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Roy Thomas Marvel Age Interview by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Roy William Thomas Jr. is an American comic book writer and editor, who was Stan Lee’s first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson join former Marvel writer and second Editor-In-Chief of the Marvel Age after Stan Lee about his origins circa 1965-1974. Roy discusses how he left his job as a history teacher to move to New York working at DC Comics with Mort Weisinger, leaving DC for Marvel’s Stan Lee, applying his English degree to the Marvel Method, meeting Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, bringing the pulps like Conan to
comics, his political leanings from early 1970s Tom Wolfe to Rolling Stone Magazine, the Rutland Parade and the first cosplay parties at Tom Fagan’s house, and his nude scenes in both National Lampoon magazine and Crazy in the context of the post-sexual revolution.

🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, Thumbnail Artwork, CBH Podcast ©2021 Comic Book Historians.

Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders.

Roy Thomas Marvel Age Interview 2020 by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
📜 Video chapters
00:00 Welcoming Roy Thomas
00:28 Left DC’s Mort Weisinger for Marvel’s Stan Lee?
06:26 Applying English literature to the Marvel Avengers
10:23 Got any resistance for doing this?
12:22 Importation of the pulps and comics to readers?
16:37 Why Conan The Barbarian was popular?
17:34 Influence of pop culture on Hulk 142, 147
22:48 Robin Green, Tom Wolfe, Rolling Stone
25:11 First cosplay parties at Tom Fagan’s house
27:58 Late 60s, a fertile period for you
29:31 Giant-Size Invaders, Human Torch
34:13 Avengers, All-Star Squadron
36:13 Jim’s favorite Marvel characters
37:45 Expand Marvel Universe with Sci-fi | Julius Schwartz
40:08 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made the Marvel Universe
42:21 Meeting Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko
47:08 Wrapping up

#RoyThomas #MarvelEditorInChief #ComicBookHistorians #MortWeisinger
#StanLee #MarvelComics #MarvelUniverse #Hulk #AllStarSquadron
#ComicHistorian #CBHInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH

Transcript (editing in progress):

Alex Grand:
Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson.

Alex Grand:
Today, we have a very special guest, Mr Roy Thomas. Roy and I have actually been in a couple of the same documentaries, and another project that we can’t talk about, but will be released next month.

Alex Grand:
Roy, thanks for much for joining us today.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah, happy to.

Alex Grand:
First, I want to say thanks, John Cimino, for setting up the interview.

Alex Grand:
We got about six questions we’d love to get through, over the next 30 minutes, which you have in your day today.

Roy Thomas:
Sure. All right.

Alex Grand:
The first question, which, I’m going to give a little set of for. That Roy Thomas started in the fanzines, and in fandom, in the early ’60s, with his cohort, Jerry Bails. He was a teacher in the mid-sixties, left to go to New York to write comics, worked with Mort Weisinger over at DC, the Superman Comics’ editor, for a couple of weeks. Then went over to Marvel, and worked with Stan Lee, where his legacy in comics’ writing began.

Alex Grand:
Roy, can you tell us kind of why you left the Weisinger purview over … for Stanley? And what, about working with Stanley in the ’60s, did you find more interesting?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. Well, Weisinger was a talented guy, but as I discovered when I got there, was just very, very difficult to work for. He was just one of these people who like to browbeat; he browbeat his artists, he browbeat his writers, and he browbeat his assistants, and so forth, and I was just the latest in the line.

Roy Thomas:
And I don’t know, I guess I could have survived, working for him, but I just- I’ve never reacted too well to these overbearing personalities, and things; just because they’re the boss, they get to say everything, and follow you around, and so forth. I was pretty subservient, I was there to learn, I didn’t have any idea that I knew it all, coming in, but I wanted to be treated like a human being, and I didn’t feel that he liked to treat people … I mean, he was a vicious, nasty guy. Talented enough in his own way, but vicious and nasty.

Roy Thomas:
And in just a period of about a week or so, it was really depressing to me, because if I’ve got to spend the rest of my life working for this verbal masochist … Or sadist rather, not masochist. But I had no way to get away. What I was looking forward to was the fact that Julius Schwartz, who was his childhood friend, but a fellow editor on just a little lower plain, with Justice League, and Green Lantern, and all that, he had expressed an interest in my working for him. When I look back, I think that’s kind of weird, because these editors at DC, then, were so jealous that they didn’t like their writers, their artists working for anybody else. But somehow or other, Mortimer didn’t seem to have any trouble with me working for Julius Schwartz, as opposed to just doing the Superman story.

Roy Thomas:
But of course, I didn’t stick around long enough to see how any of that would play out. But I intended to; I was going to try and last it out. But I wanted to meet Stan Lee, because I’d only exchanged a couple of letter with him, and he sent me an issue of Spiderman I’d somehow missed on the stands once. And he’d seen a few of my fanzines’ articles, and this and that, and I’d sent him an issue or so of Alter Ego, that I had done in the last year, and he’d seen Jerry Bails’s before. But we had no real connection in the way, say, Julius Schwartz and I did. But I wanted to take him out, I wanted to, like, meet him for a drink, just because I thought he was the best writer. As much as loved Gardner Fox and the other people, I thought he was doing the best writing in comics. And I wasn’t even thinking about editing, because I didn’t know what an editor did, exactly, just yet.

Roy Thomas:
So I wrote him a letter, and he called me at my hotel. And he says … He lives out in Long Island, and he doesn’t really socialize much, but would I take this writer’s test, because they’d been looking for a writer. And of course, I wasn’t looking for a job, I had a job, but it’s hard to resist when somebody tells you, “Why don’t you take a writing test? Just write a few pages. Come by and pick up some stuff. And then do this stuff,” and so forth. It’s kind of a challenge, if a guy asks you to write that for some characters you like. And so, I did it, without meeting Stan. And eventually, within a day or so, they called me at DC, and had me come over to meet Stan. Stan was just very friendly. He was on. He hit me with all the stuff about how great Marvel was. Of course, I knew that, or I wouldn’t have wanted to meet him the first place.

Roy Thomas:
But he would just talk about stuff. And the only part of our conversation I really remember was when I ask him, “How did readers feel about the continued stories?”. That had been kind of a controversy in fandom, because he’d started doing continuing stories, more, in the comics, fairly recently. And he said, “Oh, they hate them!”, he says. He just admitted to me that, “They hate them!” But he said, “Most of our mail’s against it, but I’m going to keep on doing them, because it’s only way I can write all these comics every month is if I sort of … I’m starting from a cliff-hanger of some kind, or something, for the next month, I don’t have to start from scratch all the time, thinking, where we’re going to go with this.

Roy Thomas:
And that’s all I remember, until he suddenly turned around, Stan, and asked me to … He had a big office, bigger than Weisinger’s; it took up about two-thirds of the space at Marvel, was just his office. And he’s looking at the window of the fourth or fifth floor or wherever it was, and he’s looking down Madison Avenue, and he says, “So what do we have to do to hire you away from National?”, which is what they called DC then. And I said, “Just offer me a job. I hate it there!” I said, “They reduced the amount of money. I was supposed to get $110 a week, and now when I got here, he said was a $100. And I said, “What happened to the other 10 dollars?”, and he said, “Well, I can’t pay you more than I pay that idiot down the hall,” the guy he was firing and wanted me to replace. I guess he could have paid me more if I wasn’t an idiot. But anyway, that was the explanation.

Roy Thomas:
So when Stan offered me the $110, I said, “Okay, but I got to give him notice.” I said, “I won’t leave him in the lurch.” And he said, “Well, I want you start right away. But as soon as you can, if it takes a week, two weeks, three weeks, okay. But as soon as you can.” So I went there, and as soon as I told Mort that I had accepted a job, but that I would stick around as long as he needed me, he said, “Get out! You’re a spy for Stan Lee,” and he kicked me out of the office. Which is, “Do not throw me in the tar patch, or the briar patch,” you know?

Alex Grand:
It sounds like it was the fact of writing stories with continuity, and that was the main appeal.

Alex Grand:
All right, Jim, go to your next question.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. So you graduated from Southeast Missouri State, 1961, with a degree in education. And then you worked for a few years as a high school English teacher, right?

Roy Thomas:
Four, four years, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
For four years? Okay.

Roy Thomas:
For four years, yes.

Jim Thompson:
When you took over Avengers with Issue 35 … And you had done some other Marvel stuff, but that was where I really came into reading you. I was an Avengers’ fan, and I was, like, six, six-years-old, seven-years-old at the time. And you had a run until Issue 104, during which time you created the Vision, Black Knight; and both of those I realize had precursors. And Ultron.

Jim Thompson:
When you took over the Avengers, I thought that you brought a literary awareness to the comic that wasn’t there before, that they grew up under your influence. And I want to specifically cite, and ask you about Avengers 56 and 58, because in those you have these … the masterful quote, Shelley’s quote from Ozimandias-

Roy Thomas:
Not the quote, the whole bling sonnet!

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. And it’s a beautiful page, one of my favorites in comics.

Roy Thomas:
It was just a happy accident. Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And Buscema was amazing in that.

Roy Thomas:
That’s right.

Jim Thompson:
You have this striking language at the end of 58, with, “Even An Android Can Cry,” that we all remember is one of our favorite moments. Were you deliberately trying to raise the standard of comics in that? And were you acting as a teacher, bringing us some literary awareness? And how did all that work, using it as … under the Marvel method? Those would be my initial questions about that.

Roy Thomas:
Well, I didn’t like teaching as such, but I think I have a certain kind of a teaching mentality in the sense that I love the idea of people learning things, learning history, learning literature, learning anything. I mean, obviously, math and science too, you know. I’d always liked that in comics. Some of the DC comics, [inaudible 00:08:31], we’d like to throw that in. Stan wasn’t really big on doing this, and he didn’t really have the educational background and everything. But I didn’t have a great educational background. I mean, I just had this BF, an education degree, with English and social sciences and history, and then a big minor in useless education stuff.

Roy Thomas:
But I guess, I think, on one level I was just trying to get in there, and just do more of the same. I liked what Stan was doing, and I was wanting to do more of it, and earn my keep, and have fun at the same time. On the other hand, because I was different from Stan, because I had a college education, not that it was some great college education or whatever, but I had turned down a fellowship in foreign relations at George Washington U., to go to work in comics; I was going to become a college professor, or a diplomat, or something, I think, probably.

Roy Thomas:
So, therefore, I would … I just naturally brought what I … And we all bring the tools we have. When Denny O’Neill came in, he’d been a reporter, so he brought in this feeling of front page stuff, and I think that’s why he was able to do such nice stuff, say, with the Green Lantern and Green Arrow series. My friend Gary Friedrich was a little more hip, and anti-war, and so he would do these Sergeant Fury’s, with more of an anti-war theme. We all bring our background into the thing.

Roy Thomas:
I wasn’t trying to raise comics a lot. I thought it was already kind of going up. Stan was raising the level of comics in a certain way, simply by writing what he was doing, and making the characters more believable, and being human. To go along with all that wonderful Kirby, Ditko, Romito art. And I was simply trying to do my own version, but my own version would be a little more academic and a little more literary inclined, simply because that was my inclination, even though I certainly didn’t have a heavy literary background.

Jim Thompson:
Did you meet any resistance to that? Did Stan say, “What the heck are you doing”?

Roy Thomas:
No. In fact, the first story I ever wrote of a superhero, I deliberately put in a big word or two, like, “phantasmagorical,” which had never been in comics before. And he left that in without a word. He said, “Hey, this is good! It’s in the middle of a sentence, you can tell what it means. If you don’t know what it means, they’ll read right past it,” as long as it didn’t interfere with the flow of the story. No, Stan was open to that as long as it didn’t get in the way of the story; he thought it was great. I don’t remember if he saw that use of the poem before it went out, if he did, he might not have paid too much attention to it.

Roy Thomas:
But as you know, as you’ve probably read, I never intended to use that. I just wrote this ending, or gave John the ending, with the last page, a bunch of panels, with the kid, and he’s kicking the can around, like kick the can type of stuff, and so forth. I just wanted to have this kind of different ending, I hadn’t thought about what I’d write there. And then when I saw it, I suddenly thought of that poem, which of course I hadn’t memorized, I’d just looked it up. And then I actually wrote it out, I wrote it out in longhand on the pages of the tops of all the panels, would be the same length. If you left it to a letter, some of them would be taller or shorter than others, because they would space it differently. So I took the whole design page in, but it was not intended to be that way.

Roy Thomas:
Now, in the case of, “Even An Android Can Cry,” it’s just the title in a way. But, in that case, I actually had the title in mind from the beginning, because that’s why it’s lettered on the … And like almost every other Marvel comic of that period, the title, “Even An Android Can Cry,” is written, emblazoned on a stone wall on the cover. That’s because John just had that title from the beginning.

Roy Thomas:
But you get inspired. The vision kind of inspired me because I thought it was kind of an interesting character, and I was having fun with it. And that just inspires you to just push and try to do better things.

Alex Grand:
It sounds like Stan was an encouraging influence.

Alex Grand:
And now, the third question. As far as bringing pulps into the comics, you know, you’ve read a lot of pulps, you have a lot of pulp history; and of course, I’m referring to Conan, King Conan, Kull, Red Sonja. One question I had about the ’70s, and the early ’70s, and the upsurge of this stuff, is, was the ’70s emotionally depressed, and there was a fondness for this type of material, like there was in the 1930s? What’s your take on the importation of the pulps in comics, and why that appealed to readers at the time?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. It’s kind of hard to say. You know, I wasn’t really a pulp reader myself, because the pulps were kind of dying by the time that I was starting to read, in the late ’40s and things, they were kind of minor. I remember buying and reading a couple of issues of Planet Stories and so forth, but I wasn’t a heavy pulp reader. I never saw the Shadow pulp, or any of that stuff. But as they were reprinting them in the ’60s, in paperback and different things, and I would see pulp magazines at the early comics’ conventions people had, and they were bringing so many of them out in paperback. I mean, that’s obviously Conan, Tarzan, it’s even modern pulp stuff, Lord of The Rings, Doc Savage, the Shadow; they were reprinting all this stuff.

Roy Thomas:
And it just occurred to me that bringing that into comics, even pulp stuff, we kind of raised the level of what comics had been. So I sort of liked that idea. Of course, Stan was very influenced by the pulps, because he had actually read them as a kid, more than I did. He knew who the Avenger was; I wouldn’t have known who that was, even, at that stage. Again, I don’t know, we were all part of that same zeitgeist, and just bringing in whatever influences we had.

Roy Thomas:
The pulps and their world were very big then, because of all the paperback reprint. And I was just there to … I was picking up a lot of that stuff, reading a little of it. I don’t have a lot of parlance for reading old pulp literature, I’ve never been able to get all the way through a Shadow story. I read one Doc Savage, and I never want to read another one or two of those, you know. I love the ideas of them, but the actual prose, I’m not going to want to read that particular stuff.

Roy Thomas:
I didn’t even finish the first Howard story for several years, that I wrote. And later on, I discovered I was wrong on that one! That there were two of them that were really good in their own way at that time: Edgar Rice-Burroughs, with his imagination about the actual prose, in the early days; and then, Robert E. Howard, who in his own way was a fantastic writer. The others were written well, and so forth, but it wasn’t the kind of stuff I really wanted to read.

Roy Thomas:
But I thought that bringing that in … We were trying to expand. I felt like we should expand from the superhero, expand from that. You can’t just keep doing more and more superheroes, they’re all the same. So you bring in … You raise the level a little bit with new … We tried to get Tarzan; it took a few years, but we did get it eventually. We got lucky in being able to get Conan, which we didn’t think we could get. We got totally shot down on Lord of The Rings. Tolkien didn’t want to know, or his agent, they didn’t want to know from comic books, you know.

Roy Thomas:
Well, I was trying to do an adaptation, and trying to deal with Arthur C. Clarke, and trying to get the rights to the story that 2001 was based, The Monolith, the very friendly agent of his says, “Listen, I have to tell you, you’ll have to forget about this. Arthur Clarke has never yelled at me before!” And when I suggest that having one of his stories adapted to a comic book, because some of these guys felt- they thought comics were the enemy because they had taken a lot of readers away from the pulp and science fiction magazines. And he said, “Arthur C. Clarke wanted to hear nothing of that,” and he got really mad.

Roy Thomas:
Most of them were friendly. When I wanted to adapt the It! story by Theodore Sturgeon, I called him up, and it took me 20 minutes to raise the nerve to be able to call him, sitting by the phone. He was a famous writer. Even though I hadn’t read that much stuff by him, but I loved that one story, and I knew he was a good writer. And by the time the conversation was over, I had not only agreed to do the story, but had agreed to getting the check sent right away because he needed it for an alimony check!

Alex Grand:
So, now, why do you think Conan The Barbarian was so popular in comparison with the other pulp-related comics of that decade? What appealed to everybody?

Roy Thomas:
I think everything about it, from the character himself, this kind of almost archetypal barbarian, that you could read almost anything to. You almost didn’t know what he was thinking, but you knew it was going to end up on the right side, whatever his voters were, he would be on the right. And this colorful world that Howard created, that yanked everything out of the ancient world, the medieval world, any kind of pre-gun power, you could mix it all together into one world; you changed countries, you were changing centuries, really.

Roy Thomas:
Just that anything could happen; you had piracy in a world that didn’t look like it was designed for piracy. You had two or three levels of piracy, and a world like that shouldn’t really have been able to support that many pirates, but it did.

Jim Thompson:
A minute ago, I discussed your role as a writer, in terms of as a teacher, and literary awareness. I want to talk to you about the influence of pop culture on what you were writing, of contemporary thought, of social topics? You mentioned Dennis O’Neil, but you were doing some of that as well at the same time. Specifically, I want to cite two Hulk stories.

Roy Thomas:
I said nobody ever cites Hulk stories! Go ahead, I just thought-

Jim Thompson:
I’m going to.

Roy Thomas:
Okay.

Jim Thompson:
“They Shoot Hulks Don’t They?”, in Issue 142, which was fairly controversial at the time, in some ways?

Roy Thomas:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And then, I also … The Letters page from, I think it was 147, which also contained one of my favorite Hulk stories of all time, “Heaven Is a Very Small Place.”

Roy Thomas:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
So I want to talk about those for a minute.

Roy Thomas:
Okay.

Jim Thompson:
It seems obvious that they should of … Hulk story was inspired by Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic evenings, where Leonard Bernstein … He’s telling a story of Leonard Bernstein and his wife, hosting a fundraising party for the Black Panthers.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And you turned the Black Panthers, basically, into the Hulk, and have these characters, Reggie and Malicia Parrington. And it’s pretty biting satire, and it’s very much … Obviously, it owes a lot to Tom Wolfe. But you also cite Truman Capote, you cite Norman Mailer, in the story; you’re bringing in a lot of contemporary writers in this. And at the same time, you’re bringing in commentary on feminism, and women’s liberation movement, and all of that. So it’s both pop culture, and its relevancy.

Jim Thompson:
Can you talk about that issue, a little bit, and what you were trying to do?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. It’s weird, originally, of course, I was just going to do a story that used some of Wolfe’s stuff, and then suddenly when the Radical Chic kind of occurred to me … Because I just love that piece. It wasn’t that I didn’t think, certainly … I mean, that’s why I didn’t change it to the Hulk. And it wasn’t that I didn’t think, of course, that the black cause, or the racial justice cause, was any kind of worthwhile thing.

Roy Thomas:
I just thought the way that these guys approached it, Lenny Bernstein and his friends … And I have great admiration for Bernstein as a musician, and West Side Story, if nothing else, and yet, I just thought it was just crazy, these people were just nuts. They didn’t know what they were doing, they were playing with fire. They were just doing it on such a shallow, casual level. And they were stupid enough to invite Tom Wolfe to come by and take a look! What did they think he was going to write? Did they think he’s going to write how sweet and smart they were?

Roy Thomas:
So I loved this piece. And then it occurred to me that if you could do it for the Black Panthers, let’s just … We’ll take it out. I don’t want to have a racial … We’ll just make it about the Hulk, that becomes the symbolism of the whole thing. And then I just kind of let it go from there. And I was lucky, Herb did a nice job. And then we had John Severin inking it and, of course, he could make anything look real. Tom Wolfe gave us permission, I even used him as a character in there, so I didn’t have to disguise anything.

Roy Thomas:
So, as a result, it just became a weird, offbeat issue. And maybe we got a complaint or two about it; mostly people just liked it. Some of those people who read that probably never heard of Tom Wolfe, they never read Radical Chic, didn’t know what any of that stuff was. But I felt the whole thing is, as Den always said, “If it makes a good story, and it makes a good Hulk story …” There’s a lot of ways to do a good Hulk story; Peter David had his version, and this person’s had that version, and so forth. My particular version was doing stuff like the Golem stories, and just doing stuff kind of different, because I wasn’t very interested in the Hulk. I mean, I thought it was a fine character, but I preferred The Thing.

Roy Thomas:
And I generally wrote it twice as fast as anything else, and it sold better than almost anything I did. They upped the print run twice, while Herb and I were doing it. It had been selling well, under Stan and Herb, before, but it kept selling better. But eventually I got out, because I really didn’t have an interest in writing that book. He’s a limited character, he was just stomping around. I was always ready to leave, I just used it as an excuse to bring in my version of The Heat, and to do Radical Chic.

Roy Thomas:
Then that other little story, Chris, that was just an accident. Because the Heaven Is a Very Small Place, we had that month or so where we had the giant-sized books, right, with the 30-something page stories. And then Goodman decided not to do that, so all of a sudden we had to cut the stories in pieces, and I suddenly had all the comic … The Fantastic Four had, Conan had, they all had this little space, where we suddenly had to cut the books up, and we had maybe a space for six, seven, eight pages, we had to fill.

Roy Thomas:
So I thought, well, I don’t know? Herb and I would just sit around and talk it over, and it was probably my idea, in general, but then Herb and I would just talk it over, “What if the Hulk went someplace, so it’s all like- it’s a mirage, but to him it’s real? And we could see how he would try to relate to people, but it would be ultimately frustrating to him, because he would never quite realize what was going on. But it wasn’t really real, it was just some kind of mirage or something, and that’s the real-

Jim Thompson:
Can I ask you, it had a Rod Serling, Twilight Zone, feel to me. And there is a similar episode of Twilight Zone, “Next Stop Willoughby.”

Roy Thomas:
I don’t remember … I saw a few Twilight Zones. I don’t remember them. I certainly don’t have any knowledge of that episode, but I could have seen it I suppose.

Alex Grand:
And one thing I notice about that Hulk issue is it was inked by John Severin, which is awesome, because it had kind of like a satire, cracked kind of feel to it, which I thought made it a real genius little layer to add to the issue.

Alex Grand:
And something that’s kind of in the same flavor; I was going through the old Rolling Stone, I think it came out in 1970, and the Marvel bullpen was interviewed, and you were in there.

Roy Thomas:
Oh yeah. Yeah, Robin Green’s article there. Yeah, I was just reading her book right now.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Because she had a book, and she worked with Rolling Stone after she worked with you guys for a little while.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
And there was an interesting quote, which I feel, like, relates to the Tom Wolfe, but it also related to something else which I’m going to get to. You said that, “They do try sometimes to mix politics with superheros, and get a little more far out than apple pie. But after all, social equality and peace are the modern form of motherhood and apple pie. Everybody’s in favor of peace and women’s lib, at least up to a certain point. I used to be liberal, but the world has moved to the left. I think I’d rather stick with fantasy.” And I thought that was an interesting line, and it seemed kind of similar to the Tom Wolfe concept of your comic?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah, it might not be 100%, because I don’t know if she had it all down on tape, but it’s probably pretty accurate.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah, Stan and I, we tried to walk a kind of middle of the road, because we didn’t really want to offend anybody, unless there was a total bigot, or something. And we didn’t want to look like we were trying to come down, and say, “We’ve got all the answers,” or, “This side is all right.”

Alex Grand:
Right.

Roy Thomas:
I think one of the stories that I was always the proudest, that was … What was it? The second Sons of the Serpent, when I did one, and it had two leaders, and one was white, and one was black. And I did that on purpose, symbolically, because I wasn’t going to say all black people are evil, certainly. I’m not going to say all white people are evil; it’s ridiculous. So I made one of each, being there. And one of the things, so that story, which is that a cause can be right, even if a leader or two is wrong; and I think that’s what you have to remember. Because nobody’s perfect, and all the people that are pretending they’re perfect, they’re no more perfect than anybody else.

Alex Grand:
Well, for one, do you still feel like that? That the world’s moved more to the left?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. Yeah. I suppose.

Alex Grand:
And the second thing, also, is, as far as sticking with fantasy, so Tom Fagan and The Rutland Parade, and hanging out at his house; that was like the early cost play, you know, costume parties in superheroes.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Was that part of just enjoying the fantasy of the characters? And tell us about what a night at Tom Fagan’s house was like?

Roy Thomas:
It was sort of like in the comics except without the real superheroes.

Roy Thomas:
No, it was just, we’d started out … And you know, ’65 was only the second Comic Convention ever, really, in New York, and so forth. And I happened to be there, because I had just started work. And so Tom Fagan was there, and he invited me, and the guy I was staying with, David Kaler, who had just started … I’d helped get a job writing … He turned up for Captain Atom and things, at Charlton. And they invited us up. So we took our Plastic Man and Doctor Strange costumes, and went up, and rode on the float, with him as Batman, and so forth, and had a good time.

Roy Thomas:
And over the next few years, three, four, five years, just more and more comics’ people heard about it and started going up, until we had a whole bus, once, I think, or something. And after a few years it kind of died down for various reasons, but, yeah, five, six, years of increasing numbers of people going up. But all it really was, it was just everybody kind of hanging out; we were out of the city for a change, it was a little different.

Roy Thomas:
A lot of these people were city people, never got out of the city. I mean I’m a small town boy, but these were people that they spent all their lives, practically, in Manhattan and Queens and the Bronx or something. And suddenly they’re out here, walking around, it’s smaller city, and they’re walking around in the countryside. They had the dam there, and all kinds of stuff, and there’s the woods and the mountains, and so forth.

Roy Thomas:
I just remember freezing my fingers off, by myself, out there, trying to do something or other with a float, one year. And then we’d all hop on, and we’d have our costumes if we’d brought them. And then we’d go to a party, because Tom was babysitting for several years this house, a big house, it was a great party house, and that was kind of nice. I don’t know, I don’t have a lot of memories from it, except that it was just a good time and we always enjoyed ourselves.

Roy Thomas:
I don’t exactly know why it came to an end. I know that I was up there till at least about ’72, if nothing else. Because I remember we rented a car, drove there, and I came home in the rain with my … I think we went up with Jerry and Carla before they were married, as the Conways. And came home, and we came into our apartment, and that’s when my wife said she wanted to leave me for a while. And I don’t remember anything much more about the Rutland thing after that.

Alex Grand:
It seemed like, in the early ’70s, like 1970, you were really growing as a writer, you were in the publishing business, basically, in New York, and you were commenting on things like Tom Wolfe, and the modern social … Things that were going on at the time. You had interaction with Douglas Kinney, you had an appearance in National Lampoon. It seems like a really fertile period for you?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah, well, it was. The late ’60s, and early ’70s, which is really the late ’60s as far as I’m concerned. And it was just interesting. I mean, the Lampoon happened to be in the same building as we were. I tried to get real work there, but a lot of the artists, it was easy for them to work there. You have Neil Adamson, and a lot of others doing work; that was kind of nice. I’d suddenly look ahead, and there’s John and Yoko walking into the building right ahead of us, somebody pointed it out to me, and they were only five feet away from me.

Roy Thomas:
And then appearing in the nude, in the National Lampoon, and so forth. It was a different time, it was pre-AIDS, and pre-this and pre-that. It was post-sexual revolution, we were all in there, in between. And hey, even Stan posed in the nude at one time, right, with just a little book in front of the number. Or maybe it was big book, I don’t know! But anyway, we were just reacting … Again, it’s that Zeitgeist, it’s that particular world, that’s the way the world was then. I mean there a lot of issues that were very serious things; you had certainly the civil rights’ thing, and the anti-war movement, things like that.

Jim Thompson:
My last question. We’ve talked about literary awareness, and we talked about the influence of Tom Wolfe as a literary journalist, and how that inspired you to be somewhat of a commentator on some things. My last question is, I want to go back to your first job, though, as a history teacher.

Roy Thomas:
I didn’t teach history then. I had a history major, but I ended up teaching English.

Jim Thompson:
Ah! Well, that makes sense, too.

Jim Thompson:
But with the Invaders, and then All Star Squadron, it seemed like you were teaching readers, both world history and comics’ history, simultaneously. And that became a big aspect of your career, starting really with Avengers ’97, and Godhood’s End, and then in 1971, and then Giant-Size Invaders really taking it to another level in the 21 issues of Invaders.

Jim Thompson:
But what I primarily want to talk, in relation to all this, is your experience doing the Invaders Annual No. 1. And if you would tell us what that was, and how it came to be, and who you were working with: Robins and Rico and Elias?

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. That was a very special issue, because it became the one, and as it turned out, only Invaders annual. And of course, naturally, the first thing I thought of, if I’ve got all these extra pages, I’m going to, as usual, turn it into the Justice Society of America, which I turned everything into if I could, and I had done that with the first Avenger’s Annual I wrote, which was treated like that.

Roy Thomas:
So in this case I decided, well, I was going to do this thing, just like the old All Star comics, when I was reading it, where I’d have the beginning and ending with the characters together, and then I would have the three different heroes, luckily it was only three main heroes, each of them would have his own chapter, and it would be drawn by somebody who had drawn the comic in the past, you know, if possible. They weren’t all around, but I couldn’t get everybody I wanted, you know. I guess Bill- Bill Evert was already dead.

Roy Thomas:
So I went to Lee Elias, who hated the Submariner, he always said that, but I got him to draw, with a pencil at least, the Submariner chapter. That was sort of interesting, just to have him do it, because I liked his work on the Flash and so forth. And I had, Don Rico had become a friend. Don had been a writer and an artist at the time, he had done a little Captain America, back in the ’40s. And we were friends. He and Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, a little later, would co-found that CAPS organization, out in L.A., of comic book people.

Roy Thomas:
And Don was really a very nice, urbane, great guy, and so forth, so I thought it be nice to have him draw Captain America. But the real thing was getting the Human Torch, you know? I guess I could have got Dick Ayers, who’d done him in the ’50s, because he was around. But I wanted to get somebody from the ’40s, so I went to Carl Burgos, whom I never met; I never Carl Burgos unfortunately, but I talked to him on the phone, and he agreed to do it. And then he reneged, because he’d got to really hate, not me or Marvel, but more like Stan. He felt somehow, I don’t know … It was really Martin Goodman who was his real enemy, because he was the one that took the Human Torch from him, not Stan.

Roy Thomas:
But he didn’t like Marvel, and so I guess when push came to shove, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it or something. So he very politely called up and begged off on the phone, and so I was really kind of depressed, I had no 1940’s person to do the Torch. But, in the meantime, I had contacted Alex Schomburg, because he had been the guy who’d drawn all those great 1940’s, World War 2, Marvel Mystery covers, and other Marvel covers, with great battles, and five million characters, and everything is labeled. And he was doing the cover, and so I said, “Hey …,” I knew he’d done a few comics. Strangely enough, I don’t know if he ever did interior stories for Timely, but he did a lot for Standard.

Jim Thompson:
Right. He did some Westerns, and some other stuff.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. But he didn’t do that much for Wa- … And he never did the superheroes stories for Marvel. But I said to him, “Listen, would you like to do a five/six page thing with the Human Torch?” It was weird, because we were working Marvel style and everything, which he certainly had never done, just giving him the plot, then I’d write the dialog later. And he said, “Yeah, it might be fun.” And he did a nice job, and I have probably one of the only Marvel stories with a superhero ever drawn by Alex Schomburg. So I still miss the fact that I didn’t get to work with Carl Burgess, but I got to work with Alex Schomburg.

Roy Thomas:
So it was kind of nice, and it was kind of a fun story. And of course, Frank Robbins could tie it all together, because he really knew that World War 2 stuff. And with all his weird qualities, he was a magnificent artist too, so it’s a very special book to me.

Jim Thompson:
And it goes back, not just to your love of Golden Age, but also to your early career too, because it brings in, and ties in with that Avengers issue, with the Squadron Sinister. Which I’d been waiting for, forever, for that, so for me it was a very special book as well.

Roy Thomas:
I don’t know I was, because it never occurred to me that I’d write the story behind why Captain America is using the old shield. At the time, of course, it was just to differentiate him from the regular Captain America, and why the submariner was wearing this, and so forth. One side, then, those stories, I thought, well, you know, I’ll do it, but then if I do that, I have to explain why is Captain America using the wrong shield, and why is this, and why is that. Why has the submariner got this old trunks on, that he actually wore in the comics, when we’ve got him in the scale stuff that Bill didn’t introduce until the 50s? And so, that just became part of the fun.

Roy Thomas:
Just the same with with the retroactive continuity in the All Star Squadron, you find the problem, and merely finding the problem makes you think that you’re going to have fun finding solutions. If you start off with a problem, it gives you something to kind of butt up against, as opposed to just writing the story, you’re having to solve a particular problem and tell a good story at the same time. And if somebody didn’t like what I was doing, because they didn’t like the idea retroactive continuity, well, I’d just have to get buy without those people. And for the most part I did, not long enough, but still, 60, 70 issues of All Star Squadron, before Crisis ruined it all.

Roy Thomas:
And a number of issues of Invaders, I should have written all the Invaders myself, not that Don Glut didn’t do a good job. But I should have written all that, and I think I could have guided it, because it then it would have been a more personal statement. But I was busy living my life, with dating, and marriages, and moving from one coast to the other, and different things.

Jim Thompson:
I just wanted to say, because my time’s running out, I just wanted to say that when people ask me who my favorite Marvel people are, I always say, “Three, and they’re Hawkeye, the Vision, and Captain America,” all three of those, it’s because of the stamp that you put on those characters. And I just want to say that, as a seven-year-old that was reading that when you were writing it.

Roy Thomas:
I put a stamp on Hawkeye? I don’t know.

Jim Thompson:
I should say Clint Barton, more than just saying Hawkeye.

Roy Thomas:
Oh well, yes, Clint Barton, yeah. Okay. Yes, because he didn’t have a life before that- the idea.

Jim Thompson:
Yes, that’s exactly right. So, for me, I got to say, you were always the man, for me.

Roy Thomas:
Oh well, I was the boy, really. Stan was the man, and everything.

Roy Thomas:
Well, thank goodness you kept me gainfully employed during that period then, and everything, so I’m very happy. And now, of course, they’re keeping me happily quasi-unemployed, because they keep me paying me for reprinting this stuff, you know?

Alex Grand:
That’s pretty nice. There you go.

Roy Thomas:
It’s not like huge money, but it enables me to live nicely, and not have to get by on social security; they’re paying for all the stuff. Because at this stage, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do, nobody can harm me or damage my reputation because I don’t care. If they stop paying me to come to conventions, I just won’t go, and I’ll live quite happily. If they have conventions, I’ll go, and I’ll do that quite happily.

Alex Grand:
And something I’d throw out there, as we wrap up, is that Julius Schwartz is often credited as the guy that brought a lot of science-fiction, and a lot of critical thinking, and thought, to a lot of those Silver Age characters. And I would say that the person at Marvel that was really putting that sci-fi stuff, and expanding the Marvel universe on a science-fiction level with things like the Kree-Skrull War, that was you, Roy. So thanks so much.

Roy Thomas:
I will say that Julius was an influence on me, even when I was at Marvel, because I still liked that stuff. I realized that it was on a more juvenile level than Stan’s stuff, but I still liked it. I just got into a little fun stat, and I could still read the Flash and Hawkman, even though it wasn’t written on the same plane that …. or a slightly more adult plane than some of the Marvel stuff was. But I was very influenced by Julius, and very impressed, and I liked the fact that he did this.

Roy Thomas:
And Stan didn’t like parallel world stuff, but I found ways to bring it in, with What If?, and different things. He would never have been in favor of doing comics that were all on World War 2, he just used that for a few Captain America stories because he didn’t know what else to do with him. But, to me, that was the way to do it; why should all stories be set in one or two eras, like the West, and the far future, and the present? Why not have a World War 2 …? I would have loved to have done a World War 1 comic, but I never quite got a chance.

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Roy Thomas:
But World War 2, for some reason, was especially interesting. Even though I don’t remember it, I was just always fascinating by World War 2, and the Home Front stuff, especially. And people would ask me, “Why are you so interested in World War 2?” I said, “Well, it’s one of the few times that humanity ever got together to do anything well.” I mean, the whole world, just about, unlike World War 1, they were practically all involved and everything. And it was an awful, terrible thing, and it’s not like I seriously would want to repeat anything like it, but the fact remains, you have to admire the fact that the whole damn planet, just about, was involved. Anywhere you went, it was at least a background thing, you know?

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Roy Thomas:
Even if you were in a neutral country, or you were in Africa, or whatever, there was always something going on, a la Casablanca, or something. And that just fascinated me, and I feel that World War 2 is like the Roman Empire, or the Civil War, or something, just, there are an infinite number of possibilities. There’s something I’d love to do, a Civil War superhero story.

Alex Grand:
There you go! You might have do a better version than the one that Marvel actually did.

Roy Thomas:
Did they do one?

Alex Grand:
Yeah, at some point.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah.

Roy Thomas:
And I never read the story that much. I liked the movie they made out of it. But I remember Stan must have, he thought that was what … I don’t know if he was talking about the story or just the concept, but I remember talking to him on the phone once, and he said that he thought that Civil War idea was one of the best that he’d seen in comics, and everything. But he was obviously talking about, so much the actual stories, as the concept.

Roy Thomas:
But of course, that came out of stuff that he had done, too. I mean, the themes of all that stuff are all set back in what Stan did with Jack, and Steve, and so forth. You could always trace anything that they do, do now, or that I did then; it’s all kind of traceable back, it all kind of flows from the fountain that was unleashed when Stan, and Jack, and to a lesser extent, Ditko, got together, and suddenly became this wonderful triumvirate, creating a whole universe. Stan, and Jack, in particular were just the absolutely, irreplaceable, essential parts of that. Neither of them could have really done it without the other, although they didn’t know it at the time.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Yeah, there was definitely a magic that happened in the ’60s, in New York, at that building.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah, exactly. And Lennon or McCartney, or whatever, something … Two people, or three people get together, and all of a sudden something comes out that’s much better than anyone of them would have done apart.

Roy Thomas:
I was lucky enough to come along and be a junior partner in that, and I could carry it forward a little bit. I’m not in the same league in terms of importance, by any standard, with guys like that, and a number of others. But, at the same time, I get to contribute my own little bit, trying just to have fun, and make a living, and maybe contribute a little, because I always loved the comics’ medium, obviously, even if I don’t read comics now that much, except the old ones. I love the idea of comics, and I love the medium and the storytelling.

Roy Thomas:
It’s really nice to see the world catch-up with us a little bit, you know, even if they took movies and TV shows to do it, but the world kind of has to admit, now, maybe there is something to some of this stuff. The critics hate it, they hate those superhero movies, because they hate having to take this stuff seriously, but they can’t ignore it.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s true, they can’t ignore it at this point.

Alex Grand:
Before we close out, can you tell us about, if you can, and meeting Kirby, and meeting Ditko, when you joined in the ’60s, at Marvel, like, interacting with them, what was your first impression of both of them?

Roy Thomas:
The funny thing is I don’t remember the invent of meeting either of them. I remember the day I met John Romita. The remember the day I met Bill Everett, and of course, Stan, and whatever. But I don’t remember specifically meeting … Ditko just would drop by and so forth, I was introduced to him in passing. And by that time, I already knew that he and Stan weren’t speaking, so I didn’t know what to say to them, I would just kind of be quiet. Jack came in, and was just very friendly. But I don’t remember the first time I ever did. I just remember Jack was an interesting guy.

Roy Thomas:
I’ll so one more thing. One lunch, I was out with … Stan wasn’t there, because he might not have said he was there, but Romita, Sol Brodksy, myself, maybe Stan Goldberg; five, six of us, would go to [inaudible 00:43:21] and have good ice-cream. We’d just have lunch. And I was the junior partner, I was the youngest guy there, so I would just try to listen to what they said and learn some stuff.

Roy Thomas:
But I remember Romita or somebody, asking, “What’s going to be the next the trend, Jack?” This is about 1966, ’67, before he moved out west. And Jack says, “You know, I don’t know any better than anybody else,” he says, “But I’ll tell you one thing, whatever the next trend is, it’s not going to come from me, and it’s not going to come from Stanley, and it’s not going to come from these guys at DC, it’s going to come from two guys in a garage somewhere.”

Roy Thomas:
And I thought of that, when I thought of things like the Teenage Ninja Turtles and things, where it’s just the inspiration of one or two people get together and doing something. It won’t necessarily come from the big companies, just the same way that Siegel and Shuster created Superman, before they were with a company. I just thought, Jack was an interesting guy. He had an unsophisticated mind in some way, but he was such a genius in his own way, that he couldn’t help … Anytime he said anything, even if it was nuts in a way, there was bound to be something interesting in it. And I found him kind of fascinating, although I never knew him that well.

Roy Thomas:
While Stan, of course, was more down-to-earth. His whole thing was just running the company and trying to promote Marvel. The creativity part, to Jack the creativity was the important thing, and Stan was very creative and so forth, but to Stan the creativity was the means to the end, because his job was to run the company and make money for the company, and of course maybe try and promote the company, and promote himself along with it; that wasn’t necessary what Martin Goodman wanted to do, that’s what Stan wanted to do.

Roy Thomas:
But they were both different, but they were both promoting the comics in their own way. And I think comics sort of needed both; they needed the creativity; and they needed something different from creativity. I can’t ever see Jack Kirby ever starting anything like Marvel Comics, with the continuity and the this and the that, I can’t see him doing that, even if he was the editor. On the other hand, maybe he could have done it after Marvel, but certainly not before.

Roy Thomas:
On the other hand, Stan would never have been able to create Marvel and get it going without Jack Kirby, or somebody else very much like him, because Stan wasn’t going to come up with all these ideas totally by himself, he would be dependent on a really good artist. And of course, in Jack he got the best. And then, he got lucky with Ditko, whom nobody ever heard of, or cared anything about, and he turned out to be one of the two or three most important superhero artists of all time, that DC probably wouldn’t have hired on a bet at that time.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s true. Yeah, because they were kind of focused on that smooth Dan Berry incline, and they didn’t really …

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. He would have been considered just a mediocre artist to them. I was a fan of Ditko’s since he was doing Captain Adam the first time, in the late ’50s, a couple of years’ earlier. And I thought this guy’s really pretty good. As soon as he started drawing Spiderman, I recognized who he was, just as I knew who Kirby was. I knew Kirby, or at least Simon and Kirby, I had known that was a symbol for good quality in artwork since I was five or six years’ old, back in ’46, ’47.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. Those were great books. Boy Commandos, and there was Newsboy Legions.

Alex Grand:
Oh yeah.

Roy Thomas:
Yeah. I was thinking of … Of course, by that time, they really weren’t doing that much anymore, but people were following them. I think I became aware of them, more, from things like Stuckman, and so forth.

Alex Grand:
Oh yeah. That’s classic, too.

Roy Thomas:
It’s just beautiful stuff, just wonderful stuff. I didn’t know who Simon was, or who Kirby was, and who did what. And once in a while, Simon could pull off a thing that was just like Kirby.

Roy Thomas:
Anyway, so there you have it. I just tried to be the sixth wheel on the thing that Kirby and Simon did.

Roy Thomas:
So anyway, we got to go.

Alex Grand:
Thanks again, Roy. This has been another fun episode of The Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson.

Alex Grand:
We had a really fantastic guest today, Mr Roy Thomson, Roy the Boy, and the second editor and chief of the Marvel age, after Stan Lee, his heir apparent, culturally, and comic-writing wise. And he took that into his own legacy in comics.

Alex Grand:
Roy, thanks so much for joining us today.

Jim Thompson:
Thanks Roy.

 

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