I was turning up at Marvel every two or three months with sample pages for him to look at. He never turned me away though, in fact he spent a huge amount of time talking to me during my visits, correcting various things about what I was doing in my sample pages.
It was a great learning experience. I'd show up, he'd sit me down and pin my pages to a drawing board, put tracing paper over the page and show me where I went wrong in what I was doing. I didn't know at the time but in the very next office over - they edited "Crazy" in that office - were two guys who would have lasting influences on my comic book career.
Eventually Al gave me an inventory story to draw but when I was done, he said that while what I did was good, he just couldn't give me any other work at the time. He did say to keep in touch.
I fudged my date with destiny for a couple of months and was just about to put in that job application at Sears when I got a call from Jim Shooter. He had an inventory story to give me to draw. Now this was way cool. Shooter was the Editor-in-Chief at Marvel at the time, so I got my rear end over to Marvel the next day. He told me straight away that he was giving me work for books without getting the editor's approval but Al Milgrom had shown him my work after I had called one day and he thought he'd give me a try. It was a "Captain America" story that he gave me, Cap fighting some street gang. He gave me some paper and then said to be back in no more than four weeks and then shoved me out of his office as fast as he could because he must have known that I was about to start kissing his feet or something.
I was back in three weeks.
Shooter looked at the pages and somewhere around page five he put them down and looked up at me. "Captain America" has a cleft in his chin, Mark..."
I knew that "Captain America" was Shooter's favorite Marvel character so I was sure that not having drawn him properly put me in deep 's-word'.
"Story telling by Shooter 101." It wasn't a long lesson or all that involved but it made sense and was deeply referenced by using an issue of "Captain America" drawn by Jack Kirby.
Shooter sent me home to make corrections on the story and before I was ready to come back in he called me and said he had something else for me to draw as soon as I was finished with my corrections on the "Captain America" story.
When I came back to Marvel and he explained the next story to me, and when I needed to have it finished by. I was in the middle of being really sappy and thanking him profusely when he stopped me and said, "As long as you keep getting better at what you do, you'll have work here, Mark."
He handed me a "Dazzler" and that was pretty much it. I never had a time in the next six years when I didn't have at least one book a month to draw for Marvel.
After the two plots that Shooter gave me to draw he sent me to Mark Gruenwald where I was assigned my first scheduled story, "Avengers" #224.
A "Team America" story featuring a guest appearnace by "Iron Man" and written by Shooter himself was my next assignment.
Shooter then sent me to the guys who used to have the office next to Al Milgrom's in the old 575 Madison Ave building. To be honest, I thought that the guys in there were editing a book aptly named for them, "Crazy."
To say that meeting Larry Hama and Jim Owsley (this is years before he changed his name to Christopher Priest) was scary was to put things mildly. Larry was a no nonsense guy about what he thought about comic books and he also didn't mind telling you what he thought of your work if you had a 'tude about how "good" an artist or writer you were. Larry wasn't mean spirited or anything, he was just candid and if you really paid attention to what he was saying you could tell when he was busting your chops and when he was making a critical point that would make you better at what you do. His assistant, Jim Owsley was a little better he'd only make you feel stupid, Larry would make you feel like you were stupid *and* ugly if the situation called for it.
(A point of note, Larry didn't just have his name on his door, he also kept the most recent target from his weekly trip to the shooting range taped on his door as well.)
Jim had written "The Falcon" a mini series that he was trouble getting drawn. Paul Smith had drawn the first issue but was then lured away to draw other things. I saw Paul's issue but wasn't worried about following after what he did. (Yes, I did have a little bit of an ego.) Jim didn't seem to have the same faith in my ability that I did but he warmed up to my work as the pages started to come in. I think that the fact that Larry wasn't making me take home everything and redraw it helped to make my work seem a little more capable to Jim as well.
The "Thor" job paired me with Vinnie Colleta and during one visit at the office Vinnie was there as well handing in some pages that he had finished.
As I looked them over I got to a page where I had drawn a series of rock wall backgrounds but noticed that the rock wall only appeared in one panel.
I commented on this to Vinnie and he jovially elbowed me in the arm and said, "It's the same background in each panel so you only needed to see it once, Mark."
I was about to disagree with Vinnie but when I looked at him smiling up at me, I thought that he might be right.
By the time I was done drawing the "Falcon" mini series Jim and I had become fast friends and whenever I was in the office he wanted to see what I was handing in that day and we would spend a little time talking about what we could work on together next. I was in a slightly better position in terms of landing assignments than Jim was because I wasn't on staff. Being on staff was the kiss of death if you wanted to write or draw unless you were an editor and have a little bit of bargaining power. For anyone else, you can submit proposals and art samples until the end of time but no one is going to take you seriously.
The trouble was that, as a penciller, I was always brought onto a book after it had a writer so without actively lobbying to get a writer removed from a book, there was no way for me to bring Jim in on anything that I was working on and I was too busy just trying to make deadlines to even think that I could suggest a new title or project to any of the editors I was working for.
I received the first alert from my official "Jim Owsley Signal Watch" about a year after we had done "The Falcon."
Jim was writing "Powerman/IronFist" and he knew that 'sometime in the near future' the title was going to need a new penciller. Jim also knew that I really wanted a chance to draw that book so he gave me a call and I turned up in Denny O'Neil's office the next day and Jim and I began our career in killing comic book titles.
Working on "Powerman/IronFist" was even better than working on "The Falcon" was. Jim had already written the "Falcon" so our conversations about that were restricted to him helping me interpret what the story there was in spots where I wasn't clear on what he wanted or what liberties I could take with his story. With "Powerman/IronFist" we talked incessantly about the title and who the characters here and what we wanted the book to do. This was my first time having any real chance to any influence on what happened in a comic and that made drawing the book an even better experience.
Ten issues into my run on "Powerman/IronFist" the book was cancelled and Jim and I wandered off in diferent directions for a while. We tried to pitch ourselves as a team for a bit but no one was buying. I went on to do "IronMan" Soon after, Denny left Marvel to go edit for DC Comics, I was paired with David Micheline and Bob Layton on "IronMan" and Jim left Marvel and to work at DC Comics.
Greg Wright whom had been assistant editor on "Iron Man" while I was worrking on it and who later edited me on "Solo Avengers" liked me well enough to toss work my way first. He paired me up with Dwayne McDuffie to work on another "Solo Avengers" piece - "Captain Marvel".
Dwayne specifically asked for me to not draw "Captain Marvel" with an over sized bust line and every time I brought in pages he looked at me and said, "Mark, those are NOT small."
In any event we worked our way though the four installments and they guys goosed me along a bit with the promise of getting Stan Drake to ink the pages. I was astounded to hear about this choice for an inker because anyone who knows anything about comics knows how good Stan is.
Eventually the "Captain Marvel" four parter wound up as a one shot special issue and it sold well enough that Dwayne was able to coax Marvel into doing another one a year later which he promptly wrote and I...
...took three years to draw - prodded along with several taunts by Dwayne about my tardiness and a lot of polite nudges from Mark Gruenwald - now Editor-in-Chief - that I either draw the darned thing or let him kill the project.
Thankfully I only had a label of being 'tardy' with my work as opposed to 'tardy and a pain in the rear end as well' and I was soon working on "G.I. Joe" with Larry Hama.
I'd always enjoyed the G.I. Joe series because of the unpretentious way that Larry wrote the book: Lots of action, lots of laughs, real good guys vs. bad guys and impossible odds stuff.
I'd been in a band - The K-Otics - with Larry for a couple of years by this time so I thought that working with him would be good but I also knew that there would be no slacking on doing what is essential for the book.
This came strongly to the foreground with my third or fourth issue.
To say that I was shocked was an understatement. The thing that really bore down on me was that knowing Larry, this probably wasn't the first instance where I had blown something in the story but he had been giving me time to get my legs under me on the book and with following his plots. I had finally just made that mistake that broke the camel's back.
Mind you, I had been doing comics for about ten years now and the best thing that editors and writers had claimed to like about me was that my story telling had always been very good. Perhaps not the most exciting story-telling but always consistently good and here I was now being told that, well, my story telling could use a bit of reexamination.
The thing about all of this is that I wasn't angry at being told this, I was embarrassed.
I already respected Larry as a friend and his ability to write but I'd also shared a few years of sitting in a rehearsal room with this guy twice a week cranking out bad tunes at earsplitting volumes. You earn a whole different level of respect when you've shared a microphone and amplifier with someone in a grundgy building full of deaf rats, rock band wannabes and ride with him in an elevator loaded way over the maximum weight tolerance because "only wusses take three trips to move their gear from the rehearsal room to the lobby on a gig night."
Larry invited me over to the office a few days later and he started showing me things to improve what I was doing and to make both his and my job a lot easier and better.
And that pretty much effectively ended my tour of duty at Marvel. I was doing "Green Lantern" at DC Comics, started work on "Icon" at Milestone and then moved on to "Quantum & Woody" at ACCLAIM.
I've been back to do a few covers and fill-in issues at Marvel but that's about it to this point in time.