COMIC LEGEND: Jack Kirby didn't know what color the Thing was going to be when he designed him.
STATUS: I'm Tentatively Going With True
Earlier this week we lost one of the few remaining links we have to the beginning of the Marvel Age, as Stan Goldberg passed away. Goldberg is best known for his long tenure drawing Archie for Archie Comics, but he also played a key role in the start of the Marvel Age, as he was a freelance colorist for Marvel in the early 1960s and from 1961-1965 he was in charge of Marvel's color guides.
A couple of years back, Alex Dueben had an interesting interview with Goldberg on the main Comic Book Resources site. In it, Goldberg talked about his tenure as Marvel's coloring guru...
As far as coloring those books, it was all left up to me, really. If you look at those first five years, from 1961 to 1965, that's when I did all the books. Right after that I was just doing special books, but those five years I did practically everything. There might have been something Marie [Severin] had done, but I did ninety percent of creating all the color schemes for the heroes and the villains. If you look at the heroes you can see basic colors: reds and blues and a little bit of yellow. The reds and blues were very important for the superheroes. You really wanted them to pop out and those were colors that I could ensure that I was going to get. Place them in the right spots on the heroes, it worked. Jack made it easy. The first ["Fantastic Four"] didn't have any costumes but in the second book he put this long underwear on them with the number 4 on the chest and I figured just keep them blue. I've never given blue to a villain. Orange was a color that we used and The Thing wasn't a human being so I could have made him anything, but orange was the best color to work with for him. He looked like bricks or earth. I got word from Kirby that that worked out fine.
With Spider-Man, there's your red and blue, but even the blue on the early Spider-Mans was a deeper blue, a blue with a lot of red in it. In those days it had more of a deep purple-y blue instead of just a flat blue.
The villains were green and magenta and burnt umber and gray and everything else that went along with deep and dark muddy colors. If they couldn't come out that well, it was okay, because they were the bad guys. The heroes always got their red, yellows, and blues. I could go on with a lot of stories about why I did this and why I did that, but never in my wildest dreams did Stan and I imagine that we would talk about this for so many years.
Just as an aside, that reason he mentions about the deep, muddy colors not coming out well is the reason that the Hulk was changed from gray to green (as noted in one of the earliest Comic Book Legends Revealed).
But anyhow, while it is clear that Goldberg WAS in charge of determining color schemes of characters, did he seriously do it without input from the artists on the books? It's a tough one, as the only way to know for sure would be to hear from Jack Kirby, a fellow who passed away two decades ago.
However, after conferring with the always helpful Tom Brevoort (when I'm unsure about something involving early Marvel, Tom is always awesome to bounce an idea off of), I tentatively am willing to say that Goldberg likely DID determine, at the very least, what color the Thing would be. As Tom notes, Kirby would not have had any say in what color the monsters were in the old Marvel monster mags, so it seems unlikely that he would have looked at the coloring of the Thing any differently at the time. Coloring back then was in such a nascent stage that pencilers rarely concerned themselves with it (as it tended to be highly inconsistent back then. A character could be colored one way one issue and another way the next issue).
Tom is a bit doubtful, though, about Spider-Man's costume, and I tend to agree that it seems more likely to me that Ditko had the color scheme in mind when he designed Spider-Man's costume. From what I've read about Ditko's design for Spider-Man, it seems like he went a lot more in depth than a typical character design at the time, as Spider-Man had a longer development time than most, so I tend to believe that Goldberg didn't originate the colors for Spidey.
Thanks to Alex Dueben, Tom Brevoort and the late Stan Goldberg for the information!