Sorry about not posting for the last two days. Tuesday, I had to go to the city for a meeting and when I arrived home I discovered that my hot water heater had sprung a leak. There was a flood in my place and a worse one in the apartment below mine. What a mess.
It took until late Wednesday afternoon but order and hot water have been restored here, like it never even happened.
Eventually the damage downstairs will be fixed. Someone other than me will deal with that mess, and insurance will pay for it.
By the way, the flood did not reach the living room where all of my files and unsorted boxes are. Nothing irreplaceable was damaged.
So, on with the show. Finally.
Writer/Editors – Part 2
The Problem, Or an Example, at Least
One day, Stan suddenly appeared at my door. He seemed agitated. Very agitated. He said, words to the effect, “How could you let this happen?!”
This was sometime in the spring of 1978.
Every once in a while, Stan would come across something that disturbed him and come into my office to discuss it. I knew this was a DEFCON 1 situation because he closed the door behind him.
He had a bunch of photocopies in one hand. He literally tossed them onto my desk in front of me. They were copies of the previous few weeks of the Howard the Duck syndicated strip written by Marv Wolfman. Steve Gerber had been writing the strip previously, of course, but had been replaced, mostly because he was consistently, disastrously late.
This was the first time Stan had read any of the strips since Gerber was gone.
I’m not going to try to reconstruct all of what Stan said. Suffice it to say he hated it.
As I believe I’ve said earlier in this blog, Stan had a special reverence for syndicated strips. And “real” magazines. Not that he didn’t love the comic books, it’s just that when he was a kid, the strips were huge and prestigious while the comic book business was where one scratched out a living until his or her strip got picked up by a syndicate. Anyone who aspired to becoming a syndicated strip creator changed his or her name for work in lowly comic books, hence, Stanley Leiber became Stan Lee. Same logic applied if one hoped to publish a “real” magazine or write the Great American Novel. Never mind that comic books had made Stan a cultural icon, and he had brought comics to unprecedented status in the New Cultural Order. He never lost his veneration of syndicated strips.
So, a strip created by Marvel that was less than wonderful was anathema to Stan. And he found the HTD strips he’d just read far less than wonderful.
One part of Stan’s anguished tirade I will quote. He said, “He can’t write!” Meaning Marv. I said I knew. Stan persisted. He thought I didn’t grasp what he was saying. So, he said it several times, as emphatically as I’ve ever heard him say anything. This is a quote: “Don’t you see?! This makes no sense! It’s illiterate! He can’t write!”
I told Stan that, yes, I understood what he was saying. I knew all about Marv’s problems with the English language. I knew that he often wrote too fast without thinking things through, sometimes resulting in inconsistencies, and sometimes in chaos.
If I knew, he wondered, could I allow Marv to ruin the HTD strip? Why wasn’t I fixing it? Or, better, why didn’t I get rid of him?
I pointed out that Stan himself had chosen Marv for the strip. And, that on Stan’s recommendation, two years earlier, Marv had been made a writer/editor—which meant that, according to the terms of Marv’s contract, I couldn’t fix Marv’s stuff. Or get rid of him. Only Stan could.
And, by the way, because President Jim Galton had asked me to come up with a job for Sol Brodsky, our “Operations V.P.” who really had no significant responsibilities, I had given over handling of the syndicated strips (and other peripheral tasks) to him and hardly ever even saw them anymore before they shipped.
Stan was suddenly having one of those “oh, God, what have I done” moments. Realizing that, not only was Marv a writer/editor now because of him, but Marv had been an Editor in Chief that, he, Stan, had hired.
I asked Stan if he’d read anything of Marv’s before he hired him as EIC. Stan said he’d taken Len Wein’s word for the fact that Marv was a great writer, and qualified to be EIC. I pointed out that Len was Marv’s best friend….
Even Len, by the way, privately, would shake his head at some of Marv’s linguistic bloopers. And Marv knew at least that English wasn’t his strong suit. That’s why he had me read over his scripts when he was EIC and I was his associate editor. I’d catch the gaffs and he would fix them. Sometimes.
That conversation continued with me defending Marv. Marv is a unique talent. Here’s what I said in a previous post:
Marv is a brilliant creator. He’s an idea man. He can truly create. Many can create things out of other things, synthesis. Marv often creates entirely new things, genesis. That’s rare. His writing at its best is fresh, surprising, unpredictable and intriguing. There’s a spontaneity to it that’s wonderful and engaging. Spontaneity livens up his dialogue. People talk in a crazy stuff-popping-out-of-their-heads way just like real people often do. He has a gift for character.
All that said, he has some problems with the language. He mangles grammar. He misuses words. Once he used “noisome” as if it meant loud. It was in a caption. One can excuse many things in dialogue as the mistakes of the character’s making, but the captions ought to be right. Marv argued that most people think noisome means loud, and it went to press that way.
When not at his best, Marv’s spontaneity becomes lack of planning and confusion. Sparkling dialogue becomes glib patter headed nowhere.
And, by the way, with his knack for coming up with words, Marv would be the world champion Scrabble player if he could spell.
All true. And I said as much to Stan.
I told Stan that Marv’s contract was coming up in a while and that I intended to offer him a new one, best deal ever, in fact. But without the writer/editor status, or at least not in the sweeping form guaranteed in his current contract. There were/are other ways to go about it with fewer downsides.
We came to no conclusions about the HTD strip at that meeting. Stan left my room pondering.
Not long thereafter, the HTD strip was cancelled. The syndicate pulled the plug because it was failing. Just as well, given Stan’s feelings.
Around the same time, mid-May, I think, Stan sent a letter to the writer editors informing them that he was designating me to act in his stead. The writer/editors, at that point were Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin and Marv. Maybe Gerber, too.
- Stan, at that point in his life, hated confrontations and controversy. I guess he’d had enough of it in earlier days when he was dealing directly, daily with the artists, writers and other creative types. He was happy to throw me into the breach. Believe what you wish, but I hate confrontation, too. But, I realized if it unavoidably came to that, it was part of the job. I accepted being in the breach.
- It was practical. Stan was pretty much out of the day-to-day publishing loop. As things stood previously, I’d have to bring him up to speed on any problems or issues with writer/editors that arose then he’d have to do the confronting. Why not just let me handle it, given point 1 and the fact that….
- Stan trusted me.
Stan had become my biggest fan and supporter. He used to call me “Marvel’s entire editor.” Roy said once in a letter to Stan that I was Stan’s “new, fair-haired boy.” I guess Roy was the old one.
- Because once I’d started getting us on schedule, started making a little progress on improving the art and stories, seemed to be handling crises like the maelstrom over the new copyright law well.
- And especially because he knew I had some chops and that my creative inclinations were simpatico with his.
The HTD strip thing wasn’t the only thing that raised issues to do with writer/editors. Even back when I was associate editor, when Stan went over the make-readies with me, he’d occasionally come across things that disturbed him in writer/editor books. Even Roy’s generally excellent efforts, sometimes. He’d ask me, “How could you let this happen?” I’d point out that I had no power to do anything about it. He’d say something about speaking with then-EIC Archie Goodwin about it, but whether he did or not, nothing ever changed.
Until the declaration that I was the new sheriff.
The first thing that changed was my popularity among writer/editors.
|Here are a few random HTD strips I found. These are not the specific ones Jim is talking about. – JayJay|
MONDAY OR SOONER, MAYBE: “How Could You Let This Happen?” or, “What Do You MEAN Roy’s Quitting?”