Comic Legends: The Surprising Origin of Stan Lee's Bullpen Bulletins

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and sixth 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. It is an all-Stan Lee legends week, in honor of Lee's passing.

NOTE: If the CSBG Twitter page hits 11,000 followers, I'll do a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed that week. Great deal, right? So go follow the CSBG Twitter page!


Stan Lee was inspired by a now-forgotten series of children's novels to create the famous Marvel letter columns and Bullpen Bulletins.


Appears to be True

The late Stan Lee, as you all likely know by now, is perhaps most famous for how well he interacted with fans in specific and fandom in general. This was seen through the slow expanding nature of the letter column in the Fantastic Four, a "Fan Page"...

That slowly expanded into becoming a sort of fan page for the entire Marvel Universe. Lee took that idea and expanded it even further to introduce the Bullpen Bulletin, where Lee would promote Marvel stuff and also interact with fans and talk about stuff through his Soap Box column...

(Initially, each Bullpen Bulletin was custom-made for the comic book in which it appeared, but Lee quickly realized that that was waaaaaay more work than necessary, so it became a generic Bullpen Bulletin in every comic book).

Now, Marvel was not the first comic book company to do letter columns. EC Comics, for instance, had them in the 1950s.

However, Lee interestingly found his inspiration in a surprising source - a series of books for kids by the author Edward Edson Lee, who wrote under the pen name of Leo Edwards.

Edwards' two most popular series were about a boy named Jerry Todd...

and Todd's tramp friend, Poppy Ott...

There were 16 Jerry Todd books between 1923 and 1940 and 11 Poppy Ott books between 1926 and 1939.

In a very curious move, Edwards began to introduce letter columns into his books. Called the "Chatterbox," it would be a place where Edwards could interact directly with his young readers before the new book came out...

Edwards, as you might be able to see from the Chatterbox above, was quite skilled with interacting with young people. It really was like a Stan Lee-style of interaction.

In an interview with Roy Thomas in Comic Book Artist, Stan Lee recalled his inspiration for the letter columns:

You know what inspired me? When I was a kid, there used to be these hardcover book series like The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Tom Sturdy, but nobody ever heard of the one I read: Jerry Todd and Poppy Ott. I think Poppy was a friend of Jerry Todd's who was spun off into his own series. They were not periodicals or magazine but real books.

At the end of each book, there were letters pages where the writer, Leo Edwards, would write a little message to the readers and print some of their letters with answers. He had a very informal style, and the books themselves were wonderful because they were adventure stories. But unlike The Hardy Boys and the others, there was a tremendous amount of humor—the way I tried to do with Spider-Man and some others. I was a big fan of these books, and I loved the fact that they had letters and commentary by the author. Leo Edwards was the only guy that did that. Maybe I remembered the warm, friendly feeling of those letters.

Amusingly enough, Lee was also a lot like Edwards in how the older writer used the shared nature of his books to help promote each other. In one book, the ending has Jerry Todd telling the reader, "In another book, POPPY OTT'S SEVEN-LEAGUE STILTS, I will tell you how my new chum and I went into business and made considerable money. Boy, did we ever have fun... The things Poppy did, with my help, make a mighty interesting story, I think. There is a strange old man in this new book. Br-r-r-r! Through him we became entangled in a most amazing and a most bewildering mystery. Talk about a shivery adventure! If you don't shiver when you read this new book, the title of which I have given above, I'll miss my guess."

It's really like an early Stan Lee promotional comment!

Check out some entertainment legends from Legends Revealed:

1. Did Martin Luther King Jr. Keep Nichelle Nichols From Leaving Star Trek After the First Season of the Show?

2. Are the Trees From Joshua Tree and “One Tree Hill” Really BOTH Dead?

3. Did FedEx NOT Pay For Product Placement in the Film Cast Away?

4. Was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Originally Designed as a School Project?

Check back tomorrow 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 brianc@cbr.com or cronb01@aol.com!

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