Friday, July 29, 2011

More Strange Tales – President’s Day

Galton the Clock-sucker

Marvel moved from 575 Madison Avenue to 387 Park Avenue South in June of 1981 (I think. Anyone know for sure?).

The Mad Ave offices weren’t great. They were cramped and dingy and not well-suited to our purposes. And quickly becoming too small. We were growing fast.

The new offices were custom designed for us. Or, rather, for what the architect thought we were. I forget the guy’s name. I remember that he was completely bald, that’s about it. Anyway, he had his “vision” of what comic book publishing offices ought to be that was based on, I don’t know, maybe the offices of the Harvard Law Review. I was given a few opportunities to raise objections and make suggestions, and I headed off a few calamities, but when we moved in, there were still some problems and issues. Things that had to change.

For instance, the filing cabinets all around the perimeter of the Bullpen had planters on top of them filled with lovely, lush greenery. How charming. You can’t imagine how many action figures and vehicles were soon roaming that jungle. Actually, maybe you folks can.

But we didn’t need a jungle. We needed counter space. Getting the planters removed was a major battle. It became a little easier after the defoliation of the Ho Chi Minh Trail rendered areas of the jungle as bald as…you know.

So we eventually won that one. But there was a basic disconnect between the “vision” and the nature of the nine-to-five inhabitants. Make that ten-ish to all-hours inhabitants.

It was never clearer than that first evening at the new place.

You see, there was a pillar in the middle of the Bullpen, and mounted on that pillar seven or eight feet above the floor was a clock. There were also electrical outlets on the pillar at about waist height. No, not my waist height, a normal human’s.

That first evening, when Galton left, he walked down the stairs connecting the executive floor, the eleventh, to the comics floor, the tenth, and passed through the Bullpen on his way to the back exit. I guess he was just taking a walk-through to bask in the wonderfulness of our portion of the vision. I didn’t witness this, but I was told that he stopped, looked at the clock…

noticed that the cord didn’t quite reach the electrical outlet

…and stormed out in a huff.

The next day, Galton had the architect summoned, in high dudgeon led him to the Bullpen and showed him evidence of his piss-poor planning concerning the clock cord and the outlet.

And this I did witness.

The architect seemed befuddled. He said, “But it’s a BATTERY POWERED CLOCK!”

Galton turned purple.

The Bullpen wags responsible for attaching the bogus cord to the battery clock kept real busy and somehow restrained laughter. Causing internal injuries, I suspect.

Galton stormed away with the confused architect in his wake.

Sucker. 
The Marvel Bullpen at 387 Park Ave. South

The Great Frame-up

After a few days in the new offices, the production people in the Bullpen were settling in.

Again, one evening, Galton passed through on his way out. Again he stopped, looked at the walls, the filing cabinets, the pillar…

noticed the zillion or so Post-Its, stickers, cartoons, notes and scribbles of all types that were stuck all over everything

…and stormed out in a huff.

The next day, Joe the mailroom boss came to me. He said that Galton had yelled at him because he was furious about the crap stuck up all over the Bullpen walls. I knew that Galton really wanted to yell at me, but he knew I reacted badly to that sort of thing, so he yelled at Joe and told him to pass it along.

Poor Joe.

Okay. So, I went into the Bullpen and told everyone Galton’s New Rule. All the “crap” had to come down. Nothing was allowed on the walls except framed pictures. Per the vision.

That evening, Galton passed through again, stopped, looked….

Every single scrap of paper on the walls had a neat paper frame around it.

Even the clock had a frame.

Galton turned purple and stormed out.

He gave up on that one. I never heard another word about it.


Snow in July or It’s Curtains for You, Pal!

One feature of the architect’s vision was that all of the editors’ offices, and all of the smaller-fry business types’ offices upstairs should have glass walls.

The editors’ most of whose offices were arrayed along the main aisle that went past the Bullpen, hated “working in a fishbowl.” The glassed-in upstairs people hated it too, so that was a relatively easy fight to win. The architect chose some lovely curtains for the fishbowls and had them installed.

A year later, workmen came to remove the curtains. There was weeping, wailing and gnashing on blue pencils until we found out it was temporary. The curtains were being sent out to be cleaned, even though we hadn’t finished dirtying them yet. The editors’ curtains, we were told, would be back in a week, and then the upstairs curtains would have their turn being cleaned.

There was still grumbling and unhappiness.

So I asked my assistant Lynn Cohen to buy a carton of spray snow. Now, other people might have trouble finding decorative spray snow in July, but not Marvel-Lynn. She found a place that sold Christmas goods all year and soon came back with a case of the stuff.

I told her to put it out in the Bullpen. Just leave it on one of the handy counter tops that were where the jungle used to be and say nothing.

A little later, I ventured into the Bullpen and saw that people had discovered the spray snow, intuited its purpose and were festooning the fishbowl windows. Ah, but remember, these were no ordinary festooners. Besides our talented Bullpen crew, artists passing through had joined the cause. Bill Sienkiewicz’s contribution was amazing. It ran down the window, off the bottom and continued onto the carpet.

I was pleased to see that, respecting the fact that tours came through periodically, no one had gotten too adult. (In the x-rated sense. Not much danger of most of them getting too adult otherwise.)

So…the glass walls weren’t covered entirely, but they were better.

That evening, Galton passed through, stopped, looked….

noticed the display of creativity

…and stormed out in a huff.

The next day, Joe came to me. He said that Galton had yelled at him because he was furious about the glass walls. Window cleaners were coming just before the curtains were to be rehung, and they would surely charge extra for cleaning the mess we made.

Poor Joe.

So, I wrote Galton a memo saying, no worries, that before the window cleaners arrived, on their own time the editors and Bullpenners would remove all traces of the snow. And that, if he wished, our troops would cheerfully come upstairs and decorate the eleventh floor glass walls while their curtains were out being cleaned.

Funny, I never got a reply.


NEXT: Gerber and the Duck

34 comments:

Thunder said...

It sounds like Marvel was nothing but fun 90% of the time. :)

Emilio Torres Jr. said...

You rascals. Those where the days.

ireactions said...

Hilarious stories! It's funny how your time in the EIC chair was marked by providing Marvel with organization, standards, clear divisions of labour and an end to freewheeling ineptitude, but you still made sure to allow anarchy so long as it didn't prevent people from doing good work.

"Gerber and the duck." Now that does sound ominous, and I've always wondered how Marvel could allow a different organization to redesign a Marvel character.

Anonymous said...

Galton the Clock-sucker - classic.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I love this blog more every day, Mr. Shooter.

pell

Cassie Blade said...

I laughed so hard at the second story, the image in my mind of all the little notes and stuff with frames around them is a wonderfully creative and bratty solution to the rule.

Its stories like these, that have always fueled my want to be a writer for comics or certain TV shows. It just shows that there is a lot of fun and family-like atmosphere that would be very conductive to work in.

OM said...

..."Clock-Sucker". I am gonna steal that line! :) :)

ireactions said...

I think it's a wonderful working environment, but I think it's also important to remember what this fun environment, without discipline and direction, had done to Marvel once Stan wasn't there, once the number of titles had increased, and what Mr. Shooter found himself working with when he became EiC. Late books, absenteeism with editing, double-vouchering, cronyism with hiring, hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out in work that was never done...

It's great to be creative, anarchic and free-wheeling, but it IS a business, and failing to deal with that can result in no business at all. Probably best to find a happy medium.

Glenn Greenberg said...

Just from that photo posted, I can see how much the Bullpen at 387 PAS changed from the 1980s to when I started at Marvel in 1992. If memory serves, that whole area was being renovated during my first month or so at the company, so all the editorial offices were on the 3rd and 4th floors, and they were a shambles. I couldn't wait to move into the renovated 10th floor. Of course, it didn't stay looking new for very long...

Cassie Blade said...

Well Ireactions, I specifically mean in this case under Mr. Shooter's leadership/guiding hand. All chaos isn't good, but I've never been able to work well with all order either. With Mr. Shooter in charge, he didn't mind a relaxed atmosphere as long as it didn't impede work. There is enough structure that things don't go all higglty-pigglty, but enough freedom to be one's self and actually enjoy what one is doing.

Anonymous said...

The way John Byrne tells it (yes, I'm beating a dead horse), during the Shooter reign no one dared smile while at the office. Glad to hear it wasn't so. By the way, what's the real story behind Jim showing how to draw a punch using Byrne's Hulk cover as a sample?

Cheers, all.

Rick Dee

Craig Hansen said...

Hey Jim,

Thanks to you we now know what Bendis!' first job at Marvel was...

...scrawny bald architect and decompressor that he is, LOL!

Marvelman said...

Hi, Jim. This has nothing to do with this post. A while ago you mentioned that you gave Roger Stern (?) some general beginner's guidelines for writing dialogue. What were they? Can you do a column on that?

Anonymous said...

Wow, that Galton guy sounds like a real dick.

Lee in Limbo said...

This entry has put a big old smile on my face. :D

Hagop said...

Hmmm...having trouble posting comments...anyway...
I'm loving these stories. I currently work at 387 PAS, and while I'm on the 12th Fl, I can tell you that column goes up through the whole building, culminating at my cubicle. Makes me feel close to some history.

Chris Hlady said...

I'm noting the irony contrasting management and production with writing and pencilling. Always a difference between idea and implementation. Therein, is the magic.

Just to bring current events to the table, it's like obama and congress. Get drawing.

jimshooter said...

Dear ireactions,

Or, as Mort would say, slap a laughing spiritualist....

Actually, once we weren't on the edge of disaster all the time, people were able to have a little fun. Creativity will out, given a chance. As Louise Simonson so aptly put it, "...it wasn't contained, it boiled over onto the walls, it spilled out into the bullpen...." Wackiness ensued. Mostly harmless. But we also did the work, first, foremost and often long into the night.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marvelman,

I don't remember exactly what I told Roger 35 years ago but I'll try to do a post on dialogue soon, for whatever it's worth. It's in the queue.

jimshooter said...

Re: "Wow, that Galton guy sounds like a real dick."

ANSWER:
Yes and no. There were many times when he was a stand-up guy and a few times when I thought he was pond scum. The President's Day stuff wasn't so much him being a dick, it was more that he came from "proper" publishing and just didn't understand what he was up against with a bunch of loons like us.

Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim) said...

These sorts of stories seem nearly universal about creative people and their "overseers." Chuck Jones has a bunch of great stories about the cartoonists and the Warner Bros. executives who had no understanding at all about how cartoons were made, either technically or creatively.

My favorite is when the boss, out of the blue and apropos of nothing, informed them that bullfighting wasn't funny, and that he never wanted to see them make a cartoon about bullfighting. Jones and the other cartoonists realized that the boss' instincts about comedy were absolutely infallible... which meant that even though it had never occurred to them to make a bullfighting cartoon, now they *had* to. So they made "Bully for Bugs," one of Bugs' funniest.

Jones, in his autobiography, made a point of saying the management actually *did* make their work better. But by giving them something to push against, not because they knew what they were talking about.

Firestone said...

Well, Disney isn't a different organization anymore, now is it.

... hm. Pixar + Marvel. God, what they could do with that. (Specifically, SHIELD, say. The new one, not Nick Fury's bunch.)

ireactions said...

Holy S-Word, Firestone! You're so right. Howard the Duck can not wear pants again!! From beyond the grave, Steve Gerber wins.

Between you and me, though, I never thought there was anything wrong with Howard in pants. Gerber went to his deathbed railing against it, and while I respect that view as the creator's opinion, Phil Winslade and others didn't seem to have any trouble drawing a great Howard with pants.

jimshooter said...

We started ignoring Disney's "pants" edict while Mantlo was writing the black and white.

Anonymous said...

This post reeks of baldism.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

The 387 Park Avenue South Bullpen reminds me of my old art classroom -- but without everything in frames! Talk about following the letter of the law!

Why were the electric outlets on the pillar elevated to a "normal human's" waist height? (It's phrases like that which make a description of an office memorable.)

czeskleba said...

Jim, you're mistaken about Howard's pants. Howard the Duck first appeared in pants in issue #2 of the black and white magazine. He continued to wear pants in every subsequent issue of that magazine, and has also worn pants in every Marvel Comic he's appeared in since then.

It wasn't so much the pants Gerber hated as the overall character redesign that was foisted upon Marvel by Disney. Howard's beak was made all puffy so that it didn't resemble a beak at all, and his feet also were puffed up. Gerber felt the design was extremely unattractive and didn't look anything like a duck, and that there could have been ways to make the character look less like Donald without making him so grotesque. He also of course was unhappy that Marvel had just acceded to Disney's demands without a fight, and had made no attempt to have input in the redesign.

jimshooter said...

I stand corrected. The "pants" issue I'm thinking of was the one in which he was put INTO the pants by an evil tailor villain. I remember much discussion at the time about ignoring the pants thing after a few issues.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

Judging from the picture JayJay added, the pillar has grown in my memory. Looks like the clock was only six feet above the floor. And now I'm having doubts about the outlets being waist high. I don't think they were all the way down to baseboard level like home outlets, though. I don't know why they were that way.

Payton Gauldin said...

Why were all the comics hanging on the wall and can someone identify them?

ireactions said...

This is a panel of Howard the Duck from the MAX series, as drawn by Phil Winslade, and according to Gerber, Marvel did have to have Phil use the Disney design. Well, it looks fine to me: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/810/clipboard02wk.jpg/

I don't see anything wrong with his feet or his beak at all.

Don Hudson said...

Lynn Cohen! I have always been a fan of hers.

Donovan Yaciuk said...

Great storytelling, Jim! This had me laughing out loud!

jimshooter said...

The architect's name was Bob Purdham.