AVENGERS #300-- Three hundred issues of Earth's mightiest team of heroes! In all of comics history, the only team to surpass this achievement is Marvel's very own Fantastic Four, which came on the scene 26 months before the Avengers did. (And if there's any justice in this world, the exploits of the Fantastic Four will be published as long as those of the Avengers are, thus maintaining its two year, two month record of longevity over the mighty Assemblers till the end.) Somewhat ironic that half of the fabled FF have joined the Avengers for the duration of this issue, eh?
The Avengers have reached a crossroads on a number of fronts right now. First off, we have the brave new membership roster you see this issue-- Cap! Thor! Mr. Fantastic! Invisible Woman! and Gilgamesh! How long can this mighty amalgamation of heroes last as a fighting team? We hope you'll be surprised.
Secondly, this issue marks the departure of Wild and Wooly Walt Simonson from the scripter's helm of the team. After ten dramatic issues and an annual, Walt has decided to take his leave from the team he has shaken up so much in these past months, citing various personal reasons. Walt is well on his way to becoming a grand master of the comics field, and I am personally sorry to see him move on. (At least I can still catch his amazing artistry on X-FACTOR.) Pitching in script-wise for the next three issues is Reliable Ralph Macchio, who did a similar stint on this book a year ago just before Walt came on. And after that, make way for the debut of brand new AVENGERS scribe-- Genuine John Byrne! But you thought John had taken over the WEST COAST AVENGERS? Well, he has-- he's going to write both teams of Assemblers, and draw the West Coasters to boot! If we didn't have tight coordination between the two Avengers franchises now, we'll have to wonder if the two hemispheres of John's brain are on speaking terms!
And finally, there short issues from now will be the last one I edit before turning this book (like WEST COAST AVENGERS and IRON MAN before it) over to Hardworking Howard Mackie. Leaving the AVENGERS has been one of the toughest decisions I've had to make in my professional career. I started editing this book with issue #220, which will give me a run of 83 issues as editor before I pack it in. Not one to toot my own horn (says who?), but not only have I edited more issues of AVENGERS than anyone including the legendary Stan Lee (who scripted #1 through #34 and edited #35 through 104, giving him a 70-issue editing run), but...with the exception of Stan Lee editing his own scripts, I have edited more issues of the AVENGERS than any other Marvel editor has edited issues of any other Marvel title in Marvel's 27 year modern history. Is that supposed to impress you? No, but I hope you can appreciate how hard it is for me to walk away from a record run like that. In fact, when the tiem comes, I still may not be able to bring myself to hand over the book to good ol' Howard! With my name gone from these pages, you can also expect to see the disappearance of this column (a tradition since issue #268, incidentally). In fact, since my first Mark's Remarks column for MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE is due out any time now, this is the last M's Rems I will do for any book I edit (hold down the applause). My last three issues will be remarkless.
My oh my, this does feel like the end of an era, doesn't it? But the Avengers-- Marvel's greatest super heroes banded together to battle menaces to the Earth that no single hero could handle alone-- will go on and on, through many ears, through many roster shuffles, through many changes in editorial and creative personnel, through many centennial issues. As long as there is a need for heroes, let the AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
It's like this. About two years back, I somehow got the idea to do mini-editorials on the letters pages of the books I edited (AVENGERS, WEST COAST AVENGERS, SOLO AVENGERS, and IRON MAN) about any old subject that I thought might be of some interest to fankind at large. The basic concept was to emulate Stan's Soapbox column in the Bullpen Bulletin page of old, and have a forum where I could communicate directly with my readership.
So three or four times a month, for some ninety-three installments, I cranked out my M's Rems on assorted topics ranging from the practical to the high-faultin'. I must have hit a responsive chord now and then because the column certainly got its share of reader mail. My column, "How Not to Break Into the Comics Industry," was my all-time bad mail getter-- apparently a number of people didn't want to know how easy it was to make an unfavorable impression on one's prospective employer, the editor. But...since the positive responses I got generally outweighed the negative, I felt like the time I invested in doing Mark's Remarks was well-spent.
When I was promoted to Executive Editor and my book assignments began slipping away from me into the capable hands of others (okay, so it was Howard Mackie's-- what of it?), the space available to me for my dubious diatribes began to dwindle. With AVENGERS and SOLO AVENGERS leaving my editorial nest in the next few months, the letters page space available to me will be down to nothing. It sure looked to me like I'd remarked my last when ace MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE editor Jim Salicrup asked me if I'd care to continue my award-losing column in Marvel's Official Newsmagazine. I said yes, and huzzah, readers-- just when you thought it was safe to read comics again, here I am!
So now that I've given you the establishing shot, whatever should my first new improved column be about?
Hey, I know. Assuming that my MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE readership is not identical to the readership of the books I edited, it occurs to me that not all of you know who I am or what makes me think my opinions on matters comic are worth sharing. So what I think I'll do is give you a brief autobiographical sketch of myself.
Okay. I was born thirty-five years ago in a small town in Wisconsin (population then as now about 50,000). My mother worked in a drug store which had a comic book rack when I was very small, which enabled me to paw through the merchandise without anybody telling me this wasn't a library. My first comic book purchases were CASPER and SPOOKY, but by the age of five, I was aware of Superman from the old television show and bought my first SUPERMAN comic, the terrific issue where he first fought Titano the Super-Ape. At the time, there weren't any Marvels, so don't blame me for my reading tastes!
My father was an avid reader of comics in the 40's (so he certainly had no objections to my reading them) and whenever we took family car trips I'd cajole him into telling me anything he could remember about the comics he read as a kid. He told me all about the Justice Society, the Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner well before they made their comic book reappearances in the 60's.
When I was nine years old, I bought my first Marvel Comic (FANTASTIC FOUR#8 featuring the Puppet Master) while on a car trip to Racine. The distribution of the early Marvels was pretty spotty in my home town, and we didn't begin to get them in regularly till FF#11. There was something very exciting about those early FFs. They lacked the slickness and polish of the early-60s DCs, but there was a crude sense of danger and excitement in them that you just could not find elsewhere. While JUSTICE LEAGUE was still my favorite comic until 1966 or so, I found myself spending more and more of my allowance on Marvels. I was a mere lad of ten when Stan Lee printed a letter of mine in FANTASTIC FOUR#20. I won't claim that it changed my life, but I got some great letters from other comics readers, including some Golden Age comics fan who sent me black and white snapshots of some classic 40's comic book covers, including the first Torch/Sub-Mariner battle. I count myself fortunate to have been able to purchase AMAZING SPIDER-MAN#1, HULK#1, AVENGERS#1 and X-MEN#1 off the newsstand as they came out. Eventually I even discovered that it was more fun to play Captain America than Superman-- you had to pretend you could fly and had super-strength and x-ray vision, but as long as you had a garbage can lid and a reckless nature, you could actually do whatever Cap could-- though not quite as well.
When I was in kindergarten, the wait between monthly comic books became unbearable so I decided to start drawing my own stories to while away the time in between. Every Sunday afternoon my dad, mom, and sis would go to my grandparents' house for dinner and I'd spend all my non-eating time working on my ongoing super hero opus, making up the story as I went along, drawing with ballpoint pen and Crayolas on ruled tablet pages. It took me about six months to finish one tablet. I did thirteen of them up through sixth grade, when I switched to other media (India ink and colored pencils). Yes, I still have those old tablets, and whenever I'm stuck for ideas I go back to them-- just kidding-- the "stories" were derivitive, virtually plotless stuff.
Comic books stimulated my interest in science, particularly astronomy, as well as science fiction and mythology, mainly Greek and Norse. When I was in early grade school, all my friends read comic books. By the time I was in sixth grade, there weren't very many at all. I was still drawing comic stories for my own amusement, having finally graduated into doing my own characters by junior high. In high school, I realized that art teachers would not let me do comics in class, so I decided not to take any art courses (a mistake). When I got to college, however, I decided to become an Art major, which was somewhat difficult with no high school art credentials. My school (the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) let me into the program anyway. Since I was mostly interested in comics and thought I knew more than they did about them, my art profs had their hands full trying to teach me the fundamentals of art, you can bet. Sure wish I hadn't been such a wise guy. I might actually be making my living as an artist today.
I graduated with an Art Major, Literature Minor in December 1975. I worked up a comic art portfolio and took it to New York City. Two years or so earlier, during a trip to New York for the July Comic Art Convention, I showed my wares to DC personnel who were looking for recruits into their Junior Woodchuck program. Though Carmine Infantino expressed some interest in my work, I decided to finish school first. I thereby avoided being branded a Woodchuck for the rest of my life! I made an appointment with Julius Schwartz, my all-time favorite editor, and showed him my stuff. He was quite unimpressed by my work, and taking his criticisms to heart, I was too abashed to take the same portfolio to Marvel. I returned in April, however, with an all-new almost-as-unimpressive portfolio, and once again found no doors opening magically for me.
But I did realize that if I was indeed serious about getting into the comics industry, I would have to move to the big bad city, and so a month later I did. For six months, I lived on savings, and changing tacks, tried working up a writing porfolio. Then a temp job led into a regular job in the file room at one of New York's largest banks. With steady income, I had enough cash to put together and publish a fanzine called Omniverse, which I hoped would serve as a porfolio of all my various editorial, production, writing, and design skills*. I made sure to send out free copies of the 'zine to every professional in the business, among whom was Jim Shooter, brand new editor in chief of Marvel. Jim must have thought the magazine showed I had some ability, for he hired me as an assistant editor in February of 1978. There were only four assistant editors in those days, not the thirteen there are today).
I began on staff as the liaison to all the writer-editors around at the time. Now, ten years later, I'm Marvel's Executive Editor. The end. I hope this long version of the origin of Mark Gruenwald hasn't cured too many insomniacs. There must be somebody out there who's curious how one guy broke into the biz (besides my mother, I mean.)
Next month-- a topic of greater interest (provided, I think of one).
*=Devoted to the subject of reality as portrayed in the comic books, Omniverse's main claim to fame was that it was the first fanzine with footnotes.