First, some backfill:
I mentioned that, in a comic book I wrote that Stan went over with me, he asked, “What idiot wrote this line?” It was an issue of Ghost Rider. Gerry Conway plotted it, was supposed to write the dialogue, failed to deliver, and so Archie asked me to write the dialogue. I wrote it literally overnight.
When I say overnight, I mean it. Worked all day at the office. Worked late. Grabbed some food quick. Arrived home to my little apartment in Queens around 9 PM. Stayed up all night writing dialogue, no sleep. Showered, shaved, dressed and subway-ed it to work on time. Delivered the item to John Verpoorten. Worked all day….
That issue was probably crap, but, hey, it was kind of a dumb story to begin with. I think the villain was the “Water Wizard.” Yeesh. There’s only so much one can do with the dialogue to redeem a story with the Water Wizard in it.
I don’t remember exactly which line Stan found so banal. It was some boilerplate line—“They went that-a-way,” or “Look! A monster!” or something equally uninspired. A line written at 4 AM.
Hey, at least when Mantlo cranked a script out overnight, he had me backstopping him. I had nobody.
I said there were two “bumps in the road” regarding the plots for the Spider-Man syndicated strip. One was getting the art to match up better with the intent of the plots (and Stan’s wishes). I failed to mention the second.
The second bump was that, at first, in my notes to the layouts, I sometimes roughed in some dialogue. Sometimes a little dialogue made the intent of the picture clearer in fewer words than a description of what the character was feeling or thinking.
Stan made it very clear that he wanted NO DIALOGUE SUGGESTIONS. It’s one thing to have a plot assistant, but every word that appeared in print HAD TO BE HIS. If I suggested dialogue, and it was good dialogue, Stan then felt he had to come up with another way to say the same thing, which was harder than just writing it himself in the first place. He told me “no dialogue” as emphatically as he ever told me anything.
Claremont was fussy about his words like that too. So was Goodwin. Me too.
About John Romita the Elder. We might not have been on the same page at first regarding the art or the storytelling in the strip, but that was it, problem-wise. John is one of the all-time greats. His work on the strip was magnificent. Once he understood that Stan actually wanted him to draw more or less what the tall, skinny kid had laid out, that it wasn’t just a suggestion, we rocked and rolled. John’s still a choirboy, but man, can that choirboy draw. And there’s more sex appeal in one of John’s close ups of Mary Jane than most artists could achieve with a page full of scanty lingerie shots. Nonetheless, I wanted my Doris Day shots. So did Stan.
P.S. My layouts were far from perfect. Stan would sometimes scribble changes to shots right on top of what I’d drawn. But, it’s easier to make correx than start from scratch, sometimes. Anyway, once communications were established we worked together smoothly, like a well-oiled 1911 Studebaker.
P.P.S. Total speculation here, I never asked John about this, but in retrospect, I think that maybe John was bringing some of his romance comics sensibilities to the strip, whereas I was thinking action-adventure. Whatever. Stan wanted both, I believe. Anyway, we found a happy place in the middle somewhere and did okay, I think.
One other thing, in case I haven’t made it clear: Though I couldn’t effectively edit 45 comics a month, I gave it a hell of a try. Remember, before me, pretty much all the writers were de facto writer-editors. As I think I have described elsewhere, not long before I arrived, plots, scripts artwork and lettering were seldom seen by anyone in the office till the books were finished, fait accompli. It was total anarchy.
Once I was there, everything, or nearly everything crossed my desk at every stage. I checked everything and tried to improve what I could. I spent the most time on the worst of the stuff, trying to shore up the bottom.
So. Creators who had no one checking anything before suddenly had me calling them up sometimes requesting changes to a plot, corrections on dialogue, art corrections, etc. Some of them, no, all of them were unhappy, no, snarling mad about that. Before, there was total anarchy—they would ennoble it by calling it “freedom”—and suddenly, there wasn’t. Not completely, anyway.
I always checked with the creators about things that I thought were wrong, except as noted below. I wanted to give them that courtesy, allow them to defend what they’d done, if we disagreed, and, I hoped, get them to do the re-working. A few conscientious souls would grumble but make the adjustments. Some simply said, “You do it.” They couldn’t be bothered. Some started shouting obscenities at me. I stopped calling those guys and just did whatever needed to be done.
The good thing about anarchy, or freedom, if you wish, is that a few, brilliant creators will rise to the opportunity and do wonderful things. Them, I LEFT ALONE. I wasn’t editing to make things my way, or to stifle anyone, or to interfere in any way with talented people doing outstanding work. Lord knows, when I read a script that didn’t need a mark put on it, I was thrilled. More sleep that night.
I can’t think of a single time when I asked for changes because of style, personal preferences or artistic philosophy.
I worried only about mistakes, problems, crass stupidities, etc.
Please get that straight. This wasn’t about me oppressing the best and brightest creators. It was about me wanting incomprehensible art, writing devoid of discoverable meaning, story glitches, continuity mistakes, character misrepresentations, spelling errors and slovenly work fixed.
That’s what I was hired by Marv to do.
P.S. Chris Claremont briefly had a similar job before me, working for Marv, but he had the good sense to acquire some writing work and go freelance soonest. Before everybody started hating him.
Like many hated me. The anarchy-ender is never popular with the anarchists. And the outstanding creators who did brilliant things never really noticed that I did nothing except stay out of their way.
To me, the comics were the important things. Damn the torpedoes.
My plotting the strip meant that Stan and I spent a lot of time together.
Sometime in or around November, 1977 Stan took me to lunch, ostensibly to talk about the strip.
Stan always used to have Dubonnet on the rocks before lunch. My beverage of choice at the time was grapefruit juice. But I digress.
Stan had apparently discussed the state of the comics with new President Jim Galton, who had replaced Al Landau. They felt a change was necessary. Not getting rid of Archie, which would be insane, but letting me take on more of the administrative part of the editorial process.
I thought that was a bad idea. I thought Archie would never go for anything like that. Stan said they planned to offer Archie more money and a promotion to V.P. Put him in charge of “special projects.” Whatever that was. Having Special Projects in your title always sounds like “kicked to the curb” to me.
Anyway, Stan and Galton made Archie some kind of offer in late November or early December. Archie turned them down. It had the stink of being “kicked upstairs” to it. He preferred leaving and, like every other EIC before him, becoming a writer-editor.
After some negotiations, I agreed to become the new Editor in Chief. The negotiations are a tale unto themselves. I’ll save that for later. But, finally, we agreed. I would take over on the first working day of January, 1978.
Stan thought it best to wait till the end of December before making any announcement. When that announcement finally came, it was…awkward? Worse than that. Disastrously awkward? Ugly awkward? Well, you’ll see.
Things you should know if you’ve followed along this far and still give a hoot:
I had never complained to Stan about the problems with the comics. They just became obvious. But I didn’t keep my thoughts on the subject secret from the guys in the editorial office or the bullpen. In those days, after work, many of us would hang out together. Marv, Len, Roger Stern, other editorial guys and freelancers. After hours, even DC guys would show up at Marvel’s offices, since they weren’t allowed to hang out after work at DC. Bunches of us often went out together to the local Brew Burger or other suitably cheap-but-good food place. We played poker Friday nights, usually at the huge apartment Paul Levitz shared with Marty Pasko down on Mercer Street. And, boy, do I have some stories from those poker games for you later. We were all friends, or at least, reasonably friendly. We talked. A lot.
Marv, Len, Roger and I all lived in out in Queens and often took the same train going home, the E or the F. Roger got off in Forest Hills, Len and Marv a bit farther out and I went all the way to the end of the line, 179th Street, the stop for Queens Village. So, we had extra time to talk. I wasn’t shy about my opinion of the comics, that a lot of them weren’t very good. That all of them were late. And that I wasn’t fond of the concept of writer-editors. I felt that you needed a backstop no matter who you were or how good you were. Marv and Len, needless to say, disagreed.
(ASIDE, APROPOS OF NOTHING: One time on the F train, we had a conductor who announced each stop over the PA in unusual fashion. He said “F-f-f-f-ith AVENUE.” And, “L-l-l-l-EXington.” After which Marv loudly started humming the Tonight Show theme music: “DAAA-da-da…DA-da-da-da….” The whole car cracked up.
Len wore a winter coat with enormous pockets and plenty of them. Somebody needed a pair of scissors. Len reached in a pocket and pulled out a pair of scissors. Then we started wondering about what else those pockets might contain. We started calling out items. Screwdriver? Sure. Bottle opener? Uh-huh. Aspirin? Yep. One by one Len produced whatever was named. Roger asked, “Big Mac?” No. Sadly, all Len had was a regular cheeseburger.)
A couple of words about the institution of Writer-Editors: Bad idea.
More on that later.
Regarding Marv and Len:
Marv is a brilliant creator. He’s an idea man. He can truly create. Many can create things out of other things, synthesis. Marv often creates entirely new things, genesis. That’s rare. His writing at its best is fresh, surprising, unpredictable and intriguing. There’s a spontaneity to it that’s wonderful and engaging. Spontaneity livens up his dialogue. People talk in a crazy stuff-popping-out-of-their-heads way just like real people often do. He has a gift for character.
All that said, he has some problems with the language. He mangles grammar. He misuses words. Once he used “noisome” as if it meant loud. It was in a caption. One can excuse many things in dialogue as the mistakes of the character’s making, but the captions ought to be right. Marv argued that most people think noisome means loud, and it went to press that way.
When not at his best, Marv’s spontaneity becomes lack of planning and confusion. Sparkling dialogue becomes glib patter headed nowhere.
And, by the way, with his knack for coming up with words, Marv would be the world champion Scrabble player if he could spell.
Len is a brilliant writer. Yes, he has created things, some out of whole cloth, but he’s more deliberate about it than Marv, and more often he springboards off of established conceits. Witness his great run on Swamp Thing. Marv is a machine gun, albeit sometimes un-aimed. Len is a sniper with one hell of a scope on his M39.
Len is a linguistic technician of the first water. He ponders things like the rhythm of each phrase, the way the words look (!), and other nuances that would make my head explode. He is also a master of the form. He is wise in the ways of everything that goes on in the panels and everything that goes on in the readers’ heads in between. He can craft compelling scenes and compose dialogue with poetic power and subtlety.
He can also give you a lot of “Hulk smash” scenes in which the shock waves bowl over all the soldiers. Again. For the thousandth time. Which is what he thinks the “kids in Fudge, Nebraska” want to see.
So. My opinion was and is that each of them would benefit from a good editor. Writer-editors. Feh.
Roy, Gerry and Archie? I’ll get to them later. Uh-oh.
The company had no Christmas party that year, 1977. At the last minute, someone arranged for any editorial and production people so inclined to gather at a local tavern. It was Friday, December 23rd. We even invited Stan. He had a prior commitment, but he said he’d try to stop by.
It was a nice joint and we had a room to ourselves, just off the main dining room. The turnout was surprisingly good. Most of the comics staff, many freelancers. And a good time was had by all. For a while.
Then Stan came in with his wife Joan, fresh from some upscale soiree, judging from the way they were dressed.
Stan decided it would be a good time to make the announcement. And he did.
There was dead silence. Archie and his wife Ann were shooting straight razors at me from their eyes. I believe that Archie thought I had thrown him under the M57 Crosstown.
Everyone else seemed to be thinking: “HIM? HE’S in charge now? Uh-oh.” Fear and loathing permeated the joint.
Stan didn’t seem to notice. People finally started talking again. Or muttering. Mostly curses.
The old guys each came up to me, congratulated me and wished me well. Sincerely, I think. Danny Crespi, John Tartaglione, Morrie Kuramoto, a few others. Newly appointed Production Manager Lenny Grow also shook my hand and wished me well.
Later, Lenny and I, and I think one other person stopped at some other place and chatted for a while.
I got home in the wee hours.
At seven AM the phone rang. I said “Hello.” The voice on the other end said, “What are you going to do?” It was Marv, I recognized the growl. I told him I planned to sleep for another two hours.
He wanted to know right then and there what my intentions were, especially regarding the writer-editor situation. I had no plans at that point, just my general philosophy. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do, or what I would be able to do, what I’d be allowed to do. I asked him to withhold judgment, to give me a chance. After I while I convinced him to get off the phone, at least.
More calls started coming. Lots of them. I ignored them at first, then unplugged the phone.
The next week, a short week, the office was like a pressure cooker about to blow its top. I kept my head down, nose in my work. People avoided me. That was fine by me.
Then, on Tuesday, January 3rd, my first day as EIC, things got really bad.
NEXT: Apocalypse Now