Monday, September 26, 2011

Disney Adventures


An Apology

The notes and various artifacts that should accompany this post are in one of the boxes yet to be liberated from the storage space and sorted. I think the story is worth telling anyway. I’ll provide some exhibits later, as soon as I can.

A Real Mickey Mouse Operation

Sometime in late 1988 I got a call from a man named Michael Lynton who said he worked for the Walt Disney Company and was interested in possibly hiring me as a consultant.

1988 had been a lean year. I’d spent most of it in an attempt to buy the Marvel Entertainment Group from New World Entertainment, and that is an epic tale for later. My team, the Marvel Acquisition Partners, along with financial adviser/debt provider Chase N.A. and equity partner Shenkman Capital actually won the auction and for one glorious week, we thought we owned Marvel. But, Ronald O. Perelman, who was an insider at New World, managed to snake it out from under us. All that effort, all that time for naught.

There is an unbelievable amount of work involved in attempting such an acquisition. During the many months our attempt took I wasn’t able to fit in much paying work. Didn’t matter. Nobody was offering me work in those days anyway. I think I made $18,000 that year.

I needed a gig.

I met Michael Lynton for lunch somewhere near the Disney offices, which were just off of Park Avenue in the fifties. It was an interview, more or less.

Lynton was the head of marketing for Disney’s consumer products division (the other two being the film and parks divisions). I don’t recall his exact title, but he was a major cheese in the House of the Mouse.

Turned out that Lynton, too, had been interested in acquiring Marvel. He’d tried to talk Disney’s upper management into it, and when that proved to be a no-go, he’d considered making an attempt on his own.

Lynton’s Plan B was starting a comic book publishing division at Disney. Disney Comics were being published under license by Gladstone Publishing at that time. Lynton meant to terminate their license and bring Disney’s comic book publishing in-house. My job would be to help create Disney’s in-house comic book company.

I guess I aced the interview. Lynton arranged for me to fly out to L.A. and meet again with him and his boss, Steve McBeth. That proved to be another interview, and I guess I aced that one, too. They hired me as a consultant, 20 hours a week for a flat, monthly rate. The money wasn’t huge, but enough to keep me alive, reasonably comfortably. McBeth said flat out that Disney generally didn’t pay top dollar because they didn’t have to, being Disney. People were willing to accept less just to have Disney on their resume.

He was right, it proved to be a good thing. For years afterwards, every time I ever had to show a resume, the first thing that people noticed was Disney. “You worked for Disney? Impressive.”  

For the next ten months or so, I worked with Lynton to develop the business plan, publishing plan, staffing plan and build the foundations. While I was at it, Lynton asked me to do some development work on a few animated series. More about all that later.

Early on, apparently impressed by my efforts, Lynton offered me the job of Publisher and Editor in Chief of Disney Comics. An executive position. For real money. With benefits and perks.

Yahoo!

He told me I’d have to remain a freelance consultant until we were closer to the launch, however. But, in the meantime, I’d be laying the groundwork for my job-to-come. Sure, fine.

At that time, the Dick Tracy movie was in production. Lynton wanted to do a publishing program around the movie (in addition to the novelization, with which I wasn’t involved) and asked me for a proposal.

I read the screenplay. It started with crime already rampant in the city and Tracy already the mobsters’ number one enemy.

I proposed that we do three graphic novels: a prequel, the adaptation and one showing the continuing adventures of Tracy.

The prequel was intended to establish the rise of the mobsters’ reign of terror and the city’s growing despair; also Tracy’s rise to prominence, his first victories over the mobsters and why the criminals all hated and feared him. As I recall, the plot ended with the police commissioner lamenting the city’s plight, the corruption rife in the force, and saying something like, “If only there was one man I could trust!” Cue Dick Tracy….

I know I still have that plot. I’ll post it when I dig it out.

Dick Tracy was a very big deal at Disney. I wonder if Snow White got the scrutiny my Tracy prequel story did. Before I wrote the final plot, I was asked to pitch it from my beat outline not only to Lynton, but to Steve McBeth.

McBeth is scary-smart, as is Lynton. McBeth, however, is one of those rare people who always speaks in precise, complete sentences, all perfectly composed. That freaks me out.

So, I pitched my plot. Those of you who have read the stuff I’ve posted here know I’m pretty thoughtful and thorough when it comes to the nuts and bolts of stories. Some people like them, some don’t, but I think most people would agree that they’re carefully wrought. Anyway, I thought my Tracy prequel was pretty tight and solid.

McBeth pointed out several of flaws and holes. Things I overlooked.  

Freaked me out.

Well, that motivated me. I apologized and swore the thing would be bulletproof when I wrote the first complete draft.

As it turned out there was no time for another review of the plot before it had to be presented. Presented to whom, you might wonder. I wish I could give you the list of names. Maybe, if I find my notes….

Anyway, it was a big conference room full of people. The guy, whose name I forget, who was the head cheese of the consumer products division, one step down from Eisner, was there. Other big shot execs.  Other consultants, called in to evaluate the work of the consultant.  Jeez, Louise…!

But I was loaded for bear. You betcha I had buttoned that thing up tighter than Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin. Every detail, as Mark Twain might say, “…fined down to exactly the right shade….”  

There were no criticisms. A question or two and applause. Nailed it.

My moment of triumph.

Then it all went to hell.

Throughout the ten months or more I worked as a consultant, whenever I had to be in L.A. at the Burbank offices and studios for a meeting, Lynton’s secretary would book me into a great hotel, the Hilton in Universal City, I think. She’d send my airline tickets—always first class. She’d reserve a luxury car for me.

Disney, apparently, wasn’t cheap about the T&E.

It was getting near to launch time. On the same visit to L.A. when I’d made the plot pitch to the Devil’s Jury, Lynton talked to me about coming on staff as publisher and EIC “in a few weeks.”

I was told that a Big Meeting had been scheduled with another select committee of Disney Cheeses to give a final review to the plan to launch the new publishing division. At this Big Meeting, I would be introduced as the person who was going to run the division.

Lynton’s secretary called me about two weeks before the Big Meeting and said that Lynton would like to meet with me at the Disney offices in New York prior to the Big Meeting in L.A. Sure.

Lynton did a lot of traveling around the world. He had more demands on his time than you can believe. His secretary called me several times to reschedule the NY meeting. It just didn’t work out. Lynton just couldn’t manage to fit in a trip to New York and a meeting with me.

Then my airline tickets, hotel information and car reservation for the big-meeting trip to L.A. arrived.

They were coach class tickets. I was booked into a motel. It was an economy car. Hmm.

So, I went to L.A., slept at the motel and went in the little, tiny car to Burbank the next morning. I walked into the meeting room a few minutes early—I’m almost always early. Many people were already there. Disney meetings start on time. 

A nice-looking guy I didn’t recognize walked up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Randy Achee. I’m the publisher of Disney Comics.”

Oh.

“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Jim Shooter. Consultant.”

I saw Lynton entering and looking more than a little apprehensive.

The meeting started. The big shots grilled Lynton a little, but especially Achee.

Achee’s background was in controlled circulation magazines. Controlled circulation magazines are magazines that are provided free to a select consumer base—dentists, for instance. They make money by selling ad space to people who want to sell equipment, supplies, etc. to dentists.

I think he’d been a publisher of one or more controlled circ mags, but he didn’t know anything about comics publishing. He wasn’t conversant with the creative process, the art production process, the print production process, distribution, the marketing or anything else to do with comics. He didn’t even know commercial, for-sale-to-the-public magazines and he sure didn’t know comics. Maybe he could have walked in and taken charge of Contemporary Oral Hygiene with no problems, but comics? Nah.

So, I did my job. I was a consultant.

I fed Randy his lines and picked up the slack.

“Excuse me, sir, Randy asked me to look into selective binding. Randy, do you want me to tell them what I came up with, or…?  Okay, sure. These are the figures R.R. Donnelley quoted….”

Covered his ass.

“Well, Randy’s referring to direct marketing in the more common sense, direct mail, but I think what you’re asking is about the comics shop distribution, right? I’ve got the numbers you asked me for right here, Randy. I should have given them to you earlier. Sorry.

Talked him up.

“Randy brings a whole new perspective to comics publishing. I think the Disney Adventures project we’ve been developing will benefit from his insights.”

Simulated dialogue, but trust me, something like that. Etc.

The cheeses bought it. Everybody was happy. Well, almost everybody.

As we were filing out, Lynton shook my hand and thanked me profusely. He said he’d be in New York next week and would really like to meet. Sure. I’m a consultant. I’m on the clock. 

Randy asked me if I was free for dinner. Sure. I’m a consultant. I’m on the clock.

So, Randy took me out to dinner that evening. He wanted to thank me, he said, for leaping into the breach and helping him. No problem, said I. I’m a consultant, etc. It’s my job.

He said, words to the effect, “I’d heard you were a real dick, but you seem all right.”

So, the next morning I drove my little Yugo or whatever from the motel back to LAX, flew home and went back to work on my other project, raising money for a new company. I didn’t have a name for “Comics Newco” then, but it eventually became VALIANT.

The next week, I met with Michael Lynton in his office in New York.

Lynton apologized for my being blindsided at the Big Meeting. He said that he was going to hire me as publisher, but when he did his due diligence and contacted several big name creators in the comic book business to get a reference, they told him I was a monster. That if I were put in charge of Disney Comics that no creator worth spit would ever work for the company. I think you can guess as well as I can who he spoke with.

Lynton said that during the time we’d worked together, he’d found me to be the smartest, most creative, most reasonable, easiest-to-get-along-with person he’d ever dealt with.

Maybe the people who condemned me were wrong, he said, or maybe I’d changed. Whatever. Disney couldn’t afford to take a chance.

I offered no argument—nothing I said would have done any good at that point—but I did say, words to the effect, “Michael, someday, somewhere, I’ll be sitting behind a desk hiring creators again and the line will go out the door and all the way to the street.”

I also told him that I was happy to remain a consultant for the nonce. I had to eat after all.

Later, Lynton called me to ask me my opinion of a guy they were considering for the Editor in Chief position, Len Wein. Did I know him?

Yep. I gave Len a very positive reference, with the caveat that he might not be good at showing up on time for meetings or anything else, which seemed to be of great importance at Disney. Lynton hired Len, largely on the strength of my recommendation, said Lynton.  

On one of my last trips to the Disney offices in L.A., Lynton wanted to talk about artists for the Dick Tracy prequel. He told me what he had in mind regarding payment—a ridiculously small rate—and asked if I thought Howard Chaykin would be a good candidate. I told him that Howard would never accept that rate—I didn’t use the words “chump change” but I thought them.

While I was in his office, Lynton called Chaykin and asked him about illustrating Tracy.

The end of the conversation I could hear, Lynton’s words, went something like this:

“But…

Howard, I….

“I didn’t mean to… 

“Yes, but….”

Then Lynton pulled the phone away from his ear, stared at it and said, “He hung up on me. He cursed me out and then he hung up on me.”

No kiddin’?

Then Lynton said, “I’m going to call him back!”

Sigh.

The net result was that, while Chaykin had no interest whatsoever in the project, he talked Lynton into hiring John Francis Moore to write the script. I didn’t think he was up to it, but whatever. I was a lame duck consultant on my way out. Who cared what I thought?

After I had resigned as a consultant to work full time on developing VALIANT, periodically Lynton would call me and ask me questions. After Moore had finished the script for the Tracy prequel, and after it was already largely drawn by Kyle Baker, Lynton started having cold feet about the way it was going and asked me if, as a favor, I’d look over the script and give him my opinion.

I did.

Moore had obviously tossed the plot I’d written out the window, the plot that had been so carefully vetted and approved by Lynton, McBeth and the Exalted Committee, and written whatever he wanted.

Sorry, Moore, but it wasn’t good. Way too many tiny panels, gratuitous sex and violence, inappropriate language…. Bad. I told Lynton so, but I think it was too late to do anything about the mess.

Of course, Kyle made it look better than it deserved.

Later, when Disney Comics was spectacularly failing and my little, cruelly undercapitalized start-up, VALIANT was just beginning to take off, Michael Lynton called me again. He said that after being as immersed in the comic book business for a while, he’d come to realize that my critics were the problem, not me. He said, “If you ever start another company, I’d like to invest in it and I would like to be on the board of directors.”

Michael Lynton was an investor in Enlightened Entertainment Partners, publishers of DEFIANT, and served on the board.

I’m sorry I failed him and everyone else. I gave it my best.


WEDNESDAY:  Chris Claremont Face Down in His Mashed Potatoes

109 comments:

bmcmolo said...

It's time like this I wish I was independently wealthy. I'd know exactly whom to hire to run my comics empire!

(You and JayJay would have to share power, though - I don't play favorites...)

Another good story with another sad ending. Damn! You mentioned in a different blog about "another in a long series of Pyrrhic victories." (paraphrasing) It certainly seems to be a theme. I'm just happy, as ever, to finally be hearing your side of all these things.

Anonymous said...

Jim, are you sure the writer Howard Chaykin proposed for DICK TRACY was Stuart Moore? He was writing a lot with John Francis Moore around that time, who I think might have eventually written DICK TRACY

bcolflesh said...

Boom goes the dynamite - love these type of entries - can't wait to see the impotent, rage-filled responses on other sites!

I am a terrible person.

Anonymous said...

anyone else crack up at the end of the post? the abrupt 180 from triumphant vindication to "sorry i failed everyone" and then the monty pythonesque "WEDNESDAY: I Don’t Know" was really hilarious to me. maybe it's just me, though.

still a great story though - thanks for sharing another bit of comics history.

Defiant1 said...

My dad did some work for Disney. I think they owned some radio stations. I'm sure my dad didn't give them much choice on what they paid. His fee was usually take it or leave it. Sometimes his clients would leave it and then come back months later with their tail between their legs. I'm not sure though, he was also hired as a consultant for a movie filmed in Georgia. That might have been why he was receiving checks from Disney. Regardless, I remember seeing a few checks with the Disney logo and the collector mentality kept thinking, "There must be a way to keep this and still get paid." It wasn't my check, so I just put it out of mind.

Brunomac said...

Wow, just an incredible story.

JediJones said...

Excellent blog entry, Jim. It's really sad to hear that essentially gossip was able to sink that job opportunity. I would think that all those years at Marvel with rising sales figures along the way would have counted for more.

It's fascinating to think how history might have changed if you took the reins at Disney Comics. Maybe you would have brought the Gold Key heroes into Disney, essentially doing Valiant under the Disney banner? Or maybe you could have influenced Disney to buy Marvel even sooner, and been running Marvel again. On the other hand, maybe Disney just wouldn't have followed through on their opportunities or been flexible enough to do what they needed to do to compete in the industry. What did happen to their in-house comics line? Did it dry up completely and how fast?

As has been said before, external forces were fighting against you at Defiant. The Marvel lawsuit, the implosion of the speculative bubble in comic books, the explosion of independent comic books competing for attention, and some of the trading card marketing gimmicks that the River Group wanted at a time when readers were starting to mistrust gimmicks and associate them with bad content. You did give it your all and don't have anything to be sorry about.

I expect we'll get to read a lot more about Valiant on your blog in the coming weeks and months. I've read some of your interviews concerning Valiant and am looking forward to seeing it all laid out here. The complex financial dealings, the shifting loyalties, the various changes in priorities and plans along the way are fascinating but definitely a lot to keep track of. I think if you lay it all out here as strictly chronological as possible, let it run on in great detail as long as it takes, and give us a sense of the emotion you and others felt along the way (like you do here during the high of giving the successful pitch and the low of how things end), then it's going to be an incredible read with lots of new insight into your experiences.

Anonymous...the Dick Tracy series was apparently collected as "The Complete True Hearts and Tommy Guns Trilogy" and Amazon credits the writer as J. Moore. It sounds like the 3rd chapter ended up being the movie adaptation with the 1st and 2nd being prequel stories.

Diacanu said...

Why don't we just make a comic company?

I mean, you got..*looks* 552 followers, just mathematically, someone has to be able to draw, someone has to be able to write, and someone must be an eccentric billionaire with shopaholism.

We cobble those bits together, plug Jim in as the CPU unit, and we're good to go.

Me? I'll be the wise janitor.

William said...

The biggest disappointment in this story for me was in the first couple of paragraphs, when you revealed how incredibly close you came to acquiring Marvel. Man-o-man, would that have been awesome, or what? How different things would have been if you had been the guiding force at the house of ideas throughout the last couple of decades?

Sigh... I would probably still be reading new comics if that scenario had come to pass.

C. William Russette said...

I didn't think the ending was funny at all.

Hacks and fools proliferate.

Quite frankly. Mr. Shooter, Disney got what they deserved. Idiots.

Your run at Marvel produced the best material Marvel has put out since I started collecting, for what it's worth.

Thanks for a lot of great stories.

Diacanu said...

C.Willaim Russette-

Agreed, it made my tear ducts tickle a little, and I'm usually made of stone.

Anonymous's post is awful, but I think unintentionally so, I silently passed it by.

Emilio Torres Jr. said...

Anonymous and Jedi Jones - I verified at this website http://www.worldcat.org/title/dick-tracy-the-complete-true-hearts-and-tommy-guns-trilogy/oclc/040492101 and the credited writer is John Francis Moore.

BrianLogue said...

I have to wonder if the Disney executive was shown Gary Groth's editorial in The Comics Journal about your departure from Marvel. Groth speculated at length about why you had been fired. His opinion was that you had alienated so many creators that you had become a liability to the company. But the list of creators he named didn't hold up well under scrutiny. Some were even doing work for Marvel at the time. The Disney people wouldn't have known that, though. That editorial may have libeled you.

Why does Groth hate you so much, anyway? The only person I think he hates more than you is Harlan Ellison. As near as I can tell, you've never done anything to him besides testify for Michael Fleisher when Fleisher sued the Journal. I've read the testimony. You didn't even have much to say about Groth or the Journal. It was mainly about Marvel and DC and how the editorial operations worked.

jimshooter said...

Dear Anonymous,

You're probably right. I don't have the proper box full of ref and notes handy, and one Moore is probably running into another. JayJay, fix it please. At least I didn't say "Alan Moore." : )

jimshooter said...

Dear bcolflesh,

I'll move over and make room for you here on bench W.

gn6196 said...

another story with a crappy ending. Surely there are creators that will stand up for you and back your side of the story during the Marvel years?

Anonymous said...

"...my little, cruelly undercapitalized start-up, VALIANT...."

[MikeAnon:] I hope you get a kick out of the incredibly stupid thought that just passed through my head:

"What does he mean, 'undercapitalized'? He put 'VALIANT' in all caps!" [--MikeAnon]

JayJayJackson said...

Well, gn6196, there's me. I worked at Marvel from 1984 until 1988, I think. And a few of the other people Jim used to work with who have been here and weighed in with comments. But sometimes the loudest voices are the ones that get listened to.

jimshooter said...

Dear JediJones,

Hmm. Now that you mention it, my prequel might have been a two-parter, then there was the adaptation, and I never got around to working on a continuation. So hard to reconstruct some of this stuff without the product in hand....

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I wish I had Steve McBeth's power to speak "in precise, complete sentences, all perfectly composed." Or even just write them! I hit my "backspace" key constantly. Disney hired some great people: McBeth, Lynton, and of course, you.

So what did Disney see in Randy Achee? My guess is that he was a last-minute substitute. Was he uncomfortable with his new position?

Thanks for explaining "controlled circulation magazines." Even after reading comics fanzines for years, I still know very little about publishing and am always eager to learn more.

I'm amazed you were able to balance Disney with "Comics Newco." Yes, the Disney gig was only 20 hours a week, but still ... I've found balancing acts like that to be hard.

Were you "sitting behind a desk hiring creators again" with a line that went "out the door and all the way to the street" once VALIANT took off? When you launched DEFIANT?

Just imagine ... what would Alan Moore and Kyle Baker's Dick Tracy have been like?

What's "bench W"?

jimshooter said...

Dear gn6196,

Several already have: Larry Hama, Jim Salicrup and Brett Breeding among them.

bmcmolo said...

Dear Diacanu - I'm in. I'll manage the salad bar. With these two positions firmly established (well, four if you count Jim and JayJay as Fearless Leaders) greatness surely will flow.

Dear Marc - "Just imagine ... what would Alan Moore and Kyle Baker's Dick Tracy have been like?"

That would be something, all right. I'd almost be afraid to see it!

davidmillerstudios said...

It makes me sad, Jim, that you feel you "let your investors down" at Defiant. Nothing could be further from the truth. You were assailed from within and without. Everyone knows about Marvel targeting you (an easier target than attacking Image) but I spent some time at Defiant and the childish, unprofessional behavior of some so-called "comics professionals" was shameful in my opinion. I saw more instances of you being mistreated than the other way around.

I am also sure that when the doors closed at Defiant that any freelancer that was owed money was paid. A *RARE* thing in 1994.

Anonymous said...

Onions came out of my butt... they were the smelliest things you could ever imagine! My name is Gerald Huss

calmixx said...

Jim

I can't thank you enough for writing this blog. I am hopelessly addicted and return twice a day hoping that the new post will be up.

You rock sir.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

guys, i didnt mean the ending of the post was funny because of schadenfreude, it was just impressive how such an enjoyable story that was seemingly ending on a high note so quickly turned and went out on a massive downer. like if the ending to the movie Rudy, but say in the last game Rudy had to make a tackle win the game but then at the last second, i dont know, the running back grew to be 50 feet tall and walked into the end zone and notre dame lost and Rudy felt like it was all his fault, the end.

and then the way "I Don't Know" was all in bold. that to me is funny.

from his comments, Jim obviously felt terrible about the Defiant investors not realizing the returns they were probably hoping for, and i empathize and would never laugh at his regret over how things played out. the story of defiant is one i would love to hear. based on his success at marvel and then valiant, i'm sure i would have been an investor in defiant too if i had the opportunity (and wasn't like, 13 at the time). you can't blame the whole comics market imploding exactly at the wrong time for defiant on jim.

so, sorry if my comments were taken the wrong way. i dont think the demise of defiant was a hilarious time for anybody. im just saying the way the blog post ended was funny to me in a bizarre way. no offense intended.

Splitting Image said...

"Dear Marc - "Just imagine ... what would Alan Moore and Kyle Baker's Dick Tracy have been like?""

I'm picturing Dirty Harry in a yellow trenchcoat.

Defiant1 said...

Jim,

When are you going to do a Kickstarter project? Josh Adams directed me to one that looked successful (from IDW) and that led me to finding one started by Jimmy Palmiotti. Seems like you could knock out some stand-alone books that ultimately tie into one bigger story. For most people, I don't think it would be worth the effort. It seems like you'd have a jump start at getting donations.

Diacanu said...

Anonymous-
Okay, I get ya, like I said, I didn't think it was intentional the way it looked.
Believe me, I've been there with the whole "say something a little clumsily, and everyone looks at you like you crapped in the punchbowl", situation.

Anonymous said...

Gerry Acerno. 1980s Marvel LEGEND. Inked Power Man and Iron Fist over Mark (MD) Bright. Life and career ruined by Jim Shooter because, yes, Shooter is JEALOUS of Acerno. I remember the conversations in the Bullpen, Stan came to visit from LA, and looking at the work of Acerno, Stan said in hushed tones, "this kid is good." Sol Brodsky told Shooter "Acerno has the goods" and Shooter dismissed him and said "Nah, fill-in artist at best." Well I am here to tell you the WHOLE story is coming, the TRUTH about how one of the unsung Marvel artists of the eighties was taken out by a paranoid Jim Shooter before he could become a household name. It. Is. Coming. After almost thirty long years, Gerry Acerno is getting his due.

Glenn Greenberg said...

"for one glorious week, we thought we owned Marvel."

Jim,

That must have been a euphoric time. During that week, did you draw up any concrete plans/ideas for what you'd do with the company once you took over officially? Would you have kept the editorial staff in place? Did you have specific things you wanted to do with various titles/characters?

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

I don't know how or why Randy Achee was hired. He seemed like a bright guy and I expect he got up to speed quickly.

We had no shortage of talent applying at VALIANT and DEFIANT, although we couldn't afford most top shelf guys at VALIANT at first.

"Bench W" is an obscure reference. Bench W, in the song "Alice's Restaurant," was the place in the Selective Service office where the heinous criminals were made to sit.

JayJayJackson said...

Father rapers!

jimshooter said...

Dear davidmiller,

I saw to it that every INDIVIDUAL was paid in full. Unfortunately, a couple of companies that supplied services to DEFIANT got stiffed -- the coffee service, a coloring supplier....

On the day I found out that DEFIANT's recapitalization had fallen through, I called the executive who handled our account at Quebecor, our printer, to tell him that we were going under and couldn't pay them. We owed them $180,000. He asked me if I was free for dinner the following Thursday. Sure.

Several of the Quebecor people I did business with came to New York from Montreal and took me to dinner at Bice, a very fancy uptown Italian place. They told me not to worry about the debt, that "these things happen," and it was a "cost of doing business." No problem. They said that I had brought many millions of dollars of business to them over the years and that I'd probably be back in the publishing arena again and they hoped I'd think of them when I needed a printer. They gave me a gift -- a "pocket secretary," which is a beautiful leather item that fits in your pocket, perfect for notes and such.

I have carried that pocket secretary with me every day of my life since. I saved the note cards Quebecor gave me with my initials inscribed and use blank cards, mostly, with the pocket secretary. In the sleeve of the thing I keep a list of everyone I, or my companies, ever failed to pay in full, and someday I mean to pay every one of them every penny plus interest. P.S., I have given or sent to Quebecor many millions of dollars of business since. And I always will.

jimshooter said...

Glenn, you know me. Long before that week I had planned everything. Details later. I hope you are well.

jimshooter said...

Litterbugs!

Cousin Vinny said...

Thanks for sharing that nugget. I will look forward to stories about your Defiant endeavor.

I'm sure you don't remember, but I met you at a comics convention when you were just hawking your Defiant brand. I brought a copy of Adventure #346 and you remarked, "You've gotta be kidding me!". At least you were gracious and signed it, even though I didn't buy any Defiant stuff. (I was one foot out of the comics business, anyway!)

jimshooter said...

Cousin, I signed anything I had aught to do with if anyone asked me to deface said item with my signature. And I was proud and happy to do so.

JediJones said...

Jim, it just occurred to me that you might have been doing another one of your innovations that others would later imitate by coming up with a prequel comic book to the Dick Tracy movie adaptation. That's done often now, at least it was for the G.I. Joe and Transformers movie adaptations. Lucasfilm even did an animated television cartoon prequel for Revenge of the Sith. But I don't recall the same thing being done in the '80s or earlier. In fact, as you've said before, it seemed like the Star Wars people then made sure you didn't step into the territory they were reserving for the movie at all.

gn6196, Peter David also posted here to defend Jim on a blog entry about the return of Jim Kirby's artwork. Groth had posted something about Jim's blog entry on his site and PAD backed up Jim's side of the story here, basically saying Groth didn't know what he was talking about in regards to what went on behind the scenes in the Marvel offices.

BrianLogue, as to why Groth would do what he does, I'm going to have to say self-promotion is the biggest part of it. If you're going to be a critic or public agitator of some kind, the road to success is paved by taking down the biggest target possible. "David" becomes famous by taking out "Goliath," not by attacking someone his own size or smaller.

Marvel was the biggest, most successful comics company and Jim was the highest ranking publically known person there. If Groth really opposed what Marvel was doing, he would have tracked down the owners and executives, who had the real power, in the parking lot and tried to interview them. If all he wanted to do was garner publicity for himself and his own ventures, then he would just go after the most powerful public face at Marvel, which was Jim. The National Enquirer doesn't sell magazines by printing paparazzi shots of their next-door neighbors. They sell them by dishing dirt on the most well-known celebrities.

At the time, in the '80s, I think the standard public relations advice when this sort of thing happened was to ignore your critics. The fear was you'd only give them legitimacy or bring them more attention by responding. But this began to prove not to be true. Judge Robert Bork arguably lost his Supreme Court nomination in the '80s because his advisors directed him not to respond to his critics, and an extremely negative impression of him took hold in the public.

You can look to President Obama and Donald Trump for a more recent example. Donald Trump started hammering Obama on the issue of not releasing his birth certificate. In so doing he brought a lot of attention to himself, and, polls showed, convinced a large portion of the public that there was a "there" there. Obama then released the certificate and the controversy dissipated quickly.

Human nature unfortunately seems to be for people to believe the accused are guilty until proven innocent. Perhaps that's why our court system is explicitly defined as supporting the exact opposite principle. It has to be done to counter the natural negative tendencies of human nature.

I believe that now the standard public relations advice is to respond quickly, forcefully and in no uncertain terms to counter any accusations made against you. If you remain silent while you're being accused of things by someone who has any degree of credibility and visibility, no matter how outrageous the claims are, your popularity will suffer.

botolo86 said...

I just got an idea! Jim why don't you post a project on kickstarter.com to fund a new comic company? I would definitely participate in the funding!

ja said...

Anonymous Gerry Acerno said: "Gerry Acerno. 1980s Marvel LEGEND."

Legendarily terrible, yes.

Anonymously pathetic Gerry Acerno said: "Life and career ruined by Jim Shooter because, yes, Shooter is JEALOUS of Acerno."

Considering all of what Jim Shooter has accomplished throughout his life, I'm quite sure he IS jealous of Gerry Acerno's complete and utter LACK of notoriety, his ability to never be remembered by anyone, ever. Jim could use a few days off like that.

Anonymously Notorious D.I.P.(shit) Acerno said: "Well I am here to tell you the WHOLE story is coming, the TRUTH about how one of the unsung Marvel artists of the eighties was taken out by a paranoid Jim Shooter before he could become a household name."

Unsung means not celebrated, not praised or acclaimed. NO KIDDING. Just look at Acerno's work. I can only *imagine* Jim Shooter being threatened by someone whose work doesn't qualify to be a professional's inking assistant.

Anonymous AND rightfully unsung Gerry Acerno said: "It. Is. Coming."

I sure wish Gerry Acerno would stop talking about playing with his little "dip pen", ifyaknowhatimean...

Anonymous Gerry Acerno (whom, if the San Diego Comic Con Blew up and killed everybody, he STILL would NOT become the New King Of Comics) said: "After almost thirty long years, Gerry Acerno is getting his due."

Gerry Acerno's AARP card finally arrived in the mail!

HEY GERRY ACERNO: either you're so very bitter for not having the career you really wanted, so much so that you have to blame Jim Shooter (and not your lack of professional ability and internal fortitude) for this, that you really must further embarrass yourself in this public forum...

... or you REALLY need to tell your mother to stop drunkenly posting in blog forums!

Sad. So, so sad.

ja said...

JediJones,

"Jim" Kirby? Was he Jack's unknown sibling he kept in the basement, made to pack all of Jack's work to mail it out to the companies he worked for?

=P

JediJones said...

Yeah, Jim Kirby was Jack's evil twin he kept chained up in the basement and fed a steady diet of fish heads. Actually, right when I was about to hit submit on that post I accidentally navigated to Google instead, and when I hit the back button to go back everything I wrote got eaten up, by an escaped Pac-Man I presume. So I rewrote it up pretty quickly in frustration and missed a spot on the proofreading.

Kevie said...

Another amazing post. I feel like even if we didn't have your comics work, you'd be attaining the status of national treasure just on the strength of this blog!

Thunder said...

JediJones: Is Jim Kirby in league with Jim Shooter's own evil twin Tim from the old "Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe" comic? (Okay, so that part was cut in the final product, but still). :)

Hunter said...

Hey, today is Jim's birthday! Happy birthday, man!

bcolflesh said...

Happy Birthday!

Chris said...

Happy birthday. Wishing you the best this year.

Guillermo said...

Happy birthday!
Guillermo

Darksbane said...

Happy Birthday Jim! And although Defiant might not have survived the comics bust I'd just like to say those books continue to be some of my favorite comics ever made. I'd still like to see a number of them (especally Dark Dominion) continued ;D

Ole M. Olsen said...

Dear Jim,

I've been reading your blog with great enjoyment since I discovered it just a few short weeks ago. Ever since, I've been meaning to write and "introduce" myself and express my admiration and gratitude. Your work (particularly at Marvel and later Valiant) played a major role in my late childhood (even before I knew your name or knew that you were actually "behind" it), youth and early adulthood. After far too many years of not reading comics on a regular basis (not through choice, but rather because of financial and time constraints), it is only fitting that my return should coincide with my discovering your blog.

Like I said, I've been meaning to write about all that. But there's that lack-of-time issue again... so I guess I'll just have to write some other day.

In the meantime, though:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

And thank you.

Ole Olsen, Norway

steve said...

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shooter! And thank you for the stories.

Ray Cornwall said...

Happy Birthday, Jim!

Chris Hlady said...

Finally got a good listen to Alice's Restaurant. Thanks, Jim. Slight clarification: it's Group W, where they sit on the benches. Otherwise known as a comic convention. --joke

Oh yeah, Disney. Thanks for the low-down on that. Crazy how a reputation can have a freeze-out like that. (aside, musing, Fortress Mouse, or some variation -- oh wait, they did that with Mousehunt (1997). Ah, could be done better.)

Oh, and Quebecor -- good story. Wishing you well with anyone else on the list. May the revenues you bring in always be multiples of your debts, and liabilities.

Happy Birthday, Jim.

Mars Bonfire said...

Happy Birthday, Jim.

Many thanks for playing your part in the entertaining stories I read and enjoyed as a young boy and teenager. Good memories.

IƱigo Aguirre said...

Happy Birthday, Jim! All the best from Spain!

Stuart Moore said...

Thanks for the correction -- that wasn't me on the Dick Tracy adaptation. I was still an editor at St. Martin's Press at the time...where one of my last acquisitions was THE DICK TRACY CASEBOOK, collecting strips from the history of the feature. I didn't work with Howard until later, at DC.

Dusty. said...

Happy birthday, Jim, and thanks for coming back into the comic community with this most excellent blog!

Jerry Novick said...

Dear Jim -

This post made me physically ill. By the end I was so sad and so chocked up that I got a bad case of heartburn. The injustice that you suffered at the hands of hearsay spread by people who maligned you even as they cashed the large royalty checks you helped them earn is criminal.

Ironically, unbeknownst to me at the time, Disney's short-sightedness led to some paychecks of my own. By the early 90s, the Disney comics failure led them to license their Disney Afternoon block of shows to Marvel. I wrote several stories for that series. I owe you a dinner.

Happy Birthday, Jim - and many more to come I hope!

PS: If you go the Kickstarter route, I'll pitch in time and money to help make it happen.

PPS: I echo Glenn Greenberg's question: what did you have planed for Marvel?

botolo86 said...

Happy birthday, Jim. I am happy that others like the kickstarter idea. Let's do it!!! Jim, how much would you need to start a new comics company? I have seen people raise 200k on kickstarter for poor ideas and you have great ideas and a great name!!! Let's do it!!!

Joseph Schmidt said...

Happy Birthday Mr. Shooter! I just want to say that I am enjoying your blog and thank you for all your years of service in the comic book industry!

Diacanu said...

Happy birthday Jim, thanks for the comics, and keeping me as an effed-up kid/teen sane in the 80's.

~P~ said...

The Happiest of Birthdays, Jim!

And MANY, MANY Moore... er... more.

Neil Anderson said...

Happy birthday Jim. Somewhat off-topic, but I loved what Gladstone did with the Disney characters, and I was really disappointed with what happened when Disney took over. De-emphasized the classic Gottfredson and Barks reprints, the covers looked sloppier, the logos looked slap-dash, and the new stuff by Van Horn and Rosa seemed less funny, geared more towards "Ducktales" fans (although to be fair, Van Horn started doing Ducktales when Gladstone had the license). Would have loved to see how you would have run Disney comics...

Again, I love your blog. I'd like to hear your account of the Groth/Ellison/Fleisher trial--I have not read your testimony, in fact I don't know why you were testifying there at all? The only account I've read was in the book The Comic Book Heroes, which for some reason didn't bother to explain why you testifying there...

Neil Anderson

Firestone said...

Happy birthday, Mr. Shooter.

While people are talking about comics, I suppose I should share something I've been musing on and off about. I've been talking with my friends about it, and some of it showed up in a webcomic a friend drew. (I take no claim in the comic: you hang out with people, you often share ideas a bit of this and a bit of that.)
http://www.shortpacked.com/2011/comic/book-13/04-remedial-adulthood/math/

"The Teen Titans cartoon had 2 million viewers. Best-case scenario, a comic will have 100,000 readers."

I remember as well as anyone the multi-hundred thousand selling comics of the 70s. And then it went away. Today, they're five bucks a pop, and only at specialty stores. The less said about Diamond, the better. Unless, of course, Mr. Shooter would like to go on about that, because I'd really like to hear it.

Of course, there's two problems here. One of them is cost of printing, and the other is distribution. Marvel could break free of Diamond, if they chose, at least partially, by going through whatever Disney uses to get Disney Adventures in grocery stores. But that's not useful for a startup.

What would work? Well, like all things today, when distribution costs money, the answer would have to be 'Put it on the Internet'. But then, of course, your product you sell will be pirated, unless you also 'and give it away.' This is a problem. But it's not unsolvable. Walky, to use the best example I have, has survived as a webcartoonist since 1997, being a part of and surviving the horrible flaming wreck of several collectives. He manages to do it for a living still.

Generally, as I understand it, merch and con appearances and just asking for money and subscriptions are all part of the dynamic, and I'm reasonably sure that he knows more than I do.

I'm also pretty sure that if Mr. Shooter actually had interest in the topic that Walky would be delighted to share what he has learned with you. I can't say anything more for him.

But, you know, there really hasn't been a breakthrough shared-universe superhero collective on the web yet, and I don't know why not. Three pages a week. Fall back to 1960s style storytelling. Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Cause if you're having fun when you write, people will have fun when they read. I know that it is possible for people to make a living off it. I don't know how amazing a living it is. I do know it's a lot of effort. And I do know that it is sustainable.

This is the best birthday present I can give: a future for the comics we all grew up loving. If only a potential one.

cerebus660 said...

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shooter! keep up the great work on this blog - it's fascinating reading.

Anonymous said...

Disney is a satanic illuminati mind-control organization. Irefuse to spend a penny on their products, including marvels.

jimshooter said...

I'm very sorry about the error, Stuart. JayJay fixed it in the post as soon as someone gave me a heads up.

jimshooter said...

Thanks, Jerry. Once I dig out my "Marvel Acquisition Partners" box o' docs I'll post our schemes and dreams.

William said...

Happy B-Day, big guy. :)

David S said...

Happy birthday Jim, hope you're having a good one!

Stuart Moore said...

Jim: No foul -- It was fixed before I even saw it. And happy birthday!

Brian Doan said...

Happy birthday, Jim!

Ja, is it possible the Anonymous post about Acerno was meant to be ironic? It's hard to know, I'll admit, as there's no name on it, but it kind of read as parody to me, at least; the description of Stan Lee *whispering* his praise (like hushed tones in a church) certainly seems sarcastic, as does the more general elevation of a fairly unknown inker to 'legendary' status (no offense to Acerno, whose work I'm not familiar with). I read it as a joke riffing off the various posts about the way Jim had been unfairly attacked by folks in the industry.

Bill Carrigan said...

Happy Birthday!!

Mark said...

"The Teen Titans cartoon had 2 million viewers. Best-case scenario, a comic will have 100,000 readers."

I loved that comic strip, and I think it unwittingly hit upon an uncomfortable truth. Fans can blame Ron Perelman and Nintendo for the industries current woes, but as the latest incarnation of Starfire shows, the creative talent making comic books and fans themselves shoulder some of the blame for the steady slide in sales.

JediJones said...

Happy Birthday, Jim! Thanks for the gifts you've given your fans over the years with all your comics work and now the blog.

Firestone, I think online distribution should definitely be a part of any new comics venture, whether they're done in print at the same time or not. Print collections could always be done later, either wide release or limited editions for the fans.

As for piracy, well, as I understand it people already scan in new print comics and pirate them around every week. I'm not sure how you can completely avoid that in this day and age.

Here's some of my idea for how a comics web site for a smaller company might be run. Attention spans are short these days, so publish part of a story every week, I guess 5-6 pages a week. It could end up being written a little more like a comic strip serial perhaps.

Don't force people to "subscribe" to everything. Run the payment processing like an arcade. People have to pay $5 to create an account and get 50 "tokens" or credits to access the site (or $10 and 100 credits). Then just by clicking the issue cover and confirming the purchase, 5 credits are deducted and they get permanent access to read it. This cuts down on transaction fees which would be too costly for multiple 50-cent transactions.

This way you can also easily run sales by offering a discount on credits, or give people a discount the more credits they purchase. It also helps you get some money in the till when you're starting since the minimum buy-in is $5.

I don't like the fancy online comic readers that jump around and scan the pages for you. I'd rather just have a PDF or JPG. Ideally I think the comic would be drawn "widescreen" to fit nice on a monitor, but that could perhaps be a problem later if a print edition is created. Of course there's nothing wrong with leaving some room around the edges to put ads or to insert ads between pages as people click through them.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Jim. Keep up with the good work.


Regards from Brazil.

Defiant1 said...

Did someone say DEFIANT?

One of my favorite covers ever(I'm especially fond of the colors)...

http://bit.ly/n21UDo

I wonder if Jim knows who these people are...
http://bit.ly/oL94Sx

Defiant1 said...

Happy Birtday!

Anonymous said...

Firestone said...

'Walky, to use the best example I have, has survived as a webcartoonist since 1997, being a part of and surviving the horrible flaming wreck of several collectives. He manages to do it for a living still.'

Really? I'm interested... Apart from having good material, how is the money made? Ads? Subscriptions? Sorry, I don't quite get how this works...!

Cheers,
Pete Marco

Jeff Zoslaw said...

Have a wonderful birthday and thanks again for this always edifying reminiscence! Not many living people have history with Weisinger, Kirby, Wood and so many other legends-- and even fewer legends give us a near daily dose of that history. Hoping to also see you back doing heroic fiction again in 2012!

Shelby said...

Jim, what a great addon to the post-- the story about Quebecor. That is really something! You seem like a great guy.

Jacob said...

Happy birthday, Jim!

So this entry reminded me of something I've been meaning to ask for a while - with so much of your life being spent in the trenches of the comics business, how did you make the transition to the high finance side of things? I understand where working day-to-day in the bullpen could teach a guy a lot about advertising and circulation, but where does one learn to put together a group of investors, or take over a company?

It's just really interesting to me because you can literally count on one hand the number of comics creative professionals who also seem to have a real head for business - and I can't help but think that the industry would be in better shape if that weren't the case. It seems like a common theme in a lot of your stories is people taking personally, and in the worst possible way, a decision made for business, legal or ethical reasons.

Dimitris said...

Happy birthday Jim!
Thanks for all the enjoyment your work (and your blog) has brought!

Firestone said...

JediJones, I'm sorry. I was unclear on the matter. The way to combat piracy is to make it less convenient than legitimate use. People pirate comics. But they largely don't pirate webcomics, because they are free and unrestricted. (*) (see next section) Thus, by following the webcomic method (Penny Arcade's doing pretty okay. Something Positive. Schlock Mercenary. There's a decent number of full time webcomic people.), you eliminate piracy, because it's more effort for people to do that than it is to get it legitimately. For example, how easy is it to buy something on iTunes? Pretty easy. People still pirate, but people buy iTunes songs too. As far as your specific method, I'd say for an established brand, maybe. If I were converting Marvel over, it might be big enough that I could make someone invent a new sort of wallet. MMOs can work this way. However, webcomics, history has shown, tend not to work that way so well. People don't spend enough time to make it worthwhile to manage a new currency. Paypal works for limited things, but at the fees they charge, a $.10 / page gimmick won't work out, and really, if you toss a paywall up, people will just go elsewhere, because 'the internet treats censorship as damage and...' and there's a lot of free content out there. The only paywall I've seen that worked was the NY Times one. Which is like Marvel Comics: an established brand. The Wall Street Journal's version has basically removed the WSJ from a tool of conversation in most quarters.

I'll be honest, I don't rightly know how Walky makes his money, or how much he does, I just know he's able to make a living at it. I don't really like to pry, I'm just happy he is able to do it and have a family. I can say this, though.

Some of it is adverts, some of it is sale of print volumes, and so on. Some is on commissioned sketches. Some is on T-Shirts and mugs. Some is sale of art prints. These days, he can't sell original art so much: tablets have largely eliminated that market. Also, while main archives are open, he's done story arcs that are behind paywalls, the webcomic equivalent of a limited series. As have other artists. The print volumes traditionally have short stories not available online as well. And, of course, some artists do short-run traditional comic books. I've got the first three issues of Randy Milholland's Super Stupor.
In fact, Randy has a _wonderful_ FAQ page about his advertising policies.

http://www.somethingpositive.net/advertise.shtml

He notes that he will create banner ads for other people, too, which is a subset of commissioned art I failed to mention.

michaelbrady said...

Happy Birthday Jim, from someone else frequently on the Group W bench.

I cannot tell a lie... I put that envelope under that garbage.

JayJay: Mother Stabbers!

Eklectic1 said...

Happy Birthday, and keep being as amazing as you are.

And thanks for the Group W bench ref. It really took me back. To ol' Officer Obie...and of course to the father rapers and the mother stabbers. And Arlo Guthrie sitting in his underpants on the Group W Bench with the other prime undesirables...

This blog is just like a drink of cool water on a hot day.

Eklectic1 said...

Happy Birthday, and keep being as amazing as you are.

And thanks for the Group W bench ref. It really took me back. To ol' Officer Obie...and of course to the father rapers and the mother stabbers. And Arlo Guthrie sitting in his underpants on the Group W Bench with the other prime undesirables...

This blog is just like a drink of cool water on a hot day.

Chris Arndt said...

Happy birthday.... You'll get my standard anthem later.

Payton G. said...

Happy birthday, Jim. Your blog makes us feel as if we're the ones getting the gift.

Superlime said...

Michael Lynton now runs Sony, fyi.

uncannyderek.com said...

Happy Birthday, Jim!

Sorry I was late!

Video Beagle said...

The Clandestine Firestone sent me....

As she pointed out, pay walls won't work for webcomics. Unless there's something REALLY special...and by that I mean something like Chris Claremont and John Byrne reuniting to do the Dark Phoenix Saga with My Little Pony...people aren't going to pay. It's just not how the web has turned out.

All due respect to Walky, he's not the model to look at, though. I'd point to the Foglio's. They've worked a model where they publish the comic on the web, then sell tpb's of it in the stores, and it appears to be successful. They (well Phil more than Kaja) like Jim is a long time industry vet so that's the arena to look at. (Broadsword Comics/Jim Balent seems to run a collective of web comics too...or it could just be his wife does one and it doesn't have any real connection to the company...I don't know much about it other than it exists).

jimshooter said...

Dear Jacob,

More than you asked for....

I have a high school education. However, during the four-plus years I worked for Mort, he taught me about all aspects of the business: all phases of creative, art production, print production, distribution, marketing, promotion, PR, licensing, merchandising and the business side of publishing. I believe he was "grooming" me to do what he did, which was far more than edit comics.

I worked for a while, on the side, for advertising agencies and learned a great deal there. Especially about doing creative work outside the weird little world of comics.

Once I became Editor in Chief of Marvel, I had to keep learning on the fly or die. I learned a great deal more about all things creative from Stan, of course. I learned a great deal about legal and business matters from the brilliant Alice Donenfeld, our wonderful in house counsel and V.P. of business affairs. I learned from financial V.P. Barry Kaplan. I learned still more about publishing and how to be an executive from Publisher Mike Hobson. I learned some things from President Jim Galton. I learned a lot about licensing because I was involved in many licensing deals, every toy deal, and many trips to Europe working with the international licensing people, mostly because the licensing people found it useful to have someone along who had familiarity with the comics -- they didn't -- and oh, by the way, they liked how I sold the sizzle of Marvel properties with passion. I learned a lot from one of our licensing guys, V.P. Steve Herman, who was terrific, and who actually did have knowledge of and respect for the characters.

Because I worked on so many licensing projects I learned a lot about how the toy business works, how other licensed-products businesses work how merchandising works. I learned more about the media businesses, animation, film and television.

I also learned a lot from J. Clark Smith, one of the finest men alive, about the film business and especially film financing. And other things, like which fork to use.

When I was trying to buy Marvel, I learned a lot about finance, commercial banking, GAAP and M&A from my partner Winston Fowlkes, who, by the way, later served on Marvel's board of directors. I also learned a lot from the good people of Chase Bank, who were our financial advisers.

Before Chase would commit to providing my group debt financing to the tune of $75 million dollars for our attempted acquisition of Marvel, we had to pass muster with Tom Reifenheiser head of Chase's Media and Entertainment division. It was a lunch. I was seated next to Reifenheiser. I was waiting to be grilled. Didn't happen. We chatted casually, it seemed, largely about baseball, occasionally about my work at Marvel and elsewhere. At the end of the lunch, Reifenheiser shook my hand and said, "You can count on our support."

jimshooter said...

On the elevator on the way down, I asked Winston what just happened. He wouldn't answer till we were well outside. He said he was listening to our conversation and that along the way, without realizing it, I'd spoken about editorial, production, licensing...everything. Winston was amused when I was explaining how the animation business worked. Reifenheiser, Winston said, knew more about the animation biz than I ever would. He was just playing dumb and finding out what I knew. "Feeling my calluses," in banker terminology. Legend had it that the exec at Bank of America who loaned Walt Disney the money to build Disneyland did so because Walt had calluses on his fingers where he'd held animators' pens and brushes.

Winston said that Reifenheiser's words were more meaningful than I could possibly know. Not only for the matter at hand, but in the future. And he was right. Years later, when I put together a group to try to buy Marvel again (out of bankruptcy), I called Reifenheiser to ask about financing. He said it again: "You can count on our support."

Paul Levitz, who is creative and scary-smart went to business school. In a way, so did I.

gn6196 said...

The Acerno post by anonymous was probably a prank. Not cool to drag a persons name into a thread like that.

Firestone said...

Sorry for carrying on this conversation if nobody else is interested, but I wanted to reply to something Scav said. There is a reason I chose Walky and not (for example) Mr. Foglio, though I respect Mr. Foglio as an artist and a businessman.

1: Mr. Foglio started in the traditional magazine genre. He only switched to webcomics recently, and, unlike a theoretical new-launched collective, he had a massive, massive backlog of content when he launched his site.

2: Mr. Foglio is a single creator. He (with his lovely and deadly wife) (and his colorists) (and the Winslow) is responsible for the creative direction of his product, of which only one (Girl Genius) of the various projects he's had on his site (What's New With Phil and Dixie, Buck Godot) has been in production at the time it was brought to the web.

3: Walky is a veteran of both webcomics (Let me repeat, 1997.) and of organized communities of webcomic artists, which he has seen flame out and explode in any number of highly entertaining ways. He's seen paywalls and sealed content, advertisement scams and any number of things over the years. Including people wandering off to Rio with the cash, if I remember right. (not actually Rio.)

4: If Mr. Shooter actually had an interest in this, I've already got Walky to agree to share his insight on the matter. I have met Mr. Foglio exactly once, whereupon I suddenly developed a massive allergy and couldn't say a word because my head was about to explode with a horrible sneezing fit.

5: Mr. Foglio had a pre-existing reputation. If I were to pick someone with his method of making money off the internet, I'd use Rich Burlew, of Order of the Stick, who monetizes product in the same way, but without the pre-existing name recognition.

John Hensley said...

Jim, thank you for the background on your business education! (And thanks to Jacob for asking the question). Curious though - along the way were there any business books you found to be particularly helpful?

Paul Chadwick said...

Man, this blog is a trove of history and insight about the biz (and the craft). Almost a shame some of it's down in the comments.

jimshooter said...

Thanks, Paul. I think the discussions that ensue in the comments are better than the stuff I post.

JediJones said...

Jim, the comments from everyone are really good but the best ones are your own! Especially when they end up almost as long as your original article. You make it worth reading all the way down to the bottom of the scrollbar.

Firestone, I appreciate your followup to my brainstorming on web comics. I definitely agree it would be a great attraction to put them up for free and then do all those different "upsells" to make money off of it. I just don't know what kind of audience you'd need to make that economically viable. If it can be done then that's great and definitely the way to go. Obviously if the characters exploded in popularity, licensing alone would make enough money.

I do believe if Jim did a web comic it would have a hard core of supportive fans that would pay for it right away. Don't forget, we are talking about going for an audience where many are paying $4 per print comic in stores. If there were different "tiers" of membership at different prices, a lot of Jim's fans would probably take the highest priced one if it had some kind of perk. Perhaps there could be an option to subscribe to everything on the site vs. paying per issue.

But of course to branch out to a wider audience, some free content would have to be there as an inducement. Maybe after 6 months or so, old "issues" could become free with advertising, but to keep current with the storyline you'd need to buy the new issues.

I'm not familiar with a lot of web comics, the creators you mentioned or what genres they work in, so you definitely know more about what's out there than me. I just think if really strong content is put out there, especially on the web where everything's only a click away, word-of-mouth will spread, people will find it and enough might be willing to pay something to read it. It would have to be something in a user-friendly genre and done very well of course.

Are people willing to pay for newspapers online? I doubt it, since there's plenty of ways to get news for free. But people do pay for things like online games, digital music, digital books, etc. So getting a big enough group to pay for some really good comics doesn't seem totally impossible to me.

The PayPal transaction fees are something like 30 cents plus 3.5%. Which is why you aren't going to make money if you're doing under $3 or so per purchase. That's why I think the "token" system with a $5 or $10 buy-in becomes almost necessary in a pay system. You can charge cheaper prices since you won't get killed on transaction fees.

Byrne and Claremont? Well, we're still talking about Jim Shooter who knows how to create universes, how to write for the comic medium, how to edit and how to get the best out of his creators when he's in charge. There would be a lot of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out what the audience wants. I happen to think that's superhero and sci-fi stories that read as being very grounded in reality and that look bright, colorful and larger-than-life without being cartoonish, just like an '80s Marvel or '90s Valiant. Kind of the opposite of the dark-looking comics filled with cliched plots and cardboard characters we see too often today. Of course once a company got going, there could be more experimental titles too.

I'm also thinking someone could create their own web comics site just as a sort of publisher and then invite different creators to publish under their business model. It might be a worthwhile venture so that creators wouldn't have to worry about managing their own site, things like backing up data, handling payments, etc. Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

Jacob said...

Wow! Thanks for the meaty answer, Jim. The story about your meeting with the fellow from Chase is kind of mind-blowing.

Firestone said...

Jedi, just to hammer this down a little, much of what you have suggested has been tried. Some of it does work, some of it doesn't. The token system tends not to: the coding behind it is annoyingly prohibitive, requiring essentially that you create your own bank and monetary system... and further, that your target audience have access to credit cards. This is not always true. Remember, there is no spinner rack on the internet for people to sample from. But there is a guy on the corner giving your own product away for free. Online video games have tended to be able to pull this trick off. Online comics have, historically, not. Unless there was pornography involved.

As far as 'as a sort of publisher', that's a webcomics collective. Some of them work. Some of them work for a year or two and then explode in fire and suffering and someone's gone to Bora-Bora with the dosh.

JediJones said...

Firestone, thanks for the additional insight. I think good ideas have to be combined with good execution. The web is definitely a place where companies have copied the same ideas that have been done by others before, executed them better, and put their competitors out of business. So I'd be interested in unpacking "why" a certain operation failed before writing off the idea entirely. And of course taking a look at the webcomics collective that did work. Can you recommend any?

Speaking as a programmer for business-related web sites and databases, I really don't think an online token or credit system is very complicated at all. It's not much different than any web store that sometimes gives you store credit on a refund. Handling this "money system" would be a pretty basic function for anyone who does database-driven programming. I would worry more about the business model, the marketing and the content than the programming. Most challenges that come up on the programming side of things can be overcome with an experienced technician on hand.

The point you bring up about people not having a credit card makes a good argument for a "token" payment system. Because that way those people can still mail you a check or money order for any amount of tokens, and those can be added right to their web site account. And it's much easier and quicker to use those built-in tokens to purchase an online issue since you don't need to type in your credit card information every time.

Anti-piracy is as a much a psychological battle as a technological one. Since piracy is almost impossible to stop in most forms of mass media, something has to convince the consumer they'll be happier if they don't do it. Those online games have interactivity with other users which helps create an experience that can't be copied. Perhaps there can be other interactive perks that go with being a member of a comic site? Obviously there can be discussions with other readers and the creators that you wouldn't get if you downloaded a pirated copy of the issue. Maybe some contests or special autographed items sent in the mail.

I agree that free access is definitely the best way to go if it "costs out." But let's not forget about ad-blocking software which means if your site is advertising-based, someone may access it legitimately yet block out all the ads. Eventually it would probably have to come down to trying it out and hoping that not too many people pirate and not too many use ad-blockers.

Chris Arndt said...

Webcomics usually tend to work like this: most content is provided for free on a regular basis with ad support. Consumers come for free regular quality content. If the content is popular enough merchandise is sold, including print editions, collected editions and stuff that is not available as a free comic.

jimshooter said...

Hi Firestone,

Thanks for the "happy birthday!" : )

I tried to have a look at the webcomic you assisted with, but the link got me nowhere.

I'll talk about Diamond later.

Comics, even in my days at Marvel, sold only a fraction of the viewership of any Saturday morning cartoon. Ah, but Spider-Man, for instance, sold its several hundred thousand every month for decades! Figure in "pass-along" readership and the numbers get impressive. Cumulative exposure over many years was huge. Spider-Man's Q-score while I was at Marvel was better than almost any animated property that had only been around a few years.

I'll also address the self-publishing-on-the-web thing later. I'll say this, now: one of my best, most valued supporters online, the creator of <a href="http://www.shooterswork.com>www.shooterswork.com</a>, encouraged me to go the free-on-the-Internet route, i.e. publish work and allow piracy, hoping that doing so would serve, more or less, to generate the groundswell of interest that would give rise to revenue-generating opportunities. God, I hope I'm not misstating his intent.

Anyway, he even offered to put up the money to finance the venture. But, you know, I've lost too much of other peoples' money on various ventures, including a $55,000 investment by of one of my heroes, who supported DEFIANT, NFL Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris. It's one thing to fail an institution that invests, it's another thing to let down an individual, especially someone who wholeheartedly puts his or her trust in you. I don't ever want to do that again.

I worked for two years with an Internet guru on developing a viable web comic. I thought we had come up with something great, and potentially revolutionary, both in terms of content an presentation. He had a series of financial disasters, ran out of money and the project died. However, I own what I created and I have two other contenders interested. We'll see.

jimshooter said...

Dear John H.,

Japan, Inc.

JediJones said...

I'm glad to hear you have some web-based opportunities you're exploring, Jim. I especially like that it would allow you to have complete control and ownership over your properties.

I'm willing to volunteer my time to help you get off the ground if any of my computer expertise would be helpful. I do SQL databases and business-related accounting-style web applications for a living. I'm also a good tester and debugger. Something state-of-the-art and awesome-looking I probably couldn't do at this point, but I know a few web-related tricks and can handle some of the uglier technical details. I'm also willing to give you any opinions and ideas on the big picture design stuff, e.g. user-friendliness and that sort of thing.

jimshooter said...

Thanks. Much appreciated. Answering e-mail is pushing the limits of my "computer expertise." : )