LARRY LIEBER

& THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN NEWSPAPER STRIPS

 

 

THE SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIPS

Newspapers and the daily comic strips they publish are at the very heart of the history of the comic book:

"Comic strips such as The Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, and Gasoline Alley began appearing in newspapers in the late 19th century and early 20th century and quickly found an audience with the American public.  The sequential nature of the strips, in addition to thought or speech balloons, defined the new art form.  Compilation books of comic strips were first published in the early 1900s and evolved into comic books in the late 1930s.
Comic strips have included themes such as: Light humor - Peanuts, Nancy, Blondie, Garfield, and Beetle Bailey; Superheroes - Superman, Spider-Man, and The Phantom; Adventure - Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Prince Valiant; Crime - Dick Tracy and Secret Agent X-9; and Drama - Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, and Brenda Starr.
Present day comics strips can be found in every newspaper and many magazines.  They are typically published in black and white in the newspaper editions running Monday through Saturday and in color in the Sunday edition."
(Norman Rockwell Museum, 2015)

The Amazing Spider-Man strip mentioned had been a project in the making since 1970. DC had a long standing legacy of Superman and Batman newspaper strips, so it must have seemed high time to Stan Lee that Marvel's most popular hero should have one too. A successful syndicated comic strip could also be very rewarding in financial terms, so Lee kept on pushing and brought Jack Romita Sr. on board to pencil his scripts.

 
Finally, The Amazing Spider-Man daily newspaper comic strip debuted on January 3rd 1977 - in spite of some fundamental reservations on behalf of the artist initially involved:

"Every comic book artist dreamed of being a syndicated strip artist. I used to dream about it. My problem was I had a job. I was art director (...) and I didn’t want to give up that job because, frankly, I didn’t think the newspaper strip would last more than three or four years. Shows you what I know! I was very leery of starting it, even though I wanted to do it (...) so I foolishly tried to do both. I was splitting my week, killing myself, and not getting much sleep. And I didn’t make much money on it. I told Stan at the beginning, if we keep adding newspapers and getting more money out of it, I’ll stay on it, but if it starts to lose money, I’m going to quit." (John Romita Sr. in Dueben, 2015)

But the strip, produced by Marvel and syndicated originally by the Register and Tribune Syndicate and then King Features Syndicate since 1987, turned out to be an immediate hit, with more and more newspapers signing up all across the US - and then the world over. Although set apart from the continuity of the comic books, the strip featured all the standard Spider-Man cast along with the wry humour characterization which fans of Spidey had grown so fond of over the years.

 


1977 newspaper ads for the launch of the
syndicated Amazing Spider-Man daily comic strip

 


Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strip (7 January 1977)

 
In spite of all the similarities to the established world of Spider-Man, there were of course fundamental differences. For one, doing between 18 to 22 comic book pages a month or three to four panels a day for seven days a week was like night and day, and the burden rested mostly on the penciller, as Romita soon found out.

"It was frustrating. Such long hours and such constant pressure, seven days a week - I think I aged 10 years in those four years." (John Romita Sr. in Lear, 2009)

Working on story arcs which typically run for 8 to 12 weeks, the artist often felt let down by the final production values of the strip - which of course was printed on cheap newsprint paper.

"It was a disaster because they were reproducing stuff smaller than two inches. I ended up having to draw almost a coloring book line to keep it from disappearing altogether on the page (...) I couldn’t control how bad it printed in a lot of newspapers, but I turned out the best product I could. That’s why I lost a lot of sleep and a lot of money." (John Romita Sr. in Dueben, 2015)

After four years, Romita decided he had enough. Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber did a quick fill-in but found he was too slow for the required output pattern (Thomas, 1999) until Fred Kida took over in August 1981. When Kida retired in July 1986 the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip was once again in need of a penciller. Stan the Man once again turned to his brother, who felt he could keep up with the schedule:

"And so Stan asked me, or I asked him... anyway, we spoke about it... "Do you want to try it?" And I said okay. And this time I stuck with it, and I was able to do it." (Larry Lieber in Thomas, 1999)

 

LARRUPIN' LARRY SAVES THE DAY... AND THE YEARS... AND THE DECADES

 
Larry Lieber (born 26 October 1931) is the younger brother of Stanley Martin Lieber, better known of course as Stan Lee, the spiritus rector of Marvel Comics. Almost always intent on keeping a low profile, his role in the creation of the classic characters of what would come to be known as the Marvel Age of Comics of the 1960s often tends to go unnoticed. It was Lieber who supplied Jack Kirby with a full script for the first Thor story (based on a basic plot handed to him by his brother) and thus also coined the god of thunder's alter ego, Don Blake, just as he did for Iron Man and Tony Stark (Thomas, 1999) - which also explains the deviation from Stan's alliterative principle of having first and family name start with the same letter, as in e.g. Peter Parker or Matt Murdock.
 
  In the process of adding nicknames to the creators involved in the production of Marvel comics, Stan called his brother "Larrupin' Larry" - larrup being an American English expression originally denoting a thrashing but used to qualify something (or, in this case, someone) as "thumping good".

 
As far as the Spider-Man newspaper strip is concerned, Larrupin' Larry Lieber took over in 1986 and he has been drawing them ever since - 31 years and still going strong. This is most certainly also due to the fact that Lieber found his own way of coming to terms with the very demanding production schedule.

"I did even better than that, because after a while I wanted to do my own inking. I wasn't really that experienced as an inker, but I wanted to do it because I felt that only I could keep what I put in the pencils. There are certain inkers who would have enhanced what I drew, but I wasn't getting that kind of inking. I did that for a few years, but it was very hard. I'd end up sitting up all night inking it out, and I was always afraid, because you've got that deadline there from the syndicate. So finally they said, "No, let's have somebody else," and I agreed." (Larry Lieber in Thomas, 1999)

 


Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strip (23 September 1993) - original artwork by Larry Lieber (personal collection)
Segment of "The Selling of Spidey" (19 June 1993 - 5 December 1993)

 

"Stan gives me full scripts, which tell me exactly what to do. Stan is very good at visuals, thinking what would look good." (Larry Lieber in Thomas, 1999)

 


Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strip (27 May 1995) - original artwork by Larry Lieber, signed by Stan Lee in third panel (personal collection)
Segment of "Fearless Vampire Player" (18 April 1995 - 30 August 1995)

 

"Stan puts a lot of [Peter Parker's life] that in there. They're always talking about Spider-Man, but there are periods where there's a lot of Peter Parker. As a matter of fact, one of the things about the strip that makes it a little hard is because there's Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and so he's writing it like a romance strip... you know, the pretty girl, the good-looking guy... and then it shifts to the villains, and Spider-Man. It's not just a super-hero strip, and it's not just a romance strip. It's both." (Larry Lieber in Thomas, 1999)

 


Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strip (10 June 1996) - original artwork by Larry Lieber (personal collection)

 

"I feel closer to Stan since I've been doing Spider-Man than I was before, in a way. Which is good, because doing a strip, you don't get much feedback (...) Stan is the only one who really looks at my stuff, and if I do anything good, he appreciates it. He'll look at a strip and say, "Well, I know that must've been hard," or he'll say, "Gee, that's a good expression you've got on that girl; you ought to be directing movies," or something like that. It's been a nice working relationship all these years." (Larry Lieber in Thomas, 1999)

 


Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strip with title panel (2 June 1997) - original artwork by Larry Lieber (personal collection)

 

 

You can keep up with the daily Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip at the comicskingdom.com website.

 

 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

DUEBEN Alex (2015) "John Romita Sr. Reflects on His Spider-Man Legacy, Gwen Stacy’s Death and Stan Lee", published online by CBR

LEAR Alex (2009) "John Romita - Strip Artist, Spidey Visionary", in Spider-Man Newspaper Strips Vol. 1, Marvel Publishing

NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM (2015) Illustration History - Comics: Comic Strips, Webpage

THOMAS Roy (1999) "A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber", in Alter Ego Vol. 3 #2, TwoMorrows Publishing

 

 



(c) 2017

uploaded to the web 1 November 2017