Having survived the San Diego Comic-Con, planning was nearing completion for a stripped-down appearance at WizardWorld in Chicago. Bill “The Bullet” Rosemann would head up our presence there while I tended to matters at the new offices.
The first real order of business was getting our new production director, Fred Pagan, up and running. Before joining us, Fred had been in the book business, most recently at Grosset & Dunlop, so he didn’t have a steep learning curve. Instead, he was charged by Bill Jemas to find us cheaper and better overseas printing now that we were seriously ramping up the collected editions. Fred, to Bill, was The Pagan, another nickname to add to his roster.
One of Fred’s first challenges occurred when the printer declined to handle Alias #1, not for the interracial sex scene between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, but because of the uncensored language the hardboiled title contained.
On a related note, word reached us that the haphazard packing of our film in June meant a mess of a situation at the Arizona warehouse. The people there had zero comics experience and didn’t quite know what to do with Amazing Spider-Man film compared with Spectacular Spider-Man or Giant-Sized Spider-Man film. As a result, it was decided we needed to send Collected Editions editor Ben Abernathy and Production Manager Dan Carr to Yuma to straighten things out.
As Ben recounted recently, “Gross…it was hotter than hell! Dan Carr and I went to oversee/troubleshoot the transfer of the film library/contents of the mid-town warehouse. The amount of shit that was damaged because Ike hired the cheapest labor possible …”
Meantime, with New Line Cinema’s Lord of the Rings films coming out, I desperately wanted to collect Weirdworld, the Doug Moench fantasy that appeared in the comics by Mike Ploog and in gorgeous color by John Buscema and Peter Ledger in the magazines back in the 1970s. I was previously told no such film could be located, so Ben was under orders to see if it could be found during the inventory.
Similarly, I knew DC had been doing some lovely facsimile editions of their 80-page giants so it occurred to me that with the Spider-Man film coming out the following summer, a facsimile of the company’s first black and white magazine, Spectacular Spider-Man, would make a good release. Again, the film couldn’t be found. As it turns out, it was never found, but I did locate film at our German licensee and secured a set that merely needed relettering in English. The entire process took through the fall and was released in March 2002, two months after I left the company.
One of Ben and Dan’s discoveries was ten boxes of original art. “We got a shipment of art from the Malibu Comics offices,” recalls librarian/art returns guru Wilson Ramos. “A bunch of Gil Kane covers is what stands out the most to me. We had sent that stuff out to his wife; I think you made contact with her about it.” Gil had passed away from cancer the previous year and I had met Elaine on several occasions.
When Ben returned from Yuma, he set up shop in his office, nicknamed the Boiler Room, and worked to bring Bill Jemas’ latest idea to life. Marvel ReCharge was a two-player card game and Ben was assigned generating art for the 250 cards the Inaugural set required. After their stellar work on the Burger King minicomics, Erik Ko and UDON were brought in to work on this along with cherry-picking art from throughout the line.
As Spider-Fan describes it, “In 2001, Marvel Entertainment Group published their very own collectible card game, Marvel Recharge (Inaugural Edition). Everybody thought it was great because the packaging featured Spider-Man, Wolverine and Elektra. But after the initial flurry of hype died down, fans realized that first, the game wasn’t actually very good after all and second, the rarity of the “pay to win” bonus foil cards meant that those players prepared to hand over the $500 to acquire a full set of ‘Foil’ cards had a distinct advantage.”
The pressure was on Ben and his team so I was thankful that by then we had brought in a full-time dedicated designer, Camille Murphy and the very new to the working world Jessica Schwartz. Another new hire was Rachel Silverman, replacing Patty Banjas as admin to me and Joe Quesada. Rachel was the first and only assistant to ever offer to make me coffee, which I declined, perfectly happy to brew my small pot each morning upon arrival.
It wasn’t all pressure and no fun. During this period we were visited by Justin Timberlake and Chris Kirkpatrick from NSYNC. And I distinctly recall being mesmerized by Neil Gaiman giving me a very detailed breakdown of his 1602 project, his first work for the company as part of the complicated untangling of Marvelman/Miracleman rights.
Other rights we were seeking including the French albums featuring Blacksad, which Chet Kreyewski was assigned to obtain by Joe. Chet was also working with, I believe, the Vatican, on more religious biographies, styled after the John Paul II comic from the 1980s. I also recall Chet and I had many conversations with representatives from Panini Comics, once owned by Marvel, about foreign deals. Poor Chet was sent after one deal after another by Bill or Joe and never seemed to satisfy them.
Between San Diego just weeks earlier and Wizard World, August 17-19, lots of rumors were flying. Joss Whedon, flying high from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, was being courted by Marvel. Although the rumors had him for Iron Man, he didn’t make it to the House of Ideas until 2004. Instead, Tom Brevoort, who inherited Iron Man from Bobbie Chase, chose Mike Grell to be the new writer. At the same time, the word was out that Tom was being headhunted by DC, which happened every few years, but he never bit. Instead, by month’s end, Lysa Hawkins had given notice as she prepared to depart for the Distinguished Competition.
A few weeks later, the world changed, and the writing was on the wall for me.
#Tags: Ben Abernathy, Bill Jemas, Bill Rosemann, Blacksad, Bobbie Chase, Camille Murphy, Chet Kreyewski, Dan Carr, Doug Moench, Erik Ko, Fred Pagan, Gil Kane, Jessica Schwartz, John Buscema, Lysa Hawkins, Marvel ReCharge, Mike Grell, Mike Ploog, Neil Gaiman, Peter Ledger, Rachel SIlverman, Tom Brevoort, UDON, Weirdworld