Roy Thomas leaving Marvel? Unthinkable. Almost as unthinkable as Stan Lee leaving Marvel. Seriously. In 1980, it was that big a deal.
If Roy were leaving to go write movies or TV shows or novels, well, that would be traumatic but manageable. You’d give him the big send-off, lots of congratulations, plug his new work incessantly and soldier on without him. The association with him and his newfound success would be good, in and of itself. If he became the next William Goldman or Michael Crichton all the better. Maybe he’d fondly remember Marvel and give us a boost in Hollywood, or come back now and then to do a highly promotable, high profile special project for old times’ sake. If he succeeded on larger stages, wouldn’t that bring more talent to our door…? New writers who saw Marvel as a legitimate step en route to a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
But leaving to go to another comics publisher? Unthinkable.
But it came to that.
Some believe, or would have you believe, that because he was a writer/editor and I didn’t like it I drove Roy out. Steve Gerber and Marv Wolfman, too, for that matter.
That works very well with the Shooter is a megalomaniac theory. I think comics people love to think in terms of heroes and villains. It’s easier to picture me in my dark fortress scheming to satisfy my monstrous ego, cackling “Power must be mine alone!” rather than me in my small, dingy office trying to do my job well and honorably. Easier to imagine the writer/editors as noble, superhuman defenders of their rights and freedom rather than as contract writers, good but still mortal, working with characters that are not theirs, but belong to or are licensed by the company.
And of course, any conflict that arose never had anything to do with the ego of a writer/editor.
They were doing work for hire. That means that the writer has no “rights” either in the ownership sense or the moral sense and no “freedom.” Doing work for hire on characters somebody else owns comes with limitations. Strict limitations at places like Disney, Hanna-Barbera and almost every house with proprietary characters. Marvel’s limitations were far less stringent than most, but applicable to all creators, whether they were writer/editors or not.
So…the rights and freedom these noble superhumans were defending were the rights to do…what? The freedom to do…what? More on that below.
I believed that writer/editor status for the people in question, at least in the situation in question, was a bad idea. I was not alone.
President Jim Galton was never happy with the idea. He thought it was crazy, in fact.
Galton didn’t know much about comic books. I guess he figured this writer/editor business was some quirky comics thing he didn’t grok (not that he would have a clue what “grok” means). He went along with it because the practice of granting former EIC’s that status was entrenched before he arrived at Marvel, and because Stan convinced him it was necessary.
Stan agreed to it in the first place, in Roy’s case, years earlier, because as de facto writer/editor himself for many years, Stan didn’t see it as intrinsically bad, there really wasn’t much of an editorial organization in place at the time and it was Roy, after all.
Once Roy was established as a writer/editor and the world failed to end, it didn’t seem unreasonable to make the next departing EIC, Len Wein, a writer/editor, too. And then, the precedent was truly set. How could you not make Marv a writer/editor if Roy and Len were? It became S.O.P. Why not Gerry Conway, when it was his turn? How could you deny the status to him without the implication that he wasn’t as good as those who came before him? And, was Archie Goodwin chopped liver? I think not.
The odd duck, if you will, was Steve Gerber, the only writer/editor who wasn’t a former EIC. However, along with Val Mayerik, he had created Howard the Duck. Howard was marginal as a publishing property but had developed some cult favorite status that extended as far as Hollywood, and therefore had licensing potential. Somehow, Steve parlayed that into writer/editor status under Archie’s EIC watch.
As recounted in the previous post, though he had started the writer/editor thing, by 1978, Stan started having serious doubts about the writer/editor concept.
There were some comments to the previous posts in this series that cited issues or runs of issues written by writer/editors that were good. The correspondents suggested that somehow these successful efforts proved that sometimes having a writer/editor is perfectly fine. Sometimes an editor is needed, sometimes not.
With all due respect, their books should have been good. All of them, not just some select list. They’re supposed to be the best.
Czeskleba said, ”…there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the issues edited by Archie Goodwin (#1-8) and the ones Gerber edited himself (the rest of his run).”
Regarding that particular example, first of all, I was the editor (as “associate editor,” i.e., line editor) who edited #3-8. The three (!) Editors in Chief during that span, Marv, Gerry and Archie, didn’t see those books till they were in print and may not have read them even then. As I recounted, I made a pretty good catch on #3 and a number of small ones on later issues. Furthermore, though Gerber was writer/editor starting with #9, it made no difference except that Gerber got an extra $100 bucks an issue for being editor. Maybe someone didn’t tell Production Manager John Verpoorten that the books were no longer supposed to pass under my blue pencil, but they did. I still edited the books, all the way through the issue numbers in the low 20’s. Gerber’s writing was mostly very clean and tight. I still caught a few things here and there. I still went over the glitches with Steve. We still never had any problems. Nothing changed.
The quality of the script is not, by a long shot, the only responsibility of an editor. So, who’s doing the rest of it and what if problems crop up? Or, what if the writer/editor himself is the problem? See below.
And if there was a problem with a writer/editor, the only thing you could do was run and tell Stan on them. Stan who was busy with his own projects. Stan who wasn’t in the loop. Stan who didn’t want to get involved in editorial hassles. At all. Ever. Great.
Len left for DC Comics before I became EIC. Gerry also left for DC before I took office. When I came in, the remaining writer/editors were Roy, Marv, Archie and Steve.
Let’s talk about the easy ones first.
Steve Gerber left not long after I started as EIC. One contributing factor was his removal from the HTD newspaper strip for being consistently, badly late. That’s a capital crime. You can’t be late on a strip. He was angry about being ousted, though, which led in part to: factor number two: he was threatening to sue Marvel. If you’re threatening to sue your employer, they probably aren’t going to keep paying you so you can pay your lawyers. He was fired. I couldn’t have prevented it if I had tried.
Archie was a pleasure to deal with. When he delivered his scripts he either brought them to me or gave them to John Verpoorten to give to me. I checked them because he wanted me to. They were impeccable. I couldn’t even find a balloon placement to improve. On only a few occasions, I found a typo. Once, Archie used the word “trooper” to mean a reliable, hard-working stick-to-it type. I told him it should be “trouper.” He thanked me. That was the biggest catch I made. Because he lived in town, Archie could be, and was hands on with cover designs and other responsibilities. The only problem with Archie was that he was slow and always late. But he was reasonable about dealing with that. Archie stopped being a writer/editor in late 1979 when he accepted a staff position as editor of EPIC Illustrated Magazine.
Which brings us to Marv.
Back in those pre-royalty days, creators were paid page-rate only. I was working on putting in place a number of benefits and incentives, and had succeeded to some extent, but the basic compensation for comics creative work was still X dollars per page. And the X wasn’t very big. The top page rate for writing in those days was in the mid-$20 range. One had to write a lot of pages to earn a living.
Marv gave his best efforts to a few, favorite books. Tomb of Dracula, especially. The favorites were his build-the-rep books. The others were the pay-the-rent books. It showed, in my opinion.
So, what “rights,” what “freedom” was Marv defending by insisting that he be a writer/editor? The right to crank out enough pages with words on them, in addition to his writing for his trophy books, to meet his four-book a month (as I recall) quota? The freedom not to be delayed or inconvenienced by an editor who demanded Marv’s best work on all his books?
Those were tough times for comic book creators. Marv wasn’t the only one feeling economic pressure to produce. For too many creators, including some superstar talents and hall-of-famers, it was all about lots of pages to voucher not quality.
Eventually, we made things better. Too late to change the equation re: Marv.
As I stated before, Marv needed an editor anyway to help him sort out his language problems, help him with story organization and avoid those logical tangles he got himself into sometimes, especially while cranking.
I offered Marv the best deal ever offered a writer by Marvel. The money was so good we would have had to give Roy a large page rate increase, too, since he had a nobody-gets-paid-more-than-me clause in his contract. But I said no writer/editor provision.
Marv insisted upon being a writer/editor. I stuck to my guns.
Marv, of course, had an offer from DC, and took it. As I understand it, he wasn’t a writer/editor there either, at first, but I suppose sticking to his guns, sort of, was necessary to save face.
I gather that with the success of Teen Titans, which he co-created with George Pérez, he gained some clout and eventually had some kind of writer/editor status there. Right?
Anyway, he told everyone who would listen that I was the bad guy, I lied to him, etc. By then I was used to being shot at, so no big deal. I didn’t lie to him, by the way. I always told him I’d do my best to work something out, and I did. The deal I offered him would have kept him involved in the parts of the editor job at which he was exceptionally good, and paid him for same. That wasn’t good enough.
Which brings us to Roy.
He’s a whole post by himself. Not for the reasons you think.
I really thought Roy and I had reached an agreement. Actually, we did. Then Roy changed his mind.
Then I got a call from upstairs, from Galton. He said Roy had called him and told him he was quitting to go to DC. And then Galton said, words to the effect: “How Could You Let This Happen?”
By the way, the Roy story is very clear in my mind, largely because I have, and have reread all the iterations of his contracts from 1974 and 1976, plus amendments to same, all versions of the proposed 1980 contract, every letter Roy ever sent to me and many letters he sent to Stan and Sol Brodsky from that time and earlier. Stan passed them along to me.
So, stay tuned.
hey Jim thanks for finaly telling your side of things that went on with the likes of Marv and Roy and even Steve for after all it would have been bad for Marvel to keep him when he was getting ready for a legal fight. be like Marvel sueing itself. and always heard Marv claims about being offered an editors job. thanks for finaly telling your side of things.given the crap and blame you have gotten for so long for those incidents. during your management of Marvel
Dear Rick Dee,
I never offered Marv the job as editor of EPIC Illustrated. I don't know what he's talking about. That's not something I would do. Marv is a brilliant creator and can be an outstanding writer in the right situation, but I never thought Marv's skill set lent itself to editing. I didn't want to retain him as an editor. I wanted to retain him as a writer working under an editor.
No "management" besides me was involved in the contract negotiations with Roy. No one below me either. Just me. Having one's attorney review a contract and even suggest language isn't unusual. Everything I ever agreed to in the contract was in the final version, whether or not I accepted his attorney's language. Roy requested some changes at the end and I swiftly accommodated him. He agreed to everything and signature copies were sent to him. Then he changed his mind.
I didn't lie to him. I didn't "betray" him. I'm sorry he felt that way. But if he agreed to what we came up with, for a while, anyway, why would he feel that way? I always told him we'd find a way to work things out. I thought we did. He, for whatever reason, ultimately backed away and went to DC. That he blamed it all on me isn't surprising. Who else could he blame it on if no one else was involved (except for Galton at that final meeting)? So it goes.
Thanks for the kind words.
Working with Gil is in the queue.
I don't remember the specific inking jam you mention, but undoubtably the book was terminally late and we gang-tackled it. I probably was the one who filled in black areas (the real artists would mark them with a "X"), or outlined backgrounds, or erased the pages, or, most likely, made the gofer runs to the all-night joint for coffee, donuts, soda and chips.
Do you enjoy writing more or being an EIC type?
It depends on the situation. If both are equally good opportunities, I suppose I'd pick EIC because I enjoy "conducting the orchestra" and as EIC, I always found time to do at least a little writing.
Sorry for chiming in so late on this. Maintaining my job, life and obsession with your site is damn near impossible. While I have no use for the socializing anecdotes (hanging out with the boys, softball, etc.), your posts on comics theory, practices and your side of historical business events are extremely valuable.
This business with Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman is no exception. Beyond the viewpoint of having to manage these productive personalities, your account of the page rates is essential to understanding people's actions. The hassles you went through getting rid of the writer/editor status only proves your point. Thanks, thanks, thanks for providing the best blog in comics.
While the boss isn't looking, I'll scan through the replies from your audience.
All the best,
My Comic Book Class
My first impression of New Teen Titans was that it was a DC book done Marvel style– strong characterization, action and sub-plots. Most of the characters weren't really that appealing (Starfire was typical DC and Raven too melodramatic; Cyborg and Changeling completely unconvincing; and Deathstroke's dialogue — ugh!). I only stuck because of the Perez artwork and left when he did. The book wasn't worth the cover price. I tried picking up the reprint issues a year later and was no longer interested.
In Marv's defense, though, he admitted that he had writer's block after Crisis on Infinite Earths — which I think is his major accomplishment.
My enjoyment of Titans largely coincided with Marv being listed as editor, and I dropped the book after a few issues. I always assumed that this meant that some of his ideas weren't getting vetted by anyone else, and thus not being as polished and rounded as what had come before.
According To Marv (probably mentioned in the Teen Titans Companion book), you first offered him the editorial position of Epic Illustrated magazine in an effort to retain him as an editor. Where does this fit in here?
And also, Roy said he'd spent some of his own money on lawyers to revise his contract, with clauses which were not agreed on by management even after you had said it was OK. So, feeling betrayed — specifically by you — he went over to DC.
Thanks and Cheers.
Dear Blok 4,
I'll write about the Avengers stuff soon. I have to do some rereading first.
You are correct. My apologies. Jack was a writer/editor, too. I guess I was focused on thinking about problems with writer editors and there was never any problem with Jack. Jack was always a gentleman.
No problems with Archie, either, of course, but as a former EIC he leapt to mind easily.
Cackle, cackle, cackle….
DDD = Dreaded Deadline Doom, referred to in the comment I was answering.
What did you mean by "No DDD with him [Marv Wolfman] on the case"? What does "DDD" stand for?
The "dark fortress" fantasy would be funny if only some people (not anyone here!) didn't seriously believe that sort of thing. If you had really crushed creativity, how did Bill Sienkiewicz manage to (gasp!) exercise his freedom in the shadow of the dark tower? How did Epic even exist at all? I've never seen your detractors address such questions. No references to a secret resistance movement for arteeeestique freedom within the cold stone walls of the dark fortress.
I am amazed by all the documentation you've kept for so long! All intact after the disaster. Photos so big we can almost feel the paper!
I wonder how many fans these days are aware that Roy was The Man after Stan, the writer who kept X-Men going for years? I've known both those things for many years but didn't know about how he saved Marvel with Star Wars until you mentioned it in a 2000 interview. If you were the villain people say you are, why would you say, "a lot of credit should go to Roy Thomas"?
I really enjoyed Marv Wolfman's eight-issue run of Spider-Woman. He made sure that Jessica Drew was no simple Peter Parker spinoff. The opening scene of SW #1 (IIRC) with her trying to get food from a supermarket was unlike anything I had seen. And Peter thought he had problems! Where did Marv announce "big plans" for the series?
As maligned as Jim Shooter has become, (whether or not it is deserved – as while I AM enjoying his personal narrative here, it is known that every man is the hero of his own story – and I'm NOT saying that he isn't the hero…), but no matter WHAT, Marvel was NEVER as well-run and NEVER produced such top-flight comics than it did under his tenure.
If he were in charge today, with all the advancements of artistic technique, creative opportunities for writers, and production quality, Marvel would be producing solid gold pieces of award-winning awesomeness… ON TIME – instead of a lot of rehashed nonsense.
Great story. Keep them coming.
Jim, really enjoying your blog postings–these are truly valuable historical records of a time gone by and your clear recollections of how Marvel worked (or didn't work) from that era is needed…especially considering all the rumor and innuendo that has cropped up from your term as Marvel EIC. If only Stan had as good a memory as yours! In the future, I hope you'll comment on your various collaborations with artist Gil Kane, including a remarkable run on Daredevil that set a darker tone for the title just before Frank Miller came aboard. Kane considered you one of his favorite writers to work with. I see you credited as one of a gang of artists that inked Kane on a Savage Sword of Conan story that seemed rushed for a deadline. What's the story there?
Jim co-plotted FF # 182 with Len Wein and Archie Goodwin and he co-plotted # 183 with Roger Stern, Ralph Macchio, Len Wein and Roger Slifer. Both issue were written by Bill Mantlo.
Do you enjoy writing more or being an EIC type?
I don't remember FF #200 well. I'd have to reread it. But the FF is very much a relationship-driven book and that's right in Marv's wheelhouse. Marv was extremely reliable. No DDD with him on the case.
While I was Editor in Chief at Marvel I tried to leave the writing to the writers and focus on the EIC work. I had enough to do and we had good writers available most of the time. I wrote things once in a while, when I had to for one reason or another. I guess I never wrote an issue of the FF. Seems to me I plotted one, once. And I wrote the characters in SW II.
"It’s easier to picture me in my dark fortress scheming to satisfy my monstrous ego, cackling “Power must be mine alone!” rather than me in my small, dingy office trying to do my job well and honorably."
You mean something like this.? lol
A dark fortress looms high over the city, a forbidding stone monolith casting a long shadow over all. As black clouds gather, a storm rages, lightning flashes across the sky. Inside the tower, in an opulent penthouse office with polished marble floors and walls of gold we find Darth Jim Shooter, evil overlord of Marvel Comics. He sits on his throne made from the bones former Marvel freelancers and EICs. Kneeling before him is an underpaid, groveling peon of a staffer…
"Wh… what is thy bidding, my master?"
Darth Shooter raises his gnarled and boney hand…
"Rise my underling. We have much work to do. For today, I shall put in motion my plan to eliminate my noble, freedom loving arch-enemies… the writer/editors! Now, go forth and execute 'Order 66'!"
"B… but sir, is that even 'legal'?"
Darth Shooter's thin, purple lips curl into an evil, inhuman grin…
"I'll make it LEGAL! Power must be mine alone! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!"
Man, I'm really digging this latest series of articles. I can't believe you left us today on such a cliffhanger. Can't wait for the next installment.
Mike W. Barr also got in the act– he was writer/editor on The Outsiders/Batman and the Outsiders too. But all of them were only in that brief bubble from '82-'86. After that, DC cleaned house and stopped the practice. Even Miller did The Dark Knight Returns under Dick Giordano and Denny O'Neil.
And there was also Frank Miller, who was allowed to edit himself on Ronin in '83…
DC didn't really "do" writer/editors when Thomas, Wolfman et al came over. Thomas was edited by Dick Giordano (on Arak) and Len Wein (on All Star Squadron), though Thomas insisted in his Alter Ego 100 interview that they were pretty hands off. Wolfman was mostly edited by Len Wein and others.
That seemed to change between '82 and '83. Marv Wolfman with Night Force is probably the first one in '82, and Roy Thomas became a writer/editor on All Star Squadron in '83. Len Wein edited Titans til early '84 when Wolfman and Perez became co-editors.
But the writer-editor experiment didn't last long at DC. By 1986, they stopped having writer/editors. I think the last of them was New Teen Titans which changed over to a separate editor in '87, but during the last dozen or so issues Wolfman was credited as "creative editor" while Mike Gold and Barbara Randall did the actual editing.
Before 1982, Wolfman and Thomas did edit books that they didn't write– Wolfman edited Omega Men (written by Roger Slifer) and Thomas edited Captain Carrot.
Another interesting tidbit (which likely has no bearing on the subject at hand) is that Kirby, Conway and Goodwin were all writer/editors at DC (and Warren, for Goodwin) before being granted that position at Marvel. For Kirby and Goodwin, those periods encompassed some of the best writing of their careers. In Conway's situation, his editing extended only to books he created/revived but he was still edited by Julie Schwartz on the issues of Action, Batman and Justice League he wrote during the same period.
Kirby (who you mentioned helping editorially awhile back) was also a writer/editor who wasn't a former EiC. Listed in the Bullpen Bulletins in the same category as Wein, Wolfman, Gerber etc. Don't forget da King!!!
As I recall, Marv left in a huff and deliberately withheld scripts which were part two of two-part stories, leaving other writers (Mike Barr on Star Trek, David Michelinie on Amazing Spider-Man) to hurredly figure out how to wrap up Marv's storylines. Because of the last-minute scramble for replacement stories, both titles had gotten way-behind on schedules.
Wow, this is so exciting! Can't wait for the next installment! 😀
Blok 4 Prez
Such good stories! Your memory is amazing.
Have you talked yet about your Avengers run (outside of the Hank Pym not hitting Janet thing?) The Korvac Saga was amazing — would love some behind the scenes stories. Why'd The Avengers, one of the premier titles go through so many artists? This led to lots of Byrne and Perez, so a treat for fans, but still odd, given the long runs of other creators on other books at the time.
And I'd love your thoughts on the Avengers Annual #10 which commented on Avengers #200 (which you wrote, of course. And it's great.) You of course approved of the Annual's story even though it critiqued your previous work. Avengers Annual #10 is one of the best issues of the era, so I'm glad you let it go!
I want to say that Marv didn't gain writer/editor status at DC until after Crisis, by which point he would seem to be untouchable. Though, on the other hand, that didn't help him gain any footholds in the struggle with John Byrne over the direction of the Superman revamp. Anyway, Marv also had a string of associate editors on NTT for ages (I assume handling the nuts and bolts of getting the book out). I would imagine it would have been very hard, eventually, for any editor to tell Marv freakin' Wolfman how to write the Teen Titans.
Another guy at DC that had writer/editor status is Cary Bates on the last few years of the Flash. Again, I suspect that by that point, with Bates having written the book for over 100 issues, no one thought they could tell Bates what to do. I always thought DC's stance that Barry Allen needed to be replaced was a bit of an unfair referendum on Bates, whose excellent work seems largely forgotten now.
Flying Tiger Comics
FF #200: the day the dialogue died:
"By Allah! Who be these men?" demanded the burly black African stereotype.
Other than that- the ending and the crumbling statue and so on- freaking cool.
Didn't Marv go out in a blaze of glory, in some kind of fight with Lynn Graeme (and Ralph Macchio?) over the Tomb of Dracula black-and-white? I remember some sort of speechifying about chimps, and a retort in the form of a gag picture of the staff in ape masks, or whatever one did to pictures pre-Photoshop.
Marv didn't get to be a writer/editor at DC until Night Force came along. He and Perez became coeditors of Titans sometime later, about the time the "hardcover/softcover" plan was announced, well after he'd been writer/editor for properties he'd developed like Omega Men and Vigilante (but not, interestingly, Dial H for Hero).
Also interestingly, Marv seemed to have a tendency to "flake" on titles he started at Marvel. announcing big plans, than disappearing early in the run without delivering much. Skull the Slayer and Spider-Woman come to mind. Anything you could tell us in that vein?
Was Fantastic Four #200 the issue where Doctor Doom was going to conquer the world by taking over the United Nations? I certainly don't want to seem to be behaving in a jerkish manner or appear to be looking for a fight, but that is the issue that I stopped buying the FF. I couldn't get past the sheer illogicality of the plot of world domination via a bunch of diplomats who have no personal political power.
That said I often found Marv Wolfman to be a good writer who could certainly spin an entertaining yarn.
I'll just say this- Fantastic Four #200 was the first comic I can recall, and still one of my favorites. (It doesn't hurt that Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott drew the heck out of the book, or that Kirby drew his last FF cover on the book). And Marvel's reprinting those stories this month! Woot!
So I have to ask, Jim- any memories of Marv's FF run? I know that the book had been suffering from the Dreaded Deadline Doom for a while. Also, is it my imagination, or did you not write any FF while you were at Marvel? I always wondered about that.
(And none of this is meant to set up a Jim Shooter vs. Marv Wolfman internet fight- I really loved those comics, and am curious on your perspective. Thanks for this blog- it makes for fascinating reading!)
From memory George Perez and Marv Wolfman became co-Editors around the time the direct market New Teen Titans was launched or maybe a couple months before. I dont think they lasted very long though as George left after the first 4 or 5 issues. I dont have my comics close by so I cant verify exact dates.
I remember thinking that it was strange at the time as I started collecting in 1982 and couldnt recall any creators being writer/editor before
"I gather that with the success of Teen Titans, which he co-created with George Pérez, he gained some clout and eventually had some kind of writer/editor status there. Right?"
Jim, in the "Terror of Trigon" tpb that I have, Wolfman and Perez are credited as "co-creators, co-editors". When the series started though Len Wein was their editor on the book.