In the past few months Scoop has reviewed the Papercutz publications The Three Stooges and the Classics Illustrated Deluxe title Around the World in 80 Days, but we didn’t note much about the company itself. Since they’re making a strong effort to produce comics for younger readers, a cause we definitely believe in, was asked columnist Mark Squirek to take on the assignment. This is the first in a short series of pieces about Papercutz.
Jim Salicrup, the Editor-in Chief at Papercutz, has a history with Marvel, Todd McFarlane, The X-Men, Topps, and The X-Files. Scoop talked with him about his decision in 2004 to start, with Terry Nantier, a brand new company called Papercutz.
Since it’s founding, the company has grown and expanded to include such titles as The Smurfs, Power Rangers, LEGO Ninjago (LEGO and Ninjas), the Classics Illustrated line, and many others. The best way to keep comics alive is to make sure that each new generation has a chance to discover this wonderful world of four color life. Julie Schwartz knew this when he resurrected the idea behind the Golden Age Flash for a brand new Flash in 1956.
Salicrup and the crew at Papercutz understand this need to publish books for both new and old fans as well as Schwartz once did. The company’s original mission to publish the best in children’s graphic novels has expanded considerably. Since the company published their first books in 2004, the manga-style adaptation of long-lived series like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, Papercutz has quickly grown to fill a significant need in the comic book marketplace, that one where kids can climb on board while older readers can also enjoy those very same titles.
From Ninjago to the craziness of Ernest and Rebecca, which he describe as a “a version of Calvin and Hobbes, but with a girl instead of a boy, and a germ instead of a tiger” and over to Classics Illustrated, anyone of any age can pick up a Papercutz title and enjoy it.
The way comics are bought, created and sold is very different than what he experienced as a child growing up in the Bronx in the early sixties. Salicrup knows that in 2012 this means publishing books which draw the younger readers in with something they can directly relate to.
“At the candy store I bought comics in as a kid, comics weren’t segregated on the stand by subject matter like they are today. When I was a kid there was one Spider-Man comic for everyone and a kid read it just like his older brother or sister. Today I understand that the need to restrict certain comic book series for older audiences, but this doesn’t mean that the all age comics need to talk down to the younger audience,” he said.
“More than anything we are looking to change the idea that ‘all ages’ means ‘just kids only.’ If you look at the Papercutz line now, the books we publish, from Classics Illustrated to Smurfs, are like it was when I was growing up. Each title we are producing can be read and enjoyed by anyone of any age,” he said.
Salicrup has been in the comics business a long time. His point of entry was Marvel Comics in the early 1970s. As he spoke about his earliest days, he began to rush through the story with the excitement and enthusiasm of the fifteen-year-old he was talking about.
“In the late ‘60s, I was I was totally addicted to comics so my dream back then was A) Work for Marvel and B) Live in Manhattan. I was at Marvel when I was 15. It was like winning the lottery. I had sent in a post card saying I would do anything. It happened to arrive at a time when Marvel was expanding in 1972 and they needed help,” he said.
“During that period Marvel had to get the comics to the printers on time to meet very strict printing agreements, otherwise they would lose that reserved time for the books. They were spending money on traditional outside messengers to carry the comics out of the building across town to the offices of the Comics Code Authority, who would then mail the original artwork on to the printers. Someone at Marvel thought that they could save a few bucks by hiring someone to work directly for them who could run the books over at the drop of a hat, thereby saving the messenger fees to an outside agency. Plus, whoever they hired could do odd jobs around the office, so by hiring me, it was a win-win for everyone,” he said.
“I sent Marvel a post card telling them who I was while saying I would do anything to work there—I’d be their slave! I’m fifteen and I had no idea how things worked, I just knew I loved comics. Once I got in I was like a pit-bull and ended up there for 20 years. Sol Brodsky wanted to take me up on my ‘slave’ offer, but it was Editor Roy Thomas who said, ‘Oh pay the kid.’ Very wisely Roy thought that if you hire anyone at Marvel, even for a messenger type of job, hire someone who knows about comics so that you get a lot o use out of them. I owe my career to Roy Thomas and I appreciate what he did for me,” he said.
Once inside the building, Salicrup didn’t just run pages across town to the Comics Code. He did everything from getting supplies to erasing pages. He begins to laugh when he realizes that despite his “big title and position” today, he is still doing almost the same thing.
“One of the things I did a lot of in those early days was erase the pencil lines from comic art. To just show you how things come full circle, Papercutz is working with the great artist Stan Goldberg, who did Millie the Model at Marvel and went on to become the top artist at Archie. He used to sign his name as Stan G. Today he is doing the new Three Stooges as well as the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew titles for us and guess who is erasing his pencils when he sends in the artwork?”
It is clear that Salicrup relishes the chance to still work at every level of comic production.
As he went on he moved up the ladder at Marvel until he was named an editor. All the time he was doing what the best managers do, he was watching and learning from everything around him. This is what led him to working with Todd McFarlane on a book that has become legendary in the comic universe.
“I edited McFarlane at Marvel and he was just incredible fun to work with. Todd and I started working on Amazing Spider-Man. I was trying to convince Todd that if we worked on Amazing Spider Man the right way, we could make it Marvel’s best-selling title again. Todd thought the Spider-Man was too different from X-Men, but I had been at Marvel when X-Men was their poorest selling title! So I saw it change and become a fan favorite as well as a big seller. Years earlier I was also the editor leading up to the death of Phoenix. That had given me an insight on what the fans like and what I liked as a fan and what was important to making a series work,” he said.
“Until that point, X-Men had been Marvel’s undisputed best seller for over a decade. I realized that you had to get good creators who would stay on a title for years that you had to create a series that inspire loyalty in the audience and that the audience knew that their favorite creators would be there issue after issue. It was a great experience for all of us,” he said.
After the success of The Amazing Spider-Man with McFarlane, Marvel went through some well-documented management changes and Salicrup found himself moving over to Topps to head up their new comics line as Editor-in-Chief.
“Todd and the gang were thinking of leaving to form Image, and I, in my own way, was thinking that after 20 years I had done everything I had ever wanted to do at Marvel,” he said.
While at Topps Comics he worked on such licensed titles as Zorro, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The X-Files. The also published the Kirby-verse titles based on Jack Kirby’s creator-owned material, the Zorro spin-off Lady Rawhide, Mars Attacks, and numerous other series.
“As I had learned at Marvel, the best stories came down to strong characters and the way they interacted with each other,” he said.
“Along the way, when we were publishing Ray Bradbury Comics at Topps, I met Terry from NBM. After I left Topps Comics, Terry proposed working together on new company that would target the forgotten market of children, especially girls. Terry needed time to get everything set, so I wound up working for Stan Lee Media for a couple of years as Senior Writer/Editor. When SLM ended, Terry was ready to start up Papercutz.”
The company’s initial success with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy titles led to a look beyond their original idea to go with graphic novels.
“It was real luck that we were able to get the rights to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. On one hand it was everything most comic book stores hated—manga-style comics for children. But bookstores, schools, and libraries welcomed us! At last something for kids!”
People who ran book stores knew The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as solid entertaining reading for younger readers for over 70 years. Both institutions were hearing the buzz that graphic novels were the new thing.
“We were faithful to the spirit of the books. It was important for us because we were able to establish a name in the bookstores. They came to know that a Papercutz book was worth their time. More importantly, they could understand out books— we have strived, from the very beginning to make our comics as clear and as easy to understand as possible. We were able to build from there. We were not keen to compete on the superhero level. Papercutz was looking at an audience that may not be as important to other houses. This is especially true of the children market and especially with young female readers. Our titles appeal to both girls and boys,” he said.
In our second part of the interview, due next week, Salicrup will discuss his love of Classics Illustrated and much more. We will also be talking to Papercutz Marketing Director Jesse Post, a former editor for Disney, to see what’s coming up from Papercutz.