Marc Siry was the assistant editor on Daredevil during the Nocenti/Romita Jr. run on the comic. Here he talks about working with all the creators on the title and what it was like being Ralph Macchio's assistant.
Kuljit Mithra: From interviewing other people who have worked with Marvel, I've found many got their start through an internship. Is this how you got your start at Marvel? What was the interest for you in getting a job in comics?
Marc Siry: Yes, I started at Marvel as an intern in the fall of 1984, through a program available in my high school. Seniors at my high school were required to take college level courses or spend a certain amount of time in a work internship. I had been a moderate comic fan for several years, so when I saw Marvel on the list of opportunities I thought it would be a fun place to work. I called the program co-ordinator at Marvel, and almost didn't get in - the program was nearly full. Luckily, she agreed to let me show up anyway (after all, it was a free internship, and didn't cost Marvel anything).
Mithra: What kind of work did you have to do initially, and when did you make the move to editing?
Siry: As an intern, I was at the beck and call of Lynn Cohen, who was the assistant to the editor in chief (Jim Shooter, at that time). The interns were relied upon to do all the "grunt work", such as making photocopies of scripts and artwork to send to letterers and colorists, opening and sorting fan mail, running packages and deliveries between departments and floors, and even getting coffee and donuts for the editors and executives! Additionally, we would sometimes be lent out to different editors for specialized tasks, such as rearranging their comics libraries or clearing out their artwork drawers and returning the artwork to the artists (before the existence of a dedicated art returns person).
The good thing about being an intern is that editors get used to your face, and if you have a good additude and work ethic, they often look to the intern staff when hiring editorial assistants and assistant editors (two different job positions; editorial assistants are a rung below assistant editors, and are really just glorified - and paid - interns). I was hired as an editorial assistant on the Marvel Universe Handbook by the late Mark Gruenwald. After a couple of years I was offered a position as an assistant editor in Ralph Macchio's office, replacing Bob Harras, who had recently been promoted to "Associate Editor." David Wohl, Ralph's first choice, was going away to college, so I ended up getting the job as his assistant.
Mithra: Besides Daredevil, what other titles did you work on and how did they compare to DD?
Siry: Ralph was the editor for a lot of the "old line" books- Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Thor, Dr. Strange, and Captain America. Daredevil and Dr. Strange were considered second-tier books - they generally didn't attract the top talent, and they usually didn't get pushed much in Marvel's marketing efforts. When I was an assistant, Spider-Man (with McFarlane) and the X-books were the stars of the Marvel stable. The result was that Daredevil (along with Dr. Strange) didn't receive much attention; as long as the sales were above the minimum cutoff - at the time, 40,000 books a month - no one really bothered us much about them. The creators thus had more latitude to experiment with artwork styles or storylines that took the characters in wider ranging directions. For instance, every month we would get static from the editor in chief (by this time, Tom DeFalco) about where Fantastic Four, written by Steve Englehart, was going - meanwhile, Ann Nocenti would turn in ever-weirder scripts for Daredevil and we never heard a peep.
Mithra: What exactly are the duties for an assistant editor?
Siry: The editorial team for a book hires and works with the creators to produce the artwork and the stories each month, and works with the in-house production and manufacturing staff to make sure all the components are in place and correctly specced out - the lineups determining which pages are ads, which are story, and which are lettercolumns; making sure the color guides are correctly coded and match the story pages; having the pages proofread and corrected to catch any lettering errors; etc. etc.
Now, different editorial teams handled the divisions of these duties in different ways. Ralph Macchio, the editor I worked for, was very "hands off" when it came to the actual, physical production and trafficking, but very "hands on" when it came to guiding the storylines and working on the scripts. So, he would spend his days talking to writers on the phone about the directions the plot should take. He also answered a great deal of fan's letters and phone calls, believe it or not! Ralph was the ultimate fan himself, so I think he really enjoyed hearing a kid get a kick out of talking about the comic over the phone, or receiving a reply to a letter they wrote to Marvel.
Since Ralph handled all the "theory" stuff, I was left with the "practice." As you probably know, creating a comic is sort of like working on an assembly line - it moves from hand to hand until its finished. I did most of this trafficking - sending Ann's plots (after they were edited by Ralph) to John Romita Jr., getting the penciled pages from him and, after the interns photocopied them for our files :-) sending the pencils off to Joe Rosen to be lettered along with Ann's scripts (written from the pencils), routing the lettered pages to Al Williamson when they came in... In between all that, I talked with all the creators frequently to remind them of deadlines and alert them when work would be headed their way; I attended traffic and production meetings to report on the ontime status of our books; I routed corrections through the Bullpen when a page needed fixes; and I served as an extra set of proofreading eyes for the scripts and lettered pages. Most of the training you receive on the job as an assitant comes from observing the editor working with the creators; however, during my stint as an assistant, Tom D. and Mark G. instituted a weekly "Assistant Editor's School" in order to teach us some of the basics of comicbook (and fiction in general) storytelling. I learned a lot in those sessions!
Mithra: During this time, how was it to work with:
Siry: Ralph was (and by all accounts still is) a mercurial fellow. He could be really polite to you one minute, and the next minute be ripping you to shreds in front of a crowd (in a good-natured, but still merciless, way). He put up a facade of being a jokester, but then became very serious when it came time to edit the comics he was in charge of. He really cared about the responsibility he had to the characters and to the fans.
What he didn't care about, however, was attendance hours as defined by Marvel; he was famous for coming in to work at 11, 12, or even 1 o'clock. However, he would stay until all hours - 7, 8, 9 o'clock in the evening- editing scripts and plots or discussing storylines with creators. I just think he wanted to avoid the humdrum day-to-day stuff that went on in the office during the day- you know, meetings, that sort of stuff.
At one point, Marvel instituted an entry card system, where you had to punch in a computer card to get in in the morning and after lunch. Ralph kept his card in his desk - one of my jobs was to punch in for him when I got in in the morning with his card so it looked like he had mended his latecoming ways when the suits upstairs checked the attendance records.
Mithra: Ann Nocenti?
Siry: Ann was a really creative person who had somehow ended up on staff at Marvel - I believe she started as an assistant or secretary to the editor-in-chief, and then became an editor from there. She had just left staff and was starting to work as a freelancer when I started working with her on Daredevil. She loved being a freelancer, working out of her home on the lower West side of Manhattan, so we didn't see her much in the office - but I spoke with her on the phone a lot. She often grilled me about Ralph's real reactions to her scripts, because she suspected Ralph would not tell her what he REALLY thought of her scripts for fear of hurting her feelings!
Talking to Ann could be a bit of a surreal experience, especially when you're 19 years old (which I was at the time) because she came up with unusual connections in her conversations. I found I would usually have to clarify things a couple of times so that I was sure she understood what I was saying (the defeciency was on my side). She was clearly very creative, but had less concern with the history of the characters - that's where she and Ralph usually came into conflict. Ralph would often complain to Ann that she was making the characters react in "uncharacteristic" ways.
Mithra: John Romita, Jr.
Siry: Johh Romita Jr. was just coming into his own as a big star at that point. He had always been popular around the office, partly because of his legendary father and partly because of his brash attitude, but around his stint on Daredevil he really started to stretch his sylistic look much further than before. He was a really positive guy and he always turned in first-rate pages - I loved looking at the pencils when the arrived. He also wrote humorous notes in the margins (which of course would be erased before the pages saw print) but for the life of me I can't remember any specific ones.
Mithra: Al Williamson?
Siry: Nicest guy in the world. He loved talking on the phone, and was always looking for news from the office - he felt a little remote because he lived in Pennsylvania. He was the only member of the DD team who didn't live in the New York area and thus didn't show up at the office regularly, like the rest of the crew. I marveled at the detail of his pages - JR jr. would hand in pages with a zillion little lines in the background to represent fog, and Al would ink every one of them! He was one guy I was impressed to just talk to, since he was such a big name in the industry. He was apparently also a very heavy smoker - when the packages came from Al, opening them would make the office smell like the bar down the street!
Mithra: Christie Scheele?
Siry: Christie would create works of art with the color guides, which was a shame back in the days of crappy paper and manual seperations. She was also a pretty "cool chick" and I had a bit of a crush on her (even though she was a bit older than me - hey, that's why it was a crush!) She was also very professional and always turned in her work on time, without any problems (like most of the team).
Mithra: Joe Rosen?
Siry: Joe was a bit of an enigma to me, as he was one of the "old line" creators who had been around since time immemorial and was just a "fact of life." We would always deliver the pages to him, but then he would ALWAYS come into the office from his studio in Brooklyn to drop them off- I think because he wanted to make sure his pay vouchers didn't get lost. He never said much to me beyond the bare facts about when the pages would be arriving and when they were due. He's another fella who would return the pages with a distinct smokey smell - I guess those freelancers enjoyed the freedom to light up while they were working!
Mithra: Since you were the one who prepared the letters page, you knew how fans were enjoying or disliking the issues. Were fans enjoying Ann Nocenti's take on the character? The impression I get from fans now is that they either loved her work or hated her work... there was no in between.
Siry: Well, as an interesting aside, I wasn't officially doing the letters pages then... but I was actually writing and compiling them. Let me explain: There was a weird rule at Marvel that, if the assistant did the letters pages, it was considered part of their duties. However, if you had a third party do the letters page - even another assistant- they could voucher for $50 per page. So, all the assistants engaged in "letters page swapping." I usually swapped with Glenn Herdling, meaning I would write Daredevil's letter page but submit a pay voucher for Spider-Man, and vice versa. Since the assistants made such low salaries (I was paid $14,000 a year back then, and living in New York that is NOT a lot of money!) just a couple of swapped letters pages a month could make a big difference.
Anyhow, I'll agree with you - we got all different kinds of reactions, but they were usually quite polar in their love or hatred of what Ann was doing with the character. There are some fans out there that never want to see a character change, or never want to see a character in a certain type of adventure - they're the type who want to see Daredevil fight the Owl every month and never run into a super-powered adversary like the Rhino. Then there were the other fans who loved that Ann was taking this interesting character and putting him in situations not traditionally seen in the comic. I think those were people who were newer to the book, and had less tradition to offend :-)
Mithra: What about you? Did you like her stories? Did you find them preachy, like some fans did?
Siry: Y'know, there's a point where stories have to stop being just escapist fantasy and start giving you insight into the characters and the world they inhabit - and by reflection, yourself. Daredevil is by definition closer to that line - he's a guy with no overt PHYSICAL super powers, in fact he's handicapped in a way (although his hyper-senses made up for it most of the time), he lives in a crappy neighborhood in Manhattan, he deals with run-of-the-mill crooks with guns and crowbars, etc. You can write 100 Avengers stories where they fight living elements or adamantium killer robots and stay true to the book - however, with Daredevil, there comes a point where you have to deal with "real world" issues to stay true to the character. If that comes off as preachy, I'd say it was as much a case of fans not being prepared for that level of intensity in their comic book stories as much as Ann having some sort of agenda. As a writer, she wanted to write powerful stories dealing with "real" people, and in the world of comics, Daredevil was an ideal venue.
Mithra: Did any fans write in who clearly took offence to anything Nocenti wrote? Were there any fans who joined any organizations (environmental, social, etc.) in support of anything she wrote?
Siry: Honestly, I don't remember any specific issues that people either took offense to or rallied around. I think they cared most about their image of Daredevil and what Ann was doing with him! :-)
Mithra: Nocenti introduced a lot of villains. What did you think of some of these villains, like Bullet, Wildboys, Bushwacker, Typhoid Mary? Any favourites among them?
Siry: Funny you mention Bullet first. I really, really dug Bullet, because he was basically just a big, fat tough guy, without a cheesy explanation about why he could run through walls etc. Ann also humanized him, by giving him a son that he was working to support. If you think about badguys in the real world, they never think of themselves as bad guys- they either think they're doing the right thing (like Hitler) or at worst, they think they're doing what's necessary to survive. It's the rare psycho who goes around proclaiming themselves as "evil," yet in the Marvel Universe you have a whole class of characters who define themselves as such, even calling themselves the "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" or "Dark Nightcrawler" or whatever. Bullet was just a guy doing a job to take care of his kid - he considered himself a working man, doing what he had to to make a living. He also had my favorite mask - one that covered the lower part of the face while leaving the upper exposed, a sort of Anti-Daredevil mask. When you think about it, that's more sensible (if you're going to go the half-mask route) because a lower mask will muffle your voice, which is one of the more recognizable attributes a person has. He could always (and I think he did) wear a hat when in civilian guise to hide his balding head!
As for the rest, they were a little less three-dimensional than Bullet in my opinion - some acted just as ciphers. Bushwacker was almost a parody of the Punisher type heroes and villains that were becoming very popular- randomly violent, with built-in weapons. (I think Rick Leonardi, who is one of the best "designers" when it comes to the comics world, created that visual). Typhoid Mary was interesting because of the whole split personality thing, but I think it peeved a lot of people that Daredevil would even consider being romantically interested in a sword-wielding psycho.
Mithra: What about the Fatboys? Like them or hate them?
Siry: Since I can't even remember them, I'm going to have to mark the "indifferent" column on that one. :-) Oh wait-maybe they were the gang of street kids that hung around Daredevil's neighborhood- I'm not too clear on it.
Mithra: There were other characters, like Blackheart, Mephisto, Brandy, Inhumans, Shotgun, who made appearances as well while you were on the title. Was there any concern that the title was becoming a showcase for other characters and not a story with DD as the main focus?
Siry: Not that I remember. Especially in comics, a hero's greatness is defined by his foes. Daredevil was considered second-rate because he would fight guys like Stilt-Man and the Owl, while Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four had great foes like the Green Goblin and Dr. Doom. Having DD come into conflict with a higher level of foe made made him greater as a character- I'm not saying I wanted to see him hit Galactus in the eye with a billy club, but battling the Prince of Evil is far more impressive than overcoming a flying invalid who can see in the dark.
As for the guest stars, it's a natural outgrowth of working on a title, or tv show, or movie series. You create supporting characters and as the story progresses, they take on a life of their own and grow in importance. It happened in every Marvel series that continued for any length of time. Periodically, when a new creative team would come to a title, they would pledge to bring the character back to basics, and prune the supporting cast - but then they start introducing their OWN supporting characters. I think it's just a natural part of serial storytelling.
Mithra: You left the title just as DD was making his journey in Hell with Mephisto. Did you like the direction the title was going? Many fans didn't like this storyline at all.
Siry: This is an example of how some fans didn't like DD straying too far from the original conception. I personally liked any direction, as long as there WAS a direction - I recall something about Ultron and a genetically enhanced woman, and DD just seemed to be along for the ride, and that's about when I thought the title might need to come back closer to its roots.
Mithra: Why did you leave your editing job? Did something better come up?
Siry: I actually moved to California for no other reason than the weather. I intended to continue freelancing for Marvel from there - I was doing a fair amount of coloring, and one-page features for books like WHAT THE-- !? (the humor book) so I figured I could work from anywhere! However, since I wasn't a big star, once you're out of sight, you're basically out of mind. The freelance eventually dried up and I got a "real job" in California.
Mithra: Approximately how many issues was DD selling at this time?
Siry: As I mentioned before, there was a threshold of 40,000 issues a month, below which a book would be canceled. I think DD's sales fluctuated between 60,000 and 80,000 while I was there - OK, but not spectacular.
Mithra: Did you ever meet or talk with Steve Ditko when he did his fill-in issue?
Siry: Steve was a frequent drop-in to Ralph's office, but he never really spoke to me directly. I think he was sore that he was an old-timer who, in his eyes, never got the respect he deserved, especially with everyone being so flipped out over John Byrne and Todd McFarlane. Thus, he would just kind of blow by and have short conversations with Ralph, and pretty much ignore me.
Mithra: I think your brother once took over your editing gig for one issue. Did he get any appreciation for what you did, or did he find it to be easy work?
Siry: Everyone who knew Ralph knew that the gig could be tough - especially having to balance the operations of the office against the fact that Ralph was only really there for half of the working day (although he stayed late working on the stuff he really cared about, as I mentioned before). My brother subbed for me while I was on a three-week bicycle trip in Massachussets, and I think he was about as confused as he could be - so he just did what he was told (and did it well, from what I hear) and waited for me to come back :-D
Mithra: You also worked on the tradepaperback printing of Born Again. What work is involved with reprinting? Do you have to go through the original and scan them and/or recolour the pages? One of the things I always notice when I reread the book is where the cover to one of the comics has been recoloured to be blue instead of red. Why was that done?
Siry: I didn't work on the original comics - they were completed right before I started - but I was pretty much completely in charge of the "Born Again" reprint. However, that meant I was working very closely with David Mazzucchelli- he had VERY specific desires about how the book should be reprinted. There were some shortcuts and concessions made in the original pritings, mostly due to the length of the individual comics, and there were some separation errors David wanted to correct in the reprint. I seem to remember there being about 12 pages that were completely recolored. The manufacturing department was against redoing the separations on these pages - they wanted to get the reprint done as cheaply as possible. All they wanted to do was take the original, separated film (big sheets of plastic) from the original books and reprint them into the trade paperback.
To aid in the project, and to keep costs down, I prepared all the FPO's ("For Position Only") mechanicals to make it exactly clear to the printers what the recolored pages should look like. To do this, I made photocopies of the pages in question, mounted them on boards, and attached the new coloring from David to the board. I wrote across the top, "FPO- New Color COMPLETELY Replaces Old Color", and sent it off to the printers. Well, my mistake was NOT writing FPO in big RED marker on the photocopy itself. THe printers used the PHOTOCOPY of the page as the new artwork, and colored that!!! A photocopy is a low-quality reproduction; by printing from that, the recolored pages were now at least THREE generations of quality away from the final. This caused the line art to close up terribly; it's most evident on the page at the end of a chapter where the Kingpin tries to fake Matt's accidental death in a taxi, crashed into the river. The line art is so closed up on that page that the original zip-a-tone pattern has gone to almost black. It looks terrible! Mazzucchelli was pissed, and I was puzzled until I got back the pages from the printer and realized what they had done.
Nowadays, coloring is done on computers, and the printouts are very close to what the final will look like. With more control over the final product, closer to the creators, mistakes like that are less likely.
Mithra: Who do you think has written and/or drawn the definitive DD?
Siry: I really liked the way JR, jr. drew Daredevil- even more so than Miller, or Mazzucchelli (although I liked the way Mazzucchelli made the Daredevil costume look more like cloth and less like spandex). However, Miller's "Born Again" series was pretty much the best writing I feel Daredevil ever had. (Sorry Ann!)
Mithra: And finally, what kind of work are you doing these days?
Siry: These days I work as a Creative Director for web companies. I say "companies" because this is such a fast-moving business I never know who I'll be working for next week, or tomorrow, even! A Creative Director basically runs the team of artists and designers that work at a company. I do less hands-on design nowadays than I used to. However, I still get my Photoshop exercise with my "pet project" website- http:// www.labiker.com - the website I write, produce and maintain for my local motorcycle club (much like I imagine your Daredevil website is a one-man production of yours). Marvel is now just an interesting footnote on my resume, although I did do a lot of work with them again a few years back when colorist Steve Buccellato and I formed Electric Crayon, a company doing computer color separations. We did a lot of work for all the major companies, but Marvel was our bread and butter - until they bought Malibu comics and started using their coloring capacity to replace the work we had been doing. Steve and I sold our interests in Electric Crayon and I went into the interactive world - he's continued to work independently for Marvel and other companies, and has even published his own comic, Weasel Guy. Since then, I've worked for other "big" media companies, like Disney, Warner Brothers, and Mattel, but I've never really been to a place where the creatives were as dedicated to the product as Marvel.
(c) Kuljit Mithra 2000
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