Comic books are a petty business, it must be said. And the same freedom to imagine and play that allows for the creativity in conceptualizing new stories about characters who, let’s face it, were designed to appeal to children also somehow invites the darker side of itself–the version where grown-ups behave like petulant children on a schoolyard recess. I’m certainly no exception to this phenomenon, having done a few petty things in my time. But here are a few more grand examples of excess, where one creator takes aim at another through the pages of the stories that are being worked on–a place where, really, it has no business being.
1000 CLOWNS, STRANGE TALES #181 – From the jump, Jim Starlin was a bit of a rabble-rouser. Sometimes for a good cause and other times not so much. As he was working on the Marvel titles of the 1970s, Starlin came into conflict with the powers-that-be at the time on a few occasions. And being who he was, Jim decided to play out his frustrations in metaphor in the pages of the WARLOCK strip he was writing and illustrating in STRANGE TALES. In the story, Warlock’s mind is caught in a fantasy world created by the Universal Church of Truth. There, his sanity is challenged by Lenstean (a quasi-anagram of Stan Lee) the head clown tasked with keeping everybody in their proper lane. Starlin includes a clown named Jan Hatroomi whose job it is to change everybody’s faces so that they look the same and happy–his name is an anagram of John Romita, who had made such corrections at the EIC’s behest to a number of Starlin’s covers. There’s also a renegade clown who tried to stand up for the rights of others but who was driven out who resembles Roy Thomas, as well as programming assistants for the Church who are caricatures of Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. The society of 1000 clowns keeps building a tower of trash that collapses upon itself, killing the workers. And among that trash are assorted diamonds, but Lenstean has no idea how those keep getting into the mix. It’s a stinging condemnation of the Marvel of the period, and it’s possibly only due to the fact that EIC Len Wein was in the process of leaving himself and handing the reins over to Marv Wolfman that it got published at all. Not content to rest on his laurels, Starlin would years later produce the Dynamo City story arc in SILVER SURFER, which was a concealed indictment of his difficulties of working at DC.
THE SUCCESS STORY, CREEPY #1 – CREEPY Magazine was an attempt by Jim Warren to bring back the spirit of the then-banned horror comics of the classic EC line. It wound up being something of a mixed bag overall, but it published some very fine work. And its first issue contained one of its most memorable stories. It was the sagas of Baldo Smudge, a wealthy cartoonist whom three of his colleagues figure out is paying each of them to ghost write, ghost pencil and ghost ink his successful newspaper strip for a pittance. This was based on an actual incident, in which writer Archie Goodwin and illustrator Al Williamson as well as a few others got together and realized that they’d all been commissioned individually to ghost portions of the Dan Flagg newspaper strip ostensibly done by Don Sherwood. This story was Goodwin and Williamson’s revenge of sorts. In the story, his ghost artists demand proper compensation and credit from Smudge and he murders them, of course. But the three ghosts just won’t stay dead, and they crawl back from the river in which Baldo dumped them to take their revenge, drawing their final strip with Smudge’s own blood.
THE F-MEN, E-MAN #2-3 – I think it’s fair to say that the Dark Phoenix Saga in X-MEN really put that series on the map in a big way with the hardcore comic book fan community of the time. X-MEN dominated the field for years thereafter. One of the people not too happy about this turn of events appears to be Marty Pasko. Pasko had largely left comic books behind, transitioning to work primarily in animation. But he had been brought on board by newcomer First Comics to write the inaugural issues of one of the company’s launch titles, E-MAN, a revival of the Charlton character from years before. In his second and third issues, Pasko produces a positively biting and bitter satire of the X-Men and the Dark Phoenix Saga in its entirety. It’s both really funny and really nasty. Pasko has E-Man come up against the F-Men, who have been created by Professor Ford Fairmont in the likeness of the comic book that he used to write. Fairmont is a merciless caricature of Chris Claremont, and Pasko isn’t hiding his disdain for the man or his work as he describes him as working on behalf of Para-Sight Industries. Not content to stop there, before the story is over, Pasko has skewered Dave Cockrun, John Byrne, Jim Shooter and Stan Lee as well in painful fashion. Pasko had his reasons for doing this story, but the personal attacks in evidence in it really do cross the line. But if you hated X-MEN in the early 1980s or were just sick of all of the fanfare about it, this was the two-part story for you. Joe Staton was Pasko’s co-conspirator on the artwork.
CREEPY CANIGUH, WONDER WOMAN #188 – The environment up at the DC offices during the 1960s doesn’t seem in hindsight to be the most convivial. There is story after story of the editors misusing their power to harass and belittle their creators, and long-held grudges developed everywhere. One person who almost made a second career out of holding a grudge was Mike Sekowsky. He was about the fastest artist in the business, but he also had a temper, one that wasn’t made any better by alcohol. In any event, by the end of the 1960s as Carmine Infantino came in as DC’s new head honcho, he began changing the make-up of the editorial structure. In particular, Carmine brought in more artists to be editors. So it turned out that Mike Sekowsky replaced Robert Kanigher as the editor of WONDER WOMAN, a title the latter had been writing and overseeing for two decades. I’m not certain what incident caused the bad blood between the two men–it might have been Sekowky’s hiring for all I know. But in WONDER WOMAN #188, for no apparent reason, Sekowsky writes and draws a two-page strip in which Diana foils a robbery attempt by “Creepy Caniguh”, a cross-dressing pickpocket. There’s literally nothing more to this story than some character assassination, and it’s a bit of a wonder that DC both allowed it to be published and that they also didn’t change Kanigher’s name all that much. The whole thing reads as though Sekowsky drew it in a rage over an hour or two, perhaps in reaction to some run-in with Kanigher, who it must be said was not the most popular figure in the place. But what the audience made of it, I can’t tell you.
DOTTIE COTTONMAN, WONDER WOMAN #204 – Kanigher had his revenge, though–but that revenge wasn’t aimed at Mike Sekowsky. Rather, his ire was directed towards Dorothy Woolfolk, who had replaced Kanigher as editor of the Romance line. In response to outcry fomented largely by Gloria Steinem of all people in the pages of MS. magazine, DC decided to abandon their change-of-direction that stripped Wonder Woman of her amazon powers and cast her as a Diana Rigg-style adventurer. To bring Diana back to her more traditional self, the company also brought back Bob Kanigher as writer and editor–and he accomplishes this goal in a story as random and haphazard as anything the man had ever written. But to start with, Kanigher opens his tale with a sniper killing Dottie Cottonman, editor of a woman’s magazine. This murder isn’t fundamental to the plot at all, it’s just random–but it’s a way for Kanigher to get out some of his aggression towards Woolfolk. Don Heck provided the uncredited artwork on the story.