Saturday, November 19, 2005

20 Years Later...

From an old interview with Jim Shooter:

MDT: I'm sure this is one you get all time: the New Universe. How did that start and why did it ultimately become a comics casualty?

JS: Well, the way it started, about 2 1/2 years before our 25th anniversary, we had a staff meeting of all the vice presidents to talk about what we were going to do for it. Some ideas were bandied around.

So somebody said, "Look, this is an anniversary of a publishing event." "Well," I said, "there are two possibilities. You could start everything over from number one, like the Marvel universe reborn. Like the anniversary in May or June, all the titles wrap up the month before and start again the next month. Sort of like Marvel, 2nd edition, do it right and really make that spectacular." ... We were selling incredibly well so it wouldn't be a good idea to derail the train.

So I said, "Then let's celebrate the birth of a universe with the birth of another universe."

I walked out of there with a development budget of about $120,000 and I'd create eight titles. It was money to spend on research, sketches, things like that.

...[Tom] DeFalco came to me -- he was sort of my head editor, my assistant you might say -- he said let this be mine. This'll be my chance, he said. He said, I'll be like Archie, I'll have my own group of books. I said, you think you can handle this, here's your budget.

Months go by. Many months go by. I kept telling Tom, I want reports. I want to know what you have. I want to know what it's about. It was like almost a year and he had almost nothing. He'd come up with a couple of fairly lame characters... There was no point of difference. They were Marvel, but worse.

He hadn't spent much of the money, so we still had the money. I got together with him and Eliot Brown and we spent the day [pitching ideas]. I said, you know, the original Marvel Universe -- Stan's conception of it -- instead of doing something Superman or Green Lantern, he was really trying to do science fiction. The Fantastic Four didn't have costumes in the first issue. He was trying to be down to Earth.

The problem is Stan doesn't have any science background and the minute you start working with Kirby, you're going to get Atlantis under the ocean, the Blue Area on the Moon, a repulsor ray. It's like Kirby does fantasy, period. He wasn't a science guy either. I said, so Stan's concept was why don't we do this more realistic? ... [W]hat if we went back to that moment in time where Stan said, let's do this more realistic. We have some science background. Let's do a science fiction comic book universe, where things are based more on real science, try to make it more real. We don't have Atlantis under the ocean and the Blue Area of the Moon.

I wrote a page and presented it to the staff VPs. To Stan. This is hailed as the greatest genius since sliced bread. Stan just marveled at it. Thought it was wonderful.

Right after that, this is about the time the company had been taken private and put on the block to be sold. I'm called up to Galton's office and he says "What's your budget for the New Universe?" I said, "$120,000." He said, "How much of it have you spent?" I said, "Not much, we just got started really." He said, "We have to cut your budget." I said, "What? We have to create these titles out of thin air." He said, "You'll have to do it with $80,000." Son of a bitch!

I get a call and he says "We're cutting your budget to $40,000." I said, "What?"

The next day, he calls up and said "How much have you spent?" I said, "About $20,000." He said, "Don't spend any more."

So if you will check, the New Universe books were done volunteer by assistant editors, practically every book in that line was done by me, Archie Goodwin and an assistant editor. For free. Because we didn't have any money.

...One of the things in my business plan is that we were going to guarantee royalties or pay higher rates in order to get the big name artists to do this stuff. What artist is going to leave Iron Man to go do Potato Man unless he knows he's going to make good money to do Potato Man?

All that stuff got scrubbed. I was told, you can pay people their page rate, that's it. ... So basically, if you check the New Universe, the artists you'll find were people who couldn't get any other work. There were exceptions. Some of these guys who grew up to be contenders, like Mark Texeira and Whilce Portacio. But they were brand new. They didn't know what they doing. These kids came along and needed work.

The two people who were contenders [at the time] were John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson, both of whom worked with me on Star Brand. They volunteered. They came to me and said, we want to work with you.

Other than that, it was me, Archie, assistant editors and anyone who couldn't get work. So, that stuff was awful. It was horrible. They didn't spend any money on promotion. I don't blame them. There was nothing to promote. The stuff was shit. Ask Stan. "Oh, I always thought it was a bad idea." He loved it, raved about it. But when the wheels came off, it was all Jim Shooter's fault.

And it probably was. If I was smarter, I probably wouldn't have gotten myself into that mess. In any case, it was a disaster, but I had help. A couple of the ideas were pretty good. A couple of the issues of Star Brand were pretty good. It was kind of a shame. It could have worked. In essence, we did the same thing with the Valiant universe. I took that same idea and did it there.

Read the rest of the interview here.


Jhunt said...

Boy, I remember when this line was being hyped. I must have been the perfect age (11 or 12) and I was just s**ting bricks waiting for these books to come out. Watchmen, Crisis, whatever.. I just wanted to see what the the hell this New Universe was all about. Then the books started to appear. And they were just terrible. Kickers, Inc? MERC? Spitfire and the Troubleshooters? The only books that were any good were the two X-Men ripoffs (DP7 and Psi-Force), and even they weren't THAT great. I think I lost a little bit of my childhood then...

Anyways, thanks for the interview link. very interesting stuff. Jim Shooter has a great knack for making you symapathetic to him no matter what the situation. Plus, he's old school LSH, so he gets respect no matter what. What was he, twelve when he started writing Legion stories?

Republic of Replicants said...

Still pretty amazing.
Of course, it's not sayin' much for all the other writers out there at the time.
It wasn't just that the thirteen year old was writing better, though, but also that he was more familiar with the audience and knew what was needed.

If you like Shooter, I reccomend getting Comics Feature #48, cover dated October 1986.

In it is part two of a two-part Legion feature and a rather large preview of the New Universe books.

The Legion feature details Shooter's involvement in the second part.