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Salicrup Days - Part One

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In a lengthy, three-part interview, Jim Salicrup talks to Broken Frontier about his early days at Marvel Comics in the role of editor on the Marvel bullpen, the beginnings of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art and his latest projects at Papercutz.

On Editing

BROKEN FRONTIER: When you joined the offices of Marvel Comics at the age of 15, was it a dream come true?

JIM SALICRUP: Oh, yes. I grew up in the Bronx in the 60s and early 70s, not a particularly safe time to be living there, so I was desperately looking for a way out. My two dreams were to work at Marvel Comics, and to have one of those swingin’ bachelor pads in Manhattan, that really only existed in Hollywood movies and in Playboy magazine. 

Well, I started working as a gofer -- what would today be considered a paid intern -- when I was 15, and after a few years living in Brooklyn, I finally got a studio apartment in Manhattan, just a few doors down from Carnegie Hall. I worked at Marvel for twenty years, and I lived in that apartment until they tore the building down. Then I had to come up with new dreams. 

BF: If I were in that position, I’d have bragged to all of my friends about it. What do you remember about your buddies’ reactions?

JS: Interesting question. The timing was such, that school was out for summer, and most of my closest friends were away on vacation, or had simply moved away. So no matter what, this was a transitional time in my life. At the end of summer I started attending the High School of Art and Design, and other than telling a few close friends, I kept my job at Marvel a secret. My friends all thought it was cool.

I couldn’t believe I was actually working at Marvel myself. It’s almost as crazy as if I sent a postcard to the Beatles asking to join the band, and Paul McCartney wrote back to say yes. The Marvel Bullpen, otherwise known as the office staff, back in the summer of ’72, consisted of Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Verpoorten, Holli Resnicoff, John Romita, Herb Trimpe, Tony Mortellaro, Marie Severin, Dave Hunt, Danny Crespi, Morrie Kuramoto, Stu Schwartzberg, George Roussos, Steve Gerber, Mary McPherran, Pablo Marcos, and Sol Brodsky.  

BF: How did you find that comics editing was the career for you?

JS: Trial and error mostly. I was far too intimidated by the awesome talents of the Marvel Bullpen to work on my artwork or my writing back then. I was not worthy. I would seek out jobs at Marvel that didn’t give me the opportunity to destroy the greatness of the Marvel Universe. I would edit Marvel’s British line of weekly reprint comics or write Spidey Super-Stories, which wasn’t really a part of official continuity, things like that. I realized finally that I was more or less a caretaker/protector of the Marvel Universe, and that editing made a lot of sense for me in that context.

BF: What are the tasks that every Editor has to face?

JS: The basic stuff is making sure you get the books out on time. Beyond that, every editor will define the job differently. I believed, and still do, that my job is to create an environment that’s extremely conducive to creativity. I want to love every comic book or graphic novel I edit. The hope being that if I like whatever I’m working on, others will as well.

The biggest secret about editing comics is that it’s much harder to edit bad comics than really good comics. If you’ve got brilliant writing and awesome artwork, there’s not too much for the editor to do. If, on the other hand, the writing needs to be reworked or the art needs to be redrawn, it can be a nightmare, and no matter how hard you try to patch it up, it’ll never be great.

BF: You edited Spider-man for nearly ten years. Did you feel you were putting your personal stamp on the character in a way that was different from Stan Lee or the editors and creators who came later?

JS: Actually, I only edited Spider-Man for a few years; it just seemed like ten years! The only kind of “personal stamp” that I may have tried to put on the character was to keep Spidey in line with my interpretation of Peter Parker as originally conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. We never trying to duplicate what had come before; we were attempting to update, within the limits of Marvel continuity, the series as best we could. Down to even little things, like avoiding Stan’s Marvel slogans such as “Fearless Leader” and “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.” Instead we came up with stuff such as “Arachnerd” and “The Non-Mutant Super-hero” instead. But essentially, the true heart and soul of Spider-Man came from Lee and Ditko.

BF: What do you think of the way the current crop of superhero comics are edited?

JS: Different editors and different companies all employ different approaches, and that’s as it should be. Ultimately it’s subjective, and it’s great seeing new approaches. Sometimes, I fear, editors will take on certain high profile lines of comics, not so much because they care about those characters, but because they believe it’s a good career move. I can understand that, but sometimes you wind up with editors handling titles they don’t even like, and that’s unfortunate.

In general, super-hero comics seem to be getting better all the time. Right now both Marvel and DC are driving sales of these titles by pushing never-ending “Big Events.” It certainly seems to be creating excitement and shaking things up. I’m open to whatever works. 

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