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ROM Comments and Answers

Michael Netzer left the following comment on The Coming of ROM: A Knight’s Tale:

Dear Jim,

You remain one of the more gracious people in the comics world. Your sense of fairness and goodwill towards creators have inscribed memories of one of the more engaging and steadfast people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

Those were strange days indeed. And though the strangeness seems to still haunt from time to time, it channels a little more succinctly these days. Certainly drawing that Rom cover the way I did was not really intended as anything against you or Marvel, but rather brought about by other things happening around me. I appreciate that you understood that back then and let me know so.

Still, looking back on it all, it’s not clear that it could have been different, or should have been, considering the cards dealt. I suppose something about embracing extreme states when they impose themselves, is part of all of our development, each in our own way. That you can sum it up today, also with a few positive words, is an uplifting indication that it wasn’t all for naught. Much appreciated, sir.

Tue: Alan Weiss was pretty close to Neal also around that time but he never went to extremes such as this. I told the story about this cover in an article some 6 years ago <http://bit.ly/keN5y9>, which shows just how out of the box things were for me in that period.

Interesting that this should come up now because I haven’t done anything like that with art since then… at least until recently. In that I’m still on the periphery of the industry and have some thoughts about some of the goings on, I found myself burning one of my drawings last week in order to make a somewhat lighthearted statement about DC’s handling of Superman in Action 900. Here’s the video. <http://bit.ly/lrNEA0> Links in its info lead to the entire story behind it. But like I said, the entire affair is also channeled towards a more succinct benefit <http://bit.ly/iozgYf> from the incident. 


Dear Michael,

You, my friend, have always been a genuinely good person, even in “strange days.” I never sensed a drop of malice in you. I am proud to know you.

I know that you meant nothing against me or Marvel. I never harbored any ill will toward you, and I’m glad we had the chance to do something together again at DEFIANT. I do understand “…extreme states….” I’ve had a few imposed upon me, too. Not sure I always handled them well, or could have.

I think you are one of the most outstanding talents ever to work in comics. I hope you’re well. I wish all the best for you.

Thanks for writing.

Sincerely,
Jim  

Pariah left the following comment on The Coming of ROM: A Knight’s Tale:

kintounkal, I do think that hacking and plagiarism are very harsh words and according to wiki he was still in a coma so if that’s wrong then I’m sorry.

I still don’t think it was very nice or honest to call Mantlo a hack or anything else especially since that’s not something that is even close to a factual viewpoint among anyone who has read his comics.

To be able to take a toy that is a complete blank slate and create a whole world and mythology around it that is still being used to this today i think bespeaks a very high level of talent and craft especially when the toy has been all but forgotten by a lot of people.

I don’t see Jim speaking honestly about any of the other creators he has worked with over the years whom i’m sure have done much less.

And as i said i’m not even coming from this as a fan of his but for someone who respects the love and hard work that he gave to the industry.

just like Jim Shooter has in my opinion who i have heard and seen a lot of people unfairly malign.

Dear Pariah,

“…anything close to a factual viewpoint among anyone who has read his comics.”

Before I became Editor in Chief, from the beginning of 1976 till the end of 1978 I was associate editor. Anywhere but Marvel, the title would have been “editor,” because I was in fact the line editor, charged with the hands-on editing of the color comics. 45 of them a month. That’s about 40 more than a good editor can effectively cope with, by the way.

The EIC’s during that time — Wolfman, Conway and Goodwin — were so concerned about late books that getting books out overwhelmed other priorities, like whether they were any good or not, or even readable. Goodwin in particular was under pressure regarding the line’s chronic lateness and inclined to publish anything that was finished no matter how bad. Books out the door was the mantra.

I, perhaps naively, thought that the books ought to be good. I had no power to hire or fire creators, or have major revisions done that might “delay” a book. I would often take plots, scripts or art to Archie, show him what I judged to be egregious flaws and ask him what to do. Nobody knew comics as well as Archie, and Archie absolutely wished that every book could be good, but in all but a very few really extreme cases, he would sigh, put his head in his hands, say “Fix it up the best you can in a couple of hours, then let it go.” I know letting bad books go pained him. But he’d never even consider firing a creator who was fast, no matter how bad. Rapid delivery mattered way more than quality to him in the situation he was in.

A few creators, Chris Claremont notable among them, had pride in their work and would fix problems I pointed out themselves, rather than have me do minor rewrites or touch-ups. Many other writers and artists didn’t have such integrity. They were on to the next script or art job, couldn’t care less about the last one and were not about to waste a minute doing correx I requested. Remember, it was page rate only in those days. The more pages churned out the more money they made. So, often, I was forced to put a band-aid on a bad book and, as Archie commanded, let it go.

Bill in particular exploited the situation. He soon sussed out that Archie wouldn’t fire him no matter what, as long as he brought in words on paper for each book in a hurry. And that’s pretty much what he delivered, words on paper — some of the worst crap ever written. Granted, his scripts were done overnight sometimes, and granted, that sometimes kept us from missing shipping.

Bill knew I couldn’t do anything about his hacking except fix his scripts up a little. That was fine by him. He was actually kind of smug about it. Once he delivered words on paper and got the check, he had no interest in what happened to the book subsequently. It amused him, I think, that I took jobs of his home and late into the night worked to make them readable and make him look better! While he was churning out the next words on paper and making money hand over fist.

The one area I was really able to improve Bill’s work effectively was at the plot stage. I doctored up his plots as much as possible, always quickly, often with John Verpoorten looming over me, demanding the plot for an artist who was standing beside him waiting to get the thing so he could go home and start drawing. However, I was often able to fix some of the most inane plot points and eliminate the most outrageous mistakes in the plots, saving work later.

Starting sometime in mid-1976, I put every script and plot page of Bill’s that I completely rewrote into one of my desk drawers. If as much as one line of Bill’s remained on a page, it didn’t go into the drawer. By the end of 1997 their was well more than a ream of Bill’s pages in that drawer.

When I became EIC on the first working day of January, 1978, one of the first people to walk through my office door was Bill Mantlo. His opening remark was, exactly, “Well, I assume I’m fired.”

I said no, that today was day one for everybody. Fresh start. I asked him to bear down and use his obvious talent to produce a reasonable amount of good work, rather than lots and lots of bad work.

Bill did bear down, and subsequently produced some remarkable things. Micronauts and ROM, I think, are notable among them. He was the one who suggested I license Micronauts by the way. He created characters like crazy. He contributed. Did his own correx. And he was still fast, still made a lot of money. When I introduced royalties and other incentives, he made money like never before, doing less work.

“To be able to take a toy that is a complete blank slate and create a whole world and mythology around it…”

It wasn’t a complete blank slate. A few small elements came from Parker Brothers. And I mean small. I wrote the foundation treatment and the back story. Bill elaborated on those things and did wonderfully well, I think.

“I don’t see Jim speaking honestly about any of the other creators he has worked with over the years whom i’m sure have done much less.”

I have spoken honestly about every creator I have mentioned. Good and bad. Archie, for example, see above, and elsewhere. I don’t remember who brought the subject of Bill Mantlo up, but I have absolutely told the story fair and square. Remember, I have been accused of responsibility for Bill’s plagiarisms. How do I set that straight without telling what really happened?

Thanks for your sincere sympathy for Bill. What happened to him is tragic. I think anyone who knew him back then and those who know him still share your feelings. Yes, he did some things that were not admirable. I suppose the same can be said of most people. However, his talent was remarkable. The industry benefitted greatly from his presence and suffers greatly from his absence.

P.S.  In January, 1978, when I took office as EIC, there were books still in house that should have already been on sale — that means they were four months or more late. Marvel was supposed to ship 45 color comics that month. We actually only managed to ship 26.

By April, we had caught up to the point that we were shipping the correct number of books each month.

By the end of the year, we were completely on schedule. I have a letter from the president of World Color Press that says, “Congratulations. For the first time in its history, Marvel Comics is on time.”

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16 Comments

  1. Not only do I enjoy the creative clinics and Bullpen tales—I love revisiting specific storylines and creations. The dialog was still coming into place in early ROM, but the atmosphere is memorable!
    So: Publilus Enigma salvaged some of ROM's cybernetically stored memories. It's not the omnibus legal tells us is in Limbo, but it is a look into the head of a spaceknight we really didn't know yet! http://integr8dfix.blogspot.com/2010/08/read-only-memory-one.html

  2. I find myself pondering how a comic would look/read if drawn by Michael Netzer and written by Jim Shooter. I'm also curious about the Jim 's scripted issues of Megalith and Jim's employment with Continuity.

    Some elements in Archer & Armstrong were reminiscent of elements in Megalith. Namely "the sect" or whatever they were called. Toyboy and Good Guys had some similarities also.

  3. I loved Rom back in the early 80s as I was just starting to read comics, and I love the series still today. It's why, when the aforementioned SECRET INVASION series came out, and there was a blank variant for fans to get sketches on, I sought out Sal Buscema and Michael Golden, two talents who did work on the original series, and had them draw sketches of Rom for the front of the issue, and a Dire Wraith for the back. That was "my" Secret Invasion.

    So nice, too, to see Michael Netzer aka Mike Nasser here! Jim, you sure do have a way of assembling the legends here.

    ~G.

  4. Jim, I must admit I felt a pang of outrage when you said of Mantlo (a great favorite comics writer of mine) that he did "some of the worst crap ever written". But the time at which he did it is the operative element here. I looked up the era of the Mantlo work I particularly like, and it doesn't start until 1980. Hence, my appreciation of his work is entirely based on what he did from that point onwards. And frankly, I am certain this is the case for most people who love his stuff. I can't claim any particular awareness of Mantlo's pre-1980 work, and my guess is it's not generally well remembered. If you set him straight and made him produce much better work, that's great. But let's remember him on that basis, then, rather than calling him a hack and a crap-writer.

  5. More than anything Jim, the humility you project, should be a beacon for discourse in the community. Through your accomplishments, which are too many for a web server to carry, it's easier to see how an acceptance or our shortcomings, in our striving for a better state, becomes an ultimate benefit. Would that such an attitude rise to the surface and become a guiding influence that's much needed today. Many thanks again for the undeserved warm words. Wishing you all the best ahead. -Michael

  6. Regarding pariah's comment that it's hard to prove hacking… I think hacking is really defined more by the attitude of the creator and the speed at which the work is done, not necessarily by the quality of the work. If a writer is working in a rushed manner and has a "don't care" attitude towards his work then it's hackwork, regardless of how it turns out. It's possible for something to be hackwork and still be liked by lots of people. Certainly the odds are that work the creator really cared about will turn out better or be more well liked than work that he did not care about. But saying something is hackwork isn't necessarily saying it's inherently bad. If a creator has a bad attitude, is working fast, or not trying his best then he can objectively be said to be hacking, regardless of how the work turns out.

  7. The story about Bill Mantlo plagiarizing an Ellison story is in the comments section of the blog post about Herb Trimpe here: http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/05/airplane-ride-or-three-with-herb-trimpe.html#comments

  8. It was in a comment, but it's probably worth posting. I'll speak to Jim about it.

  9. Defiant1 wrote: "Jim explained in a previous blog post about Bill writing a story that got Marvel in trouble with Harlan Ellison."

    Anyone know where that blog post is? I'd be very interested in reading it.

    Thanks.

  10. (Sorry about the tangent, but I wasn't sure where else to ask this…)

    Speaking of robot-based toys, I would very much like to hear any of Jim's thoughts and memories of creating the Transformers comic series and storyline.

    According to Bob Budiansky, even though he (and before him, Denny O'Neil) were tasked with naming and developing characters to assign to the various toys, the basic premise and back-story for Hasbro's American version of the toy line (as far as he knew, anyway) came from Jim.

    I've long thought "aliens bring their planet-wide civil war to Earth" was an odd (though, as it turned out, inspired) direction to go when presented only with a line of toys that consisted of common Earth-originated vehicles and machines that converted into humanoid robots. This has made me wonder if this premise began life as something else (similar to Larry Hama's G.I.Joe setup starting out as a pitch for a series about a special missions force led by Nick Fury) before being transplanted to Transformers.

  11. This is the kinda transparent dialog that belongs in government. You allow us to separate the wheat from the chaff, instead of being locked in rhetoric without a clue. Mighty thanks Jim.

  12. I think ROM resulted in such a long thread because there are a large number of spaceknight fanatics still in the world. As with Micronauts, I for one would love to see a return of some sort, even just an omnibus.

    Mantlo did show obvious growth into the 1980's. Rocket Raccoon remains one of my favorite mini series of all time. And I think aspects of his run on Alpha Flight influenced the X-books on to present day.

    And Michael Netzer is one in a zillion. Reading over the forum at Bleeding Cool, and seeing the control he maintained in his responses, was downright inspirational. He actually brought up many a great point where regards the industry, things I know he's been spouting off on for years but still somehow suffers from lack of public awareness. A little common sense goes a long way. A lot of common sense (as with Mr. Shooter) goes even further.
    This is rapidly becoming my favorite blog to follow.

  13. Pariah,
    Jim explained in a previous blog post about Bill writing a story that got Marvel in trouble with Harlan Ellison. I think this blog post provides a happy ending without the need for a firm grip.

  14. Jim thank you for your honest replies and setting the record straight.

    if you could explain what you mean by you being responsible for his plagiarizing i think we would all be interested.

    you can prove someone plagiarized but it's pretty hard to prove "hacking"

  15. Jim —

    Thank you for the followup responses to Friday's post and for the initial post itself. I loved ROM when I was in school. It was a book with a so-so mythology (as opposed to Micronauts) and yet still rock-solid within the Marvel Universe with its use of secondary Marvel heroes and revival of obscure B-list villains. But the premise itself — a clandestine alien invasion away from the limelight of Marvel's NY-based books — hooked me from the start.

    [When Marvel launched SECRET INVASION I laughed my ass off at the concept because ROM was there doing it WAY better decades before.]

    While I suppose there was pressure to add "name guests" (esp. in the last 2 years of so of the book), I loved those early issues esp. because I never knew what obscure villain or tyro hero would be weaved within the storyline. I mean, where else would you revive the sentient house from another dimension that once menaced Dr Strange?

    It was, IMO, one of the three or four genuine EPICS that Marvel was publishing at the time thanks in large part enjoying the longevity of a single writer. From everything I've read about Mantlo, he did seem to slide by in those early years. But under your tenure as EIC, he appears to have buckled down and really honed his craft. ROM was one of the best things he ever produced (esp the first 50 or so issues) and he seemed one of the very writers with a knack for creating characters (Gerry Conway and Mike Barr are two others on my short list).

    Anyway, thanks for writing about the book and giving me the urge to try and track down some back issues again.

    Dennis

    PS: Still can't wait to read some more about the backroom shenanigans at the House of Ideas.

  16. Dear Jim,

    Thank you for replying to Michael Netzer. I am so moved to see two of my favorite creators "reunited" in public like this. You and Michael worked on "Death of a Legend" in Superboy #222 (December, 1976). That was my first Legion issue and my first exposure to your work and his. I am honored to be able to communicate with both of you 35 years later.

    I appreciate your honesty about Bill Mantlo. I've never read his solo pre-1978 work. I probably wouldn't like it. (I have read a couple of X-Men that he and Chris Claremont collaborated on: #96 and #106.) Thank you for giving him a fresh start, an opportunity to excel. Which he did. His Micronauts and ROM are still remembered thirty years later. I own complete sets of both and would love to reread both series if I had time. I just got a couple of issues of Marvel Fanfare that he wrote (#27 with Daredevil and #28 with Alpha Flight) along with your Galactica: The New Millennium, your latest "Dark Key" issues, and the Overstreet Hall of Fame (I had to see the other profiles after I read the ones you posted). The moral of the story is that people make mistakes but can choose to improve. Mantlo left his mark, and it was good.

    Could you elaborate on what you meant by

    "He [Mantlo] also often hacked, and worse, plagiarized. That was what cost him work in the long run."

    and

    "Remember, I have been accused of responsibility for Bill's plagiarisms."

    By "cost him work in the long run," do you mean that time that could have been spent on writing more scripts was spent on replacing copied elements?

    I have heard you accused of many things, but not plagiarism. What happened?

    PS: Who could have guessed that ROM would trigger such a long comment thread? Maybe your longest ever.

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