WILLIE LUMPKINOriginal medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Publishers Syndicate
First Appeared: 1960
Creators: Stan Lee (writer) and Dan DeCarlo (artist)
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Willie Lumpkin's greatest claim to fame is undoubtedly as the beginning answer to a two-part trivia question, answerable only by a true maven of the detailed esoterica of 1960s superhero comic books, the first part of which goes, "Who is The Fantastic Four's mailman?" Other than that, he's a real obscuro, the star of a newspaper comic so short-lived it made scarcely a blip on the
comic strip radar screen, distributed by a minor syndicate, created by people who, while famous enough elsewhere in the field, merely dabbled in that particular area of cartoonery.
The cartoon area where the creators were prominent was comic books. Writer Stan Lee was editor and (at least since a company downsize) sole writer for Atlas Comics, which we now know as Marvel, and already had such creations as The Blonde Phantom and The Black Knight to his credit. Artist Dan DeCarlo had already created Jetta of the 21st Century, and had recently begun a lengthy stint on Archie's Girlfriends, Betty & Veronica. Together, they'd created Homer the Happy Ghost a few years earlier.
Willie undoubtedly owed his brief existence to job insecurity. The comic-book industry had been in serious decline throughout the 1950s, to the point where Marvel seemed on the verge of folding. Meanwhile, newspaper comics were doing pretty well, and if guys like Dick Cavalli (Morty Meekle) and Bob Weber (Moose Miller) weren't getting rich, at least they seemed to be paying the bills.
So by 1960, Lee and DeCarlo were working together on a daily and Sunday comic about an ordinary guy who worked as a suburban mail carrier. It was distributed by Publishers Syndicate, a relatively small outfit, known for such offerings as Dotty Dripple and Judge Parker. The syndicate was eventually merged into King Features, and its surviving features, which include Mary Worth, Rex Morgan and maybe a couple of others, are now distributed by King.
But Willie Lumpkin was not one of those survivors. 1960 was the only year the syndicate advertised it to potential buyers. After that, it was back to comic book work for Lee and DeCarlo, where better times awaited, at least for them. DeCarlo's '60s creations include Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie.
As for Lee, he got together with Jack Kirby, with whom he turned his company around, creating The Avengers, X-Men and many of the other properties it's known for today. The Fantastic Four are often cited as having sparked Marvel's renaissance.
In Fantastic Four #11 (February, 1963) the quartet didn't perform any super deeds, unless you count boring The Impossible Man into, if not submission, then at least into leaving them alone. The bulk of the issue was taken up with the day-to-day doings of the family at home. That's when Lee, recalling his earlier character, incorporated "Mr. Lumpkin" (he'd been "Lumpy" back at Publishers Syndicate) into the Marvel Universe.
He looked a good deal older as drawn by Kirby rather than by DeCarlo. Why he'd relocated from his quiet suburb to the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan wasn't explained. But there he was, assuring his immortality as an item of trivia. Also answered in that issue was the second part of the classic trivia question, " and what is his super power?"
Answer: Mr. Lumpkin can wiggle his ears.