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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #149

This is the one-hundred and forty-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and forty-eight. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Gil Kane had a book refused to be printed because his work was considered pornography.

STATUS: Ostensibly True

There have been many things written about the work of Gil Kane, but you would not think that “pornographic” would be one of them, and yet that was the reality that happened when Kane attempted to first release his original graphic novel, His Name Is…Savage.

It’s a totally different time now, but back then, the idea of an artist doing an original graphic novel was practically unheard of, as it had only been done once or twice by St. Martins Press, so Gil Kane was quite a trailblazer when he attempted to launch a series of original graphic novels by himself (along with Archie Goodwin’s writing).

So it was certainly an edgy move by Kane, but a pornographic one?!?!

Our own Greg Hatcher wrote about the graphic novel last year, and as Greg notes, the story certainly is a bit on the “pulpish” side of the coin, and I could certainly imagine it being a bit out there for when it was published (1968), but on the other side of the coin, the movie it was heavily inspired by, Point Blank, had come out a couple of years before, and that was not considered pornographic.

Still, the relatively graphic violence of Savage was a rarity for the time, so it is a bit more reasonable why the printers would take issue with it, but the idea that Kane could not even get the book PRINTED at first (although eventually it DID get printed), because it was considered pornographic?

That sounds absolutely bizarre, doesn’t it? And yet that was the case.

While the printers never specified WHY the book was considered pornographic, they told Kane that it was, so presumably they were referring to the violence in the comic which, as aforementioned, was more graphic than standard comic book violence at the time.

However, I say “ostensibly,” because who knows what was going on behind the scenes. I would imagine that DC and Marvel would not be pleased with the idea of their creators going off to produce independent works of their own, so perhaps DC had some sway in keeping Savage out of the printers for so long.

I do not know, but if you manage to get a chance at reading Savage (perhaps via this handy reprint by Fantagraphics in the 80s),

make sure you are not caught reading it on the subway – don’t want folks thinking you are some sort of pervert!

Thanks to Greg Hatcher for his fine column last year on Gil Kane’s graphic novels, and thanks to the five or so Gil Kane interviews over the years where he has discussed the problems with printing Savage for the information!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Barry Windsor-Smith snuck an amusing note into an early issue of Conan.


Reader Jeff T. sent me the following:

Is it true that Barry Windsor-Smith had some wise ass comment in the background of an issue of Conan the Barbarian?

That’s basically the truth of it, Jeff, as there is a famous/infamous panel in Conan the Barbarian #8 where Windsor-Smith has some fun with backgrounds.

Luckily for us, Mike Sterling, of the great blog, Progressive Ruin, was good enough to scan the panel in question for a feature he did a few years back on “easter eggs” in comics.

Check it out!

If you can’t see, Windsor-Smith wrote in the coins – I must be mad to sit here drawing all these coins.”

A classic piece of comic tomfoolery!

So there ya go, Jeff! It is true!

Thanks to Jeff for the suggestion, and thanks a lot to Mike Sterling for the scan!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel forced Malibu to change the name of one of their characters from Masked Marvel.


Interestingly enough, the first comic character to bear the name “Marvel” was not a comic from Marvel, at all, but rather Centaur Publishing’s Masked Marvel, which ran for three issues in 1940 (as well as appearing in other Centaur Publishing comics of the time, after making his debut in 1939).

Story continues below

The Centaur characters all lay dormant after Centaur went out of business, so they all lapsed into the public domain.

In 1992, Malibu decided to use a number of public domain characters for their series, The Protectors.

The Masked Marvel was one of the characters they chose, but when he showed up in the Protectors, he was called Night Mask. A lot of readers thought that perhaps Marvel had threatened Malibu, but in reality, it was a simple matter of avoiding a problem before it ever came about, and renaming him on their own accord.

Of course, one of the more interesting twists about renaming a character Night Mask to avoid irking Marvel, is that Marvel had just recently had a title called none other than, you guessed it, Nightmask!!

I doubt Marvel was worried too much about it, though.

Also, as a final piece of interesting news on the matter, in 2006, Marvel debuted a new character, finally taking into use the name that Malibu intentionally gave up for them, and introduced the NEW Masked Marvel (created by Karl Kesel, I believe).

Can’t keep a good name down, I guess.

Or even a sorta good name….

Oh, by the by, Night Mask was killed in an issue of The Protectors, and it was an issue featuring one of the more notable gimmicks of the day – a bullet hole through the whole comic book (and through Night Mask’s chest)!!

Fun times, the 90s were…

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

See you next week!


Actually, I think it says “I must be mad to sit here drawing all these coins.”.

Funny detail!

I was getting ready to say the same thing. “I must be mad to sit here drawing all these coins”


April 4, 2008 at 6:42 am



April 4, 2008 at 6:46 am

Also, an interesting tidbit, is that Marvel’s NIGHTMASK was the first work for the company by Mark Bagley.


Hmm. Looking at that first Masked Marvel comic…

I always wondered what Bono did before U2…and now I know…

From that cover it looked more like his name is … Lee Marvin.

With the bronze skin and the obvious name, it’s taken 7 posts before anyone mentions the total image rip of a famous pulp character here?

I have that issue of The Protectors, where Night Mask gets killed by Mr. Monday. The Protectors read like a combination of the Justice Society, The Avengers and The Defenders with a Wolverine thrown in to go up against a Dr. Doom. It was dark and moody.

I don’t understand. Were they saying that the violence alone was pornographic in Savage? Was there any sexual content to the book or not? That seems to be a key piece of information for this story, one way or another.

I fourth J to the AAP’s remark.

I’m confused by this statement: “the first comic to bear the name “Marvel” was not a comic from Marvel, at all, but rather Centaur Publishing’s Masked Marvel, which ran for three issues in 1940.”

Marvel Comics #1 came out in 1939.

Yeah! I second Matt Bird’s comment. I’d love me some ’60s era comic book T&A!

I believe at the time they were called “Timely” or “Atlas” comics. Not Marvel. Maybe not Atlas either, I can’t remember.

I was thinking the same thing, buttler. Should it be “First character to bear the name Marvel”? Masked Marvel first appeared in Keen Detective Funnies, thus not a comic named “Marvel.” And by the time his own first issue came out, Marvel/Marvel Mystery was already in publication.

The company was Timely rather than Marvel then (Atlas in the 50s mainly). The actual comic that features the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner and Human Torch is “Marvel Comics” (Marvel Mystery from 2 up) and came out in 1939: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9f/MarvelComics1.jpg

Ooh, I had always wondered where that “bullet hole in the comic” rumor I had heard of came from!

Buttler is right, according to the Comic Book Database. “Marvel Comics” #1 was published in 1939 by Timely. Issue #2 was called “Marvel Mystery Comics,” which then ran until issue #92.


You forgot to provide any proof for the Gil Kane one.

Thanks, folks! I addressed the three mistakes:

1. You’re right, I forgot to add “sitting” to the quote

2. You’re right, I meant to write “first Marvel comic CHARACTER”

3. And Kane has mentioned it in so many interviews, TGR, I didn’t think to pick one, but I listed the fact that they came from Kane interviews!

Thanks again, people!

Regarding “His Name is Savage”:

It’s an interesting conclusion. I don’t think there’s much validity to it. Declaring something to be pornographic after publishing and distributing it seems rather ridiculous. And although more violent than most b&w mags of the day (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella), the nudity was probably about comparable.

The story I’d always heard was that there was a lawsuit due to the improper use of a Lee Marvin photograph for the cover. It’s been suggested that the photo originally came from a screen test for Marvin to star for a Doc Savage project, or that it was a stock Marvin photo that had been given a golden texture. In any case, they had no rights to the use of the image.

Probably the main reason for the cancellation was sales, as seemed to happen to most comic/b&w magazine projects of the time. Like Savage Tales #1.

Which is a shame. I bought it off the stands and waited patiently for the second issue. I believe Fantagraphics planned to release it. Or maybe it was combined with the first issue that they reprinted. Neal Adams supposedly did some work on it.


Oh, Ed, I don’t mean to imply that the book was not printed.

It WAS eventually printed – it was just after being turned down by other printers initially. That happens fairly frequently, but it usually has something to do with sex, like Alias #1.

Now as to why the book didn’t sell, I do not know. It could very well be that people just didn’t like it.

I agree, I see “sit here” in the hidden message as well.

I seem to recall that there were actually two gimic comic covers with bullet holes that went all the way through the comics. One of them just drilled a hole through all the pages, thus annoyingly interrupting the artwork and in some cases dialogue. And, the other actually made use of the hole on every page of artwork, thus only drilling holes in the ads.

I can’t remember if this was the annoying one or the clever one. And, I’m not 100% certain that I still have them. I got rid of a lot of old Malibus last fall. Interestingly enough, in exchange for some New Universe issues I was missing.


The Lee Marvin image that graced the cover of His name is…Savage! #1 was based upon a movie still from the then-recently released movie Point Blank.

Yeah, Point Blank was a big influence.

Digressing a little: that Protectors cover reminds me of the character Gravestone (the one with the skull mask) whose power was the ability to come back from the dead. In his own series, it was revealed that he did this by fighting his way out of Hades- which is exactly what Wolverine has been hinted as doing recently! Is this a coincidence, or a rip off?

Annoyed Grunt

April 4, 2008 at 8:13 pm

“I seem to recall that there were actually two gimic comic covers with bullet holes that went all the way through the comics. One of them just drilled a hole through all the pages, thus annoyingly interrupting the artwork and in some cases dialogue. And, the other actually made use of the hole on every page of artwork, thus only drilling holes in the ads.”

I don’t remember it covering any dialogue or significant artwork, but it wasn’t an overly clever use of the hole. It didn’t even make a whole lot of sense since I believe Night Mask was beaten to death, not shot. Never the less, it wasn’t a bad issue. I had never read any of the characters before or since and the death scene did stir some emotion. That’s more than I can say for most Image comics from the time when people would get killed with no rhyme or reason.

What about the comic that came with a REAL bullet hole?

I have vague recollection of this but I’m pretty sure an issue of an anthology published by Shannon Wheeler’s Adhesive Press in the early 90’s (either Jab or Eyebeam) and all the issues were actually shot through with a real .22 caliber bullet, as a parody of gimmick comics in general and the Protectors comic specifically. I didn’t ever see the comic in person but I remember the ad for it featuring a sterotypical slovenly comic fan screaming in horror “It’s not mint! DEAR GOD IT’S NOT MINT!”. They used one bullet for every 10 comics, and poly bagged every 10th issue with the spent shell as a “variant cover”.

I swear I’m not making this up.

A few years later Shannon Wheeler decided to jump a few issue numbers in the Too Much Coffee Man series (jumping from issue 6 to issue 10 I think) and then advertising the never-produced missing issues as extremely rare. He even advanced the main storyline so that it was like the missing storyline had really happened. So the bullet hole thing could have been an earlier elaborate hoax.

Could be a good item for another column!

Jon Shazam Mundy

April 4, 2008 at 8:39 pm

On the subject of bullet hole gimmick covers, there was an actual book released in which the book was actually shot right through. I don’t recall the name, but I do know this as fact because I own a copy. It came with a COA and photos of it being shot. The 90’s were wild with this stuff ….ie the gimmick and variant covers. The variant covers have made a comeback, so I don’t doubt the gimmick covers aren’t around the corner as well

“Now as to why the book [Savage] didn’t sell, I do not know. It could very well be that people just didn’t like it.”

More likely, they never saw it. This was during the days of newsstand distribution, before comics shops were common. Most comics were sold alongside magazines at newsstands, drug stores, etc. (And oh, yeah, pterodactyls When experiments like “Savage” were published, the newsstand operators didn’t know where to put them. They didn’t fit (I mean physically — they were a different size — let alone conceptually) with the comic books, and if they were displayed at all, it was probably near the porn and crime magazines. Probably just as often, they may have been returned without ever being displayed at all (again, this was before direct distribution, so vendors could return merchandise for full credit). Later titles in similar formats (Kirby’s “In the Days of the Mob” from DC, and Marvel’s Savage Tales) had similar difficulties; Savage Tales had a couple of cancellations and restarts before it caught on, by which time there were enough direct sales outlets (comics shops) to give it a chance of selling.

That’s my guess, too, Rob (and it gibes with Kane’s personal accounts), but I wanted to at least offer up the possibility that Savage just wasn’t popular.

And thanks, Ryan! That’s a great idea!

Marvel actually used “The Masked Marvel” prior to the Kesel character. The title for the Speedball series by Stern and Ditko was SPEEDBALL, THE MASKED MARVEL, which came out three or four years before Malibu’s PROTECTORS.

Wasn’t the book with the real bullet hole called “Children with Glue”?

I always thought it was the inker, Tom Palmer, who wrote that note, not BWS. It makes sense given that he probably had never encountered the amount of detail (i.e. drawing each coin individually rather than merely indicating it as mass of coins with a few well-placed marks) that BWS was putting into his comics, something that was uncommon at Marvel at that time. He was probably peeved at the amount of time it took to do all this detail when he could of been working on some other paying gig. I also can’t believe that Palmer would take the time to ink over a note left by the penciller.

The Malibu bullet hole issue was not the only bullet hole comic of 1993. The month following that issue of The Protectors, the Austin-based Adhesive Comics issued their own bullet holed JAB #3. Unlike the Malibu comics, a vast majority of the creators in this anthology title actually used the bullet hole, which went through the entire comic, as part of their stories. This issue was actually solicited BEFORE the Malibu comic but due to the usual problems of small press comics, the issue shipped late. JAB was actually shot in stacks of ten with a .22 rifle as opposed to the mechanically created hole for the Malibu comic. The issue was produced in response to the preponderance of ridiculous collector comics in the early-90s. The joke was to sell a previously defaced comic. Of course, it was the best selling issue of JAB’s six issue run and the issue itself has become a collector’s item.

Jab #3 featured a Too Much Coffee Man story by Shannon Wheeler and some of the earliest work by Ted Naifeh.

(Disclaimer: I conceived and plotted the story drawn by Naifeh in that issue.)


Children With Glue, which I edited, was the first collection of Shannon Wheeler’s strips and definitely did not have a bullet hole. It appeared some two years prior to the first bullet hole comics.

(A little side note: he created his seminal character Too Much Coffee Man as a mini-comic to help promote Children With Glue)

I have the ’80’s Fantagraphic reprint of the Savage book. Violent? Yes. Pornographic? Absolutely not.

I think the other bullet hole gimmick was an issue of Trencher, where Keith Giffen personally shot a hole through a number of copies.

Where’s #150?

Back to Barry Smith as was, is it true he once used WANK as a sound effect?

[…] panel in Conan the Barbarian 8 where Windsor-Smith has some fun with backgrounds. …http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/04/03/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-149/The All-Time List1. About a Boy 2002 2. About Schmidt 2002 3. Abre los ojos 1997 Open Your Eyes 4. […]

I think it’s important to point out that there IS a definition for “pornographic” beyond the depiction of erotic acts.

[…] going with fresh content. As you can see from this blog article – it does contain lot’s of Public Domain comic book reference material. It seems easy for this blogger to add content related to old comics because it […]

Just how does a person go about NAMING a character when all the good ones are taken? Is it permissible to go back and lift a public domain character, lock, stock and secret identity and revamp them? I’ve come up with a stable, most of whom I’m been able to name, (thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy,) but there are a couple that seemed to be on the edge of infringement!

Yeah, there’s a project I’ve been thinking about doing where I’m just naming people what makes sense, regardless of whether or not someone may already have that name. I find myself wondering if I could possibly run into some legal trouble someday with that.

To be fair, these are fairly generic-on-purpose superhero names (like naming a fast guy “Lightning” or whatever). I’m not going to be naming anyone “Superman” or anything.

Rev. Susie the Floozie

March 26, 2013 at 12:06 am

I was an avid reader of CONAN since it first came out, and I remember the cited coin comment–but Martin Gray is RIGHT about the “wank”!! Barry Smith sneaked the term into CONAN #24 in “The Song of Red Sonja.” (Mind you, this is from my memory–but I’m half British, so it really stood out when I saw it.) During a fight in a tavern, there is this exchange between two bystanders: Bystander #1 yells, “Kill the Brythunian pig!” and Bystander #2 retorts, “I’M a Brythunian, you worthless WANK!”

Apparently the PTB at Marvel caught onto it too late, but notice it they DID–because by the time the giant-size reprint of CONAN #24 came out, the word had been changed to “you worthless WONK!” (this being in the days long before “wonk” had its current political meaning). Seeing the printed evidence that YES, they had indeed shriveled up a bit when they realized what had slipped out caused me no end of hilarity back then. Har har.

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