Continuing our interview with Jim Shooter that premiered here last Friday, the discussion takes more interesting twists and turns as Jim explains how to construct a comic book tale, never forgetting that a story needs to be told and what it means to deal with office politics and corporate suits.
BDS: When you did your short, very short work on Captain Action, did you continue to follow it after Gil [Kane] took it over?
JS: No, I didn’t really.
BDS: I just wondered if you liked the way it went from there. Of course it obviously didn’t last very much longer, but legend has it that a lot of that had to do with licensing problems or some such.
JS: Yeah. Well the thing was, when Mort called me up and said, “I want you to create a new character,” I said, “Great! Oh, my God that’s great!” And he said, “His name is Captain Action and he has Action Boy and the Action Puma and he’s got the Action Car and that Action Cave.” I thought, “Oh, there’s a lot left for me to create.”
JS: And some kind of mythological powers and he does this and he does that. He said it was a toy and this is what you need to do. So I said, “Oh, okay, so I’m creating something, but I’m really creating nothing.” So anyway, I did it the best I could with Action Boy and the Puma or Panther or whatever it was.
Anyway, it was okay, but the best thing about that was that Wally Wood drew it. Oh, my God. It looked great. It was limited, both by my lack of skill because I was still just a kid and also by all this stuff that was foisted upon me and then the second one; Gil Kane, inked by Wally Wood. Oh, my God. At least it looked great.
And then during those two issues everything was kind of dictated to me, but I think that after that for some reason they just gave it to Gil and no one cared any more. Like they had done what they needed to do in the first two issues to satisfy the client or the licensor and after that Gil got to do whatever he wanted to do and I guess he still had to use a toy character with Dr. Evil.
He still had some constraints, but he basically had a much freer hand and I know that he did way different from what I did and I don’t blame him. But I didn’t really keep track because I had enough trouble trying to graduate high school and get a scholarship and support the family and just had too many things going on to keep track of anything other than what I had to keep track of.
BDS: Sure. Everybody has a Mort Weisinger story and I’ve even heard it speculated that even though his style was somewhat abrasive at times it was necessary to keep things rolling and people on deadline and so forth. What was your experience, if you don’t mind?
JS: Well, right up front, one of our first conversations, I think it was the conversation we had right after I told him I was 14; up until then basically our conversations consisted of, “Send me a Supergirl story, 12 pages.” And I would send him a Supergirl story, 12 pages. Then he’d say, “I need a Superman story. 22 pages.” And the conversations, that’s all they were. I was doing the stuff all on my own. We hadn’t really quite gotten into a thing where we were talking about plots or stuff.
And then he found out I was 14 and I remember he said to me, “Look, even though you’re 14 I’m going to treat you exactly the way I treat every other writer.” And I said, “Okay. That’s fine.” Well, I didn’t realize what that meant. I think that was also the point where he really decided that he wanted to train me, okay? So it wasn’t just “Send me a Superman story.” It was “Send me an idea, and then let’s talk about it.”
And so I’d send him an idea, a plot, a couple of pages of plot and he’d call me up and we’d talk about it and then also after that when I would send in my little drawings with the dialogue he would call me up and we would go over it. Panel by panel. Word by word. We had a regularly scheduled phone call every Thursday night and then he would call me any other time he needed to. Well, these conversations quickly got into, “You f—ing retard! You stupid bastard! What is this supposed to be? You can’t spell this word! Blah, blah, blah.” Oh, my God. Just screaming at me.
So we’d have these three-hour sessions where he just screamed at me the whole time. “What’s this man holding? It looks like a carrot. Is that supposed to be a gun?” Anyway, the words, “f—ing moron” were used with great frequency.
I mean, I needed this gig. I was helping to support my family and keep us from losing the house and all that stuff and so I didn’t know what to do. Usually these conversations just went along and ended up with me saying, “I just can’t do this. You just need to get somebody else,” and he would always say, “No. That’s all right. I’ll give you one more chance.” And to my face he used to call me his “charity case.” He said, “Well, your family would starve without this, so we’ll give you another shot.”
BDS: What a guy.
JS: He called me his charity case. So this is not a nice man.
I remember one time I was in the office and his assistant was Nelson Bridwell and boy, he tortured Nelson. He just was awful to Nelson. I remember that I was doing th
is story. I think it was a World’s Finest story…I can’t remember. I think I just gave him a working name for the villain, just for the purpose of the plot, which was like the Black Baron or something equally stupid. So when Mort called me up he said, “This is okay, I want you to do it, but I don’t like this name.” I said, “I’ll come up with a new one.” He said, “I have a name. This is the name. We’re going to call him the Jousting Master.” I said, “Yes, sir.”
So I wrote this story and as it happened that was one of my trips to New York. I actually hand-delivered it. So Mort says, “Nelson, we’re going to teach you some things. Come here and read this.” So Nelson reads it and he liked it. So Mort says, “All right, tell me what you think.” So Nelson says, “Well, I think it’s all pretty good, except the name is really stupid. The Jousting Master? Oh, come on, Jim, you know your names are usually much better than that. What an idiotic name.”
And Mort just feeds him rope and feeds him rope. “Oh, tell me, Nelson, why isn’t that name good? I want to hear your analysis.” And he strings it along and strings it along and strings it along and I’m trying to “Ixnay, Nelson.” Oh, God. (whispering) “Nelson. Shut up!” And finally Mort says, “I created the name.” I thought Nelson was going to die right there. He was all white. Anyway, Mort was like that to him all the time. It was horrible.
He was a monster. He really was. (Chuckle.) I was at a convention and I met the guy who wrote Superman. Schwartz. Alvin Schwartz?
BDS: Alvin. Yeah.
JS: I met him. I was introduced to him and he said, “You worked with Mort?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I quit because of Mort. That bastard! That son-of-a-bitch! Blah, blah, blah! He was an asshole! Did you quit because of Mort?” I said, “Yeah.” “Good for you!” And we bonded. (Mutual laughter.)
BDS: Part of the same club.
JS: But anyway, Mort was fierce. He was nasty. The apocryphal story of his funeral was that they couldn’t find anybody to do the eulogy and finally some guy who had known him a long time got up and said, “Well, his brother was worse.” (Mutual laughter.)
And while I’m sure that’s apocryphal, I mean I’m telling you, not many people would argue with it. He was something. Remember, I’m 14, and the big, important vice-president man from New York calls me every Thursday to tell me I’m retarded. At first I really felt bad. I really felt terrible. And then I got to be 17 and I started thinking, “If I really sucked, they wouldn’t keep sending me these checks.”
BDS: That’s right.
JS: Now here’s the punch line: Years later, Nelson told me that Mort used to brag about me. He’d go around to all these other editors and talk about his protégé and how he could give me any character, any story, I’d do it, it was usable. He never had to edit much, there was never a re-write, I did the layouts, I could do covers… And he would brag about me. I was a star. And when I found that out, I was like, “You son-of-a-bitch!”
And then I met Cary Bates, who also worked for Mort, and the first time I met Cary Bates and was introduced to him, “Hi, Cary,” he said, “I used to hate you.” I said, “Why?” “Because Mort would call me up and say, ‘You f—ing retard! Why can’t you write like Shooter? You’re an idiot!'” And he’d just scream at Cary. I said, “Cary, he’d do the same thing to me. He’d say, ‘Why can’t you be like Bates? Everything he does is so polished.'” So you know, that’s Mort.
But, as you said, he taught me so much stuff. Not only about the writing, but about the art, about the coloring, about the whole business, about how to run a business, about licensing. In fact; little known fact, when the Batman TV show was on and I’m like 15, Mort called me up and said, “I’ve arranged for you to write an episode of the Batman TV show.” “Wow! Holy cow!”
So they send me some scripts, some background material, samples and stuff, and I thought out what the deal was and I made a proposal and they liked it and I was just going to start writing my first TV script and they canceled the show. (Laughter.) So I never got to do that. That’s another thing I was thinking later. “Wait a minute! If I sucked so much he wouldn’t be trying to get me these opportunities.”
So I started gathering that it was just kind of his way.
BDS: Yeah, put the pieces together. Were there any other editors you worked with at all or was he pretty much it at DC?
JS: Well, first of all I really loved Julie Schwartz. He was a great guy in a lot of ways. I ran into a couple of problems with him, but we got over it and we became buddies. Toward the end of his life I’d meet him for lunch in the city. He was like Mort in the sense that he would be insulting, but it was this outrageous, always in fun, kind of like a banter thing.
But anyway, my first experience with him was this: Mort called me up and said that Julie, who was a lifelong friend of his, wanted to use me on the Justice League. And I said, “Okay, sure.” So he said, “Come up
with a cover and write a plot.” So I came up with a cover and wrote a plot, and I sent it in and it was given to Julie and time passed and I finally asked Mort about it and he said, “Oh, he didn’t like it.” I said, “Okay.” I was working on the Legion and Superman, so I didn’t care.
Then several months later, they used my cover! No money, they just used my cover. “Whoa! That’s dirty.” So I was appalled by that, but then years later we worked together and that had its ups and downs, but ultimately we patched it up and became buddies.
BDS: I can see why the reaction would be what it was.
JS: I thought it was kind of dirty pool. The business was different then. Editors were cigar chomping guys whose job it was to keep you under their thumb so that you would never ask for a raise. I have another story about raises if you have a minute.
BDS: Sure, please.
JS: This was told to me by Nelson and I believe it’s true. When I sent in my first three stories, one was 24 pages I want to say, and the other was a two-part story, so I think it was 46 pages total, this two-part story. Mort bought all three stories, but he bought the two-parter first (Note: This story became Adventure #346 and #347) and then a little bit later said, “Oh, I want to buy this other one, too,” (Note: This story became Adventure #348) and he sent me a check for that.
So the first story I sold was 46 pages, for which I was paid $200.00. Then, for the 24-pager he paid me $100. So that comes out to something under $4.50 a page for those. It was manna from heaven for us because it literally saved the house. I had no idea what the check was going to be for and even though it was only $200.00 that was all right, that was like a godsend. Okay, so I’m going along and I think the next thing I wrote was a Supergirl story, 12 pages, and he sent me a check for $75.00. I just got these checks and they were not very big. (Chuckle.)
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the rate doubled. It went to; I think $8.00 a page. And I never knew why and with Mort you didn’t ask questions, so years later Nelson Bridwell told me that Edmond Hamilton somehow found out what I was getting paid, which was way substandard and went into Mort and threw a fit. He said, “It’s bad enough you’re using child labor, but do you have to rip him off, too?” (Laughter.) And shamed him into giving me a raise, and then after that I got a couple more raises.
I think I ended up with $14.00 a page, which was kind of normal in those days. I don’t think that story is apocryphal. Nelson told me that and I believe him; that Hamilton went in and championed my cause, (chuckle) and I was the guy that was taking his job. I was doing the work that he might be doing. I don’t think he needed the work, though.
BDS: It sounds right in character, too, based on some of the other things I’ve heard, so I don’t doubt it for a second.
JS: I agree.
BDS: Did you ever think to try your hand at any other genre? It seems like all you ever did was super-heroes and just kind of stayed that way.
JS: Well, you know that’s what was there. They wanted me to do the Legion and Superman. Fine. So since I was in commercial comics, that’s what I did.
When I left DC, because finally Mort just pushed me over the edge, what I did was I called up Stan. I said, “I’m a comic book writer and I need a place to work.” “Where do you work?” “DC.” “We hate DC stuff.” I said, “I’m different. Around there they call me their ‘Marvel writer,’ and they mean it as an insult.” He said, “Come up and talk to me.” So he told me he’d give me 15 minutes. Three hours later I walked out with a job, because Stan and I got into talking about what comics were and what they ought to be and so forth, and we agreed.
Interestingly, Stan and Mort really weren’t that different philosophically except that Mort thought the readers were 8 years old and Stan was trying to write for older people. College students, himself, things like that. But in terms of the fundamentals of introducing characters and all the building blocks, it was exactly the same. They both were well-schooled in classical structure and all that. So at any rate, to work for Stan I had to live in New York and that just didn’t last. I couldn’t. A kid from Pittsburgh, I was 18, I had no money, I’m trying to find an apartment. I finally said, “I can’t do this. I’ll come back someday after I’ve built up a grubstake.” So I think I only worked there three weeks, and then I felt like I’d burned my bridges at Marvel and DC. Mort wasn’t talking to me any more because I’d defected and I felt like I’d kind of screwed Marvel over, so now I’m looking for work. I thought, “Well, what can I do?” Other than comics I’m maybe qualified to flip burgers.
JS: Seriously. A high school diploma. No experience in any useful thing, other than comics, and so I ended up doing jobs like in a lumberyard and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Things like that.
But, miraculously, out of the sky, I got these calls from advertising agencies. “Are you the guy that does comics?” “Yeah, that’s me.” And so I ended up doing advertising comics for companies like U.S. Steel and Levi’s and other substantial things. So when you’re doing that, you can’t just do the superhero thing. It doesn’t fit. It’s not appropriate.
So I had to really kind of stretch myself and learn how and I actually got pretty good. I got good at understanding the need of the client and finding a way with words and pictures to get that over. And that was really good experience, because then I felt like I could do anything, and after that I di
I wrote children’s books, I’ve written animation developments, toy developments. I designed a float and a balloon for a Macy’s parade. All kinds of stuff. I’ve done film development stuff. I’ve never had a movie on the screen, but it’s mostly been concept doctor kind of things.
I was hired by Fox and they had a couple of properties and they didn’t know what to do with them, so I fixed them for them, but somewhere between my writing that treatment and them getting together the 80 million bucks it would take to shoot it, something happened. In any case, I did all kinds of things. I think to this day I probably am somewhat rare among comics guys because I can give you cute, cuddly little furry animals in the forest story, or I can do superheroes, or anything in between. When you’re a freelancer you learn to say yes. Basically people call you up and say, “Can you do this?” “Oh, sure I can.” Then you figure out how to do it.
BDS: No problem. Gotta keep those checks coming in.
JS: Absolutely. So I’ve done all kinds of stuff.
BDS: And it sounds like that was an outstanding training ground for you even though it came out of left field.
JS: It was good and also all the stuff that Mort taught me was good because I found that I could apply it to other things. If you have a really good solid foundation in story-telling, then you can go a lot of places with it.
BDS: Sure. It just gives you that basis and then there’s a versatility that leads from there. You’ve been both a creator and a staff guy. Which one was better, do you think?
JS: I don’t know. (chuckle.) I like writing.
BDS: Or is that an unfair comparison?
JS: It’s a different thing. I mean I do like…if it’s really going well, if your company is not under duress and you’re really kind of marching from victory to victory then that can be a lot of fun, because you have the feeling that you’re conducting the orchestra and you’re doing something bigger than you could ever do by yourself. You’ve got all these guys getting out the work together.
So that’s good. I think that at Marvel for a long time we were just on this unbelievable series of victories. We went from almost dead to 70% of the market. In a market that was skyrocketing. Everybody was increasing. We were increasing that much faster.
We almost took over DC comics. Bill Sarnoff called me up and said, “Would you be interested in licensing the DC characters for publication?” “Say what?” “Well, you guys seem to know how to do comics. You make money publishing. We lose a fortune publishing, but you don’t do any licensing and we do great numbers with the licensing. And your licensing is pathetic, so why don’t you publish and we’ll license?” And I said, “Great. But you need to talk to the president of the company and not me.” So I put him together with the president. The president turned him down. (Laughter.) And I went up and I said, “How did it go?” He said, “I told him we don’t want those characters. They can’t be any good. They don’t sell.” “Ahhh! Ahhh!” I said, “No, no. We can make a fortune with these characters. We know how to do it.” He said, “Put together a business plan.” So I put together a business plan. We were just going to publish seven titles. Hire one editor, two assistants, a couple of production people and just do the seven biggies. You can guess.
And I put together this business plan and it showed us making millions of dollars over the first two years. So the president looked at this and he pronounced it ridiculous. He sent it to the circulation guys and said he wanted them to analyze it. So I was called to a meeting and the circulation guy comes in, “This is ridiculous.” And Galton, the President, says, “I knew it.” But the circulation V.P., Ed Shukin said, “We’ll do double this!” (Mutual laughter.) And so we started the negotiations to license the DC characters. We were going to become the publisher for DC comics and they were going to do all the licensing. We were going to get some little percentage of increase in licensing or characters or something.
Then that’s when First Comics sued us for anti-trust. When you’re already 70% of the market, and you’re about to devour your largest competitor…that’s not good. So that all fell apart, but it was a wonderful couple of weeks while it lasted. [Note: for more information on this, look here.
BDS: Oh, goodness, yeah. You’ve been directly involved in creation of new publishing companies over the years like Acclaim and DEFIANT and so forth. What was the comparison of that to working for the big two, for example?
JS: Basically when Marvel changed hands and was bought by New World I did not like those people. Actually I didn’t like the people who sold it to them either because whenever a company is being bought and sold, most often what happens is that your rank and file is sold down the river. All I had to do was join in and help the upper management screw the people and I would have probably ended up rich, but I ended up…if you have any integrity in that situation, then you become a labor leader. And that’s what I was.
I threatened class action suits to the management. I railed against them. They were doing things like cashing out the pension plan and changing the health insurance and making it much worse and they wanted to retroactively cancel the royalty program. You can’t do that. You can’t just stop paying royalties. You’ve got nine months or ten months worth of books that people created on the understanding that they were getting royalties. You can’t just not pay them.
I ended up jumping up and down in the hallway, in the intersection between the financial officer and the president and the executive vice president and the lawyer’s offices, jumping up and down screaming “class action suit,” and they finally decided to cave in on that one. Anyway, I wasn’t making myself popular with the upper management and then when New World took over they were even worse. They knew that bad stuff was going on and they were okay with that. So I made them fire me because I wanted the severance pay.
So then I needed a gig. First I tried to buy Marvel and put together the Marvel Acquisition Partners and we tried to buy it and we finished second to Ronald Perelman. We were the only other bidder. Since that didn’t work out I looked around to raise money to start a comic book company and started Valiant, but it was pathetically undercapitalized.
With Valiant it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I really felt like while I was there I was doing some of the best work of my life. A lot of guys were chipping in and were fully behind me, but the thing is we had no money and so the only thing we had to fight with was man hours.
So I would be there at the crack of dawn every day and I would be there when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more. I went 400 days in a row at one point, and did nothing but sleep and work and have a sandwich on the run. I didn’t get my hair cut. I didn’t have time to get a haircut. My hair got long. I had to wear a baseball cap to keep it out of my eyes. People would laugh. They’d say, “Well, what did you do for Christmas?” “I worked all day.” I was in the office. So were 14 other people, by the way. I worked Christmas and Thanksgiving. Everything.
It just went on and on and on and, finally, we fought our way out of it. We started to make money. Money was rolling over the gunwales. $2 million dollars pre-tax a month! And then of course the evil bankers and lawyers stole it from me. It was a white collar crime. I mean it involved falsifying documents and lying under oath. It was definitely a criminal action, but they got away with it.
BDS: Unfortunately it takes capital to fight those kinds of things.
JS: Yeah, and not only that, my partner, Massarsky, got married to the banker! (Chuckle.)
I remember that just after we started out it was a couple of days before Christmas and he says, “I want to tell you something.” “What’s that?” “I’m dating Melanie.” “What! You’re what?” “I’m dating Melanie.” And they ended up becoming a couple, and of course between them they had a controlling interest.
Originally the three operating partners, Massarsky, a guy named Winston Fowlkes and me, owned 60% and the investors owned 40%. Well, once Massarsky went over to her side, then it was 60-40 the other way–and of course he’s literally in bed with her.
So, that’s why we ended up doing Nintendo comics. I didn’t want to do Nintendo comics. (Chuckle.) I didn’t want to do wrestling comics, but Massarsky, who was a lawyer, represented Nintendo and he represented the WWF and so he was sitting on both sides of the table in those negotiations and his girlfriend-to-be-wife went along with whatever he said. They called the shots.
So I find myself doing Nintendo comics, which I can do. I can do whatever you want. Whatever you need. Anyway, all those things failed, and we ended up deeply in debt. We’ve way exhausted our original stake. Now that means that we’re technically in default, so that the investors, the venture capital company, obviously they’re doling out dollars day by day to keep us afloat so we turn it around, but that means they also control everything. We were doing things like having to account for every hour of every person on staff, fill out charts and forms and anybody who didn’t do enough work to justify their salary had to be cut.
Well, I was there 18 hours a day, so what happened was that even though I was the highest paid guy, I would always outdo my “quota,” by double or triple. So what I would do was I would take work that I did and pretend that other people did it. You’d see credits for Bob Layton, editor. Nah. You’ll see coloring by so and so. Nah. It was me, spreading credit for my over-quota work around so that everyone could keep their jobs. Things like that were just to keep everybody employed until we turned it around, but then we did turn it around and I thought, “Hey. We made it.” (Chuckle.) But as soon as we made it, then they wanted to cash out and that involved getting rid of me. So I was gotten rid of. And ended up with a tiny little settlement that wasn’t enough to pay for my lawyer.
BDS: Adding insult to injury. Doggone.
JS: Yeah. DEFIANT was easier to start because it was easier to raise money after I’d had the success with Valiant. But that was a bad time. That was when the market collapsed and Marvel sued us and it was ugly. And then I went to Broadway. And that was fine. I thought we were doing all right until they decided to sell the entire parent company to Golden Books, which promptly went bankrupt. (Laughter.)
JS: We were part of Broadway Video Entertainment, which was sold to Golden Books and we just got shipped along with the deal, and then they got rid of us also. They didn’t want to be in the comic book business and they were busy going bankrupt.
BDS: (Chuckle.) A couple of distractions there. Oh, golly.
JS: What a career!
BDS: Yeah, no kidding. At one point in there weren’t you collaborating with Steve Ditko on something?
JS: Well, when I was at Marvel, the leg
end is that I drove away all these creative people and that’s baloney. Basically I brought back all the creative people, but when a Frank Miller goes over to DC and does a Ronin or Dark Knight or something like that, it gets a lot of attention. No one notices that he comes back and does Elektra and other things for us.
Byrne eventually went over there, but very few guys bailed out and we got back guys that hadn’t worked at Marvel in years. Starlin and Englehart, Roy Thomas and Bernie Wrightston, and I can’t even remember them all. Lots of guys. Kaluta. We felt like we had the who’s who of creators.
BDS: It sure sounds like it.
JS: We really did. We used to talk about it. “Well, who would we want, that we don’t have?” Usually the names that came up were Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and George Pérez. Accent on the first “e.” Pérez left on good terms. He actually wrote me a long apology letter saying that he’d wanted all his life to draw the Justice League and DC offered him the Justice League. Hey, God bless you, George, go do it. So we…I forget the question. (Laughter.)
BDS: Oh. I was just wondering about your collaboration with Ditko.
JS: Oh, Ditko. Right. So Steve came back. Steve had a real ugly parting with Marvel and hated us and all that stuff like that, but I met him. I met him up at Neal’s, I think. I talked to him. I said, “You know, Steve, you’re a founding father. If you ever, ever need anything. If you want anything, want the work, whatever, the door is always open. Any time.” I said the same would go for Kirby, except that he was busy suing us, but, whatever, but the founding fathers, as far as I was concerned, if there is nothing I’ll make something for them.
So to my amazement one day Ditko shows up and wants work. The trouble with Steve was he’s really fussy about what he would do. First of all he’d never touch Spider-Man or Dr. Strange because that just gave him bad feelings. Second, if it was a hero that had any flaws, he wouldn’t touch ’em. “Heroes don’t have flaws. Heroes are heroes.” I’m like, “Oh, geez, you did Spider-Man. He had flaws.” He said, “Well, he was a kid then. It’s okay. He hadn’t learned anything yet.” *sigh*
Finally we settled on Rom, SpaceKnight, which seemed noble enough for him to do. He did a good job on that. It was great. He did other little things here and there, and when I left Marvel they stopped giving him work! They basically threw him out.
BDS: Oh, man.
JS: Now Steve, his stuff was old-fashioned and he wasn’t a fan fave and I’m sure that contributed to the book not selling as well as it might have, but they wouldn’t give him work! He came to me at Valiant, practically…Steve is not a hat-in-his-hand kind of guy, don’t get me wrong, but he really needed a gig. And so at that time I think we were doing wrestling books and I said, “Would you do these?” “Yeah.” So he did some wrestling books. He did some nice work for us, and we got along great. He’s a very, very tough nut.
When I went to Defiant I asked him to describe to me the perfect kind of character. I thought I created that when I did the Dark Dominion thing and he agreed to draw it and he got about halfway into it and he came in and dropped it on my desk and said, “I can’t do this.” I said, “Why not?” He said “It’s Platonic, and I am an Aristotilian.” I said, “What?”
He had to explain that one to me and he said, “Well, Plato thought there was the real world and then this invisible world and I’m Aristotilian—I believe that what you see is what you get. That’s all there is. Reality. This story has a substratum world and I’m not drawing it.” I said, “Oh…” (Chuckle.)
But anyway, I still love Steve and I would do anything for him. Great guy. He’s a tough nut, though. At Broadway, when I had a little more latitude I tried to talk him into letting us publish Mr. A. I said, “You keep all the rights. We don’t want any rights. No, no, no, no. We just want to publish it. That’s all. And if you choose to, if you decide, we would like you to consider giving us, for compensation, a temporary right to do film or television. And you get the say over that if you want. Steve, I’ve got money now (that is, Broadway did), and I want to publish Mr. A.” Because Mr. A was like his greatest thing.
And he was so suspicious of dealing with a company, he was just sure that somehow we’d get our hooks into Mr. A and it would be taken away from him. Eventually, though, he just sort of started to come around to the idea, and he actually brought me a Mr. A story and said, “You read this and tell me if you’ll publish it exactly as is word for word.” And I read it and I said, “Yes, I will.” Well, about that time we were getting sold to Golden Books and the window closed.
BDS: Oh, boy.
JS: Yeah, but Mr. A is cool and I love Steve and I wish we’d done it.
BDS: Another one of those opportunities that may or may not arise again, but that’s fascinating. It really is.
JS: He’s a terrific guy. We had a party once at the office. I
looked around Valiant one day and I realized that we had all the old guys. Mostly because they couldn’t get work anyplace else. I had Stan Drake, I had Don Perlin, I had Steve Ditko, and I had John Dixon, all these guys that had been around for awhile. We didn’t have money. I was doing this on my credit card, but we got a catered lunch from the deli.
Stan Drake came down and Herb Trimpe was there, I think. There were a lot of guys there and of course we had all the kids, the young guys, the Knob Row guys, the guys just out of the Kubert School, and they were all with their eyes like saucers, and we had a ball. We took a lot of pictures, but Steve would not let his picture be taken. He said, “It’s about the work, not about me. I don’t want my picture taken. I won’t stand for it.” “Okay, okay.”
But he had a good time. The old guys, back in those days, there was this greater respect, I think. These days the kids act like they invented everything. Take ballplayers. If you see a ballplayer he’ll talk about his heroes when he was a kid. Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle. He’ll talk about the older guys. “Don Mattingly taught me so much.” But comics guys, they seem to resent that there was anybody (chuckle) before them. But when you get all these old guys together, they were actually honored to meet each other and respectful and it was just cool. It was like an old-timers convention, but we had such a good lunch. It was just great.
BDS: True gentlemen of the day.
JS: Gentlemen. And you now what? I started out at age 13 in 1965 and everybody I worked with was older, and was like that. And then as I got older in the business and the business got younger around me I kept being astonished that people were untrained, unskilled, (chuckle) unprofessional and arrogant. Undisciplined. I was like, “What happened? What happened?” I think what happened was when the new generation came in there’d been a gap. There were guys who were 50 and there were guys who were 20 and there was no one in between. And so when that bubble passed down the pipe and all of a sudden all the young guys weren’t even trained yet are editors-in-chiefs and big shots and we missed a generation. The generation that should have been in charge wasn’t there.
BDS: A lot was lost. Russ Heath was speculating to me. He said that he thinks that one of the things that might have happened that coincides with what you just said was that back in the day there used to be such things as apprenticeships and he said, “You don’t see that any more. Somebody will knock out something on a computer and sell it and voila! I’m a pro.” No disciplined approach. I think you corroborated that.
JS: Yeah, I believe that’s true. Neal made such a difference in the business because he had that studio and the guys just going there and hanging around learned so much.
BDS: Oh, exactly. The Crusty Bunkers and all that other good stuff. Do you still hit the convention circuit at all, Jim?
JS: Well, I didn’t for years because I really didn’t have any reason to. I went to one because the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund asked me to come to be the celeb at their booth to directly draw people in to donate money. I said, “I don’t think anybody even knows who I am.” I went there and had a long line and it was great. So I did that.
I did one or two others. Each one of them was for some strange reason. I didn’t have any real reason to be there. I haven’t been doing a lot of conventions. You know artists go to these conventions and sell their sketches and stuff and I guess they make money. I go and I lose three days of work.
BDS: (Laughter.) Good point. A writer’s wares are somewhat less tangible. Not too many people wanting a quick script.
JS: It’s really funny. When people want autographs artists always think of all these witty things to put and I can’t think of anything. “Uh-h-h. I don’t know. ‘Best wishes.'” I can never think of anything on the spot like that. “I’ll take it home with me. Give me a couple of hours. I’ll come up with something.”
BDS: (Laughter.) Cogitate over it for awhile. I like it.
JS: You know what? It’s true. If you’re a writer, people expect it to be good, to be brilliant, so you think, “It’s not good enough!” Even if I write a letter; “I’ve got to make sure everything’s spelled right.” You become; “I’m a writer. What will they think if I make a mistake?” Other people just bang out a letter. Not me. It’s all day.
BDS: (Chuckle.) Yeah. Gotta submit it for editing and…
JS: Yeah, you’ve got to think of some witty approach, and build some drama into it…
BDS: Make sure everything fits. (Laughter.) Well, Jim, you’ve been an absolute joy to talk with. I see I’ve burned up well over an hour of your time, which is probably above and beyond the call of duty.
JS: That’s all right. I work at home now. I don’t get to talk shop ever. It’s easy to get me to talk.