Tuesday, February 5, 2013

BAB Book Review: Marvel Comics - The Untold Story, part two

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
Sean Howe
Harper, (c) 2012

Doug:  We're back with a look at the second half of Sean Howe's intimate examination of the history of Marvel Comics.  If you're somehow just landing here for the first time, or if you missed our first examination of this book last Friday, you might want to peruse the comments section.  Author Howe chimed in with some information in regard to some of the issues raised by our discussion. If it could be said that the first half of Howe's book is about heroes -- fallen and otherwise -- then it might be safe to say that (from this guy's perspective at least) the second half of this history is about villains.  And not of the super-powered variety.  Maybe the greedy type, but no one ends up "super" here for my money.  We'll be picking up the trail along about page 205 for those playing at home.

Jim Shooter, c. 1980's
Doug:  Last Friday you read this:  Karen: The second half really hammers home that comics is a business.  That actually gets rolling toward the end of the first half of the book, when Howe relates that James Galton was appointed to a VP position within Cadence Industries and placed in charge of the Marvel branch of operations.  Galton would go on to be a major player over most of the second half of Howe's story.  I think we can sum up the first pages of the recounting of Jim Shooter's tenure as EiC at Marvel in a few words:  restructuring, replacement, repercussions.  It seems, if we are to believe Howe's account, that Shooter came into the EiC position with a "take no prisoners" attitude.  One of the running themes throughout the remainder of this book is the up-and-down nature of the comic book market.  In the late 1970's Marvel was losing the steam they'd gained from the KISS Marvel Super Special and the Star Wars tie-in.  The Hulk and Spider-Man shows were still airing on CBS, but their advantage fell only to the respective comic books and not across the entire line.  As Shooter took the reins of the company, almost half of the titles were running late -- when that happened, there were fines to be paid to printers and distributors.  So from a business point-of-view, it really was unacceptable.  But I think a vignette told at the end of our last examination that perhaps springboards us to the Shooter era was the death of a Bullpen mainstay just before Shooter became EiC:  John Verpoorten.  The giant of a man who'd been Marvel's dictatorial production manager had died in his apartment, at the young age of 37.  From reading many of the accounts of the '70's Bullpen, it may have been the work that killed him -- the implication is certainly there.  As Shooter took over, he immediately changed the status quo of creators being hounded by the production manager.  Now numerous editors were hired, character duchies were handed over to the editors (a la the ages-old practice seen at DC Comics), and heads rolled.  Henceforth, the editors would direct the company, and not the production manager.  And creators grew angry.

Karen: Howe's recounting of John Verpoorten's death was shocking and depressing. The circumstances were part of it, but his age-37! - just stunned me. From the pictures I had seen of him, I always thought he was a much older man. He comes across as a true casualty of the business end of things. With Shooter's reign, while he might have made "the buses run on time" he also managed to drive away the most creative people and demand a more formulaic approach to comic book stories (story arcs no longer than two issues, the Shooter 'grid', etc.). You're not wrong to say that he took what he learned at DC and applied it to Marvel. And has any other comics figure ever been so reviled? I doubt if even Mort Weisinger was burned in effigy.

Doug:  The pages running from around 200-230 not only deal with creators becoming increasingly disgusted, but begin to discuss the descension (my word) into the business side of Marvel.  We get tons of anecdotes about Stan in Hollywood, licensing deals, toy tie-ins, cartoons in production, ads taken out in Variety "pimping" (Howe's word) Marvel's stable of characters, etc.  But two men stand out among all of this -- Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  According to Howe, Stan still wielded some influence among the staff and freelancers, and many a'time Howe reveals that this angry creator was placated or that brewing situation was smoothed over by a call from or meeting with Stan.  Jack Kirby left Marvel quite unceremoniously.  For a guy who arguably built the company, it was a sad send-off.  He was not respected, and we're given the impression that he may even have been reviled.  He had developed real animosity toward Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, and found himself soon again working with them -- but not by his choice.  When the Fantastic Four cartoon was set to air in the late '70's, Kirby had found a place as a "concepts guy" and storyboard artist at Hanna-Barbera -- working under scripts written by Stan and/or Roy.  Stan's other claim to fame as the 1970's closed?  Derivative characters.  Worried that the very studios to whom he'd catered Marvel's characters all these years would somehow spin-off similar characters and retain their rights as new creations, Stan ordered up a heaping dose of She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Woman.  Lee had long derided DC for their stable of Superman and Batman knock-offs, but found this to be a necessary side of the business.

Karen: I thought it was interesting that in a 1979 interview to the New York Times one writer anonymously stated that they thought Lee wanted to be another Walt Disney -branching out beyond comics into other media. That actually makes sense, except for the fact that Stan really didn't have the power. He was just another lackey when it comes down to it, a figurehead more than anything. But certainly his focus left comics and shifted to movies and TV, where it really wasn't successful.

Doug:  As I'm framing this week's concluding review, I've already become conscious that I've been pretty wordy.  I'm not going to lie -- this is a tough post to write!  The text is so anecdotal and thoroughly researched, that breaking out topics without ignoring the labor that Sean Howe put into the production seems a disservice.  But for the sake of space, I think we'd better make a lane change.  So rather than rehashing a bunch of the stories you've either a) already read or b) we're hopefully prompting you to read, I think I'll take this down to some break-outs that we can latch on to -- you're now going to get a series of Open Forum-worthy topics, each of them a day's discussion in their own right!

Doug:  So, here's the first one:  The ascension of the writer-artists, specifically in the persons of Frank Miller and John Byrne (later, Walter Simonson), given carte blanche on their respective books which included the ability to ignore chunks of continuity that had gone before.  Would Jack Kirby, in his third tenure at Marvel, have been the first to have such control?

Doug:  Creator rights.  One of Shooter's first moves as the new EiC was to retool the work-for-hire contracts, specifically stating within that any and all characters or plotlines created would be the sole property of Marvel Comics.  This created a furor among creators and led to a major exodus of talent.  Contrast that response, however, with two thoughts:  Stan Lee had rushed the above-mentioned derivative characters into production to protect Marvel's interests.  He'd co-created almost all of the foundational elements of the Marvel Universe anyway -- and never owned any of them.  And secondly, at this time none other than John Byrne stated on more than one occasion that he was a "company man" through and through and had no interest in any burgeoning guild or union movements.  Yet for Steve Gerber, David Anthony Kraft, Dave Cockrum, and others mentioned in the latter half of the book, there were certainly inherent economic and moral considerations in this line of thinking.

Doug:  Jim Shooter's alleged "Big Bang", whereby the Marvel Universe as we know it would have ceased to exist.  The characters of Thor, Spider-Man, etc. would have returned, but with new secret identities and re-tooled origins.  It was seen as taboo to even think about and was shelved.  Instead, Shooter won approval, and a dreadfully low promotional budget, for what would become known as the "New Universe".  Decades later, both Marvel and DC would be able to pull off new characters in established super-hero identities (John Stewart, James Rhodes, and the "feminization" of established male good guys and bad guys would be examples).

Karen: Although I've read about Shooter's proposed "Big Bang" in a couple of different places, I've never really understood the whys behind it other than what -pure ego? It's not as if all of those characters were doing poorly and needed a reboot. Certainly as the book goes on it portrays Shooter as getting further and further out there in terms of his grip on reality.

Bill Jemas
Doug:  The advent of the mini-series.  Secret Wars began as a toy tie-in (there's that licensing thing again), but spawned an avalanche of possibilities for test-marketing, cross-marketing, X-marketing, and #1's flying around all over the place.  My opinion?  Today's habit of constantly re-numbering titles got it's start in the marketing ploys of the 1980's.

Karen: I believe I can point to Secret Wars as my own personal point at which comics changed for me and started to become less fun. It was such an obvious marketing ploy, such a poor quality product, that it was apparent even then that the business side of things had trumped the creative side. It only got worse as time went on, what with the gimmick covers, the endless number 1 issues, and so on.

Doug:  The maturity of the direct market, where retailers got a voice in what would sell, and how many copies of a given book that they could move.  See previous point.
Doug:  I think that, again as Karen said last week, the overall takeaway of the second half of the book is the business aspect of it.  The truly maddening aspect of that?  The people who owned and ran Marvel Comics didn't read comics, they didn't even like comics.  And they wanted only a return on their investment.  Integrity of product?  Secondary.  Gimmicks?  Bring 'em on!  I was somewhat reminded of a line said in the first half of the story.  One of the creators, feeling handcuffed creatively toward the end of the Bronze Age, had complained that editorial wasn't really interested in the avant garde anymore; rather, they wanted to know "what's it like?"  Egos like that of Bill Jemas brought Marvel down to porn-like levels with his "I'll show you what we can do/sell!" attitude in the creation of his Marville mini-series in 2002.

Karen: I think one of the best examples of how disengaged the business guys were was at one point in the book, when some group buys Marvel and one of the idiots runs around saying, "We just bought Superman!"

Tom DeFalco, c. late 1980's
Doug:  The "Image guys".  Have at it -- both rounds -- the rise, keys to the kingdom, loud departure, and return (given the keys to the kingdom again).  Let's just say that these guys -- particularly Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld -- don't come off looking the least bit good.

Karen: I think this little excerpt from an interview with McFarlane after he'd been given the penciling AND writing reigns on Spidey says it all: "Uh...I don't really consider myself a writer, so I don't pay attention to writing. Now I'm sure the people at Marvel won't be too impressed with that statement, but by the time they read it, it'll be too late." Too late, indeed.

Doug:  The ongoing feud between Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.  To the day Kirby died, they never did completely reconcile.  Kirby began to say that he'd created everything by himself, including Spider-Man.  There's an anecdote about Kirby being on a radio show and Stan calling in and confronting Kirby on some of the issues at hand.  It was awkward, and ultimately ended somewhat amicably -- but they never again had anything close to a working relationship or even an "agree to disagree" relationship.  They had basically created Marvel Comics -- but fell far, far apart as the years passed.  So much hurt...

Ronald Perelman
Karen: It truly is tragic and that radio interview transcript was just painful to read. 

Doug:  The X-plosion.  Just... bah.

Doug:  Spending money like they got it -- Fleer, Skybox, ToyBiz, etc.  Good lord, it's no wonder they went bankrupt!  But guys like Ron Perelman, who basically drove the company into the ground, came out smelling like a rose.

Karen: Oh yeah, the Revlon guy. There were so many businessmen in the second half of the book that I could not keep them all straight. I had to constantly flip back to remember who was who. They all basically stunk.

Joe Quesada
Doug:  Wizard magazine, and the power they wielded for a decade in shaping not only the comic book industry, but the back issue market as well with their inflated price guide.  One would be safe in assuming that much of the marketing ploys we reviled in the 1990's were closely tied to the speculator market partially created by Wizard and its competitors.  Remember when Wizard and Previews would polybag their books with preview trading cards?  Ashamed to say I may still have a few of those stashed somewhere downstairs.

Karen: Ugh, Wizard. They might as well have been holding up paychecks from Marvel and DC on their covers.

Doug:  Finally, the Marvel Comics of today, as headed by Joe Quesada.  Constant crossovers, the Ultimate Universe, renumberings, "irreversible" deaths each quarter, reboots, "events"...  But, also the long-awaited presence of Marvel at the cinema and back on the small screen in various animated programs.  Toys we could only dream of when we were kids, and quality reprints of material we thought we'd never again get our mitts on.  Is Marvel today an evil empire, or benevolent toward comic book lovers?


Inkstained Wretch said...

It was kind of shock to me the first time I learned that comics were such a shaky business. I mean, Spider-Man and the Hulk were EVERYWHERE when I was a kid and the comics were available at every newsstand, bookstore, specialty shop, pharmacy, grocery store, etc. I assumed the writers and artists were all rich Hollywood-types. How little I knew...

I hated Jim Shooter as comics reader in the 80s. I associated him with all of the tumult and changes in the characters and comics. Reading his blog today I have more sympathy. He was trying to keep the company from going belly-up and was the rare creative type who also understood the business end. But he still did it rather badly...

That so many of the people in charge were not comic book fans -- or even passingly familiar with what it was they owned -- explains a lot of the problems comics faced in the 80s and 90s.

The advantage we have today is that the business world has finally caught up to fandom. The suits *get* the appeal of the comics because they grew up on them too. That gives us cool things like Whedon's Avengers and Nolan' Batman movies and the great animated TV shows of the last two decades.

The downside is that comics themselves seem to be in terminal condition...

Edo Bosnar said...

Two things you each said here really hit me: first, Karen pointing out that Secret Wars marked a point where comics became less fun for her - that pretty much parallels my own experience. I was slowly starting to drop out of regular comics reading for a number of reasons, and the appearance of Secret Wars and my dislike of the entire concept seemed to symbolize that whole time for me. (That said, I'm definitely not in the "Shooter is the root of all evil" camp.)
Second, Doug's final question really gave me pause: whenever I've sampled Marvel's mainstream super-hero comics from the past 10 years or more, I generally find them uninteresting at best, and downright awful at worst. However, I'll readily admit that I found the most recent Marvel movies quite entertaining, and I absolutely love their reprint program...

Matt Celis said...

Well, Jim Shooter was EIC, not corporate lawyer, so he had nothing to do with WFH contracts except to be the messenger that gets shot.

Doubtful his "Big Bang" ever happened, unless it was mere brainstorming. Again, he was not in a position to end corporate IPs especially ones they were trying to spinoff into other media and merchandizing.

One need only read the published product to see that the 2-issue story rule was never imposed, nor the "grid."

Is Shooter even interviewed for his side? Sounds poorly researched.

Doug said...

Wow, either we wasted the love for this book last Friday, or you folks are just too darned depressed to comment.

I understand.


William said...

I really enjoyed this book, and found it quite an eye-opening page turner. The second half was the most enlightening as to why Marvel comics started to suck somewhere around 1987 or so. I now know what I always suspected back then, which was Marvel was taken over by a bunch of suits, who had not one creative bone in their collective bodies, and who just wanted cannibalize the company in order to make a quick buck. Sad.

After reading this book (and others) I too am shocked by how fragile the comic book market was, and continues to be. It always seemed to me that comic books were huge when I was a kid. Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, The X-Men, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, these characters have all become household names. They have been featured on everything from lunch boxes, to notebooks, to beach towels, and 7-11 Slurpee cups, and on TV and in movies, etc. Everyone who was involved in creating these characters should have become extremely rich, famous and beloved by millions, but almost none of them were. Instead they basically toiled away in relative obscurity and were treated like dirt. Nothing more than disposable commodities to be used and abused by greedy men. The same men who then took their creations and squeezed them for every penny they could, and in the process ruined them for future generations.

I have tried on numerous occasions to read comic books in the past few years, and they are so bleak and depressing, that I really don't even understand who they are being written for anymore.

Also, concerning some of Jim Shooter's editorial policies, If one is to believe both Roger Stern and John Byrne, at one point Shooter instituted a "done in one" policy where he demanded that all stories be completed in one one issue. That policy torpedoed Stern and Byrne's plans for a 3-part Captain America story they were working on, and as a result caused them both to leave the book. I'm not a Shooter hater at all, but that one kind of ticks me off.

Edo Bosnar said...

William, not to derail the thread, but Byrne and Stern actually tell different versions of why they left Captain America, and Stern's version (which I find more believable) does not mention any done-in-one edict forced on them by Shooter. You can find his view of the situation in this interview from 2006:
Scroll down about halfway, where the interviewer asks him why he and Byrne left the title.

William Preston said...

Pretty cool that Sean Howe checked the comments. (I'm one of those who said he found some errors; now I have to go back and see what they were so I can send him a note.)

I'm nearly finished. The Age of Marvel movies has begun. And, this weekend, we saw another Iron Man trailer. What's striking is how so much of the imagery for the films--and the impetus, too, to not be completely beholden to the comics--comes from the Ultimate comics. I know the Spider-man and Hulk TV shows deviated from the comics, but that was for reasons of pragmatism. Here you see, I think, the result of years of variant tellings of the tales, and of such things as a fall of Asgard.

Shooter's "Big Bang" pretty much happened, didn't it? The Ultimates line seems like a solution that restarts while leaving the original world intact. And I just got the giant (and enormously dull, though virtually wordless) DC 52 collection from the library: there it is, Shooter's Big Bang, but taken up by another company (which had already pulled complete restarts on the Legion a few times).

Stan Lee: I didn't realize how inconsequential he was (after he stopped writing). Howe's book portrays a sad figure from Saul Bellow, a man who wishes he'd done something else but who spent most of the last several decades talking up ancient successes and trying to recapture what can't be caught again, the Lee/Kirby and Lee/Ditko magic that could only have happened when you were on the bottom, pushing against the world as it is. Once Marvel became that world, that marvelous initial energy was lost.

Great work, Sean.

humanbelly said...

Gosh-- just a very busy day, Doug, believe me! It's the one drawback of the Daily Discussion format we have here-- if you miss out on a given day, the topic does tend to lose steam very, very quickly, and it becomes tough to keep a lengthier discussion going over time. (Nature-of-the-beast issue, though, is what I'm thinkin'. . . )


Doug said...

Ah, HB, I know how it goes. I (and Karen, too) were just amazed at the slowness of this conversation this morning. After the explosion of comments/conversation last Friday we just naturally assumed that people were lined up like at a Who concert to get rolling on this.

Believe us, we know real life takes priority. This post will keep rolling today and this evening, I'm sure.


Kid said...

Actually, when you think about it, most people toil away in relative obscurity and get treated like dirt, while greedy men somewhere get rich on their collective efforts. Whether you work in a factory, shop or office, it's the same story as in the comics world of yesteryear. In that way, comic creators are no different from the rest of us, and perhaps one is entitled to ask - why should they be?

Mike said...

Hi guys -- I'm a little late in welcoming you two back, but I wanted to let you know that this 2-part review was an excellent way to kick things off -- thanks for taking the time!

I was more involved with Marvel books in this last part of the Bronze Age so I wanted to comment. My experience seemed to parallel Karen and Edo with Secret Wars being the series where Marvel comics started to become less fun. But I don't want to completely throw that all at the feet of Shooter either. As EiC selling books was his job. In my view, much of the problem was the fanboys because they took the bait that the industry was selling hook, line, and sinker.

I'll try to briefly explain -- I worked at a comicbook store in the late 80's and early 90's and that experience soured me to much of the fanbase. At the time it seemed like people just lost their minds. At the store the customers who only purchased what they enjoyed reading became fewer and fewer. The majority of consumers became speculators and investors. Everything changed with the mini-series, cross-overs, multiple covers, X-insanity, and on and on and on and on. And the "fans" just ate it up, buying 5, 10, 20 copies or more of whatever was hyped by the industry. When I had a guy complain to me about the staple being just slightly off center on his new copy of "Uncle Scrooge" #100-n-something and that was hurting its value, that's when I knew I had to quit my job. It wasn't fun anymore. It all was great for the owner of the store though.

I think the hobby is in worse shape today. Why can't comics be for kids, and the kids inside of all of us, anymore? The overwhelming bulk of Marvel and DC comics today seems to be targeted at the late-teen and up age groups. Why? I love Batman, and I enjoyed the toughness that Miller gave him at that time, but you know sometimes I wish it never happened. Because that worked back then creators today have never let it go. Now it seems like every character is getting darker and tougher and meaner and arrogant. You know, I'll take Batman beating Two-Face with the oversized penny in his Batcave any day over the Joker cutting off his own face and Robin being a rotten brat in need of some serious therapy. Realism is ok, but why so much darkness? Real life is tough enough for all of us. Please once in awhile just give me a character who believes in the wholesome ideals that his uncle raised him with. Or help me to look up to a compassionate omnipotent man from another planet who can fly ... and he wears a cape. A cape for crying out loud! Who cares why he wears a cape ... he just does. After all, its just a comic book.

david_b said...

I had a few paragraphs to cut/paste in a few days back, but it went **poof** somewhere on the internet.. Today was SUCH a busy, over-work day (had to set up a training classroom..).

As for thoughts, agreed with a lot here, definitely agreed with Mike as to the stupidity of today's comics being too dark (I sure wouldn't get much out of 'em for actual 'enjoyment'..).

As for the book, Marvel simply sold out with 'Secret Wars'. Face it, no question, no getting around it. People got greedy after that, Marvel being sold, resold, etc.. Writers, artists buying sportscars, and 'pro-league cheerleaders' to be girlfriends.

To think about all the excitement about a comic in a bag with trading cards. Talk about sensationalism...!! Yeah, what's worse is we lived through it as adults, looking down on fragments of what we once loved as kids.

The passing of Goodman was the most depressing. Again, I don't recall off-hand what I had written before, but it was pretty telling as to the mindset in this industry at that time. 'How can we market excessively and exploit..??' seemed to be the mantra, with no thought to long-term care, or even company profits for that matter.

William said it best..: Marvel became the type of company it originally loathed. As I mentioned on the first review of the book, there's no respect or integrity for the characters we came to know and love any longer. It's sad when we see our heroes treated like prostitutes, and Marvel was the pimp.

Kid said...

You're singing my tune, Mike - especially that bit about comics being for kids and the kids inside us. If I may be permitted a plug, I wrote about this a while back at this post: http://kidr77.blogspot.com/2012/01/whats-wrong-with-american-comics-lemme.html

Garett said...

Great story about the staple in Uncle Scrooge, Mike.

As I read the second half of the book, it became less of a delightful page-turner, and more horror story that I wanted to end. Howe's writing is still good, but the subject less fun. The creative talents seemed very badly treated. I'd never heard of Marville, but look at Bill Jemas in the photo--he looks guilty! The eyes, the nervous smile! : )

Certainly the recent movies have been excellent...Avengers, Iron Man. Yes the reprints are great, but wouldn't new comics of that quality be better?

Maybe today's topics are just too many to focus on Doug? The ascension of the writer-artist, this excited me in the early '80s. Byrne, Miller, Stevens, Grell, Starlin, Chaykin, etc. At the time, it seemed like the future of comics, and some have continued in that direction. But mostly, the '90s were the artist decade, and the '00s the writer decade. Maybe we can hope it'll all come back together during the '10s?

Hi Kid, I think that creative work like in comics is different than many factory/shop/office jobs. I've had a number of jobs, and there's a big difference between a job where you punch in, do your time and punch out, and a creative endeavor where you put your heart into something. There's an extra attachment to a creative project that can be exhilarating when it goes right, and devastating when it goes wrong. I think this creative vulnerability causes even a strong guy like John Buscema to put up a gruff attitude of hating comics after experiencing disappointments in the field.

That's all for now, but here's hoping Howe write more books, as like others here, I couldn't put it down. More stories from the writers and artists themselves would be awesome. Plus as a final thought--comics will go through changes, but you can't kill them, no matter how many short-sighted businessmen get involved. It's an established form like novels and movies now, and all it takes is a creative person to re-ignite the form. Painting and art have gone through ups and downs and changes over centuries, and it's always revived when a new creative genius or movement comes along.

William said...

Thanks Edo, that was most enlightening. Stern's version does sound a little more plausible than Byrne's. I'll give Byrne the benefit of the doubt and assume he was getting his information second hand from Stern, and thus misunderstood about the "one and done" being just a fill-in issue. Also, thanks for the link to that interview. Roger Stern is one of my favorite writers, so when I get a minute, I plan to go back and read the whole thing.

Kid, I guess we could compare comic creators like Kirby and Ditko, to movie directors like George Lucas. For example, George Lucas creates Star Wars and becomes a world famous billionaire. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko create the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man respectively, and basically get fired for their efforts for daring to try to take any of the credit or share in any of the reward. Whereas a factory worker, or a bookkeeper (for example) isn't really creating any single intellectual property that is going to make their employ hundreds of millions of dollars.

Concerning the state of comics today. I was recently reading some comments by artist David Mazzucchelli concerning his work on "Batman: Year One". I was blown away by how close his views are to my own. In fact he practically quoted verbatim something I've said to people myself. At first he questioned whether or not he and Frank Miller had gone too far in trying to make their Batman more grounded in the real world. Then he said (and I quote) "Once a depiction veers toward realism, each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre. In other words, the more "realistic" superheroes become, the less believable they are." He also said, "While an interesting experiment, it's probably not a good idea to shoehorn too much "reality" into the fantasy realm of the superhero." Exactly. I've always said that superheroes work best when living in their own fantasy worlds. The more they try to make them "plausible", the more ridiculous they start to seem.

Kid said...

Garett & William, there may well have been creators who did exactly that - punched in, did their time, and punched out, so to speak. To them it was just a job - a way to support themselves and their families. Kirby seems to have regarded it as that, and the fact that he just happened to be extremely good at it was just a bonus. They were work for hire (and knew it, whether the term was used at the time or not), very much the same as anyone else on any other kind of assembly line. Few of us are paid what we consider we're worth - and our employers will usually profit far better from our efforts than we will.

Doug said...

Great ideas here, people. You've written very long, well-thought comments. I'd been grading essays most of the day today -- this group is pretty high-functioning, and I love that people are giving an opinion and backing it up with reasons, evidence, etc. Way to go!

OK, off that soapbox.

Mike, thanks for the welcome back and the kudo. Great stories, too. You summed up that era fantastically.

Garett -- I feel your pain at the breadth of this post today. We just weren't sure how long to put into this. Even though many of you had been dropping comments about the book here and there in January, gauging how long to spend on it still seemed sort of nebulous. So we just cut it in half, which seemed logical. When I got to framing my part (today), I was quickly overwhelmed with the depth of the latter half of the book. It may seem like a cop-out, but cutting back our usual banter and highlighting just the topics seemed practical. Truthfully, we probably could have used another day, maybe even two.

Kid, I work as a civil servant, in education, and no one profits from what I do (at least not financially, not now). Lately I've been feeling like teaching is just a job, that the joy is being sucked out of it by politicians and revolving-door "fixes" on the system. In some way, I know a lot of our creators felt that way -- like you said, punching the clock. And thanks for the link to your musings.

Garett again -- yes, fun comics that you could actually show to a child would be great. Today's price point would still keep me away, and that price point is what keeps children away. Can you imagine, as you did when you were 8-years old, asking your mom for change for comics... today? You'd need a $20 bill! Oh, the price and the PG-13/R ratings.


david_b said...

Another idea I had suggested before my 'essay' poofed was if you recall that SNL book a few years back with all the recollections from the writers, guest stars, cast, the creative process, etc. That would make a GREAT format for a more enjoyable book some folks here mentioned preferring, with quotes and input from all the surviving Marvel Bullpen on what went into their characters and stories, what was lacking somewhat in Sean's book.

Still, as many here conveyed, it was a startling, often times exasperating book on the trials of the beloved Bullpen.

Just food for thought.

Robert Stanley Martin said...

Jim Shooter instituted what was by far the most favorable environment for creators rights in the history of Marvel. It was also the most favorable business environment for creators anywhere in comics at the time, and I don't think there's any publisher today who provides better. Marvel began rolling it back as soon as he left.

A major weakness of Howe's book--which I generally like, I should add--is that he's so preoccupied with the company-owned characters with regard to the maverick talents that he seems only dimly aware of the whole picture.

My own discussion of the upsides of Shooter's tenure, which I hope fills in at least some of Howe's gaps, can be read here.

humanbelly said...

Heh-- even though I have a "big boss" (or two), as it were, I'm a theater professional. . . there's definitely no one to reap the non-existent financial rewards for my labors-! The similar argument tends to come about when one is asked to make continuous sacrifices for the sake of "the Art". At that point, one has to keep it in perspective. . . that even in a creative job that one enjoys, it's still a job, not a cause. And I certainly get that a lot of the comic artists and writers and particularly guys like inkers, letterers and colorists would have to maintain that point of view.

Jim Shooter: I'm not a Shooter-hater, either-- I just think he badly lost his way as the company grew more complicated, and it sounds like he didn't have the interpersonal skill set or leadership ability (an ephemeral thing) to adapt and rise to the challenges. Sean's book does seem to indicate a partially parallel arc for him and Stan. The both came in at times when the company was foundering a bit (well, or a lot); they both put a ton of heart, work, and personal energy into pursuing their vision of what Marvel could and should be; they were both demanding and had a high belief in their own superior understanding of the medium; as the company expanded beyond their ability to maintain direct, hands-on control, they began to get obsessed with artistic minutia and became much more difficult to work with; neither was able to hold on as the power they held in the company slipped away or was wrested from them. More briefly, both started the relay race very well, ran their legs with great success, but then didn't know exactly how to let go of the baton even as another racer was running with it.

That's my take, anyhoo-- not perfect-- kind of off the top of my head.

Shooter's Big Bang thingy? Didn't Sean mention that it had more to do with the fact that Shooter was already seeing that the decades-long continuity was simply an unsupportable burden for continued story-telling? That was actually rather prophetic-- it's certainly been a problem since then.

But I'm a BIG fan of JMS' getting the railroad to run on time and getting professional creators to operate like. . .well. . . professionals. WAAAAAY too many Dreaded Deadline Dooms happening by the time he took over.

I do think some of the seeds of later destruction occurred in the first half of the book-- when all of the licensing rights were sold off so very early for practically no money at all. This really bordered on being criminally foolish since, well before that time, SUPERMAN had famously made many, many folks TONS of money in that fashion. For a deal to be made that had Marvel itself seeing none of that income should have been unthinkable. Much like Brian Epstein making similar pathetically uninformed deals for the Beatles.
Would this have helped the company stay solvent and secure later on? Or would it have simply made it a more attractive property to be raided? Hmm-- I don't know. . .


Doug said...

Robert --

Welcome to the BAB, and thanks for the link to your post.


Fred W. Hill said...

Count me among those who didn't particularly care for the Secret Wars -- I just thought it was poorly written, or that it was purposely written to appeal to young kids, but it impacted most of the Marvel line (if not all of it). Just one of those things that began to irritate me about Marvel in the early '80s. There was still some great stuff coming out, but overall I began to lose interest. Admittedly, part of that was my own tastes and interests changing as I got older, such that, shock of shocks, I began reading and enjoying DC's output. In some aspects, it seems Marvel was dumbing down much of its line while DC began producing more stuff to appeal to a somewhat older, more sophisticated audience.
I hardly bought anything during the speculation craze, and I wasn't too surprised when the bubble burst. For the most part, comics that become ultra-valuable on the market are old and rare and have some genuine significance. Superman and Batman comics from the late '30s fit, so do the first appearances/issues of Marvel's top Silver Age characters, including those featuring significant villains for the first time. A new number one issue of a character that's already been around for decades in a story of no real significance is just not going to be that valuable anytime soon even with the latest hot talent writing & drawing the thing, especially if millions of copies of the thing are printed. I have no idea how much a mint copy of McFarlane's first issue of Spider-Man is, but even in 50 years it will never be even remotely as valuable as Lee & Ditko's first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, never mind their last issue of Amazing Fantasy!

Comicsfan said...

Robert, your article is riveting. Thanks for that link to it.

Edo Bosnar said...

Robert, I'd also like to commend you on that article - I read it when it was first posted a few weeks ago and have been going back every few days to read the follow-up comments (I almost posted a link to it here myself). Looking forward to the next two parts...

tom said...

Welcome back Karen and Doug. I've been enjoying your blog and this conversation about the book. It prompted me to purchase a copy yesterday. Like others have said, "Secret Wars" is what started my real dissatisfaction with Marvel. But like Fred said, right around then is when DC really started coming into their own with Dark Knight, Watchmen and Swamp Thing. Those kept me coming in the comic stores until the whole Wizard/poly-bagged/variant cover thing took off. After years away, I'm now back buying reprints of stuff I sold to go to grad school.

Anonymous said...

As the resident hippy, I'd like to re-iterate---


....especially sports and comic books.

I loved the book, and even read it for free---thanks LIBRARY!


Anonymous said...

Apologies all, this is a bit of a sidebar....

Hi William,

I was completely thrown by your comment that the movies are all derived from the Ultimates. I’ve not read any of them, but in watching the movies, I am stunned each time that the plots & characters seem to come straight out of the Silver & Bronze ages and it’s as if nothing has happened since I stopped collecting 25 years ago:

Iron Man is TOS #39 with Viet Nam updated to Afghanistan + Iron Man #200.

Iron Man 2 is TOS #97 + IM #170.
FF is FF1 & 5.

FF2 is FF 48-50

Xmen 1 & 2 are God Loves, Man Kills.

Xmen 3 is Dark Phoenix

Daredevil was DD#1 with a good dose of Miller (Elektra / Kingpin).

The Spidey films are ASM # 1 + 122, ASM #3, ASM #4 and I guess Venom is the most up to date thing there.

Cap battling the Skull for the cube is TOS #80 retconned to WW2, complete with the Howling Commandoes.

Maybe Hulk and Thor are to some extent not direct lifts, nor the Avengers, but the basics are all there at the start. The Avengers forming from already existing heroes banding together to fight Loki is the plot of Avengers #1. And I don’t mean volume 96.

Going back to the debate last time about our collective disappointment at learning the Bullpen was not real, it kind of occurred to me afterwards that there must also have been a heavy element of ‘propping up cardboard soldiers at the ramparts of Fort Zinderneuf’. At one point, Stan was the sole full time employee, working out of a disused elevator and beholden to his competition’s distribution company for his very life. In his shoes, I would certainly have been pretending things were a lot bigger, better and more stable than they were.


Doug said...

Richard --

While your plot targets are generally right on, I would agree that the look of the Marvel movies is straight out of the Ultimate Universe. No one in the films wears the costumes we all grew up with.


William Preston said...

Additionally, the Raimi movies skipped over Gwen to put Pete and MJ together, which is what the Ultimate line did.

The plots do echo or derive from Bronze Age stuff in some cases, but there's a lot of latter-day and Ultimate elements as well. (Thor isn't crazy, for example, but the scene in the Thor movie in which Loki visits him in his cell is straight out of The Ultimates.)

percy blakeney said...

I haven't read Howe's book, but I'd like to.

Regarding the 'Big Bang', is that the same as Jim Shooter destroys the Marvel Universe? Didn't that actually happen (only it was nothing like how Doug Moench imagined it). Rhodey became Iron Man, Don Blake was written out, Spidey got a new costume, Steve Rogers was replaced as Cap, Daredevil's secret ID was discovered by the Kingpin etc.

As for Marvel 'selling out' with Secret Wars', that seems to be ignoring the fact that it'd already happened with Contest of the Champions -Secret Wars just repeated the exercise on a larger scale.
Incidentally, I loved Secret Wars as a kid and there are some memorable sequences that still distinguish it. Credit to Shooter that being forced to gouge with such a cynical ploy he did the job himself (and got a decent artist in Mike Zeck). Secret Wars II was truly dire though.

I think they managed to keep the Crossover ploy under control in Shooter's day. It's only once he's gone that you get the really excessive proliferation of X-titles, the clockwork annual crossover events (Fall of the Mutants, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, X-Tinction Agenda, Evolutionary War, Atlantis Attacks). Mutant Massacre was under Shooter though.

The evidence suggests to me that, far from being Attila the Hun, Shooter actually held back the tide of rabid commercialism.

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