Thursday, August 11, 2011

Writer/Editors – Part 2

First, This

Sorry about not posting for the last two days. Tuesday, I had to go to the city for a meeting and when I arrived home I discovered that my hot water heater had sprung a leak. There was a flood in my place and a worse one in the apartment below mine. What a mess.

It took until late Wednesday afternoon but order and hot water have been restored here, like it never even happened.

Eventually the damage downstairs will be fixed. Someone other than me will deal with that mess, and insurance will pay for it.

By the way, the flood did not reach the living room where all of my files and unsorted boxes are. Nothing irreplaceable was damaged.

So, on with the show. Finally.


Writer/Editors – Part 2


The Problem, Or an Example, at Least

One day, Stan suddenly appeared at my door. He seemed agitated. Very agitated. He said, words to the effect, “How could you let this happen?!”

This was sometime in the spring of 1978.

Every once in a while, Stan would come across something that disturbed him and come into my office to discuss it. I knew this was a DEFCON 1 situation because he closed the door behind him.

He had a bunch of photocopies in one hand. He literally tossed them onto my desk in front of me. They were copies of the previous few weeks of the Howard the Duck syndicated strip written by Marv Wolfman. Steve Gerber had been writing the strip previously, of course, but had been replaced, mostly because he was consistently, disastrously late.

This was the first time Stan had read any of the strips since Gerber was gone.

I’m not going to try to reconstruct all of what Stan said. Suffice it to say he hated it.

As I believe I’ve said earlier in this blog, Stan had a special reverence for syndicated strips. And “real” magazines. Not that he didn’t love the comic books, it’s just that when he was a kid, the strips were huge and prestigious while the comic book business was where one scratched out a living until his or her strip got picked up by a syndicate. Anyone who aspired to becoming a syndicated strip creator changed his or her name for work in lowly comic books, hence, Stanley Leiber became Stan Lee. Same logic applied if one hoped to publish a “real” magazine or write the Great American Novel. Never mind that comic books had made Stan a cultural icon, and he had brought comics to unprecedented status in the New Cultural Order. He never lost his veneration of syndicated strips.

So, a strip created by Marvel that was less than wonderful was anathema to Stan. And he found the HTD strips he’d just read far less than wonderful.

One part of Stan’s anguished tirade I will quote. He said, “He can’t write!” Meaning Marv. I said I knew. Stan persisted. He thought I didn’t grasp what he was saying. So, he said it several times, as emphatically as I’ve ever heard him say anything. This is a quote: “Don’t you see?! This makes no sense! It’s illiterate! He can’t write!”

I told Stan that, yes, I understood what he was saying. I knew all about Marv’s problems with the English language. I knew that he often wrote too fast without thinking things through, sometimes resulting in inconsistencies, and sometimes in chaos.

If I knew, he wondered, could I allow Marv to ruin the HTD strip? Why wasn’t I fixing it? Or, better, why didn’t I get rid of him?

I pointed out that Stan himself had chosen Marv for the strip. And, that on Stan’s recommendation, two years earlier, Marv had been made a writer/editor—which meant that, according to the terms of Marv’s contract, I couldn’t fix Marv’s stuff. Or get rid of him. Only Stan could.

And, by the way, because President Jim Galton had asked me to come up with a job for Sol Brodsky, our “Operations V.P.” who really had no significant responsibilities, I had given over handling of the syndicated strips (and other peripheral tasks) to him and hardly ever even saw them anymore before they shipped.

Stan was suddenly having one of those “oh, God, what have I done” moments. Realizing that, not only was Marv a writer/editor now because of him, but Marv had been an Editor in Chief that, he, Stan, had hired.

I asked Stan if he’d read anything of Marv’s before he hired him as EIC. Stan said he’d taken Len Wein’s word for the fact that Marv was a great writer, and qualified to be EIC. I pointed out that Len was Marv’s best friend….

Even Len, by the way, privately, would shake his head at some of Marv’s linguistic bloopers. And Marv knew at least that English wasn’t his strong suit. That’s why he had me read over his scripts when he was EIC and I was his associate editor. I’d catch the gaffs and he would fix them. Sometimes.

That conversation continued with me defending Marv. Marv is a unique talent. Here’s what I said in a previous post:

Marv is a brilliant creator. He’s an idea man. He can truly create. Many can create things out of other things, synthesis. Marv often creates entirely new things, genesis. That’s rare. His writing at its best is fresh, surprising, unpredictable and intriguing. There’s a spontaneity to it that’s wonderful and engaging. Spontaneity livens up his dialogue. People talk in a crazy stuff-popping-out-of-their-heads way just like real people often do. He has a gift for character.

All that said, he has some problems with the language. He mangles grammar. He misuses words. Once he used “noisome” as if it meant loud. It was in a caption. One can excuse many things in dialogue as the mistakes of the character’s making, but the captions ought to be right. Marv argued that most people think noisome means loud, and it went to press that way.
When not at his best, Marv’s spontaneity becomes lack of planning and confusion. Sparkling dialogue becomes glib patter headed nowhere.

And, by the way, with his knack for coming up with words, Marv would be the world champion Scrabble player if he could spell.

All true. And I said as much to Stan.

I told Stan that Marv’s contract was coming up in a while and that I intended to offer him a new one, best deal ever, in fact. But without the writer/editor status, or at least not in the sweeping form guaranteed in his current contract. There were/are other ways to go about it with fewer downsides.

We came to no conclusions about the HTD strip at that meeting. Stan left my room pondering.

Not long thereafter, the HTD strip was cancelled. The syndicate pulled the plug because it was failing. Just as well, given Stan’s feelings.

Around the same time, mid-May, I think, Stan sent a letter to the writer editors informing them that he was designating me to act in his stead. The writer/editors, at that point were Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin and Marv. Maybe Gerber, too.
Why? 
  1. Stan, at that point in his life, hated confrontations and controversy. I guess he’d had enough of it in earlier days when he was dealing directly, daily with the artists, writers and other creative types. He was happy to throw me into the breach. Believe what you wish, but I hate confrontation, too. But, I realized if it unavoidably came to that, it was part of the job. I accepted being in the breach.  
  2. It was practical. Stan was pretty much out of the day-to-day publishing loop. As things stood previously, I’d have to bring him up to speed on any problems or issues with writer/editors that arose then he’d have to do the confronting. Why not just let me handle it, given point 1 and the fact that…. 
  3. Stan trusted me. 

Why?

Stan had become my biggest fan and supporter. He used to call me “Marvel’s entire editor.” Roy said once in a letter to Stan that I was Stan’s “new, fair-haired boy.” I guess Roy was the old one.

Why?

  1. Because once I’d started getting us on schedule, started making a little progress on improving the art and stories, seemed to be handling crises like the maelstrom over the new copyright law well. 
  2. And especially because he knew I had some chops and that my creative inclinations were simpatico with his. 
Anyway….

The HTD strip thing wasn’t the only thing that raised issues to do with writer/editors. Even back when I was associate editor, when Stan went over the make-readies with me, he’d occasionally come across things that disturbed him in writer/editor books. Even Roy’s generally excellent efforts, sometimes. He’d ask me, “How could you let this happen?” I’d point out that I had no power to do anything about it. He’d say something about speaking with then-EIC Archie Goodwin about it, but whether he did or not, nothing ever changed.

Until the declaration that I was the new sheriff.

The first thing that changed was my popularity among writer/editors.

Stay tuned. 



Here are a few random HTD strips I found. These are not the specific ones Jim is talking about. - JayJay

MONDAY OR SOONER, MAYBE: “How Could You Let This Happen?” or, “What Do You MEAN Roy’s Quitting?”

44 comments:

Gary Wintle said...

Just wanted to say thanks for the great blog here, Jim. Both the stories and lessons you share have been really helpful!

ja said...

The comics industry - and certainly at Marvel, then and now - are filled with a whole bunch of creative, talented people who don't have any significant business sense. They need to be corralled, and their talents directed toward producing sellable product to the widest possible audience.

However, when you have editors who manage themselves, or other editors who allow their creatives to run around doing what they want, thinking that their names and reputations will be what sells, then you have a company (more like an industry) with no real direction.

I've followed your history, Jim. I know you've been way more unfairly maligned than most people. Your work history has resulted in long-lasting money making for many companies, and your work disciplines are of a very high standard.

I hope you do find a place where the politics aren't so toxic that you will end up dealing with the same unfair bullshit that you have been in your career.

I believe that one day, you will have that career 'clarifying moment' (landing your own company again, but without the pitfalls you've experienced before) that will prove that your way of doing business in this industry is (and always has been) a standard to aspire to.

I'm just sayin'.

bcolflesh said...

The hiatus got me paranoid - I thought some writer/editors banded together and abducted Jim.

Ronnie said...

Oy gevalt, poor Howie, rendered so slapdash... He'd have likely been glad to see it go.

Diacanu said...

Yeah, what Ja said.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

When JayJay mentioned the broken hot water heater yesterday, I worried about your valuables. I'm relieved to read that they're OK.

All the sample strips are written entirely in nonstandard English apart from the caption in panel 1 of the pizza strip. I wonder if Stan was reacting to all the characters speaking with accents. The ac-thent of Thinbad ithn't very funny. Nothing in those thamples ith funny.

Alan Kupperberg's Howard is hard for me to recognize. Does anyone else feel the same way?

niederklopfer said...

Great blog. Better late than never.

luxxter said...

I thought Alan Kupperberg was a writer.

Sanjiv Purba said...

Letting writers edit themselves doesn't add the value of another set of eyes and another perspective. One could argue that, by definition, a writer should edit/proof reader their work e.g. make it as best as they can in any case. The editor should be an independent source.

Pariah said...

I'm not sure who's idea it was for the whole Writer/editor thing but on the face of it, it's completely ridiculous.
i think everyone no matter how talented could use a good editor just so they know at the very least that they can't just get away with anything.

Of course nowadays most editors are busying doing things other than editing.

There is a certain editor who shall remain nameless who spends all his time online fighting and arguing with the fanboys it really annoys me cause i certainly don't think that's the Marvel way at all.

John_Dunbar said...

Hey luxxter, you may be thinking of Paul Kupperberg.

davidmillerstudios said...

As much as I'd like to see Shooter start another comics company, I don't see what would be in it for him considering the current state of the industry. He's probably doing a lot of creative work that we aren't privy to that doesn't include the headaches of being the boss. Too bad.

Thunder said...

I agree with Marc. None of the HTD strips on the blog are funny, which is kind of ironic since it was supposed to be humorous...

Anonymous said...

Dear Jim,
Glad to see you're getting back on track.

Cheers.
--Rick Dee

Phil Bloom said...

Jim:

Thank you for taking the time to blog, thus answering many long forgotten questions re. the best era in modern comics. It is fascinating to have a “commentary” track to your tenure as Marvel’s EIC when the focus appeared to be on story, through both writing, art, and everything in between. I am appalled at the “pass” given to the current “superstar” creators who are habitually late, sometimes by periods of 6 months or more. Add to that the focus on every panel being a “glamour shot”, instead of one that moves the story forward. But I digress…

I was recently reading Marvel Fanfare #4, and I noticed your open call for talent in your Shooters Page column. I was surprised, as I don’t recall having seen anything close to that in todays litigious culture!

Question: Do you recall if you found any talent through that appeal? What are your memories of that time?

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Offhand, I can't recall when Marvel Fanfare #4 came out ('82? '83? '84?), but isn't it around this time when The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book was in the planning stages?

I'm not kissing up or anything, but it was way much better than the New Official Marvel Try-Out Book that came around 2000 or so. Your edition gave samples and space to try them out. The New Book tried doing the same and failed... no explanation about the size difference (lettering-wise) between the standard page size and the bleed page size. I only bought the New Book because it had a section on computer coloring. Though both failed at one thing: A cover sample! I had to figure that one out by myself.

Any juicy stories behind that one?

Thanks and Cheers.
--Rick Dee

ja said...

davidmillerstudios said... "As much as I'd like to see Shooter start another comics company, I don't see what would be in it for him considering the current state of the industry."

Of course I cannot speak for Jim Shooter. I look forward to seeing his response to your post.

But I can hazard a guess.

How about because it's what Jim is damned good at doing? That he's got the greatest love for this medium and its woefully unfulfilled potential, and he wants to express that love by adding to the quality and content of it? That he's spent his life in pursuit of creating good stories, contributing to make the comics industry a thriving one, instead of an industry that could quite well die on the vine, due to apathy and negligence?

Maybe "the current state of the industry" is the best reason to keep pushing forward, trying to add his efforts to accomplish the seemingly impossible chore of revitalizing this industry not just with pretty pictures, but with good solid stories and characters that stand the test of time.

Jim has done this already, and he CAN do it again. He has unceremoniously had his ass handed to him from various companies along the way, and has endured more bullshit and nasty politics than almost anyone I've ever seen outside Washington, D.C.

I truly believe that one day, he'll find the right place to land that will allow him to not only keep his ass, but to let it settle for a very well deserved long-standing run at being able to once again contribute toward helping to rebuild this struggling industry.

Harumph!

Chris Hlady said...

Well, if that's the Howard, Disney shoved down Marvel's throat, good riddance.

Ditto, re: your stuff not getting damaged. You are a treasure, Jim.

Stan's getting a lotta heat, lately. Some of it's even deserved, but you both know the score. It has to do with accountability. Someone's gotta be. So, in the meantime, stay cool.

Saw a couple of Jack Kirby movies in the past coupla weeks. Captain America and X-Men: First Class. Liked them both, because of Jack.

Keep the spirit of comics alive. Excelsior.

TheWriteJerry said...

Sorry to hear about the flood, Jim. We had a massive one in our place a couple of years ago and it ended trashing the upstairs and downstairs bathroom, the office, the kitchen and the living room. What a pain! Glad you didn't lose any of the valuable stuff.

TheWriteJerry said...

Oh, and if Jim does start a new imprint - the line forms behind me for a job there! I call dibs!

jimshooter said...

Dear Rick,

Coming soon.

demoncat said...

interesting to find out stan had a fit about the short lived howard the duck strip and also went bonkers over learning that he was the one who brought marv on board only to have his unique writting talent be a pain for stan even though he was out of the loop by then. plus stan going nuts over relizing only he could fire Marv no one else.

Brunomac said...

"Noisome" doesn't mean "loud?"

Wow that Howard Strip sucks. But I guess you cannot do much with a 3 panel strip. Howard seems like a very weird choice. His should have been more like the later Zippie The Pinhead strips, not so much like "Any Disney Character USA." That could have been Donald, Goofey, or Mickey in any of those strips.

Anonymous said...

Although the HTD strips are unfunny, I'm not sure why Stan was so upset. The writing a clear enough as to what Marv is trying to do, it's just not very good. And that is pretty standard for most syndicated serial strips, it seems to me. I much preferred the one joke strips along the lines of Peanuts or Beetle Bailey, versus things like Annie or Rex Morgan, MD. I just never wanted to read an ongoing story in 5 second chunks.

Ray

ja said...

Anonymous,

So Stan shouldn't have been upset that the strip was not very good?

That can't be enough of a reason to be upset? Seems like a perfect reason to me.

Even retroactively, I would go with Stan's instincts.

Dusty. said...

Speaking of editors, I was very sad to hear that Ralph Macchio is retiring.

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=33882

Block 4 Prez said...

I feel bad for Marv as he's one of the best writers of his generation. New Teen Titans was phenomenal in its prime. And Crisis was a helluva story. I also liked his run on Amazing Spider-man, even if it is a bit overshadowed by the Roger Stern one these days. Issue #200 is a classic.

Stan's writing on the daily Spider-man comic strip is very far from his best, so I guess they both aren't really suited to that kind of writing.

Hunter said...

Those Howard strips make the much-maligned current-day Garfield look like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates. Terrible stuff!

Thunder said...

I should mention that even though I dumped on the HTD stuff Marv Wolfman wrote, I am a big fan of other stuff he's done (Teen Titans, Crisis, Transformers cartoon related stuff, Blade, etc.)

davidmillerstudios said...

@Ja, I agree with everything you say . . .and stand by what I said.

ja said...

Jim,

Another friend of mine is looking to work up penciling samples, and he asked me to guide him. I found him some scripts to work from, and he wanted to jump right into penciling.

I convinced him to slow down, and to read your storytelling lecture first. He grumbled a bit, frustratedly confused as to why he couldn't dive right in. Then he started reading:

Friend2: I'm reading the Shooter stuff.

Me: what do you think so far?

Friend2: Um.... it's sort of putting things back into my head that I need to keep in mind all the time.

Me: yes

Friend2: I still have and look at the 21 panels thing you gave me...[This refers to Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Works!! http://joeljohnson.com/images2/wallywood22panel1600.jpg]

Me: good

Me: understand that you'll likely be re-reading shooter's lecture over and over

Friend2: Ha - I am already.

Friend2: Now, I'm actually reading it aloud to myself.

Friend2: ... as if orating.

Friend2: er, I mean actually orating.

So, now you have people reading it out loud. I'm going to berate/suggest/berate my friend into drawing more & better backgrounds, and to not over-render his drawings, to properly depict depth, and to stop making his women look so much like transsexuals.

However his pencil samples will turn out, I'm sure his storytelling will be WAY better than what he would have done, had he not read your lecture.

Spreading the good word... =)

jimshooter said...

Dear Ray,

I don't know where JayJay got the examples she posted. They aren't the specific ones referred to in the article, and that should have been made apparent. Sorry. The ones Stan reacted badly to had language mistakes.

JayJayJackson said...

The strips are just some random ones I found. I like to find pictures to go with Jim's writing and he indulges my whims.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim and JayJay,

I realize that the pictures don't necessarily go with the articles, but I was extrapolating from the fact that the two strips are from what appear to be different storylines, yet both rely on accents for (attempted) humor. So I guessed that other storylines might also share this trait and Stan might have objected to it. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Matt Adler said...

Those HtD strips are awful. I feel bad for Marv just reading them.

Jim, do you have a good relationship with Stan to this day?

jimshooter said...

Stan and I haven't run into each other for years, but as of the last time I saw him, we were still as friendly as ever.

cease ill said...

Whatever beautiful and messy things may have come afterwards, I'm reasonably sure you tried approaching it all with a good sense of humor.

Matt Hawes said...

I was actually glad that I hadn't missed too many blog posts here since I was away in Chicago for the Comic-Con the past weekend. Love the behind-the-scenes stuff, as always!

tsj017 said...

God bless Marv Wolfman, but his Howard The Duck was AWFUL.

It became painful to look at the comics page each day.

ncaligon said...

Another day gone, another announced publication date missed. Would this be happening if the blog wasn't produced by a writer/editor?

Giant Squid Studio said...

Jim, thanks for sharing your stories. I have a question about this chapter. How did you go about improving the quality of the art? Creators can have huge egos and their work can be terribly personal. Was it mild coercion, suggestions or even threats? It couldn't have been easy.

I'm an illustrator (you graciously looked over my work while at Valiant) and I know it hurts a little when your work is changed, even though I'm fully aware that my job is to provide my clients with the art THEY are paying for.

jimshooter said...

I tried to teach storytelling and art basics. I explained how to make their work better and why what I was saying was important. Some responded, some didn't. No coercion, no threats, but if someone adamantly wouldn't cooperate, there were plenty of other guys who wanted that job, and if someone wasn't listening, why give them a raise when time came?

More comic book artists should think of the company as the client and the editor as its representative....

Giant Squid Studio said...

@Jim: Totally agree with you there. I penciled for Marvel for a little over a year in the 90's and always felt the pressure of doing my best work and making the client (Marvel) happy. And yes, most artists forget that there are dozens of talented people out there dying to have their job.

There were two separate occasions where I was taken aside and sat with John Romita and Larry Hama to go over some basics, and I learned more in those two 15 minute sessions than I ever learned on my own.

-Henry

Bob Rivard said...

Did he say anything about the art? Because I've never seen a good Alan Kupperburg job. I'm sure he's a very nice man.