Mark Gruenwald Remembered Part VIII
This post currently has no comments.
Just an average day, grinding out comics… Legendary Inker/Penciler Jovial Jack Abel observing what a lumpy couch cushion Marvel bought!
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…
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.
©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…
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.
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.
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.
“—suddenly, I was fixed by Head B’s squinty eyes… then… I knew fear… FEAR OF THE EDITORIAL BI-BEAST!”
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!
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.
Facing 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…
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…