Now, I know what you’re thinking…. That Jim Shooter was the champion of Work Made for Hire.
I had been on the creator side of the desk too long before the Editor in Chief gig. I was the champion of Best Deal Possible for all creators. If I’d had my way, I would have made Marvel Comic Book Creator Heaven in a heartbeat.
However, I knew that the likelihood of my being able to totally revolutionize and restructure Marvel’s business relationship with its artists and writers during my first few months in office was zero. I knew that it wasn’t bloody likely that any time soon, or maybe ever, that Marvel and the industry in general would give up Work Made for Hire (W4H) and move to an Independent Contractor status for creators, buying specified rights for specified periods.
No way, no how.
But, as mentioned elsewhere, I took the EIC job on the condition that I would be allowed to improve the lot of creators. I had pre-approval to install a royalty system and other incentives.
The immediate goal was to keep Marvel Comics’ comic book publishing operation alive long enough to implement the programs I envisioned. Survive and evolve. Revolution wasn’t a viable option.
Here’s why: At that time, the comics were barely breaking even. The other half of the company’s publishing operation, Magazine Management, was losing about two-and-a-half million dollars a year publishing its tacky rags. We comics people suffered, to some extent, because they lost whatever little money we made.
Any sudden, dramatic increase in costs (and therefore losses) and the parent corporation, Cadence Industries, would have simply closed down Marvel, sold its intellectual property and other assets and cut bait. Just as they did with most of the other Cadence companies—Vitamin Quota, Perfect Subscription, Sachs Theaters and others.
A strike would have killed us. Or, minimum, we would have gone to a much smaller line produced by only staffers and contract employees. Lots more reprints. Leaving lots of freelancers unemployed.
We were that fragile. And I knew for a fact that the brass had no faith in the future of the business.
I promised to tell the story of the negotiations and discussions that took place before I accepted the EIC job later, and I will. But here’s a tidbit. President Jim Galton told me he intended to get Marvel OUT of the comic book publishing business and into animation, children’s books and other “real” businesses. My job as EIC would be to keep us afloat long enough for him to accomplish his plan. I was supposed to end the rampant chaos, stop the hemorrhaging of cash due to late books and missed issues, end the absurd inefficiencies, curtail the waste, streamline the operation and improve the quality of the work. Essentially, I was to oversee the end of Marvel Comics comic book publishing and make it as painless to the company as possible.
I told him that I thought he was wrong, that the comics could become very successful again, and that we could be “bigger than Disney.” I said that. That’s a quote.
Galton was not against royalties and incentives. As stated previously, he came from trade book publishing and understood such things. I was welcome to propose such plans. He also said I could do anything I wanted (!) as long as it didn’t cost a lot, or paid for itself, or, miracle of miracles, made money.
So, I pressed on. One thing I did was rewrite the terrifying W4H document Kenyon & Kenyon had provided. I simplified it, put it in English and made it fit easily on one page. I ran it by Alice and she ran it by K&K. Fine they said. “Yeah, that’s what we meant.”
I passed out the new, less intimidating document. I also did my best to get people to believe that I could and would make things better if they’d give me a little time. A few people signed it, since it seemed less onerous (though the substance was the same). Among the first to sign was Bill Mantlo. A few others trusted what I was telling them and signed.
Some stringers signed, hoping, I guess, that if the regulars didn’t sign, eventually work would open up for them.
The question came up a lot, “Is this ‘sign it or else?’” The answer was yes. I knew that at some point, I’d be given a cut-off date. That answer went over like a death threat.
I asked all staff people and the contract employees to sign the document. It was academic for the contract guys since their employment contracts already specified W4H, but I thought it might be good psychology. Marv was the first to sign. Then Colan, John Buscema, Mike Esposito…. Eventually they all did, except for Archie. Archie was the lone hold-out.
During the late winter and spring the Guild kept growing. Even guys who had signed the W4H joined thinking, and rightly so, that an overall agreement between Marvel and the Guild would supersede the W4H.
During that time Neal Adams re-instituted First Fridays. There had been a tradition (before my time) of parties or social gatherings of comics people on the first Friday of every month. Neal started that up again and hosted. He had a big, beautiful place on the East Side.
I was invited along with everyone else.
Though Neal was the “union leader” and I represented the management, we never had a harsh word between us. We were friends, remained friends throughout the tribulations and are still friends.
I meant every word I wrote for his Hall of Fame intro.
The parties were great. The only downside was that Neal would buttonhole me sometimes and expound upon the evils of W4H. I don’t think he ever realized it, but he was preaching to the choir. Albeit an off-key baritone who was busy trying to keep the church from burning down instead of singing. I tried to get him to understand that I planned to make things better, if I only had time.
Neal meant absolutely no harm. Neal’s intentions were strictly noble. Neal was fighting the good fight for the creators.
The thing was that Neal was grossly misinformed about the financial health of the company. He thought we were doing much better than we were, and that changing to an Independent Contractor system was a practical choice we could make. More on that later. First….
A LITTLE SIDE STORY: One day, I’m sitting at my desk working on whatever disaster was currently on the docket when Neal called. He said he was filming a movie and he wanted me to be in it. I politely declined on the grounds that I had no time. Neal insisted. He had a part for which I was perfect. It was only one scene. It wouldn’t take long. Etc.
So, late that evening, I showed up at the place Neal was filming, downtown somewhere. Neal explained the part. I was to look big and mean and scary and menacing. I think I had a three-word line. The reason I was perfect for the part was that I am freakishly tall and I look big and mean and scary and menacing.
Just before the shoot started, Neal walked over to me and handed me a WORK MADE FOR HIRE DOCUMENT! I started laughing. “You, Neal Adams, are handing me, Jim Shooter, a WORK FOR HIRE DOCUMENT?”
Neal didn’t see the irony. He started explaining that this was his movie and he needed to protect his rights, and….”
I said “No problem, Neal,” and signed.
The movie was called Nannaz.
In late spring or early summer, things were coming to a head. Neal called a meeting of Guild members and interested parties at Continuity, his studio. He had one room that was large enough to accommodate a lot of people. It was full, SRO. I’m not good at estimating crowds, but it seemed that there must be well over a hundred people. I’ve heard people bandy around numbers like 300. Dunno.
Neal insisted that I attend.
I wasn’t comfortable with that. I was afraid people wouldn’t speak as freely if Marvel management was represented. As soon as Neal called the meeting to order, I spoke up. I proposed to leave the room and let them take a vote. If so much as ONE PERSON objected to my being there, I would leave.
Neal simply overruled me. Told me to stay. Sit. He should have at least thrown me a Milkbone.
P.S. Paul Levitz was also present.
ASIDE: Apropos of not much, but it struck me sitting there that none of the members of the Comic Book Creators Guild except Chris Claremont actually made their living working in comics. Neal didn’t. Englehart had abandoned comics to write prose. The others didn’t. For whatever that’s worth….
The meeting began. Neal and others talked about how things would work with the Guild representing the creators, after the strike, if necessary. Neal had in mind penciling rates of $800 a page, inking, writing and coloring rates also in the multi-hundreds of dollars a page, letterers were to get $80 a page, I think. Those rates, plus participations. When the companies had jobs for creators, they would make requests to the Guild and the GUILD WOULD CHOOSE CREATORS FOR THE ASSIGNMENTS.
Page rates at that time were under $100 for all creative disciplines. For example, writers near the top of the scale got around $20 a page. No participations, no benefits.
Neal derived those rates by taking ancient rates and ramping them up in concordance with inflation; that and other factors.
Paul and I both said that there was no way that the companies could afford such rates. Neal had figures, acquired I don’t know where, that indicated that Marvel and DC were making huge profits. Paul and I argued. Nobody cared what we said.
I looked around the room and saw lots of young guys and some marginal guys, probably imagining how sweet it was going to be getting many hundreds of dollars a page. It might have been a little harsh, but I pointed out that if Marvel COULD pay $800 a page for pencils, I’d be on the phone to Leonard Starr and we’d certainly offer Neal work, but a lot of young guys wouldn’t make the cut.
A couple of things happened that impacted the meeting.
First, Neal brought up the notion that the Guild would see to it that justice was done for founding father creators who had built Marvel and DC—restitution, back royalties, participations…. In particular, he cited Steve Ditko, who was present, and told how the Guild would champion his cause and make Marvel set right the unjust way it had treated him.
Steve spoke up. I will make no attempt to quote him here, except for one expression he used. If my characterization of what he said is inaccurate, then I apologize and stand ready to be corrected by Steve, if he so chooses.
Steve said that he was an adult when he did his work for Marvel in the sixties, that he knew what he was doing, that he understood the way things were done at the time and he accepted the terms. He agreed to the deal, or the standard terms that were in place then and he would not renege. If Marvel chose to be generous, fine. But he would stand by the choices he made. And, here comes the quote, he wasn’t going to let the Guild use him as a “poster child.”
That quieted things down a bit.
The subject of artwork return came up. Neal expressed his philosophy—and again, if I’m mischaracterizing this I stand ready to be whacked on the snout with a rolled up newspaper, if Neal so chooses. Neal’s position was that the penciler is the artist and the inker is an “assistant.” The pages would be returned to the penciler, and then the inker might or might not receive pages, depending on whether or not the penciler made an individual agreement with him or her.
That rankled the inkers in the crowd. As I recall, some walked out.
The meeting eventually wound down. I left not knowing what to think.
Not long thereafter, the famous DC Implosion took place. DC cancelled, what, 40% of their line on the same day. Somebody have the bona fide stats? Anyway, they cancelled a lot of books all at once and eliminated a TON of creator work.
When I arrived at the office the next day, around seven AM as usual, there was already a line at the outer door of creators who wanted to sign the Marvel W4H. Many were suddenly unemployed DC people, hoping to get work at Marvel, hoping perhaps to take the places of Marvel W4H holdouts. And there were LOTS of Marvel people who were suddenly ready to sign to prevent their jobs from being given to the DC guys.
I accepted and counter-signed W4H’s all day. I believe that’s when Tom DeFalco first showed up, too.
Not too much later, the Guild faded away.
True to my word, I instituted many reforms and made things better for the creators, but that a tale for later.
TOMORROW: Something groovy but easier. I’m tired. And I have a bunch of make-a-living stuff that I have to do or die.