Thursday, May 11, 2006

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #50!

This is the fiftieth 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 forty-nine.

Let's begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: John Romita broke into comics pretending to ink for penciller, while the penciller was actually inking Romita's pencils!


Some of the most interesting comic book stories, I have noticed, are about how people broke into the business, and the story of how John Romita broke in was so good that I saved it for this here installment of Urban Legends Revealed.

In Alter Ego Vol. 3 #9, Roy Thomas asked John Romita about his start in comics...

Thomas: You mentioned at the 1995 Stan Lee Roast in Chicago [NOTE: See Alter Ego Vol.3 #1] how in '49 you started out penciling for a guy who was really an inker, but who pretended to Stan that he was penciling material which you ghosted for him. Don't you think it's time you finally told us who that artist was?

Romita: The reason I never gave his name was, I didn't want to embarrass him. His name was Lester Zakarin. I met him for the first time in forty years in 1999, at a convention in New York, and he told me he wasn't offended by any of the interviews I'd given. I'd always say that this artist I was ghosting for would tell Stan he could pencil, but actually I'd do the penciling for him, and he just inked my pencils.

[Here's one of the issues in question, Strange Tales #3]

But Stan was one of the few editors who'd ask guys to make changes. And when he asked Lester Zakarin to change something, he would panic. So I would go into the city with him and I'd wait at the New York Public Library, which was very close to where Timely was, at the Empire State Building. Zakarin would get the corrections from Stan and tell him, "I can't draw in front of people. It has to be absolutely quiet. I'm going to a friend's office. I'll do these corrections and bring them back in the afternoon." Then he'd meet me at the library, and I'd do the corrections, and then he'd go back to Stan. [laughs]
Later on, in an interview with Tom DeFalco for his excellent book of interviews, "Comic Creators on Spider-Man," Romita told the aftermath of the story...
I ghosted for Lester for about a year and a half, until I got drafted in 1951 and we drifted apart. I worked for Stan all that time and he didn't even know who I was. I was stationed at Governors Island after I finished basic training in 1951. My wife, Virginia, was working on Wall Street at the tiem, so I would take the ferry and meet her for lunch. I had a free afternoon one day and went uptown to see if Stan Lee had any work for me. I told his secretary that Stan didn't know me, but I had been ghosting for Lester for over a year. She went to speak with Stan and came out a few minutes later with a four-page horror story.
That began a seven-year stint at Marvel, then romance comics at DC for a time before returning to Marvel in the 1960s and becoming a sensation on Spider-Man.

Isn't that a nifty story?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The Super-books were not going to marry Clark and Lois until the TV show got involved.


It's interesting how things come about, isn't it?

The Super-books at one point did a storyline where Lois and Clark break up.

However, it was then announced that Clark and Lois would be getting married on the TV show, Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman, so the comics quickly had to catch up, so eight months after the broke up, they both got BACK together and were quickly married.

So it certainly looked like the TV show forced the comic into marrying the couple. In truth, though, it was actually almost the exact OPPOSITE.

The following piece is from Michael Bailey's article on the 10th anniversary of Superman's death from the Superman Homepage. It's a good deal more efficient than me just splicing together different interviews on the subject.
With four teams of creators and four titles that had such a tight continuity it was necessary for the creative forces and the editor to meet and discuss upcoming story ideas and map the future of Superman. At these "Super Summits" Carlin and crew produced the "Superman Charts," which were a general plan for the next year that would be revised and updated as the stories were actually produced. In an e-mail interview conducted for this article Dan Jurgens described how the story meetings would work. "There were anywhere from seven to twenty people gathered all in those meetings, each with their own ideas, who somehow had to conjure a coherent story from a boiling cauldron of conflicting ideas," he wrote. "It was very difficult, at times, for the writers to let go of some of their ideas and notions in order to make everything fit together for the overall good of the united stories. In retrospect, it's a wonder it worked as well as it did."

Dan was quick to point out the person responsible for the success of the format. "Mike Carlin, one of the best editors this field has ever seen, deserves a tremendous round of applause for focusing us. The creative teams were like a band, a collection of diverse experiences and notions, and he was the producer who put it all together for 'the sound.'"

One of these summits was held to discuss not the death of Superman but the wedding of Lois and Clark. Clark had proposed at the beginning of Superman #50 and by the time the issue ended Lois had accepted. A few months later in the pages of Action Comics #662 Clark even told Lois the truth about his double life. It was an event in real life as well when the press picked up on the story and Superman got some ink in newspapers and mentions of telecasts across the country. Even the most skeptical reader was beginning to wonder if DC was actually going to go through with it and indeed they would have if it wasn't for a medium seemingly more powerful than comics; television.

DC president Jenette Kahn had been working for several years to sell the concept of a Superman television series. The series would be different, though, and at one point had the title Lois Lane's Daily Planet. In 1991 Les Moonves, head of Lorimar Television and writer/producer Deborah Joy Levine helped sell the series to ABC television with a new title, Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman. Despite the fact that the show would not air until the fall of 1993 the mere fact that the show was being developed had an effect on the comics.

Mike Carlin discussed the Super Summits that would deal with the wedding with comic historian Les Daniels in his book Superman: The Complete History. "There was one [Summit] where we literally came into hoping to talk about the wedding with the TV people, but the show got put on hold for a while and they weren't there. We were stuck. And I do think that there was some resentment from the talent that they weren't able to do what they had planned." The reason for this was simple. As Carlin put it, "DC's decision was that it would be a good idea to hold off the wedding and do it at the same time as the TV show, if it got that far."

So the creative team was left with a story vacuum. Despite the fact that the wedding was on hold the teams still needed to produce stories to fill the comics to put on out to the stands. The solution came from something that had become a running gag at the Super Summits. Mike Carlin told Comics Scene Magazine in 1993, "This isn't the first Superman meeting where somebody said, 'Let's kill him off'; this is not the first meeting or plotting session I've gone to on any character where they said, 'Let's kill him.' I mean that happens in life and that happens in comics. At the meeting we had planned to do another story, but due to extenuating circumstances we had to push that back a little bit and then we had to fill the gap. So somebody said, "Let's kill Superman.'"

So yes, years later, it was a push by the TV show that got Clark and Lois married, but not before the TV show KEPT them from being married!

It's interesting how things come about, isn't it?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Venom was originally going to be a woman.


In the same book of Spider-Man interviews, David Michelinie talks about the origin of Venom...
Interestingly enough, he was a character I started to introduce in Web of Spider-Man, and he was actually supposed to be a she. I began with the alien costume that had come back with Spider-Man from Secret Wars, and had been used throughout your [DeFalco's] run. It was basically in limbo at the time, having already been rejected by Spider-Man. I was intrigued with the idea that there was this thing that did not trigger Spidey's spider-sense. Most people forget that the spider-sense is a very unique power, and that Spider-Man really depends upon it. I actually started Venom's story in two issues of Web.

In Web #18, Peter Parker is waiting for a subeway train. A hand comes from the crowed and pushed him in front of the train. He leaps to safety, but he's spooked because someone was able to sneak up on him and his spider-sense didn't react.

I set up another scene in Web #24 where he's stuck to the side of a building. Someone suddenly reaches out of a window, yanks him by the ankle and sends him falling. Peter starts to really freak out because someone is getting past his defenses.

I originally wanted the character to be a woman. She was pregnant and about to give birth. Her husband is rushing to get to a hospital. He runs into road to flag down a cab, but the cabbie is looking up at Spider-Man who is fighting someone - I think it might even have been the Living Monolith from my graphic novel. The cabbie doesn't see the husband and accidentally hits and kills the guy. The woman sees her husband splattered in front of her just as she goes into labor. She loses the child and her mind at the same time, and is institutionalized. Though she eventually gets her mind back, she blames Spider-Man for the death of her husband and her child. The alien costume, which has also been hurt by Peter Parker, is drawn to the woman because of her intense hatred of Spider-Man. The costume then bonds with her to try to kill Peter.

When I was switched to Amazing, Jim Salicrup told me he wanted to do something special in #300, and he suggested I introduce a new character. I hit him with my idea of using the alien costume. Though he liked it, he wasn't sure the readers would see a woman as a physical threat to Spider-Man, even a woman enhanced by the alien costume. At that point I came up with the Eddie Brock angle.
Pretty odd point by Salicrup, no?

Oh well, it would have been interesting, no?

plus equals

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 Chris Sims said...

You've got the questions.

Chris has the answers.

5/12/2006 12:23:00 AM  
Blogger Michael Bailey said...

I really can't thank you enough for using my article in this week's Comic Book Urban Legends. I worked hard on that and it was awesome to see here.

Thanks. You really made my day.

5/12/2006 01:40:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

It was a job well done, Michael.

An excellent piece.

And what I especially liked is that I took a nice-sized chunk, and yet there is a LOT more left in the article for people to read.

5/12/2006 01:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Jer said...

"[Salicrup] wasn't sure the readers would see a woman as a physical threat to Spider-Man, even a woman enhanced by the alien costume."

Huh. By the 1980s people weren't able to believe that a woman could be a physical threat to a man? Or, is it because the book was still targetting young boys at the time and he didn't think that boys would believe that Spider-man could get beat up by a girl? Is this just general 1980's era sexism, or is there something more to this?

(You know, I recall the video game Double Dragon being a big deal at the time because one of the villains was a woman and you were expected to beat her up - just like the other villains in the game. There were parents groups who got hysterical because it was a video game encouraging boys to hit girls - even though if it was doing that, it was pretty much encouraging them to hit people in general indiscriminately. The 80s were a weird time, in retrospect.)

5/12/2006 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Matt Brady said...

Don't forget this one:

5/12/2006 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why isn't there any contact info for the contributors of this blog anywhere?

5/12/2006 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger Skipper Pickle said...

Always count on Anonymous for your daily dose of irony.

5/12/2006 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

On the sidebar, there is a section that you can click on for our mailing addresses, for review copies.

Beyond that, most of us end up making comments in the comment section of the entries, so just click on, say, my name for my comment, and it'll take you to my blogger profile, where there's an e-mail address listed.

5/12/2006 09:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DC was going to launch a line of comics under the banner of "Matrix". This was later changed to "Helix". Was this because of the impending movies?

5/13/2006 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Rittenhouse said...

Re: DC's last-minute change of "Matrix" to "Helix".

The story that I heard at the time was that the change was prompted by FASA, the publishers of the SHADOWRUN pen-and-paper role playing game. In the game, there was a virtual reality cyberspace called the "Matrix", and the publishers had suposedly trademarked the term.

I personaly find this hard to belive (FASA, very small publisher of role-playing games, Vs. DC, comic book giant and subsidiary of powerful Warner Brothers... no contest whatsover), but for what it's worth, that was the comic shop scuttlebutt at the time.

5/21/2006 02:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If that were true, then wouldn't the same thing have happened when the movie 'The Matrix' wanted to use the term in what sounds to be a very, very similar usage to that game?
I'm too lazy to register, but my name is Sean

5/25/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

I know that when I saw the first reports about The Matrix (starring Charlie Sheen at the time!), I thought it was Shadowrun-related.

Oh, and that Bride of Venom cover makes me feel ill...

8/15/2006 04:42:00 AM  
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