A few years ago I was talking to Carl Potts and he was telling me about a book that he, Tom DeFalco, and Jim Galton wanted to write. Jim Galton was the president of Marvel Comics, Tom DeFalco was the editor-in-chief, and Carl Potts was a group editor. Being that they all had a lot of leadership experience the book was going to be about corporate leadership. One of the points of the book was that if you want your company to have a fun vibe that has to come from the top. A place is only going to be as happy as its leaders want it to be. Their book deal fell through but I think their hypothesis rings true.

The myth of the Marvel Bullpen was something Stan Lee put in place in the early 1960s. He wanted Marvel to be thought of as a fun place populated by artists, writers, and behind the scenes people all having a good time making comics. Most of the artists and writers were freelancers who worked at their own homes and studio spaces but you can’t let reality get in the way of a good myth.

When I was working in the Marvel Bullpen around Halloween of 1991 it could certainly be described as a fun place. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There were the usual suspects in any workplace: office politics, power struggles, people who didn’t get along with each other, deadline pressures, departments that were at odds, incompetence, and occasionally people who were just plain jerks. But still the overall vibe of the place was loose and fun. The Marvel vibe of having fun making comics was alive and well.

For example the Marvel Bullpen that I worked in at that time was probably about twenty people (it peaked at 35 people a couple years later) all in a big room sitting mostly at drawing tables where lettering corrections, color corrections, cover coloring, paste-ups, and general comic book production got done. It was fairly mundane and repetitive work but we were allowed to talk as we worked. And talk we did. All day.

Everyone who worked in the Marvel Bullpen was an artist or creative person in their own right. So there was always a lot of imagination and liveliness in the room. It was a place of constant humor and joking as we went about our day. And we were rarely stifled. Sometimes we would get too loud and our boss, Virginia Romita, would step out of her office and give us a look to quiet us down. Then there was Flo Steinberg who needed some quiet when proofreading and would shout “Modulate people!” when we got too loud for her white noise headphones to baffle. Even more rarely George Roussos, the staff colorist (who had been working in comics since the Golden Age), would step out and say something like “You people are so loud. They’re going to fire us all!” That’s when we really knew we were too loud.

There was a long row of offices next to the Bullpen that ran along the outside wall. This was “Editorial Row” where, of course, the editors had all of their offices. Each office had its own individual character depending on the editor’s likings but there was rarely a closed door. A few of the offices even had couches and were hangouts for freelancers, interns, people from other Marvel departments, and random assistant editors. We in the Bullpen worked directly with the editors so we were also in and out of their offices all day. If the editors wanted a break they’d also come out to the Bullpen for a few minutes and shoot the breeze.

The king of “Official” Marvel fun was Mark Gruenwald. I say “Official” because there were a lot of fun people at Marvel who were the center of shenanigans but if there was anything organized or recurring Mark was often behind it. He loved games, he loved parties, he loved pranks, he loved the idea of Marvel being a fun place, and he loved having a good time in general.

I’m telling you all this as a prelude to a video made on October 25th of 1991 of a Marvel office Halloween party. It’s a Mark Gruenwald tour de force. He’s there with a megaphone leading the office in a bunch of silly games. He’s assisted by Renee Witterstaetter and Rob Tokar. This is the stuff Mark loved to do. Not every game was a winner but he always gave it his best. You won’t find much slacking from him when it comes to having fun.

Not everybody was a fan of the types of games. Though no one was complaining about having an office party for some people the silliness was too much to participate in. They enjoyed watching the festivities but were too self-conscious to join in. Some people aren’t built to handle even a little embarrassment. Mark had to work hard at times to keep things going.

You won’t see me participating in the games because I have my own little quirk. As silly as I can be I take my competition seriously. I love to compete in games and to win. But silly games are usually not about the competition. They’re about having fun doing silly things. Somehow not being able to compete fairly in a game turns me off from playing it. That’s my own bit of weirdness but you can still see me on the tape having a good time.

All of this was courtesy of Marvel’s leadership. The myth of the Marvel Bullpen was important to them as a brand and as a creative choice. It made Marvel a better and more creative place to be. At the time I didn’t really think about that and took it for granted but then I also worked at Marvel post-bankruptcy when it had a new owner who cared nothing for the myth of the Marvel Bullpen. A lot of people tried to keep the spirit alive but without leadership at the top it was impossible. But here for just a little while the spirit of 1991 boom-time Marvel can live again.


Comment ¬

NOTE - You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>