My life and career have intersected with the wondrous Marv Wolfman at many points along the way. I am proud to call him my friend … or at least a friendly acquaintance. If you’re reading this Marv, the next lunch is on me. I plan to pay up really soon.
I first became aware of Marv Wolfman in high school when I was reading as many Marvel Comics as I could get my hands on. Sometimes that was quite difficult. Remind me to tell the story someday soon about how I almost froze to death during high school in my pursuit of new release comics.
For a comic frame of reference, I essentially grew up in Smallville. I lived on farmland five miles from the nearest town, Claremont, Minnesota (pop. 620). It had one very small convenience grocery store that carried comics. Even though new comics came in only once a week or so, I visited that little rack of comics every day at lunchtime.
I was reading everything I could get my hands on at that point, so Wolfman’s runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Dr. Strange were part of my regular reading. While that stuff was good, I absolutely LOVED Tomb of Dracula.
Somewhere, somehow, even living in the middle of nowhere, I became aware of the first Chicago Comic Convention. It was being held at the Playboy Towers downtown. I had relatives that lived in suburban Chicago. I used every trick in my limited teenage arsenal of persuasion to convince my parents that I absolutely had to attend this convention. I was 16 and I had decided that I wanted a career as a comic book writer. In an attempt to shorten today’s post (and keep to the point of this whole thing) I attended the convention, located Marv Wolfman standing alone in a hotel hallway, and approached him with a question.
The question and the answer will have to wait until the end of our tale.
Years later, as managing editor of Amazing Heroes, I was living in Stamford, Connecticut and working for Fantagraphics Books. At a Fantagraphics party, I found myself in a group of people on the balcony, a group that included Marv Wolfman. He was talking at length about how he couldn’t live anywhere but New York City. He said that he knew people that had moved from New York to California and many of them were miserable. He simply couldn’t imagine changing his life and his lifestyle to live anywhere else.
In 1987, Marv Wolfman moved from New York to Los Angeles. Lucky for me and my on-going relationship with Marv that the Fantagraphics Books offices and most of its staff had moved to the Los Angeles area in September 1984.
Over the years, Marv and I maintained a friendly relationship. It wasn’t a “hey let’s hang-out” thing, it was more a “really great to see you at this convention” kind of thing.
Years later, Marv would be one of the writers who would contribute to Malibu’s launch of a line of comics called Bravura. He created a book titled The Man called A•X along with (vastly under-rated artist) Shawn McManus. One of the covers of The Man called A•X can be found in the banner at the top fo this page. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, substantial portions of Marv’s home office was damaged, so while he was getting repairs made, he actually moved into an empty cubical in the Malibu offices to do his freelance work. To say that it was cool for me (a kid from Claremont MN) to see Marv Wolfman show up at MY office every day for work is a gross understatement.
Now we move back to Chicago 1976 and the picture is this. My sixteen-year-old self approaching one of my favorite comic writer/editors seeking advice. Outside I was doing everything I could to remain calm, inside I was freaking out. But I managed to get the words out with a minimal amount of stuttering and stammering.
“Mr. Wolfman,” I said, “I want to be a comic book writer and I would like your advice about which college courses I should take that will help prepare me.”
The 1976 Marv Wolfman looked at me with great sympathy and concern and said, “Find something else to do. Confidentially, everyone in the business is looking to get out. So my suggestion to you is … do something else.”
In Marv’s defense, this was before the rise of the direct market and in the snapshot of time when I asked the question, he was probably 100% correct.
I’m glad that I didn’t listen to Marv Wolfman. I’m equally glad that Marv didn’t take his own advice. Imagining 1980′s comics without Marv Wolfman is impossible, who would have revived the Teen Titans the right way or created the perfect balance that made Crisis on Infinite Earths such a well-loved tale and industry changing work.
Marv Wolfman’s work made my teenage life, growing up in the middle of nowhere, and all the pain and angst of adolescence a lot easier to tolerate. He sparked my imagination and inspired me. You can’t ask more from “literature” than that. Thanks for everything Marv … except for the crumby advice.
That’s my version of the story.
– Dave Olbrich (DWO) Thurs. Dec. 18, 2008.