Roy Thomas Discusses His Start in Marvel and Introducing Readers to Characters Like Iron Fist

08/20/2017 04:11 pm ET
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Roy Thomas has been known for his work in Marvel as both a comic book writer and as an editor-in-chief after taking over from Stan Lee. He is known for introducing readers to characters like Conan the Barbarian, Ghost Rider, and Iron Fist, which have all gotten live-action adaptations. He’s been responsible for heralding the Golden Age of comic book heroes in the 1950s. I got to sit down with the legend and talk about the legacy he left at Marvel Comics.

How did you get your start in comics?

I was working on this magazine Alter Ego, which was a fanzine. I sent copies in to various editors just to click and see comments and that sort of brought me to the attention of. I was also corresponding with a couple of comic book editors like Julius Schwartz who edited Flash, Green Lantern, and Justice League. Eventually, they send me out Alter Ego and magazines and the editor of the Superman comics at DC contacted me and offered me a job as an assistant editor and that came about because of my fandom.

And that’s how you first started, in DC Comics?

I’ve worked for about a week or two for DC on staff. I didn’t get along with the editors, so when I met Stan Lee and he offered me a job, I took that and quit so I worked with him for the next 10 years.

That’s when you started working at Marvel. What was it like working for them?

It was better. Stan was so enthusiastic and he was reading exciting comics that were more exciting than DC’s I felt. Of course working with him felt like course with writing comics because every day I would wither over Stan on his left hand while going over what he had written and how he was proofreading it. It was like taking a class in writing and editing comics and I had this for several years and it worked out pretty well. He wanted somebody to take over some the writing and that worked out ok too after a little while.

What was your favorite Marvel character that you got to work with?

As far as writing, it was probably Conan, which I helped bring to Marvel and Invaders who I took the old character and turned him into a World War II sell. But, my favorite Marvel character is The Thing actually and he’s also the one I most like writing. I loved writing The Thing who stood by his rough talk, the whole idea of him I just loved it ever since I saw Fantastic Four #1 off the stands. In 1961, I bought two copies of Fantastic Four #1. I sold the extra copy when the price up to 50 cents but I should’ve kept on to that since it’s worth a lot more now [Laughs].

John Cimino

The other character you got to work on was Iron Fist. How did you come up with that character?

The first kung fu movie I ever got to see, I don’t remember the name but it had something in it called The Ceremony of the Iron Fist and there was something about that name Iron Fist that even though it had an Iron Man character, the next day I went to Stan and said, ‘I think we should do more of a superhero kung fu character and call him Iron Fist.’ Stan said ok and that was it. So I went and got my artist friend Gil Kane and we designed the look of Iron Fist and did the first issue together, but then I got too busy and he got too busy to continue it but we did that first one. I didn’t dream in those days that they would make a TV series out of it.

Speaking of TV series, did Marvel or Netflix ever reach out to you for input on the character?

No, I made a little money out of it in some sort but I have no connection to it.

You have any thoughts on the Iron Fist TV series?

Well, I haven’t seen much of what they’re doing, but the scenes I saw looked pretty good. I don’t know if he wears a costume or not, but that doesn’t make any real difference. It looks to me like they’ve seem to caught the essence of the character and that’s all I can ask for. It’s a different medium, so it can’t be the same as the comic book over 40 years later. So you have to expect that they are going to do it differently. I’m just happy that the character is viable enough to pair him up with the MCU. They’re doing it and they think there is something worthwhile.

I also attended your panel where you were discussing Captain Marvel.

Yeah I loved that character since I was four or five years old when it was Captain Marvel. One of my favorite comics when I was a kid, although I had a lot of favorites but that was one of them.

There must’ve been a lot of back and forth for that property. What was the process like moving Captain Marvel from DC to Marvel?

All we had was the main Captain Marvel and not the same old character so I sort of turned our Captain Marvel into a more science fiction version of the old one because it’ll be fun to do and it worked out kind of nicely. It was just something I did for fun and it worked out well because I ended up getting to work with Gil Kane again same guy I worked on Iron Fist with. And every time we got together to work on something like that, we just had a good time and it always turned out to be pretty good.

Captain Marvel is also on the verge of becoming part of the MCU. What did you think about that happening?

Well, I don’t understand why. It’s a good name, her secret identity is someone I didn’t do, Carol Danver so that’s kind of nice but I guess to me the real Captain Marvel will always be the original one. Marvel has the rights to the name so they may as well use it. But, they aren’t claiming that’s the old original character; it’s just a whole new character that has that name. It’s a tricky situation, it’s all because of what the character was called. If they kept the original name Captain Thunder, the name they were going to call the character back in 1940, none of this would’ve happened.

John Cimino

There’s also this Spider-Man outfit that is one of the first of it’s kind that has been on auction for a while. What’s the story behind it?

Well, it was made from Marvel I guess in ’64. It was suppose to be worn along with three other Marvel costumes in a Macy’s Parade. I don’t know what happened. I was told that the actor who was suppose to put on the costume in the parade never showed up so they didn’t know what to do with the costume and they didn’t want it in the streets. They ended up giving me all four of the costumes. I still got two of them and sold the other two so I just kept them ever since.

Was it made to be worn originally? Was it even comfortable to wear?

You know it’s not really comfortable, it’s not made to be worn or anything like that. When I worn it, I was 15-20 pounds lighter so I don’t know if I can wear it nowadays.

And this one is up for auction as well right?

Yes it is, it’s up for auction because John just convinced me it’s time to sell it so I thought might as well. All we had was the costume inside the closet so we might as well see what happens to it. I was a little unhappy when I saw that somebody…I don’t know how anybody could be dumb enough to say it was going to go for $2,000 to $3,000. Somebody contacted me a few months ago who collected a lot of costumes and I said I didn’t want to sell it. So I talked to John and he started working on this and said maybe you should sell it but I’m not going to sell it. Somebody found out and contacted him, and we already turned down $10,000 and this guy is saying it’s worth $2,000 to $3,000, which is really annoying. I’m surprised that anyone with a job with a rentable house could be that far off. We’ve already been offered several times that and that’s without advertising it, just people tracking us down. But, I’m not describing any objectively bad motives to it, I’m just saying it hurt us to have that happen and to say there is a critic because it’s no where near the truth. It can’t do any good to have somebody say that it is worth 2 or 3 because it’s wrong. It just makes people old when it’s only worth $2,000 or $3,000 and it’s not that much when in fact, it’s at least worth five figures because we turned that down. But I don’t say he meant any ill, but it didn’t do us any good and didn’t make us feel any kindly towards him. But I got nothing to just tear his auction in good terms in some of the other people there. I really wish this guy just kept his mouth shut.

With Marvel going through a rebranding in its line, what are your thoughts on it?

Well, I haven’t seen them that much but I assumed that every few years the readers change. It’s the job of the editors and the publishing to keep up with that. They think it’s worth doing, I guess to keep it fresh and new. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the old characters, they just want to tweak them and try something different. The funny thing is, quite often, they end up going back to the old versions after a while so we’ll see if these new versions take or if they go back to the old ones.

Did you get to see what they are doing with your characters now?

Well, like with Iron Fist and even with Luke Cage, who he’s partnered with, only when the movies comes out. I saw a bit of the Iron Fist footage on TV, it looked like it would be good. I didn’t see the costume; maybe they’re not going to use one. My main contribution is the symbol burned into the chest and that will be it, so that’s okay. If the main idea is the same, I don’t care. Some people object because it’s a Caucasian so forth. That was my idea to do it, but if they made him an Asian or something else, that would be fine with me too. It’s just a character because I agree. There’s been a lot of white center to a certain extent and so forth and an incidental part of it. My feeling is that if you want to change that, you do that by making up new characters. You don’t have to change the characters that already exist. Although the thing they did with Iron Fist, who’s a relatively minor character, I wouldn’t have cared. Our idea is that we made up all the stuff together like Luke Cage. Instead of taking another character and change it. You can be at home, typing on your computer screens so they don’t have to worry about it. They can say anything and they won’t care about the responsibility, they’re not responsible for the sale, they’re not responsible for the quality of the book. It’s way easier to be a critic than it is being a creator. I’m not saying it’s easier for critics, but a lot of these guys they are out there spewing venom for no particular reason except that they got up this morning and say, ‘I must be wake! Time to spew venom!’

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