A Year at Marvel – June

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June was perhaps the craziest month I spent at Mighty Marvel. First, with every passing day, we were ramping up for the move. Packing had begun, the film was being gathered to be shipped to a warehouse in Yuma.

Marvel was showing off its three-story booth at the Licensing Show and the convention planning was well underway.

But first, Bill had to blow up the Comics Code Authority. Since his arrival, he was increasingly disdainful of the Code and its usefulness to retailers and newsstand retailers. By this point, the Code was one of many organizations being managed by an umbrella group and our contact for years had been Holly Munter, who I knew from my DC days.

Bill decided we should take a tip from the gaming industry and have our own standards, bypassing an independent arbiter. He asked Bill Goldwater from Archie and Paul Levitz from DC to attend a meeting at the Marvel offices. Bill was having too much fun and then insisted that all the former DC staffers—Stuart Moore, Axel Alonso, Jenny Lee, and me—sit as witnesses as he announced Marvel’s withdrawal.

In Slugfest, Stuart recounted how uncomfortable that was for all concerned so I wasn’t alone.

A little-known fact is that as Bill was contemplating all this, Librarian Wilson Ramos played his part.

“We pretty much ended the Comics Code, which I take some credit for doing. With the downside of the mailroom, we were not told right away that the mail pick-up was over, and we had to bring the mail to them. But they kept the pick-up bins in the offices. So, packages of the books to be sent the code was sitting in the pick-up bins. By the time we realized the books that got to the Code got there the same week the books were printed. Marvel always cut those things too close, sending the files to the Code and printers almost the same time. So yeah, this (and a few other events that happen with the code) made Marvel re-evaluate having the Comics Code anymore.”

Around now is when Bill decided things needed to be modified so he was handing responsibility for Production to my portfolio. But, it came with the caveat that I fire Mark Belinky, the production director, and find someone new. Yikes.

Chet Kreyewski, now a successful lawyer with his own firm.

On the other hand, Bill had wanted to make some deals and was frustrated the Legal Department couldn’t act with his same sense of alacrity. He decided I needed to hire a business development guy, preferably a lawyer. We may have started this conversation earlier, but it was certainly around this time I brought in Chet Kreyewski, who in many ways, became my right arm.

A few days before the move was to occur, I was walking by a little-used corner of the offices and paid attention, for the first time, to a wall of filing cabinets. Curious, I opened a few to discover they were filled with legal agreements, including everything from Epic Illustrated and Epic Comics. I informed Avi Katoni, the fix-it man who did Ike Perlmutter’s bidding since he was overseeing the move.

I didn’t witness it, but more than a few people were horrified with the callous way Avi handled the negatives to decades’ worth of comics. Apparently, he was throwing loose pages into the truck to hurry things along.

Wilson recounts, “We packed the artwork, and the books, Andrew Lis help packed the Library, cabinets with the comics were marked to move as a full unit. I had a few interns as well to help, Nadir Balan was one of them.

“I don’t recall whose the idea it was not to take the shelves from the library. So, all the bound books went into the cabinets that were already in that room from the previous owners, which was useful to us.”

Our new HQ, 10 West 40th Street. The best part was the rear entrance giving me a short cut to Grand Central Station.

On moving day, the staff left, ready to report to 10 West 40th Street the following day. I stayed behind overseeing the move with Avi. Staff was told to leave behind their furniture as the new offices would be stocked. Unperturbed by the directive, Matt Hicks wheeled his comfy chair the several blocks to the new offices, which didn’t endear him with management.

That night, we were done around 11. Exhausted, I was being put up overnight rather than sent back to Connecticut. What I discovered when we checked in was that Avi and I were to share a room to save money. When I informed my boss, Lou Giaoia, the following morning, he was horrified, telling me that will never happen again.

We got settled, things were unpacked, everyone walked around the few floors to get a feel for the place. The touches that made it Marvel were missing such as the etched glass conference room walls featuring Spider-Man. Word was, it was too expensive. So, we looked like we had been working here for years given the lack of fresh paint and carpet and nothing colorful.

Joe had a great corner window office, with talent relations maven Holly Rondeau next to him, followed by me, and then was the spacious Marvel Knights offices Nancy Dakesian, Stuart, and Kelly Lamy occupied.

As I finished setting things up, Ike appeared in my door. He frowned at the blue couch against the back wall. He advised me to get rid of it and never have a closed-door meeting with a female staffer. Not that he didn’t trust me, he didn’t trust anyone and didn’t want to get involved in any legal actions. I kept the couch, but rarely, if ever, closed the door.

The Javits Center, home to conventions and the licensing show.

We quit the Code on June 4, moved, and suddenly we’re thrust into the three-day Licensing Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, starting on the 12th. I needed to be there to check out the booth considering I’d be working with during San Diego. It was certainly sleek and impressive, its three tiers allowing large images of the heroes to hang, signaling where to find the Marvel Universe.

While there, Ike sidles up to me, looks at the structure, and starts asking about the time and expense of setting it up and running it. He declared that, for San Diego, we should go two tiers to save on construction time and money.

Devin Grayson, just starting to write for Marvel at this point.

Beginning, probably in late May, a major licensing deal was percolating. Burger King wanted an X-Men Evolution promotion with comics content a piece of it. Why we were getting this deal with such a tight timeframe is beyond me. I believe, Bill and Joe had been speaking with writer Devin Grayson about doing some work for the company and she was in mind for writing the eight eight-page minicomics.

But, we needed a team to produce the art, lettering, and color, meeting the schedule while staying on model. Enter Canadian Erik Ko.

“It still as vivid as yesterday to me,” he told me over Facebook Messenger. I’ll let him blather for a bit.

Erik Ko

“In the beginning of 2000, I was doing toys back then. On the side, me and a few guys breaking off of Dreamwave [an Image imprint created by Pat and Roger Lee], started UDON to do some creator-owned comics but nothing happened yet at that time. I pitched one of the teams we have, artist Long Vo, to Joe Q to do an X-Men Evolution comic series, because the Batman Animated Series comics were popular with DC, and Joe saw Long’s art and he liked it, so Long and his guys (back then they are called Studio XD) are on board to do the X-Men Evolution monthly comics. I was in NY, attending the Licensing Show to actually get a contract to make Iron Chef figures. And Joe told me you guys just moved and asked if I wanna come to visit. So I went up to the new office. That is where I was just sitting with Joe and he told me about this impossible task. He told me you guys need to do 8X8 = 64 pages but only has two months, which he asked if Long and the guys can be involved. That is when you came into the office and I was introduced to you.

“We all know, 64 pages in two months is not possible for any American comic creators. You were suggesting can we use multiple artists to draw and Long and his team just color so that everything will look similar at least, but I said it does not really work that way. Our team is very anime influenced, while most of Marvel’s artists are very American comics-looking. But I said, if you are into hiring more people for this job, maybe I can curate a bunch of people with the same style and form a team.

“You told me—and this is something that engraved deeply into my mind for the past 20+ years – “I don’t fucking care if I have to find fucking 64 artists to do one fucking page each, I just need this fucking thing done!” That is the most fucking in one sentence I have ever heard, to date. And I asked you guys—give me a little time and a phone.”

A moment, please. While I have been known to curse now and then, during my corporate life, I found myself getting cruder in reaction to the people I most closely worked with. This first occurred with Mike Gold’s second tenure at DC and then around Bill and Joe. It’s long since been retired.

“So, I was taken to this little dark office and was introduced to this new assistant editor and said I can use his phone. There was a big shakeup at Dreamwave, and most of the core guys left. And I called up everyone that I know from there and formed a group of 12 people that I believe we can take on that job. Went back to Joe’s office and I said ‘Okay, I got a team and we will do it.’

“Joe looked at me in the eye and put his hand on my shoulder, and said, ‘Are you sure? Coz we need this deal to go through for the portfolio. A Burger King Kids Meal Deal is what we need now to show the shareholders. If you fuck this up, you will never be able to work with Marvel ever again.’

“At that time, I was still in toys, I thought, ‘Well, it is my head, and I don’t care. But if I can help all my friends who got screwed by Pat Lee and Dreamwave to get a job at Marvel, sure that’s a good thing.’

That’s how we came on board. By fluke. LOL”

With Devin and Erik in place, we began to play Beat the Clock. I was the interface between all the elements, passing on materials though Licensing to BK, lining up production and the printer, etc. The actual book editing was handed to Matt Hicks and Frank Dunkerley, who were lined up to edit the X-Men Evolution comic to follow. In fact, Bill was ramping up Marvel Media as a potential sub-imprint for this and a comic based on the live-action Mutant X syndicated series with Howard Chaykin as one of the story editors.

Although Matt had a respectable line of secondary mutant titles, largely flying under Bill’s radar, suddenly he was in the spotlight. His more relaxed working style and Bill’s high energy were not a good fit and he already was raising ire over the chair (seriously).

On more than one occasion, a milestone was missed, sometimes by hours, sometimes by a day or two, and I kept up the pressure because this was a huge, high-profile deal for a company that was still coming back from the dead in the eyes of the licensing world. We nail this, following the successful X-Men film and the forthcoming Spider-Man movie, we’d be back in the game.

“I ended up finding three more guys. So 15 of us. And if you remember, the script was NEVER approved, back and forth over and over again. In the end, we had only 28 days to do the 64 pages,” Erik continued.

“I still remember in the final three or four days, we had to completely overhaul the Nightcrawler story. No bank robbery, but change it to kids being bullied for candies. And we had less than three days to redo the whole thing.

“Then the last 24 hours, Burger King said they need ‘presence’ in those comic pages. I worked 24 hours non-stop to figure out ways to add BK logos in backgrounds that make sense in every story.

“We pulled it off.”

When I finally saw Erik again, it was shortly thereafter at the San Diego Con and we immediately started discussing what else he and UDON could do for Marvel.

For the record, this project entailed a Burger King Kids Meal toy line featuring Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Toad, Quicksilver, Mystique, and Magneto. Each toy figure came with a CD-ROM.

According to Kataclysm’s X-Men Evolution Page:

“Included was an action figure and a mini-CD. The mini-CDs contained short comics (Dot-Comics), games, wallpapers, screensaver, and more. Each figure and mini-CD was based on one of the following X-Men: Evolution characters: Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Toad, Quicksilver, Mystique and Magneto. On the right are thumbnails of the toys and CDs.     

“The CD content is surprising good considering it is just part of a kids meal. Each character has their own image printed on their CD. After placing the CD in the drive a video clip introduction appears which is identical to the introduction of the X-Men: Evolution TV show.                  

“After the introduction a screen appears showing the featured character in uniform and civilian clothing as well as a short bio. Clicking on the ‘Xavier Institute’ and ‘Bayville High’ buttons leads to a variety of cool stuff.              

“The ‘Xavier Institute’ contains a comic based on the character and Super Power Training games. While the comics on each CD are different the games are the same. The Dot-Comics are similar in style to the X-Men: Evolution comic books. The CDs contain three relatively simple flash games. All CDs feature these three games: Ion Neutralizer, Gridsweeper, and Labyrinth.

“The Bayville High section features an X-Men: Evolution TV clip, bookmarks, wallpapers, screensaver, superhero compatibility quiz and yearbook.              

“The TV clips are from the X-Men: Evolution TV series.                

“The bookmarks are the same on all of the CDs.                  

“Each CD has two wallpapers. One wallpaper is unique to the character while the other is a team shot found on all of the CDs. The screensaver is the same on all of the CDs as well. The wallpapers are below: The Superhero Compatibility Quiz is on each CD as well. The Yearbook contains a picture and short bit of information about the characters.”

So, while Editorial was doing their part, our burgeoning digital team, led by Johnny Roberts, now of ComiXology fame, prepared the rest of the content.

When the dust settled June 30th, the company had new headquarters, I had fired the production director, brought on a business manager, and continued haranguing editorial about deadlines now that we were facing convention season.

As all this was going on, Bill, it seemed, was not entirely happy with the state of Marvel. More changes were coming, some sooner than others.

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