The next day I flew to New York and presented myself at Marvel. Marvel had moved to larger quarters, but they looked even more cluttered and used than the previous ones. There was a huge paper maché figure of Thor, donated by some fans, suspended on wires from the ceiling in the production area. There were piles of stuff everywhere–old comics, envelopes, books, trash. Two people were sword fighting with yardsticks in the hall. There seemed to be a lot more people, most of them young, strange-looking and dressed for playing frisbee in the park or painting a house, maybe. My tour guide, Duffy, pointed out a few corners where there were sleeping bags where a few otherwise homeless staffers spent their nights. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that four years ago?
Category: 03 Marvel Comics Page 1 of 9
Most frightening was the great and growing hostility the creative people felt toward the companies. Many had entered the business as starry-eyed fans. First they were stunned by the rotten conditions. Then their disappointment turned to anger.
Shortly after I arrived, Stan returned. His attention had been on other aspects of Marvel’s business, but now he decided to turn his full attention back to the comics. During my tenure as Archie Goodwin’s associate editor, Stan had got to know me pretty well and, I think, had a good bit of faith in me. Since I was the one who directly oversaw the plots, scripts and art, Stan had come straight to me with his comments about the books. We began meeting once or twice a week to go over the proofs. Stan would critique each issue line by line, panel by panel, just the way Mort used to critique my work–but less brutally. Through these discussions I got the best how-to-create-comics course imaginable. I was amazed at how similar Mort’s and Stan’s theories were about the fundamentals of writing. Often Stan would explain some point of storytelling in the very same words Mort had used. They differed not at all on the principles of the craft.
There was chaos, and everything was late. It was very disorganized, and in fairly short order I’d been to Marvel three times, and had seen three different Editors-In-Chief: Roy, Len, and Marv. As editor in chief, Marv presided over all of us–but the things that seemed to occupy most of his time were arguing and mollifying. That seemed to be the job. On a typical day he might be arguing with an artist who’d “left the pages in a taxi cab” for the third time, mollifying a colorist whose job had been badly separated, arguing with the circulation department about falling sales figures and mollifying the accounting department’s chagrin over a proposed fifty-cent raise for a letterer.
As I was developing the storyline, I discussed the potential pathology of their relationship with a psychologist who happened to be sitting next to me on a five-hour flight. The story made sense, he thought. I went ahead with it. During the time the story was running, I got a great deal of hate mail. It worried me enough to ask Stan what he thought. He said he got the same kind of mail in the ‘60’s regarding Peter Parker’s various romantic travails. He asked me how Avengers sales were doing. They were in fact, increasing by 10,000 copies per issue. Stan said that people obviously cared passionately about what was happening to Hank and Janet, as if they were real people. That’s the key. And he said, “Don’t worry about the mail.”
Then when Marvel moved, around the end of 1979, we got a brand new state-of-the-art safe warehouse, so the stuff was moved from my office to the new warehouse; except for one box, which for some reason was moved to the Marvel lunchroom. When I was made aware of that, I went to get Bernie, the office manager, and said, “That box goes to the warehouse right now!” I went back to my office, then Bernie came in a few minutes later and said he went to get the box and it wasn’t there. Somebody had obviously grabbed the box, went straight out to the freight elevator–which was near there–and was gone. I have no idea what it contained. There was probably Jack Kirby’s stuff in it among other things. To this day I have no idea who took it.
By the time I became editor in chief at Marvel in 1978 (and therefore was in a position to have a voice in the Marvel management), both Marvel and DC had instituted art return policies. Marvel’s, set up by Roy Thomas, gave writers a share of the pages. Go figure. As soon as I could, I changed that — one reason why a few writers like Moench and Thomas didn’t like me. Tough. I did what I believed was right.
Kirby worked for Marvel during that period and had art returned to him just like everybody else. The dispute arose over the old art, from before the return plan was instituted, which was in a warehouse.
I was on the side of Kirby and all the other old artists. I tried at every opportunity to convince Marvel’s brass to return the old artwork. There were many reasons cited by the corporate counsel, financial officer, etc. why this was a problem — i.e., the art could be considered an asset, and couldn’t be disposed of with no benefit to the stockholders of a publicly traded company, tax issues and lots of other nonsense.
We went through a number of ideas for names for the toy line and series. Mattel’s focus group tests indicated that kids reacted positively to the words “wars” and “secret.” Okay.
Mattel had a number of other requirements. Doctor Doom, they said, looked too medieval. His armor would have to be made more high-tech. So would Iron Man’s, because their focus groups indicated that kids reacted positively…etc. Okay.
They also said there had to be new fortresses, vehicles and weapons because they wanted playsets, higher price point merchandise and additional play value. Okay.
You may be correct, possibly the suit was never filed. I was Editor in Chief, not company counsel. Around the office, the matter was routinely referred to as the “Kirby lawsuit.” We certainly received a barrage of letters and demands from Kirby’s attorneys, many of which I saw.
If Jack and Roz had no interest in suing Marvel, you sure couldn’t tell that from Marvel’s POV. Their lawyers came at Marvel pretty aggressively.
I attended a panel at the San Diego Con, misleadingly titled, which turned out to be a Marvel-bash-fest MC’ed by Gary Groth. I don’t remember the year. ’79? ’80? Thereabouts. Groth opened with a diatribe against Marvel and its horrible unfairness to Jack. Then he turned the mic over to Jack.
Here’s what happened:
Chris, X-Men editor Jim Salicrup and I went to lunch at the Ultimate Lotus, a Chinese restaurant that happened to be in the same building as Marvel (575 Madison Avenue) to discuss a new story arc for the X-Men. Freewheeling, I pointed out that while Marvel had many heroes who started out as villains–the Black Widow, Hawkeye, several others–we’d never had a hero who went bad. I suggested that Chris evolve Phoenix into a villain, permanently and irrevocably, the new “Doctor Doom” for the X-Men. Salicrup and Chris liked the idea and Chris began work on what eventually became the “Dark Phoenix” saga.
In those days, I had so much to deal with besides the comics–the change in the copyright law, schedule problems, two or three lawsuits against Marvel, domestic licensing, international licensing, fighting with the board of directors re: royalties and incentives, trying to teach the writers to write, the pencilers to tell stories, the inkers to ink, the colorists to color (the letterers were basically okay) that I often didn’t read the comics until they were in the “make-ready” stage. Make-readies were, essentially, printer’s proofs.
In case you don’t know, in those days, comics companies never sent creators or even staffers to conventions, or on any kind of promotional trips. It just wasn’t done. Con organizers had to pay all expenses to get professional guests to come, unless the pro lived in the neighborhood. Then, all they had to do was provide a free table.
Anyway, I did a lot of panels talking about, and talking up Marvel projects. These speeches were usually followed by a Q&A.
Inevitably, someone in the audience would complain that they had subscribed to one or more Marvel titles, but no books ever came. Why? Once, in Chicago, I asked the crowd if anyone had subscribed to any Marvel titles and received no books. A dozen hands went up.
I told them that I would look into it.