Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story tells of the somewhat
contentious “changing of the guard” after Roy Thomas informed Stan
Lee he was resigning his position as Marvel’s editor-in-chief. In
assorted configurations, the candidates to replace Roy were Gerry
Conway, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. I have no comment on whether or
not Howe’s published account is accurate. What I can tell you is
that there was a fourth candidate. Kind of sort of.
The relatively few years I lived in New York City were borderline
crazy for me. I worked hard. I played hard. I got burned out on
the city quickly. I wanted to be back in Cleveland.
When I write about my life in New York, I exercise a great deal of
caution. Some of what I experienced seems so fantastic to me that
I question if I’m remembering it correctly. Before I write about
that time, I consult whatever notes and/or papers I still have from
those years and, when those don’t satisfy my standards of accuracy,
I ask people who knew me what they remember.
For years, I have been telling close friends about the “changing of
the guard,” my truncated role in those events and what I believed
were the reasons for that truncated role. But writing about these
things demanded I reexamine those events and, when necessary, reduce
certainty to conjecture. That said, here’s my best assessment or,
if you prefer, speculation. on what happened with me.
I believe I was a “stealth candidate” to be Marvel’s new editor-in-
chief. I don’t believe Roy knew this and I’m becoming increasingly
convinced Gerry, Marv and Len didn’t know this either. Nor can I
believe that Gerry, Marv and Len had anything at all to do with my
not getting the job...which contradicts what I was told at the time
by someone I now think was working their own angle. If you’re
expecting a name here, don’t hold your breath.
Here’s what I am “I was there” certain of...
Sol Brodsky and John Verpooten asked me to meet with them. It may
have been in Sol’s office during lunch or after hours. My memory
is foggy on this, though I am sure no one else was hanging around
at the time of this meeting.
I already knew, not from Roy, that Roy was leaving his editor-in-
chief position. I don’t think Roy knew I knew and I wouldn’t have
brought it up to him in any case. It was his business, even though
I would be sorry to see him go.
Sol and John asked me what I would do if I were Marvel’s editor-in-
chief. Which stunned me. I thought of myself as “the new kid” and
didn’t think I was qualified for the job. Maybe I could handle the
creative end of things okay, but I was way out of my league when it
came to the business and production aspects of the job.
I told them I didn’t think the editor-in-chief should be competing
with the other writers. I would want to do some writing - it was,
after all, my first love - but I thought the top titles had to be
earned and not seized by virtue of rank. Stan and Roy had surely
earned the right to write whatever they wanted. Their successors,
not so much.
John asked how much writing I would want to do. I told him I would
like to remain on Ghost Rider, which seemed like it was heading to
monthly publication. I told him I would write a second comic each
month and it would be whatever comic book he needed me to write to
ease his production schedule. If the writer of The Pulse-Pounding
Potato-Man was late, I would write an issue of The Pulse-Pounding
Potato-Man. Any writing beyond Ghost Rider and the fill-in script
would be anthology stories or special projects stuff that wouldn’t
have deadlines. This answer pleased John greatly.
I said Marvel needed to be realistic about how much work we could
get from the writers and artists we had, find ways to use them in
the most effective and stress-free manner and actively recruit new
writers and artists. I thought we would need to hire someone just
for recruitment and development purposes.
I stressed that I was pretty much an idiot when it came to business
and production matters. They both said they would teach me whatever
I had to know and help me along the way. As they saw it, I would
be both the editor-in-chief and their student. The thought of me
in that job scared the crap out of me, but I told them I would do
it if that’s what they thought was best for Marvel.
That night, I confided all of the above to the actress I was dating
at the time. She was excited, mostly because it meant I would need
a new and more professional wardrobe and she would get to take me
shopping. That relationship is another one of my untold stories of
my life in New York, but I have absolutely no plans to write that
story. I have to retain some of my mystery.
There was a brief meeting with Stan later that week. He said Sol
and John thought very highly of me and asked if I thought I was up
to the job. I answered honestly. I didn’t think I was up to the
job, but that I could see where I might be a reasonable choice for
it. As I had said to Sol and John, I was ready to do whatever was
best for Marvel. I added that I would be relying heavily on Stan,
John and Sol to teach me what I would need to know. Stan was not
his usual boisterous self that day. I’m sure he wished Roy would
stay in the job. I could relate to that.
I wasn’t actually told I didn't get the job. Roy, who, as noted,
likely did not know I was even a half-assed candidate, gave me
the heads up that Len and Marv would be my new bosses. That
came as something of a relief to me. Those guys were my friends.
They had helped me out on several occasions. I figured things
would go on much as they had. I figured incorrectly.
Neither Sol or John ever mentioned my being up for the job again.
Because I was still wearing numerous hats around the office, they
started giving me weekly schedules combining all the things I had
to do and the order in which they needed them. I liked and relied
on those schedules. Such schedules were given to other writers,
but I think mine might have been unique in that it combined everything
I was doing for multiple departments. Things were moving along okay.
It didn’t take long before I started having problems with the Len
and Marv regime. Rightly or wrongly, I began to feel they looked
at me as a rival rather than a friend and asset. Marvel had become
less fun for me, but it’s not something I feel any need to discuss
further. It was a long time ago and I have nothing but the best
feelings and wishes for those guys.
When things got worse, Sol and I had some discussions about setting
me up as an independent editor/packager for Marvel. The big bosses
wanted more books. I came up a list of 20-30 new titles and wrote
them up for Sol. Nothing ever came of it.
[Somewhere in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff, I have my handwritten
notes on these titles. When said notebook turns up again, I might
write a bloggy thing or two about it.]
I left staff because I figured that might ease the obvious tensions
between the new regime and myself. Which it didn’t. I moved back
to Cleveland because I figured that might ease the obvious tensions
between the new regime and myself. It didn’t. I began to think my
comics career was fading fast.
I moved back to New York because things were happening at both DC
and Marvel. It made sense to be in the city to take advantage of
the developing situations.
Roy Thomas was considering returning to the editor-in-chief job at
Marvel. We had a conversation about me coming aboard as second-in-
command. My requirements weren’t excessive. My staff salary had
to be good enough to cover my basic living expenses, which included
living in Manhattan. I wanted to write two books a month - Ghost
Rider and a title to be determined later - and do special projects,
anthology stories and fill-ins when I had time. I know we talked
about writing some big story that would cross over between Amazing
Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One.
We might have discussed my writing one of those four titles as my
regular second book a month.
Roy changed his mind before returning as editor-in-chief. This would be
the last time even the most remote possibility of my returning to a Marvel
staff job would cross my path. I think Roy made the right decision for
himself and, in the long run, it was the right thing for me as well.
When I relate stories of my comics career, I like to remind readers
I’m really happy where I ended up. I might not have accomplished
everything I wanted to accomplish in the comics industry, but I won
the grand prize when it comes to life itself.
I have the best wife and kids in the world. I have great friends
and readers. I can look back on work of which I am proud and know
that I can still do terrific work. I am in reasonably good health.
I am content with my past, delighted with my present, and full of
hope for my future.
I’m not just good. I’m exceedingly good. It’s all I could wish for
myself and it’s what I wish for all the great friends I’ve met in
comics and all the great creators whose works have entertained and
inspired me. All the best to all of you.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella