For close to 20 years I’ve been on the business and creative side of the comic book/toy/publishing business. I’ve seen lots of folks and companies come and go.
Like a dried up booger stuck under a school desk… I’m still here.
Recently Bill Jemas left his position at Marvel Comics. Yeah?the press release says he’s moved on to another position in the company… I’ve been around too long and have written too many of those… I know what it really means.
That brings me to the other day. I was talkin’ with a fine retailer on the phone and he asked me what I would do if I was drivin’ the Marvel Stagecoach. That got me thinkin’. Usually my head hurts a lot when I do that, but this time I figured it was worth the pain.
This column is gonna hit a bunch of topics in no particular order. If ya get dizzy, just hang on a little tighter and call me Daddy. This is a conversation, not a board meeting. No egos or suits and ties here.
Let me set this straight with the first punch. I’ve loved the Marvel characters since I was a kid. That goes back to the 60’s. I was there when all the greats were blazin’ a path at Marvel…Lee, Kirby, Heck, Ditko, Wood, Romita, Colan, Ayers, and all the rest. After that era it got to where the Marvel characters were like foster children. They got shoved around from home to home. Always somebody new runnin’ the place and always treatin’ the characters different. Some better than others.
So I’ve always felt pretty protective over ’em. Ya pay as much money as I have for all those comics, ya feel ya own a small bit of ’em. After all, it’s the fans that really have the most invested in the characters.
Over the years everybody has seemed to divide into 2 camps with the Silver Age Marvel. Some stand with Stan Lee and others with Jack Kirby. I never believed in that crap. Both of those men, along with others that I’ve mentioned made that place what it was. They all brought meat to the table for us to carve up and get fat on.
The one thing that Stan did that I think was so important was on the business end. It was the thing that made Marvel pull away from the giant DC Comics. Stan made ya feel like you were a part of a very cool club. If you were with Marvel , then you were the popular kid in school. Stan realized that young kids were looking for a place to fit in. In school, in sports, with friends, with girls. Back then not very many girls read comics. He made Marvel the place ya wanted to be. He did this with his writing, as you saw with Spider-Man, and he did it with Marvel as a company.
Just look at the way he handled the letter columns, the Bullpen Bulletin Page…even the ads. He gave faces to the faceless. He let ya know about the creators. He let the readers on the inside of Marvel Comics. There was no celebrity wall between Marvel and the readers…nope. He knew that without the readers there would be no Marvel.
Now that I’ve taken the long way around the barn, I wanna say that this is the main thing that Marvel Comics 2003/04 needs to do. The first thing that I’d do is bring the readers back into the company. Marvel used to pride itself on being the reader’s publisher. They need to do that again. That’s why it’s always been the characters that sold Marvel Comics.
Marvel has been pretty absent at the conventions and trade shows in the last couple of years. Yeah, I know they are tryin’ to save money. I understand that, but this isn’t the place to do it. Ya make the cuts elsewhere. A little ways up the corporate ladder is where I take the machete and start hackin’ away at the fat.
I’m not sayin’ they need to have a three ring circus booth and rhinos screwin’ in mid-air. Nope…and we all know… they already got enough clowns. What they need to do is send their editors to the shows with some creators, and get to know the fans again.
I’d have the editors out there at the booth askin’ the readers what they wanted to see. What was buggin’ ’em, what they liked. Then I’d have those same editors come back and report to others what they found out. They’d have to do it too, because I’d be out there at the show makin’ sure they did.
There would be no deadwood in the editorial staff. I’d have these guys always lookin’ for new talent as well. That means writers as well as artists. Nothing an editor hates more than to read proposals from an unknown. They all wanna wait until that person has paid their dues somewhere else, then snatch em’ up. If I were headin’ up Marvel we’d be the guys other people would wanna steal from. But I’d make Marvel so fun and like a family that no one would wanna leave.
Part of an editor’s job is to wine and dine the freelance talent. That’s good, but they would also have to wine and dine readers as well. You make a friend with a reader and they will always be there to back you when ya need ’em most. I’ve seen too many editors and creators turn snob once they are “On the other side of the booth.” Let me tell ya, the snobs will be the first butts to feel my boot as they go bouncin’ to the curb.
There will be no uppity noses in my Marvel mess hall. Only broken and bloody ones if I smell snobbery.
I don’t wanna hear any cryin’ about there not being enough time to do that and my office work. There would be an editorial system where time management would flow in the right direction. Assistant editors would be more important than just copy boys and dealing with people the editor didn’t wanna deal with.
That also means no room for freelancers that miss deadlines. Trust me… there are creators out there that don’t miss deadlines, that are professional, and are even ahead of schedule. I’m not gonna have a freelancer that messes up my editor’s work. If you’re out there as a team then you back your team up.
Nothing worse than being in a barroom brawl and not havin’ the guys ya walked in with not have your back. There’s nothing better than knowing you always have numbers when you enter a place that ain’t well lit and smells of pain.
Does this sound like tough love? Well it ain’t. It’s called work. That’s what ya do when people pay ya money… ya work. That’s why when it’s done right ya feel so damn good. Nobody at my Marvel is gonna have smooth hands. Nope. If you ain’t got farmer’s hands then the only crop you’re growin’ is dead weeds.
With the internet there is no reason why a company that is character rich like Marvel shouldn’t have readers and retailers that are friends as well as customers and business partners. Communication is there. From Hog Nose Holler in West Virginia to Rome, Italy, there should be communication. Makin’ new friends and keepin’ the old ones.
Is this column all over the place? Hell yeah it is. To go along with my experience I’ve got passion, and when my passion squirts out everybody gets knocked up.
On the retail end my Marvel is gonna get back in serious business with the direct market retailers. It seems to me that, after talking daily with retailers, to put it nicely – and I don’t like to do that – they have a strained relationship with Marvel. They don’t feel they can truly trust Marvel and their business plans… when they have any.
I’ve noticed that Marvel’s marketing has been like a couple of baboons in a glass cage at the zoo. They get frustrated… they throw their own shit against the glass and say, “Hey! I like the way that one slid down, let’s do it again.”
It would take some work and some really good people, but I could make working with the retailers happen. For far too long Marvel has not given the retailers the proper respect. That needs to change. If the retailers make money… YOU make money. Then nobody has to get a real job.
My Marvel is gonna work with the distributors. Ya gotta. They’re your partners as well. It can be done by being honest and layin’ everything out on the table. Ya both have to have the same goals. To make good product and make money. Nobody works for free. If a wheel comes off the wagon, ya both get off and fix it. Everybody gives and everybody takes. But ya both put back into the readers.
My Marvel is not gonna need to spend a lot of money. I’ve worked as a bush pilot in the backwoods of comics for a long time. I know how to get the most bang out of that tired old dollar. Pickin’ employees to work for my Marvel is something that will be taken very seriously. One thing that I’ve always had that you could call a super power is “Gut Judgment”? I’ve got a good eye for folks. I can pick the workers from the wang yankers. I can do this in a short amount of time. I have a very short list of folks that I would bring into my Marvel. Those names aren’t gonna get mentioned here. That’ll cost someone some money.
You’ve seen those action movies where they bring in the old soldier for the big mission and he hand picks his own team to do the impossible, well… I’ve got that team.
I’d also search out some really hungry business minds… age doesn’t matter. Like I said…I can pick em’.
Right now I think that Marvel has too much of a “New York State Of Mind.” There is a world outside of Manhattan. From a creative stand point there is too much New York in the way the stories are written. I’m not talkin’ about geography as much as I’m talkin’ about the way the characters think. There ain’t enough spice in the food. It all looks and tastes the same when ya read most of it. Bland.
Again, I hear the cryin’ and folks sendin’ me emails thinkin’ I’m talkin’ about the book they read. I’m tellin’ ya that it is an overall feel that the books have. To pick out each one and explain would take more space than they would allow me to have.
This is something that DC is very good about. Yeah, they have books that take place in New York but they also have many that take place elsewhere, and the feel of those books brings out characters that you won’t find when you’re stuck doing one frame of mind.
My Marvel would focus on what some call “The Characters Ridin’ The Bench.” The second tier of Marvel characters… Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and a few others. Marvel has almost as much depth of characters as DC. They don’t use ’em. The don’t really promote ’em. They are missin’ out on sales as well as gettin’ the base wider.
The promotion that they do now is not enough. They still focus way too much time and effort on the X-Books and Spider-Man. Those books will maintain sales at this point by having them keeping the machine running. Change the oil, rotate the tires, and it will roll. My Marvel would inject some high octane fuel into the next round of characters and even those on the lower levels of the ladder. There is money to be made there, chances to be taken, and characters to grow. The risk can be low if ya pay attention to what you’re doing.
Most of that can be done through having Marvel be trusted again. To do that ya need to keep corporate out of the kitchen. Ya do it with folks that know what the direct market is… warts and all. Ya can’t come in like so many CEOs before and think you can change the comics business into something else. Just because it worked for Microsoft or Wally’s Wickets don’t mean it’s gonna work in comics. Comics is entertainment, and like Hollywood… an outsider is not gonna make the change. As goofy as both places are, ya gotta be a little crazy if you’re gonna work in the nut house. Mark Alessi found this out. He could have given Marvel and DC a run for their money with the talent pool that he had collected down there. If he would have gone after the same readership with the creators he had it would have caused some guys at the big two in New York to sweat. With that established he could have expanded his base of titles into the fantasy stuff that he seemed to like so much.
But we’re not here to listen to what I would’ve done with CrossGen. That’s another time.
With Marvel mine I would surround myself with the sharpest minds. Most names you might not even know. Forget the hype you read about on the web. The real names are on my short list. They are the guys that get things done without pastin’ their credits all over the joint. They ain’t into fame. They’re into makin’ money, good product, and havin’ a job they enjoy.
What I’ve been ramblin’ about here is that if Marvel were mine it would be based on the things that I take serious in life. The things I find important to be a man.
Trust, Family, Friends, and Hard Work.
Ya earn their trust. ya treat ’em like family. Ya be a loyal friend and ya do hard work. It’s a simple business plan. It’s not that hard to follow if you really want, and you’re man enough to mean what you say.
Make Marvel Mine… then I’ll start on the rest of ’em.
It’s dangerous bein’ me.
As always, if ya got anything ya wanna say or send me… I ain’t hard to find:
The Flying Fist Ranch
P.O. Box 706
Ceredo, WV. 25507