Roy Thomas, Marvel's #2 editorial guy, in mid-sentence during
a Creem magazine photo shoot. Dig that belt! Photo by Raeanne Rubinstein.
©1973 Creem Magazine.
Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror
Marvel's Editor-in-Chief discusses the '70s
Conducted by Jon B. Cooke
Transcribed by Brian K. Morris
Book Artist #13
As a consulting editor for CBA, our next interview subject is
heavily relied upon by us for deep background on many aspects of 1970s
comics. It should go without saying to comics fans of Marvel's
"Second Wave," that Roy Thomas served as Stan Lee's
immediate successor as the company's Editor-In-Chief for a short,
but eminently memorable tenure, helming the celebrated horror revival,
never mind initiating the barbarian frenzy of that decade. It was
Ye Ed's pleasure to interview the talented writer/editor by telephone
on March 8, 2001. Roy copyedited the final transcript.
CBA: What was the concept behind the Tower of Shadows and
Chamber of Darkness books?
Roy: DC was having some luck with House of Mystery and House
of Secrets. After all, Marvel at one time had basically had a lock
on the horror market... not in terms of quality, but in terms of
quantity. [laughs] They had tremendous sales during the early '50s,
so it was a natural to try to get back into the genre again. The only
problem was that, after the first issue or two, with our being too
busy to pay a lot of attention to them, they didn't have the
focus Joe Orlando could give to the DC books by concentrating on a
handful of titles. Stan would concentrate on the books for the first
issue or two, but then they were supposed to run themselves. He wasn't
going to be in on every plot conference, and I had too many things
to do to go over every little story, so we just tried to hire a bunch
of people to do good stories. But they didn't ever have any unity.
Carmine Infantino says that Joe Orlando was the "secret weapon"
in DC's mystery comics, and maybe to some extent that's
true. Even though we had Archie Goodwin working there part of the
time, we really didn't have anybody that really concentrated
on that editorially. Archie was a freelance writer, and I was concerned
with other things, and couldn't do all of it, nor could Stan.
CBA: You started off incredibly, right out of the gate, with
Tower of Shadows, having a superb story by Steranko. How was that
assigned to him? Did he come up with the story?
Roy: I don't recall, but I would imagine that Stan went
to Steranko as somebody who could do that kind of thing. Maybe Steranko
had talked to him about it, I really don't know. Didn't
Steranko do a cover, but we weren't able to use it, it wasn't
clear enough for Goodman?
CBA: Yeah, right. It was an amazing cover.
Roy: But it was a problem, because sometimes you had two or
three different people running the company. Stan and Goodman were
increasingly on different wavelengths as the time came near the end
of their relationship.
CBA: With Stan focusing on those first two issues of Tower
of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness, he was getting the best artists
in the industry to contribute, right? Steranko, Neal Adams, Wally
Wood all did stories, even a young Barry Smith.
Roy: And Vinnie Colletta inked Barry's stories! Barry
had all these weird faces in trees in one story, and Vinnie just went,
"It's a tree!" and inked it like that! [laughter] That
wasn't one of our better pairings.
CBA: Who determined the stories have the actual writers and
artists introduce the stories?
Roy: Probably Stan. I think he wanted to give the book some
personality, so he said, "Well, we'll have the writers do
some, and the artists do some." Of course, the writer ended up
writing the artist's words, but I don't think there were
any artists who wanted to bother with the writing. I would write Barry,
and if he wanted to change something, that would've been fine.
Those introductions were a nice touch which evaporated after a few
issues. Stan wanted to start off with these host characters...
like the "Gravedigger" that Steranko came up with. That
seemed like it was copying not just DC, but EC and everything else
that had gone before, so Stan was looking for something different.
I think that's why he came up with the idea of having the artists
and writers introduce the stories. It was kind of cute for the little
length of time it lasted—not very long, I think.
CBA: The titles obviously became reprint books...
Roy: From the very beginning I don't think sales were
that great, and I don't believe there was the commitment to stick
around and do it, because they were so much trouble compared to the
super-hero books, having three different sets of writers and artists
every issue, as opposed to one. We weren't really geared for
it, because we didn't have a big editorial staff, like DC. Stan
and I were editing everything, and the writers were editing what they
did, and we had a few assistant editors that didn't really have
any authority... that was about it. We didn't have the right
kind of a set-up at the time to make a hit of those books. I think
the black-&-whites did a little better later, simply because people
like Marv and others could come in and be editors, concentrating on
a handful of books.
CBA: So Chamber and Tower were pretty much children of neglect?
Roy: I think so.
CBA: I've got some Xeroxes of original art by Gene Colan
of the first issue of Tomb of Dracula, and it looks to me oriented
to be 81/2" x 11". It's weird to look at the whole
issue as printed, and it's obvious that the art was extended
vertically and horizontally to adapt to the comic-size page...
Roy: What year did that come out in?
Roy: I seem to recall that I plotted that issue from a few
sentences verbally from Stan, and finishing it on New Year's
Eve, and then joined Jeanie at a party at John Verpoorten's after
I dropped it in the mail. I didn't take any real credit on it,
so I never get any residuals. [laughter] I gave it to Gerry Conway
CBA: It came out in April '72.
Roy: Okay, so it must've been late '71 I worked
on that. Or maybe it was another book. I don't remember anything
about it being originally planned as a black-&-white. How does
that compare to the date of Savage Tales #1? That would be interesting,
maybe Stan was going to do both at one time! Let's see, I know
1971 was the cover date, I'm just looking at when. It may have
been that, Stan was going to do both a Savage Tales and a b-&-w
Dracula book, then decided... I don't know, it could even
be that Savage Tales was originally slated to come out first, and
then for various reasons Goodman decided to wait. Remember, Goodman
and his son, Chip, were still making those decisions at that time.
Chip, in that last year or less before Stan took over, was the official
publisher as Martin withdrew from the business more. I don't
know if Goodman was even in the office then, because I never saw him
very much anyway. His office was way at the other end of the hall.
CBA: Prior to Dracula Lives! #1, you just can't recall
if Stan wanted to do a Dracula black-&-white book?
Roy: No, except that I'm sure that the idea appealed
to him. Whether he actually planned that to be one, I really don't
know. If Gene drew at that kind of proportions, he wouldn't have
done that unless it was supposed to be black-&-white, it's
hard for me to imagine he got it confused. So maybe Tomb of Dracula
was intended to be black-&-white at one stage.
CBA: Do you recall Gene's desire to ink that book?
Roy: Sure. Gene had a promise from Stan to ink it, because
Gene said he really wanted to. I remember being in the room with Stan
and somebody else—probably Sol Brodsky, or Verpoorten—and
the thing was, Stan was on the phone with Gene, and Gene was obviously
pushing to ink this book, and Stan was saying—I don't remember
the exact words, it became sort of famous, it was really only a paraphrase,
so I don't want to be unfair to Stan—but basically Stan
was saying that if Gene was going to keep reminding him of this, he
wasn't going to be able to tell him anything anymore. [laughs]
Stan had felt that circumstances had changed. Maybe he decided Gene
was too valuable to spend time inking. I just don't recall. I
just know that Gene pushed very hard, and they finally compromised.
Gene inked the first issue, but he never inked any others. I think
he just wanted to ink that first one, that's all he cared about.
Probably, you know, and I don't think Stan would have wanted
him to go on inking, because Gene was too valuable as a penciler,
and he felt he'd rather just have Gene pencil.
CBA: That could be the one instance where Gene inked his own
work at Marvel?
Roy: There weren't many! I think he may have done a black-&-white
thing later. Of course, in the early days, he inked his own pencils,
but not at that time. Nor do I know anything about the idea that Bill
Everett was going to be the original Dracula artist. But it's
probably true, if Gene remembers it; he'd have more reason to
remember it than I would. Gene would've been much more dependable
than Bill anyway. Although Bill had been a great horror artist in
the '50s, I don't think by the early '70s his penciling
would've had that appeal anymore. It was a different market,
and I don't think Bill's pencils were quite up to that anymore.
Neal Adams thumbnail of Robert E. Howard characters.
Art ©2001 Neal Adams. Characters ©2001 Robert E. Howard Estate.
CBA: Was it your idea to do Tomb of Dracula?
Roy: No, it was Stan's. He was the one pushing on this.
Gil and I, of course, had wanted to introduce Dracula into Spider-Man
#101 earlier, but Stan said, no he wanted a super-villain vampire,
so we made up Morbius, whom we made not a real vampire.
CBA: In Stan's mind, he might've had plans for Dracula,
possibly to introduce him in his own series?
Roy: Possibly so, but I think it's more he wanted a new
character, didn't want to use Dracula at that time. Still, Dracula
was kind of a natural. Then, when that was a hit, he wanted to do
more like it.
CBA: Do you know why it was called Tomb of Dracula? Why not
Roy: I suspect it had a lot to do with Crypt of Terror, Vault
of Horror, at EC. Also, Stan probably had in the back of his mind
that you can't trademark "Dracula" as easily. He's
a public domain character. But Tomb of Dracula or Dracula Lives!,
you could have those titles trademarked.
CBA: It was your concept that eventually became Werewolf by
Roy: I had this idea for something called "I, Werewolf."
I wanted it narrated in first person, and Stan loved it. It sort of
combined Spider-Man with I Was a Teenage Werewolf. My wife Jeanie
and I plotted the first issue one day when we got bored with a car
show at Columbus Center in New York City, but I didn't like to
write that stuff, so I'd always give assignments like that to
Gerry, as I did with Tomb of Dracula and the first Man-Thing story,
which I plotted with a few suggestions from Stan. Stan liked everything
but the title "I, Werewolf." He wanted to call it Werewolf
by Night, and since all I cared about was the concept, not the name,
that was fine by me. It was still narrated in the first person. I
told Gerry to do it that way, and it worked out very well. Almost
everything else after the first issue, the Darkhold and various things,
was pretty much Gerry's, I think.
CBA: Son of Satan, where did that come from?
Roy: That was supposed to be "Mark of Satan." If
Tomb of Dracula was such a big hit, Satan would be bigger! [laughter]
Stan called me into the office one day, and said he wanted to do a
book called Mark of Satan, but this time, the hero/villain was going
to be Satan himself. I went to a parochial Lutheran school, but I'm
not religious, but I thought this was going to get us in trouble,
and who needs it? I didn't even like the idea. So I went off
and thought about it for a little bit, and I came back and said, "I
think we're asking for trouble with Mark of Satan, but what if
you made it Son of Satan? You could still have Satan as a character,
but he's not the hero." It's a little different from
Dracula, where the heroes were the human beings fighting the vampire.
Stan loved it, and it was only a little later I realized that name
and basic concept had been a fanzine comic by a friend of mine, Biljo
White, back in the early '60s! He wound up looking even looking
a lot like Biljo's character, by sheer coincidence, because I
don't think Herb Trimpe and Gary Friedrich, who did the actual
story, ever saw him and I don't think I described it much. The
branded chest, a trident, and so forth... I think it just came
out looking almost identical. I explained it to Biljo, and he understood,
but it was really weird, because if you look at his old fanzine, it's
almost the same character!
CBA: How did Ghost Rider morph from a Western to a horror
Roy: I had made up a character as a villain in Daredevil—a
very lackluster character—called Stunt-Master. I took the name
from Simon & Kirby's Stuntman, but I made him a motorcyclist.
Anyway, when Gary Friedrich started writing Daredevil, he said, "Instead
of Stunt-Master, I'd like to make the villain a really weird
motorcycle-riding character called Ghost Rider." He didn't
describe him. I said, "Yeah, Gary, there's only one thing
wrong with it," and he kind of looked at me weird, because we
were old friends from Missouri, and I said, "That's too
good an idea to be just a villain in Daredevil. He should start out
right away in his own book." When Gary wasn't there the
day we were going to design it, Mike Ploog, who was going to be the
artist, and I designed the character. I had this idea for the skull-head,
something like Elvis' 1968 Special jumpsuit, and so forth, and
Ploog put the fire on the head, just because he thought it looked
nice. Gary liked it, so they went off and did it. Then of course,
you had to change the Western Ghost Rider into Night Rider, and Phantom
Rider, [laughs] and Bill Black has the Haunted Horseman... Ghost
Rider has had more names than Elizabeth Taylor's spouses!
CBA: Why put Morbius in his own color and black-&-white
Roy: We were trying to expand, so why not? I don't think
there was too much profound thought; we just thought he was a good
character, and ought to be in a color comic as well as the b-&-ws.
After all, he came out of Amazing Spider-Man.
CBA: What other horror characters have I overlooked?
Roy: The Living Mummy! Stan wanted a mummy character, and
we couldn't just call him "The Mummy," so we came up
with "The Living Mummy." Somehow, we made him black, which
was unusual. I don't know whether that was Steve Gerber or me
or whoever. But by that stage, we just had so many we weren't
paying much attention, and were just sort of throwing them out. The
ones that sank, sank, and the ones that swam, swam. We also had the
Golem, which Len Wein wrote, and the only distinction that had was—it
was okay, but it didn't sell very well—according to Gerry
Conway, checking sales records in 1976, was it actually outsold the
early issues of Strange Tales featuring "Warlock" by Jim
Starlin that succeeded the Golem series, even though of course Warlock
has made more of a mark over the years. We were just trying to do
a little bit of everything. So since we had a werewolf, we did Man-Wolf.
Stan just wanted a character called Man-Wolf. It was that whole Marvel-flooding-the-market
thing! If you've got Dracula, you can have Morbius. If you've
got Werewolf, you can have Man-Wolf. We didn't have a concept
for Man-Wolf, and Gerry and John Romita were trying to come up with
something. My only contribution was to say, "Hey, make it J.
Jonah Jameson's son! He was an astronaut, and he went up in space,
and he found a moon rock, and it turns him into a wolf!" Just
like Morbius was a science-fictional vampire, we could make Man-Wolf
a science-fiction werewolf.
CBA: Brother Voodoo.
Roy: There was an old comic company, Superior, which had these
tall titles that took up a third to a half a cover. One of them was
Voodoo, and I had made up a character years ago, who was more of the
Phantom type, called Dr. Voodoo, and I'd used that big "Voodoo"
logo and I had a little "Dr." up in the corner (like the
Dr. Strange logo I helped design later). I said, "Let's
do a character who's into voodoo, and tied to Jamaica in some
way." I don't know if I saw him being black—he'd
almost have to be—but I just don't recall off-hand much
about it, except the name Dr. Voodoo. Stan didn't like that,
but he suggested, "It's Brother Voodoo!" I said, "Okay,
it's Brother Voodoo." [laughs] Len did a good job with the
Jamaican accent. He's always kidded me because later, when I
had this vague idea for a Wolverine character, I told him I wanted
to see how he'd handle a Canadian accent! [laughter] I guess
everybody said "Eh" at the end of sentences... and "aboot."
Perhaps the highpoint of the legendary string of Gil Kane/Roy Thomas
collaborations was their adaptation of Robert E. Howard's short
story "The Valley of the Worm," featured in Supernatural Thrillers
#3. Though partially dialogued by Gerry Conway, it was the quintessential
Kane/Thomas production, also featuring spot-on inks by Ernie Chua (Chan).
The closing line, "Death came to me in the Valley of the Worm,"
still sends chills down Ye Ed's spine.
Characters ©2001 the Estate of Robert E. Howard. Adaptation ©2001
Marvel Characters, Inc.
CBA: Was Marvel just flooding the market, or were these books
actually selling that you could ascertain?
Roy: Well, a lot of them did! The ones that didn't sell
didn't last very long, obviously. We did flood the market, but
remember, this was that period, too, which Carmine talks about—and
he thought on a management a higher level than I did—where Marvel
suddenly decided to put out a whole bunch of books, and DC would have
to match it. Then there was a paper shortage in '73, so everybody
put out fewer books... It was just constantly playing around with
stuff, trying to get market share... it was really survival of
the fittest. There were only these two companies, really, doing that
kind of comic, competing with each other. Archie and Harvey weren't
really competing with anybody, and nobody else really competed with
Marvel except Warren with the black-&-whites. I think Marvel and
DC were a little like two groggy fighters out there, punch-drunk,
[laughter] who've been at it too long, and they're just
slugging away, and the fight doesn't have any meaning. The audience
has gone home. Actually, there was something of an audience. Lots
of stuff came out in the '70s because of this approach. But,
because either a concept was good, or the individual creators were
good, a lot of stuff came out that was really good! A lot of original
super-heroes that Stan had created a decade earlier were getting a
little long in the tooth, but in the meantime, you'd have Master
of Kung Fu, Conan, McGregor and Russell's "Killraven"
(which never sold really well, but it was an interesting book that
caught a certain audience), and Tomb of Dracula under Marv, and several
other books that really did have a flavor, and which I think hold
up compared to the better books before and after. I don't know
if Sturgeon's Law—90% of everything is crap—is true,
but in general, sure, most of the stuff isn't going to be terribly
good, but if you've got a whole mess of books, and a handful
are good, well, that's not too bad. And a lot of them did sell
reasonably well, but a lot of them were just out there, and if they
didn't make it, we just dropped them and tried something else.
CBA: But you did personally focus on at least one horror strip
that I recall. You wrote a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's
novel in Dracula Lives!
Roy: Yeah, I wanted to do that, and Dick Giordano loved the
idea, and we continued it for a long time. Only because eventually
the book died did we stop. We completed about 100 pages, spread over
most issues of Dracula Lives!, and I think the last one might've
been in something else. We got about halfway through Stoker's
novel. Dick and I had been looking for years to reprint the first
part and finish our adaptation—we even talked to Marvel just
a few years ago, and they showed some interest, but nothing ever came
of it. The work would've been probably the most faithful adaptation
of Dracula ever done in comics. Whether somebody wants that or not,
I don't know. I enjoyed working on Bram Stoker's Dracula—the
so-called movie adaptation—in the early-'90s for Topps,
but it really wasn't Bram Stoker's Dracula. I think Dick's
and mine was a nice, faithful adaptation, and I'm real proud
of working on it with him.
CBA: Did you enjoy working with Dick?
Roy: Oh, yeah. For Marvel's tastes, Dick is a relatively
quiet artist, he draws more realistically, he's not primarily
an action artist, but a good artist who makes everything look real
and if you get the right subject matter—and certainly, Dracula
was that—he definitely will shine. Some of the books that fit
him just right, like Dracula, or the Jonni Thunder, a.k.a. Thunderbolt
that Dann and I did with him, I really enjoyed. For certain projects,
he'd just bring something to the table that very few people could
CBA: Were there books you would've liked to have done
of horror material? You profess you've never really had an interest
in horror material, right?
Roy: I enjoy it a little more now in some ways than I used
to, like when I did the adaptation of Carmilla, the pre-Dracula story
for Spain a year or so ago, and I'm supposed to do more of those.
But in the early-'50s, when I was 10, 12 years old, I just had
a feeling horror comics would give me nightmares. I remember seeing
what turned out to be the first issue of Eerie—it had a lead
story about a man-eating tiger, drawn by Bob Fujitake—and I also
recall a particular scene in another horror comic of some Huckleberry
Finn-type kid walking down the road at night, and he meets a vampire,
there's a feeding, and the boy is found dead... I haven't
seen that comic again in 50 years, but I remember it! I also remember
these EC stories that I would sneak-read at the stands for a few seconds.
Years later, when I met Len Brown, who had a complete EC collection,
I'd ask him, "What about the story where this happened,
or what about that one?" and he'd say, "Did you have
those?" I said, "No, I saw them at the stands one day, glanced
through it, and just remember the story!" [laughter] They made
a real impression on me! I have an uncle who had a few of EC's
science-fiction titles, but even they were a little too horrific for
me, until they got to Incredible Science Fiction. But as far as horror
stories I would've liked to have done, there weren't many.
I liked doing the Dracula adaptation, that was a lot of fun, but I
didn't have any desire to do a lot of original horror stories.
I wouldn't have minded adapting Frankenstein or one of the great
classic tales, but I felt, "Eh, there's enough of that other
stuff, I don't need to add to it."
CBA: Were you proud of Gary and Mike's version of Monster
Roy: Oh, yeah. It was handled that way on my instructions.
I wanted to adapt the novel in the first few issues, and then go on
from there, and I think they did a great job with it. I wanted to
do it myself, but you can't do everything.
CBA: [laughs] So you gave it over to Gary.
Roy: Yeah. I don't know if I ever came close to doing
it, but I certainly wanted to.
CBA: Did you pick Mike Ploog for the job?
Roy: Probably. Mike kept doing all the hairy creatures, Man-Thing,
Werewolf... [laughter] maybe because he was this big, burly guy
with a beard, I don't know! [laughter] Mike and I were originally
supposed to do a Western together, called "Tin Star," which
he made up, about a Western guy with amnesia, and all he had to go
by for his identity was a marshal's silver star he found in his
pocket—with a bullet hole in it. And from there, you could take
it anywhere! [laughs] I think we spent about 15 minutes working on
that before Stan said, "You ain't gonna work on no Western!"
[laughs] and he shoved Mike off to something else.
CBA: How did Tomb of Dracula initially do? It obviously went
through a number of writers.
Roy: It sold okay, but we couldn't get good writing.
Gerry worked out fine, but he was just too busy to keep it, I guess.
We went through Gardner Fox, who just wasn't a Marvel-type writer,
as important and as great as he was in his own way. He was near the
end of his career, and wasn't that interested, anyway. Archie,
of course, would've worked out okay, but he probably wasn't
too interested in remaining.
CBA: So Tomb of Dracula was just a bone thrown to Marv?
Roy: Marv was a logical choice. He'd been writing horror
comics, knew how to write them. It's not that Archie and Gerry
couldn't have been, too. Even Gardner had some good moments,
and part of what Gardner did was—I was trying to get a Lovecraft
aura infused into the book, so to some extent, maybe I led him astray.
But the third or fourth time with a writer, you get lucky; sometimes
it just takes a little while, before sooner or later, someone comes
along, and something clicks. Like Jim Starlin on Captain Marvel and
so forth. Something really clicks. Other times, combinations of artist
and writer and character look like they'll go like a house afire,
but don't work out that well.
CBA: So it clicked with Tomb of Dracula?
Roy: Yeah. Not that Tomb of Dracula was always the greatest
seller in the world, but it was steady. I think it went up and down,
and had its moments. It was a good, solid seller at the very least,
and in addition to that, I wasn't the editor for too long before
I left, and I never read the damn thing! [laughs] I'd glance
at it. I knew what Marv was doing with Gene, and I remember Blade
and the various characters, but I never paid much attention to the
thing because I'd discovered I wasn't really interested
in being editor-in-chief anyway. The book looked good, it was selling,
and Marv was doing a good job, so why pay attention? I'd go off
and pay attention to some book that wasn't doing that well.
CBA: Were you aware of the level of consistency that book
Roy: In a general sense. I'd look at it, it always looked
good. I could see that Marv always had this mature approach. Even
though I didn't necessarily read it myself that carefully, whatever
I read I always liked.
CBA: It was a consistently good-looking book, with a mature
point of view. Marv had a level of autonomy with it.
Roy: The writers at Marvel, generally speaking, served as
sort of unpaid editors anyway, to a certain extent, starting with
me! That didn't mean there wasn't always somebody over you;
Stan was over me, and I was over them. But as long as things were
going okay, and you didn't press your luck, a writer could get
away with a lot. You didn't get any money for being a de facto
editor, but what you did get was this certain amount of freedom which
you weren't going to get at a lot of other companies, and people
knew it. I didn't automatically exclude artists from this, but
it would've had to be an artist who was also a writer. Maybe
some artist could've convinced me, or two guys.... Sometimes
they'd come in together, like Starlin and Englehart on "Master
of Kung Fu," and they worked it out between themselves! [laughs]
Sort of the Franklin D. Roosevelt school of comic book editing.
Ya think we're gonna forget "The Living Mummy"? Here's
Gil Kane & Tom Palmer's sweet cover to Supernatural Thrillers
#15, the last issue.
Courtesy of Tom Palmer. ©2001 Marvel Characters, Inc.
CBA: So your policy was delegation?
Roy: My feeling was, I knew I didn't have the power Stan
had had as editor-in-chief, because he was right there, and I wasn't
looking for that. I wasn't threatened by anybody, and who's
going to have a better rapport with Stan than I did? It was very good,
most of the time, so I didn't feel that insecure. Therefore,
I didn't worry about somebody coming along who was too good,
as far as I was concerned. Sometimes, earlier, certain people like
Steranko would annoy me—not Steranko himself—but the fact
that Stan would let him do things that he wouldn't let the rest
of us do, some of the fancy Eisneresque titles that Bill Everett and
I had wanted to do earlier but Stan nixed. Steranko just went ahead
and did it, because he was a writer and a penciler. I felt secure
enough in my own situation that I just wanted to get the best writers
I could. Maybe if I'd got somebody too good, I would've
worried. But these guys were all good, and I wanted them to be good!
CBA: Was it your idea to do "The Legion of Monsters"
in Marvel Premiere?
Roy: I think that's after my time. It's the kind
of thing I would've done, [laughs] but I didn't.
CBA: Do you remember the production on "It"? Was
that Frank Giacoia?
Roy: Yeah, he inked it over Marie. I bought the rights to
do the story. Gerry Conway got me Ted's phone number, because
Gerry was a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, I had
him and Jeanie, my first wife, sitting in the living room while I
went into the bedroom, where the phone was, and I said, "I've
got to call Sturgeon and ask if we can adapt his story." We had
a flat rate of $150 we could pay. It's one thing to talk to Glenn
Lord about Robert E. Howard; it's another thing to call Theodore
Sturgeon. I hadn't read that much by him, but I knew who he was,
and I loved this story. So, 15 minutes later, I come out of the bedroom
to get a drink of water, and Gerry says, "What did he say?"
I said, "I don't know, I haven't got up the nerve to
call him yet!" I'd sat there for 15 minutes, I couldn't
call him! [laughter] But finally I went back in, I called him, and
of course, he was totally friendly, and by the time the conversation
was over, he'd given me full permission to do it, we'd worked
out all the details, and he asked if I could send him the $150 right
away, because he needed it for an alimony payment. [laughter] We laughed
about it at San Diego cons later. But everybody was just great, except
for Arthur C. Clarke, and we didn't try Bradbury again, since
we knew that wouldn't work. We couldn't get Asimov or Heinlein
either, but we could get an awful lot of people! Through Forry Ackerman,
we got A.E. Van Vogt, and I had Don and Maggie Thompson adapt a story
of his I liked, and some of those "Space Beagle" stories
I felt influenced Star Trek. A lot of people... Larry Niven, different
people... were very happy to see their work adapted, because I
gave them a new audience that might then go and buy their books, just
as a lot of people have told me they came to Conan through the comics.
I love comics, but I always considered them, even now, a lower form
of literature than some others, and so, I felt even doing pulp stories
and science-fiction elevates comics to some extent.
CBA: When it gets down to an assessment of those days, a lot
of the titles, like Monster of Frankenstein, Supernatural Thrillers
and books like that, had a great start-up, but they just withered
due to neglect. Was it an enormous volume of work?
Roy: Yeah, I don't know, maybe if I—and later Marv
and Len—if we'd kept on top of everything—but it was
just such an awful lot of work, and so some of it just kind of got
away from us. The best of the stuff did well, and the rest of it just
kind of sank.
CBA: So, did you enjoy the Marvel foray into horror?
Roy: Oh, yeah. It wasn't my kind of thing, really. But
we did the best we could.
CBA: Those books felt as if your influence was in them.
Roy: Even if I didn't talk to people much, they knew
what I wanted, and they sort of knew what Stan wanted, because they'd
been reading the Marvel books for years. They'd read Stan's
stuff, they'd read my stuff, they'd read the people who
were coming along after us, they knew the kind of thing we wanted,
and they combined that with things they learned at other companies.
Just like I combined Stan Lee with Gardner Fox and other people, they
combined what they liked about Marvel with Joe Orlando and EC and
so forth. That was fine with me, because the company had gotten too
big at that stage, and branched out too much, to have everything reading
like Stan Lee had written it, or at least co-written it. It was time
to kind of branch out a little bit. We wanted to keep some of that
Marvel magic, and at the same time, there had to be room for other
art styles and other writing styles. This was even true with Stan,
too, because Gene Colan, for example, was certainly not a Jack Kirby-influenced
artist. Somebody simply had to prove he was able to amalgamate enough
of what Stan & Jack had to sell the book, and if he did that,
he was home free.
CBA: Did you look at the revival of Journey Into Mystery as
a kind of Tower of Shadows or Chamber of Darkness done right?
Roy: Well, it was supposed to be! It was done right for a
few issues, again... [laughter] I wanted to get the rights to stories
by Robert E. Howard, and we got Robert Bloch and Harlan. But unfortunately,
Harlan got upset because he didn't like the job Syd Shores did
on one story of his, and that was the end of that! [laughs] The thing
was, we couldn't give everything personal attention, but once
in a while, things worked out well. I think the stories that Gil and
Frank Brunner drew were nice.
CBA: "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" was a great
Roy: Yeah, Ron Goulart was a neighbor of Gil Kane's,
so Gil brought him in, he wrote some comics, and I think he and Gil
worked very closely on that story. Gil had a lot of influence on it
because they talked it over and over, just like Gil and I did on everything
we did together, and that was a particularly good story. It varied
from the written story, I discovered later, to a certain extent. For
example, my favorite line in it, that starts it out, it was something
like, "I met him again where the girl had died," I figure
that's either pure Goulart or Goulart with Gil Kane influence,
I don't think it's in Bloch's story! Of course, really,
I wanted them to adhere to the original stories, but on the other
hand, if I didn't read the story, it read great to me. [laughter]
I got to adapt the story from which The Day The Earth Stood Still
was based, which was a big thrill for me, even though I took the main
character and turned him into a man and a woman, so they'd have
each other to talk to.
CBA: So, where did the idea of "Killdozer" come
Roy: That's Theodore Sturgeon. It was just one of his
better-known stories. They made a TV movie out of it, too, so it wasn't
CBA: But the TV movie was the reason you guys did it, right?
Roy: Oh, no, no! I think our story even came first.
CBA: Yeah, but it was tied in, wasn't it?
Roy: Well, maybe it was.
CBA: It sounded like a follow-up to Duel, Spielberg's
successful TV movie.
Roy: Maybe it was. But Sturgeon's story was way earlier.
Did Gerry write that?
CBA: Yeah, I think so.
Roy: Gerry knew a lot about science-fiction, which is why
he ended up doing Haunt of Horror, which had a lot of science-fiction
in it. I leaned on Gerry a lot because I love science-fiction, but
I didn't really follow it. I was a charter member of the Science
Fiction Book Club back in the '50s, but Gerry was actually writing
it professionally and followed it more than Marv or Len or the other
guys. Gerry and I got to be good friends, despite the disparate ages
of about 12 years. He was an influence on me, and I was an influence
on him, and it was a nice symbiotic relationship.
CBA: Worlds Unknown—not the black-&-white, but the
color comic—was the same idea as Supernatural Thrillers?
Roy: Right. Do one story an issue, and get good people do
it, and Gil Kane wanted to adapt Edmund Hamilton's story "He
That Hath Wings," so I turned him loose on that, and I did some
things, and Gerry did some things... there are some nice books
in there. Later, when it died, it seemed like a more natural thing
for a black-&-white. Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction didn't
last that long—only about a half-dozen issues—and we put
a lot of inventory into a special final issue later, but there were
some nice moments in it. The only trouble is, Marvel can't reprint
any of it, because nobody knows where the little contracts we had
people sign are, so nobody could ever be sure if we could reprint
any of the stories! Those are always wonderful stories from that period,
like "It" and so forth, and they couldn't be reprinted
even if there was a market for it, because they wouldn't know
if they had the rights!
CBA: Did you like Ralph Reese's work?
Roy: Oh, yeah. He came just sort of wandering in. He was another
one of Wally Wood's assistants, and he'd done work for Topps.
I don't think he ever really liked working at Marvel that much,
but he liked doing that kind of story. I remember being there with
Stan and him together, and Stan talking to Ralph about being a "Marvel
man," and this and that, and Ralph's just looking at him
like Stan's crazy, because they were on totally different planes;
it was as if they were talking in two different languages, and I'm
sort of there between them, realizing that no communication is going
on! [laughter] Ralph did nice work. It's just that he was not
ever really going to be part of the Marvel team, and I knew that right
away. Stan was hoping to persuade him, but Ralph wasn't going
to do that. He came on, he did some nice stories, and that's
all we wanted.
CBA: Yeah, he did "Roaches"...
Roy: Yeah, and he did that story, "The Day After the
Day the Martians Landed." We got the rights to do a lot of Hugo
and Nebula winners, and that was nice. I wanted to call the book "Nebula,"
but that would have been probably too much.
CBA: [laughs] Yeah, too nebulous.
Roy: I loved doing Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. I really
loved putting that together. By the time it ended, I was moving out
to California. I think if I'd been in New York, I might've
been able to salvage it, but you know, you leave a job, and it's
a "King Lear syndrome." If you're the king, and you
give away your kingdom to two or three people, you've got to
expect it to keep getting whittled away. They're going to keep
taking away your retinue of men and the number of horses until you're
finally just some crazy, lonely old loon crying out there in the wilderness.
[laughter] I never quite got that far, or maybe I did, but that's
basically what happens to people when they start releasing the reins
of power. You feel like you can let go and still keep a certain amount
of power, but it never quite works that way.
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