Monday, April 11, 2011

The Comics Creator Generation Gap

Storytelling Lecture Series, Introduction (From the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

The comics business went into a steep decline in the '50s and early '60s. During that time a lot of companies folded, a lot of comic book professionals were unemployed, and so, if you were an editor at a surviving comic book company you never had to train anybody, you knew lots of guys who were out of work. The streets were awash with unemployed cartoonists. So what happened is we had a generation gap—relatively few new people came into this business between the mid-'50s and the early-to-mid-'60s. Around that time a few of us started to trickle in. Among the arrivals in the early to mid-‘60’s were E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Neal Adams, a few others and me. We were pretty much the last guys who got to learn our craft from the older guys--the guys who really invented and built the comic book business.

Among that group, I have kind of a unique history. Most of the others went on to be writers or artists, a couple of them became editors. But most of them went on to follow one discipline. I ended up not only getting into editorial and management, but starting a company (or three)--I had to learn everything. I was an owner, a publisher, I had to learn every creative discipline, I had to learn production, manufacturing, marketing, promotion, advertising; and I had to learn enough Management 101, math and GAAP to understand the business of the business. I took legal seminars to better understand intellectual property law. So I had kind of a unique point of view. It doesn't mean I know everything. It just means that I know some things that few of the others had to bother with.  The bottom line is that I was taught a lot by a number of old pros at DC and by Stan, with whom I worked very closely for the first few years at Marvel, on the Spider-Man syndicated strip as well as the comics.

When I arrived as editor-in-chief of Marvel in 1978 I found out that a lot of people who'd come up after me had not had the benefit of working with the older guys. Either they had no training or they'd been trained by a guy who arrived there 10 minutes before they did.

There was a GENERATION GAP in the comic book industry.  There were some people in their 50’s and 60’s, there were a lot of people in their twenties and early 30’s, but not enough in between.  Because there had been an extended period of decline when relatively few new people came in, we were missing a generation. 

What that meant is that young guys who should have been assistant editors to a forty-something person were instead editors or editors in chief, even though their main qualification was having read 10,000 comics.

I was among the younger guys, but, by virtue of the fact that I’d started at age 13, working with ancient ones – for instance, Sheldon Moldoff, who began drawing comics in the ‘30’s drew my first published story – I had old-guy sensibilities. I often related better to the old guys – Romita, Perlin, John Buscema, Frank Thorne, Win Mortimer, Carmine, Paul Newman, Russ Heath, Stan, Jack, Steve – you can probably fill in the list yourself – than I did the young turks, some of whom had to be reminded which end of the brush to use.

So as editor-in-chief of Marvel I found myself with a lot of talented people around me who needed basic training. What I started doing was working with them and trying to explain some fundamental things. A lot of these guys were brilliant talents. They just hadn't gone through boot camp like I had. So I developed a series of lectures which I started giving as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. The lectures were designed not to teach style, not to how to make comics Jim Shooter's way. Just fundamentals. Little tidbits that I learned from the masters, passing on the wisdom of the ancients. Most of it was taught to me by experts.

It's hard to find a guy who worked at Marvel in the '70s or '80s who hasn't heard my famous “$1.98 storytelling lecture.” Ask some of them. Or ask Chris Claremont if he's ever heard my “Little Miss Muffet” lecture.

I think because of my unique history, because I was trained by the ancient ones, who pounded story structure and comics craft into my head, it is incumbent upon me to pass along some of this stuff so that it isn't lost.

And one last thing – I didn’t stop learning things when I was 18.  All along the way I learned from everyone I dealt with.  I learned from Roy, Archie, Neal, Romita, John Buscema, Gil, Vinnie, Giacoia, Veerporten, Roussos, Walt, Louise, Larry Hama, Giraud, many more.  I also learned a few things from some of the young turks, once they figured out that they should use the pointy end of the pencil – Miller, Sienkiewicz, Golden, Lapham; and from some writer-only types like Stern, DeMatteis, Waid and more, including many non-comics writers.  Someday, I’ll do my Hall-of-Fame lists….

Tomorrow: The $1.98 Storytelling Lecture, Part 1

23 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I first learned of this generation gap from your past interviews. Although I grew up with the comics produced by the folks at the younger end of the generation gap, I didn't enjoy them very much and never really understood why until you explained the gap and its effects. Why was I drawn to Silver Age comics produced before I was born? Because they were old? No, because they stuck to the fundamentals. This is not to say a good comic has to be a copy of a 1961 issue. Principle does not equal formula.

What principles have you learned from non-comics authors: e.g., Mark Twain? You've cited his HUCKLEBERRY FINN as an example of insightful writing. Are there lessons from the business side of comics that could also apply to writing?

I've rarely been so excited to "attend" a class. You're giving the "$1.98" lectures once heard only by Marvel staff ... for free. What a deal! I've read and reread the excerpt JayJay posted from your seminar and can't wait to see more. You've taught me things that somehow never came up in the literature and creative writing classes I've taken. I look forward to learning more.

Make mine Miss Muffet!

Tim said...

Just wanted to say thanks, Mr. Shooter, for beginning this series.

To me your blog posts are like a great comic. They come out regularly, are packed with story, are entertaining, and form a satisfying body of work when taken as a whole.

Can't wait to read more tomorrow!

Bosch Fawstin said...

Looking forward to this....

Blackpaco said...

Been waiting for something like this all my life. Keep 'em coming, please. Can't wait.

botolo86 said...

Yuhuuuuu, I am so glad that you are writing this kind of posts and I look forward to reading the next ones!

kintoun said...

Even though it's great to see Spider-Man's syndicated strip reprinted in oversized hardcover format nowadays, I was really disappointed that the first volume was arranged so that it needs to be turned sideways. The standard horizontal rectangle format is much more convenient to read.

To make matters worse, it's designed in a very distracting way with red starburts, big web patterns, and what appear to be coffee stains all over the edges. The most puzzling decision is probably that the newspaper strips are surrounded by beige borders. So John Romita Sr.'s artwork just barely qualifies as oversized after all. Online fandom reacted so negatively to the first volume in 2009 that Marvel will hopefully address these problems with the upcoming volume 2.

By the way, it's nice to see David Lapham's name in that last paragraph. Considering he recently wrote Kull: The Hate Witch for Dark Horse, could a new Shooter/Lapham collaboration be possible in the future?

Marc Miyake said...

kintoun, when I saw that David Lapham was also working for Dark Horse, the same potential collaboration came to my mind.

Robert E. Howard's Kull has the same name as a villain from the original MIGHTY SAMSON. Did Otto Binder have the earlier character in mind?

Just realized that Jim has worked on two Binder creations, the Legion and Mighty Samson.

jimshooter said...

I didn't know the Spider-Man strip had been reprinted. If it's as bad as you say, that's too bad.

I left out so many names of people who influenced me, but David Lapham's name belongs on any list of the best and the brightest. I would cheerfully work with him anytime, and I believe that if they paid him really well, he might be convinced to put up with me. : ) Here's a scary thought -- what if he wrote it and I drew it? If we could get Steve Leialoha to ink it, he'd make it look like real art and we'd be okay. : )

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Lapham/Shooter? A writer-artist role-reversal? I'd buy it! JayJay could color it. Or she could draw and you or Lapham could color for a change. :)

George E Warner said...

Great Stuff Indeed! I use your lettering guidelines every time I start work on a new project! :)

kintoun said...

Yeah, volume 1 is out now with the long awaited follow-up expected to ship on June 22nd. According to solicitations, "this titanic tome brings you the classic panels that hit the daily and Sunday papers from Jan. 29, 1979, to Jan. 11, 1981."

The format for the first hardcover is pretty inexcusable. As a Canadian, I never had the opportunity to read these early Spider-Man newspaper strips when they hit the stands so I am grateful it's available. There's no question I'd enjoy the material more if it was collected properly though. The clutter filling up each page is really unnecessary.

I'm in favor of that proposal too. If you're too busy, why not give Paul Creddick a call? It's been way too long since his name appeared in a comic book. :)

Since I'm a major Real American Hero fan, I have a ton of respect for Steve Leialoha. The foremost G.I. Joe website describes "Silent Interlude" (with breakdowns by Larry Hama and finishes by Leialoha) as "Arguably the greatest Joe story ever told." Having watched a DVD explaining the hectic events behind that story, it's even more remarkable that G.I. Joe issue 21 turned out so good. I'm proud to own both 2005's "Valor Vs. Venom" and 2008's "25th Anniversary" Hasbro comic packs reprinting this memorable issue.

Will said...

I'm so glad I decided to audit this class. Its great hanging out and picking up all these chestnuts. I am glad however that I no longer have to hassle with assignments, projects and Persnickety Professors.
How lucky am I be sitting in on all this nuanced experience on Comics history, theory and application?

I've toyed with the idea of doing something in the field from time to time... However I've had this underlying fear that turning a hobby I love into a livelihood would ruin it for me forever. Then not only would I be penniless, I'd deprive myself of something I enjoy soo much.

From the Blog posts to date, it doesnt seem this is something that ever occured to you to worry about.

After your humble start, various and assorted corporate shenanigans, power plays, office politics and and general hi-jinx with an apperent hi-jacking mixed in for good measure; you still found the time to explain to a kid what made made Spidey cool and meet with fans.

All of these experiences that comprise the man called Shooter wWas there ever a time where you lost your Passion for comics? When they stoping being Labors of Love and just "product" no different from soda, shoes or underwear. And probably more important, how did you get your Passion back?

Kevie said...

Hi Jim,

I can't thank you enough for sharing your recollections in this blog (not to mention the epic interview you gave to GraphicNYC, which I absolutely devoured). As someone who briefly worked in Marvel editorial in the '90s, I was riveted by your account of how the line editor system came to be. I always admired the work you did in the '80s, but I never knew you were so central to the transition between the Stan era and what came after.

Congratulations on the Dark Horse books, I'm looking forward to checking them out.

jimshooter said...

Dear Will,

Never lost the passion. Never will.

Will said...

Thats fab to hear!
I'm sure there are folks who started off like gangbusters in the field... then some circumstance or other dictated a change in vocation. Sure seems like you had your chances and opportunities to succumb to "other" if you were so inclined. Maybe theres hope for the rest of us..

I delight in reading this blog.
Never know what cool story or sidebar is going to present itself and happen next.

I cant wait to hear about how the SNL cast dropped by to preview the MTU issue, or how John Lennon came by to check out one of the Marvel Superspecials, or that time playing chess with Harlan Ellison at the airport, Marie Sevrins glass eye (JK. She did THE BEST version of Hulk in the Silver/Bronze age) or some other Forrest Gumpian encounter of being in the right place at the right time providing evidence a life well lived.

Thanks again for taking the time.

David Walton said...

There seems to be something of a generation gap at DC and Marvel today, too, for a very different reason. They simply don't mentor young writers and artists anymore.

jeff said...

Lennon really came by?

Will said...

I was kidding and making stuff up about the unexpected turns and name dropping in a GRAND way for effect...

but I suppose it could have happened...

I'd like to hear about that if it did..

JayJayJackson said...

Lol. There were some cool things that happened around the Marvel offices. One of these days I'll get Jim to write about the time Diana Ross came by.

Marc Miyake said...

Ah, so Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Up" was really about her visit to the Marvel offices! :) Seriously, I'd love to know the reason for that crossover. Anything to do with Dazzler?

kintoun said...

I remember Whilce Portacio was very upfront that Wetworks was delayed because he lost his passion for comics in general following the death of some of his immediate family. There was a Hero Illustrated interview published in Previews Vol. III No. 10 where he was asked "Do you like going to conventions?"

Whilce replied "For me, comics, since they predominantly deal with the fantasy world, have always been a medium where the creators are asking the readers, 'Do you believe?' Right after the passing away of my sister, I had a hard time getting back the inspiration to create those wonderful fantasy worlds. But when I went to the Chicago Con in July of this year, I was approached by all these fans who still believed and still want to believe. I regained that inspiration to once again bring those extraordinary fantasy worlds to life."

zwallyzool said...

I was just thinking reading this that you should put together a book based on those seminars. I remember those books that Stan had written with John back in the 70s and 80s about drawing comic the "Marvel Way". I think any creative soul would really benefit from your insights. Reading your stories are really opening my eyes to what happened in the days I was immersed in comics. I remember all the 25th anniversary stuff going on at Marvel and the whole Kriby vs. Marvel ordeal. And of course remember the birth of your other various ventures into comicdom. I've got to say Jim you really are one of the few truly Successful people in comics, you've provided a lot or great material and opened the doors to many artists and writers. People can say what they want about you, but I have to say I've come to admire you even more so from the days of Valiant, Defiant, Broadway and even more so here in your blogs. I remember the first time I'd seen your name pop as editor in chief at Marvel and I was basically like who the hell is this guy? Now I have to say I'm glad to see your views and ideas, the great thing about it though is you're right about most things on here. I fully agree with you on the whole instant of the "special limited editions" of books and event books are really killing the industry. Some of them are great, but truthfully it's few and far between. Secret Wars, Crisis, Mutant Massacre, and the latest Green Lantern Story arch are some of the few greats. The sad thing these days is that you have a lot of these companies run by people who are business people and not creative people. They don't understand that when you try to formulate genius, creativity, and art it loses most of those and other qualities that make it great. The idea of making it into a assembly line type process to increase profits just to squirt out another unit will eventually alienate the people you're trying to attract. Creativity, genius and success don't always go hand in hand. The thing they don't understand is Comic books didn't become what they are today overnight it's taken them over 70 years to get this far. Thanks a bunch Jim!!!

D.Smithee said...

Speaking of generation gaps--after reading through a few of DC's '52' books recently, I noticed I hardly knew any of the creative guys/gals. I'm only 40, but damn, did that make me feel old.