Full Q&A with “Ghost Rider’s” Gary Friedrich
Here’s the full content of the Q&A I did with Gary Friedrich, the creator of “Ghost Rider.” Friedrich is appearing at this weekend’s SoonerCon at the Biltmore Hotel in Oklahoma City. For more information, visit www.soonercon.com.
Matt Price: You’re possibly best-known for creating “Ghost Rider.” What were your influences in creating the character? How did the character come about?
Gary Friedrich: The first flash of an idea for Ghost Rider came when I was still a kid and saw Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.” I loved the movie and began to think about a superhero on a motorcycle.
As time went by, I was also influenced by the cycle gang movies of the fifties and sixties with Fonda, Hopper, Nicholson, etc. I could see America had a passion for guys on cycles and thought a superhero on a cycle would be popular. Evel Knievel and his exploits were also an inspiration.
The ideas began to come together in the late sixties during a period when I was away from Marvel and worked for another company for a time. But as I began to lean toward a supernatural connection, I realized the Comics Code Authority probably wouldn’t accept anything like that. So although I had the concept pretty much together by 1970, I had to wait until the Code eased its standards for horror-type comics in 1971 to attempt to get the character published.
In ’71 I took the completed idea (characters, origin story, costume design, etc.) to Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, and he agreed that Marvel would publish Ghost Rider. The first appearance of the character came in Marvel Spotlight #5 in early 1972.
Matt Price: Tell me about breaking into comics and about the early days at Marvel.
Gary Friedrich: I could write a book. In fact, maybe I will.
Roy Thomas, who brought me to New York and got me my first job at Marvel, and I grew up in Jackson, Mo., a small town about a hundred miles south of St. Louis.We worked together at the local movie theatre through high school where we continued our childhood interest in comics, especially after DC Comics began to revive their old superheroes of the forties like Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. in the late fifties.
While in college, Roy began to edit and publish Alter Ego fanzine with another fan from Michigan, Jerry Bails. It became a hit, and Roy’s interest in comics became much greater. I helped out with odd jobs on the early issues of Alter Ego which is considered by many the best fanzine ever and which Roy continues to edit todayl
All of this led to Roy being offered a job at DC in 1964 as an assistant editor on Superman Comics. He took the job and moved to New York, but a short time later he moved over to the fledgling Marvel Comics operation as assistant editor to Stan Lee.
In Nov. of 1965 Roy invited me to come to New York and take a shot at breaking into the comics field. And since, at the time, I was working for a couple of bucks an hour making waffle irons in a factory, it didn’t take me long to accept his offer.,
I should back up a second at this point and say that my interest in comics and I’m sure Roy’s as well really picked up with the appearance of Stan Lee’s first Marvel books in 1961 and 1962. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt reading the first issue of Fantastic Four after Roy brought it by the theatre one afternoon. We both recognized Stan’s writing and characters as something new and exciting in the world of comics and were big fans almost immediately. We continued to follow the Marvel line as it slowly grew and expanded through the early sixties and the time when Roy finally went to work there.
I arrived in New York in November of 1965 with about fifty bucks in my pocket and a roof over my head thanks to Roy and his friend Dave Kaler, a fan who played a large roll in the birth of comic book conventions in New York. I got by for the first three months or so through a combination of Roy’s generosity, panhandling in Greenwich Village where we moved a short time after my arrive in New York, and working part-time at a record store in Queens.
My first break came when a friend, Len Brown, offered me a part-time job at Topps Chewing Gum where I did my first professional work in the comics field, writing a series of Superman bubble gum cards. And a short time later I learned a small company in Connecticutt, Charlton, was looking for writers.
After an interview with Charlton Editor and later comics legend-to-be Dick Giordano, I was assigned to write some romance scripts for Charlton on a freelance basis at the princely rate of $4.00 per page. And my comics-writing career was born. I wrote lots of romance scripts as well as a couple of superhero stories for Dick over the next few months, including a few Blue Beetle stories with Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.
In Sept. of ’66, there was an editorial opening at Marvel. Roy got me an interview with Stan, and I was hired as an assistant editor. I was actually hired without taking Stan’s famous writer’s test, because the company was growing and they needed help. But I did later have to take the test before I was allowed to start writing comics on a freelance basis. The test consisted of writing captions and word balloons on four pages of Spider-Man artwork. I guess I passed it, because Stan didn’t fire me.
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