While I was associate editor of Marvel, during 1976, I think, Marvel was rife with little fiefdoms in conflict. Vicious backbiting. Daily rants and rages. Petty office politics. Favoritism. Cronyism. Vendettas and vengeances.
Hunter S. Thompson’s Vegas had less fear and loathing.
It was almost as bad as the average middle-America amateur theater group.
The two major factions were the Roy Thomas camp and the Len Wein/Marv Wolfman camp.
Len and Marv were close friends and allies. So much so, they might as well have been joined at the hip. People around the office sometimes referred to them as LenMarv, as if they were a single entity. Generally when they were not in earshot. Sometimes when they were. They actually didn’t seem to mind so much, depending upon who was calling them that.
Len and Marv had taken turns being Editor in Chief. Marv was at the helm in early 1976.
Though it had been years since Roy had been Editor in Chief, he still had a great deal of clout. He still had Stan’s ear, for instance, and some cred upstairs. It was not a good idea to offend Roy, and a good thing to be in his good graces.
No one would dare say a bad word about Roy, not openly, anyway. What if it got back to him?
In fact, every time something good was said, about writers in particular, people in the office generally tagged a genuflection to Roy onto it, like, “(Name of writer) gives good dialogue. Of course, Roy’s the best.”
Roy’s minions, that is, people he favored, were said by LenMarv people to be under Roy’s “nuclear umbrella.” Yes, they actually used that term.
LenMarv had their own minions, people who were loyal to them that they favored.
Including their wives. Marv and Len’s wives were on staff. They comprised the “coloring department.” They assigned coloring work. They were both terrific colorists, so hard to argue there, except, was it really necessary? A department to assign coloring? I don’t know.
And, including each other. Marv hired Len to design covers and write cover copy freelance, for instance. A little extra money. Easy money. Len did the work lickety-split, effortlessly. Len was pretty good at it, so hard to argue there, except, was it really necessary? A designated hitter for covers? I don’t know.
Marv seemed to have the time on his hands to handle such things. On a typical day, he’d come in mid-morning. He’d close the door to his office and we, out in the big editorial room, would hear typing. Len would turn up around lunch time. On his way out to lunch with Len, Marv would hand me the pages he’d written freelance on company time to look over. By the time he and Len came back from lunch, I’d have read the pages and marked them up, noting spelling errors, words misused, grammar problems and general suggestions, which as the Boss, he might use or ignore. Marv and Len would go into Marv’s office and close the door and play a game called Mastermind for an hour or so.
How do I know that? One day Len was sick, so Marv called me into his office after lunch, pulled the game board out of his desk drawer and asked me to fill in for Len. He tried mightily to teach me how to play. I sucked at it, but at least I gave him some interesting arrangements of pegs to solve while clobbering me.
But I digress….
In general, in a low-level, cold war kind of way, the two camps jockeyed for advantage. Roy, it seemed to me, generally only played defense, but Roy’s defense was more potent than the other camp’s offense. If it were football, Team Roy would lead the league in defensive scoring.
Conflicts inevitably arose between Roy’s minions and LenMarv’s minions. Also, while Roy was pretty much untouchable by anyone, Roy’s minions would sometimes go after LenMarv. And LenMarv would sometimes go after Roy’s minions. Carefully.
Part of my problem was that I wasn’t really anybody’s minion. Not because I was so much holier than thou, but because I was from out of town, I had been out of touch with most mainstream comics for a few years, I didn’t know many of the people, didn’t know their allegiances and sometimes I just plain had no clue about the nature and genesis of the thrashing around going on.
I suppose I was technically in the LenMarv camp since Marv had hired me, and I was as loyal to my boss as I thought one ought to be. But that only went so far. As stated elsewhere, I was very critical of the writer/editor concept and was pretty free with my opinions about what was good in the comics and what was bad. And what should be done about it.
I had this weird, heartland-type notion that the books came first, that ultimately, my loyalty should first and foremost be to doing the job I was hired to do as best I could, the Hell with whoever the personalities involved were, or whose camp they were in. So, I did what my boss told me to do, but other than that, tried to keep my nose buried in the work and do it well.
As a result, I pissed off people in both camps equally. People didn’t know what to make of me. Was I that naïve or just stupid? Yes to the former, for sure….
One day, a month or so after I started at Marvel, Stan called me into his office.
Stan gave me a letter, at least two pages long, and asked me to read it. It was to Stan from Tony Isabella. It was a wall-to-wall diatribe against LenMarv—Tony was in the Roy camp—listing all the atrocities LenMarv had committed the previous day.
Oh, great, thought I. What does Stan want from me? Testimony?
When I finished reading Stan said, exactly, “I find one of these taped to my door every day.”
I said something brilliant like, “Uh-huh.”
Stan went on. “It’s really pretty well written. Don’t you think?”
“Is he writing for us? Are we giving him work?”
I said yes, and listed what Tony was writing. (Somebody help me, please. Ghost Rider for sure. What else? Champions? More?)
Stan said, “Good.”
That was it. I went back to my desk and back to work.
What’s the moral of the story? Well, for one, Stan was in my camp, or, more properly, I was in his. It mattered more to him that the books were well written and less whatever petty bickering was going on.
A few years later, in the early 1980’s, things had improved around Marvel significantly. We were in comfy new offices. We had gotten more or less on time, relieving, to some extent, the grinding oppression of the schedule. The books were selling like Popsicles in Death Valley. The business was expanding so there was plenty of work to go around. Rates had escalated dramatically. There were creator-owned opportunities, incentive plans, benefits and royalties. People were making money—some, a lot of money.
Funny how when people are making good money, a lot of the stress drains away.
And, oh, by the way, we had one of the finest crews of editors, editorial people and production people ever assembled. Brilliant, capable, talented people. Including several of the best people I’ve ever met.
Sure, there were occasional slings and arrows to deal with—the JLA/Avengers crossover comes to mind—but in general, we had entered an Era of Good Feeling. There was, for the most part, at least at 387 Park Avenue South, peace.
So of course, war broke out.
Some Marvel miscreant with a little money in his pocket and a little time on his hands discovered at the local toy store/arsenal a marvelous weapon! It shot soft, plastic bullets. High muzzle velocity. Exceptional accuracy. Great stopping power. No penetration whatsoever. You could hit an intern solidly at 30 feet with one of these guns. But it wouldn’t mark the walls.
All the miscreants “marveled.” Heh. So, each of them had to go buy his or her own gun. And they formed teams. Or should I say units?
And, after work each day, the shooting started. The tenth floor, the comics floor, became a war zone.
I remember sitting at my desk working late one evening. I became vaguely aware of movement near my door. John Morelli came crawling in. He gestured “be quiet” and lay in ambush behind my couch, waiting for an enemy to pass by. Who would suspect a sniper in my room?!
I finally had to lay down some rules. All combatants had to wear eye protection. If any civilians strayed into the combat area, everyone was to cease fire, take the goggles off, hide the guns and look casual till the civilian cleared the area. Etc.
This went on for a while….
Then, as war is wont to do, it escalated.
If you think this is all just a a setup to force JayJay the Blog Elf to tell the story of the Marvel Punishers Paintball Team, you would be correct.
NEXT: More Strange Tales