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.”

 

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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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!

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

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  • Catherine Schuller-Gruenwald says:

    You rocked it out – what a glorious description of events…we all miss those days and your recount helps relive them in vivid detail to take a walk down memory lane. As Carlin said it best, “We all kinda knew those were the good ol’ days…!” Glad we didn’t take them for granted…just didn’t know I would have to face the future without my buddy in crime. We had as much fun planning as executing it. I always felt that whatever I did to the max, “Mark would get a kick out of…” I aimed to please and Mark was an appreciative partner for sure!! Encouraging and demanding it almost!!

  • Catherine Schuller-Gruenwald says:

    Nicely done, Eliot! What a scribe you are…the chronicle of nostalgic antics is amazing. And the books got out on time, damn it!! So what was the big deal?? It was better for morale actually. Mark had a saying that he liked to misbehave within the confines of the loose definition of “the rules”…