Sergio Aragonés came to visit me one day to pitch an idea for a humorous comic book starring a funny, cheese-dip-loving barbarian character. Just one thing—he said he knew that Marvel had to “own everything,” but he wanted to retain some small interest in the character. He knew Marvel had to own and control it, but he would like—he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart—a little piece.
I told Sergio we could do better than that. No reason he couldn’t own it lock, stock and cheese dip. Marvel would be perfectly willing to publish his comic book series under a normal, real world publishing agreement, that is, specified rights, all negotiable, for a specified term.
He didn’t believe me. I introduced him to Publisher Mike Hobson. Mike assured him that I was empowered to make such a deal. We were willing to draw up a deal memo on the spot that Sergio could take to his legal advisors. Sergio said he had no time right then because he had an appointment somewhere else, after which he was going back to the Coast, but he’d be back in New York in two weeks.
A couple of weeks later, however, Pacific Comics announced that it was publishing a new comics series by Sergio Aragonés called Groo.
Not long after my meeting with Sergio, and completely independently, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson and Jim Starlin came to me in a group. They each wanted to do a non-work-for-hire series for Marvel. To create and produce titles to which they would retain the underlying rights.
I said, “Okay.” I think I shocked them.
Why was everybody so surprised? I’d talked about Marvel publishing creator-owned work publicly, loudly and often ever since I’d started as Editor in Chief. And we were already publishing EPIC Illustrated. I guess they thought I was wishful thinking out loud or talking through my softball cap.
So, I took them all to see Mike Hobson. We agreed in principal on the spot.
First EPIC Interference
Straight from Mike’s office I went to Archie Goodwin’s office. I said, “Hey, Arch, I have a great idea. EPIC Comics! Regular monthly series but creator owned!”
He blew his top at me. Now, Archie, to my knowledge, never actually yelled at anyone, but he could get this edge, this tension in his slightly-raised voice that told you you’d better back off because he was five-foot-three, one hundred and forty pounds of razor-edged twisted steel.
The gist of what he growled was: Are you out of your mind? I don’t have time for this! We (Mary Jo Duffy and he) are overworked as is! “Get rzzlefrzzlegrrr out of my honketyhoot room or frgglk die.” Something like that.
I backed off.
So, later I went to Al Milgrom and asked him if he’s like to edit EPIC Comics. He was pleased as purple punch.
The next day, I’m sitting at my EIC desk dealing with one of the disasters du jour as usual. Archie came storming in, again, in full Archie-style fury.
The gist of what he growled was: Are you out of your mind? How the rzzlefrzzlegrrr DARE you give EPIC Comics to Milgrom?! EPIC is MY department! EPIC Comics are MINE! (Insert inarticulately snarled death threats and rude implications about my ancestry here.)
By the time he left my office, Archie had EPIC Comics back and the budget to hire a second assistant. And I had my life.
Milgrom was loathe to give up EPIC Comics peacefully. Especially since one of the first ones, Dreadstar, was going to be authored by his long-time buddy, Jim Starlin. But he cooperated, sort of. You’ll notice that Milgrom shares editorial credit on the first issue of Dreadstar.
Second EPIC Interference
Sometime a couple of years later….
EPIC Comics were doing okay, but not setting the world on fire. They were a critical success and absolutely essential for Marvel’s image. We needed to be a place where creators wanted to bring their ideas. And, I figured, sooner or later, an EPIC Comics title would take off, make some creator wealthy, and then the floodgates would open.
A few EPIC Comics were losing money. None were contributing much to the bottom line. Dreadstar was probably the most successful.
President Jim Galton spoke with me about possibly cancelling the line and devoting the resources to more profitable endeavors, say, another dozen X-Men titles. I told him EPIC Comics had something great, a big seller coming up, and secured a stay of execution.
So I went to Archie’s office and proposed that we publish a limited series Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz had been talking about doing—Elektra Assassin. If it came out through EPIC Comics, it could be grittier and edgier than if it had to bear a Code Seal and go on those “Hey, Kids! Comics!” spinner racks. Which would suit Frank.
(ASIDE: What else did those racks say? Something about “wholesome entertainment?”)
Archie replied in full Archie-style fury.
The gist of what he growled was: Are you out of your mind? EPIC Comics are CREATOR OWNED! No rzzlefrzzlegrrr Marvel characters!
I started growling that unless we had a bestseller RIGHT AWAY there might not be any EPIC Comics any more. I was six-foot seven, two hundred and thirty-five pounds of rusty pencil sharpener blades.
He backed down.
I walked out with Archie’s promise to contact Frank. And he had EPIC Comics’ life.
The eight issue Elektra Assassin limited series sold over two million copies. While not creator owned, the contract was far more beneficial to the creators than the normal (and excellent, by the way) Marvel deal. Advance against royalties, more participations, a generous share of international revenues…and more.
That kept them going for a while.
No Interference, But Righteous Wrath
Sometime before the Elektra drama, Sergio parted company with Pacific Comics, I believe because they were in the midst of the financial turmoil that led to the company’s collapse. Sergio turned up on EPIC Comics doorstep, and was welcomed in. We began publishing Groo the Wanderer.
(NOTE: I never checked EPIC publications before they went to the separators. Never felt I had to, with Archie at the helm. The first time I read most EPIC books was when the printed copies came in.)
As I recall, the first page of the first EPIC Comics issue of Groo featured a cartoon of Sergio at his drawing board, speaking directly to the readers. I don’t have a copy, so I’m doing this from memory, but Sergio was explaining that he had taken Groo elsewhere at first because Marvel wouldn’t let him keep the rights to his creation, but now that Marvel had finally seen the light, he was happy to work with EPIC.
I was furious. It was probably the only time I ever spoke harsh words to Archie. How could he allow that? It was NOT TRUE, and in our OWN PUBLICATION we were giving credence to a LIE.
After I calmed down, I realized that Archie probably didn’t know about my meeting with Sergio years earlier. Not his fault. Sorry Archie.
Sometime later, I ran into Sergio at a convention in Victoria, British Columbia.
Sergio and I had always been friendly. We, and other folks, occasionally got together for food or a beverage or three at cons or after work. He regaled us with his stories. He listened to ours. We got along. He even came to play volleyball with us in Central Park after work a few times when he was in town. Sergio and I always had a great deal of mutual respect. Still do.
But I was very unhappy about the Groo intro page and told him so. He wouldn’t give me straight answers. He waffled around about it.
That told me it was probably the doing of his co-writer/assistant/whatever, Mark Evanier, either out of ignorance or spite.
Other than that, everything EPIC was pretty groovy.
A final aside, apropos of nothing. A few years ago I was sitting beside Sergio on a panel at the Baltimore Con. The panel was taking questions. Someone in the audience asked me if I was aware that, in terms of years of service, I was the eldest comic book writer still active. I said, that can’t be. What about Sergio? Sergio said to me, “I started in 1967, my friend. When did you start?”
1965. It’s been a long road.
NEXT: Superman, the Playboy Club, Decorating Higgins, the Secret Theater and other Strange Tales