With the Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently making billions of dollars for Disney and films like Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice making millions for Warner Bros, it’s easy to forget that the comics side of the business doesn’t make much money. This fact, coupled with a lot of dodgy business practices about character ownership and rights, means that a lot of comic creators don’t earn that much money.
When times are tough and you can’t pay the bills, it is only natural for creative types to take on assignments that they would otherwise object to. After all, even the most anti-consumerist writer has to pay the rent, and most landlords don’t take “exposure” in lieu of cold hard cash.
Even the greatest minds in comic books have a few embarrassing skeletons rattling around in their closet. From comics intended to sell toys to a… surprising amount of X-rated material, here are the fifteen most embarrassing creations of legendary comic writers.
15. Mark Millar’s Streets of Rage
Best known for: The Ultimates, Civil War, Wanted, co-creating The Authority.
The most embarrassing thing? Back in 1993, there existed a Sega-themed magazine in the UK called Sonic The Comic. Along with news and features about upcoming Sega games & consoles, it had several comic strips based around Sonic the Hedgehog and other video game characters. Outside of the Sonic strips, the magazine also had comics for Shinobi, Eternal Champions, and Shining Force.
There was another video game series with a strip in Sonic The Comic that ended up being so popular that it briefly got its own spinoff. It was based upon the first two Streets of Rage games, and it was a shoddy attempt at doing a dark and gritty series in a kids comic.
This horrible series was created by Mark Millar, the man who would go on to become an important player at Marvel comics. While Millar has since cooled on his original dislike of the series, he has always maintained that he only wrote it to pay for his wedding.
14. Steve Ditko’s Bondage Comics
The most embarrassing thing? Despite being an important figure in the history of comics, Steve Ditko is a complete shut-in. Only a handful of photos exist of the man, and a BBC documentary called In Search of Steve Ditko failed to get him on camera. As such, very little is known of Ditko outside of his work.
While Ditko’s work for Marvel and DC is famous, his collaboration with fetish artist Eric Stanton is a lot less well-known. The two met in art school and shared a studio for almost a decade. According to Stanton, the two of them worked together on a bondage comic called Sweeter Gwen.
Steve Ditko inked many of Eric Stanton’s comics, all of which were essentially softcore bondage porn. These works did not contain Ditko’s name, but the work is very obviously his. Stanton has also confirmed Ditko’s involvement in interviews. Due to this anonymity, you are not likely to ever see Black Widow Sorority next to Amazing Spider-Man #1 on his résumé
13. Joe Shuster’s Superman S&M Art
Best known for: Co-creating Superman.
The most embarrassing thing? The story of how the creators of Superman got screwed out of royalties is a sad one. It started in the late 1940s and still continues on to this day.
Due to Superman’s two creators, Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, selling their ownership rights to DC for $130, they received almost no money from the iconic character. As they would get no royalties from the massive amounts of merchandise money that would come in during the next few decades, Siegal and Shuster would be forced to take any work they could to make ends meet.
In the 1950s, there existed a fetish comic series called Nights of Horror. Due to his growing financial needs, Joe Shuster drew unofficial S&M themed art of the Superman cast for commission. These works were combined together in the book Secret Identity: The Fetish Art Of Superman’s Joe Shuster, where you can see the cast of Superman engaged in bondage-themed acts, all drawn by one of Superman’s creators.
12. Neil Gaiman’s Duran Duran Biography
Best known for: The Sandman, American Gods, Coraline.
The most embarrassing thing? When it comes to embarrassing works, the comic creator is not restricted to just comics. Such is the case with Neil Gaiman, who wrote a book that he regrets so much that he refers to it as “the book I wish I’d never written”.
Neil Gaiman is best known for the popular comic series The Sandman, which focuses on Morpheus, the ruler of dreams, as he escapes a long imprisonment and enters the world of the DC superheroes. The series itself is best known for bringing a horror/fantasy themed edge to the established DC canon, along with some gorgeous gothic artwork. The Sandman was part of DC’s Vertigo line of comics, which dealt with adult and, sometimes, controversial themes.
With such a dark series to his name, what could possibly be so bad that Neil Gaiman wishes he never wrote it? It 1984, he was approached to write a biography of the band Duran Duran. He admits that he did it solely for the money, and that it is easily the “worst thing he has ever written”
11. Colleen Coover’s X-Rated Comic
Best known for: Bandette, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, X-Men: First Class.
The most embarrassing thing? Colleen Coover has become best known for her work with Marvel comics. In recent years, she has supplied stories for Amazing Spider-Girl, Fantastic Four and X-Men: First Class. Alongside these, Coover is also co-creator of the Eisner award winning series Bandette, the story of a teenage burglar that is heavily inspired by Tintin and other European comics.
Most of Colleen Coover’s mainstream work is known for being aimed at kids, especially young girls. Before working with Marvel, Coover also did a lot of indie work. The most well-known work that predates all of Coover’s child friendly material is Small Favors, a lesbian porn comic that caters to many different fetishes. The story follows a woman named Annie who is given a size-changing sprite named Nibbil (imagine Ant-Man, if he was an attractive girl instead of Paul Rudd) as a girlfriend. The two spend most of the strip having sex with each other.
10. Grant Morrison’s Zoids
Best known for: Animal Man, The Invisibles, Batman, JLA
The most embarrassing thing? Grant Morrison has written a great deal of modern DC comics, including a lot of Batman and Justice League of America. The works that best define his career are his early masterpieces Animal Man and The Invisibles, two series that blurred the line between the reality of the comic and the reader.
The one period of Grant Morrison’s career that he rarely talks about, however, is his early work for Spider-Man and Zoids.
Zoids is a toyline based around transforming robots that appear in the form of animals. It was essentially a copy of Transformers. In the UK, Zoids shared a comic with Spider-Man. It was in these pages that a young Grant Morrison got his chance to shine, with his own story arc called “The Black Zoid”.
9. Kouta Hirano’s Hentai
Best known for: Hellsing, Drifters.
The most embarrassing thing? In Japan, it is not unheard of for up-and-coming manga artists to get their start drawing hentai (pornographic comics). These dōjinshi (self-published) works are often a great way for artists to improve their craft whilst also making some money on the side. Many famous manga artists got their start this way (such as the creators of Love Hina and Tenchi Muyo) and it doesn’t carry as harsh a stigma as it would in the West.
That being said, once these artists get a popular series in a big magazine, the elements of their previous porn series are usually put aside. This was not the case with Kouta Hirano, however, as he ended up re-using designs from his earlier hentai series in his massively popular manga Hellsing.
Hellsing is a horror themed series that follows Dracula in modern day England. He now works for the British government as a monster slayer, and gets caught up in a battle against a Nazi battalion that has discovered the secret of creating false vampires. When creating Hellsing, Kouta Hirano reused character designs from his old hentai series Angel Dust.
8. Willy Vandersteen’s Nazi Comics
Best known for: Suske En Wiske
The most embarrassing thing? Willy Vandersteen is one of Belgium’s most famous comic creators. In his lifetime, he sold more than 200 million copies of his work – a feat that many comic greats have yet to match.
Vandersteen’s most famous work was the series Suske En Wiske, a comic about two young kids whose names are changed along with the title, depending on what region it is released in (in the USA, it is called Spike and Suzy).
It was revealed after Willy Vandersteen passed away in 1990 that he had some early work he wasn’t proud of. Vandersteen did not speak of this comic while he lived, and the truth of his involvement did not come out during his lifetime.
In 1942, Willy Vandersteen operated under the pseudonym Kaproen whilst he worked on anti-Semitic comics during World War II. While such work is deplorable, he must have had a change of heart, as the following year he started releasing anti-Nazi comics under the same name.
7. Paul Dini’s Ewoks
Best known for: Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Arkham Asylum/City, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Co-creator of Harley Quinn.
The most embarrassing thing? Paul Dini is one of the most important figures behind the DC Animated Universe. Without him, the current landscape of comic books would be very different. At the very least, we owe the presence of Harley Quinn to his work on Batman: The Animated Series.
While Paul Dini has written many comics, he’s been most prolific in the world of animation. He has written episodes for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, and Freakazoid! Along with his DC work, Paul Dini has also had a lot of involvement with the Star Wars franchise, writing episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Alongside all of these great cartoons that Dini wrote for is Star Wars: Ewoks, a cartoon based on the hated Star Wars characters. If you felt that all the Ewoks lacked were some really annoying voices, then this was the show for you.
6. Masamune Shirow’s Dirty Books
Best known for: Ghost In The Shell, Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police
The most embarrassing thing? There have been a few occasions in show business where it has come out that a celebrity got their start in pornography. This is less of a big deal nowadays, and it is usually just seen as a jobbing actor who needed to make money any way they could.
Masamune Shirow, the creator of some of the most important manga and anime series of all time, is a rare case of someone who made it big… and went back to porn.
Most people are probably familiar with Ghost In The Shell, the anime film that helped define a generation of action movies. This was the work of Masamune Shirow, who excelled in creating science fiction series that codified the genre. While his most famous series had their fair share of nudity, it wasn’t until after he was successful that Shirow moved solely into pornographic comics. From the late ’90s onward, Masamune Shirow decided that drawing images of women having intercourse with horse monsters was a better use of his time.
5. Jack Kirby’s 3D Superhero
The most embarrassing thing? There aren’t enough words to list Jack Kirby’s many accomplishments in the comic industry. Much of the mythos of the Marvel and DC universes came from his mind and hands. From his distinctive art style to his desire to recreate the legends of old in a contemporary setting – anyone who is a comics fan owes a great deal of thanks to Jack Kirby.
With a man that has such a sheer volume of work to his name, it is undeniable that there will be a few clunkers in there. For Jack Kirby, that skeleton in the closet is Captain 3D.
Captain 3D was created in 1953 as an early attempt at making a comic with 3D visuals. To see these effects, you required a pair of glasses with a red and green plastic lens (known as Anaglyph 3D). The comic was your basic science fiction fare with a primitive 3D effect.
The makers of the comic knew their audience well, though, as one of the 3D images was a picture of Marilyn Monroe.
4. Dwayne McDuffie’s Monster In My Pocket
Best known for: Damage Control, Static Shock, Justice League Unlimited, Ben 10.
The most embarrassing thing? Along with having numerous comics to his name, Dwayne McDuffie had a profound effect on superhero animation during his lifetime. The most famous of these was the series Static Shock, a show that was part of the DC Animated Universe but dealt with real social issues, unlike Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League Unlimited.
Even though Dwayne McDuffie was someone who was passionate about social issues (which was reflected in his work), he still had to pay the bills. One of his earliest jobs was writing a comic based on the Monster In My Pocket toyline. The Monster In My Pocket toys (which had no relation to another series from Japan about pocket monsters) were small action figures based on classic movie monsters (such as Dracula). With almost no backstory to go on, the writers of the comic were allowed to come up with whatever they wanted.
3. James Hewlett’s Virgin Cola Commercial
Best known for: Tank Girl, Gorillaz.
The most embarrassing thing? James Hewlett has an art style that is instantly recognizable due to its uniqueness. If you are familiar with his other work, then chances are good that you could pick Hewlett’s work out of a lineup.
While his most famous work is the creation of the animated rock band Gorillaz, James Hewlett got his start with the comic book Tank Girl. You might be thinking that his most embarrassing work will be the notoriously awful Tank Girl film from 1995. That is not the case, however, as the blame for Tank Girl can be spread around a lot of different Hollywood executives and producers. James Hewlett has another embarrassment that is all his own.
In 1999, James Hewlett was hired to do animated commercials for the short-lived Virgin Cola brand. These commercials pushed the whole “sex sells” thing as far as you can go with a cartoon. They portrayed a sexualized woman roller-skating around a Willy Wonka style factory that makes the soda, with the tagline of the commercial being “which is why you can taste our love, every time you swallow” — subtle.
2. Alan Moore’s BJ & The Bear Annual
Best known for: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The most embarrassing thing? Alan Moore is perhaps the most anti-consumerism comic writer alive. Despite there being movie adaptations of his most famous works, he has refused to take any money from them, as he feels they are not indicative of his original vision.
Despite what his Rasputin-like beard might imply, Alan Moore was a young and upcoming writer at one point. Being a married man with kids on the way, Moore could not be so choosy early on in his career. The man who would go on to write Watchmen and V for Vendetta would get his start in the annual of a TV show called B.J. and the Bear.
B.J. and the Bear was a comedy show in the late 1970s about a truck driver and his pet monkey. The show was popular enough in the UK that it got a yearly annual filled with stories about the show and activities for kids (such as puzzles). Alan Moore’s first ever published work were two articles in the 1982 B.J. and the Bear Annual, one was about C.B. radio call sings, the other a story about apes in Somalia.
1. Stan Lee’s Stripperella
Best known for: Co-creating pretty much all of the Marvel universe, his numerous cameos.
The most embarrassing thing? When talking about someone with a career as long and distinguished as Stan Lee’s, it seems almost sacrilegious to say anything negative about the man. Without him, we wouldn’t have Spider-Man or the X-Men or the Avengers. What could possibly embarrass a man with such an illustrious career?
In 2003, Spike TV decided to create an adult cartoon for their network. The product of this decision was Stan Lee’s Stripperella, a cartoon about a stripper who is secretly a superhero. The title character was voiced by Pamela Anderson, and the show focused on Stripperella battling the kind of villains you would expect a super-powered stripper to fight, such as Cheapo – the world’s cheapest man. Stripperella lasted one season before being cancelled.
The only reason anyone remembers this trashy show is due to the fact that it was created by Stan Lee and has his name in the title. In fact, he cameo’d in the show as a scientist named Jerry.
For what it’s worth, Stan Lee is totally unashamed about this product that bears his name. He was so fond of the character that he eventually managed to get a Stripperella comic produced.