I was hired by Editor in Chief Marv Wolfman in December of 1975. My first day on the job as “associate editor” was the first working day of the new year, Monday, January 5, 1976.
Marv lasted only three more months or so before leaving to become a contract writer-editor. Marv said he quit. President Jim Galton later told me otherwise. But, be that as it may, Marv exited gracefully, or was allowed to.
The plan was for Roy to return as EIC. At one point, we spoke. Where I come from, it is proper that when a new boss comes in, the assistant or assistants offer their resignations. Why? Because a new boss is likely to want to bring in his own assistants, and would rather not have to go through a messy process of firing people or tolerating people he or she doesn’t want. I told Roy I’d leave voluntarily if he preferred, and that if that was the case, I’d appreciate being given freelance work. Roy said, no, I could I stay. He told me, however, that there were a number of people who had to go, and a few he intended to bring back. He named names. I won’t.
At the last minute, literally, Roy changed his mind, and decided to remain a contract writer-editor. I think that was around the time he decided to move to California. Maybe that had something to do with it. Not sure.
Marv seemed excited. He reasoned that they’d probably ask him to stay. And since it was sort of an emergency situation, that he could probably demand more money.
But, no. Apparently, the first time Roy was Editor in Chief, Stan had promised Gerry Conway the Editor in Chief job if Roy ever left. Roy’s first EIC stint ended in 1974, but Len Wein, not Gerry succeeded him. According to Gerry, Marv and Len had lobbied against his being hired and prevailed. Yes, I know that’s all hearsay, but he said it and I heard it.
Gerry quit at DC, where he’d been working since the snub years ago, and suddenly was Marvel EIC. Much to the chagrin of Marv, Len and their buddies.
Gerry lasted as EIC for only a few stormy weeks. Then he left to become a writer-editor.
Archie Goodwin, who had been the editor of the black and white magazines, was promoted to EIC replacing Gerry.
(ASIDE: Gerry’s writing contract called for eight books a month! To provide him with enough work, titles were taken away from several other writers. They were outraged, and gathered in the office to confront Stan and protest. Gerry got wind of this and somehow talked his way into JOINING their protest. He went in to see Stan with them, arm in arm. I know Mantlo and Claremont were in that group. Who else? There were several others. Moench? I don’t know. Chris would probably remember. Anyway, the net result was that Stan and Archie persuaded then-president Al Landau to add enough titles to make up for the work the protesters, excluding Gerry, had lost. Remember the Marvel Classics? That was the make-work created to keep Claremont, Moench, et al busy.)
Archie Goodwin lasted 19 months.
Shortly before Archie started, Stan had decided he wanted to be more involved with the comics again. He had been spending most of his time upstairs on the ninth floor, home to the non-comics people and big shots, where he contributed his advice and expertise to the magazines the company published under the Magazine Management imprint (not Marvel). MM published soap opera rags, puzzle books and what used to be called in the trade “men’s sweat magazines.” These mostly contained somewhat lurid adventure stories like “I Was the Love Slave of the Nazi Prison Camp,” with a cover photo of some woman with her blouse partially torn being menaced by an evil guy in a WWII German uniform. Occasionally, to save the cost of paying models, women around the office posed (clothed) for photos to illustrate scenes of various stories. I was told that even the magnificent Marie Severin once had a picture taken for such a purpose.
If the magazines published by MM sound cheesy, well, you got that right.
ASIDE: Early in his career, Mario Puzo worked upstairs on the magazines. That was before my time, but I think I have an ancient Marvel phone extension list with his name on it. If I ever come across it, I’ll show you.
Anyway, Stan started showing up regularly at his sixth floor office. As stated previously, in another post, Stan was plenty busy being the resident genius and face of Marvel whether he was in his ninth floor office or downstairs with us, but once he settled in on the comics floor, he tried to help.
“Make-readies” used to come in from World Color Press once a week. They were the first copies of the books off the presses, hand stapled and sent express to Marvel so we could see how bad the books were as soon as possible, I suppose. At that stage, nothing could be changed.
Stan got in the habit of reading the make-readies and marking them up. Then, he’d ask Archie to come to his office, flip through the books one by one and show Archie all the mistakes, problems, crass stupidities, etc.
Archie a) knew damn well what was wrong with the books. There was little about comics he didn’t know. And, b) Archie didn’t have time to sit there and listen to what he already knew.
So, he sicced Stan on me. He told Stan, correctly, that I was the one who actually did the hands-on editing of the books and that Stan should go over them with me.
So, once a week, I was called to Stan’s office. Once a week, Stan would go through that week’s batch of books panel by panel with me, pointing out item by item what train wrecks most of them were.
Stan would say things like, “What’s going on here? Don’t let them do these incomprehensible shots. We need clear storytelling.” “Is this the same room as last panel, or did we cut to Mars?” “Where did this guy come from? You have to show entrances and exits, or at least mention them.” “Pointers should be straight, and aimed at the speaker’s mouth.” “This coloring is mud. Tell them to leave white space.” “This story makes no sense.” “What idiot wrote this line?” I’ll never forget that one. In that particular case, the idiot was me.
I learned a few things from those sessions, mostly things Stan wanted done differently than what I was taught at DC. For instance, DC preferred balloons “surrounded by color,” that is, off the borders. Stan wanted balloons butted to the borders to clear more space for the art. But, I already knew most of what Stan was preaching. I might not have been as wise in the ways of comics as Archie, but I’m not a dummy and I had a lot of training from my DC days that applied.
After a couple of months of this, Stan started sounding more and more annoyed when we went over the make-readies. “I told you, straight pointers! Don’t let them do these snakey pointers.” “Haven’t we already talked about white space?” Etc. I’d say I know, Stan, but sometimes things slip by. I’d mutter something about having 45 titles to edit, and that I tried to fix the worst….
Stan didn’t seem to grok that 45 books were too many to edit properly. One reason, is because Stan assumed that if I told someone once “no snakey pointers,” he’d say, “Oh, I see, yes sir,” and it would never happen again. More likely, knowing that I had no power to fire him or visit any consequences whatsoever upon him, he would say, “Go to hell,” and continue doing whatever he pleased.
After many months, Stan firmly believed that I was drain bamaged or stupid beyond human imagining. The lectures continued, but he started speaking as if he were talking to a kindergarten child. Great.
Somewhere along the way, the Spider-Man syndicated strip launched. John Romita was doing the art. Stan wrote the dialogue—but he didn’t want to do the plotting. He hired Len Wein to plot the strip.
That was considered quite an honor, reaffirming Len’s status as our number one writer, or at least number one not counting Roy, who was unavailable.
It didn’t work out. Stan didn’t like Len’s plots. I don’t remember much about those strips except that there seemed to be a lot of Spider-Man dangling outside Jonah Jameson’s window exchanging snappy patter.
Stan asked Archie who was the number two writer. The politically correct answer Archie gave was former EIC Marv. Marv turned the gig down. Somehow, it had gone from being an honor to being a chance that Stan would decide you were no good.
Stan asked Archie to put together a list of Marvel’s writers, ranked in order. Archie left himself off. He was too busy to plot the strip, though, for my money, he was obviously the best choice, having written Secret Agent Corrigan for years.
Archie’s list included 33 writers. He put me at number 33. I’d like to think it was because I had a staff job. I’d like to think he didn’t want me taking time away from editing. But maybe he just thought I sucked. Dunno.
Anyway, Stan asked EVERYONE ON THE LIST except me. Everyone turned him down. Finally, in desperation, he called me to his office. Looking as though he had a tremendous headache, he asked me if I’d plot the strip. I said sure.
Then, looking as though his headache was worsening, he explained to me what he needed me to do. Slowly, and in small words. As if he were trying to prep a chimp. Sundays had to fit in continuity, yet stand alone. They had to add something, but something non-essential to readers who only read the dailies. 16 week arcs. Big events mid-week. Teasers. Etc. I kept saying, “I know Stan.”
I delivered my overview of the first arc in a day or two. Stan liked it. And seemed amazed, befuddled. I delivered my first few weeks plots, broken down day by day and panel by panel a few days later. Stan said, “These are good,” with amazement in his voice. I said, exactly, “I know what I’m doing.”
Stan gave my plots to John to draw and away we went. There were only two bumps in the road. First, when Stan went to dialogue a daily a couple of times, he ran into trouble and called me in. He hadn’t checked what John drew against the plot, of course, and assumed the glitches were plot flaws he hadn’t noticed. I showed him the plots. John hadn’t drawn what was called for. Nonetheless, I had to do some fancy steppin’ to adjust the story. No time to redraw the art.
So, instead of turning in written plots, I started doing scribble-sketch layouts, like I used to do at DC, along with notes for clarification. Stan loved it. He wrote the dialogue from my scribbles! Then John couldn’t very well give us a big close up of Mary Jane when an establishing shot was called for.
ASIDE: I included this note to artists in several of my Dark Horse scripts. It’s germane:
(NOTE: Stan always told me never to crop a pretty girl so high that you couldn’t see her bust. Or at least some cleavage. I used to have tremendous problems with John Romita, Sr. when I was plotting and laying out the Spider-Man syndicated strip. John would always crop the girls extra-tastefully at the shoulders, even if I laid the panel out properly, per Stan. John actually considered becoming a priest when he was young. What a choirboy. Then Stan would go honking at John, then John would get annoyed with me for getting him in trouble. What did I do?! Then the redo would make the strip late. Then…well, it’s a long story. Anyway, show her charms.)
I once scribbled a panel of Peter Parker approaching a bus stop. Several people, including a pretty woman wearing a skirt were waiting at the stop. I chose a low angle, which showed a little of her thighs. Nothing too racy. Not lewd, not flirting with the limits. Not in bad taste. Just a smidgen of sex appeal. Remember the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies? Like that. Very Doris Day. John squared up that perspective in a hurry. Stan was appalled.
Stan started to figure out that I wasn’t an idiot.
Tomorrow: The Plotting Thickens the Plot
Note (in response to comments): Just to be clear, Stan was never abusive to me, like Mort was. And he was very polite the first 500 times or so that he told me about snakey pointers and what have you. Even his patience got stretched when week after week there was no apparent progress.
Stan could be critical, but he was never mean or mean spirited. The “happy” side you know of Stan is real. He’s a great guy. Resident genius, creative guru, an icon who deserves to be one.