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Comics, credit, chiefs & indians

2012 July 8

This is a Sunday morning random post, basically. Anyway, recently while browsing around I had a shufti at the online preview pages for Marvel’s Scarlet Spider #7. Mostly out of a combination of boredom and nostalgia (of which more in a moment). And I was just struck by the credits:

Credits for Scarlet Spider #7

Can you guess?

No, not the typography. That is what it is and, honestly, seems pretty much like what I would expect. What gets me is that you basically have two six-credit rows, and yet arguably the entire actual “creative team” is contained within the first row. Beneath that we have “editor,” “senior editor,” “editor in chief,” “chief creative officer,” “publisher” and “executive producer.” The creeping growth of these “second category” credits is something I’ve noticed before. But the literal black-and-white presentation of “supervisory and management” credits basically equalling creative credits in number (two artists share one credit for the cover) really leapt out at me. Is this just possibly the kind of situation for which the phrase “too many chiefs, not enough indians” was invented?

I decided to do some comparisons. Beginning with the Scarlet Spider’s first go-round nearly 20 years ago, when I was a still but a lad of 16 and buying up probably 2/3 of the eventual multi-year “Spider-Man Clone Saga” for which I still have something of a soft spot. While I’m unlikely ever to buy it, the fact that Marvel is now publishing a Scarlet Spider ongoing series amuses me; I always figured that eventually the Spider-Man clone would rise again, just like every character in comics, though without going into details as it turns out Marvel has both met and subverted that expectation. Anyway, a glimpse at the credits from back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth:

Image from Web of Spider-Man #118

Set the Wayback Machine for nearly EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO (oh god)

Now this is actually interesting, because here they credit five people for story and art and three editors; this is basically an artifact of Marvel’s “Five Families of New York” experiment. I have another Spider-Man comic from six years later in which three has dropped back to two, just editor and editor-in-chief.

In the past dozen years, the story/art credits have remained basically the same, basically just as they have since lettering and coloring* began to appear in credits which (I think) was already standard or nearly so by the beginning of the 1960s Marvel revival. Some time in the late 1990s, lettering credits began including both an individual and a studio, e.g. “VC’s Joe Caramagna” in the example at the beginning of this post. And for a while, a “color separations” credit joined the colorist, but that only lasted a few years I think. It also looks like credits for the cover artist(s) have become pretty standard of late. Otherwise, story/art credits still include the same basics of writing, pencilling, inking, lettering and coloring that they did going back to well before I was born.

Not so for the second category.

Once upon a time, when Marvel management was basically just Stan Lee and Martin Goodman and Stan was also the writer for basically everything, I don’t think there were any “featured credits” other than people directly involved in producing the story and art. But that was before my time. (Even before dinosaurs in other words, e.g. the early days of multi-cellular life.) Eventually Marvel hired other editors, and they began joining in. And then Marvel formally established the role of editor-in-chief (I think with Jim Shooter) and I believe he (they’ve all been men, so far) turned up in featured credits as well from the early 1980s. And there things more or less remained for about 20 years, aside from the “Five Families” experiment.

Assistant editors may have briefly crept in a time or two; I’m not sure if Marvel comics even have assistant editors any more though. (With the retirement of the traditional letter column there may not be much left for them to do.) Certainly if they are still around I imagine they have to be wondering why they aren’t getting up-front feature credit, because um, six other people are, most of whom seem like they’ve got to have about as much (i.e. as little) to do with a book’s actual contents as an assistant editor.

I mean honestly, I would be not only shocked but a little worried if more than one or two of the small platoon of supervisory personnel credited in Scarlet Spider #7 had any hands-on role in creating the book. If they were all involved then, in terms of the interior pages, they would actually outnumber the creative team. Chiefs, indians, indeed.

I’m assuming not, and so, I have to wonder as I have for some time now, why are these names all lumped together like this? It isn’t like Marvel’s editorial/management hierarchy just began expanding within the past dozen years, after all. Go back to the Scarlet Spider’s first appearance in 1994 and you’ll find credits for a President, a Publisher and a Group Vice President, Publishing. By 2000, second-category credits included a President, a Chief Executive Officer and a Chief Creative Officer (along with the Editor-in-Chief and Chairman Emiritus). Aside from the EiC (and the Chairman Emeritus, i.e. Stan Lee whose name still introduced every title page with “Stan Lee Presents” up until some time in the past decade) however they were all relegated to the fine print, what I believe is known as the indicia. What changed? Why are the names of Dan Buckley and Alan Fine featured so much more prominently than were those of Peter Cuneo or Avi Arad?

I have to presume that it’s just vanity, or more specifically a kind of vanity inflation or creep. Or maybe a ratchet effect, i.e. eventually someone** got a bee in his bonnet about why his name wasn’t featured up-front despite the fact that he’s above all those other people in the org chart, and pushed for it and, now of course, once you introduce something like that then for good or ill it’s unlikely ever to be rolled back. That’s all I can think of. I can’t see any other reason for it; I can’t imagine that any readers were particularly interested, or that the creative teams which actually produce the books one day said “hey, why aren’t all six of our bosses getting full credit alongside our names; they deserve at least as much credit as we do doggone it.”

I guess that might have happened but I imagine not. And, as will be obvious by this point, I think it’s rather silly; given the ongoing arguments about credit for characters’ original creators one could even begin to argue that credits featuring a bunch of overweening meta-managers while names like “Kirby” and “Ditko” are nowhere to be found (and even eternally-loyal and tirelessly-boosterish Stan Lee is exiled to the small print) is somewhat offensive, but today I think I’ll only dip my toe into that pool and now pull it back out before moving on.

Meanwhile, I do note that the indicia in Marvel’s comics seems to have become more crowded; even as more of the names also appear in featured credits they’ve been joined by others which don’t. So perhaps there’s some kind of law of conservation of indicia-only credit, whereby only so many names can be added to that space before another of them has to be “mirrored” on the title page credits. Probably not, but it’s an alternate theory which I note here in the interests of fairness.

On the other hand, if we’re being fair then I should probably also note that the most recent DC comic I purchased (The Shade #9) features just six names on the title page, all of them credited for producing story or art except for one plain-vanilla editor; no literal “chiefs” show up whatsoever. Hm.


* apparently my memories of seeing color credits in early Marvel stories were way off, and this didn’t become customary until maybe 1970, give or take a few years.

** it occurs to me that one Bill Jemas was very likely the first domino in this increasingly-mixed metaphor, for several reasons.

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