Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 4

The Guild and Ditko’s Declaration

Now, I know what you’re thinking….  That Jim Shooter was the champion of Work Made for Hire.


I had been on the creator side of the desk too long before the Editor in Chief gig.  I was the champion of Best Deal Possible for all creators.  If I’d had my way, I would have made Marvel Comic Book Creator Heaven in a heartbeat.

However, I knew that the likelihood of my being able to totally revolutionize and restructure Marvel’s business relationship with its artists and writers during my first few months in office was zero.  I knew that it wasn’t bloody likely that any time soon, or maybe ever, that Marvel and the industry in general would give up Work Made for Hire (W4H) and move to an Independent Contractor status for creators, buying specified rights for specified periods. 

No way, no how.

But, as mentioned elsewhere, I took the EIC job on the condition that I would be allowed to improve the lot of creators.  I had pre-approval to install a royalty system and other incentives.

The immediate goal was to keep Marvel Comics’ comic book publishing operation alive long enough to implement the programs I envisioned.  Survive and evolve.  Revolution wasn’t a viable option.

Here’s why:  At that time, the comics were barely breaking even.  The other half of the company’s publishing operation, Magazine Management, was losing about two-and-a-half million dollars a year publishing its tacky rags.  We comics people suffered, to some extent, because they lost whatever little money we made.

Any sudden, dramatic increase in costs (and therefore losses) and the parent corporation, Cadence Industries, would have simply closed down Marvel, sold its intellectual property and other assets and cut bait.  Just as they did with most of the other Cadence companies—Vitamin Quota, Perfect Subscription, Sachs Theaters and others.

A strike would have killed us.  Or, minimum, we would have gone to a much smaller line produced by only staffers and contract employees.  Lots more reprints.  Leaving lots of freelancers unemployed. 

We were that fragile.  And I knew for a fact that the brass had no faith in the future of the business.

I promised to tell the story of the negotiations and discussions that took place before I accepted the EIC job later, and I will.  But here’s a tidbit.  President Jim Galton told me he intended to get Marvel OUT of the comic book publishing business and into animation, children’s books and other “real” businesses.  My job as EIC would be to keep us afloat long enough for him to accomplish his plan.  I was supposed to end the rampant chaos, stop the hemorrhaging of cash due to late books and missed issues, end the absurd inefficiencies, curtail the waste, streamline the operation and improve the quality of the work.  Essentially, I was to oversee the end of Marvel Comics comic book publishing and make it as painless to the company as possible.

I told him that I thought he was wrong, that the comics could become very successful again, and that we could be “bigger than Disney.”  I said that.  That’s a quote.

Galton was not against royalties and incentives.  As stated previously, he came from trade book publishing and understood such things.  I was welcome to propose such plans.  He also said I could do anything I wanted (!) as long as it didn’t cost a lot, or paid for itself, or, miracle of miracles, made money.   

So, I pressed on.  One thing I did was rewrite the terrifying W4H document Kenyon & Kenyon had provided.  I simplified it, put it in English and made it fit easily on one page.  I ran it by Alice and she ran it by K&K.  Fine they said.  “Yeah, that’s what we meant.”

I passed out the new, less intimidating document.  I also did my best to get people to believe that I could and would make things better if they’d give me a little time.  A few people signed it, since it seemed less onerous (though the substance was the same).  Among the first to sign was Bill Mantlo.  A few others trusted what I was telling them and signed. 

Some stringers signed, hoping, I guess, that if the regulars didn’t sign, eventually work would open up for them.

The question came up a lot, “Is this ‘sign it or else?'”  The answer was yes.  I knew that at some point, I’d be given a cut-off date.  That answer went over like a death threat. 

I asked all staff people and the contract employees to sign the document.  It was academic for the contract guys since their employment contracts already specified W4H, but I thought it might be good psychology.  Marv was the first to sign.  Then Colan, John Buscema, Mike Esposito….  Eventually they all did, except for Archie.  Archie was the lone hold-out.

During the late winter and spring the Guild kept growing.  Even guys who had signed the W4H joined thinking, and rightly so, that an overall agreement between Marvel and the Guild would supersede the W4H.


During that time Neal Adams re-instituted First Fridays.  There had been a tradition (before my time) of parties or social gatherings of comics people on the first Friday of every month.  Neal started that up again and hosted.  He had a big, beautiful place on the East Side.

I was invited along with everyone else. 

Though Neal was the “union leader” and I represented the management, we never had a harsh word between us.  We were friends, remained friends throughout the tribulations and are still friends.

I meant every word I wrote for his Hall of Fame intro. 

The parties were great.  The only downside was that Neal would buttonhole me sometimes and expound upon the evils of W4H.  I don’t think he ever realized it, but he was preaching to the choir.  Albeit an off-key baritone who was busy trying to keep the church from burning down instead of singing.  I tried to get him to understand that I planned to make things better, if I only had time. 

Neal meant absolutely no harm.  Neal’s intentions were strictly noble.  Neal was fighting the good fight for the creators.

The thing was that Neal was grossly misinformed about the financial health of the company.  He thought we were doing much better than we were, and that changing to an Independent Contractor system was a practical choice we could make.  More on that later.  First….

A LITTLE SIDE STORY:  One day, I’m sitting at my desk working on whatever disaster was currently on the docket when Neal called.  He said he was filming a movie and he wanted me to be in it.  I politely declined on the grounds that I had no time.  Neal insisted.  He had a part for which I was perfect.  It was only one scene.  It wouldn’t take long.  Etc.


So, late that evening, I showed up at the place Neal was filming, downtown somewhere.  Neal explained the part.  I was to look big and mean and scary and menacing.  I think I had a three-word line.  The reason I was perfect for the part was that I am freakishly tall and I look big and mean and scary and menacing.

Just before the shoot started, Neal walked over to me and handed me a WORK MADE FOR HIRE DOCUMENT!  I started laughing.  “You, Neal Adams, are handing me, Jim Shooter, a WORK FOR HIRE DOCUMENT?”

Neal didn’t see the irony.  He started explaining that this was his movie and he needed to protect his rights, and….”

I said “No problem, Neal,” and signed. 

The movie was called Nannaz.  

In late spring or early summer, things were coming to a head.  Neal called a meeting of Guild members and interested parties at Continuity, his studio.  He had one room that was large enough to accommodate a lot of people.  It was full, SRO.  I’m not good at estimating crowds, but it seemed that there must be well over a hundred people.  I’ve heard people bandy around numbers like 300.  Dunno. 

Neal insisted that I attend.

I wasn’t comfortable with that.  I was afraid people wouldn’t speak as freely if Marvel management was represented.  As soon as Neal called the meeting to order, I spoke up.  I proposed to leave the room and let them take a vote.  If so much as ONE PERSON objected to my being there, I would leave.

Neal simply overruled me.  Told me to stay.  Sit.  He should have at least thrown me a Milkbone.

P.S.  Paul Levitz was also present.

ASIDE:  Apropos of not much, but it struck me sitting there that none of the members of the Comic Book Creators Guild except Chris Claremont actually made their living working in comics.  Neal didn’t.  Englehart had abandoned comics to write prose.  The others didn’t.  For whatever that’s worth….

The meeting began.  Neal and others talked about how things would work with the Guild representing the creators, after the strike, if necessary.  Neal had in mind penciling rates of $800 a page, inking, writing and coloring rates also in the multi-hundreds of dollars a page, letterers were to get $80 a page, I think.  Those rates, plus participations.  When the companies had jobs for creators, they would make requests to the Guild and the GUILD WOULD CHOOSE CREATORS FOR THE ASSIGNMENTS.


Page rates at that time were under $100 for all creative disciplines.  For example, writers near the top of the scale got around $20 a page.  No participations, no benefits.

Neal derived those rates by taking ancient rates and ramping them up in concordance with inflation; that and other factors.

Paul and I both said that there was no way that the companies could afford such rates.  Neal had figures, acquired I don’t know where, that indicated that Marvel and DC were making huge profits.  Paul and I argued.  Nobody cared what we said.

I looked around the room and saw lots of young guys and some marginal guys, probably imagining how sweet it was going to be getting many hundreds of dollars a page.  It might have been a little harsh, but I pointed out that if Marvel COULD pay $800 a page for pencils, I’d be on the phone to Leonard Starr and we’d certainly offer Neal work, but a lot of young guys wouldn’t make the cut.

Wrangling ensued.

A couple of things happened that impacted the meeting.

First, Neal brought up the notion that the Guild would see to it that justice was done for founding father creators who had built Marvel and DC—restitution, back royalties, participations….  In particular, he cited Steve Ditko, who was present, and told how the Guild would champion his cause and make Marvel set right the unjust way it had treated him.

Steve spoke up.  I will make no attempt to quote him here, except for one expression he used.  If my characterization of what he said is inaccurate, then I apologize and stand ready to be corrected by Steve, if he so chooses.

Steve said that he was an adult when he did his work for Marvel in the sixties, that he knew what he was doing, that he understood the way things were done at the time and he accepted the terms.  He agreed to the deal, or the standard terms that were in place then and he would not renege.  If Marvel chose to be generous, fine.  But he would stand by the choices he made.  And, here comes the quote, he wasn’t going to let the Guild use him as a “poster child.”

That quieted things down a bit.

The subject of artwork return came up.  Neal expressed his philosophy—and again, if I’m mischaracterizing this I stand ready to be whacked on the snout with a rolled up newspaper, if Neal so chooses.  Neal’s position was that the penciler is the artist and the inker is an “assistant.”  The pages would be returned to the penciler, and then the inker might or might not receive pages, depending on whether or not the penciler made an individual agreement with him or her.

That rankled the inkers in the crowd.  As I recall, some walked out.

The meeting eventually wound down.  I left not knowing what to think.

Not long thereafter, the famous DC Implosion took place.  DC cancelled, what, 40% of their line on the same day.  Somebody have the bona fide stats?  Anyway, they cancelled a lot of books all at once and eliminated a TON of creator work.

When I arrived at the office the next day, around seven AM as usual, there was already a line at the outer door of creators who wanted to sign the Marvel W4H.  Many were suddenly unemployed DC people, hoping to get work at Marvel, hoping perhaps to take the places of Marvel W4H holdouts.  And there were LOTS of Marvel people who were suddenly ready to sign to prevent their jobs from being given to the DC guys.

I accepted and counter-signed W4H’s all day.  I believe that’s when Tom DeFalco first showed up, too.

Not too much later, the Guild faded away.

True to my word, I instituted many reforms and made things better for the creators, but that a tale for later. 

TOMORROW:  Something groovy but easier.  I’m tired.  And I have a bunch of make-a-living stuff that I have to do or die.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 3

Apocalypse Now

On my first official day as Editor in Chief, Tuesday, January 3rd, 1978, I arrived at the office extra early. Normal for me was between seven and eight AM. I think I was in my chair behind my desk at five.  And I had a one hour commute in those days.

I had worked all weekend editing scripts and plots and still had more to go. There wasn’t anyone to replace me as associate editor, so for the time being, I had to do my old job as well as my new one. 

Shortly after nine, my phone rang. The caller identified herself as Alice Donenfeld, our in-house counsel and V.P. of Business Affairs.  I hadn’t had much to do with the brass upstairs previously, so I was aware only from the interoffice phone list that there was such a person.

Alice confirmed that she had the right extension, that she was talking to the EIC, and said, “What have you done about the Copyright Law of 1976?”

Me:  “What?”

Alice:  “The Copyright Law of 1976. It went into effect January first (of 1978). It has new rules for work-for-hire.  We need paperwork from every single writer and artist. Don’t tell me you haven’t done anything about this.”

Me:  “I’ve been Editor in Chief for fifteen minutes. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I soon found out.

All creative work at Marvel Comics was done work-for-hire, or more accurately, as referenced in the Copyright Law, “work made for hire.” Most people just say work-for-hire, abbreviated “W4H.” There were a very few exceptions to W4H before 1978. 

Before 1978, almost work done in the domestic comic book industry was done W4H, again with rare exceptions.

The new law didn’t really change work-for-hire status significantly except that it clarified some points and required that in order for a creative work to be considered W4H, the person doing the job had to agree to that in writing in advance

The new copyright law had been enacted in 1976, but took effect in 1978, giving publishers TWO YEARS to prepare. Marvel, of course, had done NOTHING. 

By contrast, DC had already incorporated W4H language into their vouchers and had entered seamlessly into the Brave New World of the 1976 law with, as Uncle Scrooge would say, “no fuss, no muss and no rough stuff.” How’s that for mixing Huxley and Barks? And DC?

Oh, and by the way, Alice was fairly new at Marvel, too. It wasn’t as if she’d let this slide and suddenly sprung it on me at the last minute.


Marvel Comics was in chaos. We had books in house that should have gone to the separators six months earlier and been on sale four months earlier. EVERYTHING was late. We had disorganization, major misunderstandings, tumult and near-rebellions—and that was just in the bullpen. We had voucher fraud and the fallout from same. Paranoia ran rampant among freelancers. We had gaping holes in the editorial staff. The books, by and large, sucked. I got letters and calls frequently from Roy, none of them of the chirpy, happy variety. Marv was deeply suspicious of me. Archie gave me the cold shoulder. 

We also had the worst month of weather in history, I think—a record number of below zero days in New York, floods in the Midwest, killer frosts in Florida, mudslides on the West Coast, six feet of snow in Boston and twelve feet in Buffalo. Single-digit newsstand sales figures. It’s hard to visit your local drugstore and pick up your comics if you’re buried in snow, under water or out late every night firing up the smudge pots trying to save the oranges. The entire magazine industry—make that the entire publishing industry—was suffering.

That wasn’t nearly the end of the trouble, but you get the drift.

All that, and they just had to go and change the copyright law on me. Yes, it was done two years earlier, but….

It was the last thing I needed. 

We kept publishing, or trying to, but every job that was done without an agreement with the creators was potentially in dispute, ownership-wise.

By the way, that concern didn’t extend to the contract creators’ work. Because our contracts were, in fact, employment agreements, and those creators were therefore on staff though they didn’t work in the office, their work was all automatically W4H. So, whatever was done by the Buscemas, Roy, Marv, Kirby, Sinnott, Esposito, Archie, Gene Colan and many others was covered. That still left a lot of exposure. 

I spent the first month madly rushing to the hottest fire every day. Somewhere during that time, Alice arranged for me to take a three-day seminar on Copyright Law so I’d understand the issues better. As if I had three days to spare. But I did it, took my work home with me, stayed up late and slept little. 

Finally, our outside counsel, Kenyon, Kenyon, Riley, Carr & Odom, came up with a W4H document which had provisions in it that covered the “exposed” work. It was three or four pages long. It was full of arcane legalese and words of art.  More “Whereas/Now, therefore,” “party of the first/second part,” irrevocable this and in perpetuity that than I had ever seen in one place.

I was instructed to have EVERYONE sign them.

They were delivered to me at the end of a particularly bad day. Though it was after five, there were a lot of creators around the office for some reason. I dutifully started passing the documents out. 

At a glance, everyone was appalled at the thing. Upset. Angry. And loudly so. And of course, the copyright law wasn’t to blame, Marvel Comics wasn’t to blame, it was MY fault. I was the reason they were faced with this terrifying and evil document. As I said to Alice when all this started, “What?”

Some tore the documents up and threw them on the floor. Some refused to take a copy. A few must have left the building intact, because…

…the next morning, when I came to work, the outside of 575 Madison was papered with copies of the document. The elevator lobby was papered…the elevators…the walls of the sixth floor lobby…the doors. And on each of those copies, in big red letters were the words “SIGN THIS DOCUMENT AND YOU’RE SIGNING YOUR LIFE AWAY.” That, and an invitation to join the COMIC BOOK CREATORS GUILD.

Neal Adams had started a guild. I heard that day that they were talking about going on strike against Marvel. Just Marvel. DC’s W4H, apparently was okay, or maybe the plan was to pick us off one at a time.

That was a discouraging moment, maybe the most discouraging moment I’d faced.

But not for long. Things got worse.

NEXT:  The Guild, and Steve Ditko’s Declaration

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ten More Comics’ Creators’ Quips and Quotes

1.  Julius Schwartz explaining his self-inflicted nickname:  “They call me ‘B.O. Schwartz.’  B.O.  for ‘Be Original.”

2.  Artist Paris Cullens one late night at VALIANT when we were ordering burgers, regarding his life-long love affair with cheese:  “I’d eat a baby’s butt if it had cheese on it.”

3. Marvel Production Manager Danny Crespi to peripatetic production staffer John “Squid” Morelli:  “Squid-o, I’m going to glue you to your chair.”

4.  Big poster on Larry Hama’s door:  “DOGMA IS.”

5.  Marvel Photostat Operator and comedic genius Stu Schwartzberg:  “I’m ripping the company off.  Every time someone asks for a 90% stat I give them an 89% stat and pocket the difference.”

6.  Marvel Publisher Mike Hobson, when things got out of hand (every day):  “For the love of God, man, throw me a rope!”

I have often borrowed that line….

7.  Exasperated Marvel Executive Vice President Joe Calamari to me when my wars with upper management were at their hottest, regarding their complete ignorance of the comics business they owned:  “We can’t fire you!  You’re the only one who could tell us who could replace you!” 

Apparently, eventually, they thought they had it figured out.

8.  Jim Starlin, just before driving his snowmobile off of a 200 foot vertical cliff.  “Want to hear my death laugh?” 

All right, maybe it was 50 feet.  Seemed like 200 when I followed him over the edge on MY snowmobile.  Had to.  Only he knew the way home.  P.S. We both survived.  The base of the cliff curved outward like one of those deadfall rides at the amusement park.  P.P.S.  Starlin’s “death laugh” was blood-chilling. 

9.  A DC staffer in an interview, about, among other things, how the House of Ideas was beating the pants off of DC (or, as writer Mike Barr used to call it, “the House of Tedium”):  “Jim Shooter plays hardball.”

Someone at Marvel had a brass plaque made for me with that quote on it.  I hung it on my office door.

10.  The worst advice Stan Lee ever gave me:  “Work with the devil himself if he has talent.”

Nah.  I learned that devils, no matter how talented, are never worth it.  They have a corrosive effect.  They ultimately hurt the team.  And there are plenty of people out there just as talented who aren’t spewing poison.

Gene Colan

On Friday, I found out that Gene Colan had passed away. 

Gene was a great artist and a fine man.  He will ever remain an honored and revered giant of our industry.  I had the privilege once of visiting his home and seeing some of the non-comics art and illustrations he created hanging here and there.  Beautiful.  Masterful.  Breathtaking.  Our little business is far poorer for his absence and the wide world has lost far more than it will ever know. 


Please stop by again later today for another post.  The Origin series will continue tomorrow.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Answer to a Comment

JayJay here. Jim wrote the following in response to a comment from yesterday, but I wanted to post it here since it applies to more than just that specific comment.

Jeff wrote:
"For over 30 years, I have read numerous "Jim Shooter screwed me" stories in various interviews from, usually, The Comics Journal, plus other fanzines of the day..."

Jim answered:
"...numerous "Jim Shooter screwed me" stories....

I've read a few such interviews and been told about others. I'm always interested in exactly what constituted the screwing. Did I steal their money? Sleep with their wives? Give their kids drugs?  What was the crime?

Other than a few over-the-top examples, notably the Doug Moench interview in which he accused me of being responsible for Gene Day's death, as far as I can tell, these are generally the crimes alleged:

     1)  I gave the creator in question direction. That is, I told him or her what to do, or refused to allow something he or she wanted to do.

     2)  I wasn't warm and fuzzy enough. I didn't sugar coat things enough. I was "mean."

Well, it was my job to run Marvel's comics publishing operation. I was making decisions that were mine to make. I was giving direction that I was empowered to give. I was the boss. What part of the word "boss" was mysterious to them, I don't know.

I believed that I was dealing with adults and professionals. I was as nice as I could be. I was very polite the first few hundred times I explained what needed to be done, or what could not be done. At some point you have to say "do it," or "don't do it" and make it stick.

I heard that after I left Marvel, Chris Claremont threw a "Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead" party. I don't know if that's true, but Chris and I did have our disagreements along the way. A couple years later, I ran into Chris Claremont at the San Diego Con. He approached me to say hi, and shook my hand. My first instinct was to wonder if he was armed....

We talked. This was shortly after he's been booted off the X-Men. The book he'd written every issue of for, what, seventeen years?  The franchise he built. Chris said, words to the effect that although we'd had our disagreements, they were always about the stories and the characters -- and isn't that what writers and editors should be arguing about? He said, and this is a quote or close: "You never took my book away from me."

Chris later worked with me for a little while at DEFIANT before that ship sank.

Once, in court, in my presence, John Byrne testified on the stand that he had made over ten million dollars working at Marvel. Guess I screwed him good.

I refused to have double standards. No situations like: Artist "A" must redraw the inappropriate scene, but superstar artist "B" is allowed to get away with a similar misrepresentation of a character. It was my job to protect those characters, protect those franchises. The characters and the books came before any superstar and his or her ego.

Tom Brady still does two-a-days. Albert Pujols takes batting practice. Duane Wade studies film.  All are expected to perform with rare excellence, and they do. That's why they get paid more.

I felt that every job, every time deserved the creator's best effort. There were a number of creators who were so good that with half an effort, their work was still better than most. I would not settle for that. It's hacking, albeit at a high level. I demanded that they perform with rare excellence. That's why they got paid more.

I suspect those few didn't like me much then, and probably still don't.

Most superstars gave their best efforts always. I don't think Bill Sienkiewicz, Walt, Weezie, Michael Golden, Terry Austin, many others -- you can probably make the list better than I can -- could ever give less than their best. Even if the money were half as much. Even if there was no money. They idled at great.

Funny, they seemed to get along with me then and still do.

The truth is I allowed a great deal of creative freedom. Some took advantage of that and did great work. Others just tried to take advantage.

If I had it to do all over again, probably the same people would be denouncing me. I'm okay with that.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 2

The Plotting Thickens the Plot

First, some backfill: 

I mentioned that, in a comic book I wrote that Stan went over with me, he asked, “What idiot wrote this line?”  It was an issue of Ghost Rider.  Gerry Conway plotted it, was supposed to write the dialogue, failed to deliver, and so Archie asked me to write the dialogue.  I wrote it literally overnight.

When I say overnight, I mean it.  Worked all day at the office.  Worked late.  Grabbed some food quick.  Arrived home to my little apartment in Queens around 9 PM.  Stayed up all night writing dialogue, no sleep.  Showered, shaved, dressed and subway-ed it to work on time.  Delivered the item to John Verpoorten.  Worked all day….

That issue was probably crap, but, hey, it was kind of a dumb story to begin with.  I think the villain was the “Water Wizard.”  Yeesh.  There’s only so much one can do with the dialogue to redeem a story with the Water Wizard in it.

I don’t remember exactly which line Stan found so banal.  It was some boilerplate line—“They went that-a-way,” or “Look! A monster!” or something equally uninspired.  A line written at 4 AM.

Hey, at least when Mantlo cranked a script out overnight, he had me backstopping him.  I had nobody.

I said there were two “bumps in the road” regarding the plots for the Spider-Man syndicated strip.  One was getting the art to match up better with the intent of the plots (and Stan’s wishes).  I failed to mention the second. 

The second bump was that, at first, in my notes to the layouts, I sometimes roughed in some dialogue.  Sometimes a little dialogue made the intent of the picture clearer in fewer words than a description of what the character was feeling or thinking. 

Stan made it very clear that he wanted NO DIALOGUE SUGGESTIONS.  It’s one thing to have a plot assistant, but every word that appeared in print HAD TO BE HIS.  If I suggested dialogue, and it was good dialogue, Stan then felt he had to come up with another way to say the same thing, which was harder than just writing it himself in the first place.  He told me “no dialogue” as emphatically as he ever told me anything.

Claremont was fussy about his words like that too.  So was Goodwin.  Me too.

About John Romita the Elder.  We might not have been on the same page at first regarding the art or the storytelling in the strip, but that was it, problem-wise.  John is one of the all-time greats.  His work on the strip was magnificent.  Once he understood that Stan actually wanted him to draw more or less what the tall, skinny kid had laid out, that it wasn’t just a suggestion, we rocked and rolled.  John’s still a choirboy, but man, can that choirboy draw.  And there’s more sex appeal in one of John’s close ups of Mary Jane than most artists could achieve with a page full of scanty lingerie shots.  Nonetheless, I wanted my Doris Day shots.  So did Stan.

P.S.  My layouts were far from perfect.  Stan would sometimes scribble changes to shots right on top of what I’d drawn.  But, it’s easier to make correx than start from scratch, sometimes.  Anyway, once communications were established we worked together smoothly, like a well-oiled 1911 Studebaker.

P.P.S.  Total speculation here, I never asked John about this, but in retrospect, I think that maybe John was bringing some of his romance comics sensibilities to the strip, whereas I was thinking action-adventure.  Whatever.  Stan wanted both, I believe.  Anyway, we found a happy place in the middle somewhere and did okay, I think. 

One other thing, in case I haven’t made it clear:  Though I couldn’t effectively edit 45 comics a month, I gave it a hell of a try.  Remember, before me, pretty much all the writers were de facto writer-editors.  As I think I have described elsewhere, not long before I arrived, plots, scripts artwork and lettering were seldom seen by anyone in the office till the books were finished, fait accompli.  It was total anarchy. 

Once I was there, everything, or nearly everything crossed my desk at every stage.  I checked everything and tried to improve what I could.  I spent the most time on the worst of the stuff, trying to shore up the bottom.

So.  Creators who had no one checking anything before suddenly had me calling them up sometimes requesting changes to a plot, corrections on dialogue, art corrections, etc.  Some of them, no, all of them were unhappy, no, snarling mad about that.  Before, there was total anarchy—they would ennoble it by calling it “freedom”—and suddenly, there wasn’t.  Not completely, anyway. 

I always checked with the creators about things that I thought were wrong, except as noted below.  I wanted to give them that courtesy, allow them to defend what they’d done, if we disagreed, and, I hoped, get them to do the re-working.  A few conscientious souls would grumble but make the adjustments.  Some simply said, “You do it.”  They couldn’t be bothered.  Some started shouting obscenities at me.  I stopped calling those guys and just did whatever needed to be done.

The good thing about anarchy, or freedom, if you wish, is that a few, brilliant creators will rise to the opportunity and do wonderful things.  Them, I LEFT ALONE.  I wasn’t editing to make things my way, or to stifle anyone, or to interfere in any way with talented people doing outstanding work.  Lord knows, when I read a script that didn’t need a mark put on it, I was thrilled.  More sleep that night.

I can’t think of a single time when I asked for changes because of style, personal preferences or artistic philosophy. 

I worried only about mistakes, problems, crass stupidities, etc.

Please get that straight.  This wasn’t about me oppressing the best and brightest creators.  It was about me wanting incomprehensible art, writing devoid of discoverable meaning, story glitches, continuity mistakes, character misrepresentations, spelling errors and slovenly work fixed.

That’s what I was hired by Marv to do.

P.S.  Chris Claremont briefly had a similar job before me, working for Marv, but he had the good sense to acquire some writing work and go freelance soonest.  Before everybody started hating him.

Like many hated me.  The anarchy-ender is never popular with the anarchists.  And the outstanding creators who did brilliant things never really noticed that I did nothing except stay out of their way.


To me, the comics were the important things.  Damn the torpedoes.     


My plotting the strip meant that Stan and I spent a lot of time together.

Sometime in or around November, 1977 Stan took me to lunch, ostensibly to talk about the strip. 

Stan always used to have Dubonnet on the rocks before lunch.  My beverage of choice at the time was grapefruit juice.  But I digress.

Stan had apparently discussed the state of the comics with new President Jim Galton, who had replaced Al Landau.  They felt a change was necessary.  Not getting rid of Archie, which would be insane, but letting me take on more of the administrative part of the editorial process.

I thought that was a bad idea.  I thought Archie would never go for anything like that.  Stan said they planned to offer Archie more money and a promotion to V.P.  Put him in charge of “special projects.”  Whatever that was.  Having Special Projects in your title always sounds like “kicked to the curb” to me.

Anyway, Stan and Galton made Archie some kind of offer in late November or early December.  Archie turned them down.  It had the stink of being “kicked upstairs” to it.  He preferred leaving and, like every other EIC before him, becoming a writer-editor.

After some negotiations, I agreed to become the new Editor in Chief.  The negotiations are a tale unto themselves.  I’ll save that for later.  But, finally, we agreed.  I would take over on the first working day of January, 1978.

Stan thought it best to wait till the end of December before making any announcement.  When that announcement finally came, it was…awkward?  Worse than that.  Disastrously awkward?  Ugly awkward?  Well, you’ll see.

Things you should know if you’ve followed along this far and still give a hoot:

I had never complained to Stan about the problems with the comics.  They just became obvious.  But I didn’t keep my thoughts on the subject secret from the guys in the editorial office or the bullpen.  In those days, after work, many of us would hang out together.  Marv, Len, Roger Stern, other editorial guys and freelancers.  After hours, even DC guys would show up at Marvel’s offices, since they weren’t allowed to hang out after work at DC.  Bunches of us often went out together to the local Brew Burger or other suitably cheap-but-good food place.  We played poker Friday nights, usually at the huge apartment Paul Levitz shared with Marty Pasko down on Mercer Street.  And, boy, do I have some stories from those poker games for you later.  We were all friends, or at least, reasonably friendly.  We talked.  A lot.

Marv, Len, Roger and I all lived in out in Queens and often took the same train going home, the E or the F.  Roger got off in Forest Hills, Len and Marv a bit farther out and I went all the way to the end of the line, 179th Street, the stop for Queens Village.  So, we had extra time to talk.  I wasn’t shy about my opinion of the comics, that a lot of them weren’t very good.  That all of them were late.  And that I wasn’t fond of the concept of writer-editors.  I felt that you needed a backstop no matter who you were or how good you were.  Marv and Len, needless to say, disagreed.

(ASIDE, APROPOS OF NOTHING:  One time on the F train, we had a conductor who announced each stop over the PA in unusual fashion.  He said “F-f-f-f-ith AVENUE.”  And, “L-l-l-l-EXington.”  After which Marv loudly started humming the Tonight Show theme music:  “DAAA-da-da…DA-da-da-da….”  The whole car cracked up.

Len wore a winter coat with enormous pockets and plenty of them.  Somebody needed a pair of scissors.  Len reached in a pocket and pulled out a pair of scissors.  Then we started wondering about what else those pockets might contain.  We started calling out items.  Screwdriver?  Sure.  Bottle opener?  Uh-huh.  Aspirin?  Yep.  One by one Len produced whatever was named.  Roger asked, “Big Mac?”  No.  Sadly, all Len had was a regular cheeseburger.)  

A couple of words about the institution of Writer-Editors:  Bad idea.

More on that later.

Regarding Marv and Len:

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

All that said, he has some problems with the language.  He mangles grammar.  He misuses words.  Once he used “noisome” as if it meant loud.  It was in a caption.  One can excuse many things in dialogue as the mistakes of the character’s making, but the captions ought to be right.  Marv argued that most people think noisome means loud, and it went to press that way.

When not at his best, Marv’s spontaneity becomes lack of planning and confusion.  Sparkling dialogue becomes glib patter headed nowhere.   

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

Len is a brilliant writer.  Yes, he has created things, some out of whole cloth, but he’s more deliberate about it than Marv, and more often he springboards off of established conceits.  Witness his great run on Swamp Thing.  Marv is a machine gun, albeit sometimes un-aimed.  Len is a sniper with one hell of a scope on his M39. 

Len is a linguistic technician of the first water.  He ponders things like the rhythm of each phrase, the way the words look (!), and other nuances that would make my head explode.  He is also a master of the form.  He is wise in the ways of everything that goes on in the panels and everything that goes on in the readers’ heads in between.  He can craft compelling scenes and compose dialogue with poetic power and subtlety. 

He can also give you a lot of “Hulk smash” scenes in which the shock waves bowl over all the soldiers.  Again.  For the thousandth time.  Which is what he thinks the “kids in Fudge, Nebraska” want to see.
So.  My opinion was and is that each of them would benefit from a good editor.  Writer-editors.  Feh. 

Roy, Gerry and Archie?  I’ll get to them later.  Uh-oh.

The company had no Christmas party that year, 1977.  At the last minute, someone arranged for any editorial and production people so inclined to gather at a local tavern.  It was Friday, December 23rd.  We even invited Stan.  He had a prior commitment, but he said he’d try to stop by.

It was a nice joint and we had a room to ourselves, just off the main dining room.  The turnout was surprisingly good.  Most of the comics staff, many freelancers.  And a good time was had by all.  For a while.

Then Stan came in with his wife Joan, fresh from some upscale soiree, judging from the way they were dressed.

Stan decided it would be a good time to make the announcement.  And he did.

There was dead silence.  Archie and his wife Ann were shooting straight razors at me from their eyes.  I believe that Archie thought I had thrown him under the M57 Crosstown.

Everyone else seemed to be thinking: “HIM?  HE’S in charge now?  Uh-oh.”  Fear and loathing permeated the joint.

Stan didn’t seem to notice.  People finally started talking again.  Or muttering.  Mostly curses.

The old guys each came up to me, congratulated me and wished me well.  Sincerely, I think.  Danny Crespi, John Tartaglione, Morrie Kuramoto, a few others.  Newly appointed Production Manager Lenny Grow also shook my hand and wished me well.

Later, Lenny and I, and I think one other person stopped at some other place and chatted for a while.

I got home in the wee hours.

At seven AM the phone rang.  I said “Hello.”  The voice on the other end said, “What are you going to do?”  It was Marv, I recognized the growl.  I told him I planned to sleep for another two hours. 

He wanted to know right then and there what my intentions were, especially regarding the writer-editor situation.  I had no plans at that point, just my general philosophy.  I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do, or what I would be able to do, what I’d be allowed to do.  I asked him to withhold judgment, to give me a chance.  After I while I convinced him to get off the phone, at least.

More calls started coming.  Lots of them.  I ignored them at first, then unplugged the phone.

The next week, a short week, the office was like a pressure cooker about to blow its top.  I kept my head down, nose in my work.  People avoided me.  That was fine by me.

Then, on Tuesday, January 3rd, my first day as EIC, things got really bad.

NEXT:  Apocalypse Now

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 1

This part of the story hasn’t ever been told. 

I was hired by Editor in Chief Marv Wolfman in December of 1975.  My first day on the job as “associate editor” was the first working day of the new year, Monday, January 5, 1976.

Marv lasted only three more months or so before leaving to become a contract writer-editor.  Marv said he quit.  President Jim Galton later told me otherwise.  But, be that as it may, Marv exited gracefully, or was allowed to.

The plan was for Roy to return as EIC.  At one point, we spoke.  Where I come from, it is proper that when a new boss comes in, the assistant or assistants offer their resignations.  Why?  Because a new boss is likely to want to bring in his own assistants, and would rather not have to go through a messy process of firing people or tolerating people he or she doesn’t want.  I told Roy I’d leave voluntarily if he preferred, and that if that was the case, I’d appreciate being given freelance work.  Roy said, no, I could I stay.  He told me, however, that there were a number of people who had to go, and a few he intended to bring back.  He named names.  I won’t.

At the last minute, literally, Roy changed his mind, and decided to remain a contract writer-editor.  I think that was around the time he decided to move to California.  Maybe that had something to do with it.  Not sure.

Marv seemed excited.  He reasoned that they’d probably ask him to stay.  And since it was sort of an emergency situation, that he could probably demand more money.

But, no.  Apparently, the first time Roy was Editor in Chief, Stan had promised Gerry Conway the Editor in Chief job if Roy ever left.  Roy’s first EIC stint ended in 1974, but Len Wein, not Gerry succeeded him.  According to Gerry, Marv and Len had lobbied against his being hired and prevailed.  Yes, I know that’s all hearsay, but he said it and I heard it.

Gerry quit at DC, where he’d been working since the snub years ago, and suddenly was Marvel EIC.  Much to the chagrin of Marv, Len and their buddies.

Gerry lasted as EIC for only a few stormy weeks.  Then he left to become a writer-editor.

Archie Goodwin, who had been the editor of the black and white magazines, was promoted to EIC replacing Gerry.

(ASIDE:  Gerry’s writing contract called for eight books a month!  To provide him with enough work, titles were taken away from several other writers.  They were outraged, and gathered in the office to confront Stan and protest.  Gerry got wind of this and somehow talked his way into JOINING their protest.  He went in to see Stan with them, arm in arm.  I know Mantlo and Claremont were in that group.  Who else?  There were several others.  Moench?  I don’t know.  Chris would probably remember.  Anyway, the net result was that Stan and Archie persuaded then-president Al Landau to add enough titles to make up for the work the protesters, excluding Gerry, had lost.  Remember the Marvel Classics?  That was the make-work created to keep Claremont, Moench, et al busy.)

Archie Goodwin lasted 19 months.

Shortly before Archie started, Stan had decided he wanted to be more involved with the comics again.  He had been spending most of his time upstairs on the ninth floor, home to the non-comics people and big shots, where he contributed his advice and expertise to the magazines the company published under the Magazine Management imprint (not Marvel).  MM published soap opera rags, puzzle books and what used to be called in the trade “men’s sweat magazines.”  These mostly contained somewhat lurid adventure stories like “I Was the Love Slave of the Nazi Prison Camp,” with a cover photo of some woman with her blouse partially torn being menaced by an evil guy in a WWII German uniform.  Occasionally, to save the cost of paying models, women around the office posed (clothed) for photos to illustrate scenes of various stories.  I was told that even the magnificent Marie Severin once had a picture taken for such a purpose.

If the magazines published by MM sound cheesy, well, you got that right.

ASIDE:  Early in his career, Mario Puzo worked upstairs on the magazines.  That was before my time, but I think I have an ancient Marvel phone extension list with his name on it.  If I ever come across it, I’ll show you.

Anyway, Stan started showing up regularly at his sixth floor office.  As stated previously, in another post, Stan was plenty busy being the resident genius and face of Marvel whether he was in his ninth floor office or downstairs with us, but once he settled in on the comics floor, he tried to help.

“Make-readies” used to come in from World Color Press once a week.  They were the first copies of the books off the presses, hand stapled and sent express to Marvel so we could see how bad the books were as soon as possible, I suppose.  At that stage, nothing could be changed.

Stan got in the habit of reading the make-readies and marking them up.  Then, he’d ask Archie to come to his office, flip through the books one by one and show Archie all the mistakes, problems, crass stupidities, etc.

Archie a) knew damn well what was wrong with the books.  There was little about comics he didn’t know.  And, b) Archie didn’t have time to sit there and listen to what he already knew.

So, he sicced Stan on me.  He told Stan, correctly, that I was the one who actually did the hands-on editing of the books and that Stan should go over them with me.

So, once a week, I was called to Stan’s office.  Once a week, Stan would go through that week’s batch of books panel by panel with me, pointing out item by item what train wrecks most of them were.

Stan would say things like, “What’s going on here?  Don’t let them do these incomprehensible shots.  We need clear storytelling.”  “Is this the same room as last panel, or did we cut to Mars?”  “Where did this guy come from?  You have to show entrances and exits, or at least mention  them.”  “Pointers should be straight, and aimed at the speaker’s mouth.”  “This coloring is mud.  Tell them to leave white space.”  “This story makes no sense.”  “What idiot wrote this line?”  I’ll never forget that one.  In that particular case, the idiot was me.

I learned a few things from those sessions, mostly things Stan wanted done differently than what I was taught at DC.  For instance, DC preferred balloons “surrounded by color,” that is, off the borders.  Stan wanted balloons butted to the borders to clear more space for the art.  But, I already knew most of what Stan was preaching.  I might not have been as wise in the ways of comics as Archie, but I’m not a dummy and I had a lot of training from my DC days that applied.

After a couple of months of this, Stan started sounding more and more annoyed when we went over the make-readies.  “I told you, straight pointers!  Don’t let them do these snakey pointers.”  “Haven’t we already talked about white space?”  Etc.  I’d say I know, Stan, but sometimes things slip by.  I’d mutter something about having 45 titles to edit, and that I tried to fix the worst….

Stan didn’t seem to grok that 45 books were too many to edit properly.  One reason, is because Stan assumed that if I told someone once “no snakey pointers,” he’d say, “Oh, I see, yes sir,” and it would never happen again.  More likely, knowing that I had no power to fire him or visit any consequences whatsoever upon him, he would say, “Go to hell,” and continue doing whatever he pleased.

After many months, Stan firmly believed that I was drain bamaged or stupid beyond human imagining.  The lectures continued, but he started speaking as if he were talking to a kindergarten child.  Great.

Somewhere along the way, the Spider-Man syndicated strip launched.  John Romita was doing the art.  Stan wrote the dialogue—but he didn’t want to do the plotting.  He hired Len Wein to plot the strip.

That was considered quite an honor, reaffirming Len’s status as our number one writer, or at least number one not counting Roy, who was unavailable. 

It didn’t work out.  Stan didn’t like Len’s plots.  I don’t remember much about those strips except that there seemed to be a lot of Spider-Man dangling outside Jonah Jameson’s window exchanging snappy patter.

Stan asked Archie who was the number two writer.  The politically correct answer Archie gave was former EIC Marv.  Marv turned the gig down.  Somehow, it had gone from being an honor to being a chance that Stan would decide you were no good.

Stan asked Archie to put together a list of Marvel’s writers, ranked in order.  Archie left himself off.  He was too busy to plot the strip, though, for my money, he was obviously the best choice, having written Secret Agent Corrigan for years.

Archie’s list included 33 writers.  He put me at number 33.  I’d like to think it was because I had a staff job.  I’d like to think he didn’t want me taking time away from editing.  But maybe he just thought I sucked.  Dunno.

Anyway, Stan asked EVERYONE ON THE LIST except me.  Everyone turned him down.  Finally, in desperation, he called me to his office.  Looking as though he had a tremendous headache, he asked me if I’d plot the strip.  I said sure.

Then, looking as though his headache was worsening, he explained to me what he needed me to do.  Slowly, and in small words.  As if he were trying to prep a chimp.  Sundays had to fit in continuity, yet stand alone.  They had to add something, but something non-essential to readers who only read the dailies.  16 week arcs.  Big events mid-week.  Teasers.  Etc.  I kept saying, “I know Stan.”

I delivered my overview of the first arc in a day or two.  Stan liked it.  And seemed amazed, befuddled.  I delivered my first few weeks plots, broken down day by day and panel by panel a few days later.  Stan said, “These are good,” with amazement in his voice.  I said, exactly, “I know what I’m doing.”

Stan gave my plots to John to draw and away we went.  There were only two bumps in the road.  First, when Stan went to dialogue a daily a couple of times, he ran into trouble and called me in.  He hadn’t checked what John drew against the plot, of course, and assumed the glitches were plot flaws he hadn’t noticed.  I showed him the plots.  John hadn’t drawn what was called for.  Nonetheless, I had to do some fancy steppin’ to adjust the story.  No time to redraw the art. 

So, instead of turning in written plots, I started doing scribble-sketch layouts, like I used to do at DC, along with notes for clarification.  Stan loved it.  He wrote the dialogue from my scribbles!  Then John couldn’t very well give us a big close up of Mary Jane when an establishing shot was called for.

ASIDE:  I included this note to artists in several of my Dark Horse scripts.  It’s germane:

(NOTE:  Stan always told me never to crop a pretty girl so high that you couldn’t see her bust.  Or at least some cleavage.  I used to have tremendous problems with John Romita, Sr. when I was plotting and laying out the Spider-Man syndicated strip.  John would always crop the girls extra-tastefully at the shoulders, even if I laid the panel out properly, per Stan.  John actually considered becoming a priest when he was young.  What a choirboy.  Then Stan would go honking at John, then John would get annoyed with me for getting him in trouble.  What did I do?!  Then the redo would make the strip late.  Then…well, it’s a long story.  Anyway, show her charms.)

I once scribbled a panel of Peter Parker approaching a bus stop.  Several people, including a pretty woman wearing a skirt were waiting at the stop.  I chose a low angle, which showed a little of her thighs.  Nothing too racy.  Not lewd, not flirting with the limits.  Not in bad taste.  Just a smidgen of sex appeal.  Remember the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies?  Like that.  Very Doris Day.  John squared up that perspective in a hurry.  Stan was appalled.


Stan started to figure out that I wasn’t an idiot.

Tomorrow:  The Plotting Thickens the Plot   

Note (in response to comments): Just to be clear, Stan was never abusive to me, like Mort was. And he was very polite the first 500 times or so that he told me about snakey pointers and what have you. Even his patience got stretched when week after week there was no apparent progress.

Stan could be critical, but he was never mean or mean spirited. The "happy" side you know of Stan is real. He's a great guy. Resident genius, creative guru, an icon who deserves to be one.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 2

I failed to mention it in the previous installment, but Knickerbocker Toys was a maker of “soft” toys—that is, plush toys and girls’ toys.  They produced the famous Holly Hobbie dolls, for instance.  In 1983, their business was sliding, though.   Mysterions was a last-ditch attempt to get into boys’ toys, obviated when Hasbro acquired them.

(ASIDE:  I had the pleasure of meeting the real Holly Hobbie once, creator of the eponymous character.  Brilliant, talented woman.  I have an autographed copy of her book.)

Once Hasbro signed off on the treatment, we began work on the comics.  I assigned the series to editor Bob Budiansky.  Bob was (and probably still is) smart, hardworking, creative, organized, detail-conscious and above all a good editor.    

And then I’m a little fuzzy on the details.  I’ve heard that Bob says a number of names we (Marvel) proposed for the robots were rejected by Hasbro.  I don’t doubt Bob, who is a solid citizen as well as a talented creator and effective editor.  I just don’t remember.  Maybe Bob or Jim Salicrup, if you read this, can shed some light.  I don’t think I was very hands-on at that point.

At any rate, Bob eventually was pressed into service creating names and dossiers for the robots and he did a terrific job.

Meanwhile, treachery was afoot….

Hasbro’s advertising agency was Griffin-Bacal.  They had great aspirations regarding the Hasbro account.  They wanted to run Hasbro’s entire marketing effort.  And they wanted to be Hasbro’s go-to creative resource, which WE were rapidly becoming.  This isn’t pure speculation.  Tom Griffin and Joe Bacal were fairly clear about that at several of our meetings.

I seem to recall that there was a personal relationship between one of the Hasbro top brass and either Tom or Joe.  College roommates or some such.  Whatever.  There was a connection that tilted the playing field.

Griffin-Bacal increasingly insinuated itself between Marvel and Hasbro.  We found ourselves dealing less and less with Bob Prupis and the Hasbro boys’ toys guys and more and more with G-B and Sunbow, their executive production arm.  Sunbow had been founded, I think, to oversee the production of the G.I. JOE commercials a couple of years earlier.  Sunbow not only came between Marvel and Hasbro, but also between Marvel Comics and our animation studio, Marvel Productions.

Sunbow’s creative efforts, as near as I could tell, consisted of removing our cover sheets from whatever we created and stapling on their cover sheets.

As described earlier, there was generally a strained relationship between Marvel Productions and Marvel Comics anyway.  Possibly because we brought in almost all their business, we did the foundation creative work for everything they worked on and we were successful, making money.  Meanwhile, they created little that was useful and they were losing money by the truckload.  Jealous, maybe?  Whatever.

P.S.  The studio actually managed to keep their staggering losses hidden for a while.  More on that later.

David DePatie, in particular, for some reason, hated the comics.  He hated the fact that the word “Marvel” was part of Marvel Productions’ name.  While he was top dog at Marvel Productions, he refused to have Spider-Man’s image as part of their logo or trade dress.  He wanted nothing to do with comics or comics people.

Therefore, I believe, he was delighted to have Sunbow elbow its way in between us.

In 1984, President Jim Galton hired an experienced children’s programming executive named Margaret Loesch, at first as Marvel’s liaison with the studio and the TV business.  She worked at 387 Park Avenue South with us publishing types for a few months. 

I liked her.  She was (is) scary smart, knew her business like we knew ours and she liked the comics!  She respected our creativity.

After a while, she was moved out to the West Coast and installed as the President and CEO of Marvel Productions.  Over DePatie.  Heeheehee.

Margaret “Marvelized” the studio, making Spider-Man part of their trade ID.  She even had installed a sculpted FIGURE OF SPIDER-MAN CRAWLING UP THE SIDE OF THEIR BUILDING!  Hoo-ha!

After a while, realizing how deep the animosity toward the comics people ran among some of her execs, Margaret invited me out to spend some time at the studio, and see whether we could forge more cooperation between our people and her people.  I think I tied it in with the San Diego trip that year.  1984?  1985?  I don’t remember.  Possibly, I had one or more of our editors along with me.

Margaret called a meeting.  It included DePatie, Margaret, me and a few other people of hers and ours.  Margaret stated the goal: working better together.  I said that I thought we comics people could be a good creative resource for the studio, that we could, perhaps, do some development work for them.

DePatie, who had been simmering from the moment he walked into the room, blew up.  He launched into a diatribe about how ugly, amateurish, unreadable and stupid our comics were.  Complete crap.  There was nothing useful that we could possibly do.

I pointed out that we had created G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS.  DePatie said that we had NOTHING TO DO WITH TRANSFORMERS.

That took me by surprise.  I had my Hasbro file with me.  I pulled out my TRANSFORMERS treatment.  I said I wrote this.  HE CALLED ME A LIAR, insisted that SUNBOW had written that treatment, that Sunbow had done all the development.  He got up and stormed out of the room.

So much for cooperation.

Margaret apologized.  She said she’d address the situation.  But nothing much changed during the rest of my time at Marvel.

P.S.  As far as I know, with regard to G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS Sunbow never created or contributed anything.

Okay, now let’s see….

Other interesting (it says here) notes:

Sunbow or the studio people changed the human protagonist’s name from Spike to Buster because, I was told, Spike was too aggressive and violent-sounding.  What?

They pretty much ignored or glossed over my human interest stuff anyway.

You may wonder where Stan was during all of this.  Even before the studio was founded in 1981, Stan was moved out to the West Coast to try to develop film and television opportunities for Marvel.  Made sense.  Who in Hollywood wouldn’t take Stan Lee’s call?

When the studio started with DePatie in charge, Stan had an office in the studio headquarters building (there was another building where the some of the animators worked.)  I’d spend time with Stan whenever I went to LA.  He had a secretary.  Other than her, I think no one reported to him.  He had no apparent role in the work being done at the studio, no day to day responsibility.  DePatie, I think, actively excluded him.  Even Stan, I suppose, was one of us useless comics people to DePatie. 

We’d go to lunch in his Volkswagen Beetle convertible.  It was yellow, I think.  He had vanity plates that said “Marvel Comics” abbreviated somehow—you know, MRVLCOMX or something like that.  A few times he lamented to me that they just weren’t letting him help.


When I became Editor in Chief, and the executive table of organization was explained to me by Galton, several things jumped out.  One, everyone in the comics department reported to me.  Two, that nobody reported to Sol Brodsky, not even a secretary.  He was his own little island, off to the side.  And three, that nobody except Stan’s secretary reported to him.  Not even Sol.  Stan (and secretary) were on an island, too.

Why?  Well, though his title was “Publisher,” in fact, Stan had no day to day responsibilities, and certainly not publishing responsibilities.  Just as well.  Contracts, business and paperwork would have bored him to death, I think.  Stan’s job at that point was being Stan, the one, the only, the inimitable resident genius Stan Lee.  He was plenty busy, don’t get me wrong.  He was the face of Marvel.  He worked on the Spider-Man syndicated strip.  He was constantly pursuing opportunities, especially in other media, for Marvel.  He helped me a million times and continued teaching me until the day he left for California. 

The difference between Stan’s being at the House of Ideas, a lot of them his, and being at the studio was that we treated Stan as though he built the place, because he did.  He didn’t need a T.O. to make him important.  If he said something, if he weighed in on anything, we listened as if it were an E.F. Hutton commercial, and did as he said.

Out there in LA, no such luck.  Until Margaret came along.  Then, Stan got to do his stuff.  Even I got invited to a network pitch once.    

I’ll think of more tidbits later.

One last anecdote.

Marvel Productions’ work on the G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS cartoons was done work for hire.  There was no potential back-end revenue from syndication, as there typically is with a network animated show. 

Accounting for network animated shows is typically done according to an accepted formula that amortizes, or spreads the costs out over a prescribed number of years to book a significant portion of the costs during the syndication period, when most revenues are earned.

In 1986, the owner of Marvel was Cadence Management Incorporated.  CMI consisted, more or less, of the Cadence Industries board of directors, who had taken Cadence private in a leveraged buy-out.  (They screwed over the stockholders.  Then they screwed over one of their own.  Originally the “Gang of Seven,” there were only six of them at the end.  But that’s a tale for another time.)  Jim Galton was one of the CMI principals as well as President of the crown jewel of Cadence companies, Marvel.  CMI was in negotiations with New World Pictures to sell Marvel.

It was October.  I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  So were a number of other Marvel people—licensing execs, support staff and Jim Galton.

One day in the middle of the fair, Galton got a phone call at the Marvel “stand,” or booth.  He looked upset and left in a tremendous hurry.  Went back to his hotel, packed and got on the first flight to LA.

Seems that New World’s due diligence had uncovered the fact that the accounting for the G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS cartoons had been done as if there would be syndication revenues.  But, oops, there weren’t any to be had.  So all those amortized costs had to be re-booked to current operations.  That meant that the big losses the studio was showing were actually waaay bigger than Galton and his CMI cronies knew, and that was going to make a biiig dent in the sale price.


P.S.  Snide types at Cadence’s offices had always referred to the studio as “Galton’s Folly.”  And it was.

NEXT:  The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 1

In 1983, a toy company approached Marvel Comics seeking development of a toy property for comics, animation and other entertainment.  The toys in question were cars and other vehicles that could be opened and unfolded into ROBOTS.  Very cool.

The toy company was KNICKERBOCKER TOYS.  They called their toy property, based on technology licensed from a Japanese company, the “MYSTERIONS.”

Marvel Comics was their second choice as a creative services provider.  They had gone to DC Comics first.  The executive who approached us showed us what DC had created for them.  It was a comic book.  He only had photocopies.  I don’t believe the thing was ever printed.

It was awful.  Apologies to whomever created that thing, but it was pathetic and wrong-headed to an unbelievable degree.  The art was well-drawn, I’ll allow that, but the storytelling was chaotic.  The story, as best one could discern it, was unnecessarily, excessively dark and violent.  The dialogue was peppered with “Hells” and “damns,” and I can’t swear to it almost 30 years later, but I think there was a “bastard” or two in there. 

Need I mention that the primary target audience for toys is ages three through eight?  Yes, sure, boys’ action figures and action toys skew a little higher, but still.  (Aside:  People like us really would warp the average, if we counted.)

Though the DC story was convoluted, when you boiled it down it was vehicle/robots battling each other.  Not much in the way of motivation beyond “good” versus “evil.”  All clichés, all the time.


The Knickerbocker guy told me what they’d paid for this…item.  Top dollar.

He asked if we could do better. 

Our mailroom guys could do better.  Our top executives could do better.  And they were not very sharp.  The execs, I mean.

So, we made a deal and began work.  I wrote the back story and the treatment for the first story.  They loved it.

The plan was for us to publish comics and for our studio, Marvel Productions, to produce a number of animated half-hours—six, I think.  I forget.  We would launch just before the pre-sale of the toys.  Then follow it up in the spring when the initial wave of low price point items shipped.  The usual.

We were asked to come to a meeting at Knickerbocker’s offices out in the wilds of Jersey somewhere.  Publisher Mike Hobson and I were the ranking officers on that excursion.  Somebody else was with us.  I don’t remember who.  DeFalco?  Maybe.  I don’t think so, but…  A licensing person?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  Might have been two people.  

Anyway, we rented a car and off we went.

I can’t run down that trip step by step, but I remember some highlights and lowlights.

We ate a late lunch or dinner at a Ground Round, which was the classiest joint in the area.  I put that first because, relatively speaking, it was a major highlight.

We arrived on time for our meeting, but had to wait for THREE HOURS.  The Knickerbocker execs we were supposed to meet with were “unavoidably detained.”  There was something going on at that office.  People seemed on edge, upset.  We had no idea why.  No one told us anything.

They had a nice reception area.  Comfy seats….

Finally, we were ushered into a room by an assistant to somebody’s assistant and shown the toys.  I’d only seen a few of them up until then.

Finally, we were shown to a large office.  The Knickerbocker people were ashen faced and nervous.  But we had our meeting.  We talked about the launch, the toys and the story.  They didn’t want to talk about elements or the business transaction that were still pending. 

I had the distinct feeling that they were just going through the motions.

Another highlight:  Part of the meeting was a scheduled conference call with Dennis Marks, head of development at Marvel Productions.  For reasons I’ll never understand, the people who ran Marvel Productions until Margaret Loesch took over hated us comics people.  David DePatie, Head of Production, especially.  They thought of us as amateurish morons, and our work as garbage.  MUCH more on that, later.

At any rate, we had provided the studio with my treatment and back story. 

Dennis spoke about what the studio proposed to do with the Mysterions property, which was to completely ignore my work and do something completely different.  And stupid.  With cute, wacky kids and a goofy dog.

That was the only time the Knickerbocker people showed any life.  They told Dennis that they wanted what I had created, not what he was talking about.  They couldn’t understand where he was coming from.  Didn’t he read the treatment?

Dennis was flabbergasted.  Seemed he couldn’t believe that they were taking anything done by the comic book people seriously.  Dennis’s said, exactly:  “I’m completely at sea, here.”  Yes, Dennis, you were, and maybe still are.

That conversation ended in a muddle with Dennis making “we’ll see about this” noises, albeit reasonably politely.  We in the office in Jersey sort of looked at each other after the call ended, in that way that people look at each other after a shared surreal experience.

So, we all shook hands and we Marvel types drove back to New York.  Mike Hobson guessed that some kind of company shakeup was going on.

The next day we learned that, just before our meeting, Hasbro had announced that it was acquiring Knickerbocker.  Shakeup, indeed.

The deal with Knickerbocker fell victim to the takeover by Hasbro.  The Hollywood term for similar events is “turnaround.”  Projects begun by previous administrations are automatically put into turnaround, that is, on hold—usually permanently. 

Here endeth the story of the Mysterions.  

That’s a good break point, but I promised some of the TRANSFORMERS tale, not just the prequel, so I’ll press on for a while.

Some months later, the Hasbro exec who was Marvel’s main contact, Bob Prupis, came to my office.  He pulled a few toy vehicles out of his bag and proceeded to open and unfold them into ROBOTS.

They were bigger and much more complex than the Mysterions.  Different Japanese technology, same general idea.

Hasbro, he said, had the rights to the technology and toys based upon it.  The problem, he said was story.  He said that the Japanese storyline associated with the toys wasn’t useful.  Japanese kids, apparently, don’t require much justification.  Cars become robots, robots become cars.  Well, of course they do.  What do you mean, “why?”

(P.S.  To this day I’ve never read or seen any of the Japanese storyline.)

American kids, he thought would like to know why.  Did I think we could develop this toy concept for comics, animation and other entertainment the way we developed G.I. JOE? 


I didn’t mention the Mysterons, but, hey, if I could do it once, I figured I could do it again.  I had to wonder, though, whether the Knickerbocker Mysterions somehow inspired Hasbro’s acquisition of the Transformers toys and technology.

Following the success of G.I. JOE, these toy developments had become a regular thing.  When possible, I gave the development job to an editor or key freelance creator as a perk.  Developments paid very well. 

I thought that it was time to give Denny O’Neill a crack at one of these, and Denny was always up for making extra money.

I met with Denny and gave him some foundation concepts.  Fed him his lines a little.  I always did that with these toy gigs, because I had been the one meeting with the client, and also I had the most background working with toy companies.  I had learned to think “toyetically,” as they say.  What I proposed was completely different from my Mysterions story.  And, better, I think. 

If the Hasbro people had read my Mysterions treatment, well, I didn’t want them to think I was a one-trick pony.

Denny wanted the job, wanted the dough, but I don’t think his heart was in it.  He had a disdain, I think, for “toy books.”  The Marvel mainstream characters were modern mythology.  The toys were, well, toys.

What Denny delivered was unusable.  Cranked out, pithless stuff.  I paid him anyway.

There’s also a proper way to write these things that’s part pitch piece, part story.  You have to convey the sizzle, write it with some sturm und drang, with Flight of the Valkyries playing in the background.  A few football clichés help.  “He would not be denied!”

So, I wrote the backstory/treatment.  Free.  I usually did such things no extra charge. I considered it part of the Editor in Chief job.  I think my treatment is floating around on the web somewhere.  And, I actually have the original around here in one of the many storage boxes piled up in my living room awaiting sorting.  The cats just love scratching those boxes into cardboard confetti, by the way.  It’s a constant struggle to protect the contents from errant claws….

But I digress.

As stated, the treatment was all new, unrelated to the Mysterions treatment.  And, the only thing of Denny’s I kept, as I recall, was the name of the Autobots’ ship, “Auntie.”  I have become convinced, also, that he named Optimus Prime.  It’s not unlike a name I might come up with, but it’s very much in the style of the erudite Mister O’Neill, full of scope, dignity and power.

By the way, “Transformers,” “Autobots” and “Decepticons” came from Hasbro.

Bob Prupis and the Hasbro troops liked the treatment.

More tomorrow.

And now, a few positive words about Marvel Financial V.P. Barry Kaplan

By the time I finally got Marvel's board to agree to allow a royalty program (and that was a tough sell), DC had already announced theirs. Easy for them. Only three or four DC titles sold enough copies to qualify for royalties under their plan, and one, Superman, just barely, because royalties started after the first 100,000 copies. Teen Titans was their number one book and it sold roughly 175,000 a month. So, their exposure was minimal. Unless sales increased dramatically, their program would cost them almost nothing. As I've mentioned before, Vince Colletta once showed me three DC royalty checks that did not total one dollar. They were hoping that their plan would help them steal talent from Marvel, which would theoretically boost sales, in which case they'd be happy to pay out some royalty money.

Meanwhile, at Marvel, our line AVERAGE was over 200,000. EVERY Marvel title would pay royalties from the inception of our plan, assuming we matched DC. Even Dazzler sold 140,000 copies a month. From inception, if sales stayed the same, our plan would take around a million dollars off of the bottom line. Make that make sense to a room full of business sharks who don't give a rat's ass about anything but the bottom line, I dare you. But I did.

After I got board approval, I laid out DC's plan to Barry Kaplan. I said this is the bar we have to reach with our plan. Barry said, "We can do BETTER than that." We matched DC's plan as our base level, adding some improvements and modifications, and then Barry added a SLIDING SCALE. The more copies your title sold, the higher the royalty rate, up to double the base rate. With Barry's help, the base plan and sliding scale feature became policy. I personally wrote the documents.

Some Marvel creative teams made sooo much money...! The X-Men team in particular.

When I first took the job as EIC, I did so on the condition that I could begin paying royalties. When I posed that condition to President Jim Galton back then, in 1977, he said, and I quote, "You mean we don't?" He came from real world book publishing, so he wasn't philosophically opposed to the idea.

Instituting the plan was delayed for years, for several reasons. For one, because of Kirby's legal threats, our lawyers at K&K advised against it, on the grounds that royalties, or royalty-like incentives implied a creator ownership, or ownership stake in the work, which might bolster the claims Kirby's lawyers were making. Sigh. For another, there was a great deal of back and forth between me and the financial types about how such a program should be structured. The final hurdle, as mentioned above, was board approval. DC announcing their plan forced our hand -- thank you, Paul Levitz -- and gave us a template structure to work from. We were always careful to call it a "sales incentive," not royalties, by the way, to avoid ownership issues.

The Marvel plan didn't take a million off the bottom line that first fiscal year. It took over TWO million. Which was fine, because when you're paying those kind of royalties, it means that your sales are soaring through the roof, and the bottom line is many millions fatter.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rooting Out Corruption at Marvel – Part Four of a Bunch


Once the mystery of the benevolent lapping scam was solved, Financial V.P. Barry Kaplan made attempts to recover some of the money.  A few creators who had benefitted from the advance-vouchering that had been going on actually worked off their debt, or paid the money back.  Very few.  Barry judged many to be hopeless cases, gave up on them and wrote the debt off.  One creator allowed us to publish a story to which he owned all rights as a make-good for what he’d been advanced.  A few of the clever and sleazy types, including one artists’ studio owner, realized that with John Verpoorten dead, she could simply deny everything, insist that all the work that had been paid for but never done had, indeed, been done and delivered.  She couldn’t help it if inept Marvel comics had “lost” the work.  She got away clean.

But anyway….  We thought voucher scamming was done with.  Under the new rules, editors signed vouchers and accounting handed out the checks.  No more opportunity for lapping. 

Ah, but we were dealing with creative people, remember.  And a few of them got creative about ways to circumvent the safeguards.

Some freelancers vouchered jobs as they went along, two pages here, three pages there.  Some delivered in small batches but waited till the issue was finished to voucher.  So, of course, it occurred to a few, especially fill-in guys and one-timers, to do both.  Voucher a few pages at the beginning, and then voucher the whole job at the end.  It was easier than you think.  An editor who is signing off on small batches of work from dozens of different freelancers, including writers, pencilers, letterers, inkers and colorists for as many as seven titles with three or four issues of each in progress at any given point could easily lose track of how many pages had already been vouchered when a job trickled in three pages at a time over the course of a month.

This happened often enough (a few times by accident—somebody forgot they’d vouchered part of a job.  I did that once.) so that we made it policy that all work had to be vouchered when delivered.  Deliver three pages, voucher three pages.

Oh, and by the way, even I couldn’t sign my own voucher.

Nonetheless, one guy, a hall-of famer who shall remain nameless, who did a lot of work for Louise Jones (later Louise Simonson) managed to pull some trickeration on me.  Louise, like most editors, usually came in a little late.  Creative people, I think are more often the up-late type than the early riser type.  Anyway, she’d come in around ten (then work way more hours than a human should have to).  The freelance artist in question used to stop by the office early.  I was always there early, and usually I was the only one.  The artist would claim that he had to rush to the dentist/doctor/bank/dry cleaner, whatever, and couldn’t wait for Louise.  Would I please sign his voucher?  Sure.  He would show me a batch of pages.  I’d count ‘em.  Yep.  Twelve.  I’d sign the voucher and put it in the interoffice mail to accounting.  He’d say, “I’ll put these pages on Louise’s desk,” and hurry off.

After a while, I finally figured out that he wasn’t putting the pages on Louise’s desk, and had been showing me the same twelve pages week after week.

Some extra devious types forged (or traced) editors’ signatures.  One submitted vouchers with forged signatures for several no-existent jobs as “inventory,” which, being unscheduled, wasn’t easily checked.  One artist, after his voucher had been signed, sometimes managed to sneakily write “redo” on vouchers for pages he was vouchering for the second time.  Accounting usually didn’t question redo’s.

In an effort to shore up the defenses, we took steps to ensure that freelancers had no access to vouchers once delivered to the editor.  All checks were mailed, eliminating shenanigans with the voucher hard copies.  Eventually we got it under control.

From the above, it may sound like there were many cheats and scammers, but, really, it was only a few out of hundreds of freelancers.  The same hall-of-famer who pulled that trickeration on me was responsible for half of what I mentioned above.

Barry eventually told me that while I could, in theory hire anyone I chose, and, in theory, Marvel was bound by my contract with the guy, he simply wouldn’t allow a check to be cut for that guy ever again.  Could I have forced the issue?  Yes, well, that would have gotten ugly.  And he was right.  Enough is enough.          

(NOTE:  I didn’t have time to finish “The Secret Origin of the Transformers” last night.  Please tune in tomorrow.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011


This exchange took place among the comments about “An Airplane Ride or Three with Herb Trimpe.”  It addresses instances of plagiarism by Bill Mantlo.  I post it here again in response to several requests.

dailypop said...
"Speaking of the Hulk I was wondering if you could shed some light where the idea of the child abuse story came from. There has been much speculation about this from different people including Barry Windsor Smith. I have never heard your side of the story."

Dear dailypop,

Barry came to me with a completely penciled and written graphic novel. It was the about the development of the "mighty, raging fury" inside Bruce Banner, who, he revealed, was the product of an abusive home. I looked it over. I thought it was brilliant, one of the best comics stories I'd ever seen. I offered Barry a contract and an advance. He turned me down -- temporarily. He proposed to finish the thing -- then, if I would agree to publish it as created, no alterations whatsoever, he would sign a contract and take the money. I was willing to agree to that in writing on the spot, but he said, no, when it's finished. Okay. Fine by me. I already knew, from what he'd shown me, that there'd be no problem.

Barry showed the work around a bit to people in the office. I guess he allowed Al Milgrom or someone to make photocopies of it. Ask Al.

I was later given to understand that Al kept the copies in the Hulk drawer of his flat file.

Bill Mantlo, looking through the drawer to see what current Hulk artwork had come in, saw the copies. He then blatantly ripped the story off for a regular issue of the Hulk. 

In those days, I was on the road a lot, spending time in Europe with the licensees, at our London office, in L.A., or on licensing trips elsewhere. The book went to press without my seeing it. How Al didn't notice, or someone else didn't notice, I don't know.

Barry was furious. I don't blame him. He, however, blames me, as of the last time I heard. Okay, the buck stops here, I suppose.

ASIDE: This wasn't Bill's first shot at plagiarism. He routinely recycled other peoples' Marvel stories -- Goodwin's Iron Man stories, old Stan and Steve Spider-man stories...others. Many of those recyclings happened before my time as EIC.

But while I was EIC, he ripped off a Harlan Ellison story for an issue of the Hulk. That issue I signed out -- but I had never seen the episode of Outer Limits (I think) that Bill had ripped it from, so I didn't know. I remember thinking what a good story it was, and that Bill must be improving.

The day the book hit the stands, Roger Stern called me and said, "Are you nuts?! This is a Harlan Ellison story!" I said, "It is?" Then my secretary told me Harlan Ellison was on the other line.

Harlan said, words to the effect, you ripped me off. I said, yes, I know, I just found out about it. That admission calmed him down. I asked him what he wanted. Should we turn this over to the lawyers and let them work something out? I assured him that there was no contention, that Marvel did it and would fess up to it.

Harlan's damages, by statute, would have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he had us dead to rights. But, he said he'd settle for the same money as Bill was paid to "write" the script, an acknowledgement, plus a lifetime subscription to everything we ever published. Done. Thank you, Harlan.

I wanted to fire Bill, but he had a friend upstairs -- the financial V.P. -- who resisted. It was my call. I could have fired Bill over his objections, but I decided, stupidly, that the subsequent hostile relationship with the financial guy would be worse than policing Bill better.

P.S. Marvel had a program, in those days, that paid for college and college level courses taken by employees, up to 100% for courses directly job related. The financial officer decided what qualified, and for what level of support. He decided that helping put Bill through LAW SCHOOL qualified, but Joe Rubenstein's painting classes justified only the minimum support.

P.P.S. Immediately after passing the bar, Bill's first act as a lawyer was SUING MARVEL regarding issues with his contract.
If anyone is interested, they can check Bill’s Iron Man #100 against one of Archie’s Iron Man stories featuring the Mandarin. Issue #50, maybe? I don’t know. Archie was editor of the black and white magazines at that time, and I was associate editor on the color line. Archie, who seldom complained about anything, came to me and asked how I could possibly have allowed Bill to rip off his story like that. He was seriously upset. The answer was that I hadn’t read Archie’s story, published years earlier, and didn’t know Bill’s was a carbon copy.

If anyone is interested, I’m sure you can find the issue of the Hulk that was ripped from Harlan’s Outer Limits story, and the acknowledgement/apology that appeared in the Hulk lettercol a few issues later.

If anyone really wants to play detective, I’m sure you can find many other examples.

And, Barry Windsor-Smith will assure you that a ripoff of his Hulk “child abuse” story appeared with Bill’s byline, though Barry apparently doesn’t know the true story of how that transpired.
And now, once more with feeling:

I think that we comics people, fans every one of us, tend to see things in terms of good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. It usually isn’t that black and white. Bill did some things that were very wrong for reasons known only to him and incomprehensible to me. He did many good things, too. Whatever mistakes he made, whatever flaws he had, his talent was a boon to our field of endeavor. He deserves a great deal of credit, respect and admiration. He certainly did not deserve the tragic accident that befell him.

Once again, here is a link to a page where you can PayPal donations to help with Bill’s care: