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#79: Back On The Chain Gang
All right, we’re back at last with what ought to be a full and complete Newsletter after a couple of stopgap weeks, and there’s plenty to go over—so much so that I anticipate having to kick some of the material down the road a little bit. So settle back, get comfortable, and let’s get into it!
First off, a few months ago, I contributed an essay to the latest release from editor Jim Beard’s Becky Books imprint, named in honor of his late wife. Jim packages tomes dedicated to a variety of authors writing about the toys and media that shaped us as kids growing up—several months ago, I lamented that I hadn’t had the opportunity to be included in RISING SUN RERUNS, about Japanese television imports of the 1970s and 1980s. Accordingly, Jim reached out to me about his latest volume, this one dedicated to the original STAR TREK series. I don’t have the same strong attachment to that program as pretty much all of the other contributors to the project, but that didn’t stop me from writing a few thousand words about it. GALLOPING AROUND THE COSMOS (so titled due to STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry having pitched the series as “WAGON TRAIN to the stars”) is available for purchase now at this link. So check it out if it might be your bag.
Meanwhile, across the past couple of weeks, we’ve lost a number of people whose passing I wanted to mark a little bit. When I was first getting into Anime and Manga, I became quite enamored of the work of manga-ka Buichi Terasawa. In particular, his series SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA was a favorite of mine, both in manga and animated form. In part, I’m sure, this was because it was so strongly influenced by the European stylings of Heavy Metal. But also, it was direct and easy to follow even when you didn’t know the language. Terasawa was only 68 at the time of his death, and he’d been battling recurring medical issues for two decades with the sort of stoicism reserved for the Japanese. By all accounts, he was a bit of a character, who very overtly attempted to put forward a particular sense of male empowerment in his manga stories. For anyone who may be interested, the first episode of the SPACE COBRA anime can be found at this link, subtitled. It isn’t especially deep stuff, but it is an awful lot of fun and still looks great for its age.
Closer to home and very close in age, cartoonist Joe Matt suffered a heart attack at his drawing board that took him from the world. He was 60. He’d been complaining of chest pains for months, apparently, but didn’t want to spend the money to get himself checked out by a Doctor. That’s perhaps the quintessential Joe Matt story—his astounding cheapness was a running motif throughout his work. His incredibly forthcoming autobiographical series PEEP SHOW was unflinching in how poor it made its creator look. But it was that honesty that gave his work such power, I think. Nobody would ever call Matt prolific, but every release was a welcome surprise
Allan Asherman had been DC Comics’ librarian and archivist for many, many years, and before that he’d served in an editorial capacity at the company. He was also a writer of note who penned books and features on vintage television—his STAR TREK COMPENDIUM was one of the best books on that show of its era. I never had any dealings with Allan, but I knew of him, and his Earth-One alter ego Oscar Asherman, the Metropolis weatherman. He was 76 years of age when he passed.
So not a great couple of weeks for our industry in terms of mortality.
Segueing back to anime and Japanese television, I came across a video piece this past week concerning the 1967 FANTASTIC FOUR cartoon series—specifically, how it was adapted to air on Japanese television. The show wasn’t edited at all—in fact the original title cards were still used despite being in English. But the way the show was contextualized was entirely different. I was so delighted by this information that I’m going to share it with you now. in Japan, the show wasn’t pitched as a team concept at all, but rather named after the lead character, Reed Richards. Except here, he’s known as Space Ninja Gorms. Why? I have no idea. But that was the name of the show, SPACE NINJA GORMS. The other three characters were called Susie, Fireboy and Gunrock, and their nemesis was Doctor Demon. The opening credits can be watched here, and I’ve even got a translation of the Japanese narration for you:
No matter how strong the monster is
Defeat it with the power of four
Our friends, the space ninja Gorms
Grow up! Gorms
The four powers that protect the peace
Space Ninja Gorms
Kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?
Question time! We’re back in full effect, so let’s get at it:
One of the answers reminded me of something I (and other rec.arts.comics folk) wondered about way back when; why the insistence that Rita DeMara, the female Yellowjacket, was an Avenger? In my and others opinion, she clearly wasn't. She appeared in only one story as a non-antagonist, only because an assemble alarm in her stolen from Hank Pym suit went off and she couldn't figure out how to shut it off; i.e. she wasn't recruited for the mission. At the end of the mission, she goes her way and the Avengers go theirs; no mention of inducting her or considering her an Avenger. As Alan Sepinwall wrote back then, if she's an Avenger, anyone who's gone on a mission with them is. But y'all kept listing her when listing all the Avengers and the like, and in the trivia answers you included her among Avengers who'd never had their own book. It seemed to us that she was accidently listed as an Avenger once, and instead of saying "Oops, that was a mistake", y'all double-downed on her being one.
When Kurt and I first sat down to produce the opening three issues of AVENGERS, in which George wanted to use every member who had ever been a part of the team, we had to first figure out who did and did not count. There had been some membership lists printed before that, Tom, but we didn’t agree with some of them on the surface of things. So Kurt went back and read through literally everything—the entire run of the series, taking notes on when characters were either offered membership or else were treated as though they already had it. And that’s what we based our roster listing on, and it’s been in use ever since. I don’t remember specifically, possibly Kurt does, but I think Rita DeMara got counted in because she was a part of the AVENGERS Evolutionary War Annual, where she was treated as a member. But it’s been a long time, so I don’t recall the specifics. Rest assured, though, that we did so after making a considered determination between us that she counted.
So I've been re-reading Bendis's Avengers run and the related books, and I read the AvX story with the Thing vs. Juggernaut Colossus. Ed McGuinness draws a really good Thing! To the best of my knowledge, this is his only story work with Ben Grimm. I know he did the cover for the Mark Waid/Neal Adams story, and I'm sure he's done other variant work. Has he ever been approached for other Fantastic Four work? I'd love to see him do a few issues of my favorite comic.
And as the editor of the book, what do you look for out of an artist taking on Ben's bricks? I know fandom used to be quite fussy about staying on-model with Ben, and I remember Byrne's instructions on how to draw him. But since you're the one assigning the work, what's important to you when picking an FF artist?
There have been one or two occasions during the years when Ed was potentially going to do some project or other that involved the Thing, Ray—I seem to recall a story that Jeph Loeb had in mind to work on with Ed that was Thing-centric in some respects. But they just somehow never happened. Some of that may stem from Ed himself being more interested in other characters and series, and some of it may have been that there have been other assignments more important to Marvel where we’ve wanted to deploy him. And in terms of FANTASTIC FOUR artists, it always comes down to the same thing: I’m looking for people that I think could draw the series well and whose aesthetic sense is simpatico with whomever is going to be writing the series. I’ll agree that Ben had faced some design drift stemming back to the Heroes Reborn days of Jim Lee (who drew him much larger than anybody before him) And for all that John Byrne codified his version of the Thing design in that How-To sheet, it was an adaptation and a change from how the Thing had been done before that as well. I’ll still tend to share that sheet with FF artists, but even it wasn’t definitive—virtually no Jack Kirby drawing of the Thing followed all of those rules.
Any chance of Marvel publishing a Fury Force mini-series with Larry writing it?
Not really, Alex. I don’t think there was enough in FURY FORCE that didn’t become G.I.JOE to be able to make much out of it—particular 40 years later where the connection to WWII-era soldier Nick Fury grows more impossible by the day.
Hey Tom, I was curious if your transition to the X-Office impacts G.O.D.S. Will you continue on it, or is it under the umbrella of books you're passing on?
I’ll continue to be handing G.O.D.S., Mark—first issue on sale this week, bring a hand truck to help you carry it home!
One strange personal question: I’ve decided to read all the Marvel superhero comics for their first 5 years (62-66). Would you suggest I read Sgt Fury as well as all the other stalwarts?
This is entirely a personal choice, Giovanni. But if it were me, I certainly would. As opposed to the westerns and the girl humor books, SGT FURY was marketed as a part of the central Marvel line and had a number of occasions where it featured material that would show up elsewhere late on down the line. Once modern day SHIELD and Captain America start battling Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker and the like, you’re going to want that background.
I remember almost skipping over ASM #299 on the stands of my local drugstore because the cover was so close to #298. Even just a different background cover on #299 would have made all the difference. Do you think there are any quick and dirty editorial fixes you could have made at the last minute to make the distinction between the two issues any clearer?
I don’t know about quick and dirty, Paul, but the easiest thing to have done here would have been to make the background a different color, so it wasn’t two white backgrounds in a row. As a general rule, Marvel tried to switch the background color and the logo color on each successive issue, but sometimes these foul-ups slipped through the system.
Question that might be silly: a new Ultimate Spider-Man was announced, but the Marvel Legacy numbering of the OG series went into Miles' series back in the days of Marvel Legacy. So, of course, that shouldn't go into this new volume, but they do share the title. Is this something that worries or is taken into consideration in editorial? I understand numbering might be something more interesting to us readers, but I wanna know more of the perspective inside editorial when preparing a new series and deciding about this aspects that are not mainly about actually creating the story and art.
The guiding principle on this, Nacho, is that you can’t fix the past. At any given time, people made decisions about what numbering was going to count where, and so late in the game, you can’t go back and change that accounting. So moving forward, you need to make the nest decisions that you can moving ahead. I would guess that the new ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN won’t carry any Legacy numbering. Which makes sense to me, as it isn’t really the same book or the same character—not even the same universe, really.
For this week, since we're talking covers, I'd love to know more about the thinking behind variants.
I guess I have three main questions:
1) How do you decide how many variants each issue should get? Obviously #1s and big numbers get lots, but what logic goes into the issue 2s and 7s of the world?
2) Do you find any diminishing returns on too many variants? Like, is there a golden amount, and more variants than that is spending money with little return?
3) When there are thematic variants (like the Hellfire Gala ones or the recently announced winter sports ones), who decides what series get a cover?
The number of variants and what titles they go on is largely worked out across the line by the Sales department. I couldn’t tell you exactly the formula they use to determine this, apart from constant feedback from the retailers and a desire to maximize the return on effort on our part.
We adjust the number of variants that we’re doing constantly based on the results and feedback from the marketplace. So you can maybe hit a point of diminishing returns, sure, but our guys are constantly making adjustments to prevent that on a month by month basis.
Books that’ll get to carry a themed variant are also usually determined by the Sales department, and will most regularly weigh heavily though not exclusively in factor of ongoing titles.
My question is can we have a final Captain Britain Alan Davis story
That’s in large part up to Alan, David. And one of the tricks of this is, even after he did another Captain Britain story, there’d still be fans who love his work who’d be asking for another final Captain Britain Alan Davis story. But you never know.
Since Immortal Hulk is mentioned : Is it true that Hulk nearly had red eyes and white skin (or more like the color of bones), but you were able to convince Al Ewing to go with green skin instead ?
No, Pierre, no truth to this that I can recall. It isn’t impossible that this was an idea that was floated when we were bringing the character back in AVENGERS: NO SURRENDER, but I don’t have any recall of such a thing, so if it did come up there, it was an idea that was discarded relatively quickly.
Let’s say issues 1-5 of a series are a five-parter. Issues 6 and 7 are a two-parter. Issues 8-12 are another five-parter. How is it determined if issues 6 and 7 become part of trade #1 or trade #2? Or given its own trade, maybe alongside an annual or a guest appearance? Or just not reprinted at all?
We do whatever makes the most sense story-wise, Jeff, or at least try to. While we generally try to hit a certain sweet spot for page counts and price on our collections of a certain number of issues, there is some flexibility when something has to be done differently. And pretty much everything gets collected someplace at this point—I’d be hard-pressed to name any issues that hadn’t been collected in the recent past. (Possibly some of the never-completed series that got sidelined by the pandemic shutdown.)
Behind the Curtain
Since we’re on something of a roll here, I’m posting the next batch of pages from that Covers document that I put together for Marvel Editorial as an aid to inspiring new covers by categorizing some of the classic approaches that were taken. From here, covers are grouped in fours on pages by theme of approach.
An awful lot of our covers over the past two decades have fallen into the ICONIC category, and it sometimes gets a bad rap for not conveying the sense of what the story inside will be like. But anything can be done poorly or done well, and it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of all of these Iconic cover images, showcasing our heroes in dramatic compositions set apart from any momentary story concerns.
BADASS is something of a subset of ICONIC, in that it typically presents a single character in dramatic fashion—but in this case, spiking up the intensity level and making them look not simply heroic, but like a badass. These covers tend to have a bit more edge to them.
CONCEPTUAL covers are single-issue story based, but really built around a singular graphic idea, often not a literal one. This can mean making the comic look like something else or using effects and the technology of the day to make it stand visually apart from the typical cover on the stands. It’s about getting across and idea and a vibe as much as an image.
.There’s plenty more where these came from, so have no doubt we’ll see more of these pages in the weeks to come.
Pimp My Wednesday
What new wonders await you this Wednesday, I wonder? Let us find out!
FANTASTIC FOUR #12 by Ryan North and Iban Coello features perhaps the most obvious story that we could have done since Ryan came onto the series. In it, the FF find themselves on an alternate Earth in which the dominant form of life is still the dinosaur, and at odds with dinosaur versions of the Avengers! There’s a bit more to this story, of course, but that’s for you to find out as you read it. But we do also reveal what Sue Richards got her Doctorate in!
And the big one, G.O.D.S. #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Valerio Schiti. I’ll be honest, I know that this is a substantial buy-in for a new series, and if there had been a really workable way to break this material down into smaller chunks and still have it come across as needed, we would have done that. But I’ll also say that you’ll get every single penny’s worth in this issue—it’s a massive number of pages and Jonathan and Valerio introduce both a batch of new characters but also a new way of organizing the fundamental forces of the Marvel Universe. Plus, it’s unexpectedly funny as well as being dramatic and apocalyptic. Take it from me, this is a seriously good comic book, and you won’t regret forking over the cover price—unless you throw your back out from trying to carry it home to read. Settle in with a drink and a bowl of snacks before attempting!
A Comic Book On Sale 40 Years Ago Today, October 1, 1983
Forty years ago, comic books had gained a new lease on life. For a decade, the standard magazine distribution networks (typically referred to as Newsstand Distribution) had grown less and less friendly to comic books, with rampant fraud and the need to print three copies in order to sell one making it near-impossible to run a comic book company profitably. the savior of the field was the rise of the Direct Market, the network of comic book specialty shops that purchased the product on a non-returnable basis. it had grown up organically over the course of a decade, and by the time Marvel was ready to begin experimenting with it by releasing the first issue of DAZZLER as a Direct Market-only exclusive that you couldn’t buy on the Newsstands, the result—400,000 copies sold—made it clear that a book could be distributed through the Direct Market exclusively and turn a tidy profit. this led to several newcomer companies popping up, producing their own comics for this new market. Some of them were more experimental and pushed the boundaries beyond what the Comics Code would then allow (since the Code couldn’t regulate the non-Newsstand space), some of them were produced by established pros looking to more directly profit from their efforts, and some were the work of talented and not-so-talented newcomers who saw this as their opportunity to enter the field. One such small publisher was Noble Comics, who had launched their publishing venture with Mike Gustovich’s creation THE JUSTICE MACHINE. It wasn’t a genre book, it was clearly a super hero series, albeit one that would try to do some things differently than the mainstream, to various degrees of success. Noble published five issues of JUSTICE MACHINE, the first two in a magazine-sized format, before they were forced to throw in the towel. But they had made arrangements for the series to continue to be published by other hands, a group known as Texas Comics. This JUSTICE MACHINE ANNUAL had started out as intended to be published by Noble, but it was Texas that saw it through to fruition, but it would be the only book Texas ever released. Despite some big plans, the realities of publishing sunk that company before it could really begin. This happened a lot in the early Direct Market. Anyway, this Annual was noteworthy for two reasons. The first and most obvious one is that it guest-starred the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. The Agents had been created during the super hero boom of the mid-1960s by Wally Wood, and while they only lasted a few years, they were remembered fondly by fans. One such fan,. John Carbonaro, had acquired the rights to the characters and started trying to get them back into print permanently, a quest he’d pursue for the remainder of his life. The group’s appearance here was in support of their new series that was launched under the JC Comics imprint, but was published through Archie Comics, who were also attempting to find their way in this new market. More significantly over time was the fact that this Annual also contained the first appearance of a strip that would become a bit of a success story in the 1980s, The Elementals. The group was the creatin of writer/artist Bill Willingham, and it too was an attempt to create a modern day super hero strip with a bit more sex and violence than was permitted in the mainstream. After Texas bit the dust, the property switched over to another publisher, Comico, and was a serious hit for them, at least for a time. The Elementals were four people each of whom had died and been resurrected with the attributes of one of the four elemental forces of the Earth; Morningstar, Vortex, Fathom and Monolith. It was a good-looking strip, at least at the start, and it read well, too. Eventually, Comico would run out of capital as well, and its assets would be bought up by other folks, an action that separated Willingham from his creation. Since that time, there have been a couple of half-hearted attempts to bring the Elementals back, but none of them have recaptured the magic of this particular moment.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
It’s hard to believe today, as he’s become such a hugely well-known character thanks to the Marvel films, but this was the first THANOS #1 ever published. It was released on October 1, 2003. The series lasted for twelve issues, only six of them under the auspices of the character’s creator Jim Starlin. I had first come into contact with Jim while working on the CAPTAIN MARVEL series with Peter David, which starred the son of the original Captain Marvel, Genis. At a certain point, we realized that we were going to need a fill-in to spell regular artist Chriscross and Peter suggested that we maybe get Starlin to draw and contribute to it. Peter had been working with Jim on his other property, DREADSTAR, so there was already an existing relationship to fall back on. So we did that, and it turned out great, a wonderful issue where Jim got to draw the elder Captain Marvel again through some multiverse shenanigans. From there, having established contact, Jim was interested in doing more, in particular with the characters he’d either created or adopted during his earlier tenures at Marvel. We did a couple of projects together; INFINITY ABYSS, the forgotten fourth INFINITY series that was largely dedicated to Jim invalidating any Thanos appearances that he didn’t work on, and MARVEL: THE END, which was by definition a series set in a What If timeline but which Starlin treated as canonical to his particular stories—he had done it, after all. And that all led to this, THANOS #1. This was a period where Marvel was needing to launch a bevy of titles because our overall title count had fallen so low, so it was an easy thing to propose and get approved. And it was an easy series to run in certain respects. But I did find that Jim rather puckishly delighted in sneaking hidden messages into the backgrounds of his art and text, messages that might have gotten somebody fired had they made it to print. I asked him to cut it out, but he just laughed puckishly—nobody had ever really gotten Starlin to do anything that he didn’t want to do. Some time not ling after, Starlin’s inker and longtime friend Al Milgrom would lose his Marvel contract when he dropped in some similar text in the background of a book delighting in the dismissal of Marvel editor in chief Bob Harras. So this wasn’t really a joke, though Starlin didn’t seem a bit concerned at the thought of any consequences. In any event, things were going smoothly until one day when Jim came back from a convention appearance in Boston, where he’d run into Marshall Rogers. The two had gotten to talking, and Jim reached out to me to tell me that he and Marshall would be collaborating on a new WARLOCK series that he would write. Now this was a problem as, at this time, Greg Pak was already working on a WARLOCK project, a sort of restart ore reimagining of the character, though it would take a little while to make it to the stands. On top of which, Jim wasn’t empowered to just go ahead and add projects to Marvel’s publishing schedule. When i told Jim that somebody else (I left Greg’s name out of it) was already working on a WARLOCK project, he exploded. He felt that Warlock was “his” character—that while he hadn’t actually created Adam, he was the one who brought him to prominence and popularity. And he had a point there. I seem to recall that what followed was an irate conversation where Jim called up Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, and when Joe wouldn’t acquiesce to his demands to be allowed to do WARLOCK with Marshall, Jim quit. But I may have some of those details wrong. Either way, though, Jim left in a huff, clearly pissed off with the company, a fact that he made clear in the interviews he gave on the subject for several years. One in particular, in THE ART OF JIM STARLIN: A LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES, pissed me off to no end. In it, Jim laid a bunch of the blame for the situation on my two junior editors, Andy Schmidt and Marc Sumerak. Speaking plainly, this felt like a guy punching down below his weight class. Any issues he had on THANOS ultimately came from me, and if he wanted to lash out at anyone, I’m the person he should properly have targeted. I thought it was cowardly, bullying behavior, and it left a really bad taste in my mouth. While I would end up working with Starlin again years later on a series of THANOS OGNs and some connected series, I did so out of an obligation to Marvel and I never quite trusted him again. That all said, the actual series here is pretty fun, very much in the spirit of the later Starlin cosmic material. I tend to think Jim’s work was at its peak in the 1970s and early 1980s, and plenty of others love his 1990s stuff—I suspect it depends on when you first encountered him. So out series wasn’t quite at that level, but it was perfectly solid and entertaining.
I’ve mostly been playing catch-up on shows and books that have been piling up around here, including a big stack of magazines published by TwoMorrows dedicated to comic book history: THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR, BACK ISSUE, ALTER EGO, COMIC BOOK CREATOR and more.
The one new show I started is THE DEVIL’S PLAN on Netflix. It’s another Korean game show in the vein of THE GENIUS, a series that I was wild for, and so it’s no wonder that I would follow it. Two episodes in, and about all I can say about it is that it’s another example of this genre—it doesn’t yet have any wrinkles that might differentiate it from a half-dozen previous shows of its type. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t well done.
Posted at TomBrevoort.com
Yesterday, I shared this essay by John Byrne from FANTACO CHRONICLES #2 in which the new writer/artist of FANTASTIC FOUR outlines his history with the series.
And five years ago, I wrote about the first Marvel comic I ever bought, FANTASTIC FOUR #177
And that’ll do it for another one of these! Thanks for your patience these past weeks while life and circumstance took some of the wind out of this feature’s sales. Hopefully, it’ll all be smooth sailing from here on in for a while! Onward!
Hat’s All, Folks!
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