Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Jim Shooter "Victim" Files: Introduction

This essay is adapted from a longer article that appeared at The Hooded Utilitarian on October 23, 2013.

The essay is an introduction to an ongoing series, "The Jim Shooter 'Victim' Files." It outlines the point-of-view that will guide the series' posts.

The series will cover Shooter's real and alleged conflicts with Marvel's creative and editorial personnel. Each post will discuss the circumstances surrounding a particular creator or staffer. A list of links to those posts will be appearing at the bottom of this introduction as the posts are completed.

If one feels compelled to comment on the post here, I ask that one restrict remarks to the general issues covered. I will deal with the specifics of a given creator's or staffer's circumstances in its own post. Comments on particular situations or personnel should wait until then. If one wishes to discuss, for example, Gene Colan's 1981 parting of ways with Marvel, those comments belong on the forthcoming Gene Colan post. They do not belong here. The comments are moderated, and I will not approve publication of any comment on the present post that deals with specific personnel.

My essay "Jim Shooter: A Second Opinion" (click here) discussed the one-time Marvel editor-in-chief's tenure in terms of its publishing history. It also covered the general business policies regarding the creative personnel. I would hope it was a resounding rebuttal to the characterization of Shooter’s Marvel 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 characterization of Shooter as “the enemy of creators” (Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #174, p. 17).

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 issues 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. Many were with company policies that would have existed no matter who was editor-in-chief. These policies include the mandatory signing of a blanket work-made-for-hire contract in order to work on company-owned properties. Other conflicts were the result of decisions made by Marvel executives such as president James Galton. An example of that is the company’s dealings with Jack Kirby during the controversy over the return of Kirby’s 1960s original art. But since Shooter was the face of the company to the comics community, he ended up shouldering the responsibility for these conflicts in the community’s eyes.

There are also the several creators and staffers 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 has been made the villain in situations where there was no villain to be had.

Additionally, 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. This was mostly 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 many of the staffers and freelancers. The late Kim Thompson, who actively covered the business during the period as an editor and reporter for The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes, once 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 described 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 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 an author-owned project, the creator should of course be the final arbiter of what’s appropriate for 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. There is 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. They also insisted on demonizing those responsible for the changes afterward. The changes at Marvel editorial in the late 1970s were Shooter’s prerogative, done with the support of the company's executives, 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, and a highly dubious one from John Byrne, 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. The problems all appear to be over editorial disputes, disagreements with policy, and personality conflicts.

Related posts
  • The Jim Shooter "Victim" Files
           -- Tony Isabella
           -- Steve Englehart
           -- Gerry Conway
           -- Mary Skrenes

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