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Paul Levitz’s Finest Scam

While Jack was in the hospital in Queens, Paul called me to ask if Jack had insurance through Marvel. Yes, but it was the standard major medical coverage, which only paid 80%. Paul said Jack had been enrolled in Blue Cross/Blue Shield through DC (Jack worked at both places), but he had let his coverage lapse. He hadn’t made a payment for six months. What are we going to do?

Neither Paul nor I made a fortune in those days, but Paul said that if I’d split the past due payment with him, he could fudge the paperwork and get Jack seamlessly back on BC/BS. Cool.

So we executed his brilliant, benignly wicked scam and Jack was covered. Between Marvel’s coverage and DC’s, he didn’t have to come up with a nickel. Insurance paid for everything.


Jack’s Recovery

Several times, I drove Jack’s lovely wife Adelle upstate to visit Jack. Sometimes someone would join us, Roger Stern.

Eventually, Jack was transferred to a facility in New York City. As an outpatient, I believe. Ultimately, he could walk, albeit with a limp, and finally, after much practice, ink again. The trouble was he couldn’t do it for too long at a stretch. He had to rest frequently. He was always squeezing a rubber ball the rehab people gave him, trying to build up strength.

Before Jack could do much work — he never again could have done enough work to make a living — the Marvel people pitched in to help.

Art production/letterer John Morelli — everyone else calls him “Jack” or “Squid” because he once worked on a boat, but I can’t get used to that. Sorry, John. Anyway, John Morelli took the lead in organizing two “benefit books” for Jack. Benefit books were comics done as a jam — many writers, artists, colorists and letterers each doing a page or two — then the entire job would be vouchered to the beneficiary, in those cases, Jack Abel. Kept him afloat.

Al Milgrom needed an assistant editor and Jack needed work that didn’t involve inking. I don’t remember whose idea it was — probably Al’s, ask him — but Al hired Jack, with my blessing.

Jack was a terrible assistant, as I recall. Again, ask Al. But he proved to be an excellent proofreader!  It occurred to me that a publishing company like Marvel ought to have a proofreader to backstop our smart, college educated and sometimes less than literate editors, so I created the position and hired Jack. He was great. He caught every mistake we editorial fools made. And berated us mercilessly about them.

Jack even played softball with the Marvel irregulars once in a while. Someone had to run for him, but boy, could he hit and field. And he knew the rules better than anyone. His idea of a great evening was watching the Yankee game and reading the Baseball Encyclopedia. He could tell you what Snuffy Stirnweiss batted in 1949 (.261).

Jack was the biggest Yankee fan on the planet. One year, for Christmas, I bought him a Yankee jacket. It was like I gave him the Hope diamond.

I’m from Pittsburgh. Whenever I wanted to get Jack’s goat, I used to remind him of the 1960 World Series, when the underdog Pirates beat the Yankees. A quarter century later he was still infuriated by that.

Jack’s Memorial Service

Jack died in 1996. A memorial service was held at a synagogue in Queens. I went of course. I was feared and hated by a lot of people in comics at that point. I guess I still am. Marvel execs that I pissed off by fighting for my crew and the freelancers did a very good job of blaming everything negative that ever occurred on me and making me into a pariah. Kirby controversy? Me. Anyone who was unhappy? Me. You get the drift. That was followed up by the white collar criminals who stole VALIANT from me. Easy. All they had to say was, “Well, you know how he is.”

(ASIDE: A few years ago, I was at the Baltimore Con. Saturday night, most of the guests gathered in the hotel bar. I was with my girlfriend. Andy Runton, who does Owly, nice guy, came across the room to say hi.  But the first thing he said, his first words were, “Do you know how many people in this room are afraid of you?” Ask him. But why? Are they scared I’ll get an EIC job again somewhere and make them do their jobs? Dunno.)

Anyway….

At Jack’s memorial service, most people were cold to me. The old guys all came over to me and were friendly. Paul Levitz was friendly. But the atmosphere was decidedly hostile. There were about 300 people there.

Jack’s son gave a eulogy. He spoke about how wonderfully witty his father was. Then he said, “My father knew this day would come, of course, and when it did, he wanted me to deliver exactly one personal message to one particular person. Is Jim Shooter here?”

I raised my hand.

Jack’s son said, “My father wanted you to know that HE WOULD NEVER FORGIVE YOU…”

A murmur went through the crowd. My heart was in my throat.

“…for the 1960 Pirates beating the Yankees in the World Series.”

Big laugh.

From beyond the grave, Jack got revenge. What a guy. I loved him.

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14 Comments

  1. mike

    Jack Kirby passed in 1994. And any team can win blowouts but the Pirates won all four close games in the 1960 World Series.

  2. Markinker

    I played softball back in the mid 80's for Marvel. I don't recall Jack's fielding prowess. LOL. Good stuff!

  3. I miss Jack to this day. We always used to have lunch once or twice a week, even after I left Marvel staff. He was a really good friend and a warm, funny, wonderful person to be around. I think of him often.

  4. By the way, Marvel Vision #7 mentioned the passing of Jack Abel. In the introduction, Tim Tuohy respectfully dedicated that issue to his memory and said "Jack was one of those few individuals who could always bring a smile to your face with one of his many tales from more than three decades of working in comics." Later, he added "I'll miss Jack and if you knew him, you would too."

  5. Nice sharing, Jim. You made me cry for the old days.

  6. Hey Jim,
    Thanks for bringing back some great memories of Jack Abel. Some of my fondest memories from my time at Marvel was hanging with Jack in the bullpen listening to his stories, and getting inking pointers.

  7. I'm finally caught up with all your recent blog posts, and I just want to thank you (& JayJay) for keeping your blog constantly updated with posts like this one, it's always a great treat to visit.

  8. As a Kirby admirer and a Yankee hater, I loved that story. Give us more "Untold Tales", please.

  9. That just a great story Mr. Shooter. By the way, I don't think the people reading your blog (myself included) blame you for any of the past controversies you listed above.

  10. Wouldn't the statute of limitations have expired on any possible "fraud" after 30 years? Also, the back premiums were paid by Paul and Jim. And Marvel's insurance did cover the bulk of the costs.

  11. Thanks for telling the rest of Jack's story, Jim.

  12. Great story, but I have one recommendation: Some might look at the "fudging the BC/BS numbers" part as insurance fraud. Just to be safe, I'd remove the name of the company, and change the language a little.

    Then… delete this comment. 🙂

  13. Nice post! Your a great story teller Jim!

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