Jim Shooter might be the most legendary Editor-In Chief in comics history. He became Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics in 1978 after only joining the company in 1976. He would go on to helm Marvel Comics for nine years shepherding Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Byrne’s Fantastic Four, and Walt Simonson’s Thor. He also introduced company-wide crossover events in Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions and Secret Wars. Needless to say Jim Shooter reshaped Marvel.
In a recent interview with Adventures in Poor Taste, Shooter blasted his former company and he didn’t mince words.
I think they forgot what business they’re in. I think there’s some brilliant talent out there–if you just flip through the books, the pictures are incredible. Sometimes they don’t tell the story as well as they should, sometimes they’re actually designing pages to sell in places like this [a comic convention], and not really thinking about the best way to tell a story. The writing, I cannot account for much of the writing. You have brilliant guys like Mark Waid who will do something and it’s great, but so much of the stuff is what they call decompressed storytelling…
It takes forever to tell a story. What Stan [Lee] would put in six pages–it takes six months. So you look at the sales–Marvel comics are now $4 apiece, and they’re thrilled if the sales are over 30,000. When I was at Marvel, the whole world was different. We didn’t have a single title–we had 75 titles–we didn’t have a single one that sold below 100,000. We had the X-Men approaching three quarters of a million. And that’s not some special No. 1, or somebody dies, or changes costumes, or someone gets married–it was everytime. A lot of it was single-copy readers. People weren’t running around buying cases of it because it had a foil-embossed cover. It was every issue.
He wasn’t done there. Jim Shooter blasted the idea of variant covers and even offered some advice to Marvel on how to fix their problems.
I did a variant cover on the Spider-Man wedding because we couldn’t decide whether to have the civilians in the background or the heroes and villains in the background, so we did one of each. We didn’t even know the name “variant” then. It just never occurred to us that was a marketing ploy. Now there are lots of variants and lots of gimmicks and they’re really taking their eye off the ball. People say, “What do you advise?” Tell a good story and tell it well.
That wasn’t the only bit of advice Jim Shooter had. He also commented on Marvel’s talent problem and how many of their creators like Brian Michael Bendis are jumping ship. Shooter offered advice on how he incentivized creators to stay at Marvel and produce their best work there.
Well, how you get better people is with incentives. You pay them better. I quadrupled the rates and offered all kinds of incentives. If you create characters, you own 20 percent of the character you created–which is coming in real handy for the family of Bill Mantlo because he created Rocket Raccoon. If you created a title, you got 1 percent on that title for an eternity, even if you’re not working on it anymore. We bought all of your art supplies, paid your transportation, paid your phone bill–we tried to make it such a good situation that it was worth it. If you’re making half a million bucks a year, that’s not so bad.
Jim Shooter continued:
Then we tried to offer an opportunity for creator-owned if you wanted to–all the Epic stuff was creator-owned, which comes in real handy for Jim Starlin now that he’s got a movie deal pending for Dreadstar. So if you’ve got better people, sales go up and there’s more money to play with. You don’t even have to get better people. If word gets out you can make money at Marvel, they just show up. We had some of the greatest talent. I don’t think there’s ever been a group of talent like that ever assembled, just in editorial. You had Archie Goodwin, maybe the best of all time. Larry Hama, Louise Simonson, Ann Nocenti–terrific and scary smart–just terrific people. We had great editorial. And you’d look up and down the hall and there’s Michael Golden, there’s Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris Claremont and J.M. DeMatteis. It was who’s who in comics. One time we tried to figure out who we didn’t have and we came up with two names: George Perez and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez–two guys we wanted but couldn’t get because George was really happy at DC and so was Lopez. We just got great people and the ones that knew what they were doing, I got out of their way and tried to help the younger guys, and make sure it’s on time and preach story, story, story. Before me, everything was like a soap opera and just went on forever and, occasionally, there’d be some resolution, but it’s just never-ending stuff. I said, people buy this unit of entertainment. There better be a story here. Nobody had to tell Walt Simonson that, but the young guys all wanted to do soap opera stuff.
He even talked about how he trusted his creators to experiment and pointed to Bill Sienkiewicz’s work on New Mutants with Chris Claremont.
We’d experiment–Bill Sienkiewicz is a genius artist. Chris wanted to do the New Mutants together. Bill said, “I really want to go experimental, I know you want everything clear, but I want to try some stuff.” I thought Sienkiewicz was a genius, Claremont–he’ll pull it together. I said go for it, swing for the fences, you’ll never hear from me that it’s not clear enough, and boy did they swing for the fences.
But when Nazi Captain America was brought up, Jim Shooter had quite a bit to say.
Eh, they shouldn’t… Captain America a Nazi? Are you kidding me? Jack [Kirby] is rolling in his grave. Joe Simon is going to rise up out of his grave and kill those people. That was so wrong because that was not anything like the original intent of the creators.
And he explained why it was so wrong and why people love comics so much.
Comics have more in common with single malt scotch than they do with other kinds of publishing because it’s a relationship. It’s a relationship marketing business. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to see what happened to Spider-Man next month. I didn’t give a damn if the cover was foil-embossed–because it wasn’t. It’s all about them loving Spider-Man, the character of Spider-Man, wanting to know what’s going on with Spider-Man. If they miss an issue and they don’t care, you lost. So you have to understand, you’re building a relationship. Stan took it a step farther and created a relationship between the creators. Everyone felt Stan was their friend. Kids would send him childish confessions. “Am I a bad person because I did this or that.” When they’re involved, you win. When they’re not, I don’t care how many foil-embossed covers there are.
Then he went into what people shouldn’t change about comic book characters:
just saw the Wonder Woman movie–it was good, I liked it. And I heard people say, “Well. it’s not the original Wonder Woman.” Here’s the deal. If you go out and ask 1,000 people to tell you everything they know about Superman, you’ll hear the same things–Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Clark Kent, blah blah. You’ll never hear about Mister Mxyzptlk or even the Fortress of Solitude. Anything the 1,000 people say–keep that, don’t mess with that. Anything that 1,000 don’t say, you get a little flexibility. Wonder Woman was created during the war, so she has the red, white and blue with stars, you know? No one cares about that. When you ask people about Wonder Woman, you’re lucky if they come up with Amazons. So they made some graceful changes and it was fine. It doesn’t have to be a red white and blue suit. So to me, people are just caviler about ignoring the intentions of the original creators–ignoring the equity that was built up over the years. It’s, “I’m in charge now so I’ll do anything I damn well please,” and that’s almost always a mistake. When Walt did Thor, he didn’t reboot it or throw away the past. He just made it good.
What do you think? Does Jim Shooter hit the nail on the head about what is ailing Marvel Comics or is he completely off the mark? Do you think Marvel will take his advice?