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Solar, Man of the Atom

Even More Questions and Answers

Jens H. Altmann commented on your link.
Jens wrote: “I used to think that there was roughly a 10 year turnover in comics creators — every ten years or so, some new names would appear and some established names would phase out. What’s your observation in that regard?”

Most of the people I worked with were lifers, especially those who started before I did, and those who started after pay and benefits got better. There was a time, from the late sixties till the late seventies when the pay was so bad that a lot of creators who could get other kinds of work — illustration, storyboards, animation, copywriting, advertising, or writing anything but comics — jumped ship.  Many came back when things got better.  When I have time I’ll give you a list of a few notables who left for other work, and some who came back. You guys probably can make a better list than I can.

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Secret Marvels/Marvel’s Secret

I became established as a regular writer for National Comics, working through the mail and over the phone with Mort Weisinger on virtually all of his titles–Superman, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics, Jimmy Olsen, Superboy and Captain Action. As the “kid who wrote Superman,” I became a mini-celebrity. This Week magazine ran a short feature about me, as did the Pittsburgh papers and TV news shows. I was asked for autographs! Quickly, I learned to sign “Shooter” with a Superman “S.”

Still, I haunted the newsstands to buy the latest Marvel Comics. Though Mort, an excellent, if harsh, teacher, taught me much about writing comics and writing in general, Stan Lee was still my greatest influence. I felt guilty, vaguely traitorous, but I continued to study every Marvel Comic I could lay hands upon. I comforted myself with the knowledge that Mort himself read all the Marvels. I’d seen stacks of them around his office the first time I’d visited New York. The simple truth was that little-but-growing Marvel Comics had become the leader in the comics field and the the other companies, including huge-but-declining National Comics, scared. Time after time, Mort tried to respond to the rising Marvel threat. He tried using odd panel shapes, as some Marvel artists did, to “make the page layout more exciting.” He tried running bright colors in the panel gutters to make the pages gaudier and, in theory, more exciting. He tried imitating the wisecracking humor, both in the dialog and in the editor’s notes, the extreme action, the gutsier characterization and every other superficially apparent quality of Marvel Comics. Nothing worked. The secret of Marvel’s success remained a mystery to him.

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Comic Book Distribution- Part 3

First This

One more thing about mass-market distribution….

The other day, while making a point about digital piracy, Nick Yankovec said that “…most of the stuff available is overpriced and not good enough.”

Yep.  In response, I said this:

I think I’ve been pretty clear in all my rants that “not good enough” is the main problem with comics today. Price and other concerns exacerbate the problem.

(…)

Quality is key.

November 18, 2011 6:47 PM

People in and around the comic book industry, and especially creators who aren’t knowledgeable about the business side, often blame poor sales on bad distribution.

I attended a Friends of Lulu meeting some years back at which the main thing being discussed—as is often the case—was the poor and declining sales of comic books, in that instance, especially those by, for or about women. Every one of the several dozen people in that room agreed that the problem was distribution. Except me.

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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….

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Some Marvel Tales and Other Horror Stories – Part 2

Mean Old MarvelThere were many battles between Marvel and creators over creators’ rights and creators’ wrongs. But, lest you think that it was all battles all day every day at Marvel, here are a few instances where big old, mean old Marvel actually resolved potentially contentious issues peacefully.

Barefootz

Howard Cruse sent me a letter sometime in the mid-1980’s asking about the rights to some Barefootz stories he had created for Marvel some years ago. On his website his is how he describes how that came about and how it went:

Post-’70s Sightings

Action Comics

This comment got me into full honking mode:

srp has left a new comment on your post “Regarding What Has Gone Before and a Modest Propos…“:

With regard to the earlier discussion of writing and decompression (much of which I agree with), I would like to emphasize a particular pet peeve about modern superhero comics: Lousy action sequences.

To me, action sequences in a superhero comic are like musical numbers in a musical or fight scenes in a martial arts movie. They are not disposable interludes that can be kissed off to advance the story. You’d think, in a decompressed environment dominated by fanboy aesthetics, that the action sequences in modern comic books would be awesome. But they aren’t, in what I consider a lamentable lack of craftsmanship.

Typical fight scenes now lack clear spatial relations, identifiable figures, logical and continuous flow across panels, and any semblance of consistency in who wins and why. All the characters are superimposed on each other in melee fashion with no sense of perspective. Mutant comics seem to be the worst offenders these days, but it’s a pervasive problem. (Something similar has happened in the movies, with many action films using quick-cut close-ups during fight scenes that make it difficult to tell what’s going on, but it doesn’t always happen.)

Lack of attention to superhero action scenes undermines sales to both the youth/new-user market and the established older market, since what is cool about superheroes, especially of the Silver Age type, is their distinctive visual and kinetic properties. I don’t mind the later “realistic” style that stressed winning with the first blow and mostly portrayed mismatches (e.g. Ellis and Moore) because a) there’s a certain logic to those choices, since even super people wouldn’t tend to pick fights they might not win and b) they usually depicted these swift battles in a clear and compelling visual manner. But if you’re decompressing, a long, high-quality set of battle scenes seems like a legitimate mode of storytelling because one thing superheroes are ABOUT is the skillful exercise of their powers under stress.

I suspect that modern creators take a somewhat “adolescent” attitude toward action sequences–they don’t want to be seen as “childish” by playing up the fantasy aspect of the characters, preferring to dwell on various extrinsic shock stimuli to seem more “adult.” But getting to see Iron Man use his resourcefulness to figure out and defeat the Raiders for an issue (to take a typical mediocre example rather than a classic) was a lot more entertaining and satisfying than much of what gets printed now.

Posted by srp to Jim Shooter at January 11, 2012 7:44 PM

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Gerber and the Duck – Part 1

Running a FowlThe first time I met Steve Gerber we had an argument.

It was the summer of 1974. I had flown to New York to meet with Roy Thomas and other people at Marvel, looking for writing work. Roy offered me Man-Wolf, which Dave Kraft was giving up for some reason.

After meeting briefly with Roy, I went to lunch with a group of guys who either worked in the office or were hanging around waiting for a group of guys going to lunch to congeal. Among them was Steve Gerber. Who else? I’m not sure. A couple of people who were Marvel assistant editors at the time. Maybe another freelancer or two who happened to be in the office? There were at least six of us, maybe seven or eight. We went to a Brew & Burger or some such similarly classy establishment.

Of course, we talked comics.

And Gerber and I got into it.

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Sex and Drugs – Part 2

First This

Commenter Rio Herrera clued me in about the two talented creators I met at the signing at Chuck Rozanski’s Mile High Comics Mega-store in Denver.

 

They are, far right, Scotlyn Xing Xin Bedford and far left, a young man who introduced himself to me as Phil. Rio also heard him called Phil. The Mile High Newsletter identifies him as Cory Watts, so I’m still not sure.
The guy in the white shirt is Chuck, and the looming ogre is me, of course.
But anyway, the property these two gentlemen were representing is called Ximphonia. You can find out more about Ximphonia and their other creative works on the Dreaming Symphonic-Beauty Empire website. Here’s a link:
Scot and Phil had a table near where Chuck stationed me. They drew quite a crowd—in fact, when I had a brief break and went over to see what all the fuss was about, I couldn’t get near enough to see.  At the end when things were calmer, I finally did get to talk to them and they were, indeed, as mentioned above, gentlemen. Very smart and talented gentlemen. I wish them well.

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The Web of the Snyder – Part 1

First This
Sorry it’s been so long between posts. Harsh reality sometimes asserts and fun has to wait.
 
 
Now This
In an answer to a comment regarding “What Has Gone Before and a Modest Proposal” I said this:

In any other medium besides comics, the person who has and reasonably develops the original idea is the creator. Usually the writer. Ask 1,000 people who created Star Wars. George Lucas, not the army of designers, artists, even re-writers who participated. Ask 1,000 people who created Jurassic Park. Michael Crichton, not the designers and filmmakers who developed the visuals, or even David Koepp who wrote the shooting script for the film. In comics, however, even a work-for-hire artist following a design made by the writer, a description given by the writer or instructions from the editor is given co-credit as creator. Does anyone else think this is unusual?

That sparked some debate, people weighing in on who deserves creator credit and under what conditions. And that’s fine. It’s an interesting topic. However, I suspect that some people thought I was asserting that the writer should get credit as creator. Nope. I said:

Note, everyone, that I’m not offering a position, here, I’m just asking questions.

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EPIC Interference

A Little Back Story

Sergio Aragonés came to visit me one day to pitch an idea for a humorous comic book starring a funny, cheese-dip-loving barbarian character.  Just one thing—he said he knew that Marvel had to “own everything,” but he wanted to retain some small interest in the character.  He knew Marvel had to own and control it, but he would like—he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart—a  little piece.

I told Sergio we could do better than that.  No reason he couldn’t own it lock, stock and cheese dip.  Marvel would be perfectly willing to publish his comic book series under a normal, real world publishing agreement, that is, specified rights, all negotiable, for a specified term.

He didn’t believe me. I introduced him to Publisher Mike Hobson. Mike assured him that I was empowered to make such a deal. We were willing to draw up a deal memo on the spot that Sergio could take to his legal advisors.  Sergio said he had no time right then because he had an appointment somewhere else, after which he was going back to the Coast, but he’d be back in New York in two weeks.

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