Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Roy Thomas Saved Marvel

As previously mentioned, Marvel was a mess throughout the mid-1970’s and during my two years as “associate editor,” from the beginning of 1976 through the end of 1977.  Almost every book was late.  There were unscheduled reprints and fill-ins, and we still just plain missed issues here and there.  Many books, despite my best efforts to shore up the bottom were unreadable.  Not merely bad.  Unreadable.  Almost all were less than they ought to be. 

There were a few exceptions.  Roy’s color Conan and B&W Savage SwordMaster of Kung Fu by Moench and Gulacy.  Wolfman’s Tomb of Dracula, with Gene Colan and Tom Palmer art.  Those were good books.  Len’s Fantastic Four, I think, was enjoyable, too.  A couple of others, maybe. 

A few books had parts that were great and things not so great about them that crippled them. 

We can debate the above at length….

However, what can’t be debated is that sales were bad and falling.  It was almost all newsstand sales then, by the way.  This was before the Direct Market was a significant factor.  The comics overall were breakeven at best.  Upstairs, the cheesy non-comics magazine department was losing millions.  It seemed like the company as a whole was in a death spiral.

Then Roy proposed that we license some upcoming science fiction movie called Star Wars and publish an adaptation.

Jeers and derision ensued—um, not within Roy’s earshot of course.  But he was in California. 

The Prevailing Wisdom at the time said “science fiction doesn’t sell.”  Adapting movie with the hokey title “Star Wars” seemed like folly to most.

By the way, Prevailing Wisdom also decreed:

“Westerns don’t sell”
“Romance doesn’t sell”
“Fantasy doesn’t sell”
“Female characters don’t sell”

And more.  You get the drift.

What sold, said the Prevailing Wisdom, were male super heroes and male dominated groups, especially the marquee stars like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four.  Not so much the “third-string” characters like Daredevil.  And there had to be lots of action against marquee super villains interlaced with some soap opera.  That was about it.  That’s what the “kids in Fudge, Nebraska” wanted.  Period.

The Great Proponents of Prevailing Wisdom were Marv and Len. 

As I said in an earlier post, a bunch of us hung out a lot after work, including them, a few other staffers, freelancers and me, and we talked shop a lot.  Hung out doing what?  Well, there were after work dinners, poker games, visits to bookstores….  Marv and Len were physically unable to pass any bookstore that wandered into their path.  Various geeky activities—for instance, Marv had the entire Prisoner TV series on film and hosted an all-night Prisoner marathon at his place one Friday night.  That sort of thing.

Anyway, when the Prevailing Wisdom reared its head, as in Len or Marv saying “Westerns don’t sell” or whatever, I usually said, “Show me a good one.”

That generally sparked jeers, derision and some debate.

One of the counters to my challenge was—and I am not making this up.  I cannot write fiction well enough to make this up—“Good doesn’t sell.”

Generally, proof was cited.  “Warlock is good, but it doesn’t sell, nothing by McGregor or Gerber sells….”  Etc. 

My counter was that, while each of those examples had good, even excellent things about them, they also had negatives.  Even Warlock, which was sometimes a daunting read.  Sorry Jim.  It was colored murkily, too dense—too many words, too many panels—convoluted at times AND usually well off the Marvel mainstream.  I would have loved to have seen Warlock in a premium format with room to rock and a little more accessible.  No, I don’t mean “simplified,” “dumbed down,” homogenized or compromised in any way.  I mean accessible.  Easier to get into, easier to hop aboard the ride.  And, no, I’m not suggesting “more Marvel mainstream.”  Not necessary.

Anyway….

There was a lot of opposition to Star Wars.  Even Stan wasn’t keen on the idea.

Even I wasn’t.  I had no prejudice against science fiction, but wasting time on an adaptation of a movie with a dumb title described as an “outer space western?”

I was told—don’t know for sure—that George Lucas himself came to Marvel’s offices to meet with Stan and help convince him that we should license Star Wars.  I was told that Stan kept him waiting for 45 minutes in the reception room.  Apocryphal?  Maybe.  Roy would know.  But if so, it still reflects the mood at the time.

(ASIDE:  Lucas, by the way, again, as I am told, but I’m pretty sure this is true, was a partner in Supersnipe Comic Book Emporium, a comics shop on the Upper East Side.  A clue to his persistent interest in comics and a comics adaptation.)

I don’t know how Roy got it done.  I was just the associate editor, and not privy to much of the wrangling that went on.  But, Roy got the deal done and we published Star Wars.

The first two issues of our six (?) issue adaptation came out in advance of the movie.  Driven by the advance marketing for the movie, sales were very good.  Then about the time the third issue shipped, the movie was released.  Sales made the jump to hyperspace.

Star Wars the movie stayed in theaters forever, it seemed.  Not since the Beatles had I seen a cultural phenomenon of such power.  The comics sold and sold and sold.  We reprinted the adaptation in every possible format.  They all sold and sold and sold.

In the most conservative terms, it is inarguable that the success of the Star Wars comics was a significant factor in Marvel’s survival through a couple of very difficult years, 1977 and 1978.  In my mind, the truth is stated in the title of this piece. 

NEXT:  Righting the Ship

70 comments:

Rick Olney said...

Excellent read! Thank you, sir.

Chris said...

Great story, had no idea Roy was so instrumental in making the deal happen. I had the same initial reaction to the title when I walked into my local 7-11 to buy some Marvel comics and saw Star Wars in the spinner rack. "Star Wars??? Sounds hokey". Probably not my exact thoughts but close, I was only twelve year old at the time. But I bought it anyway, and continued to for many years. I stopped (unfortunately) before the Walt Simonson/Tom Palmer issues but recently had a chance to read them. Great stuff. Did Walt's work on Star Wars open the door for him to work on Thor?
I also have to concur on Roy's Savage Sword and Conan, very sold.

Jim Shegas said...

I've always maintained that Roy was Stan's smartest hire...Roy was always ahead of the curve and saw trends that no one else did. CONAN was the earliest example of that (another Roy notion that Stan balked at initially). The group of talented writers and artists he brought into Marvel from 1971-1974 helped keep the company competitive creatively after Kirby left the company. If only Roy didn't have to edit so many titles and deal with the executives he might have stayed longer and done more great things. Stan's smartest hire!

Bosch Fawstin said...

The Marvel Star Wars comics were the ones that first got me interested in comics as a regular reader, and then my older brother brought home your Secret Wars #1 and that was that, I became a lifer. Thank you.

jimshooter said...

Dear Chris,

Walt didn't need any doors opened. For him, Marvel's doors were flung wide.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

You've taught me two great things about Roy Thomas. First, that he initiated Marvel's artwork return policy. Second, that he saved Marvel. I wonder why these two points aren't mentioned as much as they should be. Perhaps it's because fans are more interested in Roy's countless contributions to characters and continuity than to his behind-the-scenes achievements. And to many, Star Wars doesn't "count" because it's not a superhero comic. Ah, myopia. No Star Wars, no more Marvel? Perhaps.

Now I want to reread Roy's take on the birth of the Star Wars comic in Alter Ego #68. Star Wars wasn't the first longshot (and successful!) licensed property that Roy pushed for. I recall that he also had difficulty convincing Stan Lee to adapt Conan back around 1969. Perhaps he figured that if he could convince Stan once, he could do it again. I think Roy might have written about the origin of the Conan comic in Alter Ego #83 -- another mag to reread someday.

The title Star Wars never bothered me. Never even thought someone might consider it "hokey" until I read this post. I was six when I saw the movie and have taken the name for granted ever since.

I didn't agree with the "Prevailing Wisdom" then or now. My first Marvel comic was a reprint of old Roy Thomas Avengers stories. What impressed me besides the Kirby cover were the Black Panther, the Vision, the Wasp, and the (fake) Valkyrie. Not the "first-string" characters. Not when I was four. With a few exceptions like Dr. Doom or Magneto, supervillains don't interest me. And most superhero fights don't hold my interest either. I wasn't a big fan of most of mid-70s Marvel. I collect romance comics, which were being phased out at both Marvel and DC during that period.

I did like Warlock but I had read about it before reading the comic itself. Would I have enjoyed it without a compass? Dunno.

I loved Star Wars as a kid. The first comic I ever collected was Star Wars. It was a way to relive the movie without a VCR (which I didn't even know existed).

But if I were an adult back then, I too would have been skeptical of the comic's success. As much as I like Kirby's 2001, I doubt it was a hit. And I doubt Logan's Run and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction were sales successes either. Star Wars artist Howard Chaykin had done a SW-ish strip, Ironwolf, for DC a few years earlier that lasted only three issues and ended with the cancellation of Weird Worlds. I would have taken that as a bad sign. Wrong!

Marc Miyake said...

(Con't.)

Success is so hard to predict. One might expect John Carter, Warlord of Mars to be a sure hit that would appeal to both Conan and Star Wars fans. (In fact, John Carter #1 came out a month before Star Wars #1. But I imagine that the Star Wars boom raised hopes for the performance of later issues.) I certainly liked the one and only issue of John Carter that I found on the stands. But the title barely passed the two-year mark before cancellation. I suppose it was part of a Edgar Rice Burroughs rights package -- if Marvel got the rights to Tarzan (by Conan's Thomas/Buscema duo!), it might as well print another ERB comic.

Sadly, the "good" doesn't sell" mentality is not unique to comics. Quality knows no genre.

Richard Guion said...

Jim, I have to respectfully disagree with you on some of the 70s comics. I thought Warlock by Starlin was brilliant and that combined with his Captain Marvel run made me a Starlin fan for life. Englehart's Avengers run was thrilling for the Avenegers-Defenders war and his inter-twining with the Giant-Size Avenegers issues. I also enjoyed his Doctor Strange series. Steve Gerber, wonderful work on Man-Thing, Defenders, Howard the Duck. I know a lot of these books were late but I was a big fan of them at the time and so were my friends. But that's OK--we can agree to disagree.

Curious if you have some stories to tell about the Howard the Duck phenomenon? I know the first issue was speculated heavily, did subsequent issues sell well after that?

Richard Guion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Piperson said...

Wow, Jim I just wrote about the early Star Wars comic on my blog - http://thegreatcomicbookheroes.blogspot.com/2011/06/30-day-comic-book-challenge.html
Being young then, I really liked it, but as you said, Star Wars was such a sensation that I would have liked anything with that name in the title. I was actually going to ask you about it's creation but refrained from it because it was before your time as EIC, so thanks so much for reading my mind!!!
About Marvel in the mid 70's, it's hard for me to say that the books were poor because my only reference is Moench/Gulacy Master of Kung Fu (which is spectacular) and the Avengers by Englehart and later you. I have recently discovered some late 70's Marvel two-in-one's by Perez and others which are quite exciting, and Claremont/Byrne were doing cool stuff on Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up some time in the 70's.
I've only recently picked up reprints of Starlin's 70's work on Warlock and Captain Marvel and I agree with you that it is a little self-indulgent and difficult to connect with at times, and could really use the outside of an editor to guide it, clarify parts and pick up the pace in others.
Thanks again to another great post!

Richard Guion said...

Mark, I also liked the John Carter series and wrote an article about all the work that Marv Wolfman, Gil Kane, and Dave Cockrum put in to launch that title.

OM said...

...This begs the question, Jim: did Marv have anything to do with Jack Kirby's aborted attempt to do a Prisoner series for Marvel? I've seen some of the pages that Jack did, but never any real explanation as to why it was canned in pre-production. Of course, John Morrow has probably dedicated at least three issues of The Jack Kirby Collector to the topic, but I'm curious as to what you have to say about the subject.

Cassie Blade said...

I've been reading some of the older Marvel stuff lately, like Ironman's 'Demon in the Bottle' which came out in the late 70's, and even has a cameo by Jim and his staff in the fourth issue, where Iron Man crashes through the Marvel offices.

But that might not count since that was '79 according to Wikipedia. I'm reading a lot of older stuff nowadays, I didn't get into comics until 91 I think, Batman Returns had just come out and my cousin took me to a comic store for the first time. So I'm reading a lot of all this classic stuff for the first time, and much of it seems a lot better then what Marvel's been putting out over the past decade at least.

kintounkal said...

There's a 3 page article in Marvel Vision #23 titled 'Roy Thomas: Conan's Right Hand Man' where he looks back at nearly thirty years in the business as of 1997. After discussing the circumstances involved in acquiring the rights to Conan the Barbarian, Roy talks a bit about Star Wars. Here's a transcript of the revelant material:
--------------------------------------
Roy was also responsible for bringing "Star Wars" to Marvel. One night in 1976, Roy received a visit from his friend, Ed Summer, who brought with him a young filmmaker by the name of George Lucas, along with Lucas's right-hand man, Charlie Lippincott. Roy knew George's work: "He had done this wonderful movie I loved called 'American Graffitti'. Charlie and Ed told me they would like me to see if I could get Marvel to do a comic about 'Star Wars', before the movie comes out. Of course, I had never heard of it. Contrary to later rumor, there was not a lot of advance publicity about 'Star Wars'."

At first, Roy was not interested, but then he saw a pre-production painting of the cantina scene. As a long-time fan of space opera, Roy was hooked. Roy later learned that Marvel had already rejected "Star Wars" once, in keeping with former Marvel publisher Martin Goodman's old anti-sci-fi credo: no rockets, rayguns, or robots! Roy convinced the powers that be at Marvel to adapt STAR WARS, though circulation director Ed Shukin kept saying "Why are we doing this? We're gonna lose money on this!"

Of course, "Star Wars" went on to become the biggest movie of all time. Roy scripted one more STAR WARS comic book adventure beyond the movie adaptation, but ultimately left the book because he didn't enjoy the same freedom he had with Conan.

"Lucasfilm told us 'You can't use Darth Vader, you can't do anything with the romance between Luke and Leia (though we know why now!)...it just wasn't any fun." Lucasfilm also objected to Roy's green rabbit character, who was deemed "too humorous."

Having brought both Conan and "Star Wars" to Marvel "makes me look very prescient," admits Roy.
----------------
While we're on the subject of Star Wars, Wikipedia claims copies of Marvel Super Special #27 (which first adapted Return of the Jedi) were available one month prior to the film's theatrical release on May 25th, 1983. Mark Hammill noticed this and alerted Lucasfilm. Carol Kalish swiftly recalled the book off the stands though none of the three people in the Sales Department were fired over the incident. Was this the first time a Marvel project had been recalled?

jimshooter said...

Dear Richard,

As I said, my assessments of the various books are open to debate. Please understand that I looked at those books not only in terms of what I liked personally, but as a publishing professional evaluating the potential for mass market success. I LOVED Warlock, personally. But it was murky enough, dense enough and daunting enough to new and unsophisticated readers that, in my opinion, it was a tough sell to the then-extant market. A few years later, when the Direct Market was booming, I think it would have done much better.

Here's a for-instance for you: When I let Chris and Sienkiewicz experiment with New Mutants, NM newsstand sales were poor. The mass market, consisting to a greater extent of impulse buyers, first-timers and less dedicated, less knowledgeable readers shied away from NM. However, the Direct Market sales were great, near the top of the list.

The myth is that Howard the Duck #1 sold out on the newsstands, or achieved phenomenal sales because speculating comics shop owners bought up newsstand copies. The truth is that Howard the Duck #1 sold around 37% on the newsstand at a time when an average super hero Marvel #1 would sell 50% or more. Possibly there were isolated occurrences of comics shop owners or fans buying every available copy in certain areas. It wasn't enough to make the issue a phenomenon, however, or even boost it to average sales levels.

One reason for the myth, by the way, is that soon after a book went on sale on the newsstand, we would get "flash" readings, provided by our Curtiss Circualtion reps. The flash readings on HTD #1 were, indeed, remarkably high. Final figures that came in months later were disappointing. But by that time, the myth had gotten traction.

HTD sales fell steadily thereafter, soon dipping below breakeven. People in the office liked it, however. It had lots of vocal supporters. And it endured longer than another book with similar numbers might have.

Again if the Direct Market had been further developed at that point, things might have been different.

I can't get into the whole nightmare of newsstand sales here, though I will in a future post, but be aware that the newsstand sell-throughs are misleading. Consider these two small tidbits: 1) We had "affidavit returns," meaning that we took the ID's word for it how many copies they sold and how much they owed us for them. They paid only for sold copies. Our Cleveland ID Wholesaler frequently reported negative sell-throughs, meaning that they claimed that they had more copies returned from retail outlets than we had shipped to Cleveland! And they wanted cash credit! 2) Some ID's routinely pitched half or more of the comics (and some low-end magazines) into the paper wolf right off off the truck from the printer! A 37% sell-through might actually mean that 74% of the copies that actually made it to retail outlets were sold.

P.S. The Canadian ID's were much more honest than U.S. ID's. And everyone was more honest than the Cleveland ID.

P.P.S. The only issue I can recall that sold phenomenally through newsstand outlets and generated reorders from ID Wholesalers was the biography of Pope John-Paul II.

JediJones said...

As a kid who was barely born before Star Wars came out, it's interesting to hear how people back then first responded to the title. When some people a few years back were saying the titles "Attack of the Clones" or "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" sounded corny, I asked them whether titles like "The Empire Strikes Back" or "Temple of Doom" might have sounded just as cheesy to audiences at one time. It never even occurred to me that even the original "Star Wars" title was questionable.

It's interesting to hear that Lucas himself took a personal interest in seeing that the comic book was made. It's kind of surprising he would take the time since the movie itself had so many production difficulties. It makes sense though, not only because he did stand to profit from the licensing rights, but because he was known to be a comic book fan. I believe someone claims in the Howard the Duck DVD extras that Lucas first started talking about adapting Howard the Duck into a movie before he even started on Star Wars. I guess this would've been before Howard's own series debuted, but since someone on this blog mentioned people were speculating for profit on Howard's first issue, I assume Howard was already a cult favorite before then.

I have my own theory that Lucas, indirectly or otherwise, was inspired by the Green Lantern mythos for many elements of Star Wars. For example, you have the concept of a solid light weapon, a signature weapon which the hero must master and carry at all times, the opposing colors of the good/evil "energy" (blue vs. red and green vs. yellow), the concept of "guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy" made up of different alien species, the similar physical appearance of Yoda and the Guardians and their roles as "old, wisened masters," the main villain being a former hero who went to the "dark side," and Anakin/Luke/Hal all starting out as great pilots before being chosen for a larger destiny. Of course many other pop culture influences behind Star Wars are widely acknowledged. For example, it's long been suggested Dr. Doom partially inspired Darth Vader. But I haven't heard much theorizing about Green Lantern being one.

It's also interesting to hear that Star Wars was the first comic book a lot of kids read and became their gateway to superhero comics. I got into comics in exactly the same way at age 8 starting with G.I. Joe #48. Not coincidentally, 1984-85 was when Star Wars action figures started to lose popularity and finally ceased production. The 3.75" G.I. Joe action figures, sporting more poseable bodies than Star Wars, had been wooing many of us kids over and soon rose to the top of the sales charts.

At that time there were actual TV ads for specific issues of Marvel's G.I. Joe comic (animation similar to that used in the G.I. Joe TV cartoon illustrated events from that comic issue). I think those ads had a lot to do with bringing more kids to comic racks and comic stores. After starting on G.I. Joe, it wasn't long before I was also reading Secret Wars, Spider-Man, X-Men, and various limited series and graphic novels, etc.

After reading Jim's great history of Transformers, I'd love to hear the inside scoop on how the G.I. Joe property developed between Hasbro and Marvel in those early days. That joint venture with Hasbro would've pre-dated Transformers and I believe Larry Hama wrote both the comic series as well as the file cards on the toy packages from the very beginning.

czeskleba said...

OM: According to Steve Englehart (http://www.steveenglehart.com/Comics/Prisoner%201.html), Marv Wolfman was responsible for securing the rights to The Prisoner, but didn't have time to adapt it himself. It was assigned to Englehart and Gil Kane but their version was never printed, perhaps in part because by then Wolfman was no longer EIC. Later Kirby was assigned to take a crack at it, but Wolfman would not have had anything to do with that since he was no longer in charge. I would guess that after Kirby finished his adaptation, it was simply decided that the book was not likely to sell and that's why it was shelved.

Defiant1 said...

I remember passing over Star Wars #1 at a 7-11 store across the street from the drugstore and convenience store where I normally bought my comics. The comic didn't appeal to me either before or after the movie. Actually, seeing Star Wars (the movie) was a memorable experience for me. I was on vacation in Pennsylvania visiting an uncle that I've only met a few times in my life. We took my cousin to a drive-in and Star Wars was the movie we saw. To this date, that was the only time I met those cousin or been that far north. One of my cousins is grown now and owns a Lamborghini and about 7 other sports cars in the same price range. For me, it's just weird that I remember exactly where I was and which direction I was facing when I first saw the Star Wars comic. I do recall that it came out before the movie was released.

The topic of Star Wars brings up a nagging question I have. I've always wondered if the Whitman 3-packs were printed at the same time as the regular newsstand comics, or if they were printed separately at a later date... hence being reprinted comics. This is a nagging question amongst collectors. I know Star Wars went into multiple printings when sold in Whitman 3-packs. That just complicates the question as to whether the initial 3-packs were reprints also.

kintounkal said...

The Prisoner was chosen as one of the greatest comics never seen in Marvel Vision #25. Apparently, Xeroxes of Jack Kirby's work completed on the first issue weren't found in hidden warehouses until late 1997. At that time, it was unknown how the art was lost or why the project was scrapped. These Prisoner pages became a captive of back closets which is ironic because Number 6 is famously quoted as refusing to "be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered."

Chris Hlady said...

Thanks, Jim. Cool posting.
It's fun doing a little research. For example, you came in as EIC, a little after John Byrne started his X-Men run. Neat to note.
Most of the Claremont/Cockrum was in the period of chaos (76-77). Must be why they were relatively rare.
Love the Roy Thomas anecdote. Was a big fan of Starlin's Captain Marvel and Warlock, and Englehart & Brunner's Doctor Strange, but a few years after publication, reading from my brother's collection.
I remember the Chaykin Star Wars comic being a nice complement to the film's phenomena. It was definitely a period of transition.

Would love to hear something about John Carter, Warlord of Mars.
Must have been great to have Dave Cockrum do fill-in issues like
http://marvel.wikia.com/John_Carter_Warlord_of_Mars_Vol_1_11
Great cover, and definitely a book I was interested in at the time.
How was it dealing with the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate?

Richard Guion said...

Jim, I can see this other perspective you are talking about, with regards to mass market success. I have always loved the B and C list characters in comics or the quirky ones in the little corner of the universe.

Interesting stuff about HTD and the distributors. I once heard Jim Warren say something to the effect that dealing with them was like dealing with Tony Soprano's crew. Cleveland ID with a negative sell-through? I swear, there is a book in here somewhere about all the craziness of the comic book business.

Richard Guion said...

One other thing about this Star Wars tale: I am sure everyone who worked in a comic book shop has had people come in off the street with either a stack of Star Wars comics, or the Marvel Treasury Star Wars reprint, wanting to sell them to the store! It constantly happened, almost weekly. The other day I visited Joe Field's Flying Colors store in Concord and I saw it happen there too!

Marvelman said...

There are many books that are good that sell. But being good does not necessarily mean that a book will sell. I loved Power Pack. I thought it was better than the Claremont/Byrne X-men which I find does not stand the test of time. Yet Power Pack never really found an audience despite doing everything right. The same can be said of Kirby's New Gods, his best work ever, and Geoff John's Stars & Stripes and Palimotti and Conner's Power Girl. Give me time. I can come up with many more examples.

Vinnie Bartilucci said...

The simple rule is, You Never Know What Will Sell.

The problem, there's not nearly enough experimentation going in the industry right now, mainly due to the fact that the comic market has reduced down to people who like a very precise and specific type and tone of book, and anything that doesn't fit into that narrow band will sell poorly.

Except, of course, for the ones that do well.

DC is taking a tremendous chance with the New 52. They're putting books out in genres that are all but untouched. In other words, they're doing ECACTLY what people have been saying the industry should have been doing for years.

But everyone's angey, because they want theit Same and Safe back.

Cause New doesn't sell.

czeskleba said...

Chris Hlady:
Roy Thomas has commented that working with the Burroughs Estate was very difficult, so much so that it prompted him to quit writing Tarzan. The straw that broke the camel's back for him was when Burroughs' daughter called Thomas and accused him of plagiarizing his adaptation of a couple of the Jungle Tales of Tarzan from a Burne Hogarth book that adapted the same stories. Thomas says he pointed out that since both adaptations came from the same source it was inevitable that they would have similarities, and that he had not read the Hogarth book. Burroughs' daughter would not let it go, and went so far as to accuse John Buscema of swiping from Hogarth's book. Thomas says that would have been ludicrous since Buscema did not even like Hogarth's work and hadn't seen the book either. The whole incident left Thomas with such a bad taste that he quit.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marvelman,

"...being good does not necessarily mean that a book will sell." You are absolutely correct. There are so many factors that swing sales either way.... For instance, if the best one-shot in history had been published in January, 1978, the country-wide foul weather would have killed sales. It's maddening sometimes. However, in my opinion, and in my experience, good books have a better chance of succeeding than bad books. Many good books fail, and a few bad books catch on for some reason, for a while. I like my odds better with good books than with throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Churchill said, "No one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it." Same logic applies.

DungeonMasterJim said...

Just wondering about the Marvel crew after hours activities. Did anybody play Dungeons & Dragons?

ncaligon said...

Since you mention affidavit returns . . .

It was a fairly open secret at the time (early to mid-70s) that the early comics shops and con dealers were supplied by not-exactly-above-board employees of wholesalers. What wasn't well-understood was that the sellers weren't so much ripping off their employers as they were the comics companies.

Eddie Employee would strike deals with comics sellers to supply them books. These books never got to the newsstands, drugstores, etc., that they were supposedly sent to. Eddie was sharp enough to know that if a customer usually got 25 copies of Spider-Man, but only sold 15 (which would be a good sell-through), he could safely shave the delivery to 18 or 20 without the customer caring. The "missing" books added up affidavit-destroyed, and Eddie pocketed the money. It added up. No harm, no foul, right? All stuff that would have otherwise been pulped. The nascent direct market guys at best turned a blind eye to what was going on, quite a few knew and didn't care.

(Even the real unsold copies often got sent into the not-so-legal markets. There was a newsdealer in the LIRR area of Penn Station which had a gigantic comics rack. Never less than two months old. They got them really cheap.)

ncaligon said...

But things added up. As the comics dealers grew, they pulled sales out of the standard market. They weren't just selling the surplus anymore. They were sucking the blood out of the system, which had a much smaller margin of profit than they thought. And the speculator-dealers got greedy.

They started betting on "hot" books. Kirby's Fourth World. Kaluta's Shadow. Starlin's Captain Marvel, then Warlock. Howard the Duck. They believed (pretty accurately) that they could keep selling books like these for a lot longer than the standard on-sale period. And they would buy the books in big numbers from Eddie Employee. (They took a bath on Shazam, but they could survive it by then.) The "hot" books for comics fans weren't getting to the newsstands in the expected numbers, but were written off as affidavit-destroyed. I lived in an area where no copies of Shadow#1 or Howard the Duck #2 hit the street legitimately. Take big numbers from Eddie Employee, get a better discount. Eddie sells 1000 copies of a title at 33% of cover, reports a sell-through of 300 copies at a 40% discount, pockets the difference. Seems like pocket change even when books cost 25 cents, but it piled up. Especially when Eddie could get away with reporting a lower sell-through. Especially when it wasn't Eddie Employee but Mike Manager cutting the deals.

Why did so many "fan favorite" books bite the dust in the 70s? Because the more popular they were, the lower their reported sales went. You wonder about the difference between the "flash" sales report on "Howard the Duck" and the final sales reports? There weren't a lot of copies on the newsstands . . . but not because they sold on the newsstands. Some of the Eddie Employees just stashed them in their pantries and parceled them out at higher and higher prices.

If Conan had come out two years later, it wouldn't have stood a chance. But it was one of the books that cued folks in to the potential of market diversion. And without UPCs and computerized sales reports, the legit retailers couldn't take the time to track their comics sales, except on a gross level. They just knew they were declining, like the SF zines and the men's sweat mags and the true confessions post-pulps and the rest.

The Old Curmudgeon said...

You made another interesting post to your consistently interesting blog. This has quickly become one of my two favorite comics blogs, the other being ohdannyboy.blogspot.com. Both mostly deal with the business of comics rather than the usual fanboy stuff.

Jim, over the years you've taken a lot of shit directed at you personally. You deserve a lot of kudos for talking honestly about your experiences without making personal attacks. You've consistently shown respect for Roy Thomas, as an editor who had to deal with a lot of front office knuckleheads during his stint as Marvel EIC, and as someone who was way ahead of the curve on Conan and Star Wars.

Roy's comments about you have been less complimentary. This is just speculation, but Roy was in the first wave of fresh blood that entered the comics field in the mid-Sixties: Roy in 1965, followed shortly by Goodwin and O'Neil, and a few years later by Wein and Wolfman, and then by people that Roy brought in, such as Englehart and Gerber. Despite your work for Mort Weisinger in the mid-Sixties, my impression is that you didn't have a lot of face to face contact with the comics community in NYC until 1976 or so. You were a few "generations" behind Roy, and were more business oriented than people like Wein, Wolfman or Gerber. I wonder if part of your problem was that you weren't part of the "club" that Roy and Len and Marv belonged to. They didn't see you as an equal and chafed when you tried to rationalize business practices at Marvel. But I wasn't there and easily could be wrong. I don't know either you or Roy except through your writings.

One thing that hasn't come out in your post and the other comments is that the Star Wars comic book wasn't very good. Chaykin was a logical choice to do the art, since Hans Solo owes a lot to Ironwolf and Cody Starbuck, but Chaykin's Star Wars art didn't have any of the charm of those earlier series. My recollection is that he mostly did layouts, with Steve Leialoha doing the finishes. The whole thing seemed rushed and kind of cheap, and Roy's scripts were pedestrian and devoid of the humor found in the movie. Of course, it probably was impossible to do a faithful adaptation working from a plot outline or a preliminary script, and some stills. There haven't been many good movie adaptations, probably for that reason.

While I appreciate that Star Wars saved Marvel's bacon in the mid to late Seventies, it was just another disappointing comic book as far I was concerned, certainly nothing that could hold a candle to Roy's Conan stories. And Chaykin was capable of so much better, like his Monark Starstalker one-shot with Archie Goodwin, which I thought was one of the best comics from that period.

Kid said...

Perhaps one of the reasons why HTD #1 was regarded as being such a big seller is because it was touted as "The world's most wanted comic" on the cover of the HTD Treasury Edition which reprinted it? Marvel are so good at hype that it's hardly surprising if people believed it.

czeskleba said...

Minor correction: Monark Starstalker was written and drawn by Chaykin. Archie Goodwin had nothing to do with it.

I would disagree that the Star Wars adaptation was no good. I bought the first three issues before the movie came out and found them exciting enough that I was hyped to see the movie. I do agree that the art isn't Chaykin's best, and that the inkers on issues #2-6 weren't the best match for him. But to me it was a solid adaptation. Not a masterpiece, but how many films adapted to comics form have been?

czeskleba said...

Regarding Howard the Duck #1... regardless of how much it actually sold, it definitely benefited from a speculator bubble for awhile. When I got into Howard in 1978 and was looking to find the back issues I'd missed, it was typical for dealers to be asking at least $20 for issue #1. A few years later the bubble burst (after the movie poisoned Howard's good name and all the people hoarding multiple copies of issue #1 started putting them on the market) and then I was finally able to get myself a copy for a couple bucks. But anyway, at the time the HTD Treasury came out it was impossible to get a reasonably-priced copy of the first issue, hence the "most wanted comic" hype on the cover.

blacjack said...

I'm with you Marvelman. Power Pack was a great book. It was weird because no one else I knew was reading it. I felt it was very different then everything else I was reading at the time. But, when Whoopi Goldberg appeared on the cover as some type of godlike being, I was done.

Chris Hlady said...

czeskleba

thanks for the story. I knew there were a lot of problems, with the Burroughs estate. It ain't easy being EIC, I guess. I suppose Roy was wondering, who's going to be a real pain, to adapt. Part of the calculus of marketing, I guess, and it is a crap shoot.

Roy really is phenomenal. He was so good with Barry Smith, Starlin, Brunner, and so on. Maybe just by getting out of the way of all that talent. I'm assuming that's where a lot of the tensions mounted, with the regime change. Jim had a very different management style.

Plus, with the change in copyright law, and WFH, things couldn't remain as carefree and experimental as previously perceived.

The idea that John Buscema swiped from Hogarth is ludicrous, but at least Roy got to deal with a real live "Princess of Mars." Looking forward to the "John Carter" movie coming out next year.

Xavier said...

I would not have thought that the Star Wars comics sucess was so important in Marvel health those days.
Can you tell us what kind of purcentage Lucasfilm (or the owner of the copyright on those kinds of movie related comics)take from the comics budget/cost?

BenoƮt Leblanc said...

Dear Jim,

I am impressed by the fairness that permeates every one of your posts. Thanks for taking the time to highlight the good things that many people at Marvel have done over the years, even if not everyone always saw eye to eye. I love the Churchill quote, too. It's one that we should always keep in mind.

On the subject of Starlin's Warlock: I was lucky enough to discover it in translated form in the mid-70s. I say "lucky enough" not because something was gained in translation, but because the books were published in black and white, showing the intricacies and sharpness of Jim Starlin's art. When I read color reprints of the same stories a few years later in Fantasy masterpieces, I was taken aback by the murkiness of the art... Lots of heavy purples and greens that all but obliterated the line work! I remember thinking at the time that it would have been better for Jim not to color his own work: the palette choice was not bad, but he didn't seem to be familiar with what would work and what wouldn't work on cheap pulpy paper. That being said, that series definitely deserved to be successful; like McGregor's Black Panther, it was a worthy endeavour to expand the range of stories that can be told in a comic. I'm glad Jim got to finish it properly in the pages of Avengers annual #7 and Marvel two-in-one annual #2.

Regarding another series mentioned here, John Carter, Warlord of Mars: I believe that the book was hurt by a sudden change of artistic sensibility in the middle of the run. The initial 15 or so issues were done in a classical, dramatic style (Gil Kane! Dave Cockrum! Walt Simonson!) and Rudy Nebres, who inked most of them, provided a unifying feel that made even the art of Carmine Infantino (an idiosyncratic one, certainly), mesh seemlessly with the rest. The scripts, by Marv Wolfman and later by Chris Claremont, were certainly good enough to maintain the interest of fans of adventure comics or of E.R. Burroughs' work. However, when Ernie Colon took over the series, things started to look funny. Ernie is one of my favorite artists, but his art is difficult to ink properly; the John Carter issue he inked himself looks beautiful, but the ones inked by Frank Springer look are disappointing and not something to draw in new readers. That is not Frank's fault: his style just didn't mesh well with Ernie's. By the time Mike Vosburg and Ricardo Villamonte took over, returning to a more "classical" comic-book look, the mag was in its death throes.

It's too bad, too, because I believe that Marvel's was the definitive version of John Carter in comic-book form. I prefer it to John Coleman Burroufh's, to Gray Morrow's, to Jesse Marsh's, to Bret Blevins'... and certainly to the stuff coming out these days. Definitely a case of success deserved, if not attained.

Marvelman said...

blacjack,

I think that Power Pack might have been part of the "Shooter Purge." Jon Bogdanove wasn't a great writer but at least he loved the characters. I have no idea why they assigned someone as talentless as Michael Higgins to write the book. Tom Defalco, a competent writer but not noted for original thinking, probably didn't care enough about the book to make the effort to assign someone good. Having said all of that, Power Pack was a book about kids but not specifically for kids. That would be a tough sell at any time in a market that seems to appeal mostly to testosterone charged male power fantasies.

jimshooter said...

Dear DungeonMasterJim,

I'm sure some did. I didn't. It looked addictive.

JayJayJackson said...

I played D&D but that was before I worked at Marvel. Working all day in the bullpen or ad dept. and then taking on coloring work to do at night didn't leave time for a whole lot of other. Good thing the work was fun! :D

jimshooter said...

Dear Xavier,

Such licensing deals generally have an advance and guarantee against a royalty per copy sold. Because that deal was done before I was Editor in Chief, I wasn't privy to the particulars and I never bothered to look back and check once I was in a position to do so. I know it was a very good deal for Marvel. Lucas really wanted us to do the adaptation. Licenses for the subsequent movies were expensive but worth it.

Glenn Greenberg said...

"While we're on the subject of Star Wars, Wikipedia claims copies of Marvel Super Special #27 (which first adapted Return of the Jedi) were available one month prior to the film's theatrical release on May 25th, 1983."
-------------------

That's absolutely true. That's when I got MY copy! It was at a convention in NYC, and the dealers were charging $5.00 because it was an "advance copy." I was 13 and impatient, so I bought it. I tried to hold out and NOT read the comic before I saw the movie, but about four days before the premiere, I gave into temptation and read it. :-)

Matt Adler said...

In regards to what sells, Peter David quoted you as saying:

"Jim Shooter correctly, I think, observed that fans keep saying they want to see modern opera, but what they REALLY want to see — or at least what they’ll most eagerly support — is the 38th production of 'Carmen.'"

http://www.comicsbulletin.com/features/109676989895936.htm

Which, unfortunately, seems to be more and more true these days.

Glenn Greenberg said...

"Not a masterpiece, but how many films adapted to comics form have been?"

----------------------

I can think of only one: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson.

cease ill said...

Really interesting observations about quality and mass accessibility! Probably no hard, fast rules---just case by case criteria for each idea for a title. It would be a thrill to share mys self-published comic and possibly get Big Jim's feedback---especially while the future's still on the drawing board coming to life!

Any future for SEVEN? While Moore incorporated Kaballah into his PROMETHEA stories, they became more didactic than usual for the plot-driven super-hero ("super science hero") stories. This just sounds like a great idea.

The HTD 1 story seems to pop up a lot; Gerber mentioned it in interviews still drifting around online.

Power Pack #6 was my first; I looked forward to it until the title disappeared from my local country grocer. That's how I met Dragon Man!

Richard Guion said...

ncaligon,

Wow--more interesting info from you about ID and affidavit returns! I remember some of those titles you mentioned, like Shadow #1, being hard to find. Yes, it would be tough for Conan to have survived in the market. I think the Savage Tales magazine, either issue 1 or 2, with Conan in it was also very hard to find on the newsstands.

Mark Luebker said...

I got one of those premature copies of Marvel Super Special #27 before the local store pulled them back, and was able to swap photocopies of some of the spoiler pages to a local radio DJ for tickets to a sneak preview of the movie his station was hosting the night before the full release.

zombiewhacker said...

Not to come off sounding harsh, but the very first issue of Star Wars featured very slapdash artwork, not worthy of Marvel. Heck, it wasn't even worthy of Charlton or Gold Key. (Okay, maybe that was harsh.)

Confirming, I guess, what Jim says, that Marvel was not exactly hot on this property the get-go. Only when the first issue started selling (and selling... and selling) did Marvel realize they had a winner on their hands and start pouring more effort in their finished product.

czeskleba said...

The first issue of Star Wars features Chaykin inking himself, and I think the artwork is the best he did on the title. Maybe you just don't like Chaykin's style but it's fairly typical of his work at the time... I wouldn't describe it as "slapdash" at all. Later Chaykin issues suffered from inkers that were not a good match for him. George Lucas specifically requested Chaykin as the artist for the book, by the way.

Sales of issue #1 wouldn't have affected the effort they put into the remaining five issues of the adaptation anyway, since all six issues were completed before the first issue went on sale, and sales didn't really take off until after the movie premiered (between issues #3 and #4).

Krishna M. Sadasivam said...

As an avid reader of Marvel comics from 1987 - 1993, I'm really enjoying your blog. The insight you've provided on ROM, Transformers and GI Joe was very insightful to read (I've learned a lot of neat tidbits I never knew before.)

I'm most curious to hear about any stories concerning the behind-the-scenes on Power Man / Iron Fist. Particularly between Jo Duffy / Kerry Gammill's run and the Owsley / Bright run.

Thanks!

Dimitris said...

It seems to me that in the '80s there were some books without pre-existent large fanbase that got gradually big because of great quality and good word of mouth like Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Frank Miller's Daredevil and Claremont's X-Men. In these cases quality won over "Prevailing Wisdom".
Nowadays though (let's say in the last decade) I can't remember a previously "small" title that made it very big even if it was good. For example I loved Dan Slott's She-Hulk series, it got usually excellent reviews, yet it was always on the verge of cancellation.
From DC's relaunch I am very interested in Jeff Lemire's Frankenstein series, since I loved his "Essex County" graphic novels,and I expect quality, yet I really fear it may not last long. Is today's audience less open than back then?

The Old Curmudgeon said...

One test for a good blog is the quality of the comments. I regularly read Paul Krugman's blog in the NY Times. You would think that the comments would be top notch, but there's lots of asinine ones. Krugman is always complaining about it. This comics blog actually has better comments than Paul Krugman's blog in the effing NY Times. Go figure ...

Anyway, about Chaykin. In the mid-Seventies, he was in the process of simplifying his art. Like Alex Toth before him, Chaykin was learning that less is better. The first time I realized he was doing this was Monark Starstalker, which showed a Toth influence that I previously hadn't noticed in Chaykin's art.

Chaykin couldn't handle a monthly title at that point, and so his work on Star Wars turned into a team effort in which Chaykin produced layouts, which then were turned into mass-produced sludge. And that's not a swipe at Steve Leialoha, who I think has done some very good work over the years, including a Chuck Jones/Moebius pastiche in Quack, around the same time as Star Wars, that I liked a lot.

Within a few years, Chaykin was able to write, draw, and ink an interesting monthly title, American Flagg. He had learned shortcuts.

As far as films that were adapted into comics masterpieces, or at least decent comics, how about Steranko's Outland? Or Goodwin and Simonson's Alien? Or Russ Heath's Rocketeer? Or Frank Thorne's Debbie Does Dallas? Okay, I made that last one up.

Piperson said...

One of my favorite movie adaptions and favorite works by Sienkiewicz is his Dune adaption.
Some other great adaptions are Mignola's Drakula and kaluta's The Abyss.

Aaron said...

I had that Marvel adaptation memorized long before I got to see the movie! And I feel gratified you mentioned that Star Wars was a hokey title, I love the movies but intentional corniness was part of the art of them, which flies over the heads of most people who grew up with them and take them deadly seriously. I remember getting in discussions with people when Phantom Menace was coming out - regardless of what people might have thought of the actual movie - who said it sounded like a b-movie title, like somehow it shouldn't.

I love Starlin's Warlock stuff but can see how it wouldn't have been for everybody.

Jeff Clem said...

The Old Curmudgeon said: "Anyway, about Chaykin. In the mid-Seventies, he was in the process of simplifying his art. Like Alex Toth before him, Chaykin was learning that less is better. The first time I realized he was doing this was Monark Starstalker, which showed a Toth influence that I previously hadn't noticed in Chaykin's art."

Look at Chaykin's very first Cody Starbuck story in Star Reach #1 (came out in '74; probably drawn sometime between '72 to '74). Then look at his second Cody Starbuck story in Star Reach #4 (came out around March '76, roughly a few months before Monark Starstalker). Check out the difference in style! Heavy, simplified blocks of black, instead of all that scratchy, Adams-ish, Kaluta-ish stuff from earlier in his career. The man was studying Toth, primarily, and it shows. These may be the first stories of Chaykin's that I really enjoyed for the art, thanks to that Toth influence.

Jeff Clem said...

As far as the comic book versions of The Prisoner: At first, the creative team was supposed to be Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. But after watching some 16mm episodes at Wolfman's home, Gene said something along the line of "What's the big deal? It's just a guy on an island!" So then it became Wolfman and Gil Kane, but then Wolfman had to drop out due to being too busy (and I think Kane wasn't working too fast on the pencils). Finally, the team became Englehart, with Joe Staton doing uncredited layouts and Gil Kane finishes. Then Englehart left Marvel, but the last thing he did the night before he left Marvel was script the Staton layouts/Kane pencils, which sat on the shelf at Marvel. Then Kirby and Royer did their stuff (mostly pencils with some Royer inks) and, reportedly, Stan looked at both versions and said, "Not enough Marvel action; too dull." I got this info from a piece written by Englehart (which saw print in, I think, Comic Book Artist vol. 1 #6). I own rough photocopies of each version and this is the kind of thing that pops up at conventions or on Ebay every now and then. I now return you to your regularly-scheduled Jim Shooter blog.

Jeff Clem said...

Oh yes, and one other thing: Science Fiction comic books may or may not have sold well back in the day, but Star Wars wasn't and isn't Science Fiction...it's Science Fantasy and it's not even very good Science Fantasy at that.
Yes, I saw it on opening day in 1977 at the age of 16 and I enjoyed it, and I even liked the next movie more because Lucas got smart and hired real writers and a real director, but by the third film, I realized it was, and still is, all pure hokum and trash. The three most recent and final movies corroborate that. Most Star Wars fanatics I know couldn't even defend those pieces of drek.
It's ok to hang on to some of the truly universal and timeless treasures of our childhood, but when we grow older and stop looking at things with rose-colored, nostalgia-tinged glasses, hopefully, we see Star Wars for the crap that it is. Just because we liked it when we were 8 years old doesn't mean it's good.
And don't parade Joseph Campbell and all of the eggheads who will say any silly thing to get on-camera by me to prove there's depth there, because there isn't. That crap doesn't work when applied to Harry Potter either.
And the fact that it made and makes a lot of money still means nothing as to the actual quality of the thing, not even in a capitalist society such as ours.
Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin did yeoman-type service and moved on to better things; there must be some pride in being attached to such a pop culture landmark as Star Wars, but I don't think either of those guys are going to put Star Wars in their portfolios when they audition to get into Artist's Heaven.

jimshooter said...

Dear cease ill,

I'll take a look at your work if you like. Is it online?

SEVEN lives and may go forward in some form. We'll see. I'll see if I can post some of it here. I wrote a lengthy overview and 40,000 words of back story on the characters before writing word one on the first script. I did a huge amount of research, including many meetings with learned people. Kabbalah isn't what most people think.

I always liked Dragon Man.

jimshooter said...

Dear Defiant1,

The Whitman copies were printed at the same time, as part of the same run as the regular comics. Even the covers were part of the same run, albeit with a press stop for replating. But replating doesn't constitute a reprinting. Long runs often have replatings in the middle, and the cover presses had to be stopped to replate for the Direct copies, too. They weren't reprints.

jimshooter said...

Dear kintounkal,

I can't think of any other recalls.

jimshooter said...

Dear OM,

All I remember was that we decided not to do it. Others before me decided not to go ahead for whatever reasons. When I became Editor in Chief, Jack's contract had only six months to go, and we knew he didn't intend to re-up. So, when I had my turn to say, I said pass.

czeskleba said...

Jeff, I wouldn't call Star Wars (the original film) "hokum and trash." It's an extremely well-done action-adventure film. It's not a great work of art, nor is it particularly original, but it's expertly plotted and paced, and very well-done for what it is. It's not deep, nor is it supposed to be. The second film (and all those that follow) suffer from pretensions at depth, as well as abandonment of clear, concise storytelling... rather than doing what he did well, Lucas seemed to want to make the films into something they were not. But that first film is still great, and still stands up in my opinion.

Jeff Clem said...

czeskleba: what we have here is a huge difference of opinion and I am certainly not out to change your mind. Based on your posts at this blog, you sound like a well-informed and intelligent person who just happens to disagree with me and it is in that spirit that I offer a few questions: have you recently seen this movie? How many times have you seen Star Wars? Can you get past the wooden dialogue, terrible acting and extremely un-original concepts? Is there anything original about Star Wars, other than the cool, for the day, special effects? Cowboys and indians in space?
Look, if it still works for you, then that's fantastic; but once I got past the special effects/space dogfight scenes, there's not a heckuva lot of good movie there. I don't trash the movies for not being deep; I have a problem with fans who feel the need to legitimize their love of the Star Wars movies by mentioning archetypes, symbolism, blah-blah-blah. Star Wars is a good, GOOD, shoot-em-up in space, when the shooting stops and the dialogue/acting start, well.....let's just say it's a good special effects movie for its day.
By the way, "very well done for what it is" is a trump-phrase that can be used by anybody to defend anything, no matter how bad it is.

Will said...

I had no idea the licensed books SAVED the company. There were seemingly quite a few lesser bits like the "Man From Atlantis".

Will said...

Speaking of the Star Wars item.... what was the deal with the 35 cent test covers?

Its seems a good many pros come by and read and respond (tho they are ingonito by handle, but more well informed than your average bear).

How many FANS/readers are taking this blog in I wonder?

czeskleba said...

Jeff, we may agree more than you think. You say "Star Wars is a good, GOOD, shoot-em-up in space" and I agree with that. I don't claim it's anything more than that. I don't think the acting or the dialogue are as awful as you do, but I certainly agree that they're nothing Oscar-worthy. I agree that the plot is not original at all. Star Wars is a formula movie, but it's an extremely well-done formula movie. It's tightly scripted and expertly-paced.

John Sinclair said...

Re: rhe first appearance of the Marvel Super Special #27:
Over here in the UK WE got it at least a month (if not more!) both in the direct sales market and on the news stands. I remember putting it away and trying not to read it until I saw the film but then a jerk from the then CBC Radio in Cardiff came in to my local comic shop and blabbed it all before we could clobber him.....!

And memory fails me but I think we were only a few weeks behind the US on the films release, unlike on 'Star Wars' where we had to wait nearly 9 MONTHS.....!

jimshooter said...

Dear Will,

Well, the obvious answer is that it was a test of price elasticity. I'll see if I can dig up a memo on the subject.

Will said...

@ Jim - COOL!
Hopefully it will have some info about print run size areas for distribution. I've often wondered if the variant is TRULY as rare as some dealers would have you believe.

Other price tests were on fairly innocuous books not a fairly prominent significant 1st issue.

Similar the Conan #3 and the Silver Surfer #4..
What does "limited distribution" really mean? The trucks were late? some other production delay? I think people confuse limited distribution woth low print run... there sure do seem to be enough of them around..

JediJones said...

Jeff Clem, speaking as a lifelong fan of Star Wars, I think the first two films in the series are much more than just good action movies. There's much more going on there than just a shoot-'em-up where you know the movie's over when the bad guys are dead. They created a fan base based on real emotional involvement with the characters. As for whether the dialogue is hokey, maybe some of it, but the original three movies all have their fair share of quotable lines, something even fans agree is missing from the three prequels.

I think The Empire Strikes Back improved on the original in every way, so that must mean I don't think the first one is flawless. But Luke's heroic journey in the original was the lynchpin that made it resonate emotionally. The adventure wasn't just about defeating the bad guys, but followed the template of a classic coming of age story. Then the sequel added more depth, complexity and palpable emotion to all of the characters and their relationships. To some degree, all the other sequels/prequels suffer from being derivative of the first two and for not making the characters as interesting or convincing.

Few would claim the first movie succeeded by virtue of being truly original. Heck, some of the space dogfights directly copied framing and editing from old WW2 movies. But it was at least original in the way it borrowed ideas from a wide variety of sources and combined them in ways that hadn't been done before. Few movies have done such a thing that well. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction would be another example. The Empire Strikes Back, for its part, seemed to bring the series into its own fully realized identity. It's much harder to trace the events, scenes or plot points in that movie back to other works. Was there anything else comparable to the battle against the AT-AT Walkers put on film before?

The first movie does deserve credit for some new ideas, like promoting "lived-in," grungy visuals for science-fiction when the trend before had been to go high-tech and slick (a look that's still more or less synonymous with the word "futuristic"). I believe the Cantina scene was also a very different take on aliens than had been seen up to that time. Had they been portrayed in such a casual, matter-of-fact manner before, exhibiting such run-of-the-mill human qualities as drinking in a bar or playing in a band?

Ultimately, I think any fair analysis of the Star Wars movies has to acknowledge that there are reasons it was so successful and has held onto such a large fan base for so long. Dismissing the movies as something that should only appeal to kids doesn't pass muster. There are lots of productions that were popular with kids but were forgotten in later years. If you don't have a good explanation for the popularity of the movies, then I'd say you must be overlooking something.