Friday, July 8, 2011

Righting the Ship – Part Two

Reinforcements arrive.  And NO GREEN BACKGROUNDS!

When I was promoted to Editor in Chief, I was supposed to move from the small office I was in to the larger, nicer Editor in Chief office down the hall. I couldn’t take the time to move, though. I was too busy being overwhelmed. After that office sat empty for a few days, Sol Brodsky, by no one’s leave, pounced on it and moved in. I didn’t care. The little room I had was in a corner of the big editorial room and closer to the bullpen. In the middle of the action, you might say. Except, since we were short-handed, only a couple of assistant editors and me, there wasn’t a lot of “action” in the editorial area besides my frantic scrambling around.

Besides, that small room had been good enough for Roy, Len, Marv and Gerry. Only Archie had occupied the bigger office. Why? He had been editor of the black-and-white magazines, and that room had formerly been the B&W editorial office, where Archie and one or two or other editorial people sat. Like me, after he’d been promoted, he hadn’t the time to move, and so he stayed put, and thus, the big room became the EIC office. I had been installed in the little room along with the B&W editor who replaced Archie. Roger Slifer, as I recall.

Slifer is a story all by himself. Later. He wasn’t there too long. He quit and went freelance.

Anyway, when I took over as EIC, I didn’t have a B&W editor or a color comics editor.

Roger Stern became the first editor on board. He had been one of the assistants previously.  He’s wicked smart, an excellent writer, comics savvy and capable. And he knows all the words to every Weird Al Yankovich song. And he’ll sing them for you. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I had convinced upstairs that one editor for 45 color comics wasn’t enough, and I had the budget to hire more.

The second color comics editor I hired was Bob Hall, who had been doing some penciling for us. Bob was a playwright, among other things. He knew story structure, was literate, was a visual thinker and knew comics. He had no editorial experience, but I figured that he’d catch on quick. I was right.

Bob had written a play that was running at the Cherry Lane Theater in the Village called The Passion of Dracula. Very successful. It ran for a long time.

(ASIDE:  Bob also wrote, years later, a play about the beginning of the Comics Code entitled Never Bigger Than Her Head. The title comes from a bit of advice John Buscema gave students about drawing women’s breasts.)

One of the people I interviewed for the B&W magazine editor job was a man named Rick Marschall. He had been recommended to Stan by someone, actually, so Stan wanted to meet him. He had some experience working with newspaper strips or reprints of same, but no comic book or comics magazine background. A pretty thin resume. Stan, who has an abiding reverence for syndicated strips, was impressed with Marschall. Me, not so much.  But I went with Stan’s gut, not mine and hired him.

(ASIDE: Funny thing about Stan. I’m not saying he doesn’t love the comics, because he does—but in his heart of hearts, what he really wanted was a successful syndicated strip or a successful “real” magazine. 

Remember, Stan grew up in the day when comic books were the lowest rung on the ladder.  Comic books were where you ended up after schlepping your portfolio around to every single syndicate, showing your brilliant samples of the next Terry and the Pirates or Abbie an’ Slats and being rejected by everybody. Or, where you scrounged a living while waiting for the syndicated world to acknowledge your genius. Working on comic books was an embarrassment. A lot of people changed their names for their comics work to keep their real name untainted. Like Stan Lee, who wanted to reserve his real name, Stanley Lieber, for his strip, his magazine, or, who knows, the Great American Novel.

I used to argue with him. I’d tell him he made comics huge, and comics made him a worldwide icon. Why not stick with that? He’d say yes…pause…but someday I’d really like to publish a real magazine!

(Sigh.)

Anyway, we hired Marschall. 

And early on, we cancelled most of the B&W magazines, which weren’t selling. We were adding some color comics at the same time, so we actually increased the number of pages per month we produced, so there was still plenty of work to go around.

Writer/editor Roy handled Savage Sword.  Ralph Macchio was his in-house liaison. So Marschall handled…hmm…a Howard the Duck B&W? A Dracula magazine? Somebody help me.

The Hulk was on television then, so we introduced the full color Hulk Magazine, which Marschall edited. And he edited a movie adaptation or three. And, he took over development of a project initiated during Archie’s time, a color magazine intended to feature creator-owned material with the working title Odyssey.

Meanwhile, with our blessing, Bob Hall left to look after his play, which was being produced in London and Boston.

But more reinforcements came on board: Al Milgrom. Then Denny O’Neill and Larry Hama, who started on the same day, and Louise Jones (who later married Walt Simonson).

Things started to get organized.

I finally had more time to spend on improving the books.

One of the first things I addressed was the coloring of the covers. Before me, when the inked cover art came in, a photocopy was given to the Editor in Chief, who wrote the copy—blurbs and what have you, and indicated placement. The copy went to the production department. The display lettering (for, say, the title) was done and the blurbs, if any, were lettered. The logo, trade dress, Code Seal and copy were pasted up. Then a stat of the cover was made and sent to George Roussos’ office. George colored all the covers. Often without being so much as glanced at by anyone in editorial, they went to the separators. 

I was very unhappy with the cover coloring. The first thing I did was make sure I saw the covers before they left the house. I always had corrections. Lots of corrections. There were a lot of mistakes. Like part of a spaceship colored brown and shaded like a rock because George thought it was a rock. Or Atlanteans who weren’t colored blue. That sort of thing.  Allowing the mistakes to happen then correcting them seemed inefficient….

So, I told George to bring me each and every cover before he started coloring, so we could discuss it first.

George probably wasn’t thrilled to have some kid less than half his age giving him instructions, but he dutifully complied. And it went well the first few times. I headed off some problems. I pushed George in the direction of clarity and depth.

And, I started to understand where George was coming from. He had been given a lot of rules by a lot of different people during the many years he’d been coloring covers. He wasn’t thinking like an artist any more. He was just doing this because you’re supposed to and that because you must. In the case of conflicting orders, he followed the last ones or those given to him by the higher-ranking person. Getting rid of all the nonsense he’d been shackled with was the main problem. That theme continued with writers, pencilers, etc.  You’ll see.

Anyway…

One morning George brought me a Master of Kung Fu cover he was about to color. It was pretty static, so George suggested going with a stark color treatment, a “knockout.” I said fine. How about we do the figures and the logo in yellow and color the background a cool green?

George looked like I’d ordered him to eat a live tarantula sandwich.

He said, “You CAN’T color a background green!”

I’d never heard that rule before. 

I can’t recite it line by line, but it turned into a major argument! With George! Sweet, cooperative, nice, George. He adamantly refused to color the background green. Stan, he said, wouldn’t like it! He, George, would be fired! 

I tried to tell him that it was okay, no one was going to fire him. That didn’t make a dent.  Finally, I demanded that he color the cover as instructed. No more argument. Go. Now. Do it.

George shambled away, muttering.

A minute later, Marie Severin came to my office. “Why are you doing this to George?” she asked. I wasn’t doing anything to George!  I just wanted the damn cover colored. As instructed.

Marie, in grave tones, warned me that there would be serious repercussions. Stan would be really angry. Stan HATED green. She pleaded with me not to make George color the cover green. By this time, my heels were firmly dug in.

Marie left. George came back. He refused to color the background green and that was that.  I told him if he didn’t do as I asked I’d send him home. And I assured him that whatever consequences for green there were, I would bear them, not him.

So he did it. Green background. I took the cover and asked George to follow me.

Stan’s office door was open so I walked in. George stayed outside, sort of timidly standing by the door. Even though he was with me, he would never have considered walking into Stan’s office uninvited.

I showed Stan the cover. I said, “What do you think?”

Stan said, “It’s GREAT!”

I thanked Stan and left. Though George had overheard, I repeated it. “Stan said it’s GREAT.”

Here’s the scoop. Stan probably did at some point say “never make a cover background green.” Stan is prone to speak in hyperbole and exaggerate for effect. What he meant—and I guessed this immediately, knowing Stan well from working closely with him in general and in particular on the strip—was that medium-value background colors like green present difficulties when choosing a color for the logo. Better to go with a VERY DARK background color against which a light colored logo will “pop,” or a VERY LIGHT background color against which a dark colored logo will pop. Rather than launch into a lecture on color theory, Stan made an idiot-proof rule: never use green.

But my yellow logo popped nicely against the cool green background, so no worries. That was/is Stan’s real concern—does the logo pop? Yes.

After that, George and I really started to work well together. I convinced him to scrap the rules, that we were picture-makers. I unleashed the artist in him. And he taught me tricks I never knew, about “spotlighting” characters and building mood with color.

Pretty soon, our little discussions about how to approach covers became highlights of my day. Fun. I think he enjoyed them too.

I’ll do another piece about George, a quiet, smart, super-talented gentleman soon.

Meanwhile….

As an editor, Marschall was marginal at best. He made a lot of mistakes. The worst was failing to get licensor approval on a movie adaptation—Planet of the Apes, I think, prior to going to press. The licensor rejected the book. We had to scrap 600,000 copies. (for more info, see comment)

A couple of days after that went down, Marschall asked me if he could have the next several days off because relatives of his from Germany were visiting. I turned his request down. One of his books, an important one, another movie adaptation, I think, had to get into and out of the house in the next few days and his presence was required—especially after the last debacle. 

So, he called in sick.

Meanwhile, it had come to the attention of President Jim Galton that we’d had to scrap a print run. He ordered me to fire Marschall. I called Marschall and left a message saying he must come in the next day, a Friday. He didn’t. So, I called again, got him and fired him over the phone. 

He later got a friend at the New York Times to write a major article for the business section all about how I was driving talent like him away from Marvel. Whatever. Good riddance.

I hired Lynn Graeme to replace him as editor of the magazines. New to comics, but a very smart woman. 

I thought, however, we needed someone with experience, a real heavyweight to take over the Odyssey project…. 


NEXT:  An EPIC Deception

64 comments:

Benoît Leblanc said...

This is just getting more and more interesting! You know how to build suspense!

Regarding the green cover, I assume it is this one :
http://www.comics.org/issue/32611/cover/4/

It is indeed very eye-catching despite the green background!

Around that time, word balloons and bombastic captions started becoming rarer and rarer on covers... Was that due to an editorial decision or was it more of a progressive cultural change?

Cheers,

- Ben

Dale Bagwell said...

Wow! That really is a nice cover. I'm glad you and George both learned something that day, and were able to have a better working relationship come out of that particular experience.

Great, great stuff Mr.Shooter. I'm really interested in what you have to say about the Epic line. Also, when are you going to address the mess that was the New Universe? Or have you already mentioned it? Either way my attention is all yours for the next post.

Tue Sørensen said...

These are marvellous stories! :-) Really bring a smile to my face! Keep it coming, please.

Tony said...

I remember reading Stan's account of the "No Green Covers" misunderstanding many years ago, though he didn't provide any details. He said a similar misunderstanding led to the infamous "nose" on Iron Man's faceplate.

ncaligon said...

Would the movie adaptation with the scrapped print run have been "Meteor"? I thought Marvel's Planet of the Apes mags were B&W, with nowhere near a 600K print run, and scrubbed even before you were EIC.

Al Bigley said...

Always wondered about all those new editorial names that appeared around 1980 or so..

And, yes, I've always said that Stan, based on his comments here and there, always wanted to be a newspaper comic strip or magazine maven. He would BEAM when announcing the 1968 SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN mag, the early 70s mag line, then, later, EPIC....

Enjoying the blog!

Al Bigley

Kid said...

Terrific stuff. You're spoiling us. More please.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I first saw Roger Slifer's name in various Sunbow cartoons. I know nothing about his time at Marvel (other than that he was there) and hope you write more about him sometime.

Comics attracts multidimensional people. It just occurred to me that Bob Hall is like Larry Hama. Both are writer-artists with stage experience. LOTS of it in Hall's case. And Hama was on Broadway! Had no idea back when I was reading Squadron Supreme and G.I. JOE.

Stan Lee got his "successful syndicated strip"! You worked on it. Alas, a "successful 'real' magazine" was not to be. Was Pizzazz his idea? What did he think of the comic-format magazine Blip?

Your description of the old days when comic strips were "above" comic books (some still think this way) reminded me of what happened to a certain duo from Cleveland and the strip they couldn't sell.

Rick Marschall edited Marvel Preview, Marvel Super Special, the first two issues of the Howard the Duck magazine, and even Marvel Classics Comics. I think ncaligon might be right about Meteor -- it was the last Marvel Super Special that Marschall edited, and the very last Marvel credit of his that I can find. 600,000 copies! Nothing has print runs like that anymore.

I saw the title of your post and thought, "No green backgrounds? Since when?" Since never. Whew.

Logos that don't "pop" frustrate me. The whole point of a logo is to be read. The yellow-green combo cover that Benoît linked to (he beat me!) works for me. The logo and background still contrast if the image is converted to black and white.

Glad to hear the learning went both ways between you and George Roussos. I assume your online lessons about coloring incorporated his wisdom.

Lynn Graeme edited Bizarre Adventures #25, the Marvel magazine I remember most even after 30 years. The unusual spelling of her last name jumped out at me as a kid. So did Michael Golden's use of collage ... which I imitated as a nine-year-old.

czeskleba said...

ncaglion: You're right, Planet of the Apes was cancelled in 1977, before Shooter took over. When Marschall became editor, his sole editorial responsibilities were the color Hulk magazine, Marvel Super Special, and the quarterly B&W Marvel Preview. The B&W Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck magazines were not added until late in his tenure, just before he was fired. Meteor is a good guess for the scrapped print run, since it's the last Marvel Super Special movie adaptation to credit Marschall as editor.

101226541140027931674 said...

Jim, I'm having trouble with the comments, so I'll keep this short. I'm loving the blog, and I was wondering if you had any comments on Christopher Priest (then Jim Owsley)'s account of his time at Marvel with you in is online memoir here http://www.digital-priest.com/comics/adventures/index.htm mainly in chapters 2 and 3. I didn't take it as an attack on you, so I'm not asking for a 'response' just wondering if you read it, what you thought of it, and if there was anything you'd like to add.

Richard Guion said...

I think the editorial team at Marvel led by Jim was phenomenal: Roger Stern, Al Milgrom, Denny O’Neill, Larry Hama, Louise Jones, Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald. Like an All Star Baseball team, all strong creative people on their own. Interesting to know that Bob Hall's play went to London, I always wondered why we didn't see more work from him.

Also, I think once this team got cooking, the entire Marvel Comics line had consistent quality. I think I bought nearly every title except for the Star line. I have to admit, I even bought Marvel Blip.

bmcmolo said...

@101226541140027931674 - I think Jim's responded to that in one of the other blog comments section. I did a quick look but couldn't find which one, but it's back there somewhere!

@Jim - I don't think they follow Buscema's advice for drawing women in comics anymore, lol

bmcmolo said...

(tho they should. Buscema was one of the all-time greats, may he rest in peace in an afterlife of perpetual Hyborea.)

Marc Miyake said...

Dear 101226541140027931674,

bmcmolo is correct. Jim has written about Christopher Priest's memoir here and in the following comment.

jimshooter said...

Dear Ben,

I think that's the cover.

As I got good editors aboard, I let each of them take more and more control of their covers for the sake of creative variety. I don't know why the drift away from hype and ballooons happened except that it wasn't really my style, and I guess not so much for the editors, either.

jimshooter said...

The Spider-Man strip was successful for a while, but being comic book based, I think not entirely satisfying to Stan. That's speculation. I don't read minds. But I got to know Stan pretty well, and it's an informed speculation.

jimshooter said...

Dear czeskleba,

Wasn't there a new Planet of the Apes Movie around then?

Another possibility is the Star Trek Movie, but I'm guessing.

Marschall may not have been credited, since the ill-fated, re-done book came out (finally) after he was gone.

101226541140027931674 said...

Thanks for the pointer, for some reason google missed that. And it's Ethan, didn't mean to be a number, but as I said, I'm finding this blog's comments a bit tough to handle.

MJK said...

Jim, I really enjoy the notes about "design thinking" like those in this post and a few others. The whole blog is a treat, really, but I'm a graphic designer myself, and insights into this relatively "invisible" piece of the comics business just fascinates mes.

Particularly as, thirty-some years later, it still seems like Marvel needs someone to come in and focus more attention on design issues...

Defiant1 said...

People with color blindness often have problems discerning reds and greens. They appears as different shades of a reddish-brown. In that sense, it is logical to avoid using greens. There are some exotic island forms of color blindness that affects blue. Actually, for the eyes to see blue, it compromises our ability to see the other colors in the spectrum. JPEG compression actually removes some of the blue shades in an image's color palette to make the file sizes smaller.

From a marketing angle, one of the things I've ranted about lately online is the flat look of logos and titles on comics today. The title and logo is a brand that should really stand out and be noticeable and memorable. The X-men logo Neal Adams designed does just that. Too much of this knowledge is lost or underutilized today.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Speaking of cover styles, I'd like to read about your philosophy of cover design, particularly since you laid out so many covers yourself.

Nowadays wordless, generic poses seem to be in vogue on covers. They may look nice but it's hard for me to remember which issue is which. I ask myself, "Did I buy that issue already?" I prefer covers that depict what's going on inside, with or without a few words: e.g., the cover for the new Solar #6 symbolizes Solar's present and past. The lack of a caption made me wonder what was inside until I finally got to read the issue. BTW, the origin back-up in that issue is my favorite Dark Key story.

I'd say a comic strip that's lasted 34 years is successful. But I see what you mean. It wasn't a wholly original comic strip like Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo's Willie Lumpkin (1960). If it had taken off, there would be no Marvel Universe, and the Archie line would look different.

The last Planet of the Apes movie until 2001 came out in 1973. The live-action TV show came and went in 1974 and a cartoon ended in 1976. As czeskleba pointed out, the comics only lasted until 1977. Given that "the ill-fated, re-done book came out (finally) after he [Marschall] was gone," the book might have published some time after the movie it was based on. Unfortunately, I can't find any out-of-sync Super Specials during 1979-80, assuming the release dates on dcindexes.com are correct. The other Super Specials after Meteor are Star Trek, which you mentioned, The Empire Strikes Back, and Xanadu.

ncaligon said...

As I think back on the Marschall firing. I think the problem was with the Star Trek "Super Special." But it wasn't failing to get approval from the licensor (Paramount?), or at least that wasn't the only problem. If I remember the events right, that book was printed with the wrong cover price, $1.50 when it should have been $2.00 Everybody was teed off. Retailers got less money for it. Comics dealers not only got less money for it, they were billed as though it was a $2.00 book and had to wait for credit. Marvel would have taken a mid-to-high five-figure hit, unless they were willing to scrap the print run and delay shipping, missing the initial sales window --probably a six-figure hit, as well as royally angering Paramount. Better to let it go out at the cheap price, hoping/praying for a high enough jump in the newsstand sellthrough to cover some of the losses from the low price. And while Marschall wasn't responsible for the editorial end of the book, he was responsible for production work, etc., and he'd have been responsible for doing the cover right. So his head rolled. At least that's what I think the not-very-sturdy comics press reported. I can see a 600K print run for a Star Trek mag much more than I can for "Meteor". Maybe lack of licensor approval led to the chaos that let the cover price go unnoticed, say if Paramount nixed a cover illo after seeing it at the last moment.

Marschall gave a lengthy "exit interview" to the Comics Journal, which I remember as being not very convincing. The New York Times article ran October 13, 1979, and you can read it here:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Og5SAAAAIBAJ&sjid=TzUNAAAAIBAJ&pg=6129,2642544&dq=the-main-man-who-writes-spider-man-has-quit&hl=en

There's even a fake comic strip commissioned for the Times syndicate. The art style looks familiar, but I can't quite figure out who it is.

Jeff Clem said...

I would bet money that it was the comic book adaptation of Star Trek - The Motion Picture (Marvel Comics Super Special #15?); I seem to remember reading about it in the news section of the Comic Journal. And "ncaligon" is correct about the incorrect cover price as well.

Matt Hawes said...

Defiant1 wrote: "...The X-men logo Neal Adams designed does just that..."

I'm pretty sure it was Jim Steranko that designed the logo you are talking about.

Defiant1 said...

As far as word balloons and hype captions disappearing,I think it was due to the mindset of creators and collectors around that time. Comics were stereotyped as a child's form of entertainment by the general public. Most of us had grown up with sound effects popping up as text on the Batman TV show. It was a trait associated with cartoons, not a mature literary work. The comics code was in full force and readers were screaming inside for comics to be respected and treated as a serious contribution to the world of art and writing. Removing text from the covers allowed more of the art to be displayed and at the time it appealed to a great number of collectors. This is one of the same reasons that creative efforts by Alan Moore and Frank Miller were so well received. Comics had been locked into a mold based on preconceived notions and the restrictions of the comics code. Anything that broke the limitations of the mold were different and they stood out in a positive way. For me, the word "exotic" fits. Comics were becoming eclectic.

That is not to say that the text and captions didn't serve a vital role in marketing the product. I feel that it did market the product to people who were unsure if they should buy the product. It is said that you can't judge a book by the cover, but the cover is exactly what a consumer looks at when he/she is judging how he/she will spend their money. Marketing can't just sit still. In the past, comics were stuck in a mold of relying upon text and word balloons to sell comics. Stunning artwork was obscured. We now have a situation where comics rely upon a rotation of generic portrait shots merely displaying a group of heroes from different angles. The covers are no longer marketing the product beyond the customer base that is content with that. Text and word balloons are really needed to pull in new readers. Comics need to break out of their rut and start appealing to someone other than who is already buying them today. Removing captions and word balloons accomplished that in the late 70's and 80's. Bringing them back would be a refreshing change that might actually bring back consumers through the use of older tactics that had already been proven to work in the past.

Defiant1 said...

Matt,

I'll stand corrected on who designed the X-Men logo. I was pretty darn sure that I read an interview where Neal said he did it. I'm probably wrong. Online reports do validate that Steranko redesigned it. I'm not sure if that's because it's fact or because his art just happened to start in that issue. I'm older now, I've forgotten stuff that many collectors never knew and I don't really even care who designed it anymore. The logo jumped out at potential consumers and that was the only point I was trying to make. Thanks for the correction.

kintounkal said...

Defiant1,

Surprisingly, Matthew Vaughn who directed Kick-Ass (starring a superhero who wears a green wetsuit and his rival called Red Mist) admits to being color blind.

JediJones said...

I googled "stan lee" "green covers" and the first hit was relevant to this story. It says "legend has it" that Stan Lee once rejected a green cover and this resulted in a rumor spreading among the Marvel staff that Stan doesn't like green covers. So perhaps it was less of a declaration by Stan and more of an overreaction on the part of the staff.

Defiant1 said...

People with color blindness often rely upon those who do not have impairment to make decisions about color. No surprises there.

Jeff Clem said...

Re: Richard Marschall's firing: I seem to remember a quote from Marschall in the Comics Journal news item about his dismissal - something along the lines of "with the Nazi's, they at least came to your door, but with Shooter, you get fired over the phone." Yeah, like Shooter showing up at Richard's door with the bad news would have softened the blow. It's kind of like the kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar; he claims he's not upset about getting caught - he's upset over he got caught. Besides, if Jim couldn't get in touch with Richard over the phone, after numerous tries, how likely was it that he'd go to his home to fire him?
BTW,I just turned 50 a few months ago and the grey matter may not be what it used to be, so I may be mistaken about the above info, but I am reasonably sure I've got the gist of it.

kintounkal said...

Defiant1,

Matthew Vaughn talked about his condition and his strong opinions on color throughout the April 16th, 2010 episode of Last Call with Carson Daly. Everything he said in that interview contradicts your assumptions. He resisted suggestions to portray everything noir and demanded really bright colors. Not everyone considered color blind experiences the same level of difficulty in distinguishing colors.

OM said...

...Jim, it at least wasn't the Star Trek: The Motion Picture adaptation that got pulped. Had that happened, Trekkies/Trekkers/Trek Fans would still be wanking about it 30 years later.

...From what I recall through the nascent grapevine of comics gossip of the day, the Meteor adaptation is the one that got pulped, although at that time nobody was sure just why. Considering how big a pile of festering horse-hockey the movie turned out to be - seriously, you could see the seams on the plastic model kits they cobbled together for the space scenes, not to mention how clearly obvious the exploding World Trade Center fragments were simple toothpicks! - it would have been better off if Marvel had passed on adapting Meteor.

Jeff Clem said...

I've discovered that when I emphasize certain words in my postings by surrounding the word or phrase with the little right and left indentation keys, those words don't show up in the final, published post, making me look like some idiot or bad typist. So please keep that in mind when reading anything I have posted tonight and, from now on, I'll go back to using ALL CAPS for emphasis.

Jet Amago said...

Darn cliffhanger.

Can't wait for the next post.

jimshooter said...

Dear ncaligon,

You're probably right. For some reason something about Planet of the Apes sticks in my mind, a discussion from around that time. I know that once Barry Kaplan did an analysis to figure out at which point the lower unit cost for higher print runs was offset by wasted "returned" copies, and Planet of the Apes was his example. Maybe that occurred around the same time. Dunno.

jimshooter said...

Dear Defiant1,

If I remember correctly, Howard Chaykin is color blind, but he paints. I think he once told me he could only tell which colors the paints were by the labels on the tubes.

Kris Brownlow said...

Jim, as someone who has hired and fired, I would never fire someone over the phone. Firing an employee is very difficult and should be done privately, face-to-face with respect and courtesy.

Defiant1 said...

kintounkal,

I'm not really sure why you'd bring up people with lesser degrees of color blindness when I'm talking about people who would struggle with the problem. That hardly seems relevant.

I have a friend that uses methodical systems to choose colors. If you ask her what a color is, she can usually guess correctly based on the look you have on your face. It has nothing to do with what color her eyes see, but more to do with how people react to the color. People with color blindness have lot of experience learning to fit in. They know they are different, so they don't usually advertise their impairment. They feel a little shame or embarrassment when they get asked questions they can't answer or make color choices that a larger group questions.

http://www.toledo-bend.com/colorblind/Ishihara.asp

I was actually keyed in on color blindness as an issue years ago. An ISO (http://www.iso.org/) auditor asked me how I knew what color something was if I was inspecting it. I'd never been asked something so absurd during an audit. He explained that it is a problem for companies and wanted to know if we tested employees.

jimshooter said...

Dear Kris,

I agree. I wish that it could have been that way.

jimshooter said...

Dear 101226541140027931674,

Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest was a breath of fresh air for Marvel. Super-smart, super-creative, funny, outrageous. One of the good guys. Good-hearted, good-spirited. Crazy, in the finest sense of the word.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

It would take a while to explain my philosophy of cover design, but I will someday. For now, this incredibly simplified distillation:

The cover is supposed to sell the book. With each cover design, you should be thinking "What is it about this image that I believe will sell the book?" Or, in Mort's parlance, "What's the HOOK?"

No rules about what might constitute a hook. You are correct, pin-ups are in vogue today. Can a pin-up be so beautiful or otherwise compelling that it sells the book? Yes, sometimes. Not often, I'd say.

Usually, if it sells anything, the pin-up is selling itself. That image is what people are really buying. What's in the book is irrelevant and probably disappointing anyway, so why even look?

A good hook gets you into the story inside, which maybe gets you involved enough to want the next issue, too.

In the early 2000's, Julie once invited me up to DC's offices after we had lunch at Martini's across the street, as we often did. He wanted me to sign a big board that he'd been having all his creator friends sign, a Who's Who, by the way. On our way to his room, we passed a wall on which all the latest covers were displayed. He asked, "What do you think?"

I said I thought, as a whole, they were pretty lame. All meaningless pin-ups. Julie said, "I guess Mort did teach you SOMETHING." Then he proceeded to hurl invective at the covers and the nitwits responsible, mixed in with HIS cover philosophy, which was like mine. And Mort's. And Stan's, for that matter. "Where's the hook?"

The hook could be a lot of things. A mystery. A gotta-see-what-happens-next situation. A moment of triumph that makes you want to read how the home team wins. A moment of tragedy that begs understanding. Even a defeat, but careful with that. These days the heroes are losers so often that "defeat" covers are ho-hum. When Stan did one or two along the way with Spider-Man, they meant something. They moved you. They worried you. "Say it ain't so...!" Nowadays? "Oh, look, this month that schlemiel Batman is: dead/in prison/a zombie/having a heart attack/getting his back broken/evil/a vampire/being humiliated by (insert name of villain)/giving up/failing again. Etc. Ho-hum.

Anyway....

You get the drift.

Defiant1 said...

You nailed it Jim. Georges Jeanty was explaining how Dark Horse wanted him to save a certain perspective shot to use on a cover for Buffy a few months ahead. I just thought to myself "Why?" I didn't dig to discover their reasoning, but it baffled me as to why they felt that simply looking up at a group shot of characters was going to make a potential customer shell out $3 and up for a comic. A cover should always try to grab (hook) new customers while not offending the old ones. Marketing in general should have that as a goal. Pumping out product for the same dwindling customer base and same demographics is a defeatist mindset. For the last decade I've kept wondering if a light bulb is going to go off in someone's head and result in a good decision being made by accident. So far the industry is defying probabilities. A great decision should emerge based upon the principle that even a broken clock is right 2 times a day. The only cliché left is "Necessity is the mother of invention." I'm crossing my fingers for that one to really pan out and pay off so the industry chooses a path that invests in the future rather than trying to tweak each fading moment.

kintounkal said...

Defiant1,

You seem to be struggling to win an imaginary arguement here. You made an observation that people with color blindness often avoid green because it's too close to red. I never said you were wrong. I just pointed out that Matthew Vaughn is color blind and directed a movie starring superhero wearing green and red costumes. I find that surprising. Feel free to disagree if you want but don't belittle my opinion.

This randomly lead you to question whether Mr. Vaughn made these decisions on his own. I provided proof in the form of an interview and you're now baffled why your silly assumptions are being challenged. Your post hints that anyone who isn't 100% color blind doesn't struggle with the problem. That's an uninformed point of view. Likewise, it's utterly arrogant to suggest people with color blindness are all ashamed or embarrassed.

czeskleba said...

For Rick Marschall to invoke the Nazis in regard to his firing and portray himself as some sort of advocate for creators is hypocritical. Marschall is notorious for putting his own name on a story written by Don McGregor (in Marvel Preview #16) after a dispute with McGregor over the W4H contract. In a creative field, I can think of few things more despicable than taking credit for someone else's work.

bmcmolo said...

Speaking of covers and colors... this latest Doctor Solar is stunning. Absolutely gorgeous - appropos to the story inside, makes you want to know more, and a marvel to behold.

All of the Dark Horse titles you've been writing the past year have had brilliant covers that follow the classic "hook" rules while also seeming really futuristic and elegant. My sincerest kudos to the design teams.

jimshooter said...

Dear bmcmolo,

I submitted cover ideas for most of the DH covers. I'll post some later.

Chris said...

My favorite DH Solar cover is #4. I also loved the preview cover for #10. I'll be very upset if I never get my hands on it. These covers remind me of the old Gold Key covers that I loved so much.

kintounkal said...

Speaking of Michael Komarck's cover for Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #4, was anyone else disappointed it wasn't included in the Troublemaker trade paperback? Ommitting the SDCC and Dennis Calero variants for issue 1 was a letdown too. I'm crossing my fingers that the upcoming Metal Mob and Aztlàn TPBs collect every Magnus & Turok cover available.

Defiant1 said...

kintounkal,

No argument, your replies made no sense regarding what I said.

I specifically said:
"People with color blindness often have problems discerning reds and greens. They appears as different shades of a reddish-brown."

(I copied my typo on "appear" for accuracy)

It does make sense to avoid using red & green themes unless you want up to 15% of your reading audience to see shades of reddish browns instead.

I know color blind people. I don't really need to read an article about what Michael Vaughn says or does to understand facts about the condition.

I did not say that color blind people avoid using red and green. In many cases they can't tell the difference, so how could they? I'm proud of Mr. Vaughn for his willingness to use the full color spectrum.

For the sake of clarity, most red/green color blindness occurs in males. There are much rarer forms of color blindness that affect other colors in the visible spectrum. I could ramble on further about "rhodopsin" and theoretical heat misfires causing false signals going to the brain.

My point was that "avoiding green" can have a justification other than simply a random whim.

kintounkal said...

Defiant1,

What a surprise. It's yet another post from Defiant1 where he blatantly says someone else's reply makes no sense.

I already clarified that I wasn't disagreeing with you from the start. You chose to act incredulous when I said Matthew Vaughan had strong opinions on color and proceeded to explain to me that those with color blindness often reply upon others. That's not a fact. It was an absurd assumption which happened to be wrong.

I don't care how many color blind people you know. It's possible you've encountered dozens of self-loathing color blind individuals. That doesn't give you the right to speak on their behalf in such a derogatory way. Your point wasn't lost on me. It's the snide attitude that annoys me.

Jeff Clem said...

That story that Richard Marschall took credit for in Marvel Preview #16, "The Hero-Killer Principle", is one of Don McGregor's best, with equally brilliant artwork by Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga. It's my understanding that McGregor would not sign the W4H agreement, so Marschall took credit for the story, even though the only real Marschall writing in the story was made up of very slight editing in the script.
By the way, from Comics Journal #51, November 1979 new section: Richard Marschall: "What a tactless, insulting, cowardly way to do something like that." And, later: "With the Nazis, it's a knock on the door; with Shooter, it's a phone call."

Mars Bonfire said...

Regarding covers - they had to sell contents and hook people like me buying comics at the local newsagents because we were not allowed browse.

"Hey! This ain't a library!" shouted the shop owner. I had to make a snap decision (no loitering allowed) on that month's bunch of Marvels or DCs based on the cover. I had my regular purchases (X-Men, Teen Titans); but should I buy that new Rom comic or what about Ka-Zar or All Star Squadron? The cover was all I had to go on. This was my comic life growing up in the UK in the 70s and 80s. No doubt, US/Canadian readers had similar experiences.

Then I discovered comic shops in London. You could browse. The good shops were tolerant of us teenagers on a budget having to decided carefully what to buy. Other shops found us an irritant as we spent an hour looking just to buy a single US import; we were not as lucrative as the 20 to 30-something men who bought a copy of everything (how I envied them). Even so, all these shops were better than the newsagents. Covers became less important to me as I could see who was writing or drawing and make an informed decision.

czeskleba said...

Marschall did not rewrite a single word in that McGregor script. His "editing" consisted solely of removing a one-page flashback from the story, apparently because there was some sexual content in it. That's it. Replacing McGregor's name with his own in the credits was entirely a retaliatory move on his part... although he was a sloppy enough editor that he accidentally left in an introductory text-page that mentions McGregor being the writer. I remember being confused about that when I bought the original book, and then a few years later reading the story of what happened.

Jeff Clem said...

Wow....I don't remember where I read or heard about Marschall's "editing" of the script - something about just a changing a word here or there to justify his actions, but I bow to your information. I tried a few times to communicate with Don McGregor about what might have been changed by Marschall from the original script, with no success.
Here's what Marschall wrote in his editorial from that issue:
"It may be that the story that served as the basis for the lead tale is one of Don McGregor's best."
Wow.....with that kind of vague writing, maybe Marschall went into politics?

Edo said...

Up until now, I've been lurking here without feeling the need to comment, but that Marschall Nazi comparison mentioned by several people really gets me. It's stupid at so many levels; given what usually followed a knock on the door by the Nazis, wouldn't you prefer a phone call? (Theoretically, it gives you time to slip out of town before they find you...)

jeff said...

Interesting that Marschall should make a comment like that as he considered Father Coughlin (who liked Nazis a lot better than he liked Jews) to be one of his personal heroes (as stated in his Comics Journal interview).

Pastrami said...

These entries are great reading and I really look forward to them each day. The drama that unfolds has been paralleling what has been taking place at my wife's workplace! She is a new manager and is finding herself facing these same issues.

Human nature seems to be holding steady.

Thanks again for the Blog, Jim.

Robin Riggs said...

Could the movie adaptation that had to be pulped have been the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that was never published in the U.S.? It would have been Marvel Super Special #7 from 1978.

Mikishawm said...

The pulped comic was Marvel Super Special #8 (Battlestar Galactica). According to THE COMIC READER #163 (Dec. 1978), "the first printing had to be destroyed because Universal objected to the use of likenesses of actors."

There were at least three other planned Super Specials of the period that were mentioned but never completed: The Wiz (partly drawn by Dan Spiegle before the plug was pulled), the Rolling Stones (by Doug Moench), and the Amityville Horror (pulled because Marvel couldn't get the rights).

Regarding the Star Trek Super Special, THE COMICS JOURNAL #52 (Dec. 1979) reported the $1.50/$2.00 price typo, adding that the book had other earlier problems that "included hurried production (resulting in the use of 'flat' color rather than process color) and an interview with Gene Roddenberry that had to be yanked out of the book at the last minute and replaced with a giant still of the Enterprise."

TCJ continued, "Jim Shooter stated that the responsibility for the book, and hence the mistake, 'should have been [Rick] Marschall's...it was his last official magazine.' Marshall, on the other hand, who left Marvel during the final production of the magazine, dismissed the charge as 'an absolute absurdity,' citing that he had in fact never seen the cover of the book and, as a result, had nothing to do with it."

jimshooter said...

Dear Mikishwm,

RE: Battlestar Galactica: Right you are. Thanks!

Defiant1 said...

kintounkal,

You are a fucking idiot and the reason I've quit visiting the blog. I saw your response to my last post and did not waste time reading it.

Yes I am arrogant. That has been established. Why did you ever think I cared what your opinion was?
I don't care enough about any comics to weed out your posts and avoid reading them here.

Jim/Janet,

Feel free to delete this post. My feelings won't be hurt in the least.

Anonymous said...

"The cover is supposed to sell the book." OMG, how I wish more people understood this. Carmine Infantino probably said it best at the New York Comicon 2007: "I used to go to the movies as a kid, and they'd have these short serial movies that would always end with a cliffhanger, so you'd have to come back next time to see how the hero escaped or beat the bad guy. I always wanted my covers to be like that cliffhanger."

A few years ago I donated about $500 to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to have a 1-hour lunch w/ Joe Quesada. I put together a printout of past and present Marvel covers and tried to get across to him during what turned out to be a 2-hour lunch (thanks to slow service by the hotel -- first time anyone's been grateful for slow service, I'll bet) why Marvel covers weren't selling the books. He disagreed (and, who knows, maybe he had the numbers on his side to prove his point), saying that the cover's job was simply to grab new readers -- hence the pinups. Old readers would either buy the book or not, the cover didn't matter to them. I tried to show him a cover of Fantastic Four that showed the Human Torch flying over the streets of New York...while the whole issue took place in Latveria! His response? "Who cares?" I tried to tell him, "If I see the Human Torch flying through a Latverian town like he owns the place, that's going to grab me!" I don't think it sunk in, judging by what still passes for covers at Marvel these days. (He wasn't too pleased with me years later at the NY Comicon when I said his blurbs in Previews weren't selling the books, either. "'Quesada Writing! Quesada Art! What More Do You Need to Know?' A lot more than that, Joe." Ironically, a month ago I finally picked up that particular item that was being blurbed, and it turns out Quesada really is a fantastic talent. But you would never have known it from either his covers or his blurbs.)

Nowadays what kills me is when comic covers literally give the whole game away. I saw two Marvel covers in the last few years that were literally last-page reveals. What is going through their heads? --MikeAnon

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, the Marvel blurbs did improve after a while. But there was a good couple of years where it would be nothing but impossibly vague blurbs like, "It's Shellhead Like You've Never Seen Him Before!" or, "Spidey Faces His Greatest Challenge Yet!" along with an obligatory salute to the writer/artist team -- pretty much zero that would actually make you want to buy the book for its plot, because you would have no idea what the plot was! --MikeAnon

Anonymous said...

"at least wasn't the Star Trek: The Motion Picture adaptation that got pulped. Had that happened, Trekkies/Trekkers/Trek Fans would still be wanking about it 30 years later."


Nah, most Trekkies/Trekkers would be greatful, considering how the actual film turned out. I remember cajoling my mom into buying that comic book adaptation for me at the store. I was so excited, but as I read it, it dawned on me that there wasn't any action, it was...boring. I immediately called a friend of mine that was a fellow Trek fan, and told him how dull the story was. He assured me that the writer was probably working from an unfinished script, and that the movie would be amazing. Well, we soon found out the writer was working from a completed draft, and no, the movie wasn't amazing, not even as exciting as a below average episode of Star Trek.