Issue # 15 of a 12-Issue Limited Series and Other Tales to Astonish
Just as I stayed out of Larry Hama’s way on G.I. JOE, and stayed out of Archie Goodwin’s way on EPIC Illustrated and EPIC Comics, I pretty much left Mark Gruenwald alone and let him do his thing on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The series wasn’t what I had envisioned or what I would have done, but that was okay with me.
If an editor or a creator knew the fundamentals, had an approach that seemed reasonable and had the chops to pull it off, well, all righty then. It was never my goal to Shooter-ize everything. I just wanted to make good comics, and I realized there were many ways to go to get to that goal.
(ASIDE: For instance, Editors in Chief before me had always taken personal charge of designing the covers and writing the cover copy. It seemed to me inevitable that a sameness to the covers would creep in after a while. I’m not talking about a consistent “Marvel feel” or even a house style—I mean staleness—“oh, that again” syndrome. Didn’t matter who the EIC was, or how talented. The covers Len Wein created under his own administration as well as those he created as freelance cover editor for Marv, in my opinion, fell into a rut, to a certain extent. Too many covers featuring two big figures duking it out. To much similar copy: “Can you guess the shocking secret of…?” “This one has it all” “Not even your (enchanted hammer or whatever) can stop Name of Villain!” Archie Goodwin’s covers, too, fell into a certain pattern.
As soon as I became reasonably confident that an editor had a clue about cover design, I butted out and left the covers up to him or her. Even if some weren’t as good as I would have liked, or as good as I would have done, better to have more variety, I thought.)
Some of you commented that Gruenwald used too much copy, put in too much backstory, or too much information. Some didn’t like the way he standardized the main figures, or the fact that he had Joe Rubinstein ink them all.
I’d like to point out that the Handbook was a monumental undertaking. Having a standardized format and one inker eased the incredible degree of difficulty somewhat. Also, I think Gruenwald was letting his personal inner fan come out a little, doing it the way he, when he was a reader rather than an editor, would have liked it.
Like I said, not exactly what I would have done…
…but the results were undeniably great. A lot of people apparently shared Gruenwald’s tastes. Sales were terrific and stayed at the same high levels throughout the project.
So good, in fact, that when he wanted to add three issues to his 12-issue Limited Series, how could I deny him? If I had, it would have meant sales and finance people coming to my door with torches and pitchforks. Besides, issue #15 of a 12-issue Limited Series seemed so…Marvel.
One other detail to mention: I originally thought we’d be able to use previously published panels to illustrate the characters using their powers. Nah. In ancient days, Kirby, Ditko, Ayers and others routinely did power-establishing panels—use of the power and its effect in the same panel. Here are a few of my favorites, two from early issues of the Avengers, one from Spider-Man:
|These days, they’d make the above a double page spread and still crop the figures. And shoot it from an indecipherable angle.|
After the ancient guys, you couldn’t find any such panels! Cropped figures. Action in one panel, result in the next. Poor angles. Unclear. Weak. Made me appreciate the Old Masters even more. It also meant that Gruenwald had to have a lot more new art done than originally contemplated, which added to his burden. Which he handled without complaint, except for demanding another cork board in his office.
I think the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was great, and stands forever as a testament to the talent and hard work of one of our best, Mark Gruenwald. He is sorely missed.
I found these items, a memo from Gruenwald about the deluxe edition that is illuminating, and two documents that offer a peek backstage peek:
Note that this copy was made after the manufacturing estimate but before full approval.
While we’re playing show and tell, here are a few other items of interest related to things mentioned or discussed recently:
Finally, I believe this was the actress who played Mary Jane for the Spider-Man wedding.
NEXT: ULTIMATE COMICS – All-New Spider-Man #1 Dissected and Analyzed