Any online source that lists the “creators” of Venom will give you the same two names: Writer David Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane. This is technically true. Michelinie and McFarlane wrote and drew Amazing Spider-Man #299 and #300, where Venom made his first appearances. If you want to get really technical about it though, the seed of the idea that eventually sprouted into the character who is starring in his own Tom Hardy movie came elsewhere — from a Spider-Man fan from Illinois who sent an unsolicited letter to Marvel and got paid an unbelievable sum for a concept that has gone on to make millions for Marvel.

The fan was named Randy Schueller. When Marvel ran a contest for aspiring talent, he submitted his concept for a story involving Spider-Man getting a new costume. In 2007, Schueller recounted his tale to Comic Book Resources:

I thought it would be cool if Spidey needed to upgrade his powers and his look, so I came up with this idea that Reed Richards had made a new costume for Spidey using the same unstable molecules that the FF costumes are made of. The unstable molecules would flow into Peter’s pores and allow him to cling to walls better. I think my original idea was to increase his sticking power by 25% or something like that.

Schueller envisioned an all black “stealth version” of Spider-Man’s classic costume that was “jet black so he could blend in with the shadows.” Instead of a white emblem on the chest (not so great for stealth situations), he conceived a “blood red” spider there. He sent the idea off to Marvel. A few months later, he got a response:

Shockingly, Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter not only bought Schueller’s idea — he wanted Schueller to write the comic himself. He did work on it for a draft or two with another Marvel editor, but eventually the whole thing, in Schueller’s words, “kind of fell apart.” Still he was paid for his work: A whopping $220. (After 35 years of inflation, that’s about $536.)

From Schueller’s perspective, that was that. Then, a few months later, Schueller saw Amazing Spider-Man #252.

Marvel

The costume was slightly different, and Reed Richards wasn’t involved — although readers would only learn the full story of how Spidey found this new black costume when Marvel published Secret Wars #8 six months later — but it was clearly taken from Schueller’s concept. He told CBR he was both “thrilled and saddened” to see his work on the page.

Ironically, the guy who invented the idea that would transform into Venom was not a fan of his accidental creation. Schueller described his reaction to the character — who emerged after the black costume, which turned out to be a sentient alien creature, was discarded by Peter Parker and attached itself to an unstable former journalist named Eddie Brock — as “disturbed. “I was never a fan of the costume-turned-villain idea,” he said. “Venom just never really seemed to work for me.” (Wait until he sees the film!)

Schueller started sharing his story a decade ago after the black costume and Venom became the central figures in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 and he grew frustrated that he had been completely left out of the character’s official history. He claimed he didn’t want more money (although arguably he deserved some). He just wanted a little credit for his contribution.

Now Venom has his own movie. I imagine one scene in particular will make Schueller happy. It’s the motorcycle chase scene, where Hardy’s Eddie Brock races through the streets of San Francisco. That sequence begins in an alley, where the bad guys use a drone to spot Brock. “He’s in the alley behind the Schueller Building!” on screams.

It’s one quick line in a very noisy scene. But there’s no question who’s getting a shoutout there — the only Marvel creator to get a nod in the film besides Venom’s official parents, Michelinie and McFarlane.

At long last, Randy Schueller got his recognition. If you see Venom this weekend, keep your ear out for his cameo. And think about how everything you’re seeing started from a $220 letter.

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