“Speaking of the Hulk I was wondering if you could shed some light where the idea of the child abuse story came from. There has been much speculation about this from different people including Barry Windsor Smith. I have never heard your side of the story.”
Barry came to me with a completely penciled and written graphic novel. It was the about the development of the “mighty, raging fury” inside Bruce Banner, who, he revealed, was the product of an abusive home. I looked it over. I thought it was brilliant, one of the best comics stories I’d ever seen. I offered Barry a contract and an advance. He turned me down — temporarily. He proposed to finish the thing — then, if I would agree to publish it as created, no alterations whatsoever, he would sign a contract and take the money. I was willing to agree to that in writing on the spot, but he said, no, when it’s finished. Okay. Fine by me. I already knew, from what he’d shown me, that there’d be no problem.
Barry showed the work around a bit to people in the office. I guess he allowed Al Milgrom or someone to make photocopies of it. Ask Al.
I was later given to understand that Al kept the copies in the Hulk drawer of his flat file.
Bill Mantlo, looking through the drawer to see what current Hulk artwork had come in, saw the copies. He then blatantly ripped the story off for a regular issue of the Hulk.
In those days, I was on the road a lot, spending time in Europe with the licensees, at our London office, in L.A., or on licensing trips elsewhere. The book went to press without my seeing it. How Al didn’t notice, or someone else didn’t notice, I don’t know.
Barry was furious. I don’t blame him. He, however, blames me, as of the last time I heard. Okay, the buck stops here, I suppose.
ASIDE: This wasn’t Bill’s first shot at plagiarism. He routinely recycled other peoples’ Marvel stories — Goodwin’s Iron Man stories, old Stan and Steve Spider-man stories…others. Many of those recyclings happened before my time as EIC.
But while I was EIC, he ripped off a Harlan Ellison story for an issue of the Hulk. That issue I signed out — but I had never seen the episode of Outer Limits (I think) that Bill had ripped it from, so I didn’t know. I remember thinking what a good story it was, and that Bill must be improving. The day the book hit the stands, Roger Stern called me and said, “Are you nuts?! This is a Harlan Ellison story!” I said, “It is?” Then my secretary told me Harlan Ellison was on the other line.
Harlan said, words to the effect, you ripped me off. I said, yes, I know, I just found out about it. That admission calmed him down. I asked him what he wanted. Should we turn this over to the lawyers and let them work something out? I assured him that there was no contention, that Marvel did it and would fess up to it.
Harlan’s damages, by statute, would have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he had us dead to rights. But, he said he’d settle for the same money as Bill was paid to “write” the script, an acknowledgement, plus a lifetime subscription to everything we ever published. Done. Thank you, Harlan.
I wanted to fire Bill, but he had a friend upstairs — the financial V.P. — who resisted. It was my call. I could have fired Bill over his objections, but I decided, stupidly, that the subsequent hostile relationship with the financial guy would be worse than policing Bill better.
P.S. Marvel had a program, in those days, that paid for college and college level courses taken by employees, up to 100% for courses directly job related. The financial officer decided what qualified, and for what level of support. He decided that helping put Bill through LAW SCHOOL qualified, but Joe Rubenstein’s painting classes justified only the minimum support.
P.P.S. Immediately after passing the bar, Bill’s first act as a lawyer was SUING MARVEL regarding issues with his contract.
If anyone is interested, they can check Bill’s Iron Man #100 against one of Archie’s Iron Man stories featuring the Mandarin. Issue #50, maybe? I don’t know. Archie was editor of the black and white magazines at that time, and I was associate editor on the color line. Archie, who seldom complained about anything, came to me and asked how I could possibly have allowed Bill to rip off his story like that. He was seriously upset. The answer was that I hadn’t read Archie’s story, published years earlier, and didn’t know Bill’s was a carbon copy.
If anyone is interested, I’m sure you can find the issue of the Hulk that was ripped from Harlan’s Outer Limits story, and the acknowledgement/apology that appeared in the Hulk lettercol a few issues later.
If anyone really wants to play detective, I’m sure you can find many other examples.
And, Barry Windsor-Smith will assure you that a ripoff of his Hulk “child abuse” story appeared with Bill’s byline, though Barry apparently doesn’t know the true story of how that transpired.
And now, once more with feeling:
I think that we comics people, fans every one of us, tend to see things in terms of good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. It usually isn’t that black and white. Bill did some things that were very wrong for reasons known only to him and incomprehensible to me. He did many good things, too. Whatever mistakes he made, whatever flaws he had, his talent was a boon to our field of endeavor. He deserves a great deal of credit, respect and admiration. He certainly did not deserve the tragic accident that befell him.
Once again, here is a link to a page where you can PayPal donations to help with Bill’s care: