A Year at Marvel – Final Days

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Jeff Youngquist wound up stepping to Collected Editions as I exited and has bene in place ever since, rising to VP.

Returning to work on Tuesday, January 2 felt weird. There was a definite gloom in my corner of the offices. By then, I had used the holiday break to steel myself for getting fired. Deb was incredibly supportive, which helped tremendously.

Given the pressure Bill Jemas had placed on Collected Editions, I stepped in and laid out the book map for what would become Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man Vol. 2, so I could hand it off and get film pulled.

Bill scheduled a meeting with Joe for 9 a.m. Friday which confirmed I was getting the ax.

On Thursday night, David Bogart, my number two lingered, which was unusual for him. He peppered me with questions about life, my pre-Marvel career, and the like. It was a lovely gesture for him to sit and chat, making me feel valued.

Friday morning, I began gathering my things, then walked into Bill’s office. He didn’t believe in dancing around it so let me know not only was I being let go but so was Camille Murphy and Jessica Schwartz, the two Collected Editions designers. The department was too slow for him, treating each title as a work of art when he wanted cookie-cutter design and high volume.

Gui Karyo ran Marvel’s IT and then briefly served as its presidnet.

The reason I was let go, he said, was that by not waiting for his approval of the proposed 2002 Collected Editions schedule, he perceived I was acting as the publisher and there was only one. He had been quietly pissed about this since August but rather than address it, he bided his time, talking about succession planning for me and Joe, hiring David Bogart, and working to make the changes.

He said I was fired and the floor was mine. I, of course, apologized for the error and recall telling him I was disappointed that I seemingly failed him and Joe. After visiting Mary Sprowls in HR, where I signed papers for my termination and one-month severance, I was given time to say goodbye and clean out my office. The company would ship my things.

When I spoke with Joe privately, he shrugged, unable to help. He felt I didn’t help get the trains entirely on time and was pulled in so many directions, he wasn’t getting the help he felt he needed in editorial — another thing I had not heard until that moment.

I gathered my personal belongings and personal copies of collected editions, a Captain America statue I inherited from Chris Claremont, and other things. In spite, I tossed in two reams of copy paper. When the box finally arrived, eagle-eyed security chief Rob Grosser had spotted them and took them out. Later, I realized I had some things still on the laptop and IT chief Gui Karyo kindly burned them to CD and mailed them off.

By 11 a.m., I was standing at Grand Central, somewhat depressed, somewhat stunned. My cellphone rang. It was my Star Trek editor John Ordover calling to offer me two novels in a yearlong series currently being developed. At least I knew I had the time and would be earning some income. These turned out to be A Time to Love and A Time to Hate.

Rich Johnston, at All the Rage, wrote this:

“A few months ago, Bob Greenberger was headhunted to whip Marvel’s schedule into shape. Well-known and respected for his work at DC and with Marvel’s schedule slipping all over the place, this was seen as a wise and clever move to turn things around.

“But recently, a number of commentators noted that things hadn’t improved at Marvel, indeed if anything, they’d gotten worse. The word around the campfire was that Bob Greenberger was running a Red Queen’s Race — and that without him, things would be even worse than they were …

“On Friday, I heard Bob Greenberger was fired, while a number of other colleagues were laid off, Special Projects Coordinator Mike Farah, Designer Camille Murphy and Digital Assistant Jessica Schwartz. Their manager, Matty Ryan, is on holiday and has yet to be informed. [Matty had heard from Bill while away and knew he was returning to be in charge of a mess.] Email to Bob’s Marvel account no longer works and is forwarded to David Bogart.

“There were some wild allegations running around the place. These included Marvel’s desire for more and more trade paperbacks outstripped their internal capabilities and Greenberger wasn’t shy in saying so. I have also been told about problems when trade paperbacks were delayed by the comics they were meant to be collecting slipping their schedules — but this wasn’t seen as a good enough excuse by management. One pro told me, “When a lone gunslinger rides into town to clean things up, he makes a lot of enemies.” I also hear there were problems with productivity, internal communication and excessive internet use from some individuals. The departure of Collected Editions head Ben Abernathy a short while ago, with his workload split between a less experienced team, didn’t exactly help matters either. There may have also been issues of space; I’ve been told that to save money, Marvel has been renting out one of their floors so that everyone is now squeezed onto one floor. And indeed another source told me, “his firing has more to the current ‘corporate’ culture at Marvel than anything else — and Greenberger tried to blend in with that, but ultimately he didn’t fit in well. What is the Marvel corporate culture these days? Seems that whole Brooklyn Bizarre/strip club/chemical life and the bad boyz attitude that seen in Wizard and MAXIM and elsewhere — the older nerds with hormones and undefined anger raging. There’s no place for folks like Greenberger and Bobbie Chase in that kind of atmosphere.”

“Bob wasn’t that keen to talk, and doesn’t see himself as the stereotypical bitter ex-employee that All the Rage has learnt to love and cherish. But he did give the reason he was given for his dismissal saying, “Marvel said they were restructuring the Special Projects group and as a result my services were no longer required. Nothing was said with regard to the Publishing Operations portion of my job (i.e. David Bogart) or Marketing (Bill Rosemann) or Business Affairs (Chet Krayewski).”

So ended my one-year career at Marvel. To my mind, I accomplished much of what I was asked to do. I brought in my DC discipline, streamlined some operations, got them on track for digital workflow, and brought in a Production Director who saved the company $500,000 in his first year on staff. I inherited departments with orders to clean house or shape things up and I did that, integrating operations so there was transparency, communication, and some harmony.

However, when Jim McLauchlin wrote 2002’s 2000-2001 Year in Review: Fanboys and Badgirls Bill & Joe’s Marvelous Adventure, my name wasn’t even mentioned. Last year, I checked with Jim to see if it was intentional or not and he denied it. It just happened.

The following night, Deb and I attended Joe’s 40th birthday party and I was warmly welcomed by Joe and Nanci and many other former co-workers. Even Bill shook my hand and smiled. I received kudos for not letting this knock me down.

I freelanced for the spring, writing the Star Trek novels, and even did some substitute teaching at Robbie’s middle school. I chaperoned his class trip to Washington in April and apparently made a good impression.

In mid-May, I missed a call from the school and before I could return it, Georg Brewer at DC Comics called to invite me to lunch to discuss an opening in their Collected Editions department. That call I missed? Robbie’s social studies teacher was suddenly leaving and I would have been hired as her long-term replacement sub, which would have put me on the teaching track much earlier.

Where did everyone wind up?

Bill Jemas was named COO in January 2002 before his style finally got him ousted in 2003. He was shoved sideways as Chief Marketing Officer with Dan Buckley joining the staff as Publisher in October 2003. He has been in and out of comics ever since. We had one encounter when we were both consulting for Valiant as they readied their revival and while friendly, clearly nothing had changed; a story for another blog.

Joe Quesada, Tom Brevoort, David Bogart, Jeff Youngquist, and Mary Sprowls remain at Marvel, having thrived over the last 20 years. Bill Rosemann spent some time at DC before returning to Marvel as Vice President & Creative Director at Marvel Games.

Gui Karyo went from Chief Information Officer to President of Publishing (2003-2004). 

Nanci Dikesian and Kelly Lamy remained with Marvel Knights through 2003. Kelly returned to Marvel several years ago, now working with Paul Gitter, who remains there.

Russ Brown, director of licensing, performs the same role at Valiant, having been recruited by F. Peter Cuneo, who left Marvel and spent time helping Valiant get on their feet.

From Editorial, Mark Powers eventually left to edit G.I. Joe comics for IDW while his assistant, Pete Franco, left comics behind completely. Matt Hicks disappeared and his assistant Frank Dunkerley is a teacher. Lysa Hawkins left Marvel for DC and is currently very happy at Valiant. Axel Alonso succeeded Joe as editor-in-chief before leaving to partner with Jemas to form AWA and he seems very happy, based on a conversation we had in October. Bobbie Chase served in various roles at DC Comics before recently being named Executive Editor at Webtoons. Her assistant, Andrew Lis is out of comics.

Ben Abernathy, who I enjoyed working with at Marvel and applaud his work at DC.

From my team, Chet Kreyewski left Marvel in March 2003, returned to the saner world of law, and is currently happy as Director of Attorney Placement at AWRush. Ben Abernathy is, of course, editing Batman for DC. Matty Ryan is content as a freelance graphic designer. Camille Murphy went west for a while and is now Design Director & Associate Professor of Art at Moravian University. Jessica Schwartz left Marvel and comics but I hear she’s happy. Fred Pagan, he of the $500K savings, is now Senior Production Manager at Sterling Publishing, Inc. His predecessor, Mark Belinky, vanished. Long-suffering Matt Ragone left comics to go into his family business. His compatriot, Fletcher Chu-Fong, just left DC and has successfully launched his own marketing consulting company. Wilson Ramos left their library in 2004 and has worked as a freelance artist for numerous publishers.

It was clearly a busy, albeit tumultuous, year. I want to thank Ben Abernathy, Bobbie Chase, Fletcher Chu-Fong, Frank Dunkerley, Lysa Hawkins, Wilson Ramos, Matty Ryan and Dave Sharpe for being willing to help jog my memory and double-check facts. I tried to speak with many of the others mentioned over the last year. A big thanks to Richard Pachter for stepping in to edit/proof my pieces for the second half.

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