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[Updated] How STAR WARS Saved Marvel Comics From Bankruptcy

UPDATE 3: We have a winner! Please congratulate user SlitRobo, who won a pair of tickets to our Marvel Movie Marathon!

UPDATE 2: It appears that, like most stories, there is a second side to this one. Earlier today, a commenter named “chazlip” left a fascinating message in the comments below:

“You have your facts wrong. I am Charles Lippincott, and I marketed Star Wars. I made the deal with Marvel. Since the first issue of Marvel Star Wars Comics #1, Thomas has exaggerated his role in the deal. I was not rejected by Stan. The deal was a lengthy legal contract signed by George and Stan.”

Immediately I was curious as to whether this was, in fact, the real Charles Lippincott, who served as marketing director for the original 1977 Star Wars film. A few other commenters affirmed that this was indeed the real Lippincott, and I did some sleuthing of my own on Facebook and determined that “chazlip” is, in fact, the real deal. I reached out to Mr. Lippincott for comment, but have not heard anything back as of the time of this writing.

My original script for today’s episode was based on four primary sources: 1) Jim Shooter’s blog post, “Roy Thomas Saved Marvel”; 2) Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story; 3) Dana Jennings’ New York Times article, “How ‘Star Wars’ Saved Marvel From Financial Ruin”; and 4) Keith Veronese’s io9 article, “How Star Wars Saved Marvel and the Comic Book Industry”. Though a few of these articles mention Mr. Lippincott’s name in passing, they do not credit him with being the primary dealmaker in this scenario; as a result, I did not mention him by name in today’s episode. It was not something intended to diminish Mr. Lippincott’s considerable accomplishments or glaze over a piece of Star Wars history. Rather, it was a truncated version of events based on existing published sources to make sure today’s video fit certain parameters and time constraints to which I am made to adhere.

So, while I do not have an official comment from Mr. Lippincott, I do have words that he wrote elsewhere on the matter. Mr. Lippincott has published a series of candid articles on his personal blog, which I will excerpt here to give you another side of this very fascinating story from a man who was actually there.

On the idea of turning Star Wars into a comic book: 

“From the very begining [sic], it was my intention to market Star Wars using comics. The reason why is very simple – its the same audience. That’s a no-brainer today, when Comic-Con is used to premier a lot of Hollywood product, but in 1976, films weren’t marketed that way. Basically, films were conventionally marketed through ads in newspapers, radio and TV spots.”

On deciding to go with Marvel:

“Marvel had come out with Conan and other characters which we felt were in line with what we wanted to do with a Star Wars comic series.”

“Marvel’s aggressive expansion of characters was important because we needed to be with a company who was actively building a science fiction base.”

On pitching the project to Stan Lee:

“I used the hotel’s phone book and found Marvel’s number. I tried calling Marvel cold to see if I could get a meeting with Stan Lee. I couldn’t. No, Stan Lee didn’t have any appointments free that day, the next day or even next week. So what was I going to do? How was I going to get in?”

“I called Ed [Summer, George Lucas’ partner at Supersnipe, a comic book store] to see if he could arrange a meeting with Roy Thomas, who had been the editor at Marvel previously.”

“Ed knew Roy and set up a meeting that evening. We went to Roy’s house and I pitched him the star wars comic books. Roy loved it. Roy wanted to be involved! Great! I mean, Roy was a legend! It would be a phenomenal team — Roy writing and Chaykin drawing. the two would do a great comic book. Roy then set up a meeting with Stan.”

On the details of the deal: 

“Besides the typical publicity route, I would arrange for us to get put on San Diego’s 1976 Comic-Con’s schedule, and even bring Roy and Howard out for a presentation. We would do a Chaykin poster that would be sold for a minimal fees to give the fans something they could take away with them until the comic book came out.”

“While the idea of getting fans reved [sic] up and interested in Marvel’s Star Wars Comics thrilled Stan and Shukin, what excited them even more was they weren’t going to have to spend a penny licensing the comics. We were giving them the rights free. And to top it off, we would not only give them the first 5 issues free, they wouldn’t have to spend a nickle [sic] promoting it. We would foot the bill, from Comic-con to ads. This was an offer Marvel couldn’t refuse.”

“After my meeting with Stan and our coming to an agreement for the first 5 books being free, with payment on the 6th, Marc Pevers then took over the legal contracts.”

“Marc Pevers and the lawyers at Fox worked out the deal with Marvel which included 6 comics, the first 5 of which were royalty free for the first 100,000 issues, with royalties thereafter. Starting on the 6th, STAR WARS would be licensed by Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox to Marvel Comics. The deal was the first two issues had to be out before STAR WARS was released, with the 3rd being out the week of the film’s release, May 25, 1977. There after, the comics would come out monthly.”

So, from Mr. Lippincott’s account we can draw a few conclusions:

  • It was his idea to adapt Star Wars into a comic book for marketing purposes.
  • Marvel was chosen due to its reputation for developing licensed characters (e.g. Robert E. Howard’s Conan/Solomon Kane) and Roy Thomas’ stewardship of licensed titles.
  • Roy Thomas was not originally intended to write it; they had only decided on Howard Chaykin due to his work on Cody Starbuck.
  • Stan Lee never shot the project down. Lippincott used Ed Summer’s connections to Marvel to get a foot in the door and a meeting with Roy Thomas. Then, they pitched the project to Lee, who signed off on it. After lengthy legal negotiation with Marc Pevers, 20th Century Fox’s attorney, the contracts were signed by Lee, Lucas, and all parties.
  • The nature of the deal was for a 6-issue series with 2 comics coming out prior to release. The first 5 issues were royalty free for the first 100,000 issues sold, then royalties kicked in. Afterward, the comic would be licensed by Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox on a monthly basis.
  • Howard Chaykin, who he initially championed for the project, turned out to be a bit of a “flake”, leading to additional artists and people doing “ghost work” for him.
  • It seems as though Roy Thomas has been unfairly or overly credited for his role in shepherding the Star Wars comics from concept to completion.
  • The Star Wars comics did indeed save Marvel Comics. However, it doesn’t seem like Star Wars got nearly as much out of the deal as the House of Ideas.

You can read Mr. Lippincott’s complete articles here:

Thank you to Mr. Lippincott for reaching out in the comments below and giving me pause put this fascinating story in a larger historical context. Thank you to the commenters for helping me verify Mr. Lippincott’s identity. Lastly, thank you to Star Wars for helping ensure that we would have a Marvel Comics to this day.

UPDATE: What impeccable timing! Marvel not only announced today that they’ll be bringing over 500 Star Wars digital comics to Marvel Unlimited, but that they’re offering new and returning subscribers their first month free. Can we read all 500 before The Force Awakens‘ release later this year? Challenge accepted. More details here.

In the year 2015, the two biggest films of the year are Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. However, what many people don’t know is that without Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and Marvel Comics as we know it — probably wouldn’t exist. It was the late 1970s and things were looking bleak for the comic book industry, but then a little property called Star Wars arrived on the scene and gave Marvel a new hope in the form of a licensed comic book adaptation. Okay, bad jokes aside, today on The Dan Cave, I’ll explain how the galaxy far, far away turned Marvel’s financial fortunes around and kept the House of Ideas alive during what was arguably its most tumultuous period.


Special thanks to Marvel’s Daredevil for sponsoring today’s show! If you haven’t already checked out Matt Murdock’s story on Netflix, what are you even doing with yourself? It’s only thirteen episodes long and it’s really, really good. Don’t believe me? Read Scott Weinberg’s reviews and find out for yourself.

And speaking of Marvel, you might have heard that we’re partnering with them to present the Ultimate Marvel Marathon on April 20-21 at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, CA. That’s right, we’re going to screen 29 hours of amazing Marvel Cinematic Universe movies culminating in an advanced screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron — and I have a pair of tickets that I want you to win! In order to win these ultra-sweet tickets, simply watch today’s episode and answer my question in the comments below. Just make sure that you enter to win by 11:59:59PM on Thursday, April 16 because when the clock strikes 12:00AM on Friday, April 17, we will be selecting a winner.

Last, but not least, do you want to learn even more about Marvel history? Find out everything you need to know about Ultron and Daredevil, and be sure to order my book, 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, which is available right now.

Thanks for watching today’s show! If you want to nerd out with me online, I’m always around on Twitter (@osteoferocious).

For full contest rules click here.

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