Friday, July 29, 2011

More Strange Tales – President’s Day

Galton the Clock-sucker

Marvel moved from 575 Madison Avenue to 387 Park Avenue South in June of 1981 (I think. Anyone know for sure?).

The Mad Ave offices weren’t great. They were cramped and dingy and not well-suited to our purposes. And quickly becoming too small. We were growing fast.

The new offices were custom designed for us. Or, rather, for what the architect thought we were. I forget the guy’s name. I remember that he was completely bald, that’s about it. Anyway, he had his “vision” of what comic book publishing offices ought to be that was based on, I don’t know, maybe the offices of the Harvard Law Review. I was given a few opportunities to raise objections and make suggestions, and I headed off a few calamities, but when we moved in, there were still some problems and issues. Things that had to change.

For instance, the filing cabinets all around the perimeter of the Bullpen had planters on top of them filled with lovely, lush greenery. How charming. You can’t imagine how many action figures and vehicles were soon roaming that jungle. Actually, maybe you folks can.

But we didn’t need a jungle. We needed counter space. Getting the planters removed was a major battle. It became a little easier after the defoliation of the Ho Chi Minh Trail rendered areas of the jungle as bald as…you know.

So we eventually won that one. But there was a basic disconnect between the “vision” and the nature of the nine-to-five inhabitants. Make that ten-ish to all-hours inhabitants.

It was never clearer than that first evening at the new place.

You see, there was a pillar in the middle of the Bullpen, and mounted on that pillar seven or eight feet above the floor was a clock. There were also electrical outlets on the pillar at about waist height. No, not my waist height, a normal human’s.

That first evening, when Galton left, he walked down the stairs connecting the executive floor, the eleventh, to the comics floor, the tenth, and passed through the Bullpen on his way to the back exit. I guess he was just taking a walk-through to bask in the wonderfulness of our portion of the vision. I didn’t witness this, but I was told that he stopped, looked at the clock…

noticed that the cord didn’t quite reach the electrical outlet

…and stormed out in a huff.

The next day, Galton had the architect summoned, in high dudgeon led him to the Bullpen and showed him evidence of his piss-poor planning concerning the clock cord and the outlet.

And this I did witness.

The architect seemed befuddled. He said, “But it’s a BATTERY POWERED CLOCK!”

Galton turned purple.

The Bullpen wags responsible for attaching the bogus cord to the battery clock kept real busy and somehow restrained laughter. Causing internal injuries, I suspect.

Galton stormed away with the confused architect in his wake.

Sucker. 
The Marvel Bullpen at 387 Park Ave. South

The Great Frame-up

After a few days in the new offices, the production people in the Bullpen were settling in.

Again, one evening, Galton passed through on his way out. Again he stopped, looked at the walls, the filing cabinets, the pillar…

noticed the zillion or so Post-Its, stickers, cartoons, notes and scribbles of all types that were stuck all over everything

…and stormed out in a huff.

The next day, Joe the mailroom boss came to me. He said that Galton had yelled at him because he was furious about the crap stuck up all over the Bullpen walls. I knew that Galton really wanted to yell at me, but he knew I reacted badly to that sort of thing, so he yelled at Joe and told him to pass it along.

Poor Joe.

Okay. So, I went into the Bullpen and told everyone Galton’s New Rule. All the “crap” had to come down. Nothing was allowed on the walls except framed pictures. Per the vision.

That evening, Galton passed through again, stopped, looked….

Every single scrap of paper on the walls had a neat paper frame around it.

Even the clock had a frame.

Galton turned purple and stormed out.

He gave up on that one. I never heard another word about it.


Snow in July or It’s Curtains for You, Pal!

One feature of the architect’s vision was that all of the editors’ offices, and all of the smaller-fry business types’ offices upstairs should have glass walls.

The editors’ most of whose offices were arrayed along the main aisle that went past the Bullpen, hated “working in a fishbowl.” The glassed-in upstairs people hated it too, so that was a relatively easy fight to win. The architect chose some lovely curtains for the fishbowls and had them installed.

A year later, workmen came to remove the curtains. There was weeping, wailing and gnashing on blue pencils until we found out it was temporary. The curtains were being sent out to be cleaned, even though we hadn’t finished dirtying them yet. The editors’ curtains, we were told, would be back in a week, and then the upstairs curtains would have their turn being cleaned.

There was still grumbling and unhappiness.

So I asked my assistant Lynn Cohen to buy a carton of spray snow. Now, other people might have trouble finding decorative spray snow in July, but not Marvel-Lynn. She found a place that sold Christmas goods all year and soon came back with a case of the stuff.

I told her to put it out in the Bullpen. Just leave it on one of the handy counter tops that were where the jungle used to be and say nothing.

A little later, I ventured into the Bullpen and saw that people had discovered the spray snow, intuited its purpose and were festooning the fishbowl windows. Ah, but remember, these were no ordinary festooners. Besides our talented Bullpen crew, artists passing through had joined the cause. Bill Sienkiewicz’s contribution was amazing. It ran down the window, off the bottom and continued onto the carpet.

I was pleased to see that, respecting the fact that tours came through periodically, no one had gotten too adult. (In the x-rated sense. Not much danger of most of them getting too adult otherwise.)

So…the glass walls weren’t covered entirely, but they were better.

That evening, Galton passed through, stopped, looked….

noticed the display of creativity

…and stormed out in a huff.

The next day, Joe came to me. He said that Galton had yelled at him because he was furious about the glass walls. Window cleaners were coming just before the curtains were to be rehung, and they would surely charge extra for cleaning the mess we made.

Poor Joe.

So, I wrote Galton a memo saying, no worries, that before the window cleaners arrived, on their own time the editors and Bullpenners would remove all traces of the snow. And that, if he wished, our troops would cheerfully come upstairs and decorate the eleventh floor glass walls while their curtains were out being cleaned.

Funny, I never got a reply.


NEXT: Gerber and the Duck

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not-So-Secret Wars - Guest Post by JayJay

There was a sniper in the sales department of the Marvel Comics office.

We were hunkered down behind desks, chairs, filing cabinets but we were slowly getting picked off one by one. It was dark but a little light filtered in from the fluorescent lights of the editorial department behind us and from the windows the lights of New York city reached even to the tenth floor. We strained our eyes into the shadowy recesses, trying to see where the shots were coming from, but the sniper might as well have been Sue Storm.

So naturally we had to give up. Being all dead and all.

Jim Novak had started all of the trouble. He was the “miscreant” Jim mentioned in More Strange Tales: War at Marvel. Jim Novak, master letterer and major talent, was the production manager at the time. One day he brought in this cool pump action toy gun he had bought. It fired these soft rubber bullets and it was so cool! The bullpen and even some of the editors couldn’t stop playing with it. So, of course, we all had to have one. We plied Jim with money and waited anxiously until he went to the toy store again.

War was inevitable at that point.

On the tenth floor of 387 Park Avenue South there were two office cultures existing side by side. If you went left out of the reception area you reached the sales, promotion and subscription departments. If you went right you walked toward the bullpen, editorial offices and the mailroom. But the gulf between the two sides was wider than just an office building floor. A lot of us in the bullpen didn’t know that much about what went on over there. But we knew this... they went home earlier than we did. All of them.

Heck, we had so much fun working together in the bullpen that we hardly wanted it to end. We would often go out after work in a group for dinners or activities. That was a great bunch and one of the most wonderful times of my life. When we got the guns we played around a bit in the bullpen, but couldn’t get too serious around the staffers who were still working. Bullets, even rubber ones, and ink don’t mix. But there was that lovely dark, deserted area on the other side of the tenth floor.

Sometimes we had teams, sometimes we picked a guy to be “it.” One night it was Squid’s turn. John (Squid)(Jack) Morelli was athletic, nimble, fast, tough and fearless. An amateur body builder from the mean streets of Brooklyn. Squid used to jump down onto the subway tracks and run across three or four sets of rails to change trains! Sometimes with transit cops in hot pursuit! In the 30 second head start we gave him he managed to clamber (silently) up a six foot high file cabinet and hide in the tiny space between the top of the file and the soffit. Hidden in a dark nook amongst the notebooks and boxes of paper where we never imagined anyone could fit, much less climb into, he picked off all his hunters until we cried uncle. Little rubber bullets littered the area, but I don’t think even one came near him. We turned on the lights and told him to come out, looking around to solve the mystery of where he had hidden. When he crawled out and jumped down off that file cabinet it broke everybody up.

We tried to collect all of our little yellow bullets after the games, but I’m sure the staffers who’s area we invaded on these nightly raids wondered why they kept finding them in odd places like their coffee mugs and in boxes. They probably just shrugged their shoulders. They knew what we were like. (Hey PAD, you were in the sales dept at the time, right?)

But just like all gateway drugs, those toy guns led to harder stuff.

I don’t remember who first suggested this new thing... paintball. But it sounded like it might be cool. An initial foray was organized to a paintball field upstate to a place near Newburgh and early one Saturday morning a small group of us met outside the Marvel offices. It was so early that some of the Park Avenue hookers were still out. They were scary in the daylight.

For that first time, we didn’t have all of our camo clothing and masks and we rented guns at the field. I remember feeling really intimidated by the other, more experienced players who made fun of us (and were kind of jerks) but in the very first game we did really well! We caught on quick and had a blast. It was a lot of fun and we knew we needed more. The only bad part was being grouped on a team with those jerks, and the obvious solution was to organize a large enough fighting force to have a team of our own. Thus the Marvel Punishers were born.

After that it was an addiction. Carl Potts did a great job organizing a lot of things with Steve Buccellato and Hector Collazo, I think. I remember Carl, John Wellington, myself and a couple of others bought our own paintball guns, a really good one at the time, the Carter Comp gun. We had special camo t-shirts printed up with a big Punisher skull that Carl drew (Carl, I still have it!). The t-shirts were cool-looking, but turned out to make a really good target for the other side to hit. So, we had some less prominent embroidered patches made. 

An early photo of the Marvel Punishers Paintball Team
Back row: Glenn Herdling, Marc Siry, Marcus McLaurin, Fabian Nicieza, John Wellington, Mark Chiarello, Steve Buccellato, Janet JayJay Jackson, (Randy? a judge and comics fan from the paintball field),
Front row: Bob Sharen, Cynthia Martin, Dan Raspler, Carl Potts, Hector Collazo, Michael Yee, Dave Wohl.
We even went in for Airsoft guns that shot hard little plastic bullets and went out to Phil Felix’s farm in western New Jersey to practice with them. Those things hurt when they hit you. And I accidentally shot Morrelli in a very tender spot. I still feel bad about it. But see, paintballs break up when you shoot into brush. So I shot at a figure crouching behind some underbrush, not thinking that the darn little projectile would pass right through it. But it was the best time I can remember. We really were at our best when playing with all our own guys. I think everyone honestly liked one another.

We went on one weekend paintball trip to a place in Pennsylvania called Wolf’s Lair. That was an extensive paintball field with different types of fields to play in including a village and a kind of castle. It was an overnight trip and we got a bit of a shock when they dropped us off at our “barracks.” There was nothing to sleep on except rows of bare particle board bunks. We hadn’t known to bring sleeping bags! So we spent a cold night trying to get some sleep in the unheated structure. In other words, not much sleep. Another trip we went to West Point to battle the cadets. First time out I think they beat us, but once we caught on to their unusual, but predictable fighting style, the second time out we beat ‘em. We often had chaos and unpredictability on our side. 

Carl Potts and the Spartan accommodations at Wolf's Lair. 
I also found out an odd thing about myself. If I tried to aim carefully I could pop away all day at a guy and almost never hit him, but if someone became a moving target, they were dead! For some reason, adrenaline maybe(?), I can pick off moving targets like crazy. I was pretty slim in those days and could hide in small spaces so I tried some Jack Morelli sniper action myself a few times.

Squid woulda been proud.

Marvel Punishers from a later game
JayJay Jackson, Bob Sharon, Dan Raspler, ?, Steve Buccellato, ?, Don Daley, Carl Potts,  John Wellington and a mysterious masked player.
Carl Potts in his amazing Spanish Foreign Legion paratrooper camo that made him invisible!


Some recent comments of note on yesterday's rant:


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Storytelling Rant

JayJay here. In response to several comments about the state of storytelling in the business today, Jim wrote the following:


RE: Storytelling by artists.  Too many artists these days have no understanding of how to convey information -- that is, how to do their part of telling the story.  Or they think it's their job to make cool pictures and that's all -- explaining things is up to the writer -- he or she can always add a caption or something.  Some of them have that attitude even when it's a full script!  Or, they actively ignore what is called for and draw whatever the hell they want because they think story doesn't matter.

Call for an establishing shot.  They give you a big head shot.  Tell them to draw figures in action.  It's a mile away or cropped to the point that it's meaningless.  Tell them to draw a close up.  They think it's time to do a direct overhead shot of the room that mostly features the floor.  Give them ref, they ignore it and make something up.  Don't give them ref and they complain.

Sigh.

In my scripts I tell the artists what they need to get across, provide reference, even throw in scribble sketches sometimes.  I plead with them to make everything clear at a glance.  I say things like:

"MAKE THIS SHOT SO CLEAR THAT IF YOU TOOK IT OUT OF CONTEXT AND SHOWED IT TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD THEY WOULD IMMEDIATELY UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING.  Same with every shot, every time.  COMMUNICATE!  Or nothing else matters."

And:

"If we took this panel out of context and showed it to anyone in the world, they should say, 'There’s a pilot quickly getting into his seat in the cockpit of a jet and a Native American is running toward the jet just ahead of a dinosaur that’s chasing him.'  Clear at a glance."

And:

"It doesn’t matter to me how you show this as long as anyone in the world, seeing this panel alone, out of context, would say, 'The man in the red suit is firing energy beams that are destroying what appears to be a big computer.'"

And:

"Imagine you're showing what you draw to 1000 people who have never seen a comic book before.  Make sure that every single one of them will understand, clearly, at a glance."

Blah, blah, blah....  You get the drift.

Do they always listen?

I'll take the fifth.  Dewar's if you got it, neat.

RE: Continuity.  Continuity should be a good thing.  The problem isn't necessarily continuity, except the kind of "continuity" abused by writers obsessed with ancient minutia, either trying to "fix" some tiny glitch that happened years ago, or reconcile some dusty detail with the current retcon, or base what passes for a story on some such flimsy foundation.  Continuity, even detailed continuity can be groovy, if it matters, if it is effortlessly understood.

Writers also have this "you're supposed to know" attitude that appalls me.  I tried to read a Justice League (?) book a while back that started with a bunch of characters only some of whom were familiar to me.  None of them were introduced -- most writers these days don't know what that term means -- and everyone was referred to by his or her civilian first name.  "Bruce" I got.  "Kal" I got.  Then the "Carters" were mentioned.  Who?  Later, halfway through, I remembered that Carter is Hawkman's civilian last name.  Right?  Slogging through this thing wasn't easy.  And I felt like I wasn't in the club.  And when I was done, except for a nifty bit in the middle, I felt like it was a pretty thin read.  And confusing.  If I was a first time reader, I would have pitched the thing by page three and never bought another one.

Nifty bits.  These guys become stars because of occasional nifty bits.  Never mind that as a whole the thing is a Swedish movie with no subtitles starting in the middle and going nowhere.

P.S. The writers of Law and Order, a fairly sophisticated show, introduce characters.  I'll bet other TV shows I'm less familiar with do, too.  Pretty much EVERY professional writer in EVERY medium introduces the characters.  Except in comics.  There are few movies I can't make sense of, few TV shows I know of ever that were tough to decipher, few novels that I can't read effotlessly.  But comics?  Too many are impenetrable.  Some you can figure out aren't worth the bother.  And very once in a while, there's a gem.  Far too infrequently.

Is anyone manning the helm?

One good thing -- many of these writers don't challenge the artists much.  Maybe they know better.  There's fighting, consisting mostly of punching, rather than innovative, creative use of powers.  There's grimacing -- useful for swearing vengeance, anger, intensity.  All purpose grimacing.  There's looking grim.  What else?  There's being defeated, battered and bleeding, that's a staple.  What else?  I don't know.

But here's one of the main issues, getting back to continuity: way too much of what's done is DERIVATIVE.  Nothing new.  Iteration after iteration of the same old stuff.  Same villains again and again.  Same tired concepts rehashed.  Endless permutations of the base conceit -- Rick Jones becomes the Hulk!  No, Betty does!  No, what could be more shocking than General Ross!  I know, Krypto!  Wait, this isn't a crossover....

I'll end the rant with a story:

Some years back, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I met Terry Stewart.  I didn't have a stand, so my friend Wolfgang, head of a German comics publisher allowed me to use his stand as a base as I made my rounds.  I came into the office (most "stands," or booths, have private offices) at one point to sit for a while and rest.  There was a guy there flirting with Heike, one of Wolfgang's employees.  He wasn't thrilled about being interrupted.  But then he noticed my name badge and introduced himself.  Terry Stewart, President of Marvel.

We talked for a while about various biz-related things.  Then, he said, words to the effect, "I feel like we've won the lottery two years in a row (with X-Men #1 the previous year and X-Factor that year).  You're supposed to be the big comics guru.  What do I do next?"

I told him he'd done all the easy-money things.  Now Marvel was going to have to create something.

A parade of derivative stuff has come out from Marvel since.  I'm still waiting for something new from the "House of Idea."

Here endeth the epistle.



Here are some comments to note:
Piperson's comment

Jim's  Response

More Strange Tales – San Diego Comic-Con Memories

One of the Worst of Times – Slighting Russ Manning


I met Russ Manning at the Con in 1979, I think. I didn’t really have much of a chance to talk to him, just long enough to tell him how much I loved his work, how I relentlessly tracked down every issue of Magnus Robot Fighter. How many times had he heard that in the previous half-hour alone?

Anyway, just meeting him and shaking his hand was a great honor. He was very busy. Inundated by fans like me. He always took time to look at aspiring artists’ work and give them pointers and encouragement, so he was always mobbed.

Next year, I was at the Con again, as usual. I remember it had been a particularly long and tiring day. I was exhausted. As the show was closing, I dragged myself across the street from the old Convention Center to the Executive Hotel and shambled wearily into an elevator that was conveniently waiting. Or being held….

There was another guy on the elevator. I was in the fog of weariness, not paying attention. The other guy, who looked to be twenty years or so older than me said, “Hi, Jim.”

I looked up, stared stupidly for a half-second—just a half-second—before the cogs in my mind turned and I realized that the guy was Russ Manning. Before I could say anything he offered his hand and said, “Russ Manning.”

I stammered the usual apologies one does in such a situation. We chatted for as long as it took to get to his floor.

Next year, once again after a long day at the Con, bone weary, I shambled back to the Executive. Once again the elevator was waiting. Once again, there was a guy.

As the doors closed, he said, “Hi, Jim.”

I looked up and for a moment had no idea who this guy was.

“Russ Manning,” he said, with a hint of a sigh.

In my defense, I offer this: he didn’t look like himself. He looked older. Thinner. Worn. He was ill. Very ill.

He wasn’t irritated with me or insulted. He just seemed hurt, or saddened. I guess he didn’t need to be reminded that he didn’t look well.

I stammered the usual apologies.

That was the last time I ever saw him. I wish I had that moment back to do over.

Someday, when I wind up wherever comics people go after our series is cancelled on this mortal coil, I will patiently stand in line with the other fans, stride boldly up to him when it’s my turn and say, “Hi, Russ. Jim Shooter.”



One of the Best of Times – Sergio’s Super-speed Inkpot Awards Sketches

I think it was 1981. At the Inkpot Awards Banquet, Shel Dorf took the podium to present the plaques as usual, but that year there was a special, additional feature—Sergio Aragonés was also onstage, there to draw a cartoon of every recipient as they accepted his or her award.

Sergio had an easel with a large drawing pad upstage from the podium, behind Shel, and out of his view as he presented the awards.

As each recipient was announced and got up to come to the stage, Sergio, Magic Marker at the ready, would take a good look at him or her. While Shel was rattling off the person’s accomplishments, Sergio would come up with an idea and before the thank you’s were said, he would have completed a brilliant and hysterically funny cartoon starring the awardee. Yes, he’s that quick with the ideas and draws faster than the speed of making light.

It was pants-wetting funny.

Three highlights:

Bill Sienkiewicz, who was quickly becoming a star, was at the Con for the first time, which, of course, qualifies one for an Inkpot. But Bill was so excited about it, and so nervous going up to the stage in front of the crowd that he was almost shaking. You’d think it was the Nobel Prize for Super Hero Literature. Sergio drew Bill at the podium clutching his Inkpot, looking all breathlessly, sincerely moved with his knees vibrating like harp strings.

Big laughs.

Mike Sekowsky’s name was called. When Mike got up, Sergio’s eyes went wide with that ¡qué inspiración…! look. Now, Mike was, shall we say, a large man, and Shel Dorf was no lightweight. Sergio drew Mike and Shel enormous belly to enormous belly, their arms too short for Shel to hand the plaque over.

That brought down the house. As I said, Sergio was out of Shel’s field of view, and Shel couldn’t imagine why everyone was laughing so hard at first.

Shel announced a posthumous award for a Japanese cartoonist. Again, Sergio’s eyes went wide. He whirled to face the drawing pad like a man possessed. The Marker stabbed toward the paper—but his drawing hand was intercepted, grabbed at the wrist by his non-drawing hand! An epic struggle ensued, non-drawing hand battling to prevent drawing hand from sketching something that might have been, shall we say, in questionable taste. As Sergio’s hands wrestled, rocked by their thrashing, he was writhing around on the stage. Once again, Shel was baffled at why the audience was laughing itself to pudding while he was talking about the accomplishments of the poor, deceased Japanese fellow.

The non-drawing hand won.

The funniest cartoon was the one Sergio didn’t draw.


NEXT: More Strange Tales

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Strange Tales – San Diego Comic-Con Memories

West and Woody


At the 1980 Comic-Con I met Adam West.

I was a judge for the costume contest. Judges sat in a marked-off section of the front row. I arrived early. I’m almost always early for everything.

As the audience was streaming into the auditorium, a little girl came wandering down the aisle. I’m not good at guessing kids’ ages, but she couldn’t have been more than seven. All the seats near the front were already filled except for two judges’ seats next to me.

The little girl asked me if she could sit in one of the seats. I said that those seats belonged to two other judges who would probably show up soon, but she could sit there until they did.

I asked her name, which I forget, sorry, and where her parents were. She said her parents couldn’t come because they had to take care of their table in the dealers’ room until the room was locked up. But she wanted to see the costumes.

I asked if they knew where she was. No.

I didn’t know what to do. Maybe call one of the Con staffers to take her back to the dealers’ room? That seemed cruel. All she wanted to do was watch the show.

Then the official occupants of the two empty seats showed up, Adam West and his wife. Marcie, I think? Again, sorry about names slipping away….

I introduced myself and quickly explained the situation.

Adam and his wife took over. They summoned a Con staffer, had another chair brought for the little girl and, I think, had word sent to the parents that all was okay.

So, the little girl sat with Adam West and his wife, just in front of them in her own little row in front of the front row. They were the best baby sitters ever. No child at that show was better cared for or better attended. She had a ball.

I don’t think she had any idea who Adam and his wife were, or who any of us were for that matter.

That was great. I got to talk with Adam and his wife a little, before, during and after the costume contest. They were/are the nicest, most interesting, best people you could ever meet.

After the contest, the little girl was safely escorted back to mom and dad.

Later, the next evening, I think, I attended the banquet. To my pleasant surprise, Adam West and his wife were seated next to me, on my left—and Wally Wood was on my right!

Talk about best seat in the house….

I had worked with Woody twice back in the 1960’s on Captain Action #1-2, but that was long distance, through the mail. Years later, while working at Marvel, I had met Woody and seen him briefly several times at the office and maybe once at Continuity Studios. He did a little bit of work for Marvel. Or, at least, his studio did. At that point in his life, his assistants did most of the work. Still, anything he touched had that unmistakable style. What a brilliant, amazing artist.

I had a great time talking again with Adam, Marcie (?) and Woody.

My respect for Adam and his wife only grew. First of all, I was impressed and thrilled that they remembered my name. And, the more we talked the clearer it became just how smart, informed, insightful and thoughtful they both were. And nice. Yes, I covered that above, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Gracious. Genuine. Finest-kind people.

Woody spoke less, but displayed flashes of his famous acerbic wit. We talked about anything but comics, except for what was happening there at the banquet right in front of us. They were giving awards, I guess. I really wasn’t paying much attention. Sorry.

Woody seemed to be hurting. In pain the whole time.

His skin looked gray. It was hot as hell in that hall, but Woody had on several layers—a tee shirt, a collared shirt over that and a flannel shirt over that.

I turned to say something to Adam at one point and when I looked back, Woody was gone.

He came back in a little while with a coat on. He said, exactly, “I’m freezing, man.”

That’s not good.

Anyway….

Like I said, we had a great time. And I got to thank Woody again for giving me my first splash page credit on page one of Captain Action #1, which he drew and inked from my layouts and script.

What a night. Lifetime highlight reel stuff. Once and done, gone forever, except in memory.

I haven’t seen Adam or his wife since. Woody died a year or so later by his own hand.


NEXT: More Strange Tales

Monday, July 25, 2011

More Strange Tales: War at Marvel

Cold War 

While I was associate editor of Marvel, during 1976, I think, Marvel was rife with little fiefdoms in conflict. Vicious backbiting. Daily rants and rages. Petty office politics. Favoritism. Cronyism. Vendettas and vengeances.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Vegas had less fear and loathing.

It was almost as bad as the average middle-America amateur theater group.

The two major factions were the Roy Thomas camp and the Len Wein/Marv Wolfman camp.

Len and Marv were close friends and allies. So much so, they might as well have been joined at the hip. People around the office sometimes referred to them as LenMarv, as if they were a single entity. Generally when they were not in earshot. Sometimes when they were. They actually didn’t seem to mind so much, depending upon who was calling them that.

Len and Marv had taken turns being Editor in Chief. Marv was at the helm in early 1976.

Though it had been years since Roy had been Editor in Chief, he still had a great deal of clout. He still had Stan’s ear, for instance, and some cred upstairs. It was not a good idea to offend Roy, and a good thing to be in his good graces.

No one would dare say a bad word about Roy, not openly, anyway. What if it got back to him?

In fact, every time something good was said, about writers in particular, people in the office generally tagged a genuflection to Roy onto it, like, “(Name of writer) gives good dialogue. Of course, Roy’s the best.”

Roy’s minions, that is, people he favored, were said by LenMarv people to be under Roy’s “nuclear umbrella.” Yes, they actually used that term.

LenMarv had their own minions, people who were loyal to them that they favored.

Including their wives. Marv and Len’s wives were on staff. They comprised the “coloring department.” They assigned coloring work. They were both terrific colorists, so hard to argue there, except, was it really necessary? A department to assign coloring? I don’t know.

And, including each other. Marv hired Len to design covers and write cover copy freelance, for instance. A little extra money. Easy money. Len did the work lickety-split, effortlessly. Len was pretty good at it, so hard to argue there, except, was it really necessary? A designated hitter for covers? I don’t know.

Marv seemed to have the time on his hands to handle such things. On a typical day, he’d come in mid-morning. He’d close the door to his office and we, out in the big editorial room, would hear typing. Len would turn up around lunch time. On his way out to lunch with Len, Marv would hand me the pages he’d written freelance on company time to look over. By the time he and Len came back from lunch, I’d have read the pages and marked them up, noting spelling errors, words misused, grammar problems and general suggestions, which as the Boss, he might use or ignore. Marv and Len would go into Marv’s office and close the door and play a game called Mastermind for an hour or so.

How do I know that? One day Len was sick, so Marv called me into his office after lunch, pulled the game board out of his desk drawer and asked me to fill in for Len. He tried mightily to teach me how to play. I sucked at it, but at least I gave him some interesting arrangements of pegs to solve while clobbering me.

But I digress….

In general, in a low-level, cold war kind of way, the two camps jockeyed for advantage. Roy, it seemed to me, generally only played defense, but Roy’s defense was more potent than the other camp’s offense. If it were football, Team Roy would lead the league in defensive scoring.

Conflicts inevitably arose between Roy’s minions and LenMarv’s minions. Also, while Roy was pretty much untouchable by anyone, Roy’s minions would sometimes go after LenMarv. And LenMarv would sometimes go after Roy’s minions. Carefully.

Part of my problem was that I wasn’t really anybody’s minion. Not because I was so much holier than thou, but because I was from out of town, I had been out of touch with most mainstream comics for a few years, I didn’t know many of the people, didn’t know their allegiances and sometimes I just plain had no clue about the nature and genesis of the thrashing around going on.

I suppose I was technically in the LenMarv camp since Marv had hired me, and I was as loyal to my boss as I thought one ought to be. But that only went so far. As stated elsewhere, I was very critical of the writer/editor concept and was pretty free with my opinions about what was good in the comics and what was bad. And what should be done about it.

I had this weird, heartland-type notion that the books came first, that ultimately, my loyalty should first and foremost be to doing the job I was hired to do as best I could, the Hell with whoever the personalities involved were, or whose camp they were in. So, I did what my boss told me to do, but other than that, tried to keep my nose buried in the work and do it well.

As a result, I pissed off people in both camps equally. People didn’t know what to make of me. Was I that naïve or just stupid? Yes to the former, for sure….

One day, a month or so after I started at Marvel, Stan called me into his office.

Now what?

Stan gave me a letter, at least two pages long, and asked me to read it. It was to Stan from Tony Isabella. It was a wall-to-wall diatribe against LenMarv—Tony was in the Roy camp—listing all the atrocities LenMarv had committed the previous day.

Oh, great, thought I. What does Stan want from me? Testimony?

When I finished reading Stan said, exactly, “I find one of these taped to my door every day.”

I said something brilliant like, “Uh-huh.”

Stan went on. “It’s really pretty well written. Don’t you think?”

“Uhh….”

“Is he writing for us? Are we giving him work?”

I said yes, and listed what Tony was writing. (Somebody help me, please. Ghost Rider for sure. What else? Champions? More?)

Stan said, “Good.”

That was it. I went back to my desk and back to work.

What’s the moral of the story? Well, for one, Stan was in my camp, or, more properly, I was in his. It mattered more to him that the books were well written and less whatever petty bickering was going on.


Shooting War


A few years later, in the early 1980’s, things had improved around Marvel significantly. We were in comfy new offices. We had gotten more or less on time, relieving, to some extent, the grinding oppression of the schedule. The books were selling like Popsicles in Death Valley. The business was expanding so there was plenty of work to go around. Rates had escalated dramatically. There were creator-owned opportunities, incentive plans, benefits and royalties. People were making money—some, a lot of money.

Funny how when people are making good money, a lot of the stress drains away.

And, oh, by the way, we had one of the finest crews of editors, editorial people and production people ever assembled. Brilliant, capable, talented people. Including several of the best people I’ve ever met.

Sure, there were occasional slings and arrows to deal with—the JLA/Avengers crossover comes to mind—but in general, we had entered an Era of Good Feeling. There was, for the most part, at least at 387 Park Avenue South, peace.

So of course, war broke out.

Shooting war.

Some Marvel miscreant with a little money in his pocket and a little time on his hands discovered at the local toy store/arsenal a marvelous weapon! It shot soft, plastic bullets. High muzzle velocity. Exceptional accuracy. Great stopping power. No penetration whatsoever. You could hit an intern solidly at 30 feet with one of these guns. But it wouldn’t mark the walls.

All the miscreants “marveled.” Heh. So, each of them had to go buy his or her own gun. And they formed teams. Or should I say units?

And, after work each day, the shooting started. The tenth floor, the comics floor, became a war zone.

I remember sitting at my desk working late one evening. I became vaguely aware of movement near my door. John Morelli came crawling in. He gestured “be quiet” and lay in ambush behind my couch, waiting for an enemy to pass by. Who would suspect a sniper in my room?!

I finally had to lay down some rules. All combatants had to wear eye protection. If any civilians strayed into the combat area, everyone was to cease fire, take the goggles off, hide the guns and look casual till the civilian cleared the area. Etc.

This went on for a while….

Then, as war is wont to do, it escalated.

If you think this is all just a a setup to force JayJay the Blog Elf to tell the story of the Marvel Punishers Paintball Team, you would be correct.

NEXT: More Strange Tales


The Marvel Punishers Paintball Team

Back row: Glenn Herdling, Marc Siry, Marcus McLaurin, Fabian Nicieza, John Wellington, Mark Chiarello, Steve Buccellato, Janet JayJay Jackson, (Randy? a judge and comics fan from the paintball field),
Front row: Bob Sharen, Cynthia Martin, Dan Raspler, Carl Potts, Hector Collazo, Michael Yee, Dave Wohl.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Five, the Last

And Then Things Got Ugly

Dick Giordano asked me to meet him for lunch on May 26th, I believe. He picked an Italian place on Madison Avenue near 42nd Street, about halfway between DC and Marvel’s offices.

He had this news: Gerry Conway had quit the project. Okay. Apparently Roy Thomas, however, had expressed interest in scripting the book. Fine, I said, but he’s going to have to start from scratch. First, we needed a new plot.

By the way, the Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site has it wrong. It says that Gerry was “…asked to plot the epic story with Roy Thomas providing the script.” No. Gerry was the intended writer, plot and script. When he bailed out, that’s when his friend Roy stepped up and volunteered to take over.

The purpose of the lunch was to convince me that Roy could save it in the dialogue. No, not even Roy could do that. Think of the plot as a thing meant to be an airplane, but one look told you it had no wings, no landing gear, no engine and no cockpit. What difference does it make if you have a great pilot?

You cannot imagine how bad this plot was. Last night, Tom Breevort commented:

July 21, 2011 11:51 PM
Tom Brevoort said...

Just to confirm at least one point that Jim makes here, absolutely everybody involved on the Marvel side back in the day agreed that the plot that was submitted for the original JLA/AVENGERS book was a mess. I've heard the details firsthand from Mark Gruenwald, Tom DeFalco and others over the years, and this is a point that every telling agrees upon. And the specifics that Jim mentions were inevitably among the points that were raised. 
Tom B

Dick got pretty agitated. He told me, words to the effect that it didn’t matter if the story was crap. You put a bunch of characters together, they fight and it sells like hotcakes. Who cares if it’s crap? All of these crossovers are crap.

I said that the ones Len and Chris wrote weren’t crap. I wrote one, and I didn’t think it was crap. They all should be as good as they can be. Foisting crap upon the readers because it will “sell like hotcakes” anyway seemed like dereliction of duty to me.

Again, I heard all about DC’s in-house political squabbles. Some people were furious, some were smugly cackling and many were all over Dick about what should be done and to whom.

To Dick, the way out was for me to let it go. Just approve the damn thing. As a personal favor to him. The implication was that maybe someday I’d need a personal favor….

The jury can feel free to disregard that last sentence as my subjective impression.

My job was to look after our characters and make good comics. I would not, could not agree to approve a plot that violated our characters and sucked.

Lastly, Dick tried to claim fait accompli. Well, oops, so much of this one is done, we might as well just let it go and button up the procedures on the next one.

Nice try. No way.

We parted with Dick still urging me to reconsider.

A few days later I received the letter Dick must have written upon returning to his office, dated May 26th. Here are parts of it, from the Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site:

“The contract stipulates for example, that each company should appoint a staff editor to each project,... In this case, the editors so appointed were Len Wein (Dc) and Mark Gruenwald (Marvel) ... When the plot was delivered, you decided to become personally involved (counter to our previous team-up experiences) and forced my involvement at a hands-on editorial level.”

No, the contract designated me as Marvel’s editorial representative. And, even if it didn’t, what a disingenuous assertion! Was he suggesting that if he disagreed with Len, he couldn’t overrule him, or that if Jenette disagreed with either of them that she couldn’t overrule them? Give me a break. Besides, as affirmed by Tom Breevort, Gruenwald agreed with me.

That paragraph of his letter was designed for the audience at large, many of whom wouldn’t see through it at a glance, implying that I was going out of my way to meddle where I had no right to meddle. Does that suggest an evil agenda on my part to you? I think it would to naïve and non-business-savvy people. Dick was already teeing up the anti-Marvel/anti-Shooter PR campaign.

In fact, his whole letter was designed for PR.

“You had some problems with the plot. The motivation for the events was weak.”

Some problems? My problems with the plot were many and deep, not confined to motivations.

“I agreed with you….”

Right. You characterized it as “garbage” and agreed that it was unusable.

“When we thought we had it de-bugged, Len called you with an outline of the changes, to which you responded positively, saving you felt the changes would work.”

Nothing Len told me on the phone indicated that any of the fundamental problems had been addressed. No changes to those issues were proposed. As I said yesterday, I told him plainly to scrap it and start over.

“Len reported that conversation to me with the request from you that a new written plot be submitted.”

It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. Emphatically delivered.

“I thought this request to be logical but largely a formality and ordered George Perez to start drawing before the new plot was typed. In doing so, I had no intention of ignoring your wishes.”

It wasn’t a formality and Len knew it. I clearly, unmistakably demanded a totally rewritten, usable plot. That would entail major changes, affecting what George would eventually draw.

What Len conveyed to Dick, or what Dick chose to make of what Len conveyed, I don’t know. But the fact remains, no approval was given, tacit or otherwise. I specifically refused to allow penciling to begin.

And, personally, I firmly believe Dick had every intention of ignoring my wishes.

“I understand your conversation with Len to be a tacit approval of our modifications and desired only to keep the project moving. I have since apologized to you for this seeming breach of protocol and trust that this unintentional mistake is note one of the reasons for your rejection.”

The reason I rejected the “revised” plot was that it wasn’t any good. Still.

“Yes, there still remain some questions left unanswered in the plot, but no more or less than are left unanswered in most plots.”

Nonsense. I had never seen such a mess.

“More often than not, these questions are resolved while the work is in progress and I’m sure that you’ll agree the levels of skill possessed by George Perez, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and myself are sufficient to resolve these plot “holes” to everyone’s satisfaction….”

Levels of skill. Yes, the individuals named had skills. But after what I’d seen to that point and heard at our lunch, I firmly believed that Dick had no inclination to produce a quality product. It would have taken a hell of a lot more than resolving “plot holes” anyway.

“Incidentally, I’m sure that you recognize the difficulty in producing a script that is truly wonderful given the extreme limitations inherent in a team-up venture of this kind; everything and everyone must be left just as we found them and all events and actions must end in a tie.”

Spin control on his “Who cares if it’s crap?” rant. And who says all events and all actions must end in a tie? Superman clearly won against the Hulk and Spider-Man clearly won against Wonder Woman. I wonder if he read my “crap?”

“There were plot weaknesses in Chris’ X-Men/Teen Titans last year, but everyone who bought the book (all those people!) seemed not to care. I didn’t.”

If the plot had weaknesses, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Does anyone think that Chris and Walt slacked off because the book was going to sell like hotcakes anyway? And DC had its shot at identifying plot weaknesses and having them corrected. We wouldn’t have stonewalled them. And many people do care. Dick said he didn’t. I believe him.

“Finally (and at a more practical level), if you insist on starting all over, we will have to name a new creative team as previous commitments will force the withdrawal of all the current team members ... Further, I must then insist that you supply a detailed, written list of changes requested.

“The storyline makes sense to me and everyone else here and our contract stipulates that ‘Marvel and DC shall jointly agree on mutually acceptable modifications’ and I can hardly agree with your modification if I don’t know what they are.”

If the “levels of skill” at DC’s command had been utilized to see to it that a good plot had been delivered in the first place, or had been applied during the subsequent three months to creating a new, usable plot, we wouldn’t have had worries about losing the creative team. But, the problem as Dick characterized it was me.

Regarding a detailed, written list: Okay. That would take a while. Being in the middle of convention season didn’t help.

By the way, they knew damn well what the problems were. Dick knew the plot was “garbage.” Could it be that he knew that but didn’t know why? Dick just wanted to make me jump through a hoop and, of course, suggesting in this PR-ready letter that the “modification” I might want was unfathomable suited his purpose: making me seem arbitrary and high-handed.

“Perhaps we should just put this back in the hands of Mark and Len and George and Roy and trust that these seasoned pros, three of whom have worked well for both companies, won’t embarrass themselves or Dc and Marvel. Whichever way you choose to go, I respectfully request that you respond as quickly as possible. TIMES A WASTIN’!”

One last stab at getting me to look away from the train wreck.

Because of the high stakes involved in this debacle, a million dollars of revenue that could be delayed or worse, I went to discuss it with Marvel President Jim Galton. I explained the situation. Dick was right that even a bad book would sell well and make money. I was prepared for Galton to tell me back off, let it go.

I presented my case: that the long term, deleterious effects of publishing “crap,” as Dick called it, outweighed the short term gains. That allowing our characters to be bastardized in a high profile book (or any book) was unacceptable. You know. All the usual arguments for quality and integrity.

Galton couldn’t even name an Avenger. He wouldn’t have known Ant Man from the Vision, so there was no point getting into specifics. By this time, though, he had come to trust me about editorial and creative matters. He told me to, in my words, stick to my guns, damn the torpedoes. You know. All the usual expressions of support.

On June 15th, I delivered a long list of objections.

On July 28th, I received Roy’s new plot. That was a Thursday, and I was off to a convention that weekend. San Diego was the next week.

When I ran into Dick at the con, August 4th, I hadn’t yet read Roy’s plot, and wanted to get comments from Gruenwald before responding anyway.

Sometime after the San Diego Con and maybe another con the next weekend, I was finally back in the office.

Roy’s plot seemed fine.

Not only that, Roy was and is King of Continuity. He’s the best ever at taking a bunch of random threads and weaving them into a convincing tapestry. He had gone over the existing Pérez pages and figured out a way to make almost all of them usable. Some small portion, I’ll guess two pages total, a panel here and there would have to be redrawn. That’s all.

But around August 22nd, word came that Pérez had withdrawn from the project.

Now what?

Back to square one.

There was communication with DC, Dick or someone, throughout this period. I was told that they had another artist in mind, Don Heck. I sent over some notes on the new plot, all Gruenwald’s, all minor stuff.

But soon thereafter, DC chose to terminate the series rather than proceed.

The Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site has this to say:

“It wasn’t hard to see why Perez would draw the conclusion that Jim Shooter didn’t want this crossover with him, especially finally approving the story after Perez had taken himself off the project.”

Wrong. I never approved the original plot. I approved Roy’s rewritten plot. George actually bailed after I’d told Roy and Dick that Roy’s revision was directionally okay.

In an interview, George Pérez said this:

“I do not want this taken wrongly because I am a fan of Don Heck’s work. But Shooter knows full well that Heck will never sell the book, not because of any inferiority in Don’s work, it’s just that he is not a fan favorite and with a fan book this is definitely important. He is doing everything in his power to sabotage this ...”

Why would I sabotage the project? In what way would that benefit me or Marvel?

“I am not going to let Jim Shooter get away with this, and I’m going to use every available means to let people know what Jim’s done. If people don’t believe what I say, at least I’ve gotten it out of my system.”

Get away with what? Where’s my gain?

I never spoke with George about this, during the brouhaha or since.

All that George heard was what DC people told him. Do you think they told him that I was a steadfast champion of quality and a pillar of integrity who did not want the characters that we, George and I, loved being so ill-used in such a rotten-plot story?

The Marvel Comics of the 1980’s adds this:

“Shooter in the Marvel Age article vehemently denies stalling the project to remove Perez from the book.”

Stalling the project to remove Pérez from the book?! Of course I denied it vehemently. It’s baloney. That would make no sense. Much like Gerry’s plot.

The site goes on:

“Sadly for the fans, Marvel and DC let the project die, each pointing the finger at each other, claiming that they were waiting on the other party.”

I asked for a revised plot on February 25th. A truly revised plot, not one merely festooned with a bowtie, an acceptable revised plot, arrived on July 28th. Who was waiting for whom?


The site finishes with this:

“Michael Eury in his article on the JLA/Avengers crossover in Back Issue #1, presented his conclusions: ‘If I must assign blame as to why this greatest of stories was never told, the culprit is: A clash of editorial styles. These two editorial camps were incompatible.’”
Instead of undertaking the massive revisions necessary, DC tried to jam the plot through. Get an approval over the phone with an unspecific promise to fix things. 
 
Nonsense.

That’s how those at fault usually break at least even. Some people will always split the difference.

So, to review:


  • Gerry delivered a plot that he put less thought and effort into than he did into his Team-Up story in which Hercules tows Manhattan out to sea and back again. And the plot was late. 
  • DC sent the plot to me for approval. Had they read it first?
  • I responded quickly. Plot rejected. 
  • Dick admitted the plot was “garbage.” If he’d read it, or anyone there with a brain had read it and therefore knew it was bad, why did they forward it?
  • Dick cited internal DC office politics as an excuse. Not my problem. 
  • Failing that, they had George begin penciling, going for the fait accompli gambit. 
  • I heard about the pencils being done and objected. I demanded that penciling stop and a new plot be presented as specified months earlier. I hoped that what George had drawn, which was beautiful, could be used, in part at least. 
  • Dick’s/DC’s efforts to back me down, attempts to convince me that it didn’t matter if the story sucked, and slandering me failed to budge me. 
  • Marvel President Jim Galton gave me his full support. 
  • Roy stepped in and progress was made. 
  • Too late. Pérez quit. 
  • DC’s half-hearted attempts to revive the project amounted to naught. 
  • DC canned the project and the series. 
  • In the end, the termination of the project cost both companies a lot. But I never heard a regret or a complaint from upstairs. 

Many times since I left Marvel, at conventions, in fanzines and more recently, online, there have been laments from readers to the tune of: “How can they let (name of creator) do that to (name of character)? How can they let (so and so) ruin (hero or group).

Well, when I was at Marvel, as much as possible, I prevented such things. I rank the JLA/Avengers plot I wouldn’t approve high on that list.

In other words, I did my job.

If that makes me a megalomaniac or a dictator or a Blue Meanie or whatever you want to call me, I’m okay with that.


NEXT: More Strange Tales: War at Marvel

JayJay here. Yesterday computer woes. Today a blackout. If no more disasters occur, we will be back on schedule Monday. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Four

Batman/Hulk, Titans/Mutants and Are You Kidding?

Superman and Spider-Man succeeded beyond expectations, launching the Marvel/DC crossover series in spectacular fashion.

Next up, published in late 1981, I think, was Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk. Len Wein, DC’s top writer, who, of course, had written both characters, was the natural choice to write the book. Brilliant Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez penciled it and Dick Giordano inked it wonderfully. Great stuff.

Next, published in 1982, came the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans by Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson and Terry Austin. Great stuff.

It looked like we were getting the hang of it….

Then along came the Justice League of America vs. the Avengers.

The nightmare brouhaha it stirred up killed the series.

As the nightmare unfolded, at its end and afterward, DC people, starting with Dick Giordano, actively blamed everything on me. At first, in hopes of pressuring me into approving un-approvable work. Later, as the project spiraled into the abyss, to mitigate their own, internal political hostilities. Finally, to vilify Marvel and in particular, me, for whatever advantages that might afford them.

Throughout this, I, for the most part, kept my mouth shut. Other than giving mild answers like, “There are some minor problems with the plot,” or some such, when asked directly at a convention what was going on, I said as little as possible publicly. It didn’t seem proper to me to do so, no matter what DC was doing or saying.

As in other cases, silence, reserve and behaving properly only allowed whatever my detractors were saying to become accepted fact. Story of my life.

The furor killed not only the JLA/Avengers book, but the whole series. DC opted out.

I was deluged with angry letters. Hate mail. At conventions, I was asked about it in an accusatory fashion incessantly. I endured a lot of venom.

Finally, I wrote a column telling some of my/Marvel’s side. We ran it only in Marvel Age, and possibly Marvel Fanfare, confining it to the Direct Market, and therefore, those readers who were generally more in touch with industry goings-on, and more likely to have concerns. I was as circumspect and diplomatic as possible under the circumstances.

I can hear you thinking, “That was circumspect…?” Yes, it was.

DC published a disingenuous “rebuttal” in their regular books.

I don’t have copies of either of those columns easily at hand, nor could I find them quickly on the web. If anyone has copies, you are welcome to post them.

Here is an overview of events. I got the dates from this site: http://marvel1980s.blogspot.com/2011/06/1983-jlaavengers-crossover-also-known.html

where they do a fair job of relating what was public knowledge till now.

Gerry Conway was the approved writer of the book. George Pérez was the penciler. I forget who was supposed to ink it. Len Wein was DC’s designated editor.

In late February of 1983, after many “where is it?” inquiries by me, DC Comics delivered the plot to me for approval. It came from Giordano, I think. Under the terms of our contract, I was Marvel’s editorial representative for all the crossovers, though I designated Louise Simonson as hands-on editor for the X-Men/Titans book and Mark Gruenwald for this book.

I read the plot. My first thought was that they must be kidding.

I asked a few other people to read it. Among them were Tom DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald. Elliot Brown also read it. Others, too. I remember that we had gathered in the X-Men office, so possibly Louise read it, maybe even Chris.

No exaggeration, they were all laughing hysterically. It was so bad, so nonsensical and so inadvertently (I think) funny that we were in stitches. They were taking turns reading aloud particularly ridiculous passages. It was rolling-on-the-floor absurd.

I have a copy of that plot somewhere, in one of the many boxes of Marvel files yet unpacked. If I come across it, I’ll post it.

Here are a few lowlights that I remember:

It started, as I recall, with DC’s Lord of Time and Marvel’s Kang, at the “end of time” fighting over a magic McGuffin, a stone that had limitless power. Somehow, in buffoonish fashion, they simultaneously blast the object of their desire—doh!—causing it, for inexplicable reasons to become a bouncing ball, skipping its way back through time.

Kang and the Lord of Time immediately come up with the same plan: recruit heroes to retrieve the McGuffin for them.

Kang recruits the Justice League as his catspaws. They’re easily duped. The Lord of Time recruits the Avengers as his catspaws. They’re easily duped.

Small groups of JLA-ers and Avengers with conveniently analogous powers fight each other at various points of history over the McGuffin. While they’re thrashing around, the bouncy ball bounds on, escaping them.

The bouncy ball eventually arrives at the beginning of time, where, if something isn’t done, something terrible will happen. I think the bouncy ball was going to blow up and destroy the universe. Or something.

All the JLA-ers and Avengers arrive at the beginning of time and start fighting.

Hawkeye and Green Arrow fire pointed, deadly arrows at each other (?!).

The two arrows collide point-to-point and therefore are deflected at a right angle (?!). Both of them. Same direction. (??!!)

The two arrows strike the bouncy ball and cause it to explode!

And that causes—we’re at the beginning of time, remember—the universe to begin!

And everything is as it was.

So, Hawkeye and Green Arrow—doh!—are the authors of the Big Bang, if you will, the causative agents who bring all creation into existence.

And that’s not all. The individual episodes of this tale were ludicrous, each on its own hook.

The characters were routinely misrepresented. Out of character, powers wrong. Gerry had Quicksilver racing the Flash. No, Flash can run at lightspeed. The Marvel Universe Handbook says Quicksilver can run about 175 MPH.

That one sticks in my mind, but there were many.

Even DC characters were out of character. Not my job to object to misrepresentations of their characters, but there was a scene with Superman aboard Galactus’s ship that takes place before Krypton explodes that’s worth mentioning. Superman notices a “menu,” listing the inhabited planets Galactus plans to eat soon. Right at the top of the list is Krypton! So…are you ready?...Superman rearranges the menu so that some other inhabited world is first and Krypton is moved way down the list.

Are you kidding?

This description doesn’t begin to do this travesty of a plot justice. Nothing made sense. Nothing was explained. Characters did the damndest things.

Add to that the fact that Gerry had chosen a batch of characters on the Marvel side that was no group of Avengers ever assembled, and no group that could ever be assembled. The story didn’t have to be in continuity, but neither should it trample common sense and blatantly violate established history and continuity.

One of Mark Twain’s nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction requires “…that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader….” This plot had crass stupidities in abundance.

Anyway….

In a letter dated February 25th, as politely but as clearly and completely as possible, I rejected the plot.

Soon thereafter, I spoke by phone with Dick Giordano and confirmed that there would have to be a completely rewritten plot.

Here’s the part you don’t know:

Dick agreed with me that the plot was “garbage” and wasn’t usable. He pleaded with me to let it go, to approve the plot anyway because he had major personality and political problems at his place involving Gerry, Len, George and factions loyal to same. A lot of animosity and jealousy, including hard feelings between Gerry and Len that would somehow be exacerbated if Gerry’s plot was rejected. A “victory” for the Gerry-haters? I don’t know.

But, whatever his personnel problems were, the plot sucked and I wasn’t about to approve it.

Dick thought that, instead of telling Gerry and others that I had rejected the plot, it might be politically better if he said that he, Dick, wanted changes made. I didn’t care, as long as we got a new plot. I made it clear that minor changes wouldn’t cut it. That mess needed a thorough overhaul.

Strangely, sometime later, Len Wein called me to discuss changes to the plot. He spoke as if minute changes here and there would make everything okay. He wanted to discuss little characterization gaffs. I told him plainly scrap it and start over. I refused to discuss bits and details, a waste of time. As the Titanic was sinking did it matter whether or not the ashtrays were clean? I gave him, in broad strokes the major reasons why the plot made no sense and was utterly unusable.

Len asked whether, they could proceed with the pencils, now that he understood the objections. I said no. Emphatically. There was way too much wrong with that plot to agree to allow penciling to start after a few minutes of discussing only the most egregious of the many incredibly egregious flaws. I told him I had to see a new, written plot.

A couple of weeks passed. I started calling Dick every day or two. He would never take my call. After nearly two months of this, I sent him a telegram demanding answers, demanding a revised plot.

On May 18th, someone casually mentioned to me that they had seen some of George’s penciled pages for the JLA/Avengers book. I called Dick right away. I couldn’t reach him. I sent another telegram. Finally, he called.

Sometime shortly thereafter, DC messengered over photocopies of the 20 or so pages George had drawn. Along with the copies, or separately, soon thereafter, they sent a “revised” plot.

The “revised” plot was substantially, make that almost completely the same as the original rejected plot, with only a few, very minor cosmetic touch-ups.

George’s pencils were terrific. But they were based on the rejected plot. To his credit, George had actually fixed a few small errors in the plot as he drew it. Not nearly enough. None of the major reasons why the plot made no sense and was unusable had been addressed.

I rejected it again.


NEXT: And Then Things Got Ugly


JayJay here. We're a little late posting today's article due to computer difficulties, but we should be back on schedule tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Three

The Urge to Kill.  Twice.

The penciling on Superman and Spider-Man went pretty fast.  John Buscema was amazing.

I drove out to John’s house in Port Jefferson on Long Island a couple of times for business reasons.  I don’t remember what the business was but I clearly remember spending time with John, meeting his lovely wife and seeing their wonderful home.

He showed me his studio.  John had a very set work routine.  Start work early.  Warm up for a while, doing little sketches just to get loose.  Work a normal length day, eight hours, he said, as I recall, with a lunch break.  And, at the end of each day, he’d have finished five or six beautiful pages.  Some artists struggled to finish one page a day.  Some couldn’t even do that much.

(ASIDE:  When a John Buscema job would arrive at the office in the mail, the first thing we’d do was turn the book over and look at the backs of the pages where John did his warm-up sketches.  They were incredible.  A lot of cowboys, horses, animals, regular, non-heroic people….  One I remember was a cowboy lying on his belly drinking out of a watering hole with his horse alongside.  Later, he did a similar drawing at one of the classes he gave at Marvel.  But that’s a story for another time.)

John had a pretty extensive home gym, all free weights and stations for same, as I remember.  He benched more than I weighed.  I wondered whether he bothered to use a jack if the car had a flat.

He was a big, strong guy with big beefy hands.  Not what you’d expect of a man who drew with such elegance and grace.

He was fond of saying that if he had it to do all over again he’d be a butcher because, “People always have to eat.”

Anyway….

John did his part.  I thought his Superman was brilliant.  I loved the nobility he gave Superman.  I loved how he drew Superman in very natural flying poses.  I loved the way he drew Superman coming in for a landing in panel 1 of page 18 and panel 2 of page twenty-five—the way most people would land, I think, rather than the traditional Superman “ballerina” landing pose, with one foot tucked up under his butt.  Stan and I used to laugh about that pose.  Who would do that? 

I think maybe Wayne Boring, whose art was very stylized and stiff, established that pose.  Wayne was great.  I worked with him on Superman in the sixties.  But, the ballerina thing…?

John’s Spider-Man wasn’t quite as good as his Superman.  I’d told John to keep Spider-Man stuck to walls, upside down, in “spidery” poses, off the ground when possible.  Leaping 30 feet rather than running.  Super-humanly acrobatic, the way Ditko drew him.  I guess that didn’t come naturally to John.  There were lots of shots of Spider-Man standing on the ground, walking and running like a normal guy.

That said, Spider-Man seldom looked better, nor did Peter Parker.  Nor did Clark Kent.

The supporting casts, the guest stars…brilliant. 

His Doctor Doom?  Fantastic.

John even made the Parasite look good.

Anyway….

Time for me to start scripting, that is, writing the dialogue.  I was usually pretty fast, but there was a lot going on at Marvel at the time, and I wasn’t setting speed records.  The deadline was looming.  As you may remember from last installment, DC took four months to approve the plot (with no comments or changes requested), so we started in the hole.

I was particularly pleased with the first sequence featuring Doom, which explained why he always talked to himself, among other things.

I am also fond of the exchange between Doom and Superman in panel 1 of page twenty-six.  I can’t believe DC let me get away with these two words said by Superman: “I know.”

I was doing my best.

But, God, we were running late.

Then, a miracle occurred.  DC was part of Warner Communications, of course, and Warner Books wanted to publish a paperback sized edition of Superman and Spider-Man.  To accommodate the WB release schedule, so the Treasury Edition and their book could be released simultaneously, the launch had to be pushed back—conveniently, four months!

A reprieve!

That didn’t mean all was copasetic.  It just meant that we were suddenly close to on track schedule-wise rather than up against the deadline with a lot of work left to go.

In spite of all the work I had as Editor in Chief, as well as Superman and Spider-Man, in spite of all the long hours and work on weekends, I still tried to have a little bit of a life.  In spite of being large and strange-looking, by dint of boundless enthusiasm and a never-say-die attitude, I usually had a girlfriend.  I went to the movies once in a while.  I did some human things.  I was a young man.  I wanted to live a little.

One of the human things was playing poker.  Most Friday evenings, a group of us comics types would gather, usually at the huge apartment Paul Levitz and Marty Pasko shared down on Mercer Street, and play what passed for poker.  For dimes, or at most, quarters and halves.  It was a social thing more than a gambling thing.  More on that mad hilarity later.

One evening, as we were playing one of Marv’s favorite, weird low-card-in-the-hole-is-wild games—dealer’s choice—Paul mentioned that he’d heard I was going to a convention in London the following weekend.  Yes, indeed.  The con was being sponsored by Marvel U.K., or British office, and I was the guest of honor. 

Later, Paul casually asked me how Superman and Spider-Man was progressing.  Well enough, I said.  Half inked, two-thirds dialogued.  Under control.

I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

A week later, I came to work with my suitcase packed, my plane ticket and passport in my pocket, ready to go to London that evening. 

Around ten AM, I was summoned to President Jim Galton’s office.  He was seething.  Enraged.

Seems that Jenette Kahn had just called him and given him holy hell about the Superman and Spider-Man book being late.  She called him, and Marvel in general, “unprofessional.”  He was furious.

At me, not her.

Galton told me that Jenette had said that if the script wasn’t delivered finished Monday morning, DC would cancel the project. 

Galton raged about potentially losing hundreds of thousands of dollars off the bottom line.  He raged about being chastised by Jenette.  And he got more than a little insulting toward me.

This all completely blindsided me.  I tried to explain.  According to the new, revised schedule to accommodate Warner Books, we weren’t late.  There really wasn’t a problem.  And I was scheduled to appear in London at our own, Marvel-sponsored convention.

I couldn’t do the con and finish the script the same weekend.  No way.  But it made absolutely no difference if the script came in a few days later!

Galton said that if I convinced Jenette and DC that there was no problem, fine.  Otherwise, I had damn well better deliver the script.  I was dismissed.

I called Jenette and asked for a meeting.  She said come right over.

Present were Jenette, Paul, Joe Orlando (who was the editor assigned by DC) and me.  I don’t remember what Paul’s title was at the time.  Whatever, he was one of Jenette’s key people.

I explained the situation.

Paul said, officiously, “The contract says that the script is past due.”

I pointed out that the contract did not reflect schedule changes required by their sister company, Warner Books.  And that DC had wasted four months at the plot stage.  

Paul didn’t care.  “The contract says….”

We went around that circle a few times.  Joe, throughout, by the way, said nothing.  He just sat there looking scared that somehow he would end up in trouble over this. 

I explained that I was supposed to be the guest of honor at a Marvel U.K. convention that weekend.  I explained that the book was being inked and colored without balloons—copy to be pasted up later, so no other work was being held up because of me.  And that I guaranteed that I would finish the script next weekend.  And, that IT MADE NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER WHETHER THE SCRIPT WAS DELIVERED MONDAY OR THE FOLLOWING MONDAY.    
 
Jenette actually pleaded with Paul on my behalf!  In light of what I’d told them, she suggested that they could wait a week.

But Paul stuck to his guns.  “The contract says….”  Etc.  And, he added, words to the effect, “Jim, it’s the con this weekend, and you know it will be something else next weekend and the weekend after that.  The contract says….”

Jenette was clearly in agreement with me but unwilling to overrule her guy, Paul.  At least in front of me.

All right, I said.  I will stay home this weekend and write.  You will have the script Monday.
      
And then Paul asked, “Have you ever been to England?”

No.

He started telling me how wonderful England was and how terrific London was.  He described the Marvel U.K. offices.  Weird and quirky.  You actually had to cross a rooftop to get to them, said he.  Paul went on and on about what I was missing.

I had the urge then to go across the table at him, rip his head off and throw it out the window.  Joe would have run.  Jenette probably would have hit me with a chair, but that’s okay, I’ve been hit with chairs before.  Stings a little, but so worth it at that moment.

But I restrained myself.

I went back to my office and called Galton.  My pitch to him was going to be this:  Jenette was sympathetic.  It was only Paul with some bureaucratic broomstick up his ass.  They don’t really want to lose hundreds of thousands off of their bottom line over nothing either.  What I hoped for was clearance to go to the convention and deliver the script a day or two after I got back.  Call their bluff.

Galton’s secretary said he had gone home with a headache.

I called Galton at home.  His wife Lydia would not allow him to be disturbed.  I told her it was important.  But, no dice.

Around four, Archie Goodwin and Bill Sienkiewicz (and maybe someone else, I forget) came to my office.  They were also guests at the con.  Time to grab a cab and go.  Our flight was at six.

I told them they’d have to go without me.

That weekend, I stayed home and finished the script.  More than twenty pages.  I don’t remember exactly.  A lot.

Monday morning, I was waiting at DC when the receptionist arrived at around 8:30 AM.  I gave her copies of the script and balloon placements to give to Jenette, Paul and Joe.

I was waiting outside Galton’s office when he arrived.  He said a chirpy good morning.  No immediate questions about the script.  I think he’d forgotten about it. 

I said I needed to speak with him.  He said come on in.  I closed the door behind me.  That was his first clue.

I sat in one of his guest chairs.  Didn’t want to loom.  And told him as calmly as I could that he was welcome to question judgments I made all he wanted and give whatever orders he saw fit, but he had better never raise his voice to me again or insult my effort, my integrity or me personally ever again.  I didn’t threaten him.  Not at all.  But the thought of his head flying through the window did cross my mind.

He apologized.  And he never did again raise his voice or get insulting as long as I worked at Marvel.

I told him, by the way that the script had been delivered.

P.S.  I’m not a violent person.  I wouldn’t really seriously contemplate ripping anybody’s head off.  Or any violence.

P.P.S.  The book shipped on time.  Easily.

P.P.P.S.  I later went to London and points east quite a bit.

P.P.P.P.S.  I never did get to see the Marvel U.K. office that one had to cross a rooftop to reach.  I’m sorry I missed that.

P.P.P.P.P.S.  I cannot account for what Paul did.  He was always okay by me before that and after that.  We have never talked about it.  I let it go after a while.  But it still puzzles me.


NEXT: Batman/Hulk, Titans/Mutants and Are You Kidding?