Saturday, June 4, 2016

Jim Shooter: A Second Opinion

This is a revised and expanded version of an article that was originally published at The Hooded Utilitarian on January 7, 2013.

[Jim Shooter] does the best job he can, takes great pride in his work, and is genuinely dedicated to publishing the highest-quality Marvel Comics ever.
--Gary Groth, The Comics Journal 60, p. 56

Jim Shooter, the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics between 1978 and 1987, is a key figure in the history of North American comics publishing. He may also be the most disparaged. Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael, in their 2004 book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, describe Marvel under his tenure as “a wasteland of formulaic self-imitation” (p. 204). Shooter himself is characterized as “the most reviled figure in comics” and “a pariah in the comics industry to this day” (also p. 204). Several creators and staffers who worked at Marvel during his tenure routinely denounce him in blogs, interviews, and message boards. Gary Groth, the publisher of The Comics Journal, is probably Shooter’s harshest detractor. At various times, he has compared Shooter to an antebellum slaveowner (TCJ 115, p. 98) and a Nazi collaborator in the concentration camps (TCJ Library: Jack Kirby, p. 114). His most well known broadside against the former Marvel editor is probably the 1994 essay “Jim Shooter, Our Nixon” (TCJ 174, p. 17-21; click here), in which he compared Shooter to the disgraced U. S. President. Among other things, Shooter is described as “the human face, such as it was, of corporate thuggishness and intractability” and “the enemy of creators” (p. 17). The Journal, which keeps almost all back-issue material behind a subscription wall, posted the piece online for all readers in 2011. More recently, Sean Howe, in his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, has presented a negatively skewed and at times factually inaccurate portrait of Shooter. The ridiculously absurd low point is when Howe claims, through an obtuse analysis of Shooter's comic-book writing, that Shooter identifies with megalomaniacal mass-murderers (p. 214).

A close examination of the historical record shows much of the criticism of Jim Shooter to be grossly misplaced. A good deal of it crosses the line into defamation. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Shooter era at Marvel is easily the most vibrant time in the company’s history apart from the heyday of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko in the 1960s. And unlike that seminal 1960s period, the creative harvest wasn’t an accident. It was very carefully cultivated. In terms of business dealings with comics talent, Shooter engineered the most favorable environment the company has offered before or since. Shooter’s openhandedness also extended beyond Marvel’s editorial operations and internal business arrangements. There’s a history of support for outside creators and even small publishers. Additionally, there’s considerable anecdotal evidence of his generosity with up-and-coming talent. Veteran adventure cartoonist Jim Starlin once told me, “As editor-in-chief Jim rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Because of this he has been unfairly uncredited with all the benefits he had a hand in gaining for artists while he was at the helm. He did a lot more good than ill while he was the boss.” Or, as X-Men scriptwriter Chris Claremont put it after Marvel let Shooter go in 1987, “Things that were better [at Marvel] were better [because of] him” (TCJ 116, p. 14).

Jim Shooter had been working off and on in comics for several years when he became Marvel’s editor-in-chief in January 1978. His career as a comic-book scriptwriter began in 1966, when DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger started commissioning scripts from him for the company’s Superman titles. He was 14 years old. Shooter was a regular scriptwriter for Weisinger until after graduating high school in 1969. After a brief stint as a Marvel editorial assistant that fall, he left the field for a few years. He reemerged as a scriptwriter for DC in early 1975. He became the associate editor at Marvel in January 1976. The editor-in-chief who hired him was Marv Wolfman. Shooter continued in the position under Wolfman’s successors Gerry Conway and Archie Goodwin. When Goodwin resigned in late 1977, Shooter was promoted to editor-in-chief.

By all accounts, Marvel’s editorial operations were an organizational disaster area when Shooter took over. The line had exploded over the previous decade. With titles cover-dated 1966, at the height of the Lee-Kirby-Ditko era, the company, under Lee’s editorship, put out 216 publications. In 1972, Lee became publisher, and Roy Thomas became editor-in-chief. During 1973--Thomas’ first full year in the job--the company turned out 563 publications. Its output stayed at roughly that number through 1977. But for all the company’s growth, the size and structure of the editorial staff hadn’t changed much. There was an editor-in-chief and an associate editor (or their equivalent), along with a few editorial assistants who handled proofreading and other minor duties. There had been some efforts over the years to relieve the increasing strain on the two-person editorial set-up. One was the creation in 1974 of a separate editor for the black-and-white magazine line. The other was the establishment in 1974 of the writer-editor position for outgoing editors-in-chief and a couple of others. (The writer-editors were responsible for the editorial work on the titles they scripted.) It wasn’t anywhere near enough. There was next to no oversight on the line. In mostly bad ways, a laissez-faire editorial atmosphere reigned. While some of the material was strikingly imaginative, much of it was poorly crafted. With a number of titles, the stories had become inaccessible due to convoluted storylines and flashy though opaque art. But production demands meant not much could be done. Material was being sent to the printer almost immediately after arriving in the office. Worse, printing deadlines were being missed left and right, at considerable expense. The comics themselves had been losing money for years. Had it not been for the success of the Star Wars movie adaptation and a licensed comic featuring the band Kiss, the comics publishing operation might very well have been shuttered by the end of 1977. The pressures of the editor-in-chief position were overwhelming, and it had become a revolving door. When Shooter began in the job in 1978, he was the sixth editor-in-chief in less than four years.

Shooter conquered the logistical and editorial challenges. By the end of 1978, Marvel, for the first time ever, was on schedule with its printer. During his first three years, Shooter gradually overhauled the structure of the comics editorial operations. The writer-editor position had always been a bad idea--it’s a maxim of the publishing world that no one should be their own editor--and by the end of 1980, it was history. In early 1981, Shooter had the structure he wanted fully in place. Instead of an editor-in-chief, an associate editor, and a handful of editorial assistants, the traditional comics line was managed by five group editors—each with an assistant editor—who worked under Shooter’s supervision. At the time, each of the group editors oversaw approximately 75 new comics a year. It was a far more manageable number, and it allowed them to take a greater interest in the creative direction and execution of the titles they supervised. Scripts and art were given far more scrutiny. There was a much greater emphasis given to crafting individual issues into satisfying reads. Distracting visual flash was discouraged in favor of clear narrative cartooning. Shooter took it upon himself to train new writers and artists in the principles of comics storytelling. The “Little Miss Muffet” nursery rhyme was his favorite tool for explicating story structure, and his preferred text for demonstrating the basics of visual storytelling was a 1963 Human Torch story drawn by Jack Kirby. The company’s output became considerably more accessible.

Sales turned around in the summer of 1979. According to Mile High Comics proprietor Chuck Rozanski, Marvel president James Galton told him in a May meeting that Marvel's publishing operations were in serious jeopardy. (Click here.) Those concerns ended with that summer's numbers. In a news report in The Comics Journal, Shooter characterized the season's sales as "nothing short of spectacular" (TCJ 52, p. 7). It wasn't promotional bluster, either. Shooter also announced several new publishing initiatives, including expansions of the color-comics offerings, and a new paperback book line that would use the European album format. There's nothing that demonstrates commercial success better than expansion and diversification. The summer's success was no fluke. Its momentum continued. By 1981, no newsstand-distributed title sold below 100,000 copies per issue, and several had sell-through rates in excess of 50 percent. (Traditional newsstand distribution is done on a returnable basis, and 30 percent sell-through is generally required to break even.) Under Shooter, the company was enjoying the best sales it had seen since the 1960s.

Shooter also took it upon himself to improve the compensation of creators. His attitude was probably best summed up by these statements at the 1981 San Diego Comicon:
I feel that you don’t pay artists and writers, you invest money; and the more you invest, the happier people are, the more secure they are, and the more able they are to devote themselves entirely to [their work] […] in my position I can go and I can fight and I can get money for them. So that’s what I’m going to do. (TCJ 68, p.63)

It has not been reported by exactly how much, but it’s accepted that shortly after he took over Shooter substantially increased page rates for creative talent. He stated under oath in 1986 that up-front scriptwriting rates at Marvel had tripled during his tenure (TCJ 115, p. 81). In August of 1979, he instituted a bonus system based on the number of consecutive issues completed on a series assignment (click here). By the end of the year, he had developed a character-creation plan that gave the talent an ongoing financial interest in any new character or property they created for the company (TCJ 54, p. 13). (The plan was approved in 1980, but a lawsuit filed that August by Howard the Duck co-creator Steve Gerber prevented its implementation for two years. The new policy would have increased Marvel's contractual obligations to Gerber, and Marvel's attorneys advised against that until the suit was resolved. It was settled in September of 1982.)

Shooter's most important initiative in creator compensation was the establishment of a codified sales-bonus plan for scriptwriters, penciler/cartoonists, and inkers. In the first half of 1981, Shooter, cartoonist Jim Starlin, and Marvel's de facto publisher Michael Hobson finalized the contract for The Death of Captain Marvel, the first book in Marvel's Euro-album "graphic novel" line. The contract included a royalty clause for copies sold. It was the first contract for a Marvel publication featuring company-owned characters to include such a provision. That November, Marvel's chief competitor DC Comics upped the ante by announcing a sales-royalty arrangement for their periodical comics line. The following month, Shooter established a similar plan for all Marvel newsstand comics selling in excess of 100,000 copies (TCJ 70, pp. 10-12). Since all the company's newsstand titles were selling in those numbers, every scriptwriter, penciler, and inker at Marvel would see the equivalent of royalties for their work. Daredevil was Marvel’s top-selling title for the first month of the program, and writer-penciler Frank Miller received a $6000 sales bonus for that month’s issue. A sliding scale was later introduced, and under it, John Byrne received a $30,000 sales bonus for writing, penciling, and inking the first issue of Alpha Flight in 1983. Several Marvel writers and artists began to enjoy affluent income levels. Shooter testified under oath in 1986 that scriptwriters Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo respectively earned $230,000 and $120,000 from Marvel in 1985 (TCJ 115, p. 104). Long-time comics artist Bernie Wrightson summed up the improved business situation in a 1982 interview: “[Marvel has] gotten a hell of a lot more reasonable in recent years. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve heard about the new contracts that Marvel is offering, but these things are just dreamy” (TCJ 76, p. 109).

Several of Shooter’s detractors note the sales royalty plan had already been established at DC Comics before Marvel instituted it. However, belittling Shooter’s achievement in setting up the policy displays an obtuse ignorance of business realities. Gary Groth, for one, has acknowledged that in 1980 Marvel’s sales were as much as every other U. S. comics publisher combined (TCJ 60, p. 63). No business in that position is going to play follow the leader with a competitor unless it is already inclined to institute the policy. The plan could have easily cost Marvel hundreds of thousands if not millions a year up front. Shooter has claimed he designed it and gotten it approved in principle shortly after becoming editor-in-chief in 1978 (TCJ 70, p. 10). The chronology of the Euro-album contracts supports this, as does knowledge of the general business environment. At the time, Marvel was a division of a publicly traded company. There is no way a policy of that sort could be designed and approved within a month in that scenario. Again, every Marvel newsstand title had high enough sales for creators to be eligible for the royalty plan. Less than a quarter of DC’s line was eligible for theirs, and people at Marvel knew it. This was going to have a far greater impact on Marvel’s short-term bottom line than it would on DC’s. It seems a miracle that Shooter was ever able to put it in place.

Shooter also took advantage of changes in the publishing environment to diversify Marvel’s output.

In 1978, revisions to the copyright law took effect that made creator ownership of publishing properties a more workable option. The copyright law had previously contained what was known as the indivisibility doctrine. It held that all rights inherent in copyright were indivisible and could not be individually assigned to a publisher to either license or protect from infringement. Only the copyright owner could authorize individual licenses to, for example, foreign publishers, film producers, or toy manufacturers. Diversified licensing programs had always been a key part of comics publishing. With the most successful properties it was where most of the money was made, and it has traditionally allowed for comics to be published at a loss. As such, it is undesirable (and in many instances untenable) for a publisher not to acquire the licensing rights to a property. Before 1978, the only way to do this was for the publisher to own the property outright. But the new copyright law allowed the author or authors to retain the copyright while assigning the licensing rights to the publisher. Shooter and Marvel immediately took advantage of the change to develop and publish Epic Illustrated magazine, which debuted in 1980. It was a slick, high-production-value anthology that was all but entirely made up of author-owned material. It was just the first step in this direction.

According to Rick Marschall, the magazine's initial editor, Epic Illustrated came about because Marvel president James Galton wanted to expand the company’s color-magazine offerings (TCJ 49, p. 9). (For those not immersed in comics-format lingo, these were publications with the traditional magazine trim-size. They were distinct from the standard comics, known as floppies, which had smaller dimensions.) Galton wanted to build on the success of the company’s licensed Kiss book and the Marvel Super Special movie adaptations. Shooter and Marschall, who edited the company's magazine titles, proposed a continuing anthology magazine modeled after Heavy Metal and Star*Reach. Galton had vetoed Marvel acquiring Heavy Metal when the original French publisher first shopped it around--he felt the content was too extreme in terms of sex and violence--but he was willing to publish a similar magazine with milder material. Shooter, who as editor-in-chief was Marvel’s de facto publisher, put together the contributor contracts and the rest of the business infrastructure. Once the board of directors of Cadence Industries, Marvel’s parent company, approved the project--the proposed budget was more than Galton could authorize--Marschall began acquiring material. After a couple of name changes, Epic Illustrated was announced in the summer of 1979. Marvel let Marschall go in October (TCJ 51, p. 5). Archie Goodwin was immediately announced as his replacement. Goodwin edited the magazine until its cancellation in 1985.

By 1981, the comics-store fan market, which offered non-returnable distribution terms, had grown to the point where sales in it alone could be enough to make a publication profitable. With the losses from returns out of the equation, the sales threshold for profitability was significantly lowered. Shooter and Marvel took advantage of this on many fronts. There was considerable experimentation with non-traditional publications, including ones with higher production values, author-owned material, and unusual creative directions. Creatively idiosyncratic company-owned titles that were losing money in the newsstand market were moved to exclusive comics-store distribution. The Euro-album graphic-novel line, which was launched in January of 1982, was also exclusive to the comics stores. It was divided evenly between company- and author-owned titles. Handsomely produced serialized reprints of the company’s high points from the 1960s and ‘70s also began publication in 1982. September saw the debut of the Epic Comics line, which focused on author-owned comics series. The Epic contracts were perhaps the most author-friendly in the field during the 1980s. Among other things, they were fixed-term agreements, rather than, for lack of a better description, the conditional-perpetuity ones used by Fantagraphics and others. (A fixed-term contract is one in which the publishing license exists for a predetermined amount of time. A conditional-perpetuity contract is one in which the publisher keeps the license for as long as the material remains in print or otherwise generates income.) There was an effort to start a high-quality illustrated book line in 1983. In 1984, Shooter and Marvel became the first to collect and reprint popular comics storylines as stand-alone trade paperbacks. The first two titles were X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga and Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle. The practice is now the foundation of comics publishing in North America. (Material from comic-book series had of course been collected in book format before this, but only as anthologies that either compiled the series from the beginning or featured arbitrarily selected material. Book collections of distinct storylines had no precedent.) Marvel under Shooter exploited the opportunities the non-returnable marketplace offered to its fullest. The result was one of the most striking diversifications of a publishing line ever seen.

Jim Shooter set the stage, and the results were impressive. Six projects--Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin and Daredevil: Love and War, Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again, Bernie Wrightson’s The Illustrated Frankenstein, J. M. DeMatteis and Jon J Muth’s Moonshadow, and a graphic-novel series collecting the work of the French cartoonist Moebius--were the most impressive the company had published since Kirby and Ditko's peak efforts with Stan Lee in the 1960s. There are over a dozen other offerings that can easily hold their own with the best of everything else from the ‘60s and ‘70s. These efforts, in roughly chronological order, include Bob Layton, David Michelinie, and John Romita, Jr.'s Iron Man, Miller and Klaus Janson’s Daredevil, Sienkiewicz and Doug Moench’s Moon Knight, Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson’s Ka-Zar the Savage, John Byrne’s The Fantastic Four, Roger Stern's Doctor Strange, with art by Marshall Rogers, Paul Smith, and others, Miller and Chris Claremont’s Wolverine, Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Rick Veitch’s Heartburst, Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta’s Starstruck, Louise Simonson and June Brigman’s Power Pack, Claremont and Sienkiewicz’s The New Mutants, Sergio Aragonés’ Groo the Wanderer, Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest, Claremont and John Bolton’s “Vignettes” series in Classic X-Men, and Doug Murray and Michael Golden’s The ‘Nam. Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men run is technically a carryover from Archie Goodwin’s tenure, but it belongs on this list as well. This is all “a wasteland of formulaic self-imitation”? Please.

Shooter’s publishing achievements at Marvel were considerable, but that doesn’t stop his detractors from trying to discredit them. The diversification of Marvel’s publishing line is disparaged by highlighting that other publishers broke the ground for the new formats before Marvel. Epic Illustrated was simply following the lead of National Lampoon’s Heavy Metal. Eclipse Comics was the first U. S. publisher to produce European-style albums. Pacific Comics was the first post-1978 publisher to offer full-color author-owned adventure-comics series. The response to this, again, is to remember that Marvel’s market share was at least as much as all its competitors put together. Again, they were not going to play follow the leader with any competitor unless they were inclined to do these things regardless. And none of these efforts from other publishers were successful enough to prompt copycat efforts as a matter of course. Just look at DC, by far Marvel's biggest rival. There was no attempt to do anything comparable to Epic Illustrated. The company's ventures into European-style comics albums were half-hearted at best. Their alleged efforts with author-owned comics projects were a sham.

Sean Howe, in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, effectively states that the Epic Comics imprint was started in response to DC Comics’ acquisition of Frank Miller’s Ronin, which was announced in February of 1982:

But Frank Miller’s deal with DC had made waves. At Marvel’s monthly press conference in May [of 1982], Jim Shooter announced that a newly formed division of the company, called Epic Comics, would allow for artists and writers to retain not just a percentage of the sales, but also ownership of their creations. Jim Starlin, who hadn’t drawn a regular series since Warlock, was the first to sign up. (p. 248)

One of Howe's major flaws, apart from a gross inability to keep his biases in check, is his weakness for glib "after this, therefore because of this" narrative constructions. This description of the creation of the Epic Comics line is not accurate. Ronin did play a role in the creation of the Epic line, but not in the way Howe presents it. According to Shooter (click here), the idea for the Epic imprint came when Starlin, Miller, and Walt Simonson came to him as a group and proposed that each do an author-owned comic-book series for Marvel. Starlin would do Dreadstar, Miller would do Ronin, and Simonson would do Star Slammers. Starlin told me Epic Illustrated editor Archie Goodwin "was a major force in those discussions." And though Starlin doesn't recall Miller and Ronin being part of the talks, Miller was definitely in negotiations to do Ronin through Epic. As Miller said in a 1985 interview, Ronin "almost accompanied Dreadstar as one of the first Epic comics" (TCJ 101, p. 71). It's just that before negotiations were completed, DC publisher Jenette Kahn apparently offered a more lucrative advance, thereby convincing him to bring it to DC.

Howe also constructs that paragraph in a way that suggests Marvel acquired the Dreadstar series after announcing the new imprint. The Dreadstar acquisition and the establishment of the Epic imprint were announced at the same time (TCJ 74, p. 14). Epic wasn't like DC's Piranha Press, where the imprint was announced and projects to be published through it were sought afterward. Not only was Epic set up in part to specifically publish the Dreadstar series, Starlin actually signed with Marvel long before the May announcement. Steve Englehart makes reference to the deal in his introduction to the Dreadstar graphic album, published in June. Given publisher and printer lead times, the introduction could not have been written later than February, and was likely written before then.

More importantly, the Ronin deal was significantly different than the ones for author-owned titles at Epic. Creators at Epic retained far more rights. The late Dick Giordano was at the time DC’s executive editor, which was roughly the equivalent of Shooter’s editor-in-chief position. In 1987, he publicly discussed the specifics of the Ronin contract (TCJ 119, p. 84). Judging from his statements, it wasn’t, like at Epic, a fixed-term agreement. It wasn’t even a conditional-perpetuity agreement. There is no reversion clause in the Ronin contract, although Miller may have been offered one retroactively. (Giordano believed Miller chose not to sign it.) Miller technically owns the copyright, but that’s it. As Giordano said, “No, the copyright [for Ronin] doesn’t mean anything […] it’s 100% cosmetic.” DC has the rights to Ronin in perpetuity. The company is even able to employ other creators to produce spin-off comics if Miller isn’t interested. At Epic, the creators were free to take the property elsewhere after the publishing term expired. (The one for Dreadstar was at most four years.) The contracts also did not allow Epic to do Before Watchmen-type projects over those creators’ objections. For all practical purposes, DC Comics owns Ronin. Miller's copyright is just a fig leaf. With Starlin and the other creators of author-copyrighted material at Epic, their ownership was the real thing.

Gary Groth has argued against the publishing achievement of the best projects Marvel put out under Shooter:

One way of measuring a publisher’s commitment to furthering comics as art—and his parallel commitment to the dignity and intelligence of his constituency--is to determine roughly what percentage of his publishing activity reflects such a commitment versus the percentage that reflects his need to satisfy his accountant […] One would have to be particularly naïve to see a couple--or a handful--of titles buried under a standard of mediocrity as representing anything other than sheer dumb luck. (TCJ 117, p. 6)

Figuring percentages may be a “way of measuring” career achievements in the arts, but it’s not a method that carries much weight--nor should it. Artists, authors, and publishers are ultimately judged by the quality of their best efforts, not by the ratio of good work to bad. As an example, let me point to none other than Gary Groth himself. Personally, I think Fantagraphics, which Groth co-owns, has a pretty fair claim to being the best comics publisher in North America over the last thirty years. This is despite the fact that a substantial portion of Fantagraphics’ output has been the money-grubbing pornographic sludge published through its Eros imprint. Fantagraphics even partnered with a phone-sex service under the Eros brand. There's also the considerable volume of amateurish to mediocre material Fantagraphics has published outside of Eros. Does all this discredit Fantagraphics’ achievement in publishing work by Charles Schulz, Chris Ware, Jacques Tardi, Daniel Clowes, Jaime Hernandez, Carl Barks, Robert Crumb, and so many other accomplished cartoonists? Hardly. It’s beside the point. Fantagraphics is considered a good publisher on the basis of the good work it has published, not the ratio of good work to bad.

Groth also overlooks that Shooter was functioning in a preexisting situation, and one prone by its nature to complacency and preserving the status quo. Marvel was (and is) a corporate entity where the people with the most authority tend to have little or no time for aesthetic considerations, and, as it was part of a publicly traded company, bottom-line considerations were an overriding factor as a matter of course. Shooter did not have the ability to unilaterally authorize an acquisition or cancellation. He had a great deal of clout, but the final decisions were made by Marvel president James Galton and, later on, vice-president in charge of publishing Michael Hobson. At its core, Marvel is a publisher of pulp-adventure comics, and that’s not going to change no matter who is at its editorial helm.

What matters in such a situation is the editor-in-chief’s capacity to successfully deviate from the path of least resistance. To determine that, one should consider how Shooter’s tenure compares to those of the editors-in-chief who preceded and followed him. Consider the list of material above. Marvel under Shooter was not only more vital aesthetically than it was under any other editor-in-chief from Roy Thomas through Tom Brevoort, it was probably more vital than under all those editors-in-chief combined. However, if Groth (or anyone else) wants to argue that Marvel was a more impressive publisher under, say, Marv Wolfman or Bob Harras, I’ll be more than happy to hear the case made.

As for the “sheer dumb luck” claim, I note that unlike, say, the Lee, Kirby, and Ditko collaborations at Marvel in the ‘60s, the very best material under Shooter by and large isn’t stuff that just happened to show up in a decades-old newsprint line. Five of the six best projects named above were the result of contracts and publishing formats that were set up for the purpose of cultivating and supporting that sort of work. The projects couldn’t have been published otherwise.

Moving on to Jim Shooter’s individual generosity with creators and smaller publishers, here are a few examples:

--For a token fee, Shooter granted Gary Groth and Fantagraphics a license to print as much material as they wanted from the X-Men comic-book series for use in a two-volume interview collection called The X-Men Companion. Shooter also directed Marvel’s production staff to shoot all the photostats from the comics that Fantagraphics requested. These were provided free of charge. It was no small amount of art, either. About half the space in the two 100+ page books was taken up with reprinted panels. It was way beyond what would be permitted under fair use.

--Shooter also hired Groth and Fantagraphics to typeset the complete Mary Shelley text for Bernie Wrightson’s The Illustrated Frankenstein. This was despite Fantagraphics having no experience with typesetting projects for other companies. Marvel was also perfectly capable of doing the job in-house.

--Howard Cruse had contributed a series of Barefootz stories to Marvel’s short-lived Comix Book magazine in the mid-1970s. Marvel, though, had kept the copyrights. According to Cruse, Shooter “cleared the way for me to regain the rights to the stories I had drawn.” (Click here.) Thanks to Shooter, Cruse was able to publish the stories through Renegade Press in 1986. Shooter even granted the use of Marvel’s trademarked Comix Book logo for the cover.

--Shooter did a similar favor for Chris Claremont and John Bolton with Marada the She-Wolf. Their initial story originally featured the Red Sonja character, but when a rights question arose with the Robert E. Howard licensor, they came up with Marada, a new character, to replace her. The story was done as work-made-for-hire, and Marvel owned all rights. Shooter allowed the two to buy back the story, and he gave them the rights to the Marada character along with it. Claremont publicly thanked Shooter for, in the words of The Comics Journal’s reporter, his “fair-mindedness and magnanimity” (TCJ 67, p. 17). It was the first comics character in which Claremont had an ownership stake. Claremont and Bolton went on to publish a series of Marada stories in Epic Illustrated. These were later collected in a Marvel Graphic Novel edition.

--Shooter was occasionally able to grant greater rights retroactively with the company-owned characters writers and artists had created. To pick one example, John Byrne had created the Alpha Flight characters before Marvel’s character-creation participation plan was introduced. In 1983, in conjunction with the debut of a monthly Alpha Flight series, Shooter arranged for the Alpha Flight characters to be retroactively covered by the plan. Byrne retains a financial interest in Alpha Flight to this day.

--When Marvel’s Epic imprint published Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest, Shooter agreed to let the license be for specific material and not the property as a whole. The Pinis were allowed to concurrently publish a competing Elfquest series, Siege at Blue Mountain, through Apple Comics. Further, they were allowed to promote the competing series in the pages of the Epic title.

--After Marvel’s lawyers sent cartoonist/publisher Dave Sim a cease-and-desist letter for cover-featuring a Wolverine parody on three successive Cerebus issues, Shooter arranged to license the character to Sim for one dollar. This cleared the way for Sim to reprint the issues as part of the Church & State, Volume One Cerebus collection. Shooter also helped promote Cerebus by authorizing a series of new, full-color Cerebus stories by Sim and his collaborator Gerhard in Epic Illustrated.

Shooter is well known for being generous with his time when it comes to novice creators. Frank Miller had this to say about his dealings with Shooter when starting out:

Because [Shooter] liked my work, he spent hours with me, on job after job, never bending his point of view an inch. It was, for me, the first time I had ever heard the word “storytelling” used to mean the use of words and pictures to convey information. Until then, I had heard it used primarily to describe visual tricks […] from this I gained a firm grasp of certain essentials of story structure and storytelling. It gave me a logical base from which I was able to build and develop less traditional works […] his contribution to my work is undeniable […] (TCJ 101, p. 70)

Chester Brown, the celebrated author of the graphic novels I Never Liked You and Louis Riel, was a wannabe adventure-comics artist in the late 1970s. In 1990, he gave this account of his 1979 experience with Shooter:

I went back down [to New York a second time], and this time the Marvel method had changed of looking at portfolios. I left my portfolio there and I figured it was going to be the same thing again — you left your portfolio overnight. Only the next day, when I went in, they didn’t hand it back and say, “No.” Jim Shooter came out with the portfolio and went through the portfolio with me, telling me what he thought of the different things […] He was at that point editor-in-chief. So the top guy in the company came out and spent his time with some unknown artist who had just come in. That kind of surprised me and impressed me. He was very nice. (TCJ 135, pp. 75-76)

Both accounts are typical of what one hears about Shooter from aspiring talent or established creators describing their tyro experiences.

To review, Jim Shooter vastly improved the business situation for creators who worked on Marvel’s company-owned properties. He set up publishing venues at Marvel for author-owned material, and the contracts for those were the most author-friendly in the field. Formats with higher production values were introduced, which helped expand the range of what creators could do. He did business favors for creators regardless of whether they worked for Marvel or not. He also did favors for smaller publishers. And he has a history of going out of his way to help beginning talent with learning their craft. Shooter was far from “the enemy of creators.” He did more positive things for them than any other editor or publisher of the time. Those efforts paved the way for some of the most accomplished material put out by a North American comics publisher during his tenure. His status as an industry pariah seems deeply unjust.

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


  1. Not being an insider, just a fan, I always thought his leadership with Marvel was solid.

  2. Great article! I've long been a fan of Shooter's and have been sad to see the one-sided negative things written about him. There are two sides to every story, thanks for writing the other side of this one.

  3. I was lucky enough to be a kid reading Marvel during Shooter's tenure. Thanks for this article.

  4. I was becoming a serious fan at age 8, already after Shooter had been fired, but still with plenty of Shooter helmed material available with my country's licenser. So, my recollections will always be influenced by my childhood.

    Still, I do remember a certain change in overall quality, with some of my favorites losing steam, like the Avengers, the X-Men and Alpha Flight, with post-1987 material. And while my licenser tried to publish an Epic magazine featuring Dreadstar, Sisterhood of Steel and Alien Legion, it didn't take off. And I wasn't old enough to appreciate it at the time, anyway.

    Years later, as I became more acquainted with the backstage of the comics' industry, I was quite surprised to hear the word "pariah" associated with Jim Shooter, and the ammount of hate some professionals have for him. There's no way a tyrant could have kept the professionals happy for so long.

    But he has shown he had a tendency to flip-flop between staying at the helm and coming down to micromanage some thing or other, and that, more than the attempt at creating some consistency at the expense of "creative chaos", is what upset the creators. The ones with editorial experience might also have resented his closer relationship with management, since he had more influence on the business side than the "headwriters" ever did.

  5. (Up-front disclosure: I’ve known Jim Shooter for more than 40 years, and had a role in his return to comics in the mid-1970s.)

    This is an excellent overview of Jim’s years at Marvel Comics, R.S., and I thank you for posting it. You effectively cut through a lot of the distorted legends and plain old crap that, even today, surround Jim’s tenure as editor-in-chief.

    I’ve never been able to completely wrap my head around the loathing expressed about him by some of the people who worked with him at the time.

    During the ’70s and ’80s, Jim and I often talked about what he was doing as editor-in-chief, but since I didn’t work in the business he was always circumspect enough not to name names when he spoke in detail, and when he did name names, he didn’t divulge too many details. I’ve always respected that.

    But over time I developed some…well…informed suspicions about why things didn’t always go smoothly.

    The main suspicion is this: Some of the people who worked under Jim were immature, self-regarding prima donnas. Those are my words, not Jim’s, and it’s a conclusion drawn from those people’s own public statements.

    As you correctly noted, R.S., the Marvel Comics of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko was a powerhouse of innovation during the early 1960s. Over the next 10 years, that faded considerably, and the company itself was slipping toward the edge of a cliff.

    After the Lee-Kirby-Ditko era, the people who came on board were fully aware that their predecessors were titans, and that they weren’t quite in their league. Even so, some of these new people thought the skills they brought to the Marvel Bullpen were considerably more awe-inspiring than they actually were. They had been in the business just a few years, and thought they had found the magic short cut to greatness. They couldn’t admit to themselves that it took the titans they idolized decades to reach their prime.

    Their egos led them to wish for all the respect and autonomy that had been accorded to Stan and Jack and Steve. And they resented it when their boss told them they weren’t quite there yet.

    Of course, I’m talking about a subset of Marvel’s talent pool. Every company has its share of cranks and malcontents, but there are also those who do their best, who strive to improve, and who appreciate guidance. They’re the ones who don’t make waves.

    But those who did make waves gained the attention. They shared among themselves what they considered Jim Shooter horror stories, and weren’t shy about spreading them widely. It didn’t take long for confirmation bias to set in: For these people, Jim had become a malignant presence who was somehow holding them back, thwarting their creativity, even killing their idealized vision of Marvel Comics. That belief shaded their perception of everything Jim said and did, both inside the Bullpen and outside it.

    In reality, they were crying like peculiarly hostile babies, complaining about everything and appreciating nothing much beyond their newfound fame at comic conventions and the fawning letters of comment published in the comics they wrote and/or drew.

    But lies — well, let’s just say gross misrepresentations — have a way of taking hold, which among other things may explain the negative spin of Sean Howe’s book.

    Jim left a legacy that too few appreciate. He improved working conditions, increased pay, fostered creators’ rights, raised the creative bar, worked with retailers to keep the business viable, and along the way forced DC Comics to do the same.

    More than anyone besides Lee and Kirby, Jim Shooter may have saved Marvel Comics from oblivion. If Marvel had gone down in the 1980s, chances are DC would have followed. And then where would we be?

    —Harry Broertjes

  6. As a former Marvel staffer and contract employee who was employed by Marvel during the entire tenure of Mr. Shooter, I feel compelled to add that while Mr. Shooter deserves some credit for engineering or helping to engineer a number of changes with regard to how writers and artists (and editors) were compensated for their work above and beyond their "page rates", he didn't go far enough in my opinion. When they were working out the details of the so-called "incentive bonuses" (additional compensation based on sales figures for certain titles) they failed to include two other categories of creative artists in their negotiations. Letterers and colorists. I don't think anyone can deny that both lettering and coloring are not only an art but are essential parts of and contribute greatly to the overall visual and storytelling appeal and quality of a comic book. To leave those artists out completely when incentive bonuses were being awarded to pencilers, writers and editors, for them not to receive one cent in additional compensation above their page rates no matter how many times their work is printed and re-printed in whatever form seems very unfair to me. Their work was an art and took up a certain amount of physical space on each page of the comic book. It was impossible for the reader to not notice it or be affected by it on some level. Even if some fraction of the artists' and writers' and editors' "incentive bonuses" had to be diminished to a degree in order to include the letterers and colorists, it should have been done and would have been the right thing to do. And it's not too late. Their names appear in each issue and I hardly think it would be an "accounting nightmare" to see that this injustice is rectified. Every time a comic book, graphic novel or special collection or special edition book comes out with a price tag on it-- unless there are no word balloons, titles, sound effects and the book is black and white, the letterers and colorists whose work appears in it should be paid something. Paying them nothing at all while using their work over and over is patently unfair. And I'll bet Jim Shooter would agree with me.

    1. Lettering? Really? If you can be replaced with a typewriter, then what you're doing probably isn't that creative. What's next, are the Key Grips on the next Star Wars going to get a percentage of the movie's gross? You might have a better case for coloring nowadays, but before the '90s it was basically a paint-by-numbers affair. A lot of those comics have to get recolored when anyone wants to put together a decent modern reprint because the coloring work back then was so rudimentary. To put it more succinctly, no fan ever bought a book because they were a fan of the letterer and even today probably not because they were a fan of the colorist. The idea of creating financial incentives for extra sales is to get the creators to do better work that draws in more readers. There is nothing that the letterer or colorist can do to bring more fans onto the book. Doing an important job that has to get done doesn't make you a key creative contributor.

    2. JediJones, it's very sad you have such a disdain for elements of the comics industry that are so vital. Lettering is design. Coloring is design, especially today with the sophistication level with which comics are produced.

      Bad lettering can - and has - ruined the quality of a comic book. Just because lettering or coloring is at the bottom of the comic book credits, does not mean it isn't as vital a part of the production as anything else.

      Every strong run of comics - Claremont's X-Men, Simonson's Thor, or any of the revered standalone books are the treasures in the comics industry, partly because of the lettering and coloring.

      These elements are of service to the overall product. It's not expected that letterers and colorists would get anywhere near the percentage of a writer, penciler or inker, but they should be a part of the overall structure of a royalty/residual system.

      Ultimately, the industry has to overcome these kinds of small-minded viewpoints of those who ignorantly view lettering and coloring as throw-away elements of the overall production of a quality comic book.

    3. JediJones simply doesn't understand. No one was replaced by a typewriter. Even the digital letterer needs to understand the elements of design for lettering. Humans make all the choices, not the 'typewriter.' Humans choose the typeface, point size, word spacing, letter spacing, line spacing, the organization of words within the balloons, and often the balloon placement itself. There is an art to lettering. Don't think so? Go read some 60s Charlton comics. Quality lettering is just as expressive and individualistic as any inker. I think Mr. "JediJones" has been spoiled by great lettering. Because the best letterers go unnoticed by fans because it's done so well that it enhances, rather than distracts from, the reading enjoyment of a comic. Don't worry, Rick Parker, some of us are firmly in your corner.

  7. The comics got better when Shooter was in charge. And they got worse when he left. Nuff said.

    1. actually, that is not nearly enough and kind of misses the point of the article, which is that Shooter is not the pariah he has been described (by some) to be. The comics could've gotten better under him and gotten worse after he left and, if he was actually the pariah he is described as, the criticism would be justified. Here, the author is pointing out that not only did Shooter do a fine job as EIC, the broader criticism of how creators were treated is undeserved.

    2. Giving the creators greater benefits would be pointless if they were producing garbage. The only job of the person running the company is to make sure the customers like and purchase the product. The company exists to serve the customers, not to be a benefits program for "creators." Making the creators happy should only be done as a means to an end, to make sure they produce a better product. It serves no purpose whatsoever if you divorce it from the question of the product's quality as you are foolishly attempting to do.

  8. Rick Parker wrote: "And I'll bet Jim Shooter would agree with me."

    All things being equal, I bet you're correct.

  9. "By their fruits you will know them..." Ancient wisdom.

    With Jim at the helm, Marvel went stratospheric instead of crashing. The observation above that the new talent did not realize it took decades to achieve mastery of comic storytelling and thus resented editorial input and correction strikes me as highly probable.

    We artists resent corrections to our labor, period. Add to that our disdain for management, and I can easily see why Jim would become the Big Man to Hate On, no matter how well he did his job.

    He was not the Father of Marvel Comics as like Stan Lee was nor the Godfather as like Jack Kirby was, teaching the punks they did not know anything and drawing up to five pages a day.

    He was the Step-father, coming in to the scene in its teenage years - full of smart mouths and poor publishing hygiene.

    The problem I think is that Jim was Big and Scary and it intimidated them. He smelt like Art Cop to them. Like the Principal No One Wants to Visit.

    Stan was far too convivial and Jim was not convivial enough.

    In an office of creatives, to be admired, you have to be charming, not reasonable.

    Jim simply thought courtesy and professionalism was key.

    Obviously, others did not.

    'Nuff said.


    p.s. Thank you for this well-researched article. I mean it.

  10. The Kirby family had a very different opinion of Jim Shooter. Shooter held the company line against Kirby, refusing to return the original art they still had (which Marvel did not legally own) unless Kirby signed away all claims to everything he ever created for Marvel, which was basically 90% of what launched Marvel in the 1960s. This dragged on for years and Kirby was basically strong-armed by Marvel into signing that agreement. The Kirby's always hated Jim Shooter and this was at the bottom of why Gary Groth hated Jim Shooter. Shooter once claimed in an interview that he wasn't able to negotiate with Kirby because he was suing Marvel. Never happened. When this was pointed out to him he expressed confusion and a bad memory. Marvel was not sued by the Kirby's until after Jack died when the revised copyright law allowed them to try to reclaim what Jack had created. Jack's old friend Stan Lee didn't help the Kirby family at all, claiming UNDER OATH that he wrote all the scripts and the artists didn't create anything, and anything he ever said about Jack creating so much was just because he was flattering Jack. There is a lot more to the Marvel Comics story than what is written above. In a long published interview, Doug Moench told how around 1980 Jim Shooter planned to kill off all of the Marvel characters and replace them so that new characters would be Spider-Man, The Hulk, the Fantastic Four, etc. Stan Lee put a stop to this as he still had authority with Marvel 35 years ago. But Doug Moench had already quit rather than be a party to Shooter's plan. After the plan was killed, Shooter actually held a press conference where, as Moench put it, Shooter "lied through his teeth" and claimed that the story of his killing off the Marvel characters was a rumor spread by a disgruntled ex-employee (Moench figured that Shooter meant him). This interview was published more than a decade ago and Shooter has never commented on it.

    1. I deleted my initial response to James Van Hise’s comment. It was drafted late at night, and didn’t address what he said as well I would have liked. His comment is erroneous on many fronts.

      1. Jim Shooter had no control over the pre-1973 original art returns that began in the mid-1980s. The decisions regarding Kirby were made by company president James Galton acting on the advice of Marvel’s legal counsel. This is per every internal account at Marvel and the partial paper trail that came out during the recent Kirby Heirs litigation. As a Marvel employee, Shooter had an obligation to abide by those decisions.

      2. Judging from Jack and Roz Kirby’s statements in interviews during the 1980s, they barely knew Jim Shooter. Apart from treating him as a synecdoche for Marvel as a whole, I don't think they had any opinion of him personally.

      3. Marvel owned all original art for their company-owned material. The transactions meet the definition of a sale under New York state law, which is essentially money for goods. Kirby never disputed Marvel’s ownership within the statutory window, so he effectively acknowledged that ownership by default. Several following the lead of Neal Adams have propagated a hypothesis that the failure to collect sales tax on these transactions means no sale occurred. However, there is no statute or case law that holds that collection or non-collection of sales tax is determinative of whether a sale has occurred. In fact, a New York tax-department representative is on the record in a Comics Journal article that the Adams sales-tax hypothesis is wrong. Other claims, such as the absence of a bill of sale means no sale occurred, are also erroneous. The transactions did not meet the criteria for a bill of sale to be required per the New York statute of frauds.

      4. Kirby did all his work for Marvel in the 1960s under the terms of work-made-for-hire as defined by the case law that holds for the copyright laws of the time. Further, in 1972 Kirby acknowledged in writing that he did the work under those terms. In the ‘80s Kirby had unfortunately—and perhaps unwittingly—made some claims to Marvel in his efforts to get the art back that ran counter to that acknowledgement. Marvel required him to back off those claims before they would return the art in question to him. He eventually did.

      5. Jack and Roz Kirby are both on the record that they did not personally need the art returned to them. They wanted the art as a gift for their grandchildren. They weren’t “strongarmed” into anything.

      6. I can’t speak for Gary Groth, but I suspect the heart of his antipathy to Shooter has nothing to do with the original-art situation. I don’t think he cares about it beyond its handiness as a cudgel to hit Shooter with. He’s actually on the record in believing that the decisions in the matter were being made by the Marvel executives above Shooter. I also note he was best friends with artist Gil Kane, who was well known for stealing original art out of the Marvel offices. Based on what I’ve seen of Gary’s conduct in various situations, his hostility towards Shooter is most likely rooted in Shooter’s decision to voluntarily testify on Michael Fleisher’s behalf in the libel suit Fleisher brought against Harlan Ellison and the Journal.

    2. 7. Shooter stopped making the claim that Kirby sued Marvel after I confronted him about it on his blog a few years ago. I think his confusion was understandable, given that Kirby had made legal threats against the company, and the company attorneys were handling all communications with Kirby for at least a year before the matter was finally resolved. As for bad memory as an excuse, well, he was recalling something that had occurred something like 25 years previously during a period in which he was busy with a number of other things. If your memory is perfect in similar circumstances, then good for you, but I don’t think you can fault anyone whose memory doesn’t meet that standard.

      8. You're not very knowledgeable about the Kirby-Marvel litigation, starting with the fact that the Kirby heirs didn't sue Marvel. Marvel sued to invalidate copyright termination notices they filed. Stan Lee's statements about his and the artists' relative contributions are consistent with what he has said for 50 years. He didn't change his account in deposition. The Kirbys’ lawyer was unable to impeach his testimony with prior statements. Beyond that, the issue of who was responsible for creating what was irrelevant to the various rulings in the case. The district-court judge pointedly said so in her summary-judgment decision, which was unanimously upheld on appeal. The only issue was whether Kirby did the work in question at Marvel’s behest. As the judge noted in her ruling, even Kirby’s son confirmed that.

      9. No one has corroborated Doug Moench’s allegations about Shooter’s purported plans to overhaul Marvel’s key characters, much less confirmed that Stan Lee thwarted them. Lee was completely out of the loop with Marvel editorial by 1980, when he permanently relocated to California and was effectively replaced as publisher by Michael Hobson. Moench quit his assignments on Master of Kung Fu and Moon Knight in 1982 during a temper tantrum he threw after being told that he would either have to revamp the Kung Fu title or see it cancelled for low sales. And despite his claims, he didn't really quit Marvel. He worked on projects under the Epic imprint during the rest of Shooter's tenure.

      From what I’ve seen, Archie Goodwin may have been the only editor at Marvel still willing to deal with Moench, who from all indications is a very headstrong and volatile individual. Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald, and Denny O’Neil were his editors before the ’82 blow-up. Macchio and Gruenwald never worked with him again. When O’Neil took over editing the Batman titles at DC in 1986, the most conspicuous change was that Doug Moench was immediately replaced as their writer. It would be at least five years before O’Neil worked with him again. Now, perhaps that’s all coincidence, but given Moench’s personality, I think it’s a real question.

      10. Actually, I think Shooter did respond to Moench on his website, but if he hadn’t, so what? Why Shooter (or anyone else) is expected to respond to a fan-press interview is beyond me

    3. Just a short reply to the above comment re: Kirby. Kirby's work was created under a work for hire agreement. Do I personally loathe many such agreements? Yes. However, Kirby very clearly was working under those agreements and the meaning of work for hire is not a legal mystery by any stretch of the imagination. At this point, I think the whole use of Kirby to bludgeon everyone from Stan Lee to Jim Shooter is old and very tired. Let it go. Moreover, Jim Shooter did not own Marvel and was not an attorney working for Marvel to retain the validity of work for hire agreements. Jim Shooter is not, and was not, Marvel. He was an employee of Marvel and he was not editor in chief of Marvel during the Kirby era.

      With respect to creator's rights, it seems to me that when Shooter had an opportunity to do a bit more for creators at Marvel, he did so. Could he have done more? I don't know, but it seems clear he did more than those who came before him. I don't know Jim Shooter or anyone else who worked at Marvel during that time period. My guess is that Shooter was a bit more heavy handed than prior EICs and, while that did wonders for Marvel's bottom line, it may have alienated some folks at Marvel.

    4. Who authorized you to speak for the Kirby family? You're spewing a lot of hearsay and gossip like women at the hairdresser talking about the scandals they just read about in the supermarket tabloids. The sad thing is you actually think you're some kind of do-gooder by bringing this up rather than just another ignorant villager with a pitchfork and a torch. If Jim Shooter is guilty for not defying Marvel's policies and turning in his resignation when he worked there, then so is every other person who worked there at the same time. Yes, everybody should've shut down an entire comics company to help get old, outdated, irrelevant artwork back to someone who never owned it in the first place. While people like you dreamed of destroying a comics company over these insignificant grievances trumped up into "crimes against humanity," Jim Shooter was busy saving a comics industry by creating unforgettable entertainment that brought in a new generation of fans.

      If Shooter was actually going to do the "killing off" plan then he was way ahead of his time, which he typically was. DC used the exact idea for the Death of Superman. Not to mention Marvel has been replacing Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, etc. again and again in the modern era for two decades. And, as long as they do the replacement by "upgrading" to a politically correct ethnic group, they get praised for being "progressive." Of course as we know, no one in comics ever stays dead. So if that's the best you can come up with for a "scandal," it's time to go back and do a rewrite.

  11. Jim Shooter was FIRED from Marvel.
    Full stop.

  12. Yes, Shooter was fired in April of 1987. The reason appears to have been a letter he sent to executives of New World Entertainment, who bought Marvel the previous November. By all accounts, the letter was harshly critical of Marvel president James Galton and the other Marvel executives of the time. The letter found its way back to Galton, who then understandably fired Shooter.

    Although many in the fan community like to speculate that the termination had to do with problems over how Shooter performed his job duties—I’m not sure if that includes you or not—that doesn’t appear to be the case. Sales were fine, and by all accounts, Galton took no interest in editorial issues. Shooter and Galton just disagreed about aspects of how the company should be run, the disagreements got ugly, and Shooter was let go.

    I assume Tom DeFalco, who replaced Shooter, was more amenable to how Galton wanted to do things. If you feel Marvel was a more impressive publisher after Shooter left, please make your case. I’m very interested.

  13. Great article. As a long time reader, I think the Marvel Comics published under Shooter's reign are some of the best ever made. The possessed a cohesive universe feel to them, while not being interdependent on reading two or three other titles to understand them. Great stuff. Dynamic and creative. He is vastly underrated.

  14. Very good article and I'm reading it just as I'm nearing the end of a 5 hour interview that Shooter did with Off The Record DVD. If anyone reading the above entry by R.S. is interested in this, it's worth watching (I had nothing to do with it's production). I've always wondered why Shooter has been so maligned. I have no doubt that he probably speaks his mind and stands his ground and some may not like that, but I also believe he's been good for comics, and especially Marvel. Can't recommend this DVD enough and although it is certainly only Shooter's perspective, it's fascinating. And in one part, where he's talking about his being a pariah, he quotes former Marvel VP Mike Hobson, and becomes quite choked up in discussing his tenure at Marvel. I found it quite touching and gave a nice human side to Shooter. Again, while I had nothing to do with this DVDs production, anyone interested in Shooter, should pick it up. They also did one with Gerry Conway, which I have yet to watch. It can be found at

  15. I've recently been rereading the Pre-Unity Valiant run and have fallen into a Shooter wormhole. The more I read the more incredible this man's achievements are. Having only met him once at a Con, he seemed thoroughly charming and gave a very eye opening presentation regarding the state of the comic industry.

    As someone who has gone away from buying regularly and have instead strictly purchased TPB or full runs I think a lot of his philosophies could still work in our modern comic landscape.

  16. Over my 40+ years as a collector, I have read many stories Shooter wrote. Some were great, some were not. I have often read awful things about his tenure as the leader at Marvel and wondered how the company could have possibly done so well if even half of it was true. This article is credible and extremely informative and I thank you for writing it. Now that I am a small-time comic book publisher, seeing the truth behind some of these Big Two developmental events is somehow helpful. Thanks again!

  17. I started reading comics during shooters time. Initially i had a negative opinion of him. I thought shooter was simply lucky to be editor in chief during the time when Marvel experienced what is arguably its best creative period. My opinion changed when i read valiant comics. Consistent storylines, interesting characters and a solid universe conencting people. Jim Shooter was doing what all other publishers were struggling to do at the time. And I just loved Magnus Robot Fighter. Marvel comics success was no accident.

  18. Will Kirby be next in the victim series?

    1. I may do a post discussing the Kirby original art mess, although my reply to James Van Hise covers the gist of what I would write. Kirby didn't really have any dealings with Shooter. He turned in the last of his work at Marvel in the 1970s a month after Shooter took over.

    2. I don't know if the feedback helps at all in your decision to discuss the Kirby originl art mess, but I would love to read more on this. As an original art collector, I have wondered about some of the statements made in this blog concerning legalities and rightful ownership of art in general. For instance, I had no ieea on what was mentioned above about Gil Kane. While I don't own any art from Kirby, I guess the whole topic caught my attention after the cover to Green Lantern 76 was auctioned with an "endorsement" by Neal Adams. I've heard differeing opinions on the subject, but it seems the claims of "stolen art" keep popping-up. Anyhow, thanks for writing this.

  19. The basic of rule of thumb with artwork done on a work-made-for-hire basis is that it belongs to the commissioning party, i.e. the publisher. The only exceptions to this are situations where the artwork has been returned to the artist after being designated a gift, which Marvel did with all post-1973 work, or when the publisher agrees beforehand that the originals are the artists' property (which DC began doing in the late '70s). The transactions meet the definition of a sale per the statutes of New York and other states, and there's no statute or case law I'm aware of that says otherwise. I can't find anything that supports the arguments Neal Adams and others have made re:ownership, and no one has been able to point me to anything, either.

    There's been a lot of stolen art over the years, but in almost all cases the art was stolen from the publisher, not the artists. The artists have no standing to file a criminal complaint in most of these cases.

  20. Hi, so I tried to find out about the "well known" claims you allege involving "Gil Kane stealing art from Marvel offices" and came up with nothing. Well, I kind of hit a wall because I asked on a message board that is supposed to have an eclectic, varied and deep membership of expertise in the area of original art, and while some said they had heard "rumors", one guy who has been an "artdealer" for 40 years thought I was denigrating Kane's name/legacy for even asking. This couldn't be further from the truth. You seem astute and well versed in legal aspects, and certainly did a bang-up job writing on Shooter's history, and dismantling comments attempting to perpetuate false claims. It is in a similar vein where my request to know if you have anything to back this up may be found. Did anyone ever testify and/or go on record to back up this allegation Gil Kane stole from Marvel's offices? As I'd mentioned in my previous comment, I'm completely aware of these "stolen" art rumors that keep popping-up, but I've never to this day seen a name attached to any allegation quite like this. Don't mean to put you on the spot, but this is a guy whose work I admire, for nostalgic reasons, because of his artistic ability, with amazing figurwork and elements of anatomy that in my opinion were second to none. Beyond the hit I see to his legacy, there's the peripheral concern with any negative trickle effect of tainted works. Thanks in advance, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this comment and look forward to your response.

    1. Oh, I see. This is about Kane. There's not a lot that's on the record. People for the most part aren't willing to discuss it for public consumption. They'll at most obliquely refer to it, such as Howard Chaykin with negative references to Kane's "ethics," or Jim Shooter describing theft incidents involving "an artist who shall remain nameless," or Al Milgrom explaining Kane's 1982 blackballing at Marvel as being due to his not being qualified as a human being to work there. But off the record, people with direct knowledge of the situation get pretty pointed when discussing him and his conduct. When I say it was "well known," I mean it was "well known" to people who were there at the time. If you don't want to accept that, I understand. I'm not big on anonymously sourced statements myself.

    2. There is a comic by Archie Goodwin who was editor at Marvel at the time making this allegation with pseudonyms for everyone:

  21. Thanks. Interestingly, I discovered (through the help of some people who knew a lot more than I did on this subject) that Ted McKeever's created a strip in Pencil Head #3 (2016) using "obvious" fictional character names, but going into some detail on art walking out the doors. I'm not big on creating more bandwidth usage for bloggers, but there are scans online of the story. GCD also has a brief entry on it's site. You should have my email - if you haven't read it or need to be pointed in the direction of where they are, email me and I'll send you the images.

  22. "Less than a quarter of DC’s line was eligible for theirs, and people at Marvel knew it"

    I'm curious as to what the source about DC Comics' sales are. Where did you get it?

    1. Statement of Ownership forms filed with the U. S. Postmaster General were the main source.

  23. Wow, thank you for posting such a lengthy and well-researched defense of Jim Shooter. I do think his reign was probably the best we've seen post-Stan Lee and certainly he helped advance the business forward.

    All that said, it is hard to ignore how widely disliked he is among comics professionals. In your link to the "Our Nixon" piece by Groth, there's just too many negative quotes from comics professionals to make me think that Shooter's reputation is nothing but unfair character assassination. I mean, when Walt Simonson celebrates you being fired...

    And Groth does use Shooter's own testimony to illustrate how he feels about creative people working for Marvel:

    Q: Would you say that the X-Men's principal author is Chris Claremont?
    SHOOTER: The author of that series is Marvel Comics. Chris Claremont is a writer for-hire.

    Yikes, pretty cold and definitely not someone that sounds like he has high regard for the creators working under him.

    That said, your arguments on what he's done for creative people seem inarguable. Conditions overall did improve for creators at Marvel with him at the helm.

    I wonder if a lot of it had to do with his personality, if he came across as a grouch or hardass or something. Maybe if he had a sunny Stan Lee or Archiw Goodwin disposition, people might have felt differently?

    Despite being a creative person, maybe he didn't understand how creative people wanted to be treated on a personal level? One story I recall is Shooter suddenly putting out a mandate that all issues were to be self-contained after Roger Stern had written a three-part Captain America story. Stern agreed to implement this policy going forward but had already done the work for the three-parter, which is the story that his run had built up to by that point. But Shooter stuck to his guns and Stern left the book.

    Now to me, that's pointless -- you have a successful creative team in place and rather than be prima donnas, they're willing to compromise and ultimately let you have your way -- just let them have the minor victory.

    Now given how messed up and disorganized Marvel's offices were when Shooter took over, they probably did need a hard-ass to whip things into shape. But it seems Shooter might not have known how to pick his battles and when to let people have a minor win for overall morale.

  24. Shooter was testifying in court, and would be expected to speak clearly and concisely in language appropriate for the judge and jury. That means in the context of a legal discussion, you use the legal definitions of terms. Legally, Marvel is the exclusive author of the X-Men comics Claremont wrote, and Claremont was a writer-for-hire on them. There is no ambiguity on that point. If Claremont was testifying, I would expect him to say the same thing.

    I asked Jim Salicrup, who was the Captain America editor, about that aborted three-parter. Here's what he said:

    "I clearly remember Jim explaining it [the policy] to me—he was hoping for one-part stories to create a reader-friendly Marvel Comics. If we had really great two-part stories, well, they better be great. And, if we wanted to do a three-part story, it was going to be the rare exception and it had to be as good as the “Galactus Trilogy,” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby-- that was Shooter’s specific example. I wasn’t as thrilled with this particular Cap story as I was with previous issues, and may’ve asked for it to be just a one-parter, and might’ve even offered to let it be a two-parter, but I didn’t want it to be three parts, especially with Jim’s suggested guidelines."

    It sounds like you think Shooter was a lot more involved in this matter than he was.

    If you choose to comment again, please have a better grasp of what you're talking about. Thank you.

  25. Oh, as for Walt Simonson, those quotes have never been confirmed by him, and if legitimate, were never intended for public consumption. As for his attitude towards Shooter after Shooter left Marvel, I point you to his doing covers for Valiant as a favor to Shooter a few years down the road. That seems a strange thing to do for someone you despise, don't you think Or perhaps Simonson, assuming he had a grievance with Shooter at all, came to the conclusion it wasn't that big a deal.

    People who try to make a case against Shooter, such as Gary Groth, generally have to resort to cherry-picking quotes (or alleged quotes) from people whose subsequent behavior wholly contradicts the underlying sentiment of what was said. Gary, when confronted about this, goes into full bullshit-artist mode and asserts that we should focus on what people say and ignore what they do. Sorry, but when asked to evaluate people and their views, I always focus on what they do, as opposed to what they say. Talk is cheap.

  26. Re: Gil Kane and original art theft. Howard Chaykin and Al Milgrom were fairly pointed about the subject on Facebook this past weekend. They talk about it in the post comments.

    A couple of selections:

    CHAYKIN: Gil [...] stole artwork from both DC and Marvel, both before and after both companies agreed to return artwork to the talent. For example, he lifted Frazetta's SHINING KNIGHT pages and got them out in the market for chump change.

    MILGROM: [...] Gil never saw a five finger discount he didn't try to take advantage of. Loved his art and had some interesting conversations with him--but it was hard to like him considering he was shamelessly stealing other people's artwork to sell. Sometime[s] you shouldn't meet your heroes.