Interview With Bob Budiansky
(January 2000)

Bob Budiansky edited several titles for Marvel, including Daredevil, and here he talks about his work with Denny O'Neil, William Johnson and David Mazzucchelli in the early 200's of volume 1.

Kuljit Mithra: Can you briefly explain how you got started at Marvel? Was this a definite career path for you, or did you accidentally stumble upon it?

Bob Budiansky: I was studying for a Civil Engineering degree in college, which is hardly a path to a career in comic books. Simultaneously, I was providing illustrations for the student newspaper. Drawing was always a hobby of mine, chiefly inspired by my love of comic books as a kid. Ultimately, I became the Graphic Arts Editor of the newspaper. The newspaper's Arts Editor, Jay Boyar (now a film critic in Orlando, FL) took a job at Marvel when he graduated. After a year, he was ready to leave, and asked if I'd be interested in replacing him, since he knew of my drawing ability and interest in comics (he had already invited me to the office a couple of times, and I had managed to sell a couple of pinup illustrations to Marvel). So I interviewed for his job and got it back in May, 1976- Editorial Assistant, British Department, Marvel Comics. This was before Marvel opened an editorial office in England. My first boss was Larry Lieber, Stan Lee's brother. At this point, I already had my B.S. in Civil Engineering, and I dropped out of a grad school program in Transportation Engineering to take the job. I figured comics would be more fun than engineering. I never went into engineering, so I'll never know if my assumption was true. But overall, working at Marvel turned out to be a pretty enjoyable experience, so I have no regrets about the choice I made.

Mithra: Aside from Daredevil, what titles did you edit?

Budiansky: When I became a full editor, in December '82, I think, I soon was editing these regular monthly titles: Daredevil, Fantastic Four and The Thing. I may be forgetting one or two others. I only edited regular monthlies for a little over a year. In March '84 I became Special Projects Editor, and edited a whole bunch of movie (Dune, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Labyrinth, Willow, Howard the Duck, Nightmare on Elm Street, among others), toy (Transformers, Visionaries, Air Raiders, among others) and other product tie-ins, custom comic books, and limited series (Jack Of Hearts, Secret Wars II, Hercules II, Deathlok, among others). I also edited Psi-Force in Marvel's short-lived New Universe experiment. I also art directed Marvel's retail poster program for about 10 years and was creative director for the first 11 Marvel Trading Card sets. And I oversaw lots of other odds and ends related to Marvel Licensing, like reviewing the art in Toy Biz's initial line of Marvel action figures. Whew! Eventually, around October '94, I think, I was made editor-in-chief of the Spider-Man line of Marvel comics. So, for about 15 months, I oversaw all things Spider-Man and related stuff, like Venom, New Warriors and a few other titles I can't remember.

Mithra: You edited Daredevil in the early 200's, taking over from Linda Grant. Was this basically an assignment that you were told to take, or did you want to edit DD?

Budiansky: As a brand new editor, I was basically given the titles I was editing by the editor-in-chief at the time, Jim Shooter. But Daredevil was always a favourite of mine, so I was happy to get the assignment.

Mithra: Your first issue was 201, with Denny O'Neil and William Johnson. It was a story with the Black Widow. Do you know what Johnson is doing these days? I don't think I heard of any other work of his after DD.

Budiansky: I have no idea what William Johnson is doing these days. I can tell you that when I worked with him my impression was he was a very nice guy with a lot of talent. But, although he meant well, he had a very difficult time meeting the demands of a monthly book. He basically begged me to take him off the title, which I eventually did, because he couldn't meet the deadlines.

Mithra: Whose idea was it to change the Black Widow's costume?

Budiansky: Don't know. If it happened while I was editor, I don't remember the circumstances.

Mithra: For 202, it was Assistant Editor's Month. Where exactly did all the editors at Marvel go, and what did they do for that month?

Budiansky: There was a week or two in '83 when all the full Marvel editors went to the San Diego Convention and also met with Stan Lee, who had offices in Los Angeles. So Jim Shooter's idea was to have the comics that coincided with that month be taken over by the assistant editors, at least to the fans' eyes. And all sorts of wacky things were supposed to happen in those comics as a result of the assistants editing them. But it was really up to each individual editor to determine how far his or her books would stray from their status quos. I don't even remember what we did in Daredevil that month, if anything.
[Note: There was a humourous back-up story by Mike Carlin in that issue -- Kuljit]

Mithra: What did you think of O'Neil's stories featuring the Gael and Micah Synn?

Budiansky: Hmm. I don't have a clear memory of those stories. My impression today is that they weren't among my favorite O'Neil Daredevil stories, but I couldn't give you specifics as to why I felt that way.

Mithra: What kind of story do you think works for DD? What do you think of DD in general?

Budiansky: I don't read Daredevil currently, so I have no opinion. If you asked me this question 17 years ago, when I was editing it, I could have given you an answer then. But that answer would be irrelevant today.

Mithra: I believe O'Neil had some heart surgery, and so there was a two month break where Harlan Ellison and Arthur Byron Cover wrote DD. Can you describe how that came about and how it was to work with them?

Budiansky: Denny was friends with Harlan, and asked Harlan to take over for him while he was recovering. Arthur was an associate of Harlan's. I enjoyed working with Harlan and Arthur. I remember Harlan initially proposed this plot for Daredevil that I shot down. It was an interesting story, but it had very little to do with the character of Daredevil. At the time, I found it interesting that even an accomplished writer like Harlan could run into the same problems as beginning writers when it came to writing a Marvel character for the first time: they would come up with a story, but forget who they were writing about. A good Marvel story (or for that matter, a good story anywhere) always begins with the character. After talking this over with Harlan, he agreed with me and submitted a different story, the one we eventually printed, which was a big improvement over the first plot. To the best of my recollection, Arthur Byron Cover basically fleshed out the plot, especially for the second issue, and dialogued most of the two stories.

Mithra: With William Johnson's departure from the comic, David Mazzucchelli started his long stint on DD during your editing run. Can you go into how he got the penciling job on DD?

Budiansky: I believe I spotted David's artwork in a fill-in Star Wars comic and was impressed by it. His editor at the time, Louise Jones (now Louise Simonson), had a lot of good things to say about him. So, with the aforementioned deadline problems of William Johnson weighing on me, I made the switch to David Mazzucchelli. I loved the work he did for me on Daredevil. Right from the beginning, he was asking me if he could ink his own pencils. I told him as soon as he could catch up on the Daredevil schedule, I would let him do that. He never did catch up while I was editor of the book, so he didn't ink any of the stories he did for me (at least I don't think he did). I believe as soon as Ralph Macchio succeeded me as editor, he let David ink his own pencils. Right then I realized I had made a mistake; I should have let David ink his own work right from the start, since I thought the work he produced for Ralph looked magnificent. David was a terrific guy to work with.

Mithra: What did you think of his early work, and eventually his work with Frank Miller? At the beginning of his career, did you think he would be as good as he became?

Budiansky: In the first issue he drew for me, I remember marveling at some of the little character touches that David slipped so naturally into his artwork. A smile on a face, the bend of a wrist... little things like that. He drew a lot more than super heroes, he drew flesh-and-blood people, which, to this day, I think very few comic book pencilers are capable of doing. He gave the characters personality and humanity. At that time, I didn't know if I thought he would become as good as he eventually did, but I remember thinking to myself that I really picked a winner with this guy. Like everyone else who's read it, I think his work with Frank Miller was great. Nuff said!

Mithra: What do you think was the biggest difference between the comics industry in the 80's and the industry in the 90's?

Budiansky: The comic book industry was a growing industry in the 80's, which peaked in the early 90's. As we move into the new millennium, it's a shrinking industry. That is the BIG difference. Its dwindling presence in the marketplace today discourages innovation, drives away talent, and limits the patience publishers have when trying out new products. The audience for comics has shrunk tremendously and seems to be very unforgiving; if publishers put out something unfamiliar, the readers are more likely to reject it than ever before. Whereas the industry's past successes stemmed mostly from characters created exclusively for comic books, I think most future successes, if there are any, will come from tie-ins to products from other media. The metaphor I use to describe the comic book industry of the 90's is that it is like radio when television came along. Most of the story- and character-based programming on radio died out or migrated to tv. As long as it remains on paper in the format it is in now, comic books are an old technology unsuccessfully competing against an assortment of new, computer-based technologies.

Mithra: And finally, what's your life like now that you are working in a different industry?

Budiansky: At Marvel, I worked in at a company that was a business, but rarely seemed like a business, at least to me. I came to work every day looking to create something, or help somebody else create something, that we liked and thought our audience would like. The dollars and cents of any potential profit seemed secondary to the act of creation. We knew if what we did was good, the business side of Marvel would take care of itself. Until my last couple of years at Marvel, that's how it worked. It was a very creative, invigorating experience. For the most part, it was a lot of fun. My job responsibilities where I work now, at Scholastic, the children's book publisher, are quite different than those I had at Marvel. Im still in a creative job (Im a creative director), but I'm very aware every moment about the business aspects of everything I do. Creativity is clearly a means to a profit-driven end (not that it wasn't at Marvel; I just didnt usually have to think of it that way). Everything I do is shaped by market research, focus groups, statistical analyses and the like. The entire purpose of almost everything I work on is to sell a product, or help convince someone to buy a product. We sold products at Marvel, obviously, but the work I was involved in focused on the product's creation, not the selling of it. So although the work I do now can be interesting, it feels a lot more like work. I'm being paid to produce something that will enhance the company's bottom line. At Marvel, I was being paid to spill my imagination on a piece of paper. The fact that that piece of paper might then enhance Marvel's bottom line was almost an afterthought.

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(c) Kuljit Mithra 2000
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
http://www.manwithoutfear.com
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