In the final installment of this interview, Shooter talks about his start at DC, his universe building at Valiant (and Caesar like betrayal), the return to that universe and what’s he’s up to these days.
Straight from Shooter’s mouth.
MICHAEL DAVID THOMAS: You started writing the Legion of Super-Heroes at the age of 13. How did that come about?
JIM SHOOTER: My family needed money. And at the age of 13, you can’t get a job in a steel mill. So you can’t get any kind of real job, maybe running newspapers. So I needed to make some money. Looks like these comics couldn’t be that hard to do. Especially since I had given up on comics when I was 8 years old and hadn’t noticed them again until I had run across marvel comics. I had recently come across them and said these were better.
I also picked up the Superman again. They were about where I had left them. Lois Lane was still trying to figure out Clark Kent’s secret every issue. And he was always turning into freaks and monsters from red Kryptonite.
It was all the same stuff. I said, “Y’know, if I could learn to write like this Stan Lee guy, I could sell stories to [DC] and Lord knows they need it.”
And that’s what I did. I studied Stan Lee’s comics and tried to figure out why they were better and wrote a story for DC using what I learned. This wasn’t some kid playing. I had every intention of selling this thing. My experience told me that they seldom had sweeping changes from [one] issue to the next. I made sure not to change too much. but to try to do what they did, but better.
With the Legion, I thought that their rocket ship shaped clubhouse was idiotic, but I didn’t change it. I drew layouts to go with the script, because I didn’t know how the script was supposed to look like. I drew the rocket ship bigger because I could never figure out how 25 of these people could fit into what was the size of a phone booth.
Sure enough, they bought it.
They asked me to send ’em a couple more. They bought those.
The editor called up and said, “We want you to write for us regularly” and started giving me assignments and I worked my way through high school. He didn’t realize that — about that time I’d just turned 14 — until some time later. I lived in Pittsburgh and he asked me to come to New York, spend some time in the office, learn a few things. I was kind of hesitant, because I was in school. I said, I’m 14. He said, “Put your mother on the phone.”
My mother had to come with me on my first business trip. Which is a little embarrassing. I worked for them for five years essentially.
MDT: Was there a point where there was pressure to perform?
JS: Absolutely. I did it because we needed the money. It was fun at first, but I was going to school all day, writing and drawing comics all night. It wasn’t much of a life. Also, I’d decided… Mort Weisinger was the old-fashioned cigar-chomping editor who thinks it’s his job to keep you under his thumb. He’d call me up on a regularly scheduled phone call and scream at me for two hours. How stupid I was, what a rotten story this was and how could I be so dumb?
I’m 14 and I’ve got this editor calling me up from New York telling me I’m stupid. Those phone calls would end up with me volunteering to quit because I obviously wasn’t good enough. He would say, I would give you one more chance. I finally figured out that they wouldn’t be sending me these checks if this stuff was no good.
Two funny P.S.es to that story.
There was another young writer at the time named Cary Bates [Flash in the 80s pre-Crisis, Captain Atom]. The first thing Cary sold was a cover sketch that he drew and I wrote the story to go with the cover sketch. And then he started writing his own.
Mort used to say, why can’t you write like this Bates guy. He’s great, you’re just an idiot, blah, blah, blah.
I met Cary Bates, years later, and he said, I used to hate you. Mort used to always throw you up to me. This guy is so much younger than you, he can write circles around you, Bates, you jerk.” I said, “He did the same thing to me.” He was using us against each other. The other thing, after Mort had left DC, Nelson Bridwell, he said, “Boy, Mort used to brag about you. He said he could give you anything and you’d do it and it’d be good. He’d never have to rewrite anything, everything was usable. He thought you were the best ever.”
Whoa, wish he would’ve told me. That’s just the kind of guy he was. He made it tough. The pressure was tough. It became a grind.
MDT: Did you ever feel like you were a comics curiosity, being a teenager writing for a major comics company? Or did you always consider yourself a writer, as well as other people in the business?
JS: I never encountered that. In terms of my daily life, no one found it particularly significant. I never got any special attention out of it. I wasn’t a celebrity.
I don’t think people understood it. They’d hear that I wrote comic books. And they’d say, what’s that? They write those things? They didn’t grasp it.
When I was dealing with Mort, he said, “I’m treating you like any other writer.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time. But in truth that’s pretty much what happened. When I went to the offices at DC, I didn’t feel like I was treated any differently.
First time I went to New York, Mort wouldn’t let me come to the office directly. He said, “Go to your hotel and wait for me there.”
I went there and he comes to the door. He looks up and I’m a foot taller than he is. I was wearing a coat and tie. He said, “Thank God, you’ll do.” I said, “What was this about?” “I was afraid you’d be some freckle-faced little kid with a Charlie Brown T-shirt and I’d be embarrassed to walk you into that office. I wanted to make sure you’re dressed right.” I was big enough and dressed appropriately enough that I would pass as a writer. There were rules in those days. You couldn’t go into DC without a coat and a tie.
…At Marvel, most people showed up to paint a house.
The first time I went to Marvel, there was some guy that was sleeping on his desk. He was actually living there. And people sword fighting in the halls with yard sticks. A paper mache statute of Thor that some fan had made from someone, hanging from the ceiling in the Bullpen. It was a zoo. It was a fun place.
MDT: What was it at DC that engenders so much animosity that you couldn’t sell the Legion story? Was it Marvel people who defected?
JS: It was the fact that there were people there that I booted out..
Sometime near the end of my tenure, I fired Denny O’Neill.
I also fired Mike Carlin, which they richly deserved.
I had begged with Denny to not do what he was doing. And he persisted. The publisher said, “Get rid of this asshole.” I said, “Mike, you’re right. He’s gone.” So we fired him and he went over and got a job at DC. Maybe he cleaned up his act and they seem to be happy with him. And he seemed to have went on.
I had a similar problem with Mike Carlin not doing his job and ultimately had to let him go. He caught on there and became part of the power structure — a lot of things are done by committee there — and if my name is ever mentioned there are people who would actively throw a fit I did anything for DC.
Denny, I gave him a job when nobody else would. When DC threw him out, I hired him. I was warned by a number of people — people he thinks are some of his friends — don’t hire this guy. He’s burned out, he’s this, he’s this. I said, I know he’s talented. I know he can write. I know he understands the architecture. Of course, I had this naive feeling, “I’ll motivate him, I’ll get him back on track.”
He was the only editor I ever had that two different assistants of his came to me came to me to complain. They came to me discreetly and said, this guy doesn’t do anything but freelance all day. And the rest of the work gets dumped on us.
And the Carlin thing… I tried to promote from within. He was sort of the senior assistant editor. I thought he was very bright and seemed talented. Every editor always touted their guy. So they would lobby for whatever assistant they had. Carlin was the only guy whose editor ever came to me and said don’t hire this guy. He’s a loser. The only time any editor — it was Mark Gruenwald — who said he’s no good, he can’t do it. He seemed so bright.
Denny is immensely talented. And one of the all-time greats. And when he wants to, he can do a hell of a job. Why he didn’t want to around me? I don¹t know
Maybe it’s my fault. Same with Carlin. I think he is very bright. If he’s motivated he does a fine job and probably has done much better at DC than he did with me. Again, maybe the way I did things didn’t suit him. They’re there, they don’t like me. I’ll live.
MDT: Valiant was the first comics venture after Marvel, right?
JS: Well, after Marvel, I spent a year trying to buy Marvel. Then I looked into buying Harvey. I found somebody to pay them. A guy named Jeff Montgomery. Then I finally looked into starting a company. Ultimately, I started Voyager communications, publisher of Valiant comics.
MDT: How did you meet Steve Massarsky, one of your partners in Valiant?
JS: Steve was a licensee of Marvel comics. Right around the time I had left Marvel, he had signed to deal with Marvel for live action characters to all Marvel characters.
This is funny. This tells you something about how much stupidity Marvel’s management had at the time. Here’s Massarsky who has never produced anything. He traveled on the road with the Allman Bros. Band for a while but he wasn’t a producer, he didn’t know anything. He walks in and for $25,000, he gets all live action rights to all Marvel characters.
Massarsky had this idea for a children’s show. He tried to get the Cabbage Patch Kids, couldn’t get them. Ended up coming to Marvel. These live action rights, Universal paid millions of dollars for these rights. These bozos at Marvel didn’t know what these characters were worth.
Here’s a guy who has no capability mounting a show, who’s gong to tie up those rights for the next couple years. They were thinking they stole the money. They didn’t have a clue what these characters were worth. It was a mystery to them.
All through the negotiations, they were telling him about this genius editor they had who would help him get a writer and all this stuff. So he signed the contract and wanted to know how he could meet this genius.
They said, oh, we fired him yesterday. The licensing people always liked me because I made money for them. They said, that’s OK for you. Get him to write it. He’ll do a great job. Anything he’ll do will be true because he knows the characters better than anybody.
So Massarsky calls me up and said I’d been recommended as a writer and he wanted me to write this show. Once he told me it was a live action children’s show, I said I don’t think so. I was aware that those were essentially Bugs Bunny jumping up on down on a trampoline while the orchestra plays Beat It.
… He said, no, I want to do like the Wizard of Oz, but with Marvel characters. I want it to be a good story. I said, all right, fine.
I wrote this story for him and he spent the next year or so raising the money for the show. He got $1 million from MCA/Universal and $2.5 million from Radio City. Unfortunately, that took up the entire time for the option — he had something like a two-year option. He ran out of time. Marvel, to their amazement, found that the people at MCA/universal and Radio City were interested in putting millions of dollars into this project, They didn’t renew his contract. They let it expire and tried to do the deal themselves. They tried to cut him out. They were going to use my script. But see I hadn’t signed the rights away to the script. The way I heard they were going to use the script was someone at Radio City called me and said, “Do they own this script?” I said, “No, I own that script.” “They think they own it.” “Let’s have a meeting.”
We had a meeting that turned into a shouting match. Joe Calamari screamed at me that I had no right to this script. And I said, “Blow it out your ass. I’m a writer, I wrote the script.”
“We don’t need your script, we’ll get Stan to write another one.”
Highlight reel moment: Radio City executive pointing to my script saying, “But, Joe, we like this one.” That show never happened.
That’s how I met Massarsky. During that year, I wrote the thing and then would go with him to MCA and pitch it. I wanted it to go, too, because I would’ve gotten very good royalties. We got to know each other.
He kept [asking me], ³You want to start your own comic book company? We looked into to it together. I said, I don’t know enough about doing that so if you’re willing to look into it with me…
We went all the way to Germany to the International book fair in Frankfurt to look for potential investors among my foreign licensing friends. We did a lot of things. I thought I knew the guy. We eventually met this venture capital firm called Triumph Capital. They had actually been one of the companies that we had got to look for money to buy Marvel. I recruited him to help me with that, too.
Christmas Eve of the year we started, which would have been 1989, I was walking him back to his train from his office in Times Square. Right in front of Brooks Brothers on 44th Street, he says, “You ought to know this, I’m dating Melanie.” He was dating the woman who ran the venture capital company. Which is kind of a conflict. I said, “You had better tell Winston [Fowlkes], our other partner.” He didn’t. I did. And we had a confrontation about it. The board of directors convenes and Winston was fired. He thought it was an outrageous conflict. And he found it to be so. They fired him. Between the venture capital company and Steve they had a majority. Originally, we had a majority. But when Steve defected, Winston and I were the minority.
MDT: I remember reading, Triumph had 40% of the company, 20% to each of them. And the three of you — with 20% each — had a 60-40 in your favor.
JS: It seemed good, because we had 60-40. And then all of a sudden, it was 40-60. And then they fired Winston. It was interesting times. I wanted nothing more than to walk out of there. Except, for one thing, I had this ugly parting from Marvel and that damaged my reputation and we needed a hit. I didn’t know if I could raise money again and do this again. Especially because I would be liable for a personal guarantee that I had given them. Leaving would have been a nightmare. More than a nightmare for me, I had recruited some friends to come and take this adventure with me.
MDT: Bob Layton had come over…
JS: Bob wasn’t one of the ones at the beginning. People more like Janet Jackson, Don Perlin, and a few others. Debbie Fix. People who, if they had this rug pulled out from underneath them, would have significant trouble in their lives.
I was the pariah of comics. Anyone who threw in with me was pretty much blacklisted. If you came to work for me, you wouldn’t be going back to work for Marvel or DC.
I basically had people who had faith in me and I thought, if I can just navigate myself through this… I kept telling myself, they can’t get rid of me, I’m the creative person. They can’t mess with me too much, I’m the CEO. I kept thinking, all they want is money. As long as I make it successful, I can buy them out. If we can survive this and make some money, I can get rid of them. Send ’em away happy.
Bob Layton and Barry Windsor-Smith. Bob was made persona non grata. They weren’t renewing his contract at Marvel, so he was getting thrown out of there and had no place to go. I adopted him sort of.
Same thing with Barry Windsor-Smith. He was at war with DC and with Marvel. So he didn’t have anywhere else to go. So I got him. It was a collection of people with no where else to go.
Under not great conditions, we worked our asses off.
MDT: A lot of the characters that you bought for Valiant were old Gold Key characters right? Magnus, Turok, Solar…
MDT: And those are the ones that you wanted to publish at Valiant?
MDT: Instead what happened?
JS: We started off on working on those. We hired an assistant named Laura Hitchcock and we would sit in our offices coming up for ideas for these characters.
At the same time, Steve had somehow met people who represented Nintendo. LCI was owned by Stan Weston. He was a guy who I had licensed Micronauts from. Somewhere between Marvel and starting Valiant, we talked to Stan about being a potential investor.
He’d actually heard Harvey was for sale and asked if I’d be interested in going after that with him. We had begun a conversation with Stan that never went anywhere. Once we were chatting again, I guess Steve was talking to him about making comics based on the properties they represented.
LCI represented Nintendo and World Wrestling Federation, to name a few. So I guess, Steve had some conversations with him about doing Nintendo comics.
You have to understand, Nintendo was very hot back then. Mario Bros. was doing great. It sounded attractive. I knew you couldn’t sell those comics in the existing comics market, but you might be able to sell them in the mass market. Steve was really behind this. He really wanted to do this. This was, of course, before I knew that he was sleeping with the banker. She seemed to be all gung ho about this, too. I was thinking about this, gee, the money people think it’s a good idea.
Steve kept telling me things like because of Stan Weston and their relationship with Nintendo we could get the use of Nintendo’s mailing list, who — at that point — had a 2,000,000 name subscriber database for their magazine. So if we could get an ad in their magazine — maybe a blow-in card — to advertise these new comics, that’d be pretty good.
2,000,000 people who are desperately interested in Nintendo, if we put out a good product…
…Maybe this would go. Nintendo was saying that they would help us market it and get on the shelves next to the games. That’d be great. We sign this deal, pay them a phenomenal amount of money, something like $300,000 — which was a lot of money for a little company like ours — and of course it never happened.
We never got the subscriber list, we never got help with the marketing and basically left to twist in the wind. Which we did. And we tried different things to make it work. It wasn’t happening. I wanted to get out of the Nintendo business and get into the superhero business, but Steve and Melanie had surfaced and Winston had been fired. It was kind of contentious.
Before we could do superheroes, they insisted we try the wrestling comics. Same nightmare, couldn’t give the things away. David Lapham’s first job was wrestling comics. Finally, we got to do the superhero stuff. I get my way and we came up with a lot of ideas for promoting them. Some of them Massarsky’s, some of them mine at this point. I think what would usually happen, he would say something like, if we could get them to buy the first 5 or 6. I’d say, we should put something in them that you’d have to buy all 6 to make one complete thing. Or something like that.
…We started publishing the superhero stuff and it wasn’t an instant hit. We were selling OK numbers. I think Magnus started out selling 80,000-90,000 and then trickled down into 50,000 or so. Solar, with the Barry Windsor-Smith thing. Big name, right? Nothing. Sold like 40,000, I think. They weren’t doing that well.
MDT: For comics, what’s a good number for sales of comics?
JS: It different for every one. Depends on how many you print, because the more you print, the less it costs you per unit. It depends on the price of the book.
I would say as a rule of thumb, if a major publisher paying real rates has a book selling 30,000 or more, it’s probably making money. If it’s selling less, then it’s probably losing money. Now, there are so many variables in that equation. Like if you’re a smaller publisher and you’re not paying people much or you’re using different paper than the bigger companies.
There’s a million variables. You see these small presses doing black and whites for $3 each, selling 10,000 of them, they’re making a fortune. You also see a DC or Marvel putting out a superhero book and it’s selling 19,000 copies and they probably lost $10-15,000. But Time-Warner doesn’t care.
We were mostly making money. We had a couple of books that didn’t make the cut. After a couple of issues of Harbinger, we lost a little bit. We started building a real constituency. The fans we had were intense. We really felt like we were onto something.
P.S. with Massarsky and Nintendo: Massarsky was also doing legal work for Nintendo and some kind of consulting arrangement with LCI.
MDT: He was supposedly working for you and taking money from everybody…
JS: And on top of that, we all had employment contracts. Massarsky had agreed that when we launched the company, that he would cease his law practice and they would let him spend a minimal amount of time being counsel. He didn’t wanted to entirely cut his ties to the Allman Bros. Band.
But that was supposed to be minimus and he was supposed to abandon his law practice and devote [his time] to us full-time. He didn’t. He devoted full-time to his law practice and spent very little time to Valiant.
Like I said, he was consulting with LCI, with whom we were paying a lot of money for properties I didn’t want… [He was also] doing legal work for Nintendo. His excuse was it strengthens our relationship. I found it to be a string of conflicts that I found to be unacceptable.
We started publishing superheroes. I thought we did some good stuff. Here’s how it happened: we started publishing these books, but we weren’t getting a lot of attention. Diamond thought of us as a little publisher and ignored us. We really did as much promotion and publicity as we could given our rather limited budget. But we just weren’t getting that presence that helps you take off.
As I said, our readers were rabid and looked for back issues. The back issue prices started to zoom up. Right about the same time we started Wizard magazine started reporting about phenomenal prices on these Valiant books. Wizard did a cover story on their 7th or 8th issue on us. Like, hey, look at this phenomenal thing. That really got people’s attention. February is the month you order books for April. April sales went remarkably up. May and June were Unity and put us into the 100s of thousands, well, I was gone [by June of 92], but they really took off.
MDT: The turning point for the company became successful was the point at which you left or rather were fired.
JS: To me, the real turning point was February of 92 when we actually made money. We had a new title come out and we were breaking even with the rest that we made about $20,000 that month. They were making their orders for April, March orders were already in and I don’t think that was a great month. April we did pretty well, I think we made $100,000. Because sales went up. We published Archer & Armstrong #0 and May & June were the Unity months. We had really gone all out to promote Unity and really got good sales. Virtually everything was selling 100,000 and some even selling 200,000 which for a small company like us was pretty good. Pre-tax profit in May and June was half a million dollars a month.
So we had made it right?
June there was the Diamond convention. We were voted by the retailers as the publisher of the year. There were two divisions: Marvel and DC, and then the rest of us. We got small publisher of the year award. I got a Diamond Gemmi award for lifetime achievement. So did Bob Overstreet, so did Stan Lee. I walk up on this stage, and with 3,000 people who were in the retail community, I get a standing ovation. If I had walked up on stage one year earlier, they would have been throwing fruit.
To me, I said, we made it. Redeemed. Successful. Money rolling in over the gunwales. We made it. Had a glorious moment of success and redemption. If people in this industry decide you’re a bad guy, that only lasts until you do something good or you have a hot book.
And then you’re OK again. By that point, we were really successful for subsequent months. Don’t forget you get your orders for subsequent months. We knew that in July and August, we were [going to be] rockin’, we were going to be making a lot of money. All of a sudden, Bill Shanes is coming up from Diamond to visit us. He’s talking to me about reprints… “We know you’re reprinting the first issues of Harbinger. I’ll guarantee you a 100,000 of those.” He was wrong, it was 200,000. We knew that Harbinger was going to be featured. we were there, we were their darlings. About the same time that Massarsky and co. were going to get rid of me.
MDT: There was a story I really want you to talk about. Your conversation with Stan Lee after winning that award.
JS: Stan, me and Bob Overstreet all got lifetime achievement awards. You have to understand, with Valiant, we started it on a shoestring budget, we squandered a lot of it on wrestling and Nintendo. By the time we got down to doing the real work, we worked in pathetic conditions. We had no money.
Barry Windsor-Smith doesn’t know this, but I paid a good bit of the money paid to him out of my own pocket. I charged it on my VISA card. I didn’t have it. Layton; we were all working long hours. He needed to take a little break, a vacation. We gave him a bonus. The company gave him a bonus? No, I gave him a bonus. He thinks it came from the company. We had no money to hire artists. No one to do anything.
You’ll notice I drew a few of those issues. It’s not because I wanted to. It wasn’t because I thought I was an artist. It’s because we couldn’t afford anybody. We didn’t have the money. WE were working ridiculous hours. And the weapon we had to fight with was man hours. Every day, from the moment I woke up to the moment I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.
I went for over a year. Never missed a day of work. I worked Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, we had 14 people working. Debbie Fix made dinner in the microwave.
On Christmas Day one artist asked when he could come in for an appointment. I said, next Tuesday. He said, that’s New Year’s Day, no one’s going to be here. I said, try me. Sure enough, he comes in, the office is buzzing. We worked our butts off.
We worked in conditions you wouldn’t like. We had a crummy office, mice infestations. Mama mouse had her babies in a sportsjacket I left lying on my desk. It was pathetic.
At first, it was freezing in there. Everybody had a space heater next to them. We figured out how many you could plug in before you blew a circuit. It was awful. It was this nightmare. We came through it. We won. We made it. Nope.
That last month [at Valiant], I wrote six comic books. [This] being the president of the company. Phone calls. Meetings. Doing all the business of the business as well. Answering mail.
After the thing, I walked up to Stan and I said congratulations, shook his hand. We were exchanging pleasantries and I said, “Y’know, Stan, I know you wrote something like 12 comic books a month for something like 10 years. I just wrote six and it nearly killed me. How did you do it? How did you write so many books for so long?” I love this. He said, “You put a lot more into it than I do.” I remember a lot of those early Marvels and there was a lot in them. So revolutionary, so good, so clever. It was a really nice thing to say.
MDT: In spite of what happened, a vindication of sorts.
JS: I don’t really need a vindication. I was there. I know what happened. I know I did the right thing. I might be a little smarter next time. I felt good about it. I really felt that… the thing that bugs me is the other people, like [Janet Jackson]. When they fired me, they just dumped those people out on the street and anybody who they felt was loyal to me.
They almost fired Don Perlin. But I think Bob intervened for that. Because Perlin was a friend of mine, so I’m sure they were suspicious of him. But that’s what really got to me. I had plenty of opportunities and I wasn’t likely to miss any meals.
And I have not. These other people who had believed in me and worked their tails off… And it’s all gone. [Here’s what] I feel bad about: [A]mong the things they were counting on not happening was to not have that happen. Who knew Steve would be sleeping with the banker?
If I had been smarter, I would have known what to do. I eagerly believed that being the creative person, they wouldn’t do anything to me. Well, guess what? After you create it, they can get rid of you. Once you’ve done the seminal creation, who needs you anymore?
MDT: Can you explain a little about the deal that was described to you shortly before you firing? Melanie’s brother-in-law?
JS: Sometime in March, I guess, Michael Nugent — Melanie’s partner — came to our office and said he had something important he wanted to talk to us about. Sat down with me and Steve. Told us about how our note was overdue and we were going to have to foreclose.
Come June, they were going to have to shut us down. I can’t prove this, but Steve and Michael were saying stuff like, oh, we understand, we have to find a buyer. They were such bad actors. I’m thinking, this is being staged for my benefit.
On the face of it, it’s idiotic. If somebody owes you money and they’re just starting to produce, you don’t shut them down. You let them pay you off. OK, so you take your pound of flesh, you invoke some clauses in your agreement so you dilute the owner’s stock or something. It was nonsense on the face. This is weird, what’s going on?
And Massarsky is getting real buddy buddy with Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton. Massarsky, who had never said hello to anyone to that point, all of sudden was coming in to our bullpen area, buying pizzas, chatting with everyone. Guess it’s nice Steve is getting involved in the business. Struck me as odd, still.
I’m told one day, great news, we have a buyer. It’s Allen & Co., where Melanie’s brother worked. To me, Triumph wants out, fine. I don’t care if someone buys their position. Tell me what the deal is. I was told that Allen & Co. wanted a stake in us and might seek other buyers. This sort of kept being pitched to me, but no one would tell me what the terms of the deal were.
I kept asking, what are terms of the deal. And they’d say, we’ll get to that, but let me tell you how great this deal is going to be. Part of the investor is going to be Charles Lazarus from Toys R Us. All of our books are going to be on display at Toys R Us. One of them is going to be Michael Ovitz, so there’ll be films. Oh, it’s going to be glorious.
I kept making it clear, I don’t want to be an employee of someone else’s company, I want to have a stake in this. Terms that are acceptable. They just kept saying, it’ll great, it’ll be great.
So, finally, I am on my way to the Diamond convention. It’s late at night and I’m going the next morning. I think it was a Friday and a package of papers come from Triumph. They said, here are the contracts. They have to be signed and delivered by Monday or the whole deal falls apart. I’m on a train to Baltimore in the morning and I’m going to be busy all weekend at the retailers convention.
When am I going to show this to a lawyer? Has to be Monday, has to be Monday. I stayed up that night and read those papers. They were the most pernicious documents you could imagine.
Among them was an employment agreement for me. A ten-year employment agreement. No increase in pay. Takes away my title. I am now an employee with no title. I now have no specified duties. It appoints Steve’s brother-in-law as our new CEO and it says that if I do not report to the CEO and obey the CEO, they can fire me and claw back my stock for nothing. It says that I have a two-year non-compete after the ten years, during which I can’t do anything but flip burgers.
There are all sorts of claw back arrangements in there. They can fire me and claw back all my stock for “failing to engender good morale.” If I piss off Bob Layton one day for some reason, they can fire me and claw back all my stock. I had to sign representations and warranties that weren’t true. The agreement was terrible. Allen & Co. were buying in for a fairly small amount of money. Here’s a company who’s starting to make fairly good amount of money a month. You don’t [give] a controlling interest of it for $9 million.
P.S. Everybody else stayed in. They weren’t even being bought out. It was so Allen & Co. could come in and bring these heavy hitters and sell the company to somebody lese.
I was not going to do that. On the way down, Bob [Layton] was behaving weirdly and on the way back, it kind of came out that Massarsky had made him a bunch of promises, and they were going to get rid of me. Y’know, that was OK because he would take over.
I told him, Go to hell. Walked away from him and haven’t spoken to him since.
What they did is they made arrangements with Bob and Barry Windsor-Smith, figuring that his big name would replace my big name and Bob would be able to keep the trains running. They did. Bob stayed there for some time. Barry’s was the same as mine.
Once they’d gone a couple of months and the place hadn’t collapsed — they had gotten the use of Barry’s name in association — they didn’t need him anymore. They screwed him.
Bottom line is, I came back and said I wouldn’t sign the documents. They said if I went to see a lawyer, they’d kill the deal. I went to see a lawyer anyway.
I went through what in the financial trades is called a cram-down. Where I was literally shuttled from meeting to meeting where people would scream at me, [asking me how I could be so selfish? Don’t screw up this] …opportunity.
Because I was a pig. That’s the story they tell the fan press. “We had this great opportunity, but he was such a megalomaniacal guy, he couldn’t stand to lose any control. We wanted to do things as a team and he wanted to be a dictator….”
Horseshit! They were trying to steal it and I couldn’t stop them. They’re not going to tell you, “We’re going to steal it!” They’re going to say, he just wouldn’t play ball, you know how he is. It’s really amazing, once you’ve had your reputation assailed, it’s so easy to do it again. It was so easy to reawaken all the Marvel megalomaniac stories. You know how he is, oh, yeah, I’ve heard about it.
If I had been stupid enough to sign that thing and keep working for them, keep making them money and they could have gotten rid of me at their leisure, that would’ve been OK, but they had really set themselves up for plan B. They got Bob and Barry and the John Harts. Made little arrangements with them, pay them off essentially. Cover if I didn’t stick around. My lawyer tried to negotiate with them and they just laughed at him. Slammed the phone down.
One morning, I’m summoned to a board meeting uptown. 9 a.m. board meeting. I go. They appoint Fred Pierce to the board — Melanie’s assistant — so they would have a clear majority. And they fired me. Told me not to go back to the office because there were two armed guards who were instructed to prevent me from returning to the office.
Meanwhile, Debbie and JJ were pretty much unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk. They said, “Get your shit out of here.” JJ had brought all of her own equipment, we didn’t have any money to buy our own equipment. So she had desks and chairs and art supplies, trying to load this stuff, nobody’s helping her.
Fortunately a friend of mine was in town who had stopped by the office to visit. He saw what was going on and helped Debbie and JJ get their things out and guard stuff on the street while they brought the rest down. Got them a cab. It was horrible, a nightmare.
They immediately started doing things [to others]. They took David Lapham in a room and tried to do a cram-down on him. Lecturing him about what a monster I was. Telling him he didn’t know what had gone on behind the scenes. What a bastard I was. That night, David calls me up and says, “What’s going on?” So I have dinner with him and tell him. He said, “I need this work, so I can’t leave yet. But as soon as you get started again, I’ll come with you.” I said, great. He stayed with Valiant for a while, which was good, built up his reputation. When we started Defiant, he came with me.
MDT: When all was said and done, what were you left with from Valiant, as far as stock, interest in the company, etc.?
JS: What happened, the first thing they did was fire me. I almost giggled. The first feeling I got was, “I don’t have to stay up all night tonight. I don’t have to work tonight.” It had been a year or more that I hadn’t worked every minute of every day. I remember feeling almost this giddiness. It wasn’t that I was happy about getting fired, but I couldn’t deny the fact that there was something cool about not having work all night.
So I walk out of there, I still owned 25% of the company. I had captured some of Winston’s stock when he left. I own 25% of something that’s worth something. I’ll sleep tonight. I’ll live.
The thing was, a couple days later, Triumph sued me for a $50,000 personal guarantee. Claiming that the company was in default. This company’s making a pre-tax profit of $2,000,000 a month. Now I suppose technically, it could have been in default if they had invoked default back when we couldn’t pay.
But the fact is, in order to sell the company to Allen & Co. they had to have a clean auditor’s opinion. So, Triumph had waived default, all events of default. I had a letter to that effect. I had to sign representations to that effect. Representations that had been used to sell the company.
They had actually tried to steal my letter. One day the financial officer — who was one of their boys — came down and said, you know that letter you have, there’s a mistake on it, give it back to me. I said, I don’t think I have it here, Ed. I did. I said, I think it’s home. So that night, I made sure to take that letter out of there.
The next morning I had come in, my files had been tossed. Tossed, somebody had gone through them. I had that rep letter. I went to the lawyers and they tried to defend me.
I spent $70,000 defending myself against a lawsuit for $50,000. If that sounds crazy to you, as near as I can tell, they spent $400,000 suing me for $50,000. If that doesn’t make any sense, let me explain it to you. If they were able to get a court to validate the notion that there had been a default, that meant the value of my stock was zero. I was sitting here with stock that was arguably worth many millions of dollars.
P.S. They had forged a letter that said only certain events of default had been waived. Horseshit! They did lose. It was an obvious scam.
Their next tactic was to use the other clause in the contract, which was to force arbitration. And they won arbitration. Won it on the first day. The arbitrator was this guy in his 70s. He had never had any experience with intellectual property. He hadn’t [any background] with entertainment or publishing. I guess his background was arbitrating with cases where an executive would leave Alcoa. And so he didn’t understand the value of intellectual properties. His idea was that the company should be valued on the day I left. My lawyers said, “that’s like valuing the Muppets the day before they go on television. That’s like valuing the lightbulb the day before they start selling lightbulbs.” [The arbitrator] was like, he’s an executive, he’s no longer there, what do you mean? He didn’t grasp that I had created these characters.
[Valiant’s lawyers] asserted that the company was worth negative $2,000,000. I did a valuation on it and said it was worth something like $20 or $22 million on the day I left. Meanwhile, it’s making $2,000,000 dollars in pre-tax profit.
Ultimately, what the arbitrator did — as arbitrators almost always do — they split the difference.
“Well, you had a bona fide offer of $9 million. Well, we’ll use that as a value.”
Wait, that was from her brother. Hold it, wait! He didn’t get it. He was a doddering old man. The value was $9 million.
They invoked a couple of clauses that if I was fired, they could dilute me. The fact is, I had letters saying that I wasn’t fired for cause. They didn’t care. They knew I didn’t have the wherewithal to keep suing them. They just pretended that I was fired for cause, they diluted me a couple of times, ran the percentage [I owned] into the teens.
They ran the numbers and deducted the debt. All this money they made, they never paid down the debt, because they wanted to deduct it against the value of my stock. So they deduct $4 million from $9 million, they get $5 million. I get some small percentage. After taxes, I didn’t have enough to pay the lawyers. I think I’m the only person in the country who lost money on Valiant. Except for Acclaim entertainment. Then they sold the company to Acclaim Entertainment for $65 million dollars in stock.
MDT: You never saw any of that?
JS: Never even got copies of the books I did. They reprinted everything I ever wrote and sold large quantities of it. I never even got a copy of the books, much less the royalty.
The payments that they had to make to me was over 4 years. Each payment, we’d go through this whole hazing thing. They’d send it to the wrong zip code. There’d be a $10 error on it. They’d stop payment on it, the bank charges me $35. They’d send it again to the wrong zip code. Just stringing me along. Dicking me around.
The level of hate was amazing. I asked a friend of mine who’s a psychologist. I asked him, what is this? They ended up with all the money. He said, “Jim, people who wrong you hate you the most. If they wrong, they have to hate you. You have to be the bad guy, otherwise, how do they live with themselves?” They just delight in making you the great Satan. They always have this righteous wrath they enjoy enacting upon you.”
During the time, they were trying to sell the company, they waited too long. They got greedy. The comic book industry started to go into a slide and they hadn’t closed the deal.
In other business dealings, I ran into a guy named Enrique Senior, who was second in command of Allen & Company. He was actually the one selling Valiant, conducting the sale or at least in charge of it. He said, they were actually negotiating with people for about $250 mFillion.
But then the comic book business started to erode, started to slide and they were waiting to see if it would level out. They were lucky to get Acclaim. It actually makes sense. A entertainment venture company that’s making about $25 million in pre-tax profit and then multiple of 20. Discount it down to $10. $250 million isn’t outrageous.
But anyway, it was kind of funny. He actually ended up saying something nice to me. Goes on the highlight reel. He said, when we ended up selling it to Acclaim for $65 million and stock, that was a mistake, no one should’ve bought that company, the creative guy was gone. Damn straight he was.
MDT: Was your situation at Valiant the exception or the rule for the comics industry?
JS: I think that was an exceptional situation. I have discovered, since then, that scenario I describe is a lot more common in venture capital than anyone seems to know. It’s almost typical that venture capital will almost deliberately under capitalize a new venture.
Some entrepreneur will spill his guts, use all his ideas and then the capital venture guys will find a way to squeeze him out and capture the value of his ideas. I don’t think most of them are pernicious as the pack I dealt with. I discovered that that is not an unusual circumstance.
But I think in most cases in the comics industry, you had your big guys, you had your Image guys with stupefying amounts of their own money, didn’t need venture capital, little tiny players, most of whom bootstrapped. And then you had the most successful bootstrap, Dark Horse. Mike [Richardson, owner & publisher] didn’t come from a poor family, but he built that up from nothing. He had retail stores first and parlayed one business into another. The only comic book company with any significance I know of with venture capital was Innovation. I know the people who were the money behind Innovation. They were bankers, but they weren’t terrible people. They weren’t like the people I dealt with.
MDT: The gentlemen who created Ren & Stimpy, got the same sort of shaft you did.
JS: It happens. Apparently, [Triumph] had a reputation. In my next company, I had a meeting with Mr. Veronis and Mr. Suhler of Veronis & Suhler. I was sitting there and talking to them. Excuse me, if you’re so good at this, why did they fire you from this company you started? I said, the backer of this company was a little company called Triumph Capital, and they turned, looked at each other and started laughing. They said, say no more, we understand. Obviously, these guys had a reputation because Veronis & Suler sure knew who they were.
MDT: Defiant had a pretty good start. Dave Cockrum did some work. David Lapham came over. You even had Chris Claremont for a short period. What happened?
JS: We had a few good people. Comics were booming and even though I had money to pay people, they were busy. We struggled to get many big name artists. We didn’t have enough money to get state of the art coloring. The quality of the books wasn’t what I had wanted. We had some problems, probably my fault, I might have underestimated what it would take.
We also, when we first started out, were sued by Marvel Comics. When we announced Plasm, they claimed they had a character that that infringed upon. What they actually had was a name registered in the U.K. trademark with intent to use. They ended up suing us. We ended up fighting that out in court. It cost us over $300,000 in court. We won, hands down. The judge scolded them at the them, because he knew they were just using it as a business weapon. Trying to use the court to squelch a competitor.
Especially since, to them, I was a dangerous competitor. The last time I had started a company, I had taken a chunk out of their market share. They lost and lost big. But when you’re a small company and somebody bleeds $300,000 out of you — also 120 hours of my time, a similar amount of time for Winston [Fowlkes] who was the publisher.
The sidebar to that story is. [We] created Plasm. When their lawyers came after us, our lawyers said, we’ll change the name, what do you want? They said, if you just add some words to the name, so that it doesn’t seem like one character, that’d be OK. We offered them Warriors of Plasm. and they said, give us a couple of them and we’ll pick from them. We offered them Warriors of Plasm and a couple others and they didn’t reply.
This is May. They didn’t reply. Our lawyers said, we can’t get them to reply, so here’s what we’ll do. We’ll do the change unilaterally, because as far as we agreed, if we do the change, we’ll be OK. Warriors of Plasm had worked for me.
What they did was they waited for the day the book was shipping and they waited for a temporary restraining order. Well, we anticipated that. My publisher at Quebecor had arranged for our shipment to be interlaced with Marvel shipments. they couldn’t stop their books unless they stopped theirs. So our books shipped. We went to court and fought it out. It was ugly.
Here’s the biggest casualty. I had gone out to Mattel and sold Warriors of Plasm to Mattel as a toy. Half a million dollar advance, $1 million a year guarantee for three years. They were predicting a $50-$60 million toy line. Now if you have a major toy with Mattel, that’s a master license and you can expect ancillary licenses.
The formula goes like this: Whatever you get from Mattel, you get the same amount from all the ancillaries combined. And you get roughly the same amount again all from all the international licensees combined. So, U.S. equals ancillary equals international. So, basically, that was $9 million. When Marvel sued us, that deal went on hold. And it took so long to resolve that we missed our window.
When we missed our window, the deal fell apart. We missed to have the toy on sale when Mattel wanted it. Then they said, maybe we can renegotiate. Since we’re not sure Marvel isn’t done suing yet, we want indemnifications [assumption of responsibility for legal exposure, i.e., you pay if somebody sues]. We’re a little company, we’re not indemnifying Mattel. We finally just walked away. We tried a couple other places, nibbles, bites, here and there, but never managed to. Not only did they cost me $300,000, but $9 million [in money never made].
MDT: Have you thought about coming back to revisit the Plasm universe?
JS: I’ve thought about doing some bio-tech stuff. Plasm is now owned by Golden Books Entertainment and I have a relatively good relationship with them. So if I come up with something, I might.
MDT: Is Golden Books still part of the people that you did Broadway Comics with?
JS: I did Broadway Comics with Broadway Video Entertainment, which is one of Lorne Michaels’ [Executive Producer of Saturday Night Live] companies. A guy named Eric Ellenbogen was president. Broadway Video Entertainment was my partner and Lorne Michaels, as Broadway Video Entertainment, was my partner. He owned half the company, I owned half the company. When they decided to sell, when Broadway Video Inc. decided to sell Broadway Video Entertainment to Golden Books, we just went along with it. In fact, so did Eric Ellenbogen. The whole staff, everyone with Broadway Video Entertainment got sold to Golden Books, which then promptly went bankrupt. Basically at that time, we weren’t self-sufficient. It would have taken too much money to … We would have had to have an infrastructure, our own accounting. It wasn’t doable.
MDT: Basically, it was another money situation.
JS: They said, look, we need to close this down. My response could have been, I’ll raise the money and buy it. But it looked like… with the comic book business as it was, the amount of money I would’ve needed, the amount of ownership I would have had to give away to raise the amount of money I needed, I’m thinking, I’m going to end up working as an employee. It just wasn’t worth it. I said, bye. I still have a stake in those characters. They have the Defiant characters as well.
MDT: So, it could be you might revisit both company’s characters at some point?
JS: Who knows? Start a new company, get those characters back, work out some kind of deal.
MDT: When did you do Daring Comics?
JS: I never did. I started it. Chuck Rozanski said, “Why don’t you bootstrap it (self-publish)? I said, I don’t know. I know how to publish a million comics. I’m not sure I know how to publish 5,000. He said, I’ll help you. Let me do a test [at Mile High] and see if there’s any interest. And there was a lot of interest. I had some ideas for books and I started working on them. The trouble is, I had to earn a living. I always had other work I had to do. I didn’t have the time to devote to self-publishing. And it’s speculative. You could put a lot of work into it…
MDT: …and get nothing.
JS: Or it could be a long time before you get anything.
It wasn’t only me. The artist I had the deal with had the same problem, Joe James. I did a good bit of work, but I was still waiting for Joe to do the parts he needed to do. Bottom line, it’s a thing you can do if you have time on your hands. It’s something you could do [if your other job allowed you] to pay rent [and] if it left you enough time to do that, then fine. I say that I’d like to do it, but it’s not possible. I’m busy with long hours every day.
MDT: What happened that you went back to Acclaim (formerly Valiant) to write Unity 2000?
JS: As you know, Defiant ran out of money, and we actually had Savoy Pictures and New Line sniffing at us. Got into serious negotiations with them. Just didn’t happen.
Finally ran out of money. That’s when I did some development work for Broadway. You know how that turned out.
Suddenly I was a freelance writer again. That would have been 97. I was scrambling around getting work. Some advertising, did some work for Saban, for Fox, for Lightflash, did a little work here and there. But it’s really nice to have a steady gig.
So one day the phone rings. A voice says, “I’m from Acclaim Entertainment, don’t hang up.” I said, “OK.”
“My name is Mike Marts, I’m from Acclaim Comics, but there’s no one here you know.” I said, “Well, that’s a good thing.” He said, “We didn’t like ’em either.” I said, “What can I do for you?” he said, “Look, we would like to do this Unity 2000 thing. Would you consider writing it?” I said, “I’ll talk about it. I don’t have anything with you or anybody at Acclaim as long as the former bad guys aren’t there.”
I met with him and the publisher and one of the other editorial staff people. We had a nice lunch. We talked about what we could do. They made me a pretty good offer. I suggested they take Jim Starlin who was happy to do it. And we started out. I’ve written the whole thing. I’ve turned in five issues. I’ve turned in six plots and Starlin has turned in all the artwork. But as of today, they’ve only published three of them. The thing is, they never paid me [for the last 2 issues].
… I’m not going to give them the last issue. They’ve got the art and they’ve got the plot, so maybe they’ll just get someone to write it. Who knows? I don’t know. I’ve lost interest in them. When people don’t pay me, I lose interest in them.
MDT: So it’s pretty much soured at this point.
JS: I thought it was a good story, I thought it had good characters. I thought the last two issues were pretty good. But they never paid me for #5, they better not print that. That I would raise hell about, but I’m not turning in #6. If they get someone to rewrite #5 and write #6, I guess they can do that.
MDT: Was there talk about you doing more work for them after this?
JS: Oh, yeah. They wanted me to help write the bible for the new Acclaim Universe. They wanted me to consult editorially and wanted me to create stuff and write monthly books for them. Blah, blah, blah, blah. They were going to gather Unity stuff in a trade paperback and wanted me to write a forward. Big plans.
Well, I’m doubting’ it. Mike Marts got out of there and went to Marvel. They had this guy, Omar Benmali, who was a nice enough guy, but they fired him. I have never since heard from an editor there. So I don’t know what’s going on there.
MDT: I was looking at Previews the other day and check up. They have Unity #4-6 solicited already.
JS: They haven’t paid for #5 yet and they ain’t gettin’ #6. Unless they’ve made other arrangements, I don’t know what they’re talking about.
MDT: They have your name on #6 for the solicitation. How can they do that?
JS: They probably can’t. I keep sending emails to the publisher, Walter Black. He does not reply.
The last reply I got from him was July 10. I inquired as to whether they were sending me a check and they were “sending it this week.” That is one lost-in-the-mail check.
MDT: What are you doing currently?
JS: I’m working for a film company. I’m doing some freelance once in a while, but the main thing I’m doing — my steady gig — is I work for a film company called Phobos. It’s a small film company put together by some very accomplished and capable people in the film business with long careers in the film business. They want to be a boutique science fiction filmmaker. I’ve been working with them, working with other people’s scripts, working with development. Developing some of my own stuff. It’s pretty cool.
MDT: Still being able to write…
JS: Every day I get to play with this stuff. I’m using the same muscles. It’s universe building, but each one is discreet, as opposed to a giant one. But I’m having a ball. I think there’s some real good possibilities for this venture.
MDT: Publishers like Image and Dark Horse and Oni Press, what about writing your own titles for those companies?
JS: No one ever calls. I don’t get any offers. Last time anyone called, it was Acclaim and they didn’t pay me. I might consider doing some work for somebody if they’re interested.
But I’m sufficiently a pariah that people… I’m not anywhere near the top of their list. So DC is closed to me. Mike Marts called me once from Marvel and said, “Would you be interested in doing something here?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ll listen.” He said, “I’ll call you back.” And I never heard from him.
MDT: That seems to be the story with you. You never hear from them.
JS: That’s pretty typical with creative stuff. Especially in Hollywood. “Baby, we love it, let’s do lunch.”
It’s really funny, it’s a strange business. Everyone thinks they can do what you can do if you’re a writer. You hold a sheet that you wrote and a sheet that Hemingway wrote and they look pretty much the same. It’s because the magic is in the organization of the little words and it’s not apparent at a glance to a civilian. You can be a genius or useless based on PR.
If you’re hot, you’re hot. If you’re not, then you weren’t any good.
I don’t know, I don’t care. I’ve been fairly lucky. I’ve been able to keep body and soul together one way or another. I’ve got a gig now that I really enjoy. Also, I’m writing an adult novel for an online publisher that’s been flowing like molasses. Adult like Harry Potter kind of book. Teenage novel would be a better [name for it].
MDT: Is that something people can take a look at now?
JS: It’s going to be published online if I ever finish it. And I’ve got a couple of other projects which are sort of backburner right now.
MDT: You’re working still on the Supervillain book?
JS: I putter with that every chance I get, which isn’t as often as it should be.
MDT: Is it inevitable that you will return to comic book publishing again?
JS: I don’t think it’s inevitable. I got into comics because I wanted to make a living. I am different from most people in the comic book business. My experience is that virtually everyone who was in the business was a rabid fan who grew up his whole life to write Spider-Man. I wasn’t.
I got into it to make money because I thought I could make money. I liked it a lot. What I like about it is that I like stories. I like storytelling. I like visual stories. And I never was a heavy-duty comic book collector.
Did I love it? Yeah, it was great, I had fun with it, but I don’t have that sort of obsessive dedication to comic books themselves.
I think that’s probably offended some people along the way. I’m not a big collector. As long as I’m doing some kind of creative thing, I’m happy. Now, having said that, if someone gave me an exciting thing doing comics — if that Acclaim thing had worked out — I would have had a ball with that. It would have been a great way to earn a living. Even though they weren’t mine anymore, it would have been great to work the characters I created or redeveloped. I’m kind of an oddball in that way. A lot of people in the comic book business were real serious fans and have had a dedication to be in the business since they were kids.
Me? I think of myself as a storyteller, as a writer, first and that’s one venue which I can use my alleged skill.
I don’t think it’s inevitable at all. Unless the comic book business goes through some serious transformation, it’s not going to be around at all.
I really think that it’s dangerously close to death. DC, they’ll deny this, loses money every year. They’ve probably lost money every year for 30 years, except for the death of Superman year. Run the numbers. You know what it costs to print a book. You know what the line numbers are. Think about all those expensive executives. They got themselves set up as a part of Warner Bros. They got themselves the hell out of Warner Publishing. And got into Warner Bros.
Isn’t that odd that a magazine publisher wouldn’t be in Warner Publishing division? Answer: it’s because they can hide there. There they become a development cost. What their purpose is, oh we’re developing characters that will become movies. Some day the little light bulb will go on that most of the characters that have been movies were done so before 1940.
There was a time when there was licensing… LCA? Licensing corporation of America, which was Warner’s licensing arm, with Superman and so forth, earned the lion’s share of those revenues. And Jeanette and Paul engineered it so that DC would get the benefit of those revenues, because they lose money publishing, but they do make money licensing. So they could hide behind that, too. If you took publishing as a stand-alone unit, they lose a fortune.
Some day, someone’s got to say, do we really need to publish these? Can’t we just own the characters and use them in cartoons and things like that? Other people license characters that don’t have comic books? I think that lightbulb may go on.
The other thing, I know Marvel’s actually been losing money. I read the press releases that actually talked about it. They’re losing money publishing. I think Marvel is in the process of being sold. I think that’s why Peter Cuneo is there for, I think they’re going to sell it. They’re going to ride the crest of the wave from the X-men movie and try & get new owners for it. Either it’s going to have new owners — if it does, they might give it one more go and try to make the comics work, put some money into it, give it a push, get it started again — or they might say, as Warner Bros. might say, who needs to publish comics? We got animation. We got other ways to expose these characters. Who needs these books? Why do we have all these people on our staff and losing all this money?
If there is no sale, they have to close it down. They’ve been living on borrowed money. They borrowed $200 million a couple years ago and they’ve been living on that ever since. It’s going to run out. They just emerged from bankruptcy. They’re not a good credit risk. I think they’re in trouble.
It seems to me that you find somebody like Dark Horse and say, “we’re not going to publish this stuff anymore. We’ll license Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, the key things. You publish it.”
You know, DC almost did that with Marvel. When I was Editor-in-chief at Marvel, Bill Sarnoff called up and we had this conversation. He was talking to Galtin and I was in the room. The conversation went like this: “DC loses a fortune publishing, but we make a fortune licensing. Marvel comics doesn’t make a lot licensing, but you make good money publishing. Why don’t we license to you the DC characters and you publish them? you know how, you’ll make money. And you’ll do well with them. And we’ll keep the licensing and that’s what we do well..” Galtin said, you don’t want those characters, they don’t sell, they must be awful characters. I said, Are you kidding? I want those characters.
So I wrote up a business plan for acquiring the publishing rights to DC Comics. I presented it to the executive staff. I predicted we’d make $7 million profit in the first two years. The sales people said, that’s stupid, we’ll make double that. I said, whatever, we’ll make some money. We started negotiating with DC to buy the rights to publish. We were going to publish seven titles, the obvious ones. We were going to add an editorial team to do that. Get a couple of production people. We could do it on a shoestring since we had all the rest of the plumbing in place. We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We actually got into the negotiations. I can confidently say that they haven’t made any money publishing because I pretty much know the costs and all that. Then right in the middle, First Comics sued Marvel Comics for anti-trust. Now when you’re already 70 percent of the market, and somebody is suing you for anti-trust, it’s probably not a good idea to devour your biggest competitor. And so the deal fell apart. We could have been publishing Superman comics.
You can ask John Byrne. When he heard that rumor, he came into me with a proposal for Superman. Which he did when he went to DC. It was amazing times.
MDT: That would have been weird.
JS: When I became Editor-in-chief, we were second to DC. Somewhere in the middle of it, our market share was just a tick under 70 percent. I really felt we earned it. First Comics [was saying], “Oh, they’re flooding the market.” No, our books sell, yours don’t. You get the same display we do, you get the same distributors. We don’t have any more clout with them than you do. They said, we were fixing prices at the printer. When it was revealed, we were paying higher prices than they did. Because they had better production people. Our production people were idiots. They said we were making sure they were charged more. They were paying less than we were.
That suit was thrown out of court three times. And they kept reinstating it.
Finally, we settled it, which I think was an idiot move on Galtin’s part. To save a couple thousand bucks, they settled. We didn’t pay them anything. It wasn’t like we paid them off. I think we gave them an ad page. Marvel was always cheap and pathetic when it came to stuff like that. To save a few bucks, they would do something that would end up being a PR disaster.
First comics spent the first couple of years just lambasting us in the fan press and got away with it. Galtin agreed to this thing where we wouldn’t discuss the terms of the agreement. You take an enormous PR torpedo and they escape. It is history now that Marvel flooded the market. You know what, the year we allegedly flooded the market, there was something like 6 more issues than the previous year. You go to the facts and the alleged history of comic books is nonsense. People who pontificate about it weren’t there. I find it kind of annoying.
People who read comics want heroes and villains. They want there to be a Jim Shooter with a black hat. It’s part of the fun.