Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writer/Editors – Part 4

Roy

The tale of the contract negotiations with Roy is too long to tell in blow-by-blow detail. I’ll tell you a bit of what I understand to be his side and a little of mine.

I think we both sincerely believed in the validity of our positions. I think each of us handled things badly at some points. I don’t think there ever was any malice on Roy’s side and there was none on mine, though Roy apparently felt otherwise sometimes.

Yesterday, I showed you a stack of contracts and drafts of same and a file full of letters from Roy. The contracts are what they are, no shocking revelations there.

The letters break down into four categories, basically:

  • Business stuff – regarding vouchers, contracts, schedules, policy matters and the like; also his side of any debates or controversies. 
  • Ideas for new books, including some suggestions for other people, like Jack Kirby. Lots of ideas. 
  • His plans for upcoming issues of each series he was working on. He was the only writer/editor to offer that courtesy. The only writer, for that matter. 
  • Complaints about mistakes. 

There were lots of the latter.

Roy’s letters aren’t simply business documents (as were Mike Hobson’s letters regarding the Gerber script posted here a while ago). They’re business related, but written person to person—one coworker to another, with informality appropriate to addressing someone you know. They weren’t written for public display, and I will respect that. I will quote a passage here and there.

Here’s a cover Roy complained about:
“For what must be the hundredth time…the cover copy was screwed up…” 

He points out that “Norse” was indicated to be as large as “Inca,” for one thing. He also has issues with the coloring. The main complaint was that “as usual” it wasn’t sent to him to check.

In a letter dated April 21, 1978, he encloses a printed copy of this cover:
The title on the bottom was supposed to read “FIENDS of the FLAME KNIFE,” not “Friends.” Roy again mentions that “only sporadic” covers arrive for him to check, and that a half dozen errors in cover copy have crept by in a period of a few months.

There are more letters specifically about cover problems, but you get the drift.

More letters citing missing text pages, including one for an issue in which the story contains a footnote referring readers to the text page that isn’t there.

There’s a note about dropped letter columns including a few angry words about the bookkeeping department. Seems that when a letters page Roy delivered was, for some reason, no fault of his, left out, the bookkeeping people deducted his payment for it from his next check! P.S., in the same letter, Roy points out that the bookkeeping department consistently misspelled its own name for years (“bookeeping”).

There are many more letters regarding many mistakes in many issues. Art “corrections” that change things from right to wrong. Missing or unaccountably changed copy. Everything imaginable.

The Grand No-Prize goes to Savage Sword of Conan #38. First, the proofs were sent to Roy too late, by regular mail and to the wrong address. Mistakes in the book include, but are not limited to:

  • A map on page four that shouldn’t be there, and is, in fact, taken from a copyrighted source. 
  • An instruction in the page description being printed as if it were actual copy: “INTRODUCTORY BOX,” page 56. 
  • Missing halftones. 
  • Design nightmares, poor layouts. 
  • Misspelled names. 
  • And more, but the corker is this one…. 
  • Commas drawn in by hand in a typeset text piece. Talk about amateurish…. 

If anyone out there thinks I’m citing these things to belittle them or make them seem petty, you are so wrong. I don’t see things like the above as insignificant. NO PROFESSIONAL PUBLISHING HOUSE SHOULD ALLOW CRAP LIKE THAT TO MAKE IT INTO PRINT! It is pathetic. It is unacceptable. Things like that drive me crazy. Roy may be fussbudget #1, but I’m first runner up, and neither of us is Miss Congeniality to the incompetent nitwits who screw up.

It just ruins your work. You don’t need extra copies of issues that have idiocies like that in them, because you’re certainly not going to give any away as samples.

P.S. The examples cited above are only some of the ones Roy wrote letters about, and the ones he wrote letters about were only a small portion of the grand total. I can absolutely assure you that Roy had a telephone and wasn’t afraid to use it.

The above was our, Marvel’s fault, or, if you wish, my fault, going with the buck-stops-here theory.

I tried to help the situation by assigning a staff assistant editor to be Roy’s on-site agent, to look after his books and follow up for him. I picked Ralph Macchio. That didn’t work out so well. See “Friends of the Flame Knife,” above. I tried Mark Gruenwald. Strike two.

So, Roy had legitimate issues with the quality of Marvel’s editorial and art production effort. So did I.

Anyway….

You’re probably wondering, what were my issues with him? Or, more accurately, with his being a writer/editor.

  • Lateness. Roy was chronically late delivering his work. Roy’s problems keeping on schedule caused major headaches. Not all of the art production and proofreading/corrections failures were caused by the lateness of his books, but it certainly didn’t help. I will add that Roy was obligated to deliver over 100 pages of script a month, in addition to all the text pages, cover designs, cover copy, line-ups and miscellaneous work; in addition also to the administrative tasks that were part of his arrangement—things like inventory reports and dealing with artists. That’s a tremendous amount of work. He was merely late. Anyone else except Stan in his prime would have keeled over dead in a month. 
  • Occasional lapses in judgment with regard to content. The only one of significance I can recall in the comics was the “whipping scene” in Savage Sword #41, for which we drew some heat. Of greater concern to me were a few discussions about his personal life in text features that I thought were inappropriate. 
  • Using other writers. Apparently, Roy thought it was okay to do so. I saw nothing in his agreements that said so, and Marvel was paying for him, not someone who wasn’t nearly as good as him, whether or not he tried to fix up what they wrote. In one letter, Roy admitted that one such writer’s story was “…almost unintelligible as a plotline.” 

Huge workload or not, the quality of the work Roy did personally was never, ever an issue. His stories were solid and his writing was top shelf. I had nothing but admiration for his creativity and skill.

Making a poor choice once in a blue moon considering the vast number of issues Roy produced is evidence of humanity, not incompetence or lack of discernment.

Farming out work to other writers…? I don’t know….

Other problems inherent generally in the writer/editor concept, I think, include:

  • Coordinating the in-house work with theirs. 
  • Coordinating between or among writer/editors, writers and editors.
  • Accountability and responsibility issues. 
  • Gaps in process management. 

Practical matters.

In Roy’s case, I had no real concern about the quality of the writing. As has been said here many times, if you can get a guy who doesn’t need any creative handholding, who can write and gets it right, that’s ideal. That’s Roy. But you still have to make the words and pictures into a book.

Discussions with Roy about what would happen when his contract came up in 1980 started in more than a casual way right after Stan notified the writer/editors that I was empowered to act in his stead, which was in mid-May, 1978. Roy responded swiftly, saying that regardless of Stan’s letter, he intended to proceed as always, “…with full power over the books on which I work,” and would not tolerate interference.

He continued to go directly to Stan about things occasionally. I know because Stan simply passed his correspondence on to me and came to me with whatever.

Things got contentious between Roy and me a few times.

Roy spoke with a New York Times reporter, a friend of Rick Marschall’s, who was doing a hatchet job on me after I fired his buddy. I took Roy’s remarks to be negative and inappropriate.

Later, I removed Roy from Thor because he was terminally late. I couldn’t reach him to tell him so I sent a telegram.

The telegram arrived at 10 PM his time. He called me angrily at 1:30 AM my time, at home. Nice.

I, idiotically, talked about that incident to the Comic Buyer’s Guide. (See “Making a poor choice…evidence of humanity…” above.) Roy was upset.

Blah, blah, blah….

Somehow throughout, we kept making comics. He kept doing good work, kept sending in plans and ideas. I did everything I could for him.

Slowly, I improved the editorial and art production crews. We got rid of the weakest links, editors Rick Marschall, as mentioned above, eventually, smart-but-too-inexperienced Lynn Graeme, production manager Lenny Grow and others. We brought in good people: editors Louise Jones (later Simonson), Larry Hama, Archie Goodwin, Carl Potts and more; production manager Danny Crespi and some excellent art production people.

Eventually, Roy’s contract came up. I had always told Roy I thought we’d be able to work something out. And, I thought I had a good scenario worked out.

The idea was to relieve Roy of the non-creative baggage, free him to do creative work and contribute editorially in every way he could or wanted to. Have an editor on site keeping track of the schedule so that problems could be dealt with at earlier stages. Have the editor on site managing all the nuts and bolts of art production and seeing to it that things were done right.

Practical matters.

That, and provide a failsafe system. An editor not to interfere with Roy, but to backstop him. In case a glitch in the story ever did crop up, or to at least raise the question of appropriateness if the equivalent of a whipping scene came along.

I almost sold him on my plan.


NEXT: “I’ll Never Doubt You Again.”

30 comments:

Jason said...

I know you're not wanting to disclose everyting (rightly so), but any chance you could share some of the unrealised ideas Roy was coming up with for new projects?

bcolflesh said...

Is it wrong to have hoped this was accompanied by scans of the "whipping scene" and inappropriate discussions of Roy's personal life?

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

One might expect these posts about other creators to degenerate into "Shooter hero, other guy villain"-type stories, but I always come away with more respect for the other guy than before. I had no idea how much work Roy Thomas did for Marvel. No idea that he was so committed to quality. (Thank you for the concrete examples of errors he spotted.) Not that I ever though of The Man after Stan - the man who saved Marvel - as anything but hard-working and devoted to doing his best. But my already high opinion of him just went through the roof.

The pluses outweigh the biggest minus in my book: "Farming out work to other writers". That shocked me. When he used other writers, were they credited? I hope so.

Jeff Clem said...

I think that Roy credited Don Glut on some stories (Invaders, Captain America). Is this an example of what you meant, Jim?

Jeff Clem said...

I also remember a lettering error in a Savage Sword of Conan (#25?) story drawn by Dick Giordano. In it, a female character was supposed to be referred to as a "traitress," but instead, the letter wrote "waitress."

Jeff Clem said...

Uh, that's "letterer," NOT "letter." I guess if I'm going to point out a letterer's error, I should make sure my typing is up to snuff.

Jeff Clem said...

And, not to take any real cheap shots at Roy, but, one would think he's mellowed out some these days - his very own Alter Ego magazine has the occasional error and now he's got to send those critical letters to no one but...himself.

Dale said...

I remembering reading something about DC's Crisis on Infinite Earth and Marv Wolfman wrote that the Editors at DC were reluctant to take part, but Roy Thomas provided him with reams and reams of paper with ideas, etc.

One such letter was reprinted and Roy listed heroes that could die and heroes that should remain untouched as he had ideas, etc. (was that reprinted in the Deluxe Crisis on Infinite Earth set with the companion ? I should re-read that over the weekend)

Xavier said...

Hypnotic posts,as always. When you talk about others writers working on Roy's book, do you refer specifically to Dann and/or to RJM Lofficier or was it something else?

Jeff Zoslaw said...

There was an interview in which Roy seemed pre-disposed to have problems with you, as he'd had a very unpleasant couple of weeks working for Mort Weisinger prior to coming to Marvel and considered you to be Mort's "protege", thus expecting similar treatment once you had the power to make trouble for him. When he left Tarzan(due to issues with the ERB reps), he wrote a letter to The Comics Journal explaining his departure and stating that he would leave Marvel at the first sign of difficulty with you. He did begin writing for Marvel again toward the end of your time as EiC. This was after DC yanked Earth 2 out from under him, essentially making a mess of most of the work he had done for them. Were you involved in his return in any way? He went on to become an extremely prolific presence during the Defalco era, though there was often a sense he was "phoning it in" by then.

BenoƮt Leblanc said...

Thanks for the continuing posts, Jim. I hope comics historians out there are paying attention, because they're solid gold. I agree with Marc that the way you present things we often come up with greater respect for most of the protagonists, even those who didn't always see eye to eye with you. It's a rare thing for a memoir to manage such fairness and equanimity, and I'm particularly happy to see Roy given his due (as he was responsible for many, many years of reading pleasure for this particular reader).

Poor Roy wasn't at the end of his travails with gremlins messing up his copy; one of his last Conan works at Marvel, a miniseries supposedly titled "Death carved in gold", was published as "death covered in gold". ARGH!

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

I think Roy credited the other writers, among them Clair Noto, Christy Marx and, I think, Don Glut.

jimshooter said...

Dear Jason,

The Saga of the Sub-Mariner (going back through 1939)

C.B. (a citizen's band radio/Smokey and the Bandit type hero)

The Impossible Man (a more upbeat Howard the Duck sort of thing)

The Liberty Legion

Six Million Dollar Man

Carson of Venus

Super-Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Hammer of Thor (a second Thor book)

Titans of Olympus

A Biblical stories book (untitled)

An Arthurian/Black knight book (untitled)

Thunder Bunny (a rabbit-Thor, predating Walt's Frog-Thor by years)

Fantastic Furr (similar to the above)

The Incredible Hog (ditto)

And more....

jimshooter said...

Dear Jeff C.,

Yes, I think. Glut might have been hired by and paid directly by Marvel for some of what he did, not sure. I know I wouldn't have hired him.

jimshooter said...

Dear Xavier,

I forgot about Dann. But, I'm okay with that. All in the family. I meant Clair Noto, Christy Marx, Wendy Pini, Don Glut...maybe others, I forget.

jimshooter said...

Dear Jeff Z.,

See tomorrow's post.

James N. said...

Hi Mr. Shooter,

I've been enjoying the hell out of this blog. Marvel in the late 70's to mid-80's is maybe my favorite period of mainstream comics since Lee and Kirby were doing everything. I think by your lights, you succeeded very well. It sounds like that came at the cost of several friendships and a few lingering hard feelings, and that's too bad. It also seems like, given the institutional dynamics, those personal difficulties were probably unavoidable, and that's also too bad.

I don't know the local etiquette about requesting a post, but I'm curious about the whole New Universe project--how it came to be, what the pitch sessions were like, how it began to go awry, and how it played into the larger problems at Marvel in the late 80's. (If this has been addressed earlier on the blog, I must have missed it.)

(And, in a more fanboy vein, I'm weirdly fascinated by the first 6 or 7 issues of "Star Brand." Were you hoping to stay on with the series, and if so, where would it have gone? It seems like you were halfway through an extended origin story, and I'm curious about where the heck it was heading.)

Thanks for the posts,
James N.

ROCKWITZ said...

I was fortunate enough to work with Roy for many years on many titles–notably the Saga of the Sub Mariner 12 issue series. We followed that up with the Saga of the Original Human Torch, then the Invaders. Roy loved those characters and his energy was contagious. When I was given the Conan books to edit, I immediately called Roy and gave him all of them-even got John Buscema back on the book. He was thrilled-so was I. When he would call in, I would just listen–to him and his shrieking bird(s) in the background. I miss working with Roy...

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Thank you for sharing some of Roy's title ideas. They sound fun!

I don't think the market would have supported a second Thor book, though. Maybe one Thor book could have been Earth-based and the other Asgard-based. Doug Moench has said you told him, "No more Asgard [...] it all takes place on Earth." what's your take on that?

Now I see that Roy's interest in a modern funny animal superhero title predates Captain Carrot. Was Thunderbunny related to the Thunderbunny that began to appear in Charlton Bullseye in 1982?

I'm relieved to learn that Roy credited the writers who worked for him.

Don Glut's earliest Marvel work was a text piece in 1974 for Vampire Tales edited by Roy. He started writing comics for Marvel in 1975 (Aargh!, also edited by Roy). I wonder if he had "been hired by and paid directly by Marvel" during those years.

Dear Mike Rockwitz,

I'm glad to hear that Roy's The Saga of the Sub-Mariner materialized after all and even had a Human Torch follow-up! I didn't know about either series until today.

Matt Hawes said...

Marc wrote: "...I'm glad to hear that Roy's The Saga of the Sub-Mariner materialized after all and even had a Human Torch follow-up!..."

I enjoyed both of those series because Roy was able to give an overview of the characters' history with it being entertaining, and not reading like a history lesson.

jimshooter said...

Dear James N.,

New U. is in the queue. Thanks.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

I never told Doug Moench any such thing. First of all, it's not the sort of thing I would have done. If you hear of a stupid, arbitrary edict attributed to me, it's not true. Besides, I wouldn't have been discussing the direction of a book with a writer. I would have discussed things like that with the editor. Occasionally, depending on the writer and editor, it is possible the three of us might chat about ideas together.

I know that sometimes editors, to simplify their own lives, would settle a debate with a creator by telling them whatever was "Jim's orders." Not true, usually, unless it was about something like getting on schedule.

Matt Hawes said...

Jim, I have wondered if some of the stories we hear (and read) about what you told a creative team they could or could not do might have come from someone else, like the title's editor, who was using you to take the heat off of them, to get the creative team to do what they wanted. I know this sort of thing can happen in other workplaces, so I can see it happening in the comic book industry, as well.

jimshooter said...

Yep. "Because Jim said so," was a popular argument ender, whether I actually "said so" or not.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Thanks for clarifying how you dealt with writers. Now I see it wouldn't be right for you to bypass the editor and talk directly to the writer. I'll keep that in mind the next time I see "Jim said" stories like these.

I look forward to your post on the New Universe. I mostly ignored the line when it came out, but a few years ago I bought a complete set and your run on Star Brand really stood out. The realism that made Marvel different in the early 60s was back. I could relate to Ken Connell.

Tying this topic to a more recent one, Roy Thomas scripted the last issue you plotted, and as far as I know, the first Marvel superhero titles he wrote in the mid-80s were set in the New Universe (e.g., Nightmask). He also wrote a bit for other Marvel magazines before that: a Bran Mak Morn series in The Savage Sword of Conan, the adaptation of Conan the Destroyer, and a story in the last issue of Epic (1986). So I'm curious about Roy's return while you were still EIC.

Jeff Clem said...

Marc,
Read Adventure Comics #367, where Braniac 5 saves the planet from the Circle of Death using the omnipotent Miracle Machine from the Controller Universe.
Then read Secret Wars I & II - starring the omnipotent Beyonder.
Next, peruse Star Brand #s 1 through 7.
Proceed to the Valiant version of Solar, #s 1 through 11.
Sheesh! Is it any wonder so many disgruntled Marvel expatriates saw Jim as power-mad?
Just kidding Jim! I love it when a writer explores basic themes in different ways, which you have done really well.
Also, Marc, I think that Roy became involved with the New Universe stuff either at the end of Jim's reign as EiC or at the beginning of Defalco's time. In any case, I don't know who hired folks like Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas and Cary Bates around that time, but it sure surprised me. Jim, did you hire them to help out, or were they hired by the new, incoming regime?
When you mention the Bran Mak Morn stories in Savage Sword, Marc, are you talking about the 2-parter by Roy, Barry Smith and Tim Conrad? If so, that's from the mid - to late 70s. Was there more Bran Mak Morn in SSOC later on? If so, I'd love to know which issues, as I really like the character and want to read more.
The Marvel adaptation of Conan the Destroyer was actually written by Michael Fleischer, based on a heavily re-written screenplay by Roy and Gerry Conway.
The EPIC story you refer to was in '86, edited by Archie Goodwin and it's my understanding that working for the Epic imprint was not the same, in some ways, as working for Jim Shooter. Jim? Correct me if I am wrong, but the Epic imprint deal was different for creators, wight?

jimshooter said...

Anyone hired by Marvel before Easter of 1987 was hired under my watch, though probably by one of the editors under me, not me personally. Englehart and Thomas I'm sure were in place, working before I left. Conway and Bates I don't remember, but that doesn't mean they weren't there. They certainly weren't hired to "help them out." All are good writers.

EPIC was under my supervision, but I pretty much left Archie alone. Many creators didn't know Archie reported to me. If that helped him acquire people who had some issue with me, groovy. I didn't need to have my ring kissed. Yes, the EPIC deal was different. It was creator-owned, advance against royalties. Better if your book sold well, not as good if it didn't. That was the idea. A creator could play it safe, make good money and enjoy some great benefits working on stuff we owned, Marvel Universe stuff, or swing for the fences with an EPIC book -- and maybe strike out.

Jeff Clem said...

Jim, I meant were those writers hired to help you/Marvel out with the New Universe titles. It was strange to my then-naive eyes to see Englehart, Thomas and Conway getting work from you, since their parting(s) from Marvel were so acrimonious years before.
It was also bizarre to see Cary Bates' name in a Marvel comic book. I associated him with those great, gimmicky Flash and Superman stories from the 70s, working under Julius Schwartz. I thought his two issues of Star Brand (#s 8 & 9) were good.
I do remember really liking your Star Brand, and I was sort of disappointed that you only plotted #7 and then that seemed to be the end of your involvement with the title (about the time you left Marvel?). But, like I wrote above, it was nice to see you further develop some of those same Star Brand themes/ideas later in Solar. I remember writing you a fan letter when you were at Valiant, complimenting you on the entire line-up itself and specifically on Solar. You were kind enough to send a response that said something along the lines of "Solar is the title they'll have to pry my cold, dead fingers from."

Joe Grahor said...

Hello Jim,

What was the “whipping scene” in Savage Sword #41 that needed editing? After a quick page through I don't see anything controversial.

I do see at the beginning of #42 a scene where Queen Nzinga whips a partially nude and chained Chabela. Is that what you were referring to?

Joe

jimshooter said...

Maybe I have the issue number wrong. As I said, we drew some heat for it. The scene came from a de Camp story that was being adapted. Roy's own assessment of it was: "... I would not have written such a scene myself...." He said he and John toned it down. Whatever. If the licensor and some ID wholesalers complain (or pass along complaints) then it's controversial. The real point is that no flag rank officer other than Roy had a chance to review it. Personally, I find it pretty mild, and I might have let it pass. However, then, at least, it would have been my own judgment I was going through hassles over.