As many people know, I was in charge of the Marvel art warehouse (actually, a moderately large locked room in an industrial building) in the mid-1970s. I did an exhaustive inventory of all Marvel Comics original art. The details of that inventory were published in The Comics Journal years ago. I no longer have any records of my inventory. I don’t recall asking anyone at Marvel such as Stan Lee or Sol Brodsky (then vice president of production) why any particular issues were missing.
Below is the text of what I recently posted on Facebook about my knowledge of Marvel Comics’ policy regarding giving original artwork to fans in the 1960s or early 1970s–back when original comic book artwork had virtually no retail value:
“As I said many years ago, Stan (or Stan through Sol Brodsky) did from time to time ask me to provide original artwork from the warehouse to give to business contacts. These did not amount to many pages, but the inference was that this was something Stan did now and then to promote business with Marvel. I also found a record of a limited number of pages that had been lent to a comic art show before I got to Marvel in 1974, and there may have been a few other such instances. But I believe most if not all of those lent pages had been returned. I never heard of any non-pro being given Marvel artwork, nor do I recall any rumors of such when I was a fan, or recall seeing any such pages back in the 1960s when we fans would share our collections of comics and related items.”
Why am I posting this? Because comics fans keep asking, and there is a lot of sub rosa gossip about people who might in fact have obtained artwork stolen from Marvel Comics. Or given to them by someone at Marvel Comics who probably did not have official authority to dispense it. But this whole line of thought is pointless, because in the 1960s, Marvel Comics did not value the original art once the comic book had been printed.
Marvel didn’t even value it for reprint use. As Marie Severin recently reminded me, Nancy Murphy, who was the entire subscription department for many years, was told repeatedly that she was wasting her time and valuable office space by archiving the film and black lines that came from the printer. Her file cabinet containing negative photostats of covers was the only cover archive in the office. The only one, and she got flack for having an archive at all. When I did my warehouse art inventory, I found only a handful of original covers and no other media with the cover art. It is totally thanks to Nancy Murphy that Marvel Comics was ever able to reprint anything from earlier than the mid-1970s, when Marvel started to pay attention to what it owned.
That’s why to me, a former Marvel Comics staffer who saw how the company basically disregarded and disrespected its history, the idea that it might also disregard and disrespect the original artwork that created its history is not news. It’s just another sad reality in the history of a wonderful art form.
Copyright © 2014 by Irene Vartanoff