Friday, March 24, 2006

Rare 1982 Jim Shooter Radio Interview

Here we have a rather long and rare September 1982 radio interview with Marvel Comics then Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter. I sent a copy of the tape to Jon Cooke at COMIC BOOK ARTIST magazine a few years back but I couldn’t afford to keep up with the mag so I don’t know if he ever ran the interviews. Some background: As a regular subscriber to THE COMICS BUYERS GUIDE, I enjoyed future Eclipse Publisher Cat Yronwode’s column of news and opinions. There was a period around this time where Cat was incensed over persistent rumors that the controversial Shooter was planning a major overhaul of the Marvel Universe. She was also reporting on Doug Moench’s departure from Marvel and particularly MASTER OF KUNG-FU, generally regarded in fan circles (and by me!) as one of the best written books of the period. I mentioned all of this during a phone conversation with my friend, Chris Barkley, a BNF (Big Name Fan) in sci-fi circles who just happened to have his own local radio show devoted to science-fiction and, on occasion, comics. Chris arranged live phone interviews with Jim Shooter, Doug Moench and, the following week, Cat Yronwode. His show, BAD MOON RISING, was on a low power public radio station all the way to the left on the dial and was broadcast out of the basement of an old hotel. I’d be willing to bet money that very few people heard these interviews. Me, on the other hand? I taped them! The tapes have not weathered well and the sound is faster than it should be but I was able to transcribe Shooter’s pretty easily. I’m working on Moench’s, too, but Cat Yronwode’s is lost to the mists of time.
The two times I met Shooter at Cons he was quite nice (if intimidatingly tall!) Here, he comes across as personable enough as he denies any and all rumors. It wasn’t long, however before he had replaced Iron Man and Captain America, just like the rumors said, and in fact, premiered his own New Universe. Was he lying, skirting the truth or did he just decide these were good ideas when he heard them? You decide! I’ve cleaned up the "uh’s" and "Umm’s" for the most part and I’ve eliminated a couple of listener "fanboy" questions but otherwise… Here’s the interview. By the way, that’s a relatively recent pic of Chris above next to a vintage shot of Shooter. Sorry there are no more illustrations accompanying this piece but the %^$#@!! thing just doesn’t seem to work right day!
CB-This is Chris Barkley with another edition of BAD MOON RISING. Tonight is probably going to be one of the toughest shows I’ve ever done. I have on the line here Jim Shooter, Editor (sic) of Marvel Comics and over the past month or two, there have been allegations as to whether he’s going to kill off certain characters, set up certain situations…and I felt it only fair to present this forum to all you listeners who like comics and to find out the truth of the situation… Now, why don’t I stop stalling and get on with the interview. Hello, Jim Shooter.
CB-Before I say anything else, I wanted to thank you for agreeing to tonight’s call. I’m very nervous about this.
JS-Ha, ha! It’s my pleasure.
CB-Okay, the first thing I’m going to do is ask you exactly how long you’ve been in comics and how you got into comics.
JS-Well, I’ve been in comics since 1965. I got into comics because I needed money desperately and I thought of comics as a way to earn money ‘cause I was too young to get a real job.
CB-How old were you?
JS- Thirteen. So I sent in some scripts and DC Comics bought them and asked me to write for them on a regular basis so I did.
CB-Which comics did you write for regularly at first?
JS-Well, I started out with the Superman group, which was SUPERMAN, SUPERBOY, SUPERGIRL (in ACTION COMICS), Legion of Super-Heroes (in ADVENTURE), WORLD"S FINEST with Batman in it and uh…anything that the editor of Superman handled, I wrote.
CB-Now, over the past maybe month, there have been allegations of you making certain changes in the Marvel line, mainly MASTER OFKUNG-FU, MOON KNIGHT, THOR and specific changes with CAPTAIN AMERICA, and IRON MAN. The talk is that you are going to kill off Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and have someone else replace those two.
JS-Yeah, well, uh…None of that’s true.
CB-At no time did you ever say that in front of anyone or even muse it?
JS-No, no. What I said was, as a rhetorical example, I said that there are no sacred cows meaning that if some writer came to me with a brilliant plan to revamp or make Captain America exciting—more exciting—that it would be considered. I chose Captain America particularly because I thought that was probably the most extreme, unlikely example I could think of. Trying to demonstrate to one of our writers that he shouldn’t be fettered, he shouldn’t let his mind be shackled by imaginary constraints.
CB-Was the writer in question Doug Moench?
JS-Yeah. See, Doug was writing MASTER OF KUNG-FU and MASTER OF KUNG-FU, like every other Marvel book is doing pretty well. I mean, sales are going up steadily and anyone else would be real happy to have it but Marvel right now, everything is doing very well. MASTER OF KUNG-FU has been our third from the bottom book for years and I was approached by the editor of MASTER OF KUNG-FU, a fella who works for me directly who was unhappy with the way the book was going and felt that they were sort of in a rut and so I talked to him about it and I said by all means, if you can come up with some great new direction for it then go ahead. You shouldn’t feel constrained that there’s any particular rules that you have to be bound by so the editor approached Doug with what I thought was a great opportunity to create new things or make changes or do anything he wanted to try to y’know, to try to make it catch fire. And, apparently Doug wasn’t thrilled with that concept and I ended up talking with him. The editor gave up trying to convince him and asked me to talk to him so I talked to him and Doug felt that it was I guess just fine the way it was. What I was offering to him was an opportunity to just sort of go wild and create something exciting. We’d done that recently with DAREDEVIL and FANTASTIC FOUR where a writer…we just told him to look, don’t be afraid to do things and as a result we’ve seen dramatic new increases in the interest in those titles and that’s basically what I was looking for.
I have no plans to kill off anybody. I have no plans to make any specific changes on any titles however in general I’m willing to listen to anybody who does. Basically there is no plan afoot and there never were to kill any…I have no plans or desire to make any changes with Captain America. I DID use those as rhetorical examples for what I was looking for in one title, our third from the bottom title and I’m still…If somebody comes to me and says hey, I’ve got a terrific idea, you’ll love it, it’ll make Thor wonderful. We’re gonna kill off the Asgardians. I’ll say, well, let me hear it. If it’s brilliant, who knows? But, uh…don’t hold your breath.
CB-What do you see as the responsibility of the writer or an editor in this case?
JS-Well, I think the editor’s responsibility is to …he is the guy who’s solely responsible for that book, whatever that book that he’s in charge of. He answers to me and I basically edit the editors. I feel that I’m responsible for the general priorities and very, very fundamental directions of the line mostly and the characters on a very broad basis and responsible for the cohesion of the universe because Marvel books all form one universe. I have to make sure they all inter-relate properly so the editor is basically in charge of the book and he works with his creative people to bring each title along. Each creative person’s input and effect on the book varies from individual to individual by how much they’re willing to take, how much responsibility they’re willing to take. I’ll give you an example. John Byrne for instance on the Fantastic Four, he likes to be left alone, he likes to carry the ball and essentially he’s doing terrific and basically we read his work and enjoy it. The same is true of Archie Goodwin when he wrote IRON MAN. He really didn’t need a lot of help and his work was sufficiently good that it really didn’t require a lot of correction so basically we knew well enough to let him alone. There are other writers—some of them are very good—who like to evolve things slowly and like to talk to a lot of people in the course of developing their stories and so forth. Chris Claremont for one. Chris will start talking about ideas for issues he has months and months and months in advance and bounce them off of a lot of people and get their reactions and so forth. He has a very organic relationship with his editor creating things and Chris is, you know, regarded by most people as kind of the number one guy in the business.
CB-Uh-huh. A couple more questions I want to ask you. What about Bill Sienckewicz and Gene Day? I’m wondering why they left?
JS- Well, Gene never left. Gene, unfortunately, died last week.
CB-We’re talking about Gene Day?
JS-Yes, of a heart attack but uh…at the point when he died he was still doing a regular series for us, THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES and quite a lot of other work besides. I know that Gene, like many other guys, was doing some work on the outside for independent, smaller publishers and like that.
CB-And Bill Sienckewicz?
JS- Bill Sienckewicz told me about three months ago that after doing 28 or so issues of MOON KNIGHT, he was looking for a change. He was specifically interested in doing a graphic novel with me as the writer so I said, fine, we can’t hold a gun to his head and make him stay on MOON KNIGHT. He certainly gave us yeoman service in the meantime. He is staying on, I believe, through issue thirty and we’re still talking about what he wants to do after that. Bill is, of course, such a terrific artist that we’ll work with him on whatever…
CB-Working at Marvel in the near future though?
JS-Umm-Hmm. Oh, absolutely.
CB-Why’d Frank Miller (leave) after such a successful run in Daredevil?
JS-Frank…He was interested in developing one of his own characters and right about the time when we were starting out our Epic line of comics in which we buy limited rights to the creators’ own characters…we were in the process of talking with Frank on that and right about that time the publisher of DC Comics called him up and made him a firm offer on the spot and he thought it sounded pretty good and he agreed to it and he told me that he was gonna do a twelve issue series with them. There was no hard feelings or anything. It’s just that they gave an offer and he took it. As I understand it that was almost a year ago. I don’t think he’s signed a contract with them yet so I don’t know but in the meantime Frank has been, you know, coming around and talking with us and making plans to do things with us as well so if he eventually does go with a series at DC, I’m sure he’ll be back. If the negotiations fall through since they’ve been going on for a long time, then he’ll probably come and do that series for us and…whatever. I mean, he’s…We can’t own everybody. We want to have the best people we can and we try hard to get them but, you know, there’s gonna be some good people everywhere.
CB- There’s also the question of George Perez, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Craig Russell, Marshall Rogers, Gil Kane, Ross Andru. Now do you feel that all these artists and writers going over to DC or smaller independent publishers will hurt Marvel?
JS-Well, first of all, approximately half of those people you named work for Marvel more or less exclusively and if they left they didn’t leave …for any period of time…they didn’t leave while I was in charge. Craig Russell for instance has just done a graphic novel for us and has done a lot of jobs for MARVEL FANFARE. I don’t think Craig works exclusively for anyone. He sort of likes to shop around on a frequent basis. Steve Englehart as far as I know is working exclusively for us right now on one of our Epic comics. I can’t remember who else you named.
CB-Ummm…Gene Colan, Roy Thomas…
JS- (sighs) Gene Colan (Shooter emphasizes the pronunciation as Co-LAN as opposed to Chris calling it CO-lun) and Roy Thomas. Um…Uhh…When Roy Thomas’s contract came up, he wanted things that…which we didn’t want to give him. Even though DC was not offering those things, he felt obliged to go over there because he couldn’t get what he wanted. Ummmm, Uh… same sort of thing with Marv Wolfman. Those guys both are very talented and they’re both very good. I think uh,,,like…uh, I think stylistically, uhh…they belong at DC. They’re…they’re…they’re…they kind of come from a different school than Stan and I come from and so that doesn’t bother me. I don’t think we’ve been hurt at all by that. In the meantime we’ve gotten from DC Al Milgrom, Larry Hama, Frank Miller for a good long time, Terry Austin, Dennis J. O’Neil, Denys Cowan, Dave Micheline, Bob Layton and the list goes on and on and on, I can’t think of it off the top of my head but the flow of people has pretty much generally been the other direction and the people who have left have more or less left with my blessing. George Perez left because he wanted all his life to draw the Justice League from when he was a little kid. He wrote me a very nice three page letter explaining that there was nothing against us and that he really felt we were fine but that he was given the chance to really sort of fulfill a childhood dream and he said he wanted to that for awhile and he’d probably be back. You know and we’d be up against that sort of thing and I don’t know what I should have done. As far as I’m concerned, right now creatively we’re stronger than we’ve ever been before. We have a terrific editorial team. We’ve got the people I want to have and uh… almost without exception and the proof of it is we are in the midst right now of our best year ever in our history. We’re up some phenomenal percentage in sales and the money we’re making and so forth and this is the best year in our history, better even than last which was the previous best year in our history, better than the year before that which was the previous best year in our history so I gotta figure we’re on a trend here, y’know?
(At this point a question from a caller is read: Are you planning to simplify the Marvel universe and if so are you afraid of losing some of your older readers?)
JS-Well, no. No, I have no plans to simplify if he means by that to make it sort of childlike or something.
CB-I think he means eliminating some of the extraneous, sort of out-fringe stuff like Baron Strucker coming back every so often and Hydra and AIM…things like that.
JS- Well, I’ve been plotting some stories with Tom DeFalco recently that use Hydra. I really think Hydra’s kind of a great concept. I think that…uh…No. I have no plans along those lines. You see, people run into a problem…If something is sophisticated, then it’s generally pretty easy to grasp. If its just complicated, then its usually pretty boring. I’m not in favor of things being complex for the sake of complexity but I’m also not out to take away the subtlety or the intricacy or the sophistication of anything we do. I think that’s an essential part of making it a real place. I don’t wanna simplify it if that’s what it means. I’m not at all interested in that. I want the Marvel Universe to work. I think it’s a valuable thing and I think we should protect it.
CB-Why did you have to have Yellowjacket divorce the Wasp?
JS-Well, it was the other way around. The Wasp divorced Yellowjacket. I saw that as…My question is, how could it NOT happen. I read everything those two characters ever appeared in and I went to the trouble of finding a psychiatrist and asking him about behavioral symptoms and so forth to check my storyline against practical experience. I felt that, considering the history of the Wasp and Yellowjacket, that it was kind of inevitable. Here we had a woman who was clearly very intelligent, very strong, very smart woman who clearly had been sort of suppressing herself and sublimating herself to this man who has ah an awful lot of on-panel mental difficulties. I saw…it’s a asituation where…Well, in the past she always flitted around his shoulder and flirted with him and teased him and he always said, "Not now. Can’t you be serious, Jan?" and uh…you know, she had everything. She was wealthy and smart and glamorous and heroic and so forth and even though he started out being a reknowned scientist and so forth, in the last how many stories he’s appeared in, I think very, very seldom was he the solution to any problem. I think the only thing he ever did of any note was to create the most horrendous villain the world had ever seen in the form of Ultron. This guy’s gotta have some serious self-doubts so I saw it as a volcano getting ready to explode. I started preparing for the story when I wrote my first AVENGERS story in 1976. I started laying groundwork for this to occur and I saw it as a very natural development of the characters. I think that…maybe…I’ve gotten a lot of mail to protest it but it’s been the kind of mail that expressed concern about the characters. "How can you let Yellowjacket suffer like this?" mail rather than "You’re a moron who can’t write." From what Stan tells me, that’s exactly the kind of mail that he used to get on SPIDER-MAN back when he did the…"How come Peter Parker can’t have a girlfriend?" rather than "You’re a moron and you can’t write" which tells me that the people care about the character which is what it’s all about. So that doesn’t bother me at all. I think we did real good. Besides I think people are going to be very pleased by issue 227 of the Avengers where there’s some real significant developments with Yellowjacket and the Wasp.
CB-Okay. Let’s see. A couple of questions about Bob Layton. What happened to Bob Layton and if Steve Ditko’s style is low quantity when will Bob Layton do Iron Man?
JS-Well, Steve did one fill-in issue of IRON MAN and Steve’s style is kind of a style that a lot of people aren’t real interested in these days although he’s really one of the all-time greats of comics. But styles go in and out of vogue so I kind sort of understand if people aren’t interested in the look that he has. Steve’s not doing a whole lot of stuff for us although, as far as I’m concerned, since he’s one of the guys that created Spider-Man, he can come work for us anytime.
CB-You wrote for Legion of Super-Heroes. Any idea to get Mike Grell and why do some artists work exclusively ?
JS-Well, it comes down to personal taste. I mean, we’d like all of the best guys to be exclusive to us. Yes, we’ve talked to Mike Grell many times. Mike has got so many projects going. He’s always said yes he’d love to work for us but he’s gotta get this, this, this, this and this done first and by that time something else comes up so I expect sooner or later, he’ll get around to doing a job for us but there are just some guys who kind of like to play the field and can’t get settled at one company or another. That’s okay.
CB-When will Epic arrive?
JS-Okay, the first Epic comic will be published in October. It’s DREADSTAR by Jim Starlin, all-new, all-original featuring characters which he did in Epic Magazine and it’ll be bi-monthly after that. The second series, the first issue goes on sale in January and that’s COYOTE by Steve Englehart and Steve Leailoha. There’ll be more but that’s all we have so far.
CB-When will Chris Claremont end the Brood story in X-Men?
JS-I believe in the next issue that’ll be on the stands. The one that’s on sale in November. A dramatic conclusion.
CB-The last question I want to ask you…THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, the paper here, has an editor who may have a specific gripe against you because they took a swipe at the Pope John Paul II comic that will hit the stands Monday…Tuesday…and they said it was atrocious but as far as I know they don’t have a copy. How do you respond to people like that who don’t know anything about comics and take a swipe at things they don’t understand?
JS-Well…what can you say?
CB-I mean I’m no fan of Pope John Paul but it seems to me to take a swipe at a comic book about him without ever seeing it…
JS-Well, ignorance has never stopped people from attacking things. All I can tell you is that we did the best we could with it and that the Pope saw the drawings and pronounced them good (laughs). That’s good enough for me. I think the overwhelming response we’ve gotten has been positive. This is the first comic book that I ever remember certainly and as far as I know in comic book history that the wholesalers across the country have come to us and asked us for. Usually they just take the comics and really kinda don’t care too much but we have had them calling constantly and asking us to make sure that they get enough copies and so forth. This was done more or less at the request of the Pope and the Pope’s people and working with his biographer, Father Melinski who has been the Pope’s friend since childhood so let ‘em take swipes at us. We did the best we could.
CB-Okay. Jim Shooter, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview and explaining your side to it. Thank you very much.
JS-It was my pleasure.
Before Jim Shooter left Marvel in disgrace a few years later he created SECRET WARS, my personal candidate for all-time worst major comics project. He then soared brightly if briefly with Valiant Comics, failed at a couple attempts to buy Marvel, made a good effort with Defiant Comics, failed with Broadway Comics and is now listed as part of Phobos Entertainment.

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