Recently, Bleeding Cool ran a Fanboy Rampage between Venom co-creator David Michelinie, looking to get a bit more credit for his co-creation than Todd McFarlane seemed to recently be giving, and Erik Larsen, who took over from Todd drawing the book, who pushed back on that. And now Spider-Man artist Ron Frenz has taken it further, talking about the origins of the character. Frenz, with writer Tom DeFalco had established that the Spider-Man black costume was a sentient alien being, and that it was vulnerable to high sonic energy during their run on The Amazing Spider-Man that preceded Michelinie’s. But first, a little history. This is the letter that David Michelinie had published in Wizard Magazine, in 1993, that kicked the whole thing off.
Dear Wizard. I just wanted to drop you a short note to correct an error in your January issue. First, I’d like to thank you for making Venom #1 your top pick of the issue. I hope everyone gets a kick out of the book when it hits the stands. However, I did take exception to being referred to m the article as the “co-creator” of Venom. I assume your writer was thinking of Todd McFarlane. the artist on Amazing Spider-Man at the time Venom made his first appearance. as the other “co-creator”. Todd’s visualisations were fabulous, and I’m sure Venom would not have reached the heights of popularity if it had been initially drawn by someone with less talent and imagination. Todd’s unique and intense visuals freed me to push the envelope in both dialogue and characterisation, and his artistic contribution to the first Venom stories can’t be overemphasized. However, there was only one person who actually created Venom, and that was me. I hate to sound like I’m blowing my own horn but after 19 years of writing comics, this is the first time I’ve created something than resulted in action figures, T-shirts and its own (unplanned at the time of creation, that is) series. So I guess I’m just a little jealous about sharing the credit.
To set the record straight, Venom’s earliest incarnation was actually in Web Of Spider-Man #18 (collectors take note!) in an epilogue sequence in which Peter Parker was pushed in front of a subway train, and was spooked by the fact that whoever did it didn’t trigger his spider-sense. I’d planned to make the mysterious attacker female and her background was completely different from the character that wood ultimately become Venom, but the basic idea was still there: someone who hated Spider-Man had joined with the alien symbiote to try and kill our hero. When I left Web, the character I had started to develop went into limbo. Then. when Amazing #300 rolled around and editor Jim Salicrup wanted to introduce a new villain in that issue. I brought upon my anti-Spidey smbiote woman. Jim liked the concept but thought readers might have trouble accepting a female character smashing Spider-Man through walls. (Feminist readers can take that up with Jim!) So I made the character male. and came up with the Eddie Brock persona to fit the new origin. The name “Venom” was then derived from the venomous stones the character was forced to write for sleazy tabloids. The new character’s first appearances were in Amazing #298-#299. The plots for those issues, including visual descriptions of the character were bought by the editor before a regular artist had nen been assigned to the book. So, that you have it—the true “secret origin” of Venom! Once again. I hope no one takes this as a swipe at Todd in any way, form or manner. I had a great time working with him on Amazing, and he deserves every bit of fame and fortune that’s come his way. It’s just Venom sprang from a single, demented mind (my own) and I appreciate your giving me a chance to clear that up.
Erik Larsen responded to Michelinie’s letter with one of his own that was printed in Wizard #23 a few months later.
Brother. that Michelinie clown’s got a lot of gall. He swipes the existing alien Spider-Man outfit with its existing powers that already hated Spider-Man) and puts it on a poorly motivated and poorly conceived character. Todd McFarlane takes Dave’s description of a big guy in the existing Spider-Man outfit and adds his own touch of a grinning face with accompanying fangs, slobber, losing tongue, and claws – and then Dave claims sole creation of the Venom character! Yeah right, I suppose he’d claim to have invented Spider-Man if he could get away with it. I’ll give Dave credit for co-creating Eddie Brock if he’d like (McFarlane was still responsible for designing the character visually) but that’s not much to crow about, One-dimensional, hate-driven, revenge-hungry characters are a dime a dozen. Eddie was the main reason I disliked the Venom character so much., Eddie’s motivation for hating Spider-Man as you may recall is that he was a reporter who believed a guy who was claiming to be the Sin-Eater, Eddie got canned from the paper for writing his series of fact-lacking articles. His rationale for hating Spidey was that if Spidey didn’t catch Sin-Eater he’d never get caught and he could continue writing his bogus articles for the rest of his life, is completely idiotic. Sin-Eater would probably have eventually been caught by somebody else. The man who confessed to Eddie didn’t have his name printed in the paper. so it wasn’t like the world would know that he was talking to the wrong guy. What would Eddie have poor Spidey do—allow innocents to be slaughtered just for the sake of maintaining his journalistic integrity? DUMB. The whole Venom/Spider-Man conflict could be resolved in two panels of half-way thought out dialogue. if only a writer capable of such a feat could be given the assignment.
More recently, this is how Todd McFarlane described the creation of Venom for Amazing Spider-Man #300, looking through original art pages.
“In 1 minute, the origin of VENOM’S visual creation!!! David M. would come up with story to go with visual I created…. I came into the Spider-Man office after doing the Hulk and they wanted me to do Spider-Man. But he was in this black costume. I didn’t wanna draw this black costume. It meant nothing to me. I wanted to draw the red and blue… So, they said, ‘Todd, if you just come on at #298 we promise that maybe we can get rid of it.’ And I go, ‘Well let’s just get rid of it fast! So, I did a character… I ripped the costume off him… I did this character called Venom, handed it to David Michelinie, the writer, and they said, ‘Just hold on, hold on, hold on,'” he continued. “So, then, all of a sudden I do #298, he’s still in the black, #299, he’s still in the black, finally #300, look I even said here on the cover sketch, ‘Can we do one in the black and the red? Come on, I want to do the black and the red.’ And they said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, fine.'”
And in the previous Fanboy Rampage, Michelinie was clarifying that he was no longer claiming himself as the cole creator of Venom, but rather he was the character’s “originator”. So, back to Ron Frenz on Facebook. After talking about the original person who suggested a black costume for Spider-Man, he focused on the current Fanboy Rampage at hand.
“Todd McFarlane created Venom to get Pete out of the black suit and into his preferred classic red and blue suit and writer David Michelinie is a poopy-head for saying otherwise.” I’m embarrassed to say I ascribed to this thinking for years because of the simple fact that if I were assigned the job of turning Spidey’s black suit (now a living symbiotic creature thanks to the twisted mind of writer Tom DeFalco) into his newest nemisis I would not have gone big and muscular and might never had thought to add the mouth.(Which, originally, didn’t include the tongue later added by Illustrator Erik Larsen.) Except that those elements were right there in Mr.Michelinie’s original plot for Venom’s first appearance (also attached) which was conceived,typed and editorially approved before Mr.McFarlane was ever hired to illustrate the adventures of Spider-Man. Did Mr.McFarlane’s subsequent popularity and dynamic approach contribute to Venom’s immediate break-out status? Mr.Michelinie has NEVER stated otherwise. So to the purpose of my drawings attached to this screed.
Question: Does the drawing based on Mr.Scheuller’s description look like what was published as Spider-Man’s black costume which later became Venom?
Question: Does the drawing based solely on Mr.Michelinie’s description of his new character from his plot look at all like the Venom we’ve come to know?
I’ll shut up now.
And this was the script excerpt from Amazing Spider-Man #299 he attached;
about him. but as she enters the apartment and turns on the lamp next to the sofa, she starts as she looks over to a still-shadowy corner where she sees the white spider and eye-shapes from Spidey’s costume. Thinking that Peter is home, she starts to scold him gently–but stops, surprised, as she sees a white smile form beneath the eye-shapes. Not a pret„ty smile; a scary smile. Like that of a predator sure of a quick kill The form then steps from the shadows and we can see that it is dressed in a Spider-Man costume, but it is definitely not Peter Parker. Besides the feral smile, the man’s body is huge, bulky, massively muscled like Arnold Schwarzenegger on a good day. MJ backs up, terrified, as the stranger reaches a hand out towards her, his lopsided animal smile stretcaing to the point where it almost connects behind his head, a totally inhuman gesture. ” Then, at last, he speaks “Hi, honey… I’m home!”
Here are those two pages as published in Amazing Spider-Man #299.
And the back and forth began;
- Howard Mackie: Wow… what a rouser of rabble!
- Erik Larsen: And Eddie Brock? Did Micheline provide a drawing of him? Because I seem to remember that character not having previously existed.
Todd obviously enhanced the initial idea considerably, adding claws and making his face progressively more monstrous–he enhanced the transformation having it turn into stings of goo pulling in different directions.
Micheline was handed all of the pieces. He had the costume, the powers, and all the rest. He was NOT starting with a blank page.
That Todd gets co-creator credit for cranking the visual to 11 and visually designing Eddie Brock seems fair to me.
- Ron Frenz: As stated in the thread by someone,Erik,We’re all very aware of your opinions on the subject. Are any of my FACTS in error? I make no judgments.Be safe.
- Erik Larsen: Ron Frenz Like you, I have no dog in this race. My one contribution was Venom’s tongue which seems to have taken on a life of its own. I can’t speak for office shenanigans because I wasn’t in the room. Gregory Wright recalled that Todd suggested putting the costume on a villain because he wanted to put Spider-Man back in his original costume.
Regardless–creating Venom was a layup. It’s an obvious idea and David was handed all of the necessary components. Would he have been a huge hit drawn by any other artist? We can only speculate. This kind of creation is akin to coming up with another character to wear Iron Man’s armor or another colored Hulk. It’s just the most minimal level effort of character creation. I’ve never been a big fan of these kinds of derivative characters.
Given Todd’s tweaks and the Eddie Brock visual–I don’t think Todd’s credit is out of line.
- Ron Frenz: Erik, when did ANYONE say Todd’s credit was out of line? Not a part of THIS conversation. Also to address Greg’s remembrance, Pete was already in a cloth version of the black suit, the Symbiote was already in the wind and had appeared in teaser scenes in WEB of SPIDER-MAN by Mr.Michelinie so getting rid of it to change the costume back wasn’t really necessary.
- Erik Larsen: Micheline seems to dismiss every contribution but his own.
- Gregory Wright: To clarify my remembrerence…I know Todd wanted to draw the red suit. And Todd himself has said online if they liked that suit so much put it on someone else and make them a villain. I have no memory of the timeline of when this was said, or if it had an ounce of effect on what was done in the book, or it was just the plan before that. Only Jim Salicrup could attest to that.
- Ron Frenz: “Seems” Erik? I’ve never read an ill word from Mr.Michelinie about Mr.McFarlane or his work. Maybe he has and I’ve just not seen it. What I HAVE seen is Mr.Michelinie trying to get the facts out in the sometimes loud cloud of Mr.McFarlane’s popularity and broader platform.
- Brett Breeding: Bullsh*t Erik – you clearly have a personal issue with David Michelinie as you continue to insert yourself into this discussion at every opportunity going way back to your letter in Wizard Magazine decades ago childishly attacking Dave for clarifying that he did not directly collaborate with Todd on creating Venom in the way he worked together with Layton on Iron Man. You have no personal knowledge of any of the circumstances in this matter yet you feel qualified to pass judgement… YOU are the only one trying to dismiss anyone’s contribution by continually diminishing Dave’s part in creating Venom. Dave has always acknowledged Todd’s part in designing and making Venom popular, and gives him his due credit whenever this subject comes up. For some reason you seem incapable of recognizing that fact. You clearly have some mental deficiencies you should address.
- David Michelinie: Erik, Did you even bother to read my response to your rant on my FB page? I answered most of your misinformed accusations, with both facts and dates for confirmation. Have you any PROOF of what you say about me, my contributions, or my appreciation of Todd’s contributions? If so, why haven’t you shown them? So far, you haven’t addressed any of the provable FACTS in the matter, but have only continued to shout your personal opinions. To which, of course, you are entitled–but they have nothing to do with what actually transpired. Oh, and if you’re going to go around the Internet questioning my honor, my professionalism, and my accomplishments, the least you could do is show me the simple courtesy of learning how to spell my name right…Eric.
- Fabian Nicieza: Erik, correct me if I’m wrong please because I haven’t followed all of what everyone has said, but I don’t know that ANYONE is saying Venom shouldn’t share creator credit between David and Todd, but this whole recent row seems to stem from one side — Todd — seeking to claim complete creator credit for the character. Again, correct me if I’ve misinterpreted the snippets I’ve read.. he said speaking perhaps as someone who has some experience with this kind of bullshit…
- Erik Larsen: if that’s what Todd is saying–that’s nuts.
- Gregory Wright: I have not heard him say that he created Venom by himself. He posted a video saying he wanted to get rid of the black costume and if they liked it so much put it on someone else and make them a bad guy. He then says he drew s pic of what that might look like and there was Venom. He may not have been aware of any plans already in progress but I never heard him claim to be sole creator.
Almost thirty years on after that original letters column exchange, the Fanboy Rampages continue…
Fanboy Rampage was a blog by Graeme “Graham” McMillan dedicated to the funniest, most ludicrous and most inappropriate comic book back-and-forths online. McMillan has moved on now, becoming a proper journalist for the likes of The Hollywood Reporter and Wired but he gave permission to Bleeding Cool to revive his great creation.