Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Problems With Reportage: Marvel Comics, January 1966

I've always found it highly frustrating, that some of the attacks on Stan Lee in the now legendary Stan Lee vs Jack Kirby flame wars centre around articles such as this two parter, mainly because Lee, and Kirby for that matter, had zero control over what was going to be written about them in newspapers and magazines.  Reporters would visit the Marvel offices in the 1960s and 1970s and find Lee, who was articulate, engaing and entertaining, and write their stories accordingly.  Perhaps if Kirby was in the office a bit more often he'd have gotten some more print ink.  

I have no doubt that Lee would mention his artists, and other writers, in the same way that I have no doubt that such mentions were merely edited out of the finished product for space reasons.  Plus who, back then, really cared about the artists?  Only those in fandom...or did they?

This is a two part article, written about Marvel Comics in the first week of January 1966, meaning it would have been in the works in late December, 1965.  At the time Marvel were still the new kids on the block but were smashing the devil out of the established companies, such as DC, Archie and Charlton.  Thus they were newsworthy.  People wanted to speak to them and, unlike the editors at DC and the like, Stan was very approachable and seemed, to use an old expression, hip.  The comics Marvel produced at the time were fresh, exciting and totally unlike the fare being offered up by the competition.  More importantly, Marvel, via Stan, credited the artists and writers, along with letterers and colourists, giving the public, and fans, a vital insight into who was doing what.

With that in mind you'd expect that if a fan, as opposed to a reporter whose knowledge of comic books was limited to the likes of Superman and Batman, was given access to Marvel then they'd write about all aspects of it?  If so then prepare to be proven wrong.

This two part article was written by Don Thompson.  Don was at the forefront of comic book fandom back in the 1960s (and beyond), along with the likes of Bill Schelly, Jerry Bails, Roy Thomas and the rest.  Don's name stood high above the pack, both as a writer (he was the primary editor/writer on the seminal All In Color For A Dime) and as an organiser.  People flocked to Don, and his wife Maggie, and saw them as being the founders of organised comic book fandom.  Don knew his stuff, he more than knew who Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Dick Ayers and the rest were, but this two parter mentions Stan Lee and Charles Goodman.  Even Roy Thomas gets a look in.  Not a mention of the artists.

This isn't a criticism of Don Thompson, just an illustration of what the reality of newspaper reportage is.  Even if Don wanted to mention the artists he probably wouldn't have had the space.  We don't know what Stan told Don, perhaps he mentioned his collaborators, perhaps not.  But Don would have know who they were all the same.

So, next time you hear someone taking a shot at Stan Lee, or Jack Kirby for that matter, over an interview, either current or vintage (in Jacks case, they're all vintage), keep in mind that it doesn't matter what the interviewee says, what is printed is totally up to the interviewer and the editors.  And if they think that something is irrevelant, or dull, then it's not going to see the light of day.  Cry all you want, but if Don couldn't get them in (and we don't know if he tried) then who could?


Michael Hoskin said...

"Perhaps if Kirby was in the office a bit more often he'd have gotten some more print ink."

Oh Danny Boy, you had me up until there - you come awfully close to victim-blaming in that line.

Kid said...

Even when Kirby WAS in the office he failed to make a great impression on interviewers. There was one notorious magazine interview that, when it appeared in print, spoke highly of Stan, but not so well of Jack. The Kirby's were apparently furious, but as Stan pointed out to them, not only didn't he know what what was going to be written before it was published, he didn't write it.

Stan just happened to be the much more charismatic of the two.

Bob Rivard said...

That's the baldest picture f Stan I've ever seen. Wonder if it prompted him to go full-time with the toup?

Michael Hoskin - the world is not responsible for the way you are perceived, you are. Kirby came across as rambling, almost semi-coherent in person, genius or no. If you're not charismatic or photogenic, media ignores you. You either fix it, or live with it.