The Urge to Kill. Twice.
The penciling on Superman and Spider-Man went pretty fast. John Buscema was amazing.
I drove out to John’s house in Port Jefferson on Long Island a couple of times for business reasons. I don’t remember what the business was but I clearly remember spending time with John, meeting his lovely wife and seeing their wonderful home.
He showed me his studio. John had a very set work routine. Start work early. Warm up for a while, doing little sketches just to get loose. Work a normal length day, eight hours, he said, as I recall, with a lunch break. And, at the end of each day, he’d have finished five or six beautiful pages. Some artists struggled to finish one page a day. Some couldn’t even do that much.
(ASIDE: When a John Buscema job would arrive at the office in the mail, the first thing we’d do was turn the book over and look at the backs of the pages where John did his warm-up sketches. They were incredible. A lot of cowboys, horses, animals, regular, non-heroic people…. One I remember was a cowboy lying on his belly drinking out of a watering hole with his horse alongside. Later, he did a similar drawing at one of the classes he gave at Marvel. But that’s a story for another time.)
John had a pretty extensive home gym, all free weights and stations for same, as I remember. He benched more than I weighed. I wondered whether he bothered to use a jack if the car had a flat.
He was a big, strong guy with big beefy hands. Not what you’d expect of a man who drew with such elegance and grace.
He was fond of saying that if he had it to do all over again he’d be a butcher because, “People always have to eat.”
John did his part. I thought his Superman was brilliant. I loved the nobility he gave Superman. I loved how he drew Superman in very natural flying poses. I loved the way he drew Superman coming in for a landing in panel 1 of page 18 and panel 2 of page twenty-five—the way most people would land, I think, rather than the traditional Superman “ballerina” landing pose, with one foot tucked up under his butt. Stan and I used to laugh about that pose. Who would do that?
I think maybe Wayne Boring, whose art was very stylized and stiff, established that pose. Wayne was great. I worked with him on Superman in the sixties. But, the ballerina thing…?
John’s Spider-Man wasn’t quite as good as his Superman. I’d told John to keep Spider-Man stuck to walls, upside down, in “spidery” poses, off the ground when possible. Leaping 30 feet rather than running. Super-humanly acrobatic, the way Ditko drew him. I guess that didn’t come naturally to John. There were lots of shots of Spider-Man standing on the ground, walking and running like a normal guy.
That said, Spider-Man seldom looked better, nor did Peter Parker. Nor did Clark Kent.
The supporting casts, the guest stars…brilliant.
His Doctor Doom? Fantastic.
John even made the Parasite look good.
Time for me to start scripting, that is, writing the dialogue. I was usually pretty fast, but there was a lot going on at Marvel at the time, and I wasn’t setting speed records. The deadline was looming. As you may remember from last installment, DC took four months to approve the plot (with no comments or changes requested), so we started in the hole.
I was particularly pleased with the first sequence featuring Doom, which explained why he always talked to himself, among other things.
I am also fond of the exchange between Doom and Superman in panel 1 of page twenty-six. I can’t believe DC let me get away with these two words said by Superman: “I know.”
I was doing my best.
But, God, we were running late.
Then, a miracle occurred. DC was part of Warner Communications, of course, and Warner Books wanted to publish a paperback sized edition of Superman and Spider-Man. To accommodate the WB release schedule, so the Treasury Edition and their book could be released simultaneously, the launch had to be pushed back—conveniently, four months!
That didn’t mean all was copasetic. It just meant that we were suddenly close to on track schedule-wise rather than up against the deadline with a lot of work left to go.
In spite of all the work I had as Editor in Chief, as well as Superman and Spider-Man, in spite of all the long hours and work on weekends, I still tried to have a little bit of a life. In spite of being large and strange-looking, by dint of boundless enthusiasm and a never-say-die attitude, I usually had a girlfriend. I went to the movies once in a while. I did some human things. I was a young man. I wanted to live a little.
One of the human things was playing poker. Most Friday evenings, a group of us comics types would gather, usually at the huge apartment Paul Levitz and Marty Pasko shared down on Mercer Street, and play what passed for poker. For dimes, or at most, quarters and halves. It was a social thing more than a gambling thing. More on that mad hilarity later.
One evening, as we were playing one of Marv’s favorite, weird low-card-in-the-hole-is-wild games—dealer’s choice—Paul mentioned that he’d heard I was going to a convention in London the following weekend. Yes, indeed. The con was being sponsored by Marvel U.K., or British office, and I was the guest of honor.
Later, Paul casually asked me how Superman and Spider-Man was progressing. Well enough, I said. Half inked, two-thirds dialogued. Under control.
I didn’t think anything of it at the time.
A week later, I came to work with my suitcase packed, my plane ticket and passport in my pocket, ready to go to London that evening.
Around ten AM, I was summoned to President Jim Galton’s office. He was seething. Enraged.
Seems that Jenette Kahn had just called him and given him holy hell about the Superman and Spider-Man book being late. She called him, and Marvel in general, “unprofessional.” He was furious.
At me, not her.
Galton told me that Jenette had said that if the script wasn’t delivered finished Monday morning, DC would cancel the project.
Galton raged about potentially losing hundreds of thousands of dollars off the bottom line. He raged about being chastised by Jenette. And he got more than a little insulting toward me.
This all completely blindsided me. I tried to explain. According to the new, revised schedule to accommodate Warner Books, we weren’t late. There really wasn’t a problem. And I was scheduled to appear in London at our own, Marvel-sponsored convention.
I couldn’t do the con and finish the script the same weekend. No way. But it made absolutely no difference if the script came in a few days later!
Galton said that if I convinced Jenette and DC that there was no problem, fine. Otherwise, I had damn well better deliver the script. I was dismissed.
I called Jenette and asked for a meeting. She said come right over.
Present were Jenette, Paul, Joe Orlando (who was the editor assigned by DC) and me. I don’t remember what Paul’s title was at the time. Whatever, he was one of Jenette’s key people.
I explained the situation.
Paul said, officiously, “The contract says that the script is past due.”
I pointed out that the contract did not reflect schedule changes required by their sister company, Warner Books. And that DC had wasted four months at the plot stage.
Paul didn’t care. “The contract says….”
We went around that circle a few times. Joe, throughout, by the way, said nothing. He just sat there looking scared that somehow he would end up in trouble over this.
I explained that I was supposed to be the guest of honor at a Marvel U.K. convention that weekend. I explained that the book was being inked and colored without balloons—copy to be pasted up later, so no other work was being held up because of me. And that I guaranteed that I would finish the script next weekend. And, that IT MADE NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER WHETHER THE SCRIPT WAS DELIVERED MONDAY OR THE FOLLOWING MONDAY.
Jenette actually pleaded with Paul on my behalf! In light of what I’d told them, she suggested that they could wait a week.
But Paul stuck to his guns. “The contract says….” Etc. And, he added, words to the effect, “Jim, it’s the con this weekend, and you know it will be something else next weekend and the weekend after that. The contract says….”
Jenette was clearly in agreement with me but unwilling to overrule her guy, Paul. At least in front of me.
All right, I said. I will stay home this weekend and write. You will have the script Monday.
And then Paul asked, “Have you ever been to England?”
He started telling me how wonderful England was and how terrific London was. He described the Marvel U.K. offices. Weird and quirky. You actually had to cross a rooftop to get to them, said he. Paul went on and on about what I was missing.
I had the urge then to go across the table at him, rip his head off and throw it out the window. Joe would have run. Jenette probably would have hit me with a chair, but that’s okay, I’ve been hit with chairs before. Stings a little, but so worth it at that moment.
But I restrained myself.
I went back to my office and called Galton. My pitch to him was going to be this: Jenette was sympathetic. It was only Paul with some bureaucratic broomstick up his ass. They don’t really want to lose hundreds of thousands off of their bottom line over nothing either. What I hoped for was clearance to go to the convention and deliver the script a day or two after I got back. Call their bluff.
Galton’s secretary said he had gone home with a headache.
I called Galton at home. His wife Lydia would not allow him to be disturbed. I told her it was important. But, no dice.
Around four, Archie Goodwin and Bill Sienkiewicz (and maybe someone else, I forget) came to my office. They were also guests at the con. Time to grab a cab and go. Our flight was at six.
I told them they’d have to go without me.
That weekend, I stayed home and finished the script. More than twenty pages. I don’t remember exactly. A lot.
Monday morning, I was waiting at DC when the receptionist arrived at around 8:30 AM. I gave her copies of the script and balloon placements to give to Jenette, Paul and Joe.
I was waiting outside Galton’s office when he arrived. He said a chirpy good morning. No immediate questions about the script. I think he’d forgotten about it.
I said I needed to speak with him. He said come on in. I closed the door behind me. That was his first clue.
I sat in one of his guest chairs. Didn’t want to loom. And told him as calmly as I could that he was welcome to question judgments I made all he wanted and give whatever orders he saw fit, but he had better never raise his voice to me again or insult my effort, my integrity or me personally ever again. I didn’t threaten him. Not at all. But the thought of his head flying through the window did cross my mind.
He apologized. And he never did again raise his voice or get insulting as long as I worked at Marvel.
I told him, by the way that the script had been delivered.
P.S. I’m not a violent person. I wouldn’t really seriously contemplate ripping anybody’s head off. Or any violence.
P.P.S. The book shipped on time. Easily.
P.P.P.S. I later went to London and points east quite a bit.
P.P.P.P.S. I never did get to see the Marvel U.K. office that one had to cross a rooftop to reach. I’m sorry I missed that.
P.P.P.P.P.S. I cannot account for what Paul did. He was always okay by me before that and after that. We have never talked about it. I let it go after a while. But it still puzzles me.
NEXT: Batman/Hulk, Titans/Mutants and Are You Kidding?