Monday, March 28, 2011

The Stockton Crusade

More than a few years ago, Joe Field launched a campaign to get Stockton, CA named as the definitive birthplace of the Fantastic Four. Here's a local news clip from the time that explains...

The campaign lasted about three months. After Field had collected the petition signatures mentioned in the video, he took that to the Stockton city council. They backed his idea and the LA Times soon picked up the story. Here's another clip shortly after the Council vote was taken...


The Times in turn contacted Stan Lee, who loved the idea...

... not realizing that FF writer/artist John Byrne and editor Mike Carlin were working on #293, which literally removed Central City off the map and sent it several thousand years into the future.

They eventually hit on the idea that the FF's rocket could have crash-landed in a different city from where it was launched. So it was decided that it could crash in Stockton, thus securing that city as "birthplace of the Fantastic Four" without actually contradicting existing continuity where Central City had been named.

Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter called Field to tell him of the decision and asked him to send some reference photos of Stockton for the anniversary issue (#296) they were working on. The photos ultimately were never used, but the story was put together by Lee and Shooter with art from Barry Windsor-Smith, Kerry Gammill, Ron Frenz, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Marc Silvestri and Jerry Ordway. Here are the first four pages (by Windsor-Smith) which showcase the landing spot as Stockton...

There was a fair amount of media hype at the time. Field told me recently, "I was told that Mike Carlin was not a happy camper about having to try to shoe-horn my campaign into continuity. It wasn't until several years later when I met him in person in San Diego after he had moved to DC, that I went up to him, introduced myself and apologized for getting in the way of his job. Mike is a great guy and waved off the whole thing saying we had given that title more publicity than they could have generated on their own."

Lee in fact visited Stockton in February 1986 as part of a formal celebration in front of City Hall. He was given a key to the city and there was the semi-obligatory signing. Not long after, Lee hired Field on as his and his wife Joan's public relations man, so impressed he'd been with the work Field had done on the Stockton campaign.

The last part of the campaign involved printing up and selling 1,000 limited edition commemorative prints honoring the event. The money raised went to flood relief in Northern California. I still have mine (#278) hanging framed near my comics collection.

Field says he's got other new clips from that whole period that he'll be posting on YouTube as he's able, but that is what the whole thing was about. Keep your eyes out for more footage!

2 comments:

Matt K said...

Coolo. I remember the crash site being identified in #296, but had no idea about any of this.

(And actually, I always assumed that the crash was someplace out in the eastern United States for some reason. Not sure why.)

Corey Bond said...

Thank you for this post! I discovered your blog today when searching for info about Stockton and Central City.

So many sources claim that Marvel simply replaced Central City with Stockton, which really confused me this week when re-reading Fantastic Four #295 (in which Central City is wiped off the map) and then the very next issue, #296, in which the Thing visits Stockton.

This Stan Lee quote from 1986 certainly doesn't help: "We've coped with the destruction of universes. We can handle this... The least we could do is give a break to a decent, respectable city like Stockton. We're not going to destroy Central City. We're going to rename it."

Giving both cities a reason to have "Home of the Fantastic Four" as their claim to fame makes sense, but even the details of that are unclear. Whereas you state here that the FF launched from Central City and crashed in Stockton, a 1986 article from the LA Times describes it differently:

"But earlier this week, Marvel Comics officials said it was practically too late to change the plot of the upcoming 25th anniversary issue, in which the heroes' hometown is wiped off the face of the Earth. Then they came up with an inspired idea. According to the revised story line, the Fantastic Four still hail from Central City. But when they took off on the rocket that launched them into outer space -- where they were stuck by the radiation waves that transformed them into superheroes -- it was from nearby Stockton."

In other words, they lived in Central City, but launched from Stockton.

Sadly, neither version of the truth explains how, if Central City disappeared in Fantastic Four #295 (published in 1986), there is still a Central City International Airport in the 1999 Machine Man series "X-51" #1.

Apologies for thinking too hard about Marvel continuity, and thanks again for the info!