HOW AN UNDERGROUND NEWSPAPER CHANGED MARVEL COMICS (part 3 of 4—click here for part 1 and here for part 2.)
In the 2004 book The Complete Illustrated History of the Skywald Horror-Mood, former Marvel editorial assistant Alan Hewetson recalled the impact of D.A. Latimer’s essay in the East Village Other about representation of black characters in comics. “They’d published a nice story about Stan and Marvel and had mentioned in the article something to the effect that Marvel had no black characters or comic books. (Actually I think we might have had one, plus a couple of very minor characters.) DC had none. So Stan read this and asked me to write back to thank the writer and so forth, and I did, and anticipating that the newspaper would print my letter (which they did), I added something to the effect that ‘once we became aware of the absence of black characters in our comics we immediately corrected this social oversight…’”
Here’s the letter Hewetson wrote in 1969:
Neal Christensen, one of our readers, was kind enough to forward to editor Stan Lee a feature from EVO by D.A. Latimer, of March 19 this year.
We were particularly interested with your feature on Marvel and its dealings with the color situation; Mr. Latimer’s approach, however, is such that we are concerned with the one-sided opinion your readers might have appreciated.
We would remind them that comic books are unrealistic by nature, and we would not presume to have our readers believe otherwise. The HULK is certainly not your average everyday factory worker, neither could Peter be considered a typical college student. Why then would you think T’CHALLA representative of a Harlem superhero? Certainly the man is educated—many African kings, princes and leaders are Oxford taught—why should “this gentleman in any way resemble Bobby Seale”?
Furthermore, you implied that THE PANTHER was a token Negro. When we became aware of the lack of Negroes in our magazines, and decided to introduce them into our stories, don’t you think it would have looked rather foolish to suddenly have fifteen colored personalities appear and barnstorm through the books? As it is, we have T’CHALLA (THE PANTHER), Joe Robertson and his son, Willie Lincoln, Sam Wilson (THE FALCON), Gabe Jones, Dr. Noah Black (CENTURIUS) and even a super villain—THE MAN-APE. In short, we think that we have approached a decent start with these characters.
In any case, sir, our primary reason in writing was to request a few copies of the issue in which this article appeared, for our files.
Cordially, Alan Hewetson
“And I showed this to Stan,” Hewetson recalled in 2004, “and shortly thereafter we began introducing black characters and entire black comic character books.” This included the Falcon, who despite Hewetson’s mention in his letter, had never appeared in a Marvel Comic. It would take six months to get him into the pages of Captain America…
Next: The introduction of the Falcon