Fly-By-The-Seat-Of-Your-Pants Publishing

By | Thursday, March 02, 2023 Leave a Comment
One thing that's always struck me about the birth of the Marvel Universe is that Stan Lee was really just flying by the seat of his pants all the time. He just kept throwing stuff against the wall; some of it stuck, some of it didn't. But Stan had this peculiar talent for quickly recognizing what was sticking and playing that up. What I just realized, though, was -- while there was some latent talent there -- that style of editting/publishing was learned from Martin Goodman. Case in point...

The Human Torch character first appeared in Marvel Comics #1. The book also featured relatively new characters like the Sub-Mariner, the Angel, the Masked Raider, and Ka-Zar. After a little while, publisher Martin Goodman realized that the book (since retitled Marvel Mystery Comics) was successful and started publishing other superhero books, including Red Raven Comics. Red Raven wasn't as recognizable, though, and the title was changed to The Human Torch with #2. Sales were excellent, and it soon occurred to Martin that he ought to have a comic story where the Human Torch met and fought with his other big-name character, the Sub-Mariner.

(Curiously, despite this astute assessment of things here, Martin also had some bizarre observations about comics' popularity. He tried, at various times, to replicate title names, font styles, and color palettes of popular comics to build readership.)

So Martin convinced Human Torch creator/writer/artist Carl Burgos and Sub-Mariner creator/writer/artist Bill Everett to do one story where their two characters meet each other and fight. Martin also wanted to capitalize on the characters' immediate popularity, so he asked them to create the entire 60-page story over a single weekend. Carl and Bill quickly pulled in every artist they could to work on the story. Over the next few days, around a dozen guys eat, drank, drew, wrote, and occassionally slept in that one apartment. Carl was reserved for drawing the Torch's and Toro's heads and other significant poses while Bill was reserved for the same duty on Namor. From time to time, one or two of the guys would leave to buy cigarettes, beer, or food for everyone, but for the most part everyone powerered their way through creating a 60-page, completed story in one weekend.

Monday morning rolled around, and the completed(!) story was turned in to Martin. The artists were paid and Martin rushed off to the printers. Evidently in his haste, though, he didn't realize that he had already published a Human Torch #5. Possibly, in part because he had started the title with #2, meaning that there were only four issues of that particular title. But the new story went to press, rolling out to the newsstands with a large "No. 5" printed on every cover.

Whether Martin never realized the error, or just decided to roll with it is unclear, but the issue after that was indeed published as #6. But now, decades later, fans of Golden Age comics have to contend with a line of comics that looks like this...

Red Raven Comics #1 Human Torch #2 Human Torch #3 Human Torch #4 Human Torch #5 Human Torch #5 Human Torch #6...

With stories like that floating in Stan Lee's early career in comics, it's really no wonder that he continued on in exactly the same way in the 1960s!
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