Marvel Comics got Saturday of the 2019 New York Comic Con rolling with their traditional "Marvel Fanfare" panel, featuring Editor-in-Chief Chris Claremont and longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont.
In keeping with the fan-centric theme of the event, Cebulski showed off his own baby photos when his parents dressed him up as Superman in a homemade costume as well as pics of his first apartment covered in posters for comics including '90s X-Men and the Batman/Grendel crossover. But he said his love of reading comics came from when he read the Claremont-written Uncanny X-Men #121.
Claremont told his early history as an immigrant to America, moving to New York from England as a boy only after the first plane he and his mother tried to take malfunctioned and stranded them in Ireland for 16 hours.
The writer earned a round of applause for achieving his 50th anniversary writing for Marvel. It was January 1969 when he first walked into the offices and said, "Hi, I'm the new go-fer." He noted how much smaller the Marvel officers were back then, with only a handful of staffers including Herb Trimpe, Roy Thomas and of course Stan Lee. "There were like 15 people there, and we did 30 books a month. The second week I was there, the first of Roy and Neal Adams' X-Men came out in print."
Cebulski asked Claremont how he got that first low-level job. He said his love of comics came from reading the British comic Eagle and the strip Dan Dare. It wasn't until he stumbled upon Fantastic Four #48 – the first appearance of Galactus – that hooked him on American comics. By the time he reached college, Claremont was a political theory major whose views were far outside the Nixon administration, so he attempted first to get a job at MAD Magazine via his parents' friend Al Jaffe. That legendary artist put in a call to Stan Lee and asked him to bring him into Marvel. Stan the Man explained that Marvel could not pay him much, and when Claremont said he was only looking for college credit, the Editor-in-Chief said "You're hired!"
Claremont's real break as a storyteller came when he noticed that a Marvel title had Nick Fury visiting his parents even though it was previously established that Fury was an orphan. The marching orders from Lee on hearing this was "You find it, you fix it," and by simply adding the phrase "adopted family" to the mix, he started writing. "If you want a job, that's how you do it. Right place. Right time. Right work," he said. Within a few years, Claremont found himself accidentally at the helm of the X-Men after Len Wein left his post as writer and Editor-in-Chief.
"When Len and Dave [Cockrum] were putting together Giant-Size X-Men #1, I kept wandering in the door," he said because he wanted to soak up Cockrum's creativity and "Because it was fun to listen." During those story sessions, Claremont came up with the solution to the big problem in the story, which was how the mutant team would defeat the island Krakoa. Claremont's sci-fi suggestion to remove the island from the planet to cut off its powers made it into the final comic, and his career was off.
Once during his days in the Marvel Bullpen, Claremont said that "The best plot conference – as I suspect many of you have heard – was when we sat around trying to figure out who in Marvel Team-Up would be different" and eventually the writer blurted out to Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter that NBC's "Not Ready For Primetime Players" (the original cast of SNL) would be good as guest stars. Shooter told Claremont that it was on him to pitch the show on the idea, and after an awkward call, a contract was worked out in six weeks. No money changed hands (Claremont still has the releases at home), and it was stipulated that the profits from the book would go to charity.
This issue also led to a visit from comedian John Belushi to the Marvel office, and Claremont said, "You couldn't tell who was the bigger fan." Soon, fake Samurai battles ensued, after which Belushi said to him, "Chris, the book was so funny" to which Claremont replied, "Thank God. You have no idea how hard it is to write comedy." Despite putting his foot in his mouth, the Marvel staff was invited to the opening night party for Belushi's Animal House where they handed out original Marvel art to the stars of the film. "It was the most brilliant evening ever."
Cebulski asked Claremont about the origins of Kitty Pryde, and the writer said that John Byrne was mostly responsible as the pair realized that none of the cast of the X-Men at that time were actually young enough to be going to a school for gifted youngsters. "So we decided to bring in a kid to be everybody's royal pain in the ass and a student," he explained. "The whole idea was a 13-year-old who suddenly discovered she was a mutant, was totally freaked out by it, and then all of the sudden statuesque women and guys in skintight suits were chasing after her. I know it was a little risqué, but it was the '70s."
"Kitty became the entry-level character for new readers," Claremont continued, saying that Louise Simonson's 13-year-old daughter served as a great inspiration for the character's personality. The writer stole a moment when the young girl cried at her parents changing their hair to put in Storm's famous mohawk look at Wolverine's wedding.
Claremont finally recalled when he was a VP at Marvel and finally saw the X-Men make it to the big screen. Fox couldn't find a way to make the movie work, but Claremont decided to write a memo that pitched the real point of the franchise. "It's about outcasts," he said. "You take that position, and you're off and running. Clearly that struck a resonance because I got a memo from Fox within 72 hours that said 'Thank you' and they were off and running...you have to understand, this was the best cast ever. Ian McKellen. Patrick Stuart. This musical comedy guy Hugh Jackman! It was wonderful.
"If X-Men had bombed and not done what Fox thought it would do, would there be a Spider-Man with Sam Raimi? Would Robert Downey, Jr. have been Iron Man? I think this started it all."