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Fantastic four #1
by KC Carlson
[This is a continuation of the exploration of character creation in comic books. part one appears here. If you haven’t read that yet, you may want to. then come back here for more.]
So far, most of my examples of character creation have been DC characters. There’s a reason for that. The folklore of the modern marvel universe suggests that most of the classic Silver Age marvel characters were created by either Stan Lee and Jack Kirby or Stan with Steve Ditko. (Important, but occasionally forgotten exception: Captain America was created in the golden Age by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby – not Kirby and Stan Lee.) debate has literally raged for years as to which did more or who was more important, mostly along the lines of the writing vs. artwork conundrum. chances are we’ll never know for sure, but things are about to get very interesting as the Kirby heirs are now taking certain claims to a court of law. Marvel’s new bosses may come in handy in the fight, because Disney’s lawyers define the concept of “high-powered” and have been warding off challengers to the Disney way for decades. Woe to the Kirbys. but Jack was the epitome of the little guy standing up for himself against impossible odds, at least in the characters he drew. If he and Roz managed to bestow any of their moxie onto their kids, it could be one hell of a fight.
The marvel Method
Part of the confusion about who did what can be attributed to a working style between collaborators favored by Lee (mostly because he was usually tasked with writing the bulk of the comics he was editing/producing during his long history with notoriously low-cost publisher Martin Goodman). This came to be known colloquially as the “Marvel Style” of producing comic books. prior to this, comics were usually produced by a writer writing a complete script (plot and dialogue, similar to a movie or TV script, except stage directions were largely embellished with the addition of panel breakdown instructions) and then that script was illustrated by the artist, lettered, then inked and colored.
Stan’s method featured a very loose plot, with no stage directions. This type of plot, when typed, usually only amounted to a page or two, giving just the rudimentary “beats” of the story to be told, and only skeletal dialog, if any at all. Occasionally, there would be no written plot at all. Stan would tell the artist the story beats in a face-to-face plotting session or via a telephone conversation. The artist would then be responsible for all the storytelling decisions – panel breakdowns, how many pages (or panels) to devote to each scene, and even what to emphasize in each panel/page. Some thrived under this system, which offered the creative artist much more control over the total “look” of the story. Others, used to working from a script which broke down much of their work for them, resented having to do more work for the same pay. (Eventually, conventional page rates were adjusted for this kind of work.)
When the artist was through, the art was returned to the writer, who then wrote the actual dialog for the now penciled pages, which when finished, went directly to the letterer. Some artists, like Kirby, loved adding suggested dialogue in the page margins for the figures that they just drew. (Why not? They spent hours perfecting the characters’ faces. Why not daydream what the characters were saying?) This further blurred the line between the previously established creative roles of writers and artists, especially when the writers frequently used the artist’s ideas – and got the credit for them as well!
Fantastic four #50
In at least one case, the “Marvel Style” led to a very interesting creator situation. When Stan Lee received the Jack Kirby-penciled pages back for wonderful four #48, Stan encountered something he hadn’t planned on – a new character whom he had never seen or discussed with Kirby. Or, in his own words, “There, in the middle of the story we had so carefully worked out, was a nut on some sort of flying surfboard.” (The ultimate Silver Surfer [BerkeleyTrade, 1995]). thus was born the Silver Surfer.
After hearing what Kirby had intended for the character, Lee was won over and started adding dialog and characterization to Kirby’s Koncept, and soon an important new character became part of the marvel Universe. Ironically, Stan became very protective of the character, allowing no other writer to use him for many years afterwards. Writers Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart later wrote of the special permissions they had to get from Stan to include the Surfer in the Defenders and the “Titans Three” stories which preceded them. This is why the Surfer wasn’t a regular Defender in the early days of that series.
So, who created the Silver Surfer? I’m not touching that one with a 10-foot longboard. but someday soon, some poor judge is probably going to have to make that ruling.
…What I Do best Isn’t very Pretty
Incredible Hulk #181
The creation of Wolverine offers a neat little capsule history on how characters are created and built upon in the modern age of comics. Wolverine first appeared, in a one-panel cameo, in incredible Hulk #180, before showing up in the following issue for a furious three-way battle with ol’ Greenskin and a beast that was called the Wendigo. This storyline – which also continues into incredible Hulk #182 – was written by Len Wein and drawn by long-time Hulk artist Herb Trimpe. However, the character was famously designed by artist John Romita, Sr. character design was part of Romita’s role as Marvel’s then-current art director, and Romita designed dozens of characters for marvel over the years in this job. marvel doesn’t generally publish creator credits in their comics, but all three of these gentlemen – Wein, Trimpe, and Romita Sr. – are usually credited as the creators of Wolverine. but the story doesn’t end there.
Roy Thomas also has claims to the character’s origins, at least from a pragmatic point of view. then Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, Thomas was presented with information that marvel had a fairly large Canadian readership but no Canadian characters. So he came up with a couple of names and some basic details for the character (like animalistic traits) and discussed this with Wein during a plotting session for the Hulk story.
Giant-Size X-Men #1
Wolverine’s next appearance is generally considered an even bigger deal than his first. He pops up in giant size X-Men #1 as a member of the all-new X-Men team, again written by Len Wein with art by Dave Cockrum. Cockrum designed several of the new characters after Thomas described the concept as “mutant Blackhawks”. Wolverine was a natural fit on a team made up of international characters. Wein left the series almost right away (he was writing four other marvel titles at the time), and Chris Claremont picked up the assignment, after unofficially contributing plot points to earlier X-Men issues.
At this point, Wolverine was still a cypher of a character. Both Claremont and Cockrum added much in the way of personality details to the Canucklehead, but not too much in the way of background to the character, something that would be an ongoing state of affairs for many years. Cockrum was the first artist to draw Wolverine out of costume, giving him his distinctive hairstyle. However, the character was not a favorite of Cockrum, who spent most of his run developing his favorite X-Man – Nightcrawler.
When Cockrum decided to take a marvel staff job and stop drawing for a while, the next artist in took a big shine to Wolverine – most likely because they were both Canadian! When John Byrne signed on to the X-Men, things really began to happen for the team, as well as Wolverine. Byrne was a speed demon as a penciller, especially compared to the more methodical Cockrum, so the first thing that happened was the book went monthly!
(It’s hard to believe now, but for the first several years of Uncanny X-Men, the book was a risky, low-selling proposition for marvel compared to the big guns like remarkable Spider-Man and wonderful Four. It’s also hard to believe, but at first Byrne’s X-Men was hated – HATED! – by the hardcore fans who wrote letters crying that Byrne’s art was too “cartoony”. This is actually one of the first recorded instances of the hardcore letter-writers being out of step with the casual comics fans, who eventually bought the Byrne-drawn book in such quantities that it soon rocketed to the top of of the list of Marvel’s best-selling comics!)
Uncanny X-Men #133
Byrne also became more involved with story-related elements for the X-Men, especially where Wolverine was involved, and Claremont and Byrne wasted no time in adding more details (as well as more mystery) to the background of Wolverine, such as his enigmatic connection to the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, some of whose members Byrne had created as a fan. Eventually, Byrne received a co-plotter credit on X-Men. He also messed around with Wolverine’s visuals for a bit and was responsible for toning down the bright yellow in his costume.
Later, Claremont and Frank Miller explored the character’s Asian connections and background in Wolverine, one of the first comic book miniseries. Throughout the years, various creators added bits and pieces to Wolverine’s past, indicating that he was probably much older than we believed when the character was first introduced. The character was present at various times in modern marvel history, most notably during W.W.II, and he had been known by a raft of aliases and alternate identities including what we thought was his real name – Logan.
For years, fans and creators alike debated Wolverine’s actual origins. Was he a mutated wolverine with connections to the High Evolutionary? Was his arch-foe Sabertooth actually his father? and what about the mysterious weapon X program, told in a revolutionary and memorable series by Barry Windsor-Smith?
It’s hard to believe, but an actual honest-to-gosh origin story for Wolverine did not happen until over 25 years after his first appearance in incredible Hulk. origin was written by Paul Jenkins, Joe Quesada, and bill Jemas and illustrated by Andy Kubert (pencils) and Richard Isanove (colors). It reveals how Wolverine came to be in a story set in late 19th century Canada. Apparently, the behind-the-scenes impetus for finally revealing Wolverine’s secrets came from the realization that now that he was a successful movie character (in the popular X-Men movie franchise), his origin should be told in the comic books – by comic book people – before the movies got to it first. The fourth movie in the film series – X-Men Origins: Wolverine – did a pretty fair job of adapting the comic.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
So who created Wolverine? Obviously, Len Wein and Herb Trimpe produced the first story the character appeared in. but John Romita, Sr. and Roy Thomas also contributed behind-the-scenes. These days, that character bears little resemblance to the character who appears in at least three monthly comic books from Marvel. and where do people like Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Barry Windsor-Smith – not to mention many others – fit into the bigger picture? What about Hugh Jackman, who wonderfully brought the character to life in the movies?
I think Wolverine had a lot of daddies!
Millie the model #55
Not even basing your character on your partner is enough “proof” for a creatorship claim in the world of comics. artist Dan DeCarlo’s work is probably some of the most recognized in comics, although not many people know who he is. DeCarlo was not typically officially recognized for his art during his lifetime, despite working in comics for more than 60 years. Older fans recognize his work for timely (Marvel) Comics starting in 1947, where he primarily drew humor titles and “girly” comics like Millie the model and My pal Irma. At first he went uncredited, but over his ten-year run on Millie, DeCarlo was allowed to sign his covers, and much of his interior work bore the by-line “by Stan and Dan,” Stan being none other than Stan Lee. Lee loved working with DeCarlo and was horrified when he had to let DeCarlo go during one of Timely’s frequent downsizings in the late 1950s. The two still worked on projects together over the next few years. just not for Timely.
Willy Lumpkin by DeCarlo
Back then, it was every comic artist’s dream to ultimately land a syndicated comic strip. and it was no different for Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo, who worked together on a number of potential strip ideas, most of which were non-starters. One was a short-lived syndicated strip about a mail carrier named Willie Lumpkin. The strip didn’t survive (a few were reprinted in marvel Age many, many years ago), but the character did. He became the wonderful Four’s mailman in FF #11 (Feb. 1963) and has been a (minor) part of the marvel universe ever since. prior to landing Willie Lumpkin, Stan and Dan also developed a strip based on two teenagers called Buzzy and Bunny. While this strip was in development, DeCarlo decided to change one of the supporting characters’ names from Lizzie to Josie, after his wife. shortly after that, the real-life Josie came home with a stunning new hairstyle that inspired Dan to spin the newly designed Josie, with the same stunning style, into her own strip proposal. Unfortunately, neither Buzzy and Bunny or Josie sold to the syndicates, but Willie Lumpkin did, and so DeCarlo pushed the Josie concept to the side to work on Willie Lumpkin. For a while.
Archie’s girls Betty & Veronica #73
Since DeCarlo wasn’t exclusive to any company, he worked on a number of other humor comics for man