Heading Up the New
When Marvel's Marketing VP, Ed Shukin, offered me the job of heading up the new Marvel Direct Sales Department in May of 1979, it was like a dream come true. Ever since I was a young teen first selling comics to my friends, I had fantasized about working for Marvel Comics. As my career developed quickly from my being a teen-age flea market dealer, forward into being a comics convention dealer, and finally to ultimately owning a chain of comics shops, my fantasy gained additional dimensions. I repeatedly contemplated what I would do to improve Marvel's future prospects if I were ever in the position to make real changes. What Ed was offering me was a chance to not only work at Marvel, but also to be able to help formulate entirely new polices and procedures as regards to how Marvel would be treating this new reality of marketing their comics through comics specialty stores. This offer was everything I had ever dreamed of for my adult career, and much more.
The problem with meeting your dreams face-to-face, however, is that harsh reality has this ugly habit of creeping into the picture. While having the ability to work within Marvel to help revolutionize the marketing of comics was incredibly tempting, I could also see some overwhelming problems with that plan. The largest of these difficulties was that I would have to sell Mile High Comics, and move to Manhattan. While this was a path that was later followed by former comics chain owner Bob Wayne when he joined the marketing department at DC Comics, I just couldn't bring myself to give up my company, and my personal freedom.
Another problem I could also see after just my first day at Marvel that I would have a very hard time fitting into their corporate environment. While I hit it off immediately with Jim Shooter, and found Ed Shukin to be a very intelligent and engaging person, I could also see where Marvel President Jim Galton ruled the company with an iron hand. Galton was also under a lot of pressure from Cadence Industries Chairman Sheldon Feinberg to produce immediate results at Marvel. The idea of working in that kind of pressure cooker environment didn't seem very appealing to me at all. Jim Shooter also helped me a great deal in turning down Shukin's job offer when he gave me an insider's view of the sometimes nasty internal politics that controlled all decision-making at Marvel. In that regard he was quite the prophet, as it was exactly that vicious brand of Machievellian warfare that ultimately led to his own downfall as Editor-In-Chief, eight years later.
The final factor that kept me from taking the Marvel job was my personal life. For starters, while my wife, Nanette, was willing to at least consider this radical change in our lives, she certainly wasn't very keen on the idea. Having already lived with me for five years, she also didn't believe that I would be at all happy in New York, especially working for someone else. My inherited bi-polar condition was already manifesting itself at that time, with frequent bouts of manic behavior (during which I would sometimes have violent rages as a result of very slight provocation...), followed by other periods when I would be quite withdrawn and introspective. Nanette thought (quite correctly) that the pressures and frustrations of working in a corporate environment would probably destroy me within a year. Thanks to her wise counsel, I eventually told Ed Shukin that as much as I appreciated the opportunity and the implied compliment, that he! would need to find someone else for the job.
Ed thanked me for at least considering his offer, and then asked me if I would help him in finding another suitable candidate. In that regard my abilities were quite limited, as Colorado is a pretty isolated region, and as a result I simply didn't know that many people in the comics biz from around the country. In fact, when Ed later phoned me with a list of potential candidates, the only person I knew on the list was Mike Freidrich, noted comics writer, and the publisher of STAR*REACH. I knew Mike not only through our meetings in San Diego (I believe I was even his model for the idiot comics dealer rescued by Iron Man in IRON MAN #72...), but also because he often drove through Denver after each issue of STAR*REACH was released, wholesaling copies of his various publications out of the trunk of his car. Based on seeing how remarkably hard Mike was willing to work to fulfill his own dreams, I told Ed he would be damn lucky if he could! talk Mike into taking the Marvel job.
In the end, Mike Freidrich did take the Marvel job. Despite his best efforts, STAR*REACH had failed to find an audience. In reality, it was the very first Independent comics publication, and it deserved far greater success. But STAR*REACH (as well as its sister publications QUACK! and PUDGE, GIRL BLIMP) was created about ten years before the market was ready for such a great book, during that dreadful time when Underground Comix were dying out, and the new distribution channels required to efficiently deliver large quantities of self-published books into the hands of comics fans had yet to be developed. As a result, Mike eventually found himself out of money, and deeply in debt to his printer. Rather than walk away from his obligations, as most folks would have done through bankruptcy, Mike chose instead to take the job at Marvel (leaving his Bay area home in the process...) long enough to pay off every cent he owed his printer. His personal sacrifice certainly benefitted the world of comics greatly, as it turned out to be his unique insights into the difficulties of distributing comics that ultimately led to some of the most important basic policies that governed the brave new world of comics distribution.
To be continued...
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