A Year at Marvel – April

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April was a pause. We were on the cusp of releasing buzz-worthy books, the con season was being planned, we had a movie about to open, and anticipation filled the air. The pieces were all being moved on several fronts as the company prepared some figurative and literal moves.

After the excitement over the previous summer’s X-Men film, anticipation was already feeling high for the next one. Spider-Man was going to open in the summer of 2002 but the gearing up in licensing and promotion was already underway. It was made clear the film would receive a big push at San Diego Comic-Con that August. A giant banner for it was hung in the offices, maybe a little later than this time, but I know everyone buzzing because Russ Brown and company were readying for the June licensing show.

Amazing Spider-Man had been limping along feeling like the same old, same old, and Axel Alonso had finally found his team: J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. Those of us who saw photocopies of that first issue knew something big was brewing.  The first issue, #30, hit in mid-April and jaws dropped because it felt like a breath of fresh air. The title sold out and there was a clamor for more.

Bill Jemas was holding on to the No Second Printing edict despite the desire for more copies. Advance orders for #31, were jumping. He put Bill Rosemann and Jeff Suter to work on some promo material in support of the hit.

Axel capped the month with Tangled Web #1, a fresh take on the webhead from multiple creators. Another under-anticipated series caused a buzz. The Ultimate version continued to sell well and the first trade was released the same week. All of a sudden, Spider-Man was cool again.

However, there was a snag. As Rich Johnston reported at the time in All the Rage: “I have been told that when Tangled Web: The Thousand #1 by Garth Ennis was mistakenly printed without the card cover and with lower paper stock, copies were still handed out to retailers as part of the First Look programme. Normally when this happens, the run is pulped and a new run is printed, turning up a week or two later, while the First look issue becomes a hot collector’s item – see Universe X: Spidey or League Of Gentlemen #5.

“This time, however, it appears Marvel intend to distribute the lower-quality printed book for free at conventions or other events as part of a promotion. Triple sanity all round by the sound of it.”

Bill was not thrilled with the error and was quickly souring on Production Director Mark “Blinky” Belinky. More on this next month.

Jemas’s intent was to focus attention on the core properties, one at a time. First Spidey, then X-Men, also in Axel’s hands and the following month, he’d deliver another smash hit. On the backburner were other projects from the “Black Captain America” (something I gather was initiated in a conversation prior to my joining) to Starting Stories, which had recently been approved. New to Marvel talent like Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka were actively at work on projects and it was nice to see former DC peers doing work at the re-energized House of Ideas.

Tom Brevoort around this time.

Bill was actively engaged in editorial at the time, holding court in his office or popping in to sit with an editorial team. It was around this time that work was beginning on other projects that would help make 2001 a smashing year for the company, from Alias to an abortive modern day take on Millie the Model. He was also becoming keenly aware of each team’s strengths and weaknesses. He certainly was of like minds with Joe Q. and Axel, but respected Tom Brevoort’s sales if not the content. He had been starting to take potshots at Bobbie Chase, seeming to prefer her assistant Andrew Lis’ take on things. Mike Marts he left alone while he was also getting critical of Matt Hicks, despite the sales success of Xtreme X-Men.

Bill was also coming up with ideas for projects and initiatives faster than the legal department could act. At least in his opinion. He felt we’d need a business development person, someone with a legal background. That was percolating for a time.

This was the month Marvel re-signed with Diamond for distribution, now including trade paperbacks, which settled some concerned staffers and retailers alike. (I suspect this also fed the need to ramp up production as I mentioned last month).

Me? I was ensconced and working hard to streamline each group I was responsible for, making sure I touched base with all my charges with regularity. It was around this month it was settled that we’d be moving to a new location in June and the planning was being done at levels above me, largely Ike Perlmutter, Bill, and probably Ike’s hatchet man, Avi Katoni. Like the boss, Avi was a nuts and bolts guy, gruff and blunt, doing whatever Ike told him to, making sure the frugality never lessened. Avi was stingy with paper towels and light bulbs, as I recall, and had no real appreciation for the unique nature of the comics business.

Ike would periodically summon me to his office, pointing at printouts showing which of my people swiped in late or took too long a lunch. Once, as I recall, he waved a phone bill, complaining about the international calls between Tom Brevoort and Carlos Pacheco. I pointed out that Tom and Carlos planned stories and there was a need to maintain personal relationships. He nodded then said, “But for an hour?”

When there was time, I’d sit reading through licensing submissions and have distinct memories of not being happy with the cover to X-Men Legends, a prose anthology from Byron Preiss. To me, it had an unattractive yellowish-green cast to it. And at least one story was troublesome so I’d go back and forth with editor Steve Roman. Finally, he asked me to blink since they were running late and my changes would make them later. Rather than blink, I held my nose, and let it go. So it ever was with Byron’s output.

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