Talking To Andy Olsen – The Original Creator Of Marvel’s Wolverine?

A couple of weeks ago, Bleeding Cool ran an article looking at an entry to Marvel’s FOOM Magazine’s create-a-superhero contest, the results of which ran in 1973. One of the runners up was Andy Olsen and his creation “The Wolverine”.

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Six months later, Incredible Hulk #180 with the first appearance of Wolverine, was published by Marvel. The rest is history.

Bleeding Cool managed to track down Andy Olson and asked him what he remembered of that time.

He didn’t hold back.

Funny how some things stick with you.

It all started in the dark ages. So long ago it would be easy to forget.

The time of analog.

Boys my age had fewer creative outlets, computers were almost science fiction, gaming consisted of various boards and cards made of paper.

Paper. The ancient medium of Gutenberg was my entertainment refuge in the form of printed color comic books and Marvel was the publisher of my fantasy world.

Much of my school age days were consumed with buying, reading, collecting and discussing with my friends comic book hero plot lines, and artworks of the giants – Jack Kirby, John Romita, Steve Ditko to name a few were almost revered and Stan Lee ruled them all.

It inspired me to draw and create my own versions of what I hungrily read and blow my meager allowance money on issue after issue. Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Fantastic 4, I was totally into the Marvel Universe.

So I think in 1973 or 4 Stan Lee announced a magazine catering to his fan base called FOOM (Friends Of Marvel – what the Os stood for eludes me..Obnoxious? Oligarch?..Opportunist? ..Oh well..) I happily subscribed. As I recall it was a cheaply printed 2 or 3 colored mag supposedly under direction of The Man himself.

At that time I was mediocre scholastically but not too bad in art class with dreams of becoming an artist, perhaps a comic book artist. I was a sketching fiend drawing incessantly anything that struck my fancy.

Sometime during the short production of FOOM Stan ( I really don’t know if it was him personally but his name was all over it so I’ll refer it all to him. Yes I know it was never a one man show there. ) announced a fan contest.

Hey kids! Design your own superhero! or villain! – send in your idea, sketch to us and Stan himself will pick the winner! The winner will become a Marvel comic book hero! WOW!!

I knew there would be hundreds of entries but just the thought of The Man actually seeing my work was simply too exciting to pass up.

So I gave it some thought.

First you need a a name.. For some reason it always seems to describe the hero.

You never have a superhero named Larry or Bob.

So I looked for an interesting name to build off.

Bats, nope, spiders, done, koalas, too cute.

I had heard of a creature called wolverine. From what I knew it was reputed to be pound for pound meanest animal on Earth. Not even Grizzly bears would tangle with one. A worthy attitude to have when fighting crime. Wolverine it was.

So I set on using that as a base concept. If you notice in my adolescent sketch there is a pattern on the back of his costume that mimics the fur shading of the animal as well as the front mask sort of like the markings of its head.

The details other than that eludes me, but looking back at the sketch he seemed to have a metal skeleton and no claws, because I couldn’t imagine a superhero scratching an opponent. Sissies scratch.

I sat down and worked up my sketches eventually working up a finished drawing to send off.

I also created a villain named Krypt. As I recall he was a part cyborg fellow who was pissed off at almost everything.  I thought the name sounded cool…

God, does anyone use “cool” anymore?

Well some weeks went by and the issue announcing the contest results was delivered.

To my surprise and pleasure both my entries made it to the runner ups or honorable mention. The winner was called Hu-man or something like that. Good for him.

I knew hundreds of other kids were out there just as excited and creative as I so the fact that Stan Lee took time off his coffee break to sort through a stack of kid’s sketches and toss mine into the “do not trash” pile was a thrill.

No money, trophy, or notice was given just a reprint of my sketches in an obscure fan magazine.

Excited, I mentioned this to my uncle who was an established commercial artist on Madison Avenue (that’s in NYC for those who don’t know) who replied: “You did WHAT?? You idiot! Don’t you know what these guys did? They pulled ideas from you kids, make money off it and payed you NOTHING!!” Probably using other colorful words. But that’s the best I could remember. Feel free to insert your own.

I felt rather used and stupid.

That was the end of it, time moved on and so did I. Even comics lost my interest, but not art as a field of study.

Fast forward a few years later as a college student I passed as comic book stand and noticed a large X-Men Marvel title: Wolverine.

WTF..and really-XMEN?

Of all the Marvel heroes- X-Men I felt were the bottom feeders.

Then it hit me. I had been had..Uncle was right.

My regard for Marvel and Stan Lee was so high it never dawned on me the contest was harvesting concepts to breath some freshness into their line up.

I recall also seeing the title Krypt in another comic, but the damage was already done.

I toyed with the idea of pursuing it.. I could not recall if a waiver was part of the contest. I never signed one or read anything stating entering the contest removed all rights from the originator.

I was an art student.. If I was pre law perhaps things would be different..

Could Marvel claim plausible deniability? Perhaps. They did add their own scratchy claws and scruffy beard.

Nice they kept the metal skeleton I roughed out -what ever adamantium is.

I often wondered, It’s quite possible other titles in use today are from ideas from other kids that entered along with me. Who would know?

So I chalked it up to a lesson learned and concentrated on my own career in graphic design.

I made a point to never enter such contests again and council others to be wary as well.

With one exception.

In later years I joined Siggraph and entered some 3D animation into a contest which placed in the gold category. I felt secure that the recognition was genuine and the whole thing was altruistic in purpose.

So there it is.

Is this a case of ripping off a naïve kid’s concept or simply a large multi-million dollar publishing company creating a character completely on its own and this all an interesting coincidence.

Any legal scholars are welcome to give an opinion.

I thank you, Rich for seeking me out all the way from the other side of the pond to remind me and give me a little recognition.

Perhaps my aspiration came true after all.

If anyone would like to see what I have been up to:

http://ao-portfolio.squarespace.com/graphic-design/

If you like what you see please send me a post.

Please don’t rip me off.. again.

We won’t, Andy, we won’t! Oh, and from Wikipedia… “Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas asked writer Len Wein to devise a character specifically named Wolverine, who is Canadian and of small stature and with a wolverine’s fierce temper.”