In the late 1970’s, when I was taking my first, very awkward, steps as a comic book writer—until then I’d been making my living, such as it was, playing in rock and roll bands and dabbling in music journalism—I had a very simple rule that served me well: The editor is always right. I was hungry to work and the men and women sitting behind the desks, handing out the assignments, held the keys to the kingdom I so desperately wanted to enter. More important: they had knowledge and experience that they were willing to share.
Over the years young writers have occasionally come to me for guidance and some of them, when offered advice, become instantly defensive, wasting their time and mine by explaining exactly why they don’t need to take that advice, why their stories are just fine, thank you, and shouldn’t be altered. “Well, if it’s just fine,” I’ve often wondered, “what are you coming to me for?” I never saw things that way. I wanted to learn, I wanted to grow as a writer and soak in all that wisdom my editors had amassed. If one of them said, “No more than thirty-five words per panel, no more than 5.5 panels per page,” well, then, I went home and counted every single word, averaged out my panels. If I was told that my dialogue was flat, I reworked it. If the brilliant (in my own mind, at least) sequence I labored over all night didn’t work, I cut it.
If that series was all Len had done, his place in Comic Book Heaven would be secure, but he was also the guy who co-created Wolverine, one of the most successful, and popular, characters in the medium’s history... resurrected and revitalized the X-Men franchise...had memorable runs on everything from Justice League to Hulk, Batman to Spider-Man...and, oh, yes, was editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics along the way. Len could do slam-bang superhero adventure with the best of them, but the hallmark of a Wein story wasn’t the action, it was that aforementioned beating heart. All of Len’s best work was, and remains (for he’s as vital a writer now as he ever was), marked by a deep humanity and a profound compassion.
In a very short time, Len became not just my editor, but my friend and first real mentor in the comic book business. He saw a spark of something special in my stories and, through his patient guidance, helped fan that spark into a flame. There I was, an insecure, working class kid from Brooklyn, uncertain of my own talent, wondering if I could carve a career for myself in this wonderful, and hugely peculiar, business—and there was The Legendary Len Wein providing the answer: “If you want it, you absolutely can.”
You can’t put a price on that.
©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis