The Bullpen page made its debut in Journey into Mystery 122 (Nov 1965), which was on sale on 2 Sep 1965. This was a week before the December issues of Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, often cited (wrongly) as carrying the first Bullpen Bulletins page.
As with the other Bullpen pages of this early period, the Journey into Mystery page was customised for the title, showing an image of Thor where the other pages displayed different characters. For example, the Amazing Spider-Man Bullpen page in issue 31 gave us The Green Goblin. And, of course, it's a Thor tee-shirt in the merchandise section.
But more than that, the Thor Bullpen page appears to have been prepared so early that the corresponding letters page also carried a few announcements, boxed out in yellow, and not just about Thor. For example, they reveal that we can expect more Marvel merchandising in the wake of the tee-shirts and a "brand new gizmo that's sure to sweep the nation". I haven't managed to figure out what that is, yet. Stan also tells us that the last two Marvel bi-monthlies - X-Men and Daredevil - were moving up to monthly publication, and closes out the letters column with a lengthy teaser about the next issue of Journey into Mystery.
Meanwhile, in the adjacent Bullpen Bulletins, Stan reports that Joe Sinnott, whose inking work was last seen in Fantastic Four 5 (Jul 1962), has rejoined Marvel, working on "Agent of Shield", inking Fantastic Four (from 45 on) and "doing as many other features as we can straddle him with". I think you may have meant "saddle", Stan ... straddle is something else entirely.
|Despite the Bullpen Bulletins page promise, Joe Sinnott managed few Marvel art assignments before becoming enmeshed in his regular inking work on the company's flagship title Fantastic Four.|
The second item in this first Bulletin reveals that Adam Austin, penciller on the Sub-Mariner feature in Tales to Astonish is not the artist's real name. This came as a shock to me when I retrospectively read this piece of news, as I had been comparing "Austin's" work with Gene Colan's and deciding that I like Colan's better. Of course, I was 12 at the time with little perception of how an inker can improve (or not) a penciller's work, so I was likely comparing the Vince Colletta inked Adam Austin work in Astonish with the Jack Abel inking of Gene Colan in Suspense.
Gene Colan "took over" from Adam Austin with Tales to Astonish 80 and Tales of Suspense 78 (both Jun 1966).
|Compared to You Don't Say, the gags in Monsters to Laugh With/Unlimited were a bit lame. Stan was simply recycling one of his old ideas from the 1950s, but this time under Martin Goodman's shilling.|
|The best reproduction of Golfers Anonymous I could find was from the Stan Lee biography, Excelsior. My apologies for the poor scan quality.|
The last item in the inaugural Bulletin page was the promise that Jack Kirby would ink some of his own pencils sometime. Of course, Kirby had very often inked his own pencils in the past, most notably during his late 1950s run at DC Comics, inking many fantasy shorts for Tales of the Unexpected and My Greatest Adventure and most of the Green Arrow adventures. Plus Kirby was also inking many of the romance stories he was still pencilling for Prize around this time. So hardly unprecedented. When Kirby became Stan Lee's go-to artist as the Marvel line of comics mushroomed, Kirby's time became to valuable to squander on inking. But to satisfy the Bulletin promise, Lee had Kirby ink the front cover art for Fantasy Masterpieces 4 (Aug 1966). I can't find any other examples, though maybe someone knows different.
The second Bullpen page addressed a landmark - to me anyway - decision that Stan had taken a few months earlier. Under the sub-heading "We Goofed Again Department" Stan admitted that the change in name from Marvel Comics Group to Marvel Pop Art Productions had been a mistake. As Marvelites everywhere were quick to point out, they didn't like it. So, the company's name was reverting once more. There follows some news about Artist Musical Chairs as Don Heck and "Adam Austin" switch around, and a plug for Marvel Collectors' Item Classics.
Far more interesting are the mini-items under "Didja Know? Department", which reveals the fact that Sol Brodsky is a "crackerjack penciller and inker" (no, I didn't know that at the time), that Flo Steinberg was winning popularity contest at colleges all over the country and that Martin Goodman was a top-ranked amateur golfer. Nope and nope.
Stan finishes off by telling us that every one of Marvel's titles are hitting the sales jackpot. This might just sound like bragging, but it's important to remember that - as I've mentioned many times here - Marvel's success was Stan's, not Martin Goodman's. For years Goodman had just been copying what other publishers put out. Stan somehow managed to convince Goodman to take a different approach in 1961 with Fantastic Four and the results paid off. Literally. So I am more than happy to allow Stan his "I told you so" moment.
I'm not going to go through the Bulletin pages month-by-month, but I do just want to highlight something in the third Bullpen page which appeared in the February 1966 dated Marvel comics (Fantastic Four 47, containing this Bulletin, would have been on sale 11 Nov 1965).
In the third item, titled "Strictly Personal", Stan addresses the question of his tongue-in-cheek credits in the comics, specifically why he always insults inkers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen with comedy credits. Stan stresses that these jibes are "strictly in fun" and goes on to say "we want to state here and now that we LOVE those two talented, hard-working, dependable letterers of ours". And I'm guessing that Sam and Artie always took that joshing just fine - after all, they lettered the gags into the comics themselves.
But in the final piece on the page, Stan mentions that most of the artists work at home (dispelling the fantasy that they all sit together in one big office swapping practical jokes and ribald stories). The piece goes on to say that Jack Kirby "drops in, loaded down with a new mess of masterpieces, once a week. Poor Jack! He's so absent-minded that he usually goes home with someone else's hat, portfolio or train ticket. Stan wanted to put a label around his neck reading: 'If found, please return to the marry Marvel bullpen!' but he couldn't - Jack lost the label."
|This is from Amazing Spider-Man 22 (Mar 1965), typical of the sort of joshing Stan regularly subjected Artie Simek and Sam Rosen to, the above gag would actually have been lettered by Artie. I'm sure Artie found it as funny as the readers did.|
|Also mentioned in this fourth Bullpen page is the real reason Stan took the A-listers out of Avengers, a mild rebuke to the Marvel copycats out there and a plug for the new reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces.|
The Bullpen Bulletin page would continue in this format for the next year or so. Highlights would be Stan revealing the true identity of Adam Austin in the June 1966 page, announcing the departure of Steve Ditko in the July 1966 titles and telling us that though the Bullpen page is typed on 14th July it won't be published until October 1967.
Then, in the June 1967 titles, the Bullpen page welcomed an important format change. The first Stan's Soapbox appeared. In it, Stan claimed that the "message" behind Marvel's stories was nothing more than an attempt to entertain. "And If we can do our bit to advance the cause of intellectualism, humanitarianism, and mutual understanding ... and toss in a little swingin' satire at to in the process ... that won't break our collective heart one tiny bit!"
There wouldn't be effort, at least for a few months, for Stan to move his Soapbox editorials beyond thanking Marvel fans for their support and debating wither Marvel should continue mocking the mags published by "Brand Echh". But then, in the October 1967 Bullpen page, Stan addressed head-on the calls for Marvel to make more of a stance on political issues of the day. "Many Keepers of the Faith," Stan wrote, "have demanded that we take a more definitive stand on current problems such as Viet Nam, civil rights and the increase in crime, to name a few." It's then left to readers to decide on whether Marvel should promote their opinions on these matters. "Should we editorialize more - or less - of keep things in their present fouled up form?"
Stan wouldn't return to the subject until October 1968, more than a year later. In his Soapbox, Stan writes, "Over the years we've received about a zillion letters asking for the Bullpen's opinion about such diverse subjects as Viet Nam, civil rights, the war on poverty, and the upcoming election". He goes on to say that there isn't one unanimous Bullpen opinion, but "we'd like to go on record about one vital issue - we believe Man has a divine destiny, and an awesome responsibility - the responsibility of treating all who share this wondrous world of ours with tolerance and respect - judging each fellow human on his own merit, regardless of race, creed or colour. That we agree on - and we'll never rest until it becomes a fact, rather than just a cherished dream."
|... then this Stan's Soapbox, just a month later.|
|Preachy, perhaps, but this editorial from Stan was very much a product of its times, especially American times. And certainly no other comics publisher was printing opinions like this during the late 1960s.|
More importantly, this tone would attract other like-minded comics professionals to Marvel ... Denny O'Neill had already joined Marvel a couple of years earlier. And in the future would come writers like Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont and later Larry Hama, who would also do their bit to instil Stan's liberal values into the stories they wrote.
And now, with the global reach of Marvel Production movies, we're seeing Stan's message reach an unprecedented audience - literally of millions - around the world.
So the comicsgaters can have their sad rants about the recent Captain Marvel movie and the fact that some Marvel characters have been re-imagined as women or ethnic minorities, but I'm glad to say, they will be on the losing side of that argument and on the wrong side of history. Certainly as far as those of us who have grown up with Stan Lee as our guide are concerned ...
Next: Marvel's Women