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The strange origin of Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham

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Mar 11, 2019, 1:01 PM EDT (Updated)

All of a sudden Spider-Ham, aka Peter Porker, is everywhere. He's facing off against the Inheritors in Spider-Geddon, just starred in the successful Into the Spider-Verse film, and features in the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 — and it's a bit ironic, because the anthropomorphic cartoon pig version of Peter Parker was never meant to be a recurring character. In fact, according to creators Tom DeFalco and Larry Hama, the idea first popped up as the two traded jokes in the Marvel bullpen.

In early '80s, Marvel Comics was going through a transition period. Under the direction of Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, the company was on an upswing and had just started dipping its toes in the direct market. Shooter had taken over the position after a rocky period in 1978 and began making major changes, including instituting creator royalties and introducing company-wide crossover story arcs. In addition, he had started work on Star Comics, a new line that would produce titles that were often adaptations of children's television series or toys.

It was under these circumstances that DeFalco and Hama started spitballing about the future of the company while sitting in Hama's office. According to DeFalco, the two were talking about the direct market comic book dealers and their constant fears that Marvel would eventually open its own comic book stores and put them all out of business.

DeFalco said while itis hard to believe now, in those days Marvel had very few licensees. Aside from Comic Images, which sold Marvel T-shirts, the company had virtually no apparel licenses.

Marvel Tails #1 (Writer Tom DeFalco, Artist Mark Armstrong)

Peter Porker is the Spectacular Spider-Ham in Marvel Tails #1 (Writer Tom DeFalco, Artist Mark Armstrong)

"Larry pointed out that a Marvel store would need apparel and plush to be economically feasible," DeFalco told SYFY WIRE in a recent interview. "Larry was (and probably still is) a big fan of [cartoonist and Scrooge McDuck creator] Carl Barks and I think he said that funny animals made the best plush toys. I responded with something like, 'You mean we need to come up with something like Peter Porker, Spider-Ham?'"

DeFalco remembers Hama spitting out "Goose Rider" while he added "Captain Americat" into the mix.

"We kept coming up these silly animal versions of these names until someone walked into the office, listened to our nonsense and asked if this was a new book Larry and I were proposing," he said. "We looked at each other and decided to propose Spider-Ham as a one-shot."

Hama said the details surrounding that day remain "fuzzy," but he had been toying with the idea of little kid versions of the Marvel Characters and even sketched up a bunch of samples.

"We had been running Teen Hulk in CRAZY Magazine, and that seemed to be pretty popular. The kid characters were supposed to be younger, like in the 8-10 range," he said. "I did sketches of Lil' Hulk, and Spider-Kid that I still have around somewhere. Somewhere along the way, somebody (not me) said, 'what about if they were animals?'"

Hama said the project really "began to gel" when they recruited Mark Armstrong, Steve Mellor and Michael Golden on the art end. Once Armstrong sketched out strong visuals, everything else seemed to fall into place, he said.

"We got Steve Skeates to script, and he turned out to be very good fit," Hama said. "The sensibilities of everybody working on it meshed well."

The original Spider-Ham plush doll

DeFalco and Hama coughed up $200 in 1983 to created the original Spider-Ham plush doll. (Courtesy Photo / Jim Salicrup)

The Spider-Ham Plush Pitch

First, the idea needed to be approved by Shooter. Together, Hama and DeFalco, pitched Marvel Tails (a play on the long-standing reprint Marvel Tales) as a one-shot, telling Shooter their plan to use it to create characters that could be easily licensed into plush dolls. According to DeFalco, Hama even hired a friend to make a Spider-Ham plush prototype (Hama has no recollection of this.)

"I think it cost us $200 dollars and we each coughed up $100," DeFalco said. "This doll eventually ended up in [Marvel Editor] Jim Salicrup's office, but I eventually lost track of it."

At that time, Shooter said, Marvel was doing so well that experimenting was not only possible but incumbent upon the company.

"Spider-Ham sounded like fun. Why not swing for the fences? Its success did not surprise me," Shooter said. "Generally, if editorial people and the bullpen crew were enthused, success was guaranteed. We're all fans, aren't we?"

In Marvel Tails, Peter Porker is just hanging out when he spies a gang of weasels trying to rob a bank. He then teams up with Captain Americat and the pair tries to stop the diabolical Quincy Quackers. The odd tale includes an appearance by Bruce Bunny, who turns into Hulk Bunny and a short story at the end introducing Goose Rider.

DeFalco confirms that the company was looking at ways to expand the readership by coming up with stuff that didn't fit into the same old peg holes. According to Shooter, Marvel Tails sold very well.

Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham #15 (Written by Steve Skeates, Art by Mark Armstrong)

May Porker suffers a hair dryer-related mishap in the pages of Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham #15 (Written by Steve Skeates, Art by Mark Armstrong)

The Spectacular Spider-Ham Returns

Even though Marvel Tails was a hit, Hama and DeFalco's plan for Spider-Ham plushes never panned out and the pair went back to their daily duties at Marvel. In the meantime, Star Comics had launched at Marvel and Shooter needed content.

Although DeFalco has said then-Marvel President Jim Galton commissioned Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham himself, Shooter said it was actually his job. Serving as the interface between the business people upstairs at Marvel and the gang downstairs, Shooter said when they wanted to launch a new title he would write a "new project memo" to notify the president, VP of finance and the VP of circulation.

"We were doing so well that I had a very free hand," he said. "Galton cared not a whit about the comics. He never opened a comic book in his life. Galton cared about revenues and his pet projects: animation and children's books. Galton left all the publishing decisions to me, and to some extent, publisher Mike Hobson, whose main job was working on the children's books."

Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham #15 (Written by Steve Skeates, Art by Mark Armstrong)

Aunt May Porker takes a bite of Peter, turning him into a pig in Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham #15 (Written by Steve Skeates, Art by Mark Armstrong)

Either way, in 1985, Peter Porker made his debut in the self-titled book, facing off against the evil Ducktor Doom. The 17-issue series, written by Steve Skeates with pencils by Mark Armstrong, colors by Steve Mellor and inks by Joe Albelo, captured the imaginations of readers who lapped up the absurd plots, odd characters, and fresh cartoony style.

According to Hama, readers loved following Peter Porker as he navigated the world of cartoon New York.

"It's an absorbing alternate reality, like Duckburg in the Disney Universe or Herge's meticulously rendered world," he said. "The ligne claire environment draws you in, and then the characters grab you, with familiar personalities encased in furry or feathered bodies.

Only in issue #15 of The Spectacular Spider-Ham did Skeates cook up an origin story for Peter Porker. In maybe the oddest twist to the character, Skeates revealed Peter started out as a curious spider in the home of Aunt May Porker.

Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham #15 (Written by Steve Skeates, Art by Mark Armstrong)

Peter dons the costume for the first time in Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham #15 (Written by Steve Skeates, Art by Mark Armstrong)

Peter gains superpowers and turns into an anthropomorphic pig when May Porker, irradiated by an experiment with a hairdryer, bites him. Using his newfound powers for good, the Spectacular Spider-Ham takes on villains like the King-Pig, The Bee-Yonder and Raven the Hunter.

After Spider-Ham was canceled in 1987, the character lay dormant for years, only occasionally popping up in the pages of Marvel Tales as a filler. It wasn't until 20 years later that he would appear in the bizarre Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham, in which the character searches for his missing thought balloons.

Ultimately, the character was resurrected by Dan Slott in 2014's Spider-Verse, helping the various Spider-characters in their fight with Morlun and his family of Inheritors. After the events of Secret Wars, Spider-Ham and Spider-Gwen teamed up to create the Web-Warriors with Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man: India, Spider-UK and Anya Corazon. But with Into The Spider-Verse success, Peter Porker has taken a major step into the mainstream. Both DeFalco and Hama said it's amazing to see their creation on the big screen.

"I think Into The Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies I have ever seen and I loved Spider-Ham," DeFalco said. "Spider-Ham was conceived as a joke, a goofball way to look and play with superheroes. I think that all comics should have an element of fun to them. Our goal is to entertain our readers."

Spider-Ham, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Credit: Sony Pictures

For Hama, seeing Spider-Ham in the film was a complete surprise.

"I loved that movie. It really changed the game as far as animation goes. I went to the Marvel 'friends and family' screening, and had no idea that Spider-Ham was going to be in it, so I was pleasantly surprised," he said. "I think if they want to do a Spider-Ham spin-off, they should get Mark Armstrong and Steve Mellor to do the character concepts and designs. Anybody else can do the turnarounds and model sheets, but the conceptual core of the characters need weight and character."

If there's a Spider-Ham spinoff, as Amy Pascal and Avi Arad have posited, DeFalco said producers should mine the alternate reality of Peter Porker.

"I think Spider-Ham works best when he takes his own adventures seriously — no matter how ridiculous they may be," he said.