|Larry D. Lieber is an American comic book artist and writer, and the younger brother of Marvel Comics’ writer, editor and publisher Stan Lee.|
Lieber is best known for scripting the first appearances of the Marvel characters Iron Man, Thor and Ant-Man; for his long stint both writing and drawing the Marvel Western Rawhide Kid; and for illustrating the newspaper comic strip The Amazing Spider-Man for many years. In the mid-1970s, he became editor of rival Atlas/Seaboard Comics, which spurred revolutionary changes in comics-creator rights during its brief existence.
Larry Lieber was born in Manhattan, New York City, New York, the second child of Romanian Jewish immigrant parents Jack and Celia Lieber, and the brother of the nearly nine years older Stanley Martin Lieber, later best known as Marvel Comics editor and impresario Stan Lee. When he was six months old, the family moved to The Bronx, settling into at 1720 University Avenue, which Lee described it as a one-bedroom, “third-floor apartment facing out back,” with him and Larry sharing a bedroom and his parents using a foldout couch. At “about ten-and-a-half,” with his brother in U.S. Army, Lieber and his parents returned to Manhattan, moving to the Washington Heights neighborhood. Already interested in art and drawing by this time, he attended George Washington High School there.
Stan Lee wrote in his autobiography that when Larry was 15, the boys’ mother died and Lieber went to live with his brother and his sister-in-law, Joan, prompting the trio’s move to Woodmere, New York, on Long Island. Lee elsewhere described that move to a two-story, three-bedroom home at 1084 West Broadway as occurring in 1949, when Larry would have been 17 or 18. As Lieber recalled it to comics historian Daniel Best, “My mother died when I was 16. My brother was back from the Service, he was just married and he moved out outside of New York to Long Island. I lived with him for a while and it didn’t work out so well. I wanted to leave, so I left. I was very young and I had a couple of jobs.”
At 17, Lieber became a messenger for The New York Times and also found work at the Times Square studio of Sam Furber, a letterer whose work included movie posters. For roughly a year-and-a-half, he lived in the since-defunct Hotel Manhattan Towers, a residence hotel at Broadway and West 76th Street in Manhattan. Lee in 1941 had been made the precociously youthful editor of Timely Comics, the future Marvel Comics, a division of a publishing company owned by a relative, Martin Goodman. Lieber began working for Goodman as an art assistant on the magazine side, “doing paste-ups.... I was working during the day and I went to [the Pratt Institute art school, in Brooklyn, in] the evening.” There Lieber began illustrating comic books; his first known credit is penciling and inking the four-page story crime comics story “Cop on the Beat,” by an unknown writer, in All True Crime #44 (cover-dated May 1951).
In 1951, he enlisted with the U.S. Air Force, beginning four years of military service. Serving during the Korean War, he spent two of those years stationed at Okinawa, after having done his boot-camp training at the since-defunct Sampson Air Force Base, near the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
After returning from the service, Lieber attended Manhattan’s Art Students League. “I still wanted to be an artist and do comics, but I had in mind to eventually become an illustrator,” he said in 1999. “I was drawing, but I was slow.” He again drew for his brother, editor Stan Lee, at the 1950s forerunner of Marvel Comics, known generally as Atlas Comics, though whether on staff or freelance is uncertain. Regardless, his next confirmed credit is penciling and inking the three-page story “A World to Conquer” in Journey into Unknown Worlds #52 (Dec. 1956), followed by stories in such Atlas romance comics as Love Romances, Love Tales, Stories of Romance, True Tales of Love and The Romances of Nurse Helen Grant in issues cover-dated April to August 1957 and July 1958. Because it was not standard industry practice during this time to give writer and artist credits, Lieber may have supplied more. Lieber recalled in 1999 he had written some or all of these stories himself, “because I remember Stan was saying to me, ‘You write romances really well.” In 1958, following an economic downturn for the publisher and the firing of virtually all the comics staffers save Lee, “Stan said he wanted somebody to help him write, and he had nobody then; he was doing it all himself. I said, ‘I’m not really a writer.’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ve read your letters.’”
Lieber, by now living in the Tudor City apartment complex in Manhattan, began freelancing regularly for the nascent Marvel Comics, “writing stories for Jack [Kirby] to draw” referring to the artist who had co-created Captain America for the company in 1940 and had recently returned for a long, exclusive stint in which Kirby would co-create many signature Marvel characters in the Silver Age of Comics. At this point in the late 1950s, Kirby was drawing science fiction / fantasy stories followed by giant-monster tales in what collectors and historians call “pre-superhero Marvel” comics, primarily Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish.
Lieber’s earliest, tentatively confirmed pre-superhero Marvel script is for the six-page Don Heck-illustrated “I Am the Beast-Man” in Strange Tales #77 (Oct. 1960), and his first confirmed is the 13-page “I Led the Strange Search for Manoo,” penciled by Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers, in Amazing Adventures #2 (July 1961).
Under Stan Lee plots, Lieber would go on to script the debut origin stories and other early appearances of the superheroes Thor (co-created with artist Jack Kirby) in Journey into Mystery, Iron Man (co-created with Kirby and Don Heck) in Tales of Suspense, and Ant-Man (co-created with Kirby) in Tales to Astonish. This included creating the names of their respective alter egos: Don Blake, Tony Stark, and Henry Pym. His first superhero work, the first appearance of Marvel’s Thor in Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962), introduced one of the mainstays of the Marvel Universe, the mystical metal “uru,” of which Thor’s hammer Mjolnir is made. As Lieber recalled, “I kind of liked it; it was short. It’s easy on the letterer; they’re going to be using it all the time. I don’t know where the hell I came up with it. I used to get names out of the back of the dictionary, from the biographical section where you have foreign names, Russian, this and that. I used to go to it and gets parts of names to put together.”
Lieber in 1999 remembered circumstances less hyperbolically: “Thor was just another story. I didn’t think about it at all. Stan said, ‘I’m trying to make up a character,’ and he gave me the plot, and he said, ‘Why don’t you write the story?’” Under Lee’s plotting, Lieber’s eight Thor stories also introduced the Marvel characters Loki, Odin, and Balder, from the pantheon of Norse mythological gods; their home, Asgard; and Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge, which connected that realm to Earth. For another series, starring the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four, Lieber co-created the longstanding supervillain the Wizard in Strange Tales #102 (Nov. 1962).
After the debut Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963), however, Lee replaced Lieber with Robert Bernstein, writing as “R. Berns,” for the next seven issues before taking over the reins himself for a few stories before giving Don Rico, as “N. Korok,” a two-issue stint. Lee then took over as regular writer for the next few years. Lieber wrote the first nine Ant-Man stories (following the character’s non-costumed introduction months earlier) in Tales to Astonish #35-43 (Sept. 1962 - May 1963) before veteran Ernie Hart did five issues, followed by Lee taking over.
Lieber, who credits Lee as a good editor, writer and writing teacher, said his brother made very few editorial changes to Lieber’s scripts. “He would go over it and ... if it were in the early years, he might correct or change a line or two. But he always used it. ... I never had to, you know, go home and do it again. He was very easy, he was showing me ... and he’d make some little corrections. And as time went on, he had fewer to make.”
Lieber largely left superheroes to write and pencil what would be his signature series, the Marvel Western Rawhide Kid, beginning with issue #41 (Aug. 1964) and continuing through 1973 (after which it became a reprint title).
Lieber also penciled The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4-5 (1967-1968), the latter introducing in flashback the late parents of protagonist Peter Parker; co-wrote and co-penciled the first solo Doctor Doom feature story, in Marvel Super-Heroes #20 (May 1969); and did occasional other work including, for Magazine Management’s men’s magazines, several stories of the bawdy “nudie-cutie” comedy feature “Pussycat.”
With the end of his run on Rawhide Kid, Lieber found little further Marvel work. He scripted and occasionally also drew the odd Western or Sgt. Fury war-comics story or a standalone tale in one of the Marvel line of black-and-white magazines such as Vampire Tales or Haunt of Horror. “It wasn’t a very easy period,” he said in 1999. “They needed superhero-reprint covers, and I could do them somewhat in Kirby’s style.” He considered seeking work at rival DC Comics, as some other Marvel writers and artists did, but found, “I was the only one who could never do that because that was the price for Stan being my brother. So I could never do that. ... They would have thought Stan Lee is sending over a spy or something you know. I would see what they’re doing and go back or whatever the hell it was. So I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t work.”
In 1974, Lieber left Marvel to take on an editorship at Atlas/Seaboard Comics, the term that comic book historians and collectors use to refer to the “Atlas Comics” line published by Seaboard Periodicals, to differentiate it from the 1950s Marvel Comics predecessor Atlas Comics. Marvel Comics founder and longtime publisher Martin Goodman had left Marvel in 1972, having sold the company in 1970, and launched this new company in June 1974 to go head-to-head with Marvel and DC Comics. He hired Lieber to be editor of the Atlas black-and-white comics-magazines, and additionally hired Warren Publishing veteran Jeff Rovin to edit the color comic-book line, which soon fell under Lieber’s editorship.
When Atlas went under, Lieber received six months severance pay and spent time trying to devise a newspaper comic strip for syndication. Lee then offered him the editorship of Marvel UK, the New York City-based imprint that produced black-and-white reprint comics for the UK market, as well as new stories of the superhero Captain Britain, created by writer Chris Claremont and penciler Herb Trimpe. With co-scripter Gary Friedrich primarily, Lieber wrote the hero’s seven-page lead feature in the weekly Captain Britain #24-37 (March 23 - June 22, 1977), and, with co-writer Jim Lawrence, Captain Britain adventures in Marvel UK’s Super Spider-Man #233-246 (July 27-Oct. 26, 1977). Lieber also wrote and penciled two Spider-Man stories, in Web of Spider-Man #21 and 25 (Dec. 1986, April 1987). In 1978, Lieber began penciling and sometimes inking the new daily and Sunday comic strip The Incredible Hulk, written by Lee and syndicated by the Register and Tribune Syndicate. He additionally began writing it in 1980 and continued in both roles until the strip’s end in 1982. Lieber said Lee gave a rare compliment on the Hulk strip, telling his brother, “[I]t’s very good. Also I think it’s even more dramatic than [the] Spider-Man [comic strip].”
In 1980 and 1981, concurrent with the Hulk strip, Lieber contributed some degree of penciling on the daily and Sunday comic strip The Amazing Spider Man until Fred Kida took over as regular penciler. Lieber then succeeded Kida on the daily strip in 1986. Lieber also penciled the Sunday page again from 1990 through at least 1995.
He continues to pencil the Spider-Man daily strip as of 2012.
Lieber was one of two recipients of the 2008 Bill Finger Award, which annually honors one living and one deceased comics creator. The award was presented July 25, 2008, during the 2008 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards ceremony at Comic-Con International. He was, additionally, one of the recipients of that convention’s 2003 Inkpot Awards.