Blah Blah Blog – My So-Called Career in Comics, Part 2

A post from my old Marvel blog where I discuss aspects of having first come into the business.

My So-Called Career pt 2

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General So, yesterday we began the saga of my career at Marvel with my coming aboard as an intern for the summer of 1989, which is where we’ll be picking up today. On the left, among other things, you’ll find a number of documents relating to the making of a Marvel comic. These explain pretty much how things were done in those days. It’s worth mentioning that, in the whole of Marvel editorial in 1989, there was only one computer, and I knew how to use it better than anybody on staff. So all of the production work on the books was still being done by hand–lettering was done directly on the boards (or on vellum overlays that would then be cut out and pasted down on the boards if a job was running behind.) The actual coloring separations were done at the printer, by a crack team of little old ladies painstakingly cutting rubylith masks to match the hand-colored guides that would be produced by Marvel colorists, using Doc Martin’s watercolor dyes on xerox copies of the artwork. And there were no scanners or FTP sites or e-mail, so every page had to physically travel around the country, and if you wanted to get ahold of somebody, you’d better have had their phone number or actual living address.

As I said yesterday, I was working for three offices simultaneously as an intern. This didn’t break down in any controlled manner–I would be called upon as needed by the folks in those offices to carry out assignments (which sometimes led to trouble–I can remember Craig Anderson and Bob Budiansky getting into an argument, because both had some crucial bit of time-sensitive work they needed me to get done right that instant.) And these were three very different kinds of offices, with very different kinds of people in them, so let me give you a quick snapshot.

Craig and Renee’s office was the closest to what we would think of as a regular Marvel editorial office. They had a stable of about five monthly books to get out every thirty days, plus assorted specials, limited series and graphic novels. Craig was the son of Brad Anderson, the creator of Marmaduke, and he’d earned pocket money through college by coming up with punchlines for his father’s strip. He also affected a sort of laid-back California mellow attitude. Craig and Renee weren’t all that interested in dealing with an intern, so I can’t say we had many conversations of substance during that period–they’d mostly just give me some task to carry out, and then go back to whatever it was they were doing.

Bob and Dwayne were the Special Projects office, a catch-all term covering the fact that what they did was rarely standard comic books. They produced all of the movie adaptations, a number of comics based on licensed properties, and all of Marvel’s for-sale Press Posters. They were also the editorial office tasked to licensing, so they not only got to approve and sign off on any upcoming Marvel merchandise for character accuracy, but they’d also generate any artwork that a given client would need, whether that be a turn-around drawing of Wolverine so that a sculpture could be made, or box art for Spider-Man bath soap. Dwayne was a colorful guy who, among other things, had written for the David Letterman show. he also had a strong science background and a wry wit, as on the one day we spent testing Silly Putty out on all of the various formats of comics Marvel was then publishing, to see which ones it could lift an image off of. (Silly Putty doesn’t work on flexographic printing.)

Greg and Evan were a hybrid office, the most junior office in the place, and theoretically under the authority of Bob Budiansky. Greg was Marvel’s only Managing Editor (what we would today call an Associate Editor), meaning he was the most recent guy promoted to the level of editor, and was serving what amounted to a breaking-in period. Right before I’d gotten there, Greg went through a bad period that had left his reputation a little bit immediately soured–he was having conflicts with his previous assistant over what she was doing and how she was doing it. This had resolved itself for the moment with her leaving Greg’s office, and Greg taking on Evan Skolnick as his assistant. But this left one big piece of work to deal with that ended up in my lap.

The assistant in the Managing Editor’s office was the lowest assistant on the totem pole, and became the defacto submissions editor in the process. One of their duties was to routinely go through all of the piles of unsolicited submissions that Marvel was sent by prospective writers and artists, pull out anything of any merit for review by the more senior editors, and send everybody else one of a series of polite rejection letters. It wasn’t rocket science, but nor was it particularly enjoyable.

And the submissions were everywhere. Under desks, in the halls, filling up closets.

The task of plowing through all of these submissions now fell to Evan–which meant that, as soon as I strolled onto the premises, they fell to me. My most basic function to start out with, when I wasn’t doing something else, was to work my way through the backlog of submissions. Greg and Evan expected this to take all summer.

I got it done in a week.

If you got a rejection letter that summer, even for work that you’d sent into Marvel in 1988, chances are that it came from me. And don’t feel too bad–I even found some of my own samples in the mountainous pile, and rejected them. I did save one submission, unsigned and unlabeled, a pitch for a CAPTAIN AMERICA inventory story, just because it made me laugh. I’ve included it at the left.

Getting the submissions backlog dug out so quickly (and done right, I might add) increased people’s confidence in my abilities, and so I was given greater and greater responsibilities as an intern. I would up doing paste-up mechanicals on a few volumes of the MARVEL MASTERWORKS and all of the balloons for the second issue of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET black and white magazine (in one harrowing afternoon when the book absolutely, positively had to leave house that day–until it wound up being delayed for 12 months…)

But it wasn’t all peaches & cream, and I made my share of mistakes in those early days. Among the slow-burn projects Greg and Evan were working on was THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA, a four-issue “prestige format” squarebound limited series by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire retelling and embellishing the earliest days of Cap’s star-spangled career. The book wouldn’t see print for another couple of years, at that point after it had passed through the hands of a number of editors, and other artists needed to be brought in to help finish it. But at this point, only a handful of pages had been penciled.

These were beautiful pages, drawn on the oversized art boards Marvel then-used for its larger Graphic Novel format–this is a key point, so pay attention. Some time within that first week or two, I was called upon to take the existing pages and make xerox copies of them, either for reference, or to give to Fabian or Kevin, or whatever. Now, Marvel’s never had the best copiers–we put a lot of wear-and-tear onto them, as you might imagine, copying every page of every book that goes through the office at least once, and more typically multiple times. So the machine in question was pretty battered. It was also an 11″ X 17″ copier, which meant that these larger pages needed to be copied in halfs, since they were larger than the image area of the copier. Finally, you need to know that this copier also had a little latch on the underside of its lid, to keep the lid closed while it was copying.

So I was at the machine, making copies like an assembly line–one page on, copy, turn page, copy, old page off, new page on.
And at a certain point, I’d put a new page on the copier bed, and turned to deal with the old page, or the copies–and the copier lid, on it’s well-worn hinges, slammed down, driving the little latch-hook right through the page.

Disaster.

I opened up the copier, studied the board for a minute or two, heart racing–then I made an executive decision. I finished my copying, stuck the damaged board back into the stack, brought the whole pile back to the office and put it all back into the flat file drawers.

Yes, I completely ducked any responsibility for the damaged page–and as far as I know, nobody even realized the page had been damaged while I was there (it may even have been one of the book’s subsequent editors who discovered the damage.) So shame on me.

More later.

Tom B

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