In this episode we’ll take a look back at Marvel Team-Up #74 that hit the spinner racks on July 25, 1978.
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Fifty years ago today Fantastic Four #51, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic “This Man…This Monster” hit the spinner rack and quickly became one of the most memorable and beloved stories of their incredible run.
I’ve seen many references to “This Man…This Monster” over the years, each with a scan of Kirby and Sinnott’s splash page of the Thing walking the streets of Manhattan in the rain. But regardless of how many times I’ve seen a blurb or article praising FF #51’s story, art, and its place in comic book history, I never actually read the story.
I’ve recently started collecting Marvel Masterworks, including the first volume of the Fantastic Four covering issues #1-10. As much as I enjoy reading the classic Silver Age stories in that format, I find the new coloring a bit “off” and I still very much prefer reading original comic books in their four color glory, which is part of the reason I hadn’t read “This Man…This Monster” until recently. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back in June of 2015 I had attended Special Edition NYC, Reed Expo’s offshoot of the New York Comic Con, which was a smaller convention that is more focused comic books and the creators than NYCC. In spite of the mile long line to get into Pier 94, the crowd was very manageable for that venue. Normally at comic conventions I tend to stay in Artist Alley and spend most of my money on sketches, but his time around I was looking to buy some Bronze Age Marvel and DC Comics. One vendor in particular caught my eye with several tables of long boxes with comics priced from $2 to $7. I was expecting to find books from the 70s and 80s (and there were plenty of those) but as I worked through the boxes, I started to find more than a few Marvel books from the 60s!
And there it was: Fantastic Four #51.
Priced at $2.00
It had to be a reprint, I thought. But a quick glance of the cover made it clear that I was holding a well read original copy of “This Man…This Monster.” How it was still in the box was a mystery to me considering the crowd gathered at this booth and the low price. Granted it was in very bad shape (it would probably have been graded as a 0.5), the cover was still barely attached by one staple and there was an old Marvel Comics sticker affixed to the back. Coincidentally the sticker was the Kirby/Sinnott drawing of The Thing from the cover of this particular issue. In spite of the condition, I had to have it even if it was falling apart and destined to be a reading copy.
The story begins with a dejected Ben Grimm (The Thing) standing in the rain in the streets of Manhattan, feeling sorry for himself and his present physical appearance. A mysterious stranger invites him into his home, offering Ben a cup of coffee and a sympathetic ear. But all isn’t as it seems. The mysterious host is a frustrated scientist jealous of Reed Richards and has drawn Ben into his home to drug him and test his “duplication apparatus.” He hooks the machine up to Ben and himself, taking on the physical appearance of The Thing while Ben reverts back to his human form.
Several days later in the Baxter Building as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) works on a weapon that would take on Galactus, the impostor Thing enters and begins to help Reed with the heavy lifting. But no sooner than he arrives, the real Ben Grimm storms in warning Reed and Sue (the Invisible Girl) that the orange monster in front of them is a fake. Despite the real Ben’s pleas to believe him, Reed and Sue can’t believe that Ben would have reverted back to his human form. Ben storms out leaving the impostor in his place, which could be fatal to Reed.
No spoilers here. This is a great story with all of the elements of classic 60’s Lee and Kirby and emotional impact on every page. And it wouldn’t be a Kirby FF without a splash page or three that truly showcases his genius. Reading this original copy of Fantastic Four #51 inspired me to find and collect other original issues from Lee and Kirby’s run. I bought my first Lee/Kirby FF a couple of years back during an impromptu visit to the Astro-Zombies comic shop in Albuquerque, NM thinking that would be the the only pre-FF #100 issue I would own. And while I won’t be able to afford a copy of Fantastic Four #1 any time soon, I’ve begun a collection of pre-FF #100 issues (ranging from issues #33 to #93) that numbers twelve and counting for less than $10 each. They may be reading copies, but they’re mine and I still treasure them.
In honor the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, I wanted to write a post about my trip to see the Holy Grail of the Silver Age of comic books.
In November 2010 I took a weekend trip to Washington D.C. with my girlfriend. It was my first time in D.C. and the long weekend was packed with seeing the sights along the mall. I enjoyed every monument, memorial and museum we visited, but by Sunday I was slightly preoccupied with the thought of our plans for Monday morning’s visit to the Library of Congress. I wasn’t there to admire the architecture or take a tour, I had some research to do. About a month earlier I had contacted curator Sara Duke of the Prints and Photographs Division in order to schedule our appointment, and from that moment I was counting the days.
If there’s one thing I’m passionate about it’s comic book art, as both an admirer and collector. Each published page of original art is a piece of history, with a select few pages fitting into the category of monumental. When I think of the most culturally significant comic book stories, the first few that come to mind are the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, Fantastic Four #1 ushering in the Marvel Age of comic books, and of course the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15.
In 2008 an anonymous donor had donated all of the original pages of art from Amazing Fantasy #15 to the Library of Congress. How this anonymous donor had originally acquired these pages has not been made public. Considering how much artwork from the Golden and Silver Ages has been destroyed, lost, or stolen, it’s a miracle that every page from this issue was saved. My mission, with my trusty (and extremely patient) sidekick, was to schedule time to see the complete Spider-Man origin story in its original drawn form.
I woke up at 7:00 AM that Monday morning. Anyone who knows me knows that I never get up at 7:00 AM. Ever. But that morning was different. We had a short window of time that began at 9:30 AM sharp and we had to make the most of it. After all, this is the first appearance of Spider-Man and there’s probably a list of folks lined up after us to see it, so I was going to make the most of every minute.
We arrived a little early, checked our backpacks with the security desk and signed up for our research cards. By the time we made it up to the research room, my spider-sense was tingling. Sara met us when we arrived and wheeled out a cart with several large folders. Not only did she pull the original Spider-Man pages from Amazing Fantasy #15 for us to view, she was also kind enough to pull the original comic art to the other three stories that comprised the issue, twenty six pages in all.
I opened the first folder, and there was the opening splash page of Peter Parker standing in the background, ostracized by Flash Thompson and the cool kids. One thing that struck me right away was how much detail there was in Steve Ditko’s inks. Every reprint I had seen growing up was a copy of a copy and lost a lot of the detail in Ditko’s brush work. Seeing the original art allowed me to actually feel the disappointment and angst in the expression on Peter Parker’s face.
At the top of the page is a paste up of the Spider-Man logo that covers Ditko’s original hand drawn logo. I wish I could have been in the room in 1962 to hear the reason for changing it. And if you look in the margins, Stan Lee’s original hand written notes “direct” some of the scenes in Ditko’s panels.
I took a lot of pictures, but unfortunately rights restrictions keep me from posting them. Thumbnails are available here at the Library’s website and you can order scans, but if you’re a fan of comic art I highly recommend seeing them in person.
We had a good hour to see all twenty six pages and were never rushed. Sarah sat with us the entire time and pointed out details that I never would have noticed. I thanked Sarah for her time, and mentioned that I would love to come back to see the pages again one day. I chuckled when I realized my tax dollars made me a part owner of them. By my calculations, which I won’t bore you with, I estimate that my personal portion of these 26 pages of original art is .000035 square inches of a page. Hey, I’ll take it!
This was a Bucket List moment for me, ranked up there with seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and statue of David (next up is Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper). Prior to reading that article in 2008 about the LOC’s acquisition of the Amazing Fantasy #15 pages, I didn’t think they even existed. And now I saw them.
God Bless America.
But the story doesn’t end there. Prior to our bus ride back to New York, my faithful (and patient) sidekick surprised me with a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, complete with scans of the original Spider-Man pages we had just seen that morning. She never ceases to amaze me.
These original pages to Amazing Fantasy #15 were featured on the History Channel back in 2009. That clip can be found here.
Amazing Fantasy #15 can be found in Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks #1 and Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Great Responsibility on Amazon and Comixology, and The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1 on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support!
Comic book publisher and icon Stan Lee and 1821 Comics co-founder Terry Dougas unveiled their latest graphic novel Romeo and Juliet: The War at the 2011 New York Comic Con. The hit stores January 25th, is Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet reimagined as a sci-fi fantasy set in the future. It was written by Max Work with artwork by Skan Srisuwan.
From the press release:
ROMEO AND JULIET: THE WAR takes Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers and places them in the futuristic sci-fi/fantasy Empire of Verona, the most powerful territory on Earth. The MONTAGUES, powerful cyborgs made of artificial DNA, and the CAPULETS, genetically enhanced humans known for their speed and agility, worked in tandem to destroy all threats to the city. With no one left to fight, the Montagues and Capulets found themselves a new enemy: each other.
“This is the graphic novel I’ve always dreamed of doing. Take one of the world’s greatest stories, known and loved throughout the globe, place it against the background of a future age, a more violent, science-gone-mad age–embellish it with the most powerful, dazzling, illustrations ever seen and produce it in the largest, most impressive format of all. Romeo and Juliet: The War! It’s the crowning achievement in this, the age of the graphic novel.”
Added Terry Dougas of 1821 Comics, “Last year we announced the formation of our company and our plans to create the first in a series of graphic novel books and today we are proud to unveil one of the most highly anticipated books of our time ROMEO AND JULIET: THE WAR. We are treating this book like a studio tentpole release, and judging from the fan reaction today this property has a tremendous amount of sequel potential beyond just books. It is also an honor and privilege to be working with one of the most iconic and creative minds today comic legend Stan Lee and POW! Entertainment, we have the best partner in the business.”
I caught up with Lee and Dougas on the first day of the New York Comic Con.
What was the genesis of this particular project and how did you get involved?
Lee: Actually Terry Dougas came to me one day and said, “Why don’t we do Romeo and Juliet and update it?” And I loved the idea. He decided if we set it in the future, the Capulets and the Montegues can each have a superpower. And when they fight, it becomes the kind of story that superhero fans love to read, but we tried to keep all of the ingredients and all of the elements of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. So hopefully if you’re a Romeo and Juliet fan you’ll love it, and if you’re a superhero fan, you’ll love all of the excitement and the superhero stuff that’s involved in the story!
Dougas: It’s just cool to set in a different environment for everyone to see. Because I knew it took place back then, of course, but setting it in a futuristic environment with all of these gadjets, all types of audiences can read it or watch it. We kept the skeleton, we just made sure we respect the original piece of art.
How is the process working together? How it is working with Terry, and how is it working with Stan?
Dougas: He is such a diva. (laughs).
Lee: It’s great working with Terry because I can brow-beat him. I yell at him. (laughs). No he’s a great guy. He has more ideas and more enthusiasm than anyone I’ve met in a long time. I mean every time I talk with him he comes up with something new. I thought I was creative, but I’m learning from him!
Dougas: For me it’s been an honor. I grew up in Greece reading his comics, it’s just an honor. I learn every day, he helps us with the company and the ideas also. And every couple of weeks we brainstorm and figure out a way to make it the way we want to see it and read it. That way we go to bed happy. Hopefully everyone likes what we’ve done, that’s why we’re doing it as a big hardcover book, 10” by 13” and give enough to the readers to hopefully satisfy them and pay homage to Stan Lee and Shakespeare.
Lee: I never knew anybody that put so much of himself into a project. The average publisher would just publish a book, promote it a little, but this man [Dougas] has been working with this, and living with it, and making posters, and setting up meetings and designing statues. He puts everything into it which I think is wonderful.
What medium was used for the artwork? Was it done mostly with computers or traditional pen and ink?
Dougas: Mostly computers. This artist, Skan Srisuwan, is a great artist. It took us a long time to find him. We went through 200 artists in order to find him in Thailand where he’s working. But he’s amazing. The cover (of the book), he did that in 48 hours, which is incredible. The hardcover book is 155 pages, so you can imagine how much work when into it because all of the panels have the same look to them. We had to make sure it’s the absolute way we wanted it to come out.
Do you think this is the future of comic publishing? Moving away from pen and ink?
Lee: More and more the artwork in comic books begins to look like illustration and is computer aided if only in the coloring. But I think there will always be a place for the regular pen and in drawings. People love those, too.
Any hints on your next project after Romeo and Juliet?
Lee: My lips are sealed, he’d kill me! (laughs)
Romeo and Juliet: The War debuted at #7 on The New York Times Best Sellers list on both the hardcover and paperback graphic books best-seller lists.
Special thanks to Theo Dumont of Dumont Marketing for the opportunity to interview Lee and Dougas.
In October 2010, I covered a signing event at the Animazing Gallery in New York. Guest of honor Stan Lee, in town for the New York Comic Con, signed autographed prints and posed for pictures with the fans. Painters Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell showcased their Marvel Comics themed paintings, and mosaic artist Jorge Burtin’s giant Spider-Man mosaic was the talk of the event when an anonymous buyer purchased it for a five figure amount.
Read it here.