With today being International Women’s day it seems important to talk about a woman who essentially helped shaped what people think of as the ‘Marvel Age’ of comics. If Stan Lee was Marvel’s public face. Flo Steinberg was very much its personal touch. She played a part and was witness to Marvel Comics going from a two person operation to a major company. It seems everyone who worked at Marvel during her tenure has a Flo story to tell. All of them positive and fun. I’m big enough to admit my previous ignorance to the importance of her role. Thanks to Sean Howe’s brilliant book ‘Marvel Comics The Untold Story’ all that changed. The amount of index points for her need an index of their own! Such is her importance to the fabric of Marvel Comics.
Perhaps the moniker ‘Gal Friday’ wouldn’t be taken the same way in todays working climate. But Flo certainly was fabulous. Any job, big or small she attacked with energy. One of her jobs was to send pages to the Comics Code for approval. Imagine having to do that at a time when the code was more strict? Receiving work back and having to tell an artist yay or nay. They could certainly do with her get up and go in the Marvel offices now. Then we wouldn’t have to wait six years between issues of Hickman and Weaver’s S.H.I.E.L.D. Its reported on more than one occasion she had to stop eager fan boys sneaking into the famed bullpen. Flo could match Stan for passion and enthusiasm. I get the impression from pieces I have read that making the bullpen this living, breathing entity was as much down to her input than anyone else’s. Her biggest contribution was in replying to fan mail and overseeing Merry Marvel Marching Society memberships in order. If you ever wrote to Marvel during Steinberg’s years of employ chances are she replied. It was a personal point of pride that all mail had to be acknowledged. On the ‘Voices of Marvel’ album sent to MMMS members she says “Hello fans its very nice to meet you. As Marvels corresponding secretary I feel I know most pf you from your letters.” Wasn’t fandom an brilliant thing back in the day? Flo really was every readers friend. Jim Mooney describes her positive effects on the Marvel offices perfectly. He once said when he visited the DC offices it was all business and a slightly stressful environment. Where as when visiting Marvel Flo made you feel relaxed and important. Everyone who visited felt the same.
Flo left Marvel in 1968 after not receiving a pay rise of just $5! People who worked at Marvel at the time say it is the stupidest decision the company ever made. Flo didn’t let this set back slow her down at all. She moved briefly to the west coast and befriended talent from the underground commix scene. On her return to New York she ran the mail-order horror magazines for Warren Publishing. This was followed up with a panel at the 1974 New York Comic Art Convention. Discussing the role of women in comics. 1075 saw Flo become a publisher in her own right with the publication of Big Apple Comix. The culmination of her new connections and lure to the underground scene. This one shot publication has huge historical significance in the link between underground commix and alternate comics. All the work for Big Apple Comix was done off her own back, with her storing inventory at Warren Publishing. 20,000 copies were printed and in 1984 Flo happily declared of her adventure “I did make my expenses and a little besides.”
Flo Steinberg wore many hats in her time with Marvel and in the independent scene. Secretary, publisher, proof reader, editor and fan correspondence. The hat that fits best though is legend. I never had the pleasure of meeting Flo Steinberg. But in a way I feel I do know her. A should anyone who has ever read a ‘Silver Age’ Marvel comic. She was as important as anyone who put words or ink to a page. Long may her legacy continue to inspire others.