Mark Gruenwald Remember! Part 4

Read full article | No Comments

Creation In Comics

Mark’s brain was filled with ideas. He claimed that most of what he was writing in comics when I knew him, up to his death were ideas that he had when growing up. He dreamed up a lot of super powers. Mostly he had already made up what are now called story “arcs.”

Or, he wrote to a fairly specific purpose… such as when in college he got involved writing for the campus radio end of the theater department. Specifically to get several young ladies naked…

MG Radio Theater Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concept Radio Theater… c. 1974– that’s Mark, in B&W and not much else, on the far left/right in a Ditko half crouch! Young lady and other fellah, unknown. Also an example of Mark’s abilities as a logo artist… not bad for a kid, but he only had that one style in his brain.

Mark created storylines that still resonate today— attempting to address some “real world” consequences of super-hero-ing such as the Hawkeye Limited Series, or the far-sighted Squadron Supreme and then, D.P. 7—easily the best of The New Universe’s “Lost Boys.”

DP7 1 Cov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Universe’s best effort at ‘new.” I don’t recall if the series was ever collected in a trade paperback, it’s worth it to seek out the original books. All new super-powered people, all dreamed up at various times in Mark’s life, cherry-picked for this title. For those that don’t know, the New Universe books were an interesting experiment by E in C Jim Shooter, to “start over” with entirely creator-owned characters. There were huge pressures in and around the making of the books themselves, involving politics and money, and the entire line sort’a died on the vine. But D.P. 7 still stands out as the best and freshest ‘new’ comic at that point in time. Eminently readable and enjoyable to this day.

He wrote Captain America for just shy of 10 years, a massive accomplishment (not quite beating Stan’s run on Cap…). I must note that on his monthly desk calendar, at the bottom of April, 1976 is “”What If” comic as parallel earth”—this was not terribly long before the first What If was published in mid-77 (yes, he was living in Manhattan then and in regular touch with Roy Thomas, who wrote the first story…) All that on top of corralling and encouraging dozens of comic professionals within the office—feeding storylines and plot turns on an almost daily basis. Trying to codify how to do good and moreover, consistently good work, he organized and prepared a “curricula” of sorts for the Assistant Editors. Anything that smacked of a classroom at Marvel was anathema, but the need for some kind of standard was deemed useful. As disruptive to the assistants’ week of idly scratching as it might have been, I think I’ve heard several of them say it was worthwhile. Never mind his inventing a non-comic-book format that persists to this day: The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe. “OHOTMU” (go ahead say it, “Oh, hot moo,” Mark reveled in funny acronyms). Or, when speaking quickly, “MU!”

Mark never threw out any idea. He kept a Dream Diary, writing in it almost every morning upon waking. It is a hallucinogenic read, but every once in a great while, one’s name pops up… Mark said he got several plot ideas out it. He never seemed to have an idle moment—even watching TV shows was considered “work”—work which was debated, scheduled and watched with precision! Mark wrote up his daily activities on a large desk blotter-style calendar. (He did employ a variety of shorthand which changed and flowed—and sometimes is impossible to understand…) Mark was usually busy at something. His organizational passion kept him at various comic projects all the time.

Before MU was Contest of Champions. When Mark worked as Tom DeFalco’s assistant, he dreamed up a nightmare scenario of having a huge number of Marvel characters appear in a far-off arena. The particulars of this contest are not pertinent here, what is is that each character was penciled by the artist most closely associated with them! The whole page was drawn by yet someone else with “holes” left in it for the characters. This daffy organizational mud-hole was right where Mark lived! Most artists were delighted at not having to draw an entire book, what with its backgrounds and overall “acting” concerns. Drop in a super-hero doing whatever for a nice piece of change… okay!

This Limited Series was seen as a precursor to OHOTMU, but I say that was only for softening up the paper handlers upstairs. Mark pretty much had to convince everyone that these two projects were, indeed comic books. (Remember, next to Editors, the Marvel business infrastructure was filled with the most unimaginative people in the biz and when I say the “biz” I mean the industry.)

A story to that point revolves around the late Carol Kalish. She was a surprisingly powerful person in charge of selling all the books to distributors and retailers (soon made a Vice President of all that, much to Jim Shooter’s consternation as she was made VP before him). Her phone call could make a huge difference to who bought what, where. This was at a time when Marvel Comics pretty much sold everything it printed, but there could still be successes and failures, even if they were relative. The Marvel Universe was not a traditional comic book. Certainly not on the face of it: strange cover, stranger interior—no people running around in a story. The art was not quite “pin-ups” that were kind of stiff, formal like they were showing off their costume. And words… lots of words.

Carol was a huge comic person in her own right, she was a major collector whose inventory went back to Marvel #1. (–1938 (!)In the odd history of Marvel Comics, the first book was titled “Marvel” and soon after was changed to something else. This was a reflection of the complex lower-priced mail rates, which mandated the work-around of having different publishers creating different comic titles. Something to do with the presses needing something to print no matter what. I think. Better men than I have written about the “second-class mailing privileges” involved here. To wit:

MC Untold Story Cov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISBN-10: 0061992119

ISBN-13: 978-0061992117

Not just a comic fan’s book, a corking good read. This book could have been twice as long. Yes, I contributed to this one. Despite that you should pick this up!)

Ahem, so Carol was a big influence in comics and she didn’t seem to care much for MU, likening it to Contest of Champions. Now, to my understanding, it’s not that she didn’t like either title. It seems to me that she was merely trying to get the comic distributors to understand what this other book, MU, was like. But it was a bad call as, again to me, either book stood quite on its own. Introducing a man who needs no introduction: Peter David. Young Peter was Carol’s assistant back then (roughly 1983 or so). We now know him as a gifted writer/genius but back then he worked for Carol. Peter did this one good thing: when we had the first 20 pages of MU, Vol “A” completed, he cranked out copies and sent them off to the various distributors. He got in trouble for this with Carol; perhaps for going over her head. I know because my typesetter’s office was right around the corner from their offices—we all affected Wall Street hours back then and so in the relative quiet of 8AM, I could hear her yelling at poor Peter.

But Peter David is the Champion of Comics as far as we were concerned! Mark especially. We didn’t know Peter that well, but Mark’s tone of respect was unmistakable.

 

Let’s Talk OHOTMU

Mark had been organizing, collating, tabulating and cross-referencing comic characters and stories since his childhood.

The MU continuum is an interesting window on the “true” Mark Gru. Le’me explain… Mark liked lists and organization. He was a collector of things, not so much as them, themselves, but of their essence. Hence the ephemeral lists. It could be said he spent a leeetle bit too much time on such things…

DCvsMrv System Chart

This sort of multi-world weirdness is what intrigued and motivated Mark. This chart was made around the time of his first fanzine, Omniverse—perhaps 1976. So you see, he’d been warming up for OHOTMU for quite a while. Such an example of minutiae suggests Mark read a lot of comics already. A lot… okay; all of them! As well as books, movies… stuff!

This is not meant to address the question of who originated the idea of such a thing as OHOTMU. Remember, I was there but I wasn’t everywhere. I was not in Shooter’s office when the idea was floated. Pointing out that Contest of Champions or the diagram above came well before that meeting only suggests who said what first. For all I know, Jim could have said I need a sliding scale of super-hero strength. Perhaps Mark answered we need an encyclopedia of all the super-heroes! Or vice-versa… In my opinion, it was “time” for something like OHOTMU. What no one knew was that it would last this long, stay this strong as a brand.

OHOTMU 1 Cov Spread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Okay, so here’s a typical page from #1. If you peruse the page you will immediately note a pleasing balance of art to text. All the information fits in a few paragraphs… Tersely written, dense but appealing– readable even!

MU 1 sample page001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Jump ahead to MU#3 and here we see:

MU 3 sample page001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Yeah… we went a little crazy. It seemed like there was a whole lot more that needed saying. I’m not even going beyond #3 as it got outright ridiculous. I think Captain America’s entry ran to two pages. (I’m afraid to look, might be three…) It was around this time that I fully exploited my typesetting computer’s ability to generate type to a tenth of a point size. For example, I didn’t have to settle for type that 10 points with 12 points of leading (which is the space figured out for the next line of type, it affects the look of the paragraph), I could have 7.3 on 7.7… yeah, that sounds about right for the average page around #8…

The first book took 6-7 weeks of hard labor. We knew the first book had to have the “look.” That took some time. To the best of my knowledge, it was Mike & Mark who designed that look. It stood the test of time and text inundation. But in that first month or so, we all went home, cooked our own food, slept in our own beds and brushed our own teeth… We also realized that had to end.

OHOTMU was a monthly.  So if we took 7 weeks to do one book, we had to stuff that amount of work into oh, gee, 3.5 weeks (Shooter needed to go through everything and maybe make some changes). Then, as can be seen, when we started writing with our minds fixed on War And Peace, we had to stuff yet more time into ah, 4 weeks… ahh… 4.2 weeks… Truth be told, considering that a decade later, every book being “late” was normal, we never missed our deadline.

How did we do it?

 

Long Hours, No Showers!

Yep. Both Mike and I found that we could send in a time sheet that reflected the number of hours we spent working in the building. Mark, as an executive, could not. That is how I know that my record was a 153 hour “week.” But, Eliot, you may be thinking, there’s only 168 hours in a week! Yep, that means for 15 glorious hours I got home perhaps once or twice that week, did whatever mindless thing I did in my apartment (shower, change clothes) and returned to the office.

Alas, to quote my chum Mike, let no good deed go unpunished. By so doing that level of overtime salary compensation, it was decided that assistant editors were now to be considered “exempt employees.” This bit of obscure fiducial legalese means we were then considered able to understand the idea of selfless devotion and sacrifice for the good of the company. If, the JOB required that you stay an additional 3 hours that night, you did so with no thought of money in return!

Despite the fact that I here, now apologize to all my office mates who were thereafter damned to work for their base salaries and not one dime more, I do blame Barry Kaplan, Marvel’s Comptroller for being so cheap. I should point out that I don’t recall hearing of anyone in editorial putting in for overtime (Mike the only exception and only for his run on MU). And, when I was putting in for overtime, I was a part of Bullpen Production, as typesetter. Only after Tom DeFalco who stunned me (I mean tasered me) and had me step up from the muck and mire of production into the muck and mire of editorial, did it affect me.

It was Mark who had to walk the paperwork in and to Shooter’s credit it was he who had to fight the good fight upstairs. After all, it’s not as if we were getting paid for doing nothing. I later guessed that I was responsible for typesetting about 600,000 words. Up to #11 when I was tapped for editorial.

I have to point out that all those new executives were not given “executive” salaries. Nor was I. I believe my salary before was $15K and after promotion, $16K. In Manhattan, just enough to squeak by. Yes, I made some sweet overtime money and also did artwork – completely separate time. That just meant I could buy a second pair of pants, see movies and eat better take-out food when doing my overtime.

One illustrative moment occurred on Christmas Day, 1984. Mike, myself and Luke the Security Guard (lovely fellow, by the way—yet another unsung hero in the big story of Marvel) were in the office, on the phone with Mark. Mark and Belinda were in Oshkosh celebrating with Mark’s family. The three of us were using a speaker phone – the only one we could get to which, if memory serves, was up in reception on the 11th Flr—and Mike and I were taking down corrections. Again, if memory serves, Mike and I broke it up and left the building at about 2:30 in the afternoon, going to our respective houses of celebration. I remember being irritated and distracted during Mom’s Xmas Day meal, only because I needed to return to the office that night. Alas, I cannot recall whether Mike joined me; probably yes. The work was needed the following work week for final Shooter approval.

When Mark arrived in the office, that very work week day, I believe he had more corrections that he had unearthed while on the plane trip. All of Marvel Universe was that sort of carousel ride.
 

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_8

My typesetting office. When Mark realized that what he had available was what we now call a “word processor,” he loved using it. Of technical note: high-resolution type was photographically generated on long rolls of paper. There was a nicely engineered “x-ray plate processor” just behind Mark, that needed constant attention and cleaning to keep it going. At Mark’s left hand is a couple of boxes of 5-1/4” “floppy disks!” Not only did one have to store all work on those things… one had to make this hunk of junk a Frankensteinian monster into a word processor every time you turned it on. Yes, you had to install the Disk Operating System each and every time. Of further note and painful memory, that horrid monochrome amber screen… there are phones today that are close in size to that working area. If that were not bad enough, the characters on that screen had to fit on a grid—so there was no pre-visualizing of what you were outputting (no “what you see is what you get”).

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_1

 

Mid-winter, Febuary, 84, middle of the night. Jack Morelli wrapped in his Spider-Man sleeping bag. Mike Carlin (chopped off, I know I was laughing and standing on a chair for this shot) “going for his gat” (SCTV reference, mentioned in a previous post). By looking over the negs before and after, this was a weekend spent during a blizzard that shut down NYC. I also know it was about 1:30-2AM.

Doing all this work was an amazing experience. ‘Amazing’ in that we did it so gladly. Mark had a zealot’s passion in a comic-booky way I hasten to add. Mark was really easy to work with; Mike too. We three had already spent some late nights putting together his third Omniverse. He had wanted to redesign it, liked The Scientific American’s layout. So that’s what we did. Alas, I never got a “proof” set of Xeroxes and only really saw the boards I pasted up.

But after that we three—with the off-stage help of Peter Sanderson and verbally unchallenged Peter Gillis—launched into Marvel Universe. Roughly April/May of 1983. Now, Peter and Peter, as far as I could tell, were Mark’s secret weapon. Between them they remembered every miniscule detail of every comic ever printed. Worse, they were of the rigorous research background and felt that “mere” eidetic memory was not good enough. No, there must be proof! Individual panels must be called out, identified and annotated!

A point about Sanderson was that he had been hired by DC to read every book in their library (this was back in the early 80s, I think), in order to pick out merchandising opportunities. You might have a better image of Peter doing this if you picture a puppy with an old slipper. Gillis I know much less well, all I needed to know was that his family was responsible for inventing and perfecting lensatic art, an early form of “3D animated” art. His family home had a huge chunk of it devoted to the equipment with which to make those peculiar forms of artwork. And he had a book devoted to translating Egyptian hieroglyphs on his coffee table. So he was OK in my book.

As the workload increased, more and more researchers were brought on. But those guys set the standard. This remembrance isn’t really about me but this highlights something much harder to quantify about Mark and his comic co-conspirators. Anyone reading this might know that I was involved in MU as the “technical illustrator.” I drew up all the buildings, spaceships, guns, whacky gadgets, whatever was needed. Often, I would not know of something or where it came from. I read comics, sure, but not like those guys! I didn’t really appreciate that until, years later I worked on the Marvel Atlas (2007). The modern day researcher would chuck together a hugely inefficient pile of conflicting or weak imagery with no notes of any kind. I spent many frustrating hours/days staring at the pile until it gelled. Back in the day, I would be given a single panel that perfectly illustrated what a costume or weapon did. If they felt that more information was needed, I was called in and took some notes. On occasion, a second panel might be offered!

That’s how “on target” those fellows were.

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_7

 

Mark food (Gru Fuel) was air-popped popcorn. I always had sensitive teeth and could not enjoy this foodstuff while worrying about running into an unpopped kernel. Sharp-eyed comic enthusiasts will spot a toaster with the name “Rom” on it. The cylindrical gadget to image left is the hot-air popper.

 

OHOTMU Poster Concept SM

 

 

This was the ‘high concept’ of the MU covers at one point. Not sure whose idea it was, but this high quality sketch was no doubt executed by Ed Hannigan, cover designer extraordinaire. I’m pretty certain this idea was never brought to fruition [can’t find a “final” on the net]. A cursory examination of any two printed covers of the first volume in alphabetical order will show the characters crossing between the adjacent edges. Of note is that this piece was at a point in time when the Books of The Dead and my own beloved Book of Weapons, Hardware and Paraphernalia, issues #13-15, were not at all certain!

SlumberParty810019 SM

 

Adding issue #6 (K-M –Kang to Man-Bull), you can see Jack Morelli assembling an in-progress version of the poster-to-be. Or so we thought at the time… This pic was taken during a late winter snow storm in 1984 when we all were “trapped” in the building for an entire “Marvel Universe” weekend.

 

MU Sleepover In Off 84_1

Save

On another long weekend, with the book done and on Shooter’s desk. But we stayed up to 4:30AM getting it there and were a little tired. But not tired enough to take a gag photo—probably because I’d brought my tripod in for something else. Any old Marvelite will remember that when we got our spiffy new reception area on 10, there was a built-in couch. That couch was made up of two custom cushions, seat and back. If you look carefully, Mike and I are on those. Mark got the couch that grasping over-lord! Of note is that we had to move furniture around to spread out on the floor, I am decorously draped in a ratty old plaid blanket from home and while we are definitely striking a pose—I could only do so much as the self-timer on my sweet old Nikon FM was mechanical and I had to hop lively to get over Mike and hit the deck. Also of note was that the building shut down the heat plant every work night at about 7PM, while they did turn it on for a little while on Saturday, come winter it could get mighty cold by 4:30AM! One winter was so bad, we slept inside the Xerox Room which was in the middle of the building and left the mighty Canon 7000 on all night.

 

I Want My MTV!

As I write this, I note that MTV is celebrating its 35th Anniversary… unsettling on many levels… but here, is what it meant to the OHOTMU gang! When Marvel moved from 575 Mad down to 387 Park, we got a whole new office. The suits got a whole new set of magnificent offices including a huge conference room!  In that room was a locked cabinet that held a TV set! Attached to that set was a Manhattan Cable-TV switch box!!! Editor Mark could get the key… !

Of course, now every kid has a phone that can allow anyone to watch any recorded thing in the history of humanity! Back then we paid through the nose to watch 36 channels of whatever “They” felt like putting on. But for one shining moment… there was Music Tele-Vision… music videos… ! I mean they played music videos, never mind whatever it is the hell else they are doing now. And during lunches on the weekends, we could watch them. All 4 of them, over and over. No, I am not kidding, there were only 4. Sure that changed, but our work load increased to the point we had to quit having that kind of fun. As much fun as those videos were, I am still sick of Video Killed The Radio Star and You Better You Bet.

We-e-ell… I’m exaggerating a little. By 1983 we had a lot more videos to watch (above I am referring to the first year of MTV’s narrowcasting). Dolby’s Blinded Me With Science, anything by Devo (we scraped monies together and saw them in concert!) and anything by Talking Heads. One video hit Mark right between the eyes: Falco’s Amadeus! Especially the single with the English language drop-ins (“—1756 Salzberg, January 27, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is born—“ etc.!) But having MTV available made meals almost… normal. Just because we were up in “Executive Territory” at 2-in-the-morning didn’t bother us, we had our MTV!

Finding food at 2AM was made all the easier by having a Smiler’s just on the next block. We would troop in, gingerly stepping past the midnight people, hookers, transvestites, transvestite hookers and get our spicy chicken and macaroni and cheese. The fellow who ran it was a doctor from India whose license was not honored by immigration. He struggled for a while, only being able to find work at a 24-hour convenience store. I ran into him many years later at another Smiler’s and he remembered me without pause. At that point, which was about 2004 he owned 4 Smiler’s franchises… He had written a book about his experiences with the title “417.” That number being that Smiler’s street address just up the ave from 387. It seems it was possibly self-published, as I cannot find it online and I do not recall the fellow’s name.

Let me take you back to 1984. The movie adaptation of the wildly successful Broadway play “Amadeus” is released. Tim Hulce played Mozart. Marvel’s own Dave Wohl, at the time assistant to Howard Mackie (friend and crony to Mike and Mark, et al) had such a strong resemblance to Mr. Hulce that Dave to this day has the nickname, “Amadeus.” Because of that resemblance and owing to Mark playing Falco’s Amadeus over and over, Dave can also perform all the “drop-ins” in perfect synchrony to the song. No doubt still to this day. Go ahead, anyone, play the song near him and see what happens!

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_3

 

A hilarious set-up shot during one of the relatively rare times famous inker but less well-known fine arts painter, Joe Rubinstein, came in to deliver pages. I think this and the following were shot for Marvel Age, Marvel’s advertising organ.  I may have suggested that Joe pick up that pencil to make some insightful points to Mark. Mark could just keep a straight face.

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_2

 

More staged photos. We never edited side-by-side or ever listened to anything Joe had to say. Of note is, pinned to the full-wall cork board a menu for Donut Faire. For a long time, that wonderful shop was located in the north corner of our building. A great variety of absolutely disgusting sugar-drenched sugar-bearing doughnuts. And some pretty good coffee.

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_5

 

OHOTMU #5 L-R: Mark Gruenwald, Belinda Glass (Mark’s then wife), Mike Carlin, Chris XXX (name eliminated to protect the innocent), Eliot Brown. As I recall this was at an almost human hour. Hence the presence of the ladies. Marvel’s offices were on 28th St., I lived up on 66th and the East Side, Gru lived up on 82nd on the West Side, Mike lived in southern Brooklyn—not too sure where Chris lived. Those two were dating and I think seriously, but soon not!

 

MU 3 5 8 Gru n Gang_4

 

OHOTMU #5 complete! When we moved into 387 Park Avenue South, the architect had given us offices that had two outstanding things. Floor to ceiling windows on the interior facing walls. Floor to ceiling cork board on the non-exterior-window walls. That’s a lot of cork! The rolls were 8-feet tall and about 12-feet when unrolled. Thus there were no seams. We all disliked the giant windows and almost no one kept their curtains open. But Mark took to the cork with a will. Almost immediately, he put up a grid so that every page had a place. This way he and Mike could see what the status was of any page. Everybody else pinned in-progress, shrunk-down pages on the walls, but only Mark n Mike set up a whole, actual book layout.

 

It was Mark who assembled this never-to-be-done-again team of brilliant thinkers, workers and artisans. This was a point in Marvel’s and comics in general’s history where it was possible to drive forward such a project and pay for it. That was dumb luck or inspired genius on Mark’s part. I say genius. There were lots of people listed in the credits but it was Mark who was the lighthouse lamp in the dark.

 

End Part Four

 

Mark Gruenwald Remembered Some More—Part Three

Read full article | No Comments

[Special Thanks: I am greatly indebted to colleague and chum, Carl Potts, who secured Mark’s “Daily Desk Blotter” from Catherine, Mark’s widow, and scanned the whole damn thing! Then making it available to me.]

Cheeses Saves!

Mark came from the center of the Cheese Universe according to him, Madison, Wisconsin, which he felt was a place to escape. He loved comics as a kid and never lost that love. When he was in college, he actually created a Wisconsin-based superhero Augmento and drew several months of story for the college newspaper. Which was based in The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, in Madison… or “U-Wisc-O-Mad” in Gru-speak!

Augmento Lives Poster SM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Augmento advert! Art by Mark and William Bukowski, © (as of now) The Mark Gruenwald Estate. What kind of super-hero was this Augmento? Oshkosh’s first and perhaps only super-hero? I don’t know. Mark did not include any “tear sheets” of his newspaper strips. Neither did he ever mention it!

MG Bodi 2 1973 SM

Mark was grit-toothed aware of the limits of what adults could do in comics. Physically as well as relationally. Especially when he became a pro. But before that—here in 1973—we see him exploring his un-honed creative instincts. That and a variety box of Zip-A-Tone graphics film! No idea what “Bodi” was intended for. The only clue is that it is very close to comic art-size. Eventually he came to invest Hawkeye with a serious girlfriend; Captain America too.

UMad Mod Danc Conc PosterSM

Early college-days Gruenwald… typography and all!

For any early comic-lover, New York City was the place to escape to! For much of comic book history, NYC was the locus of all things comics. Editors, publishers and most of the artists and writers that worked in comics lived there. That was still mostly true till only a few years ago. But back then, in 1976, moving there was the only way to break into comics. Mark had visited the city for a brief, frustrating and short period of time. I can almost see the younger Mark plodding the streets, saving his subway fare money for food and comics. But that time was not right. Rather quickly, he had to retreat back home. He took several small jobs, saved up and decided it was time!

On that second trip to NYC, (May, 1976) he got his first apartment (with a fellow Wisconsonian, the late Bill Poplaski, who had pioneered his way to the Met Opera as a literal spear-carrier) and he struggled to make his money stretch (“starving” as he put it!). He often dined with an extended group of Wisconsin ex-pats. During Creation Con 1976, at New York’s Statler Hilton, he actually met Paul Levitz who was DC Comics’ Editor In Chief and interviewed him. Because he was able to chat easily about the DC characters and storylines, Levitz must’ve been impressed. That got Mark’s foot in the door. In fact, on his first trip to NYC, his first comic appointment was at DC. He ran into legendary editor Julie Schwartz who told him his ideas were not “commercial” enough…

On this luckier second trip, Mark got a freelance proof-reading job at DC, thanks to Paul Levitz who remembered him. He was writing some kind of Justice League history for Levitz, so somewhat more of his leg was in the door. What a different world comics would be, if Mark had gotten a staff position at DC first… It may not come as a surprise that Mark had a full run of both houses of comics!

While visiting the DC offices, he met Denny O’Neill and many other writers and editors. He also “crossed the pond” to visit Marvel’s offices and apply for a job where he met Archie Goodwin (then Editor In Chief)—people he had met on the convention junkets. When he visited Marvel he ran into Ralph Macchio. Ralph and he would become not just close friends, but one of the most obscure yet most cultish writing team in that their work is still discussed today. That was to happen later, as there was no position quite available then.

There was simply not enough of this infrequent DC freelance to pay his rent—even with a roommate. His devoted parents sent some cash. Eventually, he had to become a “Kelly Girl.” This was a “temporary worker” agency that had to go co-ed! That served to get him into a bank who rapidly hired him as the head of the Filing Department! Mark’s longest non-comic employ was as a bank teller, about a year.

He finally had a steady income which allowed him to create a comic fan magazine or “fanzine.” He did it all himself. Now Mark could draw… badly. When comic artwork is made, it breaks down into two big fields, pencils and inks. Mark could do neither very well; which he knew. Comics needed a dense, black line so that the printers could get a strong line to print, such was the technology. Most of the great, personal fights in comics are about a penciler not following the writer’s storytelling words, or the inker overwhelming the penciler’s work or the inker not being good enough… lots of all that! Thus, Mark chose to ink himself only when he could not afford a real comic inker. But he could write. His later, major fanzine Omniverse #s 1 & 2 are still sought after. There was supposed to be a #3, but I only set a little type, worked on the boards and never saw a printed mag.

Omniverse 1 cov001

Omniverse Magazine—The Journal Of Fictional Reality, issue #1. Cover by Pete Poplaski. ©Alternity Enterprises/The Mark Gruenwald Estate.

Down The Swirling Time Tunnel…

A technical note on Marvel’s office organization. In the beginning, there was Stan–! Well, I went back too far. The Bullpen went through many changes over the decades. Stan got on staff (never mind how you can read about that elsewhere) then almost immediately went to war. But he came back having waged a war of words against the Axis Powers (Stan had been an ad man and worked well in the Signals Corp writing newspaper articles) and then proceeded to work in comics for real. In 1945, there was no real organization to gather people, stories and artwork together. It seems like it was Stan who worked up the system of room-fulls of talent that became The Bullpen. There were entire rooms devoted to holding the artists and writers, who did the work right there! It was Stan who apparently handed out the work. The artists and writers were paid for whatever part of each page completed. Decades pass… The Bullpen was a much smaller number of people, the offices had moved around. At one point, Marvel as we know it, was much reduced, “down-sized,” leaving behind a skeleton crew. Magazine Management, who owned a bunch of magazines as well as Marvel Comics was ready to shut down the money-losing entity. Apparently comic-sales “rack space” was devoted to the printer’s schedule back then. If there was a space assigned it needed to be filled. That’s when Stan pulled his last-ditch, what-the-heck play, writing the famous group of mags back in 1963-ish—an account of Marvel’s history that has been recounted by Stan The Man himself—a Living Legend. At 93 as of this writing, a Living Fossil! Well, I love Stan and he has done amazing things over 75+ years.

Speaking of 75 years…

75 Years Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISBN-13: 9783836548458

Buy this book! Roy Thomas wrote it and he’s about as knowledgeable about those 75 years as anyone alive—including Stan, who has a terrible memory. This book supplants the lighter-weight Five Fabulous Decades Of The World’s Greatest Comics Marvel. Roy’s book is engagingly written and much more even-handed. Hey, I contributed to both of them so I can be brutal… There’s a lot more weight to Roy’s book, extraordinary reproduction of very nice comic material—but—if you are a True Fan, you might wish to have FFDOTWGCM, below, just for the pretty pictures!

marvellesdaniels_frontcover_small72

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISBN-10: 0810938219

ISBN-13: 978-0810938212

But—back to 1977! Mark had gone into business with a friend (Dean Mullaney) to produce Omniverse Magazine. He made sure to get a copy in every editor’s hands on both sides of the biz. Young Jim Shooter, then brand-new Editor in Chief at Marvel (in a complex parade, Jim was assistant to the afore-mentioned Archie, who departed), liked what he saw and invited Mark in for an interview. Shooter had just reorganized The Bullpen so that so-called “Creator/Editors” would not have the unfair advantage of having an office from which to assign work to themselves. There were also nothing but Assistant Editors, with Jim riding herd on all of them. So Jim decided to make some of them Editors and hire more Assistants… [of course it’s much more convoluted than that, but this is how Mark arrived at the right time… –Chrome Dome Brown] …Mark had found his home. When not counting out other people’s monies or “filing” it, he was eating, breathing and living comics. Now he could do it professionally.

Early Gru 79_1

One of the earliest pix I have of Mark. Some time in mid-1979 and at Marvel’s 575 Madison Ave offices. No; they didn’t give those coffee cups away. We had to steal them.

End of Part 3

 

Mark Gruenwald More Remembering Part Two

Read full article | No Comments

Not-So Cheap Laffs

Dave visits Cheap Laffs Jun841

Mark’s childhood friend Dave visits Cheap Laffs. L-R: Mike Carlin, Dave Lofver up top, Mark Gruenwald and Eliot Brown. June, 1984. What gets me angry with myself is that, of all places and events, I was unable to take pictures. Mark made us up shirts and you can see a cue card on the floor behind me. We had better eyes back then!

 

The Federal Communication Commission decided that part of the deal with getting cable-TV all over the place in NYC, was that service providers had to serve the public good. How, you ask? By letting clowns like us have “public access” to these public channels. That’s all Mark needed to know! Truly a Judy Garland/Micky Rooney moment: “I’ve a TV camera… I’ve got a room… I’ve got some lights… let’s put on a show!” Yep, anybody could walk in with a “show” of some kind and they would put it on the air… er, cable. Even >shhh< risqué sexy stuff! Only a couple of shows made any money in return, which were sex oriented shows. Anyone alive at that time in NYC might remember Robin Byrd. The rest of it was a mind-boggling clutch of weird and awful “talk shows,” memory lane stuff, I remember a psychic and soon there was to be the brief meteoric rise (and fall) of Cheap Laffs!

Mark was making money writing a couple of books per month. It’s hard to describe the influence on one’s life that freelance money could have. That’s probably a philosophical exercise that I’ll not pursue here. But Mark was making money. We went across Park Avenue South to an electronics house and Mike and Mark and I figured out which “cam-corder” to buy. I know… ‘you kids’ with your full-feature phones (feebly shake fist in air…). This was a monstrosity by any measure. The power supply and channel tuner side was the same size as the VHS tape recorder/playback unit. Then there was the camera—quite separate and only the size of small dog. About as easy to hold up too. As I recall this cam-corder set-up was about $2400 in late 83 dollars!

We needed to edit. In the pre-anything-easy time of the last century, we all three took a video shooting and editing course. Just a few blocks south of Marvel was legendary musician, Moogy Klingman, who offered an audio/video workshop and class. Moogy was a super accomplished session man who I had heard of because of his work with Todd Rundgren (even bigger legendary musician guy!). Moogy had a bunch of beat-up ¾-inch tape U-Matic format machines that we all three learned to edit with. Sadly, the ½-inch VHS tapes we shot on had to be copied ‘up’ and edited in that ¾-inch size and then copied back ‘down’ to ½-inch for delivery to the local Manhattan Cable office (which I think was down on 14 St. –all very convenient). Each transfer rendered up a generational loss which accounts for the truly crappy version of what can be seen on YouTube… We rented time to edit all 8 shows.

Mike Carlin was the bachelor of the three of us. His apartment was far-off in Brooklyn (a borough of New York City) and made the ideal production facilty. Of course, he took the subway in day-to-day but we generally took Mark’s Dodge Dart—that’s a whole ‘nother story— or Jack’s Buick Riviera, because we usually shot our sketches on weekends. Mike’s place had a wacky painted plaid wall finish which he did not paint over and did well for us. We built a “set”—shown above. Lettering stalwart, Jack Morelli, designed and executed the logo you see. Jack was really a fourth, but he had an even greater trip to get home and couldn’t join us every time.

Who did what? Mark and Mike did most of the writing—there was an advantage to having an office full of typewriters. Jack and I had ideas but didn’t really get them down in any timely fashion. Jack was a natural actor, ranging from light comedy to stunt work. I was the only one with any – strictly amateur – stage experience at all. I mostly did all the techie stuff. I made a – noisy, buzzy—mixer for the microphones, contributed all my “hot” photographic lighting and wired up the whole set each time. We took very few chances with script and dialog and Mike and Mark wrote up cue cards for every bit.

Mark as actor… when addressing the camera as a commentator, he mostly did a dead perfect imitation of comedian Martin Mull. Mr. Mull was a pseudo talk-show host on a very funny send-up of all talk-shows Fernwood Tonight. I recommend you check it out. When Mark was himself, he was his usual loose-jointed comedic self.

Mike already sounds exactly like Orson Bean. I know… might as well say someone who recorded on Edison cylinders. But look him up, listen to the guy and you’ll hear who I mean. Mike Carlin was already one of the driest funny men I’ve ever met. Getting him to “act” was not really necessary. His normal delivery was pretty funny. Mike was a natural comic actor with that rarest of “perfect timing” instinct.

Jack Morelli, aside from still being one of my closest friends, is a comedic genius. I use the word ‘genius’ because he doesn’t seem to know it. He was game to do all sorts of dumb things and he made them all work without trying. For example, the sketch where Jack is playing a kid whose mom warns him not to watch the violent Three Stooges, and when he sneaks a look, she whacks him like a rag doll. That was done with Nancy Golden as the mom and Mike Carlin doing Stooge sound track and “punch” noises—both off-camera—we just see Nancy’s arm as she beats her child. Jack is on his knees, playing a child. All he is doing is reacting – all done in one take, all done with minimal scripting. Also, Mike could generate entire Three Stooges sound effects and random dialog at will, perfectly. He still can.

If you manage to find one of the chunks of Cheap Laffs on YouTube, the bit where Mike applies Shave-O to his face and begins to shave gets me helplessly laughing to this day. Where Mark is literally pulling a nose-hair-as-a-tarantula out of his nose, is shot in Marvel’s 387 Park Ave Men’s Room! During the opening credits the three main guys are making cutesy faces over the floral display that was part of Marvel’s reception area. I bit and pulled up some plants—we all hated the idea that money was being spent on maintaining those things—but I carefully put it back later.

CL is a narrow glimpse into Marvel Comics’ people at the time. Editorial members, Danny Fingeroth, Bob Budianski, Howard Mackie, Bob Harris, Annie Nocenti, Nancy “No Relation” Brown (a standard Gru disclaimer), Mike Higgins put up with indignities second only to dealing with freelancers. (For the record, Jack and I were not in Editorial, we were part of the Bullpen Production Staff– like Paul Becton who jumped in to play a security guard.) On occasion, we hoodwinked other staffers to join in, upstairs executive suite “babes” like Nancy Golden and Deb Highly were very good sports. Other comic pros were lured in by the siren call of obscurity and no financial compensation—John Byrne! Best described here as a serious hambone actor. I don’t mean to over-praise John just because I like him, but he managed to breath life into a very silly character. Peter Sanderson who only had to read material out loud to make it funny (okay, another name from the misty past: Alistaire Cooke, who America came to know as the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater in the 70s. Peter sounded just like him).

Then there were our very own, very dear wives and fiances who made the ultimate sacrifice and appeared on camera. Belinda, Mark’s first wife made a couple of appearances displaying a good sportsmanlike side no matter how degrading the scene, Arlene Puentes my own dear one, affianced and who married me despite this horrendous embarrassment and Pat Powers, who was Mike’s fiancé and who had real theatrical experience, displayed professionalism under fire but who decided not to marry Mike. Jack was not affianced to Lisa Hachadoorian but she was a big part of the backstage crew.

Dr. Dread’s Laughter House: (if you never get to see the show online, the visual gag is “Slaughter House.”) THE gauntlet of all the shows. A couple of years prior, Mark had made a joke video to his pal, Dave Lofler. The gag was, I was dressed up in a ridiculous outfit, covered from head to toe in black, with a cape and a full-head cold-weather mask. Mark would supply the off-camera voice and I would pantomime speaking and react with whatever was on the desk in front of me. At the end, I pulled off the outfit to reveal a completely different person than was expected. I know… not exactly a knee-slapper. But it put together this crazy character that Mark had in his mind. When we did a spoof of a low-budget kids’ show, we had the costume all ready. I built the set out of 1”-thick cardboard, a specialty model-making material from Charrette (an artists supply house I loved). I painted up all the rocky texture in the background. It was a big job considering we built the set and shot on the set within a couple of days.

Two worst parts: it was hot. This was June or July down in Brooklyn, I don’t know if Mike even had an air-conditioner—which we couldn’t have run anyway for the noise. The other was that I could not properly wear one of the Lavalier-type microphones. We had to use the mic that was mounted on the camera and I “raised my voice.” Now, why I felt the character needed such a raucous crow-squawk of a voice is now beyond me. At the time, it seemed that as the character had to wear his full-body suit to help with his terrible itching, that it might affect his voice… I know, kind’a weak thinking. Especially because it made those scenes—hard fought for and barely won—hard to understand. We later thought we should run a whole new soundtrack in over the video. As time went on, Mark considered sub-titles.

But—three of those miserable takes taught us that “editing is our friend.” For no known reason we had convinced ourselves that we could get this scene in one take. Turns out we could not!

Of that Dr. Dread material, there’s lots of clever Gruenwaldian material that still gets a chuckle out of me. Mrs. Grue, the Mortician’s Beautician was based on Mark’s own mother! Well, we often called Mark every diminutive of “Gruenwald” that can be imagined and “Grue” was obvious. But his mom was a beautician who would apply more “natural” makeup to the deceased at a local funeral home. In the show, Mrs. Grue was brought in to help Zeke the Zombie ably played by the extra-thin and rubber-limbed Mike. Mrs. Grue herself was played by Nancy Golden—who bravely came out to Brooklyn to be a part of that sweltering hot set.

The segment of the Dr. Dread show that I can see over and over and laugh just as hard each time is when the Dr. goes to ask a question of the Sphinx. Jack seemed like the perfect choice to play the Sphinx himself. Jack and I gathered in the Mike/Mark office during lunch. The night before, I had quickly sketched up an angle on the Sphinx on a piece of foam core I had and used an office watercolor set to finish it off. I crudely measured Jack’s head and chopped out a hole that came pretty close. Mark had given me a Darth Vader figure (original!!!) and I quickly wired it to a stick and figured out a gimmick to move its arm up and down. I set up the angle in camera, stuffed the picture over Jack’s head and we got it in one take. The idea was to ask the Sphinx a big, mysterious question and to offer a bribe of a “Mummy Pellet.” Which in this case was a cough drop. When I flipped it at Jack’s head he jumped but recovered quickly. I just cannot watch without laughing. Stick with the on-line appearance till you find the scene and see if you find it funny.

As we edited that whole “show” we discovered that we could run the soundtrack backwards. This made the closing credits of Dr. Dread’s show run backwards along with the music! That was a delight to us all as it sounded almost scary. Mark found a “sound effects” record from Halloween, which had a moaning wind which sounded great for the theme music and the Sphinx scene. It also had some yowling cat noises which I thought added to the daffiness.

Speaking of music, Mark wrote the Cheap Laffs theme song which all three of us recorded in Mike’s apartment. Oddly Mark didn’t want us to join him in three-part harmony. I say oddly because when we three tried it, we were perfect together. I would not have thought Carlin had such a good ear—me, I had an okay voice but was never certain of pitch. For some reason Mark’s music was in all our ranges and Mike and I could follow his phrasing as tightly as  Mambo Band. Together we sounded great. But Mark thought otherwise. Mike and I just rolled our eyes at each other and moved on. Mark recorded the Dr. Dread theme back in his apartment with Belinda supplying screams as musical counterpoints. It should be noted that Belinda trained as an opera singer. Other “public domain” music was suggested and found by long-standing office comrade and writer, Roger Stern.

One weekend during Cheap Laffs, I had to go off to see an old friend get married. I rented a tuxedo. I came in on a Friday and said, guys, I’m going to have this tux until Tuesday, come up with a bit! What happened was me reading “poems.” The poems were lyrics from TV-show songs. Gilligan’s Island, F-Troop, etc. It was Roger who produced the texts on demand! Of note during that other hot and demanding shoot, was that at the very end of shooting perhaps a dozen takes I began coughing. It seemed that could be made funnier. It was then I realized I wanted a prop, a cigarette. I didn’t smoke, but anything for the camera… We re-shot them all and that’s what was chopped up and dropped in through the series.

When we started doing Cheap Laffs, we wondered how hard could it be? Mike, Mark and I, had put together an entire edition of Omniverse (the third edition of Mark’s comic reality magazine) right in the middle of the office moving downtown. All done after-hours and me with my almost-new position as typesetter. Then immediately after that, we started producing OHOTMU in earnest. For the next 15 months we three, for the most part, labored mightily putting together the entire first volume. (Now, sure other people were involved, finely talented inker Joe Rubinstein inked all the figures, polygon Peter Sanderson contributed a huge amount of research and text. But it was us three, with our day jobs and who remained in the office, who did the physical labor of assembling version after version until it was right for all that time.) After that, we reasoned, doing something like a TV show would be a stroll in the park.

Not quite. Cheap Laffs was different from Omniverse or OHOTMU because all of the creatives had a desire to say something. When we realized that our effort was organized along the lines of (highly influential) Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the idea of everyone getting equal credit regardless of input. You were on the team, period.

Finally… how cheap was Cheap Laffs? Mark reckoned it wound up about $800 bucks per show.

 

Coda: For Mark’s Bachelor Party for his second marriage, we put together a Cheap Laffs reunion of sorts. We videoed the whole thing, doing silly and decidedly non-traditional bachelor party stuff. No dancing girls, no alcohol as such just a bunch of us doing silly things. For high hilarity we called it “Cheap Laffs III” – of course there was no “II”. Of course this was some time after the show, Marvel had grown a lot, changed a lot. Many new people were involved and were good friends. So, visible and doing ad-lib antics are Don Hudson, Kevin Tang, Rob Tokar, Mike Higgins, David Wohl, Karl Bollers in addition to Jack Morelli, Mike and myself. I ran across the tape a few years ago and could not get further than 3 minutes in. Considering how happy Mark and Catherine would be, were and had been it was far too much for me. I suppose I should transfer it to DVD if only for posterity’s sake.

 

End Part The Second

 

Mark Gruenwald A Remembrance —

Read full article | No Comments

—In No particular Order

Part The First

June 18, 1953—August 12, 1996
NYT obit001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Times, Aug 14, 1996. The “E” was for Eugene, a name that Mark always laughed about having.

“There’s nothing funny about the funny book business. And when I say the ‘business’ I mean the industry.”

BPen-B0001

Some time in 1979 at Marvel’s 575 Madison Avenue’s 6th Floor offices, visible in this direction is the hole in the ground of the AT&T offices. Also note the pen-holder skull nuzzling the bound volumes to the left.

It’s hard for me to write about Mark. Hard to think of him as “gone.” Mostly because I spent so much time with him – and Marvel Universe alum, Mike Carlin – that it seems he is still here (and Mike is just in the next room… ). I visited Catherine Schuller-Gru (The Widow Gru!) in their Upper West Side apartment not long after his dying and scooped out some Gruenwaldian ashes into a handy yogurt container. Well, Mark ate a lot of yogurt. Townsend, his beloved cat, was still slouching around. I have that container down in the basement with me still and I talk to Mark regularly. (Don’t worry! He hasn’t answered back yet.) This ash retrieval was before the still-impressive “ashes in a printed comic” idea that was a request in his will.

This Aug. 12, is the 20th Anniversary of Mark’s “Death Day.” That’s a term he invented, by the way, and is a good an example of Mark’s powers of word play. Mark had many faces, many aspects to himself. He could have a terribly funny way of talking like a monotone robot, more rarely, as impassioned as any street orator. Mark was self-conscious about laughing, hearing his “real” laugh was always a treat because you knew his level of amusement was great enough to make him forget to do his “false” laugh.

“Grow a head, make my day…”

I would say Mark had a fairly “low” sense of humor, which is not to say he was not sophisticated. I had been on-staff at Marvel as a stat-camera operator for only a few weeks. I was far down the hall, Mark’s office was just at a turn in the hall that was occupied by an old-style IBM electro-photocopier machine. But it was a machine that I was familiar with from a previous job. When it needed a paper jam cleared, I was handy to do it quickly. It was fairly laborious though, this was before copy machines could use simple reams of paper; they used rolls (!), paper-paths were all over the place in those early machines and required one to get down on one’s haunches to find any scraps of paper.

In those days, I affected a workingman’s T-shirt and blue jeans which left me vulnerable to exposing the crack of my ass when I was on my haunches. Which was all Mark needed. I felt a pick-pocket’s stealth when a pencil was placed upright in said crack. A quick glance found Mark leaning in a doorway, looking on with an ear-to-ear grin and everyone else in attendance laughing hard.

Another Mark-definer was once, back at the old 575 Madison offices, the entire elevator was filled with no one else but Marvelites. What was special about this—one time!—was that 575 was “entertainment lawyer” central. There were many lawyers above and below who had many big clients (the stand-out for me was spotting a pretty good-looking gal dressed out of place; hair pulled back, white trench coat and flat shoes… my first glance triggered brain cells that told me, “Hey, that looks like Julie Newmar.” Which prompted the rest of me to turn and take a serious look—yep, Julie looking rather subdued but still spectacularly beautiful) clogging the elevators. Even though we were only on the 6th floor, we never rode without stopping several times. This time, there was no one else but us.

“At last,” I cried! “We can finally ride down without… sto… op… ping…” I was pressed against the doors but I could hear the familiar sound of the buttons being pushed. As I turned to look at the controls, there was Mark leaning against the wall—big smile in place. Of course he had pressed all the buttons. And we stopped on every floor down.

Shap Day Fixed

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-1983 Marvel Offices. One of Mark’s playful, crazier office antics: Shap Day! So named after Bullpenner Barry Shapiro. I think he was touched, as least I hope so. The name of the “nose and glasses” was officially “Beagle Puss.” That’s what it said on the package. Everyone in the office was given a pair. This picture here because Mark is in the elevator of 575 Madison Ave. (L-R: Me, Annie Nocenti, Joe Albelo, Mark Gruenwald, Roger Stern and Jack Morelli)

 

If you ever stopped in Mark’s office and asked if he had a moment to listen to an idea, he would say, “Grow a head, make my day.” A cute recasting of one of moviedom’s great quotes by Dirty Harry!

 56th Street side of the Marvel editorial offices at 575 Mad. This is Ralph's office, probably around 1982.

For those who care, this is on the 56th Street side of the Marvel editorial offices at 575 Mad. This is Ralph’s office, probably around 1982.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, bud, let’s party!

For no good reason, Mark became enamored of an early Sean Penn’s performance as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The TV advertising campaign was relentless in those pre-internet days. Penn’s affected, almost dream-like delivery of the line, “Hey, bud, let’s party!” landed inside Mark’s brain and stayed there. For years.

Soon it morphed into simply calling everyone “bud” and initiating most conversations with, “Hey, bud…” When one woman we knew (Karen Scheele, famous Marvel colorist Christie Scheele’s sister) revealed to us she managed to keep herself lathe-thin by eating baked potatoes for at least two out of three meals a day, bud became “spud.” Don’t ask me how, that was Mark’s creative brain, jumping around and making connections hither and thither.

Even today, I call many friends “spud.”

As I’ve said, Mark didn’t let loose with howls of laughter all that often. But when he did… One night the gang was out in New Jersey doing something with Ralph (longer story to follow). We stopped at a rest stop (“–have a nice rest!”) since I have a pathological aversion to public toilets, I waited outside. Soon, Mark’s near-hysterical gobbling laughter carried through the industrial doorway. Gasping for air he plunged outward and staggered against the wall, laughing still. Willing himself to speak and with a face of utter joy I’d not seen before, he told me what made him laugh so much. A bit of men’s stall doggerel, “Turds over 3 pounds must be lowered by rope! – Management.”

Yes, it still is amusing all these years later. But it is Mark’s reaction that makes it quietly hilarious in memory.

Another example was when, during a typical all-week-weekender Marvel Universe work-a-thon, Mike (Carlin) and I were drawn to their office by an inhuman howl of success! “I DID IT!” followed by the –rare—maniacal laughter. What had he done? He had been drinking quarts of orange juice and belching while “speaking.” All the while recording himself (on an old cassette tape recorder). What did he say? “Orca, dorca doo.” I know… doesn’t seem all that funny. But think, Mark’s fun-fascination with silly words like ‘orca’ and his odd-but-lovable affection for bodily eructations… No? Still not funny? Well picture it after sleeping for 4 hours on a couch cushion you pulled in from Marvel’s reception area and were trying to get some work done at 10 O’Clock in the morning… Now it’s funny!

Fart Humor is now relegated to “Dad Jokes” – the “pull my finger” standard– but one could get a smile out of Mark from the slightest fart joke or prank.  I had a palm-of-the-hand over the mouth trick that rendered up a very credible fart noise. And one that could achieve a tune. That could get howls out of Mark. He loved (LOVED) whoopee cushions. Should have brought out his own brand. He often complained of not being able to find “good ones.” At his second wedding, he had his and his partner-in-crime bride’s face on whoopee cushions for every guest…

BATHROOM HulkTreas25 p19 SM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spidey/Hulk from Treasury Edition #25, pg 19, © Marvel Entertainment, LLC

BATHROOM HulkTreas25 p19 CROP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, now that’s funny. Marvel’s Hulk Treasury Edition #25. Impeccable lettering by Jim Novak, who loved a lettering challenge. In this case, not laughing while lettering! Speaking of matters lettering, a name Mark enjoyed was lettering legend Janice Chiang’s, “It’s a name and a sound effect!” Yes, it was used… I think by Mark, possibly Mike Carlin. Spidey/Hulk from Treasury Edition #25, pg 19, © Marvel Entertainment, LLC

 

On rare occasions, Mark and I would talk women… As a list-maker and nascent order-ranker, before Marvel Universe was a soul-filling passion, women needed more detailed ordering. At least for purposes of conversation. One measure we worked on was the “Street Of Broken Glass Standard.” Would you crawl across a street of broken glass to—what? We never got that far, really. I guess to make some of those comic-pro moves one hears so much about (“I’m good friends with Stan Lee…”). Every female comic professional were ranked and ordered in every category you can imagine. And ladies, you were ALL on the list. No names; please don’t ask. One of his great female appreciation innovations was, “A face that could stop an atomic clock!” We also speculated that those little three-legged supports used for delivering pizzas—keeping the cardboard off the cheese—could also be used by large-busted women to keep the bottoms of their boobs off of tables. Always thinking, my old friend…

An oddity that may be specific to the Madison, Wisconsin region was referring to women’s breasts as “wobs.” Not just a funny word but fun to say.

 

“I’ll have the Slenderella.”

In the good old days, we did not enjoy expense accounts. Plus we generally could not justify ordinary meals out. So it was just us and our free-range wallets. Mark would sidle up to an external display of a menu and intone, “I see 12s and 15s…” and we would move on. “Greek Diners” were quite prevalent through New York City and certainly the areas around Marvel’s 575 Madison Ave and 387 Park Ave South offices. There we would find “—6s and 7s…” and in we would go. Mark was not exactly a vegetarian, he preferred the term “piscatarian.” “Feathers and fins” was the complete diet plus a lot of cheese.

The Slenderella appeared on pre-printed menus at several diners around 387. I believe I was with Mark when he first saw it and he found the name hilarious. He ordered it without finding out what was in it. Turns out there were a couple of styles. One was a turned-over can of tuna fish on a bed of lettuce. Another was a scoop of cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce. But anyone who spent any time with Mark would eventually see him happily order one.

 

“I don’t need a wheelchair, I use it for respect!”

–Guy Caballero, ostensible President of Second City TV, portrayed by Joe Flaherty

My vocal range was very close to good Mr. Flaherty’s and I could do a bang-up impression of Guy Caballero. That was another thing that could get Mark laughing. We all enjoyed SCTV and often integrated various catch-phrases and gestures into our every-day activities. Mark, Mike and capacious bibliophile, Peter Sanderson were all big fans. Thanks to Mark, somewhere buried deep in OHOTMU, is a perfectly reasonable use of ‘Guy Caballero’ as someone’s identity…

There was a silly courtroom trial where the SCTV gang portrayed gangsters. The man in the docket, when accused by the opposition lawyer, would lunge for his gat by reaching into his coat’s breast pocket. Of course the lawyer would lunge for his and ultimately, the jury would all lunge for theirs… great stuff. Mike Carlin to this day, even bedecked in a tasteful Hawaiian shirt, will lunge for his gat… Andrea Martin played a weird kid’s TV-show hostess with John Candy as her lumbering sidekick. She would break into song, mangling Hot Chocolate’s “I Believe In Miracles,” to “I believe in molecules…” Mark would croon that at random times.

One of the things I continue to lament over is what Mark would have made out of the modern day internet. Even the one of only 5-7 years ago. YouTube alone would have drawn him in. As it was, he gathered together the Marvel office crowd to shoot small videos. That time was after my on-staff time but not before…

 

Cheap Laffs—The Cable Comedy TV Show!

Dave visits Cheap Laffs Jun842

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark’s childhood friend, Dave Lofver visited the Cheap Laffs set, Brooklyn, NY (ahem, Mike’s apartment and thanks to that rubber head, Mike’s not the low man on the totem pole!). ©Dave Lofver and used with no particular permission except that of our mutual love of an old friend!

 

End Part The First

 

Paul Becton –Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…

Read full article | No Comments

BL Becton 080716Paul Becton was the on-staff colorist for the comic end of Marvel. He came on staff not too long after me, some time in 79 (I think). I’m not sure of the exact title, but he made corrections to existing color guides. This may not be the place to explain the Byzantine coloring system comics used in the pre-Photoshop days, but Paul was a master of it. Speaking of ‘Byzantine’ he also put together the “folded and gathereds” better known as F&Gs or “make readies.” This was an uncut, hot off the presses, version of a comic book. To set up the printing press in order to print a comic, an arrangment of pages had to be put together so that when all folded up, wrapped in a cover and stapled together, it all made sense. Instead of a gigantic machine to do all that automatically, we had Paul! If you ever were to see a bunch of these things, there would be no apparent order. Four pages to a sheet– on both sides! the first page next to the last page, pages from all over the book upside-down, etc. Paul made folding those up so that we could read them look easy. Tedious, but easy!

Paul, like every other Bullpenner, took freelance. Paul was often given whole books to color during his job, so for him to take on coloring after hours could be tough. Which doesn’t mean he said ‘no!’

If you are lucky, you will get to hear Paul’s voice before you actually meet him. Not that meeting him is bad! But his basso profundo is the modern day, living embodiment of Mr. Paul Robeson. I invite anyone not familiar with the remarkable Paul Robeson to do an online search and find any song or speech Mr. Robeson made. The voice you hear will be a startling match to Paul Becton’s…

When you get to know Paul a bit better you will find a man committed to the world of radio performances. “Old” radio. At various old radio show conventions, I believe Paul lent his voice talents at recreating shows. That would be a treat. I am sure the con organizers realized it was their lucky day when Paul showed up and volunteered. His real passion were Western serials such as those produced by Republic. At any time you can find a meticulous, tight drawing of a Western subject. Often a cowboy on horseback. Since I always hated drawing horses, seeing him so effortlessly knock these out always filled me with envy. Yes, Paul was, like most Marvel staffers, a person of several talents.

I was visiting the Marvel offices one year and was delighted to see him finishing up a neat rendering of The Shadow (a fairly famous old radio series). I was able to wrest it from him and have it ready to be framed when the wife finishes with “my” wall for “my” stuff…

This picture of Paul is one of my favorites of anyone I’ve caught. One reason is he pulls off “looming menace” very well! He is 6′-4-5″ after all. What I like about it is that this image is in stark contrast to the actual gentle and quiet man I worked with all those years!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Stu Schwartzberg Stat-Man Extraordinaire

Read full article | No Comments

Stu Schwartzberg rests

Stu Schwartzberg rests

Stu Schwartzberg

Stu was the first person I’d ever met at Marvel. Back when I was messengering between Kalish, Quigley & Rosen (essentially Marvel’s off-site advertising arm) and Marvel, it was delivering ad art and taking back photo stats from Stu.

Stu– and I never knew if it was Stuart, Stewart or just plain Stu; Danny Crespi called him “Stuie” — was one of the unsung stalwarts of Marvel Comics. Funny– capital “F” funny, bone-dry humor. (Thick German accent: “Ach! I could have had a V-2!” Ahem, you had to know the V-8 tomato juice ad campaign was in full swing at the time…) When he said anything it was usually funny enough to remember years later (he introduced me to the idea of “skin socks” ahem, or not wearing socks to work…). The word was that he had gone to art school with a former head of Production (The Bullpen), John Verpoorten. Alas Big John died very young back in 1977.

I don’t know when Stu joined Marvel, but he was there when I was a very young messenger boy (1965-66?). This was when the Marvel offices consisted of John Romita Sr., Marie Severin, Morrie Kuramoto who were lined up on one wall, all at taborets. Stan of course and his secretary Mary “Mac” McPherran (whose neon-green micro-mini skirt and blonde hair down to that same hem-line would stay stuck in anyone’s mind).

There was a short hallway just inside the main door and before the stellar line-up mentioned above, in it a doorway with a black curtain instead of a door. At a knock on the frame, Stu would whoosh out much like a stage magician and with all the aplomb. We would exchange envelopes and I was off. On one or two occasions, I accompanied Stu into his awful sanctum. Awful in that is was a statroom of the time. There was the magnificent old-world photo-stat camera — a “steampunk” delight if ever — orange “safe lights” casting a midieval gloom, supplies piled to the ceiling, separate developing tanks and many, many old stats. The thing that made everything miserable was the electric print dryer– a monstrous cabinet-sized contraption that was a very hot metal drum with a fabric wrapper that would dry a damp stat in 30sec. Stu assured me it would also dry out articles of clothing in under a minute. Years later, when Marvel had moved but retained the ever useful drum dryer, he once unrolled a pair of socks and a t-shirt, all board flat and dry as toast!

But that was Stu then, quiet and very busy. Stu and his camera made “safety copies” of artwork. All of the artwork. At one point it was thought they should not keep them once the books were safely printed and in market, but somehow they were not disposed of. So when we look at old collections of stories, it is usually the result of Stu’s labor.

Otherwise, Stu did normal day-to-day production work. If artwork needed to be re-sized or cut up for some advertising purpose, it was Stu making a copy that was used. The cover logos and all the text copy therein was done as artwork first and Stu made a stat of it. The artwork was thus not used.

Stu’s job was made all the more difficult because his stat system only made negatives. To get back to a black-on-white version, he needed to make a stat of a stat, a negative of a negative.

Stu Schwartzberg was also an artist and a very funny, clever writer. He wrote some hilarious send-ups of Poe and movies back when Crazy Magazine and Spoof were in production. A few times I caught him at an after-hours Bullpen taboret and he was laying out a “gag” cartoon. Every once in a Blue Moon, you will run into a “Schwartzerg” in a low-cost paperback filled with gags. One page cartoons of– well, usually “good girl” gags or “battle of the sexes” gags.

The most secrets-behind-the-comics story about Stu that I can tell is this: Magazine Management was the publishing entity that had owned Marvel for decades. But the comic end of that biz was nothing compared to the magazine end. The ‘high concept’ was adventure mags tailored to “returning Korean War vets.” The mag’s titles were all sorts of variations of and including the words: Men, Action, Adventure, Stag, Male (there were some women’s versions, but those came later). To make a long story more so, Stu was in a very different Bullpen at that time (early to mid-70s). He had exchanged his black-out curtain for a more professional rotating light-tight door! But a lot of incidental photos were needed. There were many people there as paste-up and re-touch artists.

And every once in a while, Stu plus other staffers, would make an appearance in random articles as victims or story subjects. Often with odd dark glasses air-brushed onto their faces! The one I best recall was a straight shot of Stu– against his stat equipment! — wherein he was labelled as a troubled young man.

[The “Sheriff” of this “news account” was played by Production Liaison, Milt Schiffman! Who would have made a good central casting sheriff, with his ever-present cigar. But he’s going to get his own story!]

And! I patterned my office “look” after Stu’s ever-present colored, pocket T-shirt and jeans. I did wear socks though.

Stu did not like change. When some fast-talking sharpie from a stat-camera company sold Marvel on the idea of getting a very large camera that could reproduce the “4-up neg flats” version of the old comics in one shot and on film– well his old camera became history and the new monstrosity had a room built around it! Of course it’s more complicated than that. Marvel was making good coin by selling old comics around the world. Prior to this 18×24-inch devil, the books were done almost a single page at a time. Plus they were on paper which was not preferred. Stu’s old camera could do film, but once he switched over from paper, he couldn’t do paper for a while. When the “new” small cameras came in (which is where I come in, to run one of the two Pos-One cameras), they could do film but it was inferior to what was needed. The various foreign markets often needed to do translations or art changes of all kinds.

But Stu was never happy with the new camera. I couldn’t blame him, it meant he was relegated to a steady stream of huge sheets of tightly rolled paper that would fight to stay rolled up or hauling around huge piles of plastic neg film– all day long. It was motorized and the film or paper came in large cassettes. But the chemistry was no less stinky. Ultimately Stu and the entire licensing reproduction department was moved to another building. I only briefly ran into him at a couple of Christmas parties after that.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Rick Marschall & Ralph Macchio

Read full article | No Comments

Rick Marschall & Ralph Macchio

“Rick and Ralph” — Marvel Comics at 575 Madison Ave, NYC 1979 — in a strange office area facing the Bullpen with a half-height wall of glass, this is how I best remember Rick and Ralph. At a local convention, Marvel had whomped up this marquee sign with sequencer lighting. After the con, they parked the sign in the short corridor between the mailroom and Rick’s office door. Rick and Ralph dragged this lightweight sign in and propped it up where you see it. It had a clickety-clack mechanical device that drove the lights.

RandDay70_005 RnR Blog

Seeing this sign and knowing those two people right at that point… that was when I knew I was “home.”

Mr. Rick is an expert about the history of newspaper strips and to a lesser degree, comic books. He was ostensibly hired to spiff up the aptly named “Black & White” Dept. This was an interesting holdover from newsstand magazine days where the interior of the stapled magazine was on low-cost newsprint and only printed in one “color” which was black. The cover was a glossy paper and in 4-color. His task was to improve that and uplift that department with a deluxe, four-color well-printed magazine. Called “Weird World.” But that is a much longer story!

Mr. Rick seemed more comfortable in the newsprint world of 1902 than today. I now know that Rick Marschall is the largest private collector of strip art and ephemera in America. It was he, showing me hundreds of old newspapers– still in good shape (!)– and dozens of gigantic sheets of full color newsprint, who ingrained my dislike of modern Sunday Funnies. They are weak tea compared to way back when.

“Mr. Rick” got his official nickname from typesetter extraordinaire, Stan Aaron, who affected a mock regimental air from time to time. Even Mr. Rick’s late wife, ethereally beautiful Nancy called him that.

Ralph Macchio (I know! The Karate Kid star; well he fell on hard times and had to work for a living…) never had a “real” nickname. “KD” was the closest, coined by long-suffereing production man, Morrie Kuramoto. Kiss of Death– because every book Ralph worked on was cancelled. Ralph had always been a comics devotee, even having written in to the letters collumns as a kid. To me, Ralph is better known as Mr. Cool. So easy-going and mellow– you’d never know he was a supporter of land preservation causes and an extraordinary prankster.

TV exercise guru, Jack LaLanne at age 70, swam Long Beach, CA harbor towing 70 boats– this was 1984. Not long after, Ralph managed to find the LaLanne people, posing as someone’s lawyer, claiming his client’s boat was missing and wanted them to do something about it! (They promised to get back to him… !)

Despite the fact that Rick was let go in under a year, he, Ralph and I are still close friends some 37 years later.

Rick is a prolific author with over 60 books in print and many more due at the publishers that are so late I shudder to think of it! Ralph is a more laid back comic writer, so laid back he’s only written about two dozen books. The ones he co-wrote with Mark Gruenwald, specifically a few issues around Thor 300– are seen as cult favorites in Marvel fandom to this day.

John Romita Sr. & Dave Cockrum

Read full article | No Comments

John Romita Sr. and Dave Cockrum

John Romita Sr. and Dave Cockrum

Marvel Comics editorial offices, 575 Madison Avenue, New York City– about mid-1979. John was the Senior Art Director and Dave worked for him. Exact title not known. John was in an office that now faces the new IBM Building on Madison Ave. Then it was a hole in the ground. Stan had the corner office, then on the Mad Ave side there was a gap for Stan’s secretary –Alice Gordon– next was John’s office. Stan no longer lived in New York having moved to California to develop Marvel properties into animation or TV shows, but he still had his office.

The Marvel offices were in a U-shape. One long Madison Ave leg of the U had executives and some editors. Stan and John were at the start of the U bend, the Bullpen was the bottom of the U and Dave’s office went around the bend to the other leg, the 56th street leg.

A half-minute’s walk to go see John. John was always busy and always had something interesting on his desk. Even if it was to go in and see just how neat everything was, it was always time well spent.

BULLPEN!Or How I Had The Best Job In The World And Found That Stilt-Man Could Not See His Feet

Read full article | No Comments

Standard Disclaimer:

This collection of essays and memoirs are from my point of view. This is, to the best of my aging memory, what happened to me and around me. I intend to start with breathing life into the Marvel Comics Bullpen as I knew it. This is by definition, limiting. The Bullpen has been roaring along since the 1940s –as far as I know. Rubber cement pots, T-squares and White-Out have given way to “paper-less” offices with computers crowded into cubicles. The Bullpen is still barreling along. Me? I set foot there for a short period of time. I came to think of the Bullpen as a personality, not quite a person, not quite a service… perhaps a hive-mind or synthetic personality… no, maybe I went too far. The Bullpen is a character to me, still smelly and alive in memory.

 

Albelo, Higgins

The Marvel Bullpen, located at 575 Madison Avenue, between 56 & 57 Streets on the 6th Floor. Joe Albelo standing and Mike Higgins contemplating a sheaf of art boards. C. 1979

 

This will be an imprecise recollection. I have some pictures to help with ‘precision.’ I plan on talking about what I saw and did with my buddies. The time we shared was full of work, play and a harder to quantify joie de vivre.
I worked in comics. Which means all I know about comics is what I read as an amateur and read and worked on as a professional. By ‘professional’ I mean I got paid. This does not mean I know how to make a good/great/exceptional comic. First we might try to figure out what one of those are.

Understanding Comics

ISBN-10: 006097625X
ISBN-13: 978-0060976255

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try this guy. One has to admire the sheer determination of drawing a 270-page book that peels the layers apart, onion-like, of this peculiar visual medium. It’s not just a good read, it’s educational. I highly recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. One of the things that separate “us” from “them” is our language. Comic pros speak a secret language. To help understand a little better, McCloud’s book is a good start.
Comic books usually contain multi-page stories with panel-to-panel continuity. The power of comics is that any story can be told in a comic format. The simplest personal moment to world-shattering.

The 911 Report

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • ISBN-10: 0809057395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809057399

Sid Jacobsen, chum and former colleague along with legendary talent Ernie Colon did yeomanly duty making the official report understandable.
The simplest version of a comic I’ve seen are two black dots per white panel, speaking via word balloons. Works just fine. There’s at least one fully illustrated Bible. There were well-known and quite good comic books made for the military to show soldiers all sorts of maintenance procedures.
If you ask the average person what a comic book is, the answer could be either escapist material or super-heroes clashing or full-figured women in tight-fitting armor, etcetera. Content never used to matter because it was assumed it was formulaic. The comic book business has creaked with slow changes.
There are distinctions between types of illustrated stories. Comics or comic books we just talked about. Cartoons—in print form are gags. Usually a single panel. Such as appear in newspapers or The New Yorker Magazine. Newspaper strips or comic strips are only a short sequence of panel-to-panel story telling. Strip work is highly specialized and very difficult. The needs of the various strip syndicates are unrelenting and require a lot of organization and effort.
I’ve barely written a comic. My friend, Jack Morelli and I co-created and wrote the plot and, at the time, script for Spitfire And The Troubleshooters. This was during the you-hadda-be-there time of The New Universe. Spitfire wound up being a disappointment to me and Jack. Someone else was brought in to write the script, or what the characters said.

Spitfire and the Troubleshooters

I have written lots of comic pages with stories on them, The Iron Manual and The Punisher Armory. I co-wrote the plot and script of The Cold War Of Nick Fury (a subset of Nick Fury Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but that was not quite a 50/50 split of work with my pal and partner, Bob Sharp. I do not particularly care for super-heroes—I know… a shocking admission. But my work speaks of that, Jenny Swensen, Tony Stark, Nick Fury and Frank Castle are mere people. Highly motivated mere people, but just people. I had pitches aimed at The Further Adventures Of Indiana Jones and Batman. Again, just people.

 

The Punisher Armory #1Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.DThe Iron Manual

The Punisher Armory, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D & The Iron Manual

When someone does ask me what is my favorite comic book, I reply Amazing Spider-Man #31-32

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_31Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently much of these two books was written and drawn flat-out by Steve Ditko with Stan doing the script and Artie Simek doing the kibitzing. What that meant was that Steve drove the book. The story has Spidey trapped in a sub-East River base belonging to Doc Ock (heady stuff for the young Eliot back in 1966). What is most amazing about this sequence—and this is over many pages, bridging the two books—is Spider-Man is pinned to the floor. That’s it, pinned down by a perfectly intersecting V of tons of steel. And he’s just thinking. There’s water rising, he tries to lift the thing and he is crunched back—on and on.
[Of note, in the glorious Taschen imprint, 75 Years Of Marvel, From The Golden Age To The Silver Screen, respected comic creator and historian – well, he’s a bit of that history as well, Roy Thomas – and nose-to-the-grindstone designer Josh Baker – also selected this sequence to celebrate. They reprinted 4 pages from this most extraordinary sequence on pgs. 364-365. I should point out that I am proud to have contributed some of the photos included in this enormous tome.

75 Years of Marvel ISBN-13: 9783836548458

75 Years of Marvel
ISBN-13: 9783836548458

It’s a little pricey! But well worth the investment in a luscious and well-presented book. So big a project, only a blooded art-book editor (Maurene Goo) and crazy, high-end publisher, Taschen, which stands alone, could bring this to life.]

Chum and colleague, old comic pro, Tom DeFalco maintains that the short story is the closest thing in literature to a comic book. What separates the two mediums is the artwork, of course. Comics gives us a visual that when everything’s cooking just right, adds to the written portion. We can have it all, with pretty pictures and internal emotional stuff, mood—all.
Just to show I’m not an old fuddy-duddy in love with all things “Early Stan” I give up Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Ben Dimagmilew & Bill Oakley’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen as the finest example of modern (– eh, “Post-Modern”? What comes after “Silver Age” — Uranium? Formica?) comic creation, storytelling and art:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

ISBN-10: 1563898586

ISBN-13: 978-1563898587

I like both the individual volumes in addition to the collected first volume, shown above. There’s enough differences to make it worth having all of the individual books. Moore’s credits are hilarious. The story foundation and execution is unalloyed genius. O’Neill’s artwork is quirky but solid, that’s what makes this such an artifact out of time and sets the mood. Lovely stuff.
Another frequent question I get is, “Is there a Marvel style? What is it?” One might as well ask, “What’s a rose? Is there a good one?” The idea of a Marvel Style is better defined by what it is not. It is hard to specify a clean brush line or figure out “spotting blacks.” This last is the balance of white and black areas throughout a page. But we know those when we see them. Using the finest practitioners of the comic art as a guide, we get Mike Kaluta doing Starstruck (or over at DC, The Shadow), Neal Adams on his Avengers stint, Barry Windsor-Smith or Marie Severin on anything or Bernie Wrightson’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein (alright… not a comic, but c’mon, it’s Bernie…). Four different guys, very different styles, degrees of stylization and story-telling but all at the height of the comic as art as well as commercial art.

Starstruck CoverThe Shadow CoverThe AvengersConan The BarbarianSeverinFrankenstein

Kaluta (x2), Adams, Windsor-Smith, Marie Severin & Wrightson

One thing to note about this bunch of extraordinary artists, is that they are complete artists. In that they pencil the books—telling much of the story in the process– and ink themselves. A rare event when inkers can improve on their pencils. In general, the story-telling part of penciling is more valuable than the “mere” inking, thus pencilers are paid more. But it is the inker who gets the last word. That black ink line is what is ultimately printed.
I think the use of the phrase “Marvel Style” is as much a brand statement as it is an artistic term. If you compare any batch of Marvel and DC Comics you will see much cross-fertilization. Which is mostly because everyone skips back and forth between the two. But there was a time when certain “old guard” artists, who had worked for decades, did so much work it was associated with either house.
But what of the “ham and eggers?” (A favorite sport’s expression, conveyed to me by Jack. It refers to a regular Joe, that came in, did that thing and went home.) This is not to ignore or make light of the middle-ground of comic artists and does not address the writing much at all. For every person mentioned above, there are 100 ham-and-egger practitioners of the art. I see them as… well… as the “salt of the comic Earths.” Without them, the rest of the comic universe had no foundation, no base to occasionally rise above.
My questioners usually take a dim view of my bringing up the subject of “commercial art.” Everybody’s doing this for money; art, good or bad, is a bonus. I would love to say we were in it as appreciators of the fine art of comics—and we mostly were. But we almost all of us lived in an expensive part of the world, New York City. I like to tell (and re-tell) my story about bringing a stack of old comics over to Con Ed’s (NYC’s electric utility, for those elsewhere) bill-paying office…
My time in comics was not a usual one. What sets me apart from the creators… the writers, pencilers, inkers, letterers and colorists is that I was on-staff for a long-ish time and wound up doing all of the above. I also took a lot of pictures… turned out I should have taken a lot more. Alas, I was a normally paid comic staffer and had to buy and process my own film.
My time in comics separates me from most run-of-the-mill comic readers as well. I was exposed to almost every aspect of making comics in my time, stat-camera operator, paste-up artist, art re-toucher, letterer and correction artist, typesetting computer operator, assistant editor, editor, creator, writer and back-biter! My purpose of writing this series of recollections is to pay tribute to the people who made comics every day. To try to tell of them and the things we did. With a few digressions along the way…

Paty dances

Paty Cockrum (wife of Dave) an accomplished belly dancer who put together Marvel advertising and merchandise artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paty Cockrum in full mufti, showing off a few belly-dancing moves at old 575 Madison Avenue…

Eliot R. Brown

Kingston, NY

2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herb Trimpe

Read full article | No Comments

May 26, 1939 – April 13, 2015

Just this Saturday, many friends and family of Herb’s gathered at St. John’s in Kingston to say farewell. Herb Trimpe had passed only a work-week before. Herb was a relative picture of health, the rug-underfoot-yank sensation is still fresh. I do not like church services but I was immediately alerted to something different in this one. The fellow in the ceremonial robes introduced himself as the Bishop Of New York.

We in the world of comics were not especially surprised to learn that Herb had become a Deacon in the Episcopal Church. Herb was worldly and other-worldly… well, you had to know Herb a little. But what we did not know was that the Reverend Deacon Herbert W. Trimpe had served as Chaplain for many months after the attack on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001.

I could not imagine the internal strength needed to view with composure, the individual victims of that day. But my buddy Herb had it. He served as Chaplain for all, offering solace to the victim, or their family or just the people in and around the site. As sacred a soil as America has as any. He kept a daily diary of his experiences and wrote a book from them:

Power of Angels by Herb Trimpe

Very well written, an easy read. I thought it could have been twice as long. Here are the numbers in case you want to get your own–

ISBN-10: 0972432728

ISBN-13: 978-0972432726

This guy, this Bishop of New York, this is “The Man” and here he is eulogizing one of us. That was different by a lot.

In the church service, Bishop Dietsche, as it turned out was an artist and had contributed cartoons to church publications. So he was one of us “comic bums” just a lot more serious. Then he spoke of Herb’s work at Ground Zero. That was moving enough but Bishop Dietsche zoomed out a bit to include all of Herb’s work as a ministering. That he was reaching out to all who had read his comic work, all over the world and through all the time of his work. That comic work, Herb’s work, could inspire, uplift or reach out to his audience as a ministering, was a very touching and moving idea to me.

The Bishop went on to say that the work done at Ground Zero had changed Herb. That he ceased to practice as a Chaplain after that. Still the Bishop and those in charge did not stand him down. The Bishop was quite clear that Herb is still a Deacon.

To us in comics, he is still a comic creator.

Christie, Ramona, Terry

Christie Scheele, Ramona Fredan and Terry Austin reflecting on Herb

Then came the dreaded 23 Psalm. I had become sensitized to the words, all of them, at a service for Morrie Kuramoto. I could hardly bear to hear them again said over another friend.

Thinking About Herb

My buddy Herb died about a week ago. He attended a big comic convention just a few days before he died. Herb was always surprised that anyone gave two finger-snaps about what he did in the past. He would exclaim, these guys know more about what I did than I do! That’s comics for you.

I got to know Herb as a fan, as I was growing up. Herb drew, for me, the definitive Ant-Man (his Egg Head is still a comic book paradigm). He got those crazy ants just right, looking and acting like willing horses. Old Hank Pym was in good, er, hands. Everyone around Marvel knew Herb even though he lived in far off, exotic Kerhonksen (upstate New York! Pretty exotic to a midtown Manhattan kid…). He started in the Bullpen when it was small; in fact he ran the nightmare contraption Photostat camera that was just barely still in use when I started in comics.

Herb had done comics as a pro… Kid Colt one year, Godzilla, Iron Man, G. I. Joe following that, pretty much anything. As mutual friend, Jack Morelli would describe him, he was a “ham and egger.” One of the generally talented people who could do anything. Marie Severin, supremely talented lady of the Marvel Bullpen, had taken the time to nurture and guide his raw talent. Something he spoke of with genuine love. Marie told of the extreme fun she experienced while flying in Herb’s Stearman bi-plane.

Trimpe visits Marvel

One of the rare times Herb came into the office! Sometime in 1981. Herb was in on a plot consult, the two figures to image left are Doug Moench and Louise Simonson. Herb had a big and easy laugh.

 When I got a chance to hire Herb it was not as a fan; not as such. Herb and I connected while talking about the past. Perhaps it was my old boss, Editor Louise Simonson who suggested Herb as artist to a pitch I made to her about The Further Adventures Of Indiana Jones. Ultimately I took over editing that book and could not use that pitch. But I could use Herb! I tried my best to exploit Herb, I got the strong impression that he was happy with his assignment when he could write, pencil and ink his own story. To say that Herb always seemed to have “one foot in 1939” would not be an exaggeration.

Indiana Jones Pin-up by Trimpe

An unused pin-up for The Further Adventures Of Indiana Jones. Unalloyed Herb, breathing in and breathing out a 1940s air show. One of my most-prized possessions.

Time moved on, I left Marvel and next saw Herb at a comic con in the late 90s. It was a strange one in that it was whipped up to fill a sad vacuum caused by the loss of the very big New York Comic Con. Also, it was held in a huge but airless church basement. We were all staggering around in stifling heat and there was Herb! This was the first con he had done in a long time. Marvel had changed a lot in the decade that fell between Herb and I seeing each other. In that time, comic work had dried up. In a master stroke of sublimating frustration, he had written and illustrated a New York Times Arts & Leisure Section article about his experience during this “dry patch.” Using his diary, he writes far more compellingly than I could; alas, this archived article doesn’t seem to have the art:

http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/010900edlife-56-edu.html

To make ends meet, Herb became an art teacher. Those kids didn’t seem to know what they had! When I found him in that “basement con as oven,” he was just getting into that. We agreed to meet up. Herb and I had model-building in common. By the time we actually did meet, he was out of the teaching game, a bit disillusioned. During our first meet-up, he brought a jump-ramp aircraft carrier he was modifying, scratch-building a whole new deck. We spent a lot of time talking about “alternate history” fiction. There is a fantasy world out there, new when we got re-acquainted, about WWII going on a little longer. Time enough for many of the “wonder weapons” to be developed and fielded. The genre is called “Luftwaffe ‘46” and a little later, Luft 47.

Coincidentally, I had started a small model-centric business with one of my products being a German designed spaceplane, co-opted by the Nazis as a vehicle that could deliver a bomb to America! So we had lots to talk about. Not that long ago, I put together a model for fellow comic mainstay, Walt Simonson. Another “America Bomber” last-ditch war effort that never left the blueprint. I scratchbuilt many new pieces and Herb and I had a lot of fun going over those details.

DB Plan B Heavy Bomber

Daimler-Benz “Plan B” modded from an all-resin kit made by Anigrand. Heavily re-worked for Walt Simonson’s recent take on The Rocketeer. Normally, this craft would have from 3 to 5 smaller aircraft hanging from the underside(!). Walt wanted one big bomb.

 

 

 

 

 

I had just seen him only a few weeks ago. He had brought his latest Luft 47-inspired creation. An unusual push-pull plane that had actually made it to production and flight during the war, Dornier’s Do 336 “Arrow.” But for Herb, it had been used by the Kriegsmarine service and was finished in those colors:

 

Herb used a brush to get this eggshell finish, very hard to do. We compared “old man” assessments of our hands and eyesight. A mutual friend, Charles Barnett, had picked up inking a recent job for Herb, where Herb had left off. I had seen the pages and was agog at how fine and steady the inked line was. And Charles, of course, had to match that. Herb had painted the windscreen framing by hand.

The laugh we had over eyesight was that Herb managed to find a 3X pair of glasses at Walmart and a 2X pair of glasses at the Dollar Store and wore one on top of the other to see better!

We both had a very good time. We did not notice that 4 hours had slipped by. When a new waitress came by to ask if we needed any refills, was when we realized a shift change had occurred. We thought we’d do it again.

I already miss my pal.

Herb Trimpe selfie

Herb sent me this after our lunch. He had been experimenting with capturing still frames from a war-game flight simulator and laying his picture in. For fun.

 

 

 

 

 

www.warmplastic.com

Read full article | Comments Off on www.warmplastic.com

April, 2015:

warmplastic.com  is closing immediately. The business of making low cost alternative vacuum formers for hobbyists  is no longer viable. I would like to thank the many thousands of customers over the past 15 years and hope they will find their various KVW tables of use to them for many more years to come.

This little business got started by my shooting off my mouth. Isn’t that always the way? I was researching some of the German “wonder weapons” around WWII with a friend and spotted the Sanger-Bredt Spaceplane design. I remarked that it was the perfect subject for vacuum forming and subsequent modeling. The flat-topped and slab-sided design with large radii joining them were perfect. My friend said, great! Can’t wait till I get one!

A long time ago, my ever-patient wife had gotten me a small, home vacuum former. This table had something that made it very appealing: an electric hot plate side! This followed a standard vacuum-forming table design, which was two sided. One was the vacuum part and the other had a heated part. What is not apparent about sheet plastic is that, once heated up it will act more like limp balloon rubber. A frame has to be used, as plastic has a “memory” and will revert to some primeval form when heated up. In commercial tables and this little guy, the frame was on a hinge that allowed it to swing from the hot side to the vacuum side.

It made use of a fairly conventional metal picture frame. What was unconventional was a pair of L-shaped inserts that were screwed into place on the inside of that frame. One had to punch out a dozen holes in the plastic, then thread through some bolts into some nuts. Very time-consuming and fidgety. Plus it didn’t work as sold—what I realize now is that those L shapes had cut metal edges. They were sharp enough to cut the plastic and thus break the seal around the inside of the frame. Frustrating. I mention this in the middle of the story because I tried to make it work on my spaceplane model. I actually but my pattern in two to fit on the table! As I say, ‘frustrated.’

In the wonderful modeling mag, Fine Scale Modeler, there was article after article about how fellow modelers would make their own table. There was one fellow who placed plastic between two screwed-together metal frames and held this over a gas stovetop. Holding the frames in his hands with rags! Then there was a fellow who literally made a vac-former out of a cardboard box used for wine bottles. He kept the bottle inserts and taped a piece of mosquito-netting on top. He duct taped his vacuum cleaner hose into the bottom of this box. Then he stapled a sheet of styrene to a piece of Strathmore picture frame. He balanced his carved-wood shape on top of the cardboard inserts/mosquito net, heated up his plastic somehow and got as many forms as he needed!

These articles of matter-of-fact success infuriated me! As I say, I had shot off my mouth to my chum, had moved upstate and now had a basement.

For no apparent reason I had a drill-press for years in my tiny Manhattan apartment. When I moved upstate I discovered the world of garage sales and found a table saw. Within a week of fussing around, I had a working vacuum former. I spent time fabricating my first “buck” or pattern. I had once worked at a place just down the avenue from a plastic shop and ordered a couple of gigantic sheets of styrene from them.

This was mid-1999. This is what it looked like:

I spent time fabricating my first “buck” or pattern. I had once worked at a place just down the avenue from a plastic shop and ordered a couple of gigantic sheets of styrene from them.  This was mid-1999. This is what it looked like:

 

Note the taped-off holes to concentrate the vacuum right under the pattern. This would pull the plastic tighter into the gap. Making a vac-formed model is far different from an injection-molded store-bought model. When the shape is cut from the full sheet, what one is left with are egg-shell edges and thin walls. There was much more to build from raw materials.

The very first vacuum form “shot” I made came out perfectly! I went on to fail for the next 4 or 5 attempts. But I was encouraged enough to press on.

This is the finished model:

 

Sanger-Bredt Spaceplane

 

Alas, my friend had passed away before I could give this to him. But I thought this wasn’t such a tough model to build. Since no such spaceplane had been fielded by the Germans, its coloration and markings were fair game. I found all the reference I could and even managed to contact the Sanger family for permission to issue a model of this subject. For a few years, mine was the only kit version out there.

I also had a vacuum former design that I could make from my home. Thanks to the young internet, I could also sell them. I spent a good deal of my start-up money on print advertising. Not content to make a one-size-fits-all version, I designed a fiendishly complicated model that had two forming tables built into one! The Kingston Duo:

The Kingston Duo

 

I quickly realized I would have to step up to becoming a student of fine carpentry—till that point, all my experience was from books and TV’s The New Yankee Workshop! So I abandoned the two-faced model and concentrated on a series of useful sizes.  I am no lover of the practice of fine carpentry. Far from it! These tables were designed to be easily made by me and so that any sloppiness would not affect the performance of the tables. For example, all the corners have a rabbet, which is a notch that the adjoining piece of wood fits into. If there’s a gap, it’s only on the outer surface. There’s a piece of wood with a blob of glue still sealing the corner.

I used to finish the tables with a urethane polymer finish. One day I started up a long run of plastic forming. After about 10 minutes, I could feel that the finish was softening. Alarmed, I discontinued that practice and the wood is now raw.

Here is the “New Family” sometime in 2001:

 

Here is the “New Family” sometime in 2001

This tower is minus the smaller Canopy Master, which was asked for so many times I finally put it on the website in 2003. The IPMS (International Plastic Modeling Society) used to sell a simple metal frame with which to hold a small piece of clear plastic over a candle. This was to make thinner, more “in-scale” versions of plastic kit airplane canopies. You forced the heated, softened plastic over that canopy to make a copy. I sized my smallest table around something I could safely hold in the table saw. I also realized that the Can Master was a good deal for any foreign purchasers. The international mails are cruel and uninviting!

Because I had such a great first experience with my own vac-form project, I decided to sell each table with plastic. When I saw the plastic just snap down around my buck, I gave a cry of delight. In fact, on the few times I had a local customer come over to be shown how it’s done, they too gave a child-like cry of glee. I wanted every customer to have everything they needed to get started as soon as possible. If they already had a pattern all they had to do was wait for the oven to warm.

When I started there was a fellow selling a kit of pieces to assemble your own table. There was a rather audacious fellow who would show off a commercial grade table and then offer to sell you plans for a very elaborate , fairly expensive table. Both of those fellows seem to have faded. But along came someone else who had figured out something my wife (IT Officer) and I had not: eBay! To be competitive, I had to match him and give up including plastic with each order. The customers of my primary competitor didn’t seem to have noticed that by buying plastic at the same time as their table, they were spending as much or more than on my tables. To be fair, those fellows built a better table, very close to the same design, just better made. Their only oversight was not mentioning that some of their tables would need a larger oven than was in most American homes. Unless their clients had a pizza oven handy! All of my tables would fit in a conventional American kitchen oven. And include a support to keep the plastic off the oven rack!

Those guys do one thing going for them that I did not. They use metal insert corners for their aluminum window-frame “rails.” This means their table can handle the higher temperatures that polycarbonate (better known by the brand name Lexan), ABS and acrylic require. As well as Kydex, newly discovered for holster makers and knife sheathes. My easy-does-it approach to making the metal frames involved a thermoset-plastic corner that allowed me to use a much simpler butt-joint. But those corners could soften if the temperature was set too high. Not so, the all metal type.

A short internet search will find these gents and you will see that their product is top-notch. Whoever does the work on their shop floor makes a very nice job of each table and right here in America. I was never so inclined to make such neat “furniture” for my clients. My tables are tough indeed! They could well serve as foot stools when not vac-forming. But they were never intended to be display pieces. I knew that the design worked and could work well, so I never spent time neatening bits of fluff from the outer skin of plywood. Or caring too much about aligning parts.

One of the reasons I am closing up shop is the learning that some customers expect the best no matter for what purpose. One fellow pointed out that he could have made the vacuum former that I had sold him. All it was, he allowed, was a box with holes drilled in it. I pointed out to him what I have pointed out on the website from Day One: Can you build this yourself? Of course! All I am doing is saving you the trouble of walking up and down the aisles of Home Depot or Lowes. Perhaps I was uncharitable to point out that it was also much easier to make something once you’ve seen how it was already made.

I encouraged him to please send me a picture of his eventual  labors. I am hoping for several coats of varnish on that hardwood and brass trim… perhaps a green felt-lined cover with hinges and a lock… It’s been many months so far and no pics. I am hopeful.

Another fellow observed that there were too few holes to get a successful pull. To circle back for a sec, not long after I started, I found online a group who built body armor for Star Wars storm troopers, in what is now more widely referred to as “cosplay.” The plaster pattern for the chest piece was so large, the plastic-with-frame stuck out of the oven! Also their forming table had only one—repeat: one—hole in the center of their hand-made table. They were forming .080” styrene. Okay, back to ‘now.’

Prominently in the instructions is the observation that a vacuum cleaner is really a fan. As such, the “vacuum” it generates is only so good. A commercial vac-former is all-metal, one part of it is a metal tank that has a vacuum pump on one end and a metal tube that runs to the forming table (“plenum”) on the other. That metal tank is evacuated of air to a “good vacuum.” There is an electric valve between the two.

When the valve is opened, the violence of the rush of air between the two chambers is such that the plastic does not have to be very soft to make a good form. This process is also quick. The plastic provides the seal to all the little holes.

For the rest of us who use a vacuum cleaner, the fan will reach equilibrium between the whole table system and the outside of the vacuum cleaner itself. At that point it’s all over. I go on in my instructions, to say that how we compensate for that lack of power is to overheat the plastic. When styrene sheet heats up it will sag a little under its own weight. One must let it sag quite a bit for “taller” objects that stand off the table. I go on to say that time is of the essence. One must move quickly from oven to vac-table. In those commercial machines, there is generally a heating area attached to the table. It is either to one side or directly above the vacuum part.

I also point out that experience will teach you more than anything else. The first few shots are bound to be bad. It’s also a way to see how your buck is working. Some changes might be needed. Elaborate designs can be hard to predict. My general advice is to look at things like poured candy bars (Nestles, Chunkies, etc.). They show what is possible.  I recommend using Sculpey to make patterns. It is already heat resistant and you can run a heat gun around (quickly) on it, a lot. Then there’s the complication of chocolate molds, or any finished shape that needs a large flat area around it. One needs to be able to scrape the bottom of a choco mold with a spatula. The little bumps from all the non-essential holes can be a problem. I took a sheet of plastic, cut a hole smaller than the pattern base, lifted the pattern just a little bit to make a gap…

 

 

 

On the left: Scuply, not tapered sides, rounded corners and low lettering. Right: one thickness of plastic to make the flat area and two thicknesses of plastic to elevate the buck.

 

 

 

Then, the forming itself. In the pic on the left, one can see the barrel of a heat gun and a small stick of wood in my oven-mitted hand. I wanted tight, sharp corners down to the table top.  Because this was a literal “one off” (I made 3-4), I was not going crazy about the sharpness of the letters. All “one” had to be, was legible. But, if you need sharp lettering, a rounded, pointy stick can get the job done. But it’s time-consuming. On the other hand, the results can be terrific and a small set of molds can remain in service for a long time. Thus it can be a good investment of time.

Chocolate is hard to remove from a mold. Enough cocoa butter will act like a mold-release. But the chocolate still has to be easily lifted from the mold. Designs that call for lettering on the top-side can be done. I hope that the lettering is fairly large. Use a heat-gun to gently soften the plastic. Use your oven-mitted finger to push the plastic into the indented letter shapes. Small, raised lettering… essentially impossible.

Many people who call in for advice about forming plastic or chocolate mold-making in particular, have heard me go on and on about the horse shoe chocolate mold. Well, here it is:

 

Yes, that is a genuine iron horse shoe, from a very generous horse ranch lady! I’m showing this because this was before I knew about the nice feature of a flat area for scraping, around a chocolate mold. The guys I made this for are full-time chocolate makers and they said, no problem. So there you have it—your decision. I included both approaches because some of it may be useful to someone.

The “showstopper” for me was what I called The Big Box. This was a challenge from an acquaintance who wanted to see if my tables could make a sun-shade for a video-assist monitor. He told me the specs, I didn’t know if it was possible. I was sure curious. So I ordered up some .125” (1/8”) styrene and built this enormous box.

Big box

Pretty imposing. Almost 7” tall. The bottom is around 10×6”. This is the experiment that showed me the thermoset plastic corners could not do a lot of these. The .125” plastic needed to stay in the oven for 12-15 minutes! The shots were okay, around the third one, I got it down to the table. With each shot I raised the box up a little more—there was a wicked web forming at all 4 corners. By raising the box, I got the webs to form off the part I needed. The corners got wobbly between the 3rd and 4th shots. Because of the clamps on the sides, one could pick it up and place it. But that was not for the faint of heart.

Anyone on warmplastic.com could have seen this pic:

 

big box

 

In the meanwhile, I would like to show some more tips to those who will be vacuum forming without me!

I named my largest table The Zeppelin Master before seeing if it would work to form a Zeppelin! So I made a quick carving from the “pink stuff” and yep, it worked. A bonus was that it turns out this stuff is porous. So the vacuum pulled through the material. If I was going to finish the pink stuff, I would use vinyl wall spackle and finish it to whatever degree I wished. One can even carve into and sculpt the stuff. If I was making a rough-and-ready shape, I would simply take this form, punch some holes around this and make a second form over it. Much smoother.

 

Can ZM Form Z_005

 

Above is The Kingston Vacuum Works’ greatest failure! The low-brow cineasts among you might recognize Dr. Evil’s intercom/minion dispatcher. I made one for an old friend and great fan of Austin Powers International Man of Mystery. But there was this huge buck left over and I decided to make a kit. Worried about infringement troubles from the movie company, I called it something else, something clever, Professor Bad’s Blinkie Box of Terror. In retrospect, I can understand why no one could find it. Positing they were looking, of course. Didn’t sell a single one!

To demonstrate the need for improving one’s pattern—the sharp-eyed may notice that the pic on the left has the pattern simply lifted up from the table—note the gap around the pattern. That turned out to work poorly. A phenomenon called “webbing” happens under obscure circumstances that have something to do with how much you ask the plastic to stretch and where intersecting planes meet. But the webbing was ferocious. I hit upon the idea of “giving the plastic somewhere to go.” On the right, you can make out that the pattern sits on top of a short pedestal with angled sides.

Some of you may now be able to recognize Dr. Evil’s “annunciator!”:

No one said making a vac-formed model was easy. Especially the prototype!

Fedoratron.com is still open and intends to be for a long time! There are several new kits that are close to being finished. Let me entice anyone who’s gotten this far:

Brass window patterns for the 1:537 and 1:1000 Klingon D-7, shown here is the paper test:

D7 Tease 1

For the K-7 Space Dock kit:

K7 Tease 1

Brass window patterns, copied as faithfully from the shooting model that was copied by legendary modeler Greg Jein and used in Deep Space 9 Trials And Tribbleations. I was considering re-doing the entire “ice cream cone” shape with curved sides. But that was too much. This is pretty good.

On top of this goes a light-up beacon that looks like the one on the TV. Not the kit part, which looks like a stick shift:

K7 Old n New Beacon TeaseDid I mention it lights up?

K7 Beacon Test Tease

A whole new shuttle bay, made with lighting in mind (and tiny TOS shuttles too):

K7 Tease 2

Get out your razor saws and putty! A replacement for that oddball lump where this is supposed to be:

K7 Tease 3

Still got your 12” Polar Lights Jupiter II? Afraid to light it? Here’s your fusion Core:

12 J2 Fus Cor Tease

fedoratron.com

Lighting and more for extraordinary modelers

Anna The Cleaning Lady

Read full article | No Comments

Anna

Anna The Cleaning Lady cleaning up after us slobs. This is my only picture of her and I had to sneak it! As soon as she caught sight of my camera Anna would raise up her broom quite menacingly!

Anna The Cleaning Lady! She came with the building.  The secret weapon of the Marvel Bullpen. Anna was Polish. Within two words out of her mouth one could tell; she spoke with a thick, wonderful Polish accent. Anna seemd to take care of a major part of the building, which included both of Marvel’s floors at 575 Madison. Her white hair was pulled back into a tight, industrial bun. She was perhaps 5 foot tall. Anna seemed to have some trouble with her legs. She walked with more than a shuffle but less of a stride. Though she never mentioned any pain.

Since us Bullpenners would often work after hours, we saw quite a bit of Anna. She tried to wait for us to leave, but many times we out-stayed her.

 Around 5:30 every work day, Anna would appear. Dressed in an anonymous baby-blue work uniform, pushing her cart and broom, she would begin my throwing open every door in the office! Then she would disappear for an hour. Eventually, she would bustle around, easily whipping full garbage cans up and into her larger roll-around bin. A trick of the trade would be, since we generally had paper trash, all she had to do was dump the paper and leave the plastic liner in place– done! She could go several days before she needed to replace a torn bag.

Anna once went on a notable vacation, visiting Reykevic, Iceland. How she settled on Reykevic, one can only speculate. All the warm, cozy places already seen and bored by? Of note was that particular year, 1980 or 81, there was a huge volcanic eruption that we all suddenly paid attention to. Anna was there! News reports of layers of ash everywhere sounded dangerous. But, at the end of two weeks, Anna came bustling in as usual. She had a rather large open wound on her forehead, no dressing of any kind that I remember. It was scabbing up nicely. She had been beaned by a volcanic ember! Didn’t seem fazed by it at all. Reykavic was a very beautiful place, even with snow and volcanic ash all over the place!

Editor (B&W line, originator of EPIC Magazine and chief wrangler of Weird World) Rick Marschall once struck up an after-hours conversation with Anna. Rick, interested in all-things Germanic, discovered that Anna had been a young girl when the Germans “annexed” Poland. She well remembered seeing Hitler roll through her town. “Addie” she referred to him as. Suddenly, I recall, her quick and vivid blue eyes flashed with something I’d not seen in them or her before. Anger. It was a fascinating moment. Anna was the very essence of cool and collected.

The only other time she got visibly angered was at me. My “stat camera” area of Marvel was about as far away from the nicer, business end of the office as you could get. So I felt rather apart from most norms of office behavior. I had taken to wearing my sneakers loose, with untied shoelaces. I also had taken to whipping my sneaker at a target on the wall– well, one had to be prepared, right? Well, one shot took off at a bad angle and I knocked a hole through a fairly prominent wall. Near an exit, hard not to miss it. Anna came in with her pushcart and usual regal dignity, caught sight of the hole and turned on me like a veritable mad dog. She pointed her finger at me! Making “Ah!” noises and “You!”

Mercifully, she could not really get up much of a head of steam. I evaded her easily. Did I mention that she had a stout broom that she weilded like a cavalry officer’s sword? She blamed me for the hole, even before I had a chance to tell her all the perfect lies about it that I had conjured up that afternoon. I was outraged that she would leap to that conclusion. I stuck to my guns, insisting that I had nothing to do with it. Hinting that Robbie– my next-door neighbor who ran a similar stat camera– had slipped on some chemistry, which she dismisseded with a snort. I went over to the hole and pointed out how shoddy the work was. Anything could have done it– not my shoe. That this bit of sheet rock was hanging on by a scrap of paper like a hinge. I even pulled it right back out with a pen, so that it almost fit back in the hole it came out of. Looked pretty good, I thought. Anna did not.

 

It was harder saying goodbye for the last time than I would have thought. Friday night, the weekend before we all trucked ourselves down to our new digs (April, 1982). The last three: Robbie Carosella, Jack Morelli–youthful Bullpen letterer– and myself were yakking after hours talking of the horrors we were expecting downtown (the move was from 57th Street down to 27-28th Street). We left and made our way out, looking for Anna. We found her near the Marvel bathrooms, which were in a little hall near the mailroom. We three were inarticulate, knowing this would be the final time we would see her. As it turned out this was her “last day” too– something about the building contract changing where she was working. She said she was going to turn in her equipment and be done with it. I asked if I could break her broom over my knee; she was quite happy to hand it over. Again those blue eyes flashed, but strangely they were tearing up a little too. We hugged and she told us boys to be good and she pointed at me with a grin.

 

One last note: Jim Shooter, of Polish extraction himself, tried to hire Anna down at the new offices. Jim being a high muckity-muck, he could discover things like how to get in touch with her. I heard she came in for a meeting with Jim. This gig was just for us, if she was interested. I heard her high-pitched voice and nipped in to say a big hi. There she was in street clothes; I realized I had never seen her out of uniform. She thought the offer was very nice, but she wanted to retire. And who could blame her? She had lots more places to adventure off to . . .

Christopher Priest aka: James Owsley

Read full article | No Comments

Owsley looks tough

James Owsley around 1982

James Owsley has changed his name to Christopher Priest. The reasons are unimportant for this rememberance; I really don’t know them. The Owsley I knew was the energetic and intelligent, multi-talented young guy I spent a lot of after-hours time with. Owsley started at Marvel, working with Paul Laiken who was the editor of Crazy Magazine when I came on-staff and before Larry Hama took over. For those who don’t know, Crazy was one of Marvel’s typical “trailing edge” humor efforts, patterned after Mad Magazine. Whatever Larry brought to Crazy is not important here; what he kept was James Owsley. When I arrived at Marvel, the Crazy working area was a small office only a couple of doors down from my stat room. (Later, the typesetting computer room was only a door down from that room. All rather cozy.)

One of the most impressive things about Owsley is that he attended a trade school and he learned a skill. Alas, it was using a Linotype Machine– generating “hot type” for newspapers. In what must have seemed like hours after his graduation from that process, hot type gave way to cold type. I know; sounds funny. Basically, hot type is made in a nutty and gigantic contraption that gives you a poured metal version of a single line of a sentence on a newspaper page. Yep, made out of molten lead! Cold type is the result of a computer assisted photographic process. Which brings me to how Jim and I became chummy. Jim wanted to learn to use the typesetting machine. I am not certain, but it was probably Carl Gafford, the original typesetting machine operator, who taught him the basics. Since there were actually two, wildly different typesetting machines and Gaff decided to leave at one point, Jim and I basically taught ourselves the newer machine. (Along with Marion Stensgard, the second typesetter! But that’s a longer story.)

The new machine was made by Merganthaller Linotype– the same German company who had made Owsley’s mechanical Nemisis. We learned together, because we both knew the principles of what the machines could do. The machine itself was so new, the operator’s manual had not been translated from the German yet!

Owsley saw learning the machine as a way to quickly set type for any Crazy projects that needed doing. Since everything was always late, being able to slip in after hours and do what needed to be done, was a good thing. A special note to Crazy fans out there: look over the indicias carefully. If you know when Owsley and cold type coincided in time, then was when Jim started writing slightly “off” indicias. I haven’t seen them since– they seemed mighty funny at 8 or 9PM. Since Jim worked for Larry, sometimes the “black & white” Conans or King Kulls would get the same treatment. It was also a source of freelance money, never a bad thing at Marvel.

Of note was that Jim had scrimped and saved to make a record album of his own original music featuring himself as lead vocalist. This was around late 1981. Very nicely, he asked me to take some pictures of a recording session and the pic for the album cover (shown below, Jim hanging on to the entry of 575 Madison! Mid-morning, one day, I had my camera in hand, he threw on his suit and we ran downstairs to shoot that shot, as he set it up!). I also pasted up the entire album cover. He insisted I charge him! Usually us Bullpenners all worked as one back then. But Jim was adamant. I also know that he had Larry Hama, a musician as well, in for a session to lay down some tracks.

Time goes by. Owsley is made an editor of the Spider line of books. Great stuff. Now I’m going to tell this story and try to apologize at the same time. I am apologizing for the fact that this took place during the time when I tried to be taken more seriously. I used to be all over the place, taking pictures of people doing all manner of things. When I was moving up, from assistant editor to Special Projects Editor, I was trying to be more business-like. And so, I did not take pictures of:

Owsley’s office! Owsley infuriated pretty much everybody at Marvel by setting a style that was remarkable and forward-thinking. But who knew at the time? Jim spent his own money to buy the first Editorial Computer at Marvel. I kid you not! Jim was the guy. Now Marvel itself had been involved with the infamously-named Wang computer system– which was a really simple-minded word-processor– deeply flawed in that it followed a series of document templates and nothing else. But that was gone by then. Now Jim comes along with the original Macintosh desktop computer! Yes, what we now call the Mac Classic. This was, uh, 1983? Of course, he had to get his own printer. Secondarily infuriating was that he then moved in his own office furniture. A sleek glass desktop supported by a chrome steel frame. Amusingly, for anyone visiting, he had chairs more akin to beach use than office– with clicky, adjustable backs and all.

But the most enraging single thing he did, in his all-new office was: get an answering machine. No small thing, either. Back then they were relatively new and quite large, using cassette tapes for out-going and received messages. They were attached to the very new, quite elaborate new phone system that Marvel had just installed. Those birth-struggles were long and hard. There went Owsley, just ramming his answering machine between the wall socket and the new phone. But it worked.

Amazing. One must know that no one had ever done this before. Very few people had bubbled up through the pipes of good old Marvel and not run around stealing office furniture. Which, in fact, Jim and I would often do– working after-hours has its perks! Even “outside” editors would come in, sniff gingerly at the provided office equipment, perhaps make a request or two for a chair. But that’s it. Jim couldn’t have been more non-plussed or seemingly even able to detect the furor around him. I felt a little outrage, more because I didn’t have the wherewithall to rent office furniture! But I sidled up to Jim to ask, why the answering machines? His response was typically intelligent. People would call in at any time of the day, Jim calmly observed, interrupting whatever it was he was doing. This way, he would call back when he felt best able to focus on the caller. Of course, it sounds rather appropriate now. But back then, Marvel and Bedlam had much in common. The three-ring circus was never ending and irritating phone calls were the lesser of office-evils.

A word should be said about Owsley’s assistants. I have no idea of how Veronica Lawler– forever Ronnie thereafter– found her way to applying as Jim’s assistant. I must have asked, now forgotten. But there she was, a beautiful child; for, I believe she was 20 (I think younger than that, but memories… ). I mean, she was dressed in her school-girl uniform! I did have the sense to crack out my camera for her; seeing one of those pictures recently, Ronnie cracked, “Who the hell was that kid?” Ronnie did her Yeoman duty and did the rare act of moving from assistant editor into production. I was lucky enough to nab her when it came time to fill out my team at Special Projects. Not long after that, sweet Ron connected with Mike Carlin, Editor, seriously enough for a marriage! They even honeymooned with Don Ho! As time and tide would have it, they got divorced and both are now happily re-married! Ronnie is a wildly talented illustrator; an early book of hers is “I Dream To Come To America” a book about emigrants and Ellis Island.

After Ronnie moved to the Bullpen, Owsley needed a new assistant and found– in a similarly mysterious manner– Adam Blaustein. Adam was a compact young fellow but endowed with a vastly deep voice. Such a good voice, that he was a voice artist. The best examples of that were I recall him trying out for the voice of Mr. Magoo, when that was being modernized. The most amazing pop-culture voice that he did make his own: Mewtoo of Pokemon fame! The only character of that string of oddness that spoke words and sentences; the rest of the hundreds only said their own names. Hearing that voice in the theater (with my Pokemon fan son) allowed me to “hear” Adam doing his Brooklyn accent!  Adam moved on from Marvel after I did, so I knew little of what he was up to. But the grapevine was still in place and he was working over at DC for a while. Adam struggled with gender identity, new to the country in the late 1980s and early 90s, the most visible sign was that he changed his name to Addie Blaustein (in the Pokemon movies credits). Sadly, he passed away much, much too young a short while ago.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that James Owsley is the first African-American editor at Marvel Comics.  I find it hard to believe that he was the first Black comic-book editor, but in the “big” houses; pretty sure.

After I had mustered out of Marvel, I lost contact with a lot of Marvelites and comic people; Jim as well. I was visiting some chums at DC and there he was, with an office and all (–a much more staid but discretely-lighted office!). He had been tapped by Dwayne McDuffy, the head of DC’s imprimatur line of African-American oriented books, Milestone, to edit books. Jim was busy but graciously invited me in and we chatted for a short while. I asked him about the rumor that he had been a bus driver for a while. I was frankly curious about being on a high at Marvel, getting the boot and then coming back “across the street” so to speak– working at DC. He answered in that thoughtful and direct way of his. That his time as a bus driver was simply great! You do your route, at the end of the day you park the bus, hand in the keys and your’e done! Nothing like comics. Which is endless.

Some time after that, I was perusing the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble and spotted a book by “Christopher Priest.” I knew that was Jim. It was a hardcover book “Green Lantern.” I was delighted for my old comrade, looked about some more and left. As I hit the street, I was struck by a vivid memory. Back in the “lounge” area of my old stat area, Jim and I were winding down from the regular flurry of day-to-day stuff and we were talking about “them.” The competition, DC. I said I had not read much, preferred Batman to Superman, had dipped a toe in Green Lantern, but didn’t quite see it. Jim then went on to give a perfect precis of the GL mythos, down to the little blue, big-headed Oas, the Battery and The Corp and finishing up with a recitation of  the Green Lantern oath, “In brightest day…” Rather impassioned; it’s different when a believer says it. Comics can be like that.

 

 

Ows Copies

Owsley using Marvel’s first plain paper xerographic process copier. Sometime in 1980.

Hollis Stone

James Owsley outside of Marvel’s building on Madison Avenue.

Owsley as a Crazy Magazine character

Owsley posing as a doctor-like person to appear in one of Crazy Magazine’s ads. Jim was very near-sighted and before he got contacts, his eyes were reduced to the size of pin-points!

James Owsley

Taken at the same time as the above! A world of difference– this is the Owsley I remember. The big-eyed one.

Mark Rogan and A Few Words About This Picture…

Read full article | No Comments

Bullpen of 1980!

Mark Rogan operating the Pos One System photostat camera. C. 1980.

When I entered Marvel Comics, roughly in late 1978, Mark Rogan was there to “show me the ropes.” I had used an old fashioned monstrous photostat camera and these Pos One cameras were little wind-up toys in comparison. A word about historical technology: Photostat. Before electrostatic photocopying (ahem… Xerography) became wide-spread, photostats were the only way to enlarge or shrink a piece of art or a photograph. Yes, you could use an “overhead projector” or Lucy Machine and re-draw things by hand– but this was the 70s Man! The Pos One System was a compact– very compact– stat camera. It was small enough to fit through doorways and could roll around on the floor. Mark’s hands were inside the part of the camera where you could place light-sensitive paper. There was a little light-tight paper safe in there as well. The image plane where artwork image was focused was the only part of the camera that didn’t move. Everything else did.

You can see the upright black shape, the copy board, which was what held the artwork. There are some very bright lights that were on arms that moved in and out so as to evenly illuminate the copy board. Not so easy to see is the lens, which was moved along with the light bars. All motor driven and fun to operate. There was a very nice chemical processing lab– four chambers filled with different chemistry that needed to be fussed with every day. (A black&white “monobath” chemistry for those that care!) Dozens of little rollers moved the paper through the compact labyrinth in about 3 minutes. Finally there was a fan that blew hot air over the prints, on top of the machine. Very neat.

Marvel used the stat cameras for a lot of things. Making full-sized copies of proof rolls of entire past comics for foreign markets. Making art corrections– the use of durable photostat paper meant you could cut it, rubber cement it, add black ink or White-Out correction paint to it. Most logos were copies of an original, same for cover copy and those floating heads on covers that heralded who was going to appear within the comic. Page numbers! Typeset once, copied many, many times. “Special effects” when an image needed to be copied or shrunk so as to appear several times or made a “negative” or artwork copied on clear “acetate.” All done by the versatile Mark and his Pos One.

Mark ran one of three machines that Marvel had in use. Stu Shwartsberg ran a literal antique stat camera, probably made just after WWII (Stu and his machine, had been at various Marvel office locations as far back as I can remember; and I had been a messenger boy, taking stuff to Marvel and parent company, Magazine Management, at age 13-14) and I ran a machine identical to Mark’s but for the “Black & White” and “British” Departments. Mark was all Bullpen.

Mark was a very nice co-worker, worldly and light-hearted. He knew “things” like why one should invest in a leased automobile. If you thanked him for something, his return catch phrase was, “Don’t thank me; thank God for making me so good.” For some reason, that didn’t get worn out. Mark invented “stat soup” because we were so poor on the day before payday, we would make a sandwich of old comic books and stats, with a little stat soup on the side. Mark moved on from the Stat Room, to the Bullpen proper. He did what were called “paste-ups and mechanicals.” When the Letters Collumns needed to be put together, or a house ad– he gathered materials, had myself or the “new guy” (Robbie Carosella) make some stats and he would slam it all down with old-style and deadly rubber cement!

Then, about mid-1981 to my crumbling memory, Mark departed altogether to a huge art department in some magical, high-paying advertising agency, he started as a lowly rubber cement pick-up maker. Within a year, he was barking orders and demanding fealty. Now he owns and runs a fabulous, 1000-person office, in the digital age doing wondrous things. (Alright, I don’t remember what he does now, but it has something to do with print; maybe magazines– it’s been a while…)

George Roussos Artist, Photographer, Friend and Colleague

Read full article | No Comments

A few words about George Roussos. The unusual thing one noticed about George was that he dressed identically every day. Charcoal grey suit, white shirt and a modestly colored tie– cycling between dark blue with red diagonals and burgundy with dark blue diagonals. Every day! At marvel Comics– the staff colorist! And never spilled a drop of watercolor on his shirt!

He carried a very neat, even spiffy attache case. After we got to know each other a bit better, I asked him about his form of dress. His answer was revealing. He commuted to work on the Long Island Rail Road. Dressed as he did, he slipped in and out of the railroad cars blending in like a pigeon mingling in a crowd of pigeons. Whenever asked about what he did, he replied, “I’m in publishing.” George told me he never wished to stand out or call attention to himself.

At 575 Madison, George and I were only a few doors apart. I soon learned of his photographic endeavors. The man processed his own color film, no mean feat. He had made his own darkroom and we swapped techniques and tips a lot. I had been introduced to fast film and print-making from nightclub darkroom men. George was a strictly by-the-book scientist. But on lenses we agreed that you couldn’t have enough of them. I was a Nikon man, George a Canon. I liked Kodak film, George liked Agfa. My quest was wider and wider lenses, his was higher precision. Eventually I wore him down. He got a $700 17mm wide-angle lens. I wouldn’t say George was cheap, but let’s

just say he may still have had his third or fourth nickel! I had explained that wide lenses had distortion when you started fooling around with them. If you set them level and square to, say, the lines of a room, they merely took in more. George was passionate about documenting a private residence on a nature preserve out on Long Island. We usually had new things to talk about every Monday morning as he had spent time photographing something at the residence that weekend. One day after the purchase of the wide lens he came in to my office and proudly showed me a shot of a hand-carved newel post taken from the stair side, maybe only 2-3 feet away. Straight and precise, the shot was artfully printed showing all the curves with highlights. Lovely. Of course he invited me out to see his laboratory/darkroom workshop but I was not smart enough to manage that.

George is gone now. Whenever I read old interviews with him, he tells stories I now wish he’d told me. But the one that I was told and have not seen elsewhere (yet) is that he was the inker on Bob Kane’s first Batman comic book and that it was he who who decided to make the night sky solid black around the Moon on page 1. That’s quite a step back in time; 1938 I believe. No one really knew how old George was when he died. He was an orphan since very young. He seemed to have found a family– of sorts– in comics. To be sure, never

replacing his own family. Like many of us though, the small universe of comics has its own language and mores– when you’re in it, it’s like nowhere else. His happiest time in his office as staff colorist was when John Tartaglione was the staff correction artist, in with him.

George Photog 2

I can’t imagine what George was looking so satisfied about! What is not well-known about George Roussos is that he was a conservationist. In particular was a tract of private property out on Long Island, where he lived, that he was documenting. He worked on an elaborate brochure for several years!

575 Mad 35PC fix

This is what George and I were looking at! A very nice, shabby genteel office building. 57th Street was to the immediate left, the corner led down 56th Street (where I lived, for the shortest, sweetest commute known to Man!). You can see my Nikon 35PC lens is fairly wide– I had wanted the 28PC but it was too expensive– and can just straighten out the building. Marvel’s offices were on the 6th and 9th Floors. The Bullpen was on 6.

George Roussos tries out a new camera lens, 1979.

George Roussos was one of Marvel Comics’ great talents. We shared a common interest in photography. George and I often talked lenses and methods. I had purchased a Nikon 35PC lens, with the ability to add distortion to an image that would “correct” perspective, or straighten out converging image lines. George had recently bought a 17mm lens, a very wide angle lens. He was concerned about the look of wide-angle lens’ distortion. So out we went to take pictures of 575 Madison! Across Madison Ave was the recently demolished IBM Building. You can just see that George is holding his camera body vertically, not tilting upward. This was to see how much coverage he got.

 

Looking very relaxed, George Roussos

George, here pictured at 387 Park Ave South– the “new” offices– looking very relaxed. I visited the Marvel Bullpen the day of their moving back up to 10, from where they languished, on 4, while they rebuilt the whole place. I am using a rented super-wide 15mm lens, which makes George look like Egghead. George intensely disliked being out in the middle of the Bullpen floor, in fact at a corner of heavy traffic. He had had his own office for most of his time at Marvel. But, as he reminded me at the time, he was just keeping his head down. This was late 1992, of note was the Dr. Marten’s standard 36 bottle coloring set, filled with Luma Color watercolors. Coloring correction was all done by hand. Corrections were one thing, George was often asked to do entire covers as part of the job. I particularly like seeing George as relaxed as I’d ever seen him. Also of note: his very casual slacks!

March, 1979 Bullpen Random

Read full article | No Comments

The Marvel Bullpen, March, 1979. 575 Madison Ave, NYC– between 56th and 57th Streets. Marvel had much of the floor, the stat rooms, storage closets and “Stan’s Closet” were all in the back end of the space. Fellow Stat Man Robbie Carosella and I were located right next to the Service Elevator. These shots were taken over a period of time. By which I mean that the film was usually left in the camera for a while. I would try to space out my use of photographic supplies because I was a poor but hard-working Stat Man. So, I would save them up and process the film myself in Marvel’s slop sink. There was a supply closet that was nearly totally dark and a good place to load a film developing tank. I could do that and wander out to the sink to run chemistry in and fool around with the sink. There was also an old office desk in that closet– on it I set up print developing trays and an enlarger. Add some safe-lights and Marvel Photographic Services was on the job.

 

Well… sometimes the negs were spotty. And sometimes, I must not have agitated the chemistry enough because there were spots of undeveloped film, or too heavy a negative– just enough for me to blame Marvel’s water! I am guessing Marvel’s tap water was pretty hard. I also didn’t know to pre-wet the film and so there are some spots here and there, where air bubbles clung for some of the process. So things can look a little rough here and there. I was a pretty good printer, so I felt I could fix any real problems. But Photoshop is a lot drier to use!
 

One reason I was taking pictures was to have them used in a Marvel Calendar. I got several shots in a 1979 Calendar (or was it 1980?) but they seemed to have done away with that, I never saw another actual hang-on-the-wall calendar. So this is just me, walking around taking “grab shots.” A random day.

Click to view larger version of the photos.

 

Click to view larger version of the photos.

All these photos are © by Eliot R. Brown. Don’t copy them and don’t use them. Written permission may be granted. Ask.

 

Friday April 18, 1982 The Marvel Wack-Offs!

Read full article | No Comments

Mark Gruenwald, boyish Marvel Comics Editor, was always looking for slightly risque activities or pranks. Someone must’ve given him a paddle-ball as a gag-gift. That was all it took– the Marvel Bullpen was never the same!  After the traditional stagger to the bank to cash our paychecks, we reassembled to move furniture around to make room for the Only Annual Wack-Offs!

Who could get three wacks in a row? The results will surprise you! Okay, maybe not you, but it sure surprised us. Mark went to the trouble of giving each of us personalized paddles! 

These two rolls begin as many did– just a roll of film in the camera. I would walk around and take pictures of my friends and colleagues doing whatever we did. For example, this roll starts off with us cashing our paychecks in the bank.

What is hard to relate about this entry is that this Friday was the very day of the weekend that Marvel moved its offices from 575 Madison down to 387 Park Avenue South! A testament to the hard work of Bernie Shacktman, an old hand from Marvel’s “Magazine Management” days, we moved down to nearly complete facilities. That Monday morning, we simply opened up our boxes, picked up the still-tacky artwork and finished the paste-ups, made the lettering correction or typeset an indecia!

Click on any photo to see a larger version.

 

Click on any photo above to see a larger version.

All these photos are © by Eliot R. Brown. Don’t copy them and don’t use them. Written permission may be granted. Ask.

Standard Disclaimer: I had a strong desire to become a photo-journalist. Not sure why– but I loved Life Magazine, National Geographic and Playboy. But I worked in the most interesting playpen a fellah could ever want, The Marvel Comics Bullpen. These pictures are presented, as much as legal and societal mores allow, “as is.” This means, since I often processed the film myself, they aren’t that good. But this was the way it was… These images are presented, as much as possible, as they were taken. They represent a timeline of sorts. Sometimes minute by minute, hour by hour or even week to week!

Misc DC Comics Index

Read full article | No Comments

Iron Manual

Read full article | No Comments


Icarus Spaceship Story

Read full article | No Comments

The Story Behind the Guardians of the Galaxy’s
Icarus Spaceship Schematic

Click to see a larger version of Icarus, the Guardians of the Galaxy Spaceship
For the first time!
Read the technical specifications and descriptions OMITTED from the 1994 Guardians of the Galaxy Annual No. 4
Page 1 of 2

I never had a great affinity for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet another space-faring group of super-heroes running around and doing stuff. There’s anger, yelling, hinted-at romance, doing battle, avoiding battle, etc., etc.

I think I zoned out of space-faring super-heroes when Chris Claremont had the X-Men hook up with the Shi-Ar . . .  Then Bill Mantlo took a hand-axe to old pirate stories with his Swords of the Swashbucklers. By then I was propping my eyes open with toothpicks. Whoo boy.

But when Marvel Comics editor, Craig Anderson called for me to do the Guardians of the Galaxy’s big ole spaceship, Icarus, I said, “You betcha!” You see, 1994 was a dark year for this comic book professional. The comic book biz was sinking and no one knew why. (If you want a better idea, read Comic Wars by Dan Raviv Hardcover: 320 pages, ISBN 0-7679-0830-9. This is a terrific account of much of what went wrong. Us poor bums doing the work had very little idea so much was going sour around us.

I started by learning about the good ship Icarus. I was put in touch with the very nice comic book creator, Kevin West, and we yakked up a storm. I got what I needed from him and then I was put in touch with Michael Gallagher, another very accommodating comic book creator. Between these two guys, I had little to do in terms of searching for reference! They very kindly sent me their concept ideas and sketches and some good reference from the books. When you need to know something about a comic book the pencilers are the guys to seek. They have to know even more than the writer, as it is they who add the visual twists that place the story in “a” reality for the reader/viewer.

So, why am I writing about this middle-of-the-road team and their spaceship?

Because each of my complicated “tech” pages is a home run for me. An over-the-horizon, air-traffic-controller-alert home run. Each ship, each headquarters page, is a stand-alone beast of varying complexity which takes days of design and penciling and then days or weeks of inking and finishing and writing.

And because the Guardians of the Galaxy 1994 Annual No. 4 is the only comic book that contains a work of mine that was printed in a severely compromised fashion.

Now there is enough of the “call out” labeling done, so that readers may not have expected any more. But there is that gaping, yawning acre of empty space that tells a different story.

But before this perfidy occurred, Kevin, Mike and I were gamboling happily along. See below? Happy and unsuspecting . . .


Icarus Guardians of the Galaxy

Kevin West wrote, “First let me say how thrilled I am that you’ll be able to do this piece. I’m really looking forward to it. The following is a quick diagram of what I had in mind for the practical features of the Icarus when I designed it. Feel free to add any of your own ideas for weaponry or facilities. This is a large spacecruiser so there’s plenty of room for everything.” Kevin, who was as gracious as one could hope for, provided me with as much time as was needed to get all the details right. Michael Gallagher also started me off with reference and sketches.

Icarus Guardians of the Galaxy

Great Ceres, indeed! So there’s a good look at the Icarus.

Icarus Guardians of the Galaxy

The above sketch of the Icarus, the Guardians of the Galaxy Spaceship, came from Michael Gallagher. I found this angle was not sufficient to allow one to see far enough “into” the ship. With a ship as large as this, scale and what you could reasonably expect to see plays a big role in how lazy I can be. The more you can show, the more details you have to draw. When you can get down to seeing door-knobs, for example, you have to draw thresholds, hinges, door mats — well, you get the idea.

Icarus Guardians of the Galaxy

The splash page above is the Guardian of the Galaxy’s old ship, Drydock, getting turned into space dust. This is from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 No. 26, May 1993. A nice reference picture.

The sketch below of the Icarus, the Guardians of the Galaxy Spaceship, is from Kevin West, showing slightly better proportions. I liked a leaner ship. Sure, we all know that spaceships can look like flying office buildings, but it’s harder to hear them go “whoosh” that way. The pointy end goes thataway.

Icarus Guardians of the Galaxy

Kevin West wrote, “The interior of the ship should include such standards as a med center, galley, gym (complete w/some kind of “virtual reality” danger room), various labs, workshop, recreation areas, conference rooms, an abundance of crew quarters & some type of green house to grow food.”

Icarus Guardians of the Galaxy

At right is my first sketch of the Icarus, the Guardians of the Galaxy Spaceship. This was the angle I liked and stuck with. I had heard a little bit about Prof. Bussard’s ram scoop concept. Of course, I had read all about it in early

But the idea that gigantic magnetic fields could be set up in a fan-shaped scoop pattern to guide in hydrogen atoms — located liberally throughout inter‑stellar space — and shove them into a fusion reactor to generate electricity was a totally real one. Who knows? They may happen some distant day. In the meantime, I had to switch the techno-babble generator to “overload” for this ship.

One thing I’d like to point out are those skinny, antennae-like masts sticking off the back end. There’s something about the Japanese and these things. There was a pretty cool Japanese anime movie that started a whole lot of space hardware on its way. But they had these kooky mast things sticking off them. What did they do? For me, it was what could they do! (They could put your eye out!) So you may note that my comrades-in-art shied away from explaining these things. But me? I waded in and labeled them, uhh, several things. I eventually settled on “Warp Wave Field Conditioner.” Yep, that’s right.

1994, the year this work was rendered and printed, was not long enough after for people to completely forget it. The look of the Icarus was clearly influenced by the shape of the Battlestar Galactica. The look of Galactica was okay — not bad for 1978! Now a lot of people hold that show up as a high water mark of sci-fi brilliance. But it was producer Glen Larsen capitalizing on Star Wars and demonstrating how “economical” TV could be with using footage over and over again.

Usually I am stuck with whatever oddball shape the comic book creators — to be fair — either spat out or labored mightily over. When I got to do something on my own, like with this piece, I could have some fun. I figured there would be a variety of shapes and in that way, perhaps a variety of ways to suggest that they were designed by engineers of different world races. I thought it would be fun to show just how big this thing was by showing how many other ships it carried. I finally got to design something for myself.

Then came the writing part. I was particularly proud of the serious foundations I had laid down. The highest high-technology I could come up with — this was in the days before “nanotechnology” was a part of everybody’s toothpaste! The entire hull was made out of carbon-60, which was brand new (as a discovery) back then. No one knew that it couldn’t be made into a super hull! I was really hoping to introduce new ideas to the series, suggest potential for the writers . . .  Let’s just say I worked really hard on the copy.

Next — Page 2:
I thought, finally comic book madness has claimed me. I look but I do not see. Where is my super special hard-worked for text?