Poisoned Chalice Part 9: The Dawn of Eclipse

[Previous chapters: 1 to 8 – 1953 – 1985 Roundup]

Although Marvelman last appeared in Warrior #21 in August 1984, and the last issue of the magazine, #26, appeared in February 1985, this wasn’t the end of the Marvelman strip.

From the beginning Dez Skinn had wanted to sell the Warrior strips further afield, with his most likely targets being the European album/bande-dessinée markets, and the enormous potential audience of the North American comic book companies. Skinn made a number of trips to the USA, which he often reported on in the pages of Warrior, right up to the end. He was hoping to sell all of the strips in Warrior together, with both individual character titles and a number of anthology titles. These were to have names like Pressbutton, Challenger, Halls of Horror, Weird Heroes, and of course Marvelman, all of which he made up dummy copies of, with the assistance of Garry Leach.

Skinn felt it would be easier to place all the titles if he offered them as a package, and that if all the creators presented a united front through him, it would be to everyone’s benefit. As he said to George Khoury in Kimota! The Miracleman Companion,

The deal that I was putting together was like the newspaper syndicate deal or films being sold to TV. If you want this one you gotta take the rest. It’s a package. It’s not a pick and choose. It’s not an a la carte menu, it’s a set meal. You take the lot or you get nothing. I knew strips like Spiral Path – which I put into an anthology alongside Shandor and Bojeffries Saga – were not the stars of the show, but they deserved to get US syndication. Everybody can’t be the star, somebody has to be the warm-up, the back-up. Somebody has to have their name below the titles. So I figured it wouldn’t be fair because without those guys we wouldn’t have had an anthology, we would have had a skinny little pamphlet. These guys deserved syndication as well. So, the deal was all of them or none.

The most obvious prospective American purchasers for the titles were DC Comics and Marvel Comics, both based in New York. Skinn already knew both Dick Giordano, who was Editorial Director at DC at the time, and Jim Shooter, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, so he flew over to New York and met with both companies, where he hoped his connections might help him to persuade one or the other to take the titles. First of all he talked to DC, where Alan Moore was by now working on Saga of the Swamp Thing, to enormous popular and critical acclaim. Jenette Kahn, who was at the time President and Editor-in-Chief at DC Comics, liked the Pressbutton title, but wasn’t necessarily crazy about the others. According to Skinn, again in Kimota!, Dick Giordano said,

We’d love to do Pressbutton, Bruce Bristow thinks Zirk is phenomenal, but DC Comics publishing something called Marvelman; are you crazy? Do you know the problems we have with Captain Marvel, and you think we’re going to do Marvelman?! I couldn’t touch it. I love it but we couldn’t possibly do it.

Of course, if Skinn had succeeded in selling Marvelman to DC Comics they would have been in the bizarre and unique position of publishing comics featuring Superman, his copy Captain Marvel, and his copy Marvelman, the three of them having originated at three different publishers: Detective Comics and Fawcett Comics in America, and L Miller and Son in Britain.

Having failed to sell his package of titles to DC, Skinn went to talk to Jim Shooter at Marvel Comics. Again, Marvelman proved to be a sticking point, both for its title and its contents. Skinn said,

Shooter said, ‘We can’t do Marvelman,’ and I said, ‘But you ARE Marvel!’ He said, ‘Yeah, but the trouble is if his name is Marvelman, he represents the entire company. It would be like if this character was called DC Man, he’d represent DC. We couldn’t have a figurehead character who’s involved in a bizarre sexual triangle with the wife who’d rather sleep with the Greek God superhero than the forty-year-old pudgy secret identity and all this other stuff. Besides, he’s British, so how could he represent us?’ So he didn’t want it either.

Skinn also approached Mike Gold and Ken Levin at First Comics in Illinois, who were publishing popular independent titles like American Flagg, Grimjack, and Nexus, but this came to nothing as, by the time he spoke to them, there was a better prospect on the horizon. None the less, Ken Levin would appear in the Marvelman story again, quite a bit later on.

At this point that Skinn’s American agent, Mike Friedrich of Star*Reach, suggested trying Pacific Comics. Pacific was founded in San Diego, California, by two brothers, Bill and Steve Schanes. They’d started off as a mail-order comics retailer in 1971, opened their first comic shop in 1974, and had gone into comics publishing in 1981. They were the first comic company to offer creators royalty payments based on sales figures, and to use good quality paper, both of which innovations were later adopted by other publishers, including industry leaders DC and Marvel. They had successes with Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and Dave Stevens’s wonderful The Rocketeer, amongst other well regarded titles, and looked like an ideal home for Skinn’s British titles. Contracts were signed, and everything looked very hopeful. A few titles were even solicited to the trade, like Pressbutton, which would feature, obviously enough, Axel Pressbutton, and Challenger, which was to feature V for Vendetta. They also contracted to reprint the Marvelman stories that had already appeared in Warrior, but didn’t have plans to do anything with the title beyond that.

Challenger 1
Unfortunately, things were not going well for Pacific Comics in 1984, when this was all taking place. They had taken a bank loan of $300,000 in 1979 at a rate of 25% per annum, which they were still struggling to repay. Sales of comics were falling for everyone, including Pacific. Some of the creators and titles that had started at Pacific went to other comic companies, like Elric of Melniboné, based on work by Michael Moorcock, which First Comics acquired the rights to after Pacific had already done the groundwork to introduce the character to the marketplace. Mike Grell and his Starslayer titles followed Elric to First, and Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier’s brilliant Groo the Wanderer went over to Eclipse Comics (before later ending up at Marvel), all of which caused prospective creators to think twice about signing up with Pacific.

Although at one stage their distribution business had upwards of 800 wholesale accounts with comic shops, nearly 200 of these transferred their business to other distributors without paying for three months and more worth of stock received from Pacific. At the same time, there were lawsuits involving royalties owed for creator-owned properties they had published. All of this caused the company to find itself with an accumulated debt of around three quarters of a million dollars, and in August 1984, only three years after they began publishing comics, the Schanes brothers gave notice to their staff that Pacific Comics would cease to employ them from the following month. Marvelman was once more without a home, this time without a single page being printed.

It was at about this time that the legal letters from Marvel UK began to arrive, meaning that not only would Skinn need to find a new home for Marvelman, but would also have to find a new name for the character. Alan Moore in particular was not happy about this. He had already approached the powers that be at Marvel at the time, suggesting that they could change the title of the strip to Kimota!, in much the same way that DC had named their Captain Marvel title Shazam!, but they weren’t interested. As long as the character was to continue being called Marvelman, they were going to do everything they could to prevent it being published. He told me,

I was told that, when the new editor at Marvel took over, and he actually took over Jim Shooter’s desk, they apparently found a crumpled letter from Archie Goodwin to Jim Shooter saying, ‘Look, Alan Moore says that he’s not going to allow us to reproduce Captain Britain unless we allow him to call…’ – I’d suggested that we call the book Kimota! as a solution similar to the Shazam! solution – but no, I got some very stroppy letters back from people who once meant something at Marvel Comics, and were all-powerful and supreme, and are now probably working in Blockbusters. Archie Goodwin had said, ‘Alan Moore’s not going to be working for Marvel in any way, or letting us reprint Captain Britain, unless we ease up on the Marvelman deal,’ and he’d said, ‘I suggest that you go along with him.’ But Jim Shooter, who was another one of these comic book industry führers, whose will is not to be meddled with, he’d petulantly screwed this letter from Archie Goodwin up and thrown it in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

Moore wasn’t happy about what he saw as very highhanded and bullying behaviour by Marvel Comics, and wanted to resist any efforts to change the name, but realised that it was inevitable that it was going to happen. He told me,

I didn’t like it, because it was actually accepting Marvel Comics’ bullying, so of course I objected to changing it.

There were good reasons to object to the character being called something other than Marvelman. Part of the premise for Moore’s original Marvelman story was that the Miller-era Marvelman stories were a relevant part of the story, and were actually the plotlines for the fantasy scenarios that Dr Emil Gargunza fed into the minds of the sleeping superhumans. The fact that Marvelman was a direct descendant of the Miller-published Captain Marvel comics is acknowledged when Gargunza is telling the story of how he created Marvelman and his companions to Liz Moran in Warrior #20. He says,

The idea grew from my need to find a means of controlling these beings. I had decided to enslave their minds with dreams. With stolen alien science, I constructed a device that would shape their dreams and nightmares.

All that I needed was the appropriate fantasy… A pseudo-logical system that would explain their abilities to my over-men in a credible fashion. For six months I wrestled with the problem, to no avail.

One day, in the canteen I chanced upon a flimsy, black and white children’s paper, left there by some semi-literate engineer. …And then, Mrs. Moran, I laughed and laughed and laughed. …And went away and built my ‘Marvel Family': your husband first, then Dauntless, then Bates. Rebbeck and Lear came later, but they need not concern you.

One Day in the Canteen
The ‘flimsy, black and white children’s paper’ that Gargunza finds is shown in the panel, and is quite clearly a L Miller and Son Ltd copy of one of the Captain Marvel titles they published, with the Miller logo visible, and shows Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, and Mary Marvel on the cover. In the same way that Miller’s Marvelman comics were based on the Captain Marvel titles, Gargunza’s creations were based on Captain Marvel and his companions. The Miller-era Marvelman comics, in Moore’s story, are identical to Gargunza’s fantasy programming, and would later on be seen to be actual comics in Marvelman’s library, so to change the name of the character was to weaken the link between the two, and therefore to weaken the idea that Marvelman existed in the same world that we did. In the meantime, we would have to wait years to find out who Rebbeck and Lear were…

Almost inevitably, though, the new name suggested for Marvelman was Miracleman. After all, Moore had used the name before, both at the end of his initial pitch to Dez Skinn, where he said,

In the event of us not getting the rights to Marvelman then obviously I’ll have to rework all these notes. But possibly we could still do something featuring a pastiche character called Miracle Man who transformed himself with a cry of ‘Raelcun!’ or summat.

He had also used the name in the pages of the Captain Britain strip for Marvel UK, where he had a character called Miracleman make a brief appearance, as an obvious analogue of Marvelman.

Although the name Miracleman was put forward by Moore himself, he wasn’t necessarily happy about it. He told me:

I didn’t like it, I didn’t like submitting to bullying. When it became clear that that was the only way it was going to be – I think I’d suggested it as a fairly acceptable compromise, that if we were going to have to make one, then I suggested that that should be it.

None the less, the very fact that Moore had mused on the possibility of having to find an alternative name means that at some stage he must have contemplated the prospect of having to do so, and both Skinn and himself must have known there was always a strong possibility that Marvel Comics would not be happy with a character whose name was so similar to their own, regardless of who preceded who.

When Pacific Comics closed down their operations in September 1984 most of their titles were given a home by Eclipse Comics. This was originally called Eclipse Enterprises and, much like Pacific Comics, was founded by a pair of brothers. It was set up by Jan and Dean Mullaney in Staten Island, New York, in 1977, although it would change location a number of times over the next half a dozen years, moving across the United States until it eventually ended up in Guerneville, along the banks of the Russian River in California, a decision that would prove to have fateful consequences. In 1982 Dean Mullaney began a relationship with catherine yronwode (born Catherine Anna Manfredi on 12 May, 1947, but who had given herself a surname of her own devising, and now preferred her name to be used without capital letters), who then became Editor-in-Chief of Eclipse, and at whose suggestion the company relocated to her home state of California. She was already a well-known figure in comics due to her influential Fit to Print column for Alan Light’s Comics Buyer’s Guide. Like most of the other independent comic companies at the time, Eclipse was very strong on creators’ rights, as was its new Editor-in-Chief. For all these reasons, it seemed that Marvelman, now to be known as Miracleman, had finally found a safe haven in America. Contracts were signed in September 1984, and some – although not all – of the creators of the modern version of Marvelman were happy.

After a break of a year since Marvelman’s last appearance in Warrior #21 in August 1984, the first issue of Miracleman was published by Eclipse Comics with a cover date of August 1985, with the logos for both Eclipse Comics and Quality Communications featured prominently on the cover, and with Dez Skinn and catherine yronwode named as editors in the indicia. This was, as Skinn describes it on his website, ‘Conceived in Britain, coloured in Spain, printed in Finland and sold in America’.

That first issue reprinted the Alan Moore and Garry Leach strips from Warrior #1 to #3, and actually opens with the Marvelman Family and the Invaders from the Future story from Marvelman Special #1 in May 1984, which had originally been published by L Miller in Marvelman Family#1 in October 1956, although this had not appeared when the first stories were originally published in Warrior. (And, if Marvel Comics ever get around to reprinting this, it will be it the presumably unique position of having been published by four different comics companies, on two sides of the Atlantic.)This strip was drawn by Don Lawrence, and probably written by him as well, although it is stated as being copyright to Mick Anglo in the indicia in Miracleman #1. This issue also contained a page of eight panels, consecutively tighter close-ups on the head of Marvelman from the last page of the Invaders story, finally ending up with a completely black frame. This is accompanied by this text:

Behold, I teach you the Superman: he is this lightning, he is this madness!
-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

MM Nietzsche Page
What is interesting about this is that this is exactly the same quote – down to the inclusion of Nietzsche’s middle name, and the layout of the punctuation – that is to be found at the start of Robert Mayer’s Superfolks, leading to a lot of speculation that this was Moore giving a tip of the hat to Mayer’s book, which actually seems unlikely to me. It seems more likely that this quote, along with the Miller-era Marvelman story preceding it, were put there by Eclipse’s editorial people, probably meaning cat yronwode, to try to put some sort of context to the story that followed, and to do some very heavy-handed foreshadowing of what was to come. Moore himself, on the other hand, had enough belief in his own storytelling abilities to let the content speak for itself, and may have had no idea that the quote was going to appear until he saw it in print. [There’s a more detailed investigation into all of this here.]

Subsequent issues of Miracleman continued to reprint the mostly eight-page chapters of the story as they had originally appeared in Warrior, with the exception of very obvious lettering corrections where the word Marvelman had been replaced by Miracleman, and the addition of truly crude and awful colouring, credited from issue #2 to Ron Courtney. Issue #1 also reprinted Dez Skinn’s article on the history of Marvelman, which had originally appeared in Warrior #1, now slightly renamed to Miracleman alias Marvelman: Mightiest Man in the Universe.

Issue #2 contained a new two-page article by Alan Moore called M*****man: Full Story and Pics, where he gave a potted history of the character, and of his involvement with it. This is probably the first time he recounts the story of how he ‘came across an old and outdated Marvelman hard-cover annual in the racks of a bookstall on the windswept sea-front at Great Yarmouth’ and how this led to him imagining ‘the eternally youthful and exuberant hero as a middle-aged man, trudging the streets and trying fruitlessly to remember his magic word’. He also explains why the character had to have his name changed,

The strip seemed to be fairly well received, at least critically speaking, and managed to harvest a reasonable number of Eagle Awards during its stint in Warrior. The only real problems that have arisen have been those connected with exporting the title to America under the Eclipse banner. Despite the fact that ‘Marvelman’ has been a copyrighted character in England since 1954, it was feared that a certain major American comic company (not DC) might take exception to a comic entitled Marvelman being published upon its own turf.

Despite the fact that the company concerned hadn’t adopted their name until the very late sixties, it was decided that corporate clout and legal muscle would be more likely to decide the issue than such comparative trivialities as the concepts of right and wrong. Thus, the comic that you hold in your hand is entitled Miracleman. For all practical intents and purposes, the character that you read about in these pages is called Miracleman, has always been called Miracleman and always will be called Miracleman unless some jumped-up Johnny-come-lately outfit called Miracle Comics emerges in the early 1990s and forces us to change it to Mackerelman.

Hopefully, however, this little explanatory ramble might help you newer readers to bear the character’s previous history in mind as you read about his latest incarnation in the months to come. Try to remember two things: Firstly, he may be the bastard offspring of The Big Red Cheese, but he has Royal blue blood coursing through his veins.

Secondly, he isn’t really called Miracleman at all.

Issue #2 was comprised of strips that had been published in Warrior from #5 to #8, starting with Garry Leach’s last solo strip, then moving on to the two episodes that Alan Davis pencilled and Leach inked, and ending up with Davis’s first solo strip. However, despite Eclipse’s and catherine yronwode’s avowed espousal of creators’ rights, they did not have Alan Davis’s permission to reproduce his work, as is made clear in this letter from Dez Skinn to Moore and others:

Re: MARVELMAN/MIRACLEMAN VISUAL COPYRIGHT

Alan Davis of [address removed], Corby has been in contact with me as his agent for all of his copyright visual properties in connection with the MARVELMAN/MIRACLEMAN comic strip.

He wishes me to make clear to all relevant parties that he is withholding his copyrights and refuses to allow the reprinting of the serialised comic strip art known as “MARVELMAN Book 2” by any publisher whatsoever.

He also instructs me to inform all relevant parties that he has given no permission whatsoever for any form of subcontracting of his copyright designs to any other artists.

Said copyright visuals include the following:

EVELYN CREAM, THE ZARATHUSTRA BUNKER, SIR DENNIS ARCHER, MARVELDOG

this refusal to release his copyrights being made because of lost earnings over the last fiscal year, primarily attributable to the lack of syndication of the CAPTAIN BRITAIN comic strip.

Garry Leach has also contacted me with regard to his visual copyrights on the MARVELMAN /MIRACLEMAN comic strip. While he has approved the Eclipse/European publishing of his MARVELMAN work, neither has he been consulted concerning the subcontracting of his visual copyrights to artists other than Alan Davis in an on-going way, and the single story right already used by Steve Dillon, Paul Neary and John Ridgeway.

Said copyright visuals including: THE MARVELMAN COSTUME, JOHNNY BATES, LIZ MORAN, MIKE MORAN, logos and visual effects such as the ‘Tinkerbell’ effect.

For my own part, having initially sub-contracted the original names to you in 1982, I would appreciate being informed of your intentions in the future for my own consideration of approval.

Yours sincerely,
Dez Skinn

cc: ALAN DAVIS, GARRY LEACH, MIKE FRIEDRICH, DEAN MULLANEY.

Letter to AM re Visual Copyrights 1985 Amended re Addresses
Although Alan Moore and Alan Davis hadn’t fallen out over Moore’s ceasing to work on Captain Britain, they did finally fall out over Moore refusing permission for that work to be reprinted for the American market. There are various different reasons given for this. Eclipse’s catherine yronwode says it was because he was protesting against Marvel’s work-made-for-hire contracts. Moore himself says it was because Marvel had objected so strongly to the name Marvelman being used for the character. In an old interview Alan Davis said,

It was while I was working with Jamie [Delano] that he told me about Alan being snubbed by Jim Shooter and, in retaliation, denying Marvel permission to reprint Captain Britain – nothing to do with the Marvelman name. I confronted Alan, told him to withdraw his objection to the Captain Britain reprints or I would deny Eclipse my Marvelman rights. Which I eventually did! Eclipse, Dez and Alan all ignored my protests/refusals and my work was stolen.

I asked him about this when I interviewed him recently. Here is a portion of that interview:

PÓM: When Eclipse reprinted your work on Marvelman, they did so without your permission, I believe?

AD: Correct. As explained above.

PÓM: Did you ever have any sort of contract or arrangement with Eclipse, and did you ever receive any payment from them for that work?

AD: No! and No!

PÓM: The same question goes for the collected editions of Miracleman that Eclipse did. Did you give your permission for those, and did you receive any payment for them?

AD: No! The only payment offered by Eclipse was as an attempt to get my agreement to allow Titan to publish a Miracleman collection in the UK. Which I blocked!

None the less Eclipse, despite their apparent commitment to creators’ rights, continued to publish issues of Miracleman containing Alan Davis’s artwork in spite of his objections, and even featured his name, along with Moore’s, on the front covers. In an article in Speakeasy #57 (Acme Press, 1985), catherine yronwode is quoted as saying,

Dez Skinn signed a contract with Eclipse allowing us to reprint material from Warrior, and we intend to reprint that material. If Alan Davis granted Dez Skinn the power to make that contract, and has since changed his mind, that is unfortunate for Alan but he is legally bound to that contract. If Dez Skinn represented himself to Eclipse as having the power to represent Alan Davis when in fact he did not, that is a matter for Alan Davis to settle with Dez Skinn. In any event Eclipse will be reprinting the material.

By Miracleman #3 Eclipse had added the line America’s #1 Superhero! to the masthead. They had also started getting big-name comics artists of the time to produce cover illustrations for them after the first two covers by Garry Leach, with people like Howard Chaykin on #3, Jim Starlin on #4, Timothy Truman on #6, and Paul Gulacy on #7, amongst a few others. There was also a rumour that Frank Miller was to draw a cover, but in the end this came to nothing.

Issue #6, cover-dated February 1986, marked the last of the reprint material from Warrior, but this wasn’t the end of Eclipse’s run on the title. Whereas Pacific Comics had only intended to reprint the stories that had appeared in Warrior, Eclipse had more ambitious plans.

To be continued…

Pádraig Ó Méalóid continues to be a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher.