Category: 03 Marvel Comics Page 2 of 9
Thanks to my charmingly pack-ratty mother, my Merry Marvel Marching Society membership kits survived the ages. That’s her writing on the envelope of the first membership kit.
The first time I signed up for the M.M.M.S. was in 1964, at the age of 12. Later Marvel offered a second membership kit. Had to have it. That would have been in 1966 or 1967. Anybody know for sure when the second kit was offered? Anyway, by that time I was a regular writer for DC.
So, I was an M.M.M.S. member in good standing while working for Mort, which posed a grave danger….
While Stan Lee was the editor, from 1941 till Roy Thomas took over as Marvel’s first Editor in Chief in 1972, Marvel Comics was run like a mom’n’pop operation. Stan was the boss, and did or governed all things creative. For a while during the 1950’s, and again from the early 1960’s through the early 1970’s, his “right hand man” was Sol Brodsky, Production Manager. Besides overseeing the mechanics of getting the books created and printed, Sol handled anything legal, financial, technical or complicated, that is, anything Stan didn’t want to be bothered with.
In 1972, Roy Thomas took over from Stan, who had been made President. That didn’t work out. The bureaucratic crap and administrative duties involved didn’t suit him, so Stan became Publisher instead.
By then, Sol had left for a while to start ill-fated Skywald Publications, which promptly failed. Sol needed a job, and approached Stan, but a new Production Manager had been hired in Sol’s absence—John Verpoorten. Stan convinced the Cadence Board to create a new position for Sol, “V.P. of Operations.” Essentially, he was Stan’s right hand man again. More on that later.
The Benevolent Lapping Scam – Benign Malfeasance
Around the beginning of December, 1977, Marvel President Jim Galton offered me the Editor in Chief job, replacing Archie Goodwin. (How that came to pass is another wondrous strange tale, coming soon.) Archie was going to step down as EIC and become a contract writer-editor.
The plan was for Archie to finish out the month and for me to begin on the first working day of January, 1978. Stan thought it would be best not to announce the change until just before it went into effect.
The month of December, 1977 was a traumatic time for Marvel. John Romita resigned as Art Director to work full time on the Spider-Man syndicated strip.
And, Production Manager John Verpoorten died at the age of 37.
During my time at Marvel the people that held the position of Art Director were John Romita, Sr., Marie Severin (briefly), and John Romita, Sr. again. Dave Cockrum shared duties with John Romita for a while, as did Don Perlin toward the end of my tenure.
First of all, the title “Art Director” at Marvel during the 70’s and 80’s is completely misleading. It was a staff artist position. Of course, it made sense to have a really outstanding artist on staff. Things came up constantly for which a quality piece of art was needed, for presentations, PR, whatever, and if you had to track down a freelancer each time, it would be a nightmare. Stan trumped up the title “Art Director” so he could pay outstanding, versatile artist John Romita more money. The brass above Stan would never have agreed to pay a “staff artist” as much, but an “Art Director?” Sure.
Fortunately, the brass was completely ignorant of what went on in the comics creative department, so they were easily fooled. Seriously—most of the upstairs execs and the brass of parent company Cadence Industries had never opened a comic book, and they were proud to say that. Few had ever even ventured onto the floor we occupied. We scared them, I think.
Galton and I flew up to Boston on the Eastern Airlines Shuttle—remember that?—and drove out to wherever Parker Brothers offices were—in a beautiful, wooded setting, as I recall—and met with their brass and licensing people. We worked out a deal. I’m certain we had a pretty standard licensing deal, except that the creator of ROM, Bing McCoy, had a significant participation. After Parker Brothers was out of the mix, I suppose we paid only Bing McCoy’s portion of the royalties.
I created the basic premise for the comic book series—the fundamental backstory (beyond what Bing and Parker Brothers had graven in stone). Bill Mantlo and whoever the editor was fleshed it out. For instance, Brandy Clark was definitely Bill’s creation, or at least he named her. On the other hand, Clairton (a small town in the Pittsburgh area, near where I grew up, transplanted for story purposes to West Virginia) and Galador are names I provided.
“Speaking of the Hulk I was wondering if you could shed some light where the idea of the child abuse story came from. There has been much speculation about this from different people including Barry Windsor Smith. I have never heard your side of the story.”
Barry came to me with a completely penciled and written graphic novel. It was the about the development of the “mighty, raging fury” inside Bruce Banner, who, he revealed, was the product of an abusive home. I looked it over. I thought it was brilliant, one of the best comics stories I’d ever seen. I offered Barry a contract and an advance. He turned me down — temporarily. He proposed to finish the thing — then, if I would agree to publish it as created, no alterations whatsoever, he would sign a contract and take the money. I was willing to agree to that in writing on the spot, but he said, no, when it’s finished. Okay. Fine by me. I already knew, from what he’d shown me, that there’d be no problem.
Once the mystery of the benevolent lapping scam was solved, Financial V.P. Barry Kaplan made attempts to recover some of the money. A few creators who had benefitted from the advance-vouchering that had been going on actually worked off their debt, or paid the money back. Very few. Barry judged many to be hopeless cases, gave up on them and wrote the debt off. One creator allowed us to publish a story to which he owned all rights as a make-good for what he’d been advanced. A few of the clever and sleazy types, including one artists’ studio owner, realized that with John Verpoorten dead, she could simply deny everything, insist that all the work that had been paid for but never done had, indeed, been done and delivered. She couldn’t help it if inept Marvel comics had “lost” the work. She got away clean.
But anyway…. We thought voucher scamming was done with. Under the new rules, editors signed vouchers and accounting handed out the checks. No more opportunity for lapping.
Ah, but we were dealing with creative people, remember. And a few of them got creative about ways to circumvent the safeguards.
Meanwhile, at Marvel, our line AVERAGE was over 200,000. EVERY Marvel title would pay royalties from the inception of our plan, assuming we matched DC. Even Dazzler sold 140,000 copies a month. From inception, if sales stayed the same, our plan would take around a million dollars off of the bottom line. Make that make sense to a room full of business sharks who don’t give a rat’s ass about anything but the bottom line, I dare you. But I did.
The toy company was KNICKERBOCKER TOYS. They called their toy property, based on technology licensed from a Japanese company, the “MYSTERIONS.”
Marvel Comics was their second choice as a creative services provider. They had gone to DC Comics first. The executive who approached us showed us what DC had created for them. It was a comic book. He only had photocopies. I don’t believe the thing was ever printed.
It was awful. Apologies to whomever created that thing, but it was pathetic and wrong-headed to an unbelievable degree. The art was well-drawn, I’ll allow that, but the storytelling was chaotic. The story, as best one could discern it, was unnecessarily, excessively dark and violent. The dialogue was peppered with “Hells” and “damns,” and I can’t swear to it almost 30 years later, but I think there was a “bastard” or two in there.