This is the one-hundred and eighty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and eighty-three.
COMIC LEGEND: Neil Gaiman was inspired by the Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man” to create the main character in Sandman.
Reader Rob wrote in the other day to ask:
Some people at my comic shop were discussing how Neil Gaiman said he got the idea to do the Morpheus incarnation of Sandman after listening to the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Is this true?
Well, Bob Dylan IS pretty awesome, so I would not be surprised if he influenced the creation of pretty much every comic character, but in this particular case, it is a fairly reasonable story that Gaiman might have taken some inspiration from the lyrics to Mr. Tambourine Man…
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.
Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand,
Vanished from my hand,
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming.
That’s not hard to believe that it could be an influence for Sandman, the Master of Dreams, no?
However believable, it is not, in fact, true.
For the truth, I went to no other than Neil Gaiman himself, creator of The Sandman, who was gracious enough to give this reply when I asked if it was real or bogus:
Bogus, I’m afraid.
The Golden/Wagner/Bissette book “Prince of Stories” mentions the influence of the Lou Reed/ Velvet Underground song “I’m Set Free”, and you can find many songs referred to in the online annotations and the Hy Bender Sandman Companion, but there’s no Dylan in the mix.
The book Neil is referring to, by the way…
Well, there you go, Rob!
Reader Tony wrote in to ask:
Is it true that Willie Lumpkin was created before the Fantastic Four?
The answer to that, Tony, is basically yes.
For the sake of avoiding the qualifier, I phrased the legend differently (I’m sneaky that way).
Willie Lumpkin was definitely appearing in comics before the Fantastic Four were around, but it was not necessarily the same character who appeared later in the Fantastic Four.
Willie Lumpkin, the mailman for the Fantastic Four, first appeared in Fantastic Four #11, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
He has a funny bit about how he has the “special power” to wiggle his ears.
He soon became a popular background character in the book, and you’ll still see him in the comics today (he was just recently a major character in Paul Cornell’s interesting mini-series Fantastic Four: True Story).
In fact, Stan Lee even portrayed Willie himself in the first Fantastic Four movie…
However, Willie Lumpkin was ALSO the name of the titular star of a syndicated newspaper comic strip that Stan Lee did with the late, great Dan DeCarlo. It only lasted about a year in 1960.
Thanks to Ger Apeldoorn, of the amazing website, Those Fabuleous 50s, we can read a bunch of the Willie Lumpkin strips!
Apeldoorn even includes this interesting ad boasting about the popularity of the strip!
Here is a Sunday strip from November of 1960 (click to enlarge)…
Here is a week’s worth of strips from December of 1960 (click to enlarge)…
In one of the great interviews you’ll ever see, Roy Thomas talked to Stan Lee about many different topics back in 1998, and the strip came up…
Roy: In the early ’60s you had done that Willie Lumpkin newspaper strip. You used that name again for the mailman in Fantastic Four.
Stan: That was just for fun. Mel Lazarus had done a strip called Miss Peach, which used not panels but one long panel instead. I liked that idea very much, so when Harold Anderson, the head of Publishers Syndicate, asked me to do a strip, I came up with Barney’s Beat, which was about a New York City cop and all the characters on his patrol who he’d meet every day and there would be a gag. I did some samples with Dan DeCarlo, and I thought it was wonderful.
Harold said it was too “big city-ish” and they’re not going to care for it in the small towns because they don’t have cops on a beat out there. He wanted something that would appeal to the hinterland, something bucolic. He said, “You know what I want, Stan? I want a mailman! A friendly little mailman in a small town.” I don’t remember if I came up with the name Lumpkin or he did, but I hated it. I think I came up with the name as a joke and he said, “Yeah, that’s it! Good idea!”
It was the one strip in the world I didn’t think I was qualified to write, because I liked things that were hip and cutting-edge, cool and big city. I always wrote Seinfeld and that kind of thing. Here I’m writing about a mailman in a small town! Even though it was not my type of thing, it lasted for a couple of years. Unlike today, when I do the Spider-Man daily strip and never heard from the syndicate (I gotta call them a few times a year and say, “Are you guys aware that we’re still doing this?”), in those days Harold Anderson passed on every gag, looked at every panel, and I worked with him. He was a lovely man, but as an editor, he was a nightmare! [laughs]
So there ya go!
Willie Lumpkin was around before the Fantastic Four, but you could argue that it is not really the SAME Willie Lumpkin from the Fantastic Four comics.
Thanks to Tony for the question, Ger for the amazing web resource (again, The Fabuleous 50s), Roy Thomas for the great interview (and heck, thanks to Roy Thomas for just generally being such an awesome historical resource – he’s a comic historian’s national treasure) and thanks to Stan Lee for the info!
COMIC LEGEND: The Transformers character Circuit Breaker was introduced in the pages of Secret Wars II so Marvel could gain the rights to the character.
My good buddy John sent me a question a few weeks back:
Does Marvel own the character Circuit Breaker from the old Transformers comics, I think she also appeared in Secret Wars.
And the answer to this is yes.
This is basically the same exact thing as the deal with Death’s Head, as featured in a previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed.
Simply put, the way their licensing deal worked was that if Marvel introduced a new character in the pages of Transformers, Hasbro would own the character. However, if Marvel introduced the character in one of THEIR titles and THEN had said character appear in the licensed book, it would still be owned by Marvel, which is what Marvel did with Death’s Head and it is also what they did with Circuit Breaker.
Josie Beller was introduced in the pages of the Transformers, and slowly turned into Circuit Breaker, the anti-robot cyborg. However, she did not turn up as Circuit Breaker until AFTER she appeared in, all of all places, Secret Wars II.
The Beyonder and she had a little chat, and then it was off to the pages of Transformers where she battled those crazy robots until Marvel’s series ended…
Her appearance in Secret Wars II actually FOLLOWS her first appearance as Circuit Breaker in Transformers, continuity-wise, but publication-wise, her Secret Wars II appearance came first, which is why Marvel was in the clear (and the whole purpose of having her cameo in another comic before appearing in Transformers – to show that they had published Circuit Breaker in a comic BEFORE she appeared in a Transformers comic).
Since she is a Marvel character, she can’t be used in the Transformers comics or cartoons. Marvel could use her themselves if they felt like it, but they do not appear to be inclined to do so.
So there ya go!
Thanks for the question, John! And thanks to Per Degaton and all the good folks at The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe, for the scan from Secret Wars II!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next week!