While I was associate editor of Marvel, during 1976, I think, Marvel was rife with little fiefdoms in conflict. Vicious backbiting. Daily rants and rages. Petty office politics. Favoritism. Cronyism. Vendettas and vengeances.
Hunter S. Thompson’s Vegas had less fear and loathing.
It was almost as bad as the average middle-America amateur theater group.
The two major factions were the Roy Thomas camp and the Len Wein/Marv Wolfman camp.
Len and Marv were close friends and allies. So much so, they might as well have been joined at the hip. People around the office sometimes referred to them as LenMarv, as if they were a single entity. Generally when they were not in earshot. Sometimes when they were. They actually didn’t seem to mind so much, depending upon who was calling them that.
Len and Marv had taken turns being Editor in Chief. Marv was at the helm in early 1976.
Though it had been years since Roy had been Editor in Chief, he still had a great deal of clout. He still had Stan’s ear, for instance, and some cred upstairs. It was not a good idea to offend Roy, and a good thing to be in his good graces.
No one would dare say a bad word about Roy, not openly, anyway. What if it got back to him?
In fact, every time something good was said, about writers in particular, people in the office generally tagged a genuflection to Roy onto it, like, “(Name of writer) gives good dialogue. Of course, Roy’s the best.”
Roy’s minions, that is, people he favored, were said by LenMarv people to be under Roy’s “nuclear umbrella.” Yes, they actually used that term.
LenMarv had their own minions, people who were loyal to them that they favored.
Including their wives. Marv and Len’s wives were on staff. They comprised the “coloring department.” They assigned coloring work. They were both terrific colorists, so hard to argue there, except, was it really necessary? A department to assign coloring? I don’t know.
And, including each other. Marv hired Len to design covers and write cover copy freelance, for instance. A little extra money. Easy money. Len did the work lickety-split, effortlessly. Len was pretty good at it, so hard to argue there, except, was it really necessary? A designated hitter for covers? I don’t know.
Marv seemed to have the time on his hands to handle such things. On a typical day, he’d come in mid-morning. He’d close the door to his office and we, out in the big editorial room, would hear typing. Len would turn up around lunch time. On his way out to lunch with Len, Marv would hand me the pages he’d written freelance on company time to look over. By the time he and Len came back from lunch, I’d have read the pages and marked them up, noting spelling errors, words misused, grammar problems and general suggestions, which as the Boss, he might use or ignore. Marv and Len would go into Marv’s office and close the door and play a game called Mastermind for an hour or so.
How do I know that? One day Len was sick, so Marv called me into his office after lunch, pulled the game board out of his desk drawer and asked me to fill in for Len. He tried mightily to teach me how to play. I sucked at it, but at least I gave him some interesting arrangements of pegs to solve while clobbering me.
But I digress….
In general, in a low-level, cold war kind of way, the two camps jockeyed for advantage. Roy, it seemed to me, generally only played defense, but Roy’s defense was more potent than the other camp’s offense. If it were football, Team Roy would lead the league in defensive scoring.
Conflicts inevitably arose between Roy’s minions and LenMarv’s minions. Also, while Roy was pretty much untouchable by anyone, Roy’s minions would sometimes go after LenMarv. And LenMarv would sometimes go after Roy’s minions. Carefully.
Part of my problem was that I wasn’t really anybody’s minion. Not because I was so much holier than thou, but because I was from out of town, I had been out of touch with most mainstream comics for a few years, I didn’t know many of the people, didn’t know their allegiances and sometimes I just plain had no clue about the nature and genesis of the thrashing around going on.
I suppose I was technically in the LenMarv camp since Marv had hired me, and I was as loyal to my boss as I thought one ought to be. But that only went so far. As stated elsewhere, I was very critical of the writer/editor concept and was pretty free with my opinions about what was good in the comics and what was bad. And what should be done about it.
I had this weird, heartland-type notion that the books came first, that ultimately, my loyalty should first and foremost be to doing the job I was hired to do as best I could, the Hell with whoever the personalities involved were, or whose camp they were in. So, I did what my boss told me to do, but other than that, tried to keep my nose buried in the work and do it well.
As a result, I pissed off people in both camps equally. People didn’t know what to make of me. Was I that naïve or just stupid? Yes to the former, for sure….
One day, a month or so after I started at Marvel, Stan called me into his office.
Stan gave me a letter, at least two pages long, and asked me to read it. It was to Stan from Tony Isabella. It was a wall-to-wall diatribe against LenMarv—Tony was in the Roy camp—listing all the atrocities LenMarv had committed the previous day.
Oh, great, thought I. What does Stan want from me? Testimony?
When I finished reading Stan said, exactly, “I find one of these taped to my door every day.”
I said something brilliant like, “Uh-huh.”
Stan went on. “It’s really pretty well written. Don’t you think?”
“Is he writing for us? Are we giving him work?”
I said yes, and listed what Tony was writing. (Somebody help me, please. Ghost Rider for sure. What else? Champions? More?)
Stan said, “Good.”
That was it. I went back to my desk and back to work.
What’s the moral of the story? Well, for one, Stan was in my camp, or, more properly, I was in his. It mattered more to him that the books were well written and less whatever petty bickering was going on.
A few years later, in the early 1980’s, things had improved around Marvel significantly. We were in comfy new offices. We had gotten more or less on time, relieving, to some extent, the grinding oppression of the schedule. The books were selling like Popsicles in Death Valley. The business was expanding so there was plenty of work to go around. Rates had escalated dramatically. There were creator-owned opportunities, incentive plans, benefits and royalties. People were making money—some, a lot of money.
Funny how when people are making good money, a lot of the stress drains away.
And, oh, by the way, we had one of the finest crews of editors, editorial people and production people ever assembled. Brilliant, capable, talented people. Including several of the best people I’ve ever met.
Sure, there were occasional slings and arrows to deal with—the JLA/Avengers crossover comes to mind—but in general, we had entered an Era of Good Feeling. There was, for the most part, at least at 387 Park Avenue South, peace.
So of course, war broke out.
Some Marvel miscreant with a little money in his pocket and a little time on his hands discovered at the local toy store/arsenal a marvelous weapon! It shot soft, plastic bullets. High muzzle velocity. Exceptional accuracy. Great stopping power. No penetration whatsoever. You could hit an intern solidly at 30 feet with one of these guns. But it wouldn’t mark the walls.
All the miscreants “marveled.” Heh. So, each of them had to go buy his or her own gun. And they formed teams. Or should I say units?
And, after work each day, the shooting started. The tenth floor, the comics floor, became a war zone.
I remember sitting at my desk working late one evening. I became vaguely aware of movement near my door. John Morelli came crawling in. He gestured “be quiet” and lay in ambush behind my couch, waiting for an enemy to pass by. Who would suspect a sniper in my room?!
I finally had to lay down some rules. All combatants had to wear eye protection. If any civilians strayed into the combat area, everyone was to cease fire, take the goggles off, hide the guns and look casual till the civilian cleared the area. Etc.
This went on for a while….
Then, as war is wont to do, it escalated.
If you think this is all just a a setup to force JayJay the Blog Elf to tell the story of the Marvel Punishers Paintball Team, you would be correct.
NEXT: More Strange Tales
You're RIGHT about the average middle-American theater group!
I have a few good stories about "nepotism." They're in the queue.
I don't know if Petra is related to Stan Goldberg. Possible.
Thanks for sharing your memories and your point of view of many of the most importants moments in Marvel's history.
You had Gruenwald calling Carlin a loser here:
And the Carlin thing… I tried to promote from within. He was sort of the senior assistant editor. I thought he was very bright and seemed talented. Every editor always touted their guy. So they would lobby for whatever assistant they had. Carlin was the only guy whose editor ever came to me and said don't hire this guy. He's a loser. The only time any editor — it was Mark Gruenwald — who said he's no good, he can't do it. He seemed so bright.
Ed did great cover designs. What a great idea man! And he drew pretty well.
Ed and I used to hang out together in my associate editor days and afterwards for a while. We'd go hang out at Ravelled Sleeve on 3rd in the Upper East Side sometimes, lookin' for love in all the wrong places. Ah, to be young again. Ed lived on the Upper East Side. I remember one time that he moved to a nearby apartment — and did the entire move across the rooftops between the buildings! A classic New York City phenomenon that occurs in few other places.
I don't recall Mark saying that Mike Carlin was a "loser." He said, in no uncertain terms, that he didn't think Carlin should be promoted to editor. Many people, including Mark, liked Carlin. Mark was his friend. What's that got to do with his evaluation of Carlin's job skills and qualifications to become a full editor? You can believe me or not as you choose, but I reported the story accurately.
"Around 1975 Ed Hannigan started helping Art Director John Romita to design covers for other artists and occasionally himself to draw. He also illustrated some stories. By and by, Ed became the comic cover sketch artist in the place. At one time or another he did cover designs for just about every comic in the line."
Excerpt from the intro of "Ed Hannigan: Covered" book.
So did Mark Gruenwald really call Carlin a "loser" and try to block Carlin's promotion to editor as you stated in the comicbookresources interview? Was Gruenwald that kind of friend to Carlin? Or is it just easy to say things like that about people who are no longer with us?
As always Jim, your recollections are amazing.
Al Milgrom was another one who did a lot of cover sketches. From what I've read, most of the covers Kirby did in the 70's (for books he was not writing/drawing himself) came from Milgrom rough sketches.
I've seen cover roughs for Kirby from Marie Severin as well. I think Al also had the job of fixing up Jack's covers…Kirby often had a hard time recalling the small details of so many costumes (even with reference art to work from), so Al (and others) would do things like add six white disks to the front of Thor's suit instead of the four Jack had drawn.
Tony Isabella once wrote to me that parts of Champions #7 had been re-drawn by an unknown artist (looks like Ron Wilson to me) and re-written, uncredited, by Jim Shooter. This was in a letter from the early to mid-90s and he may have thought at the time that Shooter was to blame for both Ghost Rider and Champions. As soon as I can dig it out from storage, I'll see if that is correct.
So, it was just an adjustment to suit the incoming writer's continuity. Thanks.
I don't know if I ever mentioned throwing the spears to Larry. I can remember discussing guns a little bit. But I never competed or did anything with it except teach myself to throw stuff so it isn't a very impressive story to tell. I don't imagine it would be very easy to impress Larry Hama. lol.
We didn't have anything as fancy as a professional javelin in the Hill Country in Texas, but my boyfriend borrowed a forge and made me a couple of very nifty and well-balanced javelin-type spears (or so we imagined, never having seen one up close) so I could practice throwing them at a big tree in the back yard. I felt sorry for the tree after a while and switched to a hay bale wrapped in burlap. By the time I switched to the hay bale, I hardly ever missed so all I needed was one bale. lol. Same with the knives. I got to where I would practice indoors on a chunk of 4 x 6 since I hardly ever made a bad throw. Boy, I used to love to throw stuff.
Who would have thought John Morelli was under attack more often than his G.I. Joe couterpart?
🙂 I'm very intrigued to hear JayJay has experience throwing javelins. Did you perhaps mention this to Larry Hama? On November 6th, 1984, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #32 ("The Mountain!") went on sale featuring the first appearance of Lady Jaye. Her weapon of choice was a javelin and Hasbro released the first of eight Lady Jaye action figures in 1985.
I found an interview with Tony where he discusses Champions #7:
He doesn't blame Jim Shooter for the rewriting or seem upset about it:
TONY: A few panels were changed on the last page of the last issue of Champions I wrote, but that wasn’t any problem for me. It was the first part of an extended storyline which would have revealed that Ivan was the Black Widow’s father. I had already left Marvel and the new writer – Bill Mantlo, as it turns out – wanted to take the story in a different direction.
In that same interview he tells his story about Ghost Rider, which includes the misapprehension that Marv Wolfman was okay with the story and Shooter decided to rewrite it on his own initiative.
interesting for knew both Marv and Len did work for marvel and Marv was editor in chief at the time but did not know that both were there at the same time and formed an allience against roy not to mention that all due to a letter by Tony that stan thought tony was a find for marvel. though did not know len was also doing covers then.
Doing a little search, on Champions #7 story, from …
Titled "The Man Who Created the Black Widow" and is credited to Tony Isabella
Cover Artists Rich Buckler
"The Man Who Created the Black Widow"
Writers Tony Isabella
Pencilers George Tuska
Inkers Vince Colletta
Colourists Phil Rachelson
Letterers Karen Mantlo
Editors Marv Wolfman
Pg 30 is posted here:
So what's the scoop?
I've long been curious about the 'nepotism' at Marvel, what with Glynis Wein, Michele Wolfman, Karen Mantlo, Virginia Romita, Linda Lessman, Frankie Sienkiewicz, Jean Simek, etc. I'm glad you brought it up, and wondered if you had more to say on the matter.
I've always wondered, was colorist Petra Goldberg related to colorist Stan Goldberg?
I don't remember kids being brought to the office, certainly not as a regular occurrence, unless you count John and Virginia Romita bringing little Johnny Jr. in (after he was old enough to vote).
Len left before I became EIC and I didn't fire Marv. He got an offer from DC and took it.
Maybe Owsley is referring to Denny O'Neill and Mike Carlin. I fired Denny at the publisher's insistence. He deserved it. I fired Mike Carlin because he really deserved it, and gave me no choice. Both were well-liked by people not responsible for their job performance.
The worst thing I ever said to an editor or creator about a comic book they were involved with was the question, "Trees died for this?"
I don't remember the Champions story offhand. Can anyone give me the gist of the story to refresh my memory?
First of all, thanks for the link to that posting – I try to keep up on all of the fascinating posts on this blog, but I must have missed this one.
Tony himself has wrote me about the Champions #7 incident. I'm at work right now, so I do not have the issue in front of me (in fact, I'm not even sure I own it anymore), but if you read it carefully, you can tell where an artist other than the credited George Tuska drew some panels that seem to throw the story off track. Isabella conveyed to me what his original intention in that issue was (to reveal that Ivan was Natasha's father? I'm not sure, but I think that was it), but the hastily drawn and scripted stuff introduces new characters that weren't in the original plot and abandons the Ivan plot. Sorry – that's all I've got now. I can share more with you, re: Isabella and Wolfman, but not in a public forum.
Jim, you have never mentionned kids to this point. A lot of artists wifes were working as colorist or letterer (There was Karen Mantlo also), but what about the artist's kids? Did they never gothe office. Weren't there time when the Marvel offices became a temporary nursery for couples working at Marvel or single parents?
Jim Owsley, in his Spidey essay, says about Jim, "They [Marvel staffers] disliked him because he fired Alan Dulles and Henry Cabel (Jim moved a lot of sacred cows out)." I always took that to be an oblique reference to LenMarv, and reading Jim's account of the office politics makes me think that even more.
I have sort of a controversial question for Jim; we've heard all the "horror stories" from those who portray you as a ruthless dictator, but what would you personally say is the meanest thing you've ever said to a fellow comics pro?
Jeff, Tony Isabella's "Jesus appearing in Ghost Rider" storyline was discussed in the comments area of this posting: http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/06/rooting-out-corruption-at-marvel-part_14.html.
The most interesting thing to learn is that although Isabella has always blamed Shooter for the rewrite and said that (then EIC) Marv Wolfman was okay with his Jesus storyline, in reality Wolfman ordered Shooter to do the rewrite. Based on his interview comments over the years Tony Isabella apparently does not know this. It appears Marv may have used Jim as a scapegoat.
I've never heard anything about an Isabella issue of Champions being rewritten. What's the story on that?
@ Comic-Con, busy as hell, making contacts, going to panels, showing my work, going to parties, not sleeping, etc. etc…..but still reading this blog every day. Along with the comments. I don't know the last time a blog pulled me in this way. Thanks JS, JJ.
Actually, I have heard, more than once, that one of the contributing factors that led to Tony Isabella leaving Marvel in 1976 was his final "Ghost Rider turns to Jesus" issue (#19) was taken away from him and re-written by another writer. His Champions #7 was also taken away from him and re-written by another writer. That other writer, in both cases, was….Jim Shooter!
We've heard Tony's story for many years, Jim. Is it time to hear your side of this story? I'm curious, because I like Tony's writing, for the most part (being an agnostic, that Ghost Rider plot-line sort of bothered me)and I like and respect your writing a great deal, so I'm just wondering after all of these years what your side of the story is.
@ Jim – I'm glad you said that. I was beginning to think it was just me and that I was missing something and left out of the "in-crowd".
I get the feeling that lot of "in the know" industry pros drop by to keep you honest and chime in… only I'm too lazy to figure out their alter egos.
Roger that, JS. I learn as much from the comments threads as I do from the blogs!
That paintball picture is great. I don't play often, but "back in the day," the guys (and girls) I used to play with would always put on big-theme weekend events. I was honored to take part in a "God Loves, Man Kills" themed event once, named and styled after the classic Marvel graphic novel, of course. Fun times. (but yeah – those bruises are the real deal! Eye protection mandatory at all times, friends and neighbors…)
And @TheWriteJerry – amen to that!
I am constantly amazed at how much many of you folks know.
in the 1970s, John Romita Sr and Marie Severin did roughs which were then passed on to the penciler (even Kirby)
Al Milgrom was another one who did a lot of cover sketches. From what I've read, most of the covers Kirby did in the 70's (for books he was not writing/drawing himself) came from Milgrom rough sketches.
What he said.
Marc, Len Wein originally started as an artist, or at least he wanted to be. He quickly discovered he had more aptitude as a writer, and made the switch. Steve Englehart is another notable writer who started as an artist. He actually had a few stories published (by Warren and in a Marvel romance books) before he switched to writing.
From what I've read, a big reason Tony Isabella left Marvel in 1976 was a dispute with Len and Marv. He was taken off Daredevil (after just a few issues) so that Marv could write it himself, and was given Captain America instead. Isabella says he was led to believe the Captain America assignment was going to be a permanent one, but he then found out he was just a seat warmer and that the plan was to give the book to Kirby when he returned to Marvel. So he lost that assignment after just a few issues too. Anger over that prompted him to make the move to DC.
I get the impression there was a lot of jockeying/infighting for the chance to write Marvel's top characters at the time. With the exception of some guys like Gerber and McGregor (who just wanted to do their own thing) most of the writers were battling to get the "a-list" characters for themselves.
I've always liked fighting but I hate to hurt anyone and I'm not very competitive, so it's a problem. Which might be why I never got into contact sports. lol. I was crazy for knife throwing as a kid. I've done martial arts, played paintball, lots of target shooting with guns, bows and crossbows. I've even tried javelin. And I play video games, but don't care for the PVP. lol. Just hate to hurt people. Though it really doesn't bother me to get hurt (I've never been seriously injured, however).
From the examples I've seen in print and on the web, in the 1970s, John Romita Sr and Marie Severin did roughs which were then passed on to the penciler (even Kirby), the one exception being Gil Kane, who apparently did his own roughs. (I own a number of them.)
Eventually, Dave Cockrum took over doing cover roughs to free up JR Sr and Marvelous Marie for other stuff.
Marc wrote: "Eye damage is one of the worst fates that could befall a comics creator."
That and office politics!
Having read your online writings, you don't sound like a "vicious battle-crazed warrior." Never imagined you in a Punisher outfit. If it weren't for your hairstyle, I'd never have guessed that was you.
Just the thought of games like this scares me. I was relieved by Jim's decree of mandatory eye protection. Eye damage is one of the worst fates that could befall a comics creator.
Also, I think seeing me come back all dirty with cuts, bruises, poison ivy and sprained ankles may have made the paintball games less attractive to Jim.
There were some pretty memorable injuries, too. One of our guys, Fabian I think, took a hit to the mouth that swelled up and looked very painful. And I accidentally shot Squid in, um, a very tender spot, once.
Len didn't draw the cover sketches. Generally, he worked with an artist like John Romita, Sr., who drew the sketch to Len's specs.
A lot of writers had some drawing ability. Englehart, for instance. Gruenwald, I think. Others. I forget.
Stan had very little contact with most of the creators. We used to laugh because every time Stan ran into a creator in the hallway or someplace he thought it was Dave Kraft. For some reason Kraft's name, if not his face, stuck with Stan. I don't think Stan would have recognized Tony Isabella.
I wasn't on the Paintball Team. I figured I already had enough people gunning for me.
Yeah, my crazy 80's thrice bleached hair stands out. lol.
Jim never came with us on these paintball excursions. He's just not the violent type. The rest of us were vicious battle-crazed warriors. lol. But I'll tell you, the first time you are hit with a paintball and it occurs to you how that would be if it was a real bullet, it's a sobering realization. Makes you appreciate real soldiers.
Not unless you count diet soda.
Wow, Jim, that's so interesting! That brings so much light to the workings of Marvel of that time. Looking back at the early 70's Marvel I find it interesting that there were some writers who seemed really talented but don't get the recognition that they deserve. Tony Isabella is one of those people. He worked on Powerman while it was still a young title and he created Tigra. In the late 70's he created Black Lightning with Trevor Von Eden. He was on some pretty interesting projects and seemed to really care about what he was doing. Upon discovering this I began to wonder why he wasn't more well known. This inner politics may have contributed to his not being remembered for his achievements. Thanks Jim for another interesting installment!
I have a request. I'd love to hear about the behind the scenes goings-ons of the 5 part Punisher series. It was a great series with great art by Mike Zeck, and was responsible for the whole Punisher trend.
I didn't know Len Wein designed covers, though I'm not surprised since he knows how to draw. I just discovered he drew a story for Gold Key! It seems that a lot of comics writers have drawing ability. Are they the exception rather than the rule? I think it'd be hard to write comics without a visual sense. It's possible to have the latter without being able to draw, but surely drawing helps.
In February 1976 (about a month after you started at Marvel), Tony Isabella was probably writing Tigra in Marvel Chillers, Champions, and Ghost Rider. His last Marvel work during this period was a plot for a Bill Mantlo-scripted Tigra issue of Marvel Two-in-One cover-dated September 1976. So Tony must have left Marvel shortly after he wrote that letter.
I'm surprised that Stan asked if Tony Isabella was writing for Marvel. Hadn't their paths crossed during the past three years? (Tony's first Marvel script was in Chamber of Chills #5 [Nov. 1973].) How much contact did Stan have with creators during this period? In any case, "pretty well written" is high praise!
I recognized JayJay in the group shot even before I noticed the names below the photo. I was looking for you in it. Maybe you'll explain your absence in your next "Strange Tale."
Some of this stuff reminds me a lot of Mad Men. Was there a lot of drinking at the Marvel offices? Just wondering.
# 1) Wouldn't it have been more apropos (to nothing, I suppose) to dub them "MarvLen"?
I mean… it's practically spelling out MARVEL.
(Or would that have seemed like they were giving "MarvLen / LenMarv" to much implied "oomph".
# 2) I love Mastermind (and all puzzle games) but after a few games many years ago, my wife refuses to play it with me (I'm very good at puzzles).
# 3) I would have sworn that Stan was going to note that YOU were either not mentioned in the diatribe OR were criticized as not standing up for one or other camp, and as such, he would reward you with a "Well done" by him.
The fact that he cared that the letter was well written and if that scribe were producing work for Marvel is a testament to how a creative boss SHOULD think!