Len Wein Teaches Me a Lesson (and, oh, by the way, Roger Stern, too)
Roger Stern started working at Marvel in December of 1975, two weeks before I did on the first working day of January 1976.
Rog came from Indiana. He had previously published or co-published a slick fanzine called CPL (Contemporary Pictoral Literature, I think.) that had been devoted to Charlton Comics. He had been hired as an assistant editor. Among his first duties, I think, was editing letter columns.
(NOTE: Letter columns were commonly put together by the writers of the individual books, who would sort through the fan mail, select letters to be printed and write the answers or comments. A few lettercols were written by someone other than the book’s writer. If that person couldn’t or didn’t want to do his or her own letter column, a staffer or other freelancer would do it. For instance, lettercols for the Kirby books were done by someone other than Jack. Writing a lettercol in those days paid $25, I think.)
I had been hired as associate editor. Rog and I both sat in the big editorial room outside the Editor in Chief’s office, which took up a corner of that room. We were the two new guys. We became friends, and remain friends…at least until he reads this.
Rog wanted to write comics. He hadn’t done any writing for DC or Marvel at that point. I don’t know whether he had any published work for Charlton. Anyway, being his buddy, his pal, I wanted to help.
(ASIDE: If Rog is reading this, right now he’s wondering “Where is that big lug going with this?” And by the way, I haven’t checked any of this with him. Rog, if you wish to rebut or correct anything, have at it. Me. Whatever.)
When I took the associate editor position, I still owed editor Murray Boltinoff at DC three Legion of Super-Heroes scripts. Editor in Chief Marv, who hired me, gave me the okay to finish that work on my own time. I had “springboards” approved by Murray, but not detailed plots. I invited Rog to kibitz on those plots and scripts. Thought maybe I could teach the guy a trick or two.
Somewhere along the way, I rented a room from Dave Cockrum who had a huge, three bedroom apartment out in Queens. I remember Rog, Dave and me hanging around discussing the stories between dinner at the Brew Burger and a pie-run to the Silver Moon Diner.
Anyway, Rog was more than a kibitzer on those LSH stories. He made some cool contributions. He’s a smart guy. Lots of ideas.
Even before we worked on those scripts, I had been coaching Rog, explaining how to approach writing a story. All through the process, I coached him, and after those scripts were done, I coached him. I talked about Aristotelean principles, the underlying philosophies, how to think about it…the linguistic roots of story architecture, the visual-verbal language, point of view, pacing, themes, counter-themes, subplots, insight, establishing characters, character development, dialogue…blah, blah, blah.
Rog listened eagerly. Or maybe he was just humoring me.
Anyway, his chance finally came. We needed someone to dialogue an Omega story plotted by Steve Gerber and drawn, I’m guessing, by Jim Mooney. Marv let Rog take a crack.
Rog delivered. I edited the script. It was…how shall I say this? Not good.
I touched it up some, as best I could with the time I had.
After Steve Gerber read the (printed) book, he flipped through it with Rog, making comments. I was within earshot. Steve was very polite, very nice, generous with his compliments. One thing he pointed out was that Rog referred to the character as “Omega” a few times. Steve made a point never to call him anything but the “caped man” or some such. My fault as much as Rog’s. Sigh.
Shortly thereafter, Len Wein needed someone to dialogue a Hulk story he had plotted, drawn, I think, by Sal Buscema. He gave Rog a shot. I heard him talking to Rog before Rog embarked on the script. Len kept saying “Do this,” and “Don’t do that.” Simple instructions. Rules.
Rog wrote the script (we used “script” and “dialogue” pretty much interchangeably at Marvel, for work done Marvel style). Again, I was in earshot when Len went over it with him. Len talked about the rhythm of the dialogue, “hearing” the voices, being cognizant of basic information that had to be delivered. “Do it like this, not like this.” I think Rog made a few, very few, corrections. Then the thing was handed over to me to edit.
It was really good.
And the little light bulb went on.
Don’t try to give new writers (or creators in general) the entire How to Write course at the get-go. Start them off with easy-to-follow instructions. Rules, if you will, until they get their feet under them. Then worry about the nuances.
And wasn’t that how I learned…? First, from the Ultimate Rule-Giver, Mort Weisinger, then onward on my own, once I felt myself on firm ground.
One story with Len helping and Rog was off and flying. And, once he had Len’s rules etched into his brain, then, all of the sudden, he could more easily grok all the complexities I had been throwing at him.
The rules describe a neighborhood in the universe of writing, a safe place, from which one can venture into the limitless possibilities when one is damn good and ready.
Roger became ready quickly. He GOT it! Just like that. Well, maybe not just like that, but he was soon on his way.
Rog is now, and has been for a long time, one of the best writers in the business. Always solid, often brilliant, capable of those moving, stick-with-you moments. Thanks in good measure to Len.
Thanks, Len, from me, too.
I got it. After that I concentrated on building foundations before erecting the spires.
Example: Early on, I made newbie Frank Miller draw a couple of stories using the Kirby windowpane grid. Strictly enforced.
He got it. Soon and in abundance. Perhaps you’ve noticed.
So, thanks again for the lesson, Len.
And I’m really sorry I dropped you on your head….
NEXT: More Strange Tales – Why I Dropped Len On His Head
I'm sure that Stern was fired from Avengers after I left, and I think it was because of a dispute with editor Mark Gruenwald.
I realize I'm late to the party by a few months on this post, but I'm a huge fan of Roger Stern (especially his ASM run). Everytime he left a book I felt a tragedy had occured – any book he left his mark on just never felt the same (i.e. – as good) thereafter. As such, I was interested in the circumstances behind his leaving Cap – a painfully short run (painful in that it was short – not that it was low quality) by most fans' estimation.
However, I'm curious as to the circumstances behind his leaving the Avengers. Rog himself left a very short post over on CBR stating that he was fired from Avengers (though he didn't go into any details as to why).
Jim – that may have been after your time as EIC – do you know why he was fired from Avengers despite having yet another celebrated run on the book?
Let me also thank Jim for this blog. For years I've heard or read the Shooter bashings and never put much creedence into it. I mean, how do I know one way or the other? Any positive or negative feelings I myself put on Jim are based on how he's treating those of us reading this blog and at this point, beyond what great things he's given us as comic readers, he's been a real gentleman in his posts and his responses.
On the other hand, Byrne, whose work I have greatly enjoyed over the years, has steadily chipped away at my positive feelings about him simply by how he conducts himself on his board. Stating an opinion, defending it, etc. is appropriate, but he does it with such aggression and bitterness, that in my mind, John Byrne has become akin to an ogre… talented maybe, but completely unlikeable as a person.
Re: Carlin/Gruenwald… unless I'm missing something, this post is surprising… Weren't Mike and Mark supposedly amazing friends? Yet Mark all but said "don't hire him?"
Finally, Jim, thanks for some great work over the years. One of my all-time favorites, if not favorite story from you was Superboy and the Legion #210 (Soljer's Private War). Between your story and Mike Grell's art, it was as perfect a comic book as I've read, both as a kid and now as an adult… I still enjoy reading that issue.
@John_Dunbar – that's a great Roger Stern interview. Thanks for sharing the link. Gotta love the tidbit about Jim's layouts on Spectacular Spider-man:
"Here’s another funny story. On issue #59, as a goof, I credited Jim’s layouts to J. Strzltski – that being the spelling of his family’s name pre-Ellis Island. Well, we got a number of letters wondering who this J. Strzltski guy was. One fan wrote, "You can’t fool me…this is really Steve Ditko working under a pseudonym." Needless to say, Jim was very flattered. "
I don't think Byrne ever had a problem with Carlin. Carlin and O'Neill passed Byrne's work through untouched and often unread, according to their assistants (two of O'Neill's and one of Carlin's who came to me privately to complain). Gruenwald did not "try to block" Carlin's promotion but he recommended strongly against it. I should have listened to him.
I wrote the previous comment before reading John Dunbar's link (thanks) and I have to say that Roger Stern's version does make more sense.
Just to be clear, when I wrote that the original issue might not have met some of Shooter's requirements, I didn't imply that those requirements were arbitrary or unreasonable. They might as well have been for the benefit of the story. And Stern's contention could have been with his editor on Captain America without Shooter getting involved.
Anyway, I was just trying to make sense of Stern's and Byrne's contradicting recollections (Rashomon style) but since we can't know evrything that happened on every level I guess this will remain a mystery. Which is OK as far as I'm concerned.
Hello, Jim. As they used to say, I'm a first time caller, long time listener. I enjoy the blog very much, thank you for sharing these great stories with us. Thanks to Jay Jay as well!
Here's a link to an interview with Roger Stern:
On the second page, he is asked directly why he left Captain America after only nine issues. Guess what? Once again, Jim Shooter is not the bad guy; in fact, as far as I can tell, there were no bad guys.
I don't want to bash John Byrne, but I'm more than happy to give Mr. Shooter the benefit of the doubt when his version makes sense and Byrne's version doesn't, frankly. Has any other creator ever stepped forward to say "Yes, Shooter made that 'No more continued stories' edict"? Can anyone show me a period of time where every Marvel series had a "Done-in-One" month in, month out, even for a short period of time? It's just like that awful stuff with Black Goliath – how Byrne remembers and relates these stories doesn't seem to withstand much scrutiny.
Inventive theory, but not correct.
I don't remember why Roger Stern left the series. It certainly wasn't something that happened because of some arbitrary, unreasonable demand of mine. I don't think Rog and I ever had a significant disagreement over the work, or anything else for that matter.
Often there are factors at play in things like this that don't make it into the public record. Often what is said amounts to what the people involved feel they can say, or should say. Sound bites. Fairly glib simplifications of complex situations. Left unsaid are things that would be unprofessional to say, things that are personal, or things that for some reason are none of anybody else's business.
Maybe this is one of those cases. I don't know.
OK here is a theory I made on the spot with no further knowledge, other than what's offered here.
What if the issue in question, the way it had been planned originally, did not meet some requirements met by Shooter, and then Stern and Cap's editor, or Shooter himself, got together and reworked it in a way that satisfied both but couldn't be completed on time (it would have to be replotted and redrawn)? Then they would need a fill-in issue. But Stern felt that such a thing would mess with the momentum of their run and the consecutive issues bonus, so he left.
That way Stern could feel that his problem was with the fill-in issue since he had no problem with the reworked plot. From his point of view, Byrne could feel that the real problem was Shooter not agreeing with their original intentions.
Like I said I got no inside knowledge but this could explain why they needed a fill-in issue despite Byrne being so dependable in that regard.
Well, this is from JB's FAQ:
The collaboration between you and Roger Stern on Captain America in the early '80s was quite possibly the best version of Cap ever. Why did this run end so prematurely? I've seen the pages you drew that had Cap ready to depart from the UK after the Baron Blood two-part story. What the heck happened there?
JB: Start with Jim Shooter. One day he decided that all stories should be complete in one issue. There could be "continued stories" in the sense that subplots or locations could carry over from one issue to the next, but each issue had to contain a complete story unto itself. And, as with all such Shooter declarations, this was to be put into place +now+, immediately-with no consideration of the fact that some of us (say, Roger and I) might be already working on what was intended as the first chapter of a three part story.
To cut a long story very short, Roger came into contention with the CAP editor (Jim Salicrup) over this, and decided he would leave the book in protest. Although Salicrup asked if I would be interested in staying on as writer, I decided to support Roger, and left too.
A great pity, all things considered.
It seems to me that what he's saying has more to do with interrupting the story they had already set in motion, not with the (supposed) edict that each issue contain a self-contained story.
The question I have about Stern's version is the part about he and Shooter working out the details but a fill-in issue still needing to be scheduled. One thing I've never heard about Byrne is him being late. So, why would a 3 part story, one where the first part was already done, need a fill-in issue with guys like Stern and Byrne on the job?
Here's the problem as far as John Byrne goes, Moklerman…… for years now, Byrne has badmouthed Jim every chance he has gotten. He's told story after story of how Shooter did this, Shooter said that, so now that we actually have Jim Shooter here to talk to, some of us would like to hear his side, something Byrne never encourages on his messageboard. Whenever a fellow comic pro shows up at the Byrne forum to offer their side of whatever latest story Byrne had told about how he was screwed over or how awful it was to work with so and so…… Byrne deletes their posts and bans them before we ever get to find out the other side. I've seen Byrne "stealth edit" so many posts it's not even funny. Anyways…….. I believe Roger Stern's version of events when it comes to Captain America…. I met Marshall Rogers right when he started drawing Dr. Strange and he said he really didn't want to do 6 bi-monthly issues of the book but Stern was very excited about getting that bonus for doing consecutive issues so Rogers went along with it. Byrne's story makes no sense when you look at what was going on at Marvel at the time.
Thanks, Vince. Be well.
What Vince said and said very well.
Jim… It's really cool hearing the inside stories. I know a few facts:
1. During your "reign" as EIC at Marvel, I loved more books… bought more books… and thoroughly enjoyed more books than at any other time.
2. I fancied myself a comics artist/writer at the time and your letters and consideration were thoughtful and affirming. Though you had ten million other things to do, you reached out to some pubescent dork and made a difference.
You are one of the good guys… as heroic in my eyes as the characters whose logos graced the covers. I know you look back and think you were just a guy trying to do his job… fine. You did your job. And then some. You made a difference. A real difference.
Shooter on Carlin:
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.
No intention to bash Byrne with the prior posts; just trying to show what a nasty caricature looked like as opposed to the Gerber-modeled guy in Secret Wars 2. I only assumed that Byrne was the instigator of that scene since he was the one with a recent grudge against Shooter over his FF departure. By the way, was that departure Carlin's fault in Jim's estimation? Byrne didn't seem to have any problems with Carlin as they quickly worked together on Superman after that. Also, did Mark Gruenwald (Carlin's best friend, accoring to Carlin) really try to block Carlin's promotion to editor as Jim stated in his comicbookresources interview from 2000? Mark's no longer around to tell his side of that.
This is my first post and I want to give a big thanks to Mr. Shooter. I have really been enjoying the stories from behind the scenes.
Full disclosure though, I am coming from the negative impression camp. How I developed that impression I really don't recall. It certainly seems that it must be because any time I heard anything about Shooter it was negative. I wasn't seeking out articles but when I did read something, it portrayed JS as the bad guy.
So, this blog is a wonderful opportunity to see another side of the story and to get to know "the accused". Again, thank you very much for your time, interest and effort in providing it Mr. Shooter.
Now, as a John Byrne fan I have to comment on the apparent hobby of bashing him around here. While he has indeed said some things and acted in ways that are deserving of criticism, in the short time I've been following the comments it seems as if people are convinced he's intentionally never told the truth or recounted anything accurately in his life.
I think that's a bit unfair and hypocritical. Just as I am appreciative of this blog, I feel that way about JB's site. He has made himself accessible to his fans and is, to pardon the pun, a straight shooter. Granted, he can be too harsh for some but this crusade to prove just how horrible he is seems unhealthy.
No one is above criticism and Mr. Byrne has quite a bit of good things to offer and can be very generous. Don't get me wrong, you can press his buttons and he'll let you know about it too.
Again, my point is that featuring and focusing on the negative about Byrne shouldn't be so prominent around here. It seems a stark contrast to the positive stories and anecdotes that Mr. Shooter is providing.
Here's a link to that: http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Sunspot_(New_Earth)
It certainly contributed to the "Fantagraphics perception" of Shooter which was reaching critical mass by that time (late '86).
Ostrander, Wein and Byrne's take on Shooter in Legends was a lot meaner and gratuitous than the Gerber thing was. It seems that Byrne was likely the primary force in that little vignette.
Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim)
Huh, I actually had the book right next to me and still managed to type "Caldwell." 🙂
Anyway, glad to hear that it was meant and taken in good fun. I think it was in Amazing Heroes that I read about it with a "look at what that horrible Jim Shooter is doing to trample the champions of creators' rights now!" connotation. Though given that AH was a Fantagraphics publication, that slant probably shouldn't surprise me….
Stewart Cadwall was the name. Originally it was "Gadwall." A Gadwall is a duck. Mike Hobson advised going to "Cadwall," so as to leave ducks — obviously a sore spot — out of it. It wasn't an "anti-Steve Gerber caricature," though it was meant to poke some fun at Steve.
Steve loved it. He even sent me a rave fan letter.
Later, when things got contentious between Steve and Marvel again, his lawyers rattled their sabers about my lampooning Steve. We showed them Steve's letter and that ended that.
Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim)
Random question: In Secret Wars II #1, there's a Hollywood animation guy named Stewart Caldwell who gains superpowers and becomes "Thundersword."
Is that character supposed to be a playful jab (or maybe not so playful?) at a real life comics guy-turned-cartoon-guy? I seem to remember reading at the time that it was an anti-Steve Gerber caricature, but can't remember where, and have never seen that theory repeated.
Seems to me Rog and I cooked the story up together, or at least I kibbitzed a little. I have a vague memory of discussing the plot at a Con, maybe Chicago. I'll ask Rog. He remembers everything. Even those "sung to the tune of…" songs they used to have in MAD Magazine once in a while. Don't ask him about those. He WILL sing them to you.
I never read the GN, but knowing Rog, it was great.
The X-Men issue you're thinking of is #12, I believe, and it was Stan Lee (I think that Drake was the third scripter on X-Men, with Roy Thomas's first run in between him and Lee). I think that that's a fair set piece of how to handle that sort of thing, use the build as a framing sequence for another story, in that case it was the story of Professor X's origin and the origin of the Juggernaut, but in principle the story doesn't even have to be directly related. In Thomas's return of the Sentinels story in Avengers he pulls the same idea, but the story he uses as filler during the build is just an unrelated one about the Vision fighting the Grim Reaper. That had nothing to do with the plot of the story he was starting there, but it tied in because it brought the Vision's doubts about his identity to the fore, which ties in to the attraction between the Vision and Scarlet Witch that comes to a head in the subsequent story.
Have you read Roger Stern's graphic novel Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom : Triumph and Torment? It came out in 1989, after you left Marvel. Assuming it had a long lead time, were you involved in the creation process?
For me, this is Roger's masterpiece and is one of the greatest stories ever published by Marvel. Dr. Strange confirms his status as Sorcerer Supreme, takes on Doom as his apprentice and they battle Mephisto for the soul of Doom's mother. All told in 80 pages by Mike Mignola and Mark Badger.
It's a shame it was never reprinted as a mini-series for wider distribution. It's also a shame that this book has never been reprinted since it's original publication 20 years ago. I believe that not many fans have read this story or are aware if it. Otherwise it would feature consistently in any top 10 polls as decided by critics or voted by readers. This story is up there with The Dark Phoenix Saga, Miller's Daredevil, Simonson's Thor, Moore's Swamp Thing and Morrison's All Star Superman. It's that good.
Wow, that was quite a response to my question! For the record, the comments that I'm referring to appeared in Back Issue #41. To clarify, Roger stated that it was the editor (Jim Salicrup, I believe?), not you, that wanted to run the fill-in. Roger didn't seem to be leaving in a huff, but rather just decided it was a good time to leave. Which, obviously, is a shame, because even at only nine issues, the Stern/Byrne Cap is possibly the best work ever done on the character.
I know I've heard that "no continuing stories" edict floated around before… but maybe just by John Byrne. And, maybe, only in reference to his leaving Captain America. I think it's safe to say, though, that your very passionate and rational explanation that you never had such a rule will convince John Byrne that he and Roger Stern did not leave Captain America because of such they could not do continuing stories. Ah well.
Re: Having something of significance happen each issue. A-bloody-Men. The reason I very rarely read a lot of the stuff around now is just that. I've read entire trades where nothing of significance happens. If you could call them glacial back then, what on earth would you call them now?!
And regards writing: One of the best things I ever read was something Harlan Ellison said. I'm paraphrasing ( which means Harlan will kill me if he ever sees this ) but it basically went:
When you're writing, and are really on a roll, don't make that great scene the last thing you do before stopping for the night. If you do, you'll have that blank paper ( or screen ) staring at you the next morning.
Instead, stop halfway through the great bit you've just come up with, that way you'll have something good to start with in the morning!
Works for me…
All that said….
I would be inclined to go with whatever Rog says happened. He would remember better than I do. He is relentlessly honest. To the extent he knows what took place (there were probably discussions he wasn't party to) he will give an accurate account. If he says I behaved like a jerk, I probably did, or seemed to from his vantage point.
Note that Rog is unlikely to label anyone a jerk.
But, Rog, if you're reading this or it gets to you, no worries. If I was a jerk I was a jerk. Actually, "jerk" is a step up from what some people think of me. : )
"…made a rule that all stories had to be resolved in one issue…" No. I never made any such "rule." Check other Marvel Comics published at the time. Lots of continued stories. If I was writing anything at the time, whatever series I was writing probably had continued stories.
I never made any "rules" like that. No "you always must do this" or "you can never do that." Ever. I was often heard to say the phrase, "There are no rules." I did, however, remind people of what business we were in, that is, entertainment, more specifically, telling stories. I did give people clues as to what that entailed: having an actual story to tell and telling it well.
I did, for instance, point out that something of significance should happen in every issue. Something should resolve or progress in a significant way.
Too often there were continued stories that proceeded glacially. One could miss an issue and never notice! I remember in particular a Defenders multi-parter, before I became EIC, some Defenders were on a journey in another dimension. Some were involved in some conflict on Earth. Someone was having a conversation about some personal, human-interest thing. For three issues running. You could skip the middle issue and not miss much. As EIC, I tried to discourage skip-able issues.
Another, related thing: Too often, someone would fill 21 pages with human interest and slow-building sub-plots and have the antagonist/villain/problem arrive on the last page. These were defended to me as "set-up" issues. Set-up? What about the people who paid their money for that issue expecting a story, not a set-up? You mean we see Arnold Palmer tee up the ball, but he doesn't hit it?
I never said that a villain couldn't arrive — ta-daaa! — on the last page. I'm sure Stan did it successfully along the way somewhere. But, I'll guarantee you, when he did, that issue was a hell of a read and a lot more happened building up to the ta-daaa! than hanging around discussing personal problems and/or incidental, non-germane action of no consequence.
I just thought of an example, the X-Men issue that introduced the Juggernaut. Did Stan write that, or was that Arnold Drake? Anyway, the villain arrives on the last page, but boy, what a trip getting there. Now, that was a "set-up."
However, I can't believe the syndromes described above were the problem. Roger Stern knew what business we were in and did his job with rare excellence.
If there had to be a fill-in because the book was late and that troubled the creative team, well, I can understand that. Maybe that was the problem. If I had been smarter, maybe I could have come up with a better solution, like going bi-monthly or twice-quarterly (every six weeks) for a while, or going to a 12/10 two-feature format for a while, until the creators were caught up. If that was the problem.
As you said, the idea that I would throw away a run on a flagship title by one of the best writers and one of the best artists ever to cross our threshold over nonsense is nonsense.
Remember, also, that I always had an editor who was directly responsible for the books (including keeping them on schedule) between me and the creators. The easiest way for an editor to avoid grief from the creators was to lay off the blame for whatever on me. "Jim says we have to do X." Did that happen here? I don't know.
Hi Jim (hope you don't mind if I call you Jim, since I feel like I've known you most of my life):
It's funny you should mention Roger Stern, because I was just reading earlier today about his famed, maddeningly short run on Captain America with John Byrne, and there was some disagreement between the two as to why they left the book. Byrne claims that it was your fault, that you'd made a rule that all stories had to be resolved in one issue, which would scuttle a planned three parter for Cap. Stern quit in protest, and Byrne did so in solidarity.
Now, Stern claims that Byrne's wrong, that he'd worked out the problem with the story with you already, but that a fill-in was about to be run to keep the book on schedule. Stern was against it, because he felt the fill-in would throw off the sales momentum they'd build on Cap, and would cost them a bonus for consecutive issues. So he decided it was best to just walk away.
Byrne, in response, essentially said "Roger's wrong, and I'm right". That's John Byrne for you.
So who's right, by your recollection? Stern's account seems more plausible to me, as I doubt you'd have scuttled an instantly classic run on a flagship character (who'd had trouble holding a creative team) over something as silly as a "no continuing stories" rule. Perhaps a separate post?
Thanks for all your efforts with this blog. I hope you plan on turning this into a book someday….
Thank you for this blog, Mr. Shooter.
What I've learned/Unlearned about writing since 1976? Well, at some point, maybe. Here's an excerpt from an interview I did a while ago:
How do I approach writing a script?
Archie Goodwin used to say that every time he sat down to write a story he couldn’t remember how he had ever done it before. I know what he meant. When I write a story, I hope that maybe I’m learning more about how to write as I go along. But, later, I realize that what I learned was how to write that story. The next one’s a whole new, all different set of problems, unless you’re one of those formula guys who just turns the crank and makes the widgets come out.
Okay, there are things you can learn, like basic structure and mechanics, but the fact is that once you’re out of the abstract realm of story architecture and in the thick of it with characters who have complex personalities, motives and failings; once you’re dealing with specific locations, exigencies of the world you’re mucking around in, time and clime—it gets beyond calculus. Infinite, interdependent variables, interacting in waves. In the introduction to one of his books, Mark Twain wrote: “There will be no weather in this book.” Anything to simplify it a bit, I guess.
I know that some writers can just roll out of bed in the morning and start typing. They must be very gifted. Good for them. For me, I have to work at it. Put in twice the effort just to keep up.
It’s hard for me to contain all the stuff I need in my mind at once. Even in this “paperless” age, I go through notebooks and legal pads by the gross. I have paper full of notes spread out all around me when I try to write.
I start out by “freewheeling.” Just thinking about Doctor Solar and all things related. Even unrelated. No rules.
Eventually, I get some vague thought to start with. Could be anything. A bit of action that might be cool. For instance: “I wonder if Doctor Solar could separate his quantum-field conscience from his body…? Keep his mind over here and send his body over there?” I play what if…?
Once I get any glimmer at all that seems to have possibilities, I write lists of everything that comes to mind that’s related. “Out of body experience.” “Golem.” “Remote control,” even. I bet you can think of two dozen things right now, effortlessly.
Then I start researching things from the lists, online, mostly. More stuff comes up. More lists.
Then, I pretend. I play Doctor Solar in my mind, like a little kid playing super-heroes in the backyard, only without wearing goggles or red clothes, unless the blinds are closed.
Once I have some good ideas, I start applying the aforementioned structure and mechanics and organizing. Which leads to more playing. I make notes. Snippets of dialogue. Ideas for scenes.
Then, in the middle of a pile of notes, I start two-fingered typing.
RE: Lee Elias: Great artist, great guy
I'll try to offer more about writing comics soon. I haven't read PAD's or Denny's books. Yet. I'll make a point of it.
Correction: According to the GCD, the first Len Wein/Roger Stern Hulk story was in The Incredible Hulk #218, dating seven months after Omega #8. Here's a chronology of Stern's career.
I too, would love to see Len Wein's words of wisdom, as well as what Mr.Shooter told Roger Stern.
How about it Mr.Shooter? Throw us a little more pearls of wisdom? I'll take what I can get.
Also on a simialr note, have you ever read Peter David's or Denny O'Neil's books on how to write comics?
I personally own Peter David's book, and wish I had O'Neil's as well. If you did, I'd be curious on your take of their books, and whether or not they're worth getting.
For me, the Peter David book's pretty solid.
"How To Tell A Good Comic Book Story" by Jim Shooter. There's the title, now all you have to do is write the book. But seriously, I'd love to read a book on writing by you.
OK… Who the heck is Stu Krull?
That guy had a letter published in every book Marvel book for like 5 years straight or something equally ridiculous. I held him solely responsible for my letter not being published..
A-hole kept crowding me out… Geez, enough already man.. 🙂
I think its cool to go back and see the letters. Sometimes the "Who" is surprising. I have a few books where I have noticed guys who are now comics pros like Kurt Busiek sent items in. I think Walt Simonson had his 1st published art work in a letter column. Its always cool to see those letters.
Ed Norton… no idea IF its the same actor guy or what… but the name stuck out none the less.
I wonder if anyone has a database of who sent what letter in when… So that if you were at a Con and so and so was appearing you get so and so to sign his letter col as opposed to some other High priced key book.
Thanks, Nate. Have I mentioned lately that you're da bomb?
It'd be hard for me to come up with a cover for this issue of Strange Tales, but I bet you – or Roger Stern – could conceive one.
Sounds like you gave Roger a 1976 version of the 90s course that recently saw "print" on this blog. Could you give examples of what you've learned (and/or unlearned!) about writing since 1976?
The issue of Omega that Roger scripted and Lee Elias drew was #8. Haven't read it in years, but at the time I was probably surprised that Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes didn't script it since I assumed that series was very personal for them. (I wonder how Elias felt about working Marvel-style after drawing traditional scripts at DC. This Omega story was only Elias' sixth Marvel story in the 70s. He had worked for Marvel in the 40s, but only on a few stories, all presumably scripted the old-fashioned way.)
The Hulk story that Len Wein plotted and Roger scripted was published nine months later.
I've never been a letterer, but as a proofreader, I love it when I don't have to fix grammar or spelling. Have you seen the writing lessons that Jim posted in April and May on this blog? I'm always up for more. The list of topics that Jim covered in his coaching is tantalizing.
Thanks for the memoir! Roger is one of my idols in the comics industry. He was one of the brightest lights of the 80's, and one of the most underrated. He did consistently some of the best work in titles like Spider-Man (creating the legendary Hobgoblin), Captain America, Dr. Strange and the Avengers that ever came out! The thing about Roger's work is that it's not flashy like Miller or Moore. What he does is create some of the most solid foundations, the best character development of anyone in the business and lets the plots unravel of there own steam. But it's hard for me to think of anyone that writes characters better than him!
Thanks again Jim for the great insights!
Regarding the letters column comments, that really takes me back. One of the biggest thrill related to comics I got as a kid in the late 70's was getting letters printed in the letters page. I didn't send a huge amount in, but out of the maybe half a dozen I sent over 3 or 4 years, two actually got printed. One was in an issue of my fave, Spider-Man (I sold most of my huge Spidey collection to Hi De Ho comics of Santa Monica in the 80's, so I'll never remember which ish it was in), and the other in a Man-Thing comic. The MT letter submission actually got remaked upon (I had asked a question about Manny's "fear-burn" touch I think). Being able to see my own words in a comic as a kid really made me feel like I was part of the magic.
I second Nate's proposal! Plus, if you could toss in some of Len's do's and dont's I'm sure we all would be most grateful. I've been reading comics for nearly 4 decades now and Stern, Shooter, and Wein (along with Jurgens and Wolfman) occupy spots in my Top Ten Favorite Comic Book Writers of All Time.
Jim, you should consider doing a feature on those writing lessons you gave Roger Stern. We, the industry, could use it. Your scripts continue to be the most concise, detailed, well-researched, reference-ready, with the best grammar and least misspellings I've lettered in my decade in the biz. if everyone wrote like that, I'd almost feel like I was stealing my paychecks. Almost.