A post from my old Marvel blog concerning comic book projects that I made something of a mess of.
There’s no getting around it. If you do this job for any length of time, no matter how many good decisions you make, there are bound to be a couple that, for one reason or another, don’t pan out properly. Nobody sets out to make a bad comic, but there are bad comics on the stands every month, and the reason is that people aren’t perfect, and making comics isn’t science, where the rules remain the same all the time.
So this series is about comics that I had a hand in fouling up in some way.
First up is DEATHLOK, the ongoing series started around 1991. As I detailed some months back, due to a deal brokered by the editor before me, DEATHLOK had two writers at this point, who wrote in arcs of approximately 4 issues apiece before switching off. While this set-up won’t make anybody bat an eye today, when there are titles that operate this way all over the place, in 1991 it was something of a unique situation.
The two writers on DEATHLOK were Dwayne McDuffie and Greg Wright, while Denys Cowan was the penciler and Mike Manley the inker. This will all be salient information in a few minutes. Also, and with no malice meant to either gentleman, the way I remember it is that Dwayne was the more seasoned, more experienced writer, but he had a lot of things going on in his life during this period, and so he could be difficult to get a hold of from time to time. Whereas Greg was always readily available, but didn’t have quite the same chops as a writer, though he brought lots of enthusiasm to the table.
By issue #15, though, a couple of things were happening. Sales had begun to slide a little bit. But more crucial to this tale, Denys didn’t seem to be as focused on the book as he had been at the outset. Unbeknownst to most of us, he and Dwayne and a few other guys had begun thinking about publishing a line of books of their own, which eventually became the MILESTONE imprint distributed through DC. But nobody up at the office knew about that at the time. All we could see was that DEATHLOK was falling further and further behind schedule, enough so that Mike Manley had to pitch in and pencil and ink issue #14.
Simultaneously, the rise of popular artists like Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane had begun to impact on the marketplace, and what was deemed hot and exciting. At this point, the Image explosion was taking the comics world by storm, and everybody was feeling the pressure–especially as Marvel had recently gone public on the stock exchange, so issues like market share were suddenly a big concern to the company.
So there was a bit of pressure to smarten up the looks of the books, especially those that weren’t selling up to their full potential. Some of this just came from the “prevailing wisdom”, some of it from the marketing department, and some of it from the upper editors. The solid drawing fundamentals and textured style of artists like Denys and Mike was suddenly less valued than energy and pizzazz and explosion on the page.
And so, in the end, grappling with all of these issues and these pressures, I elected to take Denys off the book. And in my naivety, thinking that I should be up front about what was going on, I told this to Denys while he was in the middle of drawing issue #15. Which was an extraordinarily stupid thing to do.
It’s only due to the fact that Denys is and was a thorough professional, and the pleadings of my then-assistant editor Mindy Newell, that the issue was completed. I recall a very irritated Denys storming into my office (on the 4th floor of the building, as this happened during a couple of months when the usual 10th floor offices were being renovated), tossing the final pages onto my desk and stalking out again, all without saying a word.
As Cowan’s replacement, I chose Walter McDaniel, a talented young artist who, while his heavily-worked-on sample pages looked good, just wasn’t up to the job of producing a monthly comic book at that point in his career. Walter had never looked down the barrel of a monthly deadline before, and he choked a little bit. He was also very young at the time, so he perhaps lacked the discipline to sit down at the drawing board consecutively for the number of hours required of a regular artist. So rather than making the deadline situation better, I made it worse. I can remember one page in DEATHLOK #16, the last page that Walter finished, which was exceedingly rough, and should have been redrawn–if we’d had the time. On top of all of this, Mike Manley had been hoping that, if Cowan had to come off DEATHLOK, he’d wind up with the regular penciling assignment. He drew issue #14 looking upon it as a pilot-job. So when I told him that I was bringing Walter on board, he opted to leave the series with Denys.
The book struggled over the next several months, changing inkers regularly, and with fill-in art jobs consistently–and it lost any existing momentum it might have had. Eventually, I had to fire Walter as well, his last issue being #23. (And in fairness to Walter, who was very young and very inexperienced at this point, he came back a few years later and did a very solid run on DEADPOOL for editor Matt Idelson.) And Dwayne let me know that DEATHLOK #25 would be his last issue as writer, as he was going off to pursue MILESTONE. At that point, after a bad stretch of road, with good stories ruined by rushed or inconsistent artwork, the damage was done, and DEATHLOK was cancelled a short time later, the final issue being #33.
So, two lessons to take from this example: 1) It’s entirely possible to “fix” a title right into the grave if you don’t know what you’re doing, and 2) The editor’s first loyalty is to the book–so if you’re going to fire an artist, do it after he’s finished the current issue.