Gary Friedrich 1943-2018

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I covered Marie Severin last time. Now it’s Gary Friedrich’s turn.

As the Marvel line began to expand in the wake of its tremendous success in the early to mid sixties, the editorial staff also expanded in order to lighten the load of editor Stan Lee. First, it was Roy Thomas, who took over the writing chores on X-Men and Avengers, as well as some of the other, non-superhero titles. As the line continued to grow, still more people joined editorial and picked up the slack as Roy Thomas himself moved on. The first guy in after Thomas was Gary Friedrich.

During his time at Marvel, Friedrich’s most well-known contribution was the Ghost Rider. Though there would later be some dispute over who did what as far as character design and other things, no one can deny that it all started with Friedrich’s idea to bring a motorcycle-riding character into the pages of Daredevil. In fact, Friedrich had created another cycle-riding hero, Hell Rider, over at Skywald in 1971—a year prior to Ghost Rider’s debut in the pages of Marvel Spotlight #5 (Aug. 1972). Hell Rider was clearly the progenitor of the Ghost Rider.

So the bottom line is that without Friedrich, Ghost Rider never even gets started. I covered the bumpy road at the beginning of Ghost Rider’s career about a year and a half ago here.

But in terms of sheer volume, Friedrich’s biggest contribution to Marvel lore was the war books. He literally wrote all of them, starting with Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an assignment he inherited from Thomas shortly after coming aboard at the House of Ideas. Friedrich began with issue #42 (May 1967) and would write the book uninterrupted through issue # 81 (Nov. 1970); then continue sporadically through issue #116 (Nov. 1973) after that.

Full disclosure: I have not read more than a couple issues of Friedrich’s Fury run—it’s been on my to-read list for quite a while but I never seem to get to it—but based on what I’ve heard and read (great overview here), what appears to have stood out about Friedrich’s tenure on Fury was how fresh his approach was. This approach was far less glamorizing of war than previous takes had been, and clearly incorporated some of the attitudes of the nascent peace movement of the time.

Friedrich also launched (and wrote the bulk of) Marvel’s other two big war titles, Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders and Combat Kelly and His Deadly Dozen.

 

On a more personal level, I think Friedrich’s best overall work was his other collaboration with Mike Ploog on Marvel’s The Monster of Frankenstein. The first four issues were a fairly faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while the fifth issue proceeded to chronicle the monster’s continuing adventures in the nineteenth century. Ploog would exit after the fifth issue while Friedrich’s last issue was the eleventh. (With the twelfth issue, the monster was transported to the then-present-day of the 1970s. Things pretty much fell off a cliff with this move, both creatively and financially, and the eighteenth issue was the last of the series.)

The switch from the Shelley source material to new, original work felt seamless and wholly organic. These were really good stories—perhaps the best original treatment Shelley’s creation has ever gotten in comics form.

A more detailed article on Friedrich’s life and career, courtesy of The Comics Journal, can be found here. More personal memories of both Gary Friedrich and Marie Severin by Roy Thomas can be found here.

R.I.P., Gary Friedrich.

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