JayJay wrote a short story that I really like. She tells me that she now has it available online for small change. She also told me she gave me credit as editor because I made a few nuts and bolts suggestions, like “try this sentence again in English,” and “spell ‘its,’ the possessive, right.” (JayJay here. Jim is too humble as usual. He pointed out such a major storytelling flaw in my first draft that I still can’t believe I made a mistake like that and didn’t see it.)
Being associated with that story is good for my rep.
Here’s the cover:
Here’s the blurb I wrote for JayJay:
I hope they don’t make this story into a movie. I’d have to see it because I know the author. The movie would be very difficult to sit through. I don’t deal well with horror stories that pry their way into my id and set up shop manufacturing nightmares. Reading this story, superbly written by a woman who should be locked away somewhere and prevented from doing any more was hard enough. I don’t need to see it on the big screen. Avoid this. Do not read this story. It will upset you. It’s a romance, by the way.
I meant every word.
This story, though complete, is just the first episode of a series, by the way. The tale continues.
Here’s where to get it if you’re interested:
They Always Come Back on Amazon for the Kindle
They Always Come Back PDF Edition
I don’t often plug things here. I wouldn’t do it even for JayJay if I didn’t think I was doing my fellow travelers on this blog a favor by pointing out something cool.
Custom Comics, Made to Order
Custom comics are created to a client’s specifications. They’re used for advertising, marketing, premiums, promotion, education or any kind of communication, really. Propaganda, anyone? : )
The first time I left the mainstream comic book business, around 1970 at age 18, I found myself creating comics again almost right away, working freelance for an advertising agency in Pittsburgh called Lando-Bishopric.
Funny how that happened. While I was writing for DC, occasionally, on a slow news day, a reporter or news crew would do an interview with “the kid who did comics.” I was on TV, on the radio and in the papers many dozens of times while I was in high school. Anyway, the copy chief of L-B called my parents’ home one day. I happened to be there. He asked me if I was the kid who did comics. I guess he saw me on TV. They had a gig for me.I met with the copy chief and an art director, Jack Beale and Jack Dillon, respectively. They actually had several gigs for me. One of them was a series of comics-style projects for U.S. Steel.Lando-Bishopric handled, among many other things, half of the U.S. Steel account. The other half was in the hands of Grey Advertising in New York City.
L-B and Grey were working together on a campaign for U.S. Steel called “Where’s Joe?” It was meant to raise awareness about American steel industry jobs being lost to Germany and Japan. They wanted some comics-format ads. I put together a pitch piece and sample pages. The Jacks liked them and I was called to a meeting.There were more than a dozen L-B execs gathered in the conference room to review the proposed project. I didn’t know who any of them were except the Jacks. One of the Jacks presented my work.Some loud, cranky guy at the end of the table started criticizing the sample pages. He actually had only one significant complaint, and it was only one balloon, which he read aloud. He read it wrong! Dyslexic? I don’t know. He was making noises about killing the project because that panel didn’t work for him. And no one was debating the point! The Jacks sat there in meek silence.
So I piped up. I said, “You’re not reading that correctly.” Then I read it to him—the actual words that were there.
He seemed pleased. He said, words to the effect, “I like your attitude, young man.” And he went on about believing in your work and sticking up for it…clearly a message intended for the rest of the creative in the room more than me. He apologized for misreading the words. He approved the project.
It was a McHale’s Navy moment. Just when you thought McHale was in trouble, the Admiral would admire his initiative or boldness, and McHale would skate.Later, I found out that the loud guy, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, was the account rep who landed the U.S. Steel account. He was easily the most powerful man in the agency. Even the President kissed his ring. Everyone feared that if Mr. Loud wasn’t suitably worshipped he would leave and take U.S. Steel with him.
Everyone at the agency was afraid to work on any project for Mr. Loud’s accounts because if he didn’t like what they came up with, he just might have them fired. So they were all always “too busy.” They farmed work for his accounts out to freelancers like, oh, say, me.
Maybe if I would have known who he was and known that I was supposed to be afraid of him, I would have kept my mouth shut in that meeting.
Nah. Not me. I’m not good at keeping my mouth shut.
I continued to get work. A lot of work. Once I had stood up to Mr. Loud and therefore, somehow, became his favorite creator, a lot of Loud projects came my way. I think, I hope that I kept getting work because I was good, as well as because Loud liked me.
I continued to tell Mr. Loud what I thought. He had ideas occasionally that I politely told him were lame, and/or offered a spin to them that made them less lame. He continued liking my attitude.
The only example of my U.S. Steel work that I could easily lay hands upon was this poster:
It’s been rolled up for 42 years, sorry, but Patience, Fortitude, a coaster and a couple of my fellow dumbbells held it down for its photo.
By the time I created the above, the name of the ad campaign had been changed to “U.S. Steel: We’re Involved.” Same message, but a spin that took it away from seeming so focused on the company’s negotiations with the union regarding a no-strike contract and higher performance standards.
Those cartoons, done in the Jimmy Hatlo They’ll Do It Every Time style, were used in many ways. One of them was made into a national TV commercial. It showed a flatbed tractor-trailer arriving to pick up a ten-pound box of specialty steel and suggested that a motorcycle and sidecar would be arriving later to pick up the 20-ton order.
They were all about inefficiency, waste and stupidity on the part of management as well as labor.
That was just a tiny bit of the overall We’re Involved campaign, of course.
I have a great story about representing L-B to the execs at Grey, but this is already running long. I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Years later, at Marvel, I had some involvement with Marvel’s custom comics business. Usually, I just pontificated. Other people did everything and usually, I just passed my hand over the results and blessed them.
Here’s a notable custom comic that Marvel did for the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. This was important enough so that I was a little more involved, but the brilliant Jim Salicrup did all the heavy lifting.
There’s a stupefying story that goes with that book, too. I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Marvel created a host of custom comics. Clients included Campbell’s Soup, Kool-Aid, GlaxoWellcome (for an asthma medicine), and, of course, Hostess Brands, for whom we did the the ubiquitous Hostess ads in the comics. It was a sideline.
At VALIANT, desperate to make money to keep the lights burning, we sought custom comics business. This was our first custom job, for a telecom company called PHH:
It’s a cute little eight panel story. PHH LDN Man can’t defeat “Mr. Sincerity” from the phone company, whose answer to everything is “reach out and touch someone,” but PHH LDN Man clues in the CFO that all she needs to do is kick the bum out and sign up with PHH.
My partner at VALIANT, Steve Massarsky was fond of making deals that personally benefitted him. He was supposed to give up his law practice when we started VALIANT, but since he was sleeping with a woman who happened to be a principal of the venture capital firm that funded us, controlled the board, stipulations of his contract were not enforced. Therefore, as a lawyer, he represented Nintendo for entertainment, represented us, of course, and, being previously involved in the music business, had connections at MCA. With a couple of record producers, dealing mostly with himself, he put together a deal to produce for MCA a licensed Super Mario Bros. album. If that sounds strange to you, well, you have no idea how hot Super Mario Bros. was at that time. To me, even at that time, though, it sounded unlikely to succeed. I couldn’t imagine video gamers buying a music CD just because the Super Mario Bros. were on the cover.
But, we did it, VALIANT made a few bucks and Massarsky made a ton of money, personally.
The pencils were by Art Nichols who did a magnificent job. I think Vince Colletta inked it, correct me if I’m wrong, Artie. I wrote the story. I had to work the songs into it, and they wanted a literacy theme. Ay-yi-yi!
We didn’t do the CD cover art, but we did everything else. I’m proud of this work. Here it is:
P.S. There’s some good music on this album, including the great Roy Orbison’s last recording, “I Drove All Night.” Dire Straits, Sheena Easton…it didn’t suck. But it failed in the marketplace, as I figured it would.
The most impressive custom job we ever did at VALIANT was for Nintendo of Japan for their F-ZERO game. We did an in-pack custom comic book for the game. Here are a couple of pages:
We also did the box cover art:
Why is this impressive? Because this work was done for a product to be sold only in Japan.
The Japanese were and are very proud of their comics industry. As a rule, at least at that time, they didn’t think American comics were anywhere near as good as theirs. The consensus opinion was that they were the pros and we were quirky, amateurish second-stringers.
But, on the basis of our licensed Nintendo comics for America, Nintendo of Japan picked us, Americans, to do their custom comic in-pack and box cover art. An honor.
I wrote it, Art Nichols penciled it and Bob Layton inked it.
We did several other custom comics jobs, including one for Kraft General Foods and on for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Cheesasaurus Rex book had a print run of two million copies and the KFC book had a one million copy run.
Penciled by Wanderlei Silva, inked by Bob Layton and “Knob Row,” our artists in training, I think.
Penciled and inked by the great comics art production guru and brilliant kids’ stuff illustrator Ron Zalme.
We took cipher characters invented by nitwit ad agency people, gave them personality and had them star in real stories.
We got rave reviews about the KFC book from the client. The Cheesasaurus Rex book went over so well that Kraft wanted a sequel, and intended to make the comic book a regular series.
I wrote the script for the Cheesasaurus sequel. Kraft loooved it.
The scripts for “Piracy on the High Cheese” and “The Sharp, Tangy Revenge of Cheesefinger” are available for download.
(In the Downloads section of the sidebar – J.)
About that time, MetLife came to us and wanted a custom comic series to reach the inner city, lower income and Hispanic markets. I pitched a concept. They loooved it.
Then I got forced out of VALIANT.
None of the pending projects went forward. The MetLife people later told me that the VALIANT people they dealt with after I was gone were “idiots.” That’s a quote. They pulled the plug. Kraft cancelled the proposed Cheesasaurus Rex series for similar reasons.
The scum who succeeded me as the “creative” heads of VALIANT were not competent to do the custom work. In truth, they probably didn’t care and weren’t trying that hard, because, at that point, they were making so much money from the regular comic book line I’d built that the lucrative custom work didn’t seem that important.
TOMORROW: A Miracle and Illustrated Media
Andy E. Nystrom
Re: the cover at the top of the blog post: "They Always Come Back" would also be a good title for a thesis on deaths in superhero comics
RE: "I would like to see JIm's reaction to those reviews of the White Knuckle Scorin' comic, especially as he was so proud of it. Some of the content and characterization mistakes appear to be indefensible."
Nintendo approved the work and loved it. MCA loved it. Licensor happy, client happy, job well done. We had nothing to do with the cover or the title. I can debate what the reviewer mistakenly calls mistakes but I won't. I think the reviewer was taking things a little too seriously. To each his own.
RE: "The story about the Spidey-Power Pack comic- it wouldn't happen to be details on the one that's gone around about how Skip was originally written as Uncle Ben, would it?"
I'll have to ask Jim Salicrup, but I don't think Uncle Ben was ever seriously considered as the abuser.
RE: "It's a shame that all your TV and radio appearances are lost to the ether. Do you have any newspaper clippings?"
I have a number of newspaper clippings from ancient days. I'll run some sometime.
RE: " I am interested in this period because I've thought that your experiences in the corporate world have set you apart from others who have worked solely for comics companies."
I think working in advertising and other non-comics creative endeavors is enlightening. You learn to do the job. It's not all about you and your ego, it's about the work. The comic book biz has too many big ego prima donnas (and ineffectual management). It reminds me of amateur theater sometimes.
RE "What do you think is the key to a good custom comic?"
A custom comic has a specific goal. A good one accomplishes the goal.
RE: "Uhhh…pencilled by Wanderlei Silva?? This surely can't be the same Wanderlei Silva that is a MMA fighter in Pride and UFC is it??? lol"
Maybe. Is the fighter about 5'1", maybe 110 pounds, 50-something years old?
RE: "Jim, wouldn't you consider Captain Action your first promotional comic?"
I didn't think of it that way, but I suppose you could.
Art! Wow, you have such a good memory. Mine mostly sucks, but I remember you and Jade working 26 hours a day! Richard Rockwell, he was so sweet, and Rachel Rockwell colored for us, too.
I hope you like the story! let me know what you think.
As a Canadian, it was always difficult getting send away stuff from the US. I think I had to get my dad to get a US $1 that I put in the envelope (and was terrified that someone would steal it before it got to Marvel)for the Power Pack book.
Very cool of Art Nichols to swing by like that. A lifetime ago now, but those inks over Matt Wagner on The Demon were just super-lush.
I would like to see JIm's reaction to those reviews of the White Knuckle Scorin' comic, especially as he was so proud of it. Some of the content and characterization mistakes appear to be indefensible.
I had to be in the office around midnight a lot of those nights, not that it was a lot different from every other day or so working at Valiant, to speak with the people at Nintendo Japan on the phone. They were very nice people, and everything went swimmingly, save for 2 things; when I faxed (you know, in the olden days) the design for the sumo wrestler, I got an irate fax back stating that he looked too Chinese! Oops. Thank goodness the second design draft met with their approval. Also, there was a written line using the word ‘sentient’, which the people at Nintendo Japan never quite understood. So Jim had to come up with a substitute word.
I did pencil everything, but Paris Cullins officially did the penciling for the cover box art. I say ‘officially’, because as Paris told me, he really did nothing more than a ‘cleaned up pencil tracing’ over the super tight roughs I had done. That was true, but he still made it look very nice. I then inked the box cover art over Paris. As per usual, JayJay did her excellent coloring job on everything, and Jade Moede lettered it all.
I don’t know if Jim and JayJay have posted the original 4-page Valiant Custom Comics brochure that we all worked on. If they haven’t, you guys should ask them to. It’s a great example of (even back in 1990) the versatility that was brought to the table by a small group of determined people.
@t.k.: Oh yeah, F-ZERO was very popular! I was working as Storyboard Supervisor while also storyboarding 75% of GI Joe: Valor vs. Venom in 2004 when one of the voice actors and I were talking, and he about had an apoplectic FIT when I told him I worked on “some video game called F-ZERO”. “SOME video game?!?”, was this guy’s response. I had no idea how popular F-ZERO had become until this guy – just like an excited comic book fan – regaled me with tons of information about when F-ZERO was first out in Japan on the Super-Famicom game system, then when it hit the USA, etc.. He freaked out when I told him that Jim let me keep the Super-Famicom system that Nintendo Japan sent to Valiant, and was heartbroken when he I told him I gave it away to someone. VERY popular, indeed.
@Miles: F-ZERO’s USA debut was the same way. Everything was about the same, except for the cover. The comic book insert we did for Nintendo Japan was included, though.
JayJay, I bought your story, and am trying to fit in a block of time very soon so I can read it at my leisure. I'm looking forward to it. =D
Jim, have you posted the original 4-page Valiant Custom Comics yet?
Okay, I'm going back to being the occasional lurker. Take care.
– Arthur Nichols
Actually, Jim Shooter’s mistaken on this one. I did not pencil the Super Mario illustrations for the Nintendo White Knuckle Scorin’ CD. Until I read this post, I had never seen this particular item before. Understandable, as we had a million things happening at once, all with a very limited staff. Considering how that CD cover sucks seriously muddy burro (think about it), I would have definitely remembered that. Jim remembers that I had strong opinions about everything, and that certainly would have been something I would have complained about for a long time.
I had my hands in about every visual that was produced (to tweak, to ink, whatever was needed), but as time went by, there were more and more things I wouldn’t work on, because I was swamped with my own assignments. We started off with very few people, then things swelled up into what seemed to be a Nintendo Comics factory (with people like Joe Quesada as a colorist & penciler), then suddenly the freelancers were all fired, and we were relegated to doing all the comics production – both Nintendo and Valiant – with only the salaried staff. No outside freelancers allowed. That’s when the pressure seemingly tripled. I’m sorry, quintupled.
The illustrations in the CD seem to me that they might have been penciled by Richard Rockwell, nephew of the great Norman Rockwell. I remember him always drawing Mario a lot taller than he should have been. It certainly looks like Vinnie’s inking, though.
When I was hired at Valiant, my official title was Art Director. Although I did a lot of small Art Director-type stuff – being the go-to guy for licensing drawings, always needing to draw this, that & every other kind of thing thrown at me, just like everyone else had things thrown at them – it turned out to be that I was more of a staff artist than anything else. I wasn’t getting to do a lot of (or any) significant Art Director-specific type of work at all. Not with the whole staff having to keep plates spinning on sticks while juggling bowling balls, Toyotas and flaming cats while jumping through fiery hoops every day. We all had to do what was needed, and that included disposing of the vermin that got stuck in the glue traps.
Somehow, Steve Massarsky and Bob Layton were smart enough not to get stuck in those traps. Otherwise, maybe…? Hm. Nice thought, though.
Anyway, when F-ZERO came around, I asked Jim if I could run with the project, and he kindly agreed. I was really jazzed that F-ZERO was pretty much my baby to put together. I even got to do the price negotiation with Nintendo. Jim wanted to be very accommodating to Nintendo, and was nervous about charging anything more than $5,000.00 for Valiant’s services, thinking that Nintendo might balk. Because I had worked at Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios, I knew we could get more. Neal was kind enough to give me a refresher on how to negotiate for such a thing, and I ended up being able to charge about $35,000.00 for the job. I made an arrangement with Jim that if Nintendo did squawk about the price I was suggesting, then Jim would step in to be the ‘voice of reason’, and we’d then go with a lower price. They didn’t even blink about the price.
– Arthur Nichols
I personally liked that Meatloaf ad- that was my introduction to Meatloaf, whom the ad billed as "humoungous star of the universe", if memory serves correct- because the Hulk was Grey, which was a big deal to 8 year old me. I just loved the Grey Hulk as a little kid, but frequently in merchandising, he was still Green. So I have fond memories of that unusual advertisement. Was usually on the back cover of Marvels.
The story about the Spidey-Power Pack comic- it wouldn't happen to be details on the one that's gone around about how Skip was originally written as Uncle Ben, would it?
Thanks for the heads up! I just pre-ordered the Yellowjacket book.
It's ironic that the US version of F-Zero didn't have US art!
Dear Anonymous at 3:50 PM and 6:33 PM,
The Meatloaf ad is at the bottom of this page.
Not sure if you were aware Jim, but mid last year White Knuckle Scorin' did the rounds on the video game websites, unfortunately the coverage wasn't very positive…
Also, re: that F-Zero artwork – not sure about the US release, but here in Australia we definitely had the comic in our instruction book (not the cover of the game though), I recognize it from back in the day 🙂
JayJay's story lived up to your blurb. "They Always Come Back" was so intense that I had to stop reading it twice. And by the time I got to the end, I paused after every sentence, dreading what would happen next.
I am very hard to please, but I was very pleased by her work. Thank you for helping her.
And thank you for writing about custom comics. This is one aspect of your career that you haven't covered in detail in any interviews I've seen or heard. I Googled Lando-Bishopric months ago but couldn't find much. Doing so now just leads to your blog and interviews with you. I am interested in this period because I've thought that your experiences in the corporate world have set you apart from others who have worked solely for comics companies.
It's a shame that all your TV and radio appearances are lost to the ether. Do you have any newspaper clippings?
I've heard you mention "Where's Joe?" before but for some reason, I didn't think of Joe Magarac until today.
What do you think is the key to a good custom comic? I've seen inept custom comics that fail to sell. Here, you describe what makes Illustrated Media more qualified to do custom comics than other companies. Do you have anything to add to that?
I am impressed by how VALIANT cracked a tough market where Amekomi (アメコミ; American comics) are not loved. It looks like the comic was entirely in English even inside a presumably otherwise all-Japanese 取扱説明書 (manual) "FOR SALE and USE IN JAPAN ONLY" (gotta love the ALL CAPS). Presumaly the use of English was for effect, since few could fluently read it.
Arvell Jones' experience in Japan confirms your description of the Japanese perception of Amekomi. He went there with some heavy hitters like Jerry Robinson … and got hit hard:
Then, all of a sudden one of the big shots from the publishers stood up and started yelling at us in Japanese. The interpreter (Fred Schodt) wrote down as much as he could and then turned to us and said, "He wants to know why don't you grow your market!?!"
Well, the rest of the meeting felt like they brought us to Japan to spank us for not taking advantage of our rich cultural diversity.
After all, in Japan, as they had explained throughout the tour, they have Manga on almost every subject, and for all age groups. They explained that the Manga market suffered the same way the US market did, but they found a way to bring it back, and to make it grow. They let us know they were coming to the US and they would show us how it's done. Well, they really told us that they weren't interested in the US market because it was too weak to bother with. But we kind of got that they were concerned because they were coming.
Now I go to the bookstore and they are here! Heck, they are winning the minds of people we have never approached to be in our audience.
They kicked our butts for a few hours and we expressed the fact that we were lowly creators and the companies defined the market. They looked at us as if we didn't get it. As creators, making comics for only one market segment (white male between the ages of 18-34) was just bad business. They explained they had comics for brides, comics for old people, comics on how to build stuff, how to do stuff.
Miracle on Broadway is the one Broadway comic I'm missing. I look forward to what you have to say about it.
Meatloaf Anonymous (man that's gotta be a small support group) –
The Meatloaf ad was for an album with proceeds going to Special Olympics, and was in at least some of the early 90's comics. And yes, it was horrendous. I'll always remember that first image of a poorly drawn Meatloaf, with a tear running down his cheek… and not in a good way.
Btw… F-Zero actually was released in the U.S. and was quite a popular Super Nintendo game (I'm pretty sure they used different art for the domestic version though).
Uhhh…pencilled by Wanderlei Silva?? This surely can't be the same Wanderlei Silva that is a MMA fighter in Pride and UFC is it??? lol
On the subject of resources going overseas – I saw an interesting documentary recently. Apparently the U.S. power grid got hacked a couple years ago. They suspect it might have been a foreign power that hacked it
Anyway, as a result, they got some techies of their own to run some simulations about hacking the U.S. grid. They were able to do so and overheat some important transfer points – causing them to overheat and fail. The point is – we don't produce those transfer points or the equipment for them ourselves – so it would take 3 months to get a replacement from our foreign sources
I don't have the CD or F-Zero, but I do own the Kraft comic and the KFC comic. I also own the Broadway Video Special Collector's Edition #1 and a copy of Seven #1 also. All are pretty tough to find.
Hey, I have those coasters, too.
I vaguely remember a horrifically drawn one- pager of that type, featuring Meatloaf introducing a bunch of Marvel superheroes and asking "won't you help us?"
I don't remember what he wanted help doing. It was in the mid-1980s.
But it was so poorly done and bizarrely jarring with Meatloaf and superheroes that I still remember it. Like a bad nightmare. 😉
Wow- I had that Nintendo CD, and only liked the Roy Orbison song. I remember reading that CD booklet at my grandparent's produce market when I was a little kid. Thats actually a cover of a Cyndi Lauper song (!) Mr. Shooter- and, while close to it, isn't the Big O's last recording per se, but one of them. I had F-Zero, too! How much of my childhood do I owe Jim Shooter royalties for?? Thanks for another engaging and informative blog, and I will be checking out JayJay's story.
@Dusty, I noticed that this morning in my Amazon Gold Box and pre-ordered it. Compared to the trade paperback Marvel Masterworks books, it's a very generous page count for that price.
Aaron Scott Johnson
Man, I am a sucker for those custom Marvel comics. I have the Spidey/Power Pack one, the Aim Spider-Man one, the Captain America drug prevention one, even an anti-smoking one which I think has Daredevil of all people…I can't help but buy them when I run across one I've never seen!
Jim, wouldn't you consider Captain Action your first promotional comic?
I was having the same problem. If you click on the title of that thread, it takes you to its own page. When you scroll down to the comments then it has "newer" and "newest" links available.
Just a heads up for Jim.
Avengers: The Trial of Yellowjacket
Ha! I have that Super Mario Brothers music CD! No, I did not buy it because I was a Super Mario fan (I like the game well enough, I suppose), but because it featured a song from one of may favorite bands, Jellyfish.
Pretty cool to learn that it was comic-book related, too! Yayy!!!
Cheesasaurus Rex – isn't that what Namor yells just before striking a winning blow
Jay Jay, I know you probably have enough admin stuff to do – but on the previous blog entry – it only shows up to 200 comments. So once the comments when past 200, we could not see the new ones. I did not see anything on the page that would let me go to the comments above 200