Monday, June 20, 2011

Rooting Out Corruption at Marvel – Part Four of a Bunch

Trickeration

Once the mystery of the benevolent lapping scam was solved, Financial V.P. Barry Kaplan made attempts to recover some of the money.  A few creators who had benefitted from the advance-vouchering that had been going on actually worked off their debt, or paid the money back.  Very few.  Barry judged many to be hopeless cases, gave up on them and wrote the debt off.  One creator allowed us to publish a story to which he owned all rights as a make-good for what he’d been advanced.  A few of the clever and sleazy types, including one artists’ studio owner, realized that with John Verpoorten dead, she could simply deny everything, insist that all the work that had been paid for but never done had, indeed, been done and delivered.  She couldn’t help it if inept Marvel comics had “lost” the work.  She got away clean.

But anyway….  We thought voucher scamming was done with.  Under the new rules, editors signed vouchers and accounting handed out the checks.  No more opportunity for lapping. 

Ah, but we were dealing with creative people, remember.  And a few of them got creative about ways to circumvent the safeguards.

Some freelancers vouchered jobs as they went along, two pages here, three pages there.  Some delivered in small batches but waited till the issue was finished to voucher.  So, of course, it occurred to a few, especially fill-in guys and one-timers, to do both.  Voucher a few pages at the beginning, and then voucher the whole job at the end.  It was easier than you think.  An editor who is signing off on small batches of work from dozens of different freelancers, including writers, pencilers, letterers, inkers and colorists for as many as seven titles with three or four issues of each in progress at any given point could easily lose track of how many pages had already been vouchered when a job trickled in three pages at a time over the course of a month.

This happened often enough (a few times by accident—somebody forgot they’d vouchered part of a job.  I did that once.) so that we made it policy that all work had to be vouchered when delivered.  Deliver three pages, voucher three pages.

Oh, and by the way, even I couldn’t sign my own voucher.

Nonetheless, one guy, a hall-of famer who shall remain nameless, who did a lot of work for Louise Jones (later Louise Simonson) managed to pull some trickeration on me.  Louise, like most editors, usually came in a little late.  Creative people, I think are more often the up-late type than the early riser type.  Anyway, she’d come in around ten (then work way more hours than a human should have to).  The freelance artist in question used to stop by the office early.  I was always there early, and usually I was the only one.  The artist would claim that he had to rush to the dentist/doctor/bank/dry cleaner, whatever, and couldn’t wait for Louise.  Would I please sign his voucher?  Sure.  He would show me a batch of pages.  I’d count ‘em.  Yep.  Twelve.  I’d sign the voucher and put it in the interoffice mail to accounting.  He’d say, “I’ll put these pages on Louise’s desk,” and hurry off.

After a while, I finally figured out that he wasn’t putting the pages on Louise’s desk, and had been showing me the same twelve pages week after week.

Some extra devious types forged (or traced) editors’ signatures.  One submitted vouchers with forged signatures for several no-existent jobs as “inventory,” which, being unscheduled, wasn’t easily checked.  One artist, after his voucher had been signed, sometimes managed to sneakily write “redo” on vouchers for pages he was vouchering for the second time.  Accounting usually didn’t question redo’s.

In an effort to shore up the defenses, we took steps to ensure that freelancers had no access to vouchers once delivered to the editor.  All checks were mailed, eliminating shenanigans with the voucher hard copies.  Eventually we got it under control.

From the above, it may sound like there were many cheats and scammers, but, really, it was only a few out of hundreds of freelancers.  The same hall-of-famer who pulled that trickeration on me was responsible for half of what I mentioned above.

Barry eventually told me that while I could, in theory hire anyone I chose, and, in theory, Marvel was bound by my contract with the guy, he simply wouldn’t allow a check to be cut for that guy ever again.  Could I have forced the issue?  Yes, well, that would have gotten ugly.  And he was right.  Enough is enough.          

(NOTE:  I didn’t have time to finish “The Secret Origin of the Transformers” last night.  Please tune in tomorrow.)

12 comments:

Ray Dillon said...

WOW! That's some ugly stuff! And fascinating. Gotta read the rest! Great articles! You should write a book, sir!

Geoff Thorne said...

wow, man. wow.

Ian said...

In our country we call it "Bobol" and there's a saying. "Always Bobol in Business" And you're right, creativity doesn't just appear in comics. . . ;)

Dale Bagwell said...

I know Mr.Shooter's trying to be professional by not outing the guy, but I'm interested who this hall of famer is.

niederklopfer said...

Great story sir. Please make your blogs into a book. Please!!!

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I am shaking my head in disbelief. Creativity has a dark side. Fortunately, only a handful out of hundreds were dishonorable. Why do these stories (keep 'em coming!) bother me more than daily tales of corruption in newspapers? Maybe it's because I expect honor from the people who create our heroes.

I can wait until tomorrow for "The Secret Origin of the Transformers." One day is nothing compared to the millions of years that passed until the Transformers "woke up" in 1984.

As a big fan of the Japanese toy lines (Takara's Microman and Diaclone) that were marketed in the US as the Transformers, I wonder if you were told anything about their backstories before you created the Transformers' backstory. I was initially upset at what had happened to Microman and Diaclone. Their backstories were gone and talking giant robots were not a staple of the anime I grew up with. But then I read Transformers #1 and changed my mind! You shaped a big part of my childhood. Thank you.

Dear Ian,

"Bobol" is a useful term even for people outside Trinidad and Tobago. I thought it might have something to do with Spanish bobo but it has a very different and unusual etymology.

PS: I also wasn't thrilled with Mego's Americanization of the earlier Microman toys as the Micronauts, but the Mantlo magic - especially when combined with Golden art - made the Micronauts comic more than palatable. I also enjoyed Peter Gillis' followup series. (Since we've been talking about homages and such lately, anyone else notice the cameo of Space Battleship Yamato's Dessler (a.k.a. Star Blazers' Desslok) in an early issue of Micronauts: The New Voyages?)

bmcmolo said...

@Marc - good call! I totally missed that. I just finished a big Star Blazers re-watch, and you're right, there he is. (Also gave me an excuse to take my Micronaut: TNVs out of storage and flip through them - lots of stuff I forgot in there.)

@Dale - I agree. I admire the "no naming names" stance, but damn if I'm not making a list of contemporaneous hall-of-famers and cross-referencing to other articles/ interviews!

Peebo said...

I'm stunned how often that guy got away with shenanigans. He didn't respect hard working people at all.

kintounkal said...

I'm reasonably confident that I've figured out who this hall of fame artist is. Since he kept presenting the same 12 pages to Jim, that gives the impression Shooter didn't have an affinity for the title. Looking through a list of Marvel comics edited by Louise, she was frequently in charge of comics starring savage protagonists like Conan, the Barbarian and Ka-Zar. A wellknown Silver Age Marvel artist seemed to prefer this type of character over superheroes. Unless I'm mistaken, Jim never wrote or edited a single Conan or Ka-Zar story so he'd be less inclined to notice that the pages he counted didn't change from week to week. If the artist I'm thinking of was committing this trickeration, his last Marvel comic was cover dated November 1983 and he didn't contribute anything new to Marvel until 1990.

FrankS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FrankS said...

You may be onto something there, my boy. Except he also drew superheroes..... in fact one toy based comic he drew was mentioned by someone above. ;)

Ferran Delgado said...

Another very interesting post which shows that top creators don't escape from the same flaws than the rest of the humanity.

Talking about corruption, I heard some stories about a classic artist who used to stole original art from Marvel files in order to resell it. Art from fellow artists. The lowest.