Planter Hell

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A recurring datum point in my history with Marvel was the “move downtown.” Marvel was always attached to a larger company. Early on when I was a dapple-cheeked delivery boy (1969-73), it was owned by Magazine Management. Then, the assemblage of offices was located on 61 Street and Madison Ave. At some time in there, the whole shootin’ match was moved to 575 Madison Ave. If you could stand across Madison Avenue (the old IBM Building), the Marvel floor had the half from the middle to the 56th Street side. Then wrapped around 56th heading East to Park Ave, where the building butted up against The Drake Hotel. (My aging brain cannot recall how much of the 9th Floor the rest of the company had. I do not remember ever seeing 57th Street from anyone’s windows… so probably half the 10th floor as well. Which helps explains the move. It was not only expensive in midtown Manhattan, we needed room to expand.)

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John Romita, Jr. hard at work in the so-called Black & White Department, c. 1980. Those magazines were done in money-saving black-only artwork for the interiors with color covers. You all remember them fondly, Savage Tales, Dracula Lives!, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and good old Planet of the Apes—just to name a few. Through the window behind John, shows the exterior wall facing that gap between the buildings. It was about 6-7 feet. You could just step right out onto a lumpy, filthy roof from most of the rear windows of the 6th Floor!

 

There was an odd jog to that side, which was the result of new buildings needing a “set-back” determined by previous structure’s heights (which is an old NYC law; these days easily waived, hence buildings can shoot straight up from your feet to dizzying heights). In this case the set-back was more about finding a way for fresh air to get into the building. Thus there was this 6-story bump-out that put a “roof” right at our rear-ward (away from Mad Ave) office windows. One could, indeed, step out on this thing. Not recommended if for no other reasons than the stub-wall near my position on the floorplan was terrifyingly low. And of course, office wags would just laugh at you out there, close and lock the window, then leave. The solid edifice of the Drake’s party wall lofted straight up about 6-feet away.

 

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For my era of Bullpenners, this was the “old” office. It was pretty beat up by the time we moved. Stan actually called it “shabby” in an interview at the time. The word was that Larry Lieber (his younger brother and who still spent much of his work day there) took exception to this term and asked for an apology. Well, I wouldn’t use that word. When Marvel took over that half of a floor, they didn’t re-do anything. There were plenty of scuffs and dents in the sheet rock walls already. In a cynical gesture, all the walls and office built-ins, such as half-height glass partitions, were done in beige. Much harder to see bangs and scrapes!

The carpeting stopped a little past Stan’s corner office. The linoleum floors were cleaned often enough, but there was this film of fine dust and grit that could only be buffed but never cleaned. The all-steel doors were a chocolate brown and yes, indeed, could be dented! But they were poorly installed—my student architect’s eye saw through various holes that the relatively new “C-studs” (metal not wood and in the shape of a C—these were the inner structural part of most homes, office buildings, etc. that held up the more decorative wall material) were in use. This was new technology and I didn’t think it was properly braced to the concrete slabs above the “drop ceiling tiles.” You could wiggle some doors in their frames.

I’m the first to admit the old offices were a little care worn. The dividing line between the “front” and the “back” was just where the carpet ended. At the doorway to the Bullpen.

1981! Time for a “new” office! A fellow had been hired or re-hired, who had once worked at Magazine Management. A fellow from so long ago, he was one of the people I delivered things to when I was a young delivery boy. Bernie Schaktman. He was lured back to be an office manager. And just in time to oversee the move. By his design, we dutifully packed up as much as we could in the moving company’s boxes, labelled them and hoped for the best.

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Georgia based architect, Bob Purdom, AIA, his associates and contractors had been hard at work for months prior. When we arrived that Monday morn, walking through the gates of Oz could not have been more wondrous.

The battle of office hierarchy resulted in the Park Avenue side offices going to Executives from “other” departments, like the ones that handled subscriptions and activity books. The corner of 27th Street got Michael Hobson who was the Publisher Vice President. Just rounding that bend, heading away from Park, was a modest conference room. (That quickly was turned into an Editorial office as was the Lunch Room at the very back of the whole place.)

Then came Editor In Chief, Jim Shooter’s office. Sort’a close to Park Avenue, but just far enough away to let him know his place. There was a large bump-out there, which faced the stairs up to the 11th Floor but also housed a wall of filing cabinets. Then it was the entrance to the New Bullpen! Who was there to greet us all? Stu Schwartzberg.

 

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April 26, 1982 Monday, Day 1. Above, Stu lounges just before lunch. His gigantic stat camera had not been fully installed so he honestly had nothing to do. This time. This pic shows a brief period of time before the filing cabinets, topped with the planters were installed. In usual, frantic architectural custom furniture style (where the bounders make all their money) it was being finished after the last minute!

And a car fire on Park Avenue!

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But that’s neither here nor there—maybe an omen, maybe not!

The Bullpen was an open plan with two monstrous catch-all things, built to be office-ey accessories by the artists’ desks. Along the rear wall was floor-to-ceiling cork, just waiting for us to pin things to! Bob Purdom, the architect’s sweet, light and airy concept involved the “window” wall, which was the 27th Street side, housing all the editors and their assistants. Their interior wall, in turn, was floor-to-ceiling glass! This would allow us Bullpenners to look up from our exciting art labors, see some refreshing sunlight bounced off a window across the street and return to pushing ink with a song in our hearts!

Alas, the Editors did not appreciate living in a fish bowl and pulled all their curtains and most of their doors shut and closed as tight as a mint-mint comic. So no sky view for the Bullpen.

In the offing, Bullpenners were told, was the enchanting promise of lush greenery! No breezy skies, no shafts of sunlight but plants. Plants! A verdant barrier of file-cabinet topping bushes. Reminding us of our not-to-far-behind origins as woodland beasts.

 

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Day 1– 10th Floor Reception. Sign in, please! If delivering lunch, pay your respects to late Editor, Ralph Macchio (–we hardly knew ye…). Office mega-talent Marie Severin decorated a “planter to be” with a “Ralph-to-be-planted” sketch of the much loved, much teased Ralph lying in state!

 

The planters did come! Exquisite melamine-encased furniture-grade plywood, with folded galvanized zinc metal containers within—and dirt. The finest dirt not used in the comics themselves. The very nice people who came in to tend to this astonishing display of money, told us the dirt had to rest in order to be suitable for the plants (which did sound like Art Nichol’s place, so we could understand that). Much to our delight we found there were grubs and worms doing their age-old thing and folks, they were delicious.

After not too much time, perhaps not much longer than it took for Mr. Shacktman to acquire a full-head toupee, we had that greenery. Ahh, finally something to uplift us! Something we could throw artwork across or trade quips with the Editors over, safely behind the bushes. The plants themselves were several specially selected varieties, lieberous ridiculous, crespi crawli, markus coughilus and donut farious bow-tius.

Gosh, Bullpenners will be Bullpenners! And it didn’t take long for a mild expression of dislike to manifest itself!

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The office planters did indeed serve as a barrier to restrain excited visitors. The upstairs executives would occasionally show us off to people. They were ushered up to the line of bushes, items of interest were pointed out from relative safety, old Tales of the Bullpen were quoted from a humorous guide written by Joey Adams and then the visitors could be safely whisked back upstairs.

The nice, patient plant maintainer people would stolidly do their jobs. Every few days they’d be in the office, tirelessly watering, tweezering dead plant life and neatening dead Bullpenners. All part of the service.

That cost a trifling US$15,000… per year—that’s in 1982 dollars.

We were flabbergasted at this. (How do I know this? Comptroller Barry Kaplan was heard muttering this figure out loud! He seemed shocked, offended even, that we were outraged at this amount!) Since I was not making much more than that, I felt that for just a “little something extra” in the paycheck (like a donut), I could do this job.

Okay, maybe I couldn’t… When the Gruenwaldian video project, the Cable-TV Comedy Show, Cheap Laffs started rolling, one of the things we needed was an intro of the three main goofballs. And, it was right around the time when the office was in a muted roar of outrage about the planters. I don’t know who thought of shooting the intros this way, probably Mike Carlin who was always good at seeing two wildly different things fitting together well. These melamine-clad wood boxes and metal trays were what separated the reception area from the offices. That is: nothing. In fact, that little fact allowed a lot of trouble to go down. Soon after these very images were captured, it was decided to install huge glass walls and a door with an electromagnetic lock (!) as well as a glass wall to protect the innocent receptionist!

In the meantime:

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Yes I did! In that swirl of multi-generational loss video, you can see a healthy mouthful of lieberus ridiculous being ripped free. I did put it back.

The end of the attempt to pacify the Bullpenners (if Muzak had still been a thing, that might have been tried!) came with a whimper. All the plants were whizzed out of there and the planter boxes were all stripped off the tops of the file cabinets. Finally, the Bullpen had some flat spaces to make better messes on!

But for a little while, it was hard to separate the plants from the Bullpenners. Or tell them apart.

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Otto Preminger vs The Hulk

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It happened this way… My first “real” job, one with a regular paycheck, Federal, State and Local Taxes ripped out of that paycheck and a W-2 Form was at a place called Bernard Hodes Advertising.

Bernie, as he forbid us from calling him, was a salesman who had done good. He found a niche in the world of Help Wanted advertising where he would call for professionals and higher-ups in big companies. I began humbly enough, doing minor handy-man stuff in-office, but also going to the legendary “out-of-town” Times Square newsstand, Hotaling’s, to get huge piles of weekend newspapers from around the country. That was the big-buck Sunday ads. The advertisers really wanted to see a real piece of paper with their ad on it for every day we charged them. That’s where I came in, overcoming my dread of cold-calling and sweet-talking the back-issue departments of newspapers from coast to coast so they would send us “tear sheets” so we could get paid.

As regards to this being a stepping stone to Marvel, I also learned to use an antique Photostat camera. When Marvel asked if I knew how to use a stat camera, I could answer with a straight face, yes! In truth, the two cameras could not have been more different. About like a car and a skateboard both having four wheels and carrying people.

711 Fifth Avenue—it was the Coca-Cola Building! No; there was not a soda fountain open to the public or building coke dispensers for free. No. In the luxurious first floor was the Steuben Glass showroom! Super-duper leaded glass crystal and no; there were no “seconds” available to be had for diet cheap. No.
But there was one tenant, above us all. In fact, in the penthouse suite, just above Bernard Hodes Adv. One Otto Preminger!

That Otto Preminger! Academy Award-nominated Otto Preminger! Visual prototype of 1966 TV-Batman’s Mr. Freeze Otto Preminger! Famous director of Laura (1944), The Man With The Golden Arm (starring Frank Sinatra, 1956), Exodus (1960)—on and on! That Otto Preminger!

One has to reflect on living in Midtown Manhattan for a second. Yup, working in the same building as Otto Preminger. I can only guess as to why Mr. P. kept an office right on 55th Street and Fifth Avenue when his prime business, making movies was out West in Hollywood. I never thought to ask. Mr. P. and I shared an elevator many a time and I never even thought to ask for an autograph on a Mr. Freeze picture.

Now, a quick side-step shuffle to Marvel Comics. What was credulity-straining is that office’s proximity to this story. They were on 56th Street and Madison Avenue—a quick 3-minute stroll away (actually, also from where I lived right across the side-street of Marvel…). Perhaps it was an “event” for Coca-Cola that brought this story together. You see, Marvel had these costumes made up for store-openings and super-market appearances. There were a lot of “easy” ones, such as Captain America and his painted-up aluminum snow sled shield. Others, not so easy… like The Incredible Hulk!

Here is my best recollection of the Hulk costume they made in about 1975. The Inflatable Hulk!

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It was made of fabric, kind’a see-through. I guess that was a side-effect of the thin, stretchy aspect of the material and not intended. I could tell there was a young black fellow inside. Because one could see not only the suit well through it, but there was a green-tinted bit of clear plastic at eye-height in the middle of the chest. I was transfixed by this hilarious, but effective costume. Air inflated! There was a small battery powered fan set into the suit’s butt! The whole thing was easily 7 feet tall. Hand-painted or air-brushed details like the face and some musculature. The “fists” were ball shaped but a painted clenched fist was on each.

Getting in and out remains a mystery, no doubt a zipper at the waist—maybe only in the back. The legs, I think were the performer’s and grease painted on. So that means some kind of knee ties because the waist was loose.

But! The best detail was that it was possible for the performer to grasp the armpits from the inside. Not fit his arms in the “arms.” Yet this way, one was able to actually move the arms and fists.

The purpose of this event premium was to take Polaroid pictures of you and The Hulk. I don’t remember why I did not try to get one of those at the time.

And then, it happened!!! Ding! Whoosh!
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Out stepped the eternally frowning Otto Preminger! A proto Man In Black in his jet-black suit. The Incredible Hulk was standing right at the elevator! Apparently not knowing who Otto Preminger was, the performer inside began to use the mobile arms to whack Mr. Preminger on either side of his head!

No, really! Mr. Preminger’s frown turned into a snarl of rage! He spun around and…

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Otto Preminger vs The Inflatable Hulk!

Mr. P. laid into the Hulk with a will! He cracked the costume three or four good, full-body swings with his briefcase. No kidding, he was mad at this transgression! And the kid kept whacking him back! Yes, he did!

Now as real a picture as I am painting of then, I look back from now and tell myself, Mr. Preminger could have kicked this kid right over if he wanted to. This must have been what passed for the humorous side of Otto Preminger.

Alas, it was over in seconds. No pictures were taken as I recall, which is too darn bad. Without so much as a smile of recognition at what a good job he had just done, looking furious, off he strode with all the imperial majesty that Otto Preminger has. Still glowering and then gone into the Manhattan traffic just outside…

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Robbie Carosella, 1950-2016

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I learned recently, thanks to Fran Grillo, who’s heart is much bigger than mine, that Robbie passed away. It seems he has been gone since mid-2016.

Not long before that, I had sought him out. I have been conducting “interviews” with my old Bullpen comrades. When you’re in the thick of the day-to-day, you don’t usually talk about childhood or upbringing. So I called him and we spoke for over an hour.

Robbie was an unlikable cuss. Short tempered, rude and abrasive – it could be that at one time, he drank too much. Would curse at you as soon as look at you. I could not say we were “close.” We did not have the tightly engaged relationship I had with other Marvel pals. But, funny thing is, he liked me and I liked him.

I had been at Marvel working in the Licensing Department’s Photostat machine room. My next door neighbor who did work for the Bullpen was Mark Rogan. About as genial a co-worker as one could have—certainly when thrown together at random. I was pretty much happy. For about 4-5 months.

Then Rogan upped and decided he needed to run away and breathe free! His replacement? One surly and glowering Robbie Carosella. He was barrel chested and bandy legged, wore a red plaid shirt and had a curly mop of hair like steel wool. For a long while he topped his 5-o’clock-shadow with a Groucho-Marx-wide moustache. He had a putty nose.

He was being shown his office by the head of the Bullpen, Danny Crespi. So I thought I’d be a smart-ass and carried in a box of filing junk lying next to a garbage can, plopped it in front of Robbie and proclaimed these all to be emergency stats needed immediately! And as I spun to leave I said, “Be sure to hold those lines!”

“Hold your tongue!” Snapped my new office comrade.

Which, believe it or not, was the last cross word he ever said to me.

I do not know what form of interpersonal magic took place, but we were on the best of terms from then on.

It’s quite possible we bonded in our mutual admiration and blind lust to the Hulk Doctor. I should explain. Marvel’s Marketing Department thought it was a great idea to have costumes made of some of our more popular characters. By far, the most elaborate was The Hulk. It was a multi-part neoprene rubber monstrosity that must’ve cost a fortune! It always needed some repair between “in-store appearances,” events or parties. In came the Hulk Doctor. This gal – who’s name escaped myself and, I found out when I called, Robbie as well– was actually a freelancer from the outfit that made the Hulk.

These were great times for the program and she would come in several times a month. The name that bubbles up is “Mary.” Alas, I am not sure. But for us, Mary it is.

It should be pointed out that Robbie is a somewhat different person when women folk are around. I imagine it must be true of most lads. But in Robbie’s case his non-women-folk persona was a marked contrast.

At any rate, in came Mary and we all did our best sort of light conversation and such. I do believe that was Robbie’s and my first day. I believe she wanted to travel and see art of all kinds as that was her original passion. Winding up in a costume was not such a stretch for an artistic person. I realized Mary had more than the regular beautiful-girl sway over us both when Robbie suggested we get her an art history book as a good-bye gift on her last day. Or that Robbie was more of a Romantic than he might let on.

Robbie was the not usual “comic person” who wanted to work at Marvel. His last position had been at a stat house. The kind where on one floor, where the big Photostat blow-ups were made, old men in their underwear waded into huge tubs of chemistry, poking at stats with brooms. He said this with an open tone of fear at this future. He responded to a blind classified ad and here he was.

For the next three years, Robbie and I were hard at work not quite side-by-side but very nearly so. Perhaps it was the fact that despite being physically close to each other we had separate offices that allowed us to get along as well as we did.

Robbie was a more sophisticated gourmand that I. Amazed that I had no desire to eat raw fish, he took me to Restaurant Nippon (the first sushi parlor in NYC!), rather close by on 52nd Street and initiated me into the wonders of sushi. It was from him that I learned to always eat sushi during the times of the lunch menu!

Robbie hated having to sign in and out of the “new” offices at 387 Park Ave—he would use the nom-de-comic “Johnny Blaze.” All devotees of Ghost Rider will remember that spirit of vengeance’s human name!

Of course his actual name was Robert. For some reason he hated that and all derivations save for Robbie.
Another thing we had in common was that Robbie and I grew up without fathers. His passed away when he and his older brother, Gary, were kids. My father had to depart from separation. But when Robbie met my mother— a single mom like his own – he could not have been more gentlemanly, polite and even sweet. Same for the time when he met my sister (half-sister, whatever that is; sister) Rana. I had to shake my head hearing Robbie who seemed possessed by the spirit of a genial Jimmy Stewart!

As time marched on I entered Editorial and soon after became a freelancer. These different functions plus Robbie’s need to get home early, kept us from socializing too much. Robbie eventually wound up using a large format scanner which he saw as a relief from screwing around with temperamental machines and gallon after gallon of chemistry. I would be visiting the office less and less but I always barged my way into his darkened sanctum to say hi.

Because as hard as it is to say, I liked him and he liked me.

Robbie Carosella

Robbie Carosella in front of Andy Yanchus and Marion Stensgard, c. 1980.

RIP old chum

Post Script: I intend to write a fuller account of Robbie. This is just what I can get through right now.

My Marvel “Our” Marvel

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A shockingly long time ago, 2010, I was talking all manner of things over with my old boss and comic comrade, Tom DeFalco. He and I had a conversation a long time prior about him contributing something to a “photo” book I was planning on. Some may know that I took a LOT of pictures during my employ at Marvel—from late 1978 to mid-86 and then beyond as a bottom-feeding freelancer/scavenger. He reminded me of this but phrasing it as a whole new project, something more along the lines of “some talk/some pictures” which told “our” story. Which sounded fine to me. Any time I can get someone else to work on one of “my” projects is a good thing.

As it turned out, some publisher had come to Tom about doing a book on the subject of his time at Marvel. Since his time and my time there overlap quite a bit, involving me was a reasonable fit.

When we met with the eminently likeable publisher, they had by then, a thoroughly different concept. One involving many pictures from Day One (which I believe is Stan Lee walking into Timely Comics in the, uhh, McGraw-Hill Building in 1939… ) and sorted down through the decades to crash up against… us. Presumably halting the account around the time Tom was frog-marched out the front door of Marvel (1990?). The obvious problem was that this story was not our story and the task of finding and obtaining the rights to any known and unknown photos—that were not mine—meant real work. ‘Real’ work was something Tom had taught me to avoid many years ago.

Thus, Tom and I decided to try to put together something that looked more like what we wanted to do. Something pegged around my photographic “points in time” and off of which we could tell tales. Perhaps even something cohesive and entertaining would result. Tom and I met in Manhattan and to my delight, more co-conspirators had been brought along. Carl Potts and Danny Fingeroth, both colleagues,  pals, comic creators, editors and all-round famous comic people—were there too.

When it was revealed that Carl was still in touch with James Galton, the former Senior Group Publisher Emeritus of The Marvel Entertainment Group and that he was interested in joining our merry band—my happiness rose to new heights.

Jim Galton was one of those interesting cats who prowled the lanes of Big Deal Publishing for years before fetching up against Marvel’s alleys. I had heard of him when he was head honcho at New American Library—a paperback publishing entity that he drove to new realms of success. He was just the savvy power broker to take over Marvel—then owned by Cadence Industries (don’t ask—lo-o-ong story)—and I think, saw the alternate creativity that was possible with comic characters. We are now seeing the fruits of those beliefs, movies, TV, toys and more! This cross platform spree and all that fun is marred by fact that dear Mr. Galton himself has passed on to that board room in the sky. The awful delay of Marvel being taken over by battling billionaires during the latter-90s, going bankrupt and finally emerging in, uhh, 2005-ish—only allowed him to see some of the very first successes.

Now us guys downstairs— that physical distinction holding true when he arrived at Marvel when it was located at 575 Madison Ave and later, down at 387 Park Avenue South—were very aware of Jim. Us lower denizens, upon seeing Mr. Galton appear, would try to halt our breathing and enter a trance state—if he thought we were dead, he wouldn’t pay any attention to us. I wouldn’t describe this process as “fear” or “terror” more like self-preservation. Considerate, I would say.

Here is the best and most illuminating Jim Galton story I can tell here. When we moved from uptown to downtown we were moving into a brand-spanking-new office. Built from the ground up. Mr. Galton believed we, at long last, had an opportunity to re-make the Bullpen as a lean, clean and efficient workshop. No more torn Xerox copies of the latest office waggery on the walls, layer upon layer left for months and years… To be banned were junk movie posters or pictures taped or push-pinned to the walls! No more! Everything would be sent out to be framed and hung up nicely, neatly. The gigantic new art and materiel storage things—built at fantastic cost; price? No man may say– in the middle of the new Bullpen would be indicators of the solemn tidiness that was expected of us.

At some time during the first week of our relocation and occupation of this new Bullpen, Jim came downstairs to enjoy the fresh scent of modern, driven capitalism. What he saw (he couldn’t see us; everyone was slowly exhaling and rolling their eyeballs up) was torn Xeroxes, junk movie posters and pictures taped and push-pinned on the walls—but neatly and with dollar-store frames also taped and push-pinned on the walls. I was not there, but I was overjoyed at the tale of Mr. Galton pausing to take in the clock.

In the Bullpen was a rather prominent column right in the middle of the floor. On it was a simple black and white office clock. It had a few inches of electrical cord with plug dangling just above an (oddly placed) electrical outlet. Of course the clock was a battery run variety. A small sigh was heard and from then on, Mr. Galton pretty much remained up in his tastefully appointed and lush executive office.

[An interesting architectural detail was that the rear walls of the Bullpen, as well as the large walls of every editorial office, was covered with ¼” cork from floor to ceiling. Well, they gave us a surface to be push-pinned into, what were we to do? Eventually, the system of sending “artwork” out to be framed worked. Only a few years later, there were very nice pieces and Marvel posters all over the place.]

Such was Mr. Galton’s special business acumen that he knew to let well enough alone. This band of gutter-snipes and ne’er-do-wells were inadvertently making the company millions. Let ‘em alone!

Back to that remarkable meet up! I was very excited to have Jim Galton as a part of this team. Perhaps then, some books would be sold. 1/5 of something is better than ½ of nothing! Mr. Galton really was an important figure in modern entertainment and had more than a few bombshells of his own to drop (catching Jack “I Never Nap” Abel asleep was mine). Such as – and this was right on the heels of Disney acquiring Marvel – that Disney had tried to buy Marvel once before… revealed at that meeting!

But I quickly realized that Mr. Galton should really be writing his own book. I felt that his presence, while genuinely fascinating, would overtake our modest tales. I vacillated between telling my old comrades to go jump in the lake and swear to make sure the story of a true, working Bullpenner (back in the day, I was one of only a few who came up from Production to Editorial) was told, dammit! (Plus, a 1/5 of something, etc.)

Alas and alack! As with so many back-room, smoke-shrouded (or steam jetting from Mr. Galton’s ears) deals, one publisher fell by the wayside, another rose up—sniffing the tell-all scent of Mr. Galton’s name. One, who, believed as I suspected… Galton’s story was much more interesting to well, pretty much everyone’s than ours. As much fun as the prospect of weaving Mr. Galton’s story in with our own might have been, that much fun (see ‘work’ ref above) was not to be.  But not before we shared one final meal with Mr. Galton. A remarkable one, to me. I had been a door mat in his employ, one he might have spotted first and wisely stepped over. Yet, a little time, a little mellowing and there we were reading a restaurant menu together! Of course I was hardly breathing and imagining that I was “building a white wall,” my eyes rolled back…

After all that, there we were, right back where we started and called it a day. We all said our hail-fellow, well-met blandishments to each other and slunk off to our various domiciles. Mr. Galton, of course, did not slink. In fact I should note that I had heard he had been a recent cancer survivor and personally felt that this might be the reason he would break bread at the same table as I (he heard me place my order with the waitress); time was marching on; an interesting life should be shared, etc., etc. I believe he was 80 (83?) at this meeting but he was sharp and energetic. I would not have expected such conviviality.

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Danny Fingeroth, Tom DeFalco, Jim Galton, Carl Potts

 

Why yes, yes he did pick up the check.

What follows is a quick thing I really did dash off about me and my time within the Marvel Bullpen. I was trying to throw in some “heart” and humor. I’m not sure it worked. I did go over it, changing only a few things to avoid litigation and with clarity a trembling hope.

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“OUR MARVEL”
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1/15/2010

 

Working At Marvel—My Marvel

ERB

I am an only child and was raised by a single, orphaned-as-a-child mom. I hadn’t really experienced a large family—no matter how many times my Jewish friends had brought me to their very large Seders—until I’d worked at Marvel.

So pervasive was the feeling of family, togetherness and a mutual shoulder-to-shoulder forward push, that it holds to this day. When kids speak to me about wanting to “get into comics” I do the best I can to tell them about the “larger world of comics” that once was and can still be. Recently, I was asked for my opinion about the wording on a piece of work I had done some 27 years earlier, being prepared for reprinting. I decided to re-do the artwork and update the text. It was Spider-Man’s web-shooter. Sure, Steve Ditko had designed it 20 years prior. Then, during the Marvel Universe days I lovingly rendered it and suggested how it might work. All those years later, the scanned artwork was all that there was for Marvel Online. When it was printed in the dark days of FlexiGraphic “rubber” printing plates, the thin lines had gone all wiggly. So, I was given the opportunity to fix it. For free.

But working for free on a project that was long-finished is old-hat for me. Because of that family thing. You pat your kid on the head and send him out in the world, but when he comes back a little scuffed and tousled, you spiff him back up, nourish him a little and send him back out there.

Working with genuinely “funny” people—the bone-dry wit of Stu Schwarzberg or the genteel madness of Marie Severin—to the day-to-day funny people like Robbie Carosella or Al Smith– life was never dull—not even saying good morning! The cross-section of people—even humanity– was mind-boggling. Russian ex-pat Nora Maclin, an old “speak-easy” and then-union drummer Anthony Cerniglia, man-with-a-dream Mid-Westerner Mark Gruenwald, mad Australian Peter Ledger—ALL of these people drawn together for silly, fantastic purposes. Mostly to draw and gather images for a living.

Which is still hard to explain to this day. That sense of isolated community, speaking a shared language, is the heart of that experience. People wonder why I enjoy but ultimately don’t go wild for the hit TV show, “Big Bang Theory.” It’s because I lived that life—even to the plumbing the depths of the universe, real and imagined, that the characters do in their “day jobs” as physicists and engineers.

Marvel—my Marvel of the late 1970s to early 80s—was a place that allowed me to do every aspect of that business. I exploited my early interest in photography to be the best stat-camera operator Marvel had. That had little to do with my progress—for me, Marvel was a meritocracy, where I could rise as high as I could manage. A guy like Tom DeFalco, inventor of the Laughing Wallet, saw whatever he saw in me, while I contributed to the fledgling Marvel Universe after hours, and dragged me out of Production, made me his assistant.

A guy shooting stats one year, co-writing the back-story to toy-lines (Robotix with Ralph Macchio) only two years later and then co-creating a brand-new comic (Spitfire and the Troubleshooters with Jack Morelli) only a year after that. Few companies would have that sort of How To Succeed At Business phenomenon.

Coming in early and leaving late—not even a consideration. Burying Tom’s Uncle’s second wife—still not a problem. Wearing a brassiere and panties and jumping out of a cake—all part of a day’s work. A “Many Hands” operation was another one of the “calls” that any red-blooded Marvelite would answer—must answer! What other corporate entity would have the equivalent of a cry for help in the Bullpen, where anyone in earshot would jump on an artboard that had only penciled art on it and start inking with random tools in nearby taborets? For free? I did it more than once.

Mark Gruenwald was experimenting—yet again—with a cinema verite approach to a limited series he was writing about Hawkeye. Since the character was based in Manhattan, he had me travel with him on the #7 line to take pictures of certain ramps, stairways and odd intersections deep in the Time Square subway station. When we had those pictures developed, he had me draw in the backgrounds of his pencils, exploiting my architectural student training. I also laid out a cover that featured a rooftop so that the angles worked in correct perspective. Mark then penciled in the characters. Then he took me to dinner—but that was just two pals sharing a meal.

Again, when Gruenwald needed to create an entire magazine almost from scratch—the third of his Alternity magazines—he turned to the Marvel Bullpen to produce anything he needed. With Mike Carlin – his then assistant and but soon to be editor; not just at Marvel but then DC(!)—and myself, we put together an entire, profusely illustrated magazine. When we needed a beautiful babe to model a commercial T-Shirt, we had the pick of the pack of “Executive Floor” beauties to choose from (and of course, selected the most beautiful). All done after-hours and though Mark paid for his articles and artwork, we helped for free. That was the way.

Such was the dovetailing of abilities. When legendary artist and staff colorist, George Roussos prepared a booklet for a private reserve that he was devoted to, out on Long Island, he had Gruenwald proofread and improve the copy. George and I shared a passion for photography and I was delighted to egg him on to try more and more unusual angles. I encouraged him to purchase a specific wide-angle lens that helped him work in tight spaces such as a staircase.

Two stand-out acts of incredible generosity come to mind. When staff-colorist Paul Becton needed hip surgery, Jim Shooter dug out the oldest “inventory” pencil job (a Larry Lieber “Hulk” story) and handed it out to anyone. We all contributed inks, lettering or coloring. The money went to Paul. When Jack Abel, old-time artist who had pioneered Sgt. Mule for DC, had a heart attack and could no longer ply his trade, Shooter created a new position. Thus the staff proof-reader was born. That way we all got to enjoy Jack for a long time. And when he had his third heart attack, the sweet presence of Veronica Lawlor—the tall, lithe designer and production worker who Jack called a “6-foot leprechaun”—waited with him for the ambulance as he lay on the Bullpen floor. I believe that expression of mutual love and respect helped Jack come back one last time for another run.

Then there was the knowledge that we were all contributing to a world-wide happening—the least little jot of ink could change things. Not every office joke stayed in the office! A quip on the border that was not erased or indicated for cleaning at the separators, but not, could cause havoc. Anyone remember “Clint Flicker,” a detective whose name could bring down the curtain. Or “Hits” cereal? When stacked on a shelf in the background, it could raise blood pressures all over the country! Or leave a cover in the hands of a letterer long enough and the venerated “Comics Code” seal of approval becomes the “Cosmic Code.” All very funny now…

So Marvel became a big, rambling, shambling super-extended family that lives and breathes to this day. Like any big family, Marvel has loved ones who cannot get a break, cousins who get married, big spenders who have fallen on hard times, characters who have remained characters and its revered dead. Many were improved by death—some not.

For me, this family goes on. Part of it staggers like a zombie still producing comics. Many of its members have moved on and done normal things, some not so normal. But we always come back because we knew that we were so different from those unlucky souls around us. We even called them a special name and had to treat them delicately: civilians. It’s been 32 years since I walked into Marvel and my heart has never left. I take with me good friends—a best friend; a wife—and dear and close friends plus a host of good chums and acquaintances. When we get together we can still speak to each other in our special language and make fun of each other and our friends. Catching up feels unnecessary, as though no time had passed from whenever to now.

The single greatest expression of the enduring togetherness that our comic world had was the recent “Marvel Reunion.” In the middle of that raucous melee it hit me that this was for us and all by us. Marvel people had reached out as far as it could and brought together as many people as could make it. We even, believe it or not, invited the executives! Everyone got there on their own dime—which was a hardship for some; a lot of travel for others. But we all felt the same way! We may have looked like FBI aging-software versions of ourselves, but no time had passed. We celebrated our silly uniqueness, mourned our dead and had a great time. Together.

Ring vs. HQ Pages

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The Yin and the Yang. The Karmic Wheel. Good versus evil. Light and dark. Etc.

There’s supposed to be some kind of balance in the universe. For me, as a comic bum, it was the hope of more “ring” pages. The characters The Flash or The Mandarin—both had rings. The Flash had a crazy system of intense high-speed folding (soaked in mysterious chemicals, no less) that fit his entire costume into a “poison pill” ring. The Mandarin had alien-technology-based rings for each finger—each one could do things.

But they were simple… nice and simple. I grew up watching DC Comic’s Flash, then police forensic scientist, Barry Allen, pop his ring open and enjoyed seeing his costume fly out. I loved that little scrunchy version going outward from a simple ring. Presumably, Mr. Allen would then take off his street clothes and put on his now-full-size – and dry — costume at super speed. Y’know, he’s in public view. What does he do with his street clothes? As of late, The Flash’s speed has achieved a high silliness factor, I see no reason he can’t run home and change out of his clothes into his costume, then run back before anyone is the wiser. But I digress.

Flash Ring Pg
© DC Comics

Okay, here’s my Flash ring page. Talk about “Stockholm Syndrome” – here I was feeling so badly about getting a page rate for so little work—I actually did a surprint of the “unfolding” costume. Which was to be printed in a see-through red color. The Flash ring page probably took a long afternoon. Including sketches, coffee breaks, pencils and inks.
Flash Ring Overlay

 

 

 

 

 
© DC Comics

DC Production, bless their crooked T-squares, actually paid attention to this sad demonstration of attention-getting and worked their magic! Hey presto! Printed like a dream—see for yourself Flash Secret Files #2, Nov 1999

Flash Secret Files Origins 2_001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I may have been chuckling to myself as I went out and bought some super-huge isometric ellipse inking templates prior to my couple of hours’ worth of careful drafting. ‘Chuckling’ I say– I had finally outwitted those know-it-all editors! Ha Haaahhh!
But there was that nagging voice in the back of my head—the voice of my mom, actually. It whispered, yeah, but it looks all lonely… those few, sparse lines… maybe something else is needed… right? A-a-all that money for a few lines… who are you, John Byrne!? Ah! The suit… yes… that crazy scrunched up suit… yeah, baby; that’s the thing to do. A little more effort. Surely Stan—err—Jeanette would smile down on me from the Top Floor…
I should have held before me, images of the Avengers’ Quinjet or Mockingbird’s Battle Staves (which I pretty much designed to work) and relaxed.

Headquarters Pages
I would like to say that I “pulled out all the stops” because I found myself working for David Goyer. Yes, that David Goyer! I actually spoke to him! Did the screenplays for The Puppet Masters, The Crow City of Angels and even Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a made-for-TV movie, the one with David Hasselhoff (which is surprisingly okay)) among others, wrote many a comic book and then he wound up with me.
I would like to say I was star-struck and hoping he would like my work—maybe get attached to one’a them thar “Hollywood” dream teams of design. So I went a little “overboard.”
I would like to say that, but alas, I find that the job often “speaks” to me. It is not often that I get to design an entire HQ from the ground up. Mr. Goyer gave me free rein but I was also given a thatch of reference and had several conversations during which I took notes. This was to be the grand re-launch of the Justice Society of America!
The trouble with the JSA was that it was old, had a lotta lot of stories and side characters, places. Some stuff had to be swept under the carpet—or in my case, placed on the other side of the building! Mr. Goyer had plans to rejuvenate this old cast of characters and my hope was that the HQ would be that “JSA +1” character.
So the job “spoke” to me. It was saying things like, “Sure you could suggest a staircase, but the old club atmosphere demands you draw it all!” Or, “The bird guy needs an aviary and a place to launch from!” Or, “You call that a façade? More windows, coward!” Or, “You did see a place in the Gift Shop where you can hang models of their ships? Well, didn’t you!?” Or, “Hey, dummy, there has to be more than your usual security and freight elevator in this one! It’s a super-hero HQ!” And so on. I hardly ever answered back—that voice can be mean.
Mr. Goyer suggested that I follow the old “Avengers Mansion” concept put forth by Stan and Jack. The Mansion looks a hell of a lot like the The Frick Museum, located on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street and was presented in the books as a super-hero headquarters. Well, I thought it was ridiculous, but when you think on it—the audience likely to visit an art museum and one who buys comic books would never mix—okay! I’m a believer! (I did draw up the Avengers HQ for Marvel Universe—the best part was that the exterior was already designed for me.) Mr. Goyer wanted something that I found too outlandish: The Dakota. The legendary apartment building from the 1880s on Central Park West. I thought it was too well known. The Frick was well known only to midtown Manhattanites. But the Dakota! By then, the notoriety of John Lennon’s untimely murder at that place, had hardly died down.
I counter offered The Guggenheim Mansion.
JSA HQ 2pg 1999 SM
© DC Comics

 

Okay, I guess I did go overboard. A little. And Dave—I mean, Mr. Goyer has not called in over 18 years and counting. The chances of future collaborations are looking rather wan.
The point of this essay is to demonstrate what an idiot I am. “Ring vs. HQ Pages” – what would the difference be? Aside from time spent at the drawing board? Nothing. No difference at all—as far as page rate goes!
The “page rate” is how much one is paid per function per page. The result of occult proceedings, sacrificing of freelancers and such, in a Star Chamber-ish gathering of Priests and Subalterns that coughs up your page rate, among others’—but who cares about them? Considering that throughout my career, I did everything on a page—excepting lettering or type and coloring (except in fairly rare circumstances)—each one of my rates was set down on the rate list. I believe it was Jim Shooter who, in one of his fairest of fair acts, considered my “text” and “legends” plus placement to be worth a completely different rate. Thus was born the “Technical Writing Rate.” Only myself and Richard Bennett (mine was around Marvel Universe days, his was around the Guide to the X-Mansion) got one. We had our own long, skinny column that was maintained, blank, on every page of the rate list until you reached our names.
DC Comics had their own method of payment, similar in the breakdown of work but dissimilar in that they would lump it all together in one page rate. It is thus a little harder to figure out how much I was paid for which function (pencils/inks) but it ranged from $210 to $450 flat per page. The lower number was for some clearly “pencils and inks” only—no writing. I am profoundly ignorant when it comes to the minutiae of the DC Universe (I read Batman and Superman till I was 8—paying money for a comic book back then (roughly 1962) was not a “thing” – as I recall my weekly allowance was 25 cents). I was only too happy to let someone else write the copy. The higher number was their “kitchen sink” rate, as I understand it. This included unusual things like breakdowns and a “buy out” fee, whatever that is. Which I thought was awfully nice of them (I believe it was Paul Levitz, Editor in Chief at the time—I encourage all right-thinking comic readers to run out and buy his book: The Bronze Age of DC Comics (ISBN-10: 3836535793) or the honking, great massive tome 75 Years of DC Comics). Of note is that this time, I did write some text for the JSA HQ. Well, it was a building and I designed it so I thought I could. Upon re-reading– er, most of it– dismal stuff.
Merely drawing the page is just a part of tying this Gordian Knot. One has to design the building—and believe me, leaving out the plumbing or H/VAC saves only so much time—then design the page. At one point, I felt a vertical 2-pg spread might look better and spread the art out. In that idea, I had the floors slid out from one another so that you could see more. Then I slapped myself awake—why would I figure out a way to do double the work? I settled on the fabulous arrangement you see above.
Then I set up my perspective. I make perspective rails out of illustration board—these gadgets allow the head of a T-square to slide against an arc cut into a strip of board. The result is that the blade of the T-square will then act like it is attached to a distant vanishing point. I remember one of the vanishing points was 9-feet away. This allows one to pencil and ink along perspective lines with confidence. No guessing at in-between lines.

JSocA HQ Final Layout_001

 

At the point shown above, I had come as close as I could to figuring out what parts to leave open so as to see inside. Some details deserved to have more shown—some, I could just show a small part and tell that room’s story. Elevators, escape tubes, freight and vehicle movers—all had to traverse the height of the building and of course, my favorite: connections to sewers and the NYC subway system! In fact, you can see above that I had not figured that out. But I would!
Also you can see that I flattened the angle of the roof so as to show less of all the details. That down-looking angle would also make things tougher for me to draw on the lower floors. Once again, looking ahead in order to save (some) drawing time. Even, hopefully, be able to show things with less distortion—more like looking into a dollhouse rather than an extreme view point.
Now to be completely fair, the JSA job had a third page, composed of fairly empty space… building plans and a site map of the area. I was paid $1350 for three pages—which sounds great. I’m not saying it isn’t. And, if I was doing a regular monthly book, say 17 to 23 pages in each, at that rate, I would still be smiling. But this was three pages – two of which were stuffed full of details.
So at the end of a two-week period, when I am inking in the last of the back-end of the JSA mansion (you might tell that the wrought iron fence back there is a little wobbly… ), I am composing new lies to hand over to the various bill collectors.
On the other hand, I am serenely proud of the work I poured into these pages. Did I go overboard—I sure did. But this is a working headquarters of a super team. How do you do less, when all you’re given is two, three pages. I was not given a series of stories in which to show things organically. There’s a museum and a gift shop, of all things (Mr. Goyer’s idea, by the way). Dining halls, conference rooms, sleeping quarters, big computers, gym space, underground parking for cars and helicopters – including an elevator that runs the chopper up through the building and allows it to take off through roof hatches, seismic-resistant rail links to other bases or the NYC Subway, escape tunnels as part of the sewer system (I love a good sewer!)… I really tried. It appeared in JSA Secret Files and Origins #1, August, 1999.
JSA Secret Files Origins 2_001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technically, this HQ was the third version for that institution. (And–ehhh—ahah–there’s apparently now a fourth version. Which means they blew this one up! Ah well, sic transit Gloria, whoever she is.)
Well… Mike Carlin put it best when he told me, “You don’t know when to stop.” He’s got a point.

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Plastic Butts in the Marvel Bullpen!

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Falcon Plastic Butt4

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A few words about this picture…

You are looking at a figurine of The Falcon, longtime evil fighting partner of Captain America. The Falcon figurine was a part of the series of toys or playthings put together by Hasbro-Bradley—a major toy manufacturer. They were caught flat-footed by Kenner Toys who did the figurines for DC characters first.
H-B came to Marvel Marketing, deciding they also needed a “back story” to help sell the toys, help the kids – and enthusiastic adults – of the world, to play with them. G.I. Joe had such a back story, penned by world-famous Larry Hama, which appeared on the backs of each “blister pack” and of course, a long-running comic of the same name.

Someone, somewhere thought a “toy-tie-in” comic might be nice and thus came forth the 12-issue Limited Series we all know and love: Secret Wars. Then, Secret Wars II—but that’s another story.
Now—behind the scenes… and I use ‘behind’ guardedly… Marketing and Licensing were busy hammering-and-tonging their way through the agreements and wherefores, how-tos – all manner of compromises and pay schedules.

During that process, it was made clear that a copyright notice needed to be placed on the figurine.

Falcon Plastic Butt2

Falcon Plastic Butt1

These are fairly small figurines. A little history, if you will. Not long after Barbie settled into the human consciousness, fulfilling all the needs of little girls everywhere—a manly alternative was needed. Then came G. I. Joe—A Real American Hero. The size of these feminine and manly figures was just about 11” tall. How this relates to people is controversial; let’s just say, Barbie is ready to slip on high-heels at the drop of a product line and G. I. Joe is a combat veteran. So, about a foot in all– a goodly size to flail around when playing.

I can barely understand the efficiencies of mass-production when applied to toys, but I can agree that a set of figurines would be cost-INeffiecient if they were a foot tall. Kenner—who was very well known for things like Spirograph and Stretch Armstrong— lucked into the Star Wars license—made their toy line 3-5/8” tall. They must’ve been daffy with success with the SW figurines, because they had fabric costumes and accessories. By the time they got to “Super Powers” (a sad and transparent side-step from the jointly-held trademark of Marvel and DC: Super-Heroes) the figurines were bare.

Then in strode Hasbro-Bradley! They weren’t afraid of accessories—no sir! Every Secret Wars figure had to have a gun of some kind. (Everyone knows The Hulk wanted a gun, c’mon!) It didn’t matter if the character would never use one in their own books (Captain America). They also got this odd shield that held a “lensatic” image switcho-changeo gimmick. What it showed hardly mattered, it was supposedly the “secret” part of Secret Wars. Maybe—I dunno; it’s been a long time.

All of those gimmicks didn’t matter, because the fellow who wrote those comics, Jim Shooter, had to work with them but vowed to dispose of them as quickly as possible.

The point of all this “history” is that… there wasn’t much room to put a copyright notice on these little figurines. Let me now spin a “thought experiment”—a story best left in the world of the unrealized – a set of outright falsehoods– the scene is a workshop, where, I do not know. Let’s say somewhere in the middle of America. Could be a vast sterile laboratory peopled with PhDs in neat white coats, could be a squalid rat-infested den of freelancers squatting over the coals. Either way works, because at some point the question was posed to the people—these people, sculptors, engineers, prototypers, machine shop techs, pantograph operators — who had to put a physical copyright notice somewhere.

A certain few words must be a part of this notice—will they fit? Can they be read? Can they withstand being chewed, scraped, beaten by a customer? How? How! HOW!? Black ink squished on to the feet? A tag riveted to the elbow? Can it be hidden under a helmet? – Hair? A costume accessory? I can picture a debate of lawyers and artisans hurling barely-concealed derisive comments at each other—when suddenly someone says, You are a butt head!

A murmur arises, the butt—of course, the butt! Nice and wide, nothing the mechanical nightmare that machines words into a steel mold cannot handle…

And so it is decided, that the butts are exactly where the Marvel copyright notice will go!
So all of that is done.

Some time passes. The toys are made, sold, are a wild success. Into my Special Projects (my function at the time) office walks Merchandising Doyenne, graceful and sultry Sally Pomeroy. Sally was one of the women who walked among the Executives of the Eleventh Floor. Never really knowing what any of them did, it was best to avert one’s eyes when walking around them. Not that one might not sneak a glance at Ms Pomeroy’s charms now and then—but only a glance, I can assure you. Then eyes back to the carpet, buddy.
But there’s Sally asking me an odd question. Can a picture be taken of this? And she hands me The Falcon figurine, pointing to the little, tiny words.

Well! Not only did she come to the right department, she came to the right man. Me and cameras were a daily nuisance around Marvel. It was well known that Brown would stick a lens in your face at the drop of a “Go away!” Luckily for Sally, Close-up Lenses are my middle name (which can get damned awkward). Not only did I have a Nikon 55mm f3.5 Micro-Nikkor lens, which got me in pretty close– I had a series of magnifying lenses that could allow me to capture the nose hairs of a buffalo off a fresh nickel.

Now, what on earth legal and merchandising was going to do with this, I do not know. Perhaps Sally told me, but it’s gone swept from memory by a single smile. Could it be some form of legal ‘proof’ needed to show “the revenuers?” or the friendly IRS, I could not say.

Even though I saw things through the viewfinder (on my antiquated film camera) which showed me exactly what I was going to see on film—I used a strobe light to take the picture. So I could not really be sure what I was going to get until I had the film processed. With a strobe that is detached from the camera, you can aim or bounce the light all about but the exact end result has to be seen on film.

So when I got this series of shots back—I had a pretty good laugh at the taut firm buttocks, shiny and well-rounded by the photographic flash, of this fabulous hero. I took it upon myself to have a mini poster printed—which I gave to Sally as a gift. This was the era of The Chippendale Dancers (young’uns today may not know of those hardy and hardly dressed men who danced cabaret style for the entertainment of women) and all the calendars they inspired. She may still have this lone poster of The Falcon’s butt– celebrating an average afternoon in the Marvel Bullpen!

Falcon Plastic Butt3

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My Summer Marvel Internship or No More Namor Please! by Nick Brown

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Did you know that Namor: The Sub-Mariner suffered amnesia six times from his late 60s run to early 90s run? This included brainwashing by a magic snake mask, being zapped by an electric fish, memory wipe by regular magic, and of course being hit really hard.
I know this because two days a week, for three months in the summer of 2016, it was my entertaining job to read entire runs of old comic series cover to cover and document every single character with a name who appears for the first time. Not just relevant people either, every janitor or cab driver who told our heroes their name in one panel in those issues is meticulously logged away in an Excel document somewhere in the great Marvel databank in the sky.
Sadly, I don’t live in New York City, so I had to get up Thursday at 5:30 AM for a ninety minute bus ride into town. I usually had just enough time to grab an everything bagel with cream cheese and a black coffee from the nice street vendor near the office. This ran me about $3.50 and I can honestly tell you that was a steal. My dad always told me that New York street vendor bagels are basically just a giant bagel with a half a slab of cream cheese wedged inside and I never believed him until that day. Taking that monstrosity out of the bag to be greeted by an avalanche of crumbs on the desk was the highlight of my mornings.
One morning of failed experimentation had me trying out an actual breakfast store down the street from the Marvel offices. I found a bagel plus coffee for roughly the same price but it was about the size of a small napkin and instead of slabbing the cream cheese on for me, they gave me a little packet of the stuff and forced me to spread my own cheese like it was the middle ages.
On arrival, the actual Marvel Bullpen so often written about on this blog has clearly changed a lot. Less airsoft fights and more people trying to decide whether Vision was technically naked, and therefor did he need censoring. There were Marvel centric figurines everywhere the eye could look. The offices were littered with posters, and action figures engaging in absurd cross comic fights.
There was also a cardboard cutout of someone I’m pretty sure was Hillary Duff that watched me from the cubicle next to my desk. If anything like that ever graced the old Bullpen, my dad’s keeping shut about it. Perhaps there was a plastic Tuesday Weld head peering at my father’s desk some years ago.

Hillary Duff aside, one of the great perks of my job was that I basically got paid to read and meticulously document comic books. One of the things they don’t tell you though, is that if you do anything with comic books for 8 hours a day, you go quietly insane. This explains a lot of my dad’s old work stories. But not nearly all.
Once I managed to read a series that I was already a huge fan of, the first thirty or so issues of Louise Simonson’s wonderful Power Pack. This was especially fun since I own most of them, but Marvel allowed me to read some of the gaps in my collection.

They also had me read Tower of Shadows, which was Marvel’s very strange attempt at cashing in on the horror trends of the 70s, and fighting DC’s House of Mystery at the same time. It was a series of horror anthologies, told by the gentle mortician named Headstone P. Gravely and his slightly more horrific serial killer assistant, Digger. Usually these stories were from a short literary fiction by older authors and given comic book form by Marvel artists and editors. They very rarely had anything whatsoever to do with the outside Marvel universe, but still, my job was to catalog the characters so I did it. This unfortunately threw some slight curve balls in the form of meta continuity. So Headstone P. Gravely, did not appear in the larger universe until it was revealed much later, in the form of a written book that chronicles the blog of a Marvel character, that the Tower of Shadows was just a tv show within the Marvel universe, but even then he was never heard from outside that context. However, the character of Digger eventually become a B-list supervillain and member of Night Shift, which went on to use the actual Tower of Shadows building as a headquarters. This technically didn’t interfere with my ability to judge what character appears first and when, but it did give me a taste of how insane the Marvel universe was and is.
What did screw with my records was when Headstone brought in “special guest hosts” to the book in the form of the real comic’s editors and artists giving the introductions to their stories. Now this wouldn’t seem like an issue until you remember, as I am forced to, that people like Stan Lee and Bill Everett have been written as actual characters in the Marvel universe.
(sidebar: if you’re heart is in good shape, google Young Stan Lee and thank me later)
This forced me to do a lot of research, and add a gratuitous number of footnotes and addendums to the “first appearance” logs for these and other writers.
For added frustration, when I eventually started reading Namor, I came across the alleged first appearance of a guy named Merlin. Now, I will not bore you with all the details, but if you want a ride, take a quick look at the webpage http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/merlinyn.htm because there is an entire section devoted to making sure you appreciate that nobody in the history of Marvel understands, or cares, exactly what Merlin they are working with, his origin, or abilities at any given time. In fact, there is an entire subsection of that page discussing the Namor issue in question, why it’s confusing as hell, and how nobody really can be sure if it was that particular Merlin’s first appearance or not.
To quote from the article, “I don’t know” and let us leave it at that.
But since we’re talking about Namor: The Sub-Mariner, I have something of an odd relationship with him after that summer.
On the one hand, after reading his issues spanning multiple decades, it is hard not to appreciate him as a powerful, compelling anti-hero who sometimes adheres a little too much to his convictions but at the end of the day truly cares about his kingdom at sea and his friends on the ground.
On the other hand, being forced to read and document his books for sixteen hours a week, for a month and a half, has given me both a pronounced twitch in my left eye whenever anyone mentions him and more absurd trivia than can possibly be drowned with alcohol, though I have tried.
He was accosted by three separate and unrelated street cops named Joe over a thirty year period.
He’s also so well known for getting into fights with other heroes that during one mini issue Namor, an official member of the Good Guy Community by now, simply walks down the street and is aggressively attacked by several members of the Avengers and Fantastic Four. While he is suitably pissed at this, he just shrugs it off as part of life and assumes that his friends have once again decided to treat him as a villain. It’s soon revealed that they were really trying to stall him so others could arrange his birthday party on time but the fact that it worked without him realizing this says a lot about his character. Most of it is depressing.
I also know that Marvel Studios still has the rights to Namor, and despite a few odd attempts at a tv show in the 50s and 70s, just hasn’t done anything with them. If we’re able to accept Guardians of the Galaxy twice, I think we can handle Namor: The Sub-Mariner.
The optimist in me hopes they’re just giving themselves something to do after Infinity Wars.
What I’m saying is that this entire article is just my soapbox to complain about the utter lack of Namor media in a world that has two failed Fantastic Four attempts and three separate Spiderman continuities. Now I should move on to another topic before my left eye freezes like this.
At the end of each day, I’d carefully submit the character log to my supervisor and be on my merry way. I was fortunate to be able to spend the night at a family friend’s apartment before returning to work on Friday morning. I was also given roughly a forty-dollar budget for the two days so I had to spend wisely when feeding myself. After a couple strange nights experimenting with McDonalds and street Halal food, salvation came when I figured out there was a Chinese restaurant two blocks away from Marvel and from there it was a nearly straight line back to the friend’s place. For less than twenty bucks I got my standard can’t go wrong order: General Tso’s Special Combination, a large bucket of wonton soup, and a lemon iced tea Snapple. This fed me for both Thursday evening and Friday’s lunch. It was a horrifying indulgence I’m rarely allowed in my everyday life, but one I greatly appreciated.
I still say there’s nowhere on earth you can get better Chinese food than New York City. Some people have brought up China, but I’ll wait till I’ve seen theirs in person to pass final judgement.
After a grueling two-day work week and seeing the absolute minimum number of sights the Big Apple has to offer, I’m ready to head home.
The end of the day walks through and around Time Square to the Bus Station were, especially at first, my least favorite part of the trip because the layout of the station is specifically designed to confuse and alienate the Uninitiated.
My first run through had me strolling through a brisk city bog with temperature of approximately 120 degrees, give or take so I wasn’t very happy in my suit and work pants.
Soon I stood in the station, alone and confused, having been told where my bus leaves off and when, but still having no idea where to find it. Then along comes Darrell, a very charming, scruffy looking gentleman who, after showing me exactly where to go from my ticket, shook me down for a few bucks so his daughter could get a ticket home. I did not see a girl anywhere nearby but he was extremely helpful so I simply gave him my remaining wallet contents, the tidy sum of two bucks, and was on my way.
The bus rides home were always fun, partially because I got to finish my audio books and look forward to a nice cozy bed, but mostly because they were air conditioned.
And then I got to look forward to reliving it all over again next week.

Marvel Behind The Scenes – Beyond The Behind*! Chemical Color Plate

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(*–With apologies to Cooke & Moore!)

Old comic office wags all know some of this but not all.

My time in comics straddled the old ways and the new. I was ushered out of the place just before “digital” and “paperless” became the watchwords. Those words in turn were just before the word “bankrupt.” After that unfortunate period of time ended true digital and paperless comic books were the norm. Why, the last job I did for Marvel (contributed to The Marvel Atlas) did not make use of vouchers! No vouchers… Ahem, I need a second to compose myself… so I apologize to my comrades old and new if I tell them stuff they already know. I hope the casual but curious reader of comics will find this interesting.

Sure, everyone knows what a comic book is… but how did it get that way?

The history of comics is well documented elsewhere. But to ‘hit the tops of the waves’ –

Newspaper moguls had all these daily comic strip printing plates just lying around. “I know!” said one smart cookie, “let’s just stack ‘em up in a book—no, booklet, like pancakes! Wrap this messy crap in something shiny (how shiny… very shiny) that won’t get ink on customer’s fingers and bang them through this… uh, what’s on the shop floor? Yes! This saddle binder stapler thing!”

Because newspaper strips can be printed so efficiently, they used them all in a matter of months! The need for fresh new and brilliant material was needed quickly! The time between Famous Funnies (1933) and Detective Comics/Action Comics (37/38) was not much.

And comic books were born.

I go back this far to bring up the idea that comic books were printed on newspaper presses. Even using newsprint—that special brand of high-wood-pulp paper that brings a tear to the eye of Soviet-era toilet paper users (but I kid my Russian buddies)! To round out this rambling, it was the use of high-speed printing presses and all the binders, trimmers and delivery systems you could want, that allowed millions of comics to be printed and shipped all over the country. (World Color Press—who for decades, printed ALL of them, was located in the center of the country (Illinois) so that travel times by truck to either coast was as fast as possible.)

Eastman Kodak developed the ultra-high contrast photographic film, Kodalith (1931 and is used here as a generic name for all sorts of variants), which made the production of steel plates used in printing much faster and maybe cheaper.

Okay, Brown, what’s that got to do with comic books? Printed color pictures of any kind was a pretty expensive and time consuming process. It was generally done photographically and was a technological high art. A monthly magazine could do it. A single issue from one editorial office. Yes, it could be bunched together with other magazines and from the same publisher, but the processes were much slower back in those days. A comic book company needed huge quantities of product to be gotten into the dime-dealing hands of their customers.

Color. Skipping over how they did color printing before Kodalithography (and the word “lith” or stone is in the name…) it was the need for a strong black line to neaten the blobs of color that made film production so successful. Also just a quick mention of the role of the “inker”—that wonderful person who lays down a neat dense line. So perfect that this particular film can’t “see” anything else— with Kodalith we are left with that black line.

When our loveable sheets of comic art are sent to the separators, they pass through an organizational masterpiece. Recall, the artwork is in an area of 10×15 inches. It must be shrunk down to “printed size” – which is generally 6 x 9 inches. This gives us a very crisp version of the artwork. Any smudges, footprints, food, cigarette ash and –by design—baby blue ink or pencil lines left by the artists, are eliminated by the Kodalith film. And it is a negative version on a piece of film— or plastic.

It was determined long, long ago that working at the printed size was more efficient than somehow working at the size of the artwork and shooting all of this mess down later. Consider: all you have is the ability to make a negative image on clear film (the “white” part, or the paper, is now see-through). When you make a copy of that negative, it comes out positive. We now have the ability to use the same materials to make working copies. In the end, we have a pretty black line image on clear plastic.

And NOW, patient readers, we are in the heart of Chemical Color Plate, Bridgeport, Connecticut!

I had the interesting—but now completely mysterious– assignment of traveling to the separators and the extreme pleasure of doing it with Sid Jacobson. Sid was a part of a rather daring (for Marvel!) experiment that Marvel ran, you may know it as the Star Comics line. In an effort to open up or bust in to the comics-for-kids market they hired Sid. Sid came from Harvey Comics, that whole enterprise having a strangle-hold on kid comics for decades.

I had my doubts that Marvel being able to do such a thing, not so much as anything having to do with Sid or the gang of wildly talented people he brought from Harvey. It was more about Marvel and its distribution. To get a little deeper here, the books that you see as you sidle up to the average supermarket cash register have a powerful, decades-long steel grip on those rack-slots. The entire country knows where to find its latest Archie Comic. I thought crowbarring into those slots was the only way. And I didn’t see Marvel doing it.

But, if it was possible, Sid, as Executive Editor and top dog (-aheh), could do it. So there Sid and I were, gently rocking our way by train up to Connecticut. I did not know Sid at all, having heard only a few tidbits of gossip. Alas, since it was a two-hour trip, both ways, I cannot really recall what we talked about. But Sid has been around the block and gabbing with some oafish 20-something was no bother to him. I fired off my one salvo of conversation-lull question about him writing a couple of Golden Oldie hit singles! (I urge you to find on YouTube Frankie Avalon’s A Girl Without A Boy! Then go buy a copy, so Sid can get some royalties.) I do remember him NOT telling me anything really interesting, no sordid tales of drinking shots off of June Christy’s belly or tickling the ivories in The Brill Building with Lieber & Stoller… nothing at all.

 

frankie-avalon-a-boy-without-a-girl-chancellor

In lieu of a picture of Sid—here’s a label that says it all! Swiped from 45cat.com whose copyright I respect but used here under fair usage for educational purposes.

Whatever the conversation, it was rather pleasant and I remember having a good time. So that’s Sid on our trip to the separators!

Meanwhile back at the separators, we have shrunk down the artwork to the same size it will be printed at. Now here’s the magic of colorists and their color guides! Those unsung heroes of the industry provide a similarly shrunk down version on paper (used to be on stat paper, then a xerographic copy on paper) but it’s been colored on. The separators then take a blank sheet of clear plastic and place it over the color guide. Wherever there is, say, a pure blue they take this vile stuff called opaquing medium and paint little blobs on the plastic. If there’s blue sky here and there, they blob all that blue area in.

Of note is that everything is registered to the color guide. And by registered I mean a pair of holes is punched at the top. Also on the clear plastic and the black-on-clear piece of film. This way the “sky” blob fits in the black line area meant for it. For anyone familiar with animation studio’s “peg bars” this was similar if not exactly the same.

So here’s this dried-blood-colored blob in the shape of the sky. You can flip down the “black plate” copy to see that everything fits. All this is done on a “light table” where the entire surface is lit up from underneath.

The function of this blob is to be turned into a curved steel plate – one that now has a little raised up plateau in the shape of that blob. The steel plate is bolted to a gigantic and complex cylinder of steel that is…

The blue plate ink station! That little plateau will be hit with printers’ ink at 60mph and transferred to the newsprint. The roll is pressed between another roll—why not do both sides at once? – that has the long sheet of newsprint squashed between them. A blue-plate and paper sandwich.

I’m trying to paint a complete picture here without getting too bogged down in details. But that one color of “blue” is not the end of it. There are two more shades of blue, a 25% and 50% value, achieved by using a pattern of little dots. The friendly teacher part of me now suggests that you go look really closely at a printed comic book page, even a modern newspaper. You can easily see those dots, even when more than one set of color dots is printed on top of another.

What we have is three values of a single color—which adds to the massive organizational flow-chart of Chemical Color. Take that one step further, in which there are three colors! You see we now have 9 separate pieces of blobbed-on plastic to corral and the tenth piece of plastic has the black line art.
Hold on there, Brown! The New Math tells me there are only three colors and here you’re talking about 9 or 10? What the– !?

Those three values of each color is combined by the “process camera” wizards of Chemical Color to turn them into one piece of film. The full or 100% value, plus the 50% and 25% values are all “burned” into one. It’s even more elaborate than that (and yes, “black” is also a color! As I said, I’m trying to simplify here…) but all needs be said are: the three are made into one.

Now those single pieces of film for each “plate” – and here we’re talking about figurative plates (negative film)– are sent from Chemical Color to World Color, where they will be turned into large sheets of actual metal printing plates.

A technical aside here is that when many of us were young, the look of the books was really crisp. Super sharp lines, catching all the fine line work was because they used real steel for those printing plates. Then, couldn’t say when, a cost saving move was to go to aluminum plates. There was not much of a printed difference, but the metal was softer and couldn’t stand up to the beating thus fine lines got less so. In fact, both steel and aluminum plates are used up quickly and for most runs of comics, several plates are made as a matter of course.

Some time in the early 1980s, the ultimate move to save money was a move to a process called Flexigraphic. Some bastardization of rubber plates. This was a definite “bad time” for the look of the comics not just for the wiggly fine lines that resulted—at the same time they switched to bleached paper. What the hell is that!? Not entirely sure myself, but the paper was startlingly white and smooth. Probably they had to use recycled content and who knows what went into that bucket. Bleaching had the supposed happy benefit of making the books look cleaner maybe even better! (A hilarious digression of no import at all: During Marvel Universe days we learned that the name of our newsprint was “Baxter!” I know! Immediately we turned the Fantastic Four’s HQ – The Baxter Building – (all-knowing Stan surely knew…?) into an ex-newspaper printing building (Yes! Many newspapers had their printing presses right there in their office buildings! I used to walk home from the bus stop and pass the butt end of the presses facing the loading docks on East Side 43 St. Not sure which paper was operating then. But The New York Times and The Daily News all had presses in their buildings in Manhattan)! And if you’re still awake, the new, fancy-schmancy paper was named “Mando!”)

But those darned dots lay down a perfect little circle of color. Sigh… another super-techie detail is a thing called “dot gain.” When you put a dot of ink on a piece of paper, it bleeds into the paper just a little. The tiny dot is just a little bit larger. The good thing about that is when you are putting one color on top of another, you get a little nicer blended final color.

With the Flexigraphic plate laying down a perfect little dot on top of super-white slick paper—you got that dot and no gain about it! It was—still is—noticeable on flesh tones. Comic book white people are a 25% red on top of a 25% yellow. Now they were a screaming orange. Don’t ask about black people or Conan—that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

I know, I know, I’m digressing too far. Okay, back to Chemical Color Plate.
Some day, the full story of why my sainted mother knew the man who was Manager of Chemical Color will be known. But today is not that day. Suffice to say we knew each other and this was my first meeting with him.

Eddie Whitbread (-Jr. who at age 82 sadly passed in 2007, had, just a few years prior to my visit, a kid! He and mom talked about that of course and I congratulated him on this visit. He said he thought he was crazy (for having a kid at 61)! But loved his kid…) had been there for decades, grinding out all manner of newspaper strips and comics probably from the mid-50s. Eddie knew me as Frances’ boy. We chatted and he told me a couple of very interesting things. At the beginning of comics as we know them, there were no “color guides.” No “colorists.” No one cared (I know this is not entirely accurate, Joe Simon claimed that he had delivered Captain America #1 to the office, “–artwork complete with color guide stats all rubber banded together.” –Plain Brown). Color was enough of a draw all by itself. There was a point in time, Eddie claimed, that publishers wished to have more artistic control than any unknown separator might have.

But that begged a question, which I posed to Eddie—who designed Superman’s iconic red and blue outfit? Back in 1938, it would have been someone at the separators! Well, lucky for DC, it was a heckuva good choice.

Eddie also mentioned that before any other coloring methods were used, it was the printer that provided raw, pure printing dyes to the offices! He made a gesture that indicated a quart sized container! Those had to be divided into smaller vessels at the office. In the 60s through 90s, the standard was a wonderful and convenient organizer of Dr. PH Martin’s watercolor dyes—already mostly broken down into handy “standard” colors for you. There were several alternate materials—really any color could be used, as one was really demarking an area. But it was nice if it was close. For example, ultra convenient magic markers were quite common. One was much better off marking up that color guide with the special color notations, so there was no uncertainty. Yet another antiquated method, stacked up next to the Edison Cylinders and buggy whips.

IF

So reasonable and wonderful! And so impossible to find today. Oh, there are wooden sorting boxes for aroma therapy that uses “ounce” dropper bottles—they may work. But all are fairly pricey. I believe this “complete set,” fully loaded, cost $75 back in the day.

 

Two approaches: one was to take off the dropper and put it aside, dipping your brush right into the bottle. The other was to use a mixing palette, either ceramic or plastic. Just drip right in one of those to make your 25% and 50% values of pure colors. The ultimate colorists’ secret? It can now be revealed… TWO jars of water! One to start the brush on its way to being clean and the second to make it very clean and ready to drip water into the palettes!

 

Shame-faced admission: this paucity of photos is a clear example of mental breakdown. I knew I had unusual pictures. No one had ever mentioned they’d, a)been to Chemical or, b)took pictures! What I did do was to take the set of prints and Scotch Tape them up to one of the glass walls in Editorial, probably Tom’s and my office. I had some kind of sign saying, Look On In Wonder. And then… what… ? Prints long gone. At one point, I assumed the negs were gone. Then, after several moves upstate, I found this single strip of negative film at the bottom of pile of junk from one of my old offices. How on earth could I have misplaced and now apparently lost forever, these images? (Too much rubber cement thinner. –Vaporous Brown)
I probably had pictures of Sid, certainly of Eddie, maybe even me taken during that trip… But for now:

 

Trip to Separat_1

This was the room devoted to whenever cover artwork needed to be made somewhat more fancy by using an airbrush. These guys made much more money and had to be pretty good with air-brushing. The trick here was these guys too, followed the same process outlined in the text above. But they did it with thinned opaquing medium to get a “faded edge” or a “tone change” over an area. If there was a purple sunset-ish sky, they made the graduated change that would be printed in two colors, red and blue, to get the desired purple. Pretty tricky stuff! And it could get real complicated.

 

The “full color” potential of the cover was realized by the fact that the covers were printed at a higher resolution than the interiors were. “120 lines per inch” for the cover and 60 lines per inch for the interiors.

Trip to Separat_2

It’s not obvious, but this is the outside of built-in, through-wall process cameras! Yep, room sized cameras. The large square metal rig behind the fellow on the left, with just half of the lighting showing, is what holds the artwork. You can just make out what is a camera lens between the frame and those lights. It appears that when they shoot the artwork down, they arrange it in the mind-bending “imposition” format. What the comic biz calls “four up.” It’s hard to explain without any show & tell, but comics are made out of a series of sheets of paper that have four comic pages on both sides.

 

Imposition Guide 4Up_001

This multi-generational copy shows 4 “art” pages per side of a 4-Up flat. There’s two flats, one for either side! They’re all laid out in a crazy quilt pattern. What’s most confusing is that, say, page 10 as shown above, can have page 7 of the story. Advertising is located within the book, interrupting the flow of story – at least it’s for a good reason! (The worship of Mamon!)

 

Here is a little show & tell. All 4 double-sided sheets for one book are stacked up, face to face. Then the stack is folded once one way, then folded the other where it is wrapped in the shiny cover and stapled then trimmed to size. I’m not sure if this can be explained with the stuff I have on hand—but that never stopped me before.

Here is a wonderful page-turner of a mag, the deathless Punisher Armory #8. I happen to have a “folded and gathered” (more often called “make-readies” which are taken right off the presses and not run through any binding—this pile was trimmed by Bullpen worthy Paul Becton; he did that a lot, because each editor had to get a copy of their books) version of guts of that seminal book.

 

Then count off four pages to the front of the book. You can rip your own book clean apart at the staples and pretend the top is a hinge OR just follow along above—fold it over at the top and lay the pages down. You now have an approximation of what the “4-up” sheet looked like. Immediately, one can see that page 1 and 32 are “cheek by jowl.” Also that on the same sheet, pgs 16 & 17 are printed, upside down

Here, you can see that at the staple fold, are pages 8 & 22. Above the top “hinge” fold are pages 9 & 21. Then note that the opposite sides also have artwork on them…

Yes, we all are confused! Keep the pile in one piece as you poke around and you can imagine, coming up with this the first time was straightforward, but dealing with it over the decades can still be confusing. I only wish I had one of the 4-up “silver prints” so as to show this off better. The silver prints were copies of all the negative flats on very cheap photographic paper. They were really supposed to be used to check the resulting page placement and perhaps figure out if corrections could be made in the event of a page being placed improperly. They proved their worth because they are the source of artwork for reprints now and forever!

Trip to Separat_3

Here’s where the magic happens. Opaquing Medium is lacquer based so this room certainly smelled a bit. Mostly because one had to thin the stuff with lacquer thinner, which was a real head-spinner. It’s not immediately obvious but each of these custom-built tables is a light box. There’s top lighting as well. All of this would be right at home in a 1930 animation studio (those places work with paper originals under sheet acetate/vinyl a lot!).

 

Eddie told me that this was all “piece work.” Everyone was paid by the piece. You could walk in the door with no experience and, if your fine motor control allowed you to keep the opaquing medium within the lines—you were in! For a day or a decade. As Eddie put it, a week ago, some of these people were bundle boys at the local super market. Delivery boys were put on tables and didn’t leave for years. A mom pushed her baby carriage by the place and someone asked if she could step in! She apparently could do good work, kid and all!

Once again, I recommend you turn to a printed comic. Take a look at the coloring. See how it comes right up to the line? Or, goes right over the line. Some of this may be due to the actual printing press being a little off, but more often it was a separator needing to finish 10 pieces in one day. Recall there is a separator’s sandwich of the color guide, the clear plastic with the black line art and then the clean piece of plastic on top. The artist-worker would paint, let’s say our familiar blue sky, up to the line of the artwork. The real job can be a little more complicated by other colors on the page. Some of the colors are mixes of all three primary colors and so, thus the same shape must be painted three times. Exacting work if a little tedious at times. Keeping track of all this stuff was probably most of the on-the-job training!

 

Trip to Separat_4

The twilight of cover work! The negative films used for any cover were assembled, cleaned up or fixed up here. This is also the station that prepared and/or evaluated 3Ms. I still can’t quite figure out why I was there, I can see a bit of Byrne’s Mr. Fantastic, but that wasn’t my office… oh well! Of note is the line up of standard obnoxious chemicals! To the rear are bottles of bleach and ammonia. There’s also a hair dryer to “force” the opaquing medium to dry very fast. A small bottle of lacquer thinner and the ever present ash tray round out the kit.

 

When a cover is made, they are generally considered the most important parts of the comic as a sales tool. Remember, there are “four” covers in a comic book! Yes, I mean it. We are well acquainted with the front and back covers, but the insides of the shiny paper are considered covers too. And, most importantly, they are paid for by the advertisers! The need for some kind of checking copy of each cover was so important, a whole system of color proofing was invented by 3M (Minnesota, Mining & Manufacturing Co.)! You could take the film negative of each color that was to be used to make the steel printing plates and get a correct color version on clear plastic. Stack them up and you had a pretty nice version of what might print some day. Nobody remembered the real name, “Chromelin” (since I never saw it spelled, this is my sound-alike –Chrome Dome Brown) so one of those things was generally called a “3M.”

Cover ASM 262 3M

Cover of Amazing #262—featuring Scott Leva as your favorite neighborhood Spider-Man and me– your favorite neighborhood nuisance! There’s much more to be said about this cover, which will be done elsewhere! In the meantime this is the only 3M I have (I think…). I took that picture and was given the 3M!

 

That’s a sheet of typing paper isolating the black plate which is on top, just like when printed. Until the world of “K Tones” came along, which are different values of the color “black” –only photographs had them. This could muddy up the cover which is one of the reasons a 3M was asked for.

 

A sheet of typing paper slide between layers, showing off the blue plate. It’s a little confusing to the eye, but I am holding up the corner of that plate.

 

All of the above is to help any casual reader of comics to better appreciate the finely tuned machine that lay beneath the surface. Even deeper than editorial! Once we in the office got rid of the book, we didn’t need to give it another thought. This amazing process was poised to dash the book through the system. Before we knew it, we held a printed book in our hands. Almost at the same instant as anyone else in the country held it in their hands!

A Fun Fact is that at some point when comic sales were sinking—in the late 1950s, I think— Chemical Color Plate OWNED Marvel Comics! The amount of money they were owed got so large, Marvel just signed the place over to them! (I think it was Cadence Communications who bought Marvel off of them in the mid-70s. – Recollectin’ Brown)

Finally, since “deadline” became an invocation, threat, description and finally death knell of comics—the necessity of using digital separation in order to make use of the largest number of separators in the Northern Hemisphere has most likely meant the great reduction in use of Chemical Color Plate. It is hard to tell if it is still in business in a form that comic book people would recognize.

 

But for one helluva long time, that joint was jumpin’!

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Tales of the Old Marvel Bullpen! “Ralph’s New Office!”

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Marvel Comics moved downtown from its well-used offices on Madison Avenue to the shiny new ones on Park Avenue South! Oh… ‘bout 82, I reckon. But old Ralph—we called him Old Ralph – he wasn’t so sure he liked the idea of change. Not that change was bad—well, maybe it was, but not all change. Okay, most change…

Well, anyway, downtown we moved and come the day we all showed up at the 28th Street train station, came up to the sunlight and found 387. Well, it had an awning back then, knocked clean off one night when a big, big crane came around the corner… but that’s another story…

So Old Ralph comes along with the rest of us to our spiffy, brand-spanking new offices, feeling like St. Peter should be waving us in past the glass walls, the stinky carpets, the glistening ceiling lights… We all just eased into the great, clean new space. Everybody had names on their doors. We all settled in like the true pioneers we were. When came a wail, a sound more inhuman than human (if you know what I mean), a sound like the tearing of a soul, “But where’s my office?” It was Old Ralph, crumpled on the floor, looking tossed aside like yesterday’s Marvel Two-In-Ones. Where was Old Ralph’s office?

Old Ralph couldn’t find it. Looked high and low, we all pitched in—‘cause that’s what us comics folk do, we pitch in, especially copies of Adventures On The Planet Of The Apes. And we looked back by the freight elevators and the mail room. We looked around by the second conference room almighty close to Executive Territory up towards the Park Avenue side. We looked over by the copier corner in the other side of the freight elevators.

No office for Ralph!

That stoic stoic man was as close to tears as that as I’d ever seen him.

Then his youthful Assistant ran up, shave tail whippersnapper, the rising star Bob Harris, all out of breath… He had found it!

We all ran off in a bustle to get Old Ralph to his new office…

Raffs New Office 387_01

Raffs New Office 387_02

Raffs New Office 387_03

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Part 3 The Glorious Rebirth of the 10th Floor Offices

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June 1, 1992—a sweet blue-sky Monday morn saw the bleary-eyed Bullpen creep and crawl and swoop and swarm back… back to the 10th Floor!!!

What awaited them was the “new” look—very similar to the old look, but much improved. Great scientific methods were used so as to order and control every worker comrade. “Critical path” methodology was applied to the routes people were to move through the office, like a great intestine quivering with peristalsis.

The end result? Comics… the world’s finest comics!

Another preemptive apology—there’s a lot of people I met briefly, even several times, but exactly who they are have slipped away. For that I am sorry. Freelancers are, of course, the source of all that is good and great in comics. But there’s so many of them, who can remember!? In the case of staffers, I have a secret weapon, which is a floor plan! Yes, I was an inveterate pack rat when it came to skimming anything I could out of the office. My minor kleptomania is your memory…

Mrvl 387 10th Fl Plan 93_001

This is Joe Kaufman.

This is Joe Kaufman.

 

Marvel Returns to 10Flr 387_7

Marvel Returns to 10Flr 387_8

Hard to spot Craig Anderson!

Hard to spot Craig Anderson!

 

Sarra Mossoff congratulating Dan Cuddy for having all the office anyone needs. Which is a good Howard the Duck costume. And no cheapie, either, this had the 3-D duck bill!

Sarra Mossoff congratulating Dan Cuddy for having all the office anyone needs. Which is a good Howard the Duck costume. And no cheapie, either, this had the 3-D duck bill!

 

Editrix Hildy Mesnik insists on perfection! Staff Colorist George Roussos abides!

Editrix Hildy Mesnik insists on perfection! Staff Colorist George Roussos abides!

 

Dude! Where's my office? Asks Dave Wohl of Paula Foye and Marie Javins.

Dude! Where’s my office? Asks Dave Wohl of Paula Foye and Marie Javins.

 

Office Manager Susan Ehrenreich comforts Dave Wohl. She'll get him his office.

Office Manager Susan Ehrenreich comforts Dave Wohl. She’ll get him his office. Don’t know who the fellow is to the left– an 11th Floor sinecure is my best guess.

 

Marvel Returns to 10Flr 387_14Executive Editor Mark Gruenwald flexing his Power Office concept.

Executive Editor Mark Gruenwald flexing his Power Office concept. If he could have inset the TV into the wall or had his computer descend into his desk, he would’a!

 

Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco and his expansive corner office!

Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco and his expansive corner office!

Hey, buddy, pick up something and pretend to read it... nice!

Hey, buddy, pick up something and pretend to read it… nice! Well, one has to admit this is a good picture of Tom.

 

That's Executive Secretary Mary MacFerran facing Sue Ehrenreich.

Can’t say who the fellow in the red shirt is, best guess is he’s part of the moving crew as that is Mary Mac’s desk he’s sitting at. That’s Executive Secretary Mary MacFerran facing Sue Ehrenreich. The 11th Floor resident is between them. Traffic Manager Virginia Romita is looking on from the right. To the rear, freelance inking maniac Keith Williams is facing an unknown person.

 

 

 

To the rear: Editor bob Harris and Assistant Lisa Patrick.

To the rear: Editor bob Harris and Assistant Lisa Patrick. The youngster to image left is intern, Sam Yoshiba of Kodansha a Japanese manga magazine! The other fellow is a more conventional intern, alas, unknown.

Senior Art Director -- and legendary artist of all manner of stripe -- John Romita Sr is attempting to bribe me into not taking his picture. But it's all in jest as he knows I cannot be bought. wife Virginia, Sue Ehrenreich and 11th Floor Subaltern look on

Senior Art Director — and legendary artist of all manner of stripe — John Romita Sr is attempting to bribe me into not taking his picture. But it’s all in jest as he knows I cannot be bought. wife Virginia, Sue Ehrenreich and 11th Floor Subaltern look on

 

John's Secretary and Assistant Christine Aurilia.

John’s Secretary and Assistant Christine Aurilia.

 

Statmen Jesus Gonzales and my old comrade at arms Robbie Carosella. Photostats are a durable, workable version of xerography. Actually made of photographic emulsion, so running these machines is no easy task!

Joe Andreani talking things over with my old comrade at arms, Statman Emeritus Robbie Carosella. Photostats are a durable, workable version of xerography. Actually made of photographic emulsion, so running these machines is no easy task!

 

Legendary staff color correcting Colorist George Roussos. This is my favorite picture of George. We all knew him as being very reserved, quiet, don't make any fuss sort of a fellow. But George had a very playful sense of humor.

Legendary staff color correcting Colorist George Roussos. This is my favorite picture of George. We all knew him as being very reserved, quiet, don’t make any fuss sort of a fellow. But George had a very playful sense of humor.

 

A step back from George's desk-- at the wall freelancer Keith Williams is leaning on. There's that freelancer artist Manny Galen again. To his left is unknown.

A step back from George’s desk– at the wall freelancer Keith Williams is leaning on. There’s that freelancer artist Manny Galen again. To his left is unknown.

Bullpenner Production Artist Dave Sharpe and legendary inker staff Proofreader Jack Abel. Jack is proofing The Daily News.

Bullpenner Production Artist Dave Sharpe and legendary inker staff Proofreader Jack Abel. Jack is proofing The Daily News.

 

Marvel Returns to 10Flr 387_4

Sinewy thewed Bullpenner Steve Dutro with the arm blaster and tank top!

One of the few "desk" desks in the Bullpen belonged to Dahlia Aponte who, I believe, was Traffic Manager Virgina Romita's assistant. But I'm probably wrong about the title. That would be Jerry Kalinowsky, Production behind her.

One of the few “desk” desks in the Bullpen belonged to Dahlia Aponte who, I believe, was Traffic Manager Virgina Romita’s assistant. But I’m probably wrong about the title. That would be Jerry Kalinowsky, Production behind her.

 

One of my favorite natural shots of the office. Mark Gru leading the lunch pack to the elevators. Steve Alexandrov, Production Bullpenner holds the door, behind Gru's head, Dave Wohl invents "Photo Bombing" years before anyone knows its potential, Assistant Rob Tokar, Editrix Marie Javins and Assistant Editrix Paula Foye round out the Lunch Counter Encounter!

One of my favorite natural shots of the office. Mark Gru leading the lunch pack to the elevators. Steve Alexandrov, Production Bullpenner holds the door, behind Gru’s head, Dave Wohl invents “Photo Bombing” years before anyone knows its potential, Assistant Rob Tokar, Editrix Marie Javins and Assistant Editrix Paula Foye round out the Lunch Counter Encounter!

 

Seen through an architecturally necessary wall of security glass is the suspicious side of Rob Tokar! Noteworthy is another wall of security glass is Receptionist Supreme Erica Mitchel caught in a pensive pose and to the image right with his trademark sprayof blonde hair, Assistant Editor Kevin Sommers.

Seen through an architecturally necessary wall of security glass is the suspicious side of Rob Tokar! Noteworthy is another wall of security glass is Receptionist Supreme Erica Mitchell caught in a pensive pose and to the image right with his trademark sprayof blonde hair, Assistant Editor Kevin Somers.

 

The End!

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4th Floor Interlude Pt 2: The Bullpen in an Alternate Universe

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For something like the next two months, the 4th Floor at 387 Park, was Marvel Comics! This doesn’t sound like much all these years later. But the massive indifference to the discomforts of the art and editorial side of the business was grinding. Yes it was amazing that it worked at all, but it was still a job just doing your job.

387 Park Avenue South, located between 27 and 28 Streets and right on Park Ave South, was an old factory building. Which means there were huge, open expanses with very high ceilings only interrupted by a regular pattern of vertical steel beams. When we moved in back in 1982, the nature of the building tenants was changing. “We” were the desired type, publishing; a nice paper-oriented business. In fact, that part of Manhattan was where New York City publishing was moving to. Marvel was a publishing company after all. What was at 387 before was still in the process of leaving. I recall stopping on the floor just below Marvel and being able to see straight through the building. The floor was a mind-boggling wood beam floor fitted between the building’s steel frame. At a guess, the beams had to be 12×12 inches. On that 9th floor were still some leather working machines, big ones and long tables with a range of hand tools. I’m not sure at all, but it seemed like handbags and shoes were made there.

Of interest now, so long hence, is that we never really cared what was done on other floors. We had quite enough to do on ours! Whatever was on 4 was left intact. In looking around with a more experienced eye for office spaces, it seems this could have been publishing of some kind, book or magazine editing. A lot of small, open cubicles, a design style which was taking over the urban office landscape of the 1980s. Personally abhorrent but apparently the theory was that no one could goof off with their every gesture on open display. I always took that to be the best sort of attitude between an employer and any employee. Another consideration might be that a regular old sheet rock wall could run $30-40 per linear foot while a “stub” wall, maybe 3-1/2’ high, would be far less. And a conventional office door might be as low as $300 – so not having doors on all those offices is a right smart saving.

4 had a straightforward layout, there was a sandwich of conventional “executive” offices on the building’s perimeter, then a “power corridor” finally an inner core of larger but enclosed spaces. Very similar to the style effected at Marvel’s offices when we moved down there.

So here is an Alternate Earth… could it be Earth 616B? or 616-3/4? Earth 711? Certainly an Alternate Marvel Comics/Bullpen. Check out the peek-a-boo open plan that stretched on for the length of the building and get a load of those black ceilings!  For however long was necessary, the Marvel gang was stuffed in wherever they fit– to quote Maxwell Smart, Agent 86: “—And, loving it!”

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Oops! I was backed into a corner and shot the flash at just the wrong angle to blast my front lens filter! A nice shot of Paul Becton and Jack Abel plus an intern who looks a lot like Polly Watson. It is not true at all that those two guys just watched this poor intern do all the work, all day long…

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_8

Ah, I see now I was crammed against a wall in order to ruin that former shot. Note all the junk still lying around, just dumped on any surface. But the work continued!

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The Bullpen!

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Steve Bunche– (“The One-Man Bunche”) if one was interested, it was possible to catch his desk with an elbow!

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullpen Production and Lettering Correction Artist, Jared Osborn

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Designer Cindy Emmert, flogging the super-computers of the day! (Maybe as much as a 25MHz processor ploughing through a 200MByte hard drive, probably running Quark (an early desktop publishing program!)!)

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the view opposite from the elevators and the Main Entrance to Marvel on 4. Back to the camera is sweet, late Erica Mitchel, facing is unknown and side-on is Dahlia Aponte. Erica was Marvel’s main receptionist she is here as well. Hard to see, next “unknown’s” head is a thrown together company “logo.” Well, you can see the M and A or Marvel, in reverse.

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that’s Ed Murr, can’t tell who is at his table.

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That plaid shirt is most likely filled with stalwart, Bullpen production worker, Kevin Tinsley!

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twilight of Editorial… That blur is Tom Daning.

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A mysterious soul wondering who in hell was setting off a flash.

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Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite pictures taken at Marvel, period. The 4th Floor allowed Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco (Snr. Executive Editor/Editor In Chief) to be in the same office. That corner office was that large. Up on 10, the same area on the floor plan was chopped into by a small conference room that had been quickly made an office. I believe Dave Wohl, seated, was either Assistant to Mark, Tom & Bob Budiansky (another Exec Ed.) or an Editor on his own. Behind is legendary immortal Mary “Mac” MacPherran! Who started out long, long ago when the world was young, as Stan’s secretary and now was Tom’s Executive Secretary! Maybe it’s Dave’s praying to Heaven but there’s something individually hilarious about everybody. Note Tom’s dragging one foot during an intense phone conversation. Gruenwald smiling despite still slogging at something. Captures a lot of what went on.

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe that’s young Tony Matias breezing in.

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those were the days! You never knew who was going to bust into the offices. L-R: Tom, John Romita, Jr., Bob Budiansky, Mary Mac, Gruenie and Ralph Macchio (yes, the movie star).

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently, I decided to follow John Jr. into Tim Tuohy’s office and there was everyone’s favorite tank commander and inker, Mike Harris (I encourage everyone to visit his Facebook page, check out his serious new look and tell him to audition to be the next Fred Thompson!).

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Executive Editor Bob Budiansky looking just a little slow in unpacking…

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor Terry Kavanagh entertains an emotive freelancer, Sam Keith, obviously talking about “hanging ten” on Big Sur.

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ronnie Lawlor, freelancer exquisite and dubbed by Jack Abel, “The 6-Foot Leprechaun” –and he should know. Ronnie is sporting her DOT-Approved New York City Street Wear Certified pixie slippers. She is dropping off work to a very satisfied Editor Dana Moreshead!

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t tell who the heck the blonde gal is, but L-R: Editor Tom Brevoort, artist Rodney Ramos, Manny Galen, unknown gal and Assistant Editor Mindy Newell.

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Xerox Room (alright, I’m sorry;) The Electrophotostatic Copy Room better known as Tom Daning’s office. That’s Editor Marcus McClauren punching the buttons and unknown to image left.

 

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor Joey Cavalieri greets freelancer extraordinaire James Fry, who is greeting him back!

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a hint of some of the chaos. I believe that’s Editor Mark Powers, ignoring it all!

Marvel Retreats 4Flr 387_24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of staffers up on 11 were also moved down to 4, here are some of them. I think these gals were part of the Subscription Department. Featured prominently, is a ghostly image of Nancy Murphy. Nancy had not only been on staff almost as long as Stan but was responsible for single-handedly preserving the “proof rolls.” Which were a by-product of the engraving part of printing and which provided a super-sharp and clean version of comic book artwork in B&W. One of the very nice, great ladies of the old Marvel.

 

End of part Two!

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4th Floor Interlude

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Bullpen Down!

Someone… with a wildly extravagant imagination… decided the Marvel Comics Offices needed a facelift. The reason was never made clear to me. I can only think it had something to do with the relatively new owners – at the time, Ron Perelman’s MacAndrews & Forbes Incorporated—who may have thought that the old offices (the ones at 387 Park Avenue South) were, at some 10 years old, a bit tatty. Perhaps the new tippy-top cream of the executive crop needed to re-work the place in order to make the boss-men feel more bossier. Whatever…

What it meant was that both floors of Marvel, the 10th and 11th, would be packed up and shipped down to the 4th Flr (at this late remove, I am not sure how both floors were stuffed into one—either the entirety of 4 was open or everybody was told not to inhale too deeply! Marvel did not make use of the entire floors of 387 Park, only half the building floors!). And the books still had to get out on time… Oh yes! No matter how crazy it sounds, the breakneck pace of editing dozens of comics, making hundreds o9f corrections for each one and keeping track of all that plus all those pesky freelancers mooching around looking for lunch… ALL that had to be picked up and moved down to 4.

According to the magnificent Gruenwaldian Desk Calendar – this time read more carefully (–Carl! And thanks!) – everybody started packing up everything around May 20-22, 1992. The move, as carefully worked out as any military operation, was on Monday/Tuesday, June 1-2, 92.

I was out of the office at that point, free as a lark and about as feathery. I came in with some freelance as often as need be—I was well along in my Punisher Armory delirium. In fact, during the stay down on 4, I had pitched me and my writing partner R. F. Sharp’s The Cold War Of Nick Fury. It was accepted by none other than Mike Rockwitz, who was already doing a Fury book. This was a limited series (again, to those who are not comic nerds, a limited series was a thing… a dozen books, 4; I was aiming for 6) chronicling Fury between his time during WWII and the mid-60s start of S.H.I.E.L.D. Obviously, dog-face Sgt. Fury had to come a long way to becoming Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  But that, as they say, is a story best left under the rock where it sits nowadays.

I came in a couple of times with my super-wide angle camera lens and took a bunch of pictures of the destruction of the Bullpen, the Interregnum of Marvel on 4 and the glorious rebirth!

 

This is Part 1 showing the near-total devastation on 10. The stat-room and pretty much everything west (toward Park Ave for those who remember…) was left rather intact. Eventually there would be some cosmetic stuff done but nothing like the “down to the concrete” scraping in the Bullpen area.

 

387 10th Destroyed_1 387 10th Destroyed_2 387 10th Destroyed_3 387 10th Destroyed_4 387 10th Destroyed_5 387 10th Destroyed_6 387 10th Destroyed_7 387 10th Destroyed_8 387 10th Destroyed_9

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Archeology of a What If–? Cover

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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To What If–? #26

One of the most happy things to do in the old Marvel Bullpen of 1981, was to stop by Marie’s area and say hello. It’s hard to introduce Marie Severin to the few who might not know her because all one can do is gush. Let’s see what I can do—I’ve read about Marie’s early history in comics. Her time was before comics were what we think of them nowadays.

Marie Severin Bio

© TwoMorrows Publishing

Marie Severin The Mirthful Mistress of Comics

By Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan

ISBN-13: 9781605490427

I cannot recommend this book enough. If you’ve ever seen any of Marie’s work and ever wondered about her, this does a good job of taking you back to a seldom seen part of comic history. Which is a woman’s experience. As well as glimpse into the world of early comics.

Her brother, John Severin, whom she often stated “was more talented” than she, was a major person of the illustrated form starting in the early 50s. Sure, John really was a big deal and extraordinarily talented and accomplished—even by the 50s! He made inroads at Bill Gaines’ whole pile of EC Mags and Mad Magazine—all the super controversial (rather) adult horror and war comic books—well… magazines. (That distinction is a huge digression and I’m not doing it!)

But we’re talking about Marie, John’s little sister. She may have been that, spending time in the “EC Magazine” salt mines, as a colorist. Not too much longer after that, she emerged as a full-fledged artist in her own right. Of course, fighting the sexism of the day was an unending battle, but Marie persevered.

When much younger, I first knew of Marie’s work on Marvel’s Not Brand Echh which I still believe is the best example of everything that is Marie. Smart, funny, well-crafted art, playful and showing a great range of talent. Yes, this was also a book that let a lot of other mainstream comic people “let loose.” But for me, Marie was consistently funnier. Anyway, finding the individual books is onerous, so here:

Not Brand Echh Masterworks

©Marvel Entertainment LLC

Marvel Masterworks Not Brand Echh, Vol 1-13

ISBN-10: 0785190708

ISBN-13: 978-0785190707

As I check into the above, it has become rather pricey. It is possible to pay yet more exorbitant prices for the original editions of the single books and there seems to be only first editions! Some of the stories have been reprinted in comic form but not as complete books. But at least in the comic world one can find some fairly battered but completely readable versions for much less money. Jack Kirby penciled the cover to #1, above on the MM. Marie contributed a really funny send up of the western comics of the day. Marie revved up several issues beyond, starting with #2, here showing her cover:

Not_Brand_Echh_Vol_1_2

©Marvel Entertainment LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near the end of her long career, sage and storied DC Editor Mark Chiarello tapped Marie –with the exemplary Ty Templeton as author–  to do a wickedly funny story with a sucker-punch ending about Batman—“Batsman” It doesn’t get much better than this:

 

blackwhitevol2

©DC Comics

Batman Black & White Vol 2

(Second Edition)

Edited by Mark Chiarello

 ISBN-10: 1563899175

ISBN-13: 978-1563899171

Or, maybe it can. Looking at the serious side of Marie shows a depth of sensitivity and warmth rarely found in the world of comics. Francis Brother of the Universe was one of a few bio-books that Marvel did. I watched Marie do some of this book as she did a little here and there while on staff in the “Black & White Department.” She had switched to a steel point ink pen to achieve a more controlled but stone etched look. One has to agree, it was a fitting look. A casual flip through will show that she “poured on the coal” for this project.

St FRancis Cov©Marvel Entertainment LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if answering to a higher call as a Catholic were not enough of an exercise of her talent then Marie outdid herself as a woman in the, then, mans’ world of comics. Perhaps her last job was a reflection of that truth about her in her world. The stories she illustrated in Dignified Science spoke of women in the mans’ world of science. Marie contributed to the lives and times of Marie Sklodovska and Marie Curie.

DIGNIFYINGcover

©Jim Ottavianni

G.T. Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-9788037-3-5

I might feel it more correct to say that Marie Severin stood above any evaluation of her sex in regards to her talent. But it was Marie herself who pointed out what she felt about being a woman in the man’s world of comics.

All of this preamble is to explore a piece of artwork that I happen to have. A piece that Marie gave to me. Here it is:

What If 26 Cov SM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment LLC

This cover, What If–? #26, is one of my proudest objects from all my time at Marvel. Because it was a gift from Marie.  It’s a rather dignified statement of the wild and wonderful story apparently pitched by no less than Roger Mackenzie, but contributed to by Don Perlin, Roger Stern and John Byrne and Editor Denny O’Neill approved.! Then it was up to monumental Mike Barr to hammer some sense into the script. I should point out that Mark Gruenwald was Denny’s Assistant at that point. At least when the story was pitched, some 3-4 months before the cover date. Also note that Marie signed it as done by “1/81.”

Marie designed the cover. I believe that much is clear because Marie, being a master colorist, would also design the cover in such a way that no one could see all the fun she had around the central, color-emphasized “spotlight.”

What_If-_Vol_1_26 Cov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment LLC

In this unprecedented sharp and crisp view, we now can see…

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Top to bottom, left to right: The Thing, Ben Gyrich/

Herb Tripe, Nick Fury/

Gil Kane, (possibly) Jim Shooter/

Bob Hope, Chief Justice Vinnie Colletta (!)/(possibly) Sue Storm and Pres. Jimmy Carter

What If 26 Cov Tartag Gru Marie CU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up top, John Tartaglione, a very serious Mark Gruenwald and just below, Marie herself.

What If 26 Cov ERB RC CU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top to bottom, left to right: Robbie Carosella, unknown/

Frank Sinatra, unknown/

(then) NYC Mayor Ed Koch/

Pres. Gerald Ford and (>ahem<) me! Eliot Brown (riding the cover trim line… just my luck!)

I have stored it flat, kept it very dry and cool but the volatiles of the rubber cement that holds things together has gone. The last few times I picked this up, a flap of stat paper popped up or an edge “jumped.” When you have to pieces of paper glued together, if you bend one it takes on a certain radius. The other has its own thickness difference of that first radius, thus forcing apart the two. The rubber cement, skillfully applied, has lasted almost four decades. But its time was up.

As I saw one piece flap, some artwork was revealed beneath! And it was funny. Some time passed and I decided things were failing rapidly, so everything had to be taken apart and re-applied. When I did so:

What If 26 Cov strpped SM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment LLC

WI 26 Rogues Gallery CU

 

 

 

 

 

Rogues’ Gallery Supreme! Now ain’t this somethin’! L-R following up-and-down: We have a big-eared Cone Head, Adolph Hitler (with a retouched moustache), Dr. Doom in a nice suit, a regular D. C. politico, what was presumably Dr. Strange is now floating head Smiley Face, Gabe Jones, The Red Skull (–? With helmet), Johnny Storm and unknown but with a Santa hat on.

When Marie put together the cover—which may have been done by Mike Higgins, crack on-staff lettering correction artist (who I believe did the pain-in-the-neck Presidential Seal (used without permission of the President—which may be okay if it’s not the whole seal… ?)) and who also was to letter the book – she had to retouch Hitler’s trademark moustache. She precisely place der Fuhrer’s face right on the line that would be made from the stat paper that had the logo. Well, it wouldn’t do to actually have that fellow in such a recognizable condition. To punch through this dense white retouch paint, I flipped the page over and shone a flashlight through it:

WI 26 Furhrer Moustach Copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of purely technical note: The stat paper that Marie used was from Stu’s stat machine (a photographic and primordial form of Xerox Machine to those under 45!). Stu’s ancient machine used “single weight” Photostat paper—which means it was easier to touch up the artwork to the edge of that paper. I have covered Stuie’s machine in many places. For this archeological dig I should point out that his machine made “reversed” prints only. If art was black ink on white paper, the resultant “first print” was a negative version, white artwork on a black background. To get it back to black on white, a “second print” is made. By the time this narrative took place, the idea of asking for first or second prints had fallen by the wayside. And to mangle my asides, “Stu knew the way to carry the sleigh—Oh!” All Marie – or Mike – had to do was figure out the size needed and Stu would take it away!

So there it is, a gift from Marie to the future. And the future is now!

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Mark Gruenwald Remembered Part VIII

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Antics Feb84003

 

Just an average day, grinding out comics… Legendary Inker/Penciler Jovial Jack Abel observing what a lumpy couch cushion Marvel bought!

JM Namor BCamp Party

Mark applying makeup and rubber appliances to Jack Morelli as Prince Namor! Which fell on a Friday after “Summer Hours” ended (recall with us now, those thrilling days of yesteryear when the office shut down at 1PM during the roughly three months of summer! A practice of early 20th Century publishers… such practice holding out for a long time, but at Marvel, discontinued in the mid-90s) October 10, 1984. Bob Camp, then on-staff correction artist but in actuality a wildly talented yet-another-huge-talent-discovery-by-Larry-Hama artist, caricaturist and animator, threw a big party. Since everybody was in costume, this must’ve been a pre-Halloween party. Mark is in a Cheap Laffs set of beige coveralls. Mark had another mad plan for an “office look” that involved everyone getting a standard beige coverall! Mark, Mike and myself had gotten ours and I think all three of us were wearing ours that night. He had a great “high concept” of the entire staff wearing theirs, being given slick aluminum clipboards then going up to the roof (of 387 Park, whose roof was the entire building with only a few structures in the way). The idea was to arrange everyone in a grid, set me up on a ladder with a camera and use said image for some kind of Marvel Universe ad… exactly what, I cannot recall, if I ever knew. Alas, we never did it. It would have been a great office shot! One thing about “going and doing” with Mark, is that I generally never asked questions. Or too many questions…

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A sketch I did of Mark that he used for a “Mark’s Remarks” (a monthly column similar to the remarkable Stan’s Soapbox—this seems to have appeared in Marvel Age #79) that he sent back to me.

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©Marvel Entertainment LLC

Another example of Mark’s practical playfulness. A post card that he could just send or use as a quick note card, etc.

 

One day, I cannot remember or even imagine why, Mark, Mike, Jack and myself were running through Abraham & Strauss which was a big old New York City department store (located kind’a near the Park Ave Marvel offices). We were running around but I became captivated by a preposterously beautiful coffee maker. Super heavy duty espresso maker, made of thick aluminum and nickel-plated to a high gleam. To me it looked like an intergalactic telephone as designed by Steve Ditko. It also was named the “Atomic” coffee maker! But it was really expensive so I – eventually – moved on.

This is the perfect expression of Mark’s cleverness and artistic playfulness—when I got this ‘mystery’ gift at Christmas time, I opened it up to find my very own Atomic Coffee-Maker—from all the guys! But it was the card that made me guffaw—and still can – and here it is next to the user guide…

Atomic Brevetti Robiatti Gift Card

I mean, really… ! Another indication of Mark’s love of graphics and letter forms—all the stacked initials. I still have my indestructible coffee maker and cannot even step into the kitchen without thinking of my pals, Mark, Mike and Jack and that silly, fun shopping afternoon.

Year Of Living Stupidly 1984

Speaking of unusual gifts. Because we had spent so much time with the old Marvel Bound Volume Library, Mark thought to get himself, Mike and myself a bound volume of the original 15 Marvel Universe issues. The office had a fairly regular deal with some bindery. He provided the books and what was to be printed – in gilt— on the covers (I believe the intended’s name appeared first). I am not entirely clear how “legit” this was—perhaps the cost was thrown into the mix and absorbed. Perhaps Mark reimbursed the office. Whichever, it is lost to the swirling mists of time… But this is a treasured keepsake of that “year” to me.

Carwald HiRez Scans_003

 

The Two-Headed Editorial Bi-Beast! Ahhh, a casual glance over the comic covers of 1973 will turn up an issue of Hulk that featured the Two-Headed Bi-Beast. This most silly of names was a powerful touchstone of automatic hilarity at ol’ Marvel. This most silly of obvious ideas is perfectly realized by consume actors, Mike & Mark. Truthfully, the idea of an editor being two to five people is rather accurate.

 

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“—suddenly, I was fixed by Head B’s squinty eyes… then… I knew fear… FEAR OF THE EDITORIAL BI-BEAST!”

 

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This unlucky visiting freelancer inundated by conflicting directives from THE INCREDIBLE EDITORIAL BI-BEAST is none other than Bill Sienkiewicz. A pro’s pro who knows when to ignore gibbering editors, even if in stereo!

 

Carwald HiRez Scans_001SM

 

When’s a good time for a pie fight in a comic book factory? Any time! (In this case October, 1983!) That shadowy figure is Jack Morelli, who in another frame was busy applying shaving cream to that editorial team supreme, Mike & Mark!

 

Now here’s some things I don’t have pictures of but are still vivid in memory:

 

Believe it or not, Mark, myself, ever youthful Assistant Editor (now Editor at DC Comics) Dave Wohl and former Editor, Legendary Writer/Creator Howard Mackie ALL flew to– (on Mark’s dime) and drove back from– Mark’s family home in Mad, Wisco to Mark’s NYC apartment in 24 Hours! The trip was to bring the last of the massive Grue comic collection together in one place! And to bring East the rolling bomb of the family station wagon… which now that I think of it, the disposition of which I do not remember (y’see Mark already had his greenish-brown or brownish-green Dart). One of the most memorable concepts to this massive trip was Mark’s insistence that we each get a dozen powdered donuts and gallon (yes, gallon!) jugs of A&W Root Beer. This was apparently a Wisconsonian “thing” for road trips. If that picture is not terrifying enough, the outlet that sold this infernal pairing offered a “sipping tube” that allowed you to drink constantly with that tube in your mouth. Well, our bladders were much younger then… But the sticky film of root beer scum mixed with powdered donut sugar remained a stubborn reminder of the trip for weeks to come!

 

I built a sleeping loft in Mark’s apartment, using a bunch of plain wooden bookcases as support. That turned out to be a practice run, for… just a few short years later I built a secret Virginia Escape Bunker in Mark’s & Mike’s office disguised as a wall-to-wall platform for their desks! Now it can be revealed: whenever Legendary Traffic Director, Virginia Romita would come by to chew bubblegum and kick tail—she was usually out of bubble gum—and would knock politely, the boys would lift the secret hatch beneath each of their desks and disappear to only then have some hapless intern let Virginia in and lie like a rug to her. She never caught on. Even then, that was the overt reason it was built.

 

The true reason involves a little back-story—When we moved the 57th St. offices downtown to the 28th St. ones we had these wonderful, brand-new glistening offices. But someone… and I’m not saying who, Barry Kaplan, Comptroller… didn’t seem to think a burglar alarm was worth the money. Nor something stiffer than sheet-rock walls around the reception area… What that eventually meant (after the first week’s break-in!) I say, meant, was that we got a fool-proof, state-of-the-art PIR (Passive Infra Red) intruder motion detector system installed. What that meant was that it was very difficult to stay later than 7:30, when the cleaning crew finished up. Oh sure, one could see late-night emergency work coming well in advance and apply for an extension of closing time (which in all fairness did mean having the security guard stay later)… yeah… But nothing “of the moment” as had prevailed for the past 45 years or so in the Bullpen(s). The PIR units faced down hallways and into the work area of the Bullpen. While it was theoretically possible to simply stay in any editorial office, good and stalwart Luke The Security Guard was charged to see anyone he found put out. Even if you could lay low, there was no bathroom or sink (there was a small sink the middle of the – now inaccessible — work area)… SO! The secret under-desk bunker was an overnight hangout, with a small desk lamp, a small B&W TV, small refrigerator, a yard-high stack of Playboys (Mark’s decommissioned collection!), a thin but serviceable foam mattress with accoutrements and a “honey pot.” Considering how self-contained and space-ship-like the set up was, it is not hard to believe that several people managed to stay put over the weekend! I believe the list of people who actually did this is very short and might not include Mark! I, alas, did not get to as well. No women even remotely seemed interested…

 

(My secret plan for that damned burglar alarm system was to install two irons on timers. The system detected movement of warm, humanoid bodies. I was going to put the irons on electric timers in a box that would pop open from small fans. This way no one would be the wiser about two random boxes in the middle of the Bullpen. Turning the irons on in sequence would have gotten the cops called in… but then I was wary of false alarms that might get NYPD detectives on the case. So I never did it.)

 

Mark could be irritating, I know—hard to believe but true. One of the silliest things that I still chuckle over is when Mark bought a Walkman (ahem, again, you kids with your thumb drives and exploding phones of today, a Walkman was a portable audio cassette player complete with headphones, ahmm… earbuds) and he told me he liked to listen to music when he went shopping. When cashiers would talk to him with his earbuds in he would say, “Excuse me, I can’t hear you.” Okay not all that much of an irritant, but he sounded so mild-mannered when he said it.

 

For Halloween, 1984, Mark bought a fog generator and planned on turning his and Mike’s office into a “Haunted House!” Mark had me run his video camcorder. There was somewhat less build-up than the M-Day program but everybody on staff was invited, so anticipation was high. Staffers from both floors dutifully lined up at the appropriate starting time and were led in three or four at a time. There were, of course, the standard issue Haunted House “bowls of terror.” A large cauliflower as a brain, a couple pounds of spaghetti as entrails and of course hard-boiled eggs as eyeballs. Normally such bowls of terror are concealed in a box with a hole on top. One is supposed to reach in to feel the knee-quaking goo. What made the whole thing hilarious was the unintended full-power effect of the fog machine. Zero feet—that’s right, no foot—visibility; discovered during a test the day before. You could not see your hand in front of your face—just before you would touch your eye could you tell how far away it was. A couple of assistants as well as Mark & Mike led people in through the hanging spider-webs and partial (plastic) skeletons… to the bowls. Much of the entire staff was amused by all these shenanigans! Of course, the video tape of this white-out madness was audio only and I do believe getting coated with the glycol aerosol helped do in the camcorder! The unintended consequence of keeping the relatively small office completely filled with the “fog” was to turn every exposed piece of paper—we were a comic book publisher and had hundreds of pieces of paper pinned to the walls—into a tightly curled potato chip! Everything out in the open was destroyed.

 

Okay, near the end here. I could run dozens more pics but I must end with two. Not long after M-Day, a matter of days and with newly bare walls, Mark and Mike began simplifying their office. Mark wanted to achieve a “bare office” look. As time went on, and Mike moved on to his own office, he slicked that down to bare walls, floors, desks—everything, he even put his phone in a drawer (also where he always kept a mirror in order to double check his contact lenses). Here is one of Mark’s best looks, not long after Marvel moved back to the 10th Floor after a complete re-do of the 10-11th Floors, some time in 1992.

ReBuilt 11Flr 1992_013Facing his desk, the only other piece of furniture in the room was a kid’s school chair. An old-fashioned chair and desk made of solid stamped metal, with Formica table and seat. I used to amuse him by stuffing myself into this thing— the only other chair in the room (for those who have not met me, I’m 6’-3” and was around 230lbs) before having whatever conversation we would have. But this seat was really for his daughter Sara. A solemn and serious child. A very intelligent young gal, who, when she visited the office would methodically pull out paper and colored pencils from this very chair and start drawing, self-entertaining. Which behavior, I was impressed by then and later, as I had my own child, I became astonished at.

 

This was a test shot taken for some portraits of office people…

Sara Chair

 

A simple image that says a lot for me.

 

Mark— Kodabak grosdumbeet dun tumbla narcrusta grogada mando!

 

–and I know you know what I mean…

 

 

 

 

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Part VII– My Pal, My Friend, My Colleague Mark Gruenwald –As Seen In Random Pictures

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Roger Stern, Mark Gruenwald eat cake at Marvel Editorial 1979, 80

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer’s Writer Roger “Sterno” Stern, chowing down with Mark “Gruenie” Gruenwald. You say ‘simpler times’ I say, cake with chocolate frosting! A well-wishing fan brought in a Spider-Man decorated cake to help us ring in the New Year! Which I think was 1980. A sign of how few personnel we had back then was that everyone got a small piece of this very nice but modestly-sized cake. Only after 9/11 and then having worked at a place that scanned packages with a portable X-ray machine did I even consider not trusting fan food!

Mike and Mark Day One Marvel Offices 387 Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another “favorite” picture of my two old comrades. Monday morning, bright and bushy-tailed, April 26, 1982! The first day in the new digs at 387 Park Avenue South, right after the weekend move. We were all still staggering around from the shock of the new and “modern.” We still had the same old desks and chairs.  As I have mentioned before, the new layout had the execs facing out over Park Ave, with the Publisher, Mike Hobson, at the corner office at 27th and park (by comparison, one floor above was President Jim Galton). Rounding the horn, hit a cute little conference room (that did not survive long) then hitting the Editor In Chief’s office. That nexus was almost lined up with a major building feature, which was a through-floor staircase up to the 11th Flr. Continuing past the stairs was the choke point into the Bullpen area. But along that “window wall” was the Editorial offices, given whatever light was to be had down the stone canyon of 27th Street, east of Park. Into this freshly scrubbed office was plonked Mike and Mark—almost the first in the row of offices that marched easterly to the rear elevator bank. (I shouldn’t describe it as so hard-scrabble or unpleasant, the offices at the end of the hall—in fact the one I spent some heavenly time as Louise Jones’ Assistant, had an interesting view of The Armory (ahem, the 69th Regiment Armory) and its dazzling aluminum-painted roof, visible a block through to 26th Street)

Looking at this pic I see that Mark was already irked at having so much distracting window space. He had run his slimline window blinds down and flipped a few rows to shield himself from the view. Already up and running—not a staged pic, by the way – Mark was furiously at work early in the morning. I only realize now that I had taken this picture through the infamous “fish tank” wall of glass. Not that I was ever loath to clamber over anyone’s desk for a shot. I didn’t need to.

The novelty of the super clean windows and walls—behind Mark the rather nice 8-foot tall wall of cork! – and the fresh stink of wall-to-wall carpet with its edging (where they had to splice one piece to another, say in a doorway, they used a hot-melt strip beneath the two edges which smelled to high heaven for days)—was soon beaten from our senses. The relentless business of getting out comics had not abated for one day. As relief from this day-to-day, one could almost imagine Mike and Mark plotting just what to do with this genuine “blank slate…”

KODABAK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Can’t remember a blessed thing about this panel, like where it’s from or what’s going on… but to this moment, if someone yelled “Kodabak–!” I could recite the above. Sadly, Mark told me where this was from, during a long middle-of-the-night, we had a good laugh and it seems to have slipped away from memory… I think it may have had something to do with the “language” of some alien race presented in a radio show he liked. That would have been a long time ago and somewhere in Wisconsin. But Mark really liked it and, like a lot of writers, had a hard time giving up something. So he used it here—at the very least. This bit of artwork was taped to the “Window Wall” of the 387 Park Bullpen. Every editor had an entire wall of glass and hated it. Literal fishbowls to pull the drapes on or cover up with gags.

Here’s some more Editorial window wall silly stuff that Mark perpetuated:

Window Wall Priorities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Mark E. Gruenwald Estate

Yep, Mark or Mike would change the status every day! The layout you see is from the necessity of stacking these rather large things on a scanner. They had to be large to be readable as one scooted by.

 

Photo Reference For The Hawkeye Limited Series

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Look in the engineer’s window…


“Write what you know!” A hard point to make dealing with super-heroes, super strength, flying around, etc. but in this case, Mark used to take the #7 Line between the West and East sides of Manhattan, winding up in Grand Central Station (then, a short hop to the 575 Madison offices). He really liked the exposed beams and crazy ramp angles of the resulting pathways through and around all the other underground things. He wanted to use them in his upcoming Hawkeye Limited Series. I was just down the hall, he comes in late one night and says, I need some pictures. I say, Let’s go! (A random Monday night, April 11, 1983!)

HEye LS 3_p24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

HEye LS 3_p9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Just a little “behind the scenes” around Mark’s Hawkeye Limited Series work. Mark penciled the whole thing. He knew he wasn’t very good as a penciler, but he did want specific set points, acting and storytelling. Which can transcend conventional penciling. He also knew to make use (er… strongly suggest to the editor) of a consummate professional “strong” inker. One who followed the “acting” and improved the ultimate finish. That ‘consummate professional’ was Brett Breeding. To give you an idea of how loose the office was, Mark could walk back to my office, thrust a page under my nose and say, please add this and fix that. Specifically, pg24’s shots of the escalator and final panel’s down shot of all the exposed steelwork. Mark had roughed in the angle but needed a little more perspective than he felt he could provide. Same for pg9’s (or is it 7’s?—too lazy to look at the book) as he sketched it, Mark’s subway interior needed a little help. I was a student of perspective and could help quite a bit.

ItConcernsUs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This pic was also a background for some hilarious business with a money-collecting nun sitting in front of a subway ad for Penthouse Magazine, but the sharp-eyed among you might spot the big, ole ad for CBS News, “If it concerns you, it concerns us” campaign. Featuring Michelle Marsh!

 

Ahhhh… Michelle Marsh! The bewitching newscastress who stole Mark’s heart. So we returned the favor and in turn stole what we could back: dozens of subway ads with her life-sized face on it! Us guys all thought she was a knock-out but “news” was an optional thing in those days. We were generally too busy working ridiculous hours to catch news. Recall, that if you didn’t see it on TV the first time, it was gone forever. But for us, Michelle Marsh lives on!

Ms Marsh appeared on the New York City scene in the same year that Mark did at Marvel—roughly 1979. The CBS News campaign featured dazzling, super-sized images of their entire news team that filled the NYC subway system. In the photo above you can see those ads, but the smaller ads that were in every subway car—ahhh… those were what Mark—and Mike, his willing accomplice—sought!

And here’s what they did with them:

MillerGrlFumStanMike0010 improved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many failings I chide myself over, is not “covering” as much detail as I photographically could at the time. These guys put these everywhere. Inside drawers, filling the ceiling light frames (dimming them only a little and leaving us several overhead, glowing Michelles), intricately cut out around light switches, drawer handles, desktops—every flat surface. Above is an every day pic (c. 1983) of Editor-Creator then freelancer, Danny Fingeroth, sticking his nose in the Gru/Carlin office. Legendary Editor but then Assistant Editor, Mike Carlin, greets him with a coffee cup salute. Visible are just a fraction of the many hundreds of Michelle Marsh subway ads that were… uhh… liberated from their advertising role. I can neither confirm nor deny the allegation that Mark needed to ramp up his criminal activity by paying a dollar per subway poster as “M-Day” approached! I don’t think many interns or Assistant Editors made too much money–  it was all in good fun.

 

Mark was only mildly frustrated that he could not get one of the wall-mounted subway posters. There was one more summit to climb in the form of bus kiosk ad. NYC bus kiosks had just become a ‘thing’ and advertising was supposed to help pay for them. On either side of a huge glass expanse, were color, back-lit ads of all kinds. Including the CBS Newsteam! Ever sharp-eyed when it came to minor larceny, Mark spotted a kiosk where the padlock that secured the thing closed had gone missing. Now, it can be revealed, that one night—Mark, Mike, Jack Morelli and myself were in Mark’s green-brown or brown-green Dodge Dart—why? I dunno; could have been this mission or when the car was out and about, Mark would give us a lift home. Our plan was to open the ad framework, undo the prominently visible clips (so close… we could smell those loose clips… ) that held the ad and run off with it! We slowly slid up and parked near to the bus kiosk target… it was dark, late for us… but alas, not late enough for the argus-eyed long-arm-of-the-law, who were parked just far enough down the block to scare us off. That “trans light” form of advertising was huge. Easily 6-feet tall and 4-feet wide. What Mark would do with that was anyone’s guess.

MDay mask

 

 

 

 

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My “M-Day” mask—since I was running around with a video camera, capturing the day, I would not “see” myself on camera. I chopped it out of the full-size sheet but did not cut out the eyes. Still not sure why I chopped it out at all—a spasm of what everyone else was doing around me, no doubt.

 

So what the heck was M-Day? Just Mark playing around. He and (need I repeat ‘co-conspirator’ –?) Mike putting up dozens of signs of all shapes and sizes, everywhere imaginable, that said: M Day Is Coming. Whipped up everyone. Despite having hundreds of Michelle Marsh posters in Mark’s office, no one figured out that the ‘M’ of “M-Day” was good Ms Marsh. None of us would tell. When we got close to the day, Mark had countdown signs: 7 Days To M-Day, etc.

Then… M-Day was upon us! Ahem, in history, it was a Friday, May 27, 1983. Mark, Mike and I suited up in our Cheap Laffs coveralls and head gear, paraded through the office taking down each and every M-Day sign. I was carrying the elaborate and monstrous camcorder, trying to move like a ‘steadicam’ rig. Again, alas, no still pictures. When all of those signs were taken down, Mike and Mark moved to their office and began taking down all the Michelle Marsh posters. They hacked them up into masks, stapled rubber bands to them and handed them out to everyone in the office.

As any good denizen of Marvel’s underworld does, they lined up, took their masks and waited to be ushered into the Gruenwald/Carlin office… 51 people stuffed into the place! The final, terrifying image in the video is everyone facing the camera. Actually quite weird.

But fun as hell.

When we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with that video. Mark and Mike used it in a mock movie review segment of Cheap Laffs. Mark then doubled the weirdity by laying in a didgeridoo drone as soundtrack. Epic weird fun!

 

Footnote: I knew someone who knew someone who worked at CBS News… I got a copy of the scene to her and I have it on good authority that dear Ms Marsh got to see “M-Day!” Her reaction did not make it back to me—but what could she think? Probably something along the lines of, send a memo to security…

End Part VII

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mark Gruenwald Reconsidered Part VI—He Liked Music, Did He Ever

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Memories prompted by pictures but now made slightly more accurate with dates and such. I must once again give a big thank you to my colleague, Creator, Artist, Writer, Carl Potts who went to great lengths to scan Mark’s daily desk calendar. The little story behind the scanning is that I was part of a gang of prior Marvelites who wanted to write a book about our time there. Carl was one, Danny Fingeroth, Tom DeFalco and of all people, Jim Galton (“President Emeritus of Marvel” for all I know!) rounded out the mob—his presence in particular I found more than strange (and a book about his time at Marvel would have been worth it). Alas, the various proposals we sent up were shot down—something about the book publisher believing they had a good idea they could sell, which was not in line with any of our ideas… But, as part of the preparation, we involved Catherine Schuller-Gruenwald who provided the calendar. A wonderful timeline of Mark’s life—and a remarkable document in and of itself.

 

Mark was a prankster, punster, musically-inclined and quietly, weirdly funny. A dry funny. He thought “Dick Butkis” was the funniest name ever, save for Hillary Rodham… which he would then slowly point out “rod… ham…” One of the names that triggered his politically correct funny bone, was Book Editor Judy Fireman… he forever referred to her as Judy Fireperson. In an earlier post, I took you with us through the dark sin-filled lanes of Frankfurt, Germany to a strip joint and the bright, sin-filled lanes of a First Avenue porn theater… but Mark and I also spent a lot of time in revival movie houses, up near where he lived on the West Side. We took in a lot of women-in-prison movies plus a lot of Roger Corman dogs (there was some overlap!).

He wrote music, which does not get – emotionally– easier to listen to as time goes on. Part of what Mark left to me was his song book, shared here for the first time…

grutune-particles_001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can just remember how this tune goes. I’m contemplating singing it if I can get through it without breaking up. Mark had a high-pitched singing voice, which I took to be straining. He didn’t do it much that I knew of, so the strain never showed up as something like stressed larynx, etc.

 

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I could only read this once, long ago. My poor buddy was indeed waiting for the 90s, alas to die.

 

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During the recent 20th Anniversary Celebration of Mark’s Life held by brave wife Catherine and daughter Sara, a low-tech audio cassette was turned up by Cath. On it was a “take” of Mark and his first wife Belinda. This was played for the crowd. I had a real hard time taking this in because I am pretty sure I was in their apartment when this was being recorded. I was there for several of the sessions and those memories blend together as some memories do. Thus I cannot be sure but I was around for that one in particular. Of note is that Belinda worked very hard at taking singing lessons for opera! So she had one hell of a good voice.

 

Speaking of music, it was Mark that got me into Talking Heads, which he listened to a lot. Remember, this was the early days of MTV, so long ago, they played music videos! Some of the David Byrne lyrics became engrained in his every day lingo. Psycho Killer alone could enable us to carry on entire conversations. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” “Run run run awaaay” “I hate people when they’re not polite” “When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.” And so on! He learned to play the songs on guitar and on several occasions at his apartment we would just start singing.

One thing that he mentioned, that just sticks all these years later, was that the music video to Once In A Lifetime, was the only moving image that captivated his cat, Townsie. If you ever see the vid, you’ll understand. It was a fun experiment with “video noise” and hypnotic enough to us regular humans. “Same as it ever was” was another catch phrase for a while.

A lot of music these days makes me think about Mark. What would he make of all the sampling and truly low-budget music editing (or video for that matter—I have to remind people that the cam-corder I lugged around back then looked more like what broadcast journalists carried! Now every phone takes pretty good video) or synthesizing so widely available? Mark badly wanted a way to record his music and lay in vocal or other musical tracks later. Around the mid-80s there were such small audio cassette recorders with built-in mixers and multi-track recording. But they were way too expensive. By the time he could have afforded them, he really had moved his attention elsewhere. In the thick of Marvel Universe and then, right after, Cheap Laffs.

Songs I can’t listen to without breaking up, specifically thinking about Mark are: Joanna Newsom’s Emily off her Ys album, pretty much anything by Kate Bush (who Mark revered—you know he would’ve been in attendance for her recent one-night show in England!), the last album that I had heard that Mark relished Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins with one stand-out cut Farewell And Goodnight — and now we come to the subject of Peter Pan. Out the same year Mark died, a collection of the “best” versions of all the productions of the musicals from 1904 to 1996 came out. The parallels of my friend and all my comic colleagues to the boy-who-would-not-grow-up Peter Pan and the Lost Boys (girls too, of course!) goes pretty far. This is another bit of music I can’t really get through, I’m Flying from “An Awfully Big Adventure – The Best of Peter Pan 1904-1996”

best-of-peter-pan-cd-cov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(ASIN: 5550975122)

 

End to Part VI—Music Man Gruenie

 

 

 

 

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Mark Gruenwald Thought Of… Markie’s Machine—Part 5

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Playing Hooky!

1979… a simpler time for entertainment in general. You kids with every level of pornography at your fingertips 24/7 have no idea the stigma of walking into a seedy, run down movie theater to see your porn. But if you have a decent enough purpose and a willing buddy… in you go, head held high! Mark comes to me and tells me someone did a porno about Superwoman. More intriguing, they lost a DC-powered lawsuit and had to change the name, fool around with logos and other stuff. Well, that was enough to get me in the theater! Never mind Deseree Cousteau! The name change was odd: Ms. Magnificent. Just enough of a mouthful to make Mark laugh every time he said it.

Mark wanted to go that very day, during the day. Well, how bad could that be? The theater, of which I had some (aheh… >keff keff<) familiarity with, was just over on 60th Street and First. Not far at all from 56th and Madison. My office was near the security elevator that would let us out close to the garage exit and so off we snuck! We were out by 1:30 and back by 4—the mercy of porn, it’s short.

I was kidding above, it was no less traumatic to walk in to a porn theater in broad daylight with another man at your side. Luckily, there were only 3 other devotees to the art in that theater. They all departed at various points of the showing. Mark and I were the only ones who studied every frame…

Of hilarious interest to me, was that in order to follow the judge’s edict, some poor wretch had to sit down with a master inter-positive of the film and a needle to scratch out the big yellow “S” on Superwoman’s chest. So on good Ms Cousteau’s magnificent chest was a squirming blob of technicolor spaghetti! That was just funny, I know I was laughing. Almost as funny was the clever invention of a “kryptonite dildo.” Well… true to the comic character, she had to have some weaknesses…

We returned to the office and slipped into our various offices without so much as a “haloo!” Mark, of course, had the permission of his editor to tootle off but I was cow-boying it. As much work as I did for the Bullpen, I technically worked for long- (LONG-) time Marvel Boss Sol Brodsky and his Licensing and Marketing Dept. I was remonstrated with by Sol staffer (and writer sublime—go find her on Amazon.com) Irene Vartanoff, who found out because the talk of the office was of how we snuck out. Ahh… secrets… But Sol didn’t seem to know or care.

The other “hooky” was me taking a sick day in order to go off with a bunch of Bullpenners to 6 Flags—Great Adventure in New Jersey. I was a midtown kind’a kid and so had no experience with “water parks.” I didn’t think much about it until we rode on this thing (below). I had no idea water would be involved… I know; what’d I say about ‘midtown?’ Anyway I was worried about my camera and ancillary equipment/film. Not to mention my wallet which got soaked and soon forced me to replace it. I was mad as a wet hen and everybody’s like, oh no, Eliot, calm down, it’s just a little water… what did you think? (Months later, Jack showed me his wallet which was grey with mold, its contents a pulp. Then he agreed with me.) The sign said “6 Flags” not “Put Your Wallet In A Baggie.”

 

6-flags-hooky_002

 

 

 

 

 

Belinda Glass (Mark’s first wife), Mark Gru (sporting his “Approved by the Cosmic Code” T-shirt that the Bullpen made up for itself), Assistant Editor (to Ralph) Bob Harras. About to embark on a simple frolic down the Flume Of Watery Death.

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And the rest… Human Typewriter Jack Morelli, his gal and Deluxe Freelancer Lisa Hachedoorian, Assistant Editor (to Mark) Mike Carlin, Lady of Licensing and Marketing Nancy Golden—not sure where Ralph Macchio was, he may have wisely decided to remain dry and above it all.

6-flags-hooky_003

 

 

 

 

 

Then-Assistant Editrix, now legendary creator/writer Annie Nocenti and me. We were up in the “Parachute Tower.” At the last second, Gru arranged for me to ride with Annie—giving me his usual barely-concealed pointed finger as a sign he was trying to get us together. Sweet guy. As usual, I had no idea what to do to do or say in order to further that prospect, so I took a proto-selfie. Which was really hard with an old film camera… because of the motor-drive handle, I was holding it upside-down.

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And this is what we were riding—shown here is Mike Carlin and Nancy Golden coming in for a landing.

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FreeFall was brand new back then. Now of course, modern thrill drops are a mile tall and the deceleration will remove fillings. Back then, this 15sec zero-g ride was fun. Assistant Editor Bob Harras, f Lisa Hachedoorian,  Jack Morelli and film star Ralph Macchio. (Okay, just a Marvel Comics Editor!) Shown about to take the plunge!

 

6-flags-hooky_025 6-flags-hooky_026

 

 

 

 

 

Okay—here is an example of the limits of Word Press, the program that uploads this article. I can’t seem to run gif animations. This is me at extreme left, Annie Nocentie, Mike Carlin and Mark—with his funny skinny and ineffectual sunglasses! I had the mighty motor drive on “continuous” when I shot an entire roll of film during the drop. The frame at top is about #3 and bottom is about #33 (hard to tell, but sky has been replaced with trees). Someday I will figure out how to show this, all-in-a-row. In the meantime, let Annie’s face do the talking!

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Bob Harras, Annie Nocenti, back of Nancy Golden, Mike Carlin, Jack Morelli, the side of Belinda Glass and Mark Gruenwald just behind.

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Incidentally, one of my rare pix of Mark’s Dodge Dart—with the “brownish-green” or “greenish-brown” paint job! That’s Mike taking in some highway air! Ralph was the other vehicle provider.

6-flags-hooky_022

 

 

 

 

 

L-R, Annie, Nancy, Lisa, Jack, Bob, Mark, Carlin and me. Belinda was tripping the shutter!

And no, none of us got into trouble!

 

Mr. Convention!

Speaking of fun, Mark seemed to be able to write skits, dream up games or contests and silly, fun activities all day long. When it came to comic conventions… he was the master of panels and giveaways. You had to know your stuff, a Gruenwaldian Comic Contest was not for the faint of heart comic fan.

Mark attended a New York Big Apple Con (79? 80?) and put on quite a show. I do not remember the actual contest, but Mark “lost.” I think on purpose because he had set up an elaborate gag for him to perform. He had his wife come in to shave his beard off!

con-quiz-show-dec79_009 con-quiz-show-dec79_010

 

 

 

 

 

Only years later when I examined the images did I detect the fact that Belinda used a straight razor! Oh, how the world of comics would have changed if he had sneezed or suddenly looked to one side…

 

I missed Mark’s “big” conventioneering days because Marvel didn’t really start pumping editors out to the world as agent provocateurs till after my time. In 1989 I worked for blogged-elsewhere, book publisher and good friend, Rick Marschall during a trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. And whaddaya know? When we arrived, there was Mark getting his bags along with us. We met up at the book fair.

A practical One Man Show—well, his boothmate, celestial Lady of the Marketing Fran Grillo, is not in evidence in any of these pictures—remembers these days with fondness. Mark had these kids eating out of the palm of his hand.

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The above shot is one of my faves of Mark. He sported a broad-shouldered, loose-fitting suit—almost a Zoot Suit. But he had a male model’s build (if only he had been 6-foot!) and he looked good in almost anything. And look at those well-behaved kids, patiently waiting for the giant American to clamber on the furniture in order to take his damn picture. Of note is a gold statuette of something or other, located on the first shelf of the booth. A contest trophy! Did this man come prepared?

We were only in Frankfurt for four days, three nights. On one of them Mark and I got together for dinner. Where we first went was a Frankfurt strip club! A very different experience than any of the American clubs I ever saw (ahem… 3). Very dark—even the stage was poorly lit and the all-male attendees (yes, Virginia, couples used to go to strip clubs in my youthful time!) stood around. Just stood there. This was inside a non-descript office building on a dark street—I believe Mark asked around his hotel to find the place in those pre-internet days. We went up a simple flight of stairs– the floor we were on looked like an old apartment building that had been converted to a lounge-like place with no furniture. The “stage” was rather sketchy, being pretty much on the same level as the floor. This apparently was a time before “exotic” dancing made it to Germany because the gals were moving but were just this side of uninterested in the process. Of note and perhaps a cause of the listlessness was that there was no “tipping.” No one stepped up with money to be tucked in any garments such as—on occasion, I hear– what happens here in America. I was hardly qualified to judge the entire experience but the three or four young ladies moving around on stage seemed more like they’d wandered in by accident and were good sports about it. To my dim and distant memory, they all seemed alike; I mean they had the same hair color, were the same height and were essentially inter-changeable. Mark and I spent our mealtime discussing this. Here in the States, there is a range of body types (va-va-voom to omigod) and looks (wigs). I wondered what had happened since the early Weimar Republic, I fully expected to see a real life Cabaret or The Blue Angel… well, one had one’s hopes! Mark and I decided that any day one sees a nude dame is a good day!

 

Death In The Marvel Universe

Any comic professional knows that when a character dies there can be bathos and emotions, but that is hard to draw well and, anyway, the character most likely will be back… soon. Killing off comic characters is always fun because the writing is straight from the gut. And when you drop enough hints that the “car wreck” was empty, that was not the body of the character, there’s a mysterious stranger watching over some events… well, it’s only a matter of time before the “dead” hero(or -ine) is back. Often better than ever. Would that were true in the external world.

Sadly, there is nothing like a Military Honor Guard in the world of comics. No great ceremonial process… the studied, precise steps… the specific motions of each person… the reverence to the flag and attendant motions when folding that flag. Even suggesting that there could be congruence between a fallen soldier and a fallen comic book creator is not my intent. What is my point is that there are some figures in the world of comics that transcended mere “writing” or “creating.” There are some people within this low-numbered population that stand out and to a great degree. Mark Gruenwald was one such. He may have been the only remarkable stand out in all this time.

I mean, jeepers, it’s been 20 years since he died. Many big things and big people have risen, did their thing and subsided. Others have died. But no one ran a convention like he did, generating contests and having skits performed– usually by creators– or running panels. Mark touched upon nearly every aspect of Marveldom. His creative touch in storylines and characters is still at work in all the modern versions of the books he worked on—which includes movies.

Appropriately, in Mark’s case there was such a grand honorific gesture made by his colleagues. It may never be done again, but this one time demonstrates Mark Gruenwald’s significance to comicdom.

Mark was not a religious person. Though he studied comparative religions and philosophies he never –seemed—to have chosen. But he was a Humanist, believing in the central human soul, individual to all of us. What he did know about ‘religion’ was that comics were forever. In his will he specified that his ashes be mixed into a comic book run. Well, that was new we all thought, but thoroughly Gruenwaldian. His sweet bride, Catherine spoke to then Marvel’s Editor In Chief Bob Harras, who despite technical misgivings, spoke to Production Liaison Alison Gil. Alison, who is an unsung heroine of comics—making kookoo artistic and marketing requests into real, printed things (and a smashing bird—she’s from England!)—was moved to make this happen. This photo essay below was not for a comic book run. Which indeed did happen (not sure pictures were taken of that…). This was a poster, where Mark’s ashes were put into the black plate.

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Yes, that’s a regular wooden kitchen spoon! Straight from Cath n Mark’s kitchen. A side note about a detail of all this is something that I know Mark would have been highly intrigued by… there was a lot of Grue left over from the cremation process! Above, we have a regular baggy and that was all that was needed (or desired by the pressmen—they were game but this was highly irregular). But when I visited the Widow Gru to get my own little piece of Grue, I saw a relatively huge metal container! About a whole cubic foot—including lumps and bumps of what I guess were the most un-yielding parts of Grue of all! By contrast, my own mother did not reduce down to more than a half-quart sized container (they were about the same weight by the way)!

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The Black Plate inking station that Mark was added to.

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Alison Gil, Bob Harras and Catherine Schuller at the color checker hood and press control station looking over the first run of Marvel Universe posters. Me, taking the picture. Mark was surely there as well.

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An unknown press-person helps us out. This was a tough moment to see, Mark’s ultimate request made real. Alison hugs Catherine.

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End Part V

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VOUCHERS!!! Let me say that again: VOUCHERS!!!

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“I signed it, but it went up after 4 so you won’t get a check until 2 weeks from now.”

“Shooter had to counter-sign this “Combat Pay” and he’s in California, so it won’t go in until he’s back.”

“Last week’s voucher fell behind my desk so it won’t go up till next week.”

“Last week was a three-day weekend, your voucher didn’t make it. Don’t worry, it’ll go in next week.”

 

Voucher. Such a simple word— Remember… you can’t spell voucher without “ouch!” Voucher. These things were the life’s blood of every freelancer in Marveldom. Which included many or most of the Bullpenners, Editors, Assistants and Editors in Chief themselves. Everyone.

Vouchers were money. Money. Freelance writers and artists all filled out vouchers, handed them in, the editors signed them, they all got collected and sent up to Millie Shuriff who did God Alone Knows What with them and if everything went well, a week later you got a check for the amount of money on that voucher. Money. A hell of a way to make it.

A nice theory about professionals and what sets them apart from non-professionals is nomenclature. That pro knows a bunch of words that mean a lot to other pros of the same stripe. Same for comic professionals. Use the word “voucher” and it’s like speaking a whole paragraph to a comic pro.

“Cripes,” one penciler might utter, “Higgins needed me to redraw half a page and I missed the voucher cut-off. Darn.” Or, “Millie bounced my voucher because she couldn’t find the job number, drat the luck!”

To a freelancer (which was pointed out to me by no less than Danny Crespi, also means “free to starve”) vouchers are “it.” Sure, add 30 years to a comic page and it could be like handling a piece of gold. In the meantime, the electric utility wants its grease. But like any good freelancer, one was doing the best one could under the grinding deadline pressure and thinking about the next job in line. This may sound controversial, but “art” was a nice bonus but not what was on the mind. Put another way, if you couldn’t lay down good work (“art”) with little effort you might be in the wrong business.

Here’s a bog standard voucher from back in the day, showing both sides for your delectation, complete with authentic coffee stains:

 

11661 Cntrct Bck Vchr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good old 11661, I wonder whatever I did with 11660 or 11662? With a bit of Photoshop trickery I can show both sides of the same voucher! Noteworthy is that this was out of a maximum of 99,999 possible vouchers. This is a “contract back” voucher. There were 4 “inkless” copies as part of this. On the back of each piece of chemical-infused paper was the “contract.” This hilarious document made it very clear that your involvement was akin to the pencil you held, the bottle of ink/colors next to you or the typewriter ribbon that helped to make this “Work.”

I am not here to defend Marvel or try to explain what “work for hire” means.  That, nor “collective work” (which sure sounds socialist to me, eh, comrade?). I can tell you it meant you handed over that piece of artboard, vellum or color guide with a glad smile on your lips and the full expectation of monies to come, kiss the art goodbye! Those scribbles and smudges that were once a part of your soul are now a part of the giant, faceless Marvel Engine of Forever.

Not that that’s a bad thing! So long as the jobs keep coming what could possibly be wrong with such an arrangement? But, aye, there’s the rub! Between the ebb and flow of Editor personality variables, random fights between billionaires and going bankrupt and the implacable bankers and their ideas about “mortgage payments”… well, a lot can go wrong. Especially when measured over any decade.

As I have pointed out many times, when pages flowed like milk and honey, there was plenty (puh-lenty!) for all. No end in sight, ever upward (Excelsior!) and one could always get something, somewhere!  When the False Dawn (which in no way refers to sweet and most beautiful Dawn Geiger, no this refers to the rise of hope and excess that seemed to “lift all boats”) of the mid-90s arrived and there was a rapid increase in the number of titles per month—more work than you could shake a bound volume at!

Marvel went bankrupt sometime in late 1996. This was a time before “all news everywhere all the time” and the internet. If a freelancer watched TV there may have been a mention. The vast majority of freelancers only noticed when none of their calls to editors were answered or returned. Work dried up.

To the point of this little article, what all that meant was that us freelancers would see fewer and fewer of these blessed little bits of paper. No more vouchers!

In the meantime! Let me tell you a tale of my lurking around and sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong! The layout of Marvel’s 10th and 11th floors at 387 Park Ave Sth had three big elevators at the “back” of the building. This was mostly for deliveries. For a little while the Mighty Mail Room was on both floors, but soon retreated exclusively to upstairs. I say all this because I can no longer recall which floor I came across these or even if I was on-staff at the time. No matter, here goes! As I walked out back to take the elevator down, I spotted a chest-high stack of funny-sized boxes piled up rather sloppily. As I moved in, I saw a printer’s name and in the “Re:” field, “vouchers.” On the sides of the boxes were a range of numbers. A quick application of my Swiss Army Knife and bang! These two were topmost:

100000-1 Voucher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100000 & 100001 removed from the top box of – perhaps – that many vouchers. Noteworthy is that there were a possible 999,999 vouchers—a million vouchers! Marvel seemed to have plans for growth.

 

Why so many? Each page of comic artwork represented a possible bewildering number of freelancers at work. Comic stories were usually in two parts, a plot and then a script that included dialog balloon placement on the actual page or a tissue paper overlay or a copy (The “Marvel” Way (vs. the DC Way, which had each page broken down panel-by-panel complete with dialog)). It was normal for one writer to do both functions. But as deadlines wore on, it was possible for two people to do them. Pencilers could save time by doing breakdowns—a rougher, less finished style of art. It was possible for another penciler to “embellish” the breakdowns OR the inker could embellish the pencils so they didn’t have to think so much when working with their inking tools (not a slam, inking needs to be quick and smooth— pausing to think about a line leads to wasted time and quirky ink lines). “Tightening up breakdowns” could be vouchered separately. Under ideal conditions a letterer would work on the actual boards— but throughout the 80s and on, working on see-through vellum over a full-size copy of the page was the norm. Inkers stepped in to put that lush, black line we all know and love—right on the boards. One hoped for one person to do that inking as it meant a consistent look. When I was just a likely lad, learning the ropes, there was no recognition that an inker could have a “background man” (–person, excuse me Amanda!) because that person would be paid sub rosa. Perhaps things changed while I was lounging during my off-staff years! Lastly but not leastly, the colorist would come in to work their magic on copies of the pages. I’ve never heard of more than one colorist per job, but it probably happened.

The possibility of many vouchers for each title is high. It got higher when jerk Editors like me screwed up a book (The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #21) and additional inkers needed to be brought in at the last minute/second.

A certain book comes to mind that did require mountains of vouchers for each issue, good old The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe! The only constants were sublimely talented inker Joe Rubinstein who inked every damn page (except mine!) and cover and Mr. Polychrome himself, Andy Yanchus. So that was easy. But there were different pencilers every page. Different writers almost on every page.

Of course a voucher could be used to pay for almost anything, one just had to write really small…

 

Now It Can Be Revealed!

There were so many vouchers for OHOTMU and certainly, the Deluxe Edition, etc. that Mark “Quagmire” Gruenwald invented a super simple signature that could be aped by his appointed assistants. You see, because dozens of pages could be flying around the country and—at the same time—Mark could be flying around the country… someone needed to make sure the freelancers got paid! Thus the “power signature.”

And Millie never found out. “Vouchers” and “Millie” go hand in hand much like “Higgins” and “Extra Dense.” (Legendary inker Jack Abel’s hilarious comment on Mike Higgins involving the Higgins’ brand of Extra Dense India Ink… I know… if you have to explain them…) Millie Shuriff was one of those characters in comic history that probably deserves a special biography all her own. I can hardly do justice as I accord Millie the status of minor deity and thus never really asked her about her own history. Here are the few facts. Millie had worked for Magazine Management (company that owned Marvel since 1938) for a long time. “Many” years before my mom went to work at K, Q & R (company that had the advertising contract for Mag Management) in 1961. Millie had a loyal devotion to Martin Goodman (owner of Mag Man). Whenever one visited Millie in her small office, her hands were a constant blur. She favored paper-roll adding machines and would be entering numbers and flipping through vouchers at a staggering rate as you spoke to her. Never stopping.

One time, when I was in Special Products, I had submitted a Travel & Entertainment form only to have a check paid out that was 40x what I put in. I knew who to call: Millie! She said come right up. I was ushered into a part of the offices I’d never seen before (this was post 1992 office renovations). Millie praised me (!) for doing the right thing (I think the check was for $13,000 –I could have just dumped it into my account) and went to a safe. A safe, I say. A gigantic, floor safe about 6-foot tall on those little hardened steel wheels. It was crookedly placed on the floor as though the movers left it when their strength ran out and it was never moved again—that kind of safe. Which I did not know Marvel had. The door was ajar and Millie simply reached in and took out a check book. She used her body to shield me from the skeletons, bags of gold, Jack Kirby’s contracts, stacks of cash, deeds to Stan Lee’s mines and other holdings, etc. Apparently I have been paid the amount of money due to one of the executives—who’d had a light T&E… Millie wrote me a check right then and there and off I tootled, my head filled with paradigm changing images…

Millie writing a check out for me. Her ability and power to do so. A check book that was attached to Marvel’s business end. A clunky old-world safe up in Bookkeeping.

Once, Jim Shooter got it into his head to celebrate one of the decadal celebrations of Millie’s employ. He wrote her a voucher for a million dollars and signed it. There was a huge cake and a brass band that “snuck” up on her near her upstairs area. I do believe she shed a tear. I know I did.

 

Voucher

100000-1 Pre Contract Back

Here are the vouchers shown earlier, but 100001 is reversed to show that it is the “contractless back” type. What does this mean? By signing the front of the older ones with a contract, you were neatly acknowledging all the rights forever belong to Marvel and not you. But now… what? Was it possible that one might own something? Hard to say. As I mentioned, these new vouchers were from the middle-to-late 80s. When I did some work for Marvel in the 00s, there was no voucher of any kind at all. “Paperless.” I signed nothing to acknowledge anything. In fact, at a reasonable time after I’d cyber-zipped my work off to Marvel, a check showed up. There was nothing there to suggest that I was signing over my eternal rights either.

But that, as they say, is a story for another time!

For now, I leave you all with…

 

VOUCHER!!!

Mark Gruenwald Remember! Part 4

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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

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

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[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