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Sometimes, when I eat, sleep, and breathe comics, my brain breaks a little (one time I looked outside to check the weather and instinctively thought, "it rains on the just and the unjust alike"). I can only imagine that this was the state of affairs in the Marvel bullpen in 1984; The Marvel Fumetti Book
#1 (April 1984) reads like it was created by people just as giddy (evidence: the back cover features a photograph of the writers and editors in a human pyramid, then-Editor in Chief Jim Shooter in the background in a "I just stuck the landing" pose. The "That's All, Folks!" word balloon is hardly necessary).
's cover features Stan Lee in a Kirby Krackle, suggesting that perhaps the official intent to was rekindle a little that ‘60s-era chummy relationship between readers and the creators, especially since the PR tool "Bullpen Bulletins" changed dramatically in tone during the Shooter period
Instead, what TMFB
illustrates, inadvertently, is just how far gone those days were by 1984. In TMFB
's introduction, Mike Carlin's script and Eliot Brown's photos have a strong undercurrent of Shooter telling staff "When I say jump, you ask how high," and though it's presented jokingly, it's mighty uncomfortable for a contemporary reader
(even one who's not particularly emotionally invested in '80s Marvel comics or creators) if he or she knows that, to quote from his Wikipedia page, ""Shooter still found himself in near-constant conflict with many of the company's top writers and artists. This led to many, including Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Gene Colan, John Byrne, Dave Cockrum, Doug Moench, and other Marvel mainstays, leaving to work for DC or other companies."" (Of those just listed, only Marv Wolfman, John Byrne (dressed in, er, a Fantastic Four costume) and Dave Cockrum appear in the comic.)
Even if he or she doesn't know about that, the difference between Shooter's and Lee's personae and managerial styles is underscored in the meant-to-be-lighthearted, Carlin-penned, Brown-photographed "Who's The Boss?" Stan Lee makes an appearance (at that point, he was mostly working from the West Coast), attempting to order staffers about as Shooter has been doing, then laughs that he was just kiddin' … and when he leaves, Shooter makes them "jump" again, just to prove that he can.
Then, there's a fake-out sexual harassment gag (inker Joe Rubinstein goes around asking women in the office to participate in a wet T-shirt contest; they dump water on him and declare him the winner): it's frankly just kind of depressing in hindsight, as it was made during the period, more than 25 years ago, when Marvel probably had the most (high-profile) female writers (Ann Nocenti, Mary Jo Duffy, and Louise Jones/Simonson, all of whom participated in TMFB
Really, that's the worst of it. (Well, actually, the worst of it is the production: grainy photos on cheap newsprint, making it nearly impossible to make out facial features, or the covers of the comics, or what the offices looked like. I confess, I picked this book up solely on the hope of seeing some old Photostat rolls, or waxers, light-tables, things like that. There is one intriguing bulletin board in the background of one comic, with comics pinned up and cards pinned beneath, but the quality of the print just makes it impossible to see what's going on with it. Most of it is just editors, writers, artists and inkers in mock-superhero battles or giving English muffins to robots instead of The Thing
artist Ron Wilson, with "special effects" by people like Bill Sienkiewicz (!), or someone dressed as Spider-Man giving a tour of the blurry office.
Only one comic, "Secrets Behind the Comics!," written by Mark Carlin, with photos by Vinnie Coletta and "special effects" by Art Adams, manages to do what a project like this ideally should: it helps to create convincing, accessible public personalities for Walt and Louise Simonson, offers a bit of a behind-the-scenes look, and, in the larger sense, provides staffers a chance to blow off steam by goofing around. Furthermore, "Secrets Behind the Comics!," really does reveal a truth so dumb-it's-actually-profoundly-Zen: comics are created unglamorously, by people sitting down and creating them.
 A quick definition: fumetti are comics created out of photographs. It's a genre far more common overseas, but there had been a few in the U.S. before TMFB came out: in National Lampoon, and most notably in Harvey Kurtzman's Help! Magazine. In fact, it's very likely that the image in the issue info box in the upper left of the cover is a direct shout-out.
 No, Wikipedia isn't a good primary source, but it meshes with my impression. Here is a direct supporting quote from the TCJ: Writers book: "GERRY CONWAY: Well, Jim did me dirt. It's an amazing thing. Jim, if you listen to Jim's interviews and so forth, is a regular font of milk and kindness, but I think there are so many people who have stories of the things Jim has done that we have to weigh the possibility that Jim really is … [lLaughter.] As bad as they say."
TMFB images ©1984 Marvel Comics Group
Watchmen panel ©1987 DC Comics
Kristy Valenti currently works for The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics Books, Inc.
Uncharted Territory is © Kristy Valenti, 2010