Monday, October 15, 2012

Book for the Fanboys

If you are comic fanboy, here's a book for you: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe. It is a history of Marvel from the beginning, exhaustive in its detail, and what most reviews call a warts-and-all tale. I'm not quite finished with it, but I already know how it ends, and so far, it seems to be mostly a warts-and-not-much-else portrait ...

There is material on comics in general to set it all up, and back and forth with some of the other comic companies back in the day. 

I grew up with Marvel. Bought the first one featuring The Fantastic Four off the rack at the Pak-a-Sak store on Evangeline Street, next to the Rexall Drugs, in what? 1961? Back in the days when comic book racks were everywhere, the comics cost a dime or twelve cents, except for Classics Illustrated, which ran fifteen cents. 

I was a fanboy. Still am, if to a lesser degree ...

When I became a writer and did my stint in animation down in LaLaLand, a whole bunch of the second- and third-generation Marvel guys who are mentioned and detailed in Howe's book were by then in L.A. writing for tube animation, too. Some of them freelancers, some story editors or show runners. (The biggest difference between comics and animation are that the pictures don't move in the former and do in the latter. If you can write for one, you can write for the other, speaking from experience.)

I have heard some of these stories, though not quite as detailed, directly from the guys who were there. Many of them–most of them–were not happily-ever-after tales.

Howe digs up the dirt and lays it out. More than I needed to know, but you have to give him credit for the work. There's a lot of material. 

In fact, Howe's book, aside from mentioning every one of the ninety-million titles Marvel has done, how it came to be, who wrote it,  penciled it, inked it, colored it, sold it, and hated it, doesn't seem to have anybody in it to root for. So-and-so starts out a nice enough guy, but quickly turns into Mister Hyde, gets a terminal case of ego-bloat and thinks he is God because he can create his own universes. Then, he either quits or gets fired, and goes off in a huff to work for DC. And after a while, he comes back to Marvel, usually for more money, and starts the cycle over again.

Not a lot of women in this one, and a lot of the writers and artists subsist on coffee, cigarettes, and pizza, and drop dead young, stressed out from too much work, too many deadlines, and no exercise. 

You hear all the tales you used to hear whenever two or more fans talked. Who created which character? You hear Stan's version, you hear Jack Kirby's side, Steve Ditko's, and when the next round of guys come in, you hear theirs. The good old days when the fanboy writers and editors played practical jokes on each other, and liked each other gives way to fuming resentment and outright hatred, with public utterances that sometimes lead to fists flying.

What happens when you kill off a favorite comic book character? You get a spate of death threats. People take their comics seriously in some places, maniacally so. 

There are dyed-in-the-wool writers and artists who love the work, who break their backs trying to do the best comics they can, and then there are the egotistical assholes who have to have it their way or not at all, who sabotage stuff, kill titles, and get in everybody's way, and a lot of the time, you can't tell from the stories which is which ...

More Jekyll and Hyde.

I have some personal dealings with some of these folks, and most of them behaved decently with me. I wrote with and for some of them when I was doing animation. I have a great cover quote on one of my books from a well-known comic book writer who later did some novels of his own. There is one guy who showed me his ass pretty good, so I am inclined to believe all the bad stuff written about him, and there is plenty of bad stuff ...

This would be a must-read for any serious comic fanboy, and chances are if you are one, you already know about it, but if not, check it out.


William Adams said...

Dave Sharpe, a letterer (and sometimes artist) for Marvel Comics gave a wonderful presentation at the Dillsburg Library which I dragged the kids to --- kind of wish there hadn't been any kids present, since he mentioned in an off-hand manner parties at which supermodels were present (when Marvel was owned by Revlon) and promised that he'd share those stories if you caught him at a bar where his band (The Dead Cowbowys?) was playing.

Anonymous said...

Off topic..

But Steve, you need to see this!!!

And finally!

Anonymous said...

54 rvedfg

That last url.. to the website, is *mind-blowing*

Somebody really loves Matador.

There's *a lot* of detail there - when you go to the Cast section - click on the people in the Jade Flower - they're character dossiers.

Richard Sackville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Sackville said...

Thanks Steve, I am going to get this book.

Regards Richard