Monday, March 28, 2011

How I became Editor in Chief of Marvel

When I showed up at Marvel in January 1976, it was a mess. It was chaos on every level. I showed up at 10:00 AM to be interviewed by Marv Wolfman (as per his request) for an associate editor job, and Marv strolls in at around 11:30. Then he says, “Oh, I forgot; I’ve got to go to lunch now; I’ll be back at 1:30,” and off he goes. I shrugged and went to a coffee shop with the assistants. Meanwhile, the minute I walked in the door--I haven’t got the job, I’m just there to be interviewed--there’s this Bullpen full of people going, “Hey, the new boss is here!” They run over and start handing me stuff to do! I killed time waiting by proofreading a Captain Marvel for them. Once Marv and I finally got together, I got the job. I went home, packed and three days later returned to New York, once again with no idea where I was going to stay that night. So it was back to the “Y.” Sigh.

There was chaos, and everything was late. It was very disorganized, and in fairly short order I’d been to Marvel three times, and had seen three different Editors-In-Chief: Roy, Len, and Marv. As editor in chief, Marv presided over all of us–but the things that seemed to occupy most of his time were arguing and mollifying. That seemed to be the job. On a typical day he might be arguing with an artist who’d “left the pages in a taxi cab” for the third time, mollifying a colorist whose job had been badly separated, arguing with the circulation department about falling sales figures and mollifying the accounting department’s chagrin over a proposed fifty-cent raise for a letterer. 

Marv hired me, and within a couple of months he was gone. The plan was for Roy Thomas to return to become editor in chief for a second time.At the last minute, however, Roy changed his mind and opted to remain a writer-editor. Then Stan offered the job to Gerry Conway, who was there three weeks and quit. Then they gave the job to Archie Goodwin, and he endured about nineteen months, and it got to him.

Mort Weisinger trained me about more than just writing. He taught me about running a creative organization, and professionalism, and making order out of chaos. It seemed like there was tremendous talent and energy at Marvel, and no organization. I was the line editor, going over 45 books a month. I had this little crew of guys, but the way it was organized was pretty idiotic. When Stan and Sol were this little two-man tag team, and the company was eight books, it worked. When it was 45 books, it didn’t work. Nobody had bothered to install an organization. I thought, “I can fix this.” I was hoping I’d get a chance; I was pretty much last on everybody’s list, but eventually they’d used up everybody else, so I got my chance. But I was the second-in-command, and I got overlooked three times. Since there were no other remotely qualified candidates available at that point, Stan hired me and I took over as editor in chief on January 2, 1978. At that time Marvel also had a new president, Jim Galton.

When I was first offered the job as editor in chief, I turned it down, because I wasn’t convinced I would have the power to make the changes that needed to be made. After a number of discussions, Jim Galton was pretty comfortable with what I wanted to do. Having been a freelancer for a long time, I knew the kind of things that needed to be done. I wanted to start paying royalties, I wanted to have creator-owned material. I knew they weren’t going to go along with somebody owning a piece of Spider-Man, but he had no problem with new things being created, which the creators owned a piece of. Basically, I took the job on the grounds that I could make a lot of changes like that.

7 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Jim,

Mort's lessons about "running a creative organization, and professionalism, and making order out of chaos" stuck with you years after you left DC. You didn't have the chance to use the principles he taught you during your years at DC or in advertising. Were you surprised by what happened when you actually got to practice them as editor-in-chief?

"Stan and Sol were this little two-man tag team, and the company was eight books" sounds a bit like VALIANT. As a reader, I prefer a small number of books with a tight continuity. But from a management perspective, do you prefer a setup like Stan's eight-book Marvel or your Marvel with a large Marvel Universe lineup plus Epic, Star, CRAZY, GI JOE, TRANSFORMERS, etc.?

Sonofspam said...

Wow this is just so awesome to read.

Jim you should sit down and put all this in a book of some kind.

Greg Morrow said...

It's easier than ever to self-publish. Jim could compile all this wonderful work, edit out the seams, and put it up on Kindle for $2.99, and sell a few thousand copies.

niederklopfer said...

Great story. I love this blog!

Piperson said...

Jim you skipped a part. You probably skipped a lot of parts that I'm unaware of but I'm very fond of your run on the Avengers with George Perez. I guess you wrote that for the 2 years before you became Editor-in-Chief.

Scott Nickel said...

Jim,

I'll always remember your kindness and interest when I showed you inking samples at the San Diego Comicon in 1987. You complimented my admittedly rather crude work, appreciating its "boldness," and sent me to Joe Rubinstein and John Romita Sr. for "tips." (They were both very kind and patient with me as well)

I ended up doing a little work in comics and now contribute to MAD magazine.

I always wanted to thank you for that brief but encouraging convention encounter. 24 years have gone by, but better late then never, right?

Love the blog. I'll be following it with great interest.

Thanks,

Scott Nickel

Sharkey360 said...

Thanks for sharing this, Jim. I myself want to enter the comic book publishing business as a writer someday. :)