Date : January 14, 1992 Title : Mylar is for Wimps #7 Author : Vinnie Bartilucci Something with actual journalistic integrity this time-part one of the Jim Shooter interview. MYLAR IS FOR WIMPS! Again with the Compuserve column that sticks in your brain like the lyrics to the Mary Tyler Moore theme. Brought to you courtesy of Vinnie Bartilucci, annoyer to the stars. As opposed to my incoherent ramblings, this time (and the next few issues) will be dedicated to a recent interview with Jim Shooter, former Editor-In- Chief of Marvel, and current head of Valiant Comics, a company rapidly gaining a well-deserved reputation for some fine stuff. Hope you enjoy it. VB: When you started off, your first titles were the Nintendo comics and the WWF wrestling books. These did not exactly get embraced by fandom, in fact, they met with quite a bit of derision. Were you just trying to raise capital at that point, or was there more to your thinking? JS: Well, there's more to the world than the direct market. The direct market is a very small market. People don't realize it, but our Nintendo and WWF books are among the best selling comic books of all time. But to the direct market, it didn't even make the charts. The reason being that our Nintendo titles are being sold in mass market outlets. At Toy stores, at the wrestling events...our stuff is in venues that comics can't usually reach. So they were enormous successes in markets where they belonged. Like any promotional stuff, they have a lifespan. We came in at kind of the end of the Nintendo rush, but still did very well with them. Sold a lot of those books, sold them in every format known to man-hardcovers, children's books, color deluxe comics, regular newsstand format, you name it. We licensed them overseas to a dozen different companies. They were extremely successful comics. And they helped us set up the organization and helped us grow to the level where we are now. The WWF books...we did them in a children's book format that sold enormous numbers. Pays a lot of bills, buys a lot of art tables. I don't think of them as any less valid than the superhero comics. We're also doing custom comics, as promotions and premiums for companies, on a commission basis. We just did a project for a client where they bought a million copies of a book we did expressly for them. Should we not have done that, because it wasn't superheroes? To me, this medium can be used for almost anything. you can use it to communicate to little kids, to Nintendo fans, wrestling fans, whatever. I come from the superhero background; I started with them when I was a kid, and I still enjoy them. So naturally I was interested in also being in the direct market selling superheroes and stuff like that. And eventually when the time was right we started doing that. And that's probably really our bread and butter. Promotional deals come and go. You get a Nintendo or WWF license available to you, you can't not take it, but when you take it, you know that those things are gonna go a year, maybe two years, and that's it. If you build a good superhero line, a good universe, it can sustain your company for the next five decades. VB: You got some amazing people to work on those WWF books. I saw Steve Ditko's work on the Bushwackers and I still didn't believe it. Were you trying to establish relationships with the creative folk again, or just trying to get the books out? JS: Well, this is not all that big a business, I know just about everybody in it. Every time you have a job, you try to find the best available person for it. We've had Stan Drake do stuff for the books, too. I've worked with Steve before, he was available, so he did it. I think he's a terrific man. I think it's a terrible thing that a guy like him can't get work at the house of idea... VB: Thanks to those books, you've got inroads now in toy stores, mainstream bookstores, all sorts of places...how are you going to take advantage of that? JS: It's a matter of finding the right material now. We have to convince Toys R Us they want to carry the stuff, it has to be packaged right, things like that. But we have a lot of potential. Marvel, for example, has like forty thousand retail outlets...we have potentially ninety thousand. So we have a lot to work with. To get superheroes back into the mainstream ...that's the challenge. See, when I was growing up, Superman was selling about 1.2 million copies a month...now they think a comic book is a hit if it sells over a hundred thousand. Show me a book that sells a million and a half copies a month for a couple of years, then I'm impressed. If you sell three million copies of Spider-Man because it's the first issue, well that's fine, but how many times a decade can you do that? I feel that with the mass market you can reach people with comics the way they used to. The potential is that every comic could sell a million copies...every month. So that's what our long range goal is. Right now, we're building. VB: What do you think your next attempt to use that mass market will be? At what point are you going to try it with the superhero line? JS: Well, that depends on a lot of things. Right now, I think it'll still be the promotional and licensed stuff, but maybe this year we'll start trying to bring in the superhero stuff. But you're not gonna get Wal- Mart excited about Magnus Robot Fighter...yet. But once you have your position on the racks established, once you have permanent racks installed, once you have a demand for your stuff, and we're doing that, we're installing permanent racks in some stores...Then you can put in Magnus, some softcover versions, things like that. And it'll sell on a long term basis, like a book. So the first thing to do is build the real estate. Which we are doing. And then we'll put stuff in slowly. We have some sports titles in mind, some music things...known quantities that a person can look at and Say "Yeah, I want that!" Ultimately we want to bring superheroes, action adventure stuff, and some humor, Little Lulu, back into prominence. VB: You took your time getting the superhero titles started, but now that you have, they're very impressive. The question is, what got you to license characters that haven't been seen for fifteen/twenty years minimum? JS: Well, when I was a little kid, I bought DC Comics, mainly cause that's all there were. There were other comics, for a kid seven years old, Superman and Donald Duck...that's about it. I was too young for the crime and horror stuff. Then I stopped reading comics, and by the time I noticed them again, I was about 12. I was in the hospital actually, in the kids' ward of the hospital, and there's always lots of comics around there. And there were all these DC Comics, which were all the same, no different from when I was a kid, same stories, you know... And there were these newfangled Marvel Comics. The DC Comics were all pristine; the Marvel Comics were all ratty and dogeard, they'd been read to death. And so I'm reading these Marvel comics, and they're really good. So like most kids that age in those days, I became a loyal Marvel reader. I bought the occasional DC book, in hopes the story would live up to the cover, 'cause they often had great covers. Very seldom was I pleased with the result. OK, I was a Marvel reader, and I made a few exceptions. "Oh, look" I'd say, "This looks interesting; Magnus Robot Fighter." So I bought that. I bought a couple of Solars, mostly for the covers, the stories were kind of disappointing. Another big exception were the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. VB: There are people out there licensing lines left and right, and the Tower Comics stuff is just SITTING there. Why didn't you try to get them? I know right now there's a legal folderol that defies description... JS: Oh, nobody knows the half of it. I'd like to go on record saying what the truth is. I tried to buy the Tower characters. In 1978, for Marvel. And made a deal with Tower. Actually negotiated a deal with them. And got to the point of lawyers and contracts. And the reason the deal fell through is that Tower publishing could not produce a single scrap of evidence to prove that they owned what they were selling. There were no signed papers from Wally Wood, or anyone else. What had happened is they commissioned this work, they paid for it, they didn't have so much as the little paragraph they used to put on the back of the check, they didn't even have THAT, Not a shred of legal evidence to prove they owned what they claimed to. And my legal opinion, and my lawyer's legal opinion, was that this stuff was the property of Wally Wood. Because according to the law, and in the absence of any other documentation, they had bought first-time North American rights, and Wally Wood owns them. So to this day, as far as I'm concerned, the owner of those characters is the Wally Wood estate. Why our legal system can't figure that out, I don't know. But Marvel's lawyers and I agreed that this didn't belong to who was trying to sell it. So option "A" was to go to Wally Wood, and advise him of his ownership of this stuff. But then he'd have to go to them, and he'd need lawyers, and...well, we just backed away. We just said, "No, we'll let this go." Since then, there have been all kinds of people licensing it from people who don't own it, arguing with each other in court, and it's all baloney... At one time when two of the folks doing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were arguing, one of them came to me for a deposition, thinking I might have some information that could serve their case. After I talked them, they went away and acted like I didn't exist, because they knew if I'd gotten into that court I'd have destroyed all of them! In short, I don't need a lawsuit. But anyway, what other books were my exceptions? And the answer was Magnus Robot Fighter. So I went to the owners of the Gold Key/Dell characters, and made a deal with them. I thought they were good characters, I thought they had some cache. I thought there were people like me, who remembered Magnus fondly. Also, having those rights, that's an asset. And having an asset like that is real good if you're gonna be going to banks and borrowing money to start a business, like we did. So that was all part of the plan. And it took us quite a while to get around to doing the characters because we wanted to strike with Nintendo and WWF as soon as we could, while it was still hot. And we knew that Magnus would be as good this year as it was last year. But the important thing is Magnus, the long term thing, and the universe we're building around him. And that's where our priority is right now. VB: You seem to have quite a bit of latitude with the characters. JS: The reason I got Magnus was not because I was the first bidder. And not because I was the highest bidder. The reason I got it was because the man at Western, the CEO, and he's one of the principal owners...he was at one point in negotiations trying to buy Marvel. During that period of time, like all other key people, I was intereviewed by him a couple of times. So I got to know him a bit. He got to know us, got to know our operation, and was impressed with the creative effort...he was impressed with me and my friends. (laughs) So when I went to him, I didn't have big money to offer...I didn't even have a comic book company at the time. I had no wherewithal to publish. All I had was my name and reputation and the idea. And I explained to him, "Look I'd like to license these characters...can we work something out?" And his response was rather interesting...he said "Well, I think you're one of the most creative people I've ever met. The thing that impressed me when I was looking to buy Marvel was you and your guys, that's what really I was buying. The rest was just used furniture and people I was gonna get rid of." So he said, "I'll bet on you. I'll make a deal with you, because those characters aren't doing anything right now, and you'll make them into something. So we'll make a deal, they're yours, and when you're ready to publish, they'll be here waiting for you." And we made a deal, he was basically betting on the company. He didn't soak me for a lot of money I didn't have. It took me almost two years to come back and say to him, "Okay, I'm ready to publish." In that time Dark Horse was trying like crazy to get those characters. I've talked to Mike Richardson about it many times. DC made them an offer, Marvel made them an offer... big money, too. But the man kept his word. So after we said we were ready, we took almost another year to actually get the characters going, because we had other opportunities that we had to go after first. But as I've said, the real long term plan is for those characters. And doing them well... that's my half of the bargain. He kept his word, I'm keeping mine. We started with Magnus and Solar, we've added a few of our own, and we intend to keep introducing more of the Western characters, and a few of our own, to build the universe. We're going to give these things the attention they deserve. I'll tell you this: I don't think I could've done any better, I did the best I could. VB: Are there any Western characters you don't own the rights to? JS: Our agreement is that we are their comic book company, basically. We are the ones that they do business with. We're introducing Turok. We're going to start a series of classic reprints. We're gonna reprint Brain Boy by Gil Kane. A lot of stuff. We'll be reprinting some, and introd- ucing others into continuity, through Magnus... VB: I still say you should put Tubby in the X-O armor. JS: I like that. When we were talking about doing Little Lulu, I told him I wanted to change the title to TUBBY (also Lulu). He wouldn't let me. VB: Let's take a look at the books one by one...MAGNUS... JS: I loved the Russ Manning stories. Many of them were the same story, again and again. But some of them were really great. There were some great twists, too. But sure, some of them were repetitive, "Magnus chops up evil robot while Leeja watches from aside." So what I try to do is take Russ Manning's world, and think it through. Take the givens that he had set up, and try to figure out the ramifications and results of things. I started to think that some of these robots seemed able to think all on their own. There was Xykor in "The Wierd World of Mogo-Mogo", and 1-A, for that matter. And I think to myself, why is a robot raising a kid to kill robots? And he doesn't raise a kid to kill ordinary robots, he raises him to kill robots like him, who can think. Like Talpa, or T-1. In other words, "Hmm, people like me are dangerous. I'll get a kid, and he'll kill people like me." So I'm thinking about that, and then I start thinking about North-Am. What kind of a place is North-Am? Well, it's a kind of place where people live up in the sky, and everything is wonderful, and there doesn't seem to be any pollution or crime or corruption. Why not? I mean, they've obviously technologically conquered all the problems. They've got fusion power plants, the Great Lakes Power Complex. Robots to do all the labor, so there's no labor shortage, They've got space travel so they get raw materials from space. They must farm the seas, so there's no food shortage. So they've got it all licked. And there's not all that much reason for people to work. There's no crime, corruption, nothing. But gee, this is a city that covers the entire continent of North America. Okay, take the population density of New York City. Include Queens Staten Island, everything, cause you figure future people are gonna want some space. Multiply that by 70% of the land area of North America. And you add in factor to account for the fact that the buildings are over a mile tall. Lots of space between the buildings... thirty percent of it is parklands. And you still come up with over 132 billion people. You mean with that many people there isn't another Hitler every block? The answer is, back in the Russ Manning books, anybody acts up, they psycho-probe 'em. They adjust his attitude. "This guy's a petty crimi- nal...take him to the psycho-probe." And they BRAINWASH him! I started thinking about it, and I realized, this is fascism in the purest form. So North-Am, while it is a Utopian society, you pay a pretty steep price. Because as soon as you act up, they psycho-probe you. And the only alternative to that is to flee to the one place where they won't catch you-the Goph Lands. I don't know if it's "gahff" or "gofe," whatever. Everybody here says "gahff." It's short for "gopher," who knows. Anyway, you can go down there, and live in horrible twentieth- century conditions. And who's down there? Geez, it must be a horrible place. It must be crime-ridden and really rough and frontier like, because the people down there are the misfits, the outlaws, reprobates, the outcasts. But, okay, you're free if you're down there. You're not gonna get your brain washed. So I started getting this vision of what North-Am was really like. And I think some writers, their knee-jerk reaction would be "Evil corporate, monolithic state!" They'd have done this tedious, "man against the system" thing. "It's ALL bad! Big greedy, evil, corporate City-State monsters!" That's it, period. I hate those. But it's not true. A lot of the citizens of North-Am are relatively nice people. In this country today, if you had a psycho-probe and offered it, there'd be a lot of basically decent respectable nice people, people you wouldn't mind having lunch with who would think that was a good idea. So basically, it's not an all evil thing, it's a society that's decided to make use of technology. There's no evil dictator. A bad comic book writer would have made this into Ming the Merciless ruling the Planet Mongo and it would have been cardboard cutout bad guys and all that...I'm not interested. But in essence it's a very rich background for a guy like Magnus who was brought up all his life to defend that system. And now is beginning to realize that that system has certain inherent failings. Like, "You've got to kill these intelligent robots...they don't fit." Russ Manning had a couple of lines like that, but didn't begin to scratch the surface of the whole dynamic there. So what I'm doing is I'm just trying to think it through, make it work, do what would happen. It's a rich backdrop for a guy to play against, and Magnus has that Tarzan-like charisma that you does so well against questions of moral value judgement. NEXT TIME-Jim discusses Solar, Harbinger, and why Marvel's and Stan Lee's opinion of Spider-Man is "Bullshit."
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