10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Marvel Comics
Over at the Times Online in honour of the 70th Anniversary of the Marvel Comics, they put together a tremendous list of 70 little-known facts about the comic company.
To see the full list of 70, you’ll need to scoot on over to their article but here’s a selection of ten of the fun tidbits they posted:
1. Marvel was first known as Timely Comics. It was set up in 1939 by New York magazine publisher Martin Goodman. From 1951 the company’s comics were printed under the name Atlas but this was changed to Marvel in 1961. The first comic to appear under the Marvel Comics brand was Amazing Adventures No 3.
2. Goodman thought that Spider-man was a rotten idea for a superhero. He told Stan Lee that the character would fail because readers hated spiders. He changed his mind when the sales figures came in.
3. Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant once worked for Marvel. Between 1975 and 1977, Tennant was an editor at Marvel’s UK division, a job that required him to anglicise American spellings and indicate when the more scantily dressed superheroines needed to be redrawn decently.
4. The word ‘sex’ was concealed in the illustrations of New X-Men issue 118 at least 18 times – one almost every page. It surreptitiously appears in hair strands, bottles of whisky, a hedge, a puddle, tree branches, protest signs and, thanks to some conveniently placed garden tools, a lawn. The book’s artist, Ethan Van Sciver, has said that he scattered the word throughout the book because Marvel was annoying him at the time and he thought it would be fun to inject a little mischief into his work. Weirdly, this was the sort of activity that the psychologist Fredric Wertham railed hysterically against in the Fifties. He thought that comics were corrupting America’s youth, with their overt and covert depictions of sex and drugs, and his book on the subject, Seduction of the Innocent, led to Senate hearings and a strict moral code being imposed on the comic industry.
5. Marvel once owned the rights to the word zombie. As improbable as it sounds, Marvel attempted to trademark the word zombie in comic book titles after publishing Tale of the Zombie in 1973. By the time the trademark was approved two years later, the series was coming to an end. Marvel lost the trademark in 1996 but it wasn’t long before it was once again trademarking the armies of the undead, registering the words Marvel Zombies to protect its comic series of the same name. With DC, Marvel also trademarked the phrase ‘Super Hero’.
6. Artist Dave Cockrum‘s resignation letter to Marvel surreptitiously appeared in Iron Man No 127. In the issue, Tony Stark’s butler, Jarvis, resigns after a drunk and out of control Stark verbally abuses. The letter reads:
I am leaving because this is no longer the team-spirited “one big happy family” I once loved working for. Over the past year or so I have watched Avengers’ morale disintegrate to the point that, rather than being a team or a family, it is now a large collection of unhappy individuals simmering in their own personal stew of repressed anger, resentment and frustration. I have seen a lot of my friends silently enduring unfair, malicious or vindictive treatment.
My personal grievances are relatively slight by comparison to some, but I don’t intend to silently endure. I’ve watched the Avengers be disbanded, uprooted and shuffled around. I’ve become firmly convinced that this was done with the idea of “showing the hired help who’s Boss”.
I don’t intend to wait around to see what’s next.
Three issues later Iron Man‘s writer, David Michelinie, explained to readers that this was the not the letter Jarvis had intended to write and that due to a production error the wrong text had been published. The letter that appeared was none other than Cockrum’s own resignation letter, only someone had swapped “Marvel” for “Avengers”.
7. The Comics Code Authority forbade the use of werewolves in comics so Marvel writers had to come up with ingenious ways of including the classic villain archetype. For X-Men No 60 (1969) Roy Thomas and Neal Adams created Sauron, a were–pterodactyl to get round the code.
8. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, found writing comics too difficult. Before he found fame as a novelist, Puzo eked a living writing for men’s adventure magazines for Marvel’s publisher. Short of cash one month he asked Stan Lee if he could try his hand writing a comic script. Lee readily agreed but Puzo couldn’t deliver the goods. “He said it was too difficult,” Lee recounts in his autobiography. Puzo told him: “I could write a novel in the time it would take me to figure this damn thing out.” Puzo did eventually crack the superhero nut, writing the screenplays for the first two Superman movies.
9. Marvel was the first comic company to give a black superhero his own comic book. Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Luke Cage was a streetwise hero whose skin was as hard as steel. He made his first appearance in Luke Cage: Hero for Hire No 1 in June 1972 and was clearly an attempt by Marvel to cash in on the popular Blaxploitation genre.
10. Readers who alerted Marvel to mistakes in their comics were awarded a No-Prize. This would be empty envelope sent back to the reader on which would be written: “Congratulations! This envelope contains a genuine Marvel Comics No-Prize, which you have just won!” The No-Prize has become a much sought-after item for fans.