Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview former Marvel Executive Editor and Epic Imprint Editor in Chief, Writer, Artist & Professor Carl Potts in part 2 of a 2 parter, where we discuss his later work at Marvel including building up the Punisher from a side character into his own character, with the Punisher Mini Series with Mike Zeck, creating the Punisher War Journal with Jim Lee, working with Mark Gruenwald, editing under Jim Shooter and Tom DeFalco, why he left Marvel, his work on his own creator owned Alien Legion, and his work as a Professor at various universities including the School of Visual Arts. Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistoriansSupport the show (https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians)
Alex: Oh wow. So then as far as Mike Mignola being one of the people that you discovered and mentored, as well as Arthur Adams, also Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, Jon Bogdanove, quite a lot of names. So, they, these-
Carl: Larry Stroman.
Alex: Larry Stroman.
Alex: Steve Scroce, Sal Velluto. June Brigman. Right? These are all the people.
Carl: Yeah. Although there’s a few of them there were I didn’t technically discover them. Like June, Weezie (Louise Simonson) introduced me to June’s work and I just-
Alex: I see.
Carl: -thought it was amazing. And then Mike had been doing inking, and he penciled one or two jobs for Milgrom so I can’t really take credit for, for that. But I did pretty much, I think, mentor him when he came on board as a full time penciler.
Alex: Oh, how cool. And, and then at the same time working with people like Bill Sienkiewicz and like you already mentioned Terry Austin. And so there was just a lot of creativity going on in the middle ’80s. At the time, did it feel like, did it feel like all these names were going to be big at some point?
Carl: You know, it’s strange when you’re in the midst of it, it’s like the norm, and part of you realizes, you know, “This is fabulous, this is great, you know, I get to make my living, you know, doing all this stuff and with all these great people and having a blast.”, and there’s a part of you, there’s, that’s just the everyday norm. So it isn’t till it goes away that it really hits you what an amazing period of time that was. I’d say during my 13 years on staff at Marvel from ’83 to ’96 at least 10 of those 13 years were the best professional work experience on staff I’ve ever had anywhere.
Carl: The last year and a half of Shooters reign was a nightmare. And then my last year and a half or so there when the Ron Perelman people had taken over Marvel and were busy driving it into bankruptcy twice, that was a huge nightmare.
Carl: But the rest of that time, it was great. All of us up there loved what we were doing. Most of us got along really well and in fact so well that we were often doing social things together out of the office and you know, we generally, you know, we’re rooting for each other, trying to help each other out. There wasn’t like a lot of the interoffice in fighting that there seemed to be occasionally at DC with some of the older editors up there, although a little of that ended up coming to Marvel eventually.
Jim: You got to work with Ditko too, right?
Carl: Oh yeah. Yeah. Well-
Jim: Talk about that for a minute.
Carl: Oh, I first met Steve, believe it or not, despite his reputation, I first met Steve at a party. During those Neil Adams first Friday parties, he at some point, I think in 1976 managed to talk Ditko into coming to one of them.
Carl: And, and so I walk in and there’s Ditko sitting on the sofa by himself and everybody else seems to be too scared to go up and talk to the guy. And Starlin happened to be there. And Starlin had known Ditko for a long time when, when Jim was a fan and would come to New York, he’s one of those guys that would call up Ditko and Ditko’d have him over and they, they’d talk and shoot the breeze.
Alex: Oh really?
Carl: So, yeah.
Alex: That’s cool.
Carl: So Starlin, Starlin’s one of those guys, if you, you can see it in his work, he’s like the perfect amalgam between Kirby and Ditko .
Carl: He’s like the love child of Kirby and Ditko.
Alex: Yeah. That does make sense. Yeah.
Carl: And so he takes me over there and says, “Steve, this is Carl. He thinks you’re God.” And then he, Starlin, walks away. And so I’m sitting there going, Ai yi yi, you know, I don’t know what the hell to say after that. And because A, that’s embarrassing on its own. But B, if you know anything about Ditko’s Ayn Randian Objectivist lookout, you know, he thinks all religion is bunk and opiate for the masses. So to be compared to a god is like a double insult.
Carl: So I managed to, you know, to talk a bit to them and get to know him a little bit. But he didn’t last long at that party. He didn’t, he didn’t last long. He was, he was gone before too long. But I would occasionally run into him here and there. And then when I was on staff at Marvel for a while, Ditko came back to work at Marvel and the conditions were that he would not work on any of the characters he was more closely associated with, basically Spider-Man and Dr. Strange from his initial run at Marvel, and that he also had gotten more entrenched in his view that heroes should be heroes and shouldn’t have any real faults, which of course is at the core of Marvel’s whole success was fallible heroes. So one time when I was editing, one of the magazines I launched was a self-parody book that was sort of reincarnation of a Not Brand Echh called What The -?!!
Carl: And I asked Steve, you know, “I know you like doing humor work sometimes. Would you like to do a piece for our self-parody magazine?” And he goes, “Yes, but only if it just parodies villains. I don’t parody heroes.” So, talked to Mark Grunewald about this and, and Mark said, “I’ll write something, I’ll write something.”
Carl: So he wrote basically a parody of kind of sort of Secret Wars. And he, I think he was so worried about getting backlash from Shooter about parodying Secret Wars that he used the pseudonym Gwen Dibley, which if you know your Monty Python history, that was one of the names Monty Python considered using before they settled on Monty Python, was Glen Dibley. So then I got, Ditko did it, and I got (John) Severin to ink it and it was great.
Alex: Oh, that’s awesome.
Carl: And then we did a few other things here and there. But I also, when I became executive editor, one of the things I over saw was a relaunch of a Phantom as Phantom 2040 or something like, 2020.
Carl: And Ditko was doing the layouts and I always liked the inkers over Ditko who could retain Ditko while also making it more contemporary. And I, one of the best of those was Craig Russell. Craig, on-
Jim: Yeah, absolutely.
Carl: Yeah. And, and in a totally different way, in a different direction, I thought Reinhold, Bill Reinhold, would be perfect. And he did a fabulous job over Ditko on Phantom 2040, again keeping Ditko while totally updating and modernizing him in a very different way than Craig Russell did. I always wanted to, I’d considered at one point and I never got around to it, seeing what Kevin Nolan would do over Ditko.
Jim: He did it. He did it-
Carl: Yeah, there was a short DC thing, right?
Jim: The Spectre issue or a Spectre short story that he did. It was interesting. It was, it was really kind of heavy. I mean there, but you’d still get a little bit of Ditko from it. But it was beautiful looking.
Carl: Yeah. That was the one thing I’d be worried about, because Kevin seems to overwhelm almost anybody he inks. But there was actually a project we never got off the ground at Marvel that I’m not sure if Fabian Nicieza came up with the idea or if he was going to write it. But it was basically in that, that second Spiderman (correction: Fantastic Four annual #3) annual, the, the wedding of Reed and Sue. You see glimpses of battles between various, you know, super heroes and villains all over New York, but you never really got to look in and see what each of those things was about.
Carl: So the idea of the series would be, each issue would concentrate on one of those battles and what went on and they would each be penciled by a then living member of Marvel’s Silver Age bullpen and inked by a more contemporary inker. So at that time, still alive were there the Buscema brothers, Ditko, Kirby was gone by then unfortunately. But Don Heck was still around, I think, you know, and there were some others that were, you know, more loosely associated, I think like George Tuska and so on. But the idea was to match them up each with a contemporary inker and for Ditko I was, I was playing with the idea of either Scott Williams or Kevin Nolan, but unfortunately we never pulled that one off. Now it’s too late.
Jim: Did you ever see, did you ever see Steve Leialoha’s inks on Ditko? He did it, it was the backup for Eclipse’s Coyote.
Carl: Yeah. the Djinn, something like-
Alex: Yeah, the Arabic story.
Jim: Yeah, that was it.
Jim: Those were nice.
Carl: Steve’s another one who, you know, has great admiration for Ditko and, and you know, will always try and, you know, keep the flavor.
Carl: Yeah, he’s very good.
Alex: So you mentioned-
Carl: Both Steve’s were very good on that case, yeah.
Alex: Now we hit it about 1987 in our timeline. And you said that the last year and a half or so under Shooter, you used the phrase “nightmare.” So basically it sounds like in the early ’80s there was a positive relationship, but then what, something flipped or changed toward the end, but what happened there?
Carl: Well, that’s something that a lot of us that lived through that era have never been able to quite figure out, what flipped the switch in Jim’s mind because he used to brag about how he’d assembled the greatest roster of editors in the history of comics. And then at some point within a short amount of time he went on with this attitude that we were all a bunch of clueless idiots that needed to be led by the hand by him, the master. And that caused just, you know, all kinds of consternation. And a lot of it was aggravated by the two Secret Wars series. And then-
Carl: And then New Universe came along and he decided he was going to be in charge of every aspect of that. And that turned into a huge nightmare.
Alex: I see. So was failure of the New Universe part of this change?
Carl: I think so, but it really started with the Secret Wars thing because Jim decided this was such a big important thing that only one person could possibly edit it, or write it and then essentially edit it. And that was him. And the policy that he’d had in place up until that time was that, as I mentioned earlier, that he encouraged editors to do freelance creative work. He felt it was good to keep them experienced on both sides of the desk so that-
Alex: Just not on their own titles.
Carl: Right. Or you couldn’t write or do any of the art on a book that you edited. You also couldn’t write or do the art on a book edited by someone you supervised. So when I became executive editor, I oversaw a third of the editorial department and I could not do creative work for any of those people because I was in charge of their reviews. I oversaw them, except the only person that was immune to Shooter’s rule was Shooter. And so when he was writing as editor-in-chief, ideally what would have happened if he was following his own rules, the publisher, Mike Hobson, would have been the editor on those.
Carl: But when one of the line editors had to edit Secret Wars or any of the New Universe titles, something like that, he could and he did often override them. He would totally blow deadlines left and right and caused total chaos in that regard. He could commandeer the whole bullpen to concentrate on getting out the late books that he’d caused to be late and therefore causing everybody else that was working on books that were on time to be penalized because their books suddenly became late because the bullpen was all tied up. And he would get into headbutting sessions occasionally with people and then he’d just fire them. He hired and fired Denny, he promoted and then fired Carlin. And there were other people that left before they got fired. They knew they were going to be fired. Just that he went from someone who just would occasionally get into this weird obstinate mood, to someone who that was the standard operating procedure.
Alex: I see.
Carl: I do not understand exactly why or how that happened. There’s been a few theories, but I’ve never really known why that was. That’s one question I’ve always wanted to find out is how he changed his mind from having assembled the greatest editorial staff in comics history, to how he assembled a bunch of clueless idiots. And if so, what does that say about the person that hired them and trained them? You know.
Carl: That logic doesn’t seem to have filtered down.
Alex: When you say Secret Wars, you mean because there was such a corporate financial success so that may have increased the ego? Is that the mechanism?
Carl: Well I think it was more along the lines that he insisted that every title in the Marvel Universe do some sort of crossover with Secret Wars. And all of those crossovers had to be coordinated and approved by him. And since he was so hands-on with this thing, very few people ever pleased him with what they were doing. And they keep being revised, revised, revised.
Carl: As an example, on The Hulk… Well since he was also so late, Secret Wars was very late because the writer started out very late and the writer was Shooter and the editor couldn’t really threaten to fire Shooter because Shooter was his boss. It made no sense. So I liked having all my books done as close to the ideal schedule as possible. I liked having about five different issues in various stages of production at the same time. The one that was about to go out the door, was having the final production work done on it. The issue before that was being colored, the issue before that was being inked, the one before that was being penciled and the one before that was being scripted, et cetera. And that way if somebody ever did have a problem, they got hurt or injured or family issues or whatever, I could often have some wiggle room to keep the creative crew and the continuity of the book going.
Carl: But if you start out late, there’s no wiggle room. And so I had a couple issues of The Hulk that were already past where the Secret Wars crossover was going to be when Jim finally got around to saying, “You’ve got do a Secret Wars crossover.” So we had to carve out a Secret Wars crossover out of a book that was already been done. And we did that and Mignola was penciling The Hulk for me at the time. And of course Shooter had to approve those, and I got the Xeroxes back from Shooter of Mike’s stuff that had these incredibly harsh, insulting notes all over. He hated Mignola’s work. He despised it.
Carl: I told my assistant, “All right, we’re going to have to make some changes here. Do not send Mike copies with Shooter’s notes on them. Send him the blank ones and then I’ll send my notes on what to change.” And the assistant accidentally put the wrong ones in. And whenever I run into Mike now, we still often converse about his reaction when he opened those pages up and saw Shooter’s comments. It was not pleasant.
Alex: Oh gosh.
Carl: It was like the dark side. He got won over by the dark side.
Alex: There you go. The dark side seduced his soul.
Carl: And often when someone goes over to that side, they’re convinced that they are the only ones that knows what they’re doing. They’re the only ones right and the rest of the world go to hell. And that’s the attitude that was coming out of that office.
Alex: I got you. And that’s basically what the Korvac saga was all about.
Carl: Maybe. I don’t think I read any of that or recall it, anyway. But-
Alex: So when 1987, then when New World Cinema buys Marvel from the Cadence people and Jim Galton is still working there and that transition occurred. Jim Shooter was let go throughout this transition and Tom DeFalco becomes the new editor-in-chief. As far as the creative people are feeling at this point, burnt out with Shooters’ role as editor. Are you aware of any other reasons of why he was let go at that time?
Carl: Oh boy. There’s all kinds of stuff that was happening around that. It’s hard for me to remember exactly what was going on. But I’m sure there had been people, major creative forces that had had problems with Shooter, that had had decided, well, if I’m going to be screwed out of Marvel anyway, I’m going to go talk to the publisher. And that was Mike Hobson that’s the name a lot of people, in the comics fandom aren’t aware of. But Mike is very important in Marvel’s success during the eighties. And I think that Jim Galton was aware of this too. Both of those by the way, Galton and Hobson are both amongst my favorite executives that I worked for at any given time. And when they got pretty much chased out of Marvel and replaced by Ron Perelman’s people, it was like night and day.
Carl: But this will give you an example of Jim Galton’s managerial style. At one point when DeFalco was editor-in-chief, Galton wanted to ask Tom some stuff and most presidents of the company would stay on the 11th floor and call for the editor-in-chief on the 10th floor, to come up and see them. But Galton, he went for a walk downstairs and stuck his head into Tom’s office and saw that Tom was sitting there with his back to the door and feet up on the desk thinking about something. So, Galton turns around and walks back to his office. But Tom’s secretary had seen him.
Carl: So later on, Galton comes back down later in that day and looks in and sees that Tom’s busy with some bureaucratic paperwork and he goes in and talks to him and asks him whatever it was he wanted to ask him about. And Tom says to Galton, “My assistant told me you’d come down here before, why didn’t you ask me whatever you wanted to ask me then? And Galton says, “I pay you to think strategically about the future. I came down here and saw you doing that. So I didn’t want to interrupt you.” That’s the kind of person that we had running the company back then.
Alex: Nice. So Jim Galton, so you liked him? You liked Jim Galton?
Carl: Oh yeah, definitely. And then Hobson was in a similar mold and Hobson had come from a publishing background. And he saw more closely, I think than even Galton, because he was a bit closer to a lot of the creative people, what was happening with Shooter. There was this thing that happened about a month or so before Shooter was let go, that ended up being called the palace revolt or storming the Bastille, where a bunch of us went into really have it out with Shooter. And in the middle of that, someone decided that Hobson should witness this. So they came down, they brought him down and he saw what was going on in Shooter’s office when we were going back and forth about how he was handling the company and the personnel.
Carl: And I think that made an impression on him (Hobson) too. That he (Shooter) basically lost the confidence of the rank and file of all the editorial staff, or most of them. And Shooter kept trying to do various things, that was very annoying to the powers at be. And they finally, they were reluctant to get rid of him, because they’d had a lot of success with him at the helm for quite some time. And for all the grief that he caused with the Secret Wars, that had been a huge financial success and got a lot of media coverage and everything else. So I think they were trying to be as patient as they could with all the other aspects, but at some point it wasn’t worth it.
Alex: I gotcha. So how do you like work with Tom DeFalco as editor-in-chief?
Carl: Tom’s the best boss I ever had. He’s one of those people that has a management style that I like to have. Which was that if there was a disagreement about something, I could go into Tom’s office and I could lay out my argument as logically, as passionately as I could and I’d have as honest a chance as possible, convincing him of my point of view. And if I did, that was great. But if Tom decided he needed to go in another direction, I knew it wasn’t out of selfishness or maliciousness or anything like that, but it’s what he honestly felt needed to be done.
Carl: And he knew that even though I didn’t feel that way, that I would execute it to the best of my ability, I would not half ass it or try and ignore it or anything like that. I would try and execute to the best of my ability. That to me is how professionals work. And so that’s the way pretty much the whole staff, not everybody, pretty much all staff was like that. Yeah. One person we haven’t really talked much about in the midst of all this, who was supremely important was Mark Grunewald.
Alex: Yeah, Mark Grunewald. Exactly.
Carl: So Mark to me was the personification of the heart and soul of Marvel’s creative mood and personality during… He started there in late seventies so… But, until his death. And he lived, breathed and loved comics, not strictly Marvel comics but comics of all kinds. And he was one of those people that he could not wait ‘till Monday morning to go in and make more comics. And he was also the one that pretty much organized all the office parties for Halloween and Christmas and so on. Or if there were birthday events in the office, things like that, you’d have all these contests and things going on.
Carl: He created the Marvel Olympics for the conventions where he’d have the Marvel editorial and creative staff that were at the conventions engage in contest with the fans. So the fans could win Marvel prizes, whether they were comics or collections or posters or whatever. And a lot of us in the comics business are pretty much introverts by nature. And in a weird way Mark was too, but he’d forced himself to be an extrovert by force of will. And he was so enthusiastic about doing these contests with the fans at the conventions that the rest of us wouldn’t want to let him down. And so he could corral us to do things we would never do on our own. Even when DeFalco was vice president and editor-in-chief of Marvel, he’d get Tom DeFalco on the stage in these contests to bust balloons with his butt, with the fans, see how many could bust these balloons within a certain amount of time. The fricking VP and editor-in-chief of Marvel busting balloons on the stage with the fans.
Alex: And Grunewald can make it happen.
Carl: Yeah. And you know that old Fumetti book where we’re all in a pyramid, a human pyramid? That’s all Mark’s stuff. That’s all his idea. You should have been at his wedding. Oh my God. Everybody got a whoopee cushion. So when the toast comes around, everybody’s done a toast. Everybody then sits on the whoopee cushions. They were all customized – each one was customized by Mark and just everything was a celebration and a fun thing, a fun event to do with him. It was really, it was just so sad when he passed away. It really was an end of an era in a lot of ways, because that was right when the worst of the worst was starting to happen with the Ron Pereleman stuff. And yeah, they basically turned someone who couldn’t wait to get in on Monday morning to go to work, making Marvel comics, into someone who on Friday, couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge and drive upstate to his weekend house so he can get the hell away out of everything. And to me it’s no accident that his heart attack happened early on a Monday morning right before he was going to have to get up and drive back in and deal with all the drama in the office.
Alex: Oh man.
Jim: Oh boy.
Alex: So did he, and I guess one more question about Grunewald before we go onto your Punisher War Journal in ‘88, is did he express about working with Shooter and Tom DeFalco and working with those editor-in-chiefs. Did he enjoy working with them?
Carl: Well, he and Tom got along great. They were like peas in a pod and they also were constantly playing practical jokes on each other that neither one would ever admit to. One would do one to the other, and then the other one had to get them back and they never spoke about it. It was hilarious. But Shooter, he had lots of problems with Shooter. In fact, that meeting where we stormed the Bastille, basically when we went into the Shooter’s office, he was in the midst of a meeting with Ralph Macchio and Grunewald and brow beating them about something and they weren’t happy. And then they’re caught in the middle between this crowd of rebellious editors and Shooter. And you could see as the meeting went on and on that they’re sinking lower and lower in the chairs. Trying to get out of the line of fire, but I think, like everybody else, he saw all the good things about Shooter and all the bad things while he was pretty fair and even-keeled person.
Alex: So tell us about overseeing the development of The Punisher. Basically you’re credited as turning The Punisher from a side character to someone that could star in his own series. You did the layouts at the writing for the first Punisher Word journal issues in 1988 with Jim Lee doing the finish art. Tell us about that as a mission and what exactly happened there.
Carl: Initially, I can’t remember if the first Punisher project I was started editing was the five issue miniseries by Grant and Zeck or… There was a very long project, which was the first Punisher graphic novel called Assassin’s Guild that Jo Duffy wrote and Jorge Zaffino did the art on. And I know they were in production simultaneously, but I can’t remember which was the first one I started working on. But, in any case, I remember Grant and Zeck proposed the miniseries to me and at that point I hadn’t really seen anything from Grant’s work that particularly impressed me. But I really liked his take on The Punisher for the miniseries and I’d always loved Zeck’s work. So that’s another project that I championed in the approval process. And a lot of the other editors thought I was nuts because this guy had no super powers. He was as much a villain as a hero and only been a second string guest star and he used real world weaponry and how on Earth is anybody going to buy this thing?
Carl: But I liked their take on it now, so at the time in other popular media that – films like the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry films and the Charles Bronson Death Wish films – things like that were seeming to gain in popularity. I thought there might be something in the air. So I took a chance on that and it turned out to be a big hit.
Carl: One of the things that I don’t think people, another Archie Goodwin related thing, I don’t think people give Archie enough credit for is the incarnation of The Punisher that became popular. In the early stages when he was like in Spider-Man and so on like that it was much different character, not anywhere near as serious or realistic, so to speak, as the version that became popular. And a lot of people forget that Archie Goodwin wrote two stories that appeared in different black and white magazines featuring the character.
Carl: I think that reestablished the character with a new frame of reference and seriousness. And that is what I believe is what gave Frank Miller his take on the character when he (the Punisher) guest started in Daredevil, and I believe that is what inspired Grant and Jo Duffy. Jo Duffy was Archie’s assistant at the time. And that’s also what inspired me when I started writing my stuff. So I think that a lot of it goes back to Archie Goodwin’s take on the character, which a lot of people have forgotten, unfortunately.
Jim: I remember those magazine covers where The Punisher was featured and it was so different from the Ross Andru Spider-Man version.
Carl: I think one of them was a Gray Morrow painting.
Jim: Yeah it was.
Carl: Yeah. Boy. How in the hell do I remember that? Jeez.
Alex: Yeah. And did you choose Jim Lee to do the art on that? How did that work?
Carl: Well on the ongoing, when the miniseries was over and it proved to be hit and I decided to do an ongoing series. I had Mike Baron do the writing and Klaus Janson came on board to do all of the art, including the coloring, penciling in, coloring. And Klaus, a lot of people don’t give him credit for his coloring, but he knew how to color and he knew how to color for that godawful paper we had at the time. And so he had a really distinctive look to that. But that kept going and I kept coming up with these ideas for Punisher stories, but there was no place to put them because Mike didn’t need me, Baron didn’t even need to generate ideas for him, he had ton of his own. And the book just took off. So I’m thinking, I’m wondering if this character can support another title.
Carl: And I thought, well if we did it, The Punisher Word Journal where we went more into the internal workings of the character, a bit more in his thoughts in his war journal entries. Because Mike’s take on the character was pretty much external. You hardly ever got into his interior thoughts. Even when Microchips’ son died, you don’t go into his thoughts, there was just the external actions there. So I proposed that and editorial and the sales department that that was a great idea. But since I was on staff at Marvel, I didn’t have time to both write and do layouts for it unless it went on a six week schedule. So that’s why it started out on a six week schedule. And I was looking for someone to do the finished art over it and thought about a couple of people. But had not even considered Jim Lee, who, at that time, was drawing Alpha Flight for me, which was his first series.
Carl: But I was talking to Jim on the phone one day when we were talking about Alpha Flight and then we were just shooting the breeze after that. And I told him how I was looking for somebody for this thing and he volunteered, and I thought, well, I’m no idiot. But it was like a robbing from myself because he was growing in leaps and bounds on Alpha Flight. So I ended up finding someone else for Alpha Flight and Jim ended up doing the finished artwork over my layouts on War Journal. I ended up, I think, laying out five of the first seven issues. But after that, it was just so popular, the sales department was screaming for it to go monthly. And obviously Jim didn’t need anybody doing layouts for him. So I just bit the bullet and said, okay, I’ll just stick to the writing. And that’s where it went from there.
Alex: Oh that’s cool. Yeah.
Carl: That’s when the character got so popular, everybody wanted to guest star him and that’s when things got nuts.
Alex: And chaotic as far as the character. Yeah, because in 1988 I was 10 so there were three things. My first comic experiences, we’re Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz’s Thor, and then it was also-
Carl: That’s a good experience.
Alex: That was a good experience for me. And then also the trade paperback of the Dark Knight Returns, that have come out. And then also the [inaudible 01:26:40] re-print and then The Punisher War Journal.
Carl: From the first issue or?
Alex: Yeah from the first issue, all the way through the Wolverine/Punisher crossovers. And so that was like my entry into comics and it was just a real fun time. So then now just moving along to the next year in 1989 and the Perelman, Revlon people take over Marvel from New World Cinema and you became executive editor of the Epic imprint and also one third of the Marvel titles. So what does an executive editor do?
Carl: Well, what happened after Tom was made editor-in-chief, he made Mark Grunewald his executive editor. And then as the line and everything kept growing, there was a lot of books for just those two people to look after. And when Archie Goodwin decided to leave Marvel and go back to DC, there was a great danger that the executives were going to just fold up the Epic line because a lot of them up there had this attitude, well we don’t even own this stuff, and it doesn’t sell as well as the Marvel out own stuff anyway. Why are we even publishing this stuff? And a lot of us felt it was very important for Marvel to create our own stuff and to be more diverse than things that were just in the Marvel universe. And so Tom decided that someone had to try and fill Archie’s shoes and it was a thankless task because nobody can fill Archie’s shoes. Like I said, it’s trying to fill the shoes of the most universally respected and liked person in the business.
Carl: But I did not want to see Epic shut down. So when Tom asked me to come in and oversee that, I agreed to it. And then eventually they added Bob Budiansky as another executive editor and we ended up just divving up everything Marvel was publishing into thirds. And so I had a good chunk of the Marvel line as well as the Epic stuff. And they each also had a third of the Marvel line. And basically what each executive editor does, is they oversee different groups of editors that… Each editor, in theory, had about five monthly books and then a handful of special projects, a miniseries and graphic novels and so on. And our job was to make sure that the work was being done on time and being done well and if there were issues to deal with them or if there were personnel issues to deal with those, with the editorial staff. Or occasionally with their freelancers, if there were issues that couldn’t be resolved amongst the editor and the freelancer.
Carl: And then, so it removed us a bit from the hands on editing, which was a drag and made us a bit more executive level type activity and so on. Which, I like wearing a lot of hats, so I don’t mind doing that stuff. I just didn’t like the fact that the ratio of the creative work went way down based on that. But it was important work. So we would also be involved with the training of the newer editors. After Tom was made editor-in-chief, he and Mark Grunewald devised a curriculum for the Marvel assistant editors training program. So for at least an hour, once a week, usually Mark would run the training sessions for the assistant editors and Tom would occasionally do some stuff and then I would come in and do things, particularly when it came to visual storytelling. But it was mostly Mark and Tom running the classes.
Carl: And the concept there was that each assistant editor was assigned to a specific editor and that was basically the manager who they learned from. And since all editors have their strengths and weaknesses, the assistant editors, therefore are not getting a well-rounded education. You might have somebody that’s a great story person but doesn’t draw, or know how to draw well. Doesn’t know a lot about drawing or doesn’t know visual story telling well. Or they might be great on the creative stuff, but the administrative stuff is a nightmare in their office.
Carl: So they devised this comprehensive training system. So after you’d gone through the system, in a year, this training program, you had a much more well-rounded education on what would make an ideal editor in theory than if you just were mentored by one single person. And that was a great thing because we kept having to expand the staff. Even with that, the staff got expanded, people got promoted before they were ready and occasionally a few of them did not do well. But most of them did as well as they did I think in large part to that training program that Mark and Tom came up with.
Alex: Oh that’s cool. So then in 94 through 96, going toward the Marvel bankruptcy and you leaving Marvel. You became editor-in-chief of Epic in 1994 and then Marvel goes bankrupt in 1996 and then you leave. Give us those circumstances and the circumstances of the bankruptcy and the Perelman guys and then why you left.
Carl: Well at some point, I think it was in 94 that they pretty much forced out Tom DeFalco as being editor-in-chief. And there was a guy that the Perelman people had brought in who was a huge comics fan, Terry Stewart, that was president of Marvel. And he’s supposed to run Marvel, whereas people like DeFalco and Hobson were amongst my favorite people to work for, the people I reported directly to, I cannot say that at all about Terry Stewart. He was a big fan of comics, so I’ll give him that, loved Marvel. But he was a horrible executive.
Carl: So he came up with this idea that each major group of Marvel titles would have its own editor-in-chief. So the five editor-in-chiefs were Gruenwald, Budiansky, Bob Harris, Bobbie Chase and myself. I had the most eclectic line. I had everything from what was left of Epic at the time, because the Perelman people did not want to have anything to do with Epic; and the alternate universe type stuff, like what was left of What If and the Alterniverse, things like Ruins and The Last Avengers Story; and then all the licensed stuff, everything from Barbie to Conan and the Clive Barker stuff, and the occasional odds and ends here and there.
Carl: But the idea, in theory, was that… This was their corporate thinking, was that each editor-in-chief would be their own miniature publishing house, who’d have their own dedicated marketing plan and budget, and their own editorial budget and so on. It would be this internal competition thing that would keep things feisty and moving, and typical corporate-buzzword thinking, which did not work at Marvel. It basically negated one of the best things about Marvel, whereas we were all in it together, we all pulled for each other and we all tried to help each other out instead of competing for limited resources.
Carl: Even though we were, in theory, editors-in-chief, there were a lot of things that normally an editor-in-chief would have power over that we couldn’t because there were five of us, and some things we might do would contradict the others or negatively affect the others. So Terry Stewart was going to be the ultimate be-all and end-all on anything that we, the five of us, couldn’t decide amongst ourselves.
Carl: He held weekly meetings for awhile, where we’d go in there and we’d hit him with all the things that he needed to make decisions on. Usually, he’d just say, “Okay, let me think about that. I’ll let you know next week.” And then we’d meet him again the following week and have a whole bunch of new problems, and he’d never resolve the previous ones. After a number of weeks of this, some of the other editors-in-chief just… they were wiser than I am, and they just gave up trying to get resolution on some of these things.
Carl: Me and one of the other editor-in-chiefs kept a list of all the stuff that it was supposed to have been done and hadn’t been done. And every week, we’d run through the list of things that should’ve been had decisions made, plus all the new stuff; and he started getting embarrassed by it, and his solution was to stop having the meetings. I’m sure I didn’t help my future there at all by bringing up the fact that he was totally ineffective, and I don’t think that he could get anything done. But I felt that I had… that these decisions had to be made. There were people counting on me to get these decisions out of him, and I felt horrible that people that worked for me where being negatively affected by the indecisions at the top of the company. I’m sure Terry has his own side of the story, and has his own demons he was dealing with up there and and all that, but if you’re going to be president, be freaking president; make some decisions.
Carl: So they went back. At the beginning of ’95, they told us we had to cut staff by some outrageous amount, and I ended up having to lay off some people that I did not want to lay off. And then the year continued to not do well, for the most part, for Marvel. One of the few hits Marvel had in ’95 was Marvels, which was edited by my former assistant who was part of my group, Marcus McLaurin.
Carl: Marvels happened because Marcus helped champion it. When it was proposed to him, the writer had… Again, it was a similar case, I think, to Steven Grant. Up to that point, he had done a lot that had really garnered a lot of attention, but the proposal was very, very interesting. He brought along this guy, Alex Ross, who no one had ever heard of before. Marcus championed this thing and got it approved, in a period when the industry was starting to collapse and getting money for any new series was much harder, much less an expensive, fully-painted series. Things like the production manufacturing people telling him that those clear acetate covers with the printing on them, instead of printing on the actual cover itself so that people had an unobstructed view of the original Alex Ross painting on the cover; they kept telling him, “Oh, that was impossible. That was impossible.”
Carl: He never gave up, and he ended up searching out and finding people who could do that, and showing it to the manufacturing people so they couldn’t tell him no anymore. So his reward for having one of the few Marvel hits in 1995 was to be part of the huge wave of layoffs at ’96 where they told a whole bunch of us, including me, that they were either fired or not renewing their contracts. That was at the beginning ’96.
Jim: Carl, if we don’t get to Alien Legion, they’re going to kill us. I mean, yeah, we did two hours, but we didn’t actually get to the thing that most people probably know you for as much as anything. Can we take a few minutes and talk about the genesis of that, how it came to be, what it means to you? I’m going to let you just talk about that particular book and series and concept.
Carl: Well, that goes way, way back to when I was a fan, trying to break into comics by drawing samples and sending them into the companies to be pretty much ignored. So I’d have to create my own scenarios to draw. I didn’t want to just redraw something that had been part of a published comic.
Carl: At one point, I came up with two different stories. One was about this all-human space combat team, sort of a foreign Legion in space, all made of humans. And a different story was about a couple different aliens, including one that had this serpentine lower body. At some point, I accidentally knocked all the pages off my bed and they got scrambled on the floor, and as I was starting to sort them out, the light bulb went on over my head and I said, “These guys are in space, this combat group. Why in the hell are they all humans? The ranks should be filled with different alien lifeforms, and they should be led by this guy with the serpentine lower body.”
Carl: I never really had time to do much with that concept until ’83 when I joined Marvel, and I didn’t really have time to write it or draw it myself. So I ended up hiring some people and working with them on it, to develop it further and launch it. Originally, believe it or not, that was going to be a Marvel Universe title and-
Jim: Really? Wow!
Carl: Yeah, and I’d gotten the… But the Marvel at that point, if you created a new property that was going to be Marvel-owned, then you were guaranteed through contract a piece of the back-end and so on, if it ever got turned into a film or toys or whatever. But then, this is one of the issues I had with Shooter. Shooter approved that, and then he reneged on it; he decided he didn’t want to do that after we’d already started working on the book, so I was pretty ticked off.
Carl: But then, Archie Goodwin was just starting up Epic Comics at the time, and he comes over and he goes, “I heard about this situation. How’d you like to bring it over to Epic?” So Archie pretty much saved the day with that, and we ended up being the third Epic title after Dreadstar and Coyote. I think we were the longest-running original Epic property of all time, if you count all the various editions and incarnations and all that. There were a lot more issues at Groo, but Groo had been published at Pacific and somewhere else before they came to Epic. But I think it was the longest-running title, as far as number of issues in over the years, of the any of the original Epic properties.
Carl: But in ’96 right before… ’95, I guess it was, right before the layoffs at Marvel, I wrote a screenplay, my first screenplay, for Alien Legion. I didn’t know anybody in the film business, but I occasionally would get calls from people asking did I have something that might be interesting for me to shop around Hollywood. Eventually, in ’96, it got optioned for a TV series at MGM that Bob Gale wrote the pilot for. Bob Gale is the guy that wrote all the Back to the Future films, and he-
Jim: Sure. He did some Daredevil too, didn’t he? Or back when he did-
Jim: Yeah, he’s getting-
Carl: Yeah, he’s a huge comics fan. Yeah, huge comics fan. Very nice guy, very talented guy. But then MGM decided they were getting out of the TV business, so that went away, and eventually… I hope I remember all these in order; this has a long history in Hollywood. The property was optioned eventually by Dimension Films, and they hired a really good writer to write it, but that writer didn’t really know science fiction and the draft that I read was very disappointing. And then the president of Dimension left, and the successors usually don’t want to deal with their predecessor’s projects, so that went away there.
Carl: And then it got optioned by Mainframe, which was doing 3D animation up in Canada. They’re the guys that originally did Reboot, and they were getting more and more sophisticated with their work. There was a producer on staff there who just loved Alien Legion, and so they optioned it and hired me to be executive editor, and I went out there and helped them develop it. And then that company’s presidency changed hands, and the new president there screwed that up. I can’t remember if there are any others. But eventually, a friend of mine who’s a big comic fan, a writer and producer and director named Boaz Yakin, he directed Remember the Titans for Bruckheimer.
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Ah, that’s the connection with Bruckheimer then, I guess?
Carl: Yeah, but he’s written and directed a whole lot of films, most of them are more indie-style films. But the way we met is that he’s the guy who wrote the first draft of the original Punisher film, and they’d sent that to me as the Punisher editor to get feedback on, and I sent them feedback. He contacted me directly to go over some of the feedback, and then he got removed from the project and they had somebody else rewrite it. But Boaz’s original take on the character was much better than the one that ended up on the screen.
Carl: We became friends after that, and he got into Bruckheimer’s, and they had had success with the first couple of Pirates of the Caribbean films, mixing a live action with CGI. They wanted to do the same thing with the science fiction property. He goes, “I got the perfect one for you.” So they optioned Alien Legion, they optioned my screenplay, and they started a whole series of rewrites by half of Hollywood, basically.
Jim: And this would be around 2007?
Carl: Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Yeah. Initially, they optioned it for two, 18-month periods. But then, in there you have to add in, there was a writer’s strike in there too, so that automatically extends the period according to the terms of the contract. So they had it for about three years, three-plus years as an option, and then they hired the guy they thought was going to finally do the rewrite that they were looking for, and that was David Benioff, of Game of Thrones fame. It turned out Benioff grew up in… This made me feel old… Benioff grew up in Brooklyn as a huge Alien Legion comics fan. So between seasons of Game of Thrones, the busiest guy in Hollywood does three rewrites of Alien Legion.
Carl: So after three rewrites, they fired him, and they didn’t allow me to read any of his takes on it. Another guy that was a huge Alien Legion fan, that had contacted me years before, is Tim Miller, who owns Blur Studios and hadn’t directed a feature films at the time, but had been a whole lot of very impressive work at his 3D studio there. And so I introduced him to the Bruckheimer people, but they didn’t really want to entrust Alien Legion to someone who didn’t have any feature credits yet.
Carl: Right after Deadpool comes out, suddenly they’re interested in Tim Miller; same guy, same talent, just happens to have his first feature film to come out and be a big hit. So they let him read the last Benioff script, and according to him, he said it sounded kind of like they were instructing Benioff to turn Alien Legion into a science fiction Game of Thrones. That didn’t make any sense, and he wasn’t interested in that, so that’s when my contract was finally over with them.
Carl: In theory, I got the rights back but Disney’s contracts are pretty notorious for being onerous, and they have some pretty strange language in there that they’re using now to help make it very difficult for me to make another deal elsewhere. Although, I’m continuing to work on that now with some other production partners. So wish us luck, we’re going to need it.
Jim: Boy, that’s discouraging, but a familiar story at the same time.
Carl: Yep, afraid so. It’s all too common, I’m afraid. I’m also trying to get… I wrote a pilot and a bible for a TV series, based on my Last of the Dragons graphic novel, and I’m trying to get that out there too. I’ve been writing screenplays on a variety of things over the years and I have pretty eclectic tastes. One of them is a baseball comedy.
Carl: One of them is that huge World War II project I told you about, that’s based on my family’s experiences. I wrote a couple of screenplays about that: one based on my family’s experiences and one focused on the rescue effort to save them. And because they hadn’t done enough work on spec, I combined them and added more to turn it into a TV miniseries script. And since my name’s not Spielberg or Hanks, the odds of that ever getting made are pretty, pretty darn low.
Carl: I wrote a something called Yankee Māori, which is the true story of an American in the 1860s who traveled to England; drank away all his money and fell for a British recruiting sergeant, army sergeant’s pitch about warm beds and warm food; and joined the British army and got shipped to New Zealand. He was a sarcastic, authority-hating Yankee, which didn’t go over well with his officers. So he was constantly being punished and flogged, and he deserts and joins the Māori in their fight against the British, and ends up helping them win an unlikely series of victories over the British and New Zealand in the 1860s. That’s all real stuff I researched.
Jim: That sounds great. I mean, that really sounds like fun.
Carl: It’s great stuff. I’m hoping to turn that into a graphic novel at some point, but finding someone who’s interested in backing that is a little hard.
Jim: Did you ever read that or see that Peter Jackson documentary, it’s a fake documentary that he did, Forgotten Silver?
Carl: Forgotten Silver?
Carl: No. What’s that?
Jim: What Jackson does early in his career, he does this faux-documentary that’s about a lost film that’s discovered, that reveals that there’s a New Zealand director who is probably equal to D.W. Griffith and all that, and was the person that actually invented the closeup and all of these things. It’s pretty authentic for at least a little bit of it, and then it gets a little more absurd as it goes along, but it’s… I used to show it to my students, and not explain to them that it was fake and it was meant to be funny, and they would just be taking notes and following it. It’s definitely worth watching, speaking in New Zealand.
Carl: All right. I’ll check that out. The closest film I’ve seen to the Yankee Māori story I’m telling you about is Geof… is it Miller? (it’s Murphy) I forget that guy’s name. A New Zealand director. He directed a film, I think it was in the ’80s, called Utu, which means revenge.
Jim: Oh, sure. Yeah.
Carl: That has a lot of similarities to the period and the times I’m talking about. I keep coming up with the ideas and things that I like, and if I could find the time, I’ll write them and work on them and see what happens. Just things come out of the blue once in a while too, like one of… I was asked a while back by DC… every once in a while, they’ll call me up and ask me to do layouts for someone else’s work on a graphic novel. They hire people that they really like the drawing style for, but those people don’t always tell the stories very clearly or cleanly. So they’ll often hire people like me or Jon Bogdanove, or Bret Blevins or Mike Manley to do the storytelling, the layouts for them.
Jim: Well, you did literally write the book.
Carl: Yeah, literally. Yeah.
Jim: We should probably explain what I mean by that.
Carl: Well, I took a lot of the information and aspects, and exercises and so on that I learned when I was mentoring a lot of talent at Marvel, and wrote the book that came out that was part of the DC Comics Guide to series. There was, I think, about six of them, all told. Mine was the most recent one, Denny O’Neil did the first one on writing, and then Klaus Janson did one each on penciling and inking. There was one on digital tools by Freddie Williams, and a split-book on lettering and coloring by-
Jim: Mark Chiarello.
Carl: And Todd Klein, yeah, on the lettering side. And then mine was on visual storytelling, but it also pretty much covered all the creative aspects. Recently, that just went out of print. I was surprised because I… Usually, before I go to a convention, I’d call up the publisher and order a bunch of copies to take with me to sell, because I often give seminars on visual storytelling at the conventions that I attend.
Carl: I was told that it was out of print, and I called up Watson-Guptill, who was the company that published it. They licensed it from DC-Warner Bros., And I was told that… I guess it was a 20-year deal they originally had, and it was up and Watson-Guptill was up for renewing it, but Warner Bros. pulled it. That meant that all the copies that Watson-Guptill or Random House, their parent company, had in-house had to be trashed because it was a licensed book; they didn’t own it, they couldn’t remainder it. So suddenly, I can’t get my own book anymore, and I require it where I teach at School of Visual Arts, and The Academy of Art University and other places. So my students can’t even get my book.
Jim: You can’t assign your own book now?
Carl: Well, I’ll tell you off the phone how I’m handling that. Yeah, so when I went to Amazon, the few remaining new copies over there… There’s lots of used copies that you can find relatively reasonable, but for a while there, they were up to 400-plus dollars and I’m going, “Who the hell is paying that for this book?” But it’s come down quite a bit since then, but there’s not that many new copies left since they had to trash them all. I was really hoping they’d go remainder, and I’d go buy a bunch of them cheap and use them that way.
Jim: Well we’re at our time, but I wanted… I didn’t want to not ask you about your later career, in terms of the teaching aspect. Could you talk about how you got started on that, and and what your experience has been as a teacher?
Carl: I’ve always been, obviously, from the time I mentored at Marvel, I’ve always been interested in working and trying to help people get better at creating comics in all the creative aspects. I was having lunch, I guess about nine years ago, with Klaus Janson, who’s taught for a long time at School of Visual Arts in New York, and mentioned my interest in teaching. So he put the word into the chair, the chairman of the illustration division, and they ended up having me come on board to help teach a senior portfolio class.
Carl: Eventually, I created a new class, that’s where students bring their ideas for their story worlds and their fictional worlds, and we create bible around it that fleshes out the world; works out the internal logic, who the characters are, the storylines; do character designs and environment designs and so on. So they have this pitch bible that they can use to either go to publishers or producers or whatever with.
Carl: I’m also teaching a junior thesis class now. I co-teach that one with Joey Cavalieri, who-
Jim: Oh, sure.
Carl: … worked at both Marvel and DC. I teach online now as well, for Academy of Art University, which is based out in San Francisco, but they have a lot of online classes. It’s a little strange teaching online, but the plus side is I get to teach people all around the world. There’s times when I’ve taught a soldier during his downtime who’s stationed in Iraq, people in Romania, people in South America, people all over the US that I would never… and Canada that I’d never get a chance to meet or teach or learn from myself. But it’s definitely strange to be teaching online in some ways, but very gratifying in others.
Carl: I teach a little bit here in New York at Manhattanville College, occasionally, and I wrote a course recently for Pace University on writing and editing graphic novels. So I like it; I enjoy it a lot. It’s a lot of work. I wish teaching paid more, that would be nice, but-
Jim: I noticed, I saw the word adjunct in front of some of your stuff, and I thought, “Well, I know what that means,” which means grossly underpaid.
Carl: The big difference between mentoring at Marvel and teaching is that, when I was mentoring at Marvel, I could cherry-pick the best, most talented people and work with them. When you’re teaching, you have to move everybody forward as much as they can. No matter what level they start at, what their level of dedication or enthusiasm is, it’s your job to try and move them forward as much as possible, and that’s a much more difficult task, particularly when there’s so many of them in the classroom. That’s a real challenge, and I think I have a fair amount of success on it, but I’d always… The times where it’s not as successful as I’d like, that’s very disappointing.
Jim: Have you encountered anybody where you just thought, “It doesn’t matter what you’re going to be, you’re going to be a super-successful person in the industry?”
Carl: Well, what’s interesting now is the vast majority of my students are not at all interested in mainstream comics, they’re more indie. Thankfully, I’ve always had an eclectic sense of taste in interests, and having started myself out at Epic Illustrated Magazine doing things that weren’t super-heroic stuff at all. But a lot of them are just not interested in mainstream comics. There are a few.
Carl: One of them, one of my better actually continuing-ed class students, is helping me now with the latest DC project where they they wanted me to do 175 pages of layouts for a Catwoman graphic novel coming up. I just didn’t have the time to do it, so I talked them into letting one of my top students do that with my supervision…
Jim: Oh, that’s great!
Carl: … and we’re getting close to the finish on that. But there’s a lot of people that are really talented, that haven’t quite made it big yet in the indie or the mainstream area yet, but I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of them come through. There’s just so many talented people, and they love creating comics so much. A lot of them do it just for the sheer love of doing it, even if they know they can never make a living at it.
Carl: The irony of the business right now, is that it’s never been more diverse in genres or subjects than it ever has been before in North America. But the actual sales of print comics, and even if you factor in the digital ones, it’s a fraction of what it used to be in the heyday of the late ’80s, early ’90s. When I joined Marvel, we would routinely cancel books that sold less than 100,000 copies. If a book sold 25,000 copies now, the people would be running down the halls shouting for joy that this thing sold that much.
Jim: It’s a very different industry today though, for sure.
Carl: But the whole online medium, that gives everybody that wants to publish their work an outlet for it now, it’s just hard to figure out how you’re going to monetize it. That’s the huge bugaboo.
Jim: Some of my favorite comics I’ve read in the last couple of years have been when taking my six year old to the children’s bookstore, and some of the stuff that Scholastic and those publishers are doing, First/Second, is really top stuff and very, very different.
Carl: Yeah. My favorite graphic novel I’ve read in the last five years is the First/Second graphic novel by the Tamaki cousins, This One Summer. I think that’s a brilliant piece of work.
Jim: Oh, I love that. Yeah.
Carl: Yeah, and that any time I run into somebody that isn’t familiar with the graphic novel form or thinks it’s all Batman, Spider-Man stuff, I actually buy groups of used copies of This One Summer that I keep on hand, and I just hand them to them; and I make converts all the time by handing them that book.
Jim: That’s a great one. The Prince and the Dressmaker, there’s some that are just beautiful books. So I have some hope for the industry. Alex, you want to close this out?
Alex: Yeah, I loved today’s talk. Thanks so much, Carl. You give a lot of insight, because you come at it from… as a professional, as an academic, and then you’re really well-spoken, where you can actually sum up complex emotional situations in a way that people can understand. So I really appreciate your talent and your ability to chat with us today.
Jim: Yeah, nicely said. I feel the same. It was great, Carl. Really fun.
Carl: Thank you. I’m glad you guys enjoyed it. I did too.
Alex: Oh, good. This is another episode of the Comic Book Historians Podcast. I’m Alex, sharing with my co-host, Jim Thompson. Carl Potts, thanks for joining us today.
Carl: Again, my pleasure.
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