One afternoon toward the end of April, 1980, I got a call from Marvel President Jim Galton. He said that Roy Thomas had asked for a meeting with him to discuss renewing his contract with Marvel.
Roy had written a letter dated April 10 (I have the original) to Galton informing him that he had not been able to work out a new contract with me and that he was leaving Marvel. That prompted the call I got from Galton immediately thereafter. He said, among other things, that he thought I’d told him Roy and I had worked out a deal. What happened? What went wrong? How could I lose Roy?
Do you know how important to Marvel Roy must have been for Galton to even know who he was? Galton, the same man who once asked me who Gene Colan was. Galton, who didn’t know who John Byrne was. Or John Buscema. Or anyone else, except Chris Claremont, who had an uncanny (←heh) knack for running into Galton on the elevator and introduced himself.
But Galton knew Roy, the man who had gotten us the Star Wars license among many other things.
In fact, Roy and I had worked out a new contract. On April 1, he sent me a letter that starts:
I’m returning the copies of the contracts you sent me. I will sign them if each of the following changes is made:”
The changes were few and entirely reasonable. No problem. We made them immediately.
I also reassured him regarding his concern that the staff editor who would henceforth be responsible for overseeing the editorial work on his books would not be summarily “overruling” him, that if any disagreements came up, no action would be taken without his consent. If no agreement could be reached, he had outs.
I thought the contract would work well. It brought the logistics in house. No more “branch office” coordination problems, exacerbated by the fact that Roy lived on the West Coast. Central fire control.
Roy would still have in his hands every meaningful, creative part of editing. And was going to be paid better. But I was going to have someone responsible on hand to head off calamities, prevent problems and eliminate the falling-between-the-coasts glitches. By “calamities” I’m speaking mostly of schedule calamities.
It was fine by me for Roy to keep his editor credit. It wasn’t about “demoting” Roy, it was about engineering a system that would work—that would give Marvel full advantage of his super powers with fewer problems.
But Roy had reneged. He changed his mind.
I explained all that to Galton. I suspect he thought, as many people still think to this day, that it was my fault. That I bungled it, or let it drift away from business into ego-rassling or personalities.
One thing about Galton, he was proper about business things. Roy went over my head, and normally, Galton wouldn’t tolerate that. He would have refused the meeting. But, A) Roy was that important, B) he had already quit, so one could argue that this was a new negotiation, and C) Galton’s way of observing proper protocol was by inviting me to the meeting.
So, the next morning, Galton and I were sitting in his office upstairs waiting for Roy to arrive. Galton asked and I explained my position and some of the contentions we’d encountered. Galton had become more adamant than I was about the no-writer-editor thing by this point. As I said, he’d never liked the idea and had hardened against it. However, since Roy had asked for the meeting Galton was confident that a deal could be made. I took that as an instruction to be as reasonable, businesslike, dispassionate and ego-free as possible and make a deal!
Roy arrived. As he entered Galton’s office, he seemed taken aback that I was there. I guess he expected that going over my head was going to keep me out of it, but like I said, that wasn’t Galton’s style.
Roy expressed his interest in continuing to work with Marvel. Galton said he was pleased and hoped we could make that happen. And, again, in keeping with protocol, Galton turned the conversation over to me. I, too, said that we sincerely wanted Roy to stay with Marvel and wanted to work things out. I laid out the terms we proposed. Nothing different than what had been offered before, really, but I tried to reassure Roy that he and I could work together.
Roy agreed to everything. He even seemed comfortable and content with having a staff editor overseeing things.
Galton looked at me as if I must be crazy. It was a look that said, “This is the most reasonable man on Earth. Why couldn’t you work out a deal?”
Galton said it seemed that Roy and I agreed on everything. Why didn’t the two of us go downstairs and sign the contract?
Roy said that there was just one thing…he’d already signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics, but it had an exception that allowed him to keep writing Conan, so what he wanted now was a contract with Marvel to do the Conan books.
Galton looked at Roy as if he must be crazy. It was a look that said, “Suddenly I understand the problem.”
Being ‘exclusive’ at DC but working part-time for us…. What message does that send? We’re the losers in the Roy Thomas sweepstakes but he’s so wonderful and we’re so desperate that we need to cling to any shred of him we can get?
Annoyed big time, Galton told him that we weren’t interested, that Roy had wasted our time and basically, to get out of his office.
Once Roy had been chased away, Galton told me, and this is a quote, “I’ll never doubt you again.”
P.S. And he didn’t, in any significant way. During the JLA/Avengers mess, for instance.
Then why did I walk out of that room feeling like I’d lost?
NEXT: Years Later