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:
British talkRADIO host, Paul Ross interviews CBH’s Alex Grand about Marvel Comics 1000, some back history of Timely, Atlas and Marvel Comics, some of the historical importance of this 80 page giant comic book, as well as the mission of the Comic Book Historians Podcast and YouTube channel. Thanks to the nice people at UK’s talkRADIO for the mp3 file.
Aired in the UK and the 330-400 segment where this aired is found at talkRadio.co.uk by clicking on below:
The Late Late Early Early Show with Paul Ross. Transporting you to another plane. On talkRADIO.
Paul Ross: Now, here’s a question for you. When you look back at what you read when you were younger, when you look back at great creations of literature, what stays in your mind? I’ll tell you what stays in my mind. I love the books by Jack London, White Fang, Call of the Wild. He wrote another brilliant book called either The Jacket or The Star Rover, different titles, which is filmed in the end. It’s a weird kind of science fiction-y novel about time traveling, whatever.
Paul Ross: And also, the creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Steve Ditko. They all worked for Marvel Comics. Only Marvel Comics wasn’t initially called Marvel Comics. Stay with me. There was a Marvel comic, and that was published 80 years ago this year. And there’s now an 80th anniversary edition out. It’s marked as issue number 1000, published by that forerunner to Marvel Comics called Timely Comics. And the reason I mention Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, all those other amazing talents that worked for Marvel Comics is because they created some of the most lucrative and the most involving heroes of all time. Heroes like this. So many amazing creations from Marvel Comics, and now they are being… Well, their achievement and the legacy to our imagination they’ve bequeathed us is being celebrated in Marvel Comics 1000 to mark their 80th anniversary. And I’m delighted, genuinely, to welcome to talkRADIO, and I’m very grateful to have the pleasure of his company: Alex Grand, founder of comicbookhistorians.com, also a historian in his own right. Good morning, Alex, and welcome to the talkRADIO.
Alex Grand: Good morning. Nice to be here.
Paul Ross: Now let’s talk a bit, if we may, about Marvel Comics. Because I think, I might say, they began as an imprint called Timely Comics. Were they a success from the get-go? Was Marvel Comics #1 their first comic?
Alex Grand: No. DC Comics was kind of the powerhouse back when it was called National Periodical Publications. They had Action Comics, which was a big success with Superman, and then Batman with Detective Comics #1 in 1939.
Alex Grand: Marvel Comics #1 was the publisher, Martin Goodman. Essentially, he wanted to make a comic to compete with those guys, but also to see if he can ride along the success. He was a pulp fiction magazine publisher, and Marvel Comics 1… The Marvel Comics, then it became Marvel Mystery Comics with #2. That did fairly well, and he stayed in the comic book business, and that probably did save his companies in that the Sub-Mariner was premiered in that first Marvel Comics. The Human Torch was premiered in the first Marvel Comics. What’s interesting is, Marvel Comics 1000, there haven’t been 1,000 issues of a comic called Marvel Comics-
Paul Ross: No.
Alex Grand: … like there have been with Detective Comics or Action Comics. But that is Marvel’s answer to Detective Comics 1000 which is, “Hey, we’ve been here for 80 years too. We’ve been doing things since the ’30s as well. And let’s celebrate. Let’s celebrate these 80 years of history,” and you’re right, it is an achievement, those characters on TV.
Alex Grand: Something interesting also is that the Marvel brand that we know today wasn’t really coming from that Marvel Comics 1. That came from the guys that you mentioned, Ditko, Lee, Kirby in the ’60s when the publisher Martin Goodman decided to try his hand at using that term “Marvel” again as a brand. And then it finally took hold in the ’60s. It was like a real permanent brand.
Paul Ross: I mean, the one… I mean, I love all their work, and I kind of grew up on… Old enough to have read their comic books in the ’60s. We never got them regularly over here, but it was the Silver Age, I think it was called. But Jack Kirby was also around in the very early days of Timely. Was it because he co-created Captain America, is that right?
Alex Grand: He did. He co-created Captain America with Joe Simon. And he actually did some of the artwork in some of the pulp magazines that Martin Goodman did before Captain America. And he also even worked on Popeye animation cells in the mid-thirties-
Paul Ross: Wow.
Alex Grand: So he was really working at that stuff even before Captain America in 1941. And he is, I think… A lot of people consider him to be the true creative powerhouse when it comes to the superhero comic book genre, that he is the guy that probably created the most characters, or co-created the characters, depending on how you look at it. And you’re right, he’s a big powerhouse.
Alex Grand: You also mentioned Steve Ditko earlier, who is very creative in his own right in that although Jack Kirby co-created most of those characters in the ’60s, Steve Ditko still created the Mona Lisa of the superheroes with his Spider-man. And he did that with Stan Lee. And all those villains, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin… Him and Stan just created those characters over a period of like five years. And that, although Jack Kirby created most of those characters with Stan Lee, Steve… That Spider-Man is still the company logo at this point.
Paul Ross: What’s astonishing now is, at the time I suppose, this was regarded as very much disposable literature. Not even literature. Almost throwaway entertainment. I remember my father… And my dad was very liberal. I’m the oldest of six children, five boys and a girl. Me and my brother Jonathan, who’s still a huge comic collector, interviewed Steve Ditko once. Not on camera, sadly, but met him and interviewed him-
Alex Grand: Oh, yeah.
Paul Ross: … Which is quite difficult to negotiate. My dad would try this: Tell us off for wasting our time reading comics, whereas in fact I genuinely believe these are an important part of 20th-century literature.
Alex Grand: Yeah, I agree. I think in the ’60s especially. ’60s, ’50s, definitely in the ’30s and ’40s. I mean, even the pulp magazines were disposable literature, not respected like the hardback covers. Same thing with the comics. And I think that even goes ’til the ’80s, maybe even the ’90s.
Alex Grand: I think, in the ’90s, once they became these high-dollar collector’s items, that started to change. And then now that all the kids that totally obsessed over that stuff are now adults making decisions in the adult world, I think now it’s becoming more recognized. Whereas if you talk to some people who are kind of in their 80s, 90s, they still look at it as disposable literature. So, some of it is generational in that what made the impression on us in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s… and now that we’re all adults, now we get to decide what is respected and what’s not. You know?
Paul Ross: What is proper. And the other fascinating thing for me is the way that characters re-emerge. Now, you mentioned the Human Torch being in Marvel Comics #1, but that was a very different Human Torch from Johnny Storm and the Fantastic Four. He was a kind of… an android. He burst into flames or something. And this new Marvel 1000 comic, I think it harks back to that. It gives you details of past heroes and their earlier incarnations.
Alex Grand: Yeah. I love that they did that. I went through that issue earlier, and it’s a great 80 pages, because… It’s an 80-page giant, which they’ve had these 80-page giants since the ’60s. Big annual books. But each page has a different writer, artist. And the first page, which is a… Each page is one year. So 1939 is the first page, and 1940 the second page, all the way up to the current year. And, yeah, you’re right. They really highlight the android Human Torch made by the professor Phineas Horton. He combusts into fire when he touches the air.
Alex Grand: In the 1960s when Kirby and Lee and Ditko are creating these characters, publisher Martin Goodman, who doesn’t get very much of the creative credit… He should get some. Because his whole thing was, “Let’s reuse some of those old names. Here, I want you to make a whole new Human Torch. I want you to do this. I want…” He would make these orders, and then they would come up with the Johnny Storm and things. But, personally, I love the android Human Torch. I like when the company uses him. I think he’s a fun character.
Paul Ross: Absolutely.
Alex Grand: And in the ’80s, they had him and Vision be kind of the same character for a while. But, yeah, I do love Marvel Comics. But I’m a big Sub-Mariner fan. So he wasn’t as highlighted in this Marvel Comics 1000. But it was a great book. They even go over the Marvel Boy of 1949.
Paul Ross: Wow.
Alex Grand: They even go through Tessie the Typist, which is like a romance comic. They highlighted a lot of random, funny characters from Timely. And also it was called Atlas Comics in the ’50s before it was Marvel in the ’60s. And it’s just fun that they go to even use Gorilla-Man from like the 1950s in it. It’s just a really funny book. It’s great.
Paul Ross: Because I remember Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was revived in the early ’60s again by Marvel, when he was meant to be some kind of amnesiac who, suddenly, the Fantastic Four stumbled across. And he was a kind of hero-villain. But, again, he’d been buried or forgotten for, what? 15, 20 years or something.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s right. Because his last issue was, I think… Well, he was revised a little bit in the early ’50s, like ’54, ’55, around the time when the Comics Code started coming in. Bill Everett did some really fun adventures. And, actually, I recommend reading those. They’re a lot of fun. But, you’re right. Then, probably around, what? ’55-ish? He kind of disappeared again. Those books weren’t really selling well.
Alex Grand: They tried to throw out a Captain America and a Sub-Mariner and a Human Torch adventures in the mid-fifties that didn’t quite get hold. People were kind of more interested in romance comics and horror, and-
Paul Ross: Well, horror, I suppose, with EC Comics… Let me ask you, if I may, finally, Alex, a bit about comicbookhistorians.com. Your knowledge is obviously immense, and we really appreciate your time this morning. Tell us a bit, please, about the site. What are you offering people? And what do you want to hear from people about?
Alex Grand: Well, it’s a forum. Basically, it has different outlets. There’s a Comic Book Historians podcast, where me me and my co-host Jim Thompson will interview various professionals in the comic book industry like Jim Steranko. We have one coming up with Frank Thorne, who did a lot of Red Sonja stuff in the ’70s. We also did Neal Adams and whatnot.
Alex Grand: And there’s a YouTube channel where, basically, I try to put together various media as instruction, almost instructional videos. I’m also producing some motion comics lately, as a fun kind of a media outlet. But a lot of it is really based on just figuring… making comic book history accessible to everybody, so that people can come in, they can listen to the podcast, they can watch some YouTube videos, and really kind of get a good ground up already where they can conversationally engage with other comic history enthusiasts. And that’s kind of the overall point of it.
Paul Ross: And did you mention to me just then, and I’m deeply jealous, that you’ve just interviewed Jim Steranko, the man who gave us Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., all those amazing covers?
Alex Grand: Yeah.
Paul Ross: Wow.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s on the podcast. We have a two-parter where I interview Jim at a Dallas convention. He was kind enough to give us, to give me some time. And we spoke for a few… actually like three hours.
Paul Ross: Wow.
Alex Grand: And we put it together, edited out, and it’s a wonderful two episodes, where we really go from top to bottom. We even talked about kind of the more esoteric stuff, like his ’70s magazines, comics scene, media scene, and especially his Nick Fury, his interactions with Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. It’s a fun interview.
Paul Ross: You’ve been a fantastic guest, Alex. Once again, folks, find out more by going to comicbookhistorians.com, comicbookhistorians.com. And you heard… And podcasts aplenty as well there from Alex. And you heard that conversation on talkRADIO, marking 80 years of Marvel Comics. And now Marvel Comics 1000 is out. 80 pages looking back at the kind of spectrum of our history. And you heard it here on talkRADIO, the talk of the nation. I would say “Shazam,” but he wasn’t Marvel. TalkRADIO. Back after this.
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