This month's topic is...What the heck is the Marvel Bullpen? As sports enthusiasts can tell you, the word "bullpen" is used in baseball to refer to the place where reserve pitchers wait until they're called in to play. But the Marvel Bullpen, as you might guess, has no pitchers in waiting. The term "Marvel Bullpen" was first used in the early 1960s by our fearless founder Stan Lee to refer to the whole Marvel office complex, which in those days was a single room where Stan, various artists, letterers, colorists, and secretaries all toiled side by side to produce the masterworks of the early Marvel Age. The Bullpen was not just the hub of activity, it was the site of virtually all activity (except for a few freelance artists who worked in their own studios).
In the 1970s, Marvel began to increase its output of comic books and that meant expanding the staff. More people meant more office space was needed, and the Marvel office complex soon became just that-- a number of different offices, with people grouped together according to the type of work they did. Editors got put in one place, colorists in another, and correction-production people in yet another, to name just a few. But traditions die hard, and the idea of a Marvel Bullpen lived on through all the various expansions, moves, and rearrangement of the Marvel offices.
So when we Marvel staffers refer to the Bullpen today, you know what we're talking about? The production department, that large room where our staff lettering, art corrections, cover and letters page paste-up, and design work all take place. The room is the area that most closely resembles the original Marvel Bullpen, and it is still the nerve center of operations since every page of every comic passes through the area at least once on its way to the printers. So while you can still refer to the whole editorial and production office complex as the Bullpen, we on the inside think of the production department as the Bullpen and the production staff as the Bullpenners. Just thought you'd like to know.
You don't get to be an editor for almost five years (and an assistant ed for four before that) without developing some sort of editorial philosophy about what you're doing. Much of what we're doing here at Marvel is heroic fiction. So here's my philosophy (or at least part of it) about heroes. A hero is heroic in direct proportion to the villainy of villains s/he confronts and triumphs against. Sounds simple and obvious enough, doesn't it? Who wouldn't pit his/her hero or heroes against as powerful and as evil a villain as possible in order to test the hero's mettle? Yet, certain heroes have managed to acquire "better" regular opponents to clash with than others. A "good" villain should a) have a clear motivation for his/her villainy, b) a credible background to foster that motivation, c) an effective superhuman power or gimmick to help him/her accomplish his/her goals, d) a good name and costume. A "great" villain should have all of the above plus a) a complex (not complicated) personality, and b) a good track record of how many times s/he succeeded in accomplishing his/her goals, or at least how difficult it was for a hero to thwart them.
So how many "good" and "great" villains can you think of? Does ever hero who has his/her own series have at least twelve of them? If not, says this editor, the writer will have to repeat him/herself a lot-- or resort to "bad" villains (those who don't fit the above criteria). That's why I'm on a campaign to get my writers to come up with new villains, at least every third storyline or so. That way, there will be new blood to replenish the tired old blood of villains who have lost one too many times to be taken seriously.
A hero who has it easy cannot prove his heroism. On the other hand, a villain who has it easy can prove his villainy. Villains need victims not heroes. A hero may only be as good as the toughest opponent s/he has faced. To make our heroes better, we've got to have better villains.