Wednesday, July 10, 2013

True or False: Jim Shooter's Policies as Editor in Chief at Marvel Drove Away Talent and Diminished the Quality of the Books


23 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

This should be an interesting discussion - Shooter certainly is a lightning rod for all kinds of sharp opinions and comments on the internet.
Personally, I find it hard to draw a clear line and unequivocally say 'true' or 'false' to this question, because I think it depends on what part of his tenure as EIC we're talking about. However, I'm going to go with false. Mainly because although a lot of good talent may have left Marvel around the time that Shooter assumed the top editorial post (sometimes for reasons that probably had little to do with Shooter himself), other talented creators absolutely flourished and first acquired superstar status during his "reign": Frank Miller, John Byrne, Walt Simonson, and Chris Claremont, just to name a few. Also, Roger Stern and Bill Mantlo (and there was apparently no love lost between him and Shooter) produced some of their finest work as writers while Shooter was EIC, and big-name, top-notch writer-editors like Archie Goodwin and Mark Gruenwald were never driven away either.
Also, Shooter also oversaw projects like Epic magazine and the Epic line (granted, these were more Goodwin's babies) and Marvel Fanfare, and introduced an apparently very generous royalty system, which tended to attract rather than drive away talent.
(And just to dispell any notion that I might be a mindless Shooter groupie: I hated, just hated, his second tenure as chief writer on Avengers, and had and still have no interest in either of the Secret Wars sagas.)

Anonymous said...

I'm going to say "true". But, and as a teacher, I hope you will appreciate this Doug, with any True/False question, it's all in the phrasing. (Which helps make the whole True or False thing a neat feature)

If you changed the "and" in the middle of your statement to "which" I think my answer would be "false". I think he did drive away talent and quality diminished, but I don't know that the former directly caused the latter. If that makes sense.

As Edo points out, there was lots of talent still around. I think there were lots of other factors contributing to what I would agree was a decline in quality - ill-advised or silly marketing tie-ins, mega-crossover events, growing the number of titles too fast to name a few.

Tom

david_b said...

As much as I disliked Shooter's decision on Yellowjacket and other managerial and creative decisions, we have another subjective discussion here.

'Quality, Quality, What is Quality'.. (screaming like that native woman in 'Spocks Brain'..)

Quality to me is when I enjoyed the comics most, so the timeframe of my enjoyment is woven into any discussion of merits or 'quality'. I find the most enjoyable times being the Bronze Age and 1973-1975 (and a ever-so-brief resurgence in Buscema/Palmer's Avengers and Perez's Titans..). Losing interest in those other periods, I admittedly missed many key highpoints that other here have pointed out, and I've gone out and purchase many comics from the waxing of thought in this very forum (thanks everyone..).

So from a more objective viewpoint, Fanfare was a great move to different printing formats (like the Baxter lines for DC..), and I liked 'Secret Wars' in and of itself. When it was decided to make all these changes in continuity in other lines, that was stupid.

For the expressed purpose of 'pushing a toyline', go ahead and do your mini-series, stickers, what have you. Once you sink your entire universe into those changes, that wasn't really necessary IMHO. Secret Wars II..? Pretty useless, other than the 'Beyonder' being a cooler name than the 'Inbetweener' from the Warlock/Thanos storylines.

Whoever approved the blatant advertising on the covers like 'THIS COMIC COULD BE WORTH' and those bike ads SHOULD have been shot. Dunno, was that Shooter..?

(I know DC did it with the 'Superman Movie' ads as well.., so it wasn't just Marvel.)

themiddlespaces said...

I think Edo captured it perfectly, so I will just post a big DITTO.

Also, the section on Shooter's era in Sean Howe's book is awesome.

Mike said...

I'm with Edo on this - as per usual he always seems to beat me to the punch. This time-frame was during my comic book heyday so I bought all the Miller's and the Byrne's etc. The point where it all changed for me is in Secret Wars II (written by Shooter himself) were the Beyonder made himself look like a bigger, whiter, Michael Jackson. That was the beginning of the end. I was changed forever and never really looked at Marvel Comics the same way again.

Humanbellyl said...

I never feel like I'm well-versed enough on objective background info to make this call when it comes up. I've tended to be a face-value type of fan for most of my life, and Shooter ALWAYS came across to me as a "fan's" editor. Wasn't he the one who got us back to 20+ page stories, rather than the 17 pages they'd dwindled to? He re-instated a Bullpen Bulletin page that was actually more than just marketing hype filler, and maintained that personal tone that Stan had such a knack for. But from Sean Howe's book, there is clearly a point where he just kinda went irreversibly loopy w/ micro-managing and and a sense of entitled creative control. Did anyone else have the impression that something similar happened to Stan late in his long editorial reign?

Now, Secret Wars II was indeed the point where I was finally jolted into awareness that even a rudimentary nod to quality was considered unnecessary as long as the book was getting out on time and was selling decently. The story was "meh", perhaps, and unremarkable-- but the art on a number of those issues was just breathtakingly bad. Rushed, sloppy, possibly un-inked, even? If it was a meal in any restaraunt, I would take it personally back to the kitchen and confront them with it with high belligerancy. And that falls directly on Shooter, I'm afraid.

But was it editorial policies. . . or was it simply the personality that was administering those policies? Is it possible to separate the two? I'm gonna go w/ a "false" for the topic question, since lots of factors can be pointed to for the drop in quality in general, rather than just editorial policies. . .

HB

William said...

Like Edo said, this is a little more complicated than a simple "True" or "False" question.

I think that when Shooter first took over the EIC spot at Marvel he did a lot of good by dismantling the "good old boy" system that gave too much power to certain creators, and was hurting the overall quality of the books. He also seemed to care about creator's rights and helped them to start getting royalties and other deserved perks. He also seemed to genuinely care about the Marvel characters and the quality of the stories and art.

However, later on in his tenure he seemed to let the power go to his head a little and became something of a dictator. (At least from what I've read). I have heard several accounts that through a series of miscommunications, and misunderstandings, Shooter drove several star creators off of top selling books. For example, if you are to believe the stories, Shooter all but drove Byrne off of FF and West Coast Avengers, and DeFalco and Frenz off of Amazing Spider-Man. Those are just two examples-- I've heard others as well.

As for the quality of the books-- they seemed to suffer as much as the creative staff. For example, it seems that Shooter drove everyone nuts over the "Secret Wars" stuff. Especially original series artist Mike Zeck, of whom Shooter made redraw several pages, even though they were fine the first time. I read a quote from Zeck wherein another artist had asked him why Shooter had made him redo a certain page from Secret Wars, and Zeck said "Because it wasn't boring enough."

So, I think that initially Jim Shooter did a lot of good at Marvel, and then later did quite a bit of bad as well. While he was EIC, some of my all time favorite Marvel comics were produced under his leadership. But, as time wore on, and he got more entrenched in the position, he made some bonehead decisions, and the quality of the books suffered for it.

Rip Jagger said...

I think it's likely true that Shooter's policies drove away talent from the halls of Marvel. Among that talent were many of my favorites.

But that said, I also think that Shooter's policies may well have saved Marvel from a slowly building disaster which had developed from long years of fragmented and sometimes too-groovy leadership.

Stan was "The Man" for decades. He gets success (because of his wise association with powerhouse talents Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) and pulls out of day-to-day management.

Marvel hummed along for a while under Roy's leadership, because a lot of what had developed under Stan probably continued from momentum. But Roy and to smaller and lesser degrees Gerry, Len, and Marv didn't really find the reins as effectively. The "House of Ideas" became compartmentalized (necessarily perhaps) and increasingly inefficient.

Some great work developed out of that, but it was idiosyncratic and piecemeal. The biggest nag I had as a fan at the time was the intolerable "Dreaded Deadline Doom" which drove me away from Marvel eventually to seek solace in Charlton, Gold Key and Warren. I got tired of unscheduled reprints and I got even more tired of lame excuses for them.

Jim Shooter arrived and that stopped. For whatever reason, it stopped. Now I will concur that the top of quality of Marvel might have dimmed somewhat from the peaks of the Silver Age, and even from the less dense mountains of the early Bronze Age, but the heights they did achieve were reliable and above par.

Did it turn into mediocrity sometimes? Yes it did. That's very true, but it has to be said that new mediocre material is superior to a bogus reprint hidden under a new cover. That still gets me steamed.

I have a lot of respect for Jim Shooter's reign. But I've read a lot of stuff about and by Shooter and there's no doubt that his demeanor will not win him friends based on its unadulterated charm. He's a pill, but sometimes the medicine is needed.

Rip Off

Karen said...

I have to admit, I'm surprised that such an inflammatory topic has elicited such calm (and meager) response. But perhaps the whole Shooter controversy has been worn out. Personally I think it's hard for any of us on the outside to know what really went on. I do know that I feel the quality of the books eventually declined during the Shooter era. How much of that is due to his editorial policies is hard to say. If the stories about his decrees are true -the end of continued stories, the bland page layouts - then I think that must be part of it.

As others have mentioned, Shooter's personality probably had more to do with people leaving Marvel then his policies.

cerebus660 said...

Many top comics creators of the day are on record as saying that Shooter drove them away from Marvel Comics, including Gene Colan, Doug Moench, and Roy Thomas. But, on the other side of the coin, many creators flourished during the "Shooter years", as Edo remarked above.

Jim Shooter himself claims that he was responsible for getting consistently late comics back on track as well as championing creators' rights and better financial deals. He has said that he acted as the go-between for publisher Jim Galton and often had to pass on unpopular decisions to the creative teams, taking all the flak himself.

I would suspect the truth lies between both versions of the story. "Creative" people are notoriously thin-skinned and often don't like facing up to the realities of business ( Marvel existed to make money, after all ), while the more business-oriented types rarely realise what effects their decisions can have on people's lives. There is always going to be friction when these two differing world-views meet head-on, especially in a "work for hire" situation.

No matter what the truth, the demonization of Jim Shooter in some quarters didn't help. The Comics Journal referred to him as "our Hitler"... really?!

cerebus660 said...

Whoops!
That should have read "our Nixon..." not "Hitler" :-)

Please excuse my over-tired brain...

I don't think Gary Groth hated Shooter that much...

J.A. Morris said...

Count me as one more "what Edo said."

Shooter got off to a great start in 1978-83 and then slogged to the finish from '84 to '87.

Without naming names, another reason I cut Shooter some slack is the online presence of some of the creators he "chased away" from Marvel. When some of them treat there most loyal fans like crap online over nothing, it's hard to feel bad for them and blame everything on big bad Shooter.

Teresa said...

True.

He had been in the business since he was 14 yrs old. He knows the business better than anyone else. He knew what he was doing by applying so much pressure.
When Shooter took over I bet he thought it had all come together, finally.
Shooter had his grand vision of what he wanted. He expected the staff to fulfill it without question. That never works well, and less so with creative types. The trains ran on time, but the passengers weren't happy.
On the flipside, there were a lot of good books that got out on time. His early reign was amazing. I read those Marvel Comics to the point of disintegration. It's no wonder DC was struggling to keep up.
But eventually, SW 1 & 2 pushed me away from Marvel. It was all about money and shoddy work.
I'm not a JS hater. I felt so sorry for him when I read his tales of working for Mort Weisinger. Harrowing stuff.

Disclaimer: My rant is a tad biased. I've worked for only one company since I was 16...Oh, and I'm not hated. (-;

Comicsfan said...

It might be worthwhile to mention freelance writer/editor Robert Martin's column on this subject (linked by the man himself in a previous post), which offers some fascinating perspective on Shooter's tenure.

Fred W. Hill said...

I don't have any strong feelings about Shooter and I know some of my favorite mid-70s talent at Marvel left before Big Jim took over. As a writer, some of his Avengers stories were very good and during his short tenure on Daredevil he and Gil Kane started moving DD towards the more gritty crime noir stories that Miller took to another level. On the other hand, I loathed the Secret Wars. It seemed to be purposely written in a dumbed down Brand Ecch style (and probably was) and that it intruded on so many other series didn't sit well with me. The New Universe mags didn't do much for me either. Amusingly, I do recall an article in The Comics Journal about Shooter's artistic talent -- or lack thereof -- ripping apart his efforts on an issue of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man in which his artwork looked exactly like the examples Stan Lee & John Buscema provided of bad comics art in their Drawing Comics the Marvel Way. I got that issue when it came out and I didn't need TCJ to tell me that the art was wretched.

Anonymous said...

Doug - hope you said hello to all the people over at the T & T embassy for me! Have you ever heard a Trini accent?

Hmm seems Jim Shooter is like some local politicians down here in T & T - you either a)love them b) hate them or c) could care less about them!

Personally, like most of the other commentators, I'll cop out and say he did both good and bad, so maybe not entirely true or false but somewhere in-between!



Mike 'what about Tom DeFalco?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

Mike -

I just want to say it looks like your tax dollars are being put to good use. Everyone seems to drive a BMW and there are girls in and out of the embassy at all hours.

Doug

Anonymous said...

I think Marvel Comics was a different animal until somebody smelled real money...kinda reminds me of where I grew up. That said, Shooter wasn't really the problem. He was a symptom. That goof wrote a few pretty good comics and spent the rest of his time intimidating people and stroking his own ego. Then they made him their patsy and fall guy. He treated people like shit, lacked the grace to be ashamed and embarrassed when things went south, grubbed every dime he could, so who cares about him now.

Edo Bosnar said...

Anon, re: "grubbed every dime he could." Whatever else you can say about Shooter's time as Marvel's EIC, my impression was that he did not in fact walk away with wads of cash bulging in his pockets when Marvel fired him. Maybe Sean Howe's book has some more detail on this (still haven't read it), but I always thought that just the opposite was true...

humanbelly said...

Yep, let me follow on Edo's wake, here. As I recall, Howe's book gives very little (if any) indication that Shooter was ever, ever operating with personal greed as a motivating factor. I suppose his successful campaign to get creators' compensation up to reasonable and incentive-ensuring levels could be somehow construed along those lines. . . except he himself didn't benefit nearly so much from those policies. You can't even begin to compare him to the series of corporate raider types who did nothing but license, gut, and sell Marvel as often as they could to make whatever fast buck was available. Ultimately, they were the truly destructive element of the story.

HB

fantastic four fan forever said...

I read Sean Howe's book on Marvel. It confirmed all my suspicions about the former editor and chief. Especially the account of John Byrne's party when he was eventually removed. To me it was all over after the Secret Wars. The books became vehicles to sell toys. As good as the G.I. Joe and Transformers comics were; they were designed to sell toys.

I read his court testimony in an issue of The Comics Journal. I was very surprised to read that he was revealing artists and writers salaries in his testimony.


But I digress; the Journal issue was about Michael Fleisher's lawsuit against Harlan Ellison. According to the Comics Journal;Shooter encouraged Fleisher to sue Ellison in comments made in an 1980 issue of the Journal. Our readers can obtain the issue if you subscribe to the archive section of the site. The Jim Shooter issue was published in early 1987. I know because I read it cover to cover several times. It's quite informative on the politics behind the world of comics.

Matt Celis said...

False.

The quality of Marvel's output improved by a huge margin while Shooter held the reins, and diminished immediately after he was fired. Simonson's Thor, Miller's DD, Byrne's FF, Claremont's X-Men (not that I likes it), etc. all demonstrate this.

The inability of some creative types to understand the employer-employee dynamic, self-indulgence, and failure to make deadlines has a lot to do with the many complaints about Shooter.

The Bronze Hero said...

True.
When comics increased their page count in late 1980 a lot of writers and artists left Marvel for DC. Writers and artists whose work I admired.
In 1981 we got the sorry Trial of Yellowjacket storyline. This was the first time a Marvel character was dragged through the mud.The other Avengers had turned into cold, ucaring personalities.
Where were those exciting adventures and epics that had become a hallmark of the Avengers during the seventies, some of which Jim Shooter had even scripted?
According to Shooter sales rose during the Trial storyline and he even got Stan Lee's approval for continuing the storyline because it got Marvel money. But according to Jim Shooter Yellowjacket was never meant to have hit his wife too. Yeah, right.
This storyline made me loose faith in Marvel, and I never felt comfortable reading an Avengers comic again.
IMHO Jim Shooter singlehandely ended the Marvel Bronze Age with Avengers #213.
Unfortunately stories like the Trial of Yellowjacket became the norm. Even before the conclusion of this storyline Tony Stark was on his way to becoming a drunk again.



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