Friday, March 18, 2011

Washed up at Eighteen

In 1969 on my first day of work at Marvel Comics they found me a small table and chair in a corner. Literally. Marvel in those days had only two real offices, Stan’s and Sol Brodsky’s. Sol was the production manager, which meant he handled anything Stan didn’t want to, which meant anything technical, administrative or financial. Sol’s office looked like a combination production office/storeroom. Beside Stan’s and Sol’s office office there was a reception area and two small partitioned areas. Mimi Gold was the receptionist. Near the reception room, a fellow named Allyn Brodsky (no relation to Sol) read and answered fan mail. One partitioned area was occupied by John Romita, Marie Severin and Tony Mortellaro, all slaving away at art boards. The other area had Morrie Kuramoto doing virtually all the production work by himself, John Verpoorten coloring and somewhere in the back, Stu Schwartzberg running the stat machine. And, oh yes, in a dim corner, me.

The whole place had a cluttered, used look and feel–as opposed to DC’s offices, which were opulent and huge by comparison, populated by an army of dignified people tiptoeing around, speaking in solemn tones, as though they were discussing insurance, or some other “real” business. And at DC they wouldn’t let you in without a jacket and tie. In fact, the first time I went to New York to discuss business in 1966, Mort met me at my hotel to make certain I was properly dressed before allowing me to go up to the offices. He wanted to make sure I wouldn’t embarrass him by showing up in a tee-shirt or something. At Marvel, nobody cared what you wore.

I spent the first day helping Morrie do paste-ups, art corrections and lettering corrections. I also proofread an issue of Millie the Model and gathered along with everyone else in Stan’s office to gang-plot several issues of various titles. I wondered when the “writer” part of the staff writer job would begin. Morrie, it seemed, would slap a lettering pen into any open hand, and point at correx to be done. Everybody did everything. Loudly. Unabashedly. Frantically. Delivery boys were asked their opinions of covers, and how to spell boutonniere (I knew!). It’s amazing they weren’t given brushes and asked to ink backgrounds on The Incredible Hulk.

I loved it.

Three weeks later I quit. I still loved it, but I had to quit. I was staying at the 34th Street YMCA -- not a pretty place -- and failing dramatically to make ends meet on my $125.00 per week, which would have been good money in Pittsburgh, but meant starvation for a kid all alone in the Big Apple. Reluctantly, I headed home to western Pennsylvania, certain that my comics days were over. I knew that when I left (“betrayed”) Mort that the doors were closed forever at National. And, I assumed that leaving Marvel after only three weeks meant no hope of returning. So, while all my friends were just getting started on their careers, at eighteen I was already washed up.

10 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Jim,

Thanks for the first-person recollection of the Bullpen. I was looking through MAGNUS (2010) #1 this morning and noticed the long listing of Dark Horse staff on the last page. Then I read your description of Stan Lee's small team. What a contrast. You can still name each member over forty years later. That brief experience must have left a deep impression in your memory.

You're famous for your involvement with the Dark Phoenix Saga. Fitting because you yourself are a phoenix, rising again and again to create universe after universe. Did this massive setback so early in your life prepare you for later crises?

Willceau illo said...

Fascinating story. To think that all of that silver aged greatness came out of such a cramped office.

"…Stu Schwartzberg running the stat machine…" Did they have a dark room? What were the stats for - pasting the word balloons. I'm just curious because I've worked in printing for years and used to shoot stats. I love paste-up stories!

KlausNordby said...

Thanks for this little glimpse into your halcyon Bullpen days, Jim! Only too bad it lasted so short. But even in three weeks there might still be many more little anecdotes about those now almost-legendary people? I myself had the pleasure of dealing a little bit with Marie Severin in 1978, when I did my only art job for Marvel: I colored a Howard Chayking drawn Red Sonja story for one of Marvel's first process-color separated magazines, Savage Sword of Conan Special #9 (but it printed badly, most of my yellows were lost, alas). Marie was a darling to deal with! I'd especially like to know more about the nitty-gritty technical aspects of comic book production in those days -- like the stat machine process, special coloring techniques, etc.

Dallan said...

Fantastic, snap shot, Jim! Thank you so much.

I was only 1 year old when this was happening, but only a scant few years later, I was already fascinated by the fabled bullpen and its goings-ons.

Still am.

A testament to the magic of Stan's Bulletins. And to your talent.

- Dallan Baumgarten

Marc Miyake said...

Jim,

I just realized your description of the 1969 Marvel Bullpen sounds like your description of the VALIANT office - a place where everyone could contribute. Did you consciously try to recreate that 1969 atmosphere at VALIANT?

Matt Strawbridge said...

Just breezed through all of your entries to date. Entertaining stuff! Looking forward to seeing what happens "next".

mr ed said...

Jim, For years I've seen it mentioned that you are one of the few people to have seen Jack Kirby's rejected Spiderman pages.
Assuming you have seen them will you cover that in your blog?

Mr. Eddie

TOM said...

Yeah...I'd love to hear your take on the whole Jack and Stan controversy....Who really did most of the creating???

Mike said...

Can I just say how much I miss Jim Shooter being at the helm of Marvel? While you were at the helm continuity was so tight that one characters adventures in one book would be talked about and mentioned in another. What happened in one book affected another. In todays books there is no such thing. I dont even know if a book I pick up is considered a part of the "real marvel" universe or not. You are missed.

Mary said...

wow. it's as if I just travelled back in time reading this post. I had no idea, Jim, that you were employed at Marvel before me (however briefly). Time moved slowly back then. Three years now would bring bigger and faster changes. The bullpen was the same gang of characters, as you described, when I got hired on October 15th 1971.