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Jim Salicrup still draws inspiration from comics

- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

Comic-book editor extraordinaire Jim Salicrup has spent more than three decades working in an industry he loves.

At the tender age of 15, he became an intern for Marvel Comics and worked his way up the command chain to eventually edit such titles as Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers and Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man.

After a stint at Topps Comics and work with Stan Lee Media, he became editor in chief of Papercutz, a graphic-novel company targeting the tween market. His company has not only put out manga-sized odes to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but reintroduced such titles as Tales From the Crypt and Classic Comics.

Mr. Salicrup agreed to give Zadzooks a piece of his mind in the 56th chapter of a series that profiles the elite of the comic-book industry.

My early years: I grew up in the Bronx back in the 1960s, when it was not the greatest place in the world to be. It motivated you to want to get out of there. For a few years, my family actually lived in the projects.

My true love: I have always loved reading. My parents started me off with Dr. Seuss and the Little Golden Books. I especially loved Children's Digest, a publication that serialized "The Adventures of Tintin."

The comics: By the time I was 13, I was completely addicted to comics from Marvel, DC or whatever I could get my hands on. The good part about being in New York City were the great early comic-book conventions where I was exposed to all types of great comic books I did not even know existed. Actually, that's where I was first introduced to Will Eisner's Spirit.

My first professional work:There was a publication called Kids Magazine; it was by kids and for kids. I submitted work to the magazine, and it turns out they [had] just moved to New York City and they needed some kids to get an issue out. I got pulled in and did a cover and some other things.

Kids Magazine memories: One of the more eventful things that happened was to interview the people at MAD magazine. We were thrilled to go there and meet Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, the publisher and editor.

The ultimate irony is that I am now editing a new Tales From the Crypt for Papercutz, one of the titles Gaines and Feldstein are most famous for. I have been begging Feldstein to write another story.

How I got to work at Marvel:I sent a postcard to Marvel where I drew sort of an Incredible Hulk in a Herb Trimpe style, and I offered to be their slave. Shockingly, they got back to me and asked that I come down into the office. For me it was like going to be a roadie for the Beatles. I met the whole bullpen. The person to first call me Jim, which became my professional name ever since, was John Romita. Once I was there, I was a pit bull and did not let go for 20 years.

Life with Marvel:It's like Don Blake would turn into Thor and suddenly see himself surrounded by gods. I mean there was Stan Lee, John Romita and Steve Gerber; my head was spinning.

Why I did not draw or write too much for Marvel: I was so young, it was like "Wayne's World." I would do everything but bow before everyone and say, "I am not worthy."

When writing and artwork opportunities were presented to me, I wasn't really thinking too clearly. I was trying to compare my meager talents with the likes of Lee, [Jack] Kirby and [John] Buscema instead of kids at my age. I felt I was not worthy to hold a pen. I really avoided the better opportunities.

In later years, ... I would compromise, and I would take a project if it was not part of the Marvel canon. For example, if it was Spidey Super Stories that wasn't the real Spider-Man [but] was sort of an adaptation, I would write that for years or work on licensed books like the A-Team or Transformers.

McFarlane's Spider-Man: The reasons the series came to be was not to drive the speculator market, but was a combination of factors — the main thing being I really enjoyed working with Todd McFarlane. The fans were really appreciating his approach, and he was an incredibly professional guy. The more he learned about creating comics, the more he wanted to do on the books. Basically, he wanted to do everything himself.

When Todd was thinking about leaving Marvel, I wanted to try anything I could to keep him. So why not create another Spider-Man book for Todd, present it in six-issue stories and be able to repackage them into trade paperbacks, a new concept that was just starting to take off.

Why I became an editor:It seemed like the perfect fit for me. I had an interest in every aspect of comics and am still an incredible fan. I love working with the writer and artists and, as an editor, I am in a great position. Let's say I was working with John Byrne on the Fantastic Four. It puts me in a dream position as a comics fan. I can tell him, 'Why don't you do this with Doctor Doom?'

I basically have the top creators in the industry creating comic books just for me, except we're publishing them. Fortunately, others share my taste.

Can the comic survive? It's like asking if music will still be around. I don't think any society is a homogenous demographic. You will find people with all sorts of interests. If something is good, it can find a market.

When I was 15, some of the folks at Marvel were worried about hiring me because they thought I was entering a field that was truly doomed. They had no idea comic book stores would come along.

Dream project: I have clear memories of going to a drug store and reading Classics Illustrated off the stand and thinking I am seeing something from another world. To suddenly be heading up and publishing Classics Illustrated for Papercutz it still hard for me to wrap my brain around.

New projects for Papercutz: The next launch is an odd one and aimed directly at young boys. It's called Bionicle. Over the last six years, since its start, a fan club has been offering a comic book for its member. Lego thought it was a fad, but they know it's still appealing to young boys who are captivated by the legend and want to learn more. It's hard for them to find the old comics, and we will be repackaging it in trade paperbacks.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.