Thursday, August 7, 2014

1985 - Jim Owsley's look back at his tenure as the Spidey books editor


Some of you may know the name Christopher Priest, or simply Priest as the writer who co-created Quantum and Woody, and wrote Black Panther and Steel. Before that, when Priest was known as James Owsley, he was an editor for Marvel Comics. At the age of 22, Jim Shooter assigned him as the editor of the Spider-Man family of books, which included Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Web of Spider-Man. Unfortunately, what should have been a dream assignment proved to be a rather challenging life experience for Owsley.

You can find his full blog write-up from 2002 here:

But, here's some highlights I found rather interesting:

"I don't talk much about my years as editor of Marvel's Spider-Man line. There's a good reason for that. It was a terribly unhappy time of my life, both personally and professionally. The office politics were ugly, as Editor In Chief Jim Shooter came under increasing fire from his own staff as he turned the screws on us to be timely and to increase the quality of Marvel's books. There was a lot of bad writing going on in those days, a lot of cronyism, a lot of writers grandfathered in by pals and former co-workers."


"If I had it to do over again, I never would have accepted the appointment as editor of the Spider-Man franchise. I made a lot of mistakes. I hurt a lot of people. I lost a lot of friends. It's a difficult thing for me to discuss. We'd all like to be heroes of our own stories, and it's hard to tell the story of when you were a chimp. I spent two and a half years of my life being an incredible chimp, paralyzed by my own chimp-ness and chimposity, and wholly convinced that, if I lost my job at Marvel, the world would end. Well, I did and it didn't. And now, nearly two decades later, I have some maturity and experience under my belt. Not that I'm any less of a chimp at 40 then I was at 22, but I have the perspective and, yes, the wisdom now to be horrified by the choices I made."


"Within days of my promotion, Shooter called a meeting to divvy up the Marvel line and figure out what I would be doing. The new kid on the block usually gets licensed books, like The Transformers and The Dazzler and so forth. But nobody wanted Spider-Man. Everyone was happy doing their thing: The X-people wanted to stay X-people, Roger Stern was happy with the Avengers (Tom Brevoort) slot, Mike Carlin had Fantastic Four and, yes, The Dazzler among other things. Nobody wanted Spider-Man.

Under previous editor Danny Fingeroth, the Spider books had seen enormous growth with the introduction of the symbiotic black costume, a gorgeous bit of design work by Mike Zeck and ingenious marketing ploy by Shooter, who was selling a fairly mediocre maxi-series called Secret Wars by the truckload. Head writer Tom DeFalco was paired with Ron Frenz, a huge Spidey fan, who was doing a hip Ditko-meets-Romita style under Joe Rubinstein's expressive inks. It was a solid franchise, about to birth its third book, a new title called WEB OF SPIDER-MAN. As the new kid, I absolutely should not have been given Spider-Man, the corporate high-profile franchise, but Shooter ultimately found himself in the position of either having to force somebody to take the line, or give it to the new kid. I am told the thinking was that I couldn't do any harm,. The books were all being written by veteran Marvel staffers: Executive Editor DeFalco on AMAZING Editor Al Milgrom on SPECTACULAR and X-Men Editor Louise Jones (now Simonson) on WEB, soon to be replace d by exiting Spider-Man editor Fingeroth. With these pros solidly in place, all I had to do was play traffic cop. And, had I done that, I'd probably still be at Marvel today, instead of out here in Colorado, shooing away moths. Giving me the Spider-Man line was an incredibly bad call. Saddling me with several beloved staffers as creative talent on books that constituted over two million dollars of Marvel's bottom line was a very bad idea. And it was criminally stupid to have a 22 year-old neophyte editor edit his own boss (DeFalco)."


"Finally, I came up with an idea: Sensational Spider-Man by DeFalco/Frenz. This would, likely, have been a quarterly special, like Spider-Man Unlimited or some such. Tom and Ron could do as much Spider-Man as they wanted and were capable of doing, and we'd be off the hook for the monthly deadline. Tom and Ron continue to do the work they love, I get out of Shooter's line of fire. I told Jim I was taking Tom off of AMAZING, and creating this other animal for him and Ron. Jim said, fine.

"Tom took the news very hard. It ended our friendship, and, I am told, Tom saw Jim's hand in this and threatened to quit. A stunned Shooter appeared at my door the next day, and I knew I was about to be fired. He asked me, and I quote, "Why'd you do that? [fire Tom]" I just stared at him as he stammered and stared at the floor and shook his head and exhaled, and I felt like I was in The Godfather II, the victim of some macabre Corleone plot. What the blessed hell was this man talking about?!? I cleared this all with him before I did it. More to the point, for months he'd been after me to do something about Tom. I said, "Because you told me to. We talked about this beforehand." To which Jim replied, and I'll never forget this, "Yeah — but I never thought you'd actually do it."


"I rarely bump into Jim [Shooter] these days, our last contact being an odd exchange during the Unity 2000 event at Acclaim. But, I'm sure, wherever he is, he remains several laps around the track ahead of
me. Nothing here is intended to paint Jim as the Bad Guy, though I realize that will likely be the net
impression. I'm less interested in pointing the finger at Shooter than I am in taking responsibility for Owsley. I never thought Shooter was a bad guy, then or now, and I remain deeply indebted to him for his investment in my future. I'm sure a lot of this is stuff nobody needs to know and stuff we all probably need to forget."

1 comment:

  1. Very cool that you posted this. I read this post on Priest's blog years ago, and have re-read it a few times since. I find it really compelling reading: not just as a look at behind-the-scenes Marvel but just as a general examination of office politics, artistic sensibilities/egos and especially as a piece about regret over opportunities that could have been handled better...feelings I think we all experience in our lives. Thanks for posting it.
    david p.



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