Friday, June 17, 2011

The Coming of ROM: A Knight’s Tale

Sometime early in 1979, Marvel Comics President Jim Galton called me to his office to discuss an opportunity to license a toy property—ROM, the Spaceknight.  We’d had some success with the Micronauts, which the legendary licensing/toy genius Stan Weston had pitched to me, and I had licensed, so Galton was immediately interested in a new Parker Brothers toy that he had somehow become aware of.  Galton knew nothing about comics, and couldn’t care less about them—but he was very interested in making money.  If one toy property worked, why wouldn’t another?

The name “ROM,” by the way, comes from Read-Only Memory.  It was one of the first toys with a chip inside that allowed it to do simple tricks like making sounds and flashing lights. 

Galton and I flew up to Boston on the Eastern Airlines Shuttle—remember that?—and drove out to wherever Parker Brothers offices were—in a beautiful, wooded setting, as I recall—and met with their brass and licensing people.  We worked out a deal.  I’m certain we had a pretty standard licensing deal, except that the creator of ROM, Bing McCoy, had a significant participation.  After Parker Brothers was out of the mix, I suppose we paid only Bing McCoy’s portion of the royalties. 

I created the basic premise for the comic book series—the fundamental backstory (beyond what Bing and Parker Brothers had graven in stone).  Bill Mantlo and whoever the editor was fleshed it out.  For instance, Brandy Clark was definitely Bill’s creation, or at least he named her.  On the other hand, Clairton (a small town in the Pittsburgh area, near where I grew up, transplanted for story purposes to West Virginia) and Galador are names I provided.

Getting the first cover done was a nightmare.  The concept was simple—an apparently menacing robot terrifying the people of a small town—but, it took four tries, I think, to get an acceptable penciled cover.  I don’t remember who did the first couple of tries…Sal Buscema…?  Al Milgrom…?  Not sure.  But they weren’t impactful enough.  Then, as we were coming down to the wire, I had another artist, name withheld for reasons that will become obvious take a shot.  What he did, overnight, was completely wrong.  I told him we wanted a Day the Earth Stood Still, eerie, terrifying tableau.  What he did, described in his own words, thus, was: “…the townspeople admiring the magnificent robot,” in a picturesque, tranquil setting.  He also drew himself, as Jesus Christ, complete with halo, Neal Adams as Moses, complete with halo, and Neal’s family prominently among the “townspeople.”  Prominently featured in the background was a church.  Those were strange days for him.  Later, he got better.  He did some work for me at DEFIANT, as I recall.  Brilliant artist, good man.

So, I asked Frank Miller to do me a favor—and, in a tremendous hurry, he did the cover that was actually used.  I think it was inked in the office—by Milgrom?  Not sure—because it had to go out in a rush.

In those days, it was difficult to get top-tier creators to work on licensed-property books.  Most creators wanted to do mainstream Marvel Universe books, because they were fans and because the likelihood of better sales/higher royalties seemed greater (with a few exceptions—Conan, for instance).  Bill Mantlo, always hungry for work, would take anything.  Sal Buscema, likewise, wasn’t too picky.  Getting “names” to do covers was relatively easy because covers paid more and the artists were able to sell the originals for more money than one could get for interior pages.

After our initial meetings with Parker Brothers, we didn’t have much contact with them.  They quickly lost interest in ROM and all to do with it when the toy didn’t do well, I think.  I did meet once with Bing, though.  I think he just dropped by Marvel’s offices and found his way to Galton’s office.  I was called there quickly—largely because Galton had no idea what to say to the guy and had never so much as opened a ROM (or any other) comic book.  I remember that Bing was dressed sort of like Kit Carson and had with him his toddler son, who proceeded to tear up Galton’s office.  This was probably in early 1980, because Marvel was still at 575 Madison, before the move to 387 Park Avenue South.

When Steve Ditko came around looking for work, I made it a priority to find him something—after all, he was a founding father, and though I couldn’t set right all the injustices of the past, I could make sure he had work if he wanted it.  ROM seemed like a natural.  Sal had plenty to do, so no worries there.  The reason ROM was right for Steve is that Steve refused to work on “flawed” heroes!  No feet of clay permitted.  His philosophy was (and probably still is) that heroes should be noble.  Period.  I asked him about Spider-Man, some of whose flaws were Steve’s ideas.  He explained that when he drew Spider-Man, Spider-Man was still a kid, still learning, and therefore, allowed some foibles.  Fine, then.  ROM, the noble Knight it was.  Steve did some good work on ROM.

Sales of ROM were never great.  For years it hung in there, in the lowest tier, but above the cut-line.

I thought ROM was one of Bill Mantlo’s better series.  Bill was generally a writer of last resort for most editors.  When no one else was interested, Bill would take the job.  Or, editors used him because they knew that he’d be on time, at least, and that meant one fewer deadline crunch a month; or if they were stuck for a script overnight—literally—they knew Bill would deliver.  If it came down to words on paper, no matter what, Bill was the no-matter-what.  The value of his speed was mitigated by the fact that, often, many changes/corrections were required to bring a script up to publishable quality.  Bill was cooperative and willing to make changes/corrections if required—but, sometimes, there wasn’t time.  Some editors would defend Bill because he had frequently saved their butts, but I hated to see a sub-standard script slip by. 

Another good point about Bill, however, was that he was very free with ideas and created new villains and characters easily and often.  That was another thing that endeared him to editors who were sick of stories about the thousandth return of Doctor Octopus or whomever.  Anyway, I think Bill liked writing ROM and gave it a special effort.  That was a big part of why it lasted so long, I think. 

Because of the rights issues, I doubt that Marvel (or anyone) will be publishing a collection of the ROM Spaceknight series soon.  Too bad.

 More "Corruption" to come on Monday.

70 comments:

Vinnie Bartilucci said...

ROM was a classic example of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The toy could very well have been called the first Inaction Figure. It blinked and beeped and otherwise did nothing. It had less points of articulation that Al Gore.

But Marvel took the ball and ran. The Dire Wraiths are still showing up today in the comics. They were the center of a major crossover event once they introduced the far more powerful female of the species.

Back in the day, neither the licensors nor the executives of the licensees cared what got done with the comics, they just wanted to get the check. So freedom was all but absolute, and amazing things got done. Micronauts was a great example as well - stuff was made up out of whole cloth, and like ROM, the comic had a far longer lifespan than the toys.

As I heard the story, when Hasbro came to Marvel with GI Joe, they had no bad guys. Larry Hama ended up inventing Cobra for them.

Nowadays everything is so analyzed and pored over, I'd be amazed to see another book just blaze off into new territory and damn the approval chain.

Simon Williams said...

I'd love to see you write a post about the Transformers, and when Marvel got the license to produce the comics. I read somewhere that you created a lot of the character names, and Bob Budiansky the character profiles. Is this true?

Hope all is good with you! :o)

Steve said...

Dear Jim,

The appeal of ROM endures. I picked up the first 12 issues for my kids after my eight-year-old saw #1 in a back issue bin, and they've become favourites.

PC said...

I'm surprised to read ROM was in the lower tier. I thought it was at least a cult hit, especially given how vocal fans are.

When I was reading the Brazilian editions, ROM was a back-up feature in Hulk, beginning in 1982, before switching to X-Men in 1988.

The Brazilians editors loved ROM. They published nearly every story until the end of the war of the Dire Wraiths. When the storyline spilled over into Avengers and X-Men, they advertised it as a line-wide crossover.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I confess—as a kid, I didn't think much of licensed comics. They were substitutes for what I thought of as the "real thing"—cartoons and toys. I picked up Marvel's Hanna-Barbera title TV Stars during a vacation because I was on the go and couldn't watch much TV. (Was Marvel's short-lived HB line Jim Galton's idea?) I did see the ROM ad when it came out, but never saw the toy or the comics at the time. Neither would have appealed to me when I was young. As an adult, I was shocked to discover how ugly the toy was.

My first exposure to ROM the comics character was in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. All the entries were fascinating reading and the ROM-related entries were no exception. However, I remained reluctant to read the comics themselves until I bought a cheap complete set of ROM a few years ago.

Wow.

I finally understood why the comic lasted so long. I would have read through it all in one sitting if I could have. Unfortunately, there's a little thing called "sleep."

I had been a latecomer to Micronauts. I thought Bill Mantlo had done a good job with that. ROM was even better. Mantlo took the ball he got from you and Parker Brothers and built an entire universe around it. I can't think of any other title that lasted so long about a single toy as opposed to a toy line. He made Clairton, WV an exciting place.

I'm glad you gave him Clairton. As I recall, he originally intended to do something very different - something about ROM, Arthurian knights, and mysticism? - that you rejected and replaced with the Galador backstory. He did briefly touch those elements in mid-run and I thought they were out of place.

ROM was like a six-year mega-maxiseries. It wasn't planned that way, but that's how it turned out, building up to a war and a real ending.

Marvel tried to revive the Spaceknights with Jim Starlin and Japanese-influenced art in 2000 but it went nowhere. Was it missing the Mantlo magic? I'll find out someday, as that series in my to-read pile.

Like Simon Williams, "I'd love to see you write a post about the Transformers." GI Joe too. Didn't Archie Goodwin create Cobra?

Thank you for giving Steve Ditko work, not just at Marvel, but at VALIANT and DEFIANT. Too bad you weren't able to publish Mr. A at Broadway.

This week ended on a noble note. Looking forward to malfeasance on Monday!

kintounkal said...

The inker for Frank Miller's Rom cover was Josef Rubinstein. One the earliest Marvel superhero comics I ever read was Rom #50 ("...The Extraterrestrials") so I'm crossing my fingers that the rights issues will be resolved one day so collected editions can get underway.

Being a major fan of Marvel's Omnibus format, I was thrilled to see Secret Wars II released in 2009. The page count was extremely generous at 1184 pages which dwarfed even Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus. Unfortunately, it ommited Micronauts: The New Voyages #16 ("Economies of Scale!") and Rom Spaceknight #72 ("When You Wish Upon a Star") due to the rights issues. That's a shame. It would have been nice to see all the Beyonder's 1986 appearances collected into one volume.

I think The Mighty Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus is the only Marvel collected edition heavier than Secret Wars II so sacrificing some pages to make room for those 2 issues might have been necessary. Choosing what material to leave out wouldn't be difficult though. After all, Quasar #8 ("Still Life with Metal") and Deadpool Team-Up Starring Deadpool & Widdle Wade #1 ("Turning Japanese (or: Little Demon Inside)") were written years later as flashback tie-ins.

The rights associated with Rom presented Marvel with a dillema just a few months ago. West Coast Avengers #1-9 + Vision and the Scarlet Witch #1-2 were being reprinted as West Coast Avengers: Family Ties in the Marvel Premiere Classic library. Direct Market variants almost always highlight the cover to the first issue inside so how was Marvel going to avoid Rom appearing on Bob Hall's cover for West Coast Avengers #1 ("Avengers Assemble")? It turns out they decided to erase the Spaceknight's face completely. On the original cover, Rom was positioned just above Doc Samson's hair and below Puck's chin.

Steve Miller, Writer of Stuff said...

Thanks for this nice back story. I loved the ROM comics as a kid, and I recently reread my collection; I've got every issue up to the point where ROM leaves Earth, shortly after Ditko. I didn't like his art much on the title, and that was a great end to the saga anyway. They hold up nicely when compared to other sci-fi comics, if you ask me.

Bill Mantlo and whoever else was involved in guiding the title did a great job and telling an epic story that actually has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Reading the issues again, I realized that it wasn't just the art that made me feel I was done with the title... when the Wraith War ended, the story of ROM was also over.

Great stuff. (Especially considering that I got angry all over again over the way the supporting cast and Blue Streak was so shockingly and casually butchered. It wasn't just because I'd never seen it done before--back then, such drastic changes just didn't happen in comics--but it was because Mantlo actually made that little town and its inhabitants a place you grow to love while reading the series.)

kintounkal said...

Simon Williams,

Denny O'Neil is given the credit for naming "Optimus Prime" but the overwhelming majority of G1 Transformers were given their names by Bob Budiansky. On the other hand, that doesn't mean Hasbro approved every name Budiansky suggested. If you buy Shout Factory's Transformers: The Complete Series Matrix of Leadership DVD boxset, one of the discs features an interview where Bob talks about how names were chosen. For instance, Hasbro was very apprehensive about the Walther P38 toy being named "Megatron". At the time, they were concerned that gave the impression the toy was a nuclear weapon.

Xavier said...

Ah ROM...A favorite of mine...it wa spublished in France, but it was so censured that they decide to stop publishing it at n°45, just before too people would see the "true" wraith appearance. Those issues leading to n° 50 were the best ever. Helas, I don't think Steve Ditko was the best choice for Rom, turning him into a caricature. But boy, this turning wheel of inkers on steve Ditko was a genius idea!
I remeber reading somewhere (probably in an old Comic book journal issue...- I know, can't say they were very friendly with you) that at one point, after all those attempts from Marvels writers to gain copyrights on characters, you (?) asked creators to try to use already existing characters instead of creating new ones and that Bill would not stop creating new ones (he was probably one of the Marvel writers who create more characters than others, even if they not all of them were later used, creating some tension beetween you two.
It has always been a mystery to me. I remember reading early interviews/comments by bill, praising you for inspiration and years later, blaming you for him having no more work. So anything you would like to share on this is welcome... If not, I understand. :)
On another topic, I'm finishing our next SCARCE issue: it's gonna be focused on Ernie Colon. any private comment you would like to make on Ernie would be welcome (you worked with him several time) and published (if send to scarceAneuf.fr) (replace A by @). thanks :)
He's gonna be 80 next month, and still pencilling like crazy can you believe it?

Comic.Reviewer said...

Awesome stuff!!
Thanks a bunch!

scenesaroundjackson said...

always loved ROM (and still do)
i really hope the rights issue gets straighten out one day so we can get a ROM Omnibus collection :)

Lee K. Seitz said...

Thank you so much for covering this. I'm one of the biggest Rom fans around, so I was delighted to see this. I've been in touch with Bing McCoy, but hadn't gotten that story about him showing up at Marvel. Do you have any recollections about how John Romita, Jr. and Marie Severin were chosen to do the pages presented to Parker Brothers during the approval process? Or why Walter Simonson was chosen to do the redesigns of Starshine and the Dire Wraiths instead of Sal? Just wondered. Thanks.

MJK said...

You know, as usual this post is interesting, but I never knew ROM. Just a bit before my time I guess?

But as a comics fan, and a Marvel fan, I cut my teeth on the Marvel Transformers series. I still remember the moment of finally getting my hands on the first issue, back in the last years of the pre-internet catalog era, as the closest thing to a "Holy Grail" moment in all my 20 years now collecting comics.

I second the interest in any stories or anecdotes about that series.

Simon Williams said...

Kintounkal... thanks for that! Living in the UK I only have the UK editions. But I'd love to check out that interview. I'd also heard that Dennis O'Neil came up with the name Optimus Prime... but had also heard that Jim had came up with various names as well (Starscream comes to mind....).

Thanks again for the info.. I really appreciate it :o)

Defiant1 said...

ROM was definitely Mantlo's best work. I quit collecting before Ditko was on the book. As time went by, I started liking Sal Buscema's art less and less. Sal drew so much that his quick renderings all started looking alike. Characters were hunched over to fit in every panel. Arms were arched outward with fingers spaced out as if to mimic a claw. The facial expressions he drew was one of straining as if the characters were taking a dump. I slowly lost interest in the stories because of the art.

As time has gone by, I find myself admiring Steve Ditko's stance that heroes should be without flaws. I'm sure that makes it very difficult to inject conflict into a plot, but I admire expectation.

David H. said...

at this point i would just be happy to see ROM return in human form even just briefly like he did at Rick Jone's wedding. if for no other reason just to tie up some loose ends like with Brandy and so forth. moving forward we can just let IKON and other Spaceknights develop in Marvel cosmic story lines until they can someday step out of ROM's shadow. if your a ROM fan and don't know about this blog you should check it out it has a ton of original fan art among other things related to all things ROM:

http://www.romspaceknightart.blogspot.com/

GNock said...

Blasted rights issues. I'd buy a ROMnibus in a New York Minute.

kintounkal said...

Simon Williams,

Sadly, Bob Budiansky's interview is rather short so he only talked briefly and presented a few early notes describing the 1984 cast. I really wish more time was devoted to that segment.

According to the Transformers web site labelled Teletraan 1:
-----------------
"In late 1983, Hasbro approached Marvel Comics to create a storyline around a series of transforming toy robots they had licensed from Takara. Editors Denny O'Neil and Jim Shooter created some of the early background for Transformers, including several names, but much of the material for the first 28 characters was rejected by Hasbro. Revision duties were passed to editor/writer Bob Budiansky, who renamed most of the characters and revised the personalities. Though Optimus Prime was named by O'Neil, Bob Budiansky is responsible for the names of Megatron, the Dinobots, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and countless others."
---------------------------------
Bob Budiansky's Wikipedia page also states he "is responsible for much of the writing of the original Marvel Transformer comic, and conceived the names of most of the original Transformers, including Decepticon leader Megatron, Autobot medic Ratchet, and Decepticon Ravage."

I think the most interesting question to ask Bob would be whether rejected names were wrong for a certain toy or simply wrong for a Hasbro property. In other words, were Transformer names left unused in 1984 considered acceptable in 1988?

jimshooter said...

Thanks for weighing in, Vinnie.

The Cobra Command, Cobra Commander and Cobra Commandos were created by Archie Goodwin, because, yes, Hasbro wasn't going to have any bad guys for the G.I. Joe guys to fight until we insisted. They grudgingly caved in and had one Cobra Commando in the launch.

jimshooter said...

Dear Simon,

I thought I came up with the name Optimus Prime, but maybe I didn't. It does sound like something Denny would come up with. It's probably his. Bob Budiansky came up with almost all the rest. I don't remember which, if any, were mine. He would know. Ask him.

jimshooter said...

Bob has it mostly right. A few things he says puzzle me. Some things he was not privy to. I'll tell the tale Monday.

jimshooter said...

Dear Xavier,

I encouraged creators to hold off on creating new characters until I had my incentive/licensing revenue participation plan in place. Bill and a few others -- Claremont comes to mind -- were irrepressible, creating new characters in droves. It caused no tension between Bill and I. I was happy that he contributed in that way to the general Marvel creative effort, though I regretted that he did not receive financial participations for some of those creations. Once the plan was in effect, some creators, like Roger Stern and J.R. Jr. received big five figure checks when their creations were licensed, in their case, the Hobgoblin.

Bill did some things that were good. He also often hacked, and worse, plagiarized. That was what cost him work in the long run.

Ernie is a phenomenon.

jimshooter said...

Dear Lee,

Both are talented and were available. Simonson is a better designer than Sal.

nilskidoo said...

Great story, as I am one of those guys with an unabashedly complete ROM run.
But the failed cover mentioned (by Weiss, I presume)...I would kill to see that. As ever, the behind the scenes stories are generally better than what goes to press.
cheers!

kintounkal said...

I wouldn't have figured out the identity of the name withheld artist on my own but a post on the Marvel Masterworks Resource Home Page leads me to believe it's Michael Netzer. The decision to include Neal Adams in the background and the messianic overtones jibe with his Wikipedia biography perfectly. Mr. Netzer also contributed to War Dancer #5 ("Lead Him Not Into Temptation") so all the clues fit. Even though I'm glad that art wasn't used for the cover of Rom #1, I'm very curious to see it as well.

Gannon said...

I loved Rom as a kid. I distinctly remember copying Rom covers with my brother to learn to draw. About a month ago, I tried to do a sketch from one such cover from memory. Weirdly, I drew it as a mirror image to the actual cover.

http://gannonbeck.com/2011/05/19/covers-from-memory

It's interesting to see how the books that had such a big impact on me when I was young came into existence. It doesn't seem to have had the sales you wanted, but for two little boys reading comics on a Marine base in Okinawa, it had the impact you wanted.

Joseph W Brogan said...

Mr. Shooter,

Thanks for this post! I'm a huge fan of TRANSFORMERS and GI JOE; even though ROM was before my time I loved reading about its creation.

I'm curious about CAPTAIN ACTION 1-2. How much was your creation vs what was dictated by Ideal? I get the impression that Ideal was probably even less involved than Hasbro aside from mandating Cap/Boy/Dr. Evil (surprised Evil wasn't in the comic at the beginning).

In this interview I get the impression that all Mort told you was

"His name is Captain Action and he has Action Boy and the Action Puma and he's got the Action Car and that Action Cave."

http://www.wtv-zone.com/silverager/interviews/shooter_2.shtml

I'm surprised the costume changing gimmick of the figure wasn't used, even if Action could only change to other DC-owned characters or public domain characters like those in Greek mythology (as he had the coins of power of Hercules et al).

Anyway, love the blog. I don't know what I'm awaiting more on Monday - more tales of corruption or your thoughts on the Budiansky interview!

Defiant1 said...

I didn't know (or didn't recall) that Michael Netzer did anything fro DEFIANT, but I assumed it must have been him based upon all the clues provided. Mr. Netzer is a very talented artist that would have those eccentricities. He worked for Neal. He lives in Israel now.

Mark S. said...

Thanks for this, Jim.

It's always fun learning about the genesis of a great comic project. Just this past Thursday, I was in my favourite store and found ROM #s 55, 56, 57 (Alpha Flight tie in) for only 50 cents each! I can’t wait to read them and write about them in my blog.

Your piece also gave me some welcome insight into Bill Mantlos’ career. He was a great writer and the more I read his work, the more I appreciate his outstanding talents. Thanks for this ‘insider’ perspective.

And for those ROM fans that haven’t seen this – check it out. I posted it on my blog last March via YouTube.

http://whatevergodstherebe.blogspot.com/2011/03/rom-spaceknight_04.html

It’s the advert for the original ROM toy. The item looks rickety, and I still can’t over the intensity of the commercial. Had I seen this back then, I think I would have ran out of the room!!!

Pariah said...

Not a huge Rom fan just read the crossovers with the X-men and i have seen a lot of talk about Bill not being the best of the 80s Marvel but compared to the hacks we have today i'm sure he would be labelled a genius by some.

Tue Sørensen said...

I think the nameless artist was Alan Weiss, not Mike Netzer. Why? Mike Netzer never "got better"; he still considers himself a messiah (and besides, I think he only got that complex in earnest after 911 in 2001, so he wouldn't have had it back in '79/'80). :-)

kintounkal said...

Jim,

Is it possible you came up with "Optimus" and Dennis O'Neil suggested adding "Prime" or vice versa to make the name more unique. I can't find any conclusive proof that Denny thought up the name beyond his Wikipedia page stating "according to Bob Budiansky, O'Neil came up with the name for the Transformer Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots." As far as I know, nobody has interviewed Denny and asked him how Optimus Prime's name was devised.

The downside to Bob Budiansky creating most of the G1 Transformer personalities is that he admits to having little passion for the franchise and never watching the cartoon. I can see how some of Bob's comments can be puzzling. For example, he never remembers specific stories he wanted to tell but couldn't because of toy mandates. He replies to stuff like that by saying "Sorry, it’s all a blur."

When asked how a Marvel character named Donnie (The Robot Master) Finkelberg was created, he said "Around that time, a Marvel editor who was a friend of mine quit his staff job to become a freelance comic book writer. So some of the Donny Finkleberg story partly came from that."

So Bob's point of view gives the impression Denny wasn't fired. Of course, readers of this blog already know Mike Hobson ordered Jim to fire Denny O'Neil so Bob's account of how Denny left is misleading.

kintounkal said...

Tue,

Notice that Jim wrote the name withheld Rom cover artist "did some work for me at DEFIANT, as I recall." Michael Netzer was involved with only one DEFIANT comic while Alan Weiss contributed to all 6 War Dancer comics. I find it impossible to believe that Jim could have any doubt that Alan did work at DEFIANT. Furthermore, I don't see any evidence that Alan Weiss even knows Neal Adams. Meanwhile, it's a fact that Michael had been hired by Neal before Rom debuted.

I recommend reading Mr. Netzer's Wikipedia biography at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Netzer

Keep in mind the 'Early years' section ends in the late seventies. 'Leaving the American comics scene' states "For the next several years, Nasser produced sporadic comic book work while traveling throughout the United States. He began promoting the idea of creating a new political hierarchy through the comic book medium, which led his colleagues to often cite his activity as messianic and express concerns about his behavior. By the summer of 1981, Nasser all but disappeared from the American comics scene, extending his travels back to his childhood home in Lebanon."

JayJayJackson said...

Could Donny Finkelberg be Danny Fingeroth? I don't know, and I sympathize with Bob about those days, my memory of a lot of stuff isn't good either, but that seems more likely to me.

kintounkal said...

Good point JayJay. You are indeed correct. According to TFArchive's synopsis for Transformers #15 ("I, Robot-Master"), Donny Finkelberg is based on Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth. It's been a while since I read those early Transformers comics so I forgot the connection. However, Danny Fingeroth remained an editor at Marvel until 1987. It seems to me that Bob meant Donny to be Danny visually but his experiences were taken from Denny.

Pariah said...

Jim please don't take this the wrong way but i feel uncomfortable with you saying anything negative about someone (Bill Mantlo) who is in a coma as we speak.

I'm not saying this as a fan of his work just more of out respect.

I hope you understand where i'm coming from with this.

JayJayJackson said...

Bill hasn't been in a coma for a long time, though he did suffer a permanent injury and needs constant care. I think Jim is not being negative about Bill, he has said very positive things as well. Jim is being honest and presenting a more complete viewpoint.

But what happened to Bill is very sad and I don't think there's anyone, Jim included, who doesn't feel for him. He was a talented writer. Many people enjoyed his work and he certainly should be appreciated for that. He does require full time care now and his insurance benefits are long gone, but anyone who would like to help can send donations to his brother:
http://www.floatingworldcomics.com/main/2010/11/16/dec-2-spacenite-2-a-tribute-to-bill-mantlo/

kintounkal said...

Pariah,

Bill Mantlo is not in a coma anymore. He's in insitutional care due to brain damage from the hit-and-run accident. I don't see how anything Jim wrote above can be viewed as negative towards the man himself. Hacking and plagiarism aren't spiteful words.

Defiant1 said...

Either Wikipedia was incorrect (OMG!) or I misread the information and came to the false conclusion that Bill was still in a coma. I was skeptical that anyone would be allowed to stay comatose for that long because the damage is irreparable. Wikipedia appears to be correct as of my last check. His condition is a very sad situation, but Jim has been honest with his comments above and that earns more of my respect than pretending the events didn't happen. I know that Bill was at Emory in the Atlanta suburbs for awhile. The Emory area has a reputable hospital (and school campus). It's not where you'd go if you were on a tight budget. It's where you'd go if you wanted better care. I do not know where he's living or receiving care now.

Alan Weiss does know Neal Adams. He was one of the artists that saw print through Neal's studio under the name "Crusty Bunkers" (among three dozen other artists credited with the same name). Mr. Netzer is however the eccentric one that speaks of Neal with great reverence and incorporates religion into his work. Michael Netzer had gone to only drawing in the digital medium until recently when he announced he was now drawing on paper again. He's an extremely talented artist.

kintounkal said...

Defiant1,

I should have been a bit more clear when I questioned whether Alan Weiss knows Neal Adams. I really meant to say "I don't see any evidence that Alan & Neal hung out together as friends in the seventies." Drawing a fellow artist's family in the background would indicate they're very close after all.

Pariah said...

kintounkal i do think that hacking and plagiarism are very harsh words and according to wiki he was still in a coma so if that's wrong then i'm sorry.

I still don't think it was very nice or honest to call Mantlo a hack or anything else especially since that's not something that is even close to a factual viewpoint among anyone who has read his comics.

To be able to take a toy that is a complete blank slate and create a whole world and mythology around it that is still being used to this today i think bespeaks a very high level of talent and craft especially when the toy has been all but forgotten by a lot of people.

I don't see Jim speaking honestly about any of the other creators he has worked with over the years whom i'm sure have done much less.

And as i said i'm not even coming from this as a fan of his but for someone who respects the love and hard work that he gave to the industry.

just like Jim Shooter has in my opinion who i have heard and seen a lot of people unfairly malign.

kintounkal said...

Pariah,

I don't think anyone is disagreeing with you that "hacking" and "plagiarism" are harsh words. The question is are they necessary words to use in this situation? I think so. If you can think of a polite substitute for each of those terms, please share them with us.

I don't know what Wikipedia article you're looking at but Bill Mantlo's entry can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Mantlo

When was the last time you looked at this page? It clearly says in the first paragraph that "Mantlo was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1992 and has been in institutional care ever since."

From my point of view, hacking can't be determined via a factual viewpoint. It's subjective and it's safe to say the majority of readers visiting this blog want to hear Jim's thoughts presented in whatever manner he feels comfortable. If you want to limit your knowledge to cordial stories full of compliments and high-fives, this blog probably won't suit that purpose.

You might feel more at ease after reading everything Jim had to say about Bill Mantlo on May 28th in 'An Airplane Ride or Three with Herb Trimpe'. He described Mr. Mantlo as "always friendly and personable" and added that "you couldn't help but like the guy". You can't overlook flattering comments like that.

jimshooter said...

Dear Joseph,

This introduction I wrote for the first issue of the current revival of Captain Action sums it up pretty well, I think. All my instructions came from Mort. I don't know what, if any, parameters Ideal set.

INTRODUCTION
By Jim Shooter


In 1966, I had a chance to appear on What’s My Line? For those of you not wicked old, like me, that was a TV game show on which a panel of notable, smart people tried to guess the contestant’s occupation. Who’d guess that a 14-year-old was a writer of Superman and other DC comics? I thought I was a lock to win the maximum prize of $50.

My editor and boss, Mort Weisinger, nixed the appearance. He said that Superman and the other characters were the stars and that he didn’t want creators, like me, getting undue attention. Mort never ran creator credits.

Around that same time, I was asked to “create” a new character called Captain Action. I was pleased and honored. After I found out how little latitude I had, I was less pleased. So much was dictated to me! CA had to have Shazam-style mythological powers, an Action Cave, a sidekick, a car, a pet panther, for Pete’s sake, and more. I did the best I could….

But when I saw the art for the two issues I wrote—the first issue by all-time-great Wally Wood and second issue by all-time-great Gil Kane inked by Wood—I was back to being pleased. Ecstatic, in fact. The art was brilliant. And, extra groovy, those two issues had my first splash page credits! Woody lettered in his own credit, as he always did, and also lettered in mine (and Gils’s)! Mort didn’t have our names removed—probably because Woody was who he was. You just didn’t mess with Woody.

So those two issues, to this day, are special to me. Gil Kane, who took over as writer, subsequently, did much better with the character. He also had fewer restrictions shoved down his gullet, by the way—probably because Gil was who he was.

Anyway….

I’m glad I got to be part of the launch way back when, and pleased that Captain Action is back. I’m also pleased to see that an outstanding writer like Fabian Nicieza is involved. And, by Khem’s hide, the art looks great! Woody and Gil would be happy, I think.

Most importantly, it seems that, at last, the restrictions are gone and CA is free to be who he is.

Go for it, Fabian! Action!

Michael Netzer said...

Dear Jim,

You remain one of the more gracious people in the comics world. Your sense of fairness and goodwill towards creators have inscribed memories of one of the more engaging and steadfast people I've ever had the pleasure to work with.

Those were strange days indeed. And though the strangeness seems to still haunt from time to time, it channels a little more succinctly these days. Certainly drawing that Rom cover the way I did was not really intended as anything against you or Marvel, but rather brought about by other things happening around me. I appreciate that you understood that back then and let me know so.

Still, looking back on it all, it's not clear that it could have been different, or should have been, considering the cards dealt. I suppose something about embracing extreme states when they impose themselves, is part of all of our development, each in our own way. That you can sum it up today, also with a few positive words, is an uplifting indication that it wasn't all for naught. Much appreciated, sir.

Tue: Alan Weiss was pretty close to Neal also around that time but he never went to extremes such as this. I told the story about this cover in an article some 6 years ago, which shows just how out of the box things were for me in that period.

Interesting that this should come up now because I haven't done anything like that with art since then... at least until recently. In that I'm still on the periphery of the industry and have some thoughts about some of the goings on, I found myself burning one of my drawings last week in order to make a somewhat lighthearted statement about DC's handling of Superman in Action 900. Here's the video. Links in its info lead to the entire story behind it. But like I said, the entire affair is also channeled towards a more succinct benefit from the incident.

Defiant1 said...

I had read that entry in Michael's blog, but forgot it began with the ROM cover.

http://www.michaelnetzer.com/2005/06/one-more-story-for-creators.html

As one who grows weary of people who think within the box, I'm always compelled by Michael Netzer's perspective where the box is not even considered relevant.

Simon Williams said...

Thanks kintounkal for the response, and Jim, thank you as well!! I'll be sure to ask Bob about this.. I've spoken to him once or twice on Facebook, and he's always been very friendly and approachable.

Thanks again! :o)

Rick Hansen said...

Because of the fact that Bill Mantlo is unable to defend his position, I have never been a fan who chooses to believe whatever one side claims vs. another in regard to certain disputes. His work speaks for itself, in my opinion. My personal success as writer greatly stems from my reading of his comics as a young person. His form of expression, expository style, vast vocabulary and innovative story concepts were not only incredibly enjoyable, but stimulated my own development in relation to the written word. The contrast between his work and the modern comics style could not be any clearer than when he and John Byrne switched places between The Incredible Hulk and Alpha Flight back in 1985. Byrne's story contained none of the exposition of Mantlo's, but told stories solely using the artwork and character dialogue. I appreciate that storytelling technique, don't get me wrong, but I much prefer the Mantlo method. For many months now, I've been producing a segment for an audio podcast where stories from older Hulk issues are acted out, somewhat similar to the classic Power Records tales. Up until the most recent episodes, which are Byrne's stories, we've benefited from Bill Mantlo's style because these issues translate so well to an audio format, not requiring a visual medium to appreciate the action. The latest segment I put out, in fact, is not a story episode, but a tribute to Bill Mantlo. Anyone interested can find it here - http://www.marvelnoise.com/2011/05/30/marvel-noise-episode-150/
Thank you, Jim, for giving all of these comics fans - including myself - the opportunity to share our thoughts on such contentious and emotional topics as ROM and other comics of the 80's.

kintounkal said...

By the way, I want to clarify that I'm not really disappointed in Bob Budiansky for not being passionate about Transformers. I wish the characters meant more to him but I don't think less of him for getting the message across to Transformers fandom that it was nothing more than a job.

I just find his interviews to be full of contradictions. I can totally understand how a writer could feel overwhelmed with the constantly growing number of characters added every year to Transformers. If Bob viewed that as a problem, he shouldn't have made his job even harder by inventing numerous Transformers that don't have toy counterparts.

As far as I'm concerned, he loses credibility attempting to present everything in early Transformers comics as geared towards 6-12 year old boys. For example, decapitating seven of your protagonists in the same issue they're introduced doesn't sound like a good formula for appealing to young children. I'm not saying that was a bad idea either. It's just absurd to turn a blind eye towards the edgy stuff.

Tue Sørensen said...

Michael N. (and kintounkal): Thanks for setting the record straight about the "nameless artist" - I did in no way intend to malign Alan Weiss (of whom I am of course a great fan); I spoke only out of ignorance. Michael, as you may remember, I have followed your journey on an on-and-off basis for years, and I may actually have read the ROM story before, but I did not recall it. I always enjoy hearing about your views and strange exploits, and I'm behind your mission all the way! :-)

Dark Schneider said...

Recently, this entry has been sighted on the Sal Buscema fanpage on Facebook, so I decided to take a look, I was and really am a huge fan of ROM and the Transformers and well, I've read the Joes comics although I never really liked the characters, but I want to tell you one curiosity, in Spain ROM was published as a backup inside the Transformers G1 series(we never saw the G2 series), so when the Transformers arrived to their final issue, ROM was cut off and we never saw the final issues of Sal and none of the Ditko's work, well that's not entirely true, the crossover of Secret Wars II was published inside the Secret Wars series

David H. said...

so Sal Buscema is on Facebook huh? normally i avoid Facebook cause i'm tired of getting email alerts about what people had for lunch or how they got a great deal at the mall but for Sal i'll make an exception.

http://romspaceknightart.blogspot.com/

Felicity Walker said...

Rom was one of the first Marvel comics I ever read. In early childhood I’d mainly focused on Archie comics and such. One day I saw Rom #69 on the spinner rack at a drugstore. I liked the colour scheme and the robots reminded me of Transformers, so I bought it, read it, and was very happy with it. My favourite character was Scanner. I kept reading it right to the end of the series (only six issues later IIRC!).

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the Parker Brothers offices were in Beverly, Massachusetts, about a 40 minute drive from Boston. Nice neighborhood too. I used to work at the theater just down the road from them.

Omoloc said...

It's funny you say this "I created the basic premise for the comic book series—the fundamental backstory (beyond what Bing and Parker Brothers had graven in stone). Bill Mantlo and whoever the editor was fleshed it out."

Let's see what Bill Mantlo said many years ago about this:
"I went home and wrote up a proposal that was fucked up. It was ROM landing in England, and has mysticism, and witchcraft, and shit" Shooter, dissatified with the treatment, "in effect, plotted the first issue." Bill noted that Shooter's rewrite was basically an amalgam of the space Knight business ans the Silver Surfer's origin. "I said, 'Ah, shit, not this stuff again', and I wrote it, and for four issues i kinda went along, going, 'Oh, Silver Surfer. This turkey's going to die".

So, Bill Mantlo did a creative treatment, you, basically, plagied Silver Surfer. After seeing what Bill did with such a weak idea and what he did with Micronauts, and your own work, I would have prefer to read Bill's origin than yours.

jimshooter said...

Bill's treatment was unacceptable for a number of reasons.

Except for the theme of self-sacrifice, I don't see much similarity between ROM and the Silver Surfer. And, the licensor required that ROM had been humanoid, tranformed into cyborg. Plagiarism? No.

As you said, Bill did pretty well with what I gave him.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jim:

When I read an early issue of Rom, I noticed the name Galador. It was the same name you used in a Superman story in 1976. Not knowing any behind-the-scene details, I thought Bill had just taken an obscure, cool-sounding name from another comic book.

Cheers.
--Rick Dee

jimshooter said...

No, all my fault. I'd forgotten I'd already used the name Galador.

Diacanu said...

Omoloc-
Sounds like Mantlo's version was a rehash of the one where Iron Man and Dr. Doom go back to Camelot.
That one's in reprint somewhere, check that out.

Thing is, there are no new ideas.
Everything's been done.

Aw, heck, while I'm at it, there's no Santa, and no Easter Bunny.
The Tooth Fairy? Fuhgetaboutit.
Kermit and Alf were just puppets.
Elvis is really dead.
The Monkees didn't play their own instruments on their studio albums.
Milli Vanilli? Fake.
Star Wars ended in '83, and it never came back.
King Kong was three foot six inches tall.
The government allows a certain amount of rat droppings in your cereal.
Romantic love that lasts forever as depicted in movies is a lie.
Keanu Reeves can't act his way out of a paper bag.
In the end, everyone's going to die, and afterward, nothing goddamned happens.

HoldyourfireAl said...

ROM was one of my favorite comics. I gotta say that it's very annoying wanting to read comments about ROM & instead being bored by Transformers questions. Transformers were silly. ROM Spaceknight was Classic!

Anonymous said...

Transformers are awesome! So is Rom in it's own way.

t.k.

Anonymous said...

I loved ROM, but I have to say, Steve Ditko was what ruined it for me. From what I've read, he intentionally did poor work because it was part of his philosophy, you do the bare minimum in the job you have to do, while devoting your creative energy to what you really care about. That really came through in his work on ROM, he was just phoning it in, characters that all looked the same, and almost unfinished, like mannequins. They were like poorly designed action figures in unimaginative poses. Sorry to be so negative about it, he was fantastic in his early Spiderman work, but he clearly had no interest in ROM, outside of the paycheck he was getting for it.

czeskleba said...

Anonymous, you're characterization of Ditko's philosophy is completely incorrect. To the contrary, his philosophy would be that you always do your best regardless of how you feel about the job. Doing a halfass job would be contrary to his belief system, and intentionally doing poor work would be antithetical. You may not like the work he did, but it's inaccurate to conclude it's because he was not trying his best.

Chris Hlady said...

Great interview with Steve Ditko from 1965
http://ditkocultist.com/2012/03/05/steve-ditko-interview-the-comic-fan-2-1965/

http://ditkocultist.com/page/4/ includes that blog, and some great work over the years.

Another interview from 1966:
http://ditkocultist.com/2012/02/01/steve-ditko-interview-rapport-2-1966/ (cool despite poor transcription near the end).

Brilliant checklist:
http://ditkocultist.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/ditkocultist-steve-ditko-checklist-pdf-5.pdf

Interesting look at pencils & Kevin Nowlan's inks on Ditko.
http://ditkocultist.com/2011/10/12/info-kevin-nowlans-inks-on-ditko/

Ah, finally got some Rom at:
http://ditkocultist.com/2011/09/23/marvel-rom-68-ad-infinitum/
which is a world of its own, with Bill Mantlo story, Ditko and Brett Breeding doing the art, Mike Carlin editor, un the Prime Director, Jim Shooter. Cool.

Man, if that's Steve Ditko "phoning it in," he sure put on a clinic.

Anonymous said...

Czeskleba, it's not my characterization, it's what I read in Blake Bell's book on Steve Ditko. That's how the philosophy was explained in that book. Other's pointed out in the book how his work on ROM was sub-standard. I figured it was related to his philosophy, if it wasn't, then it was just poor work. Either way, he ruined ROM.

Gregg H said...

Clearly (if that is really how it is explained in the book), this Blake Bell guy doesn't know jack shit about Ditko's philosophy or the underpinnings behing it in the form of Randian Objectivism.

Defiant1 said...

Chris,

Thanks for the link to the Ditko interview.

I especially liked this question and response:

Gary: Do you stick to your assigned script or do you sometimes drift?
Steve: I am allowed to drift.

It seems as though Steve felt he was a co-creator even back in 1965.

Defiant1

Chris Hlady said...

Hey Defiant1,
Well, Stan the Man knew he had gold with Jack and Steve. They were the cream of the crop, and he was more than filled-up with enough fertilizer, to make it grow. :)

Was just thinking about the old story that it's the writer of the song that gets the royalties from songs being played on the radio. Never mind that it's the performer, whose interpretations and inflections are creating the demand.

it's nuts ... Or is it?

Actually, come to think of it ... Jim, if you could have any musician perform a song you've written, who would it be, and why?

Defiant1 said...

On a side note, I found out I lived less than a mile from the nursing home where Bill Mantlo was staying when went into his coma that worsened his "recovery". Sad story. Small world.

Ole M. Olsen said...

Defiant1 said...

It seems as though Steve felt he was a co-creator even back in 1965.

He knew he was, didn't he? :-) To the question of who originated Spider-Man, he answers:

"Stan Lee thought the name up. I did costume, web gimmick on wrist, & spider signal."

Chris Hlady said:

Was just thinking about the old story that it's the writer of the song that gets the royalties from songs being played on the radio. Never mind that it's the performer, whose interpretations and inflections are creating the demand.

It's a complex field, but there are different kinds of royalties/compensation systems. Both the writer and the performer will usually get paid for a performance (whether it's a live performances, a radio broadcast or other kinds of performances).

By the way, I definitely haven't read enough ROM (I don't suppose there's a TPB available?), but I love the Ditko artwork that I've seen from it. I tended to love all I saw from Ditko in the 80s, actually.

Anonymous said...

No TPB, the rights to the character are tied up in legal limbo. But the back issues aren't too expensive. It's definately worth checking out for Bill Mantlo's writing, even with the awful Ditko artwork.