Tom Wolfe's Place in the Marvel Universe

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

Writer Tom Wolfe passed away on May 14, 2018. He was 88 years old. Wolfe was famous for helping to popularize so-called "New Journalism" in the 1960s (something that Wolfe himself referred to as "literary journalism." The idea was to bring different literary techniques to feature journalism writing that were not normally present in journalism writing. Besides the literary techniques, one of the most notable aspects of this new style was to insert the author his or herself into the feature and to have their viewpoints on the story reflect on how the subjects of the story are depicted. For instance, a typical feature journalist before Wolfe's era would report the "facts" of a situation (quotes because obviously it is always debatable as to whether the facts are ever truly recorded, as everyone sees things from their own perspective - something that played a part in Wolfe's theories on journalism) and the writer would be "invisible" within the article. It would just be a recitation of the events.

With Wolfe, and other "New Journalists" like Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion, the story would be about their own journey within the story itself. Thus, you would see the story through Wolfe's eyes and you would experience what Wolfe experienced, rather than a theoretical neutral set of "facts" of what happened. When the writer was as witty and as engaging as Wolfe, the story really resonated and stood out from "normal" features, which seemed bland in comparison.

An early Wolfe article in this vein was a look at the world of custom cars. That article led to a collection of his articles called The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby in 1965, which was his first book.

Perhaps Wolfe's most famous book in this vein was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which told the story of Wolfe traveling the country along with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who rode around in a colorfully painted school bus and embraced the pursuit of LSD as a new avenue to enlightenment (while encountering notable figures of the era along the way, like the Grateful Dead and the Hell's Angels motorcycle club).

Another notable Wolfe book was 1970's Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, which collected two of his magazine articles, with the most famous one being "These Radical Chic Evenings," about a party thrown by Leonard Bernstein and his wife for the Black Panther Party.

Another one was 1979's The Right Stuff, about the start of NASA's space program. It was turned into a hit film.

Wolfe's most famous fictional book was The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was adapted into a major motion picture. His 2004 novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, might also become a motion picture.

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, at one point Ken Kesey was engrossed in an issue of Doctor Strange (Doctor Strange became a bit of a symbol of LSD back in the 1960s). The writer of Doctor Strange, Roy Thomas, decided to then throw in a reference to Tom Wolfe in an actual issue of Doctor Strange, showing Wolfe as an old friend of Stephen Strange in 1969's Doctor Strange #180 (art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer)...

I'm pretty darn sure that the guy trying to get a smooch from Doctor Strange's girlfriend, Clea, is supposed to be Stan Lee.

Wolfe told David Price that, in 1969,

he was killing time before an appointment in a store with a display of comic books. He flipped through a copy of Marvel’s “Dr. Strange” when, to his surprise, there he was — depicted as an old friend of the doctor himself. (Apparently, someone working on the comic had seen a passage in Wolfe’s book in which its protagonist, the novelist Ken Kesey, is engrossed in a Dr. Strange story.)

“I thought, ‘I’ve really arrived now,’” he says.

Seems a bit unlikely that he just happened to pick up the one comic book that he was in, so I suspect it is more likely that someone told him of his appearance in the issue, but whatever, the main thing is that he loved it and it led to him agreeing to let Roy Thomas use his likeness in a parody/adaptation of Wolfe's "Those Radical Chic Evenings" in 1971's Incredible Hulk #142. Read on to see how it all went down!

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