Blah Blah Blog – Behind the Curtain

An entry from my Marvel blog of the mid-2000s asking and answering the question: at what point did I as a reader become aware of the personalities behind the stories I had been reading?

Behind the Curtain

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

I really did intend to do some more Reader Mail today, but something else came up that’s sent my mind spinning in another direction. Over on John Byrne’s message board, there’s a thread going on asking when each board-member’s perception of comics changed, and they realized that these were stories being created by fallible human beings, rather than omnipotent machines.

In other words, when did you first peer behind the curtain?

It’s an interesting question, and one that, in light of the last few days, I’d like to throw out to everybody here (not to steal Caleb M. Edmond’s thunder or anything.) And while I’m at it, I’ll even answer it, and it’s a two-fold answer.

The first time I really became aware that there were people who wrote and drew the comics I read was at a very early age, when I read FLASH #228. It was something like the fifth issue of the series I had read–I was only seven years old at the time. In the story, writer Cary Bates, while driving to his high school reunion in Cleveland passes through a dimensional rift and finds himself on Earth One, the home of the fictional characters he writes about. in the course of a dozen pages or so, Cary seeks out the Flash in his civilian identity, helps him to defeat his enemy the Trickster, and finds his way back to the real world.

I guess I always sort of unconsciously knew that there were people whose job it was to dream up these stories, but like with so many of us, because they were so real to me at that age, it was something of a shock to be confronted with the reality of Cary Bates, writer. (There’s even one plausibility-defying sequence in which Cary is pulled over by a highway cop who recognizes him as the famous writer of FLASH and lets him go.) The line of demarcation was still sketchy enough to my young self that, a year or so later, when Cary wrote himself into a Justice League story, I had a hard time dealing with it because that story was drawn by a different artist, who depicted him differently.

I got to relay most of this to Cary himself a week or so back, when he came into town and he did lunch with my office. Cary’s working on a still-secret project for my office that I’ll tell you about one of these days.

The point at which I realized that there were people behind the comics whose points of view might differ from mine, and who might have an impact on my enjoyment of the books I was buying was probably AVENGERS #211. Around this time, a number of Marvel’s mainstay creators had left the company to go to DC, citing conflict with editor in chief Jim Shooter. But AVENGERS #211 was the place where it was all driven home for me. After about a year of aimless storylines and fill-ins, Jim took over the reins of the title he was most associated with at Marvel at that point. In the abstract, this was cause for celebration–I had really enjoyed the Korvac Saga a few years previously. But in his first issue back, in an effort to get the series back to basics, Jim jettisoned most of the Avengers characters I liked most–folks like the Beast, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man–in favor of a “big-five” line up of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Yellowjacket and Wasp, plus Tigra.

I liked the Big Five, but because they all had their own titles, I figured that Avengers was going to be able to do less interpersonal drama between the characters. Immediately thereafter, inspired in part by the Dark Phoenix storyline he’d been forced to intercede on, Jim set out on a storyline in which Yellowjacket would progressively be driven to villainy. This is the storyline in which Hank struck Jan (only one time–he wasn’t a habitual wife-beater.) I didn’t like any of it, and it wasn’t long before I dropped the series entirely.

In hindsight, while I still don’t love every element of the craft of that run, or the work of some of the artists involved, I can see what Jim was going for. it wasn’t what I was interested in reading at the time (and I think it made most of the characters look like jerks in one way or another along the way), but it was a valid storyline to attempt. Nevertheless, it put me off of reading AVENGERS until the point when I started interning at Marvel.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

More later.

Tom B

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7 thoughts on “Blah Blah Blog – Behind the Curtain

  1. Unlike some, I read all sorts of comics as a kid, a teenager, and an adult. In my generation, a subscription to WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES. The “umbrella” title had a number of features starring Disney characters from the famous to the obscure. But the “Donald Duck” stories were always the best thing in the funnybook. Better stories and funnier artwork. We had no fandom, no connections with each other, but decades later, we discovered that most of us referred to him as “the Good Duck Man.” I taught myself to read with comics, but I have no memory of NOT being cognizant that they were made by people, not just a magical commodity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema on Captain America was the first time I paid attention to the credits. From the 50’s Cap storyline all the way through the shocking climax of the Secret Empire I read each issue breathlessly and devotedly followed Englehart on other titles for several years afterwards

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  3. Roy Thomas. He was everywhere as I was starting to pay attention. Bob Haney on B&B. I learned Aparo’s name then, too. I guess as I devoured the comics & couldn’t get enough as I looked past the pictures, I started to read everything. The credits, the letters pages. The ads.

    The art was & is still the biggest “draw” 😉 unless it’s a fave writer I’ll follow, regardless of the art.

    When you start with comics before you can even read, & stick with them ever since, what you get out of them (or don’t) changes as your mental growth develops.

    So in my teens, after having favorite writers & artists, I’d get protective or defensive if I read the back stage antics. If they felt wronged, I was compelled to pay attention.

    Still am. DiDio firing Chris Robeson over his comments of DC’s handling of Alan Moore leading up to “After Watchmen”, got me to buy any Robeson comics I could.

    But the best tbing from this article is learning that Tom B. likes Wonder Man. Simon might be my fave Marvel character. He’s so underrated. I’ve worked with many electrical engineers over the years. Simon’s one. He should be shown to be smarter than he is. He’s no Stark or Reed Richards, but he should be able to trouble shoot anything with an electrical plug…

    No EE is a dummy. I think Mike Brevoort is also an EE, or was when I knew him.

    With the right writer & artists, WM could be a hit. A clean, dynamic visual style, though. That still allows for a wide selection of artists. I’d make an exception for the great Ron Garney. His figures are roughly hewn, but have innate power, & his fundamentals are rock solid. His stiry telling is clear. Otherwise, Pascal Ferry. Carlos Pacheco. Rafa Sandoval. Some others.

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    1. I also didn’t & won’t buy any Watchmen follow-ups. Gary Frank’s art looked beautiful, As did Dude’s, and Cooke’s.
      But I respect Alan Moore too much.

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  4. When I was in fourth grade, a classmate brought a bunch of Marvel giant-size books to school. I’d read a bunch of comics back in second grade when I was recovering from a broken leg, from every publisher but Marvel, and was unimpressed. But something about these new Marvel giant comics grabbed my attention, especially the reprint of Avengers #2 which appeared in Marvel Super Heroes #1. The splash page, which featured the massive figures of the Hulk and Iron Man, with a comparatively skinny Thor between them, just blew me away, as did the story itself. As I went through the other comics, I noticed this name –Jack Kirby– over and over again, and was captivated by everything with his name on it. I’d never seen anything like his art before, and it made me a Marvel fan for life.

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