An EPIC Deception
Late 1979. We needed an Editor for a new magazine we had in the works, working title Odyssey. It was intended to appeal to the adult readers we already had, attract others and open the door to creators worldwide who wanted to work on properties they owned rather than do work for hire on Marvel’s established properties.
I spoke with Stan about it. Getting the right editor was critical. I suggested that we offer the position to Archie Goodwin.
I didn’t think Archie would take the job if it meant reporting to me. First of all, working for someone who used to be your assistant is usually awkward. Given the drama that arose from my replacing him as Editor in Chief, I figured it was a non-starter.
I proposed that we make Odyssey an entirely separate department not under my purview. Bring Archie back on the same level as I was, not reporting to me.
Stan was opposed to that idea. No one doubted Archie’s editorial abilities, but, Stan was afraid that he would have no patience for dealing with upstairs and business baloney. Just like when Archie was EIC. Stan thought Archie had to report to me.
So I said, words to the effect, “What if he doesn’t know he reports to me? What if you offer him the job and I stay out of it entirely. I’ll never bother him, but I’ll discreetly make sure the trains run on time and take care of all the bureaucratic crap. I’ll pave the road for him.”
Though Stan’s “publisher” title was largely ceremonial, it was credible that he might be taking an active role as publisher of Odyssey, since he’d been a huge proponent of the idea from the beginning. He agreed.
Archie, after he left the EIC position, had taken a contract to be writer/editor of three color comics a month, which, I guess was the minimum necessary to make the money he needed . But, he couldn’t keep up with that workload. He was the best writer, but by far not the fastest. He was steadily falling further and further behind on his quota. A staff position that paid well was, therefore, attractive.
Stan offered Archie the job. I was conspicuously not involved and not mentioned. When Archie asked who he would report to, Stan said, “Me.”
Archie took the job!
Soon thereafter, we discovered that there were trademark issues with the title Odyssey, and so the name was changed to EPIC Illustrated. I think that was Archie’s idea. Or possibly Stan’s. I don’t know. I stayed away from EPIC editorial like the Kingpin from Jenny Craig.
But, I wrote the EPIC business plan. I drafted the budget. I helped put together the creator contracts. On the sly.
Archie had to pick up the pieces that Rick Marschall had left him, and at the beginning had help from various staffers. Archie pulled it together masterfully. What could have been a hodgepodge mess came out fine, and thanks to Archie, EPIC got off on the right foot with a Frazetta cover on the first issue. It did very well.
There was a provision in the budget for an assistant for Archie. I made it clear that I had no problem with Archie hiring one of the color comics assistants if he wished, since it would be a little more money and maybe a little more prestige, some would say. Also, it was a chance to work closely with Archie, not a small consideration. I don’t remember exactly when, but eventually Archie hired Mary Jo Duffy. Good choice.
I focused on the regular comics and black-and-whites.
But, I did the EPIC bureaucratic crap. I did the wrangling with circulation, legal, international licensing and accounting. I represented EPIC’s interests in the executive staff meetings.
I paved the road.
Early in 1980, Stan moved to the West Coast to devote more time to developing film and TV projects. Soon thereafter, President Jim Galton hired Mike Hobson as Publisher.
That’s another story in and of itself, but I’ll tell you later.
Mike spent his first month reading comics and getting the lay of the land. That impressed me.
After a few months, Mike asked me what was up with EPIC? Why was it that I did the administrative stuff sort of on the Q.T? I explained.
Mike wasn’t okay with the EPIC deception. He called Archie in. Mike said, “Archie, I want you to know that you report to Jim.”
Archie said, “I know.”
I think he always did.
Not much changed after that. I still didn’t interfere with Archie. (Well, except for a couple of times. Those make for pretty good stories, coming soon.) I still did a lot of the wrangling. Mike, however, took on some of the heavy-duty contract stuff and executive arm-wrestling. The three of us, Mike, Archie and me, worked together pretty well.
One final note: I don’t think anyone but Archie could have done what he did with EPIC. No way I could have. The Frazetta cover, for instance. I probably could never have gotten past Frazetta’s wife and Gatekeeper, Ellie. Archie was well known to the stars and legends. If stars and legends who weren’t actively working for Marvel had heard of me at all, to them I was a former DC writer who was Marvel’s new, whip-cracking, Blue-Meanie EIC. Everybody loved Archie. I ranked between Mussolini and Torquemada on the popularity scale. He did a magnificent job, and I’m proud to have filled in some of the potholes in front of him on the way.
Now, for your amusement, one of Archie’s interoffice memos, a response to my query about proposed annuals:
RE: Doctor Solar: Thanks. I haven't seen the last one yet but JayJay says the art looks nice.
Dear JediJones – Thanks for posting those. It never occurred to me to even look for that.
Gary Groth's evil, twisted heart must have burst when he learned Jim was writing this blog. I bet he reacted like the Joker did in The Dark Knight Returns when he discovers his old adversary is back in action. "Finally a chance to renew my slanderous, twisted, myopic campaign of evil…" I still avoid buying anything by Fantagraphics or anything that could in any way get money back to him. I wish there was a Phantom Zone for people like him.
Dear Jim – Read the last Doctor Solar yesterday. It was a great run, thanks for those.
This got me wondering about what people were saying about Marvel back in the early internet of the 1980s. "Google groups" has an archive of internet "Usenet" forum posts going back to 1980. Usenet is like any internet forum you see today without the bells and whistles like pictures, links or emoticons. There must have been some servers out there storing them for years before Google got a hold of them.
There weren't a lot of posts being made back then. I get 102 matches on "Jim Shooter" up to 1989. At this time the people accessing Usenet would probably be limited to college students or IT workers.
The tenor of the posts is in line with the guy who posted here recently admitting he was a "snob" about Marvel and mainstream comics during the '80s. I think he said he would put Marvel down to his friends, then secretly read them in private. A lot of the Usenet posts express the sentiment that Marvel comics are "for the masses" and they prefer "independent" comics.
It's a tough crowd. They seemed to hate that Phoenix was killed, but then when Jean Grey was brought back, they hated that and said she should have stayed dead. They criticize Secret Wars, not realizing they might not have been the intended target audience for it.
I did find one incredible post from a guy named John Kenneth Riviere who really understood what you were doing at Marvel. If he hadn't posted this back in 1985, I'd assume he had been reading your blog. Here's a link to his message followed by some excerpts:
"…everyone seems to be overlooking the fact that Jim Shooter may possibly be, at least partially, responsible for what I now consider to be one of the most active times for comics in the last thirty years."
"Can anyone else here remember back to the chaos that reigned at Marvel during the early to mid 70s? Was anyone in comics doing well at that time? Marvel had seen the end of the Stan Lee era and had gone through Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Marv Wolfman…looking for someone to take control of Marvel and keep an even keel."
"Does anyone remember titles coming out with
reprints every other month due to a lack of editorial control which allowed creators to miss deadlines repeatedly…"
"Jim Shooter claims (and I don't feel like doing the research to disprove him) that there has not been an unscheduled reprint in a regularly published title during his tenure."
"Jim Shooter turned Marvel around when he took over in 1978 (yes, it has been almost eight years, only Stan Lee holds a comparable
record for durability at the helm at Marvel). During that time the Epic comics line was established which spawned some excellent work."
"It is hard to find a spot now which is more than a few miles from a comics specialty store. Maybe I am making too much of Shooter's
contribution to the field (as a long-time LSH fan I have to admit that I have enjoyed his writing on more than one occasion), but I feel that he helped to guide Marvel (and in turn, the rest of the industry) to a level of acceptance in American society that comics has never previously enjoyed."
Also, here are some excerpts from someone else's amusing 1983 take on The Comics Journal. "The news sections are…'Who is Jim Shooter forcing out of Marvel this week'…not surprisingly, [Gary Groth's] Fantagraphics books get a lot of coverage. The interviews always try to get the subject to tell how horrible it is to work at Marvel, if not at both major companies, and how newsstand comics are quickly going down the toilet. Quite often, Groth manages to put words in the subject's mouth, e.g. when he got Harlan Ellison to libel Don Heck…"
Who knows, but I suspect that more communication and faster communication would have been good things.
A piece about the Bullpen Bulletins is on the queue.
Baxter paper was likely dropped due to cost. Different weights/finishes cost more to manufacture and so possibly would have raised the avg comic book price to adopt as an industry standard.
The current page weight seems to be a compromise: glossy enough to work with computer-generated coloring but thinner than newsprint and so possibly cheaper to use.
I'm guessing here because my background is book publishing rather than comic books, but I know we have very specific weights for our various releases (impacting cost of book for avg customer) and much cheaper stuff for doing in-house galleys, internal memos, etc.
I'm right there with Brian Doan. I really enjoyed the Bulletins and appreciated the time you put into writing them (also loved them when you started up Valiant- the one about Harbinger #1 got me to buy the book). I'd love to hear more about them too. I still remember Bob Layton glowing in the dark btw…
Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim)
I've always wondered why comics STOPPED using Baxter paper. It's probably my favorite comics paper, and I've never understood why people seem to prefer the current glossy stuff.
Thanks for another great installment, Jim. Your blog is becoming addictive.
I wonder if Archie knew about the Epic deception right from the start, respecting the gentlemen's agreement in the spirit that had brought it to life, or if he found out the truth later. Being a pretty sharp fellow, it must have happened pretty quickly. In any case, I think it was a bold move on your part, since it might have backfired… and it was a very decent one too, respecting the dignity of a truly great professional. I'm glad that it worked, and I'm sure Mr. Goodwin appreciated it too.
Louis Porter Jr.
Excellent question, Matt, curious to hear what Jim has to say about it……
Jim, how do you think the Internet would have affected your tenure as EiC if it had been as prevalent then as it is today?
Mr. Shooter, absolutely love the blog– I discovered via a link on the Comics Alliance blog last week, and have been poring over the posts ever since. For someone like me, whose comic book reading began almost exactly with your tenure as EIC (it started shortly before, with the Star Wars adaptations), reading about the man in charge of the company's creative end during the glory days of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc., is incredibly fun.
I have what might seem like an odd request– I was wondering if you might do a piece on the Bullpen Bulletins? When I was a kid, I loved those almost as much as the stories– I thrilled to the idea that I was getting an "inside view" of the place where my favorite entertainment was made, and I still think your Bulletins, with the anecdotes and personal stories (as opposed to just bullet-pointed hype notes) were the best version of that page.
I guess what I was wondering was if there was ever a slight disconnect between the way the page sold Marvel as this wonderfully fun place to work, and the behind-the-scenes turmoil you sometimes had to deal with in your day-to-day job. I hope that doesn't sound disrespectful– I get the sense that even with all the hassles, you *still* thought Marvel was a fun place to be, and I have no doubt it was (I wanted to escape into those Bulletins pages myself, during an awkward adolescence). I guess I'm just wondering more broadly about the role of the EIC as someone who sells the company and its work and creators to a broader public, and what any difficulties or trade-offs with that might have been (I think everyone has to deal with those public/private splits in their workplaces from time to time).
Anyway, thanks for a great blog!
Aaron Scott Johnson
I've become a big fan of this blog in the last couple of weeks and have gone back and read (almost, if not) all of your previous entries. Your tenure at Marvel marks one of my favorite eras of books and I love reading about all of the 'stories behind the stories.'
One I've always wondered about and haven't found much info on was when John Byrne moved from Alpha Flight to the Hulk; I'd love to find out some of the behind-the-scenes on that.
Thanks again for the blog,
Jim, that's really nice of you to mention your appreciation of our comments. Like Mark said this has been a great blog and I never miss an installment. I really love the behind the scene info you give, even the technical stuff is interesting when you tell it.
I remember buying Epic in the 80's. That kind of thing wasn't really my cup of tea but the magazine was SO good, it quickly won me over. Despite Heavy Metal's bigger name, I found the work published in Epic much better quality and way more fascinating. I guess that speaks in favor of Archie's thorough knowledge of comics and his great taste. One of the issues I remember most fondly (and one I need to pick up again) was the Barry Windsor Smith issue. I have rarely seen such remarkably beautiful artwork before or since.
Another Marvel experiment of that time that I am very fond of is Al Milgrom's Marvel Fanfare. If you get the chance I'd love to hear some behind the scene info on this one!
Thanks once again Jim!!!!
Great history here. I know your rep was something of a tyrant and all of that, but all you have to do is look at history and the only three eras that count so far are Stan, yours and Quesada. I started looking through my some of my favorite runs after the Silver Age and a huge number are under your stewardship. This blog got my interest and I checked out other stuff I could find and except for Gary Groth, who seems to really have an unreasoning dislike (to be kind) for you this is a history, the perception from person to person maybe different but the base story is true. Thanks for sharing this material and your recollections of that time. Hell to be 27 and running all of that was amazing.
There was no censorship, or at least none by me. Maybe Archie gave some guidance to creators about what he was comfortable with, I don't know. My "interference" had nothing to do with censorship. You'll see.
Baxter Text paper was, as you said, heavier and whiter. We used 45 lb. Matte finish, though, I think.
I enjoyed writing those Daredevil issues. Fun stuff. I'll get to those when I can. There are some good stories behind the stories.
I thought that EPIC offered almost free reigns to creators so I was really surprised when I found out that there did seemsto have some censorship. Is sisterhood of Steel one of the 2 cases you'll talk about?
I am grateful that you read and reply to our comments. I've been reading blogs for nine years and I rarely see an online community like the one that has formed in your comments section. Singing praises is boring and trolling is just plain unpleasant, but adding and correcting is truly valuable.
There's definitely a market for this kind of writing about the comics industry as an industry.
I wonder what was going through Mike Hobson's mind as he sampled the Marvel product line. I give him points for trying to understand what he was getting into.
Does the fishbowl self-portrait in Archie Goodwin's memo symbolize anything? I'd love to get a book of nothing but his cartoons. Even his lettering is appealing!
I still think of "Baxter" as "new," which tells you about the time warp I've been trapped in for decades.
Gary M. Miller
Nice to see there were at least efforts to get "The Last Galactus Story" finished off but I'm guessing those hopes were dashed when Byrne left for DC in 1986? Anyway, Archie's memo is just terrific. Seems he had a real handle on Epic and loved what he was doing there.
I've never heard ANYONE ever utter a bad word about Archie Goodwin.
The man was, by all accounts, simply the best.
Often had I seen his editorial cartoons and doodles in the frontice-piece of issues and found his humor to be delightful, self-deprecating, and sublimely hilarious.
This one is no exception. "Underwater", indeed.
"Baxter Book"- Another term from the past, dimly remembered.
That was the name of the heavier, whiter, semi-gloss paper, right?
I recall the first set of books that came out on it had very garish coloring, before the colorists adjusted for the brighter ink reproduction…
I'd kinda like to know why exactly Last Galactus was never finished. Simply a case of Byrne losing interest?
What a shame the Last Galactus Story never concluded. Byrne had several return stints at Marvel where he could've wrapped the thing up. At least he finally gave us more Next Men after 15 years or so.
If you're in a taking request mode: any fond memories of your Daredevil stint and the beautifully Janson-inked Kane/Infantino art for those issues? You took the series in a grim direction which in some ways set the stage for Frank Miller later on.