5BC: Five Mean Caricatures of Comic Book Creators

Comic books for years were considered a juvenile medium, and that sensibility often extended to the behavior of the practitioners in the field. Like those who work in any other industries, not all comic book creators get along, and on occasion some of them have felt the need to take their aggression out in public, in the pages of some comic book story they were working on. It’s not really great professional behavior, but it led to some memorable comic book stories. Here are five mean caricatures of comic book creators by their peers.

FUNKY FLASHMAN. MISTER MIRACLE #6 – The granddaddy of all of these caricatures, and one that was in no way concealed from the audience. After a decade of toiling for Marvel, creating the very fabric of the Marvel Universe, Jack Kirby had had enough. His migration to DC was meant to be his great escape from the plantation, but things didn’t work out for him quite so smoothly. Nobody is 100% certain just what set him off two years after his departure, but whatever the reason, the rage and frustration that the King of Comics was feeling towards his erstwhile boss and partner bubbled over in the pages of his MISTER MIRACLE series. In the sixth issue, he produced a savage parody of Stan Lee in the person of Funky Flashman, a fraud and conman who seeks to profit off of Scott Free’s talent and then discard him when his usefulness is up. Kirby is merciless in his characterization of Lee here. He’s also got shade to throw at Lee’s number two Roy Thomas, whom he renders as Houseroy, Funky’s sycophantic servant who dreams of inheriting the family business once Funky moves on to greater things. I think it can certainly be argued that Kirby was justified in many of his feelings, and his talent and passion is all over this issue. But one of the things that doesn’t get said enough when it’s spoken about is just how mean it all is. It’s brutal and vicious and spiteful, and just a hair unprofessional. Astonishingly, it would only be three years until Kirby would find himself back at Marvel working under Lee and alongside Thomas, who seemed willing to let bygones be bygones if it meant securing Kriby’s services for the organization once again.

PHIL BINGER. AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS #10 – I’ve already written about this story at length on this page (https://tombrevoort.com/2019/10/27/the-cruelty-of-through-the-wringer/ ) but it belongs on any such list. Bill Finger was the co-creator of Batman, Green Lantern and Wildcat among other characters and he contributed to the welfare of DC Comics consistently until his untimely passing in 1974. He was also a chronic procrastinator who lived from check to check, and his begging for an advance payment annoyed somebody at DC (likely editor Joe Orlando) enough that this incredibly cruel story was commissioned. Here, Finger is incarnated as Phil Binger, a comic book writer whose best stories are the ones that he tells his editors to get an advance on his check, and who even haunts them from beyond the grave. This tale was prepared either right before Bill Finger died or right after–either way, it’s in pretty terrible taste. It was intended for PLOP, but wiser heads prevailed and it was pulled, seeing print only in DC’s house fanzine THE AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS. Even so, it is mean beyond belief, and one has to assume that writer David Vern and artist Ramona Fradon understood what they were doing here. All that said, like the Funky Flashman story, it’s incredibly entertaining–but becomes profoundly disturbing when you decode the underlying meaning. Earlier, Finger had been the subject of a more neutral commentary when he was used as the basis for the Green Lantern villain Black Hand.

BOOSTER COGBURN, THE DISLOCATED SPINE. DESTROYER DUCK #2 – Eclipse’s DESTROYER DUCK series started out as a benefit comic book to support author Steve Gerber’s lawsuit with Marvel to regain the rights to his creation Howard the Duck. Jack Kirby agreed to draw the first issue for free in support of Gerber’s cause. And after that initial release performed well, a regular series was commissioned, putting Duke Duck up against the operatives of the evil conglomerate Godcorp whose motto was “Grab it All, Own It All, Drain it All.” The second issue introduced Booster Cogburn, an incredibly multi-layered pun of a name on Gerber’s part, who viewed himself as a company man, and whose spine would dislocate from his body when he was killed, to be transplanted in a new clone body. During Gerber’s conflict, John Byrne had written a guest editorial for COMICS SCENE magazine that pooh-poohed Gerber’s arguments and positions. In it, he attested to being a happy cog in the Marvel machine–so Gerber and Kirby parodied him mercilessly over the course of this and subsequent issues, often utilizing only-slightly-tweaked quotes from Byrne’s own editorial as Cogburn’s dialogue to skewer him. There’s no love here–the takedown is brutal and merciless and mean, but also pretty clever, it must be said.

STEWART CADWELL, THUNDERSWORD. SECRET WARS II #1 – What goes around sometimes comes around, and it wasn’t long after DESTROYER DUCK that Steve Gerber himself found himself on the receiving end of a nasty skewering from Marvel editor in chief Jim Shooter and artist Al Milgrom. In the first issue of SECRET WARS II, they introduce Stewart Cadwell (itself a multiple pun name), a hard-working hack writer and pacifist who aspired to greater things until the Beyonder enchants his Shazam award, transforming him into Thundersword (Gerber had been one of the chief architects of the THUNDAAR THE BARBARIAN cartoon). With his newfound power, Cadwell is a bully and heedlessly destructive, obliterating the animation studio where he works as revenge for the unwanted notes they had given him. In other words, he’s a hypocrite. The satire isn’t especially subtle here–give the difficulty of his then-recent relations with Gerber, it’s hard to see this as anything other than Shooter’s frustrations manifesting on the page. But especially for the EIC, it’s incredibly poor form. The story was continued into issues of IRON MAN where Denny O’Neil seems embarrassed by the whole thing. in later years, Shooter has claimed that Gerber was in on the joke and loved it–and maybe he was. But this is still a shitty way to treat a creator who is working for you.

SUNSPOT. LEGENDS #5 – And speaking of the wheel turning… It’s difficult to say who was responsible for Sunspot. One would assume that plotter John Ostrander came up with the character. But I’d stake my money that this was the idea of artist John Byrne, who had just left Marvel on acrimonious terms due to conflicts with EIC Jim Shooter, whom he characterized as a petty tyrant. In any event, a line-wide DC crossover series took a four-page detour so that these creators (along with scripter Len Wein) could crap on Shooter in the form of Sunspot, a very thinly disguised parody of Shooter’s semi-autobiographical creation Star Brand at Marvel. Fan pundits had always earmarked Star Brand as a third rate take on Green Lantern, so here asshole GL Guy Gardner comes into conflict with Sunspot, who rails about his own power and ability before accidentally blowing his own foot off. Sunspot is particularly cruelly drawn as having the same acne-scarred features as Shooter himself, so as to make the connection more directly. It’s kind of funny if you’re an insider, and I suppose you could read it completely on the surface if you had no context for it. But it’s a grim waste of real estate to no great effect other than insulting the competition’s head guy. But Shooter at this point was reviled by many, and so I suspect this seemed like just desserts to some. Not satisfied with this, Byrne would go on to write and do layouts on STAR BRAND after Shooter’s departure from Marvel, and he delighted in killing the character in the most painful and ignominious ways issue after issue, his Star Brand power bringing him back to life every time.

18 thoughts on “5BC: Five Mean Caricatures of Comic Book Creators

  1. John Byrne is certainly involved in a lot of these – he created “Alden Maas” in the pages of FF as a poke at Neal Adams’, uh, unconventional geological beliefs, and we was spoofed as “Johnny Redbeard” by Erik Larsen in Savage Dragon.

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  2. Also of note is a savage John Byrne doppelganger in Marty Pasko’s early issues of E-MAN published by First Comics, and “His Name Is Kane”, a Carmine Infantino-directed story about a vain, egotistical artist named Kane who gets his comeuppance. What makes this bit of character-assassination stand out is they actually got Kane to draw it himself, because they knew he was desperate for money at the time! Sadism at its’ finest!

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  3. The first one of these I remember reading was in Creepy #1, written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Al Williamson and featured a character named Baldo Smudge based on a real comic strip writer/artist who had a strip where he hired a writer, penciler, inker and letterer and told them that he did everything else except for what he hired them to do. So the penciler thought “Baldo” wrote and inked the strip. The inker thought he wrote and penciled the strip, etc. A really good EC-like horror story made better once you knew the back story. And with Archie and Al writing and drawing the strip, you know it has to be great.

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  4. Totally agreed that “Phil Binger” story is awful and tasteless. Bill Finger is just one of many cautionary tales about the practices of the comic book industry. This story is really adding insult to injury. Too bad the artwork by Ramona Fradon is actually great. Fradon is such a sweet, intelligent person, I doubt she knew what “Through The Ringer” was really supposed to be about. From interviews I get the impression that she did not know too many people in the comic book biz outside those she directly worked with, so she may have been unaware of Bill Finger’s situation.

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  5. There was a Bendis & Maleev “Cabal” story Tom B. might have edited. Namor looked terrible, for him. Not fit. A weak nose, chin, & jaw. More lime Frank Miller than the Sub-Mariner. But I have no way of knowing if it was intentional. But compare it to Maleev’s rending of Namor in “The Illuminati”. Chiseled, powerfully built.

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  6. The comics writer/Jimmy Olsen analogue in Moore’s Supreme seemed primarily to me to be a swipe at Grant Morrison (but maybe there’s elements of Ellis, Ennis and Millar to it as well). Morrison/The Writer from Animal Man got killed off in Suicide Squad as well.

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  7. Kirby’s caricatures of Lee and Thomas are entirely justified and accurate, as is the attack on Byrne; but I’m not surprised you disagree. Anyway, you missed out Alex Toth’s also appropriate humiliation of the editor he once threatened to throw out a skyscraper window, Julius Schwartz (although omitting Schwartz’s prime offense, his lechery) in his short “A Connecticut Ice Cream Man” in House of Secrets:

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    1. I’ll have to take a look at that House of Secrets story. As for the rest, I don’t subscribe to a philosophy where an action isn’t bad when it’s taken by the side you support. If you think that the Phil Binger story is deplorable (and I do), then I don’t believe you can ethically give Kirby a pass simply because he had legitimate grievances against his target. And the Byrne one is even less defensible, for all that Byrne has done much the same thing—that one amounts to ridiculing somebody in print because you don’t like their opinions. That’s what Op-Ed columns are for.

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      1. Tom, I haven’t seen those others to have an opinion on them, but I simply differ from your opinion that Kirby’s credibly observed and pithy depictions are “mean”–rather, I think he had every right to make such a satirical masterpiece and if anything, he was too kind haha

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