Sometime in early 1978, Chris Claremont proposed that Spider-Man meet the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” in an issue of Marvel Team-Up.
For any of you who were born last week, the Not Ready For Prime Time Players are the cast members of Saturday Night Live. If you don’t know about SNL then ask mommy if you can stay up late one Saturday night or, better yet, check out the Saturday Night Live DVDs that contain classic material, like SNL The First Five Years or The Best of John Belushi.
SNL was the hipness barometer back in those days. If, on Monday morning, you weren’t guffawing about “Samurai Delicatessen” or “Weekend Update” around the coffee shrine you probably still wore white socks and put pennies in your loafers.
Bob and Chris did all the interfacing with SNL and made the thing happen. Bob, who is a very good penciler, drew the story. That made sense on a number of levels—he was already involved in the project, had done the research and, I believe, had even been to the set with Chris. And he had the show biz experience to know what he was looking at when he went backstage. Too hard to explain it all to somebody else.
Bob and Chris recruited the wonderful Marie Severin to ink and color the book. Marie is a great artist in general and amazing at likenesses. Her caricatures are legendary, of course.
Annette Kawecki lettered the story.
Because Bob was drawing the book, and because it was an important, high-profile project in my opinion, I got more hands-on involved with the editing than usual. It wasn’t hard. Everyone involved did first-class work.
So, the book got done. I thought it came out pretty well.
Okay, everybody, it’s a wrap, good job. Strike the set….
The book went on sale in late July. As we found out eventually, it sold very well in those almost-entirely newsstand days.
One day, soon thereafter, the receptionist told me that John Belushi was on the line and wanted to speak with me.
Well, number one, I didn’t believe that it was really Belushi. Probably a gag.
Then, I had momentary wave of paranoia. What if it really was him and he didn’t like the book? What if he was angry? What if we screwed up somehow and he was going to sue us?
Nah. Turned out it was the real Belushi and he loooved the book! He was excited. He asked me if it would be possible for him to come up to the office and see us.
You betcha. No problem, John.
For a freelancer who worked at home, Chris seemed to always be in the office. Part of that was because he was a fussbudget who mother-henned to death everything he worked on. He wanted to see the inks, the lettering, the coloring, double-check and proofread everything. There should be more creators that conscientious. So, he may have been in the office already, or maybe we called him and told him to get down to 575 Mad Ave from Inwood where he lived quick like a Killer Bee. Whatever. Chris was there when Belushi showed up.
We gave Belushi the tour. He seemed more excited to meet us and see the offices of Marvel Comics than we were to meet him, if that’s possible. He said he was a huge Marvel Comics fan. In the big editorial room we had all the current covers hung up on one wall. Belushi told us the plot of each book represented on that wall to prove he’d read them!
Nearly everybody who wasn’t wearing white socks gathered in the editorial room to listen, laugh and hang out for a few minutes with Belushi. Chris, of course, was front and center. The brief conversation rambled between our work, his work and the Spider-Man/NRFPTP Team-Up.
Speaking about his difficulties writing the story, Chris said this: “John, you have no idea how hard it is to write comedy.”
Belushi did an incredulity “take.” Beat. “YES, I DO!”
Ask Chris. He’ll sheepishly own up to that.
Then, suddenly Paty Greer came in with her hair pulled back, brandishing a T-square as if it were a katana, doing a “Samurai Paste-Up” routine of her own invention.
More big laughs.
Belushi had to leave too soon, but before he did he invited those of us who had worked on the Team-Up story to the opening night party for Animal House, which was coming up in a few days.
On the evening of July 27, Chris, Bob and I made our way to the Village Gate, a big, legendary nightclub on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker. I think we were the only ones who went. Bob or Chris would know for sure. We told the door keepers that we were invited by Belushi. They hadn’t been told and we weren’t on the guest list. Somebody said they’d go find Belushi.
|John Belushi at the Village Gate, 1978|
I think we stood there waiting for 45 minutes or so. Finally, as we were about to give up, Belushi came to the door and escorted us in!
Belushi spent more than an hour with us. He took us all around and introduced us to people, especially members of the NRFPTP who were there—Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner and more. Michael O’Donoghue, I think? Again, Chris and Bob could probably provide the complete list. Bob was in love with Gilda Radner. How could you not be?
We had a blast. That said, to our credit, we stayed out from underfoot and didn’t overstay our welcome. It was an honor to spend some time there, but it wasn’t our party, and we respected that.
It was a spectacular night.
|The Original SNL Cast|
I put Belushi on the comp list for everything Marvel published for life.
Life, as it turned out for Belushi, was way too short.
On March 5, 1982, in Bungalow #3 of the Chateau Marmont Hotel Belushi died from too many speedballs delivered and administered by drug-dealer-to-the-stars Cathy Evelyn Smith.
I often stayed at the Chateau Marmont when in L.A., both before and after Belushi died. I usually took a suite in the main building, but once, years later, I stayed in Bungalow #3 because it was the only place available.
I wish I had a cool story about it. It just made me very sad.
NEXT: Submission Holds
I've enjoyed reading these posts over the last few days. It's nice to see you're blogging about your years at Marvel. I grew up in the 80s in India, and was pretty much in love with the Thor, Spider-Man, and Daredevil books then. It's nice to have anecdotes about and faces to put to names from the credit pages of those books.
Harlan Ellison was still on the "everything" comp list as recently as 1998, when I left Marvel. For all I know, he may still be on it. So that arrangement lasted at least 11 years after you left the company, Jim.
I stayed at the McBurney for my first year at the School of visual Arts, back in 68-69, a dump but no bugs. The $17 weekly rate was about all I could afford. I wish I would have mustered up the cojones to visit Marvel back then.
Dear World Famous Psycho Chicken,
Thanks. The tale of the Korvac sequel and the 'Nam are on the blog somewhere. In a nutshell, Joe Quesada badgered me into doing the Korvac project and I wrote the plot. Rich Rider died because Joe asked me to write him out and create a new Nova. Tom Brevoort was assigned as editor. We didn't get along. I had other, less aggravating things to do so I bailed out.
Regarding the 'Nam: I suggested to Larry Hama that we do a series about the Viet Nam War. He and his creative troops took it from there, entirely. The framed original splash page of the first issue, given me by Michael Golden is posted.
Mark Gruenwald wanted to do the Squadron Supreme limited series. We actually got some legal heat from DC about it, but we managed to work things out. I'll tell the tale in detail sometime.
We certainly wouldn't have been embarrassed to ask Belushi if he wanted to work on a comic book project. It never occurred to me to do so. Many reasons. He was a busy guy, first of all. He never expressed any desire to write a comic book for us, even casually. And writing comics takes a different skill set than other kinds of writing. If he had wanted to try, I would have been thrilled to work with him. Maybe he would have done well.
World Famous Psycho Chicken
Jim I love your blog. It is the only comics related website I visit regularly. I remember reading these interviews you gave with Stan in Marvel Age and later in Wizard circa 1995.
I felt like you gave me a real insight into making comics, and an appreciation of what you have accomplished and been through.
Loved the Korvac sequel outline. I felt like I read a full story.
I might have missed it but why did that project fall apart? What was your motivation for killing the Richard Rider Nova in the story?
Also are there any interesting stories about the creation of the Squadron Supreme limited series and the NAM?
Awesome story, Jim. I loved the original SNL. Belushi was my second favorite after Bill Murray. (who wasn't really an original cast member, but is considered to be, and rightfully so!) It's cool that John was such a big fan and comic reader. I'm curious, was Belushi, who was also a writer, ever asked if he wanted to work on something at Marvel? In this day and age, people from TV and movies and novels are working on comics all the time. Were you guys too embarrassed to ask somebody like Belushi because of the stigma attached to comics at that time?
John Belushi is one of my all-time heroes…. I became a life-long fan after watching the Blues Brothers. Thanks for posting such an awesome story, Jim 🙂
Lee in Limbo
That is a fine story. Thank you for sharing that.
Don't forget you can always cut and paste your old stuff, just like the way you guys would take xeroxes of the book titles and paste them on the Marvel covers back in the day. 🙂
I'll make sure I read your blog archives before I ask more questions. 😀
Thanks for your reply, I'm going to post it at the end of tomorrow's post on Cap 201.
Thanks again, I appreciate all the info, and it was a pleasure meeting you.
– Rob Steibel
Rob, if you'd been keeping up with my posts, you'd know all this stuff already. : )
Between mid-1975 and the beginning of 1976, I don't know what the drill was with Jack's stuff. I'd suppose that if any blue pencil marks were made during that time, Chris Claremont, who was sort of head proofreader, or one of the assistant editors like Scott Edelman or Roger Slifer would have made them.
As of January 1976, which is when I arrived and had the title "associate editor," more or less second-in-command to the EIC, Kirby's pages, like all other pages, were delivered to production manager John Verpoorten. The first EIC I worked with was Marv Wolfman. When he heard that Kirby pages had arrived, he and his best friend Len Wein, if he happened to be in the office, would run to Big John's office to have a look. They were (are) huge Kirby fans.
After they were done gawking, the pages would be turned over to me. I edited them very gently, mostly removing extra exclamation points, which Jack used by the ton, fixing grammar and usage, catching the occasional gaff. I called Jack (who was technically his own editor) and went over everything with him. He was a complete gentleman. He accepted every single change I ever suggested and seemed grateful for the help. He was nothing but nice to me. He thanked me for my work every time.
After Marv was replaced by Gerry Conway (who lasted three weeks) and Gerry was replaced by Archie Goodwin (who lasted 19 months, till I became EIC in January 1978), the pages came directly from Verpoorten to me. Once I was EIC (and Verpoorten, sadly, had passed away) the pages came straight to my desk. All work did.
So blue pencil marks from January 1976 through the end of Jack's stay, mid-1978 are mostly mine. A few might be proofreaders marks made after the book was lettered.
Now, start paying attention! I'm tired of typing all this a second time for you! : )
Great post! This is unrelated to this specific post, but I had one more question for you, then that'll probably be it from me for a long while.
This week on my Kirby Dynamics weblog, I'm taking a close look at a random Kirby page, in this case: Captain America # 201 (Sep 1976) page 12. Here's today's post:
Looking at hundreds of Kirby originals from the 70s, I noticed that for Jack's 70s Marvrel work there are a lot of blue-line pencil marks on virtually every single panel pointing mainly to changes that need to be made in Jack's dialogue/captions (and of course many blue line notes ask for changes to the art, mainly striving to make the costumes consistent).
I was wondering if you'd mind telling us what the process was with Jack's 70s art. IOW, when it got to the Marvel offices, who were the editors who opened the package and looked at the material first, and who made these directions in blue-line pencil? Would it be someone like Archie Goodwin, or an assistant or intern?
Then who probably was the person/s who made the changes?
I plan to do more articles on this in the future so it would help me a lot to know.
Thanks for any info you can share.
Cannot believe no one has mentioned the Silver Samurai´s teleportation ring he got from Belushi. He held onto that thing for years didn´t he?
Here is the 1979 SNL "Superhero Party" sketch on Hulu. Belushi as the Hulk is without a doubt the star of this one. Even in the late '80s when I first saw it this was still one of the biggest showcases a lot of these characters had gotten outside of cartoons and comics. It's still the most exposure Ant-Man's got.
It’s in the queue.
I don't think that other than staff, contract creators and regular freelancers there was ever anyone on the "everything" comp list besides Belushi and Ellison. I know I was dropped immediately off of the list when they fired me. Other than that, I have no idea what happened after I left.
I'll get to the Letterman thing soon.
Hembeck was on the comp list? While I was EIC? As far as I know, on my watch, the only two "everything" comp list people besides staff and regular freelancers were Ellison and Belushi.
We knew about it. We provided ref and materials, but had no involvement beyond that.
A. Jonathan Cox
Holy cow, this is my favorite story so far, really well written – and the end, oof.
Jim, I recall a Bullpen Bulletins, not long after Belushi died, where you shared your memories of him visiting Marvel and him showing how he was a fan by talking up the current titles he was following. You may have touched on the MTU issue a bit, but not in much detail as you did here.
"Submission holds"? I wonder if this is a story about the Marvel Try Out Book – which would eventually lead to winner Mark Bagley being hired by Marvel, or the story about licensing the word "Hulk" to wrestler Hulk Hogan?
Brilliant and beautiful. Sue me but I just think the stuff of Marvel and SL was both better then.
As a young teen, I was more a fan of Monty Python The Goodies over SNL (parents were British Immigrants so I knew about all the English comedy). And even then I really disliked Garret Morris and a couple of the girls because they just weren't that funny. And nothing compared to the sheer brilliance of the Hartman/Carvey era. Only John, Dan, and Bill (and occasionally Gilda) hit my funny bone.
I didn't get to read that issue until years later. I didn't like it too much (maybe too much Chevy in it), but for weirdness factor alone it was of interest. I think maybe I was used to Spidey meeting TV people because of all his years affiliated with The Electric Company show and comics.
But I just loved Belushi. The first time in my young life that I was genuinly bummed by somebody I didn't know passing away.
Oh yes. I would love to hear more about the Letterman issue as well as the exclusive membership on the comp list. Were those people on the list grandfathered after you left Marvel? I wouldn't be surprised to see some disgruntled Marvel employees eliminating folks you added to the list out of spite.
You've written previously that Harlan Ellison was on the comp list to appease him after the Bill Mantlo incident. Also I've read somewhere that Fred Hembeck got a comp copy of every thing published by Marvel and DC.
Were there any other notable fan celebrities on the comp list? How large was the list and who were the main beneficiaries?
Another Marvel mystery solved! Thanks again, Jim.
So when David Letterman 'guested' in the Avengers, did NBC initiate that idea, or was that, like the SNL story, Marvel's doing?
That was a great issue. I remember reading it.
I loved that issue, even though (being Scottish) I had no idea who most of the NRFPTP were. Yes, I recognised Aykroyd and Belushi from the Blues Brothers, but as far as I know SNL was never shown in Britain. Didn't matter though, I was still able to enjoy Chris and Bob's story, it's hard to imagine anything so unselfconsciously fun being published in today's comics.
I'm not sure if I would classify it as one of Marvel's Silliest Moments though, as KinTounKal rightly points out that Marvel Vision did in the 90s. An unpretentious and unashamedly fun moment, yes, but is it anywhere near as silly as, for example, Tony Stark being killed off and replaced by his 16 year old self from the past in an Avengers storyline from around the same time as Marvel Vision was being published? In my opinion, no!
There was a Bullpen Bulletin post about the visit both when it happened and then when Belushi passed.
It's always great to hear about famous people who turn out to be comic book fans. Just last week I was thinking you might be running out of stories that aren't tied to well-known people or events outside of the comic book world, but you certainly came up with a great one here. I like these because they help me get my non-comics reading friends to read your blog.
It's also worth noting that 8 months after this issue was published (and 3 months after the release of Superman: The Movie) SNL did a big comic-book parody sketch which had Superman and Lois Lane (played by Margot Kidder) throwing a dinner party for a large stable of DC and Marvel superheroes. Belushi played the Hulk and his most memorable moment involved stinking up the bathroom. "Come on, it's not supposed to smell like roses!" Was that sketch a complete surprise to the Marvel offices when it aired, Jim, or would SNL have been in touch with you beforehand for any approval or reference material?
I'm not sure if there's a clip of that available online since NBC doesn't let too many clips float around that they don't post themselves, but here's a screenshot with Belushi and Murray.
I am fairly certain that Watanabe-sama was literate in Japanese. I don't know whether I did a Bullpen Bulletin about it or not. Seems like I should have, no? But I didn't want to exploit my/Marvel's connection with Belushi.
Appropriately enough, Marvel Team-Up #74 ("Live from New York, It's Saturday Night") was chosen as one of Marvel's Silliest Moments in Marvel Vision #18.
I like how the host for that fictional SNL episode was Stan "The Man" Lee with Rick Jones appearing as the musical guest. Somebody should start a campaign aimed at getting Stan to host SNL in the real world.
Last year, a Facebook fanpage resulted in NBC asking Betty White to host Saturday Night Live on May 8th so it could work. Coincidentally, they were both born in 1922.
By the way, it's worth noting Chris Claremont added 2 other television personalities from the seventies into this issue. Pay close attention to the old men sitting behind Peter & Mary Jane.
As she admires the scenery, a bald man says "Will you two kindly sit down! Statler and I came here to see the show!" His friend with a mustache replies "That's tellin' em Waldrf, you old coot!" They're the heckling duo from the Muppet Show!
What a terrific – if bittersweet – story. And that picture of Paty is hilarious.
I wish I would have been able to see the Claremont/Belushi moment with my own eyes. That's a priceless memory. Thanks for sharing it!
I picked up that issue of "Marvel Team-Up" when it first came out. I was just about nine-years-old, but since SNL was on Saturday night, and I didn't have to go to bed early for school, I was well aware of the program. It was the "Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players" appearance that got me to buy the comic as much as Spider-Man. It was also one of the earliest comics I bought with my own money (as opposed to my parents buying it, or getting it from my friends or brothers).
Thanks for sharing the story behind the story! For a follow-up sometime you should talk about the David Letterman guest-appearance in "The Avengers."
— Matt Hawes
I thought this post was going to be about how the Marvel office was like Animal House. Then I saw the opening and wondered if you were going to reveal how you met Lorne Michaels back in '78, planting the seed for Broadway in the mid-90s. Strike two! After that I stopped guessing — no strike three for me — and just read on without any expectations. I didn't think I'd ever see the poster for Bob Hall's play! Never imagined Belushi read so many Marvels. Was any of this written up in a Bullpen Bulletins?
The GCD credits Irving Watanabe with the cover lettering. Was he literate in Japanese?
The first and last characters in John Belushi's balloon are Chinese characters that are used in Japanese (人 "person" and 木 "tree") but the others aren't actual characters, which is appropriate since I don't recall the samurai character speaking actual Japanese.
By coincidence, the middle two characters resemble the Tangut character for "sage" and a "Khitan large script character. (Andrew West's "How Complex Is Tangut?" is an introduction to these extinct scripts.)
Great story Jim, brings back alot of great memories of SNL & Marvel comics of that era! I still have that issue somewhere, great stuff!
Thanks for sharing this amazing and poignant story and the rest of the blog as well. It has become my favorite website to visit.
I think this was a pretty cool story in itself, Jim. And of course a sad one.