Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rooting Out Corruption at Marvel – Part Two of a Bunch

The Benevolent Lapping Scam – Background Info

While Stan Lee was the editor, from 1941 till Roy Thomas took over as Marvel’s first Editor in Chief in 1972, Marvel Comics was run like a mom’n’pop operation.  Stan was the boss, and did or governed all things creative.  For a while during the 1950’s, and again from the early 1960’s through the early 1970’s, his “right hand man” was Sol Brodsky, Production Manager.  Besides overseeing the mechanics of getting the books created and printed, Sol handled anything legal, financial, technical or complicated, that is, anything Stan didn’t want to be bothered with. 

In 1972, Roy Thomas took over from Stan, who had been made President.  That didn’t work out.  The bureaucratic crap and administrative duties involved didn’t suit him, so Stan became Publisher instead.  

By then, Sol had left for a while to start ill-fated Skywald Publications, which promptly failed.  Sol needed a job, and approached Stan, but a new Production Manager had been hired in Sol’s absence—John Verpoorten.  Stan convinced the Cadence Board to create a new position for Sol, “V.P. of Operations.”  Essentially, he was Stan’s right hand man again.  More on that later.

Though there were new people at the helm, the operating system remained mom ‘n’ pop.  Roy and subsequent EIC’s: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, and Archie Goodwin, like Stan left the real management of the making and printing of the comics to Production Manager John Verpoorten.  What did the EIC do?  Well, not much in the way of editing. 

Each freelance writer was essentially a writer-editor.  A writer was assigned a book, sometimes by the EIC, but often by John.  He or she would plot the book.  John Verpoorten, in almost every case, would assign the plot to a penciler, and the writer would send the plot directly to the penciler!  No one in editorial saw the plot!  The penciler would send the finished pencils directly back to the writer, who would write the dialogue.  The dialogued pages, with balloon placement indications, were sent directly to the letterer John assigned.  The lettered pages were sent directly to an inker, assigned by John.  The inker sent the finished, all-but-colored pages to the office.  To John.

So the first time an issue of a Marvel comic book was seen by anyone in editorial was when it was given by John to the EIC or one of his troops for “proofreading.”

The thin Marvel editorial staff consisted of a few “assistant editors” who did things like put together letter columns and the “proofreading” of books delivered finished.

Chaos ensued.  A few of the books were basically okay, and after coloring, plus some minor spelling, grammar and art correx were done, were good to go.  Way too many were train wrecks.  Full of mistakes.  Egregious continuity gaffs.  Immense stupidities.  Inappropriate crap.

One writer had a rocket failing to take off because the launch pad had been slid out from underneath it, causing the rocket to fall into a pit below.  The explanation?  The rocket’s blast had “nothing to push against.”  One writer had Hercules towing Manhattan out to sea, as if the island were afloat—forget that it wouldn’t fit through the Verrazano Straits.  Don’t worry, it was towed back using the same chain, which was anchored in the Battery, which, ever thereafter, one would suppose, must be next to the Bronx.  Another writer became born again and decided that his character should be too.  Jesus became a regular guest star.

The “proofreaders” had as much fixed as they could.  Not much.  Sometimes when a book was even later than all books almost always were, John would simply refuse to have the art production people make corrections, and the book shipped as is.

Ever notice in seventies Marvel comics the occasional panel or character that’s clearly a Marie Severin or John Romita or John Tartaglione drawing in the middle of a story drawn by somebody else?  That would be a correction called for by the “proofreaders.”

So, what did the EIC do?  Design covers with John Romita or a freelancer.  Write the bullpen Bulletin.  Mediate disputes.  Very little in the way of management, or, certainly editorial direction and oversight. 

EIC’s were more like head writers in those days.  They had enough clout with John Verpoorten to get the best pencilers, inkers, letterers and colorists assigned to the titles they wrote freelance.  I guess the idea was to create good books and lead by example.

Roy was probably the most active manager of the bunch.  He engaged the ├╝ber-weasels upstairs and won sometimes.  He actually got them to allow the return of current artwork, among other things.  He policed the creative work to some extent.  He was, in some ways, an iron-fisted ruler.  People think I was.  Nah.  I was a softie compared to Roy.  Fear of angering Roy kept a lot of creators from being as self-indulgent, crazy or sloppy as they might have been.

The rest of the EIC’s pretty much kept their heads low.  They wrote their own freelance, a couple of them on company time.  Did they ever consult with John about which artists should be assigned to which books?  Did they ever participate in the process?  Of course.  But by and large, what I have described above was the norm.  They let John handle most of the heavy lifting as far as managing the books and the business. 

Which gave rise to an interesting circumstance.  John accepted the vouchers from the freelancers when they delivered the work and John also distributed the freelance checks, along with the hard copies of the vouchers for which the checks were payment.

I can sense the hairs standing up on the backs of the necks of all of you out there with any accounting or financial background….

TOMORROW: Benign Malfeasance

31 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I appreciate your assessment of Roy Thomas as EIC. Why doesn't his name come up often enough in discussions of returning artwork?

I remember the Manhattan towing incident from the The Official Marvel No-Prize Book. Was the rocket in it too? Can't remember ...

I had no idea how important John Verpoorten was! I thought of him as just an inker who was almost as tall as you. Why isn't he discussed more in comics history?

I've guessed what happened next. Can't wait to see if I'm right!

Dale Bagwell said...

This story should earn Roy Thomas more respect than he's already achieved since he had to deal with so much b.s. And if Mr.Shooter feels he's a softie compared Roy, then I'm interested in Jim blogging other Roy Thomas stories.

Xavier said...

I'm a little worried to see no "Gold Key" revival titles on the September Dark Horse previews. This + the news that Roger robinson is on one of the new reboot Dc title and I'm a little worried that those titles have been cut out in slience...:(
Is that the case?

kintounkal said...

Marvel Team-Up #28 ("The City Stealers") featuring Hercules towing Manhattan was officially labelled one of Marvel's silliest moments in Marvel Vision #3. An article titled "Un-Towed Tales" included a synopsis of the plot and commentary on why it's one of the more notorious stories from the 1970s.

In a highly unusual move, Roy Thomas denounced Gerry Conway's story when it was over. A special note written by ye editor in the last panel said "So that's exactly the way that merry Gerry told it to us, friend! And, quite frankly, we're not sure if we believe it, either! Why the damage to the Triboro Bridge and Lincoln tunnel alone would have--Well, anyway--"

Fan reaction was so negative that Marvel Team-Up #28 was acknowledged in the letters page to be "one of the least popular stories we've done in Team-Up." As one reader noted, "How was Manhattan Island going to get past Staten Island and Brooklyn?" Apparently, "The City Stealers" was later written off as being a greatly exaggerated incident told by Hercules.

Richard Guion said...

Amazing--I always thought the E-I-C made the decisions about creative team assignments, but it was John Verpoorten? Verpoorten died at a young age in 1977, only 37 years old. I think his production manager job must have been stressful. Weren't there some good stories about Verpoorten and the Dreaded Deadline Doom? There were jokes about people like Don McGregor being terminally late with various strips.

In all fairness, while this system was sloppy, I believe that some comics benefited from giving the writers more control. Some of my favorite comics came out of the early 70s.

kintounkal said...

Xavier,

You must have missed the Gold Key articles from earlier last month found at Bleeding Cool. The cancellation story was confirmed by JayJay here:
http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/05/07/solar-magnus-turok-dark-horses-gold-key-line-to-be-cancelled/

A few days ago, I noticed my pre-order for Magnus, Robot Fighter #6 has been cancelled so I guess there's only one remaining MRF issue left.

jimshooter said...

Dear Richard,

Archie Goodwin used to defend the anarchy by saying that most of the stuff was bound to be crap anyway, but a few brilliant creators would take advantage of the situation and do wonderful things.

I didn't believe that most of the stuff had to be crap. I tried to shore up the bottom, militate against hacking (even against hacking on a high level, which is still hacking), give necessary support and guidance to those who needed it and stay the hell out of the way of creators who didn't. In other words, freedom for the guys who earned it, who had the chops, who delivered their best every time. Witness Chris and Bill's New Mutants, Miller's stuff once he earned his wings, Walt's stuff and many more.

I believed that everyone who bought a Marvel comic book deserved the best efforts of the creators involved. I believed though everyone couldn't be a Michael Golden or an Archie Goodwin, we should get the best talent available, and that by giving the new talents and the not-quite-Golden-or Goodwin talents good editorial support we ought to be able to make every issue of every book entertaining, worth reading and an exciting experience.

No turkeys. And let the eagles soar.

Defiant1 said...

Yeah. "City Stealers" was horrible. I was too young to know the writers' names back then. It seems like Englehart was writing stuff I liked, but I felt it gradually faded to average.

I think the cover design on the 70's Marvel stuff was excellent. There was a branded look that always stood out. The covers showed a lot of action and insight into the contents.

Piperson said...

1972 was a remarkable time for Marvel. Many great characters like Ghost Rider, Power Man, Warlock, and the (blue) Beast were created; Many great titles were formed like the Defenders, Tomb of Dracula, and Conan; And many new creators were working at Marvel like Don McGreggor, Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, P. Craig Russel and Paul Gulacy. There were many more but the point is that you get the feeling that a kind of Renaissance was going on, or that the cat was away and the mice were at play. The same can't be said for the late 70's (just before you became editor in chief). At that time the best thing going was your (and Perez) work on the Avengers, Claremont/Burn on the X-men and Moench/Zeck on Master of Kung Fu (I'm sure there were probably more that I'm not aware of). Now The early 80's was another story. Do you have any idea if this was due to Roy or just a cultural trend of the time?
Thanks for the great post!

Xavier said...

Thanks kintountal, I totally missed it.
That's too bad, this version of Dr Solar was quite daring, you would never know what would happen, and I was so impressed by Pat Oliffe drawings on Mighty ... :(

Dennis said...

Jim, I love hearing the background of the Marvel Age in which I grew up. Posts like these go a long ways towards explaining how the company managed to publish brilliant stories side by side with complete rubbish.

As always, can't wait to check back the next day and see what else I will learn.

jimshooter said...

Dear Piperson,

Roy did a lot of good things, but there were so many contributing factors to the relative fortunes of Marvel and the quality of the creative work being done during that (and any) era, there is no simple answer. I'll post my thoughts at some point, soon.

kintounkal said...

Xavier,

As a matter of fact, I nearly missed the announcement too. As I recall, I first heard about it from Marc Miyake on this web site. For some reason, neither Newsarama or Comic Book Resources considered it headline worthy.

I had hoped that Bleeding Cool was correct when they implied all solicited comics would complete their current story arcs but that sounds unlikely if MRF #5 turns out to be the final issue. Supposedly, Magnus, Robot Fighter: Metal Mob TPB will collect MRF #1-4 and "Eyes to the Blind" from the 2010 Free Comic Book Day issue on June 22nd. Neglecting to include issue 5 would be frustrating.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear kintounkal,

I don't recall ever mentioning that topic on Jim's blog.

kintounkal said...

Marc,

Sorry. I clearly remembered first hearing the rumor here but I was mistaken in saying you mentioned it. I just checked through the older posts and discovered Alejandro brought up the topic on May 9th at 9:20 PM in Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 3. There was a post from you directly above what Alejandro wrote so that partially explains why I thought you broke the news.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear kintounkal,

Thanks. That post by Alejandro was the earliest reference to the topic I ever saw here, so I was wondering how you could have associated me with it. I didn't even notice my unrelated comment was right above Alejandro's!

On some sites, commenters sign their names at the end of their postings and I've mistaken them for the authors of adjacent postings. Oops.

czeskleba said...

Regarding Mr. Shooter's comment about Jesus being a guest-star in a series, that is a reference to Tony Isabella's Ghost Rider series. According to Isabella that storyline was not something that he slipped in quietly due to lack of editorial oversight. He says he discussed the plotline with Roy Thomas beforehand and got approval, and that Len Wein and Marv Wolfman also approved the storyline when they took over. Isabella says the idea was suggested to him by Steve Gerber.

I myself thought it was a pretty good idea. In a series where Satan has been a recurring character since issue #1, using Jesus as a guest-star makes perfect sense. It was handled in a way that wasn't offensive to Christians, yet it didn't proselytize either... an atheist could read it as simply two mythological characters facing off, like Thor and Loki.

Like Piperson, I'm a big fan of much of the stuff that came out of the chaos of mid-70s Marvel. The free hand that people like Gerber, Moench and Englehart enjoyed allowed them to produce some amazing work.

jimshooter said...

Roy, for whatever reasons, was a supporter of Tony Isabella's. What discussions they had about the series before I arrived at Marvel as associate editor, I don't know.

Len and Marv, I can assure you, were NOT supportive of where Tony was going with the series. Wolfman, Editor in Chief at the time, my boss, ORDERED me to have the issue in which Jesus revealed himself definitively REWRITTEN and REDRAWN as necessary to eliminate the religious references. The reason the ending of the story didn't proselytize is because I saw to it that it didn't. Tony's ending had Jesus save GR at the end -- literally and figuratively -- and grant GR the continuation of his powers, thereafter Divine, not demonic.

At that time I had no authority to make massive changes like that to a book unless the EIC commanded that it be done.

I rewrote it. I don't remember who did the new art.

Stan and everyone else in the office I spoke to at that time opposed the "Christianization" of the Marvel Universe, that is having Jesus Christ established as a character and Satan clearly characterized as the Christian Satan. Stan, Marv, Len and pretty much everyone else in the office felt that such matters should be left open to personal interpretation, just like in the real world.

As previously stated, I, too, believe that some good came out of the anarchy. Some things of Gerber's, Englehart's and other peoples' were truly amazing.

czeskleba said...

Thanks for your reply. Based on comments he's made in several interviews, Tony Isabella clearly believes that Marv Wolfman supported his plotline and that you did the rewrite on your own initiative. Apparently you were used as a scapegoat, which is too bad. Now that you mention it, it does seem implausible you could have done such a rewrite on your own without getting fired.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I've seen Tony Isabella's side of the Ghost Rider story. Thanks for sharing yours. I didn't know the rewriting was ordered by Marv Wolfman. Not that I would have objected to it even if you had done it on your own. I'm glad to learn that "Stan and everyone else in the office I spoke to at that time opposed the 'Christianization' of the Marvel Universe." Although I think self-publishers should be free to express their personal beliefs, companies like Marvel and DC shouldn't be promoting any particular religion or political ideology. Was it you who said that comic book companies shouldn't be alienating half their audience by taking sides in politics?

I read comics to be entertained, not proselytized. I don't read propaganda. Not even from my own side. Having my own beliefs shoved back at me is boring. I want to be surprised. To see things another way without being lectured. Excluding the partisan still leaves a lot of territory to explore because the human condition is vast and complex.

czeskleba said...

Tony Isabella used Jesus in several Ghost Rider stories, and I never got the sense he was promoting Christianity in them. Obviously though I haven't read that final story that was rewritten. Based on the plot description it sounds like he did go over the line with that one.

jimshooter said...

I didn't know there was a "...Tony Isabella's side..." that was public. Whatever.

I suspect that Roy's approval of Tony's storyline, if, indeed, he did approve, extended only to the "mysterious friend" helping GR. I never discussed it with Roy, but I find it hard to believe that he would have approved Tony's "Christianizing" the Marvel Universe no matter how much he likes Tony.

What you said is right on. If a character expresses a belief, that's fine. It's that character's opinion. Bringing in God or his Son and definitively proving that the Christianity is the official doctrine of Marvel is another thing entirely. Make no mistake, that's what Tony's original ending did. It left no doubt. That's a recipe for disaster. Either the Marvel Universe becomes like the Spire Christian Archies or some other writer casts doubt or rebuts and Holy War breaks out.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I had no problem with the religious characters that appeared during your tenure as EIC. For example, I thought Peter B. Gillis did a good job depicting his religious characters in Strikeforce: Morituri without endorsing any of their beliefs. People have different beliefs in the real world and comics should reflect that diversity.

If Warriors of Plasm had continued, I would have wanted to see more of the religious side of Preach.

Funny you mentioned the Spire Christian Archies. I was just reading about them yesterday! I avoided them as a kid. They seemed like fake Archies to me, though of course they were perfectly legal. I wonder what the discussions in the Archie offices were like when the Riverdale gang was licensed to the Fleming H. Revell Company. Licensing could be considered a form of indirect endorsement.

The only doctrine that comics companies should have is to tell good stories. Easier said than done, alas ...

Ian said...

"Another writer became born again and decided that his character should be too. Jesus became a regular guest star." Made me chuckle. . .

Michael said...

Isabella was raised Catholic, and so would not have been "born again" (that being a Protestant concept).

Frankly, it's always rankled me that Marvel can exploit the iconography of Hell for story purposes, but balks at bringing Heaven into the equation. And I'm an agnostic.

jimshooter said...

Forgive my terminological inexactitude. Whatever he was raised, whatever his personal inclinations, Tony tried to have Ghost Rider redeemed by Christ in the flesh, on panel. I thought that I'd better ask Marv about that when I saw it. He thought it was inappropriate. So did Stan.

Many religions have a hell, and Marvel had several. But the Christian Heaven is a very specific place reached via redemption through Christ. The big point here is that Marv and Stan and agreed that Marvel should leave that concept open to faith, interpretation and personal experience. Just as it is in the real world.

OM said...

One writer had a rocket failing to take off because the launch pad had been slid out from underneath it, causing the rocket to fall into a pit below. The explanation? The rocket’s blast had “nothing to push against.”

...Jim, as a First Generation Astrobuff and Space Historian, I'd *really* love to know who concocted that particular gem, and whether or not he/she/it had ever seen either a rocket launch or an air-to-air missile being fired off. Granted, all ballistic missile launches after the Redstone in the US were launched over "pits" to allow for redirection of exhaust flames and water suppression of sound and concussive effects associated with basic rocket engine propulsion physics, that particular claim betrays not only the lack of the understanding of basic rocketry, but even the most basic principles of physics that even a 1st grader is taught.

So who was the culprit? And did they attend schoolin' with Jethro Bodine? :P

jimshooter said...

Bill Mantlo.

OM said...

...Egads. Must have happened earlier in his career, because I can't seem to recall him plotting a boner like that when he was doing Micronauts. That was a book whose run I considered his career zenith, and a stack I tend to pull out of the boxes once every two years or so to read through for old time's sake.

Answer appreciated. I'll pick my jaw off the ground now...:(

jimshooter said...

The rocket gaff was in earlier days. The Micronauts was one of Bill's best series during the time he was doing his best work. Micros was edited by Milgrom I think. And, of course, the wonderful Michael Golden artwork didn't hurt.

OM said...

...Both Mike Golden and Pat Broderick's art were more than excellent on that title, And the fact that these guys aren't getting more comics work these days just saddens me. :(