Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Some Marvel Tales and Other Horror Stories – Part 4

My Favorite Hap Kliban StoryThe Hap Kliban story took place in San Diego, but the back story begins in Chicago. I believe this was in 1981. Could be wrong. Anyway, that year, the Chicago Con was the weekend before the San Diego Con. Because the trade show part of the San Diego Con started Wednesday (I think) it made sense to go directly from Chicago to San Diego, rather than return to New York in between.

The San Diego Con was new Marvel Publisher Mike Hobson’s first convention, I believe. He was going to join me and the Marvel con-tingent there.

Chicago was a terrific show that year. Among other things, I remember meeting this aspiring young artist, a kid named Mark Silvestri. I liked his stuff. Claremont heard about it and swooped down on him like a mutant hawk.

When at conventions I often took con people and creators, especially Marvel creators, to lunch or dinner on Marvel. It was a little thank you for all they did, for representing Marvel at the con, for general good will and PR. You know. So, one afternoon, I asked a couple of Marvel guys if they’d like to have dinner at Lowry’s. Lowry’s is a classy Chicago joint famous for its prime rib, in case you are a vegan and therefore unaware of notable carnivore hangouts.

Len Wein and Marv Wolfman overheard me and asked if they could come along. Well…both were DC guys at that point, but, why not? They’d done plenty of dinners’ worth of work for Marvel, and…why not?

Then, later, someone else came up to me and asked if they could come. Then someone else.

Apparently word was spreading that Marvel was throwing a party at Lowry’s. Uh-oh.

That evening, 33 “guests” of mine showed up at Lowry’s. Lowry’s is not a cheap joint.

So, I had a choice: squelch the event. Just say it was a misunderstanding and walk out. Or insist that Marvel wasn’t paying for some of them and they were on their own…but how do you draw that line? “You and you are on the company, but you and you, no.” Or ask everybody to follow me down the street to some cheaper joint….

Or, I could roll with it. And possibly have to pay for part of it or all of it myself. I wasn’t sure how “dinner for 33” would play on the expense report, but….

I rolled with it. Everybody ate drank and was merry. Rick Obadiah of First Comics was among the guests. He sent a bottle of champagne to my table….

It came out to something over four thousand dollars. Thank God for the American Express Card. Don’t leave the Marvel booth without it.

Several days later, Mike Hobson arrived in San Diego. I was already there. We were staying at the same hotel.

Mike was the first approval on my expense reports. I explained to him what happened in Chicago and offered to split the bill with Marvel. He said no, it would be okay, but “…just don’t let it happen every week.”

Around six I met him in the lobby. We planned to go to dinner. He said, “Why don’t you invite a couple of our guys to come along?”

Famous last words.

I saw Terry Austin, I think, in the lobby and someone else. They agreed to come. But the free-dinner vibes pervaded the area and soon several others came bopping over and asked to join us. Mike shot me a so-that’s-how-it-happens glance and said, sure, fine.

Then Hap Kliban saw the group gathering and came over. You guys going to dinner?

As our throng headed out the door, Larry Niven popped up. Hey, are you guys going to dinner?

I introduced them to Mike. I believe Mike was pleased and honored to have Hap, a world famous non-comic book cartoonist and Larry, a notable science fiction writer join us. He also wanted to get the hell going before anyone else, famous, notable or just hungry glommed on.

(ASIDE: I’d met both Hap Kliban and Larry Niven the year before at San Diego. I explained yesterday the circumstances of my encounter with Hap. Larry was at some function and we got talking about science and pseudoscience in comics. I said that some guys just didn’t have the real science background to do convincing stuff, but that I tried to encourage logic and consistency. Larry volunteered to help! He said that if ever we needed some coaching on science or reasonable pseudoscience, I should call him. Nice.

At some point Chris Claremont joined that conversation and Larry gave him hell about an X-Men story Chris written in which a space station falls to Earth. Chris had carefully calculated the acceleration of gravity and had come up with whatever fantastic speed this thing was moving when it struck—but, Larry pointed out, Chris had forgotten all about atmospheric resistance. Chris looked appalled with himself—but Larry, good guy that he is, offered the comfort that “There are some mistakes that only an intelligent man can make.”)


In five cabs, me, Mike and our thirteen guests drove to the Reuben E. Lee, a nice restaurant made to look like an old-fashioned, paddle-wheel river boat. The main reason we picked it was because it was big, and we figured we’d have a good chance of getting a table.

Because our party was so large, we had to wait in the bar for a while. They gave us a long table. The bar was a very spacious room and it was packed.

Hap and Larry were sitting next to each other, against the wall, facing into the room and I was across the table from them. Larry was explaining who he was and what he did.

Larry, in case you don’t know him, is justifiably proud of his work and his accomplishments. He’s pretty sure he’s…oh, come on, let me get away with this cliché in honor of Hap—the cat’s pajamas. Because he is.

And Larry was pretty full of himself that evening. I don’t know why. Maybe because he was trying a little to impress Hap, or because after another typical day of fan adulation he was feeling pretty good about himself. Whatever. He was bragging a little.

And Hap was egging him on. “Really, Larry? Tell me more!”

Hap was a very down to Earth guy. Very solid. Low key. For a humor cartoonist, he was pretty saturnine.

Hm. I had a feeling something was up.

Finally, our table was ready. We got up. Hap scooted out from behind the table and Larry right after him. But as soon as Larry was out from behind the table and standing, Hap clamped his arm around Larry’s shoulders, effectively holding him in place, facing the crowd. Hap said, as loudly as he could, “LARRY…I DON’T KNOW YOU WELL ENOUGH TO TELL YOU THIS, BUT YOUR FLY IS DOWN.”

And it was.

All ten million people in the bar turned and stared.

Hap had Larry anchored so he couldn’t turn away. Larry didn’t know what to do. So he turned red.

The hissing sound you heard was a punctured ego balloon. I don’t know why, but I guess Hap just felt he had to do it. Or couldn’t let such a wonderful opportunity for his unusual brand of humor to go unskewered.

There was much laughter.

Hap turned Larry loose, the zipper got pulled up and we made our way to the dinner table.

Hap apologized sincerely and drew Larry a big, wonderful cat to make up for the embarrassment. Hap nearly almost had a sketch pad with him. After dinner and the ride back to the hotel, they parted laughing, as friends.

Surreality Check

This is a letter sent by the lawyer for Conan Properties to Marvel President Jim Galton, who forwarded it Mike Hobson with a comment, who added a comment and forwarded it to me. I guess not everybody likes Barry Windsor-Smith’s work:

A fan letter from David Michelinie. Don’t remember for what:

No idea. A doodle of Terry Austin’s I think:

NEXT: SUPERMAN – First Marvel Issue!


Some Marvel Tales and Other Horror Stories – Part 3


Hurricane Delay


  1. Anonymous

    For what its worth, that Kill cover is the one chosen for Dark Horse Comics' Kill collection TPB, Volume. 5, currently being solicited for Jan. 2012.

    A lot of people apparently appreciate that piece of art.

  2. If I had seen that cover, I would have snatched that Kull right up. That's an amazing look for the character and any sword and sorcery book of the time.

  3. Anonymous

    "However, if you're going to tell me that you were reading a book, were mostly happy with the stories, but almost stopped reading because of the covers, forgot why you were buying the book, but then remembered because of one line of text on the cover and decided to buy the book that you were already enjoying…."

    Not quite what I said. What I essentially said was that I was buying Amazing Spider-Man, and I knew I liked Amazing Spider-Man (or else why was it on my sub?), but I couldn't tell you (or myself) *why* I liked it or was buying it from the covers. As much as a cover should draw in people who aren't reading the book, it should also maintain the excitement level of people who are already buying and reading it. To the new reader, the cover should be a promise of good things inside. To a longtime reader, the cover should be a reminder of the good things inside. Because the moment an existing reader sees a dull-as-dirt cover and has to ask himself, "Why am I shelling out $3 a month for this again?" that might be the month that reader says, "Screw it, I'm not."

    And what that one line of text did for me was turn the cover from something that said, "Spider-Man's in this" into something that said, "We're going to spend Saturday in the park with Aunt May!" and actually gave me something to look forward to, because even the best and brightest characters are only as good as the stories they are in, and that little piece of text on the cover told me that this month's story threatened to be something interesting (because why would we be spending Saturday in the park with May unless there was some emotional import to this story that would likely knock my socks off?). The cover couldn't tell me that — it couldn't excite me — because the cover was just another vapid poster that had nothing to do with what was in the book.

    Would I have bought the book without that line of text on the cover? Yes, I would have. But just think for a moment about the impact that one line of text had on me. I'm still talking about it 13 years later. Isn't that the kind of connection a cover *should* make with a reader, whether new or longtime? And if you can possibly make that kind of connection with a reader just by adding a single line of text, shouldn't you?

    And if I had been a new reader looking at that cover who was thinking about picking up Amazing Spider-Man again, let me tell you, without that line of text I would have walked right on by that comic and its unrelated cover without a second thought. But with that line of text, I would have stopped to take a look, because that little bit of information would have been enough for me to say, "Hmm…interesting."


  4. Anonymous

    "I really can't understand how a current reader (of comics in general) in this day and age can even be affected at all by what the cover does or doesn't look like."

    I mentioned my stories about the FF cover (Human Torch flying through Manhattan when the whole issue is set in Latveria) and the X-Men cover (full poster of Beast, who is nowhere in the issue) to a friend of mine who has never read comics (except for the volumes of The Walking Dead I've lent him), and he cracked up and replied, "That's ridiculous!" So apparently a "normal" non-comic-reading person thinks of these covers the way I do. Maybe disappointment has deadened your sense of outrage over time so you just expect nonsense on the covers?

    I largely agree with your first, second, and third points — by the time a comic hits the rack in the store, the longtime reader usually has already heard the hype, read the blurbs, marked their subs, etc., so what does that make the cover of the comic to a longtime reader? THE LAST CHANCE TO SELL THE BOOK. Until the longtime reader leaves the store with his purchase, it's never too late to pique that reader's interest.


  5. Kyle

    On the one hand, I do agree with you that pin-up style covers do not do a good job of attracting new readers.

    However, if you're going to tell me that you were reading a book, were mostly happy with the stories, but almost stopped reading because of the covers, forgot why you were buying the book, but then remembered because of one line of text on the cover and decided to buy the book that you were already enjoying, then you are so far outside of the norm of existing fans that you're pretty much losing all credibility.

    (Again – not arguing with you regarding drawing in new fans, just commenting on how out of touch you are with current fandom.)

  6. Gregg H

    I really can't understand how a current reader (of comics in general) in this day and age can even be afected at all by what the cover does or doesn't look like. Now I'm not talking about on the indevidual level, but on the whole.

    First, a HUGE percentage of readers already know what books they are or are not getting, sight unseen. They have their books pulled by the comic shop and are waiting for them without ever looking at the rack. Or they preorder them by mail the same way. Or they wait for the trade.

    Second, With the abundance of previews, reviews, interviews, etc., there is so much information readily available about the content of the book, that the covers are almost irrelevant. Does anyone go out and say "I hate Daredevil. Never liked anything about the charachter. The solicitation sounded horrible. But wait! That cover, done by someone that I am sure probably had absolutely nothing to do with the interior art, looks GREAT! I'll buy it anyway."
    Or have you said "I am really loving this storyline in JLA. Finally they put Cyborg on the team. Oh wait! That cover is terrible. I'm skipping that issue."

    Third, everything is so hype/event/big name driven these days. The vast majority of people who pick up a book that they normally don't get will do so because they are either getting an event tie in, or some 'special', hyped to the moon kind of thing (usually a death/ return /turning evil/all new direction!) that has promo art everywhere you turn anyway, so that they are picking it up regardless of the cover.

    A guy wandering into a shop, just randomly looking for a book to catch his eye and buy is virtually extinct in the old sense. It may happen with some sort of special or mini-series, but with regular monthly titles it just doesn't hapen any more. Either someone is going into the shop looking for it orthey aren't.

  7. Anonymous

    I didn't care much for New Avengers at first, either, but you know what would have gotten me on board sooner? Better covers. Go have a look at them:


    Cover 1 – Lineup. Understandable, but needs text. "A Super-Powered Prison Break Assembles Earth's NEW Mightiest Heroes!"

    Cover 2 – Vague action shot of Cap, Spidey, and Cage under a spotlight. No idea what's going on or why I should care. Can't even remember the story well enough to suggest text.

    Cover 3 – Sentry. Makes sense if you read the first Sentry series, does nothing if you didn't. "Who Is…The Sentry??"

    Cover 4 – Spider-Woman. I guess Spider-Woman's in this one. Whatever.

    Cover 5 – Wolverine. I guess Wolverine's in this one. Whatever.

    Cover 6 – Poster shot of the team. I guess the team is in this one. Whatever.

    At least the next few issues have "The Sentry, Part #" on them to give the reader an idea of what's going on, but those covers are just dull as dirt.

    And what frustrates me is that these were not horrible stories! They were, however, presented horribly. And it wouldn't have taken much to fix these covers. The two suggestions I mentioned would have gone a long way.


  8. Anonymous

    "My comparison doesn't derserve a response, or my comparison blows a huge hole in your deeply flawed argument?"

    Your comparison doesn't deserve a response. In asking the "this lineup vs. that lineup" question you're asking me what kind of stories Marvel should write. Honestly, I wouldn't know what kind of stories Marvel should write. I don't like what they're doing now, but that doesn't mean I know what kind of stories they could write that would work for me.

    What I do know, however — and what I've been addressing all along — is how they can improve their covers to appeal to new and longtime readers alike. Because even a crappy story can be better sold with a better cover, and even a fantastic story can be diminished by a pathetic cover. Covers are supposed to draw you in. Today's covers, by and large, don't fulfill that function — and that's sad, because it really doesn't take much to make them do that.

    Case in point: I was an Amazing Spider-Man reader during Stracynski's writing term, but even though the book was mostly good, there came a point, after seeing bland cover after bland cover, that I began to ask myself, month after month, "Why am I getting this again?" Which is extremely sad when you actually like the book. For heaven's sake, you shouldn't look at the cover of a book you have consistently liked and, because the cover is so bland, ask yourself, "Why am I getting this again?" It's like the company was begging me to stop buying it. But I remember this one cover, another bland poster shot of Spider-Man, him reflected in the windshield of a taxi cab that he's swinging over — bascially boring as crap…and then I noticed a line of text in the upper left: "Saturday in the Park with May." And suddenly I was excited! Because now I had a glimpse of what the book was about, and I was excited to think about what JMS might do with a "day in the life" story featuring Aunt May! Wow, what a fresh, different kind of story this might be! The picture didn't communicate that. The picture *couldn't* communicate that. That tiny, unobtrusive line of text did. So why can't there be, for starters, a tiny, unobtrusive line of text on every Marvel cover that says, "Hey, longtime reader who has seen dozens of covers like this and couldn't care less about seeing another! Here's what the book's about!" Is that so hard? And is that tiny line of text really going to turn away the little kids who are overwowed by the pretty picture? If I were a little kid seeing that line of text on the Spider-Man cover, I'd probably ask myself, "Who is Aunt May, and what does she have to do with Spider-Man?" And then I'd open the book to find out.

    Do you see the very simple changes I'm suggesting here, using real-world examples?

    1) Make the cover fit the story, even just a little. It the story is set in Latveria, don't show the Human Torch flying through Manhattan. Speaking of JMS's run on ASM, go back and look at the first 30 issues of his run. The ONLY interesting cover in that whole batch is #33, which is the cover that got me hooked: "What, some old guy is clinging to the wall just like Spidey?" That's all it took to get me reading ASM again, but it took three covers to get there, and it shouldn't have. Every cover should show something of what's in the book.

    2) If the cover doesn't say enough about what's in the book — and let's face it, most don't — add a line or two of text to give readers some idea what to expect. A picture is worth a thousand words, but if those words are all, "Zzzzzz…zzzzz…zzzzzz…zzzzz," then you need some actual words to liven things up. Let the pretty picture draw in the new reader, but throw in a line of text or two to draw in the old.


  9. Anonymous

    The sad thing is that readership has been in such decline over the past few years, it's hard to know who or what to blame. Personally, I think there are so many reasons (from price to story quality) that covers are almost the least of the publishers' concerns.

    Busiek & Perez made me an Avengers fan, to the point where I bought those great Stern issues and some of the Essentials volumes. As for Bendis, I liked almost all of his comics before he started writing Avengers. These days, I don't trust his storytelling sensibilities. I still like Powers and the better Ultimate Spider-Man stories, but I wish Marvel would hand over the Avengers to a different writer. Jeff Parker, maybe, or Greg Pak & Fred VanLente…

    – Mike Loughlin

  10. Gregg H

    Agree completely about the cover styles being a bad choice. I don't see how the pin ups will pull new readers in. But they think they do, and it's their job to know (or be wrong). Also agree about Avengers.
    I personally think that if Marvel had given Busiek a quarter of the focus and attention that he gave Bendis (endless crossovers, in house ads, PR hype, multiple titles, centering the whole MU around the franchise) then he would have been able to pull in new readers AND not alienate old readers (like me, who will probably never buy a book with Bendis' name on it for the rest of my life).

  11. Anonymous

    I became a comic book reader because of Peter David' & Dale Keown's Hulk comics. I picked up my first David/Keown Hulk comic because of the cover to issue 372. The green Hulk bursting through a half-Banner, half-grey Hulk face got my attention on the spinner rack (I still think that image is one of the best Hulk pictures in the character's history). There wasn't any text, and it was a poster-style picture. I had read comics before, but didn't feel compelled to buy any until I saw that cover.

    As much as I liked the content of many Marvel comics during the Jemas/ Quesada years, I found myself disappointed in the covers. I loved New X-Men, for example, but wouldn't have picked it up based on the character portrait covers (many of which made good pin-ups, as Frank Quitely and Ethan VanScriver are talented artists). The covers looked pretty, most of the time, but not vital. That Keown Hulk cover screamed at me. The Hulk looked like he was coming at me, unrestrained and mad as hell. Most of the Marvel covers of the pin-up era didn't have the same intensity or suggestion of action.

    I can see why Quesada would court new readers, as comic book readership had shrunk so badly. I think the pin-up covers were a poor strategy, although the general uptick in quality seemed to have worked.

    As for New Avengers and other titles that don't appeal to me but sold well, I think putting the Avengers franchise at the center of the Marvel Universe and changing the status quo worked to grab readers who didn't care about the comic before. New Avengers and Bendis became the flagship book and writer, making the Avengers comic more important than it had been in years. David Finch's art is not my thing, but I can see its appeal (and having other artists on the book be popular ones like McNiven, Cho, Deodato, and Yu didn't hurt).

    – Mike Loughlin

  12. Gregg H

    To MikeAmon…My comparison doesn't derserve a response, or my comparison blows a huge hole in your deeply flawed argument.

    How a book it marketed and the thought process behind it is very easy to compare in terms of the sover style and the creative content.
    Here is another example that will demonstrate your incredibly weak position that you will feel free to ignore.

    Look at New Avengers. As a 30yr + reader, it bothered the hell out of me when they destroyed my favorite concept in all of comics and replaced it with a book that was that inherently BAD. Avengers was great (at times) but New sucked (all the time).

    Clearly, it worked though. Putting charachters that creatively speaking had no place being in the Avengers, in stories that creatively speaking were poorly done, ill concieved, and sloppy, did have a positive impact.
    I didn't and don't like the direction of the franchise for the last ten years in any way. The book is not what I want. It is clearly not ment to even remotely appeal to me.
    But in this case, unlike you with the covers, I understand that I can't always get what I want. And what I want is not inherently better. You need to do the same.

  13. Gregg H

    I see. YOU decided on something that YOU say will work, as opposed to the people who are actually running a fairly successful business with what must be some sort of experienced professional marketing team.
    I'm not saying that I even disagree with your premise that it CAN be done, or that it should be done. However I am nowhere near so self important to say that when Joe Q disagrees with me that I should be INSULTED.
    Can you prove that Marvel would sell more if they did it your way? Are you factoring in the reason that they have STATED that they do covers like this (they can get the covers done in advance of the books to get them into Previews. If they waited until the book was actualy done by slow as crap artists, then they wouldn't actually have the cover art done until after the book has been ordered).

  14. Anonymous

    "…his job isn't to sell comic books to YOU, it's to sell comics to the most people possible."

    I absolutely agree. But what I'm saying is that you don't have to choose to please either new readers or longtime readers — you can do both. You just have to work a little harder at it.


  15. Anonymous

    "So what you are saying is that you got your shorts in a bunch because Joe Q said 'sorry, but I'm deciding to make covers that will draw non readers into picking up a book for the first time instead of giving YOU SPECIFICALLY what you want.'"

    Had he couched his reply in terms as (somewhat) diplomatically as the words you are trying to put in his mouth, I doubt I would have taken offense. I think his exact words after hearing my opinion were, "Who cares? You're not gonna pick it up even if I did put that on the cover," when what I had just TOLD him was exactly the opposite — yes, seeing the Torch flying through Latveria WOULD have drawn me to wonder what's going on and at least leaf through the book and maybe even buy it, which I assume is what he would want, given how he likes saying, "I'm out to get your money," at conventions, only, no, when it comes to covers he basically told me I could go fly a kite for all he cares, the only thing that matters is new readers.

    "It isn't like you aren't conditioned by now to KNOW that there is very little connection between the cover and the contents."

    Okay, WHEN did that become the rule, though? Because it wasn't before. If you're a longtime reader, you know that. And why should it remain the rule if there's a better way just sitting there? Please go to this link and look at all of the covers to Mr. Shooter's current Doctor Solar series:


    Is there a single cover that isn't beautiful and eye-catching? And on top of that, is there a single cover that isn't story-relevant (other than the 1st, which is expected)? This series of covers alone proves that you can have beautiful art that's relevant to the story, so as to draw in both new and old readers.

    (Note, however, that were I an uninterested reader perusing the shelves, the only one of covers 2-7 that would truly have piqued my interest is the cover to issue 5. Why? Because it says, "SOLAR RISE! The Origin of the Man of the Atom!" The rest of them would have made me say, "Nice picture." So this is an example of how text can add value to a cover.)

    As for your lineup comparisons, that's so apples and oranges it doesn't deserve a response.


  16. Kyle

    On the one hand, I really don't think it's necessary to get offended over Joe Q telling you that he doesn't care what you think about the covers. He probably phrased it in a poor way (although without seeing the discussion, it's also possible you didn't approach him in the most polite manner), but he is correct that his job isn't to sell comic books to YOU, it's to sell comics to the most people possible.

    But with that said, I also agree with you, that the constant "pin-up" style covers are NOT selling comics to the most people possible. I think they have their place, but every cover of every issue is not their place. I have a hard time believing that a new comics reader is going to be more enticed by a poster style cover than by something that will actually tease them about what's inside. Look at movie posters. Those of course are "poster-style" because they are actually posters. But the ones with nothing but a poster style picture with no plot or no text on them are usually ones for movies that are going to sell anyway (Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.). Most other posters will have at the very least some sort of tagline to entice someone to be interested in the movie. The more the movie is expected to sell just on brand recognition or star recognition, the less likely it is to have that tagline. Well, guess what? Comic books aren't selling so they must fall into that "not as likely to sell based on name recognition" category.

    (I hope that made sense to you because I'm not sure that it did to me)

  17. Gregg H

    Would you still take it so personally if you ran into Roger Stern in the 80s and told him what team he SHOULD use for his line up in the Avengers, showed him a copy of an earlier issue what was wonderful and he came right out and told you 'sorry, I am going to use THIS team instead for a variety of reasons, mostly because I think it is better'?" Or similarly with Claremont in the 70's with the X-Men?

  18. Gregg H

    So what you are saying is that you got your shorts in a bunch because Joe Q said "sorry, but I'm deciding to make covers that will draw non readers into picking up a book for the first time instead of giving YOU SPECIFICALLY what you want."
    I get it. Your choice.
    As an old reader, I have a hard time seeing why it even BOTHERS you that the cover shows the Torch flying through Manhattan instead of Latveria. I really do. It isn't like you aren't conditioned by now to KNOW that there is very little connection between the cover and the contents. It's like you are looking for a reason to be offended. So knock yourself out.

  19. Anonymous

    Step #2? Text. Because even a picture can only communicate so much. I'm going to pick on Harbinger since Mr. Shooter brought it up. Harbinger #1 has four kids in a car, one kid flying alongside it, and someone's trying to shoot them and blow them up. It's a good pin-up, but who are these kids, who's shooting at them, and what is the book about? The cover doesn't communicate that. Now imagine this caption at the bottom: "Better genes? Better RUN." Now the cover isn't just a picture — it's a story.

    Text also helps keep a cover from being misleading. Take Harbinger #2. Four kids, obviously empowered, being attacked indoors this time — by whom we still don't know — and there's a guy watching like it's no big deal. Now, because I'm a longtime reader of comics, I look at a picture like this and say, "Oh, it's Professor X watching his students in the Danger Room. They're under attack, but he knows they're in no real danger." And that's not what's going on at all. That's the big bad uber-enemy up there, and he's watching the kids invade his company. But there's no way to know that…unless you add a caption like, "Four Against the Foundation!" Now it's clear what's happening. AND it also lets passersby know who the kids were up against in the first cover — there's a foundation of some sort after them — so now, just with your covers alone, you're telling the prospective reader a story. It's no longer just two images in a row of a few kids getting shot at. It's a story now (and the correct story, too, thanks to the text): Issue #1, these mutant kids are on the run; Issue #2, they're taking the fight back to the enemy.

    Some covers are so beautiful they don't need text, or even if they could use some text, the text's being there would subtract more than it adds. Harbinger #4 and #7 are perfect examples. BEAUTIFUL covers — still a little vague, but to put words on them would spoil the scenes. But covers like those are the exception rather than the rule.


  20. Anonymous

    "It isn't that I don't feel that having the pin up covers is a 'slam in the face' to me, it's that I find it absurd that you could possibly take it that way."

    Well, maybe that's because you didn't have Joe Q tell you to your face, as he did with me, that he didn't care about whether his covers appeal to you. I guess I'm reliving that moment every time I see a cover like that.

    "You say that the covers should be geared to both new and old fans. Fine. How exactly does one do that?"

    Here's a perfect example — in fact, it's the same one I pointed out to Joe Q. I showed him the cover of an issue of "Fantastic Four." Standard pretty poster shot of the Human Torch flying through the streets of Manhattan. Same boring crap you could put on any cover of any issue of FF ever if you wanted to. But the whole issue was about how the FF had taken over Latveria and were trying to convince the people that they weren't going to be like Doom. The whole issue was set in Latveria. And the cover is of the Torch flying through Manhattan.

    How do you appeal to both new and old readers? Draw a pretty poster shot of the Torch flying through Latveria! What, are you saying it can't be done? Does the Torch only look cool against a backdrop of glass and metal? Of course not. So go ahead and draw a pretty picture for the new readers, but give the old readers a reason to say, "Hey, how come the Torch is flying through Latveria like it's Manhattan?"

    For heaven's sake, just go back and look at the X-Men covers of the Claremont/Byrne era. Were they not beautiful? Are you telling me that those covers were driving new readers away? Look at X-Men #135, where Dark Phoenix is crushing the X-Men logo with her bare hands. You know what you would see on a comic like that today? Probably a poster-shot of Magneto. Seriously! Another cover I showed Joe Q was a picture of "New X-Men" with the Beast postered on the cover. The Beast didn't even appear in the book. Not kidding. I mean, that's practically false advertising!

    So, making the cover even slightly relevent to what's going on in the book is step #1. What's step #2? (To be continued….)

  21. John P.

    These are wonderful recollections! Thank you, Mr. Shooter!

  22. Dear MikeAnon,

    One of Carmine's favorite cover designs of mine showed Superboy, having been turned to glass, being shattered by an executioner. It was notable because it was the first time ever a Super had been shown on a cover NOT in his natural red-blue-yellow. Carmine was art director at the time and had to fight Mort and others to get this cover through: Adventure Comics 372

  23. Gregg H

    It isn't that I don't feel that having the pin up covers is a 'slam in the face' to me, it's that I find it absurd that you could possibly take it that way.
    You say that the covers should be geared to both new and old fans. Fine. How exactly does one do that? I'm really sure that Joe Q is sitting there saying 'here is a way to appeal to two groups, but screw that. I WANT to piss one group off!'
    As much as I am NOT a fan of Joe Q or the rest of that regiem, I will stand up and say that it is THEIR job to make that BUSINESS decision based on what they think will sell more books. Now if you disagree with their logic as far as what will work best, that is fine. But to take it like some sort of personal attack against you for not going out of their way about something as inconsequential as cover style is pretty silly.
    I am a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. Haven't really liked his stuff from the last 20 years or so. Should I really get OFFENDED that he is recording records like Devils & Dust instead of Darkness on the Edge of Town?
    No. He makes what he wants and what he thinks will sell. Same thing here.

  24. Anonymous

    "If you are actually INSULTED by something like that then I suggest taking a good long look at your life."

    First, if it offends me that Joe Q doesn't care about my business, considering how many of my dollars have gone into his pocket these last few years, I think I have every right to be offended. I shell out my money to him so that he can continue to make stuff that I like, and if he's going to tell me *to my face* that he doesn't care about making stuff that I like, then I'm going to vote with my wallet and stop feeding him my money…which, by the way, will happen next week once I buy my last "Incredible Hulks" issue — at that point I will no longer be buying Marvel comics on a periodic basis (though I might still snag some Marvel trades off of Amazon or at conventions and sales here and there).

    Second, the reason I complain about the covers is that I'm not like you — funny how not all people are like you, right? I would LOVE to be interested in everything that Marvel is doing right now, but when I look up and down the rack, all I see cover-wise is dull, dull, dull, dull, dull, and more dull. And who knows? Maybe the stuff that's going on under the covers — heh — is more exciting than what's on the surface, but you'd never know it from the covers, and I think that's sad. I agree with you that the cover alone will not make a longtime reader buy a book, but the cover also shouldn't slam the door in a longtime reader's face, either. A cover's job is to make the person seeing it wonder what's behind it, and since that's true for both new and longtime readers, covers should be geared toward both new and longtime readers.


  25. Gregg H

    I have a hard time seeing Quesada's approach to covers as being 'insulting'. If you are actually INSULTED by something like that then I suggest taking a good long look at your life.

    Joe Q is right, to an extent. The majority of people that are going to buy an issue of Iron Man are going to get it no matter what the cover is. Either they are a regular reader who is going to get it anyway, or they are picking it up because of some crossover/event/crappy hype machine reason. Nothing at all to do with how interesting the cover is.
    A 'poster' cover probably is more likely to get a new non comic reader to give it a shot than a 'content' cover is likely to get an existing comic reader to buy it.
    Personally, I could probably count on my two hands the number of times in the last thirty years that I picked up a comic based solely on the style of cover. If I'm going to pick up Avengers or Thor or Flash, then I am going to pick it up, and that's that. If I'm not interested in Green Lantern, Batman, or Fantastic Four, then the cover isn't going to sell me.
    I can't blame Joe Q for not targeting his covers at me because it would be a wasted effort.

  26. Anonymous

    "…that cover, had I seen it on the spinner rack way back when, would have caught my attention, and isn't that what a good cover is supposed to do?"

    Yes and no. The *first* thing a good cover should do is get your attention. The second thing it should do is make you want to know what's going on under it.

    Covers like the "Kull" one are best for attracting people who are new to comics, but to a longtime comic book reader it's just another face on a page. And in today's glut of what I like to call "poster shot covers," you need something more than that to lure in a prospective reader. For example, there was a period when I wasn't buying "Iron Man." And month after month would go by, and all the "Iron Man" covers ever showed were these beautiful pictures of Iron Man in one pose or another, and I'd say, "Huh…nothing going on there." Whereas a kid with a couple of bucks in his pocket who doesn't normally read comics might look at the rack and be impressed as all-get-out by the eye-catching pretty picture. And that's basically what Joe Quesada once told me (not an exact quote): "We're not making the covers for you long-time readers. You're not going to pick up the book based on the cover anyway. We're going after new readers with these." And if it sounds kind of insulting, that's because it is. Which is why I don't like those covers much. Every one of those covers is a statement telling me, "Your longtime loyalty isn't important. It's the new readers we care about."

    Personally, I think the worst thing about covers today is how most of them lack text. Remember, the cover is the first and front-line weapon in your arsenal to sell that comic. And I'm sorry to all the cover artists out there, but a single piece of textless artwork is like a sniper rifle — you either hit the target or you don't — whereas if you check out a cover even from the 80s you'll see not only dynamic artwork but also exciting dialogue and suspensful exposition, and that's like having all guns blazing.

    Carmine Infantino had one of the best theories of cover design I ever heard. He said (again, not an exact quote), "When I was a kid, I'd go to the movies, and they'd have a little short action reel before the film, and at the end of each one there would be this cliffhanger where you would ask yourself, 'Holy jeez, how will the hero get out of that one?' And I'd try to make all my covers like that, to draw the reader in."

    Next time you hit the comic shop, look at the covers and see if *any* of them are cliffhanger covers. Do *any* of them make you ask the question, "How will the hero get out of this one?" Personally, I think all covers should start with a beautiful picture, but then you have to add enough text if necessary to make the passerby at the rack ask that question. (Which means, first and foremost, that the cover should have something to do with what's in the book. Some covers don't even try to do *that* much.)


  27. Dear Rick,

    DC was always under pretty intense pricing pressure because their sales were relatively low compared to Marvel. The unit cost for a comic book (printing, paper, etc., not including A&E) was between six and seven cents at that time. Going to a 75 cent cover price was a huge increase, even with the excuse of upgrading to Mando Roto, considering that the paper cost differential was a penny, if that. We stuck where we were and enjoyed yet another competitive advantage.

  28. Anonymous


    Actually, at the time, colorists had to re-train to take full advantage of the new printing techniques. The shinier paper made colors too bright, as you said. It took them quite a while. The graphic novels had laser separations, so they had that water-color look. Frank Miller was right by saying that Spider-Man would look silly in the graphic novel media.

    –Rick Dee

  29. Gee, most of those Baxter DC book were awful. Remember the Baxter Mando Legion of superHeroes title? the coloring was awful: way too bright and flat.
    You had to wait one year for the normal Tale sof the Legion edition to really appreciate the art and see a good coloring job, even if on a lower quality paper.
    If my memory is right, around that time, Micronauts, Ka Zar and Moon Knight were printed on a slighty better quality paper, with no ads and more pages, when they switched to direct market only. It wasn't the DC baxter paper but still better than the previous one.

  30. Anonymous

    Dear Jim:

    Speaking of covers… any specific reason why Marvel didn't follow DC on the Mando paper for regular titles in 1983 and, therefore, a cover price increase to $0.75? I remember Marvel remained at 60 cents with mini series priced at 65 cents, while DC increased to 75 cents across the board — not to mention the offset/Baxter books.

    Thanks and cheers.
    –Rick Dee

  31. GePop

    Thanks for your reply, Jim. Yes, I had a sense that it was more a case of 'going out of style' (after really getting crazy in the early 70s…take a look at many covers from that era, and you'll see the word balloons practically crowding out the art!), but I was wondering if we had you to thank for perhaps nudging that evolution along. 😉

    And yes, I'm all for a pin-up cover being used for a special issue, but by and large, I prefer something which relates to the story inside.

    I recall once reading a remark from Gil Kane, about why he did so many covers instead of interiors because he could get the same rate doing one cover than he could get for doing several pages of art, and do it in a fraction of the time. The shame about that, of course, is that it meant we had far less of Kane's marvelous art gracing the insides of those stunning covers.

  32. Dear Jacob,

    A lot of care and patience on the part of the colorists, notably BWS himself. Barry is a tenth-degree black belt coloring fussbudget.

  33. Dear Xavier,

    Different artists had different rates. Covers paid extra. Rate and a half, I think. Plus payment for the cover design, unless a staffer did it. Painted covers, or anything costing a great deal more than normal had to be approved by me. Other than that, there was enough play in the cost structure to allow for any artist on any book or any cover. No editor had to worry about what the artist's rate was on a line-art cover, or on an interior, for that matter. I built a large overrun into the overall budget to cover variances in costs, including do-overs. DeFalco used to call it the "lunch budget" because it was there in case we had to "eat" something. We never came close to using up that cushion. This was possible because we were doing so well and making so damn much money that upstairs never questioned my budgets. P.S., when the corporate salary increase limits were 2-4%, I was routinely giving 5-15% raises to comics department staffers.

  34. Dear GePop,

    If what you say is true, it certainly wasn't a conscious effort on my part. Especially toward the end of my time at Marvel, I let the editors handle their own covers, for the most part.

    Personally, I have never been a fan of word balloons on covers. If you need dialogue to get the point across, then the image isn't good enough, in my opinion. But, I never issued an edict prohibiting word balloons. I think they just sort of went out of style. Good.

    An occasional pin-up can be effective, but I tend toward images that convey story points and have "hooks" that snag readers. Take a look at the VALIANT books while I was there. Harbinger #1 had an action pin-up cover. #2-5 had story-oriented covers. #6 had a "which one dies?" pin-up. #7 had a story-oriented scene.

    I think there are far too many pin-ups these days.

  35. Dear bchat,

    I'm with you on the marketing aspect of the cover. It catches the eye. It makes the book stand out in the midst of fifty different covers.

    Information-wise, it says "this cover sports gorgeous, classically-inspired art. You might expect to find the same care and talent inside the covers". It doesn't say anything about the story, but it says lots about the tone and nature of the comic.

    Furthermore, as Justin Fairfax mentioned, this type of cover is perfect for the more introspective fiction found in Kull. If the goal is to keep regular readers around, the cover works beautifully. If its goal is to bring in NEW readers who might like the kind of stories found in the Kull book, it works as well. I do agree that if the goal is to trick new readers into thinking this will be a Wolverine vs Punisher-type mag, then yeah… it fails. But we don't want to deceive readers, do we?

    I'm sure glad that thing and its follow-up weren't rejected. It would have been a real pity!

  36. Anonymous

    I'm glad Pete mentioned Smith's 60s Daredevil art, which – unless I'm wrong – was his first in US comics? One reader wrote that BS "is the worst artist the Bullpen has". Yet Smith is listed in Garriock's 'Masters of Comic Book Art' alongside Eisner, Kurtzman, Wood, Crumb, etc. and Frank Bellamy, the only other Brit. Could be that Stan the Man was seduced by the 19 year-old's painted art, which may not have translated well to the flat comic page (Great blog, BTW) – Dave Robinson, Peterborough, England

  37. Anonymous

    I've always dug Barry Smith's 1969 X-Men and Daredevil art, although almost everyone reviles it. He was only 19 at the time, fresh off the boat from England.

    He really hit his peak around 1973-74 on Conan … 'Red Nails' and some of that other Savage Tales material is beyond amazing. The Conan Saga mag also printed some of his stories direct form the pencils, stunning work.

    Anyone know what he's up to these days?

    -Pete Marko

  38. Something I've always wondered – how did Barry Windsor-Smith, or whoever colored him, consistently get those amazing, vibrant color effects out of the technology of the day? Did Marvel spring for better printing with some of his books, or was it simply due to a lot of care and patience on the part of the colorists and separators?

  39. I'm wondering: who choose how much money they would spend a month on a cover? I suppose BWS rate was not the same as any other artist. Was the editor making the decision? And then balance it with a less expensive cover artist so that his year budget is not off? (speaking of course of comics whithout a regular cover artist)

  40. GePop

    Jim, not to change the subject, but since we're discussing the BWS piece, I thought maybe you could discuss a development which occurred during your tenure as EiC: namely, when comic covers ceased to use word balloons, and basically became pin-ups. I seem to recall the trend started at Marvel first, with DC (and most indy books) following your lead.

    Was that a conscious effort on your behalf to change the traditional look of covers, or did it just sort of organically evolve on its own?

  41. I'm not a fan of Barry Windsor-Smith's artwork, and I never read Kull, but that cover, had I seen it on the spinner rack way back when, would have caught my attention, and isn't that what a good cover is supposed to do?

  42. Bill Lee

    For those doubting BWS's artistic abilities, have a gander at the following (which was used as a cover of Epic Magazine).

  43. By the way, people, you DO realize that the negative opinions of BWS's art in that letter and notes upon it are those of Lieberman, Galton and Hobson. Not mine.

  44. I don't really disagree with the criticisms of BWS's art, but I'm such a fan of his that I love everything he does. After not reading comics for years a friend in High School showed me Barry's Conan #1. I was hooked. I scoured the newsstands and drugstores to find more and started reading lots of comics again as well as collecting everything Barry did. So, in a way, Barry's art is responsible for me eventually being in the comic book business.

  45. Anonymous

    I usually like BWS's work, and I own a lot of books he's done. In my opinion that's not one of his better covers. I have very little artistic ability, so I'm probably not one to judge, but my biggest hangup about BWS's art is that the faces sometimes look off somehow, (especially on the female characters).


  46. Anonymous

    Love BWS art, but that wasn't his best work (good catch on the eyes, Tony). Nice enough, but not compelling. I think the character is supposed to look more intense than he actually does.

    I'll buy anything with BWS interiors. Weapon X hooked me. Archer & Armstrong was a lot of fun. His X-Men, Conan, Valiant, and '80s fill-ins were a treat. The short-lived BWS: Storyteller series was a thing of beauty. Besides Storyteller, my favorite BWS comic might be the Thing story he did for Marvel Fanfare. It was as funny as it was gorgeous.

    – Mike Loughlin

  47. Anonymous

    And I just noticed that the information in the cover art is utterly redundant given that in the upper-left corner there is a full-on picture of Kull. So the information content of the cover is exactly equal to my interest in reading/buying the book: zero.

    Honestly, I find covers like this offensive. "Hey, look! SHINY! Shiiiiiny." You're gonna have to do better than that, buddy.


  48. I have that Kull comic, and I didn't collect Kull!

    David Michelinie is one of the best writers the medium has ever known. I have been very vocal over the years that I consider Revenge of the Living Monolth to be the greatest superhero story ever told. I still read it once a year! There is more creativity and thought put into his letter than most comics have put into them today.

  49. Anonymous

    "To me that Barry Windsor-Smith cover is amazing. Pure genius."

    As art, perhaps. As a cover? Not unless it's a #1 or an anniversary issue. The purpose of a cover is to make the person seeing it want to read (and hopefully buy) the book. If the book is called "Kull" and you put a close-up of a guy with a sword on the cover, I'm going to assume that the guy with the sword is named Kull, and then I'm going to go look for something interesting to read (and perhaps buy).


  50. I think it's funny that Len And Marv begged to be on your little guest list when they have been the most vocal people against you and your run at Marvel which just goes to show what hypocrites they really are.

    Also i hate Barry Winsor Smiths artwork it just make me feel sick and him and Sienkwicz were one of the reasons i stopped reading comics back then.

  51. Gregg H

    I have to agree about BWS. On an objective level I can certainly recognize and appreciate the talent and craftsmenship of his work, but as a fan I just can't seem to enjoy it.

  52. Anonymous

    Holy Cow!

    A PURPLE cover?!

    Don't you know you CAN'T have a purple cover?

    Everybody knows that rule, even lawyers…

  53. Anonymous

    Great story. I'm jealous that you got to have dinner with Larry Niven. Big fan of his when I was in my 20s.

    I'm not a fan of Barry Windsor-Smith's art myself, and that cover in no way compels me to change my mind.

  54. Clearly, Lieberman, Galton, and Hobson were referring to the fact that Kull's eyes are looking in two different directions. Who knew they were such discerning art critics?

  55. Some people just don't know good art. Great cover by BWS. It happens.

    Man, Jim Shooter's bought everyone but me dinner. And I even bought the Secret Wars II Omnibus! (I kid, I kid. Well, not about the Omnibus- that's over here on the bookshelf…)

  56. Justin Fairfax

    Although I disagree with the executive criticism of Barry's artwork, the KULL title always lent itself to very quiet (that is, little action) covers–of which this is a good example. Beautiful, but not necessarily the kind of thing that might motivate a 7-year old to part with his money. So I could possibly see an unhappiness based on that. Stan himself didn't like the cover to the original KULL THE CONQUEROR #5 (the Marie & John Severin one with Kull bravely standing on a ship facing a torrent of arrows coming at him) because it was "too quiet". It only made print because Roy Thomas fought for it. And so goes the eternal battle between art and commerce!

  57. I'm with Benoît. I absolutely love that cover art, and I'd want the book just for that.

  58. Excellent cover from Barry as usual, and it provides a nice set-up for the following one :


    Contrarily to what Mr. Lieberman says, I would have bought that book SOLELY for its cover.

  59. Nice sport for taking so many people to dinner.

  60. As a Marketing Rep for DC Comics in the late 80s, I remember many a con dinner where I'd go to fill out an expense report and have to answer a "who's this person and why did we buy them dinner?" question. At least nobody ever said to me "there were 5 DC people and 1 Marvel staffer – why didn't you make him/her pay?" Seeing as Marvel picked up the tab for me several times, I had a ready answer, but I was glad I never had to see if the answer would fly!

  61. Anonymous

    Joe, Cat Yronwode? I'm having trouble remembering any female publishers in that time period….

  62. LOL! I wonder if the Conan licensors were charged .10 of an hour of billable time for that letter!

  63. Firestone

    All I can say about that last doodle, sir, is 'One of us! One of us!'

  64. Anonymous

    I sat at the table you were at during that dinner. A certain female publisher( NOT from DC) also sat at that table and let it be known that she really didn't care for the work Marvel was putting out but she was more than happy to have Marvel buy her dinner.

    Joe Rubinstein

  65. Anonymous

    JayJay, nice cover, but not for Kull.

    I think the Niven quote ("There are some mistakes that only an intelligent man can make.”)would make a great Mensa/Densa t-shirt.

  66. Anonymous

    I agree. I wonder what those guys consider good art?

  67. Wow. Eye of the beholder, huh? To me that Barry Windsor-Smith cover is amazing. Pure genius.

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