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Marc Swayze, Mary Marvel and Stargazer

Cover to Captain Marvel Adventures #19 by Marc SwayzeI've mentioned some of the origins of Stargazer in this post, but today I wanted to specifically talk about another influence. Marc Swayze is the co-creator (along with Otto Binder) of Mary Marvel. She first appeared in the pages of Captain Marvel Adventures #18 in December 1942 before eventually becoming the leading character in Wow Comics shortly thereafter. From what I understand, her visual look was inspired by Judy Garland, probably from Wizard of Oz, but there seems to be some debate over that. Mary was originally published by Fawcett Comics before DC Comics acquired the rights many years later.

Now, Mary Marvel (and the Marvel Family in general) and Marni, Elora and Sophie from Stargazer are very different characters with very different origins. However, Marc Swayze and Fawcett proved to me that comics featuring girls can have a place in the comic book market. That may seem odd because a solid 60 or 70 years separate these characters, but I really do like looking backward sometimes to get a broader sense of the entirety of the comic book industry. While I don't think an examination of the history of the comics industry is a template for "how things should be done," in this case it was a healthy example, especially in the face of what's being published today. Stargazer is an all-ages story and I mean that quite literally: it can be read and enjoyed by people of all genders and of all-ages. It's not a kids book per se; by that I mean a story that only children can enjoy. I can feel my skin crawling already since that is certainly not what I set out to do. Rather, I wanted to do a story featuring strong girls in a sci-fi/fantasy setting mainly because I haven't seen that type of story done all that much in comics.

One of the regrets I have with how comics have evolved is that characters like Mary are forced to grow up. If you do a simple Google Images search on her, you'll find all kinds of modern depictions of a far more adult character in far more adult situations. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with telling this type of story; I'm a big believer that comics need to showcase a diverse range of stories in multiple genres. However, in Mary Marvel's case more adult stories are simply not true to the origins of her character. To my mind, she's far more Peter Pan than this. This a tricky thing with fictional characters. Some characters, say like Kitty Pryde from the X-Men or the original incarnation of the New Mutants, should grow up or the stories would get very stale. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the gang being anything but quintessential teenagers. I'm trying to imagine an ongoing comic featuring them as 20 something slackers and it boggles my mind. In the case of Mary Marvel and the other "sidekick" character Captain Marvel Jr., though? I don't think either character works as an adult. Something intrinsic is lost by making these characters older. I'm not alone in feeling this way and I'm not surprised that Jeff Smith did a very young version of Mary Marvel in his Captain Marvel story from a few years back.

Marc Swayze's first sketch of Mary MarvelThat said, all-ages comics are a tricky beast, but then so are kids comics. Should there be more? Sure, but more comics in general would not be a bad thing assuming the (gasp!) sales and profitability are there. When I look at my own reading habits as a kid, I always drifted towards more adult comics because they didn't speak down to me. A great example is Power Pack: I really enjoy June Brigman's art on that title, but it never clicked with me when I was 9 or 10. What did? Well, *ahem*, titles like Axel Pressbutton. Which, if anything, proves that I was a quirky kid more than anything else. Seriously, though, good comics that kids can read and enjoy need to be created and curated by publishers, retailers and other gate keepers. There's a hunger for them and I'm a big believer that if readers who love comics aren't developed from a young age, the industry will lose them. We don't have to look too far to see what can happen: as manga (and Shōjo manga in particular) began to really develop a sales presence in North America, comic book shops were very slow to embrace it on their shelves. Bookstores (and, presumably, online retailers), on the other hand, we're not. And comic shops constantly played catch-up as a result.

From the creative side, it's just as tricky. I don't believe in chasing a particular audience segment. That's way too cold-blooded for me. Fundamentally, I try to good stories with strong characters that I myself would want to read. Really, I don't have much choice: making comics is a time-consuming endeavour at the best of times and I really have to throw myself into it to make it work. Doing stories that I don't want to read doesn't make any sense to me at all. Now, you have to be pragmatic about this, of course. We all have rent or mortgages to pay. We all have bills to pay. And we all need to eat. As a result, I'll never be an advocate of doing work that has very limited appeal for one reason or the other. I suppose I may sound like I'm compromising here a bit, but there's that pesky roof, belly, clothing argument again that's hard to ignore. At the end of the day, doing work you passionately believe in seems to be the best practice. At least it is for me.

Recent sketch of Mary Marvel by Marc SwayzeSo while I doubt he'll ever read this, I do want to thank Marc Swayze for giving me a bit of inspiration. Keeping up the faith while brainstorming, world developing, script writing, penciling and inking can be a bit tough, but all I had to do was look at Mary Marvel to keep my spirits up while Stargazer come to life. And that's something I'll always be grateful for. Thanks, Mr. Swayze!

Note: The black and white artwork on this post is taken from the Fawcett Companion: The Best of FCA (Fawcett Collectors of America), edited by P.C. Hamerlinck. The colour cover of Captain Marvel Adventures #19 was taken from Heritage Auction Galleries. I cleaned up the scan a smidgen, too.

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Volume Two Diamond Code: AUG111259

Volume Two ISBN: 978-09-781237-4-1

Volume One Diamond Code: AUG111260

Volume One ISBN: 978-0-9781237-2-7

Each volume is priced at $14.95 US each and both contains black and white illustrations throughout. Volume One is 122 pages and Volume Two is 110 pages.

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