Friday, December 7, 2012

Roy Thomas: Corrections & Suggestions

     There is probably nobody in the comic book industry that I like and respect more than Roy Thomas. The man is truly a Legend and if I have to list his accomplishments for you...well, you are obviously reading the wrong blog. It only adds to my appreciation of him that he has occasionally published some of my articles in his essential ALTER EGO magazine. If it isn't on your must read list, it should be. Buy it. Now.
     I also like and respect Sean Howe. Sean is a terrific writer and editor who also happens to be a comic fan. His book of collected essays, GIVE OUR REGARDS TO THE ATOMSMASHERS!, is one of the finest tomes ever written about comics. Buy it. Now.
     Recently, Sean's latest book, MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, was released and not without controversy. Howe reportedly interviewed more than 100 people in preparing his book. Not everyone agreed with all of the details that came from these interviewees, including Roy Thomas.
     Roy privately contacted Sean and gave him a detailed response to what he perceives as misconceptions and errors. After an exchange of emails among Roy, Sean and myself, it has been agreed to allow me to publish Roy's thoughts here, on my blog. Sean has also said that Roy's comments will be considered for inclusion in an updated edition of his book.
     As Roy notes, he didn't have time to type out the text from Sean's book that he is referencing. That means you have to buy the book to get a full appreciation of Roy's response. So buy it. Now. 
-- Ken Quattro

Re Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
Notes by Roy Thomas

[SEAN:  I haven’t always taken the time and space to type down the precise text in the book to which the correction applies, assuming that will be clear from context.  If clarification is needed, please advise.]

P. 1:  Not a big error, but by the time of Blushing Blurbs and Golfers Anonymous, Stan’s name was long since legally Stan Lee, contrary to the impression given in the first paragraph.

P. 11:  To the best of my knowledge, there was never a Goodman magazine called Timely.  What Michael Feldman researched of late, and which is covered in detail with illustrations in Alter Ego #114 (Dec. 2012), was the 1939 Popular Digest magazine, whose subtitle was “Timely Topics Condensed,” and for which he started Timely Publications.  Chances are, as Feldman surmises, he wanted to call the mag Timely, but figured Time would sue.

P. 25:  “Jap Buster Johnson” was just a feature, not a magazine, so shouldn’t be italicized.

P. 47:  No big deal, but surprised you didn’t mention Mario Puzo’s expressing, around 1966 or so, an interest in writing for Marvel while finishing “his new book”—which would be The Godfather, of course.  He returned the comics Stan had me give him after a short time, saying there was just too much to learn about all the characters… he was better off continuing to write for Magazine Management.  ’Course, in the early ’70s for the first big open-to-the-public meeting of ACBA, he did send group a telegram Stan read there, thanking “Marvel Comic for teaching my children to read when the public schools failed.”  Of course, that’s just my memory…Stan’s long since lost the telegram.

P. 59:   Big error!  When Stan looked out the window of his office and asked (to correct the wording, which is not right for something in quotation marks), “So—what do we have to do to hire you away from National?” [not “DC,” in those days], he was standing, not swiveling in his chair.  We’ve got to get these important historical details straight.  If Stan stayed sitting, he couldn’t see the pretty girls walking down Madison Avenue (like in that Sinatra song “It’s Nice to Go Travelin’” from the “Come Fly with Me” album), and he liked to do that, in a harmless, non-lecherous way. 

Next paragraph:  There was no comic, of course, called Millie and the Model.  The character was Mille the Model… and the actual title of the comic I wrote that weekend was Modeling with Millie.  I didn’t even get to start off on the main Millie book!

No problem with your litany of the office interruptions that kept me from being effective as a “staff writer,” but one of the main problems, actually, was Stan himself, who was constantly asking me for bits of information (“Where did Sandman first appear?”  “When did Sandman last appear?”—that kind of thing), and in addition I was almost immediately given pages on which to do backup proofreading, seeing that Stan’s corrections were done.

P. 79:  Just for the record, I believe Jim Steranko’s always claimed he did have an appointment in 1966 when he come up to the offices at the time of the convention… but that’s simply not how I remember it.  Or maybe he had indeed wangled an appointment somehow, through Flo or whoever or even Stan somehow… and it’s just that when the time came, Stan wanted out of it because he was busy.  But everything in this section is as I recall it.  I’ve said from time to time that I thought he also came up to the Marvel offices with no success in 1965, but I don’t really recall that now… and Jim denies it, and he may be right.  My memory’s much firmer on ’66.

P. 80:  Not sure that I wore goatee, Russian hat, alligator shoes, and Nehru jacket all at the same time… but I may have.  The jacket and suit were orange trimmed in white; I looked like an orange sherbert.  When a truck driver whistled at me as I walked up Second or Third Avenue one day on my lunch hour (where I often browsed book stores), I gave up the Nehru… and Jeanie married me in July 1968 on condition that I shave the beard.  Sol and I bought Russian hats together when it was a fad in New York… and they did keep the head warm.  And of course the gator shoes were before they became part of the uniform of pimps.  None of  this esp. belongs in the book, of course… just sayin’.

P. 93:  No correction needed, but it wasn’t technically a “vacation” I was on when Jeanie and I eloped.  Rather, I’d gone to St. Louis for the weekend to a Gateway comics convention.  But the lecture you mention was purely from Stan, not Sol… and actually wasn’t a lecture at all, just one stern remark in the middle of a conference when I made a light-hearted remark.  This isn’t a complaint, though.  Also in that paragraph the impression is given perhaps that Archie had been “hired” to replace me on Doctor Strange (italics needed; it was a full book then)… actually, all they’d done was give him the original art for that one issue to dialogue.  As I was coming in from being away, I ran into Archie by the elevator and, with no resistance from him, marched him right back in to Sol and demanded that I dialogue the book I’d plotted.  Archie didn’t mind that, I don’t think, though he’d wasted a trip into the office from the Upper West Side.  More than you need to know, I realize… but I need to make it clear so you can decide if you feel you can change anything beyond removing the “and Brodsky” in the lecture thing.

P. 94:  Re that “All the Way with LBJ” button in Brand Echh #1 (“Not” wasn’t part of the comic’s actual title then, though it did appear on the cover):  I didn’t tell Stan that button had been in the b&w proofs, as you write… Stan didn’t regularly look at those, I don’t think, leaving them to Sol… but the button had been in the original art, which Stan had proofread, and he’d just overlooked it.  Nor did I really quit… I merely told him that if he was accusing me of lying, I would quit, and with that I stormed back to my desk in the other office.  Stan came out to call me back into his office a few minutes later to explain himself.  A generally accurate portray, but I think I covered the facts pretty clearly in AE #95.  A painful experience, but there were, I think, no residual hard feelings on either side.

P. 112:  Surprised there’s no mention of the fact that I talked Stan out of a comic called The Mark of Satan by suggesting we make it The Son of Satan, instead.  ‘Course, Satan was still a major character in it… but at least he wasn’t the hero!  And the first Marvel vampire, of course, was Morbius in Amazing Spider-Man #101 by Gil and me, though he wasn’t a real vampire, more of a science-fictional one.  Not a request for changes, though.

P. 116:  Put me down as voting for “new levels of intertextual ectacy,” not “fumes from an empty tank.”  If the Marvel Universe was to be and remain a believable universe, it needed that continuity and integrity, and both Stan and I saw part of my job as being to oversee that.

P. 118:  Maybe Vinnie brought Kirby Fourth World pages to Stan, but if so, I don’t ever recall seeing them… and I sure don’t recall their being hung up in the office, or else I would have seen them and looked carefully at them and remember them, I’d think.  Do you really have a source for this, or is it mere scuttlebutt?  I have real doubts about that statement… and not because Vinnie wasn’t entirely capable of exactly what’s claimed.

P. 120:  With all that went wrong with the Carnegie Hall show in January of ’72, our two rock numbers went over fairly well, esp. with the dancing girls (Jeanie and two others—one may have been Mary McPherran) in Marvel costumes left over from the same Macy’s parade as “my” Spidey outfit… and despite the fact that the band’s mikes didn’t work so our banter had to be cut out, since I was on the stage and they were up on a pedestal 30 feet or so aawy.  But there were no “Elvis songs”—there was this one John Lennon song I hated (much as I love the Beatles and Lennon) that Barry talked me into against my good judgment, and “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” a song originally sung by Gene Vincent in, admittedly, very much an Elvis vein.  I think too much has been made of Gerry Conway’s assessment as to the backstage mood… I didn’t see that kind of thing, and I was around the whole evening.  But there were a lot of foul-ups and dissatisfactions.  I’m proud of some parts of the evening… but the slow parts and the non-comics-related parts really dragged us down.  High point for me personally, after the songs, was having Tom Wolfe, one of my favorite writers, read my long paragraph on Captain America. Compared to what I got out of that evening, the slings and arrows of a few outrageous fans were nothing.  I’ve forgotten their names, but I still remember singing on the stage at Carnegie Hall… and Tom Wolfe standing there in his white suit, reading something I’d written.

P. 121:  Apparently, Stan’s actual quote referring to me as the new editor-in-chief, made (as you perhaps know) to Don Rico, was, according to Don, “Oh, some guy out there.”  Just one word difference, beause Stan wouldn’t have said “back there” when referring to the other offices.

P. 123:  Along with my sincere feeling that Conan the Barbarian deserved rather more attention than it’s given in the book, for several good reasons I won’t bother going into, I find the mention of “Goodman’s cancellation of Savage Tales” potentially confusing to readers.  The mag is never previously referred to in the book, so there’s no context.  What was it? Why was it cancelled?  When?  (Savage Sword of Conan, also, which isn’t even mentioned in the book, deserved a little attention as a consistent moneymaker; it sold very well and had no color for its $1 price tag, as well as lasting more than 200 issues, Marvel’s only real b&w comic success.  The downplaying of Conan is, in terms of history, a fault of the book, I very much feel.

P. 124:  I wince at seeing a reference to “Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and artist Mike Ploog” in that order as originating Ghost Rider.  Just a minor point… you cover it better later.  I feel I was far more of a player than Gary was likely to have acknowledged in his lawsuit against Marvel, but it was his idea, not mine. 

P. 127:  The paragraph about Don McGregor doesn’t make it clear he was working for Marvel around that time.  He was working as a security guard, I believe, when I called to offer him a writing and assistant-editing position at Marvel; but because of some obscure grudge which he refuses to spell out, Don refuses to admit in print that I hired him… nor do I care overmuch.  I’ve always just felt it makes him look small.  Hey, do I deny the role that Mort Weisinger played in getting me to New York?  Don was and is a disappointment to me, because I gave him real gainful employment for the first time and defended him against his critics.  But I have eight dogs, so I don’t need his gratitude at this late stage.

P. 128:  I never had any idea that Marvel president Al Landau, my pre-Shooter nemesis, was a godson of Albert Einstein.  It wouldn’t have made me despise him any less… but it’s interesting.

P. 129:  A bit awkward… discussing how I divvied up the writing of three “women’s titles” between three women… before mentioning that all three titles were Stan’s idea and names.  Puts the cart before the horse.  Stan came up with the titles and concepts… and it was then my idea to have women write them.  That can be called a cynical ploy… but on the other hand, I was well and instantly aware that if there were to be any real other-media coverage of those titles, the fact that they were being written by men would have been pointed out and held against them.  It was less cynicism than self-defense.  Besides, we didn’t have a lot of writers to spare.  Jeanie had worked with me on a few plots and I knew she could write in general… and Linda had written a bit before… and I knew Carole was intelligent and a comics fan.  They all three made sense.  When Linda asked me why it had to be a “Cat,” I should’ve just told her, “Because Stan says so,” and let it go at that.  Hey, you don’t quite what I said to her… so maybe I did.

P. 130:  “Lee dangled the idea of a secretarial job [before RT’s wife Jeanie upon her graduation from Hunter College in NYC] and then quickly withdrew the offer.”  Not really.  Actually, Stan had made the offer at least a year or so earlier (probably around 1969, actually), when Jeanie left the same job, which she’d held for some months not long after Flo Steinberg left.  He said the job would be hers when she graduated.  It was a year or two later that it was withdrawn when Jeanie came to him to take up the offer.  As to who or how many folks in the office “objected,” I never really tried to find out, as it would have severely impacted my relations with them had I known.  Stan told me that day that I should acquiesce because “You have to get along with these people.”  I replied, “I think they should have to get along with me.”  I should’ve stuck by my guns… I’m pretty sure Stan would have back me, and Jeanie would have done a good job in that position again.  But you’re right that it did color my view of Marvel.  I remember that the Carnegie Hall show was a few days later, and I seriously considered withdrawing from it in protest.  Glad I didn’t.  But I still despise the attitudes of the cowards in the office, who I’m sure were all smiles and friendliness to Jeanie’s (and my) face while aiming their knifes for our backs.

P. 145:  “Thomas, who’d secured the rights to Sax Rohmer’s pulp-novel Fu Manchu character, suggested they incorporate martial arts into a Fu Manchu comics.”  Sideways, more inaccurate than accurate in this case.  I’m fairly certain that, when Starlin and Englehart came to me with the Shang-Chi idea, I “suggested” (okay, insisted) that Fu Manchu be incorporated into the comic… and it was only then that I went after and acquired the rights to the character.  I may have been toying with the idea of a Fu Manchu comics before, but I mainly wanted to get the rights because of DC editorial director Carmine Infantino’s alleged statement to Denny O’Neil and others, when they told him that if DC didn’t publish a comic about the Warner-owned TV series Kung Fu, Marvel might license the rights.  Carmine was alleged to have retorted, “If they do Kung Fu, we’ll do Fu Manchu!”  Whatever that may have meant, it thus struck me as ironically amusing for Marvel to have a comic book called Master of Kung Fu—with Fu Manchu, as well, in that very comic.  It’s quite possible that Steve and Jim already planned to have an evil father, and that spurred me to “suggest” Fu Manchu to fill the roll.  Even if Marvel could never print that comic in France… and now can’t reprint it at all.  Pity.

P. 149:  About how I “talked things over” with Seaboard/Atlas publisher Chip Goodman to feel him out about a job, I don’t care if the info is added in the book or not, but that dinner meeting was at Chip’s request, not mine.  I was not looking to leave Marvel, but I felt I might as well talk to him, as long as he was paying for dinner.  I was offered the job of co-editor with Larry at equal status… same if any other editor was in place at that time.  That paragraph also makes it sound as of my “beginning all-night writing sessions at ten or eleven at night” was a result of problems in my marriage.  Rather, it was probably more of the cause… I’d been doing those all-night sessions since before Jeanie and I were married in mid-1968, and I mostly kept at it.  A combination of deadlines and poor work habits.

I’ve no quarrel with John Romita’s quote re some people not “cottoning” to me being in charge, but I can honestly say that any “disrespect” they felt was generally hidden by them if so.  Artists of the older generation almost never challenged me or talked back or whatever form “disrespect” should take, at least to my face… perhaps Sean means it was all behind my back?  I do recall that Frank Giacoia blamed me in late 1972 or so for his ceasing to be part of the triumvirate that Stan briefly put in charge when he became president and publisher, though again that got back to me through others; Frank merely complained to me about Stan, claiming he (Frank) had “busted my ass” for the company and the Stan had removed his as “associate art director” or whatever exactly he was.  Funny that older artists should think of me as a “kid”—since in 1972, when I became editor-in-chief, I was 31… more than a decade older than Stan had been when he’d become editor.  But then, didn’t Al Gabrielle get fired for complaining about Stan’s youth to Goodman, as the story goes?

Also:  Not exactly inaccurate, but I don’t feel it should be said that Vinnie Colletta actually quite threatened to “throw [me] out a window.”  Of course, that’s my own fault, since I used that phrase, but half-jokingly, in Alter Ego #70.  What Vinnie said when he found out (from Verpoorten) that he was being taken off Thor was, “I feel like you got your hand in my pocket and I’m thinkin’ about throwin’ you out the window.”  A small but real distinction, perhaps… but the actual quote would work better than treating it as a 100% bona fide threat… although I won’t quarrel overly with the sentence as written.  Of course, once I explained to Vinnie that the work would be replaced, page for page—something John V. knew but had neglected to tell him for some reason—all was forgiven and we became buddies from then on.

No, I never “wanted to fly to the Philippines to recruit artists” for cheaper rates or just because they were good artists.  For the most part, we already had the artists through the DeZunigas; I was just to pep-talk to them, etc., and get the lay of the land.  It was Stan’s idea that I go (probably so that he wouldn’t have to)… I never wanted to go, period, but was willing to be a good soldier about it.  I was annoyed at Landau for nixing the trip, because of what Stan told me he’d said his reason was (which Sean quotes accurately), but otherwise I was quite content to stay in the USA.

P. 150:  Is there any reason why it isn’t mentioned that the “freelancer” who became the final straw that led me to leave the editor-in-chief job was Frank Robbins, who fibbed about his DC rates?  Not that it matters that much.  By the way, for the record, it might be mentioned that, as per an angry letter he wrote to Alter Ego, Carmine Infantino vehemently denied ever agreeing to share rate info with Marvel.  He claimed he flatly refused to do so.  Me, I only knew what Stan told me… I wasn’t at the lunch, but Stan talked to me right after it.  Maybe Carmine heard what he wanted to hear and Stan heard what he wanted to hear. 

No quarrel with the basic bare-bones account of my half-resigning, half-being-fired from the position of editor-in-chief, so I’ll pick up with comments on chapter 6 at some near-future point… even if only you’re interested.
                                Best wishes,
                                Roy Thomas


  1. Roy and Ken,

    I want to add to Roy's comment above about page 11. Goodman's company name Timely did hail from a different place than Sean mentioned. There was no publication called "Timely". As Roy mentions, the word Timely was first used as a sub-heading in Goodman's Popular Digest #1 (a Reader's Digest clone) as "Timely Topics Condensed". This was pointed out to me by Barry Pearl last year. After I procured an actual copy of the book, I also found that the indicia sub-publisher was Timely Publications. With an Oct/39 cover date, this beats Marvel Comics #1 to the stands by a single month. More details in "The Secret History of Marvel Comics"! (Coming soon to a bookstore near you!)

  2. Thanks, Michael!

    It's always a treat when the incomparable Dr. Michael Vassallo chimes in with a bit of info!

  3. Look like Roy found out the truth in the view that if you don't want to have any friends at work, becoming middle management is a great way to do that.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Roy, and thanks for posting, Ken. Sean's book is fascinating, and it's good to get clarifications/other perspectives.

    Now, if only we can get similar observations from Len, Marv, and Gerry. And Steve Englehart, Don McGregor, Doug Moench, Jim Shooter, and all sorts of other folks.

  5. Fascinating stuff - I'm going to have to come back to this blog very soon!

    As Roy, Tony and Doc V certainly know (and 'Hi!' to you all), I've been working on my own Marvel book, lo these many years, looking at the Marvel from the UK perspective - both their own UK comics, with a little background about all the licensed titles that preceded their first weekly, The Mighty World of Marvel, in 1972.

    Books such as Sean's - whom I've also chatted with - are always eagerly devoured.

    I'm just working through the final manuscript of my monster now, so this is all interesting.

    I happened to chat with Roy at the recent LSCC show about the difficulties of trying to set down history as accurately as you can when memories differ and information clashes. It's not easy :) I haven't written a 'he says, she says' text, by the way, it's more of a story laden with detailed personal recollections from as many folks as I could find, all of whom received extracts of the text (as it was when I found them) to read through first as a starting point.

    You mentioned Al Landau - he came into my chat with Roy, as it happens. I found out a huge amount about his connection to Marvel through his London associate at Transworld, Ray Wergan. Landau actually turns out to have been one of the key players in the 'wheres and whyfores' of Marvel starting a UK comics line when they did, along with Ray Wergan, and huge involvement from Stan Lee (of course) - which then lead to Sol Brodsky being tempted back to Marvel. It's the only point where "From Cents to Pence" really crosses paths with Sean's book, which like most works on Marvel just about acknowledges the UK line without realising its significance in lots of ways.

    That's not Sean's fault at all, by the way - what little information is out there already was so scattered and so much of the remainder has gone unrecorded, or unconnected, until now... which is good for me, I guess ;)

    You'll find a little overview taken from the book in the new issue of Twomorrow's own Back Issue (#63), if you're interested. Excuse the advert, but thought you might be interested :)

  6. Your book sounds fascinating, Rob!

    If you do decide to poke around this blog a bit, you may want to check out the articles Peter Hansen and I wrote concerning the legendary WAGS tabloid. That was the American produced, British mag that featured the first artwork of Jack Kirby, Lou Fine and a host of other comic greats. Check them out when you get a chance.