Saturday, November 12, 2011
Stan Lee & Jim Shooter Talk - Marvel Age 1983
Marvel Age was one of those magazines that never really got the attention that it probably deserved at the time and is now looked upon as being something of a throwaway publication. Marvel began to publish it in the early 1980s with the idea was that it would compete with the many fanzines and professional magazines that were on the stands at the time. Considered to be the brainchild of Jim Shooter, who was looking to expand the Bullpen Bulletins columns that had run in various Marvel Comics since the 1960s, Marvel Age appeared to be modelled on the 1970s Marvel fanzine F.O.O.M. However where F.O.O.M had been a full blown magazine, printed on heavier paper stock than normal comic books, Marvel Age served as a low budget ‘80s version of the earlier publication, only with less content and ‘flash’ and an emphasis on forthcoming releases. The bulk of the run was dedicated to promoting how great Marvel was at the time, and in doing so it always painted a rosy picture of Life at Marvel. In a way that wasn’t the least bit surprising, an internally produced magazine should be positive, that’s a long standing propaganda rule that even Goebbels knew before he started throwing money at Leni Riefenstahl.
When Marvel Age hit the mark it did it well. The tribute issue for Sol Brodsky stands out as a highlight in the run and begs the question why Marvel can’t produce such publications when a creator of note passes away – I can’t recall them doing anything similar for the likes of Jack Kirby, but I expect that when Stan Lee eventually shuffles off the mortal coil there’ll be a tribute book for him from Marvel, so we have that to look forward to. Knowing Stan he’ll contribute to it in advance, Excelsior! Interviewers for Marvel Age were generally up and coming writers and editors, such as Peter David and Kurt Busieck, and although some of the interviews are fairly light on detail and content, focusing on current and forthcoming books, at times a few gems would creep through, depending on your point of view. As with all such examples of propaganda, the majority of the interviews were fairly lightweight at times, sickeningly fawning at worst, and rarely, if ever, throwing up anything serious, controversial or previously unknown, but when you’re interviewing your boss for an official publication it’s highly doubtful if you’re going to ask just why they are considered to be such a prick by the majority. At times Shooter would use the magazine to serve his own ends, with an entire issues dedicated to the New Universe, letters sent to Shooter about Secret Wars (almost all positive), Secret Wars II and an issue in which he outlined the reasons why he nixed the original Avengers/JLA crossover, one of the few times that DC were mentioned.
In 1983 Peter David sat Stan Lee and Jim Shooter, two of the most polarising men in the comic book industry, down for a short interview together. It’s interesting in that it offers a glimpse into the vastly different working styles of both men, and also shows, between the lines, why both men were alternately adored and deplored by several of their peers, both then and still now. In this interview Stan Lee attempts to explain what he really meant when he asked people to draw like Jack Kirby, and Shooter explains that he has no real people skills. I don’t recall ever seeing this interview printed anywhere since it’s initial publication (I’m happy to stand corrected), and with the emergence of Shooter as an internet presence, and with Stan Lee being thrust back into the spotlight, with the recent Kirby v Marvel court case and his own legal battles, it’s worth having a look back at a time when both men were probably a little less troubled with their public persona. Towards the end of the interview both men touch on the subject of Shooter working with legendary horror film writer/director George A Romero (he of Dawn Of The Dead fame) on a concept named ‘Mongrel – The Legend Of The Copperhead’. Shooter himself has promised, via his blog, to reveal the story behind that in the near future, so it might be worth checking it out, if only to get his side of what happened, and why it didn’t eventuate.
MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE: People ask “Is Stan Lee still with Marvel Comics.” Are you still with us?
STAN LEE: Sure! Especially on pay day!
JIM SHOOTER: Whenever we can get our hands on him, yeah.
STAN: Actually I'm not involved in the day-to-day operation anymore but I'm still with the company. I still have the title of Publisher. They still let me walk in the front door when I come to New York and even say “hello” to me occasionally.
MA: Well, we can tell by that glowing look that you work out in California, as opposed to the pale, haggard look of New Yorkers. What precisely do you do out there?
STAN: I was hoping you wouldn't ask. Two things: one, we opened up a studio there, an animated studio. We do Saturday Morning cartoons. We also do commercials and TV specials for prime time and so forth. David DePatie and I would like to start getting into live action when the time is right. Besides that, I am supposed to be trying to sell television shows based on the Marvel characters or any other characters we can come up with. I spend a great deal of time seeing producers, directors, agents, whatever. I have been incredibly successful in putting together countless deals and have been unbelievably unsuccessful at having them actually reach the screen so far.
Jim Shooter on the other hand, whose job is to turn out comics books and who is not even on the west coast, in his spare time has put together a movie with George Romero which will probably hit the screen before anything that I can do.
JIM: A job that Stan has that he didn't mention is the most important from my point of view. He is still the creative director of the entire company and even though he can't be involved in it day-to-day, if there is anything important going on, we call him. We still send him the covers to look at and so forth, and if there's anything we're doing with the characters that is very important, we get on the phone; or when he comes to town, we talk about what's going on.
MA: You even touched on that kind of interaction a year ago in the Bullpen Bulletin, describing a phone call you and Stan had wherein he had expressed enthusiasm for the plans for 1983.
JIM: That particular time there were some rumors going on that we were making radical changes to the Marvel Universe and so forth, and I think Stan got a few letters asking him about this and since he never heard of it, he called me up to ask me.
MA: According to one fan report, Stan, you had been asked at a convention about that; about plans to kill off every character you ever created, and you said. “No, it's absolutely untrue.” As a result, there was a theory that Stan Lee found out about Jim Shooter's Master Plan and said, “No way you are going to kill off one of my characters.”
JIM: No, what really happened was, Stan got these letters saying there is something terrible going on, so he called me up to ask me what terrible things it was that I was doing. I said, well for example, we have a plot going with Iron Man that I like: Tony Stark is going to be leaving Iron Man for a while.
STAN: I loved it.
JIM: And after I told him all of these things that we were doing, he said “That is the best stuff I have ever heard, what are they complaining about?” And I said that these rumors get started and people get upset and then they fantasize that something terrible is going on. They hadn't had a good rumor for a while out there, so they turned things into these catastrophic developments. And when I explained to Stan what we were doing he told me, “I love what you're doing and I want you to go ahead and tell people that.” So I did exactly that; I put it in the Bulletin.
MA: And Stan, have you gotten any further response?
STAN: No, as a matter of fact haven't heard any more about it, so guess everything is O. K. now.
JIM: Well, The Bullpen Bulletin is the most widely-read page in comics. That's the way you described it in a Bullpen Bulletin way back when. And that's true. It is a prime source of communication to the fans.
STAN: You know, the thing that gave me the idea for the Bullpen Bulletin; you wouldn't know this, it's before everybody's time, but years ago there was a milk company called Sheffield Milk. They and Borden's Milk were the two big milk companies that delivered milk in New York (When peopled used to have milk delivered everyday) and they were very big rivals. Sheffield Milk used to publish a little paper for the customers' kids. It was called The Whatsit, and they had a little Whatsit club, a little Fan Club. They would run letters and have a little message from the editor of the Whatsit, and all the kids read that and they used to look to see if their names or those of any other kids they knew were mentioned. When we started Marvel Comics, I felt that we should get a page that would have the same appeal that the little Whatsit pages had 50 years ago, because people love reading inside gossip about something that they care about. God knows they care about Marvel, and if they can read what Jim Shooter is doing, and what John Romita is doing and Bill Sienkiewicz, and so forth — and what they're saying and what they look like — how they react to each other, etc. Of course they are going to read that. They're going to love it.
MA: Up until that time, people who produced comics were largely faceless creators. Until Marvel Comics established the practice there were no credits given to the creators.
STAN: Not to the degree that we gave it. Occasionally we had things like “Batman by Bob Kane,” but that was it. We didn't know who penciled it, wrote or colored it.
JIM: I worked in comics for five years before I got my name on the piece I wrote, and the person who put it there was Wally Wood. He put it in the background with his own name.
MA: Why was there this perception that the people should be anonymous? And what prompted you to counter this with. “Written by Stan Lee, penciled by Jack Kirby” and so forth?
STAN: I don't know why there was that perception, and I really don't think it was planned. I think nobody really thought of it, it never occurred to anybody. Comics in the beginning were considered such an unimportant medium, really. Publishers who owned the companies had very little respect for their own product. And the ones producing them were mainly people who thought of it as a stopgap job until they could do something worthwhile — a means of making a few bucks until they could be discovered in a “real” field. Nobody really thought of it as anything prestigious. Occasionally guys like Carl Burgos would sign his name at the start, but people just weren't concerned with credits in those days.
MA: Now much of this has been covered in the “Origins of Marvel Comics,” but I’d like to go over it for the new readers out there. In the days of Fantastic Four #1, the office staff was you and then production manager, Sol Brodsky. That was the whole office. Is that correct?
STAN: I have a lousy memory, and there may have been a few more people, but I know Sol was one of the definite guys. There was also a girl there, Flo Steinberg, my secretary —a fabulous girl.
JIM: She's up here all the time, visiting. She's still fabulous.
STAN: I'm sure there were a lot of other people, but I really can't remember specifically. But we had a very small staff. Jack Kirby may have been on the staff, or maybe he was a freelancer, but either way he worked at home. It was just Sol, me, Artie Simek the letterer, Flo, and whoever else was around.
MA: Now, were you reading Marvel at that time, Jim?
JIM: First Marvel Comic I read was Fantastic Four #4, at a Barber Shop, actually. And that was very interesting, but you couldn't find Marvel comics anywhere back then. They weren't widely distributed. So I kind of forgot about it and then, a short while later, I was in the hospital — a children's ward, or course, and they get tons of comics in a children's ward, and they had lots and lots of Marvel Comics. That's where I started to really get into it. I managed to find a few sources for them and the next year I was working professionally in comics, so then I was able to track them down easily.
MA: Where did you get your start?
JIM: Well, I started working at DC. I read DC’s when I was a little kid and I got bored with them when I was eight years old. I didn't read other comics until I was twelve, which was when I encountered Marvel. I realized these were different than the comics I used to read. These were interesting. I looked at some Superman comics again and they were still boring. So I tried to figure out why Marvel's were good and the other ones weren't. Now, at that particular time my family had a rather desperate need for money, and it occurred to me that somebody got paid for writing these things. I knew I couldn't write as well as Stan. I knew there was no point in sending submissions in to Marvel, because I couldn't compete with stories in Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. But I thought I could use the same approach that Stan did and maybe sell stories to DC. Obviously, they needed help, so I did exactly that. I found absolutely the most boring comic of DC's which was the Legion Of Super-Heroes. Later, I found out that strip had been written by some very nice and very professional gentlemen who were actually very capable. However, I also found out that that was the direction they were given in those days, editorially. That was largely to blame for the stories being dull. Anyway, I wrote a Legion Of Super-Heroes story; as much as I could like the Marvel Comics stories that has more character, more believability, and so forth. I sent it off to DC; I got back a check and became a professional writer! I sold everything I ever wrote.
MA: Now Stan, when you were writing Marvel Comics, did you sit down and say “This is what comics books have been up to this point and we are going to make them everything that they have not been?”'
STAN: Well, we didn't have super hero books at the time. Primarily we were turning out a lot of monster magazines. Martin Goodman, who was the Publisher at the time called me in and said, “You know, Stan, I think that the super heroes are coming back. I was looking at the sales figures for DC's Justice League. Why don't we do a team of super heroes? They are really selling well.” I had worked that way with Martin all the time. He would say to me, “Why don't we do some westerns?” so I turned out 50 westerns. “Why don't we do funny little animated books'?” so I turned out 50 animated books. But by now after all those years I was really ready to quit. I was unhappy and thought I was going nowhere, and my wife said to me “Look, instead of quitting, why don't you do the books the way you'd want to do them. Just get it out of your system, and then quit. For once, do what you want.” And Martin really wasn't paying that much attention at the time. So I thought, okay, I'll do a team of super heroes which he wants, but it'll be fun to try to do it a different way. They won't always win at the end, they'll fight amongst themselves, and they'll talk like real people! And that was the Fantastic Four. I wasn't trying to revolutionize comics or anything. I just wanted to get something out of my system and get the hell out of there. But, the book caught on, and we started putting out other books, and I thought, gee, I did it my way for once! I'll do it for the other books, too! And that was the whole kaboodle.
MA: Now at that time really, in the 60's you had three major functions: Writer, Editor, and basically, the company spokesman.
STAN: And Art Director.
MA: And Art Director. Did you enjoy one of those functions more than any other, and at which did you think were you the most skilled?
STAN: I can't answer that, but I think the thing I always enjoyed the least is the writing. I like being with people. I mean, I would love it if you could get stories done while you are talking to people. I hate sitting by a typewriter all by myself in a silent room. I find it the loneliest work in the world. It's a wonderful feeling when the story is finished, when you feel you've come up with a good yarn and you can read it in print. But I hate having to lock myself in a room and write. Again, my wife says she doesn't think I am a real writer at all, because I should love it. I always put it off until the last minute. I hate it while I'm doing it, and I'm overjoyed when I'm done! I enjoy being an Art Director because I love working with artists. I enjoy half of being an Editor because I enjoy talking to writers, but I hate editing the script. I hate changing anything someone else has written. It's like destroying part of another person's life! But I like to work with writers, and discuss stories with them. As for being a spokesman, it just happened because I was the head of the company at the time. I never thought of myself as a spokesman, but I was really the only guy who had the time and the experience for making speeches, or being interviewed over the air or in the newspapers. After awhile I became the person to ask for because they knew me and I had been there before.
MA: Right. Now, Jim, you have virtually the same three functions. You are a Writer, you are an Editor, you are now the company spokesman for Marvel in the ‘80s.
JIM: And the Art Director.
STAN: I think you have to be the Art Director if you're the Editor in this business.
MA: Do you have one task that you prefer over the others, that you think you are the most skilful at?
JIM: Well, you more or less have to do all those things. I don't think there's any way of separating them. I think that probably the one I am the worst at is the one that Stan is the best at. Stan was always the person who got along with everyone; everyone admired him and respected him and so forth. And I think that I am a perfectly reasonable human being, and I think I am a nice, guy and all, however, I think there is a real knack, a real skill to being able to work with people, teach them, even critique their work and so forth, and still have them walk out of your office feeling like a million dollars. That's always been the hardest for me. I really try my best, but sometimes I'm not able to do it well. I am certainly not able to do it as well as I'd like, and...
STAN: I've got to interrupt. Nobody is able to do it as well as they like. Jim, I think you're really downgrading yourself too much, because I think you are exceptionally good at that, and I have heard many glowing things about you from artists and writers who work for you. I think you are much better at it than you think you are.
JIM: Thank you. Anyway that's the part that's the hardest — you know, the teaching part. It is not necessarily that you know everything and these guys don't know anything and you've got to enlighten them. But, if you are in charge that means that you have been entrusted with deciding the approach that the company wants to take. No one can walk in knowing what you're thinking. They can't read your mind. So you've got to show them what your plan is, and how they can fit in it and so they can find whether or not they want to fit in it. As I said, I think that's the trickiest, hardest part, and if I have ever done well at it, it is because I am so, concerned about it that I try harder than ever at it.
As for the writing and editing, I like writing. I don't mind sitting alone in a room, because if I feel like I've got something going and the adrenalin starts flowing, then I'll be ,walking around, reading it to myself and acting it out. I'll fiddle with it and have a great time with it. And as far as being the spokesman, I look at it this way: you are the person who is in charge. You are the one people want to talk to. You can't avoid it. And I don't mind. I do it. It's not my favorite thing, but I do it, without agonizing over it. And the art direction/editing I think are hand-in-hand. That's where I agree with Stan. That's the part, the dealing with people, that I like the best, when there is a bunch of guys and we're just talking — talking art, stories and ideas! We just had Bill Sienkiewicz here. We were just looking at a bunch of his paintings, and his paintings are just great. It was one of the most enjoyable moments I've had this week, just having that guy in here and talking.
Well, we had a situation yesterday; I knew Stan was in the office somewhere. A guy brought in a painting that was great, and I knew Stan likes to see stuff that is great. I thought I would show him this painting. I knew he would like to see it. So, I tracked him down. He was in the middle of an important meeting in company president Jim Galton's office. In front of all these hotshot executive people I walked in to the meeting, and said, “I've got to show you this.” So they all looked at me kind of funny, and I said, “Look at this,” and they all understood why I had interrupted the meeting. Just for that moment, where we can look at a piece of work and appreciate it and talk about it — about how we feel about it, and how we think the fans will feel about it. That's great.
All those pieces of the job go together; you can't avoid any of them.
You enjoy the ones that are most enjoyable. You grit your teeth and bear down and just do the ones that are the hardest. But you really enjoy the good parts. You got to be able to do them all.
MA: What happened Stan when you first met Jim?
STAN: I said “Who are you?”
JIM: That's exactly right. I had been working for DC Comics for five years and I kind of reached the end of the rope with them. I really felt like I needed to have a change.
MA: You'd been writing Legion—
JIM: Legion Of Super-Heroes, Superman, Super-Boy, Supergirl,' Captain Action. I wrote a whole bunch of stuff. So I felt like I needed a change as I said, the whole time I worked for DC Comics it was because I'd admired Marvel Comics and thought I could do some Marvel-type of stuff for DC Comics. Because Marvel already had Stan, they didn't need me; so it was DC or zilch. But, five years later, Marvel Comics had grown a bit, and I really felt that I really could contribute something to Marvel. I really wanted to go where my interest lay. I never really felt at home with DC Comics.
It was 1969, and I lived in Pittsburgh at the time, and one day, for no reason that I can remember I flew to New York to see Stan. I didn't even call first, which was really stupid, because Stan could of been out of town. I called the Marvel Comics office; and I must of sounded very official because they put me through to Stan, which was rare. Stan gets calls by the billions. If they let every call go through he wouldn't do anything but answer the phone. And I very quickly explained to him that I was a writer and I wanted to show him my stuff. Now how many million writers wanted to show him their stuff?
I said, look, I've been writing for DC Comics for five years. I've written Superman, I've written this and that. He said, “Well, I'll give you 15 minutes, okay? But I am really busy; that's all I can give.” So I rushed over to Marvel and went to his office and I emerged two and a half hours later with a job.
MA: And the job was...?
JIM: The job was “staff writer.” They didn't have a position, really. They didn't have any openings. They just made a job for me.
STAN: Because I was very impressed with Jim.
MA: What was your first impression with Jim when he walked in?
STAN: There have been a few guys that I have met in my career that, when I met them I said, Hey, you just don't let a guy like this get away, I liked the things he said, the ideas he had. And it seems to me I also saw some of his sketches and stick figure drawings and they were good. I said, the guy can do anything. So that was it. I hired him.
JIM: For three weeks I was getting acclimated and trying to catch up on all the books I hadn't managed to read. My trouble back then was that, I had just turned 18 and I had just moved from Pittsburgh, and I couldn't find a place to live. Everything in the city of New York was too expensive for me to buy. It was a very traumatic move from Pittsburgh to New York. I didn't have any friends or relatives, and I didn't have any place to live. I was living at the YMCA. Marvel was wonderful. The rest of the experience was terrible. I just couldn't handle it, and I said, “Is there any way I could live in Pittsburgh and work for you?” In those days there wasn't and so I said, well, I am sorry, I have to go. I just can't find a place to live in New York! I just can't get settled. So I worked at Marvel for about 3 weeks and then I moved back to Pittsburgh. I thought that was it. I thought, gee, I worked there three weeks and left. They'll never speak to me again. They all went out of their way to get me a job, and I couldn't hack it. At that time, of course, having left DC, I figured I wasn't welcome there either.
MA: You hadn't had a staff job at DC?
JIM: No, but they had filled every waking moment with work. I mean, I was a regular writer. So, anyway, I figured I was done in comics. That was it. So I puttered around in Pittsburgh. I tried a little bit of advertising and a whole bunch of less glamorous jobs. Then, after a couple of years, I got a phone call from someone who worked at Marvel. Well, actually I got a call from a fan who interviewed me and found out that I wasn't working at Marvel Comics, that I always liked Marvel Comics but I thought that the comic book people didn't like me anymore. He called someone he knew at Marvel, and that person called me and said what are you doing? Are you crazy? Come on up here. We can use you. I flew up to New York and I met with everybody and they offered me more work than I could stand. Both companies did, as a matter of fact. The trouble was that DC offered me all the series I used to write, and Marvel offered me series recently created that I'd never heard of.
MA: You hadn't read a comic in all that time?
JIM: I hadn't read a comic in all those years. It was a painful experience to read a comic, then, because felt like maybe that part of my life was over. I didn't even buy my own comics which were still being printed and coming out on the stands.
STAN: I can understand that.
JIM: So, I was really out of touch. Marvel offered me Man-Wolf and, I think, a couple of other things I never heard of, and it looked like I'd have to read 700 back issues before I could start writing. Meanwhile, DC was offering me Superman and all these strips that I was familiar with. I thought maybe I should work for them for awhile and get my feet under me — a big mistake. I worked for them for awhile and had exactly the same experience as I had the first time. I regretted my decision from the moment I made it. I was so unhappy. I felt so out of touch. Everybody wanted to be at Marvel, and I wanted to be at Marvel. And, I thought, how could I have done this to myself'? I stuck it out for about two years and I was on the verge of giving up comics again. And then I got a phone call from the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel who hired me to be an editor on the staff. I always thought that I would make a good editor. I walk around the world editing. As I go along I say, well, that building's a little too short. That sign, they misspelled a word. So I thought I would like to be an editor. And they offered me a chance to be an editor. So I came here. I moved to New York. I was older this time and I was prepared to deal with the Big Apple. I found a place to live and got settled and was OK. I did the editor's job for two years, and then they had run out of warm bodies for the Editor-In Chief job. They'd used up everybody. It was time to scrape the bottom of the barrel, so they picked me.
STAN: That's not exactly true. You know I always felt Jim would be great for that job. Of course, I must admit when he was an assistant, I always thought that he would be great for that job, too! I remember one thing which has nothing to do with what you're talking about. Jim was a real irrational son of a… one time he got mad, either at me or one of the editors he was working for or something. But I remember, he said, “I am gonna quit”. He said to me, “I might as well go back to driving a truck.” I said to him, “Well, Jim, would you please hang in there. I promise you will be glad you stayed. Things will work out okay. Don't leave, this is a good place for you and you're good for the company,” I don't remember the exact words, but something to that effect. But I always remember him saying he could always go and drive a truck.
JIM: Yeah, that's true, but at any rate Stan took me to lunch one day and offered me the Editor-in-Chief job. So I took it.
STAN: Sure, I'd do anything to get a lunch date!
JIM: That was five years ago, I'm still here.
MA: Stan, were you already out in California at that time? What was your title?
STAN: I think I must have still been an active publisher then.
JIM: Yeah, that's right. And you were here the first couple of years as I was Editor-in-Chief.
STAN: I've only been in California for about two and a half to three years.
JIM: It was a real good thing you were here the first two years I was Editor-in-Chief. I remember the time we went to press with a Super Special and it had some material in it which the movie people decided at the last minute they wanted to change. We had already printed 350,000 copies and we had to throw them away and start again. If Stan hadn't been here I don't know what we would have done. I had visions of Jim Galton saying, “Well, this is gonna cost us tens of thousands of dollars, what are you gonna do about it”. I figured I'd say “Well, here, (digs in his pockets) I have about 50 bucks I can give you.” Things like that would've been a lot tougher without you around.
STAN: What he means is that when we found out that we had to throw away 350,000 copies if I hadn't been here he would have had to throw them all away himself.
STAN: Luckily, I was standing next to him so we threw them away twice as fast.
JIM: The thing is, there were times when there were big decisions to make and stuff like that, and a lot of times I really had no idea what to do. Fortunately Stan was here, so I just wandered into his office, and said, I don't know want to do.
STAN: I tossed a coin, and he thought I was being profound.
MA: I seem to recall some sort of flack over Iron Man's nose.
JIM: That was before my time. You know, Stan had an incredible reputation. I think people were always in awe of him and if he would say anything, just some little remark in passing, you know it would become law. I remember one time there was a situation — this was before I was Editor in-Chief — where Stan looked at a picture of Iron Man and said, “Shouldn't he have a nose?” I know exactly what he meant. What he meant was the guy had drawn the mask so flat that it looked like there couldn't be a nose under there. All he wanted was a little room for the guy to have a nose, right? Immediately they went out and drew a triangular nose on Iron Man's costume and it was there for a year or so. Then later Stan saw this picture of Iron Man with this triangular nose on his face and he said, “What's this, why is this here?” And they said, “Oh, you don't want that?” “Well, it looks kind of strange, doesn't it?” They took that as an edict, too — “No nose on Iron Man.” Then, they all walked around saying, “Gee, he changes his mind a lot.”
STAN: He doesn't know what he wants to do.
JIM: I knew what had happened. I couldn't believe I was seeing it happen. One more story to that effect. It happened the first week that I was Editor-in-Chief. The fellow who colours our covers, George Roussos –who's a genius, who's great – one time apparently had shown Stan a cover which he had colored green. And Stan said, “Never color a cover green.” Well, Stan, maybe once in a while in his life lapses into hyperbole, what he meant was that he didn't like that particular cover. Okay, so I had a cover on my desk, and I said, “Hey, George, color this green.” “No,” he says, “Stan won't like it.” I said “No, it'll be all right. Color it green.” We had an argument about it. He didn't want to do it because Stan had once told him never to color a cover green. I insisted — so, George finally did it under protest. He told me, “I want it to be clear with Stan that I had nothing to do with this.” I couldn't believe it. I thought, does he think we're gonna have him shot at dawn or something? I took the cover into Stan and asked, “What do you think of this?” He looked at it and - said, “It's great!” I took it out and told George, “He said it's great.”
STAN: I probably really hadn't said to him, never color the cover green, because it's not the type of dogmatic thing that I'm inclined to say. I think what I must have said was, and I'm guessing, I probably said, “Never color this type of cover green,” or “Never color it green if you happen to have a dark blue color next to it, because it'll look too muddy.”
MA: You might have just said, “Green, bleah.”
JIM: I can't imagine you saying that either, because I worked closely with you for about 5 years and I never heard you say any absolutes this or that. It was always, “What do you think, Jim,” or “I don't know, maybe it would work better this way,” or something like that. I wasn't around for whatever set this off, but something had convinced them that you didn't like the color green, and George is no dummy. He is, as I say, a genius. If you just leave him alone he's the best colorist in the world. But he had heard that green was not acceptable, and, like I said we almost had an argument over it. But, as I showed it to Stan, it was fine. There was no rule. It's almost as if people were so in awe of Stan that if he said anything, they would interpret it as law.
MA: What is it about Stan that puts people so in awe?
JIM: He knows what he's doing. He's good. If you're right a lot, people get the idea that you know what you're doing. I guess they take that seriously.
STAN: One thing that always bothered me was the word had gotten around that I wanted stuff drawn in a certain style, or I wanted every-body to draw like Kirby, or like Romita, or like whomever. And that was probably the one main thing that I didn't want in this company. I always felt it would be the greatest thing in the world if everybody drew differently. I liked Colan, because his work is so different. I liked Ditko, because his was different, and so forth. What I probably used to say and I don't know if Jim runs into the same problem of having things misinterpreted, but what I probably would say would be, “Hey, that shot is too weak. If you want a guy punching something, look at the way Kirby does it. Let's try and get that kind of force.” Or, “This shot is too dull. Even if it's a man walking in the street, look at the way Gene Colan does it. It looks interesting even if there's no action.” But I loved the idea of different artists with different styles. Yet, so often I would read in the fan magazines that the one thing wrong with Marvel is they try to put everybody in the same mold, and I never really understood how people got that impression.
JIM: Well a lot of these misinterpretations apparently took place.
MA: Yeah, it still happens.
JIM: People think that there’s some kind of rule about something, when there isn't. But that’s why I say communicating with people is the most difficult thing, because you know everyone is going to interpret things. Everybody does and you always, want to be careful not to leave them with the wrong impression, especially if you're in a situation where, say, you're Editor-in-Chief and therefore what you say is somehow more important.
MA: Do you think that you, Jim, have now reached the same plateau in that what you said automatically becomes graven in stone?
JIM: I think that's one thing that I was forewarned about, because I saw it happen with Stan. And I have gone through great trouble to make sure that people understand that I'm not making any rules. So, I think it doesn't happen as much around here today as it did in the old days. Because Stan, when he was here, he was busy. He was always going off to colleges lecturing, and if you got Stan for a short period of time, that was great. So, I have a bit of advantage there, but I do see some of that happening. Like in the fan magazines, just as Stan said, with the fan magazines where they keep saying that there was a particular style you have to have. There's such a good Fan Press, such a pervasive Fan Press that if you order tuna for lunch it's in the Fan Press tomorrow.
STAN: I gotta mention one thing that I think is great about what Jim is doing. The one rule that I used to consider an inflexible, important rule was not to have any rules, as long as you didn't violate the boundaries of good taste. To me, anything goes that’s different, that's surprising, that hasn't been done before. Which is hard to do. It's hard to find something that hasn't been done before.
MA: Stan, do you still read Marvel Comics?
STAN: I must say that I don't really have the time to thoroughly read all of the books that are sent from New York. They're shipped to me every month, and I try to thumb through as many as possible. The covers that I've been looking at and the story ideas that I've seen, and the little bits of innovation and surprises and unexpected things that come up are just terrific. I mean, I just have to feel that Jim is doing the greatest job in the world, because I know how difficult it is. I tried to do it for years. I know how hard it is to take a line of books that's been in business for so many years, and give a feeling of newness, and freshness, and surprises to the titles each and every month. I mean, that's genius. And Marvel is doing that. I think our books have a fresher, younger, more exciting feeling of novelty and innovation than they have had for the longest time. And I think that's the reason they're so popular today and doing so well I only mention that again because I think it's obvious that Jim certainly must be of the opinion that the only rule is not to have rules.
MA: Are there any particular books that come out that you look forward to next?
STAN: Not really. As with anybody else, one month a certain over will attract me. The next month it'll be the cover of a different book. I never know which will be the most exciting. It's always a surprise. But I tell you, in every batch of books there are always a lot of them that I say, wow, if only I had time to read this! I know damn well if I were a comic reader I would buy 'em because they're good.
MA: Earlier on Jim mentioned that at one time he had felt that he had put comic books behind him and it pained him to look at comic books, and you said, “Well, I understand that feeling”.
STAN: That is important. Yes, you're absolutely right. If you've left a place, and you feel that you're finished with it and you'll never come back to it, it could almost be unpleasant looking at what you've done. You force yourself to try not to care about it. Sure, I can understand that.
MA: But you don't feel that you've put Marvel Comics aside?
STAN: Oh, no, I just scan the books the way I do, instead of reading each one thoroughly because I physically don't have the time. I would love to read them.
MA: People are constantly asking what new incarnation the Marvel characters are going to be having on television?
STAN: Well, it's really hard to answer that one because the decision isn't mine. I'm trying to get as many of them on the screen in different forms as I can. But it depends whether the motion picture distributors will finance them. And it depends on whether the networks will order them for television. So I never know. The only thing definite that I can tell you now is that Columbia Pictures is presently preparing a Human Torch motion picture.
MA: That will be live action?
STAN: Yes. A live-action motion picture. Nelvana is also working on The X-Men as a live-action motion picture. I haven't seen that-myself, yet.
JIM: Well, it's their first treatment. (Holds up proposed treatment of film).
STAN: Have you read it?
JIM: Yeah, I've read it.
STAN: Is it good?
JIM: I'm having a meeting with the guy in charge to talk about it...
STAN: Do you like it?
JIM: Yeah, it's a good start. I think it’s the first draft.
STAN: (Looks at movie poster painting) Great picture. A great feeling. That makes it look really adult. Yeah, I love that type. Anyway, on Saturday morning, we have, of course Spider-Man and The Hulk. We hope to have a few more. We're in the process of developing Dungeons and Dragons for one of the networks, plus a few other shows. But again, we never know until the season is ready, to start, what they might buy and what they might not. And Jim is involved with — you probably would rather tell it yourself about George Romero.
JIM: Well, the people from Laurel Productions, which is George Romero’s company, got together with some of the people from Marvel and, through a series of meetings sort of evolved a joint project where we’re going to publish comics and they're going to create a movie. As it worked out George Romero and I, co-created the character, who's going to be featured in the movie, and also, together, we wrote the treatment for the movie and possibly George Romero and I are going to work on the screenplay together. I think that's the plan at present. I mean, it's not done yet, so I can't say it's a fact, but that's what everyone intends. I can't wait to get started. We've already done the treatment, and we're doing character designs and so forth right now.
STAN: I just want to mention that, as far as the number of movie plans we have another dozen projects which we're working on. I don't want the readers to think we're limited to just those few movies.
STAN: Not all of them are contractually definite yet, however.
MA: Give us some idea what's in the works with that clear understanding, then.
STAN: There's The Dazzler, being scripted, there's Spider-Man with Roger Corman producing. We have The Black Widow being developed.
MA: These are all for live action?
STAN: Yes, for live action. Dr. Strange is also being developed, and so is Daredevil. Captain America is being prepared as a Broadway Show. Now, at any moment when I go back to the coast I may hear that Dr. Strange was sold and another one is in the works. Things change from day to day. But we have a lot of our characters being worked on and developed right now. Almost every studio has one of our projects in some stage of development.
MA: And part of your job is to make sure that these treatments remain faithful, or as faithful as possible to the original Marvel characters.
STAN: That's part of my job. But, in all honesty, it is not an easy thing to do. There comes a time when we have to say we either want to sell the movie or not, and unless it's changed to a certain degree the studios will not produce the feature. Then I've got to determine, it is all right to change it that much? It still won't be exactly the same as our comic book, but at least it will get on the screen and be seen by millions. Remember Dr. Strange a few years ago on CBS. If you saw Dr. Strange on television, it wasn't quite our Dr. Strange.
MA: No, it wasn't.
STAN: But it was an intelligent version. I have realized, in the couple of years that I have been on the coast, there is no way anybody is going to do the movie exactly like the comic strip. But you hope you can keep the same feeling, and the same integrity.
MA: What problems do you Jim, think that you've faced that Stan never had to face when he was Editor-in-Chief
JIM: Well from my point of view, every Editor-in-Chief who's been in this job — and there's been seven of us — has had some big problems come up that no one ever faced before. Having been here five years, which is longer than everyone else except Stan, I've had a lot of big problems that no one ever faced before. I've had a new kind of competition developing. New problems with, oh, having to change our whole distribution from being strictly newsstand to newsstand and direct sales. Artists and writers have become a lot more concerned over having the opportunity to do things besides Spider-Man. I've still got people standing in line to draw Spider-Man, but a lot want to do their own concepts and characters, which they create. I'm glad to say that we've evolved a marketplace big enough to handle that kind of material. Ten years ago, there wasn't a place to sell those things. We created a place to sell new, offbeat creator-owned material — the direct comics shops — and now we can publish them. Of course, we had to create new policies and mechanisms for doing those. Anyway, as each thing comes up, we've found a way to deal with it. But there's always something new. I don't expect any year to be a quiet year, something is going to come up that we have to face. A problem right now is that there is a Fan Press a lot of people out making fan magazines, and they actually have become very slick and sophisticated magazines. In order to generate more business to try and sell copies, many of them try to play up controversies and so forth. So we' have a situation -where everything we do is under a magnifying glass and people are trying to tear us down in print in a sensationalistic way, so they can cash in. Why us? Because we're number one. And the person who's number one is always the one who's the target. It's a whole new world. I guess it would be like being a Hollywood star and finding articles in the National Enquirer about how you beat your wife or torture your dog or something like that. It may not be true but it's there in print and it's something you sort of have to live with. But, that's the job. If there weren't problems they wouldn't need me.
MA: Did you ever think, Stan, back in the days of Fantastic Four #1 that Marvel was going to be number one?
STAN; Well, when you're working in an outfit you always hope it will happen. As a matter of fact we became number one somewhere in the mid-sixties. We started outselling DC at that time. After the first year, when I began to see the fan mail roll in, and I began to get the reaction of the readers, I think I had a pretty damn good feeling that we were on the way up. I've got to admit that the way that things turned out, the way the business is now, the way Marvel is now, it's absolutely like the realization of a dream. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to me. I've said this a million times to different people, but when I started in this business it was almost an embarrassment. I'd go to a party with my wife and people would come over and say “what are you doing?” I'd say I write comics and they would walk away. Didn't even want to talk to me. I used to try and fake it. I'd say I'm a writer. Then they would say what do you write. I'd say I write for magazines. What magazines? At some point I would have to say comic books and I lost my audience.
Right now I think comic books have a tremendous glamor. I'd say 90% of this new glamor was caused by Marvel Comics. Nobody ever dreamed twenty-five years ago that there would be fan magazines of the quality Jim mentioned, that there would be a whole Fan Press, or that there would be a network of book stores just devoted to comics. It's become a whole subculture. Comic books are now a very important part of the media, and I think we've just scratched the surface. In fact, considering what Jim Shooter is doing, what Jim Galton is doing, and the direction that this company is taking, I think if you were to do this interview five years from now, it would be a whole different ball game. I think we’ll be closer to Random House than we are to DC. I think we're going to become a full-line publisher. We're already in the movie business and the television business, as well as the magazine publishing business.
MA: We're the third-largest magazine publisher in the country.
STAN: The nice thing is, as far as I can see it, quality is still the prime objective. Even though I don't read the books as carefully as I'd like to, I still look at them eagerly and I see as much attention to detail, as much or more attention to quality as I can remember in years. I think if we can keep going the way we are and brother Shooter doesn't get careless, which I know he won't, we're going to be the biggest name in entertainment, and not just because we're getting bigger and bigger; but because we're getting better and better— because we've never forgotten — it's quality that counts!