Four survivors of the Marvel bullpen of the '60s gathered at The National comic convention in New York last Saturday afternoon, when John Romita Sr., Roy Thomas, Rick Buckler and Joe Sinnott exchanged memories and Stan Lee stories.
Conditions were cramped at Marvel in the early days. Stan Lee had an office. His secretary, Flo Steinberg, Sol Brodsky, Marie Severin and later Roy Thomas had desks, and that was it. Everyone else was freelance, and only came in once in a while. Sinnott recalled that in the early days, he would go in on Fridays to drop off artwork, and Lee would always talk him into doing corrections or other work.
"I told my wife I'd meet her at Macys around eleven o'clock, and I didn't get there until about 3:30," Sinnot explained. "That's when I decided that I would mail my pages, and wouldn't come into the office. I didn't set foot in that office for 25 years!"
Romita talked about working for Marvel in the mid-sixties, but feeling burned out on pencils. He decided to become an inker, primarily. Then Lee "conned" him. Lee asked Romita to fill-in as penciler. "I thought I was filling in for an issue, but the job lasted for years!" Romita laughed.
At the time, Romita wasn't used to producing superhero comics. His pacing was too slow, like a romance comic, so Stan Lee asked Jack Kirby for a pacing breakdown. Kirby sent six rough pages. It was strictly a pacing layout -- no faces, no complete figures - something like how-to guide for superhero comics. With that documen t as a model, Romita became the regular penciled on "Daredevil."
Finances were rocky at Marvel back then. "We lived script-to-script and check-to-check," Romita recalled. "I didn't get a raise for two years."
Roy Thomas was astonished by this revelation. "You got a **RAISE?**" he said.
An audience member asked what projects the panel wanted to produce that never got off the ground. Romita said he always had so much on his plate that he never had the chance to do everything he wanted. He didn't get to draw the Spider-Man wedding issue. He created the cover, but didn't have time to draw the inside. Romita was also frustrated when Stan Lee took him off "Daredevil" to work on "some Strip Ditko had been doing."
Thomas got to do just about everything he wanted, but some projects, like "Doc Savage," were canceled frustratingly early.
Rick Buckler said he just assumed everything he did was temporary, and, as such, he never got frustrated. "I wanted things to be new, and they always were!" he remarked.
Joe Sinnott liked working on "Captain America' with Gene Colon and "Silver Surfer" with John Buscema. "John was doing full pencils and his stuff was terrific. I think John found my style too slick for the Surfer," Sinnott revealed. Sinnott of course collaborated with Buscema on other classic works, like "Thor." "But I missed doing the Surfer." Sinnot also regrets that he never got to work with John Severin. "He's one of my top artists, along with Kirby and Romita."
There were a few assignments Sinnot "didn't relish working with" but, se said, "I figured I was a good company man and I never turned anything down, with one exception. I once sent back a story by Ditko. It was nothing but cylinders, and I felt that they were taking advantage of me, so I sent it back."
Asked what project gave him the most satisfaction, Romita named "Spidey Super Stories." These simplified Spider-Man books were produced in conjunction with the Children's Television Workshop. They were specially laid out to be easy to follow, and he was proud to know he'd influenced the reading habits of a generation for the better.
Thomas liked almost every project he worked on, but not everyone he worked with. "The best thing that ever happened to me was Mort Weisinger at DC being so unpleasant so I quit!" he laughed. Thomas later went back to DC, but not until editor Weisinger had retired. "My favorite project was 'All-Star Squadron,' and after that was 'Conan.' But I liked almost every project. Sometimes I got stuck with something I didn't want to do, and I got off it as soon as possible. I never let anyone else touch 'Conan.' They might find out someone else could write it and I wasn't going to take that chance!"
Buckler's favorites were "Black Panther" and 'Deathlok," because they were off the beaten path. "There were no guidelines or anything like that. All we had to do was make good stories." With "Deathlok," Buckler said editor Roy Thomas didn't quite get it. They weren't sure where they were going with it, but it was something different. "It wasn't 'Six Million Dollar Man,' that's for sure, and it was never intended to be."
Sinnott said that Kirby's "Fantastic Four" #5, with the introduction of Dr. Doom, was always one of his favorites, but the best art he'd ever worked on was "The Life of Pope John Paul and Mother Theresa" with John Tartaglione. "They were just beautiful," he said.
Finally, an audience member asked Roy Thomas why he'd stepped down as Marvel's Editor-in-Chief in the mid-'70s. Thomas said he'd written in detail about this subject, but without going into a lot of back-story, he told the audience he wasn't enough of a company man. Thomas said he tried to look out for the artists more than management liked. Finally, an issue came up where he refused to back down, and he left.
"From Stan Lee leaving until Jim Shooter stepped up in the late '70s, nobody kept that job for more than a year or two," explained Thomas. It's a job you want to be offered. But when you get in there you find it's no fun."
"I turned it down" Romita revealed.