In parts one and two of FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK, our new series detailing the duties and responsibilities of editors in the comic book industry, CBR News spoke with Marvel Comics Executive Editors Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort. Today, in our third installment, we speak with Senior Editor Ralph Macchio, a veteran employee who's worked for the company for over 30 years.
1963's “Amazing Spider-Man” #3, which featured the first appearance of Doctor Octopus, was the first Marvel Comic to catch the younger Macchio's eye. He quickly became a fan of many of the Marvel titles, but it was never his intention to pursue a career in the comic book industry. Macchio thought he would become a teacher, and it was a scarcity of teaching jobs and a chance encounter at a comic convention that launched his decades-spanning career at Marvel.
“I wasn't a big convention guy, I wanted to go because it was in New York and Jack Kirby was going to be there,” Macchio told CBR. “I was a Marvel fanatic by that time, so I went and got my books signed. And just as I was about to leave the convention, I saw something in the lobby and it looked as if somebody was talking about the 'Black Panther' and 'War of the Worlds.' So I went over to see who it was and it was Don McGregor. I had been a big fan of his books and he recognized my name from the letter columns.
“He told me to hang around for a bit because he really liked the letters I wrote and wanted to talk to me We hung around and talked and than he asked, 'Hey how would you like a tour of Marvel?' and I said, 'Why not?' So he took me on a tour of Marvel where I was introduced to Chris Claremont, who also recognized my name from my letter writing. He asked me if I'd like to do some writing for ‘FOOM’ [Friends of Ol' Marvel], which was their fan magazine. And I was like, 'I'm not doing anything else, sure.”
From that point on, Macchio gradually worked his way up the Marvel ladder. While bullpen creators and editors worked towards going freelance, Macchio thought it was more fun to stay on staff, giving him the chance to work with big name creators when they were still up and coming talent; people like Bill Sienkiewicz, Walter Simonson and Frank Miller. “Walt was probably the more established guy when I started to work with him,” Macchio said. “I had a wonderful time working with him on 'Thor' and then 'Fantastic Four.' It was Mark Gruenwald who made the brilliant decision to put Walt on 'Thor' and I was the one who put him on 'Fantastic Four,' where I thought he did a great job, too.
“I worked with Sienkiewicz early on. I brought him over to work on 'Moon Knight' because his work had that kind of Neil Adams look, which is what I wanted in our version of Batman.
“I was working with Frank Miller when he first started here and I got to watch him grow and develop on ‘Daredevil.’ He worked first with Roger McKenzie and Jo Duffy, who I believe he did a couple of stories with. Than seeing him take over the book on his own and working closely with Klaus Jansen; that was a great experience.”
Macchio learned a valuable editorial lesson from working with creators like Miller and Sienkiewicz. “You should never really impose your vision upon creative people because it’s not your job as an editor. Your job is to bring out the best in them and if you can do that I think you’ve succeeded,” he said. “If you force them to do a book the way you think it should be done, than you’re crimping and cramping the talent and you’ll never develop another Frank Miller or Bill Sienkiewicz by doing that.
This is not to say that editors shouldn’t have input, however. “An editor needs to have input on the book, otherwise he’s just a proofreader, but you don’t ever want to become overbearing on the talent,” Macchio explained. “You try to bring out the best in them, and in doing so I think you bring out the best in yourself and you get the best product.”
It should come as no surprise that Macchio is immensely proud of his collaborations with Miller on “Daredevil” and Simonson on “Thor,” as well as the work he did with their successors on the books like Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr. on “Daredevil” and Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz on “Thor.” But some fans may be surprised by another project Macchio is especially proud of: the Clone Saga. Macchio explained, “I was brought in to fix the Spider-Man Clone Saga. I took it over when the story was at its midpoint. Bob Harras became Editor in Chief he called me into his office and said, ‘I want to give you the Spider-Man books and you’ve got to fix them because right now we’re in big trouble. Bob wanted to make sure that Peter Parker and not Ben Reily was Spider-Man. We also discussed who could have been the big gun behind the Clone Saga and nobody seemed capable of manipulating all these people and events except Norman Osborn. So my marching orders included bringing Norman back but how we were going to do it was left in my lap.
“I sat down with all the creative people and some of the editors on staff like Tom Brevoort and Glenn Greenberg, guys who were very committed to working on Spider-Man and I said, ‘I don’t want there to be anything supernatural about this. Characters like Traveller and Scrier I want explained in human terms. There should be nothing supernatural about it. The thing we got most often was that we should get rid of Ben Reily right away. I said, ‘No, if we were going to get rid of this character I want to work with him and for his death to have real meaning in Peter Parker’s life.’ I wanted people to actually miss the guy and I feel like we accomplished that. I have nothing but kudos and compliments for all the creative people involved because I think they did a masterful job in a very difficult situation.”
During his career at Marvel, Macchio has worked on some projects that were widely successful with fans, but more than a few that also failed to strike a chord, including one project that was very near and dear to him. “One was called ‘Weirdworld,’ it was a fantasy series created by Doug Moench and Mike Ploog. It was kind of our version of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ stuff,” Macchio explained. “Doug created this incredible Tolkeinesque universe for us to play around with. And we decided we could do the story as a series of three, what we’re calling at the time, ‘Marvel Super Specials.’ They were in full color and I thought they were really ahead of their time. We did gatefolds with a lot of the art and took steps to insure the highest quality production values for back then. I was hoping we could do a whole line of things like that but it never really bore fruit. But we do have these three beautiful ‘Marvel Super Specials.’ John Buscema did the pencils and Rudy Nebres did the inking. Peter Ledger did the beautiful color in there. The airbrush work was something nobody was doing at the time.”
Another book close to Macchio’s heart that failed to resonate with readers was Marvel’s series starring one of Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s lesser known characters, Kull. “I had seen the work of John Bolton and it reminded me of Frank Frazetta,” Macchio said. “So I remember talking to our Editor in Chief at the time and saying, ‘I’d love to do Kull as a black and white issue of ‘Marvel Preview’ and I’d like to use this guy.’ John is British and I kind of got some resistance because back than there was all this stuff about how you don’t want to use foreign artists because it would cost a fortune with the exchange rate and cause problems with the mail. I was persistent, though, and we got John and I loved the work he did on ‘Kull.’ We even did a couple of color issues, but ‘Kull’ never took off. I loved working on the series and we were able to do a number of issues. Michael Golden also provided some beautiful covers and interiors but ‘Kull’ just never caught fire.”
As Senior Editor, Macchio currently oversees a diverse roster of Marvel book that includes the Ultimate line, the Marvel Illustrated line, and the Marvel adaptations of Stephen King’s work. “I like being able to have some say over the lives of a great number of characters and being able to work on a variety of books,” Macchio said. “There’s superhero stuff with books like ‘The Ultimates’ but I’m also able to work with a contemporary master like Stephen King. Then, with the Marvel Illustrated line, to be able to work on books which are long established classics and bring those to a readership that wouldn’t normally pick them up. That’s very rewarding.”
Two assistant editors help Macchio oversee the various books and lines that fall under his aegis. “I work with two Laurens, Lauren Sankovitch, who has been with me for about a year now and the other Lauren is Lauren Henry. She’s a recent graduate of Yale and a newcomer to Marvel. They work closely with me and we share an office space so we’re in touch pretty much all day long. I was working closely with Nicole Boose, who I can’t say enough good things about. Nicole has had a baby so she’s on maternity leave but we expect her back in October.”
A typical work week can vary wildly for Macchio and his assistants, but one of his favorite duties is reading over a plot line and discussing it with the Laurens. “We’ll get something and it varies sfrom writer to writer, but for example Mike Carey will write up his synopsis of what he wants to do in his next ‘Ultimate Fantastic Four’ arc and send it in,” Macchio explained. “I love sitting down with the two Laurens and asking. ‘What do we like about this? How can we improve it? What does or doesn’t make it work?’ When we gather all that input, we'll pass it along to Mike and a back and forth will happen. That's the part of the creative process I like the best, because we're contributing to the books but we're not overbearing because if Mike says, 'I like your idea for doing it that way but I have a good reason for doing it this way,' nine times out of ten we'll say, 'Go with what you want.' When they have a good reason, I'll go with the writer's instincts.”
Overseeing the adaptation of literary classics may not seem as glamorous as editing Marvel's next big event story, but Macchio is very proud of the Marvel Illustrated line. “We’ve got Roy Thomas, who’s really talented and been in the business a long time, writing most of the books and he’s working with basically newer artists,” Macchio said. “Roy has done a great job developing the story telling ability of these new artists because he’s adapting a novel. And the kind of novels we’ve been adapting, if you want it to be authentic, it’s got to follow the flow of Roy’s plot because he takes it directly from the novel. It’s rigorous storytelling. These are period pieces and the costumes and architecture have to be right. Roy has been a real stickler on what the artist delivers and the guys that have worked on these books have become great Marvel storytellers.”
The approach Macchio and his creators use for adapting Stephen King's books is different than that typically employed for the Marvel Illustrated line. “With the 'Dark Tower,' we knew from the first arc that we were going to work from the fourth book in the series, 'Wizard in Glass,' but what we now know from working with Robin Furth, who's conceived all the stuff we're doing, is that we're sort of striking out on our own direction,” Macchio explained. “We're doing stuff that did not come from the novel. All of it's approved by Stephen King, of course. We're not going to do anything that isn't approved by him. It's just certain adventures are going to take us in directions that aren't from the novel.”
In contrast, Marvel’s adaptation of “The Stand” is a straight-up adaptation. “When we adapt a book for Marvel Illustrated, the series will run for a maximum of eight issues. We plan for 'The Stand' to run over 30 issues,” Macchio said. “So as large a book as 'The Stand ' is, probably 90% of the material from the book will find its way into the comic series.”
One of the things Macchio loved about his early days at Marvel was working with emerging talent. and over 30 years later, that still hasn't changed. The editor is collaborating with a number of up and coming creators and feels the Marvel Illustrated line in particular is a training camp for the artistic superstars of tomorrow. “If you look at the pencillers we've used on those books, I think you'll see they're going on to work on other Marvel projects,” Macchio said. “Like Steve Kurth who's working on a Marvel book with John Barber. Sebastian Fiumara, who did the 'Dorian Gray' adaptation, is going to be working on some other projects. Greg Tocchini, who we started off on 'Thor, Son of Asgard' years ago has come back and is now doing 'The Odyssey' adaptation for us. Another guy to keep your eye on is Miguel Sepulveda, who pencilled 'The Iliad' for us. And when people see what Skottie Young is doing on 'The Wizard of Oz' I think they're going to see a whole other dimension to his talent.”
Macchio is particularly excited by the plans his creators have concocted for the Ultimate line, which will soon be shook up by Jeph Loeb and David Finch's “Ultimatum” miniseries. “I think it would bear everybody's interest to watch the Ultimate line,” Macchio teased. “We're not revealing any secrets by saying there are going to be some major changes, and I think that's going to be for the better for all the books in the line.”
In his more than thirty years at Marvel, Ralph Macchio has seen many editors and Editor in Chiefs come ago, and feels his longevity at the company is due simply to his enjoying what he does and doing it the best he can. “When I'm asked, 'What's kept me around at Marvel for so long?' I'm usually pretty flippant and say, 'You have to ask the people that didn't fire me. Maybe they could tell you,'” the editor remarked. “But I think that after a certain amount of years, you acquire a position and people assume you have some value. So when a new regime comes in they look at you and say, 'This guy has been here a long time. Maybe he has some value.'”