March 26, 2014

How Captain America Got His Stripes

With a new Captain America movie about to be released, I think it’s time I tell the story of when I was 14 year old, and I saved Captain America from appearing on the cover of a Marvel comic without his famous red and white stripes.

The year was 1989. I was a huge comics nerd, and a big fan of artist Todd McFarlane. At first I thought his style was weird, with too many lines on elongated faces, but it quickly grew on me. He was making an appearance at a local comic shop in Phoenix, so of course I went. I got there early and stood in a long line. And once I made it to his table, I hovered.

I’m pretty sure I hung out at his table for two hours, asking him question after question while he signed comics for people who I hope I let get their own questions in. He never let on if I bothered him, and I felt like I was spending quality time with a huge celebrity.

Todd (I can call him Todd now, right?) had brought in some photocopies of artwork he’d recently finished for upcoming issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Among them was this cover of issue #323:

I noticed something was wrong. “Where are his stripes?” I asked.

“What?”

“His stripes. Captain America is supposed to be wearing a blue chainmail half-shirt over a red-and-white striped long sleeve shirt. But this doesn’t show any stripes.”

As I remember it, Todd then said something like, “Oh my God! I have to take care of this right away! If I don’t fix it, the colorist will do it, and he’s going to mess it up!” and then he pulled out his cell phone to call Marvel HQ right away. But of course he didn’t have a cell phone in 1989 so my memory must be wrong. I think it actually went more like this:

“Oh, no. Thanks for catching that. I need to get that artwork back so I can add the stripes myself. If I don’t do it, the colorist will, and he’s going to mess it up.” And then he wrote himself a reminder note on the back of the photocopy.

“How would the colorist mess it up?”

“He might not follow the contours of Cap’s body. He’d make the stripes too straight.”

“Oh.” I beamed with pride that I found a mistake and he seemed to appreciate it.

A few months later, the issue came out, and I was glad to see that Captain America had his stripes. But I was a little sad that nobody would ever know how he got them.

Bonus: Here’s an awesombarrassing picture of me and Todd the first time we met, a summer earlier at Comic-Con 1988:

I can’t believe in Phoenix he acted like he didn’t even know me.

Comments

Nice story. It’s always heartening to remember when our heroes at the time didn’t mind us hanging around being young and/or annoying.

P.S. ‘awesombarrassing’ is a terrific word. (And it looks like it certainly applies here.)

How’d you get a copy of the uncolored, un-striped artwork?

Lester: I found an article about a time when the original artwork was up for auction, and that article included the picture. It looks like Todd didn’t actually end up adding the lines to the original art, but it got done at some point later. For all I know, the colorist ended up doing it and got it right!

I think I went to that signing too! Didn’t you and Stuart try to invite him to a party?

Anyway, I think the funniest part of this story is the idea that Todd McFarlane thought anyone could mess up a Todd McFarlane drawing worse than Todd McFarlane.

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