A Year at Marvel – February

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Under Bill Jemas, Marvel was in an experimental mood, including collecting their Ultimates line in magazine format to appeal to different readers.
Under Bill Jemas, Marvel was in an experimental mood, including collecting their Ultimates line in magazine format to appeal to different readers.

When I arrived at Marvel in early January 2001, the company was still recovering from the bankruptcy battle that left the company in the hands of ToyBiz owner Ike Perlmutter. In 1999, Marvel Knights, the imprint run by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, made more noise with their four titles than most of the line being run by Bob Harras.

In 2000, F. Peter Cuneo, the latest President of the company, brought in Bill Jemas as the publisher. One of Jemas’ first moves was to launch the Ultimates line, but he grew increasingly frustrated with Harras’ pitches, so he brought Quesada to sit in on the meetings. By August, Harras was out, and Quesada in as Editor-in-Chief.

As I settled in, I needed to get the lay of the land, frequently finding myself in Bill’s office for one meeting or off-the-cuff conversation after another. He made his disdain for the line pretty straightforward, only happy with the work Axel Alonso was doing with Spider-Man and Hulk, although both were about to be refreshed. Tom Brevoort’s line, mostly the Avengers-related titles, was spared his frustration because at least they were selling. He didn’t like them or thought they made sense, but as long as sales held up, he’d leave Tom’s office alone.

Tom Brevoort hasn’t changed over the years although, like me, has gained more than a little gray in the beard.
Tom Brevoort hasn’t changed over the years although, like me, has gained more than a little gray in the beard.

One of my missions, I was told, was to find a way to get Mark Powers’ X-Men office to get the books on schedule. Despite my efforts and, subsequently those of David Bogart, we failed to bring order to that chaos.

Editorial meetings were not weekly affairs, and when they happened, Tom tried to bring some discipline to the Marvel Universe. Copies of just-printed issues were tacked to a wall, and lists were drawn up of which villains were being used and where. Despite the best efforts, supporting players like Henry Peter Gyrich appeared in two titles one week, with two entirely different jobs. Neither Joe nor Bill were overly concerned with these issues, although Tom and I tried to emphasize the need not to confuse the reader.

Marvel Knights was launched and signaled the first signs of life after years of strife, layoffs, and the company used as a bargaining chip.
Marvel Knights was launched and signaled the first signs of life after years of strife, layoffs, and the company used as a bargaining chip.

Marvel was already being rumored to relocate from 387 Park Avenue South, but the staff wasn’t informed of the reality until spring, and then it happened fast. The company was also smarting from a winter controversy over whether colorists were bidding for work, undermining the printed quality.

Jemas was mercurial and open with his favorites and disfavored staffers. Many had nicknames or were the constant butt of commentary, so those first weeks were like being a Kremlinologist, decipher who was who. He was also having fun with the staff, with the fan press, and the consumers. He’d say something off-handedly, and it wound up a news item, often needing debunking such as his January mention of a new Secret Wars project, which Joe had to quash.

When I wasn’t in his office, I wandered the floors, figuring out how things worked, starting with my responsibility areas. There was Wilson Ramos who managed the meager library, well sparse compared with DC’s well-maintained space. He was also charged with art returns, so was always busy.

Dave Sharpe headed up the lettering group. He told me recently, “Paul Tutrone was my right-hand man, he was excellent and a good friend. But things went weird at the end. (Not with me) at one point.” So many people I reached out to in recreating memories and events, said much the same.

Bill “The Bullet” Rosemann was Your Man at Marvel, my one-man marketing force and has since gone on to greater things in their video game division.
Bill “The Bullet” Rosemann was Your Man at Marvel, my one-man marketing force and has since gone on to greater things in their video game division.

Bill Rosemann was our one-man marketing machine, nicknamed The Bullet, because Bill would aim him and fire. His enthusiasm and capacity for work were assets given the increased emphasis on retailer store outreach that year, with more in-store posters and advertisements. Bill and our crack designer Jeff Suter, also produced the monthly catalog for Diamond.

My first writing for the company was the one-page intros to these 25 stories spread over five volumes.
My first writing for the company was the one-page intros to these 25 stories spread over five volumes.

The Collected Editions group was headed by Ben Abernathy, aided by Matty Ryan. With the low output at the time, that was sufficient, but Bill wanted to ramp up production in 2001 so we slowly built up the staff. Matty recalled, “When I first got there we were only doing 2-3 books a month and at one point we were pumping out 10-15 per month.” They were so short-handed that a project from Editorial, that should have been under their domain, was run through Tom Brevoort’s office. A poll had been conducted in 2000, allowing fans to name The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time. The top 25 titles would be reprinted in a series of trade paperbacks, edited by Ralph Macchio’s assistant Brian Smith. Shortly after I arrived, he asked me to write the introductory material to each story. I distinctly recall rereading the stories and writing some of these from the stands while Kate was at fencing tournaments.

Although Tom Brevoort and I were very similar in taste and background, we were collegial but never developed the bond of friendship I anticipated. Instead, I found myself hitting it off with Bobbie Chase and Marvel Knights’ Nansi Quesada and Kelly Lamy, the editorial team. It was nice to be reunited with Stuart Moore, also in the MK office, with Axel down the hall, and former Vertigo editor Jenny Lee now Bill’s aide-de-camp. On the business side there was Matt Ragone and Fletcher Chu-Fong, so all in all, I wasn’t entirely a stranger in a strange land.

Bobbie Chase was a familiar name to me when I joined. Little did I know how well we’d get along in the few short months were worked together.
Bobbie Chase was a familiar name to me when I joined. Little did I know how well we’d get along in the few short months were worked together.

I wound up spending time learning from legal eagle Carol Platt, head of licensing Russ Brown, Production Director Mark Belinky, Production Manager Dan Carr, and others. Often, I’d ask why things were done certain ways and that started more than a few conversations about adjusting workflow. This began a process that would continue throughout the year. Additionally, when Russ realized I knew quite a bit about the Marvel continuity, he arranged with Bill for me to read the licensed publications in manuscript form, certainly not in the job description but happily added to my portfolio.

Then there was Ike Perlmutter himself. His tight-fisted ways have been well-chronicled but in my role as Director-Publishing Operations, I found myself justifying one expense or another. He kept very close tabs on things, even reviewing reports of when people arrived and left for work. To enter the offices, you needed a swipe card and everyone had to swipe in and out, even if several of us arrived at the same time. This included heading out for lunch or an errand.

At one point, Klaus Janson was in my office, welcoming me to the new gig and I suggested we head out for lunch one day soon. Bill happened to have joined us, and he sadly shook his head, informing me that wasn’t possible. I didn’t enjoy any sort of T&E account. If a meal was needed, he’d join us and pay. That certainly made talent relations tough for the editors to maintain and I adjusted. That said, Bill was generous, periodically taking me and Joe out on the streets, buying us lunch, and wandering or sitting in Lincoln Park, behind the 5th Avenue library.

The books were coming out haphazardly as I settled in that February, and I was beginning work with the editors to untangle the schedules and instill some discipline.

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