First off, my apologies for the long delay since the first part of this series on Jim Shooter’s tenure as Marvel editor-in-chief.
For those interested in reading the first part, click here.
We’re going to be rolling out the rest of the series piecemeal. The second part is proving so lengthy that it will be published in multiple installments as they’re completed. To give an idea of just how big the second part of the series will be, this first installment, which covers Shooter’s time at Marvel before he became editor-in-chief, runs approximately 7000 words.
I expect to get these out on a much more frequent basis than the gap between this post and the initial one would suggest. Wish me luck.
The first part of the series discussed Shooter’s tenure in terms of its publishing history and its general business policies with regard to the creative personnel. I would hope it was a resounding rebuttal to the characterization of Shooter’s tenure as “a wasteland of formulaic self-imitation” (Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, p. 204). I would also hope that it largely refuted the general characterization of Shooter himself as “the enemy of creators” (Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #174, p. 17).
The series’ remaining sections will discuss the specifics of the latter.
I begin by noting that Groth’s characterization, which many have echoed, has nothing to do with Shooter’s extraordinarily progressive strides with regard to publishing opportunities and compensation practices at Marvel. It primarily has to do with anecdotal conflicts Shooter or Marvel had with individual creators and staffers.
The reason I state “or Marvel” is to highlight that in some instances the conflicts were not with Shooter himself. Rather, many were with company policies such as the mandatory signing of a blanket work-made-for-hire contract in order to work on company-owned properties. Others were with decisions made by Marvel personnel such as president James Galton. One example is the company’s dealings with Jack Kirby during the controversy over the return of Kirby’s 1960s original art. However, as Shooter was the face of the company to the comics community, Shooter ended up shouldering the responsibility for these conflicts in the community’s eyes.
There are also the several creators who left Marvel without conflict during Shooter’s tenure. However, by accident or design, commentators have included their departures in discussions of the people who actually did leave because of problems with Shooter. In these instances, Shooter is made the villain in situations where there was no villain to be had.
Additionally, as can be seen in the current post, certain individuals left Marvel because of conflicts with editorial staffers other than Shooter, but these conflicts were erroneously attributed to Shooter later on.
With the people who did leave because of conflicts with Shooter, they tend to fall into three categories. The biggest group is made up of creators who resented editorial supervision of their work on company-owned properties. The second group is staffers who resented policy changes that accompanied Shooter’s restructuring of the editorial department’s operations during his first three years as company editor-in-chief. And, of course, there are others who left for reasons that were unique to their personal circumstances. Shooter ran Marvel’s editorial operations for over nine years, and was an editor there for two years before that. In his last year at the company, the office staff numbered over 60, and the freelancer pool included over 300. It’s inconceivable that any supervisor wouldn’t have had at least some conflicts given the amount of time and number of people involved.
One should also consider the emotional maturity of a number of the staffers and freelancers as well. The late Kim Thompson, who actively covered the business during the period as an editor and reporter for The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes, characterized the professional comics community of the time as “shambolic and inbred and full of resentments and unprofessionalism of every stripe” (click here). Gerry Conway, one of Shooter’s predecessors as Marvel editor-in-chief, has characterized the company environment as “a cesspool of politics and personality issues” (Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, p. 185), and “like the worst high school dysfunctional mishegoss” (Untold Story, p. 187). Shooter, in a comment on his website, wrote, “The comics business in general, and especially Marvel, was Romper Room on crystal meth.” It’s hard to imagine how an editor-in-chief at Marvel could be an effective manager and administrator without having occasional conflicts.
For my part, I generally don’t have much sympathy for creators who resent or otherwise disregard editorial supervision on company-owned material. With a creator-owned project, the creator should of course be the final arbiter of what’s appropriate to it. All the editor and publisher have are the rights to offer input, and then to publish or not publish. But with company-owned projects, the company and its editorial representatives have every right to order changes or demand that material be produced within specified content and style parameters. A creator in that instance is hired to do a job. He or she has an obligation to accept and adhere to supervisory direction as a condition of the assignment. This is perhaps the first rule of professional conduct. If the creator on a company-owned project does not follow such direction, the creator is in the wrong. As much as it may rankle the creator’s fans, this is true regardless of any assessment of the aesthetic strength of the creator’s efforts. It’s a matter of ethics.
When it comes to the staffers who resented the policy changes that accompanied Shooter’s editorial reorganization, some hostile reaction is to be expected in any such situation. I’ve been through workplace restructurings a few times myself. There were always people who were comfortable under the previous set-up and objected to the changes. Some objected so much that they ended up leaving, and they insisted on demonizing the supervisor responsible for the changes afterward. The changes at Marvel editorial in the late 1970s were Shooter’s prerogative, and there was nothing unusual about the reaction from some of the staff. Incidentally, Marvel has more or less maintained the structure he put in place ever since.
Apart from an obtuse claim from Gerry Conway (discussed below), and a highly dubious one from John Byrne (to be discussed in a later installment), I have not been able to find a single instance of a creator who has ever accused Jim Shooter of cheating him or her monetarily or otherwise ripping them off in business dealings.
That said, let’s begin a chronological survey of the creators and staffers at Marvel who have been identified to one extent or another, rightly or wrongly, as victims of Jim Shooter.
Note: Tony Isabella and Marv Wolfman were asked to comment on an early draft of the following account. Isabella and Wolfman, who each have long-time grudges against Shooter, were both hostile in their responses. That hostility appeared largely motivated by the favorable tone of my article about Shooter this past January. Wolfman seems to believe these articles are being written in collaboration with Jim Shooter, which is not the case. As for the matter at hand, Isabella called the draft of the account “inaccurate” but did not provide any specifics. Wolfman initially discussed things in detail before writing back with the demand that I not use his response. He did not want to be seen as participating in the article. As such, I will paraphrase rather than quote his statements to me. If Wolfman asks for the quotes to be published, I will be happy to do so.Tony Isabella (born in 1951) entered the comics business in 1972 as an editorial assistant at Marvel. In 1973, he began writing stories for titles in Marvel’s black-and-white magazine line. He spent a few months in 1974 editing titles for the line as well. He got his start writing for the company’s color-comics line in 1973 with fill-in issues of Captain America, Hero for Hire, and The Incredible Hulk. His first regular color-comic series assignment was the It! The Living Colossus feature in Astonishing Tales, which he began with the February 1974 issue. He took over writing the company’s Ghost Rider series a few months later.
Jim Shooter joined Marvel’s staff as associate editor in January 1976. Almost immediately after starting, he flagged a Ghost Rider story Isabella had scripted. It was the culmination of a two-year storyline in which a bearded “friend” had repeatedly saved the motorcycle-riding demon-hero in his battles with Satan. In the climactic episode, Isabella intended to explicitly reveal the “friend” as Jesus Christ. Shooter, in a 2011 comment on his blog (click here), recalled that Isabella’s story granted Ghost Rider “the continuation of his powers, thereafter Divine, not demonic.” Isabella says (click here) Ghost Rider “accepted Jesus as his savior and freed himself from Satan’s power forever.” Shooter ended up rescripting the episode, and artist Frank Robbins drew several new pages in accord with the rewrite. In the revised version, the Jesus figure was revealed as an illusion cast by the devil and written out of the series. Isabella then quit the feature and left Marvel. He considers the revisions among “the most arrogant and wrongheaded actions I’ve ever seen from an editor.”
According to Isabella (click here), Marv Wolfman, Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief (and Shooter’s supervisor) had approved the storyline. He is quite skeptical of any claim that Wolfman authorized the revisions. He says, “[U]ntil Marv himself tells me otherwise, Shooter gets the blame for undoing a two-year storyline in another writer’s book.”
Shooter and Wolfman both addressed the incident under oath in November 1999 at the trial in Wolfman v. Marvel Characters, Inc. (This was Wolfman’s suit against Marvel claiming ownership of Blade and other company characters he was involved with creating.) Here is Shooter’s account of what happened:
Tony had introduced some religious references into the story that I thought were inappropriate. He had Jesus Christ appearing as a character. I didn’t think that was a good idea. So, as was my usual custom, I called Tony and I tried to work it out with him. You know, it’s always better if you can get the writer to make his own corrections. He was adamant. He just absolutely refused to be cooperative about making any changes. And so it was a big enough deal that I went to Marv and I asked him, you know, what he thought should be done. And he asked me, was I, did I have time and could I make the changes? And I said, yes, I could. […] And I changed the course of the story so that it no longer had the religious references. The reason that was significant is because I think Tony Isabella quit over that, actually.
In his trial testimony, Wolfman repeatedly identified Shooter as an assistant editor during this time period. When Marvel attorney David Fleischer asked Wolfman if an assistant editor would be assigned to supervise a scriptwriter in lieu of himself, he replied:
No, the assistant editors didn’t serve in that capacity at that particular time […] They would have, if it was a major problem or something they would have come to me […] their job was to find if there were any errors, correct small things, syntax, correct minor problems. (TCJ #236, p. 79)
Shortly after this, Wolfman specifically discussed the Ghost Rider incident:
FLEISCHER: Do you recall Mr. Shooter ever coming to you and telling you that he thought some religious content that he read in one of the stories that he was responsible for editing was inappropriate?
WOLFMAN: Well, again, editing would be the wrong word. He wasn’t an editor. He was an assistant editor, which meant he assisted the editor. No, I don’t recall it.
FLEISCHER: Do you recall that in the Ghost Writer [sic], Mr. Shooter called to your attention that there was a reference to Jesus Christ?
WOLFMAN: No, I don’t recall it.
FLEISCHER: Who wrote Ghost Writer [sic]?
WOLFMAN: Dozens of people at one time period.
FLEISCHER: Was Tony Isabella one of the writers?
WOLFMAN: Yes, Tony was a writer that did Ghost Writer [sic].
FLEISCHER: And hearing Mr. Isabella’s name, does that refresh your recollection about this incident?
WOLFMAN: No, it’s really a minor thing.
FLEISCHER: Do you recall that Mr. Shooter came to you and told you that he discussed with Mr. Isabella the fact that he thought the reference to Jesus Christ in the book was inappropriate and that Mr. Isabella refused to change it?
WOLFMAN: I don’t remember the incident at all. As I say, this is a very minor type of thing.
FLEISCHER: It’s very minor, but you don’t remember it?
WOLFMAN: It’s very minor, therefore I don’t remember it.
FLEISCHER: Would you regard as minor a situation where the editor in chief has to dictate to a writer against the writer’s will the content of a book?
WOLFMAN: If the case is the words of Jesus Christ, that is not dictating the contents, that’s dictating a possible standard or a possible other problem. It’s a very very incredibly minor thing that I would have made a decision in about an eighth of a second or gone to Stan [Marvel publisher Stan Lee] if it was a problem like the other one [a situation with Doug Moench]. It’s not something I would ever remember. (TCJ #236, p. 79)
When Fleischer asked Wolfman about three other instances where Shooter allegedly came to him with concerns, he responded, “No, I don’t remember. Mr. Shooter was a major complainer so it could have been.” (TCJ #236, p. 80)
In Wolfman’s correspondence with me, he contradicted his sworn testimony. He said that Shooter had the authority to order the changes without consulting him. He also stated that he thought he didn’t remember the incident because Shooter didn’t come to him about it. Essentially, he denied all responsibility for what happened.
Shooter wrote the following in the aforementioned 2011 blog comment (click here):
At that time I had no authority to make massive changes like that to a book unless the EIC commanded that it be done.
Isabella does not appear to have ever discussed the matter with Wolfman. However, the responsibility for that, at least at the time, seems to be Wolfman’s. He has said he had a policy as editor-in-chief of systematically calling everyone who worked for Marvel at least once every month (Untold Story, p. 181). It would appear there was no such call made to Isabella after the incident. And Wolfman was all but certainly aware that Isabella had quit the feature, as Wolfman scripted the following issue.
For my part, I think Shooter averted a potential disaster that had been enabled by the laissez-faire editorial environment that existed under Wolfman and his predecessors Len Wein and Roy Thomas. Any media depiction of Jesus Christ is potentially controversial, and one that is not a straightforward adaptation of New Testament narratives is all but certain to be so. Portraying Jesus as a fictional character in a contemporary setting, as well as giving sanction to the actions of another fictional character, is theologically suspect and astonishingly presumptuous. It is especially so when one considers that the character receiving sanction is a violent adventure hero. This could be viewed quite reasonably as irreverent and even blasphemous. The blowback to Marvel could have been enormous. As such, Isabella’s storyline should have never made it through the editorial process without the knowledge and approval of Marvel publisher Stan Lee and company president James Galton. It’s not clear that even Wolfman knew about it.
As for what happened after Shooter flagged the story, I believe him when he says he brought his concerns to Wolfman, and that Wolfman authorized the changes. It is highly unlikely that a newly hired editor with next to no prior experience would have the authority or even the job confidence to order new pages drawn without supervisor approval.
Additionally, I note Shooter apparently was not shy about raising concerns. Wolfman’s characterization of Shooter as a “major complainer” during this time refers to his experience as editor-in-chief with Shooter. That was less than three months.
In short, I believe the sworn court testimony given by both Wolfman and Shooter on the matter, which is not at odds.
Shortly after the Ghost Rider dust-up, Tony Isabella began writing for DC Comics, where he co-created the original Black Lightning series with artist Trevor von Eeden. He left DC in 1978. During Shooter’s tenure as editor-in-chief, he returned to Marvel, scripting some fill-in stories for various titles in 1979 and 1983-1984. There were no reported conflicts with Shooter or any other Marvel editor during that time. His highest-profile assignment in the field since then was probably as the regular scriptwriter for DC’s Hawkman character in the mid-1980s. He has done occasional scriptwriting work for DC and other publishers since then.
Born in 1947, Steve Englehart broke into the comics business in late 1970. He had graduated with a B.A. in psychology from Wesleyan University in 1969 and served for a time in the U. S. Army. He started as a freelance artist for various publishers, but quickly shifted to scriptwriting. Long runs on Marvel’s Captain America and The Avengers titles made him one of the field’s most admired scriptwriters before he left for DC in 1976.
Before getting into the specific circumstances of Englehart’s departure from Marvel, I would like to discuss at length how Englehart’s situation has been exploited to attack Jim Shooter. It’s a good study in the tactics Gary Groth, Shooter’s most conspicuous detractor, has used in efforts to defame him.
Given the prominent role Groth and The Comics Journal have in shaping perceptions of comics history, his portrayal of Shooter’s dealings with various comics personnel will be discussed in each instance.
In Groth’s 1987 editorial about Jim Shooter’s termination as Marvel editor-in-chief, he included Englehart in a list of “the vast number of creators fired or otherwise driven to leave Marvel by Shooter” (TCJ #117, p. 6). This reference should have struck a discordant note with any knowledgeable reader.
The most immediate reason was that, at the time of Shooter’s firing in April 1987, Englehart was working for Marvel. He was the regular scriptwriter on three ongoing company-owned titles: Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and West Coast Avengers. He’d been writing at least two titles a month for the company’s various imprints for the previous two years. He began regularly publishing new work through Marvel again in December of 1982, when the first issue of his creator-owned series Coyote shipped to retailers.
Beyond that, it was well known in comics circles that Englehart quit Marvel in 1976 because of conflicts with Gerry Conway, who was then the company’s editor-in-chief. One reason it was known was an interview with Englehart in The Comics Journal #63 that Groth helped conduct. Englehart discussed his problems with Conway at length. His statements gained additional notoriety when Conway responded with a letter, published in The Comics Journal #68, that may well be the single most intemperate, vituperative, and outright nasty piece of writing the magazine has ever published.
However, Groth and the Journal never printed a correction of the reference in the editorial.
Groth, though, apparently recognized the statement was erroneous at some point. In his 1994 anti-Shooter screed, “Jim Shooter, Our Nixon” (reprinted at tcj.com in 2011), he changed his tune somewhat on Englehart’s departure. However, the reader is still presented with an inaccurate view of the situation; Groth just didn’t shoehorn Englehart into his attack to the same degree. Englehart is described in the essay as a creator “who also left under Shooter’s regime at Marvel” (TCJ #174, p. 18).
Now by itself, that reference may seem pretty benign. But it’s a very slick bit of rhetorical spin. In the context of the essay, it’s very effective in falsely casting Englehart in the role of one of Shooter’s alleged victims.
First, note the falsehood of the word “regime.” An honest observer in command of the facts would say that Englehart left during Gerry Conway’s “regime,” not Shooter’s. Shooter was Marvel’s associate editor and Conway’s subordinate. However, characterizing this period of Shooter’s employment as part of his “regime at Marvel” leads the reader to assume that Groth is speaking of Shooter’s tenure as editor-in-chief even though that isn’t the case. This completely deflects attention from Conway and his exclusive role in Englehart’s departure.
Second, note the presence of the word “also.” This falsely identifies Englehart with the creators and staffers whom Groth describes at various points in the essay as “fired, driven off, fucked over, or otherwise insulted by Shooter”; whom Shooter “was routinely violating the professional dignity of” and “imprudently alienating”; whom “Marvel lost […] often because of an unresolvable dispute between the creator and Shooter”; and who “occasionally went on the record stating his unequivocal disdain for Shooter’s ethics and professionalism.” (TCJ #174, pp. 17 and 18)
What Groth is doing here is what I call “plausible deniability” writing. It’s a sleazy, manipulative rhetorical method that eschews direct statement in favor of juxtaposition and other forms of associative construction to make its points. In short, it implies its smears rather than states them. (Richard Nixon was fond of this rhetorical technique when it came to attacking his political opponents. Groth’s “Our Nixon” title seems quite ironic.) One benefit of “plausible deniability” writing is the protection it would likely give Groth if, say, Shooter had sued him for libel over the essay. In this instance (and it’s just one of the piece’s numerous misrepresentations), Groth’s lawyer would probably just point out that Groth never directly said Englehart left Marvel because of Shooter’s allegedly shabby treatment. All he specifically wrote was that Englehart left Marvel “under Shooter’s regime.” Everything else was ambiguous at most. If readers wrongly inferred that Englehart left Marvel because of conflicts with Shooter, well, that’s the stupid readers’ fault, not Groth’s. He would probably say he is not responsible for erroneous interpretations of ambiguous statements or context. And that claim, in a court of law, is likely correct. He would likely prevail in a libel case because the individual statements technically aren’t false for the most part, and where they are false, they’re not specifically defamatory. Keep in mind that I’m not an attorney, but from what I know, this is what I’d expect.
Oh, and this probably goes without saying, but in the “Our Nixon” essay, Groth again made no mention of the fact that Englehart was working for Marvel at the time of Shooter’s termination, much less that he’d been regularly publishing new work through Marvel for the previous 4½ years.
Note: Steve Englehart was sent a draft of the account that follows. He wrote back to say he had no corrections, and that he stands by what he has said over the years. Gerry Conway could not be reached.
With Shooter’s dealings with Englehart during his time as associate editor, two minor disputes are known.
The first was with the origin of The Shroud character that was published in Super-Villain Team-Up #7. Englehart deliberately appropriated the origin of Batman for the character. In Shooter’s testimony in the Marv Wolfman v. Marvel trial (click here), he recounted what came next:
It was plagiarism. And I thought that was a very bad idea. Steve Englehart was a very important writer. So I called him, and I said, “Steve, you seem to be doing the origin of Batman here.” And he said, “Yes, I am.” And I said, “You can’t do that.” And he said, “Yes, I can.” That conversation was getting nowhere. I thought, let me talk to Marv about this. I went to Marv and I showed it to him. And he asked me to change it as little as possible because we wanted to not offend Steve any more than absolutely necessary but to make it so it wasn’t plagiarism. So I did the best I could to alter it to, you know, to meet that standard.
As near as I can determine, Englehart has never publicly complained about the revisions to the story.
The second dispute occurred after Gerry Conway replaced Marv Wolfman as editor-in-chief. It related to the erroneous flagging of a story inconsistency in Super-Villain Team-Up #8. Judging from Conway and Englehart’s accounts, the dispute appears to have been far more with Conway than Shooter. However, in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, author Sean Howe characterized it as a “blow-up” solely between Shooter and Englehart (p. 185). The incident is used as the principal support for a narrative that effectively blames Shooter for turning the editorial environment of Conway’s tenure “inescapably toxic.” Apparently towards that goal, Howe omits Conway from the dispute. (Howe also drags in the Tony Isabella Ghost Rider situation, making it appear as if it occurred during Conway’s tenure and not Wolfman’s.) The source or sources for Howe’s treatment are not included in the book’s endnotes, but it appears to be derived from Englehart’s interview in The Comics Journal #63 and Conway’s letter responding in TCJ #68.
Here’s what Englehart said happened:
Conway and Shooter—his Assistant Editor, or the right-hand man—called me up and said, “We really don’t like the Super-Villain Team-Up you just wrote because you said the Sub-Mariner’s father did or didn’t do something.” It’s on page two of issue six or seven or something. I don’t even know what it is now. But they said, “You did this.” I said, “No, I really didn’t.” And they said, “We know you did, because we were told by whoever proofread that you did it.” I said, “I’ve got the script right here, and I didn’t say that.” And it was like, “Yes, you did, and you’re gonna pay for it. You’re really in trouble for doing this kind of stuff.” So I took my Xerox copy of the script and I Xeroxed off the page and I sent it to them.
The second week I got a call from Conway saying, “We’re really sorry. We were misinformed. I see your script, you’re right. I went back and looked at it, everything you said was true, hey look, no hard feelings, huh, I’m just getting started and I don’t really know how to do all this shit and let’s just let bygones be bygones.” (TCJ #63, p. 270)
Here’s what Conway had to say in his response:
He [Englehart] states rightly, that I called him up concerned about an error in his script—not a minor error as he asserts, but a major continuity error. He told me it wasn’t his doing; on the information I had, I thought he was lying. (This may come as a shock to those of you fresh from the egg, but yes, Steve has been known to bend the truth just a tad now and then.) He did indeed send me a Xerox of his script, though of course this proved nothing since scripts can be retyped; but I checked it out, found out I was wrong, and as Steve tells you in his interview—I called him and apologized, admitting my mistake. (TCJ #68, pp. 23-25)
As can be seen, in Englehart’s statements, which were part of a larger attack on Conway, he says the specific dispute was with both Conway and Shooter. Conway, in his response, depicts the dispute as with him alone. Shooter isn’t mentioned.
Sean Howe, though, erroneously portrays the dispute as if it was only with Shooter.
It should also be noted that, unlike with Conway, Englehart has not indicated any larger grudge towards Shooter on the basis of this or any other incident before he quit Marvel a week or so later.
As for Englehart’s departure from Marvel, he left after Conway took away a scripting assignment for The Avengers. Englehart said that Conway removed him from the series, and further claimed Conway said he wanted the assignment for himself (TCJ #63, p. 270). Conway said the removal was just for the story in that year’s The Avengers Annual, not the monthly series. The reason was because of Englehart’s missed deadlines, and not because he wanted to take over as the series’ scriptwriter. (TCJ 68, p. 23). Jim Shooter, in a 2011 blog comment (click here), more or less confirmed Conway’s account.
Englehart immediately moved over to DC, where his most notable effort was a Batman run in Detective Comics with artist Marshall Rogers. He worked there on various titles before quitting over a payment dispute in late 1978 or early 1979. He left the field for three years, reemerging in 1982 with his creator-owned feature Coyote. It was originally published by Eclipse, and Englehart took it to Marvel’s Epic imprint a few months later. He resumed working on company-owned titles for both Marvel and DC in 1985. He stayed at DC through 1987, and was removed from his Marvel assignments in 1989 after conflicts with Tom DeFalco, Jim Shooter’s successor as editor-in-chief. In 1992, he worked on the X-O Manowar and Shadowman titles under Shooter at Valiant, but left after a few months due to differences with Shooter about editorial direction. Englehart says the parting was amicable (click here). Shooter says otherwise (click here), although he still holds Englehart’s ability in high regard (click here). Englehart spent the next several years doing scriptwriting work for various publishers, including Marvel and DC. He left the comics field for good in 2006.
Note: As stated above, Gerry Conway could not be reached for comment.Gerry Conway, born in 1952, broke into comics as a scriptwriter at DC in 1968. He was 16. In 1970, after two years of writing for horror anthology titles for DC and occasionally Marvel, he took over as the regular scriptwriter for Marvel’s Daredevil series. Within a year, he had also become the regular scriptwriter for Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and the Inhumans series in Amazing Adventures. In 1972, the 19-year-old Conway became Stan Lee’s successor as regular scriptwriter for The Amazing Spider-Man. While on the title, he scripted the issues featuring the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Norman Osborn Green Goblin, as well as the story introducing The Punisher character. In 1975, unhappy over the successive promotions of Len Wein and Marv Wolfman to Marvel editor-in-chief, he moved over to DC to work as an editor and scriptwriter. Conway returned to Marvel as editor-in-chief in March 1976, but stepped down less than a month later to become a writer-editor with the company. Before the end of the year, he had gone back to DC, where he worked for the next decade. In 1986, he returned to Marvel to script the launch of Spitfire and the Troubleshooters for the New Universe imprint. At the time of Shooter’s termination as editor-in-chief in April 1987, Conway was writing the Thundercats series for Marvel’s Star Comics line, as well as the New Universe title Justice.
Conway had been working regularly for Marvel for a year when Shooter was let go, so, as with Steve Englehart, knowledgeable readers would have again looked askance at Gary Groth’s inclusion of Conway in his 1987 editorial’s list of “the vast number of creators fired or otherwise driven to leave Marvel by Shooter” (TCJ #117, p. 6). As with Steve Englehart, Groth made no mention of Conway’s employment at Marvel at the time of Shooter’s firing.
Another reason readers might have looked askance was because when Conway left Marvel in 1976, the editor-in-chief was his immediate successor, Archie Goodwin. Shooter was still the company’s associate editor at the time. And Conway didn’t report to either Goodwin or Shooter. The writer-editor contract specified that he reported directly to Marvel publisher Stan Lee.
There was no correction printed with regard to that editorial, and in the 1994 “Our Nixon” essay, Groth also included Conway in the specific list of people whom Groth stated “under Shooter Marvel lost […] often because of an unresolvable dispute between the creator and Shooter”, and who “occasionally went on the record stating his unequivocal disdain for Shooter’s ethics and professionalism” (TCJ #174, p.18). Groth again made no mention that, when Shooter left Marvel, Conway was regularly working for the company.
As he did with Steve Englehart, Groth misleadingly extends the Marvel-under-Shooter description to mean when Shooter was associate editor as well as editor-in-chief. As for the basis for Conway’s inclusion, it appears to be the following statement from the 1981 feature-length interview with Conway in The Comics Journal #69.
Jim [Shooter] was my assistant at Marvel for about a month, and that’s really been the extent of our relationship. When I worked there as a writer-editor, I really didn’t have anything to do with Jim. When I left, however, Archie Goodwin was on vacation during the week that I left Marvel. It wasn’t my intention to make a sudden break, one day I’d be working for Marvel, the next day I wouldn’t. It was my intention to give them the option of letting me segue out over a period of a month, to complete the work that I’d already been assigned and paid for on the basis of an advance loan. But Jim, who was Archie’s assistant and the person in charge of the office at the time, had Stan’s ear and said to Stan, “Well, gee, Stan, do we really want to have a writer who’s already decided to leave us working for us over the next few weeks possibly turning out work on an inferior level because he’s so disinterested? Let’s get that work away from him.” That cost me almost $4000. […] Now I wouldn’t want to say Jim did that out of maliciousness or a feeling of ambition, but I do know that several of the stories that were taken away from me were later written by Jim. (TCJ #69, p. 82)
However, even if one takes this at face value, it does not support Groth’s claim that Conway “was fired or otherwise driven to leave Marvel by Shooter.” Although Conway does not specify his reasons for his decision to leave Marvel, it’s clear that problems with Shooter weren’t among them. As he said, “When I worked there as a writer-editor, I really didn’t have anything to do with Jim.” All Conway is alleging is that, after he announced his departure, Shooter took steps that hastened that exit. It’s far from the same thing. Groth again appears to be playing fast and loose with what allegedly happened.
Getting back to Conway, there is nothing indicating his account of Shooter’s conduct is anything but speculation, and very reckless speculation at that. How did Conway know what Shooter said or didn’t say to Lee? And isn’t Lee responsible for his own actions? He’d been a publishing professional for over 35 years at this point. It’s hard to imagine him being influenced in this way by a junior staffer.
If I had to guess what’s going on here, I would say that Conway was looking to absolve Lee of responsibility for Lee’s treatment of him. Further, he was looking to blame another person—here, Shooter–for Lee’s actions, and then treat that person, not Lee, as the enemy.
This appears to be a pattern of behavior on Conway’s part. When Conway was passed over for the editor-in-chief position in favor of Len Wein in 1974, and again passed over for it in 1975 when Marv Wolfman replaced Wein, he has said it “cluttered up my relationship with Marv and Len, when they were put in over me” (TCJ #69, p. 72). The implication of this was that he blamed them for Lee’s decision to hire them, rather than Lee himself. In a 2011 blog post (click here), Shooter says Conway told him, presumably when Conway was editor-in-chief, that “Marv and Len had lobbied against his being hired and prevailed.” Shooter also told Sean Howe that Conway said he intended to drive Len Wein to quit because “[t]he bastard screwed me, and I want rid of him. [emphasis in the original] (Untold Story, p. 184). As can be seen, there’s first the shifting of responsibility away from Lee, and then the demonization of the person blamed instead.
Roy Thomas, who was perhaps Conway’s closest friend in the comics field, as well as the Marvel veteran who knew Lee best, said in 1980 that he considered Lee specifically responsible for what happened.
Marvel has had a tendency in recent years to be very vindictive toward people who leave it to work for the competition. They go far beyond any kind of professional reaction. Stan generally has reasonably good and humane instincts, but once in a while he’ll just decide that if somebody does something, he’s never going to work for Marvel again. He did this with Len, and with Gerry […] (TCJ #61, p. 85)
It appears Lee, at least in practice, had a policy when it came to the scriptwriters who had served as editor-in-chief and, upon stepping down, were granted writer-editor contracts. If they quit to work for DC, Lee did not want them working for Marvel from that moment forward. The first person to be confronted with this was Len Wein. In 1976, Wein left Marvel for DC. According to Kim Thompson, in a news report he wrote for The Comics Journal, Wein told him “Lee angrily assured him [Wein] that he would never work for the company again” (TCJ #56, p. 12). When Marv Wolfman announced he was leaving Marvel for DC in 1979, Lee ordered that Wolfman’s outstanding contractual assignments be rescinded, and that Wolfman was to receive his remaining vacation and sick pay in their place (TCJ #52, p. 8). Conway appears to have been treated the same as Wein and Wolfman, and for the the same reason.
Beyond that, it’s my view that Stan Lee had plenty of reason to be angry over Conway’s decision to leave for DC. Conway was hired for the editor-in-chief position after lobbying for it through Roy Thomas, who then recommended Conway for the job (Untold Story, p.183). Lee took a sizable chance on hiring a largely untested 23-year-old, and Conway essentially threw the opportunity back in Lee’s face: he resigned from the job after less than a month. He then immediately played on Lee’s goodwill again and negotiated an astonishingly expansive writer-editor contract. It required Marvel to give him eight ongoing scriptwriting assignments, twice as much as that of any other writer at the company. Now, five of those assignments weren’t a problem. Conway took over two titles that were left open by Englehart’s departure, one from Tony Isabella’s, one that Archie Goodwin left when Goodwin succeeded Conway as editor-in-chief, and one that Marv Wolfman had vacated to take over another series. However, Steve Gerber, one of the company’s most valued scriptwriters, had to be removed from one of his books to accommodate Conway, and the company also had to launch two new titles to fill out the balance of Conway’s quota. The contract was for three years. After Lee had gone to these lengths on Conway’s behalf, including potentially alienating Gerber, Conway threw it all back in Lee’s face again. He decided after about six months to break the contract and return to DC. If I had been Stan Lee, I probably would have been scooting Conway out the door as quickly as I could, too.
I also note that Shooter has stated he did not have a positive working relationship with Lee until the two began collaborating on the writing of the Spider-Man newspaper strip (click here). This would have been in 1977, after Conway left the company. If what Shooter says is accurate, he did not seem to have “Stan’s ear” at the time.
Conway observes that, after he left, Shooter took over some of his scriptwriting assignments. That’s correct, as did Goodwin, Roger Slifer, David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo, and Chris Claremont. Goodwin was the editor-in-chief, Slifer and Kraft were both editorial staffers, Mantlo was possibly still on staff at this time, and Claremont was known to regularly hang out in the Marvel offices. Perhaps it wasn’t just Shooter who might have influenced Lee to give Conway the early boot. It could have been a conspiracy the entire office was in on.
Now let’s discuss the money that Shooter’s alleged influencing of Lee cost Conway.
In the 1981 quote, Conway describes this as “an advance loan” for assigned work. Conway was actually benefitting from a secret, massive (and benevolently intended) pre-payment accounting scam being run by Marvel production manager John Verpoorten. (Sean Howe describes the scam on page 201 of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.) According to Shooter (click here), when Conway went over to DC, he informed them that he owed Marvel the money. DC cut Marvel a check for the amount and arranged an internal payment plan with Conway to cover the balance. If this is accurate, Conway just ended up repaying the money in a different manner than he intended. If he lost money, it was because he wasn’t able to repay the money by working for Marvel and DC simultaneously, and there’s no indication that Marvel would have ever allowed him to do that.
What Shooter says happened next doesn’t really reflect on Conway, but I’d like to include it, just to give an idea of how disorganized things were at Marvel at the time:
DC’s check was delivered to Marvel’s accounting department. [Marvel chief financial officer] Barry Kaplan had no clue, at that point (before the scam came to light) what it was for, assumed it was a mistake and sent it back! DC then sent the check to John Verpoorten, probably at Gerry’s suggestion. The five figure [sic] check was found in Verpoorten’s drawer after he died.
Gerry Conway continued to work for Marvel after Shooter’s departure. His efforts included extended runs as scriptwriter for Spectacular Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, and Conan the Barbarian. He also did occasional work for DC during this time. He left the field in the early 1990s to work as a writer and producer in series television. He returned to work for DC in 2009 and 2010.
In the next installment: Shooter takes over as editor-in-chief.