Should I EVER listen to Marv Wolfman?

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. 

Tomb of Dracula #54 cover by Gene Colan

TRULY GREAT: Tomb of Dracula #54 cover by Gene Colan

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.

Gil Kane cover art

A Wolfman Classic. Daredevil #127: Gil Kane cover art, Interiors by Bob Brown/Klaus Janson

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. 

An animated version of THE MAN CALLED A•X by series artist Shawn McManus

An animated version of THE MAN CALLED A•X by series artist Shawn McManus

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.”

WHAT ???

Crisis on Infinite Earths #8

Wolfman/Pérez: Crisis on Infinite Earths #8

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.

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8 Comments

Filed under Behind the Scenes, Fanatical History

8 responses to “Should I EVER listen to Marv Wolfman?

  1. Paul O'Connor

    I LOVE Tomb of Dracula — I have the Essential Vol. 1 on my nightstand right now (and I’m reading the Essentials only because it’s easier than digging my original copies out of storage). We’ve talked before, Dave, of our enthusiasm for Tomb and Master of Kung Fu as among the best of 1970s Marvel … I think what I liked best about those titles is that they are comics where the villains are the star (mostly true of Tomb, but Fu Manchu was the star of those early MoKF books, too). I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a soft-spot for anti-heroes, and a book like Tomb where the bad guy drove the action really spoke to me.

    Reading Tomb again all these years later, I’m happy to report the writing really holds up. I’m a Gene Colan fan, too (particularly with Tom Palmer inks), so these books put me in hog heaven. About the only thing that doesn’t really work for me any more is Dracula’s character design — he’s a little too off-the-shelf, but in 1972 I suppose Dracula had to have an opera cape and a widow’s peak hairline or the kids wouldn’t have recognized him.

  2. Scott Rowland

    Dave,

    I discovered your blog through Tom Spurgeon’s comics reporter site. I was a big fan of the initial conception of the Ultraverse, and would love to hear more about how that came about, and any behind the scenes stuff. I’m also interested in learning more about the Firearm 0 videotape. I remember entering and winning a Malibu-sponsored drawing at my local comic shop (in Southern California) that was supposed to give me a chance to watch some of the filming. Sadly, I never heard anything more until Firearm 0 was released. I picked up the combination VHS tape and comic book long ago, but no longer have a reliable VHS player. I suppose like everything Ultraverse, it hasn’t been re-released. Oh well.

  3. Tom Mason

    I still can’t get over those days – months, actually – when I could walk out of my office and see Marv in his cubicle, typing away, sending faxes, making phone calls and answering our silly questions. It was like having a walking-talking Master Class in comic book professionalism. We should have taken him out to lunch more often.

    I was/am a huge fan of Marv’s work on Tomb of Dracula and Doug Moench’s work on Master of Kung Fu – they remain the best Marvel comics of that era; I looked forward to them every month and always read them first.

    I remember days when Marv would be in the office, Howard Chaykin would drop by for a meeting, Jerry Bingham would be talking color theory with the coloring department, Steve Gerber would drive up from the San Fernando Valley to hand-deliver a script and pick up a check and Harlan Ellison was on hold because he’d just discovered there was an Ultraverse limited edition hologram cover he didn’t have yet. Have I name-dropped enough?

    And for Scott Rowland – the previous poster – there’s probably no chance that the Firearm 0 video will be re-released in any format other than “bootleg.” If there’s a Costco near you, they’ll convert a VHS to a DVD for $19.95. I can’t speak to the quality, but the sign that advertises the service is pretty sharp.

  4. I still have a complete run of Tomb of Dracula. I agree completely with Paul–it still holds up today. I get a chill everytime I re-read issue #12 when Dracula robs Quincy Harker of his daughter Edith. It has a nice ending in issue #70, even though it was mandated by sales, it was kind of a prototype for things like Sandman that had an ending point. Dracula had a unique quality, the first series I ever read where the villain was the star and able to maintain a long-form narrative. Even Dr. Doom failed at that!

    I could write about the things that Wolfman created that I love forever, however, the one that got away, was Night Force. That was cancelled way too early. I wish he had held onto that concept and published it someplace where it could survive. Alan Moore recognized what a great character Baron Winters was and used him briefly in Swamp Thing.

    Here’s my little ode to Dracula:
    http://www.photontorpedoes.com/archives/marvels-haunt-of-horror/tomb-of-dracula/

  5. Dave Olbrich

    I haven’t tried to re-read TOMB OF DRACULA in many a year, but I’m glad to hear that the stories hold up. I’m not surprised. I’ll be saving my nickels and dimes so that I can get a terrific collection. When I would have time to read it, I don’t know, but having it and knowing I can read it whenever I have time is somehow comforting.

  6. Dave Olbrich

    In my opinion, and I see that there others that agree here, there were only two comics that were worth finding at any cost, the kind quality and involvement that made them “must have” even when the teenage allures of girls and cars (and such) came calling: Tomb of Dracula and Master of Kung Fu. Interesting that both of them were from Marvel and neither of them were super-hero books.

    Someday, sometime, someway, there definitely is a longer more involved FANATIC post involving this subject, but for now, it is great to have like-minds gathered here to talk about and comtemplate our affection (and dedication) to this material.

  7. Dave Olbrich

    Dear Scott Rowland:
    Is there any specific aspects of the early days of the Ultraverse that you’d like to read about or know about … I could try to guess, but the chance of getting it wrong seems pretty high. There are posts here about our first choice for PRIME artist (Alan Davis) and the brilliance of the actual selection (Norm Breyfogle). Poke around the archives, those stories aren’t hard to find.

    There are dozens and dozens of stories about that time (as you can imagine), so chime in, give me a little guidance and I’ll work to put something together.

    If you watch the Firearm #0 video really close, you can see yours truly playing (very briefly) a desk sargeant in the police office.

    Might be fun to transfer my copy to DVD and then post of scene or two here. There’s something to think about.

    Let me know if there’s anything specific you want.

  8. Pingback: Miscellaneous Monday: Dec. 22, 2008 (abbreviated) « Funny Book Fanatic

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