In an exclusive to SYFY WIRE, famed comics writer Roy Thomas is speaking at length for the first time during his almost 20-year run ghostwriting The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, as he reacts to the news that the historic strip will be ending its 42-year run this week. The strip originated with Stan Lee as writer and John Romita Sr. as artist. Though Thomas has been ghost-writing the strip for almost 20 years, the property has been and remains credited to Stan Lee, even since after Lee's death in 2018.
The last Sunday edition of the strip ran this past weekend, and the last daily is due Friday, March 23. The future of Marvel's forays into newspaper comics is uncertain, though expected to continue in some way.
What is known, however, is that the previous team of artists and writers appear to be left out of whatever's coming. Now Thomas, the longtime Marvel veteran whose work at Marvel itself goes back to 1965 and includes credited runs on Fantastic Four, Conan the Barbarian, Silver Surfer and more, reflects (via his manager John Cimino) on almost 20 years of work in the funny papers, under the watchful editorial eye of his good friend Lee.
It all began, says Thomas, when "around the turn of 2000 or thereabouts, I dropped Stan a line saying I'd love to do some work for the StanLee.com if he could ever use me. He said that I'd have had to [have been] around L.A. to do that, but that, by coincidence, he really needed a writer to work with him on the Spider-Man comic strip."
Despite the fact that Thomas says he'd "never really liked writing Spidey compared to the FF [Fantastic Four], Avengers, Conan etc," he said yes, with Lee cautioning him to wait til he heard the pay rate: just $300 a week. "I laughed," says Thomas, "and told him that he had no idea how little it cost me to live on my 40-acre place in the middle of South Carolina." (A convincing argument for not living in L.A. if there ever was one.)
It worked out well for Thomas. "As it turned out," he says, "although I never got a raise in the 18 years I basically ghost wrote the strip (until recent years with his [Lee's] hands-on editing), it was a great gig. I spent maybe two days a month writing four weeks' worth of strips, and another day two or three times a year submitting outlines for upcoming storylines."
And working under Lee's watchful eye proved pretty easy for Thomas. "We got along fine," he says. "He liked what I did, accepted most (not all) of my ideas for stories... and until a few years ago often 'suggested' (or insisted upon) alterations in them. For some years he would rewrite a panel or balloon here and there, or [do] even more... while other dailies or Sundays would sail through without a single word change."
One thing fans liked about the strip is something Thomas prided himself on: its continuity with the origin story of the comic books, and the continuation of Peter Parker's life cycle. Though Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has irrevocably proven how much fun there is in the multiple Spider-Man timelines, the comic strip was a nice place to visit for old-school elements, like, for instance, the Peter Parker/ MJ romance. So while Peter Parker may be currently sort of dead in the MCU, he's still alive and well and living in an apartment in Manhattan with MJ in the strip, at least he will be until this Friday.
Thomas says he once rebooted the strip to a time before Peter married, but he woke him up "Dallas-style" to reveal that this had all been a dream, and he left them together through all the years. "I was increasingly happy with that," says Thomas, "as an alternative to the bouncing-around of the comic books, in which MJ and Peter totally forgot each other and their marriage, and who knows what occurred. Left increasingly to my own devices... I gradually took her from working in a computer store to becoming a Broadway star and movie actress, playing a super-heroine called 'Marvella' (before the female Captain Marvel was a big deal, or maybe even was around at all). But I kept them, somewhat incongruously, in their relatively small Manhattan apartment."
This became, in Thomas's mind, yet another Spider-Man universe, among many.
When Thomas got news of the strip's upcoming demise, he had been plotting out a trip to Australia for Parker and MJ, where they were to encounter the villain Kangaroo and have various exploits and adventures. "Marvel decided to kill the strip," says Thomas, "and not print the final couple of weeks. And [artist] Alex Saviuk graciously reworked the final strip to show the two of us in it, and to add a 'Nuff Said!' headline on the Daily Bugle."
While it's impossible to say if Stan Lee would have ever approved of ending the strip (we think not), it's not hard to imagine him loving those final touches by his friends.