This is the sixty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous sixty-seven.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: M.I.T. once cribbed design work for a multi-million dollar grant from a comic book!
It’s hard to believe, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology actually used comic book art to help them land a gigantic government grant from the US Army – and they did so without permission of the artists OR crediting the artists!!
Ray and Ben Lai.
Here is the account of the situation, courtesy of Reuters, back in 2002:
MIT engineers borrowed design elements from from an Image comic book when submitting their winning bid for a grant to develop high-tech super soldier armor according to a report from the Reuters newswire service.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology acknowledged this week that artwork from the comic Radix helped them land a $50 million grant from the U.S. Army. The institute’s proposal featured a future female soldier in high-tech gear, looking very similar to the comics’ cover art featuring the main character Val Fiores. The image featured armor, head-gear and even backgrounds which have many similarities to artwork found in Radix #1.
Radix creators Ray and Ben Lai were alerted to the swipe by fans who saw the MIT design. While the institute claims it was an “innocent use,” the comic’s creators are concerned that it could interfere with their ability to capitalize on the concepts they created.
Ray Lai told Reuters that there’s been much interest in the comic from Hollywood with several studios coming after the property. “That’s why it’s very important for us to clear the air and come out and say ‘We didn’t copy MIT; MIT copied us,'” he said. “We could still file a lawsuit. We’re weighing our options.”
And a follow-up from the Associated Press, a week later (thanks to Comics2Film for the article links):
A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has issued an apology to Ray and Ben Lai, the creators of the comic book Radix, over the unauthorized use of their designs in a military grant proposal, according to a recent Associated Press report.
As was reported last week, MIT incorporated armor designs from the comic book in a proposal for a $50 million government grant. The Institute won the bid to develop a super-soldier armor that would enhance strength, allow for some form of invisibility as well as many other fantastic features.
The comic creators were shocked to see their designs incorporated into the proposal, and feared that it could jeopardize their plans to exploit their concept in various formats including feature film.
Now, Edwin L. Thomas, director of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, has issued a public apology, sent via e-mail and also posted on the MIT website. “If I had known it was your work, I would not have used it,” Thomas said to Ray Lai. “MIT strongly supports the rights of creators and greatly regrets using the image without permission or credit. I am very sorry that this happened; it won’t happen again.”
However, the Lai brothers are not completely satisfied. The apology came five months after they issued a complaint to MIT. Furthermore, the apology was not circulated as widely as the dubious image.
“If MIT was to do the right thing, they would put out a press release like they did before,” Ray Lai said to the Associated Press. The Lai brothers expect some financial compensation for the blunder as well as an acknowledgement of wrongdoing from MIT as an institution.
I do not know what the current state of the situation is (or even where the Lai Brothers are nowadays). Anyone happen to have an update?
Thanks to Robert Pincombe for reminding me of this one in the comments section.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Mario Puzo once wrote comic books.
One of the interesting things about the early days of comic books is the fact that there was SO many comics coming out that it was just too lucrative of a field for most down-on-their-luck creative types to turn down.
As mentioned in a previous installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, Mickey Spillane worked writing comic books.
One writer, though, who has been identified over the years as working in comics but never actually did, is Mario Puzo, famous author of The Godfather.
The confusion likely comes from the fact that Puzo DID work for Martin Goodman, publisher of Marvel Comics, but Puzo wrote for Goodman’s men’s magazines, not his comic book division.
Puzo recollects the period in this excerpt from his biography, The Godfather Papers,
I was willing. I had a ten-page outline–but nobody would take me. Months went by. I was working on a string of adventure magazines, editing, writing freelance stories and being treated by the publisher, Martin Goodman, better than any other publisher I had every had. I was ready to forget novels except maybe as a puttering hobby for my old age.
But one day a writer friend dropped into my magazine office. As a natural courtesy I gave him a copy of The Fortunate Pilgrim. A week later he came back. He thought I was a great writer. I bought him a magnificent lunch. During lunch I told him some funny Mafia stories and my ten-page outline. He was enthusiastic. He arranged a meeting for me with the editors of G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The editors just sat around for an hour listening to my Mafia tales and said go ahead. They also gave me a $5,000 advance and I was on my way, just like that. Almost-almost, I believed that publishers were human.
As soon as I got my hands on the Putnam money, I naturally didn’t work on the book. (Luckily part of the advance was payable on the handing in of the complete manuscript or I would never have finished it.) The thing is, I didn’t really want to write The Godfather. There was another novel I wanted to write. (I never did and now I never will. Subject matter rots like everything else.)
All my fellow editors on the adventure magazine told me to get cracking on the book. They all were sure it would make my fortune. I had all the good stories, it was writing to my strength. Everybody I knew was sure it was the right thing to do and so finally I started. And quit my job.
It took me three years to finish. During that time I wrote three adventure stories a month for Martin Goodman on a freelance basis.
So close to writing comics, but so far!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Fantastic Four was snuck on to the schedule against the terms of Marvel’s distribution deal.
As pointed out in an older installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, there was a period in time when Marvel Comics were distributed by Independent News (which was part of DC Comics), and Marvel had a restriction on how many titles they were allowed to publish. Therefore, Marvel had to be quick about deciding which titles to keep and which to drop.
At first, Marvel was held to eight comic books a month. Marvel had their titles be bi-monthly, so Marvel had a “Sweet Sixteen” of sorts. That was the case for a few years (the situation began in 1957), until late 1960, where presumably they noticed that certain titles just sold better than others, so Marvel reconfigured their output.
They made some of their books monthly (their three biggest sellers – Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery and Tales to Astonish, plus a few books that did not stay consistent, such as Kid Colt, Outlaw and Tales of Suspense) and then just rotated the extra spots on the order.
Marvel actually skipped publication in December of 1960, which gave them some leeway with publication for the beginning of 1961 (they also had the option of making request to Independent News for temporary increases in their allotment).
However, in the case of Fantastic Four #1, as reported in Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon’s “Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book,” what Marvel did was to just sneak the book on to the schedule without notifying Independent News.
They just put it on to their schedule without moving anything around – and when it was clear it was a success, then they started clearing other titles off the schedule (Teen-Age Romance, for one, ended only a few months later).
The rest, as they say, is history!
Well, that’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!
Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!!