You say that the Marvel Universe is the most involved mythology of our time. With ancient myth, no one really knows who wrote them, it’s all part of a shared oral tradition, and it’s all about the characters. Marvel did that in a condensed modern commercial form — do these characters belong to us, the fans? Do they belong to the companies? Do they belong to the creators?
It’s interesting, there’s a unique situation at Marvel that I find endlessly fascinating. I mean, there are clear trademarked characters that now belong to the Walt Disney Company, and people, very understandably, feel in their hearts that they belong to them, because these characters belong to the culture. Like older fables or myths, these characters have been passed down the generations, and some of the contributions of various storytellers have become kind of muddy over the ages, so they’re not defined. Like Greek myths, for instance — they are not defined by their authors, and that’s not something that fits in with the rest of our culture. Like everyone knows who created Luke Skywalker, and everyone knows who created Sherlock Holmes — but most people aren’t going to be able to tell you who created Wolverine.People might be able to say, “Wolverine, he’s one of the Marvel guys, right?” But I think that that is something really unique about comics books, the lack of credit for the authors. And I'm not even talking about money or ownership — I’m talking about the way that the public assigns credit in its mind.
And yet, even though kids as readers couldn’t tell you who created Thor or Nightcrawler, Marvel readers knew The Bullpen— as a reader, you’d be familiar with the letterers, the inkers, the staff! Why was The Bullpen so important to the Marvel ethos?
Well, not to discount that they were actually the guys who were making the comic books, in terms of the image of The Bullpen, for a kid reading comics in, say, 1965 or 1975 or 1985, before the Internet, this was a really colorful world that was so much bigger than you. It was something that you were generally experiencing on your own, and I think it’s a very solitary pursuit for a lot of the readers, so you’re sort of being invited into this fantastical world, and your guides are this kind of surrogate family. I talked to so many people, and to them, Stan Lee’s voice is so comforting, like an uncle. It goes back to childhood, if you grew up with this guy’s personality. And so the great achievement of The Bullpen myth is just, I think, to really give this inclusionary feeling to the reader. And the side effect of that is that people like you and I, decades later, still know the names of editors and production managers. And I think it’s probably the first time that somebody turned their work culture into minor celebrity. I don’t know that that was ever done before in marketing.