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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Monthly Archives: October 2015

I grew up thinking of DC and Marvel as rival teams in a vast, superpowered Olympics. Who’s stronger, Superman or Thor? Who’s faster, Quicksilver or Flash? Every spin of the comics rack was a new exhibition in their never-ending face-off.

That’s why new Supergirl show is such a game-changer. Sure, the character has been around since 1949 (though that “Supergirl” was Queen Lucy from the Latin American kingdom of Borgonia, not Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin). Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl looks perfectly fun too. I’m even happy to see CBS back in the superheroine business. They rescued Wonder Woman from cancellation in 1976, before introducing the first live-action incarnations of the very male Marvel pantheon: Spider-Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, and, one of the most successful superhero shows ever, The Incredible Hulk. We’ll see if Supergirl survives five seasons too.

But aside from its team-switching network, it’s the show’s timeslot that throws the biggest red flag on the DC-Marvel playing field. Mondays at 8:00? That’s when the pre-Batman series Gotham airs. I would shout FOUL! But can you foul your own teammate? Supergirl and Batman, they’re both DC regulars. So it must be an off-sides penalty? One of them should be lining up Tuesdays at 9:00 to go head-to-head with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., right?

Actually, no. Supergirl is CBS, Gotham is Fox. Neither networks cares about comic book rivalries. Their playing field is primetime. The CW airs a pair of Justice League characters too, Flash and Arrow, plus soon Atom, Hawkgirl and a few other second-stringers in their third DC-licensed show, Legends of Tomorrow. If CBS preferred any of those time slots, they’d land Supergirl there instead. Worse, Warner Brothers has a Flash film scheduled for a 2018 release—but it will be staring Ezra Miller, not CW actor Grant Gustin. If Green Arrow makes into 2019’s Justice League Part Two, Stephen Amell can expect to be benched too.

These aren’t  just facelifts. The TV and film versions of DC superheroes are different people living in different worlds. Christopher Nolan had barely completed his Batman trilogy in 2012 when Warner Brothers started their Ben Affleck reboot. Supergirl earned her pilot because of her cousin’s box office success in 2013’s Man of Steel. But that’s not the same Superman. Look at Jimmy Olsen. The difference is literally black and white. He’s played by Mehcad Brooks on TV, and Rebecca Buller in the film (okay, they changed the female Jimmy to Lana Lang, but still).

Compare that no-rules rulebook to Marvel’s team-player strategy. In addition to the Avengers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes five solo franchises (Ant-Man, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk), four Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage), and two ABC shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter). And they’re all jigsaws pieces in a single, unified puzzle.

When the Netflix Matt Murdock talks about uptown superheroes, he doesn’t just mean Thor, Iron Man and Captain America; he means the Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Evans incarnations of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. Peggy Carter began in the first Captain American film in 2011, before spun-off in her own TV show last year, and she appeared in the first scene of this summer’s Ant-Man, and she’ll appear again for her own funeral in Captain America 3 next spring.

Imagine the galaxy-sized migraines involved in keeping all those planets spinning in the same solar system. No wonder DC and Warner Brothers happily hand-over creative control for each of their independent universes. When asked about Supergirl, Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, said “we’ve been given license and latitude to make some changes.” In other words, forget continuity, our Supergirl flies solo. That might sound less impressive—hell, it is less impressive—but orbiting inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe carries its own penalties.

Witness director Edgar Wright. The hilariously idiosyncratic British film-maker approached Marvel about Ant-Man back in 2004. The then-fledgling studio was delighted. But when production finally rolled around a decade later, the Marvel blockbuster mill wasn’t so keen on Wright’s personal take on a potential franchise. Avengers director Joss Whedon adored the script, but Marvel scrapped it, handed the rewrite pen to Paul Rudd, and subbed out Wright for the lesser known but far more malleable Peyton Reed. Granted, Reed’s miniature battle scene shot on a Thomas the Tank Engine train track was genius, but the rest of the film was by-the-Marvel-numbers.

There’s at least one potential reason for that all-controlling gravity. At the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spins a supermassive black hole named Disney. It also owns ABC, home of Carter and S.H.I.E.L.D. It was also the TV home for Superman in the 50s, Batman in the 60s, and—for a season at least—Wonder Woman in the 70s. But the Mickey Mouse subsidiary isn’t interested in promoting Warner Brothers property anymore.

The megalomaniacal one-puzzle policy has even taken root in Marvel Entertainment’s root company, Marvel Comics. Its continuity used to include thousands of free-wheeling universes. On Earth-1610, Spider-Man is black and Hispanic; on Earth-2149, superheroes are zombies; on Earth-8311, Peter Parker is a pig named Peter Porker. There was even an Earth-616, where we all read Marvel Comics, and Earth-199999, home of the Evans, Downey Jr., and Hemsworth Avengers, who apparently are completely unaware that Marvel Studios is watching and recording them.

That all changed last summer. With its mini-series Secret Wars, Marvel Comics destroyed its fifty-year-old universe, and rebooted its most beloved characters into a single, one-size-fits-all reality (All-New All-Different Marvel!), in which its writers and artists must toil in perfect, lock-step synchronization.

Meanwhile, DC is following Supergirl in the opposite direction. After their own recent, reality-transforming maxi-series Convergence, every character, storyline, and alternate world that’s ever appeared in any DC comic book is officially back on the playing field. Apparently the writers were envious of their TV and screenplay counterparts and wanted the same unfettered free-for-all. And now they got it.

So when you tune in to Supergirl Monday nights, enjoy the metaphysical implications of your viewing choice. That’s a whole new world blinking on your screen.


Here’s the debate question we should ask Clinton, Trump, Sanders, and the herd of Republicans running for President:

“What art would you hang in the Oval Office?”

It sounds frivolous, but the answers reveal a lot about our last two presidents.


When George W. Bush moved from the Texas governor’s office to the Oval Office in 2001, he brought his favorite painting, a 28 x 40 oil by Westerns illustrator W.H.D. Koerner which appeared on the back of his campaign biography, A Charge to Keep. The title is from a hymn, and a friend gave him the painting because it illustrated a 1918 short story of the same name. Bush believed the figure in the painting, a cowboy charging up a hill on horseback, was a 19th century Methodist evangelist spreading his faith across the West.

“He’s a determined horseman,” the President told visitors, “a very difficult trail. And you know at least two people are following him, and maybe a thousand.”

“Bush’s personal identification with the painting,” writes David Gergen, “reveals a good deal about his sense of himself . . . . a brave, daring leader riding fearlessly into the unknown, striking out against unseen enemies, pulling his team behind him, seeking, in the words of Wesley’s hymn, ‘to do my Master’s will.’”

Although the painting did appear beside Ben Ames Williams’ “A Charge to Keep” in Country Gentleman Magazine, Koerner painted it three years earlier for The Saturday Evening Post to illustrate a story by William J. Neidig called “The Slipper Tongue.”

The horseman is a horse-thief fleeing a lynch mob.


But whatever its title, the work has become the best known of Koerner’s over 800 commissioned paintings and drawings, including “Hugo Hercules,” the original comic strip superhero.

Koerner immigrated from Germany at the age of three, and seventeen years later got a job as a staff artist for the Chicago Tribune for $5 a day. His duties included producing a Sunday strip for the Comics Supplement. He came up with an urban cowboy with super-strength. If that’s not enough to call him a superhero, Hugo calls himself “the boy wonder” while aiding a series of Chicago damsels-in-mild-distress.

hugo hercules

He has his own catch phrase too, “Just as easy,” tossed off whenever he performs some inhuman feat, like ice skating with a boat on his shoulders or flinging a defensive line of football players across a goal post. Sometimes he adds, “I could do this forever,” as if Koerner has hasn’t drawn him in a sufficiently effortless pose. Clark Kent wouldn’t declare, “This is a job for  . . . Superman!”for almost four decades, but Hugo knows when “It’s up to me!”

Oval Office visitors commented how Koerner’s Methodist horse-thief looked a bit like George W., but Hugo was the one with the cowboy hat—offset by a sports jacket, stripped pants and bowtie. The hat vacillated between white and black though, and Hugo vacillated too. Overall he was a force for good, but his altruism was random and occasionally the good he did was correcting the harm he’d done—like when he missed a football and accidentally punted a house across a field. But at least he lugged it back, right? And so what if he uses his strength to collect the bowling competition prize money after destroying a wall and passing trolley in the process? After catching a falling safe from crushing an old man as his daughter helplessly watched, he asks: “Am I glad I did it? Wid de doll’s arms around me neck and de old gent coffing a three spot? Am I glad?”

Note that folksy way of talking too. No wonder George W. liked Koerner. And if Hugo can be a bit destructive—did he really have to rip up a porch to carry it umbrella-like over a woman worried about the rain?—he helps far more than he harms, like when he catches that family jumping from a burning house, or when he carries a fire engine to another would-be disaster. He stops that runaway horse before it crashes its owner’s carriage, but more often he only saves damsels from mild inconvenience, halting trolleys and cable cars that refuse to stop, or lifting an elephant standing on a handkerchief. And how did the striking cab-driver’s union feel when carried that woman and her pile of crates? Dragging a derailed train twenty miles is nice, but is lifting a young Romeo and his car to his Juliet’s balcony for a parting kiss really the best use of one’s superpowers? As far as actual menaces, hugo does wrestle a bear into submission—though he was only saving himself. Same with those three muggers who corner him at gunpoint. They look ready to abandon the criminal life after he points a canon in their faces.

Would their bullets have bounced off him? Could he have leapt tall buildings if they’d tried to escape? No idea. We’ll never know how Hugo might have matured into his yet-to-be-named genre. The strip only ran from September 1902 to January before Koerner abandoned it for better work. Soon he was studying with famed illustrator Howard Pyle, creator of the 1883 classic The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, as well as varied adventures of Arthurian knights, noble pirates, and a modern Aladdin. It was a thorough education in proto-superheroes, but Koerner’s interests turned west when The Saturday Evening Post commissioned his first two frontier scenes instead. He never returned. When he died at the age of 58, he was one of the best known artists of the Old West. That was 1938, the year Action Comics No. 1 rode onto newsstands.

When the Bushes returned to Texas, they took their so-called “A Charge to Keep” with them. The Obamas, fresh from Koerner’s hometown of Chicago, replaced his galloping horse-thief with a more traditional Saturday Evening Post illustration, Norman Rockwell’s “Working on the Statue of Liberty.” At 24 x14, it’s less than half the size of Koerner’s work. It depicts four tiny workmen scaling the torch to clean its amber glass. It’s slow, dangerous work—something Hugo Hercules could have finished in three panels.

working on the statue of liberty

The Obama Oval Office, however, is not cowboy-free. Frederic Remington’s sculpture “The Bronco Buster” still sits on its side table, and the President not only kept but expanded his predecessor’s spy programs, herding up emails across the frontier of the World Wide Web. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel found out the NSA was following their Master’s will and bugging her phone, her government threatened the diplomatic equivalent of a lynch mob–counterespionage. “They’re like cowboys,” explained a party member, “who only understand the language of the Wild West.”

What language will our next President understand?


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I’ve been assembling an ur-team of Avengers for my book On the Origin of Superheroes, and my first-ever superhero award goes to the Golem. He’s super-strong, impervious to pain, and, when made from clay, can even shapeshift a bit. On the downside, he’s dumb in both senses and so requires close supervision. Sorcerers and programmers beware.

“There is nothing more uncanny than something that is almost human,” says Margaret Atwood. “All our stories about robotics are stories like that. It’s what we have always worried about. It’s the sorcerer’s apprentice story: He learns how to do the charm; he doesn’t know how to turn it off. It’s the Golem story: You make the Golem, you activate it, it’s supposed to do your work for you, and then it runs amok.”

Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy features a genetically engineered species of designer humans, but they’re too mellow to cause the survivors of her apocalypse much trouble. When it comes to magic brooms and water buckets running amok, I picture Mickey Mouse, but Goethe published his poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” while Napoleon was still waging France’s Revolutionary Wars.

Apparently Goethe cribbed the tale from Lucian’s Philopseudes, c. 150 CE, though the word “golem” is even older. It means “shapeless mass” in Hebrew, which is the description of Ben Grimm that Stan Lee typed up for Jack Kirby in 1960: “He’s sort of shapeless—he’s become a THING.” Kirby drew a giant bumpy rock monster that turned orange at the printer’s. I don’t know if either had the Golem in mind, but Fantastic Four writer Karl Kesel did when he decided forty years later that Ben’s full name was Benjamin Jacob Grimm.

thing jewish

Benjamin grew up going to synagogue as a kid and could still recite Torah passages from memory, so he probably knows that “golem” first appears in Psalms 139:16 (“my substance, yet being unperfect”) when David praises God for creating him. The Talmud (c. 200 CE) uses the term to describe Adam’s creation too: “In the first hour, his dust was gathered; in the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless mass.” But jump forward another couple hundred years, and a passage mentions the first living golem: “Rabbah created a man, and sent him to Rabbi Zera. Rabbi Zera spoke to him, but received no answer. Thereupon he said unto him: ‘Thou art a creature of the magicians. Return to thy dust.’”

Apparently they weren’t all that hard to manufacture. All Pygmalion had to do was pray to Venus to bring his ivory statue Galatea to life. Daedalus soldered his golem Talos from bronze. If you’re up on your Kabbalistic techniques, Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Formation) gives a how-to, but Aryeh Kaplan warns apprentices not to attempt it alone. Virgin dirt is also key. Marvel was still printing on pulp paper in 1974, which is why their Strange Tales Golem only ran three issues. Writer Len Wein gave the legend his best superheroic spin:

“In centuries agon, they had called him a myth, a creature formed of stone and clay and the blood of a people’s oppression—a moving monolith who rose before the yoke of  tyranny—shattered it in his monumental fists—then vanished into the sands of time—there to be almost forgotten—until today! Now once more he rises—summoned from his eons-long sleep to protect those he loves.”

marvel golem

Marvel tries not to take sides in the Palestine-Israeli conflict, declaring it

“a war of territory, of ideologies—fought with great fervor but with little gain—fought with loaned weaponry wielded by men—men charged with love of country and the courage of their convictions, but men nonetheless—aye, as in all wars before this, fought by men—imperfect, all-too-human men.”

But those the Golem loves are the family of Jewish archeologists who dig him up, while General Omar leads an army of marauding rapists who pillage the archeological camp and machinegun the grandfather. Uncle Abraham’s dying tear reanimates the creature. “Eyes of a camel!” shouts one of the keffiyeh-wearing soldiers. “The statue—it lives!”

Michael Chabon’s golem surfaces for far less dramatic adventures. His amazing Kavalier and Clay find its coffin filled

“to a depth of about seven inches, with a fine powder, pigeon-gray and opalescent, that Joe recognized at once from boyhood excursions as the silty bed of the Moldau . . . . The speculations of those who feared that the Golem, removed from the shores of the river that mothered it, might degrade had been proved correct.”

My wife and I sat along the banks of the Moldau (AKA Vltava) sipping Budvar in a Prague café in 1996. The ground was too paved to be termed virginal, but the city has a legion of statues and tourist shop figurines already prepped for animation. Prague is to Golem as Metropolis is to Superman. The tales proliferated there like magic brooms in the 1800s. One named Josef protected Jews from a supervillainous Emperor with the additional superpower of invisibility—so basically half of the Fantastic Four. Benjamin Kuras, author of As Golems Go, explains why Golem still adventures in the Czech Republic:

“After living through the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazism and decades of communism, the Czechs are drawn to a character with supernatural powers that will help liberate them from oppression.”


The Golem is also the original “robot,” a Czech word for “laborer” or “slave.” Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (AKA “Rossum’s Universal Robots”) unleashed them on the world, resulting in the extinction of the human race in 1920. Despite the nuts-and-bolts contraptions in promo shots, Čapek’s robots are the flesh-and-blood variety, more like clones or Philip Dick’s sheep-dreaming replicants. Carl Burgos had the same idea when he drew the Human Torch for Marvel Comics No. 1 in 1939. The flames were one of those unintended “run amok” side effects, but rather than burning Brooklyn to the ground, the almost human Torch gets his superpower under control (bringing our Fantastic Four tally to 75%) and vows to help humanity even though humanity tried to seal him in a steel and concrete cage.

marvel comics 1

The Human Torch fizzled in the forties and wandered out to the desert to die—the same fate Wein copied for his Golem. The evil robot Ultron rebuilt the Torch’s burnt-out corpse in 1968, and he was reborn as my favorite childhood superhero, the Vision. But then the original Torch erupted from a secret grave in the 80s, so the Vision was never really the Torch but a copy soldered from spare parts. Only, no wait, that’s not it either, because next it turns out the Vision and the Torch are in fact the same synthoid split in two when a time-traveling supervillain manipulated the timeline. Except then the Vision half was ripped apart by She-Hulk, and his identity may or may not inhabit the sentient armor of the time-traveler’s teen-age self, while his soul returned in a team of Dead Avengers before Tony Stark reassembled his body. And don’t even get me started whether that body is the kind with buzzing wires and clanking pistons or the kind with synthetic organs that gurgle and fart.


Human animation is simpler. My wife returned from Prague pregnant with our daughter. King David praises God for “cover[ing] me in my mother’s womb,” but we followed a very different nuts and bolts process. Though nothing like the Thing, my daughter has been running amok for eighteen years now. She looks a lot more like the clay statue Hippolyte sculpted and, with the help of her gods William Marston and Harry G. Peter, brought to life in 1941—making Wonder Woman the original comic book Golem. Sadly, she’s not available for my team of First Avengers.

wonder woman made of clay

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henry james

After reading The Time Machine in 1900, Henry James wrote to H. G. Wells: “You are very magnificent. . . . I rewrite you much, as I read—which is the highest praise my damned impertinence can pay to an author.” It’s a strange compliment, and he expanded it two years later: “my sole and single way of perusing the fiction of Another is to write it over—even when most immortal—as I go. Write it over, I mean, re-compose it, in the light of my own high sense of propriety and with immense refinements and embellishments. .  . to take it over and make the best of it.”

James’s damned impertinence turned his highest praise into an actual invitation to collaborate with Wells on a science fiction novel: “Our mixture would, I think, be effective. I hope you are thinking of doing Mars—in some detail. Let me in there, at the right moment—or in other words at an early stage . . . .” The two authors shared a literary agent, James B. Pinker, and James wanted to take over and make the best of a Wells manuscript before Pinker saw it: “to secure an ideal collaboration . . . I should be put in possession of your work in its . . . pre-Pinkerite state. Then I should take it up and give it the benefit of my vision. After which, as post-Pinkerite—it would have nothing in common with the suggestive sheets received by me, and yet we should have labored in sweet unison.” He ends his letter “your faithful finisher.”

This is a bizarre request. Give me your rough draft to rework however I wish. Wells declined. Of course Wells declined. But first he tested whether the offer was one-sided, asking to peruse the notes to James’ next novel, The Ambassadors. Although James had a “carefully typed” 20,000-word prospectus, he did not share it with Wells. “A plan for myself, as copious and developed as possible, I always draw up,” he explained, but “such a preliminary private outpouring . . . isn’t a thing I would willingly expose to an eye but my own.” And he wouldn’t expose it to another’s over-writing hand either. He was his own finisher.

James’s notion of an “ideal collaboration” is laughably outside the norms of literary authorship, but it also reveals the damned impertinence of comic book production norms. Pencillers hand over “suggestive sheets” to inkers, or “finishers,” who literally draw over them, refining and embellishing according to their own sense of propriety. That includes erasing. It may be some lowly office helper—Stan Lee in his earliest days—holding the eraser, but it’s the inker who decides what stays and what goes. James’s final pages “would have nothing in common” with Wells’ erased and overwritten rough draft. And yet the plot, the chapter structure, the scene-by-scene movement—what comic book creator would call the layouts and breakdowns—they would still be Wells’. Reworking a sentence—adding flourishes, curving the grammar for new stylistic effects, while preserving and augmenting some paraphrasable meaning—that’s an inker’s job.

Four years later, after reading Wells’ The Future of America, James wrote again, revealing his inking style: “you tend always to simplify overmuch . . . But what am I talking about, when just this ability and impulse to simply—so vividly—is just what I all yearningly envy you?—I who was accursedly born to touch nothing save to complicate it.”

James would have added complexity to Wells’ overly simplified language—how Eric Shanower inked Curt Swan’s pencils for The Legend of Aquaman.


Swan was nearing the end of his career in 1989, but according to Mark Waid (via Eddy Zeno’s Curt Swan: A Life in Comics) Swan considered the special issues a personal high point. The face, the anatomy, the foreshortened movement, those are recognizably Swan, but look at the background, the clouds, the meticulously scalloped waves, that’s Shanower, an artist renown for his details. His Age of Bronze is almost calligraphic in its precision, each scallop of chain mail a painstaking wonder.


Would Wells have benefited from such a finish by James? Probably. But Swan wasn’t always grateful for Shanower’s efforts. During a visit to my campus, Shanower told a table of professors how he would erase Swan’s background buildings in order to correct all the perspectives errors. Swan didn’t thank him. He thought Shanower was wasting his time, but, like Wells in James’ “ideal collaboration,” his opinions were irrelevant once the sheets were in Shanower’s hands.

Compare Shanower’s chain mail and seas scallops to the inked versions of Swan by other artists, and you’ll see what Swan considered an appropriate attention to detail. Bob Hughes at Who Drew Superman? credits Swan for dominating Superman during that other Bronze Age while collaborating with a dozen different artists. Bob Oksner inked Superman No. 287 in 1975:


Vince Colletta inked Superman Spectacular in 1977:


And Al Williamson inked Superman No. 410 in 1985:


Look at the full-page layouts, and you’ll also see Swan’s signature breakdown: the top 2/3rds divided into 4-5 panels, anchored by a bottom rectangle featuring Superman flying toward the right margin:

Superman287-08 (2)     SupermanSpec77-50 (2)    superman410-05 (2)

The Swan-Oksner background buildings look pretty detailed to my eye–though some of those perspective lines might be a tad wonky beyond Superman’s right shoulder.  The Swan-Colletta and Swan-Williamson backgrounds are comparatively sparse. In fact, sparseness was Vince Colletta’s signature “style.” Though his best work is revered for its own Shanower-esque precision, other artists dislike his high sense of propriety.

Editor kept Colletta employed because he got his work in on time, but pencillers, like Wells, avoided the sweet unison of collaboration. Joe Sinnott (who also inked plenty of Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four pages) said Colletta “wrecked” his romance stories because Colletta “would eliminate people from the strip and use silhouettes, everything to cut corners and make the work easier for himself.” Marvel writer Len Wein agreed that Colletta “ruined” art, and Steve Ditko and later Kirby refused to work with him.

Ditko, like Wells, preferred to ink himself. PencilInk documents a range of examples (Amazing Spider-man No. 3, 1963; Monster Hunters No. 8, 1976; Iron Man Annual No. 11, 1990):


But sometimes even Ditko would have to willingly expose his preliminary outpourings for the benefit of another artist’s vision. Wayne Howard, for example, inked House of Mystery No. 247 in 1976:


And Dan Adkins inked Superboy No. 257 in 1979:


But the most discordant of Ditko’s finishers was John Byrne. As an artist used to getting top-billing as both writer and penciller, he, like James, took possession of Ditko’s pages, applying his own immense refinements and embellishments. Look at Avengers Annual No. 13 from 1984:

comics 002

The thug’s left foot–only Ditko would draw the impossibly upturned sole. But that’s a Byrne mouth on Captain America, the musculature too. When Mr. Fantastic appears, he seems to have beamed in from Byrne’s Fantastic Four run, but that’s a glaringly Ditko-esque face grinning open-mouthed beside him:

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The mixture of the two is even stranger:

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Is this what a Wells-James collaboration looks like? James would have placed his name first–though only because cutting Wells from the credit box entirely wouldn’t be an option too. That’s what Alexander Dumas did with his collaborators. Auguste Maquet co-authored both The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, but it’s only Dumas on the covers because Maquet was his employee, what Marvel calls “work for hire.” Maquet produced rough drafts for his boss to write-over. He later sued for co-credit, but the French courts ruled in favor of Dumas.

In comics, the prestige position is reversed. Swan and Kirby had so many inkers because their editors wanted them pencilling as many titles as possible. At Marvel, the penciller was the primary creator, laying out stories with empty captions and balloons for the so-called writers to fill-in. In Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, Jason Lee plays Ben Afflleck’s inker and takes insult when called a “tracer.” Lee’s name also appears below Affleck’s in the actual credits. By the end of the film, Lee has ended their collaboration. H. G. Wells was wise never to begin one with Henry James.


[And if you’d like to read more about their correspondence, check out Nicholas Delbanco’s Group Portrait: Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James and H. G. Wells. ]

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