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Marvel Cut-Ups

JayJay here. I’m posting one of Jim’s answers to a comment as a mini-post since it’s kind of fun and about one of everybody’s favorite, but least known, Marvel Bullpenners.czeskleba commented:

A couple people have mentioned the old rumor that Ditko uses his old original art as cutting boards. Most likely that is an urban legend, based on Greg Theakston’s misunderstanding of what he saw at Ditko’s home. Here’s an insightful analysis of the claim by Bob Heer, which credibly debunks it: http://fourrealities.blogspot.com/2008/08/curious-incident-of-cut-artwork.html

The notion that Ditko would do that to his original art is not consistent with what I’ve read about him. He may not value money that much, or be motivated by it, but he certainly does not have contempt for his own past work.

ANSWER:

I submit this to the “cut-up artwork” speculations: When I worked briefly at Marvel in 1969, I was supposed to be an assistant to Stan — assistant editor, I guess. What I actually did was anything that needed doing. It was a small group, and everybody pitched in and did whatever was necessary. Therefore, I not only proofread, checked scripts, checked artwork and did “editorial” things, but I did lettering corrections, small pencil and ink corrections (once they found out I had marginal art skills) and…PASTE-UPS.

This was, of course, back in the old rubber cement days before even one coat. I had a little experience doing paste-up, but Morrie Kuramoto taught me Marvel paste-up techniques. What he taught me, I assume, was the standard at Marvel of the day, and since Morrie was the main paste-up guy then, had been the main paste-up guy for a long time, and was still a paste-up guy years later, when I became Editor in Chief, I assume his practices were in effect for a long time. His practices: ANYTIME ANYTHING RAN BEHIND THE ART, MORRIE WOULD CUT THE ART AND SLIDE THE OVERLAPPED THING UNDER THE ART. HE’D FASTEN THE THING THERE WITH TAPE. THIS MEANS THAT IF ART OVERLAPPED A LOGO ON A COVER, IF ART OVERLAPPED A BALLOON IN THE INTERIOR, IF ANYTHING EVER OVERLAPPED ANYTHING, MORRIE WOULD CUT THE ART AND PHYSICALLY OVERLAP WHATEVER IT WAS. WHY? BECAUSE IT WAS THE FASTEST, MOST EFFICIENT WAY TO DO IT, COMIC BOOK PRODUCTION VALUES WERE SO LOW THAT THE CONCEPT OF FLUSH-MOUNT WAS AN ABSURDITY, AND NO ONE, REPEAT, NO ONE GAVE A DAMN ABOUT THE ORIGINAL ART!

A standard joke around Marvel during my time was that the reason Marvel Comics #1 was followed by Marvel Mystery Comics #2 was that Morrie screwed up pasting up the first cover.

Ask JayJay, production expert, about Morrie’s shortcuts.

Tell them about floating elements on a pool of rubber cement, Jay. Or the accumulation of stuff peeled from his pick-up.

God, we loved Morrie. He was one of the best men you’d ever want to meet. Paste-up wise, however…let’s just say he was old school. Very old school. Like, he pasted up Hammurabi’s Code. We called him the “Ancient One.” Because he was such a schmoozer, production manager and Morrie’s best friend Danny Crespi called him the “Orie-Yenta.” Therefore, he was an honorary Jew, therefore Danny also nicknamed him “Moishe.” Morrie was amused, and believe me he got his licks in. Those two were a pair.

Everyone who knew Morrie misses him terribly.

JayJay again. It’s true, Morrie was really a favorite. I’m not sure how old he was. Old. And fractious. But what a lovable guy. Even people he argued with loved him. Right Rick-o? He was one of those characters that you only see in New York City. He did have very “unique” paste up methods. But effective!

He always had a pocket of his shirt stuffed full of pens and junk and he loved to hang out at the OTB and bet on horse races. He smoked but he also would drink these horrible-tasting healthy raw vegetable juices.

Back in the mid-80’s I used to work in the Marvel Bullpen as a designer. I sat near Jack Abel, Jim Salicrup, Kenny Lopez and Morrie. One time when I was very new to Marvel (and to NYC) I was sick for a few days. I was completely unused to being sick and probably whined like a big wuss. So Morrie showed up every morning with a gigantic cup of this awful vegetable juice that he had ordered specially made up for me. I tried to drink it. I really did. I have no idea what was in it. I’m sure it was really good for me and I’m sure it cost plenty, but I’m telling you, it tasted so bad. I got through almost the whole cup the first day, and Morrie kept checking on me! Making sure I drank it! He actually shook his finger at me! I tried pretending to be better but he saw through my act and brought me more the next day.

Oh dear. I tried to drink it again, but I think it tasted worse than the day before! I went to the coffee room for a cup of coffee and nonchalantly put a “to go” lid on it. Some of you may remember, coffee cup lids didn’t have little sipping hatches back then so they were really only “to go” and you probably wouldn’t normally have a lid on a cup that you were drinking in the office. I brought it back to my desk and after I drank the coffee I placed the empty cup, with lid, on a shelf below my desk. I snuck some of the vile juice into the empty cup when Morrie wasn’t looking and kept it covered. I later poured out the juice in the bathroom. I had to do that 3 times! It was a BIG cup of juice. I felt bad, but dang! That juice was going to kill me quicker than the cold.

I think Morrie suspected something or else he got the hint from the faces I made trying to drink the stuff because the third day when he brought in a cup but he had them make it differently. It had some fruit juices in it so it was almost drinkable. I actually suffered through most of that cup with only minor Morrie haranguing. But when he put his feet up for his after-lunch nap I threw out the remains and told him I finished it.

I know. I’m a very bad person. But I was young and foolish. That Morrie, though… what a sweetheart! I do miss him terribly.

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37 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I can say with absolute certainty, for what it's worth at this time, that the original art to Amazing Fantasy 15 was in the Marvel warehouse in the mid to late 70s.

  2. Dear Phillip,

    Irene Vartanoff definitely knows more about the warehouse and what was in it than anyone.

  3. Anonymous

    The comments that Marvel threw out classic Silver Age artwork in the 60's or 70's is not really accurate.
    Irene Vartanoff was hired by Marvel to do an inventory of the original artwork, and the complete listing can be seen here.
    http://www.tcj.com/archive-viewer-issue-105/?pid=8473
    http://www.tcj.com/archive-viewer-issue-105/?pid=8474
    As you can see the vast majority of the Silver Age art was in the warehouse. Notice the first 17 issues of Spider-Man were inventoried by Irene.
    There are some very important books missing including Amazing Fantasy #15, The first two issues of The Hulk, the first two issues of the Fantastic Four, The first two appearances of Thor in J.I.M. The first two issues of the Silver Surfer, one of Stan's favorite are also missing.

    Philip

  4. Defiant1 is correct… when Charlton shut its doors, Robin Snyder made an effort to return as much original art as possible to the creators. Ditko's original art has been used both for the Konga compilation I mentioned upthread ("The Lonely One") as well as a collection of 60's and 70's Charlton-era horror stories somewhat incongrously titled "Steve Ditko's 160-Page Package." I recommend the latter highly… some very fine art.

    For those who don't know, the Amazing Fantasy #15 original art was used in the most recent (paperback) edition of Spider-Man Masterworks #1. With the high quality printing, the origin story looks far better than it ever did before. And IIRC there are photos of the artwork itself in the back of the book too.

  5. Anonymous

    Oh sorry thanks for the info, Defiant1

    I believe the Spider-Man stuff is on display now, BTW. Until March 2012 (at least the comic strip/book stuff is on display until then, Im not sure if Spider-Man is scheduled to be there the whole time).

    See Timely and Timeless exhibition

    Rob

  6. Rob,

    I've always assumed Ditko got back some of his art from Charlton Editor Robin Snyder. They are still publishing Ditko's work after all these years. Robin oversaw the sale of the properties to the creators.

  7. Anonymous

    The amazing fantasy pages should have gone to the Smithsonian. To my knowledge, the Library of Congress is an archive, not a viewing musem. They will only display them every so often. The Smithsonian would pull out all the stops to make a great display. They would make a major thing out of it. And, everyone could see them any day of the week.

  8. Anonymous

    yeah but the companies didn't give the pages back when he worked at them in the silver age. it just wasn't done.

    Rob

  9. Mort, I love that story! I eat my burgers like Steve, too. No greasy fingers. lol.

  10. I'm pretty sure, for whatever reason, Steve Ditko never sold his originals, so I conjecture that most Marvel, DC or Charlton Ditko originals are 'hot.'

    Steve did however give away some pages. While at Cracked, we returned all his pages but he did give my pal Cliff Mott, who was the Art Director, one of the splash pages he did for our Monsters Attack! magazine. Cliff has it framed in his studio and it is gorgeous!

    Also, during the time period Jim mentions about the Macy's Spidey balloon, Steve's studio was right off Time Square (over Hamburger Harry's if anyone remembers it) and he could've easily seen his artistic design floating by! I'm sure he was amused on some level.

    And if anyone is interested, I wrote an anecdote about Cliff and I bumping into Steve at Burger King for Ditkomania that I posted on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=190161407730231

  11. Anonymous

    However, since it is the whole entire issue of an important book, this may be art that was "liberated" i.e. stolen, from Marvel's warehouses.

    Rob

  12. Anonymous

    Yes, it was typically thrown out, given away to delivery men, whatever.

    It had virtually no value at all.

    I very much doubt Marvel had a "no dumpster" rule in effect at that time.

    Heck, Joe Sinnott recovered 5 pages of Hulk pages Kirby had ripped up and thrown out after Stan rejected them, from the trash. From the original series before it was cancelled. He's posted them on the web.

    It was just junk.

    Rob

  13. DJ

    There is a "Rumour" that it was Marie Severin who donated Amazing Fantasy 15.
    I stress RUMOUR.
    🙂

  14. Paul,

    Where I work, if an employee takes something out of the trash dumpster without it being approved by management, it's grounds for termination. Employees have been fired for taking home "trash". I think anyone could object. If for no other reason… others weren't given the same opportunity to own it.

    It'd be interesting to know who donated it. I'm happy with the outcome regardless of who had it.

  15. Paul Dushkind

    The Spider-Man art couldn't have been considered stolen. In the early sixties, Flo Steinberg would throw away original art when the shelf got full. There is no way that anyone at Marvel could have objected to anyone else taking it home. The only thing that would be illegal is if somebody published The Origin of Spiderman, without permission from Marvel and a copyright notice.

  16. Anonymous

    The thing about Stan being the donator-it doesn't seem to make sense, given that they then invited stan to come view them and he expressed no interest.

    Morally, the person would have to explain where they got it i guess, but legally, any statute of limitations for theft would be long since expired.

    Rob

  17. I don't have a "dog in the fight" as it were with Steve Ditko. I know who he is, what he did, and his place in comic history. But I am too young for him to have been an influential artist, nor a favorite. I guess I would have to read more to appreciate him more. To be sure he is a solid artist, but I am unfamiliar with his acclaimed story telling.

    Anyway – that doesn't matter. I just wanted to establish my frame of reference. I had not heard a lot of the gossip about Mr. Ditko. I find a lot of it interesting, but I think in the end it is just that – gossip.

    The whole "using old boards for cutting" thing is ridiculous. Someone took something they saw out of context, not knowing the whole story, and then repeats it, leading the reader to the conclusion the guy is batty for cutting up his works. Steve Bisette's appraisal of the situation and his reactions to the industry as a whole sounds spot on. Of course that isn't as interesting as the gossip.

  18. Ah, I didn't realize Theakstonization required actually destroying a comic in the process. I see why that would be controversial.

  19. "Theakstonization" was a destructive process used on comics. I've never seen it described in detail, but I believe it involves bleaching the colors out of the paper so that you are left with just the black lines on white. It was controversial because it destroyed the original comic. That's highly frowned upon by collectors.

    Things like that are usually done on low grade copies. It can't be any worse than a video where I saw silver age classics were being cut up to make trading cards.

    With computers being able to do so much, I'd think Theakstonization has outlived it's purpose. The wiki site says Dick Giordano coined the phrase.

  20. I first heard of Theakston when he inked some of Kirby's work at Pacific Comics. More recently he's been known for publishing collections of gold and silver-age material which has fallen into the public domain, including several volumes of Ditko stuff from the 50's.

    Defiant1, what is considered controversial about the "Theakstonization" process? I wasn't aware it was the subject of controversy…

  21. I think one problem with owning the original art pages to Amazing Fantasy #15 is that at some point the owner has to explain how they legally obtained them. I've seen speculation that Stan Lee himself may have donated them. I think that a plausible suggestion, but to this day the person who donated has not been revealed. I don't think anyone has a problem with it being archived as a national heirloom with the Library of Congress.

  22. Jim,

    By no means am I am expert on Theakston's career, but I've seen Michael Netzer mention him online from the early days of Continuity. Online it says he's worked for Steranko. I believe he's done more book and magazine work than comic art. He developed the Theakstonization process which was used to reproduce golden age artwork. It's a destructive process, so it was the subject of much controversy. I just think he's been around the art & comic art world long enough to know the difference.

    Sample of his work:
    http://www.pureimages.info/gallery.html

    I suspect his wikipedia page is more accurate than the ones on Valiant, Defiant etc. 🙂

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Theakston

    The main reason I know about him is because I saw his wife (currently an "ex") sitting behind a table with him at a convention. His wife was best friends with one of my lost loves from the past. Later I found out who Greg was. I visited his site and was surprised he'd done so much and had the connections he did.

  23. One small comment, that goes to Defiant's point, I can't count the times that I've had dinner with David Lapham and he would draw on a napkin, tablecloth, etc. while we were talking. It never occurred to me to keep any of those drawings (well, one that he did over at my house once), and I don't remember if he ever kept any either. They were probably thrown out. But I'm sure that there are some people who would love to have those drawings. Same with lots of artists. It's all just so much scrap paper once you are done with it and it has served it's purpose. Most of the time an artist doesn't place a high intrinsic value on the art once it has served it's purpose. An artist can always make more art! But most artists are also quite happy to participate in the collector aftermarket for their art because it benefits them financially and makes others happy. Finding one artist who doesn't feel that way isn't all that odd. Once the job is done and you've been paid, the art is just so much scrap paper.

    I've been asked a few times about selling my black and white originals for my concert posters, but I never have, because the originals are a mess. I work for the end result and sometimes I'm sloppy or rushed or just impatient and depend on cleaning it up later to make it look good. It's a different situation from Ditko, but just as an example I'm saying that different artists regard their art in different ways and you shouldn't read too much into it.

  24. Dear Defiant,

    As stated at the beginning of the post, "I submit this to the cut-up artwork speculations…" Just additional info, not testimony either way about what Theakston said he saw. BTW, I'm not sure Theakston has all that much experience in the industry. Where? Doing what? He did some cover paintings for Marvel, I think, and a lot of publishing of Bettie Page books. What else? Whatever, I wasn't attempting to refute Greg Theakston's account.

  25. Dear Marc,

    Morrie died in 1985. He was still working at Marvel at the time. Thanks for the endnote info on Morrie's name. I'll tell more Morrie stories on Pearl Harbor Day. There's a reason for that. : )

  26. Defiant, thanks for that link, I didn't know about the Amazing Fantasy #15 donation. It's nice to know that those pages survived and we know where they are. Unless Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27 pages are out there, these have to be the most valuable artifact in the entire world of comic books. An original issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 sold for $1.1 million this year. One original page from The Dark Knight returns sold for nearly half a million this year. The value of all 24 of these Amazing Fantasy #15 pages together would probably start at $20 million, with the sky being the limit as to what people might have bid for their one shot to get something one-of-a-kind with such unparalleled significance to the industry. It was a very generous donation, that's for sure.

  27. Defiant1 said: My impression is that he simply does not place the same value on his art as you or I. That is not "disdain". He comes from a generation where he already sold it and took his compensation as work-for-hire with no expectation to get it back. His values should or would make it wrong to expect it back with the goal of taking compensation twice.
    ****************************
    It is indeed possible he does not place the same value on his art as you or I. It is also possible that he views selling original art as "taking compensation twice" and that's why he chooses not to sell any of it. He is on record as writing that he views original art as the property of the publisher, so he doubtlessly does consider his returned original art as a gift.

    At any rate, even if all the above is true, it doesn't follow that he would therefore deliberately damage the original art in his possession. The fact that he chooses to keep it at all (even in the disorganized manner Theakston describes) suggests he does place some value on the art.

    And again, I point out that (based on the account I've read) Theakston did not see Ditko use his art as a cutting board, nor did Ditko tell Theakston he was using his original art as a cutting board. Theakston made that assumption based on what he saw, but as Heer points out it is possible to come up with an alternate explanation that is entirely consistent with what we know about Ditko's beliefs and personality, yet does not require Ditko to be engaging in crazy, eccentric behavior.

  28. czeskleba wrote:

    "…it's reproduced in this book from the original art (which apparently Ditko has not yet gotten around to slashing and/or spilling coffee onto)."

    You damn near made me snort coffee all over my laptop! 😀

  29. czeskleba,

    I do not have a link to anything that can verify what was conveyed to me about coffee stains on Ditko's art. I would not have been able to forward a link to Theakston's comments either. I've had countless superficial conversations with industry people or art dealers and I may be mistaking a verbal conversation as something I read.

    Again though, you seem to be applying your values in place of Steve's values. A quote– that may have been in the Theakston piece– is that Steve wanted to be remembered for what he is/was currently doing, not what he's done in the past. I would not call that disdain. My impression is that he simply does not place the same value on his art as you or I. That is not "disdain". He comes from a generation where he already sold it and took his compensation as work-for-hire with no expectation to get it back. His values should or would make it wrong to expect it back with the goal of taking compensation twice. I don't see anything horrible about his values or sticking to his principles. Again though, I've never met him and these are just my opinions based on the input I've received.

    It sounds like Steve was nonchalant about the discovery of the Amazing Fantasy #15 artwork.

    http://comicsdc.blogspot.com/2008/04/spider-man-1-original-artwork-given-to.html

    Had it been offered to HIM as a gift, he may have valued it differently.

    More articles on the Library of Congress donation..
    http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2008/04/library-of-congress-acquires-spider-mans-birth-certificate/

  30. Paul, if you are interested in checking out Ditko's work on Konga, there is a nice anthology called The Lonely One, self-published by Ditko in conjunction with Robin Snyder. It's not a masterpiece, but they are enjoyable misunderstood monster stories written by Joe Gill. The material is much in the same vein as the Gill/Ditko Captain Atom stories. And the artwork is really nice… it's reproduced in this book from the original art (which apparently Ditko has not yet gotten around to slashing and/or spilling coffee onto).

  31. Paul Dushkind said:
    I would feel better if someone would discredit Greg Theakston's story. But he was there. He talked to Ditko.
    ******************

    Yes, but as the Bob Heer piece points out, Theakston did not witness Ditko using his original art as a cutting board. Nor did Ditko tell Theakston he was using his original art as a cutting board. Theakston apparently saw original art that had slashing cuts on it, and assumed Ditko was using it in that manner, and Ditko did not contradict his assumption.

    If Ditko truly held his old artwork in such contempt, why would he even accept old pages that were offered to him? Why would he keep them, rather than simply throwing them away?

    Defiant1, do you have a source for the rumor you mention about Ditko's art having coffee stains on it from being used as a coaster?

  32. Paul Dushkind

    Jim Shooter is a better artist than he thinks he is, judging from the few pages I've seen of Magnus, Robot Fighter. The figures are a little stiff. There are other things I could quibble about, but overall the draftsmanship is pretty good. The layouts are excellent. Kudos to a renaissance man and prodigy, who edits, draws, writes, teaches and founds his own publishing houses. I hope that he'll be even more successful in the future.

    If I were on deadline, I'm afraid that I would do the same things Morrie did, *if* it really helped things go faster. But I would feel guilty.

    Charlton gave artists more freedom than other publishers to choose what size to draw. I don't know what kind of stock Ditko used, but I have seen originals of an old Simon & Kirby romance story. It was on illustration board, not bristol, which became the standard later. It was larger than the 12 x 18" and 10 x 15" sizes which also became standard later.

    I would feel better if someone would discredit Greg Theakston's story. But he was there. He talked to Ditko. Other commenters are just guessing, and, I think, eager to exaggerate the normal peccadillos of companies with small cash-flows as "abuses."

    But thanks, DJ, for a link to some of Ditko's good work on Konga. I wasn't familiar with that title.

  33. DJ

    Hi Jay Jay/Jim,

    Hmm, it seems as if some people still aren't reading things properly, or not wanting to understand what people are saying. I guess some (to paraphrase Len Wein?) don't want the truth, just the illusion of truth?
    I always felt it was an odd thing for any artist to do any work of art they created, and after reading Bob Heer's simple Holmesian deconstruction of "The myth of the cutting board", I followed his link to Steve Bisette's blog http://srbissette.com/?p=1751 , where he gives a more real world rationalisation of why the CB incident couldn't occur.
    A lot of people seem to WANT to see Ditko portrayed as an oddball, regardless of the facts.
    Steve Bisette makes perhaps the most cogent argument about Ditko's retreat from the comics industry, and his reluctance to discuss his treatment, saying: "Reading Bell’s book is reading a testimonial of abuses, past and present, from generation after generation of comics publishers, editors (again, Cat and Dean should hang their heads in shame), peers and fans. From Martin Goodman to the ‘creator friendly’ publishers of the 1980s and ’90s, Ditko was almost always ill-treated; and as he grew older, fans-turned-pros didn’t want what Ditko did create, they wanted what their fantasy of Ditko was, or what they thought he “should be.” "
    Again and again in the comments section, I keep reading about people's fantasies of what Ditko should be, rather than what he is.
    The man has dignity, integrity, and a seeming humility, that perhaps we should all aspire to. I am NOT saying we need to follow his, or anyone else's politics, religion, or philosophy to attain this.
    I respect & admire the man for what he is, not what I want him to be.
    More power to you Steve.
    Cheers.
    David J.

  34. When I read the word "slashes", I don't think "paste-ups". I'm sure Greg has enough experience in the industry to know the difference. I've also read that Ditko's old art is likely to have coffee stains on it from being used as a coaster.

  35. Sadly, Morrie passed away in 1985. If I remember correctly, he was on his way home from work on the subway.

  36. Dear Jim and JayJay,

    I've long assumed that "Morrie" was short for "Morris," but now I realize that it might be the Americanization of part of a Japanese name like "Morio." "Morio" can be spelled many different ways in Japanese:

    "mori" = 守 "defend" or 盛 "flourishing" or 杜 "woods"

    "o" = 男 or 夫 "man" or 雄 "male" or 生 "live"

    All 12 (= 3 x 4) combinations of the above elements are possible, as are others. Unfortunately there's no way to guess which spelling was his even if I knew for sure that he was a Morio.

    I am pretty sure about the characters for his surname since I recall seeing his signature in Japanese (on a 1950s birthday card for Stan Lee?).

    Eliot R. Brown has a 1979 photo of Morrie Kuramoto.

  37. Dear Jim and JayJay,

    Thanks for the Morrie Kuramoto stories. They are treasures from the base of the storehouse in the forest. (The what? See the endnote.)

    I wonder how many of your readers know the art was cut up to accomodate overlaps. I wasn't one of the cognoscenti. I have zero experience with original art and I presume this is common knowledge among original art collectors. Maybe DC's paste-up people did the same thing. How would overlaps have been handled in the 90s at VALIANT, DEFIANT, or Broadway?

    When I was a child, I had no idea that paste-up even existed. I assumed that real comics were produced like my homemade ones: logos and balloons and art were all drawn at the same time.

    Jerry Bails' Who's Who estimates Kuramoto's date of birth as c. 1921 and states he worked for Marvel from 1946 to 1955 (two years before the Atlas Implosion of 1957) and from 1964 to 1985. I wonder what he did between 1955 and 1964. I presume he retired in 1985. Do either of you remember any celebrations? Who's Who even mentions that Kuramoto wrote Sgt. Fury in 1967, but I can't find any confirmation of that elsewhere.

    *"Morrie" sounds like Japanese 森 mori "forest." 倉本 "Kuramoto" is a compound of 倉 kura "storehouse" and 本 moto "base."

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