#14: Let Freedom Ring
At least maybe for one more year. Almost.
Well, the Fourth of July is here. But I’m finding it difficult to get into any sort of a patriotic mindset given how, of late, the country seems to be moving in a regressive and troubling direction. I said at the very start of this series of Newsletters that I was going to try to keep things positive, and I will. But given the environment right now, I feel pretty pessimistic about the next couple of years at least. The degree to which so many people have chosen to turn their backs on object reality in favor of what they want to be true is, frankly, disheartening. The destruction and compromising of our media system has led to an environment where everybody can select the reality they want to live in, to a certain degree. And all the while, things get worse, more regressive and backwards, carried out in plain sight and inevitable because nobody in a position to do something about it seems in the slightest interested in rocking the boat or sticking their necks out. And so, all the necks are ultimately on the chopping block, while people post pointed Tweets and fingers and beg for somebody, anybody, other than themselves to do something about it. Frankly, we could use a little bit of Aaron Sorkin, of Frank Capra, in this country right about now.
But nobody really cares what a comic book editor thinks about any of this stuff, right? So let’s get into something a bit more upbeat and interesting, hey?
Coming up in a week or two, I’ll be a returning guest on the MARVEL BY THE MONTH podcast, which can be found at this link. The crew there have done 162 episodes, progressing through the history of the Marvel Universe one month at a time, to examine what was going on in the stories and what was going on in the world around them at that time. It was Matt Fraction who first put me in touch with these guys, and for this latest installment, we spent about two-and-a-half hours talking about Marvel’s 10th Anniversary month, August 1971 and the titles that were released then. I don’t know how long the final cut of the episode is going to be, but there sure is a lot of material to draw from. So if you’re curious about why the Marvel books jumped up to 25 cents at a larger size then almost immediately went back to a 32-page package for twenty cents, this is the podcast episode to listen to. (I know that question has been keeping you awake at night—so here’s your guaranteed insomnia relief!)
And is what is becoming a regular (and welcome) event, once again Jason Holtzman sent over a question this week:
I think the question is relatively simple, but perhaps the answer is going to require a little more depth: What do the different editors do? Credits can list the assistant editor, the associate editor, the editor, the group editor, and sometimes people are promoted as “senior” editors.
Alongside them there’s the collected edition editors. I would assume they make sure the tpbs/hardcovers are put together correctly and fix issues that slipped through in the single issues? I’ve heard/seen the phrase “we’ll fix it in the trades” a few times on social media.
Jason, the editorial hierarchy is something like a pyramid, through which an individual editor will work their way up across the course of their career at Marvel. Assistant Editor is our entry-level editorial position. This describes a young editor who works in tandem with a more senior editor in putting together and putting out all of the titles within the office. It’s a training position, where new hires get to learn how Marvel does things and develop their own editorial voices and skills. After a time, it’s typical for an Assistant Editor to take on a project or two to edit on their own, while also continuing to keep up with their other assignments. The Assistants are the lifeblood of the editorial offices, for all that they are even less well known than the Editors.
An Associate Editor is somebody at an intermediate stage of development. They typically will be managing two or three projects on their own at once, usually but not always without the assistance of an Assistant Editor. This is kind of the point where an individual begins to start making most of the calls on their titles, for good or ill, and learning consequently what works and what doesn’t.
An Editor is the key editorial presence on any given book. They are the ones responsible for hiring the talent, overseeing production, making sure that the material is of acceptable quality and that it is likely to sell well. Each editor will typically shepherd somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-12 projects at any one time, and will have the assistance of a usually-dedicated Assistant Editor whom they will be responsible for training up. To my mind, this is really the only editorial title that matters on the average comic book, really, and that is why whenever I am performing these duties on a particular series, this is the title I take for myself, even though I have a much grander and more ostentatious title on the organizational charts. Likewise, I insist that any Assistant or Associate be listed as Editor whenever they are responsible for a given project.
Group Editor isn’t really a title we use at Marvel, though DC may still employ it for all I know. We typically substitute Senior Editor (though the term Group Editor is occasionally used for promotional purposes, as it is easier for people on the outside to understand.) A Senior Editor not only does the work of a full Editor but also oversees the work of any number of additional Junior Editors who work beneath them—Editors, Associates and Assistants all. Typically, this has to do with families of titles. Jordan White, for example, is the X-MEN Senior Editor, and in that role he is responsible for overseeing and coordinating all facets of the X-MEN as a line of books, regardless of whether he is directly hands-on editing all of them.
Executive Editors are relatively rare. It’s typical to have no more than two of them at a given moment. And they function kind of like super Senior Editors, overseeing the work of large swaths of Junior Editors. The Execs tend to be thinking about the publishing line as a whole, the entirety of the publishing plan over the course of the next year or two, and to be involved in key decisions regarding characters, talent, placement and so forth. On top of which, they also edit an Editor’s worth of projects themselves.
And the Editor in Chief is the ultimate editorial authority. It falls to them to make broad decisions about the publishing line, to recruit talent and support them while they’re working in the shop, to come up with new ideas, to set the style and the tone for the entirety of the line, and to maintain the morale and the spirit of the organization. The EIC doesn’t directly edit any titles, but they have say over all of them and ultimate veto-power.
The Collected Editions Editors are, as you’ve surmised, responsible for putting together all of the Trade Paperbacks and Hardcovers and Omnibuses and related publications that the organization produces. But that’s a much more involved process than simply slapping six published comics together and calling it a day. Those books need to be designed, pages aligned and checked once there are no ads to make sure that things such as double-page spreads are actually printed across two pages, making sure that all of the requirements of the book publishing world are met (such as correct ISBN number designations.) And while the average editor may handle a decent number of releases, the Collections Department handles them all—so their individual workload, while not really focused on story content, is no less onerous than that faced by the line editors. They produce a lot of books, of new material and old, each and every month.
Behind the Curtain
.We’re just about to see the release of the fourth THOR film, LOVE AND THUNDER, so to commemorate that event, I thought I’d throw you a pair of Thor-related items.
On the left here is the cover to JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83, the first appearance of the Thunder God, as it was initially illustrated by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott. And on the right is the manner in which the cover actually saw print. If you look closely, you can see that a number of elements were changed before publication. And you may have wondered what happened and why that was. Well, I’m here to tell you. You see, in the days of newsstand distribution, it was widely (and mostly correctly) believed that the cover was the most important part of the magazine. An interesting cover would get an impulse buyer to pick it up and possibly buy it (and at this point, all buyers were pretty much considered impulse buyers. Comics fandom wasn’t yet a force that anybody was going to worry about.) So a lot of attention was paid to the covers. Marvel’s publisher and owner Martin Goodman held strong opinions about what made for a good cover, ideals that he drummed into the mind of his editor, Stan Lee over the years. Chief among them, Martin wanted his covers to be clearly visible from across the room, the bette to catch the eye of some prospective buyer. So he wanted all of the critical portions of the illustration to silhouette clearly. In this instance, in order to make Thor absolutely visible from the longest possible distance, either Martin or Stan had a whole slew of those invading Stone Men From Saturn taken out. So Thor only needs to contend with four or five of them on the printed cover, rather than more than a half-dozen. But he is a lot easier to see. You can find adjustments like this made on practically every cover Marvel put out during the 1960s up to the point where Stan stopped being regularly involved in the day-to-day of overseeing individual comic books. This is an extreme example, but far from the only one. Martin and Stan both were also not above rejecting a completed cover at the last minute and replacing it with either a totally new piece that would be rush-penciled and inked, or else an image put together from stats of bits of artwork from the interior story. (The covers on Steve Ditko’s final issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and STRANGE TALES, for example, sported covers made by collaging different figures and panels from the stories inside. Ditko had departed before a cover could be drawn for either issue.)
There was also one inker who has become infamous for taking shortcuts and simplifying the pages he was working on. That inker was Vince Colletta, who worked for Marvel for years. He was sometimes referred to as the “Great Equalizer”, because if he was inking the work of a novice, he would bring it up to an acceptable standard. But if he was inking an established pro, he tended to pull the quality of their work back down to the same level. But Vinnie was a favorite of editors because he was fast and could always be depended upon to get a job completed at a minimum level of competence, even if it meant that he’d cut a bunch of corners along the way. Jack Kirby fans in particular have become horrified as they’ve become more aware of how much of the King’s work on THOR Vinnie left out while he was inking it. I believe this comparison image was put together by Ferran Delgado, and it shows the same page from THOR #152 both in final inks on the left and as Kirby penciled it on the right. Ferran has highlighted figures and areas that Vinnie either erased or simplified as he worked. As you can see, it’s far from nothing, and this went on routinely, page after page. The question has always been why nobody prevented Vinnie from doing this. And the answer there is that Stan liked the look that Vinnie brought to Kirby’s THOR pages. He gave them almost the flavor of a historic woodcut. On top of which, he was both fast and reliable. And the reading audience liked Vinnie’s work over Kirby as well. When other more faithful inkers occasionally did issues of THOR, the mail that Marvel received overwhelmingly wanted Vinnie back.
Pimp My Wednesday
Only one print comic book this week, but it’s a good one.
Man, I love this cover. Not just the very cool image by Aaron Kuder and Jason Keith but also the way the assorted cover elements are integrated into it. This wasn’t something that was worked out ahead of time, but rather the inspiration and design work of one of our Bullpen design guys, Carlos Lao. It’s eye-grabbing. And the story it contains is pretty wild and fun as well. It concerns a kid named Steve Rogers who wakes up to find himself in prison. What’s odd is that his cellmate next door is also named Steve Rogers, as is the guy in the cell across the way. And every day, this mismatched band of Steves attempts to find a way to secure their freedom. But…ah, I’ll let you read it. It’s another very cool issue written by Jason Aaron, who is bringing a lot of imagination and passion to both core AVENGERS titles at the moment. And Aaron Kuder is back on the interior artwork for this one as well, and totally went to town on it. It’s a good comic book. AVENGERS FOREVER #7, on sale on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, on the MARVEL UNLIMITED service, I’ve also got a whole new AVENGERS track starting up as part of our vertical INFINITY COMICS series. We start this first week with a pair of chapters, and thereafter they’ll be coming at you weekly. The idea is to curate a mixture of longer and short stories from all across the length and breadth of the Avengers concept. But they’re all new, all designed for this format, and all taking place within current mainstream Marvel continuity. The first release runs for six chapters and is entitled “The Black Ledger”. It’s written by David Pepose, with the first chapter (starring Captain America and Iron Man) illustrated by Farid Karami, and the second (showcasing Thor and the Black Panther) drawn by Alan Robinson. It’s a fun format, and I’m having a good time playing with it and seeing how much we can bend and stretch it. It’s also a great place for me to make use of talents that haven’t yet done a lot for Marvel proper, so look for some new-to-Marvel names coming up in the mix in the weeks ahead.
A Comic Book On Sale 35 Years Ago Today, July 3, 1987
At the time that this book came out, artist Arthur Adams was a super-hot creator who showed up out of nowhere on the initial LONGSHOT limited series and captured everybody’s attention with his hyper-detailed style. What we’d eventually think of as the Image art style popularized by creators such as Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee was in large part influenced by the intersection of Adams’ work and that of Michael Golden. So everybody in fandom was waiting to see what this guy was going to do next. His NEW MUTANTS and X-MEN annuals set in Asgard brought his popularity to a fever pitch, and his WEB OF SPIDER-MAN annual with Warlock carried a similar impact. But absolutely nobody could have predicted that Arthur’s next project would be a one-shot based on an out-of-date television show which had been animated entirely in claymation. If most readers in 1987 were aware of Gumby at all, it was likely in the form of Eddie Murphy’s recurring parody version from Saturday Night Live. But this was something of a passion project for Arthur. He had drawn Warlock taking on the shape of Gumby on a few occasions, and somebody over at Comico noticed. Sensing an opportunity, they optioned the rights to the character (which couldn’t have cost them much in 1987) and pursued Adams to see if he’d be interested in drawing a Special. Clearly, he was. The book was written by Bob Burden, who had created the wonderfully lunatic super hero pastiche the Flaming Carrot, and it was a brilliant piece of casting. This Special was at once exciting, hallucinatory, heartfelt and energetic—it was clear that both Burden and Adams enjoyed the hell out of working on it. It also won the Eisner Award for best single issue. It led to one more Gumby Special the following year—but at that point, it seems that Arthur had gotten the Gumby off his back, and no further follow-ups ever materialized. Which is too bad. It’s an obscure one-shot that’s well worth seeking out.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
Twenty years ago today, July 3, 2002, Kurt Busiek wrapped up his long AVENGERS run with the release of this issue, the final epilogue to the long running “Kang Dynasty” storyline. (There was one further issue written by Kurt which saw print the following month, but it had been written as a stand-alone inventory story which I used to buy the incoming creative team some time; Kurt made some minor tweaks to the copy to bring it into line with the prior issue.) We were experimenting with our approach to the covers on AVENGERS at this time, attempting to draw more attention to the book by doing some non-traditional things. hence, the stark color scheme of this Kieron Dwyer image. Much of the issue revolved around the burial of recently-appointed Avengers government liaison Duane Freeman, who had clashed with the team on a number of issues while still being a fan of them and their work. It was revealed here that he had been killed issues earlier, during Kang’s attack on Washington DC. The Kang Dynasty was something of a reaction to what we saw going on elsewhere within the company. Marvel’s then-President Bill Jemas didn’t really like the traditional approach that Kurt and myself typically took towards making comics. He preferred a more cinematic, harsher-edged style, as seen in THE ULTIMATES, which had launched at around this point. It was pretty clear that the focus of the company, at least at the top, was squarely on this new ULTIMATE line, with the existing books often seen as being staid or out of touch or just a bother. It was in this environment that Kurt wisely decided to wrap up his run. Before he did, though, we had embarked on an extended story in which we brought back Kang the Conqueror and pitted him against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to a degree and on a scale never witnessed before. (in part, this was, I think, a pushback against the Ultimates, attempting to show that the mainstream Marvel Universe could do stories just as epic and cataclysmic.) The story ran for a ridiculous 16 parts, and saw Kang not only completely taking over the present day, but annihilating Washington DC outright. The remaining Avengers were underground rebels fighting in a landscape that Kang had already conquered. And none of this was reset at the end, these events all happened and remained in place even after the story concluded. This bothered some fans, who felt like a story of such magnitude should have been reflected in other titles. And I understand that—but it’s always a double-edged sword. Half of the audience likes that sort of uber-continuity, and the other half just wants to read the comics they like in peace without having to worry about what might be transpiring in some other title they don’t really care about. We also wound up going through a number of artists in the course of the storyline, including one period of absolute scrambling when the guy who was supposed to take over after Alan Davis wrapped up his issue bailed on us at the last minute. So the look of the epic is not as consistent as I may have wished. But I’m pleased with how it all turned out and with the chances we took along the way. I expect that it reads even better in collected form, which is where most anybody who’s come to it over the past two decades is likely to have seen it, where you don’t need to worry about what might be going on in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or DAREDEVIL at the same time.
Got a bit of a pleasant surprise this past week when a new and final volume of WOTAKOI: LOVE IS HARD FOR OTAKU dropped out of nowhere. To be honest, I had thought the previous Omnibus volume had wrapped up the series, so I was delighted to get another couple hundred pages with these characters. I’d actually first encountered the anime, which is available still on AMAZON PRIME, and wound up picking up the run of the manga, where the storylines continue well beyond what was adapted. WOTOKOI is a slice-of-life manga concerning Narumi Momose, an Otaku (fangirl) who desperately wants to keep her fannish activities a secret from her co-workers. But her life changes when she begins to date her childhood friend Hirotaka Nifuji, who is a hardcore gamer and does not conceal his own Otaku leanings. There are a bevy of other characters who circle the pair, and the strip gives a good sense of what being in fandom is like for those in Japan. Plus, it’s just fun and endearing. The series is for-sure completed now, but I was delighted to get one final unexpected bite of it.
I also stumbled across a book collection reprinting the first 25 issues of the vintage comic book fanzine THE COMIC READER. Created by Dr. Jerry Bails, the godfather of comic book fandom, in the very early 1960s as ON THE DRAWING BOARD, THE COMIC READER was primarily dedicated to disseminating information about upcoming stories to an audience of fans who had no other way to get such advance information. Because Bails was a College Professor, he was taken a lot more seriously by the editors at all of the major companies, and his fannish activity was thus supported. The book also reproduces vintage letters that Bails received from Stan Lee and others in which he was clued in to what they were preparing. These letters represent some of the earliest concrete pieces of evidence as to what everybody was thinking as these characters were first created and rolled out. In later issue, the focus widens somewhat, with a lot of emphasis on the Alley Awards, the first industry fan awards that were ever given out (named after the comic strip character Alley Oop, who was declared, thanks to having lived in prehistoric times, to have been the first super hero.) It’s more a reference work than something that most will want to read straight through, but it’s nevertheless fun to see Bails decry the launch of INCREDIBLE HULK (“We ask for Captain America and this is what we get!”) and his dismay that his personal favorite, Hawkman, can’t seem to support a series of his own. I found it all fascinating.
Over in the world of broadcast, ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING came back for the start of its second season, dropping a pair of episodes in short order. And it’s just as daffy and delightful as it had been the first time around, for all that a dollop of suspension of disbelief is required to buy into the notion that these same three characters are once again at the center of another murder mystery. But Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez are all in fine form, and their comedic rapport is sharp. This whole series feels like the modern version of a show that would have been broadcast on CBS back in the day, a modern MURDER, SHE WROTE. It’s on Hulu for those who may be unaware.
But my big new streaming obsession is EXTRAORDINARY ATTORNEY WOO, a Korean comedy-drama about a young woman, Woo Young-woo (it’s spelled the same backwards and forwards!) who becomes an attorney despite the fact that she’s on the Autism spectrum, and so she’s a bit odd and offbeat and sometimes struggles with ordinary things such as traversing a rotating door. Woo is played by the terrific Park Eun-bin, whom most these days will recognize from THE KING’S AFFECTION, which was a bit of a surprise hit, but whom I first encountered in HELLO, MY TWENTIES/AGE OF YOUTH a while back. She was the best part of that show, and she’s dynamite here as well, at once gawky and cute and overwhelmed and brilliant. For some time, I’ve worked out that I must be at least Spectrum-adjacent if not genuinely neurodivergent, so I find I can relate to this series in a powerful way. It’s streaming on Netflix with a new episode dropping every Wednesday, and I recommend it highly. And because I like you, here's a trailer.
Finally, now that I’ve finished it, a few more words on the first season of MONEY HEIST KOREA: JOINT ECONOMIC AREA. As anticipated, the first season only gets so far into the heist, leaving the balance for a second and possibly even a third. But it turns out to be a really good, really interesting adaptation with its own perspective to offer. While many of the events of the series mirror the original Spanish LA CASA DEL PAPEL, they are often intermixed or placed in a different sequence, and the localization to Korea (and particularly the joint North/South Korean venture of the title) shades events a bit differently. In short, I thought it was great—it’s not really as good as the original, which is still where I’d recommend people begin. But if you’re more comfortable with Korean media than Spanish media for whatever reason, or maybe the fact that there are currently only 6 episodes seems like an easier buy-in to you, give it a go. As with the original, it takes about two episodes to really get rolling, but when it does—watch out!
All right, everybody, that’s it for this time. If you’re in the States, remember to hug a flag, and if you’re outside of it, remember to say a prayer. And I’ll see you all in a week.
While I wouldn't have minded Kang Dynasty appearing across the line back then I also enjoyed it immensely as it was. As awesome as, say, a Ms Marvel-Scarlet Centurion tie in mini would have been, it would have diluted the intense drama beween them that we read.
I have an unrelated question though: Is the Aaron Era on Avengers going to keep on going for some time or are we nearing the end? It doesn't feel like it's running out of steam like some runs do when a writer's initial list of things he has planned are done but you never know when a writer decides it's time to go.
Oh, and please, no more Orb. I've disliked the character since its creation.
Thanks a ton! That was one of those questions I’ve not quite managed to get an in depth answer on.
I just read my first Infinity Comic recently in the form of the Captain America one that was published in 2021! I quite like the vertical storytelling actually. I’ve read some other comics like that in pdf format (supplied by Scott Snyder’s class) and I actually really like the style. Aside from double page spreads not working I think it’s a fine way to tell a story.
(If this strays too far into politics and you’d rather not answer I understand!) Related to that Captain America story, and the beginning of this newsletter, how is the use of symbolism vs outright straightforwardness decided on in story telling when politics/social movements are concerned? Is managing PR a big factor?
For example, I’d consider that Captain America infinity comic was fairly straightforward: A large group of likeminded people with extremist views stormed a government building (e.g. Jan 6). I would also mention Stan Lee’s soapboxes speaking in support of various political movement/social movements at different times like those championing Civil Rights.
On the other hand symbolism could be used to speak about these issues, such as the X-Men serving as an allegory for Civil Rights or using Captain America’s supposed turn to Hydra in the recent “Secret Empire” to commentate on government corruption.
So, perhaps to better streamline my question, why do you think symbolism would be chosen when straightforwardness can present a clearer commentary?
I know that was a lot and I’ve been asking very specific/industry related question. If a more personal one is wanted to talk about your interests, are there any ongoing comics outside of Marvel that have captured your attention?