1963 Stan Lee letter to fan reveals Dr. Strange's original name

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Dec 16, 2012, 12:07 PM EST

One of the reasons Marvel legend Stan Lee has always been "The Man" is his dedication to fans. He's kept his door open to True Believers for more than half a century now. For proof, have a look at this remarkably candid (and lengthy) letter to a fan in which Lee reveals that Dr. Strange didn't always have a Ph.D.

The letter is dated January 9, 1963, and it includes the Madison Avenue mailing address for Lee's office at Marvel. It's written in response to a letter from Marvel fan Dr. Jerry Bails, and it's full of interesting tidbits. We don't have Bails' letter, but we can tell from Lee's response that he was at least somewhat critical of Marvel's art process.

Lee seems sympathetic but goes on to explain that Marvel has a "very small staff—quite unlike the NATIONAL COMICS GROUP" (which we know as DC Comics). He explains that Marvel's chief artist at the time—the great Jack Kirby—often only began strips and then passed them off to other artists to be finished, causing a dip in quality.

"The poor guy only has two hands," Lee wrote, "and he can only draw with ONE!"

Lee also writes about the Wasp's introduction to Ant-Man stories, his belief that Spider-Man will soon be a very popular character (Spidey had only debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 about five months earlier) and the creative process he and Kirby used on Fantastic Four that has since become known as the "Marvel Method."

But perhaps the most interesting tidbit in this lengthy fan response is Lee's revelation that Doctor Strange—who would not debut until later that year—was not always a Doctor.

"Originally decided to call him MR. STRANGE, but thought the MR. a bit too similar to MR. FANTASTIC—now, however, I just remember we had a villain called DR. STRANGE just recently in one of our mags—hope it won't be too confusing! Oh well..."

Things ended up working out just fine for Doctor Strange. He survived the name confusion and went on to be Marvel's resident Sorcerer Supreme, but in the very same letter—six months before the character made his debut in Strange Tales #110—Lee reveals that he didn't have very much love for that first Stephen Strange tale, which was "just a 5-page filler."

"Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. Sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him—'twas Steve's idea, and I figgered we'd give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much."

Check out the full letter for more glimpses inside the Marvel of 1963 courtesy of Stan "The Man" Lee.

(via The Marvel Age of Comics)