“How Could You Let This Happen?” or, “What Do You MEAN Roy’s Quitting?”
Roy Thomas leaving Marvel? Unthinkable. Almost as unthinkable as Stan Lee leaving Marvel. Seriously. In 1980, it was that big a deal.
If Roy were leaving to go write movies or TV shows or novels, well, that would be traumatic but manageable. You’d give him the big send-off, lots of congratulations, plug his new work incessantly and soldier on without him. The association with him and his newfound success would be good, in and of itself. If he became the next William Goldman or Michael Crichton all the better. Maybe he’d fondly remember Marvel and give us a boost in Hollywood, or come back now and then to do a highly promotable, high profile special project for old times’ sake. If he succeeded on larger stages, wouldn’t that bring more talent to our door…? New writers who saw Marvel as a legitimate step en route to a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
But leaving to go to another comics publisher? Unthinkable.
But it came to that.
Some believe, or would have you believe, that because he was a writer/editor and I didn’t like it I drove Roy out. Steve Gerber and Marv Wolfman, too, for that matter.
That works very well with the Shooter is a megalomaniac theory. I think comics people love to think in terms of heroes and villains. It’s easier to picture me in my dark fortress scheming to satisfy my monstrous ego, cackling “Power must be mine alone!” rather than me in my small, dingy office trying to do my job well and honorably. Easier to imagine the writer/editors as noble, superhuman defenders of their rights and freedom rather than as contract writers, good but still mortal, working with characters that are not theirs, but belong to or are licensed by the company.
And of course, any conflict that arose never had anything to do with the ego of a writer/editor.
They were doing work for hire. That means that the writer has no “rights” either in the ownership sense or the moral sense and no “freedom.” Doing work for hire on characters somebody else owns comes with limitations. Strict limitations at places like Disney, Hanna-Barbera and almost every house with proprietary characters. Marvel’s limitations were far less stringent than most, but applicable to all creators, whether they were writer/editors or not.
So…the rights and freedom these noble superhumans were defending were the rights to do…what? The freedom to do…what? More on that below.
I believed that writer/editor status for the people in question, at least in the situation in question, was a bad idea. I was not alone.
President Jim Galton was never happy with the idea. He thought it was crazy, in fact.
Galton didn’t know much about comic books. I guess he figured this writer/editor business was some quirky comics thing he didn’t grok (not that he would have a clue what “grok” means). He went along with it because the practice of granting former EIC’s that status was entrenched before he arrived at Marvel, and because Stan convinced him it was necessary.
Stan agreed to it in the first place, in Roy’s case, years earlier, because as de facto writer/editor himself for many years, Stan didn’t see it as intrinsically bad, there really wasn’t much of an editorial organization in place at the time and it was Roy, after all.
Once Roy was established as a writer/editor and the world failed to end, it didn’t seem unreasonable to make the next departing EIC, Len Wein, a writer/editor, too. And then, the precedent was truly set. How could you not make Marv a writer/editor if Roy and Len were? It became S.O.P. Why not Gerry Conway, when it was his turn? How could you deny the status to him without the implication that he wasn’t as good as those who came before him? And, was Archie Goodwin chopped liver? I think not.
The odd duck, if you will, was Steve Gerber, the only writer/editor who wasn’t a former EIC. However, along with Val Mayerik, he had created Howard the Duck. Howard was marginal as a publishing property but had developed some cult favorite status that extended as far as Hollywood, and therefore had licensing potential. Somehow, Steve parlayed that into writer/editor status under Archie’s EIC watch.
As recounted in the previous post, though he had started the writer/editor thing, by 1978, Stan started having serious doubts about the writer/editor concept.
There were some comments to the previous posts in this series that cited issues or runs of issues written by writer/editors that were good. The correspondents suggested that somehow these successful efforts proved that sometimes having a writer/editor is perfectly fine. Sometimes an editor is needed, sometimes not.
With all due respect, their books should have been good. All of them, not just some select list. They’re supposed to be the best.
Czeskleba said, ”…there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between the issues edited by Archie Goodwin (#1-8) and the ones Gerber edited himself (the rest of his run).”
Regarding that particular example, first of all, I was the editor (as “associate editor,” i.e., line editor) who edited #3-8. The three (!) Editors in Chief during that span, Marv, Gerry and Archie, didn’t see those books till they were in print and may not have read them even then. As I recounted, I made a pretty good catch on #3 and a number of small ones on later issues. Furthermore, though Gerber was writer/editor starting with #9, it made no difference except that Gerber got an extra $100 bucks an issue for being editor. Maybe someone didn’t tell Production Manager John Verpoorten that the books were no longer supposed to pass under my blue pencil, but they did. I still edited the books, all the way through the issue numbers in the low 20’s. Gerber’s writing was mostly very clean and tight. I still caught a few things here and there. I still went over the glitches with Steve. We still never had any problems. Nothing changed.
The quality of the script is not, by a long shot, the only responsibility of an editor. So, who’s doing the rest of it and what if problems crop up? Or, what if the writer/editor himself is the problem? See below.
And if there was a problem with a writer/editor, the only thing you could do was run and tell Stan on them. Stan who was busy with his own projects. Stan who wasn’t in the loop. Stan who didn’t want to get involved in editorial hassles. At all. Ever. Great.
Len left for DC Comics before I became EIC. Gerry also left for DC before I took office. When I came in, the remaining writer/editors were Roy, Marv, Archie and Steve.
Let’s talk about the easy ones first.
Steve Gerber left not long after I started as EIC. One contributing factor was his removal from the HTD newspaper strip for being consistently, badly late. That’s a capital crime. You can’t be late on a strip. He was angry about being ousted, though, which led in part to: factor number two: he was threatening to sue Marvel. If you’re threatening to sue your employer, they probably aren’t going to keep paying you so you can pay your lawyers. He was fired. I couldn’t have prevented it if I had tried.
Archie was a pleasure to deal with. When he delivered his scripts he either brought them to me or gave them to John Verpoorten to give to me. I checked them because he wanted me to. They were impeccable. I couldn’t even find a balloon placement to improve. On only a few occasions, I found a typo. Once, Archie used the word “trooper” to mean a reliable, hard-working stick-to-it type. I told him it should be “trouper.” He thanked me. That was the biggest catch I made. Because he lived in town, Archie could be, and was hands on with cover designs and other responsibilities. The only problem with Archie was that he was slow and always late. But he was reasonable about dealing with that. Archie stopped being a writer/editor in late 1979 when he accepted a staff position as editor of EPIC Illustrated Magazine.
Which brings us to Marv.
Back in those pre-royalty days, creators were paid page-rate only. I was working on putting in place a number of benefits and incentives, and had succeeded to some extent, but the basic compensation for comics creative work was still X dollars per page. And the X wasn’t very big. The top page rate for writing in those days was in the mid-$20 range. One had to write a lot of pages to earn a living.
Marv gave his best efforts to a few, favorite books. Tomb of Dracula, especially. The favorites were his build-the-rep books. The others were the pay-the-rent books. It showed, in my opinion.
So, what “rights,” what “freedom” was Marv defending by insisting that he be a writer/editor? The right to crank out enough pages with words on them, in addition to his writing for his trophy books, to meet his four-book a month (as I recall) quota? The freedom not to be delayed or inconvenienced by an editor who demanded Marv’s best work on all his books?
Those were tough times for comic book creators. Marv wasn’t the only one feeling economic pressure to produce. For too many creators, including some superstar talents and hall-of-famers, it was all about lots of pages to voucher not quality.
Eventually, we made things better. Too late to change the equation re: Marv.
As I stated before, Marv needed an editor anyway to help him sort out his language problems, help him with story organization and avoid those logical tangles he got himself into sometimes, especially while cranking.
I offered Marv the best deal ever offered a writer by Marvel. The money was so good we would have had to give Roy a large page rate increase, too, since he had a nobody-gets-paid-more-than-me clause in his contract. But I said no writer/editor provision.
Marv insisted upon being a writer/editor. I stuck to my guns.
Marv, of course, had an offer from DC, and took it. As I understand it, he wasn’t a writer/editor there either, at first, but I suppose sticking to his guns, sort of, was necessary to save face.
I gather that with the success of Teen Titans, which he co-created with George Pérez, he gained some clout and eventually had some kind of writer/editor status there. Right?
Anyway, he told everyone who would listen that I was the bad guy, I lied to him, etc. By then I was used to being shot at, so no big deal. I didn’t lie to him, by the way. I always told him I’d do my best to work something out, and I did. The deal I offered him would have kept him involved in the parts of the editor job at which he was exceptionally good, and paid him for same. That wasn’t good enough.
Which brings us to Roy.
He’s a whole post by himself. Not for the reasons you think.
I really thought Roy and I had reached an agreement. Actually, we did. Then Roy changed his mind.
Then I got a call from upstairs, from Galton. He said Roy had called him and told him he was quitting to go to DC. And then Galton said, words to the effect: “How Could You Let This Happen?”
By the way, the Roy story is very clear in my mind, largely because I have, and have reread all the iterations of his contracts from 1974 and 1976, plus amendments to same, all versions of the proposed 1980 contract, every letter Roy ever sent to me and many letters he sent to Stan and Sol Brodsky from that time and earlier. Stan passed them along to me.
So, stay tuned.