“Please change the Fuck You teeth to platinum” was written on a Post-it, affixed to a print out of the smiling Fuck You-engraved grill of a gangster, and left on my desk. It was my first editorial note, on my very first day as a Graphic Designer and Production Artist.
Excelsior true believers! I was working in the Marvel Comics bullpen.
The famous Marvel Comics Bullpen was not filled with artists, editors and letterers as Stan Lee described it (editors had offices and the rest worked from home); instead it housed the Production team. We put the comics together, designed the letters and recap pages and did all the correction, art recoloring and text before sending it on to the printer. All in our unofficial uniforms of comic book T-shirts and jeans, surrounded by toys and free comics.
I worked at Marvel for close to two years, starting in 2006. I was a self-taught graphic designer and my time at Marvel became my masters program. It was incredibly hard work at a hectic pace; I personally put out 35 titles a month, 5-8 titles a week.
It took me three months to get the job. I was interviewed by 4 people and came in to work for an hour as part of my interview. At 25, aside from the head editors and managers, I was one of the oldest people on staff. I’ve always been incredibly grateful to have made my start there.
You may be surprised to hear that some of the most attractive, fit, funny people I’ve ever met worked at Marvel Comics. The first time I took a friend to my office, she whispered to me, “Why is everyone here so hot?” There was also a fairly large gay community, who jokingly referred to themselves as the “White Queens” (The Marvel character Emma Frost, also goes by the name The White Queen).
So there I was, in the Marvel Bullpen.
Picture my direct boss throwing baskets into his Spiderman hoop while he waits for the weekly list of books, edits back from the office, proofs, etc. He’s wearing a Green Lantern T-shirt and leading a discussion on which Marvel movies were the best and which ones should be made while I’m doing retouching on a soon-to-be published page of Ms. Marvel.
The art is zoomed in on my computer screen, filled with her breasts, which I’m retouching to look smaller. Yes, you heard me correctly -- when the art first came to me, her boobs were EVEN BIGGER.
Then an editor comes over holding a printout of the latest Amazing Spiderman that’s set to go to press at the end of the week. The recap page looks great, but there’s obscene art in the background of several panels. Wall graffiti, neon signs, and naked wall calendars are the biggest culprits.
In fact, both the editor and I have to be super vigilant because obscene art is being snuck into the backgrounds of every comic at all times. It’s part of my job to make the “Boobs Bar” sign look like “Barb’s” and to draw teeny tiny bikini’s onto Peter Parker’s wall calendars.
Now, an e-mail has hit my inbox that the comic book bundles are ready, so we all go down to the mailroom to pick up my absolute favorite perk, a stack of everything that Marvel has published that week (except trade paperbacks, which only the head editors get). If you are a head editor, you also get a stack of everything that DC has printed.
We gripe to each other about how a couple years ago (before my time) EVERYONE got the DC bundle, too, and all the trade paperbacks. Then back upstairs to pick up my latest print out of X-Factor or DareDevil to bring to the editor (fresh with added art, or edits, or ads) and to make a stop at the discard bin.
Ah, yes, the glorious wonderful discard bin where everyone throws the comics they don’t want to read or have already read. Almost every employee can be found rooting through it for the newest from the DC bundle: DMZ, ExMachina or looking for extra copies of something they made (I need three issues, that cover I put together looks hot!).
On a really good day, I can glance to my left while trying to finish off my collection of Y the Last Man and see that Mark Texeira has once again pushed some interns aside and has his art board spread out, furiously inking Ghost Rider Pages that are due today!
He’ll be there for hours, and I’ll keep looking over his shoulder, willing myself to say hi and mention that we both went to the High School of Art and Design (but I never do). I then drop off my work in one of the editorial offices, being careful not to interrupt the editor who appears to be talking to Chris Claremont (seated at his desk wearing a guest pass).
During my time at Marvel Comics, we shared half our floor with ToyBiz, which was the division that made all of the Marvel Select’s action figures. In order to get to the restrooms, you would have to walk through their cubicles, completely covered in action figures in various levels of creation, as well as giant artist’s pre-scultps.
Some of the toys on desks were official like the millions of highly detailed Ghost Rider sculptures, which were examples of toys to be made for the upcoming movie. Others were private jokes, like a basket of toy baby limbs on my friend’s desk.
Often the action figures were liberated onto our side of the office when someone cleaned off their desk, or threw away test sculpts and finished figures from a year or two ago.
I’d be sitting in my cubicle, dutifully working on the new Astonishing X-Men cover, having been promoted to do design and layout on all the X-Men books and Marvel Adventures books. I’m trying to incorporate the Astonishing X-Men logo into the cover's artwork, while geeking out over the fact that Joss Whedon is writing the issue, and I’m working on his covers so now I’m working WITH Joss Whedon.
The team and I are debating what the next Marvel Licensed product should be. I imagine the Hulk Trash compactor, which is just two hulk fists that smash into your trash while you hear “Hulk Smash!” A cry of “FREE TOYS!!” echoes through the aisles, interrupting my product pitch, and the entire Marvel bullpen empties out, running to root through a trashcan filled with castaway toys. (I’m noticing that half my descriptions feature me and my co-workers rooting through bins for free castaways).
I’ve since gone on to work in publishing and advertising, but I can say that Marvel prepared me for everything that I’ve had to do since. And nothing has compared to the workload of multiple weekly press publications. I’ve always been aware of how lucky I was to get that job, and how much it has taught me along the way. But mostly, I’ve been proud to say that I worked with Spiderman (and If I ever have kids, that’s exactly what I’m going to tell them!).
Let’s end on this: An intern is sitting at my desk. It’s his first day and he’s been allowed to sit there because the employee (me) is out sick. He hears a weird shuffling noise and then notices the cubicle walls shaking. Coming over the wall is an arm clad, in...is it? Could it be?
A 6-foot-tall man dressed in a Spiderman costume jumps into the aisle next to him. They make eye contact for a second before Spiderman bolts.
My friend in ToyBiz threw on a child’s Spiderman costume that he was supposed to be checking for accuracy and then climbed into my cubicle to surprise me, except I was out sick that day. I love that he surprised the intern instead of me, because that kid went home with this as his very first impression of what it was like to work at Marvel Comics, and thought, “Wow, this place is crazy! This stuff must go on EVERY DAY!”
Share your geekery with Kate on twitter: @shewasthenazz.