Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and thirty-fourth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the weekly three legends.
Stan Lee wanted to drop all but one letter column in the early days of Marvel.
I'm Going With True
Since I just wrote about this period in Marvel history the other day (when I talked about when Stan Lee coined the phrase, "'Nuff Said"), I figure I'll just quote myself for a little bit...
Fantastic Four was a very special comic book when it came out in 1961....
Stan Lee, by 1961, was a successful comic book creator. In an industry where few creators were able to stick it out, Lee was able to remain the head of a successful comic book company for roughly TWO DECADES. The content put out by Timely Comics (and then Atlas Comics) was able to withstand publisher Martin Goodman losing the company's distribution rights in the late 1950s and forcing Atlas to take a deal with one of their competitors, National Comics (now DC) to distribute Atlas' comics through National's distribution company. Think about how good your comics had to be to still remain in business under such a scenario. Pretty hard to imagine, right?
Well, that's how good the content that Atlas (then Marvel) was putting out. Stan Lee was working with some legends in the industry like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Joe Maneely and it was working. But it never worked THAT well. Timely/Atlas was always a company that sold well enough to keep going, but they never really had HITS. Their last HIT was Captain America Comics back in the early 1940s, before Stan Lee was even working at Timely. Patsy Walker was a successful comic book series, but it was no Archie. Same with Millie the Model. Their most popular books at the time were their science fiction series, which WERE popular, but we're talking Top 40 for the year (and like literally #40).
Fantastic Four, though, was a HIT.
And once he had a hit, Lee knew how to market that hit.
The most famous way that Lee marketed the book was by using the letter column of the Fantastic Four as sort of a fan "hang out" where he would also be sure to talk about every other Marvel book, as well...
Soon, pretty much every title had a letter column...
Marvel was still a very small staff back in those days, so all of these letter columns were a lot of work. Thus, in Amazing Spider-Man #7, Lee made a request to his readers. He wanted to know if it was okay if he eliminated all the other letter columns and just have one centralized Marvel letters column in the pages of the Fantastic Four (sort of like how it was when he first started doing it)...
In exchange, he offered to use the freed-up pages for other cool stuff, like pin-ups, features or maybe even a longer story (it seems unlikely that they would ever commit to just doing two extra pages of story on any sort of regular basis, though). The next couple of issues, Stan joked about how nervous he was while he waited to hear what the fans thought of his idea.
Well, in Amazing Spider-Man #10, the fans said in no uncertain terms, NO WAY!
Now, could you argue that Lee never really meant to get rid of them and he just wanted to stir up a fan reaction? That's certainly possible, but his explanation was so normal and he even offered up a decent alternative to a letter column that I think he was being serious.
It's fascinating to think what comic book fandom would look like with just a single Marvel letter column!
Check out some other entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:
Check back later for part 2 of this week's legends!
And remember, if you have a legend that you're curious about, drop me a line at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!