Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Spiders? Ick!

As a glance at the sidebar to the left of And Then I Wrote... will show, I also write a bit of non-fiction, mostly for the young adult (5th - 8th grade) market. I seem to do about two of these year, the first dozen or so for Rosen Publishing (a library and school school library publisher) and I'm about to begin on my third for Chelsea House, a division of Facts-On-File. I've done books on the Titanic, spy satellites, disease (in general and one on influenza, specifically), Edwin Hubble, John Glenn, careers in robotics and rodeo clowning (you heard me), the Alaska Highway, the Great Depression, hurricanes, and the origin and creation of Spider-Man. The latest is about Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo. It's a wide--and sometimes strange--range of subjects, but seeing as how I enjoy reading books on subjects like salt, codfish, the screw, the library shelf, giant redwood trees, oysters and the history of bookbinding, work I enjoy.

Here's a bit from one of the books closer to my heart than something like, say, rodeo clowns and robotics engineers:

© The Rosen Rublishing Group

Chapter Three: Does Whatever a Spider Can!
At first, Martin Goodman gave him every reason Spider-Man would never work.

“For months I had been toying with the notion of a new super-hero, one who would be more realistic than most, despite his colorful superpower,” recalled Stan in Excelsior! “So I did what I always did in those days, I took the idea to my boss...I told Martin that I wanted to feature a hero who had just a touch of superstrength but his main power was that he could stick to walls and ceilings...I also mentioned that our hero, whom I wanted to call Spider-Man, would be a teenager, with all the problems, hang-ups, and angst of any teenager. He’d be an orphan who lived with his aunt and uncle, a bit of a nerd, a loser in the romance department...Except for his super-power, he’d be the quintessential hard-luck kid. He’d have allergy attacks when fighting the villains.”

Creative Differences
Goodman was less than enthusiastic. He told Stan that teens could be sidekicks to adult superheroes but not superheroes themselves. He pointed out that heroes did not have personal problems, which, in any case, only served to slow down the fast-paced action of superhero stories. Stan’s nerdy, allergic Spider-Man was, at any rate, a comedic character not a hero. And anyway, nobody wanted to read about a character named Spider-Man; people were creeped out by spiders. They didn’t want to be reminded of them while reading a superhero comic book story.

Stan was not deterred. He wrote, “I couldn’t get Spider-Man out of my mind. That’s when I remembered the final issue of (the anthology title) Amazing Fantasy, which we were then prepping. As you can imagine, when a publisher prints the last issue of a title, no one much cares about what goes into (it).

“So, just to get it out of my system, I gave Jack Kirby my Spider-Man plot and asked him to illustrate it. Jack started to draw it, but when I saw that he was making our main character, Peter Parker, a powerful-looking, handsome, self-confident typical hero type, I realized that wasn’t the style I was looking for. So I took Jack off the project. He couldn’t care less because he had so many other strips to draw at the time, and Spider-Man wasn’t exactly our top-of-the-line character.”

A Question of Credit
Jack Kirby’s memories of the Spider-Man experience are significantly different from Stan’s. In a July 1982 interview with legendary comics creator Will Eisner, Kirby said, “(Spider-Man) was the last thing Joe (Simon) and I had discussed. We had a script called ‘The Silver Spider.’ ‘The Silver Spider’ was going into a magazine called Black Magic (which was cancelled) and we were left with the script. I believe I said this could become a thing called the idea was already there when I talked to Stan.”

Joe Simon, Kirby’s former partner and co-creator of Captain America and countless other characters and comic titles had yet another take on the origin of Spider-Man, although one that still owed more to Simon and Kirby than it did to Stan Lee. According to Simon’s memoir of his comic book career, The Comic Book Makers, the Simon and Kirby creation The Fly (for Archie Comics) had begun as a character they had called first “Spiderman” and then “The Silver Spider.” As Simon told the story, ”As I learned years later, Jack brought in the ‘Spiderman’ logo I had loaned to him before we changed the name to The Silver Spider. Kirby laid out the story to Lee about the kid who finds a ring in spiderweb, gets his powers from the ring and goes forth to fight crime armed with The Silver Spider’s old web-spinning pistol.”

When Kirby turned in his first batch of pages, Stan saw the artist had given him a muscular young man instead of the skinny teenager he had envisioned. Plus, the new character shared far too many similarities with The Fly.

Simon continued, “Ditko ignored Kirby’s pages, tossed the character’s magic ring, web-pistol and goggles into a handy wastebasket, and completely redesigned Spider-Man’s costume and equipment. In this life, he became high school student Peter Parker who gets his spider powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider.”

By the time Spider-Man made his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, the only thing left of Jack Kirby’s contribution was the name (with the addition of the hyphen) and the cover that he had penciled for the issue.

Steve Ditko, Co-Creator
Stan tapped his Amazing Fantasy cohort Steve Ditko to replace Kirby. In an essay that appeared in an issue of Robin Snyder’s History of Comics, Steve Ditko wrote that the five Kirby-penciled Spider-Man pages he received from Stan “...showed a teenager living with his kindly old aunt and hard, gruff, retired police captain uncle...who was hostile toward the boy.

“Next door or somewhere in the neighborhood there was a whiskered scientist-type involved in some kind of experiment or project. The end of the five pages depicted the kid going toward the scientist’s darkened house.”

Ditko saw an opportunity to do a richer and more complex character than the one initially envisioned by Lee and Kirby. “Steve Ditko...working from a synopsis and Kirby’s pages, produced an inspired visual take on the character that drove its story for decades—bottle-thick glasses, slumped shoulders, and a homemade costume,” observed Raphael and Spurgeon in Stan Lee. “...The Spider-Man millions of readers came to know and love got his youth and voice from Stan Lee and his human frailty from Steve Ditko...”

The artist knew the importance of the visual aspect of a character in this most visual of mediums. In his 1990 essay, Ditko wrote, “One of the first things I did was to work up a costume. A vital, visual part of the character. I had to know how he looked, to fit in with the powers he had, or could have, the possible gimmicks and how they might be used and shown, before I did any breakdowns...I wasn’t sure Stan would like the idea of covering the character’s face but I did it because it hid an obvious boyish face.”

Stan was more than pleased with Ditko’s contributions to Spider-Man, finding his “toned down, more subtle, highly stylized way of drawing...perfect for the way I envisioned Spider-Man...Steve did a totally brilliant job of bringing my new little hero to life.”


rob! said...

nice! its cool you get into that level of detail on something most people would have no idea about. as a kid i would've loved hearing all that backstage stuff.

oh, and I also enjoy reading books about "the screw."

Paul Kupperberg said...

rob sez, "oh, and I also enjoy reading books about 'the screw'."

No, Rob, I meant the mechanical fastening device.