Marvel Comics: Face Front
And there was Jolly Solly Brodsky, Adorable Artie Simek, Kid Daredevil Wally Wood, Dick Ayers, and the idol of the Iron Man fans, the Ace of the Avengers, Don Heck. There was also a Merry Marvel Marching Society song:
You belong, you belong, you belong, you belong,
To the Merry Marvel Marching Society!
March along, march along, march along to the song
Of the Merry Marvel Marching Society!
Be a little brighter, try to be ambitious!
Eyes a little wider, try to be judicious!
Be a good advisor, never, never vicious!
Then you will belong!
Face Front! Clap your hands.
You’re on the winning team! With Stan!
Hanging on the wall in Flo’s bedroom were some cartoons left over from her days at Marvel. One showed Flo lying down with a huge thumb in her stomach, blood all over the floor, and bloody footprints walking away from the scene. Another was a cartoon of the rut Flo was in–to angry eyes peering out of a crack in the ground, and a sign “rut” next to a pail and shovel. That’s how the people in the office at Marvel communicate best, by drawing pictures. That’s how they tell you they love you, or you did a nice thing, and when they’re angry with each other they get it out by drawing a cartoon and everybody laughs.
The cartoons on Flo’s wall were done by Marie Severin, the only woman artist at Marvel, maybe the only one in the professional comic book world. “You can dearly love people,” she says, “but they sometimes become awful pests and you cannot verbally assault them because they’ll never forgive you. But a picture, they are so flattered that you took the time to do it, they don’t realize that you are getting rid of this anger. Comic book artists are always excreting all this stuff all over the place, and thank goodness. We’re like Peter Pans. We refuse to grow up but we get paid for it. Which is fortunate. We’re channeling all this immaturity into something instead of standing on street corners making obscene gestures.”
When I walked into the Vision building, where Marvel is located, I said hi to Frank the doorman, and it was as if I’d never left two years ago. There was that new No Visitors sign on the office door, but the door was still open. There was a new face at the front desk, not nearly as pretty as Linda Fite’s– — it belonged to Allan Brodsky, a comic fan who had made the big time. Inside it was still warm, light green and friendly. The superhero-size Spiderman poster was still hanging on the wall at the end of the hallway. Posters of Hulk, Captain America, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four hung along the sides.
When I walked into the bullpen, the men said, “Hey! Legs is back!” and I remembered how it used to feel to be “Legs Diamond.” The place looked much the same, except there was a xerox machine where Marie Severin used to be. She had her drawing board in a different room now and the main bullpen had become a kind of men’s den, with pictures of naked women, some playboy types and some drawings of comic book characters as they will never appear in Spiderman. Some of them were downright pornographic, and you couldn’t talk to Tony Mortellaro without a tit or an ass staring you in the face. It felt good to be back in the bullpen again with Ring-A-Ding John Romita, artist for Spiderman, Happy Herbie Trimpe who had just switched from Hulk to Sergeant Fury, Merry Marie Severin, Stu Schwartzberg, Morie and Allan. It was a fine reunion until I mentioned that I’d come to write an article about them and then — whoosh — they all disappeared back to their drawing boards. I was no longer Stan’s former leggy secretary, but an emissary from the “real” world, which is a different world from the one inside the office door. The people at Marvel are paid to be professional children and the atmosphere around the office is correspondingly chaotic, moody, riotously emotional. Unlike most Madison Avenue offices, Marvel makes no attempt at decorum. I was always very grateful for that. You could dress the way you wanted to, say anything you wanted to (the key to the bathroom was called the shithouse pass), and you even worked because you wanted to because there was very little supervision.
All the bullpen people have an interest in telling stories by pictures. That’s the thing about comics. Most of them are really hooked on that kind of work and over the years they compromise themselves because of their desire to do it. It’s one of the few businesses where individuals will take a cut and still stay in the business. The artists just had a cut at Marvel. Instead of 20 pages in a book there’s really only 19 pages of artwork and that means they do less work and get less money. And management doesn’t tell the artists what the sales figures are because “they’re afraid you’ll ask for a raise or something.” For most of them the work is an emotional outlet. They can set loose fantasies most of us repress as we grow older! Herb Trimpe put it this way: “If a story works out well, I have the same feeling of satisfaction as if I’d worked out all day long, or gone on a eight-mile hike. It’s a release. Plus there’s a feeling of creation, of controlling a situation. In a comic book story, unlike life, you know what the plot is and you can control every aspect of that story. It makes you sort of a miniature god.”