Marvelous Mythology: How the World's Greatest Super-Heroes Were Created by Todd Frye. If you recall, in a post a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Todd had reached out to the BAB through our email account. He requested that we review his book and then hopefully give it a plug on our blog. To be honest, Karen and I have been solicited for such things in the past, but I'll say personally that I don't think I've been offered a book that was in my wheelhouse such as today's tome is.
Doug: Those of you who have been patronizing our blog for many years know that I usually frame my reviews in a "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" manner. Trouble is, Todd's book didn't really fit into that mold. But unless you think I'm on the take today, or that Todd's written the be-all-and-end-all of Marvel history, I'll state truthfully that I did have some concerns about the book and even a correction. Those were dealt with through email, and quite cordially. So today we're going to try something new, and that's to welcome an author onto the blog for a sit-down about the contents and creative process of his book. The interview you're about to read was carried out December 15-16, and was approved for publication here by myself and Todd Frye. Enjoy! And of course, as all good BABers do, leave a question or comment at the bottom!
Doug: Todd, you've written the about-to-be-released book, Marvelous
Mythology: How the World's Greatest Super-Heroes Were Created (Action
Figure Publishing 2015). I guess the first question would be "Why did
you write this book?"
…..Oh, you want a more meaningful answer. Um… well, the truth is, I
wanted to see if I could do my own take on a sort of informal history of
how the Marvel characters were created. Not simply how they were
created, as in how the artists and writers thought them up, so much as
how they fit into the context of the time, what superhero comics were
like in the early 60’s, how all of the new characters being introduced
fit into the new Marvel universe, that sort of thing.
book is chronologically ordered, so as each character is introduced,
hopefully readers will get a picture of how the Marvel universe looked
at each point in time. I think it’s relevant to see how it all fits
together in the early stages, like puzzle pieces.
Give us a bit of background on your comics reading/collecting past --
when did you get into comics, and do you consider it now (or then) a
hobby? Are you into the newer stuff, or stuck in the past like many 40-
I was born in 1966, so I grew up in the 70’s basically. 1974 was the
year I really started collecting comics as a kid. And what a year it
was… that was when Marvel and DC were both doing their experiments with
different sizes and shapes of books, like Marvel’s Giant Sizes and
Treasury Editions, DC’s 100-Page Giants, and so forth. But you also had
great reprint comics like Marvel Tales, Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel
Triple Action… so in addition to the regular, new comics that were
coming out, thanks to the reprint titles I got to read a lot of the
‘classic’ stories too.
I don’t really
collect any more, even though I have a few collected editions and bound
copies here and there. My comics reading is mainly stuck back in the
60’s and 70’s. Not completely, though: I think Alan Moore is a genius,
and I pick up just about anything he does. Also the Hernandez Brothers,
who I got to meet at a con several years ago. But for the most part
newer books just don’t interest me. Maybe it’s the art styles… I know I
don’t respond to it the way modern kids do. Anyway, I know there’s
probably a ton of brilliant comics being published, but I just don’t
have the energy to wade through all of it to find the good stuff.
At the end of your book, you list several other books as resources for
your research, such as Mark Alexander's Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years and Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. What separates Marvelous Mythology from those other
books? Why should a reader come to you first?
question. Well, in many ways each of those books had a different focus,
even though the subject matter certainly overlapped. My main
concentration was on the origins of the Marvel universe, going forward
slowly from the beginning as each new character was introduced, and as
each new important story or issue or concept was released to newsstands. It was never really meant as a history of Marvel Comics as a publisher,
so much as telling the story of the beginning of that fictional
universe. I also meant it as a book that could be enjoyed by people who
don’t necessarily read the comics – after all, the movies are bringing
in a LOT of new fans, and I wanted to make the story accessible to them
without bogging them down in the minutiae of historical record.
might readers come to my book first? I would say that – to me, anyway –
my book concentrates on ‘the good stuff,’ the character introductions
and important moments in early Marvel history, rather than having that
be just a part of a larger narrative that might be forced to cover less
interesting topics also.
Doug: As I
read, I noticed that there are no creator interviews. Was this
intentional from the beginning of the project, or did you get stymied
early on in trying to reach Silver and Bronze Age creators and shift
I didn’t really try to interview anyone… that kind of ‘journalistic’
writing style just doesn’t interest me. I thought about reaching out to a
few people, but I knew that each link in that chain would make writing
the book take just that much longer. Besides, good interviews with all
of these people, or at least most of them, already exist by the dozens.
Also, whenever possible, I tried to let the printed comic stories speak
for themselves. After all, if you’re going to try and survey the
fictional Marvel universe, it might be best to go back to the original
source material, just as if you were a kid buying the comics off the
newsstand back in the day.
I guess I could have written a different type of book. Well, sure I could. But I’m contrary, I have to do things my own way.
Doug: Readers might be interested in knowing that there are no images or
graphics in the book. Since the Internet gives us almost instant access
to any picture, cover, etc. I did not at all feel like it detracted
from your writing. But it would interest me to know if you did pursue
any rights permissions, and if so what you encountered?
didn't pursue that sort of thing. Like with trying to contact possible
interview subjects, I just figured that it would be endless waiting and
red tape to try to license any images, and possibly more money than I
was willing to spend, too. Just as the manuscript was being finished up,
though, I did discover a couple of images of Jack Kirby that are in the
public domain. But they wouldn't really have added anything substantial
to the book. Like you said, readers have a vast array of online tools
they can use to seek out images.
In a perfect world, I would have
had color illustrations, full panels and covers and original art. But
just thinking about negotiating with Disney's lawyers for all of that
stuff makes my head spin.
Ha! Fair enough. As you originally envisioned the project, did you finish what you set
out to do? For example, one of the things I thought of as I read was an
analysis of those areas you feel the Marvel Universe is better or
(insert whatever other adjective you want) so on from other companies'
pantheons -- most notably DC's. Was there any interest in doing a
comparison/contrast with other characters?
those are two separate questions. Um, the first one… I guess I didn’t
really have as clear a vision in mind when I started as I thought I did,
because I was actually about two and a half chapters into an earlier
version when I realized that it wasn’t quite working. I was using too
much detail, and listing each title that the company was publishing in
chronological order… which got to be silly, because they had a lot of
two-issue funny animal series, things like that, which was just a
nightmare to catalog. Also, an average reader just couldn’t possibly
care about such things. So I threw most of that out and then had a
clearer idea of what I wanted to write, which I did.
to comparing Marvel characters and stories to those of other companies
and such… I think that to understand Marvel’s impact on the world of
comics in the early 1960’s, and on the larger popular culture later in
the decade, you have to kind of… contrast what the company was doing,
versus what everyone else was doing. Marvel superhero comics really were
radical for their time, in that they just had a lot of what I guess you
could call ‘realism’ in them. People quarreled, they had girlfriend and
money problems, that sort of thing. Most of the time before that,
superheroes were just defined by whatever stories they were in, or
whatever villain they fought. They were really two-dimensional, or at
least I think so. Marvel made them more interesting by making them more
Doug: Was it difficult to write
the book and think only of the characters? Readers might be interested
to know that you mention from time-to-time what was happening at Marvel
Comics, and perhaps how business practices and personnel may have shaped
the budding mythology. Can we really separate Conan, from say - Roy
Thomas? Or does Roy's increasing status/stature in the company need to
go hand-in-hand with a discussion of Conan?
like I said, I wasn’t really trying to do a history of Marvel as a
publisher, but at a certain point it would be silly to try and talk
about these characters being created without talking about Stan Lee and
Jack Kirby. Or about Ditko or John Romita if you’re talking about
Spider-Man. Especially Lee and Kirby, though… I might get yelled at, but
I would say that a good… 85%?… of the important early stuff came just
from those two men. And to get a good overall picture, it’s important to
know what their working relationship was like, or how the comics were
done 100% by freelancers for a long time, how they were limited to
publishing only eight titles a month, that sort of thing. Because it all
had an effect on what got published.
far as separating an important character from his creators… well, yes,
it’s good to know these things. Giving Spider-Man as an example, John
Romita’s smooth art style went a long way toward making the character
more approachable to readers later in the 1960’s, I think. Ditko’s
weird, unique art style may have been important early on – and he
certainly was responsible for so many of Spider-Man’s cool enemies – but
I think Marvel needed a Romita on board to take the character’s
popularity further, where it needed to go. And now he’s the company’s
most important superhero.
Doug: You do a
nice job of surveying many key literary events throughout the growth of
the Marvel Universe. Did you read all of these comics? And if so, what
sort of access do you have to classic comics?
I really did sit down and read nearly every Marvel superhero comic from
1961 to about 1964… and a goodly number of issues beyond that. Most of
them were in reprints. I also have a local friend who has a killer
collection of old issues… If you’re willing to spend the time and a
little money, you can usually get your hands on darn near every story
they published. The ‘Essential’ volumes, for example, provided a nice,
cheap way of accessing a lot of material. But then you have to put them
all in chronological order, which can be a nightmare…
were a LOT of stories that I only read for the first time while writing
this book… like the first appearance of Ant-Man, the first two
Fantastic Four annuals, and so forth. Some of it wasn’t as good as I’d
hoped – like, now that I think about it, the return of Captain America
in Avengers #4. What a mess that issue was! But some of them astonished
me by how good they were… again, like those first two Fantastic Four
annuals. Kirby really outdid himself with those. And when Thor got going
in the mid-to-late 60’s, like when the living planet Ego was
introduced… those stories just knocked me out.
I enjoyed your style of moving from topic to
topic -- you sort of built in some cliffhangers either from section to
section or even between chapters. Did you sort of "story board" the
project, or does that type of narrative style come to you naturally?
wish I’d put a bit more of that stuff in, to be honest. It does kind of
come naturally, though. It helps if you know what you’re going to write
about next, as opposed to what you’re working on at the moment. Then
you can kind of see where two subjects are going to connect, so you can
write a little transition between them. I noticed as I was working on
the book that that sort of thing was getting easier as I went along, I
guess as I got more comfortable writing it. Of course, I also knew the
later source material better than I knew the early stuff.
there were some storylines that I was chomping at the bit to write
about. You know, it’s toward the end of 1965, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh
boy! Galactus is going to show up soon!’ Or, ‘I finally get to talk
about Mary Jane Watson.’ That sort of thing. I was anxious to start
talking about my favorite stuff, which is only natural, I guess.
Winding it down here... So what's your favorite era of Marvel Comics?
Does that contrast with an era you feel is most important?
far as ‘most important,’ I would have to say that the years 1962 and
1963 were, because you had so many great characters and titles starting
up. Of course, you could also argue that many of the best storylines and
such didn’t start showing up until a few years later. Also, like I talk
a little about in the book, it took time for Stan Lee to work through a
lot of his sort of bad writing habits in the early era. He had been
doing run-of-the-mill comics for so long, and now he had to start upping
his game. But either way, I don’t think there’s much argument, that if
we’re talking about Marvel Comics, the 1960’s were by far the most
It’s also my favorite
era, even though by the time I was growing up, it was all in the past.
My favorite title is Amazing Spider-Man, and reading those great stories
reprinted in Marvel Tales month after month… it was heady stuff. John
Romita’s art was just gorgeous, and Stan Lee was at the absolute top of
his game. Kirby’s work on FF and Thor was unbelievable. And I just love
the Don Heck era of The Avengers where the team consisted mainly of Cap,
Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hank Pym. It was all so much
Doug: You wrap the book up with the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Why? Is that a personal break line for you?
call, it is kind of a personal break for me. I lose interest in
Marvel's output starting in the early 1980's. And frankly, from the
standpoint of what the book was meant to accomplish, a lot of what
happened from that time forward would be irrelevant. I had to include
the modern X-Men - I mean, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, etc., simply
because of the characters' popularity thanks to the films. That's also
the reason I included material about the Guardians of the Galaxy. After
all, the book is supposed to be concerned with characters that readers
might want to know about.
I realize I left some things out,
especially characters that will soon appear in feature films: Deadpool, a
lot of those later X-Men characters like Cable, for example. I didn't
go into Frank Miller's era on Daredevil, and how it coincided with how a
lot of 80's comics took a darker turn. But much of that is just outside
the scope of the book. It was always meant to concentrate on the
'classic' Marvel characters, the ones who mainly started appearing in
the early 1960's. The further out from that you go, in my opinion, the
less relevant things become, at least in the context of the book.
Doug: In closing, I'd again state
that it was an easy read -- very accessible, I think novice-friendly.
But there's enough in the book to keep even well-studied fans
interested. So here's your chance to blow your own horn one last time --
so much for your kind words. I’m glad you like it. I tried hard to make
it accessible to as many readers as possible, and of course there
should be plenty of meat there for the die-hard comics fans, especially
classic-Marvel fans. Also, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you!
It’s been fun.
I should mention that
the e-book version comes out on December 20th through the usual places,
while the paperback is available on January 20th, although of course you
can pre-order at Amazon. I’ll also be selling copies directly from the
book’s website at MarvelousMythology.com, where everyone can also read
the first chapter for free.
everyone reading this would buy ten copies to hand out on street
corners, I can finally start buying the name-brand Ramen noodles instead
of the store-label variety…