Thursday, March 02, 2006

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #40!

This is the fortieth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous thirty-nine.

Let's begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The Hulk is green because of poor color separations.


One of the interesting aspects of the direct market is that the guaranteed sales of the individual comics enables publishers to spend more money on the individual comic books. Before the direct market existed, comic book companies were forced to publish, when sales were GOOD, twice as many copies of any given issue than they actually sold. Therefore, if it cost two cents to make a comic, it effectively cost FOUR cents, as the company had to publish four copies to sell two (with the unsold copies simply being trashed). With this in mind, companies had to be as stingy as they possibly could. We have addressed previous manisfestations of this before, where we saw comic companies keep the same numbering on a comic although the content changed dramatically, simply to avoid having to register a new #1 and pay an additional registration fee with the post office.

A symptom of this cost-cutting is evident in the coloring process. The four-color separations and newsprint-esque pages in Marvel comics did not always bode well for certain color schemes.

One such color was grey.

It was not that comics could not use the color grey - they could. It simply wouldn't come out the same way each time.

Therefore, when 1962's Incredible Hulk #1 rolled around, Marvel had a problem. Dr. Bruce Banner is transformed into a monster called the Hulk by Gamma Radiation. The giant behemoth known as the Hulk is grey...but as you can see, the grey-coloring is far from consistent within the issue. Just compare this interior pages with the cover (thanks to H, from the Comic Treadmill, for the scans of the interior pages).

Thus, in a decisive move, as of the second issue of the Hulk, the Hulk was now a color Marvel COULD color consistently - green.

The rest, as they say, is history.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Chuck Austen was J.D. Finn


The great part about this interview with Chuck Austen by Arune Singh, is that Arune goes into such great depth with his question, I do not even have to provide any background for the quote. Instead, here is the quote:
CBR: Let's discuss the end of your run on "Action Comics." J.D. Finn was credited as writing the conclusion to your storyline, not you. Are you or are you not J.D. Finn? Because I remember reading your script for "Action Comics" #825 and it was quite different from Finn's story.

Austen: No. I think Eddie [Berganza, editor of Action Comics - BC] is J.D Finn. Maybe. That's a guess. I had a completely different ending in mind, one that left Gog a major villain, and…I mean let's be honest…I was ashamed of this initially, but let's just get this out there: I was fired and blackballed from DC. I was off Superman, period. It became complicated very quickly, from there. I was given the option of finishing the final issue of the arc I had begun, but being suddenly, and very unexpectedly, unemployed, I needed to find work right away doing something else. I was given the option to still write for DC, but not on Superman or any other top, or even mid-level character. I would have had to write under a pseudonym and take some lower tier project like "Prez" or "Blue Devil" that would have probably lasted an issue, and then I'd be out of comics, anyway. I turned that down because I knew that there were people who do like my work and I didn't want to go out with two strikes against me, I wanted to have the opportunity for anyone who did like my work to find it. So I went back to a hectic animation job that left me no time to finish my final script in the week allotted and they got "JD Finn" to do it.
I think it is reasonable to believe him in this instance.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: William Gaines pretty-much single-handedly destroyed 3-D comic books.


The 1950s were a low-point in comics, in terms of sales, so whenever a new trend came about that seemed to do well, everyone pounced upon it.

So when World's First comics, a 3-D comic starring Mighty Mouse, sold over a million copies in 1953, while costing the reader more than twice as much as a standard comic of the time, companies took notice.

A separate organization set up to meet this wave of interest was begun by Leonard Maurer, his brother Norman and cartoonist Joe Kubert, who created a particularly good 3-D process (it was very popular back then for people to try to develop 3-D processes). The group (calling themselves American Sterographic Corporation) licensed their process to any comic company willing to pay.

The 3-D boom was a large pie, and everyone wanted a piece.

The pie turned sour, though (what an analogy! I'm like a poet!), in 1954, when William Gaines, owner of EC Comics, began a patent infringement action against all comic book companies who used the 3-D process. Noted 3-D expert Ray Zone explains,
With a patent search, Gaines discovered an October 13, 1936 Patent (no. 2,057,051) by Freeman H. Owens which was a Method of Drawing and Photographing Stereoscopic Pictures in Relief and described reproduction of a newspaper cartoon drawing as a "stereoscopic relief picture" with separate parts of the cartoon "copied on separate transparent sheets" and "opaque on the back to correspond with the outline in each case." The sheets, "advantageously celluloid," were recombined and copied "to make the pair of stereoscopic views" by shifting them laterally.

"A month before its expiration," notes [Leonard - BC] Maurer, "Gaines bought the Freeman Owens patent -- which never turned up in our patent search -- from the dying inventor for a few hundred bucks." Then Gaines initiated suit for patent infringement on all the publishers of 3-D comics including St. John. "That suit," says Maurer, was "based on surreptitious individual tape recordings of meetings with Joe and Norman, where Gaines accused me of stealing the Owens patent out of the patent office (big joke). It triggered the resignation of Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder, who had gotten confidential disclosures of the entire process from me and felt betrayed by Gaines when phony accusations came out in court.

"The famous Judge Liebowitz threw the case out with the comment that the Gaines deposition read like a 'fantasy story out of Mad Comics.' But, it served its purpose, and ruined all my chances to license the 3-D Illustereo process to anyone other than St. John.
Gaines' action, along with the high cost of making 3-D comics (and the high cost of the comics themselves), effectively destroyed the 3-D comic market.

An interesting side-note is that, just as this action began, Harvey Comics was launching a very aggresive campaign in support of its comic, Captain 3-D. The perfect storm of high cost of individual issues, high overhead and legal fees destroyed them, even though Captain 3-D was a high quality product produced by the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby team of artists. It is told (although it sounds hard to believe) that Harvey ended up losing over $200,000 due to the failure of Captain 3-D. I do not know if it is true, but what I DO know is that, fifty years later, it is VERY easy to get ahold of Harvey 3-D glasses from the launch of Captain 3-D (just try on an auction site, you'll be amazed), so they must have produced TONS of these things. With that in mind, I guess it isn't AS hard to believe after all.

Well, that's it for this week, thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you'd like to see featured!!

Read More


Blogger Axel M. Gruner said...

Another good example for inconsistent coloring would be X-Man #3, where the Scarlet Witch appears the first time - in a light green costume.

3/03/2006 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger Nimbus said...

Firstly, I must congratulate you on reaching number 40 in this fascinating series. Always a great read! Well done.

Secondly, I have noticed a obvious trend with your urban legends. Each week you present 3 legends and they are (nearly?) always listed in the order True, False, True.

It's a minor comment, I know, but it takes away the fun of trying to guess which ones are true and which are false. I know straight away that the first will be true, the second false and the third true. Perhaps you could mix 'em up a bit?

3/03/2006 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger Marionette said...

I never realised that the comics world was such a turgid pool of deceipt.

3/03/2006 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger David C said...

Fascinating stuff. On the Hulk, the story I'd always heard was some variant of "Someone screwed up" - e.g., the instruction to the printer said "gray," but it came out green, or vice versa. But it was actually all intentional creative decisions, but reconsidered ones.

3/03/2006 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger David Cutler said...

Man, I'm still not a fan of Austen's work, but I now regret every single time I mused about wanting him taken off a book I wasn't reading anyway. I guess we forget sometimes these guys are people too. Thanks, Greg. I think I've grown a little today.

3/03/2006 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Nah, Austen's still evil. No love for Prez? C'mooonnnn!

Get me Garry Trudeau. Then we'll resurrect Prez.

3/03/2006 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger MacQuarrie said...

Interesting that the 3-D debacle is what caused Kurtzman and Elder to leave EC. The popular wisdom has it that Kurtzman was unhappy with the direction MAD was taking. Or at least that's how I heard it.

3/03/2006 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous C. Tynne said...

Harvey Kurtzman said in his autobiography that he left EC because he disliked the direction 'MAD Magazine' was taking.

Though, I suppose he could have had other reasons.

3/03/2006 07:20:00 PM  
Anonymous A.L. Baroza said...

I still think Austen is Akira Yoshida. Bah.

3/04/2006 12:32:00 AM  
Blogger The Seditionist said...

FYI: JD Finn was (is?) Frank Tieri. See:

3/04/2006 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Interesting that the 3-D debacle is what caused Kurtzman and Elder to leave EC. The popular wisdom has it that Kurtzman was unhappy with the direction MAD was taking. Or at least that's how I heard it."

Jim, yeah, I doubted that as well, which is why I didn't try to claim it myself. I probably should have added (as I did later when I stated that I doubted whether the whole claimed "$250,000 lost" was accurate or not) that this is just Ray Zone quoting Maurer, and obviously, we cannot take Maurer's opinion on someone ELSE'S motivations as fact.

3/04/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"It's a minor comment, I know, but it takes away the fun of trying to guess which ones are true and which are false. I know straight away that the first will be true, the second false and the third true. Perhaps you could mix 'em up a bit?"

Fair enough, Steve. I AM a creature of habit. I'll try to mix things up.

3/04/2006 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

And thanks for the Tieri stuff, Mitchell.

Hmm...any way that can be worked into a later column? If I can, I will...hehe.

3/04/2006 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Bah, that Tieri thing was a joke!

3/04/2006 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous TV's Grady said...

Amazing stuff, as always.

Here's a pair of dubious comic "factoids" that I've been wondering about for a while:

1. In an issue of Wizard, I once read a tidbit claiming that Marvel had once briefly changed the Black Panther's name to the "Black Leopard", so people wouldn't associate the character with the Black Panther Party. I've always doubted that claim, particularly since I've never seen anything else that backs it up.

2. I once read a piece in one edition of Irving Wallace's "Book of Lists" that addressed the lingering issue of whythe Golden Age Superman didn't just singlehandedly end WWII. According to Wallace and his collaborators, there was a comic story in which Clark Kent was called up by the draft board, but during the eye exam portion of his physical he "accidentally" (huh?) used his X-ray vision to read a different eye chart in the next room over, and was declared 4-F as a consequence. I have my doubts about that, too, considering that the Books of Lists have been known to slip up and present urban legend-y stuff as facts before.

3/04/2006 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Hoosier X said...

Re: The Black Leopard

I've never read this issue of FF, but The Marvel Comics Index No. 4, The Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer (July 1977) has a note for Fantastic Four #119 (February 1972) that says:

GS: Black Panther (names himself "Black Leopard" in this story)

George Olshevsky (auther of the MCI volumes) is usually reliable.

As for Clark Kent being 4F because he read the wrong eyechart, I heard that that happened in the Superman comic strip and never happened in the comic book.

3/05/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous TV's Grady said...

Thanks for clearing things up.

3/06/2006 09:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Jamie Coville said...

I e-mailed Al Feldstien about Kurtzman leaving MAD and he told me
Hugh Hefner contacted Harvey Kurtzman and offered him the opportunity to create a high scale humor magazine for him. Harvey wanted to accept, but after recently convincing the Gaines family to pay off their large debts to keep Mad Magazine going he didn't feel right about quitting on them. Kurtzman then purposely got himself fired by demanding that Gaines hand over 51% of the Mad Magazine ownership and control to him. When Kurtzman left for Hefner he took most of Mad Magazine's artists and staff with him.

- Jamie Coville

3/11/2006 10:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Albertson said...

FF 119 was reprinted in the Roy Thomas Visionaries book, where Roy comments that Stan wanted to distance T'cChalla from the Black Panther political party. So that's one that would be true.

3/14/2006 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Woody said...

I'm not sure these rise to the level of urban legends, but

Did Steve Ditko draw a Captain Action story that was rescripted and printed by Charlton?

Has John Byrne been writing a DC comic under a pseudonym?

Did Myra David really try to get work by claiming she had been writing Aquaman stories that were printed under Peter David's name?

3/14/2006 08:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it true that in the mid-80s, it was mandated by Marvel that Spider-Man make a guest appearance in every new Marvel book?

And if so, did this extend even to books which were clearly out of continuity like The Transformers which had Spider-Man show up out of nowhere in its third issue?

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