What Gray Hulk?

While looking at my copy of Incredible Hulk #4, I noticed the following exchange on the letters page.

I was somewhat surprised to see Stan Lee telling a big, fat lie to this poor fan.

Stan makes it sound like he intended the Hulk to have green skin but somebody “goofed” and made him gray instead. That’s not really what happened. Despite Stan’s assertion here, when Marvel introduced the world to the Hulk in early 1962, he was supposed to have gray skin. It just didn’t work out very well.

As has since been revealed, Stan Lee’s initial idea was to have a gray-skinned Hulk, and as both editor and de facto art director of the tiny comic book company, it was his decision to make. Giving the character gray skin probably seemed like a good idea in the abstract, as it would make him look monstrous and inhuman without being outré. However, with his many years of experience, Stan should have known this was not a practical choice.

Comic book coloring was a rather limited undertaking in those days, and colorist Stan Goldberg had a very restricted palette available to him. He could not even use real gray, since gray-tone was achieved by putting little black dots on the white paper, and that was the province of the inker, not the colorist. Goldberg had to choose from different combinations of cyan, magenta, and yellow to approximate gray. It was really sort of a muted purple that stood in for gray in standard comics coloring.

Plus, in those days, Marvel printed on the cheapest newsprint they could get, and probably used cheap inks at a cut-rate printing shop. Comic books were considered a low-end product and Marvel was a small-time operation. They had to cut costs wherever possible. All that compounded the problem, so that the final result was wild variations in the Hulk’s hue throughout the first issue. It looked like a mess. After seeing it, Stan Lee decided to switch to a nice, reliable shade of green.

It may have been too late to really work it into the story at that point, so the Hulk just suddenly appeared with green skin in the second issue. Naturally, some concerned fan would write in and ask what the heck happened.

Stan admits that “we” goofed, which is probably the editorial we, suggesting he’s accepting responsibility for the mistake. But then he tells the little white lie that the Hulk was supposed to be green, which is not the case.

To maintain that lie, the Hulk was colored green in all subsequent re-tellings of his origin for decades. And the story grew to suggest that the gray Hulk was really somehow the printer’s fault. But after the “Gray Hulk” was brought back into continuity in the 1980s -- and proved to be very popular -- Stan Lee reversed himself and was happy to take credit for the idea. Now he says the Hulk was supposed to be gray.

Being caught in a lie doesn’t exactly bolster one’s credibility. In fact, it makes Stan Lee seem rather… incredible.


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