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The nutty offices of Marvel, in photonovel form – The Marvel Fumetti Book #1

August 19, 2013

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Marvel always had the self-promotion one-up on DC. Thanks to Stan Lee’s P.T. Barnum-like huckster sensibilities, from the dawn of the Silver Age onward the House of Ideas became synonymous with fandom. The Bullpen Bulletins, the quirky letter pages and the in-house fan clubs didn’t just clue readers in on all the action, but actually put them in the midst of the glorious turmoil — as if Flo Steinberg herself stalked your very own halls at home, carrying assignments for “Jolly Jack” and “Genial Gene.” Yes, Amazing World of DC Comics was meatier and had its own merits, but does anyone think it trumps FOOM? FOOM was called FOOM, for crissakes.

The Marvel Fumetti Book was another part of that self-promotion continuum, which turned the Marvel creative staff into impaneled characters themselves. And it remains a wry, enjoyable and sometimes sad-in-retrospect window into the Bullpen of the early 1980s.  

Inside Fumetti (an actual word for “photonovel,” not just a portmanteau of Foom and confetti) are photographic comic stories starring the writing and artist stars of the age — most of whom, as you can see by the cover, were bearded, for whatever that’s worth. Word balloons provide the dialogue in one or two page skits, which poke fun at the foibles of the assorted denizens of Marvel HQ. Inker extraordinaire Vince Colletta was the Jacob Riis of this project, photographing how the Marvel half lives and documenting them in their native cubicle squalor.

Sometimes the bits inside stray close to the mark.

Recall that Jim Shooter was marvel’s editor-in-chief at this time, and that Stan Lee had largely ceded the strings of power so that he could try to shepherd movie and TV projects out West (read: bask in the California sunshine). Years later there would be a slow trickle of talk, gleaned from interviews and convention talks, that the Shooter regime was a less than happy one. That Jim was confrontational where good old Stan had been easygoing, that his firm belief in his own storytelling sense (which, in fairness, is quite sound) chafed those under his direction. All we know as fact is that some people stayed, some left, and Shooter was eventually forced out. (I have no idea how benign or dictatorial Shooter was/is, but I’ve always felt that his physical presence had to have something to do with perception. A friend who used to see him at conventions once described him to me as looking like “an eight foot tall Manuel Noriega.” There might be an element of intimidation there that starts people off on the wrong foot.)

Well, one of the longer stories pokes fun at an ogre-ish Jim Shooter, who’s seen barking commands at his lowly peons like a giant drill sergeant. Stan Lee later shows up and acts in much the same dictatorial manner, only to reveal at the end that he’s just kidding. Ha ha, very funny. Then Shooter pops back in and re-establishes his alpha-male dominance. It all takes on another layer of meaning after what would later come to light. It strays a little close to the mark, but the fact that Shooter is part of the proceedings makes you wonder how much of an edge this bit was really supposed to have.

That retroactively interesting chunk aside, things unspool like your usual Bulletins banter. Clunky Spider-Man and Hulk costumes are deployed amongst the cramped halls and cluttered desks, and overall a good time is had by all. Three of the one-page bits stood out for me because of the people involved. The first is rather sad, as it deals with the gone (but still around) before his time Bill Mantlo. The man wrote a lot of great stories, including the final run of Rom that I cherish to this day, so it’s bittersweet to see him in his prime, hammering away at his typewriter:

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One of the great power couples in comics is Walt and Louise Simonson, and they appear together — and Walt gets to don a Thor helmet:

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Last but not least is the prolific, very-talented and sometimes prickly John Byrne, who has never been shy about inserting himself into a comic, and who here shares the pyrotechnic dangers of his fast production schedule:

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Apologies for the somewhat murky scans, but photos never really reproduced all that well in newsprint, and scanning further grains up the whole thing — and it doesn’t help that most of the pics appear to have been shot through a filter of chocolate milk. Still, you can see the fun of Marvel coming through, even under the maybe/maybe not Shooter despotism. That these people would feel comfortable clowning around like this speaks volumes. EXCELSIOR indeed.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 6, 2014 3:26 pm

    I read this again without realising I’d already liked/read it – I don’t know whether this is good or not …

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