Marvel Bullpen 1979
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The time was 1979. The place was the “old” Bullpen — for me and the guys below, this was a nice place. Sure, it was a little run down and showed signs of hard use, but it was home. High pressure times were rare and almost all the time we had fun.
This Bullpen was at 575 Madison Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets in Manhattan. Nice address! I got my job there in late 1978, I ran a new-fangled type of photostat camera. This was before the days of oh-so easy xerography! A stat camera was needed to change the size of black & white artwork. Or make good copies of artwork. There were three cameras! Stu Schwarzberg had the biggest and oldest camera. Stuie was one of the drollest, nicest guys with an utterly wicked humor.
Robbie Carosella was my partner in crime, together we ground out hundreds of stats per day. He was a good comrade whose friendship I still value. The room that was the Marvel Bullpen had surprisingly few desks — especially compared to its hey days of the middle 1980s. Robbie and I were located down a long hall from the Bullpen. On the way was George Roussos and John Tartaglione’s office, Dave Cockrum and for a while, Andy Yanchus’ office. A couple of editors were there too, but this tribute is not for them, for now.
Mike Higgins, Morrie Kuramoto, Joe Albelo, Ron Zalme, Rick Parker and Andy Yanchus all were in one room. These guys were all doing art corrections, lettering corrections, making whole new pages out of scraps — anything that came along. Andy was the staff colorist, who made painstakingly precise color changes. The color guides were a strange art all unto themselves!
Ron Zalme was the guy in charge of doing covers. He had to pull together a dozen different aspects involving art, legal and technical issues of production (for some reason I have few pictures of Ron, so this is one with editorial stalwart, Ralph Macchio, informing us that Ron is a human bomb). Joe Albelo was a jack-of-all-trades who jumped from task to task with ease. Rick Parker was one of the fastest letterers of all time. Rick was also a fine artist who had several shows within his well-known downtown haunt, The Barking Dog Museum!
Morrie Kuramoto was a letterer who had been in Marvel’s Bullpen since the late 50s. To say he was a crotchety old coot would be an insult to crotchety old coots everywhere. But we valued his grim visaged assessment of all of us. Morrie usually put together covers and letters columns. But like all Bullpenners, he could do anything.
Danny Crespi was another fellow of long standing in the business and possessing great talent. Danny was in charge of the Bullpen. Lettering, in those pre-computer days, involved knowing typefaces but also how to get that look on the boards. Danny was a master who was still doing freelance at the time. Watching him work was a treat. I like this picture of Danny and Stu — looming in the foreground — because it looks like a photo from a bad TV show where Danny is the irate Dad yelling at the ne’er-do-well son, Stu.
John Romita, Sr. was the staff Art Director. No one really knew what he did, but of course, he could do anything well. The world knew him as the artist of The Amazing Spider-Man. John was also one of the most pleasant guys I’ve ever met. In the picture is another terrific talent, Dave Cockrum, who was a staff correction artist.
Mary MacPherran, or Mary Mac to all of us for years! was the graceful soul of the Bullpen. She wasn’t really a part of it by the time I got there, but she was Danny’s assistant, then moved to another department. Over time, she moved back into editorial — but that’s another story. Mary had been on staff since she was a kid — she used to be Stan’s secretary in the late 1960s.
Marie Severin was one of those magical talents who would do things before your eyes that would boggle your mind. I remember her having to get on her hands and knees to lay color onto a gigantic photostat of some artwork mounted on Masonite — to be shipped to a convention. Marie happened to have been a master colorist, but this was asking a lot. She took it with the good grace of a lady, artfully blending the difficult color dyes with a large brush — only cursing a little here and there.
Speaking of colorists, George Roussos was our other staff colorist. George had been around comics for decades. No one knew how old George was. George was also a remarkably talented inker who had worked with the creator of Batman on the first strip of that character! This picture of George is a favorite of mine because he is outside the office using a new lens. George and I bonded over photography — one of his passions. The one funny thing about George, was that for a colorist, he dressed in the most drab outfit possible! Well, he rode the Long Island Rail Road and wanted to blend in there. George shared his office with John Tartagleone, a legendary inker and penciler. John seemed to be a reincarnation of an old master. He was so good, that he took a sabbatical to pencil the “Mother Theresa” book. He was filled in for by Bob Camp, but that was later enough so that Bob is not in this collection.
Looking at this picture of Jack Morelli, I find it hard to believe that he was actually working on staff by early 1979. He appears to be about 15. Which I think he was. He went to the High School of Art & Design, like so many Marvel people, which was just down the street on Second Ave. He would walk over and pick up some freelance. Jack was such a good letterer — now perhaps the best in the business — that after graduation, he immediately was given a staff position. By then we were good friends — soon to become best friends and still are to this day.
This short essay on the Marvel Bullpen of late 1978 to about 1979-ish would be incomplete if I did not mention two other Bullpenners.
Mark Rogan was my first co-worker. He was this energetic and broadly funny Irishman. But he only lasted 3 months (I’ve been told I can be wearying to work with . . . ). He tried to move into the desk-side of the Bullpen. I believe he felt he was not making enough money and so moved on. But Mark was a glib and hard-working chum. Rogan coined the phrase, “We’re eating stat soup!” as a sign of how hard we worked and how little we were paid
Rogan’s standard, rapid-fire response to a casual ‘thanks’ was, “Don’t thank me, thank God for making me so good.” Let’s just say he said it often enough that this small gesture of “appreciation” — this T-Shirt with his famous line — was the least we could do.
Another person who spent little time in the Bullpen, moving on shortly after I was hired, was Elaine Heinle. Elaine was a gifted letterer with a quest for perfection — I say this because she would often come in to the stat room for a shot of a small area as an aid to help her fix a trouble spot.
I know I said, “two” but there was a third person in this group, one who spent even less time in the Bullpen than the above, but whose presence was crucial! The fellow who serviced the Pos One Photostat cameras! Bob Ruth and I spent a lot of time together as he needed to visit our ailing machines quite a lot. We used those machines hard and they were not really made for the super high-volume, raw-acreage that we forced through them!
Here’s Bob as I best remember him — hands thrust deep into the belly of the beast! Bob and I shared birth dates and birth years (coming up on ole’ 54, ‘ey, Bob?) and we became chummy. Bob and I shared an enthusiasm for the technical side of photography and typography and he and I spent some time exchanging opinions. Compugraphic, the parent company, eventually could not move quickly enough with the times for us; electro-photostatic printing would take over the Marvel Bullpen — that’s Xeroxes to you and me! The big cameras would mostly be used for making full-sized copies of printer’s negatives — the negs used to make the printer’s printing plates that made the comics. These large prints would be sold to anyone who wanted to print their own comics — say, foreign countries. For example, I understand Mexico essentially began printing Marvel comics from issue “#1’s” around then and for many years after — but all in Spanish.
Here’s another shot of Bob hard at work! And Rogan at his favorite pastime, lounging in his favorite scavenged office chair!
So that’s “my” Marvel Comics Bullpen. Minus the editors, assistant editors and of course, Jim Shooter, Sol Brodsky or Stan Lee. The Bullpenners were not the guys who made the comics. We were the guys who fixed them, finished them or got them ready for the color separators and printers. There was a big gray area between work and play. We did work hard because we were tired at the end of any day, but it was a good tired. We faced the next day with enthusiasm because we weren’t just working for Stan or Jim or Sol. We knew we were also working for Dr. Strange, Captain American, The Hulk and Spidey. In fact all of Marveldom Assembled. It was different and it was great.
All photos and text © 2012-2013 by Eliot R. Brown. Do not copy.