Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sol Brodsky, Big Boy and Marvel's Unknown 1960s comics (Updated)

One of the exciting things about studying comics are the surprises that are constantly discovered, often by accident. While I was adding credits for a number of Ditko comics on the GCD, I looked at the entries for Adventures of the Big Boy, since I didn't see Ditko's issue credited. I was aware that Timely published a few issues, some drawn by Bill Everett, but I either had forgotten or never realized that the Big Boy comic continued to be package by Marvel staffers. I was fascinated to see how many issues, though. The run seems to extend to 1964: at the same time Lee and company were turning out superheroes, westerns and teen romance, some of those same people were writing and drawing the Adventures of the Big Boy. Early issues were signed by Dan DeCarlo, and Stan Goldberg may have either drawn or colored some stories. The cover copy features gags that sound very much like Stan Lee's concurent work on Patsy Walker, Millie the Model, Patsy and Hedy and Modeling with Millie. The distinctive and charming lettering is clearly the work of Artie Simek. The man who was deeply involved in putting Big Boy together was none other than production man Sol Brodsky, as described in this article in Marvel Age # 22, Jan 1985, written by Dwight John Zimmerman:

"...Sol was not lacking in idea which did work. One of his most successful projects was the Big Boy promotion comics. Big Boy is a regional restauraunt chain based on the west coast. Sol put together a successful series of comic book giveaways for them, involving himself in every aspect of production - from the art to the packaging, even doing the writing on occasion. The scripting chores, for the most part, were handled by Stan Lee, who had long since become a close friend as well. On occasion Sol would ask Mike Esposito to help him on the inking.

    "Sol loved doing Big Boy, Selma (Sol Brodsky's wife) said. "It was simple, it was fun and it was cute. He had a statue of Big Boy that sat on his desk that I'd see every morning when I got up. "That was a big part of our life, Janice (Sol's daughter, Janice Cohen, who would go on to become a colorist), said. "When we took our trip out to California, the big event was to actually go in and eat a Big Boy hamburger!"    

(special thanks to Dusty Miller for tracking this information down. It adds a clearer understanding of the processs, and how important Sol Brodsky was to Marvel in so many ways).  

With Sol Brodsky packaging the series, drawing and occasionally writing, and employing Stan Lee, Artie Simek and likely Stan Goldberg to produce the interiors, Brodsky put together a lucrative outside job for many years. After learning the information of Brodsky's involvement, I suspect Big Boy was actually an outside project, one Goodman had nothing to do with. If that was the case Brodsky was able to fully profit from the comic (with Lee, Simek and others making some extra money on the side).

So, after all these years I've discovered that alongside the FF, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Rawhide Kid and all the other titles, Brodsky, Lee and company were also packaging Big Boy stories. It shows how resourceful many creators in that period were.

Adventures of the Big Boy # 14, 1957. Dan DeCarlo art?; Artie Simek lettering. Packaged by Sol Brodsky, who did other giveaways, including industrial comics for Bird's Eye and books with Stan Lee, including Golfer's Anonymous. Mr. Brodsky was not only a decent artist and inker, but a smart businessman. I'll be writing more about him in the future.     

Brodsky appears to have packaged these stories for the company for around 8 years, from 1957-1964.

After writing this blog I was able to purchase an issue of Adventures of the Big Boy on Ebay. Above is the splash to issue # 66, dated 1962. "Captured by the Head Hunters!" is signed "Brod", which is the way Sol Brodsky signed some of his Atlas stories. The story is likely written by Stan Lee and lettered by Artie Simek, with possible coloring by Stan Goldberg. There is a total of 8 comic pages; the opening story is 5 pages, along with a 2 page Nugget story (Big Boy's talking dog); followed by a one page Big Boy strip. The back cover has a solo cartoon of Big Boy, with the bottom half advertising the local Big Boy franchises. The remainder of the book includes letters and game pages.    

  An article on Giveaway comics that appeared in Comics Buyers Guide providedsome background information on the series, including a talk with Stan Lee:

Some Timely help. To learn the ropes of comics publishing, Bernhard sought the advice of Martin Goodman, then president of Timely Illustrated Features, precursor to today's Marvel. Production of the first year of the series was farmed out to Timely in 1956, where most of the stories for The Adventures of the Big Boy #1-12 were written by none other than Stan Lee, later the co-creator of Spider-Man, The Hulk and The X-Men for Marvel Comics. Stan and I would go out to his house in Long Island and plan the issue, Bernhard said. He was the writer on the first issue.

Lee recalled working on the series. "I did a lot of them, he said. Manfred was a nice guy. I really considered him a personal friend." Lee said that the project was unusual for Timely, which mostly produced its own comics for sale. "We did a few giveaway comics for political purposes, we did a number of things for charity. But I think Big Boy was the only one we did where it wasn't a Timely-labeled book. We may have done things for General Electric years ago, but as far as I remember our names were in the indicias" he said. I may not have signed my name to the Big Boy work."

Timely artists supplied the art for the series during that year: Bill Everett, creator of The Sub-Mariner, drew the covers and stories for the first two issues, Bernhard said. Sol Brodsky, artist and later Marvel's production director, worked on issues during the middle of the Timely run, around issues #3-6. Lee speculated that such other cartoon-style Timely artists as Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg, or Mike Sekoswky may have worked on later issues of that run; Bernhard recalled DeCarlo having worked on issues between #7 and #12. Unfortunately, complete credits were not included in all issues.

Four decades of artists. Following the auspicious start of Everett, Brodsky, and DeCarlo, Big Boy went through a series of artists, as Bernhard took over production and some of the writing for the series with brother Karl as editor with issue #13.

The compete article can be read here:

I suspect Lee and Manfred have some dates wrong, since the stories were clearly packaged past 1957. Nevertheless, Lee was correct that Marvel did do other giveaway comics, including a political comic.

"Your Future Rests..In Your Hands!", Larry Lieber pencils; Sol Brodsky inks?; Sam Rosen letters; Stan Goldberg colors? Dated 1964.

I discovered this comic a few years ago at a convention and immediately bought it, fascinated by the Larry Lieber signature. The indicia on the inside reads: Copyright 1964, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Goodman packaged this 16 page comic book (covers were of the same quality as the interiors) for the NAACP, encouraging African-Americans to register to vote. This comic was likely distributed in schools and churches. I was able to show this comic to Larry Lieber at a convention appearance and he immediately recalled that he worked on it. I don't recall if he said he wrote the story or Stan did, although its interesting to note some of the same devices Lieber employed in the fantasy stories  appear here. Marie Severin likely did some touch-up work on a few pages.

Page 9, note the word baloon pointing to the Earth, a device Lieber used on stories he wrote for Kirby in the monster stories and appeared in stories he wrote and drew (Tales of the Watcher, various fantasy stories).  

. This comic is not only an interesting oddity in Marvel's early years, it's also a cultural artifact of the times. I wonder how many other promotional comics are out there waiting to be discovered?   


Kid said...

Terrific stuff, Nick. What a find, eh?

Simayl said...

Very interesting article, particularly the Civil Rights comic. Does Stan remember it? said...

nice written

Nick Caputo said...


I asked Stan and will report here he recalls anything about the NAACP comic or Big Boy.

Barry Pearl said...

Just a great, great post. It opens up a few things. Marvel had trouble coloring African Americans at that time, so I wonder who did the coloring. (On the voting comic, not Big Boy)

But you left many questions unanswered!

Were these stories written in the Marvel Method? What percentage of the work here was Stan’s? When Lieber wrote the script for the NAACP did Kirby rewrite it? Was Big Boy originally the first herald of Galactus? Are those really Ditko hands?

Nick Caputo said...


I'll leave those questions to OTHER groups that like to wildly speculate on gossip, rumors and fantasy. Thanks for trying to stir up trouble (you know someone reading your comment will take it seriously!)

Jacque Nodell said...

I'm curious, Nick -- would these promotional comics (and specifically the NAACP one) have been commissioned by the group/company or were these opportunities that comic publishers sought out to gain new readers, etc.?

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Jacque,

I suspect it was the outside agencies that went to the publishers/packagers, choosing to use the comic book format, just like the government did with their long running PS comics, which was packaged by Will Eisner and later Murphey Anderson. they understood that the comic book format was an excellent way to provide information to people.

Chad MacDonald said...

Great Article -

Stan Lee was a friend of Bob Wian, the creator of Bob's Big Boy and the one time mayor of Glendale. Stan Lee produced the adventures of big boy as a favor to his friend. But also profited from it. If you look at the very first issue of adventures of big boy, it is very obviously written by stan. On the bottom of the page, everything was owned by robert c wian enterprises. The first run of comics are first rate, and should be regarded as such.

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for the info and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.