Portsmouth Comic Con 2019: Spotlight On Roy Thomas
by Olly MacNamee
Straight off the Stan Lee panel, Roy Thomas held court on his own spotlight panel in the rather regal Council Chambers room of the Portsmouth Guildhall; home of Portsmouth Comic Con for its second sophomore year. Sit back and read some of the highlights form his rather illustrious career.
Thomas grew up at a time when comics were on the downslide but he never gave up reading comics as “there were still a lot of good comics.” Until the summer of 1956 when Thomas came across The Flash, “who didn’t look like The Flash to me,” as Roy had a very fond spot for the Justice Society of America. Maybe the reason he was so fundamental in bringing back a lot of the Golden Age DC characters when he went to work for the Distinguished Competition. I personally discovered Thomas when he launched The All-Star Squadron; still one of my favourite comics of that era of DC Comics. Growing up, Thomas was definitely a DC fan.
With the dawn of the Silver Age, Thomas assumed the Golden Age characters would never be brought back, so while he still loved these super folk from his own childhood, he accepted these new faces, and new costumes. Once he started up Alter Ego and got into communications with DC’s Julius Schwartz, he was able to influence the content of some of the stories and even had Schwartz bring back the odd Golden Age B-lister ahead of famous dimension busting ‘The Flash of Two Worlds’ in Flash #123.
Fast forward to the mid-60’s and Thomas was offered work on editing Superman by Mort Weisinger. But, soon Thomas was working for Stan Lee and Marvel after writing him a letter. “He was writing the best comics, so I wanted to meet him.” Who wouldn’t, right? When the call came, it came when Thomas was still at DC. He wasn’t happy at DC, so when he offered Thomas the move, he took it, offering him $110 a week. But, when he did arrive it became $100. Typical Stan, it would seem, always hustling. Weisinger was mortified (geddit?) when he heard the news, but still threw him out of DC right there and then. Half an hour later, Thomas was at Marvel. Seems Wiesinger was not a great man to work for because he hated that he was writing comics for kids, when he was a sci-fi fan. “A great puppet master, but a horrible human being.”
While Stan was not so well read when compared to Thomas, it was Thomas’s literary leanings that he felt he could bring to bear on Marvel comics such as The Uncanny X-Men. Although he did admire Stan’s evolution of Thor’s speech into more “Shakespearian syntax”. Even if it is much mocked in more recent years, albeit with fondness.
Even when Thomas was promoted to Editor-in-Chief, Stan was always in charge. This only really changed when Stan moved to Los Angeles, round about the time of Jim Shooter’s reign at Marvel. No book went out without Stan’s approval of each and every page, and this quality control worked. To illustrate this point, he shared a story about Steve Ditko, who couldn’t understand why his creations after he left The Amazing Spider-Man did sell as much. “Because they didn’t have Stan!” Thomas stated emphatically.
Funnily enough, while Steve quitting isn’t so much of a surprise, he was surprised by Jack Kirby’s departure. Apparently, Kirby would vent behind Stan’s back but never to his face. Its something I dare say we’ve all done at some stage or other when talking about our bosses. Even f they were long-time friends and colleagues.
Thomas returned to DC Comics because he felt he was being poorly treated at Marvel, when compared to his peers, such as Marv Wolfman. He admits now that it was ‘probably a bad move, as I never made the impact I did at Dc as I did at Marvel,” but he did get to write his all time favourite comic, the aforementioned The All-Star Squadron. I was lucky enough to ask him about it, and he was honest enough to admit that, thanks to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, the books as a dead duck. He admitted that this was one the books he had most loved to write and would have loved to still be writing it even today, joking that it would be close to 300 issues and “probably get to 1943,” a reference to slow pace of the book.
A great panel with another legendary figure form the comic book ear more than happy to tell us all he could in the hour we had. And, given he really attends UK cons, this was most definitely a once in a life time chance for me. And, of course, I got my issue of All-Star Squadron signed with all money donated to Roy going to the CBLF. Well worth it!