Thursday, March 3, 2011

In Appreciation of: Roy Thomas

Karen: When fans think of Marvel Comics and the people that shaped the Marvel universe, two names probably come up more than any others: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Certainly both of those men deserve all the accolades they are given, and were responsible for creating the very foundations of the company and the characters. We can also cite folks like Steve Ditko, John Romita Jr, and John Buscema for providing concepts and a certain style to the Marvel line. But as a fan of the books put out in the 70s, there's one person I think deserves special credit, and that's Roy Thomas.

Roy had been writing Avengers and other titles while Stan was still in charge of the books. But when Stan moved up the ladder, Roy had the unenviable task of taking the reins as editor in chief and riding herd over a bunch of wild and woolly artists and writers. It could have been a catastrophe. But instead, it was one of the most creative and adventurous periods in Marvel's history, giving birth to innumerable characters, stories, and concepts that persist to this day.

Roy also oversaw the blossoming of many new talents in the industry. Writers and artists such as Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Rich Buckler are just a few of the young talents that he encouraged. Almost every person I know of who worked under Roy's editorship has said that they liked Roy's methodology: do what you want on the book, as long as it sells. I know some critics say that a stronger hand was needed. But why? Sure, there was some garbage turned out, no denying that. But there was also some wonderful stuff produced, comics that were incredibly imaginative and even provocative. The writers and artists were not micromanaged. If Roy assigned someone to a book, he trusted them to handle it properly. Personally, that's what I like in a manager, and I'm sure for creative people, that is ideal.

It was Roy who sought out new genres into which Marvel could expand. He brought the wildly successful Conan to the world of comics, which then gave birth to a ton of imitators, both at Marvel and other comics companies. He oversaw Marvel's monster line of comics, helping develop characters such as Ghost Rider, Werewolf By Night, and the Zombie. It was not uncommon for Roy to come up with an idea or plot and then hand it off to another writer to flesh out. He created the Defenders and promptly handed it off to Steve Englehart. Iron Fist, likewise, was another creation of Roy's which went off to be handled by others. He broadened the existing universe by coming up with The Invaders, to give Marvel a stronger heroic past, and What If?, which allowed writers to explore the many different possibilities that might spring from established Marvel history. Let's also not forget that Roy was the one with the foresight to go after the Star Wars license, which depending on who you ask, may have saved Marvel from bankruptcy.

Beyond all that Roy contributed to shaping the Marvel universe, he also was a prolific writer and was responsible for so many great stories, including my all-time favorite, the Kree-Skrull War in Avengers. We could talk all day about the different books he wrote, and the characters he created. Roy had a huge impact on Marvel, and I think he deserves to be recognized as one of the key figures in Marvel's success. Here's to Rascally Roy!


Edo Bosnar said...

There should be more tributes to Roy Thomas - as far as I'm concerned, Roy = comics god.
And I think it bears emphasis that, like you mentioned in your last paragraph, Roy was not just an outstanding editor and idea man, but a damn good and often underappreciated writer.

david_b said...

Mr. Thomas should be heralded as one of the Chief Architects of our Marvel Universe. His work on both FF and Avengers produced ripples we've felt for decades. LOVED his 70s work.

Very underrated.., our Marvel Heroes never had a better friend.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Ironically, I knew Roy Thomas mostly from his DC work. By the time I was collecting, he had left Marvel and I didn't even learn what a big wheel he had been there until years later.

His DC work tends to get slighted in these tributes but All-Star Squadron was one of my personal favorite comics. It was a treat to see "untold" adventures of Golden Age heroes, especially when he had solid artists to work with like Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway and Mike Blair. He had a great feel for the era, a good sense of history (both real life and in the comics), and a sense of unironic fun that suited the material just right.

Alas, after a few good years with All-Star Squadron, Infinity Inc., and Secret Origins things went south. His latter-period stuff for DC just wasn't as good. (Young All-Stars was a mistake.) He was also definitely out of touch with the grim and gritty style that was emerging at the time. (Ironic for the guy that gave us Conan, but there you go ...)

He also seemed somewhat bitter about the wholesale re-writing/retconning of the past that DC engaged in post-Crisis. For somebody who had spent so much time ironing out the continuity problems between Earth-1 and Earth-2, it must have been galling for him to watch that all be brushed aside for a new continuity that would be updated and re-retconned every few months anyway.

Still, he left his mark at DC. Does anybody think that Justice Society of America would have happened without him re-introducing the wourld to those characters in the 1980s?

Daniel Graves said...

Like Inkstained Wretch, my introduction to Roy was through his work at DC, especially All-Star Squadron, which remains one of my all-time favourite titles. I love the old earth II stories and am glad Roy made such a strong contribution. He continues to do wonderful work with Alter Ego, which I read religiously.
Fr. Dan Graves

Fred W. Hill said...

I started regularly collecting just after Stan had retired from writing or editing monthly comics and Thomas was essentially Stan's successor as both editor and main writer, although it seemed a relatively short time before Gerry Conway was writing many of Marvel's top comics, including the FF, Spider-Man and Thor. After Stan, Roy was my favorite Silver Age writer and continued to do great things in the Bronze Age and beyond. I was sorry his tenure as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel was so relatively brief, although I can certainly understand why he stepped down. Hard to imagine "Roy the Boy" as 70 years old now -- born in 1940, the same year as John Lennon, Ringo Starr ... and my dad!

The Groovy Agent said...

I don't think there's any doubt as to where I stand on the subject of Roy Thomas. He hooked me on comics!

My story is almost just like Fred's. I got into comics as Stan was winding down and Roy was really ramping it up (Conan,the Kree/Skrull War in the Avengers). He quickly became my favorite writer, and his tenure as Marvel's editor-in-chief was sheer genius.

I followed him when he went to DC and was never disappointed. He really pulled DC's history together and produced some landmark comics, especially All-Star Squadron.

On a personal note, I've gotta say that Roy is a heckuva nice guy. I traded a few e-mails with him a couple weeks ago, and every one was a joy and a thrill to read. Quite humble and down to earth--he lives up to his press! :D

I'm so glad he's back writing Conan (even if it is only for a year). It almost makes up for how horrible most modern comics are these days. Almost.

And Fred, my dad was born in 1940, as well!

Fred W. Hill said...

Nice, Groovy! My dad just got re-married again (4th time) a couple of years ago and took out a 30-year loan on a new house the smae month he turned 70. With good health he might live long enough to pay it off!
Oh, and wonderful you had such pleasant exchanges with Roy Thomas. I exchanged a couple of emails with Steve Gerber on his blog about a year before his untimely death, although he was already very ill but hopeful enough about the future to keep on working until he couldn't go on. Roy is one of the greats, not only for his own work but for the many other great writers and artists he encouraged and helped to make their own unique mark in comics.

Rip Jagger said...

Roy the Boy is my favorite writer. I preen on the scripts of Englehart, savor the writing of Goodwin, and lap up the words of Busiek, but Thomas is the kingpin in my comics world.

Rip Off

Anonymous said...

Roy Thomas...where to start? Everyone’s mentioned Kree/Skrull, but no-one mentioned that fantastic 11th hour run with Adams on Xmen. Those 2 runs are STILL a high watermark. Thomas also wrote Xmen from #20 – 43, so he pretty much WAS the Xmen writer for most of their first life.

I’m surprised everyone is picking up his role as Ed in Chief, I agree it was significant, but surely in terms of time and importance, pales into insignificance compared to his importance as a writer.

As a writer, he created the Defenders, Ghost Rider, Iron Fist & the Invaders, more or less created Conan and had long successful runs on pretty much all of the heavy hitters, including the Avengers, FF, Doc Strange, Sgt Fury, Thor, Spidey...and I think we all know he was the man behind the curtain in creating the All New All Different You Know Who.

He was actually only Editor in chief for 2 years. I think the fact that those years (72-74) are so significant in setting the tone for the Bronze Age makes them seem overly important to this group, but it was just 2 years in a 45 year career.

I love the story that he wrote to Stan Lee, not a fan letter and not even asking for a job, but just asking him out for a drink sometime. Now that’s going for it.

Strange Trivia Dept: that whole intro of Yellowjacket / wedding of Hank & Jan story, he actually wrote while on honeymoon himself. Clearly feeling the changes !


Related Posts with Thumbnails