Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Editors In My Little Marvel's Life

After Stan Lee moved up to Publisher of Marvel Comics, many a talented titan took turns sitting in his Editor-in-Chief's Chair. In fact, Marvel went through so many EIC's legend has it that Stan once quipped (when Archie Goodwin was about to take office), "Just tack his name on the door, don't paint it on."* Mighty Marvel even poked fun at itself with a panel from the legendary Fantastic Four #176 (August 1976). Who were the men who helmed Marvel during it's hippest decade? How successful were they? What legacies did they leave behind? I dunno if I'll answer any of those questions, but let's have a look at 'em (the editors, not the questions, Irving!) anyway...


Roy Thomas (July 1972-November 1974)-There was no doubt about who would fill Stan's editorial position when he stepped down in 1972. Roy Thomas had been Stan's editorial right-hand since 1965, and had proven himself many times over, especially when serving as de facto editor on the titles he wrote. Roy had been able to lure Neal Adams into working with him at Marvel on legendary X-Men, Inhumans, and Avengers runs. Roy discovered and nurtured a young Kirby wannabe by name of Barry Smith, gave him Conan stories that allowed him to stretch and grow until he became the artistic phenomenon we all know as Barry Windsor-Smith. Not only that, but Roy pretty much served as "continuity police" thanks to his mastery of Marvel minutiae.

When Thomas took over, he found himself overseeing over 50 titles, including a brand new black and white comicbook line. Under Thomas, old characters like the Black Panther, Him (aka Adam Warlock), and Dr. Strange were dusted off and brought back. New concepts like War of the Worlds (starring Killraven), Shang Chi (Master of Kung Fu), the Defenders, Iron Fist, Deathlok the Demolisher, the Punisher, and Ghost Rider were born. Thomas also oversaw a short-lived but sometimes brilliantly executed series of EC-inspired anthologies like Crypt of Shadows, Journey into Mystery, Chamber of Chills, World's Unknown, and Supernatural Thrillers. Thomas helped birth Marvel's well-remembered black and white line with titles like Monsters Unleashed, Vampire Tales, Dracula Lives, Crazy, a revived Savage Tales, Savage Sword of Conan, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, and many more--and was wise enough to hand them over to Marv Wolfman so he could concentrate on the color line.

Thomas helped come up with fun and experimental new formats like Marvel's Giant-Size line, which started out as 52 page, 35 cent comics, then jumped to 68 page, 50 cent comics starring many of Marvel's most popular characters and Marvel Treasury Editions, tabloid-size 100 page comics with cardstock covers reprinting Marvel's finest comics. (Yeah, these were in response to similar packages originated by DC, but with a twist.) Roy also opened the doors to exciting new talents like Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Rich Buckler, Klaus Janson, Frank Brunner, Mike Ploog, Doug Moench, Don McGregor, Paul Gulacy, P. Craig Russell, Val Mayerik, and many others. When Roy stepped down, he got Marvel to agree to let him edit his own work, just like Stan had done--and many others to follow would continue to do. Roy's tenure was short, but lively, fun, and quite fruitful.


Len Wein (November 1974- August 1975)- After Roy, one would have thought either the writer who had pretty much served as Roy's Roy, Gerry Conway, or Marv Wolfman, who was editing the black and white line would have taken over. Instead, Marvel went after one of DC's hottest writers, the young man who'd co-created Swamp Thing and the Human Target and won over many a fan with his writing on Justice League, Batman, and the Phantom Stranger, Len Wein. Len was pals with Marv Wolfman (they'd broken into comics together over at DC), and was one of the best writers to ever grace the comicbook page. He held onto the reins handed him by Thomas and kept things on a steady course, writing Incredible Hulk, helping create Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus--okay, the All-New, All-Different X-Men, and overseeing outstanding new series like Jim Starlin's Warlock. If all he'd ever done was create the new X-Men, he'd have gone down in comicbook history, but after his tenure as EIC, he continued writing for Marvel, with lengthy stretches on Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Thor.


Marv Wolfman (August 1975-June 1976)-Marv moved up from editing the black and white line into editing the color line, and brought some cool new concepts with him like Skull the Slayer, Nova, and Midas the Million Dollar Mouse. When he took over writing Daredevil, he helped create the long-forgotten Torpedo, but also a first-rate villain named Bullseye. He also oversaw another Marvel expansion that gave homes to Guardians of the Galaxy (in Marvel Presents), Tigra the Were-Woman (in Marvel Chillers), Black Goliath, the Champions, Howard the Duck, and Omega the Unknown. One very innovative and important thing Wolfman did during his tenure was create a series of "warehouse" or "inventory" comics, which could be used to as fill-in issues when the regular creative teams missed a deadline. The stories were written so they wouldn't interfere with the comics' continuity, and served to "tread water" for a month so that fans could at least get a new story rather than a reprint (as had been Marvel's past policy for dealing with blown deadlines). He managed all of this while still writing Tomb of Dracula (and keeping it near or at the top of the list of best-written comics). Marv also brought back Marvel's Summer Annuals, proving that a short tenure as EIC can also be a very productive one!

Gerry Conway (June 1976)-Gerry Conway, who had been Roy Thomas' main assistant during his tenure as EIC, came back from a short stint at DC to serve an even shorter stint as EIC of Marvel. Though he only held the position for a few weeks, he brought an energy and array of ideas with him that often make Ol' Groove wonder what might've been. He created Ms. Marvel right off the bat, then took over the Avengers and promptly brought back Wonder Man (which had probably been in the works under former Avengers scribe, Steve Englehart), took over the Defenders and hired Keith Giffen to replace Sal Buscema as artist, and started Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and Daredevil off in "bold new directions." He also helped start Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man with artist Sal Buscema and began adapting the flick, Logan's Run, with George Perez. From the looks of the "Department of Infoomation" article in FOOM #15 (Summer 1976), it appears that Conway, after stepping down as EIC, planned to stay on as a writer/editor (as Thomas, Wein, Wolfman, and Jack Kirby were doing at the time). But, within an issue or two of the titles he was writing, Conway was gone, headed back to DC. His workload was parcelled out mostly to Chris Claremont (Ms. Marvel), Jim Shooter (Avengers, Daredevil), and others.


Archie Goodwin (June 1976-March 1978)-Archie Goodwin had proven himself to be one of the best writers in the biz (Blazing Combat, Manhunter, and many other comics) as well as one of the best editors, ever (overseeing the Warren line and editing acclaimed runs of Detective Comics and Star Spangled War Stories at DC), so it was only natural, now that Goodwin was at Marvel doing some writing (which included creating Spider-Woman), for Stan to ask Archie to take over the EIC post (even if he knew it would only be temporary). You can see how up in the air things were by reading the "non-announcement" Stan made in the May, 1976 Soapbox. The following month, the "secret" was revealed. Ironically, Archie didn't want the job, but did it as a favor to Stan--and held on to it longer than any editor since Roy Thomas. Under Goodwin, the merry-go-round of creative talent settled a bit, and fewer deadlines were blown. Goodwin got in just in time to see yet another explosion of titles (now mostly licensed comics like the Human Fly, Godzilla, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Man From Atlantis). During his tenure, Marvel also expanded into the paperback market, with original novels featuring Marvel characters, plus paperback reprint collections of classic Marvel comics. When Goodwin left, he didn't stay away long. By 1980 he was editing Marvel's answer to Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, which grew into a whole new Marvel imprint, Epic Comics. Of course, Stan wanted Archie to edit the Epic line, and this time, Archie seemed happy to comply. (More on the Epic line in upcoming posts at Blinded Me with Comics.)


Jim Shooter (March 1978-1987)-Jim Shooter had broken into comics at the age of 13, writing Legion of Superheroes for DC. He had left comics to go back to school and get a job in the "real world". The call of comics was strong, and by the mid-70s, Shooter was an editorial assistant (often referred to as "armadillos" back in the Groovy Age) at Marvel. Shooter was a good writer, a decent artist, and knew the comics biz well, at both the creative and business ends. He was a natural to fill the EIC chair when Goodwin vacated it. Shooter loved Marvel, but was tired of the turn-over in creative teams, as well as the seemingly unchecked growth of the company. In order to make Marvel a more stable company, Shooter decided to borrow a page from the DC handbook and instituted a system "group editors". Shooter would oversee the entire line, but editors like Roger Stern, Bob Hall, Al Milgrom, and others would edit smaller groups of titles. Former EIC's Thomas, Wein, Wolfman, and Goodwin were writing/editing their own small stables, so, at the time, the idea didn't seem too radical. Under Shooter, the ever-changing creative teams and blown deadlines of the past ground nearly to a halt. X-Men, Iron Man, and Daredevil, especially, and even "minor" titles like Marvel-Two-In-One seemed to take off with bold new directions and hot new talent. Under Shooter, Marvel would finish the Groovy Age on a high note. Shooter's controversial Marvel of the 80s, though? Keep watching Blinded Me with Comics for Ol' Groove's views on that era, Groove-ophiles!

[*Jones, Gerard and Jacobs, Will (1997). The Comic Book Heroes (p. 195). Prima Publishing. ]

7 comments:

  1. Great overview! Your capsule descriptions absolutely nail the highlights of each editor's tenure.

    It's curious, don't you think, that Roy Thomas is thought of today as the embodiment of Forties nostalgia, largely due to his output during the Eighties and beyond, but his spell as editor was arguably the most innovative and forward-looking period in the company's history. As you illustrate here, it was under him that Marvel experimented with many new formats and even attempts to develop new genres. Whether or not everything Marvel published then was to his personal taste is irrelevant; in fact, more credit to him if much of it wasn't! Maybe his real gift was simply to bring in the talent and then let them do precisely what they wanted?

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  2. Great homage to this great men.
    I must say that I remember clearly the Goodwin and Shooter days and Marvel was impresive back at this decades.

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  3. Just my cockeyed opinion, but I do agree that Thomas deserves most of the accolades for being the penultimate editor of the groovy age, if for no other reason than that when I think back over my favorite stories, and art teams from the 70's they all have his guiding hand upon them.

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  4. This bring back lots of memories, as I worked under all of those editors except for Stan.

    --

    Scott Edelman

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  5. I really loved Marvel between 1972-78.....when the editorial revolving door was in full swing! Somehow, as crazy as it sounds, it seemed to spawned unprecedented creativity and fun. Somehow — it goes right along with the atmosphere of the 70s in general!

    I was not as big of a fan of the direction Jim Shooter took things into after 1978, through I respect Shooter's talent and ability to make some things happen. I just wish he would've maintained the fun atmosphere of previous editors.

    And as RAB and Mike said, Roy Thomas deserves a lot of credit. A great talent.....and a genuinely good guy as well!

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  6. Great post! And I agree, nearly everything I love about the Bronze Age has Rascally's hand in it somewhere. The guy doesn't get near enough kudos.
    And funny you should mention The Torpedo, Groovy. I always remember him as the character Marvel KEPT pushing at us, to our continuing indifference. By the time he got a slot in Premiere ( or was it Spotlight? ) I felt like going to the Marvel offices and screaming: " Leave it! WE DON'T LIKE THIS GUY, ALREADY!! "

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  7. What an awesome review of the EIC spot at Marvel. I'm really looking forward to some of the promised follow-up columns in "Blinded..."

    Jim

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