.
Roy: You started working at Timely as a teenager under Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Were both of them counted as editors, or was it just Joe?
Stan: My memory is not the best, but I thought that Joe was the editor and sort of Jack's boss. I got that feeling. Generally, Jack would be sitting at the drawing board drawing and chewing his cigar, muttering to himself. Joe would be walking around, chewing his cigar and mumbling, and also handling whatever business there was to handle under Martin Goodman.
Roy: So you didn't see Joe draw a lot?
Stan: No, but I know that he did draw. I didn't see him draw a lot at all.
Roy: When Simon & Kirby left Timely in 1941 to go to work for DC with the deal that had them doing "Boy Commandos," "Sandman," etc., was there some bad blood between them and publisher Martin Goodman? Or did he just accept the fact there was more money to be made over at DC?
Stan: I would imagine there had to have been some bad blood, or why would they have left? I have a feeling that there was some problem. Either Martin found out that they were doing work on the side, or they started to argue about who owned Captain America—both of these things may be wrong, but it was something like that. There was some unpleasantness.
Roy: John Buscema once told the editor of Comic Book Artist that, sometime in the late '40s, Martin Goodman once opened a closet door and discovered "an enormous pile of discarded (but paid-for) art that was never published." John says that Goodman promptly put all the staff artists on freelance status. Do you recall that?
Stan: It would never have happened just because he opened a closet door. But I think that I may have been in a little trouble when that happened. We had bought a lot of strips that I didn't think were really all that good, but I paid the artists and writers for them anyway, and I kinda hid them in the closet! [laughter] And Martin found them and I think he wasn't too happy. If I wasn't satisfied with the work, I wasn't supposed to have paid, but I was never sure it was really the artist's or the writer's fault. But when the job was finished I didn't think that it was anything that I wanted to use. I felt that we could use it in inventory—put it out in other books. Martin, probably rightly so, was a little annoyed because it was his money I was spending.
Roy: The revival of Captain America, the Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner in the '50s was done, everyone assumes, because of the success of the Superman TV show. Bill Everett told me in an interview how some TV producers approached Martin Goodman and Timely in 1954 about a Sub-Mariner TV show to star Richard Egan. Bill said comedian Herb Shriner was part of the deal, and that Arthur Godfrey put up the money. Bill mentioned a producer named Frank Saverstein or Saperstein. Did you know anything about that?
Stan: No. It's a funny thing: Martin never discussed business deals with me, and that would have fallen under the heading of a business deal. This is the first that I've heard about it.
Roy: You were just the peon that kept things running? [laughs]
Stan: I was just the guy in the other room, trying to do the comics.
Roy: A couple of years after that, the American News debacle happened—that's when Timely/Atlas collapsed. Bill told me that someone forewarned him. Did you have any warning that this total collapse was coming?
Stan: Absolutely not. The only thing I did know was that Martin had given up his own distribution company and had gone with the American News Company. I remember saying to him, "Gee, why did you do that? I thought that we had a good distribution company." His answer was like, "Oh, Stan, you wouldn't understand. It has to do with finance." I didn't really give a damn, and I went back to doing the comics.
And then, very shortly thereafter—maybe two weeks later—the American News Company went out of business! We were left without a distributor and we couldn't go back to distributing our own books because the fact that Martin quit doing it and went with American News had got the wholesalers very angry—I don't know why it got them angry, but this is what I heard—and it would have been impossible for Martin to just say, "Okay, we'll go back to where we were and distribute our books."
It ended up where we were turning out 40, 50, 60 books a month, maybe more, and the only company we could get to distribute our books was our closest rival, National (DC) Comics. Suddenly we went from 60, 70, 80 books a month—whatever it was—to either eight or 12 books a month, which was all Independent News Distributors would accept from us. We had to try and build ourselves up from that until we eventually went to Curtis Circulation.
Roy: Didn't Independent have a contract that basically said that in order to start one new title, you had to drop something else?
Stan: I don't remember that for a fact, but that could very well have been the case. I know that it was very tough for us; we were down to almost nothing.
Roy: That's the period when Jack Kirby came back to Marvel. Jack mentioned in an interview [in The Comics Journal #136] that he came to work offering his services when people were literally moving out the furniture. Do you recall that?
Stan: I never remember being there when people were moving out the furniture. [chuckles] If they ever moved the furniture, they did it during the weekend when everybody was home. Jack tended toward hyperbole, just like the time he was quoted as saying that he came in and I was crying and I said, "Please save the company!" I'm not a crier and I would never have said that. I was very happy that Jack was there and I loved working with him, but I never cried to him. [laughs]
Roy: During that period when you put out very few books, did you feel that your days in comics were limited and that maybe the whole thing was going to die?
Stan: Believe it or not, I think I felt that way until we started Marvel Comics. I never thought that this thing would last! [laughs] When did I start? '40? I think it was the third issue of Captain America.
Roy: That would have been in very late '40 or early '41, in terms of when the issues left the office. Less than a year later you became the temporary editor; that lasted for decades. Now, skipping ahead to 1961: The story has often been told of this infamous, legendary golf game with Martin Goodman and [DC President] Jack Liebowitz in which Liebowitz bragged about the sales of Justice League of America, and Goodman came back and told you to start a super-hero book. Was that story really true?
Stan: That's absolutely true. He came in to see me one day and said, "I've just been playing golf with Jack Liebowitz"—they were pretty friendly—and he said, "Jack was telling me the Justice League is selling very well, and why don't we do a book about a group of super-heroes?" That's how we happened to do Fantastic Four.
Roy: Was there any thought at that time to just bringing back Cap, Torch, and Sub-Mariner?
Stan: No, I really wanted to do something new. You probably heard this story: I wanted to quit at that time. I was really so bored and really too old to be doing these stupid comic books; I wanted to quit. I was also frustrated because I wanted to do comic books that were—even though this seems like a contradiction in terms—I wanted to do a more realistic fantasy. Martin wouldn't let me and had wanted the stories done the way they had always been done, with very young children in mind. That was it.
My wife Joan said to me, "You know, Stan, if they asked you to do a new book about a new group of super-heroes, why don't you do 'em the way that you feel you'd like to do a book? If you want to quit anyway, the worst that could happen is that he'll fire you, and so what? You want to quit." I figured, hey, maybe she's right. That's why I didn't want to do the Torch and the Sub-Mariner; I wanted to create a new group and do them the way I had always wanted to do a comic book. That's what happened.
Roy: I assume that Joan said this after you were given the assignment to do the super-hero group and not while you were doing the monster books.
Stan: It was after I told her that Martin wanted to do a super-hero group but I thought that I would say to him, "Forget it. I want to quit."
Roy: So you were actually thinking of quitting instead of doing the Fantastic Four? I hadn't heard that before! That would have changed comic book history.
Stan: Maybe. If Martin hadn't come in to me and said, "Liebowitz said the Justice League is selling well, so why don't we do a comic book about super-heroes?"—if he hadn't said that to me, I might've—in the next day or two, I might've just quit.
Roy: Timing is everything.
Stan: Luck, too.
Roy: By Fantastic Four #1, you had developed what later came to be called "the Marvel style." But you were doing this all along for some monster stories, some time before this. How far back does that go?
Stan: You mean just doing synopses for the artists? Was I doing them before Marvel?
Roy: I know that you did it for Fantastic Four. [Stan's synopsis for F.F. #1 is printed in Alter Ego, Vol. 2, #2, backing this issue of CBA.] So I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing it since the monster days.
Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that's probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you're probably right.
Roy: You probably didn't write full scripts for Jack for "Fin Fang Foom."
Stan: I did full scripts in the beginning, but then I found out how good he was just creating his own little sequence of pictures—and I did it in the beginning with Ditko, too—but when I found out how good they were, I realized that, "Gee, I don't have to do it—I get a better story by just letting them run free."
Roy: The amazing thing is, not only could you get Jack and Steve to do it, but that other artists who had always worked from scripts—Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and others—could also learn to do it and be quite successful with a little training from you.
Stan: I will admit that a lot of them were very nervous about it, and very unhappy about being asked to do it. But then they loved it after a while.
Roy: I think that John Buscema, too, thought it was a little strange at first, but got to really like it. Then, when someone would give him a full script, he didn't like that.
Stan: Absolutely right. John Buscema is amazing. He was never thought of—it's not the popular idea that he was the most creative guy, storywise. And yet, he was as creative as anybody else—probably as creative as Jack. Well, you worked with John.
Roy: Sure, quite a bit: Conan, Avengers.
Stan: He only needed a few words. He didn't even want a big synopsis; he wanted the skimpiest outline, because he wanted to do it his way. And his way was always great!
Roy: I remember plotting the first story of this villain called the Man-Ape in The Avengers with him for five or ten minutes over the phone. I wanted to give him more, and he said, "Nah, that's enough." [laughs]
Stan: That's exactly what he did with me. And I was never disappointed.
Roy: How did you feel about being distributed by Independent? Especially after Marvel became successful, were you antsy to get out from under?
Stan: It would be like if you were working for Ford, and General Motors was selling your cars! I could never prove it, but we were sure—it's just human nature and psychology—that National Comics wasn't working as hard to sell our books as they were to sell theirs. Even more, it was the fact that we were only able to do so few books in the beginning, which meant we had to let a lot of artists and writers go. That was always the worst thing that could happen.
Roy: I do remember when we began particularly to have suspicions during the Not Brand Echh days, when every issue of that book seemed to sell, until the one where we had a takeoff on Superman on the cover. Suddenly the sales went down! [laughs] In the early days, it's now well known that Larry Lieber, your brother, wrote the dialogue for a number of stories, after they were plotted by you and drawn by Jack or whoever, on some series like "Thor" and "Iron Man."
Stan: Well, it's in the credits and I always put his name in. If not, I'd say, "Plot by Stan Lee." Larry definitely did the first "Thor," and he may have written the copy for "Iron Man." What I did was give him the plot and he wrote it.
Roy: Was it that you were just too busy, or did you just think that it wasn't that important that you do the dialogue?
Stan: Both. And you know that both "Thor" and "Iron Man" were only 10-, 11-page stories and not a feature book. I was very busy and I liked the way that Larry wrote, and so I thought I'd give him a shot at it.
Roy: The mere fact that people assumed for years afterward that you did the dialogue shows that he imitated your style pretty well. The thing with Larry is that he was just a little slow.
Stan: He was like Romita; he was never the fastest one.
Roy: We used to say that if we'd change Rawhide Kid from monthly to bimonthly, Larry would just take twice as long to draw it. [laughter] I'll never forget the day I walked into one Marvel office not long after Ditko quit, and here's John Romita drawing Amazing Spider-Man and Larry drawing the Spider-Man Annual and Marie Severin drawing "Dr. Strange," and I joked, "This is the Steve Ditko Room; it takes three of you to do what Steve Ditko used to do."
[Production Manager] Sol Brodsky told me that, right from the start, you thought Spider-Man was an important character, even if he was just in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy. But Larry Ivie, someone else who worked there at the time, feels that you considered him a throwaway character. Did you feel that Spider-Man was big from the start?
Stan: I'm trying to remember, but I think I must have felt that he was a good character or I wouldn't have fought so much to do him. I wanted to do Spider-Man as a book, but Martin wouldn't let me. Therefore I sneaked him into the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.
Roy: Because Goodman said that spiders wouldn't sell?
Stan: He said three things that I will never forget: He said people hate spiders, so you can't call a hero "Spider-Man"; then when I told him I wanted the hero to be a teenager, as he was in the beginning, Martin said that a teenager can't be a hero, but only be a sidekick; and then when I said I wanted him not to be too popular with girls, and not great-looking or a strong, macho-looking guy, but just a thin, pimply high school student, and Martin said, "Don't you understand what a hero is?" At the same time, I also said that I wanted him to have a lot of problems, like that he doesn't have enough money and he'd get an allergy attack while he was fighting. Martin just wouldn't let me do the book. Normally, I'd have forgotten about it, but when we were doing the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, I put it in there. So I must have felt that he was important somehow, or I wouldn't have bothered.
Roy: You started right off joking about super-heroes being "long underwear characters," so it had a different tone at the very beginning. It was obvious that there was a lot of thought going into it. I noticed that the day I bought it, in 1962.
Stan: I don't know if there was that much thought, or if I was just uninhibited when I wrote it.
Roy: There could be that, too: the opposite!
Stan: There wasn't much thought in anything, because there wasn't time to give anything that much thought; we were working too fast!
Roy: Sometime, not too long before that, you had some alien "spider-men" in a story you did with Jack.
Stan: Maybe. I know Jack once said that he had done a Spider-Man comic years ago and said that I had copied it. I never saw it and, to this day, I don't know what was going on.
Roy: C.C. Beck and Joe Simon worked on the Silver Spider, but there are few similarities, it seems to me, between the two. Besides, there had been The Spider before, anyway, in the pulps.
Stan: That's probably what influenced me with the name. I used to read The Spider pulp magazine—which of course was nothing like Spider-Man—and I always thought that it was a dramatic name.
Roy: The funny thing is that the pulp Spider was more like The Shadow; he didn't have any kind of web. But when they did the movie serials, he had a costume that had webbing on it.
Stan: I didn't see the serials. When they started to do the Spider paperbacks a few years ago, whoever the publisher was sent me a letter asking if I'd give some sort of testimonial for the book. You know I'd always write a few lines for a book, and I wrote that it's great to see The Spider back again. I thought it was nice and tried to do what I could to help those books sell. One day not so long ago, I got a letter from Jay Kennedy, the Editor-in-Chief at King Features, and it said that in the Spider-Man newspaper strip I must not use the term "The Spider" in the title, in one of the coming-next-week blurbs. I wrote something like, "The Spider at Bay." They protested and thought I was trying to pull a fast one. Since then I don't use the term "The Spider" anymore.
Roy: Various people like Gene Colan, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito started wandering over to Marvel in the mid-'60s, and they used pseudonyms. Was this so DC wouldn't know that they were working for Marvel?
Stan: Maybe not in every case, but as far as Gene and Frank, I don't think there was any other reason for them to use different names.
Roy: Everyone's heard tales of you physically playing out stories, jumping on tables, and acting out "Thor" stories.
Stan: I used to enjoy doing that. I always had a lot of energy in those days and it was hard for me to sit still. I think I never really grew up and I loved acting silly. I got a kick out of it. Writing comics—you know how it feels, but maybe you don't feel that way—writing at the typewriter, hour after hour, got kind of boring. I would do whatever I could do to jazz things up. I liked to feel that there was excitement in the air at the office. If I could sing out loud or play my ocarina—I was the worst player in the world, but at least it made a lot of noise.
Roy: Maybe I'm more inhibited because I'm short, and as a high school teacher for several years, I had to get the students, some of whom were taller than I was, to take me seriously.
Stan: [laughs] Being a teacher probably toned you down!
Roy: When you started those letter columns with that friendly tone, were you inspired by the EC letters pages?
Stan: No. You know what inspired me? When I was a kid, there used to be these hardcover book series like The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Tom Sturdy, but nobody ever heard of the one I read: Jerry Todd and Poppy Ott. I think Poppy was a friend of Jerry Todd's who was spun off into his own series. They were not periodicals or magazine but real books.
At the end of each book, there were letters pages where the writer, Leo Edwards, would write a little message to the readers and print some of their letters with answers. He had a very informal style, and the books themselves were wonderful because they were adventure stories. But unlike The Hardy Boys and the others, there was a tremendous amount of humor—the way I tried to do with Spider-Man and some others. I was a big fan of these books, and I loved the fact that they had letters and commentary by the author. Leo Edwards was the only guy that did that. Maybe I remembered the warm, friendly feeling of those letters.
Roy: When I came aboard in mid-'65, you were coming into the office only two or three days a week. Was it because it was getting too busy?
Stan: That's a little bit of a story: A few years before that, I was doing so much writing and I couldn't finish it in the office, so I said to Martin, "I have to have one day a week off to get my writing done." So he said okay, and I took Wednesday off because it was right in the middle of the week and it broke it off into two two-day weeks.
Then, as I got more and more into writing, I said to Joan, "I'm gonna ask him for another day off." She said, "You can't do that! How can you have the nerve to ask for two days a week off and he's paying you a weekly salary?" Hey, the only thing he can do is say no. So I asked him, and he must have had a good golf game that day, and he said okay. I took off Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Then I still seemed to feel that I had too much writing to do, so I said to Joan, "I'm going to ask him if I can take Monday, Wednesday, and Friday off!" She said, "Stan, I'm going to head for the hills! Nobody can ask for something like that!" I said, "Hey, what can I lose?" And he actually said okay! So there was a time when I came in Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The funny thing is that people still say to me, "Boy, you're lucky to stay home those days," and there's no way to explain that I'd rather be in the office! When I'm home, I'm working all the time; when I'm in the office, I'm talking to people, making phone calls, acting like a boss—being in the office is fun! Being at home, I'm sitting at the goddamned typewriter or, now, the computer and I'm working. But it still sounds to people like such a cushy deal.
Roy: There were a couple of people who worked in the office in a vague editorial capacity in '65 before I came along. One of them was Larry Ivie. Was he working there as an assistant editor at the time?
Stan: I remember his name—he wrote books, didn't he? But I really don't remember. I just recall the name.
Roy: Now—about the famous "Marvel Writer's Test": Sol Brodksy and Flo Steinberg told me that you put an ad for writers in the New York Times, and had hundreds of people applying.
Stan: It's news to me, but it sounds like something we might have done.
Roy: Did you have to read a lot of the tests?
Stan: I probably gave them to somebody else to read. I really don't remember.
Roy: The reason I'm curious is that supposedly I was hired on the basis of taking this writer's test while I was working at DC.
Stan: Then I must have been reading them.
Roy: We met the next day after I turned it in. You offered me a job a few minutes later, but you never referred to the test then or at any other time, so I never knew if you actually read it or if I was hired because I was already working for Mort Weisinger over at DC. [laughs]
Stan: I think I liked your personality.
Roy: It was always strange to me: I went in there expecting to discuss this writing test and figured that I must have passed—but you never mentioned it! And I'm still waiting!
Stan: [laughs] Maybe that's the case, Roy. I just don't remember.
Roy: We're actually going to print one page of that test in Comic Book Artist. The test was four Jack Kirby pages from Fantastic Four Annual #2....
Stan: Oh! When I wanted people to put dialogue over the pictures? That was a good idea!
Roy: You had Sol or someone take out the dialogue. It was just black-and-white. Other people like Denny O'Neil and Gary Friedrich took it. But soon afterwards we stopped using it.
Stan: That was a clever idea! I'm proud of me! [laughs] You know, I probably did read yours and most of the others, because I know I hate to read scripts, but if it was just pictures with dialogue balloons, I could have read that very quickly, and chances are that I did read them all. And chances are that I'm a lousy judge, so I probably liked yours! [laughs]
Roy: I was startled to learn in '65 that Marvel was just part of a parent company called Magazine Management. A lot of people from other departments went on to fame and fortune during Marvel's early days: [humorist/playwright] Bruce Jay Friedman, Mario Puzo, Ernest Tidyman (who created Shaft), and [gossip columnist] Rona Barrett. Do you remember when Puzo—before he came out with The Godfather—wanted to write for Marvel?
Stan: Yeah. Either he came to me or I heard that he was kind of strapped for money and he would like to see if he could write a comic book. At any rate, I spoke to him and I gave him an assignment because I knew he was a good writer. He came back to me a few weeks later and he hadn't done the assignment. He said, "Stan, I didn't realize that writing comics was so hard! I could write a goddamned novel with all the work that it would take me to do this!" The next thing I knew, there was The Godfather!
Roy: That was his third novel, but I imagine he could have been working on it at the time, so he eventually would have left us anyway. [laughs] I remember that when we started the Academy of Comic Book Arts in 1970-71, he sent a message to the first public meeting thanking Marvel Comics "for teaching my children to read when the public schools failed."
Stan: Aw, gee, I wish I had a copy of that.
Roy: I was sitting in the audience with Tom Wolfe at the time. I'd invited Wolfe because he was an idol of mine. So we had some nice heavy names for that first big public ACBA meeting.
Stan: I would love the chance to start ACBA again. The industry could certainly use that. With all the contacts I now have in TV, if there were an ACBA, I'll bet I could get the awards ceremony to be televised once a year.
Roy: Now that we wouldn't win anymore! [laughs] In the two weeks I worked for DC in '65, I learned they had an editorial meeting in which they were discussing the Marvel competition, because Marvel had begun to outsell DC in percentages. This was the second time—since EC had done it in the '50s—that Independent was distributing a comics company that was outselling DC, percentage-wise. When did you begin to realize that Marvel was becoming a sensation?
Stan: I would guess that (A) when I read the fan mail—would you believe that I read every damn letter! (Which is why I wear glasses now!)—and (B) Martin probably told me. I could tell how well we were doing by the letters where the kids would write, "You're our favorite magazines and we love these characters." Martin was very happy and proud about it and would tell me.
Roy: In 1968 Marvel expanded. Every super-hero had his own title—Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Captain America.
Stan: I was drunk with power.
Roy: And soon after that, there was a downturn in sales in general. Do you think there was an over-expansion?
Stan: I don't even remember. Well, you were there long enough to know that sales have their ups and downs. Even the best books—Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor—some months they didn't sell as well as other months. The same went for Superman, Batman. Today the same goes for Spawn, which isn't selling now what it sold a year ago. They go up, they go down. It's hard for me to remember specifically any particular event or why it happened.
Roy: You may recall that in 1971 Martin Goodman suddenly made the decision to jump the page count to 48 pages for 25¢. Then, after one glorious month of these big books, they were suddenly dropped back down to 32 pages for 20¢. I understand the motivation to give 50% off the cover price to the wholesalers, but I was wondering how you felt about this jumping around of page size.
Stan: I had so little to do with that. The orders would just come from Martin's office: This month the price would be this, or this month this is how many pages we had. My only job was to make sure somebody got good stories to fill those pages. I was never really consulted when they would raise the price. The only time I was consulted was when he wanted to put out the "treasury editions"—that may have been my idea. I think that I went to him once and said, "Why don't we put out a big book that people would notice?" But when he made these decisions, he made them all himself.
Roy: I remember that one of the few times I met with Martin Goodman was when I was there with John Verpoorten [Marvel's production manager] and Goodman was talking about how suddenly we were going to cut all the books down in size and that DC was going to take a bath if they didn't follow suit right away—and they did take a bath, because they kept the giant-size books for a year and Marvel just murdered them. So it was a very smart move, but I remember him then saying, "Well, I'm sure that the artists and writers will like it better with the smaller books." And—this was the only time that I talked up to Mr. Goodman—I said, "Actually, we prefer the bigger books." And he just sort of stared at me blankly. That was the end of our conversation. [laughs]
Stan: And almost the end of your job!
Roy: [laughs] It probably was! I was polite, but once in a while you have to speak your mind.... You were writing less in the '70s, and that's the time you began working with [French New Wave film director] Alain Resnais on the film "The Monster Maker."
Stan: That never was made. Y'know, we sold that screenplay, but it was never produced.
Roy: You had another movie you worked on in the late '70s called "The Inmates." Have you ever thought about taking one or both of those properties and turning them into graphic novels?
Stan: No, but I'm working on selling "The Inmates" as a movie now. It needs some revision, but I'm going to start showing it around. "The Monster Maker" would require so many changes that I just don't have the time. Maybe someday when I retire, which will probably be never.
Roy: As we entered the '70s, the fans were writing in for us to do Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, Tolkien, Conan, and Doc Savage. All those properties were starting to be big in paperbacks in the late '60s. I remember us talking about Conan, and you had me write what turned out to be a two- or three-page memo to Martin Goodman to persuade him as to why we should seek the rights to a sword-and-sorcery hero. I've never been able to figure out why we didn't just make up a character!
Stan: It was because of you. You were too persuasive and you wanted to do Conan! I was not a big Conan fan. I had heard of it, but I don't think that I ever read it. To show how little I know, I had that much confidence in you, and I figured that if Roy wants to do it that badly, well, let's try and do it!
Roy: We originally tried to get the rights to Thongor by Lin Carter, because we didn't think we could afford Conan, but it worked out all right—certainly for me. [laughs]
Stan: You were the guy who was totally responsible for doing Conan and for its success. That was one book that I had nothing to do with!
Roy: I remember that you said that when I completed an issue that I thought was good, I should show it to you. So I gave you the make-ready of the fourth issue, which was "The Tower of the Elephant"—based on one of Howard's best stories—and you took it inside your office for a few minutes, brought it back, tossed it limply on my desk, and said, "Well, okay, that's it—not my kind of thing." I felt bad because that was a particular story in which Conan didn't do any rescuing or fighting at the end of the story.
Stan: Maybe that's what I missed.
Roy: If I had been making up the story, I wouldn't have done it that way, I'll admit. I was a little worried about that myself, but it turned out to be quite popular. About 1970, ACBA was formed, and [DC publisher] Carmine Infantino and you were the official starters.
Stan: It was all my idea, but I knew that I needed some support. I wanted it to be like the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, and I felt (and I feel this way to this day) that comic books are a great literary and art form that isn't appreciated enough in this country. I felt that why the hell shouldn't we have an Academy of Comic Book Arts? Even back then I felt that if we had an awards ceremony every year, we could probably get it on the radio and eventually, after we got a little more prestige, even have it televised. I knew there were a lot of celebrities who were into comics, and that's all you need to get something on television—to get this actor or actress to serve as master of ceremonies. So I formed it and we were successful beyond my wildest dreams in the beginning, because every company joined and virtually every writer and artists joined.
Unfortunately, Neal Adams, whose work I respect greatly— he's one of the geniuses of the business—wanted to turn the damn thing into a union. At these meetings, Neal would get up and start talking about pay raises, benefits, and ownership for the artists. I remember saying to him and to the gathering in general, that he might well be right in everything he said, but this was the wrong forum for that sort of discussion. They don't discuss those matters in the Television Academy; that's the kind of stuff you discuss in a union meeting.
If Neal wanted to form a union, he should go ahead and do it, but the purpose of ACBA was to give our industry prestige, not to discuss the fact that artists don't have ownership or things like that. I was never able to convince him, and ACBA became divided into two camps, it seemed. I wasn't interested in starting a union, so I walked away from it. Neal was elected president, but it didn't last. The whole thing collapsed. I'm not saying this to put down Nal Adams, for most of the things that he was pitching were very worthwhile things, but, as I said, I just felt that he had picked the wrong forum. I think now it could be much more successful than ever before, because it's a bigger field and there are more celebrities involved.
I had done my best to build up Marvel, and as much as I may have contributed to Marvel's success with any stories, editing, or creating characters, I think equally as valuable was the advertising, promotion, publicity, and huckstering that I did, traveling around the country and talking about Marvel, trying to give it the right image. The reason I mention that is, that is what I wanted to do with ACBA; but I wanted to do it for the whole industry, not just for Marvel. That was the purpose. I wanted to make people feel that comic books are really great. I was very frustrated and disappointed that in some way I couldn't get everybody to have the same vision that I had for ACBA.
Roy: The early '70s were a time when you started to move away from actively being a writer because of other things you had to do.
Stan: Yeah, guys like Roy Thomas edged me out!
Roy: [laughs] Right! I was so eager to do Spider-Man in those days! Much as I loved the character Spider-Man, what I wanted to do was Fantastic Four—though nowadays it would be great to write Spidey and get those royalties! The main reason I wrote Spider-Man #101-104 and Archie Goodwin wrote Fantastic Four was because you were working with Alain Resnais on The Monster Maker for about four months' worth of books. Did it feel odd to return to Spidey, F.F., and Thor after leaving them for four months and for the first time not writing any comics for a period of time?
Stan: No. I think you can compare it to riding a bicycle; no matter how long you say away, you get on the bike and it's just like you never left it. For example, if I were to go back to writing a book now, I don't think that it would feel odd at all; my problem would be that I haven't carefully read the preceding issues, so I wouldn't know where the hell I was in the storyline. Or I might write a character in such a way that I think is the way to write him, but I wouldn't be aware that three other writers before me had changed the character totally, so I'm now writing it in the wrong way.
Roy: So when you write the Spider-Man newspaper strip, you ignore what goes on in the comic books?
Stan: Of course. I couldn't cope with that, because we do the newspaper strip so far in advance, and there's no way that I could make it compatible with the books—impossible.
Roy: Another event in 1970 that had considerable impact at Marvel was Jack Kirby suddenly leaving. Do you remember his phone call?
Stan: No. I know it must have happened, but I don't specifically recall it. I don't know who he called; it may not have been me. Maybe he didn't even call, but I just remember that at one point he just stopped working for me.
Roy: I remember that he called, because you called us in and told us. In light of all that has happened since, do you think that the relationship could have been salvaged at some point?
Stan: I think it certainly could have been salvaged if I knew what was bothering him. He never really told me, nor did Steve Ditko when he left. You can't salvage something if you don't know the cause.
Roy: I remember the day that Steve quit, a few months after I began to work at Marvel. He just came in, dropped off some pages, and left. Sol Brodsky then told me he had suddenly quit. Sol had a memo on his desk to add $5.00 to Steve's page rate, a considerable raise at that time, so it certainly wasn't over money. He wandered off to do work for Charlton, which paid half of what Marvel was offering.
Stan: As you know, I have the worst memory in the world, but maybe I knew why he left at the time. But right now, I absolutely cannot remember. The one thing I remember and felt bad about when Jack left, was that I had been thinking about—and maybe I even talked to him about it—that I wanted to make Jack my partner in a sense; I wanted him to be the art director and I thought that he could serve in that function and I would serve as the editor. Maybe this was way earlier, but I was disappointed when he left because I always felt that Jack and I would be working there forever and doing everything.
Roy: For some months when you became publisher, you needed someone to be art director, so Frank Giacoia came in [as "assistant art director"], and, very soon, John Romita succeeded him, becoming art director.
Stan: But I wasn't thinking of Jack being art director because I would be leaving; I just thought that it would be great working with him in that capacity. I was serving as art director and thought that he could take it off my shoulders, so I could just worry about the stories. It probably wouldn't have worked out anyway, because I might have disagreed with him about things—not about his own work, but if we started critiquing other artists' work, Jack and I might have looked at it differently. So it might just be that I never could have worked with any art director who would function the way I did, because I guess no two people see anything the same.
Roy: Also, with Jack being in California, there would have been a geographical problem. I have a memory that, sometime before Jack left, Jack called you up about some new ideas he had for characters. I don't think it went any further than that. Do you recall that at all? I was always curious if those were the same ideas that appeared a year or so later as The New Gods, and wondered if they could easily have ended up as Marvel characters.
Stan: I don't know if he told me the ideas and I had said that I didn't like 'em! [laughs] I just can't remember.
Roy: The last few months Jack was working for Marvel, he ended up doing the writing on a couple of series—Ka-Zar and The Inhumans. Did you invite him to write at that time?
Stan: I am probably the worst guy in the world for you to interview! (A) I didn't realize he had written them; and (B) I can't remember if I invited him to or not. I don't think that I ever would have specifically said, "Jack, I would like you to write," because I never thought of Jack as a writer (but he was certainly a great plotter). Certainly 90% of the "Tales of Asgard" stories were Jack's plots, and they were great! He knew more about Norse mythology than I ever did (or at least he enjoyed making it up!). I was busy enough just putting in the copy after he drew it.
Roy: I was always curious about those three buddies, Hogun, Fandral, and of course enormous Volstagg. Were those characters your idea or Jack's? That's one of those ideas that I could see either you or Jack making up.
Stan: I made those up. I specifically remember that I did them because I wanted a Falstaff-type guy, a guy like Errol Flynn, and then I wanted a guy like Charles Bronson who was dire and gloomy, riddled with angst. Those three were mine.
Roy: When Marvel was acquired by Perfect Film, run by Martin Ackerman—because of the Saturday Evening Post debacle, where they dismantled the magazine, were you apprehensive about that, or were you thinking mostly about the fact that now you'd be free to put out more books?
Stan: I was just curious to see what was going to happen next. I didn't know what was going to happen. It was the first time that we were owned by a conglomerate and not by Martin Goodman, so it was a whole new experience for me. I was just hoping that I could keep my job, probably—that was the thing I always worried about! Then, of course, Ackerman left after a while and Sheldon Feinberg came in. There was something wrong with Perfect Film—I don't know what it was—but the stockholders or the bank or the board of directors got Martin Ackerman to resign and they put Sheldon Feinberg in his place. Feinberg changed the name of the company from Perfect Film to Cadence Industries, and then he was in charge for quite a while.
Roy: Was it Feinberg's decision to make you President and Publisher?
Stan: Yes. But I didn't stay President very long.
Roy: Do you remember when we had problems during the Wage and Price Freeze during the Nixon administration, over the fact that we dropped down in size after one month of those giant-size 25¢ comic books? We had to put a slick, color, four-page insert in one issue of Fantastic Four; supposedly this was to make up for the fact that the Wage and Price Control Board had decided it was right on the cusp of whether we had, in a certain way, actually raised prices by charging 20¢ for 32 pages.
Stan: How the hell do you remember that?
Roy: Because I was the guy who had to write that insert! [laughs]
Stan: That was what was so great about having you there; I let you worry about it. I don't even remember it.
Roy: Do you still have the letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare which prompted you to write the narcotics issues of Spider-Man?
Stan: There used to be a scrapbook in the office, and if it's still around, the letter would be in there. I haven't seen it in a million years. I got this letter—I don't remember the exact wording—and they were concerned about drug use among kids. Since Marvel had such a great influence with young people, they thought it would be very commendable if we were to put out some sort of anti-drug message in our books.
I felt that the only way to do it was to make it a part of the story, and we made that three-parter of Spider-Man. I remember it contained one scene where a kid was going to jump off a roof and thought he could fly. My problem is that I know less about drugs than any living human being! I didn't know what kind of drug it was that would make you think you could fly! I don't think I named anything; I just said that he had "done" something.
Roy: It was just a generic kind of drug. Just the same way we used to make up the names of countries. You made up Latveria.
Stan: You're right! [laughs] Doesn't Latveria sound authentic?
Roy: I take it that you didn't do a lot of research on drugs, then?
Stan: I have never done research on anything in my life. Out here in Los Angeles, I work with and know so many screenwriters, and it amazes me the amount of research these guys do. I was going to do something about a prison, and I gave up the project because I realized I don't have any idea what the rituals are inside a prison and I just couldn't be bothered to look it up. But these guys would go and spend a week visiting a prison—even talking to the warden! I'm just no good at that.
Roy: Back in 1965 I took a phone call at the office sometime after 5:00 p.m. from somebody who asked me what you and Steve Ditko were on—because you had to be taking something in order to do those Dr. Strange stories with the fights. I said, "I don't think Stan or Steve do anything like that." (I wouldn't have admitted it if it had been true, of course.) Then he says, "It has to be, because I had a fight like that when I was high on mushrooms in Mexico City a couple of years ago! It was just like the one Dr. Strange had with Dormammu!"
Stan: It's just a testimony to Steve's ability to make things look real. I can't speak for Steve (who probably also was not on anything), but I never even smoked a marijuana cigarette. I never took anything.
Roy: After John Romita became too busy to draw or even lay out Spidey on a regular basis, you worked with Gil Kane and even Ross Andru. Do you have any thoughts about those artists?
Stan: They were great! Gil came first, and he was just terrific! And he was so fast! It was such a pleasure working with him, because he was fast. I missed John because I had such a great relationship with him—everything that John did I thought was perfect—but it really was a pleasure working with guys who were fast. I always loved Gil's stuff—very stylized, but very good.
Roy: My four issues of Amazing Spider-Man were with Gil. He and I had been friends ever since we had worked on Captain Marvel. We had a lot of fun together, too. You'll be glad to know I'm not going to ask you about who killed off Gwen Stacy. We'll skip that entirely, as we've had enough of that.
Stan: [laughs] It's funny, because obviously my memory is wrong. I think Gerry Conway has said that I told him to kill her off, but I don't remember saying that.
Roy: Actually, what he said was that evidently it was John Romita's idea. All Gerry said is that we okayed it with you, but he never claimed that it was your idea. I don't think you would ever have come up with that idea.
Stan: The memory I have is him asking me how to write the thing, and I said, "Hey, it's your book, just keep it in character and write it." I took off, came back, and she was dead! I think he was quoted somewhere as asking me whether he could kill her off and I said yes. I don't remember that and can't believe I would have. The reason is not that I have an aversion to a character dying in a series, but that I always wanted her to marry Peter Parker. But even more than that, only a short time earlier we had killed off her father and I didn't want it to look like I had something against the Stacy family!
Roy: I do remember you agreeing to it. You probably felt that it was our ball—me as editor, and Gerry and John—and it was our job. I don't think you wanted to stand in the way, but you were never enthusiastic about the idea.
Stan: If I agreed to it, it was probably because I had my mind on something else. I was careless, because if I had really considered it, I would have said, "Roy, let's talk this over."
Roy: The final time you came back as a regular writer in the comics, after you spent those four months working with Alain Resnais.
Stan: Did I really take four months off?
Roy: Yeah. You wrote up to Spider-Man #100, which you ended by giving him four extra arms and tossed it to me, saying, "Take it, Roy." I was stuck with a six-armed Spider-Man for a couple of months! [laughs]
Stan: I thought you gave him the extra arms!
Roy: No, that was at the end of your story, so I can get out of that one! You were still involved editorially though, because this was right after the Code was liberalized, and you told us you wanted Spidey to fight a vampire. Gil and I were going to bring in Dracula, who was not yet a Marvel character, and you said, "No, I want a super-villain vampire." So we made up Morbius, the Living Vampire.
Stan: It worked out great.
Roy: Did you feel strongly at that time that the Code needed to be changed?
Stan: As far as I can remember—and I've told this to so many people, it might even be true—I never thought that the Code was much of a problem. The only problem we ever had with the Code was over foolish things, like the time in a western when we had a puff of smoke coming out of a gun and they said it was too violent. So we had to make the puff of smoke smaller. Silly things. But as far as ideas for stories or characters that we came up with, I almost never had a problem, so they didn't bother me. I think the biggest nuisance was that sometimes I had to go down and attend a meeting of the [CMAA] Board of Directors. I felt that I was killing an entire afternoon.
Roy: Do you think that there were any bad feelings on the part of the Code over the Spider-Man drug issues?
Stan: That was the only big issue that we had. I could understand them; they were like lawyers, people who take things literally and technically. The Code mentioned that you mustn't mention drugs and, according to their rules, they were right. So I didn't even get mad at them then. I said, "Screw it" and just took the Code seal off for those three issues. Then we went back to the Code again. I never thought about the Code when I was writing a story, because basically I never wanted to do anything that was to my mind too violent or too sexy. I was aware that young people were reading these books, and had there not been a Code, I don't think that I would have done the stories any differently.
Roy: The only difference was that, technically, you could not do a vampire or werewolf story.
Stan: We couldn't do vampire stories?
Roy: No, they had been forbidden since the mid-'50s when the Code arrived. The Morbius story was done in the vein of just like any other super-villain—we even gave him primary costume colors of red and blue, just like Spider-Man. Very soon after that, we began the whole gamut of those creatures: Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Frankenstein. Many of these concepts flowed from you. Man-Thing was a sentence or two concept that you gave me for the first issue of Savage Tales.
Stan: That came after Swamp Thing, didn't it?
Roy: No, it came at the same time as the first one-shot "Swamp Thing" story, but before the regular series.
Stan: So we didn't copy it from Swamp Thing?
Roy: No, or vice versa. In fact, I had done a character a little earlier in The Hulk that was also a takeoff on the Heap character from the '40s comics. I had called it "The Shape," but you insisted that name sounded feminine, so you changed it to "The Glob."
Stan: It's funny that you mentioned The Heap, because when I did The Hulk, I had the Heap in mind when I made up the name. I thought "The Hulk" sounded like "The Heap" and I liked it.
Roy: The Heap was one of the great old characters; he's been copied more than most characters. Man-Thing ended up looking a lot like him. Do you remember how Savage Tales came about? I always got the impression that Goodman wasn't wild about doing black-&-white books. Were these something you pushed?
Stan: I wonder why I wanted to do black-&-white books. I did push them, but I can't remember why.
Roy: Well, there were the Warren books getting a share of the market that we weren't getting into, perhaps?
Stan: Were they cheaper to do?
Roy: Well, no color, so they were cheaper per page, certainly. They were also more expensive and we could, without the Code, go a little further. The first issue of Savage Tales had a little nudity in the Conan story and in your Ka-Zar story.
Stan: I was looking to grab older readers.
Roy: There was a little more violence, but nothing really salacious. I remember a story by Denny O'Neil and Gene Colan where, by the time the book came out, all the nudity had been covered up. We were feeling our way back and forth, because we didn't know exactly what we were doing. There were all sorts of distribution problems. There was a year between Savage Tales #1 and #2. Do you remember why that was?
Stan: No, but that seems to indicate a distribution problem.
Roy: I heard that we didn't get into Canada at all because somebody complained that it was salacious material, but I've never seen anything in writing about that. But I did get the impression that Martin Goodman was very happy to see Savage Tales die the first time.
Stan: Martin never had any interest in those books.
Roy: When Savage Tales came back, it quickly spun off The Savage Sword of Conan, and there were all those black-&-white books starting with Dracula Lives! that you heaped on my shoulders over a two-day period.
Stan: Well, you were good at it.
Roy: I was good at it because I got Marv Wolfman and other people to help a lot. This happened after you had become Publisher, and you used to always tell me that we needed to do these extra books to pay my salary. Except that I never noticed getting a big raise! [laughs]
One day you came in and said we were going to do a new book called Dracula Lives! which was about 60 pages of black-&-white material to fill. The next day you came in and said we're going to do a second black-&-white, too, because we can't fit non-vampire material in Dracula Lives! so we'll do Monsters Unleashed. I said that made sense, so I called in Marv, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and we all got started on this. Then I came in the next day and you said, "Guess what?" I said, "Don't tell me, you have a third book to add." You said, "No, two more!" You wanted to do Vampire Tales—vampires that weren't Dracula—and Tales of the Zombie.
Stan: Didn't Bill Everett do that cover?
Roy: No, what happened was that, not too long before that, in the warehouse when we were doing one of our searches, I found this story from Menace that you and Bill had both signed—a 5- or 6-page wonderful zombie story from the 1950s.
Stan: That's the one that I remember.
Roy: The image on the splash page was one of the all-time great drawings of a zombie. I decided to make that the template of the title character, but you may have been thinking of that story, too, and just never mentioned it. I made up the name Simon Garth and turned it over to Steve Gerber, and it sort of went from there. So, in less than 48 hours, we suddenly had four gigantic books coming out and that didn't even count the Conan black-&-white!
Stan: I just wanted to make sure that we needed you.
Roy: It was a challenge. Some of the stories were good and some not so good, but all the mags lasted for a while—Savage Sword of Conan lasted for over 200 issues.... Next I wanted to ask you about a few people from that period. What's your main impression of Jim Steranko?
Stan: I loved him and was incredibly impressed by him. He was such a multi-talented guy. One of the most important things is to have a certain style, not only to be able to write or draw well but to do it with style and distinction. His style was so distinctive that he just seemed more hip, cooler, and more cutting-edge than any other artist at that time.
Roy: This is the guy who walked in one day and told me that he had just come in from his fencing lesson. I don't know if that was hip or not, but it was cool.
Stan: That happened probably after his magic show. He was a great guy who knew what he wanted and was very definite. He was the kind of guy who, after you got to know him, you were willing to give him a project and let him do it his way. I had a lot of confidence in him.
Roy: After writing the first few SHIELD stories that he drew, I was happy to let him write them, as well, because he had his own ideas and I had other things to do. SHIELD was never a big seller, but it was one of the influential books. Steranko and Neal Adams were influential beyond their selling power.
Stan: It was a big loss to us, and the whole business, when Jim decided to quit and do his magazine.
Roy: Do you remember how Barry Smith got his job?
Stan: No, but he had a very distinctive style and, at first, it took a little getting used to on my part when he developed into being so different from some of the other artists. He was more quietly illustrative. One thing I remember about Barry was a Dr. Strange story that he did with me. I was so pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out; when I had to sit and write the copy, it was so easy to write and it worked so well. I was very impressed and I think Barry is another guy who is very, very talented.
Roy: The nice thing about people like Barry and Steranko is that they're not just artists, but real storytellers. They don't just draw a lot of pretty pictures. I've never had much patience for artists who just draw very pretty because it's often either totally dull, like still photos, or else it's so illustrative that you practically have to connect the dots to tell a story.
Stan: That's one of the problems with some of the artists in the business today—they do nice, impressive individual pictures, but they don't have enough feeling for continuity— letting one picture run into another so that it tells a story.
Roy: Another artist, whom I don't think you worked with, was Jim Starlin.
Stan: There you go! There's another creative, stylized, very, very talented guy. I was so impressed with that strip in Epic magazine, featuring that character with the long nose.
Roy: How do you remember Herb Trimpe, with whom you worked for a long time on The Incredible Hulk?
Stan: I liked Herb. He was a nice guy, dependable, with a style that was nice, simple, and clear. He told a story well. Herb was a pleasure. He was good.
Roy: I had a very good time working with him on The Hulk after you. He's teaching now.
Stan: If you speak with him, give him my best.
Roy: Coming up from coloring, there was Marie Severin, with whom you worked on Dr. Strange.
Stan: Marie is worth an entire interview just to talk about her. You talked about being multi-talented. She was great at humorous cartoons; she did The Hulk and all these serious strips; one of the best colorists in the business; she's a wonderful person with a great sense of humor; always cheerful and great to work with. She was also stylized; you could always recognize her work with that slight touch of cartooniness in the serious artwork that gave it a certain charm. I'm crazy about Marie.
Roy: She and her brother John combined her style and his realism in Kull that are considered classics of the early '70s.
Stan: Of course, you could do a whole interview about John, too; he is one of the real greats in the business.
Roy: It must have been the money. [laughs] You also worked with Bill Everett over the years.
Stan: Bill was great, and he was also very, very stylized. You could spot an Everett drawing, and he had his own way of telling stories. He was imaginative and talented, but the amazing thing was that he was very easy to work with. When I worked with him, there was no show of temperament at all. For a guy that talented, you would think he would have argued constantly—"No, Stan, I don't like that! Let's do it this way!"—but no, he was a joy to work with.
Roy: Do you remember waking up one morning and realizing that Marvel had finally surpassed DC in total sales?
Stan: I can't remember the exact moment I realized that, but I know it was very pleasant to hear it. I must admit that I expected it, Roy, so it didn't come as a surprise. I could tell by the fan mail we were getting, the write-ups we received in various newspapers and magazines—everything was Marvel and nobody was talking about DC. Just by talking to people myself when I went to conventions or lectures, I thought that we were outselling them before that became officially the case.
Roy: I've heard that there was a great dropoff in female readers in the early '70s. We came up with three strips for which you made up the names and concepts: Shanna the She-Devil, Night Nurse, and The Claws of the Cat. Were we trying to woo the female readers back?
Stan: Yes, and also to appeal to the male readers who liked looking at pretty girls. Unfortunately, we weren't able to draw the girls the way they're drawn now, because I think if we had been, our sales would have soared much more than they did!
Roy: People know that I'm the one who assigned three women to write those books—Linda Fite (now Herb Trimpe's wife); my first wife Jeanie; and Phil Seuling's wife Carol—but I can't remember if that's something you suggested.
Stan: You're so strong-willed, you wouldn't have taken my suggestion. I don't know! [laughs] If I had to guess, I'd say that it was your idea, because I don't think I was telling you who to use.
Roy: Probably not. Of course, in some ways, I could have gotten more experienced writers, but I don't know if that would have helped the books, because the market didn't seem to be there at that time. We did everything we could. We got Marie Severin to draw The Cat and Wally Wood to ink; we got Steranko to do the covers to Shanna.
Stan: The failure of The Cat was my biggest disappointment. I really thought that that would have worked.
Roy: Strangely enough, the one that is collected now, for a reason I cannot figure out, is Night Nurse, by my ex-wife Jeanie and Winslow Mortimer.
Stan: Martin Goodman always thought there was something inherently sexy about nurses. I could never get inside his thinking there.
Roy: Considering the "men's-sweat" magazines he published with those ill-clad nurses, that's where it probably came from. Hadn't Timely done Linda Carter, Student Nurse?
Stan: We even had Nellie the Nurse, a humor book.
Roy: And Tessie the Typist and Millie the Model, my first assignment at Marvel.
Stan: Not to mention Hedy of Hollywood.
Roy: And probably your peak moment in comics, Ziggy the Pig and Silly Seal.
Stan: Oh, that was our high point. [laughs] We peaked! That was with Al Jaffee.
Roy: In the early '60s you had done that Willie Lumpkin newspaper strip. You used that name again for the mailman in Fantastic Four.
Stan: That was just for fun. Mel Lazarus had done a strip called Miss Peach, which used not panels but one long panel instead. I liked that idea very much, so when Harold Anderson, the head of Publishers Syndicate, asked me to do a strip, I came up with Barney's Beat, which was about a New York City cop and all the characters on his patrol who he'd meet every day and there would be a gag. I did some samples with Dan DeCarlo, and I thought it was wonderful.
Harold said it was too "big city-ish" and they're not going to care for it in the small towns because they don't have cops on a beat out there. He wanted something that would appeal to the hinterland, something bucolic. He said, "You know what I want, Stan? I want a mailman! A friendly little mailman in a small town." I don't remember if I came up with the name Lumpkin or he did, but I hated it. I think I came up with the name as a joke and he said, "Yeah, that's it! Good idea!"
It was the one strip in the world I didn't think I was qualified to write, because I liked things that were hip and cutting-edge, cool and big city. I always wrote Seinfeld and that kind of thing. Here I'm writing about a mailman in a small town! Even though it was not my type of thing, it lasted for a couple of years. Unlike today, when I do the Spider-Man daily strip and never heard from the syndicate (I gotta call them a few times a year and say, "Are you guys aware that we're still doing this?"), in those days Harold Anderson passed on every gag, looked at every panel, and I worked with him. He was a lovely man, but as an editor, he was a nightmare! [laughs]
Roy: You said that you didn't stay President very long... just a few months, maybe a year.
Stan: I found that I was expected to—and did—go to a lot of financial meetings where they would discuss costs and financial reports. We would have to come up with a five-year financial plan—things like that. I only stayed as President for a year—maybe less—because I would say to myself at those meetings, "What am I doing here? There must be a million people who could do this as well as or better than I." The thing that I enjoy the most and do the best is working on the stories, and I wasn't doing that! At some point I walked in to Feinberg and said, "I don't want to be President any more." I think I'm one of the few people who resigned the post of President. But I kept the title of Publisher, though I'm still not sure what a publisher's duties are!
Roy: That's when Al Landau, not one of my favorite people, succeeded you as president of Marvel. His company, Trans World, had been selling Marvel's work in other countries.
Stan: He came in because Martin knew him and dealt with him for years; they had been friendly. But then Martin and he had a falling out—I don't know. I always got along fine with Al. He leaned on me a lot, so I helped him when he was President—he came to me for everything. I know that he wasn't all that popular. He died a few years ago.
Roy: Al Landau was President a couple of years; then Jim Galton took over. The only time Al and I were on the same side (and it took me a minute to realize why) was when both of us wanted to get back one of the pages of story we had lost in our books. I wanted the page back just because I wanted it back, for better stories—and he wanted it because then his company Trans World could sell another page abroad. We had a community of interest only that once during the year or so he was there and I was Editor-in-Chief.
I also remember when I was supposed to fly over to the Philippines and talk to the artists there. I would have had to spend 24 hours in the air, a day or so there when this revolution was going on, and then another 24 hours coming home. I remember you telling me that Al Landau didn't want me to go because it would have been too much like a vacation! [laughs] Some vacation! I was happy not to have to go!
Stan: Al was a very strange guy.
Roy: Between my leaving in '74 and Jim Shooter's ascension in '77, a period of three years, there were four editors-in-chief, counting the three weeks of Gerry Conway: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry, almost me again, and then Archie. Did that musical chairs of editors bother you?
Stan: Yeah. I wish that any one of those guys would have stayed for a while. But it didn't affect me that much; I just thought it didn't look good for the company—that we didn't know what we were doing. But they were all good. I was disappointed that Gerry didn't stay, because I always liked him and thought that he would do a good job.
Roy: That's the only time the job didn't automatically go to the next person in line. I suggested bringing Gerry back from DC and thought that it would work out, but after three weeks he just couldn't handle it.
Here's a question phrased by the CBA editor: "Arguably, the DC Comics under Carmine Infantino were art-driven—beautiful to look at, but maybe the art overwhelmed the storytelling. But Marvel seemed influenced by your legacy that, no matter how great the artwork, the story was paramount. Sales seemed to prove that out. What is it, do you think, that made Marvel the industry leader for the last quarter century?"
Stan: I would like to think that we had a good marriage of art and script. I think that the art has always been at least as important as the story. Because you can tell the best story in the world, but if the artwork is dull—it's like a movie: If the photography, acting, or directing is bad, you can have a great story but it's still not going to be a great movie. By the same token, you can have the best artwork and if the story isn't there, you're only going to appeal to people who like to look at nice drawings. To me, a comic strip should be a beautifully illustrated story, not just beautiful illustrations.
I would never say that the story itself is paramount; and as far as a style, I would think that one thing that made our work a little different from anyone else's is the fact that we tried to make our characters as real and believable as possible. Even though they were in fantasy stories, our formula always was, "What if somebody like this existed in the real world, and what would his or her life be like?"
We always tried to have dialogue that sounded as if real people might say it, and we always tried to give our characters different personalities so they weren't cut from the same mold. We tried to have each one talking differently from the others. But, getting back to the original statement, we never concentrated more on script than art, nor did we concentrate more on art than script. The two are indivisible; they had to work perfectly together.
Roy: And now I have what Evans and Novak would call on their show, "The Big Question," which the editor requested me to ask you: Which is stronger, Thor or the Hulk?
Stan: I would have to guess that Thor is stronger, only because he is a god and probably can't be killed. Again, I don't know how the guys have been writing him lately, but I thought of him as invulnerable. I would think that with his hammer and everything, he'd probably beat the Hulk. But what's interesting with the Hulk is, the more he fights and the more he's beaten, the stronger he gets, so maybe it would be a draw.
Roy: It was really a facetious question—but, on the other hand, it's one of those things you could argue about forever. It's amazing that, after 25-30 years, people still think of that as the archetypal Marvel question.
Stan: The thing I loved writing was having our heroes fight, and for me to figure a way to end the story without denigrating either one or making one seem stronger than the other. The best example of this was in one issue of Daredevil, where DD was fighting Sub-Mariner. Oh, I loved the way that story turned out! That was just so perfectly done. Daredevil was beaten, but he was just as heroic as Sub-Mariner.
Roy: Thanks, Stan.
Stan: Anytime, Roy.
(Editor's Note: Special thanks to Joanie and Stan for the timely loan of the photographs that illustrate this conversation.)
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