Besides being a Marvel Comics editor, a freelance Marvel Comics writer, and publisher of Comics Interview magazine that occasionally covered Real American Hero, David Anthony Kraft also had two important other connections to G.I. Joe. One was that he was the original editor of Marvel Books. This was an imprint that started up in 1982 as a way for Marvel to publish storybooks and coloring books and get them into outlets like Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us. Kraft recalled editing 1983’s The Spy Eye, and while I didn’t confirm his involvement with the 1984 illustrated storybook Operation: Disappearance and the 1983 reprint of three issues of the regular comic book, The Trojan Gambit, it’s a distinct possibility.
Read Part One here or skip to Part Three. Continuing the excerpts of our 2019 phone interview:
A FIEFDOM IN MARVEL BOOKS
TF: I’ve always wondered about Marvel Books. Did it exist before you the editor? Were you the only editor? Were you the art director? What was Marvel Books?
DAK: Uh, me. [LAUGHS] But I didn’t originate it. It came down from on high — Jim Galton, who was the CEO of Marvel at the time. And he had a background in publishing paperbacks and books and things before he came to Marvel. Really didn’t know much of anything about comics. He was always looking to steer Marvel in the direction of kids’ books and places it wasn’t: story books, kids’ books, novelizations. Just the kind of stuff that I guess was his familiarity. His area of expertise.
However that came about, it came down through Sol Brodsky. Sol was Vice President [of Special Projects]. I had a great relationship with Sol. And I had a pretty good relationship with Jim Shooter. [But] there were like opposing departments at Marvel. A simplified version of the Balkanization process. Lots of people who were unhappy under Shooter’s regime would flee over to Sol’s department. [CHUCKLES] And among them, eventually, Marie Severin and John Romita, and lots of other people. Sol wrote me a contract. I had bought a house [in Georgia], and I felt like I was in with the mob: I had a first mortgage payment one week. Second mortgage the next week. I had a note for the furniture and everything the third week. The fourth week was taxes, utilities, insurance. So I had to run as fast as I could. And finding freelance, it’s like two jobs. One is you talk to editors or whoever and to pitch stuff and you get work. But the other one is doing the work. Well, if you need that much to keep going, there’s not enough hours in the day to find the work and do the work.
So Sol did me a good turn. I’m sort of like the invisible DAK in certain areas at Marvel. There was all the big, top creators, John Buscema, Roy [Thomas], and people like that, that had contracts, that guaranteed them work. And then oddly enough there was me. [CHUCKLES] The last of the writer/editors, and Sol got me a contract that Marvel had to provide me at least as much money as I needed by contract and if they failed to so, they still had to pay me. I of course [still] had to do the work. […] In the course of that that’s how I ended up editing Marvel Books. They created this whole new division. And who better to edit it than me because Sol and I had worked together well and had done so for years. […] So I had a fiefdom that was independent from regular Marvel and Shooter’s side.
TF: Did you have a desk, an office, a floor?
DAK: Absolutely. And here was the funny part. [While I had a contract,] I was not on staff, I was still freelance. It was the same as saying to John Buscema or Jack Kirby “you’re going to have so many pages of work a month and we’ll guarantee you this.” It was a peculiar situation. Even though I was freelance, I had an office and everything, but I didn’t have office hours or anything like that. But I needed a place to meet artists and writers and licensors and people like that. It couldn’t be at my [New York] apartment [which I had in addition to my house in Georgia]. That would be very strange if I was representing Marvel and editing Marvel Books, “Hey, come up to my eastside apartment.” [CHUCKLES]
What was really funny, was when we moved from 585 Madison to 387 Park Avenue South, there was a huge memo posted everywhere, because freelancers used to come in, artists and writers, they would hang around in the bullpen. And in the artists’ case, they’d pull up a chair in the bullpen and do some of their freelance there and talk to other people. And in the case of writers, we’d scarf an office, [if] we had to do an editorial or this or that. Anyway, there was this posted thing all over the offices,When we go to 373 Park Avenue South: No freelancers shall have space in the offices. And I went to Sol and said “How is this going to work? How do I edit?” And I was doing a lot more than Marvel Books, and a lot of it for Sol. But I’m like “How do I do this if I can’t do it in the office?” And Sol was like “Let me worry about that.” And he was a VP [of Special Projects] back then, long before Shooter was [a different Vice President]. And so when we got to 387 Park Avenue South, not only did I have an office, it was diametrically opposite of Jim Shooter’s. [CHUCKLES] Which was news to me! It was like holy cow!
What was so funny about that was A) I was not the instigator in that. But it was really delightful because I only answered to me. I was like the DAK over there and then there was Shooter over there. And I don’t think he cared a lot for that, even though we tended to get along. […] Because I had my own department, I didn’t have to follow certain mandates. At that time, say, Don McGregor was persona non grata and had fallen on the bad side of mainstream Marvel. [But] it didn’t mean I couldn’t use him in my department or have him in the offices. So I think my having certain people over there, including Gary Groth [CHUCKLES], probably was looked poorly upon by Shooter, who was diametrically opposite of me. I don’t know, I don’t want to speak for him. Eventually they said “we need the Marvel library” — There was an internal staircase that connected us to the executive floor at 387. And they said “We need access to the Marvel library, and that needs to be down here.” To use the words of Jim Galton, very corporate speak-stuff, that redounded to my benefit even more. If they needed the Marvel library down there, guess what? Now my office was [up and] around the corner from Galton and the executive floor. [LAUGHS]
TF: Oh, you got bumped up and your office became the Marvel library?
DAK: Yeah, my office on the Marvel level became the library, and I got moved up to the executive floor with Stan and Galton. And I was still freelancing. Crazy days.
———— [End interview transcript]
Kraft couldn’t recall the precise length of his time running Marvel Books, but he estimated it was a year or less.
DAK’s other key connection to G.I. Joe was that he helped Roger Slifer edit the second season of GI Joe Extreme, and he in fact wrote four episodes. Read about that in Part Three, or jump back to the 1970s in Part One.