"Pure Imagination" is a one-man publishing company, founded in 1975 by Greg Theakston. The first twenty or so years of the company's history saw a sporadic, eclectic mix of sexually suggestive magazines, bits of action and horror, and the occasional fanzine.
More recently, Pure Imagination has specialised in cataloguing, printing (or re-printing) the various works of Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Al Williamson, Wallace Wood, Basil Wolverton and others.
Today we're looking at "Pure Images (Vol. 3) #1" from 1990, which contains an extended article titled "The Birth of Spider-Man". Volume 3 of "Pure Images" made it as far as issue #5, which is significantly better than Theakston's previous attempts. Volume 1 was a one-shot magazine (movie fan magazine) from 1975, and Volume 2 was another one-shot (general pop culture fan magazine) from 1986.
This book is standard comic-book sized, 40 pages with no advertisements (except for a couple of in-house self-promotions on the inside front and back cover). The front cover is glossy full-color paper, and there are eight full-color glossy pages in the middle of the book. The remainder of the pages are black and white only.
The contents are:
The "Powerhouse" story is part of an ongoing series, and it's terrible. Theakston is a decent enough artist, but his plot and dialogue are the most awful, hackneyed stuff. There's nothing of interest in either the character or the story.
But we're here for the "Birth of Spider-Man" article, nothing more.
Fortunately, this is much more interesting. Theakston is a detailed researcher, and he has met and interviewed Kirby, Ditko, and Ditko's former room-mate all in person. Unfortunately, Ditko (being his usual truculant self) kicked up a fuss and refused to let Theakston print the contents of the interview. Why doesn't Ditko want history to be revealed? Who knows. I suspect that by 1990, being a curmudgeonly old grump was just a fundamental part of Ditko's character.
Anyhow, Theakston still has plenty to say about the origin of Spider-Man. No, I don't mean the events of Amazing Fantasy #15. I mean all the stuff that happened before then.
I'm not going to try and reproduce the whole history here – that would be pointless. If you're interested, then you can buy yourself a copy of "Pure Images (Vol. 3) #1" for a few bucks on eBay. But here's the quick version.
The Origin of Spider-Man really begins with Joe Simon and Jack Kirby creating a character called SPIDERMAN, a classic silver age "kid gets granted super powers and can transform into a super-powered being who uses violence to enforce justice". Dissatisfied with his name, they re-brand him as SILVER SPIDER and pitch it to Harvey comics in 1954, but they don't get any traction. The article reprints Joe Simons' recollections from The Comic Book Makers on that subject, and we also get to see the rejection letters from Harvey Comics, as well as the first ever reproduction of the half-finished pencils and script from the original 10 page SILVER SPIDER origin story.
The next thread is a Jack Kirby character named NIGHT FIGHTER, created in 1954, but also destined to never see print. NIGHT FIGHTER climbed walls, and wore a tight-fitting helmet with lenses over his eyes. We get to see some of Kirby's original art for the character, and Theakston suggests that Kirby might have adapted SILVER SPIDER to become NIGHT FIGHTER, and then later adapted him once more to become Spider-Man (which was of course then adapted by Ditko).
What is quite certain is that SILVER SPIDER was adapted by Kirby and Simon to become THE FLY, which found some success in "Adventures of the Fly", published by Archie Comics in 1959. The Fly is available in print, but "Pure Images #1" reprints the key elements for our convenience.
Stan Lee then approached Kirby in 1962 asking if he had any "unused" super-hero material which he might be able to adapt, to capitalise on the sudden success of the Fantastic Four. Kirby recalled SPIDERMAN, and Lee took him up on the idea. Kirby re-vamped and re-worked the story into a new six page SPIDERMAN tale, presumably removing the elements which he had already pillaged for THE FLY. Unfortunately Kirby's six page proposal isn't shown – I believe it was "lost" along in the depths of Marvel with much of Kirby's other original artwork. That's a whole separate sad story.
At that point, Lee ditches Kirby (except for the cover art). Lee also adds a hyphen to Spider-Man, and Martin Goodman adds "The Amazing". Ditko picks up the project and runs with it, and instead of being a rip-off of Captain "Shazam" Marvel, Spider-Man becomes puny, insecure Peter Parker, and the rest is a very, very, very long piece of history.
But Theakston has one more trick up his sleeve. He has interviewed Eric Stanton, an artist who shared an apartment with Ditko during those days, and Stanton is attributed with a few contributions... including the idea of Spidey shooting webs from his hands. If true, that's a significant little contribution indeed!
The article itself is shabby, and poorly proofed. The layout is poor, and I spotted several spelling errors. At one point the first Spider-Man appearance is called ADULT FANTASY #15 instead of AMAZING FANTASY #15 – which is a particularly embarrassing mistake!
On the other hand, Theakston's version is a very handy assemblage of all of the various scattered pieces of the puzzle, and that makes it a superb reference guide. In addition, it is also the first publication of the original SILVER SPIDER story. Furthermore, the Eric Stanton interview is a valuable little fragment that easily justifies the few bucks I spent on this book.
There was one detail I would have like to see included. There's a reference to Ditko having used the "Aunt May" character in projects prior to (and even following) Amazing Fantasy #15. At that point, it would perhaps have been nice to explicitly name the most obvious of these, in the mermaid story from Strange Tales #97. But I'm nit-picking around the edges now. In the main, the research is sound and complete.
Theakston is clearly a true fanatic, and I'd be surprised if he ever turned a profit out of anything he has ever printed. He's a sub-standard comic book creator. But he is a detailed and dogged researcher, and that comes through despite the mediocre visual appearance of the product itself.
Of course, this article was neither the start, nor the end of the "Who Created Spider-Man" debate. That discussion still carries on to this day. The respective contributions of Kirby, Lee, Ditko, and Stanton is a fascinating, constantly-shifting battleground where circumstantial evidence wrestles hearsay in the court of popular opinion.
Regardless, this is a scruffy but historically-significant article, containing original research as well as a little bit of thoughtful speculation. So let's give it a scruffy, but significant Four Webs.
The word "Pure" in Theakston's business is somewhat misleading, given that he produced nine issues of Tease Magazine ("The Magazine of Sexy Fun").