Secret identities: comic creators, comic characters

Artists and writers have always enjoyed inserting themselves into their own works, from Botticelli inserting himself into The Adoration of the Magi to Alfred Hitchcock’s brief cameos in his films. Comic creators are no different: there are plenty of characters in the world of comics modelled on the people behind the scenes.

Walt and Louise Simonson

In 1984, Marvel editor Louise Simonson took on a new writing assignment for the company: a kid-friendly superhero title called Power Pack. The four children of the Power family used their superpowers to have exciting adventures that also confronted issues like homelessness and drug abuse. One of the biggest challenges for the Power kids was keeping their secret from their loving parents, James and Margaret Power.

In a clever visual in-joke, the series’ artists modelled the Power parents on Simonson herself and her husband, artist Walt Simonson, best known for his epic run on Thor.

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A trio of Batman editors

Based on the Batman animated series, DC’s Batman Adventures introduced a number of new characters that hadn’t appeared on the show. Among these were The Threatening Three, based on DC Comics writers and editors. The Perfesser, based on Denny O’Neill, had an encyclopedic knowledge of all things criminal. Mister Nice, based on Archie Goodwin, was so compulsively nice he actually gave away much of his loot to his victims. And Mastermind, based on Mike Carlin, was a meticulous schemer who planned every detail of his crimes — right down to getting caught.

Sadly, the Threatening Three ended their criminal partnership in 1999, in a heartwarming story that stands by itself but is also, to the educated reader, a lament for Goodwin’s untimely death from cancer in 1998.

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Metatextual Morrison

British comics superstar Grant Morrison often appears in his own comics in some form, but never more literally than when he appeared as himself during his run on Animal Man. In a groundbreakingly weird storyline, Animal Man emerged from the comic into a fictional analogue of the real world and confronted his creator and audience to demand an explanation for the constant tragedy of his life.

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As if that weren’t weird enough, writer John Ostrander then recruited Morrison’s fictional alter-ego into the Suicide Squad, reasoning that since Morrison had inserted himself into the story, he was now a DC comics character. Under the alias “The Writer,” Morrison served briefly alongside the Squad. As a comic book writer, he could completely alter the nature of reality — since reality was itself a comic book. Unfortunately for him but fortunately for everyone’s concept of narrative integrity, he suffered from a case of writer’s block and was mauled to death by a monster.

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Stan Lee

It’s no surprise that Smilin’ Stan himself has appeared in plenty of comics. The Fantastic Four’s mailman, Willie Lumpkin, was the subject of a gag strip about a small-town mailman that Lee wrote (with art by Dan DeCarlo) between 1959 and 1961. Later, he reappeared in the pages of Fantastic Four as the Four’s faithful local mailman. Lee played Lumpkin in the 2005 film, either sparking or intensifying a trend for Lumpkin to resemble Lee.

Naturally, Lee has also been compared to Peter Parker’s cantankerous boss, J. Jonah Jameson. This may in fact be the origin of the 1989 Marvel Comics Presents story in which Lumpkin is haunted by a ghost that’s actually looking for Jameson.

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But not every portrayal of Stan Lee is so charming. Perhaps the most famous of Lee’s comics alter egos is Funky Flashman, the vicious caricature created by embittered artist Jack Kirby, who left Marvel Comics for DC in the early 1970s following a series of disputes with Lee and the company. Kirby portrayed Flashman as a talentless, dishonest huckster who cared only about money and appearances. Accompanied by his sidekick Houseroy (a shot at Roy Thomas), Flashman tried to take advantage of talented, well-meaning characters like Mister Miracle.

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Jack Kirby

Speaking of Jack Kirby, the King himself appeared in comics in a number of guises. Another supporting character in the New Gods saga, tough-talking big-city cop Dan Turpin, is supposedly an avatar for Kirby. Indeed, Turpin’s death in the animated Superman show is an homage to Kirby’s life and work, with images of comics collaborators and characters he created shown at his funeral. Since Kirby created the majority of Marvel’s big-name characters, most of the mourners were removed from the home video version of the funeral.

Kirby also appeared alongside Stan Lee in early issues of Fantastic Four, before their partnership soured. Most memorably, the two are seen trying to get into the Richards-Storm wedding … unsuccessfully.

But perhaps the most remarkable tribute to the influence of Kirby on comics creators is the fact that, in Fantastic Four #511, Kirby appears in the role of … well … God. When the Four run into the creator of the universe, he takes the form of a short, white-haired man working tirelessly away at his drawing board.

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Mark Waid’s story — with art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel — came out 10 years after Kirby’s death and left a lot of comics fans surreptitiously wiping their eyes.

Of course, these are only a few of the many comics characters based on their creators, but they’re some of the most famous and some of our favorites. Do you have a favorite we’ve overlooked? Let us know!

 

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