A Year at Marvel – September

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Cons were over and it was back to getting the books out on time. My team settled in and were executing Bill Jemas’ plans. This meant Chet Krayewski was out securing deals, Fred Pagan was finding economies in the production and printing process, and Ben Abernathy and the collected editions team were scaling up the releases while handling projects like the Marvel recharge card game.

Me, I was still trying to get editorial on time and losing Lysa Hawkins to DC at the end of August didn’t help. (Lysa was editing a cool Bronwyn Taggart/Mike Deodato project Witches that became troubled after she left, not coming out until 2004 with a new writer and Will Conrad finishing the miniseries.) I was also knee-deep at this point in getting a computerized schedule completed with the IT team, as the digital workflow was seen as a major component of our future. Digital, the website and creating an asset library were companywide goals.

In fact, inkers were encouraged to buy scanners (not that Marvel was interested in helping finance the purchases) to make the process smoother. Several complained and Joe told Rich Johnston at All the Rage, “Pencilers and inker! We’re trying a paperless experiment. Six penciler-inker teams were chosen. The idea is that pencilers will scan their artwork and send it electronically to the inkers. The inkers in the experiment will be provided with printers especially made to print bluelines on boards. They will work on bluelines. then scan and send electronically to Marvel. All nice and neat in a perfect world. Less FedEx and pencilers and two sets of originals to drive art dealers mad! Artists will never have to part with their originals, which in my mind is a beautiful thing!” 

My buddy at DC and Marvel, and a fellow Mets fan, , Fletcher Chu-Fong

That experiment never came off while I was there, mostly because high-speed connectivity was a then-rare option — along with some general resistance to change.

When Ben returned from inventorying the Yuma film library, I set to work on crafting a schedule of digitizing the film in chronological batches series by series, getting Tom Brevoort to backstop the plan. While this never got off the ground while I was there, the planning had begun.

At one point, I was in Bill’s office and he had some documents regarding the 2002 budget on his desk, including a staff list with proposed raises. Next to my name, I saw “issues,” which was a concern, but Bill always had concerns with people so I figured we’d talk about it.

Sometime early in the month, I believe, Bill, Joe Quesada, and I were at lunch and Bill suggested it was time for a succession plan, telling us we should hire Joe Junior and Bob Junior, bolstering the admin team. I set to work thinking about what such a role would be and who could man it. I honestly don’t recall who suggested we poach David Bogart, then editor at the floundering Harris Comics, but he came in and we chatted, getting along quite well. An offer was made and he would be joining the team in early October.

Now, in hindsight, I see two plus two and concluded I was in trouble. Back then, I was so busy keeping the various pieces moving that I didn’t grasp the situation.

I no longer recall why I was asked to accompany Fletcher Chu-Fong to the Diamond Retailer Summit in Fort Wayne, Indiana September 8-9, but I was there. We gave away more Elektra Masterprint cards while others were giving retailer-exclusive comics. On Sunday the 10th, I went to Indianapolis to visit my sister and bad weather canceled my flight so I was to come home the following morning.

With our cellphones off, we had no idea what was happening as we approached LaGuardia Airport. As New York City came into sight, we saw the black smoke from the World Trade Center. The moment we landed, our phones buzzed with frantic calls from loved ones making certain we were safe. Apparently, we landed between the first and second planes crashing into the two towers. We were likely the last plane allowed to land in the vicinity. My car service awaited and we listened in silent horror to the news. as we crossed the bridge into Westchester and just before the bridges were closed.

The following day, our CEO Peter Cuneo, a man who rarely interacted with anyone other than Bill and Ike Perlmutter, had the entire staff assemble in the conference room. Over pizza, he spoke from the heart, about his experiences and the tragedy gripping the nation. It was a touching moment of unity.

While a contemporary newspaper account said the tribute idea came from Neal Adams, I’ve been told it was really suggested by assistant editor Mike Raicht. Bill and Joe immediately wanted to do some sort of tribute book then hit the notion of inviting DC to join us, to show we’re in this together. Bill wanted the book out ASAP, DC demurred, saying they needed months to plan and execute. That wasn’t going to work so Joe began dialing and before the year was out, the 64-page one-shot magazine was released with a stellar array of talent contributing (including DC mainstay Joe Kubert).

From a publishing standpoint, the company was on a roll, the budget saved with the smash success of Wolverine: The Origin from Paul Jenkins (with a heavy hand from Bill and Joe) and Andy Kubert, which arrived September 5. This sold so quickly that retailers were demanding Bill give up on the no reprints policy. Instead, we conceived of a series of one-shots collecting the hard-to-find hot books of 2001. He dubbed it Marvel Must Have and the first issue would contain Origin, Startling Stories: Banner #1 (Brian Azzarello/Richard Corben), Tangled Web #4 (Greg Rucka/Eduardo Risso), and Cable #97 (David Tischman/Igor Kordey).

Interestingly, Fletcher and I both recall suggesting we add Mighty to the title. Fletcher recalls, “Bill loved the alliteration of it and I was proud of the contribution.” I recall Bill agreeing to it but remaining dismissive of things recalling the earlier Marvel Age, preferring to keep looking ahead. Either way, it worked and through 2005 there were seven of these books.

As the month wound down, we were all working feverishly on our assignments but as fall arrived, it was becoming clear that something was wrong. It would be a while before it became clear.

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