When Marc Bolan met Stan Lee | The crossroads of rock and comics

In a rare audio recording from 1975, T. Rex's Marc Bolan and Marvel's Stan Lee discuss the creation of a new superhero, bringing rock 'n' roll and comic books into the same room.

In 1975, an unexpected meeting between two titans of their respective worlds—Marc Bolan, the glittering star of T. Rex, and Stan Lee, the architect of Marvel Comics—brought about a moment in pop culture that resonated far beyond them both. 

It was a unique encounter of glam rock and graphic novels that underscored how entertainment was changing. Musicians, novelists, poets, filmmakers and artists all began to collaborate in new and exciting ways unforeseen in the pre- and immediately post-war era.

Beyond his onstage persona, Marc Bolan harboured a deep affection for the fantastical realms created by Marvel Comics. This confluence of interests set the stage for a rare and illuminating chat between Bolan and Lee, documented in an audio recording offering a glimpse into their shared universe of heroes and anti-heroes.

Before Bolan’s stardom as a musician, he met Neil Tennant (who would later achieve fame with the Pet Shop Boys). In 1976, Tennant, then a burgeoning journalist and editor for Marvel UK, engaged Bolan in discussing his comic book inspirations. 

“I’ve been into Marvel since 1967,” Bolan told him in an interview. “The Silver Surfer, in particular, was one I liked. Dr. Strange was another. At that time they were very weird compared to the other comics on the market, though they got more commercial since then and Stan Lee was a great writer,” he added.

Bolan expressed a desire to contribute to the Marvel universe, revealing his dream to pen comics and introduce new superheroes, a testament to his belief in the transcendent power of storytelling, whether through music or graphic novels: “I’d like to write some comics for Marvel,” Bolan said, “I’ve actually got a book of Science Fiction stories coming out soon, there’s a couple of superheroes in it. One’s a god from another planet. These super-heroes aren’t really like your’s, but they could be. Stan was very into the idea of my doing this.”

His admiration wasn’t just as a passive consumer; it influenced his creative output, embedding characters like Doctor Strange into the lyrics of T. Rex’s songs (Verse 3 of ‘Mambo Sun’: “Girl you’re good / And I’ve got wild knees for you / On a mountain range / I’m Doctor Strange for you”) and the Silver Surfer (Verse 4 of ‘Teenage Dream’: “Silver Surfer and the Ragged Kid / Are all sad and rusted boy, they don’t have a gig / Believe me Pope Paul my toes are clean / Whatever happened to the Teenage Dream”

When pressed on this, Bolan answered Tennant: “My new album, Futuristic Dragon has a spoken introduction which sounds very much like the intro to a Doctor Strange story—lyrically it’s very much like that. Have you seen the cover of Futuristic Dragon? It’s rather like one of your comic covers.”

Dr Strange Stan Lee Bolan
The first Dr Strange film was a very odd 1978 TV movie
The Silver Surfer in the 1970s, as Bolan would have encountered him

Bolan’s interview with Tennant came at a time when Bolan worked for the BBC on his own separate interview series when the T. Rex singer would host a BBC radio show and interview his heroes. One of those heroes, it would seem, was the former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee.

The conversation between Bolan and Lee reveals the mutual respect and fascination between the musician and the comic book creator. Bolan’s vision for a new superhero—a fusion of Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Thor, and the Silver Surfer—highlighted his ambition to blend the mythological with the contemporary, to create a character that resonated with the societal and cultural shifts of the 20th century.

“It was nice meeting Stan last year, he was lovely to interview,” Bolan recalled to Tennant. “Really, he’s a hustler, a solid gold easy hustler! That’s just the way Comic guys should be, he’s got such a lot of energy.

“We talked about the possibility of me creating a superhero for him. Something along the lines of Electric Warrior, a twenty-first century Conan.”

“In fact, I don’t like Conan as a character—I think he should be something less of a barbarian, more like one of Michael Moorcock’s characters,” Bolan added. “You could make a much better composite character using Moorcock’s Elric, with a bit of the Silver Surfer, a bit of Thor, and create a far more involved character, a character more in touch with now.”

The audio of their conversation (which you can listen to below) serves as a time capsule, preserving the essence of a period when boundaries between genres and mediums were increasingly porous. Although never fully realised, Bolan and Lee’s planned collaboration remains a fascinating “what if” in the annals of pop culture history.

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