When I was promoted to Editor in Chief, I was supposed to move from the small office I was in to the larger, nicer Editor in Chief office down the hall. I couldn’t take the time to move, though. I was too busy being overwhelmed. After that office sat empty for a few days, Sol Brodsky, by no one’s leave, pounced on it and moved in. I didn’t care. The little room I had was in a corner of the big editorial room and closer to the bullpen. In the middle of the action, you might say. Except, since we were short-handed, only a couple of assistant editors and me, there wasn’t a lot of “action” in the editorial area besides my frantic scrambling around.
Besides, that small room had been good enough for Roy, Len, Marv and Gerry. Only Archie had occupied the bigger office. Why? He had been editor of the black-and-white magazines, and that room had formerly been the B&W editorial office, where Archie and one or two or other editorial people sat. Like me, after he’d been promoted, he hadn’t the time to move, and so he stayed put, and thus, the big room became the EIC office. I had been installed in the little room along with the B&W editor who replaced Archie. Roger Slifer, as I recall.
Slifer is a story all by himself. Later. He wasn’t there too long. He quit and went freelance.
Anyway, when I took over as EIC, I didn’t have a B&W editor or a color comics editor.
Roger Stern became the first editor on board. He had been one of the assistants previously. He’s wicked smart, an excellent writer, comics savvy and capable. And he knows all the words to every Weird Al Yankovich song. And he’ll sing them for you. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
I had convinced upstairs that one editor for 45 color comics wasn’t enough, and I had the budget to hire more.
The second color comics editor I hired was Bob Hall, who had been doing some penciling for us. Bob was a playwright, among other things. He knew story structure, was literate, was a visual thinker and knew comics. He had no editorial experience, but I figured that he’d catch on quick. I was right.
Bob had written a play that was running at the Cherry Lane Theater in the Village called The Passion of Dracula. Very successful. It ran for a long time.
(ASIDE: Bob also wrote, years later, a play about the beginning of the Comics Code entitled Never Bigger Than Her Head. The title comes from a bit of advice John Buscema gave students about drawing women’s breasts.)
One of the people I interviewed for the B&W magazine editor job was a man named Rick Marschall. He had been recommended to Stan by someone, actually, so Stan wanted to meet him. He had some experience working with newspaper strips or reprints of same, but no comic book or comics magazine background. A pretty thin resume. Stan, who has an abiding reverence for syndicated strips, was impressed with Marschall. Me, not so much. But I went with Stan’s gut, not mine and hired him.
(ASIDE: Funny thing about Stan. I’m not saying he doesn’t love the comics, because he does—but in his heart of hearts, what he really wanted was a successful syndicated strip or a successful “real” magazine.
Remember, Stan grew up in the day when comic books were the lowest rung on the ladder. Comic books were where you ended up after schlepping your portfolio around to every single syndicate, showing your brilliant samples of the next Terry and the Pirates or Abbie an’ Slats and being rejected by everybody. Or, where you scrounged a living while waiting for the syndicated world to acknowledge your genius. Working on comic books was an embarrassment. A lot of people changed their names for their comics work to keep their real name untainted. Like Stan Lee, who wanted to reserve his real name, Stanley Lieber, for his strip, his magazine, or, who knows, the Great American Novel.
I used to argue with him. I’d tell him he made comics huge, and comics made him a worldwide icon. Why not stick with that? He’d say yes…pause…but someday I’d really like to publish a real magazine!
Anyway, we hired Marschall.
And early on, we cancelled most of the B&W magazines, which weren’t selling. We were adding some color comics at the same time, so we actually increased the number of pages per month we produced, so there was still plenty of work to go around.
Writer/editor Roy handled Savage Sword. Ralph Macchio was his in-house liaison. So Marschall handled…hmm…a Howard the Duck B&W? A Dracula magazine? Somebody help me.
The Hulk was on television then, so we introduced the full color Hulk Magazine, which Marschall edited. And he edited a movie adaptation or three. And, he took over development of a project initiated during Archie’s time, a color magazine intended to feature creator-owned material with the working title Odyssey.
Meanwhile, with our blessing, Bob Hall left to look after his play, which was being produced in London and Boston.
But more reinforcements came on board: Al Milgrom. Then Denny O’Neill and Larry Hama, who started on the same day, and Louise Jones (who later married Walt Simonson).
Things started to get organized.
I finally had more time to spend on improving the books.
One of the first things I addressed was the coloring of the covers. Before me, when the inked cover art came in, a photocopy was given to the Editor in Chief, who wrote the copy—blurbs and what have you, and indicated placement. The copy went to the production department. The display lettering (for, say, the title) was done and the blurbs, if any, were lettered. The logo, trade dress, Code Seal and copy were pasted up. Then a stat of the cover was made and sent to George Roussos’ office. George colored all the covers. Often without being so much as glanced at by anyone in editorial, they went to the separators.
I was very unhappy with the cover coloring. The first thing I did was make sure I saw the covers before they left the house. I always had corrections. Lots of corrections. There were a lot of mistakes. Like part of a spaceship colored brown and shaded like a rock because George thought it was a rock. Or Atlanteans who weren’t colored blue. That sort of thing. Allowing the mistakes to happen then correcting them seemed inefficient….
So, I told George to bring me each and every cover before he started coloring, so we could discuss it first.
George probably wasn’t thrilled to have some kid less than half his age giving him instructions, but he dutifully complied. And it went well the first few times. I headed off some problems. I pushed George in the direction of clarity and depth.
And, I started to understand where George was coming from. He had been given a lot of rules by a lot of different people during the many years he’d been coloring covers. He wasn’t thinking like an artist any more. He was just doing this because you’re supposed to and that because you must. In the case of conflicting orders, he followed the last ones or those given to him by the higher-ranking person. Getting rid of all the nonsense he’d been shackled with was the main problem. That theme continued with writers, pencilers, etc. You’ll see.
One morning George brought me a Master of Kung Fu cover he was about to color. It was pretty static, so George suggested going with a stark color treatment, a “knockout.” I said fine. How about we do the figures and the logo in yellow and color the background a cool green?
George looked like I’d ordered him to eat a live tarantula sandwich.
He said, “You CAN’T color a background green!”
I’d never heard that rule before.
I can’t recite it line by line, but it turned into a major argument! With George! Sweet, cooperative, nice, George. He adamantly refused to color the background green. Stan, he said, wouldn’t like it! He, George, would be fired!
I tried to tell him that it was okay, no one was going to fire him. That didn’t make a dent. Finally, I demanded that he color the cover as instructed. No more argument. Go. Now. Do it.
George shambled away, muttering.
A minute later, Marie Severin came to my office. “Why are you doing this to George?” she asked. I wasn’t doing anything to George! I just wanted the damn cover colored. As instructed.
Marie, in grave tones, warned me that there would be serious repercussions. Stan would be really angry. Stan HATED green. She pleaded with me not to make George color the cover green. By this time, my heels were firmly dug in.
Marie left. George came back. He refused to color the background green and that was that. I told him if he didn’t do as I asked I’d send him home. And I assured him that whatever consequences for green there were, I would bear them, not him.
So he did it. Green background. I took the cover and asked George to follow me.
Stan’s office door was open so I walked in. George stayed outside, sort of timidly standing by the door. Even though he was with me, he would never have considered walking into Stan’s office uninvited.
I showed Stan the cover. I said, “What do you think?”
Stan said, “It’s GREAT!”
I thanked Stan and left. Though George had overheard, I repeated it. “Stan said it’s GREAT.”
Here’s the scoop. Stan probably did at some point say “never make a cover background green.” Stan is prone to speak in hyperbole and exaggerate for effect. What he meant—and I guessed this immediately, knowing Stan well from working closely with him in general and in particular on the strip—was that medium-value background colors like green present difficulties when choosing a color for the logo. Better to go with a VERY DARK background color against which a light colored logo will “pop,” or a VERY LIGHT background color against which a dark colored logo will pop. Rather than launch into a lecture on color theory, Stan made an idiot-proof rule: never use green.
But my yellow logo popped nicely against the cool green background, so no worries. That was/is Stan’s real concern—does the logo pop? Yes.
After that, George and I really started to work well together. I convinced him to scrap the rules, that we were picture-makers. I unleashed the artist in him. And he taught me tricks I never knew, about “spotlighting” characters and building mood with color.
Pretty soon, our little discussions about how to approach covers became highlights of my day. Fun. I think he enjoyed them too.
I’ll do another piece about George, a quiet, smart, super-talented gentleman soon.
As an editor, Marschall was marginal at best. He made a lot of mistakes. The worst was failing to get licensor approval on a movie adaptation—Planet of the Apes, I think, prior to going to press. The licensor rejected the book. We had to scrap 600,000 copies. (for more info, see comment)
A couple of days after that went down, Marschall asked me if he could have the next several days off because relatives of his from Germany were visiting. I turned his request down. One of his books, an important one, another movie adaptation, I think, had to get into and out of the house in the next few days and his presence was required—especially after the last debacle.
So, he called in sick.
Meanwhile, it had come to the attention of President Jim Galton that we’d had to scrap a print run. He ordered me to fire Marschall. I called Marschall and left a message saying he must come in the next day, a Friday. He didn’t. So, I called again, got him and fired him over the phone.
He later got a friend at the New York Times to write a major article for the business section all about how I was driving talent like him away from Marvel. Whatever. Good riddance.
I hired Lynn Graeme to replace him as editor of the magazines. New to comics, but a very smart woman.
I thought, however, we needed someone with experience, a real heavyweight to take over the Odyssey project….
NEXT: An EPIC Deception