That was back in the 1960’s, of course. Readers were pleased and honored to see their suggestions make the “Bits…” section and apparently thrilled if their idea was developed into a continuing character. Seeing your name, your character’s name and five-word description in print was great, and seeing your character developed and appearing on panel, well…that was awesome. Reward enough for your efforts.
“Bits of Legionnaire Business” Excerpts
Well, the suggestions for new Legionnaires continue to pour in from you fans. So here we are, back with a new batch of these “Bits of Legionnaire Business.” This page represents only a fraction of the thousands of ideas that have deluged us. Of these, we’ve selected the ones we liked best – some intriguing “straight” heroes, others wild and kookie. We’ll just pass along the top choices to our writers for possible use in future stories. One word of caution – try to get really original ideas. Many otherwise good heroes were rejected because they were similar to some we’d used before. Send your brainstorms to: BITS OF LEGIONNAIRE BUSINESS, National Periodical Publications, 575 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022, preferably on a postal card. And now for this issue’s collection:
Robert L. Chambers, Caro, Mich. – “Monster Boy can assume any wierd form he chooses.” . . . David Low, Florissant, Mo. – “The Traveler has the power to transport himself and others anywhere he wills, including other time-eras and dimensions.” . . . Rudolph Valentino, Cedar Brook, N.J, – “Inertia Kid can increase the resistance that a body has to moving, and thus render it motionless.”. . . Kim Boyce, Chicago, Ill. – “Pajama Pat can put anyone to sleep for any length of time.”
Billy Brennan, Collingdale, Pa. – “Fingertip Fred can make his fingers as long as he wants. Also, they can drill through stone or metal.” . . . Mark DeWolfe, San Antonio, Tex. – “Cat Kid has the strength of a tiger, the courage of a lion, the speed of a cheetah, the ability to see in the dark – and when he falls, he always lands on his feet.” . . . Paul Miller, Oakdale, Conn. – “Dynamite Dan can make anything explode.” . . . Dan Solla, Freeport, Pa. – “Liquid Lad has the power to turn any solid, unliving thing into any form of liquid.”
Adventure Comics 354, March 1967
Lately, much attention has been given to Jeff Greenberg for his creation of Color Kid, now a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes. It is my sad duty to inform you that he did not create Color Kid. In issue No. 311, Leslie Leibow, of Fairlawn, N.J., sent in Color Kid as a Bit of Legionnaire Business. When will you give credit where credit is due?
-Elizabeth Kane, East Meadow, N.Y.
(We already have, Liz – by crediting the first fan to send the idea in. Jeff’s Bit of Business appeared in No. 309. And speaking of Jeff, read the next letter. -Ed.)
Thank you! Thank you! I am so proud! You have made Color Kid one of your most vivid and exciting new characters. Even though he is only a Substitute Legionnaire, he was the hero of “The Forgotten Legion” (which was one of your best stories in months). And why am I so proud? Because he’s my character – I created him in your Bits of Legionnaire Business column. Well, I’ve made my contribution!
-Jeff Greenberg, Los Angeles, Calif.
(You sure have, Jeff! We fell your boy adds a great deal of color to the Substitute Legion – so there’s no telling when he’ll pop up next. -Ed.)
No, this isn’t a nostalgic yearning for the good old days. I wondered about the propriety of that practice even then. These days, I wonder about news and weather shows on TV that invite people to send in pictures or video. Let’s see, I send you spectacular video that fills air time for you and my reward is seeing my effort on TV, helping you amuse your audience and make your money…. Hmm.
As far as I know, we never used anything without compensation from the submissions and samples we reviewed by the literal ton at Marvel back while I was there, 1976-87. There were some cases in which we saw something, liked it and bought it. The Black Spider-Man costume comes to mind. The correspondent sent in a sample plot in which Spider-Man is given a new, black costume by Reed Richards that has high-tech features. I called the guy up. His plot wasn’t up to professional standards, but I offered to pay him for it anyway, to “buy the idea.” He was very happy with that.
I had no thought about where or when I might want to put Spider-Man in a black costume. I put a note in my drawer. A long time later, maybe a year, I needed an event for Secret Wars and remembered the black costume idea. I figured it was going to be a throwaway bit, something we’d use once.
Developed first by me, then by David Michelinie and editor Jim Owsley (now Christopher Priest), the costume became a character and went on to great things, even being featured in a movie. Though the only thing he contributed to the black Spider-Man costume were, essentially, the two words “black costume,” I think Marvel owes the guy who strung those words together more money.
In another case, woman sent in a plot for a graphic novel. I liked the ideas. She wasn’t ready for prime time, though, but with a great deal of help from the editor and brilliant artist Berni (now “Bernie”—geez, can’t anybody just pick a name and stick with it?) Wrightson, her story saw print and did well. I wonder whatever happened to her. It seemed to me she had great potential.
Once, at VALIANT, an artist named—I’m pretty sure I have this right—Dennis Woodyard showed me samples. I was looking at the drawing more than the content. We couldn’t offer him a gig at that point.
A year or so later, JayJay and I cooked up a new character, Gilad Anni-padda and decided to title the series he would appear in Eternal Warrior. The title was my idea, I believe. Right, JayJay?
(Yep, and his name, Gilad. – JayJay)
When the first ads came out, who should turn up at the office again but Dennis Woodyard. Turned out the art samples he’d shown me featured a character of his own creation, Eternal Warrior.
I had blanked on that entirely. I was unaware that I had used the same name. The characters were completely different by the way.
So, we worked something out. Since our book was already in production and his wasn’t, he graciously changed his character’s name and allowed us to continue with Eternal Warrior in return for some compensation, including free advertising for projects of his. At that point, we were just starting to take off and we still didn’t have much money.
So, I understand why, these days, creators fear losing control of their creations and companies fear legal exposure to the point that they don’t want to see any submissions or samples for fear of an Eternal Warrior situation or worse.
That said, it seems to me sometimes that everyone these days has become a little too paranoid, a little too precious about any little snippet of an idea they might have.
Here’s the nostalgic yearning for the good old days part….
It seems to me that not so long ago, creative people had more of a sense of community. We were very free with thoughts and suggestions, or even pitching in on a creative barn-raising.
Len Wein needed a science fiction-y adversary for an issue of Thor Walt Simonson was drawing. Among those of us drained, desiccated husks hanging around the office late after hours listening to Len and Walt plot the issue was Roger Stern. Rog said, “How about 10,000 chrome armadillos?” Everybody laughed, Walt made a note and the rest is comics history, however improbable.
Another time, I needed a name for an Avengers villain who had control over gravity. “Graviton” said Len, hardly looking up from whatever goofing off he was doing. Len is good with names.
Nobody thought anything of such things.
And now, this….
The success of the first release of the Try-Out Book inspired us to do a second release. We promoted it using “The Great Try-Out Contest.” The idea was that we would sell some books and find great new talent among the winners and best entries.
I’d say it worked. Several of the winners went on to do a lot of work in comics. Here’s the list again:
|Mark Bagley Spider-Man from “What If”|
Winners received this certificate:
I don’t think we ever accomplished the latter. I don’t remember a specific reason why. But, trying to organize a particular group of people to create a comic book falls north of cat-herding on the degree of difficulty scale sometimes. Also, I believe that would have been in 1986, toward the end of my tenure as Editor in Chief, during a time when I was busy battling the greed-monsters of Cadence Management, Inc. who were trying to sell us comics people down the river. My attention was largely diverted.
Years later, in 1994, I believe, I went with my girlfriend to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan called the Ocean Club. We were ushered to the best table in the house (?!) and served complimentary beverages (?!). Then the Maitre d’ or manager—I forget, but, whatever, he was the boss—came over and introduced himself. He was Chuck Duffie, the Try-Out Contest’s winning writer, doing pretty well, it seemed, albeit not in comics.
MONDAY: Heroes for Hope and Why I Don’t Like Oxfam America
The Eternity Man story was in #169, with a Marv Wolfman script, according to the GCD
…Otay, I've got to go back and dig up my scans disk from that run, but ISTR very strongly that there was a fill-in done by Harlan during that period, or maybe slightly before it. A memory jog, then: some corporate one-shot villain tells the Avengers he's going to blow up the world with five bombs. They go off on a goose chase, only to find the *real* bomb they need to worry about is one that's implanted in the guy's chest with a "dead man's switch" installed to trigger the bomb when his heart stops and the trigger determines he's actually died. So the Avengers get the jump on him just enough to toss him into a deep freeze and keep him just enough between life and death to fool the detonator and keep the Earth from going >VWOOMP< before they have a chance to figure out how to shut off the bomb, or at least get him safely off of Earth first. Iron Man refers to him as a "true Eternity Man", referencing the reason the villain was going to blow up the Earth in the first place: he was dying of heart failure, and he was going to take everyone else with him just because he was a spiteful jerk.
…Again, I recall the issue # as 171. If I'm off on the number, chalk it up to OMzheimer's if you must 😛
There was no fill-in issue during the Korvac saga. Harlan Ellison never wrote an Avengers story or anything else for Marvel while I was there. I plotted every issue and substantially doctored up the ones I didn't have time to dialogue myself. Perez couldn't keep up and had to bail at some point so we had to get other artists. I wrote issue #171, dialogue and all.
…Cease Ill was kind enough to flog my memory with this one:
"All I can add is that I just finished Avengers #177 before reading this blog…"
…Jim, can I plow your memory fields on this particular run? IIRC, Avengers #171 had a fill-in issue right after the start of the "Korvac Saga", one that was written by Harlan Ellison. How did this particular fill-in come about? Was George late on the pencils, or was there some other holdup in the arc that require the use of what was probably one of those "backstock" stories you or someone kept in a drawer and held in reserve for such fill-in purposes?
…And, while I'm thinking about it, was this a story Harlan had submitted following the "Soldier" flap on his own accord, or did someone at Marvel actually solicit and purchase from Harlan for whatever reasons at the time?
A post on the Marvel Graphic Novels is coming up soon.
Thanks for the link!
When I first saw Shadow Lass, I assumed she was black (in Earth terms) and 30 years later, I see that Vincent and Rickford originally intended her to be a descendant of blacks from Earth!
I used to assume that Chemical King was a product of Jim's science background. I didn't know that others had created that character.
I've wondered about Timber Wolf's return too.
For those who are interested, Shadow Lass was pitched to Legion editor Mort Weisinger by two friends, George Vincent & Mike Rickford. George wrote about it the very first issue of The Legion Outpost, which was reprinted in The Best of The Legion Outpost in 2004. You can read his comments here:
They also pitched Chemical King, who is also mentioned in the article. Chemical King joined the Legion in the same Shooter story as Timber Wolf, who had previously appeared in Adventure Comics as Lone Wolf.
I've always wondered whose idea it was to bring back Timber Wolf — Shooter or Weisinger? I'm leaning towards the latter, but I guess there's only one person who knows for certain…
What was the rationale for the album format as opposed to the trade paperback format that eventually carried the day? They have even started packaging my beloved Tin Tin comic books in a trade paperback format, albeit with nice, slick paper.
@Marc Miyake: "Amazon.com lists a book by a Charles Duffie …His comics website is kidinc.com."
Ha, talk about a small world! I've collaborated with the artist of Chuck's webcomic, Erich Owen. He drew the Cory Doctorow short story "I, Robot" that I adapted to comics form for IDW.
It's like that six degrees of Kevin bacon game 🙂
I found out about Cinebook shortly after I had finished my two Thorgal hardcovers printed in the mid '80s, and I was thrilled that someone was continuing to translate it. Now I'm picking up a bunch of their books (Largo Winch, Valerian, and quite a few shorter series). I love the work they're doing, and my only minor gripes would be the smaller page sizes for some of the titles, and the fact that some of the images are edited. Still, they do a great job and I'm frequently checking their catalogue for new offerings.
Not really on topic, but I just wanted to relate to Mr. Shooter that the time of my life when I actively read and collected comic books (1978 to 1988) almost exactly coincides with his tenure as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel Comics. I think there's a clear reason for that, although at the time I seldom read the credits so I wouldn't have realized the unifying presence of Mr. Shooter might have accounted for the high quality of most of the Marvel line during those years. Marvel Comics just stopped being fun for me around 1988 or so.
[By the way, I, for one, enjoyed most of the "New Universe" comics, especially
D.P.7 and Psi-Force. I wish they'd reissue the whole line in those neat phonebook editions that don't break the bank.]
Graphic Novel development is in the queue. Thanks.
While we are on the subject of the black and white costume, I was curious if sales went up or down over time when it was introduced. Did the Spiderman titles sell better during months that he wore a red and blue costume or vice versa? I did some back of the envelope calculations:
and I think there might be something to the idea that the color scheme of a costume can boost or lower sales.
It's a bit sad that two of the authors you mentioned (Trillo and Lopez) died in the last few months. Argentina is a hotbed of great comic creators, however, and I'm sure there are many others to take their places.
Chris and Pete,
British company Cinebook has been very sucessful with french-language comic translations recently, but their publications seem to be hard to find in the US. Amazon has them all, though, and I suggest you to look for those books there. Thorgal is one of its biggest series! Here is their catalog:
They are even available on digital format!
I highly recommend material by Argentinian writers such as Trillo, Barreiro, Solano Lopez, and Altuna. They did outstanding things starting way back in the 70s.
I've seen plenty of beautifully illustrated modern French, Spanish and Italian comics around… I wonder why there isn't a market for English translations? Seems like something Dark Horse might consider.
With regards to the French comics, my favorite ongoing French series is "Thorgal." It's a beautifully illustrated series full of fantasy/mythology, and with a dash of Sci-Fi, too. As popular as it is over there, I rarely hear it mentioned on our mostly superhero dominated English-language message boards.
Reading the Korvac tragedy seemed especially poignant this weekend. I'll have to write and reflect and contrast. One can scarcely feel the tables turning as one reads those issues, and what will it ever be like again watching those valiant efforts, with what we have been told in the end?
I DID get MTU #138-141 at Len's, though, so I got the thrill of the black costume's semi-simultaneous debut, finishing a Daredevil/ Black Widow two-parter. Those were the first four issues of anything I'd ever found in a row!
My puzzle of finding comics no doubt relates to a pitfall to be described in the newstand distribution post. Imagine my delight finding each new fountainhead of Marvel Comics…
What a cool analysis of foreign markets!
I started as a collector pretty much the very month the black costume debuted. I got #250, 251, but didn't see #252-3 for a long time, as Len's Quick Shop around the block stopped carrying MTU at the same time. My first comic reader friend in public school caught me up, and Len's did have Marvel Tales and Secret Wars. I'll never forget trying to figure out where in my Mom's errands I could find the issues of Secret Wars first! The magazine rack was my reliable baby sitter for a couple of years where I didn't beg Mom to buy anything.
All I can add is that I just finished Avengers #177 before reading this blog. I found the Ultron adventure inside the Michael plot just text book, as was the characterization of such a huge and growing cast—and the ending ! (I did note some similarities to the Doom v. Beyonder climax; now I see some themes in the last half of Secret Wars first explored in Avengers #167-177.)
The letters page of #181 is a beautiful epilogue, a Greek choir if you will. This was my last stop for now in epic classic comics territory for some time, but it's a nice full circle with my very first comics epic story line experience.
It speaks well to the French character that they would be so curious about other cultures, but it is an unfortunate fact that people tend to focus inward or look to their past rather than abroad when it comes to cultural products, unless of course, the foreign imports can scratch an itch people didn't know they had. I read Asterix, Tin Tin, and the Smurfs as a kid not because they were European, but because nobody in America was producing anything like it at the time. With all due respect to Mr. Shooter's abilities as Editor In Chief, the "Star" imprint didn't cut it, though GI:JOE came close:)
As for Tin Tin in Japan, I saw quite a bit of Tin Tin merchandise for sale at The Loft when I lived there from 2003-2006, so his star might be on the rise in Japan…
You probably won't ever see a japanese Asterix in your life, it was published long ago (during Tezuka's lifetime) and didn't last long.
Tintin, however, is still in print in Japan and seemengly not TOO hard to find if you do look for it. In this blog entry you can see some pics of them: http://comics212.net/2007/12/07/japan-2007-harajuku-part-2-peanuts-tintin-moomin/
(Do note that the original Tintin adventures were indeed published in B&W and formatted the way they are on the books the guy is showing. The oversized color editions we know were created during the War due to paper rationing.)
You can find a few japanese Tintin books even here in Europe! I've seen them on the belgian Tintin stores and the Hergé Museum. Certainly for the benefit of tourists and collectors…
France also produces plenty of new interesting material. Probably more than Korea. Yet pretty much every significant comic in the world has been translated and published in France too. One thing doesn't invalidate the other!
Kevin in ABQ
Don't know if this has been covered, but since it's under your EiC tenure, any history you can provide on the development of Marvel Graphic Novel?
@ Marc & Hunter
I lived in Japan and the ROK for almost half a decade. They don't need to revamp old characters or import foreign comics – they are still producing plenty of new interesting material! Apologies to Mr. Shooter for the threadjack, I don't get many opportunities to discuss economics AND comic books:)
Thanks Jim. I figured it might have led to the creation of a character or something; not that it was an actual band of 10,000 chrome armadillos. I have got to find that story!
Len needed something for Thor to fight. Roger suggested 10,000 Chrome Armadillos. Walt liked the idea and used it.
That Bagley Spider-Man issue ("What If the Alien Costume possessed Spider-Man?") was the first comic book I can remember buying. I'd get up early on Saturday mornings to catch Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, but until then had no idea that the character came from comics. Weird story for someone to jump into comics with, but it must have done something right since I'm still here 20+ years later.
Manticora Comics: I find it funny as heck that Tony Isabella tries to call Shooter a liar for a story that depicted Isabella as ill-tempered by posting an angry ill-tempered, screed.
In my experience, Isabella is one of the rudest human beings on the face of the earth and his treatment of others is probably the single biggest reason he gets little, if any, work in the field.
Isn't BBT a Warner Brothers TV show? If so, you won't be seeing a Marvel shirt anywhere near it. I still remember the time that the Drew Carey excised all references to Trekkies in a script and made them Babylon 5 fans instead for the same reason.
The tale of TSR and meeting with Gary Gygax is in the queue. Thanks.
You're right, Mars! It does seem like Sheldon would admire the brilliant scientists and plucky inventors of Marvel. Maybe they made him like DC because of the t-shirts. DC does have better t-shirts. And Sheldon definitely wears the best t-shirts on TV. I've even seen fan web sites with links to where you can get Sheldon's shirts.
Dear Mark and Hunter,
I speak and read Japanese, have lived in Japan, have been reading untranslated manga since the 80s, and translated manga professionally for Dark Horse for a few years. So I am aware of the many differences between manga and American comics. However, this is a blog about Jim Shooter, not comics in general, so I merely wanted to respond to Jim by pointing out that manga don't follow the "operatic" model that holds American comics back. I wrote that "Nostalgia does not drive the manga industry" and by that I meant manga is not dominated by 50-70-year-old characters. Revamps do exist but are the exception to the rule.
Hunter, to prove your point, I have never even seen Japanese editions of Asterix or Tintin but have seen Tintin in Chinese. I saw almost no Western comics in Japan in the 80s and 90s. I completely missed out on VALIANT apart from Magnus #1 which I bought shortly before moving there.
South Korea is even more of a closed market, and not just for comics. Google and Amazon have yet to make it big in South Korea, and there was apparently no interest in American comics at a recent manhwa festival. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this blog.
Reading Marvel comics as a youngster never made me want to grow up to be a writer or an artist. Never had that ambition. However, Marvel comics did make me want to be a scientist. Only scientists were caught in the heart of a gamma bomb explosion, bomabarded with cosmic rays or bitten by a radioactive spider. Hey, it made sense to this eight year old.
Anyway, I did grow up to be a scientist. So I have to thank Stan Lee for playing his part. Sad to say that I never invented flying boots and repulsor rays.
Random thought – Does anyone else think that Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory should be more Marvel than DC? It makes sense that Sheldon's heroes would be Reed Richards, Hank McCoy, Henry Pym, Tony Stark, Peter Parket, Bruce Banner, Professor X and Victor Von Doom (but he would agonise over the last choice). DC can only offer Barry Allen.
I fuzzily recall reading years ago where one British comic writer described two of his colleagues approach in coming up with new ideas.
One writer would not read any comics and novels in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror/superhero genre. Old or new. So if he did come up with an idea that already had been done before, he could truthfully say that his was created independently and had not been influenced by a prior publication.
Whereas the other writer would go out of his way to read every comic and novel in all genres. Any ideas he came up with that were similiar to what he had read before were discarded so leaving only his truly original ideas.
The writers were never revealed, but I always thought the latter had to be Alan Moore.
What is the reference to the 10,000 chrome armadillos?
I found a response – of sorts – from Tony Isabella, in his blog, about something Jim wrote of Tony's Behaviour at Marvel…
Hey Pedro, thanks for that info –very interesting!
I used to read Tin Tin and Asterix as a kid, before I discovered Marvel. Still have complete sets of them.
We didn't really have newstands where I grew up, but I bought my comics off of the long, circular racks that seemed to be in almost every store long before I was old enough to go down to the local comic shop by myself. the ubiquity of comics everywhere, thumbed-through issues with pages torn from kids running their hands down the side of the racks, had a lot to do with me getting entranced by the form and learning to read it, and getting to know the layouts of the various universes to make sense of the stories without knowing the whole continuity. I can see where newspaper (and grocery store, etc.) distribution would be nightmarish, but that gateway seems important & i don't know if the kid I was would find that gateway today.
I'd be interested in hearing anything about the relationship between TSR (the makers of D&D) and Marvel during the time they made the Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Any insight into why DC and not Marvel ended up with the D&D comic licenses would be great.
"It would be interesting to see what Japanese publishing execs would say if they were asked about DC's New 52. I am sure none would be interested in licensing a single title for the Japanese market."
There is FAR more to it than just that, Marc.
You know Asterix, right? It is the best-selling comic series in the world. Sold more volumes than either Dragon Ball or One Piece (dammit, probably more than issues of Amazing Spider-Man, we are talking 360 MILLION books sold!).
When it was published in Japan, it was by initiative of Osamu Tezuka, his own self, who saw the quality of the material and wanted the japanese people to read it.
And what happened when the best-selling comic series in the world was released in Japan under the blessing of the country's most famous comic author?
It failed. Miserably! Sold even less than in the United States…
The japanese people seem to have resistance to the western comic formats and language. The only western comic to have some measure of sucess in Japan, as far as I know, is Tintin. And by some measure I mean just that it sold enough to be published entirely in the country, while most others are cancelled well before that. Nothing like the millions of books Tintin sells every year in China even to this day!
(As an aside, in the Olden Times american strips like Bringing Up Father were hugely sucessful in Japan, but that happened well before the modern manga industry got established.)
So that's not a question of diversity of material (the europeans can easily give the japanese a run for their money on the subject), quality or any other factor. It's hard to sell a western comic – ANY western comic – in Japan.
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)
Excellent point about attracting people who aren't necessarily fans. They wouldn't be beholden to the prison that is continuity.
I've always felt that a good concept can provide enough to generate good stories in the hands of a dedicated professional. I look at the work of Gaylord DuBois, Carl Barks, Paul S. Newman, Mark Evanier, Robert Kanigher and Gardner Fox and others and see that they wrote to the concept. They weren't trying to make PERSONAL statements. It seems every time that a new writer takes over a book they feel that they have to make it THEIR book.
Concepts have been distorted and, in some cases, ruined. There is no need for this. But why do the editors allow this to happen? Sometimes a person just wants a good adventure.
Many might say that characters have to grow. To that I say: Fred Flintsone didn't change much, other than to experience fatherhood. Donald Duck is still the same duck in today that he was forty or more years ago.
Perhaps many will find me old fashioned but I have to say tonight I'll be reading "Space Family Robinson" and enjoying a story well told within the concept. Nothing wrong with that.
As I understand it, Siegel and Shuster tried three times to reclaim the rights to Superman and failed or settled for little each time. Neal Adams led a PR campaign that shamed DC into giving the two some money and recognition when the first modern Superman movie came out in 1978. The Siegel and Shuster estates recently sued for rights to Superboy and got some traction there. I don't know exactly how that came out, but favorably for the estates, I believe.
Newsstand distribution is a special kind of nightmare. I'll do a post on it soon. But, conceptually, you're right. In my days at Marvel we thought of the newsstand as the "gateway," the wide net that would get us new readers who might become interested enough to seek out a comics shop.
Dear World Famous,
Now that you mention it, Graviton does look like Nefaria.
Haven't seen the Avengers cartoon.
I think it was Paul Levitz who said that, in decades past, comic books were written by writers, whereas now there are comic book writers.
But on the other hand, look what happens when so-called writers write comic books.
Thank you for sharing those stories. Enjoyed a glimpse behind the comics curtain.
Anyway, I think the root of the current malaise affecting the comics industry is the talent itself. Too much current comics talent are comic book fans. I think Alan Moore commented on this issue, but I don't have an URL handy.
Basically, the comics industry needs to recruit new talent, both creative writing and art, people that aren't necessarily fans of the comic book genre. Even if Jim's ad hoc observations about Stan Lee are correct, it further validates my point. Stan Lee wanted to break into newspaper syndication. (I think Stan wanted to be in movies… and he's living the dream now, i guess!) This man totally reinvented the comics industry in the 1960's.
Having fresh, new talent in the industry creating new characters and genres will revitalize the comics industry a little bit, and perhaps even bring in a new generation of fans to keep it viable for years to come.
That';s just my two bits; I last stopped reading comics in 1995. I'm an old LSH fan, and stumbled on Jim at Twitter.
'click through disclaimer'.
I'd hate to think I'd upload something, however remote, that might be worth a fortune. Even the kernel of an idea can be mined from an upload and with all the rights lost…what a frightening thought.
"Comic books have become like opera. You go to see a particular performance of an old story, not a new story. How will this performer handle that familiar role…?"
This is so true Jim. It seems like no one is inventing new characters or ideas with any lasting impact, just variations on previous themes and offshoot "legacy" characters and titles. I think it has to come from the underground. As an indy publisher, I'd like to think I try to bring some originality to the table, but it's been my experience that most people want the same old rehashed crap they've been fed all their lives. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone come to my table at a convention, pick up one of my comics (many of them dollar ashcans), and tell me my idea's are brilliant while they're smiling ear to ear. This is usually followed by the statement that the idea would make a great movie, followed by them dropping the comic on the table and walking away without a second thought. Admittedly, I'm not the greatest salesman, but Christ on a cross! What's a poor creator have to do?
Speaking of fan creations; when 'The New Universe' was advertised, I immediately wrote Stan Lee a letter and mailed it to the Marvel offices. I didn't know at the time what 'The New Universe' would be, but I suggested to Stan that it should be a completely fan created universe (I think I might have been 16 or 17 at the time). Even then, I knew the idea might be a little sticky from a legal standpoint, but I suggested that the fans sign wavers figuring the prestige and recognition alone would be enough to usher in a new era for comics. I only dreamed I'd here back from The Man.
But low and behold, I eventually received a letter signed by Stan himself- specifically, a No Prize, thanking me for my interest in Marvel. This confused me as my suggestion did nothing to meet the criteria for a No-Prize. Someone at the time suggested to me it was probably just a form letter signed and mailed off by his secretary. Although I was thrilled to be acknowledged for my efforts, I was a bit disappointed
A few months back Renee Witterstaetter mentioned something on facebook about working directly for Stan, and it would have been around this time. I asked her if the signature could be hers, and she said, no, it was most likely signed by Stan The Man himself.
So because of 'The New Universe', I have an unearned No-Prize somewhere in my archives, and a bit of a unanswered mystery. Perhaps this was a common practice at the time. What really matters is a reply was sent to a young wide eyed teenager, and now all these years later, I have my own little Marvel tale to tell.
I thought about that, Marc, and I think companies like Marvel have had disclaimers like "all submissions become the property" of Marvel Comics. But I guess there is a gray area when submitting by mail, because what if the person who mailed it in claims they never read the disclaimer? They could be asked to include a signed copy of it, but by the time the company opens the package to look for it, they've already exposed themselves and the document might not be in there.
In the digital age, though, it does seem like it would be easy to force people to sign that document through an online submission. However, what if the submitter is under 18? I'm not sure if the law would allow people that young to legally enter into a contract. So you might need a way to verify age as well.
It seems like a strange time for intellectual property. I'm still trying to figure out how WB/DC is at risk of losing certain aspects of the Superman rights. If they were that vulnerable, why did Siegel and Shuster not make an attempt to claim the rights before? Isn't there a statute of limitations on this type of thing? To me it seems to introduce huge chaos into the system for a company to lose the rights to something they thought were secure for 75 years.
I believe Jim is right that companies seem to be more vulnerable to these type of lawsuits than ever before. It's ironic that while some claim this sort of legal success at dismantling the corporate ownership of some characters is helping creators, it has this side effect of making it harder for new creators to break into the industry.
I work for a media company that accepts user video submissions. Before they are able to upload them, we provide them with a "click through disclaimer" that states they are giving up their rights to the material via the very act of uploading.
I'd like to get your view point on something.
It seems that, partly, one of the reasons for low sales in the comic book industry is the shrinking number of comic book specialty stores.
I know next to nothing about the topic, but should publishers perhaps consider going back to the news stand market?
I remember an interview years ago with the publisher of Archie Comics who said the bulk of their sales came from the news stand market which (from memory) outsold anything that Marvel or DC sold in the direct market.
I know the main reasons for the downturn in sales these days have more to do with inaccessibility, the constant reinvention of existing concepts and the lack of innovation for new ones, but I'd very much like to hear your thoughts on this.
Could they possibly bring back some readers through the news stand market?
The name of the kid who sold Marvel the black costume idea was Randy Schueller. I can see a good argument for giving him a cut of the merchandise sales based on the black costume. I believe Jim said that's what some creators were given on characters they created at Marvel. Whether they got that credit for a costume change too, I don't know. But the black costume has been consistently available as merchandise like action figures even when it wasn't being featured in the comic books. I would guess that the costume's financial benefits to Marvel were eventually a bigger factor in merchandise sales than comic book sales.
Randy Schueller posted an article online in 2007 about the black costume story he sent in and included a scan of the letter Jim sent him. Apparently there was some publicity about this when the movie Spider-Man 3 came out. Randy is definitely still a comic-book enthusiast. He says Marvel didn't do anything wrong and he doesn't want any money but would like an acknowledgement in the letters column of Amazing Spider-Man that he came up with the costume idea.
The black costume was the big story when I started reading comic books in the mid-'80s right after Secret Wars concluded. I always loved the costume. I was even disappointed to see Spidey go back to blue and red permanently. I liked the brief period when he would switch back and forth between both costumes. That was definitely one of the rare times when a new costume redesign was every bit as good as the original even though it was radically different.
The graphic novel Spider-Man: Hooky came out right around that time too and was probably the first graphic novel I got. It was one of my favorite Marvel publications at that time. Seeing Spider-Man enter that fantasy world with the breathtaking art by Berni Wrightson was really exciting. I also thought Susan K. Putney had been brought in as an established science-fiction writer since she wasn't a regular comic book writer. I never would have guessed she got the gig through a submission.
@Phillip–I'm not that worried about the Avengers movie, and in fact I'm really looking forward to it. For one, the cast is superb, but more importantly, it's being written/directed by Joss Whedon, whose love for the characters is very apparent. He had a smart run on X-MEN a few years ago, and more importantly, his BUFFY and ANGEL television shows (to say nothing of the online DR. HORRIBLE musical) display an imagination deeply shaped by the Marvel of Jim's EICship. Even if Whedon hadn't talked a lot about Claremont and Byrne's X-MEN as a seminal thing of his teen years, the smart and empathetic plays with the superhero genre in his shows feel a lot like Marvel in its prime. And I think that will probably show up in the AVENGERS film.
(MikeAnon:) Wow, I guess this blog post has only been up a few hours, but I was certain someone else would have mentioned this before me: "Dial 'H' for Hero" — DC's Adventure Comics series about a boy and girl who find two "hero dials" that, if you dialed "H-E-R-O" on them (yes, this was back in the days of rotary phones), they would change you into superheroes whose names and concepts were submitted by readers! Never the same superheroes twice. Used to love that series. Someone later gave the idea an evil twist: "Let's see what happens if you dial 'H-O-R-R-O-R' on it!" I can't recall, but I don't think that experiment ended well.
Yes, I too had read that the original intent behind Spider-Man's costume was that it was red and black, and I like it best when the areas originally black are either shown as black with blue highlights or a darker shade of blue. To my eyes, many 70s comics, in particular, went for too pale a shade of blue, tastes may vary. As for blue highlights on black costumes, of course the same were applied as time went on to the black Spidey costume as well.
Even though I wasn't a HUGE comic collector as a kid (living in Ireland, where the original US comics just weren't readily available, at least not outside of Dublin or Belfast: were it not for Marvel UK titles, I'd possibly only have known the likes of Spidey or the Hulk from TV), just looking at ANY 80s Marvel comic, even if I've never read the series, makes me nostalgic…despite the different artists, and their different approaches, there was a visual "house style" that shines through, and speaks to me in a way that 70s Marvel, say, does not: this is purely a function of age/exposure to comics, of course.
@ Marc Miyake
There is one crucial difference between American comic books and Japanese manga that explains the disparity in sales: diversity of genre. Most American comic books that aren't superhero related are a lot like the parsley in a Happy Meal. Definitely an afterthought and not the main course. Howard Chaykin's sequel to the Black Kiss is the first comic book since Frank Miller's DK2 that I am as eager to read as a new novel by Mark Haskell-Smith.
We had no policy RE: shaking things up, but our creators were irrepressible….
World Famous Psycho Chicken
Jim a question about Graviton.
Did you ever notice what a great resemblance Graviton had to the Super Powered Count Nefaria? To this day I still do a double take when I see him.
And have you seen the Avengers cartoon?
I discussed the blue/black phenomenon in comics coloring on my own blog a few years ago. (http://thewastebasket.blogspot.com/2005/03/black-and-blue.html)
Here is a relevant excerpt:
In 'Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution' by Ronin Ro, the long-running Spider-Man artist and Marvel art director relates a conversation he had with Stan Lee, when television executives were demanding changes in Spidey’s costume for the 1977 live-action TV show. Fearing the blue areas of the costume would interfere with the blue-screen special effects shots, they wanted it changed to red and black, which upset Stan Lee for some reason.
“‘You know, there’s nothing wrong with Spider-Man being black,’ Romita told [Stan Lee]. He was actually supposed to be red and black in the comics. The blue appeared on his costume as highlights because artists didn’t want him to resemble a cardboard cutout. But over the years, artists started leaving him ‘open for color,’ which led to zealous colorists filling these empty spaces with lots of blue. ‘So it evolved into a blue-and-red costume, but he was supposed to be black and red originally,’ Romita explained.” (p.192)
It obviously wouldn't work for story ideas, but couldn't publishers avoid such legal problems with regard to art submissions if they specified that artists must use a previously published story as the basis for their samples? Or to have a standard plot (such as the "Double Vision" story mentioned previously)that all submissions are required to use? Perhaps an intern could open the submissions, weed out any not conforming to those requirements, and pass the rest on to editorial. Not a lawyer, but it seems like there must be a common-sense solution to that problem. I think it's just that Marvel and DC have gotten big enough that they don't need to bother with submissions from fans. Now their attitude appears to be, "don't call us, we'll call you — after you make a splash in the shallow end of the pond." The "legal exposure" thing sounds like an excuse to explain not doing something they just don't want to waste their time doing — without alienating the aspiring creators among their paying customers.
@diacanu: Agreed- I didn't surrender. it was more of a strategic retreat and a marshalling of forces into other area. I never gave up drawing, and I still spend odd moments of my time retrofitting characters from various eras the way I'd like to see them done. I think that all of us who have comics as part of their lives spend some time doing that. And, given the changes in intellectual property law, and the way that thinking about intellectual property has changed over the last few decades, I think that's a very interesting component of the medium. The format itself requires us to fill in the spaces between panels, its natural that it would carry over into the rest of our lives.
Thanks for checking so quickly. It sounds as if my first two attempts ended up in the spam filter whereas the two-part version apparently hasn't, even though the content is 99% the same. Strange. I guess you permitted the first two versions to appear after all. I deleted them just now since they're redundant.
I haven't experienced Disappearing Comment Syndrome in a while, so I panicked. Sorry about the duplicate postings. I'll let you know if any comments of mine vanish in the future.
Don't worry, I didn't take your comment as being critical of the original Spider-Man costume. I was just throwing in my two cents on the two outfits. Liking one does not necessarily entail disliking the other.
I've read that the original costume was supposed to be red and black, and that the blue was just a highlight (cf. Superman's hair which really isn't blue). I wish I remembered what the source for that was.
IIRC, the spider on Spider-Man's back was blue in Amazing Fantasy #15, though that was changed in reprints, along with the occasional "Spiderman" (sic) in the lettering.
I wonder if Steve Ditko had any say in the coloring. Or was it all up to Stan Goldberg? In any case, I guess Stan Lee had the final say.
Maybe if I saw the art I'd remember something about Tomoyuki Takenaka. As is, I'm drawing a blank.
As I'm sure others will note, Doug Hazelwood went on to do much work at DC around the time of the Death of Superman. Good timing on his part 🙂
RE: Penciler/inker combinations: For varied reasons, some pairs worked together frequently, some didn't. Terry Austin was busy with other things, but could usually fit in a Cockrum cover. Pablo Marcos and Sal Buscema were both overbooked. It worked best when two guys made it a point to work with each other. It wasn't always easy coordinating everyone's schedules.
Oh, agreed, when they remember not to make the blue too pale, Spider-Man's original costume is a timeless classic, I wouldn't wish my comments to be misinterpreted to the contrary. It's just that, as you say, the black costume is so simple, so stark and minimalist yet stunning, it's one of the best alternate looks for any superhero that I can think of, up there with Wolverine's 80s outfit (which I think is his best costume)…it's just a shame that the black costume is as tied in with the whole Venom thing as it is, or they could have Spidey dig it out now and again without risking confusing people.
On the subject of costume changes, I was reminded of the following link:
Now, I realise the "Captain" costume came either just after your time or at the very end, but was it deliberate policy to shake up the status quo of so many big hitters of the Marvel Universe (and also the Fantastic Four line-up changes etc), if only slightly, to gain more publicity, or is it just coincidence (I appreciate that the only change on that link for which you were directly responsible was the adoption of a black costume for Spidey, due to you writing Secret Wars)?
I just checked the comments spam filter and found like 4 comments in there from different people. People who have posted before, too. Very puzzling. I will try to remember to check it more often, but if you have comments disappear again, let me know!
Your opera analogy is right on. There is no inherent reason there can't be new operas. Similarly, there is no inherent reason there can't be new comics universes. I grew up loving your Legion, and as an adult I admire you even more for creating one new universe after another with help from JayJay and many others. Nostalgia did not fuel VALIANT, DEFIANT, and Broadway … or a little line of comics at Marvel 50 years ago.
Nostalgia does not drive the manga industry. According to Wikipedia,
"manga have steadily become a major part of the Japanese publishing industry, representing a ¥406 billion market in Japan in 2007 (approximately $3.6 billion)."
whereas US comics are a $635 million market in a country with 2.4 times more people than Japan. $3.6 billion is almost six times $635 million.
I hear excuses about why American comics are in decline: e.g., video games, Internet, etc. But Japan also has those things. So there's no excuse.
Arvell Jones wrote,
"Well, after a very good meal at a very fancy restaurant with the publishers and presidents from many different companies ranging from what I understand were anime companies, manga publishers, and maybe game/toy companies, we [Americans] were asked to sit and have a round table discussion […]
"Then, all of a sudden one of the big shots from the publishers stood up and started yelling at us in Japanese. The interpreter (Fred Shott [= Schodt]) wrote down as much as he could and then turned to us and said, 'He wants to know why don't you grow your market!?!'"
That was back around 1993.
I still want to know why American comic publishers won't grow their markets almost 20 years later.
It would be interesting to see what Japanese publishing execs would say if they were asked about DC's New 52. I am sure none would be interested in licensing a single title for the Japanese market.
(My apologies for reposting in case someone has seen my two earlier attempts at posting that have disappeared. I am splitting this post in two. Perhaps it was too long to remain online.)
All these years I assumed you created Shadow Lass entirely on your own. I wonder if that "Bit" that suggested her saw print.
The mystery behind the writer of Hooky has been solved at last!
So many people come and go in comics, including myself. I see a name that appears only once, like Tomoyuki Takenaka (who drew a story you wrote for Marvel Team-Up #126), and wonder who that person, and whatever bcame of them. At least you knew Chuck Duffie had a happy ending as of 1994.
(Thanks to PC for looking up Susan Putney! I can't find anything on that site with a date later than 1999. Maybe it hasn't been updated in a long time. In any case, I'm glad to see that she was still creating years after Hooky appeared.)
Amazon.com lists a book by a Charles Duffie with a "real name" review by a "C. Duffie 'Chuck D'" — the author himself? comicssherpa.com describes the author as "a writer and graphic designer in Southern California." His comics website is kidinc.com.
I love both of Spider-Man's costumes. The original costume is Steve Ditko's permanent contribution to American mythology. The black costume is a model of simplicity and makes total sense for nocturnal adventures. In 1988, I designed a similar black costume for Batman. Now I'm envisioning a black Robin costume with a white bird emblem.
* * *
OT, but I've posted a long comment twice here and it's disappeared twice. Are anyone else's comments disappearing?
Unlike Phillip above, when I first saw Spidey's black costume (it would have been a year or two after it debuted, the cloth version), I was blown away by the look of the thing: can remember having a conversation with a friend about how cool it looked. Looking back, it's interesting to wonder what stories such as "The Death of Jean de Wolff" or, especially, "Kraven's Last Hunt" would have been like had Spidey been in his red and blues, as I feel the black costume really forms part of the aesthetic of these two stories in particular.
Ah…Graviton. My twin brother & I read it on our tenth or eleventh birthday. I forget. Your run on the Avengers was (is!) probably the greatest continuous run ever, on a conventional superhero story.
There were so many 'bests'. Possibly Marvel's greatest superhero battle (I can only think of one other that's close), for Wonderman vs the Vision. George Perez' best ever artwork, up to that point, in the Antman story. Nefaria was at least as good as anything Byrne did with the X-Men. And, then, the Korvac Saga. Part of what made your stories so good was your use of multiple viewpoints. You'd show the situation from the point of view of one character, then switch, allowing the reader to see it from the perspective of another. You showed Iron Man's protective attitude towards his team-mates, almost as if they were his employees at Stark International, and how this grated on veterans, like Captain America (re: when Iron Man was going to overload his armour's limits, to take down Nefaria on his own).
I'm absolutely dreading to see what a mess Hollywood makes of the Avengers. They ought to use your run, as a template.
The Black Spider-man, however, didn't work for me. As Spider-man is the first character one latches on to, as a kid, altering him that radically…well. I suppose it worked for many other readers.
One thing I really wanted to ask you is who decided which inkers were assigned to which artists? It always puzzled me that Cockrum & Austin did so many spectacular covers, yet Dave Cockrum was never assigned Terry Austin for the work he did for stories inside the comics. Likewise, Sal Buscema was absolutely fantastic with Pablo Marcos – Wonderman vs the Vision, Graviton – but Sal & Pablo were only paired up on one other occasion. So why weren't the most successful combinations used more often?
I'm absolutely loving the blog. It's like having one of your childhood heroes speaking to you almost every evening.
"So…thanks for weeding me out!" LOL!
Sounds a little defeatist to me. There could be new, good, long-lived characters and series again. It would take better creative leadership and better creative work in general. And publishers with some guts, brains and oh, yes, money.
It seems to me right now that it's the creators who are mired in nostalgia. Even with creation incentives, they still want to do endless permutations and recyclings of old ideas. No wonder the readers are aging and "recognition" is a factor. What else is there?
Comic books have become like opera. You go to see a particular performance of an old story, not a new story. How will this performer handle that familiar role…?
Lol, screw that, I draw like shit, and I ain't ever giving up. 🙂
Christ, look at South Park, they started with friggin' construction paper.
Never give up, never surrender.
Add me to the list of people for whom the tryout book was an effective weedout. I had been drawing superheroes since 3rd grade, had started inventing my own since I wasn't able to match the work of artists that I liked, and had, by the time I was 12, invented my own fictional title/company: Atomic Comics. I think that I stole and remade a bunch of golden age characters to populate it after immersing myself in Steranko's History of the Comics. A few years after that I was working out fairly ambituous rewrites of my favorite characters, which I'd work out in my head while mowing the lawn and then sketch during class time.
The tryout book helped me realize tho that, whatever skill and imagination I might have, I didn't have the patience that it took to take part in this enterprise, especially since no one was going to hand me the keys to Spider-Man right away.
I know that this wasn't the intended effect of the tryout book, but it was, although a little disapointing at the time, actually very helpful in terms of moving me towards a more realistic appraisal of my strengths and desires. So…thanks for weeding me out!
If it's the same person, Susan K. Putney wrote a SF novel in 1972 named "Against Arcturus". It was later released as an Ace Double Novel with Dean Koontz's "Time Thieves".
I also found this:
The Berni Wrightson-drawn Spider-Man graphic novel must have been "Hooky"? I remember it coming out to some fanfare at the time (1986, a web search reveals), and picked it up, having never heard of the writer (Susan Putney) before or since. Some really lovely artwork. The story was pretty good, it felt similar to the sorts of fantasy things Chris Claremont would do from time to time in the early 80s. An enjoyable read. I might even still have a copy, I'm not sure.
Given that the Marvel Graphic Novel line seemed like a series of pretty special works (not every one hit the mark, but they seemed generally more worthy of the special treatment they received than, say, your typical Marvel Fanfare story), I wondered who Putney was, whether she was some name author from another medium I wasn't familiar with who had pitched the story. Sounds like not.
(Today, seeing the uneven – to say the least – results of comics written over the last decade by "name authors from other media", that she was an unknown seems like a *good* thing!)
I remember buying the Try-Out Book back when, too. When I got around to tackling it (probably after the contest had ended) I felt I was a passable inker, and pretty lousy at everything else. Probably why I ended up in a different line of work. 🙂
In this account about creative types sharing ideas, I remember Marv Wolfman mentioning that Harlan Ellison called him up to throw him an idea concerning Kid Flash for New Teen Titans.
Since the coming of Image Comics, I really haven't seen original characters that are company-owned. There may be a few exceptions, of course, but overall, nothing new and nothing that really lasts.
Take DC's Power Company book of a few years back, for example — new and old characters, good writer, good artists, yet it only lasted 18 issues. But if the book had been named Infinity, Inc. would it have lasted longer? The only comic book readers are the aging fan base and recognition and nostalgia are mostly the only factors.
What do you think?
Ah, the road from submission to working in the industry… a tricky one indeed. My own Marvel submission story goes like this:
Sophomore year of college (1985) I decide that I want to be a comic book writer. I come up with an idea for Spider-Man. A far reaching, sweeping, "let's update this guy" idea that saw Peter Parker… well, let's just say doing some different stuff. After sending it to Marvel, I got a letter from Jim Shooter (rather quickly, as I recall). The gist of the letter was "we buy stories usually, not far-reaching ideas. But in any case, what you present here are things we would never consider doing with Spider-Man. But we'd love to see an actual story idea – a one issue plot idea."
Armed with that advice, I sat down and wrote up a one issue idea for… Teen Titans. Sent it to then Titan's editor Marv Wolfman*. Got a quick reply back: my envelope unopened with return to sender on it with a hand-written note from Marv on the back. The gist was "I can't open this and look at it. I also write the Teen Titans and cannot expose myself to your idea without risking legal problems."
Okay… Marvel wants stories, DC wants to avoid lawyers…
Fast forward a bit, and Mark Gruenwald is editing Solo Avengers. I send him a letter with a couple of plots; 1 paragraph story ideas. I get back a "not quite there letter" for the ideas with a little "but you're right on how to submit, so let's see more" note.
I send Mark more. Get a letter back. Gist of it is "Idea 1 I didn't like, Idea 2 not quite there, Idea 3 I would buy if I didn't already have 2 stories in the drawer for that character. Send me more."
At the same time I sent some ideas to DC again, directed at editors that did not write monthly titles.
Never heard anything back.
And for irony?
I later ended up on staff at DC, and asked a few of the editors about those ideas I sent. The response was always a pointed finger at a pile of unopened submissions.
Oh well, I suppose that's the difference between learning to edit under Shooter and just trying to compete with him.
* Another irony – a few years later, I was Marv's editor on some work he did for Viz Comics, and we've been friendly ever since.