Blessed are the Myth-Makers: The Marvel Comics Bullpen, Snapshots in Time.

                                                                          Illustration P. Crockett

QUITE unexpectedly, I have fallen back in love as an adult with the comic books I so loved long ago and far away, as a boy of 12-13. Exactly how or why I honestly cannot say. All I know is that the fire of passion for the damned things (and I mean everything about them) that once burned so hot and close to center, and that in time I came to believe done, has burst back into full flame. I don’t need to ask why; I’m having too much fun, and meeting along the way some truly wonderful people. I’m certainly having an experience!

clip_image002Batmobile P. Crockett 1st Grade, 1966

Now, suitably enough for a post on comic books, the grand plan here is to simply enjoy looking at the pictures! They, much more than any words I might throw at them, are the real point and the reason I sit down to write.

I recently chanced upon two sets of photos published by Marvel Comics, the first in 1964 and then 1969, of the gifted folks that together made up its ever-evolving “Bullpen,” as editor Stan Lee dubbed the dynamically creative production team that put out its growing number of books each month. As it happens I came across the later one first.

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The Fantastic Four is Born.

I’d not seen it before, and it took my breath away.  I knew most of the names well, more than a few having themselves become the stuff of legend.  Yet I lacked the first clue as to what they’d even looked like. I became surprised by the force of my curiosity.

clip_image004Young Peter learns the harshest of lessons: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

IT IS a paradoxical thing, for this most “public” and shared of rituals– the savoring page by turning page of the latest issue of one’s favorite title—nevertheless seems somehow a most intimate experience. On some deep level, it seemed that these people captured in the photographs were no strangers to me. But who were they? I found myself studying the images as if they might contain some kind of important clue to a mystery, or a piece of some greater puzzle.

I imagined that others might also be curious, and enjoy them. Thus, this sharing. The first set, weighing in at two pages, debuted in the quintessentially Marvel classic shown below, cover date January, 1964, art by Jack “the King” Kirby and Steve Ditko. Many of the major characters enlivening the Company’s pantheon were already taking shape, but in most cases, just barely. Even so, the self-proclaimed “Marvel Era of Comics” was definitely underway.

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HERE, on the two pages that follow, is the “ground floor” team, around late 1963.

Bullpen A_e

bullpen B

BEFORE jumping rudely forward to 1969, I must take the liberty of including one member of the Bullpen conspicuous in his absence: Steve Ditko. Here he is:

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The photo is borrowed from http://www.steveditko.com/, where anyone interested can learn more about this colorful and apparently sometimes challenging character. All that aside, however, it must be noted that he not only contributed loyally and steadily to Marvel before there actually was a Marvel (in its predecessor line, Atlas Comics), but during the “Bullpen years” made some signature and truly extraordinary contributions. He is fully credited with and acknowledged for his creation of the character “Dr. Strange,” but might well have made (far and away) one of the single greatest contributions of any one person not only to Marvel, but to the entire field of comic book art, from its inception to this day. It is he that may have given us the one-and-only, utterly spectacular Amazing Spider-Man!

Notwithstanding his official recognition as “co-creator” of the character with Stan Lee, a designation now (and probably forever) enshrined in the archives of untouchable history, it is quite possibly true that “no Ditko= no Spider-Man.” Over the years there has been some “back and forth” on the question, etc., yet I believe that probably to be the case. Why? Simply because of the following credits from Amazing Spider-Man #19 (splash page shown above), drawn by another but always unmistakably scripted by Stan Lee himself:

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Since in the world of comic book legend no birth certificates are generally published or required, the above recognition of Ditko’s “paternity” by Lee himself (it seems to me) carries persuasive weight on the question.

clip_image002[12]Self-Portrait, Steve Ditko Napping

In any event, that possibility alone earns him a place of high honor forever in the Marvel Universe and in the larger world it has so affected, because it seems difficult indeed to imagine the Marvel world complete without one conspicuously smart-mouthed, agile, and daring Spider-Man with whom we might remain so perpetually amazed!

clip_image003First appearance, August 1962. Cover by Jack Kirby.

MOVING right along to 1969, and without further commentary, you are invited to simply enjoy on the four pages to follow images of the bullpen of a most unique place and time. I have spent some time giving my best shot at clarifying and enhancing the pages as originally published in an unreceptive medium, and hope that they might inspire, or bring you a moment’s pleasure.

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AS they say, we make plans and God laughs.  Right here is where the story ended.  “At last!,” I thought, “it’s ‘put to bed.’”  Hah!  And it was, for almost two days!  Then friendly reader Dennis, of Ottawa, Canada saw the piece, and was kind enough to volunteer the following images of the bullpen of 1975, scanned from his personal copy of the program of the First Mighty Marvel Comic Convention held in New York City at the Hotel Commodore on March 22-24 of that year.

Thank you, Dennis!  Here we go:

That’s it, for now, at least!  Thanks for stopping by.

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