Just a dozen years ago, if you asked anyone in the comic book industry who THE Nicest Man in Comics was, they'd reply to a man (and woman): "Archie Goodwin!"
I was lucky enough to spend time with Archie in the late 80's when I worked at Marvel UK's offices in London as group editor of the Boys' Adventure titles. Traditionally in Britain comics (NOT comic BOOKS) are magazine sized and published every week rather than every month. The titles under my supervision included TRANSFORMERS, ACTION FORCE (GI JOE to you Yanks) ZOIDS, THUNDERCATS and THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS... licensed titles that could command sales of 40,000 copies a week and up.
For years, Marvel UK editors dreamed of creating monthly titles in the style and format of our US counterparts, and most of those hopes centered around CAPTAIN BRITAIN, a character originally created by Marvel editors and writers in New York which later went on to enjoy acclaim and healthy sales under the guidance of two of Britain's Best Comic Creators -- Alan Moore and Alan Davis. However, the monthly, black and white CAPTAIN BRITAIN magazine which ran for 14 issues without Alan Moore, failed at British newsstands, and my predecessor, editor Ian Rimmer, was informed that a proposed colour monthly US format CAPTAIN BRITAIN would not fly.
Nevertheless management agreed to consider new titles originated by British creators, and Ian was encouraged in this endeavour by our good friend Tom DeFalco from Marvel's editorial headquarters in Manhattan, stationed with us for two or three months in 1987. But before Ian could get as far as commissioning material, his frustrations with the management of Marvel UK -- frustrations all editors encountered at Marvel from time to time -- inspired him to move on.
So it was left to me to carry the torch and convince Marvel management that Marvel UK should be generating original material. I was aided and abetted by my long time colleague Simon Furman who was the writer of TRANSFORMERS when I got my first TRANSFORMERS lettering assignment at Marvel UK in 1985, and who continues to write TRANSFORMERS to this day! Simon, working with ace TRANSFORMERS artist Geoff Senior, pitched a Science Fiction ROLLERBALL-meets-JUDGE DREDD series by the name of DRAGON'S TEETH which, for various legal reasons we don't need to go into here, eventually hit newsstands as DRAGON'S CLAWS.
We had high hopes for the book, which we believed would appeal not only to regular readers of our weekly TRANSFORMERS comics, but also 2000AD readers in Britain and super-hero fans in America. For the most part, we were wrong, and that might very well have been the beginning and the end of Marvel UK's line of US style monthlies...
ENTER: ARCHIE GOODWIN
Shortly after we had started work on DRAGON'S TEETH, management had heard word that Marvel US's creator owned imprint, EPIC COMICS, was in negotiations to publish two books which had recently been published in England by our competitor, IPC. Those two books were THE NEW STATESMEN by John Smith and Jim Baikie, and THIRD WORLD WAR by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra. Both had been serialized in IPC's 2000AD spinoff title, CRISIS. CRISIS was the product of demands by 2000AD writers and artists for intellectual properties and characters they could create and own. IPC had negotiated the rights to publish the new titles in CRISIS in the UK and EPIC had approached the creators for the rights to publish them in the US. Management at Marvel UK didn't like this cross-pollination with our competitor and, being somewhat creatively short-sighted at the time, neither did I... So we appealed to then Marvel president Jim Galton to intercede and deny EPIC COMICS the right to publish the two books. Galton agreed... on ONE condition. Marvel UK would have to produce two titles to take their place.
Before management could find a way of avoiding complying with Galton's request, I approached Simon Furman about pitching DEATH'S HEAD, (a freelance peacekeeping agent -- don't call him a Bounty Hunter -- Simon had created as a supporting character in TRANSFORMERS) as a monthly series and John Carnell and Andy Lanning about pitching THE SLEEZE BROTHERS.
As editor of THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, I had been working closely with John and Andy for months and from time to time they would entertain us with stories of two characters they'd created by the names of El'Ape and Deadbeat Sleeze. THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS was Marvel's biggest selling title at the time and John and Andy were the two most prolific and talented creators on the book. Management liked them and gave me the thumbs up.
At some point in this timeline, management also decided it would be a good idea for me to promote DRAGON'S CLAWS at a popular comic convention in the US... SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON (perhaps you've heard of it?). I had already spent time in New York in November 1987 after Tom DeFalco had been promoted to editor in chief. Tom had introduced me to editor Greg Wright (the same Gregory Wright who has recoloured SLEEZE for this very publication) as well as Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Walt & Weezie Simonson, Chris Claremont... and Archie Goodwin.
So on my way to California I stopped by Marvel's New York offices to say "Hi" to my American counterparts. Where was the harm in that? I saw Archie in the EPIC offices and stepped in to have a chat. Archie, who was renowned for his good humour and general bonhomie was standoffish, you might even say he was pissedoffish. Little did I know until then that Archie was as famous for his Wrath as he was for his Mirth. Somehow the subject of the CRISIS titles came up. Steam started to come out of Archie's ears and his face reddened. Nervously I protested that he must understand why we had to object to Marvel US's publication of Marvel UK's competitors titles, and I heard myself say; "If we reprinted DC Comics in England, you'd probably feel the same way!" What an idiot. Archie fixed me with a steely eye and dismissed my protest with a simple, matter of fact "No, I wouldn't."
In that second I realized how much broader Archie's view of the comic book industry was than my own and I quickly muttered some lame excuses and left. As I did so I felt sure that Archie would never talk to me again... but Archie was much more magnanimous than me in that regard as well.
A few short weeks later, Archie was in London for the 1988 UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) and to my delight and surprise, stepped into my office at the old Marvel UK location in Arundel House to say "Hello." If there had been a chip on his shoulder, Archie had put salt on it and eaten it... he asked after the projects I was working on and I eagerly showed him artwork for THE SLEEZE BROTHERS and talked to him about MY frustrations with Marvel management. At this point in the 80's, comic creators on both sides of the Atlantic were looking for better treatment and better deals. CRISIS was offering creators ownership of their creations and I felt that Marvel UK should be offering that kind of deal too. WATCHMEN had recently been a critical and financial success and, as Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins had all worked for Marvel UK in the early 80's, I argued that, had we treated them better, we might have been in a position to publish a hit like WATCHMEN.
UKCAC 1988: ME: "On my far right, Archie Goodwin, editor in chief, EPIC Comics, next to him, Andy Lanning, artist on THE SLEEZE BROTHERS, next to him, Simon Furman, writer of DRAGON'S CLAWS and DEATH'S HEAD... and I'm Richard Starkings--" ARCHIE: "Because SOMEONE has to be!", originally uploaded by richstarkings.
Archie was impressed by THE SLEEZE BROTHERS and offered to go to bat with management on our behalf. I was dumbfounded -- THE SLEEZE BROTHERS would not have found itself a niche had we not forced Archie to nix the two CRISIS books, yet now, just a short time later, he was offering to help us establish SLEEZE as the very first (sadly, also the last) EPIC UK title. That was Archie's sublime talent; he could change the nature and quality of a book seemingly just by looking at it, and he affected the way you behaved as an editor just by walking through your office. Archie spoke with management, management approved THE SLEEZE BROTHERS as an EPIC title. It was as simple as that! Archie also put me in touch with MARSHAL LAW co-creator Kevin O'Neill, who supplied me with an EPIC contract to use as a model for THE SLEEZE BROTHERS.
And here we are, Twenty Years Later. Marvel UK (now Panini UK) have recently reprinted DRAGON'S CLAWS and DEATH'S HEAD in trade paperback editions. And while it's good to see them back in print, it's a little disappointing to see that these new editions have been printed from scans of the original comics. Presumably the original film has been lost or destroyed and the original artwork was dispersed amongst collectors a long time ago.
Thanks to Archie Goodwin, THE SLEEZE BROTHERS has not suffered the same fate. The publication rights reverted to John and Andy in the mid-90's and are now governed by John and myself under the auspices of FOOF PRODUCTIONS, a business founded by John and Andy Banks. Andy Lanning has tracked down the original artwork and we are digitally remastering the book from page one on -- New Words, New Colours, New Letters. This is NOT your father's Oldsmobile!
In the not too distant future THE SLEEZE BROTHERS will be making its way onto your mobile phones, the internet and your television screen... check out the animated short SLEEZE BROTHERS featurette posted above.
Sadly Archie passed away in 1998 after a ten year battle with cancer, but he remains an inspiration to thousands of creators in the comic book industry to this day. Archie taught me more about creator rights by his example than anyone before or since. There would be no ELEPHANTMEN without THE SLEEZE BROTHERS and no SLEEZE BROTHERS without Archie Goodwin.
So, thanks, Archie, you still are THE Nicest Man in Comics. Period.