When I worked with her at Marvel Comics, Florence “Flo” Steinberg took the bus to work every day, from a modest apartment in East 20s to midtown Manhattan. I like to imagine she’d sit next to a little kid wearing an Iron Man backpack — that same kid unaware that this unassuming woman from the neighborhood was a key player in the creation of the Marvel Universe. When she passed away on July 23, Flo left behind one heck of a legacy for the comic book industry.
Born and raised outside of Boston, she came to New York City after college in the 1960s and was one of the first full-time employees for Marvel Comics, serving as receptionist, fan liaison and all-around girl Friday for Stan Lee as he built a universe of characters that dominate the pop culture landscape today.
Die-hard Marvel fans in the Silver Age of comics would come to know “Fabulous Flo” as the woman who answered fan mail and managed the burgeoning publisher’s fan club. Creators in that era knew her as the warm, welcoming figure who treated them like artistic royalty returning home when they’d visit the offices.
She left Marvel after five years but returned to comics in 1975, this time as publisher. Her independent magazine, “Big Apple Comix,” was a groundbreaking anthology series that explored New York City and encouraged creators to tackle more adult themes — a perfect fit for 1970s New York.
Flo returned to Marvel in the 1990s. I joined the company in 2007 as an assistant editor working on the “Avengers” books. Word got out that I had gotten lost navigating the halls, so Flo sought me out … and gave me a hand drawn map of the office. I wish I still had it.
Flo was a junior editor’s best friend, eager to celebrate our successes and ready to take us to task when we forgot to get that critical hyphen in Spider-Man. She was also quick to bond with us. One colleague was an aspiring novelist, so Flo brought her a well-worn copy of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” She found out I was a politics buff, so she’d tell me stories of her time working on Ted Kennedy’s first Senate bid and how, despite the Vietnam War, she did like Lyndon B. Johnson — she just wished he hadn’t held his dog by the ears.
When her passing was announced last week during the final day of the San Diego Comic Con, social media and blogs were full of similar remembrances from every side of the comic book industry — particularly the young women she encouraged to persist in an industry too often dominated by men.
To many, she’ll always be “Fabulous Flo.” To those who worked with her, “Fabulous” was an understatement. Rest in peace, Ms. Steinberg — and sorry for all the typos.
Tom Brennan was an editor at Marvel Comics from 2007- 2014. Follow him on twitter @brennanator