Thursday, June 25, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
While you're at it, check out Don Hudson's pics on his blog. Unlike me, Don remembered to bring his camera!
More of my ramblings in a day or two!
Part Three: AV Squad
While preparing for the Marvel Reunion / Mark Gruenwald Tribute, many of us dug through our old photographs and videos from the era. D.G. Chichester (my former boss at Epic) was compiling a photo slideshow to run on the venue’s TV Monitors for the first two hours of the evening. At 9:00 PM, Mike Carlin’s Tribute would begin, and at 10:00, we planned to show some of our videos.
I’m sure that each of us that contributed to the slideshow had fun looking through our old albums, marveling at how young we all were, cringing at those late 80s fashions! Who had the best mullet? Hard to say...
I had some choice shots taken at the Holiday Party from January 1991, when a few of us decided it would be “cool” to rent cheap tuxedos. Marie wore her trademarked spiral dress, an old favorite...
And then there were some of my pics from the video I shot in 1989. It was called The Freelancer...
The Freelancer was one of the videos scheduled to be shown during the last hour of the Reunion. The others were Marie Javins’ A Day in the Life of the Assistant Editor and the hilarious Marvel Mania skit that was performed at a New York Comic Convention called Tuff Talk. The Freelancer was, in some ways, a follow up to Marie’s “Assistant” story that we made the year before. It is a comedic story of a freelance comic book letterer, played by freelance comic book letterer, Mike Heisler. In the story, he gets into trouble with his landlord (Played by Don Hudson), his editor (Dan Chichester), Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief (Tom DeFalco), his car is repossessed (by Marc Siry), and he breaks down in a Vietnam Flashback before going out and getting completely trashed in a dozen bars. The video also features David Wohl, Mark Gruenwald, Bob Harras and a bunch of other Marvel bullpenners.
It was an incredibly stupid, offensive...and hilarious story, clocking in at 34 minutes long. Since this is the 20th anniversary of The Freelancer, I set upon the task of creating a newly edited, digital version with all-new special effects (it was originally shot on VHS). I started working on the new “directors cut” early this year, but the screening at the Reunion gave me an actual deadline to finish it by.
The Freelancer may have been a bunch of stupid in-jokes and sophomoric humor, but 20 years later, it is also an amazing time-capsule, showing Marvel Comics as it has not existed in a long time. All the videos we assembled had that in common. It’s an interesting quality about video that is different from still photography. When you watch old video (or film) you can hear people’s voices and see how they moved, and you move about in space to see details that might be cropped from a photo. It brings you back into a moment and sparks your memories in a unique way. I notice the same thing when I watch video of my son as a toddler--his little walk, the way he pronounced “tractor,” that wonderful sweater we bought in Paris... For this reason alone, reediting The Freelancer is a worthy project. Sifting through the raw footage took me back, and mentally prepared me for seeing all my old colleagues. And...it was fun.
To be continued!
Friday, June 12, 2009
Part Two: Party Planning
(click here to read chapter one)
One detail I forgot to mention in my first post, was that I not only attended the Marvel Reunion on June 6th, but I was also the principal organizer of the event.
The idea of a reunion wasn’t my idea, but it was one that I instantly responded to when I heard about it. I’m not sure how long people had been tossing around ideas for a reunion, but I first heard about it around February of this year. There were mentions of it on Facebook groups like “Friends of Old Marvel,” in December 2008. At some point, I saw a link to a post on Bob Camp’s blog, where he basically put out the call to see who was interested.
Early on, this idea became tied with another; friends of Mark Gruenwald (like Eliot Brown) expressed a desire to organize a tribute in Mark’s honor. As dates and possible venues started to be discussed on Facebook, and Bob Camp’s blog, it became clear that it would be a combined Marvel Reunion / Mark Gruenwald Tribute. Many of us who were following the threads became very excited by the idea.
There was a problem, though. While many people expressed opinions, there wasn’t anybody volunteering to take charge, make decisions and force the concept into reality. Dates and venues would be suggested, but not decided on. April seemed like a possibility, but it came and nothing concrete was happening. Personally, I was becoming frustrated, and at first I wasn’t sure why.
It goes back to what I said in my first post; this would be my college reunion! I wanted my college reunion!!!
So, after discussing it with my wife, on April 13th I sent a proposal out to the groups discussing the reunion / tribute. I offered to help shepherd the planning process and set up a dedicated group to facilitate action. It seemed silly, in a way. Here I was, 3000 miles away from New York, and not half as well connected as the other people involved. What could I do? Well, at least I could set up the Facebook group to discuss things.
At first, I thought I’d just get the ball rolling and that someone on the East Coast would take over. However, it soon became clear that I would have to head the project--if only to guide and focus the discussions so that actual decisions could be made. The first order of business, after organizing an administrative body of about 16 volunteers, was to pick a date. June 6th was chosen, coincidentally coinciding with the MoCCA show. We thought the timing might work in our favor, if some people were coming in to the city anyway for that event (unfortunately, it also created some conflicts with some Marvel Alumni that had MoCCA obligations).
There were many bumps in the road, as we raced to plan the huge event, but finally a venue was chosen, a price agreed upon, and we sketched out a basic plan for the night’s programming. On April 24th, our group started to send out formal invitations by email, a mere 6 weeks before the big date. This in itself was a difficult task. In the week or so prior, we collected a list of people who were interested using Facebook as well as our personal address books, spreading the word as best we could. We chose the venue based on a rough estimate of how many people committed to come, as well as by price. I’m sure there were several people who were never found and invited, but I think we did a great job, considering.
Deciding who to invite was another issue. Since this was to be a Tribute to Mark Gruenwald, the Marvel era of the 1980s and early 90s was chosen: The “Gru Era.” This meant a lot of overlap of different groups of employees and freelancers, including a handful who still work at Marvel today (and a bunch of people who currently work at DC!). There was potential for conflicts and bad blood, but we put out the call, awaited RSVPs, and hoped for the best. In the end, five weeks later, I had collected admission for 152 people. Not too shabby...
To be Continued
(click here for chapter three!)
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Last weekend I flew to New York for a reunion of people who worked for Marvel Comics during the 1980s and 1990s. The party was attended by more than 150 former staff members and freelancers, many of whom had not seen each other in twenty years or more. Among the crowd were some legendary comic book artists and writers, erstwhile denizens of the famed “Marvel Bullpen,” and other staff members who may or may not have survived the multiple downsizings and reorganizations that plagued Marvel’s “bankruptcy years.” In the weeks preceding, expectations were uncertain. Some people were nervous. One former staffer (Marvel Historian, Peter Sanderson) worried that his memories of the late 80s and early 90s were a “nostalgic fantasy,” and he wasn’t alone.
It was, for all intents and purposes, my college reunion. And it was an enormous success.
You see, I never made it to college. I’d planned to. I was accepted to Parsons School of Design, my first choice of schools, when I graduated from New York’s High School of Art & Design in 1986. But, it wasn’t in the cards. I had trouble getting the financial aid that I sorely needed, so I deferred my enrollment at Parsons, and accepted a full-time job at Marvel’s Epic Comics division. Luckily, I had been working there already, starting with a high school internship in early 1985, as a 15 year-old junior.
Marvel truly was my university. The other young Assistant Editors, Bullpenners and “Romitas Raiders” were my fellow students. Our professors and mentors were an amazingly gifted group of artists, writers and editors. I was lucky to be there at that time, when so many of the “old guard” were still around, and when many of today’s top talents were just breaking in. I had the distinct pleasure of working directly for the illustrious John Romita that first summer after I left high school, and then for Archie Goodwin and his small staff at Epic. For someone in the comics industry, it was an education to be reckoned with. I stayed on staff until 1989, when I decided go freelance and concentrate on my artistic career.
Those years on staff from 1985 to 1989, and continuing until 1993 when I moved to Los Angeles, were so very formative to me and many of our “graduating class.” It was a special, special time to be in and around the Marvel offices. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie and fun. The place was teeming with creativity and wackiness! While preparing for the reunion I, along with fellow “alumni,” dug up tons of old photographs and video from the era. Looking back, I truly can’t believe the stuff we used to get away with!
If one person could epitomize the spirit of that particular stage of Marvel Comics history, it was, without question, the late Mark Gruenwald. It has been said countless times that when Mark unexpectedly died in 1996, it was the death of Marvel’s heart & soul. I don’t wish to disparage those who have worked there since then, but as someone who “grew up” in the Gruenwald era, I believe it’s an irrefutable fact. Comics haven’t been the same since.
And so, it was extremely appropriate that this first reunion of “Old Marvelites” was also a tribute to Mark. He not only led us all in crazy antics, but he challenged everyone to go out and do likewise. His spirit set the very tone of the office.
Personally, I was not close with Mark. I am a shy person today, and was 100 times more shy back then. Because I worked in the “Epic” department, I did not have to attend his “Assistant Editor School,” and I regret it. Several of my good friends, former Marvel Assistants, still use the lessons they learned in Mark’s classes today, though they work in different fields. Even so, Mark’s influence was felt by everyone on the 10th floor of 387 Park Avenue South. To younger staff members like me, he was like the favorite school teacher! I was undoubtably influenced by him, or I never would have transformed my editor, Dan Chichester’s office into the bridge of the Enterprise while he was out of town!
Just the kind of prank Mark would have done...or so I’d like to believe!
Around the time I went freelance in 1989, I was getting into playing with video as a hobby. On occasion, Mark would recruit me to video Marvel antics at conventions or office parties. I was much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, so the front-row seat to the “Mark Gruenwald Show” suited me fine. When I shot some videos of my own, Mark happily acted in two of them.
One of my first regular monthly freelance jobs was coloring Captain America, which was written by Mark. For me, this meant more time in his sphere, but as a quiet observer and admirer. I wish I’d been more outgoing, and I wish I’d known him better.
When Mark died in 1996, I was living in Los Angeles. I was overwhelmed by the news. I flew out to New York, though I was not permitted to attend the funeral for whatever reason. Instead, I stuck to the sidelines, spending time with my friends, quietly mourning a man that profoundly affected my life, whom I hardly knew at all.
This Saturday past, at the Reunion / Tribute, former Marvel Editor (and current DC Editor), Mike Carlin presented a montage of video and still images of his old pal Mark. For a short while, we were transfixed, and taken back in time. There’s Mark--up to his old tricks again! In this litigious era of political correctness, there’s absolutely no way he could do half that stuff today! Staring at the video screens, shaking our heads, one giant, bittersweet smile stretched across the entire venue. Mike’s narration was just the right combination of admiration, reverence, wry wit and goofball fanfare that Mark would have loved. I was proud to be in the room.
To be continued