A Tribute to Andy Schmidt on his departure from Marvel (OR, How to Win Friends by Insinuating Drug Abuse)

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For personal reasons, my good friend, Andy Schmidt, stepped down as a Marvel Comics Editor this past Friday, and now he sails his proverbial fishing boat into the [sarcasm] wonderfully untroubled, always big game to catch [/sarcasm] waters of freelance writing. Please allow me a few paragraphs to wish Andy the best of fortune, to pat him on the back for a job well done at Marvel these past few years (guiding such titles as Madrox, Annihilation, X-Factor, Ms. Marvel, Union Jack, Omega Flight, and X-Men, among others), to recount some of my personal experiences with him, and…

Oh, hell. Alright, I’ll confess: the real reason I’m writing this column is to mock Herr Schmidt, which, as you’ll soon see, is something I seem to have some kind of subconscious proclivity.

The fact that Andy and I even became friends is testament to Andy’s affability… or perhaps he was just desperate for people to talk to. You be the judge. It began in late July 2005. By that time I was entrenched as SBC’s Reviews Editor, and in that late July my reviewers and I decided to Slugfest Defenders #1, one of the books Andy was editing. Now at that time I hadn’t yet met Andy. I didn’t even know what he looked like. At that point he was just another Marvel Editor who had wandered into the sights of my high-powered reviewer’s sniper rifle, and as you can see in the Defenders #1 Slugfest, I take Andy to task for some editorial comments he made in the back of the issue. Yeah, that’s me rhetorically asking Andy NOT ONLY what “funny stuff” he had been smoking but who his drug dealer was. For whatever reason, Andy’s editorial remarks in Defenders #1 rubbed me the wrong way. A lot of reviewers don’t like to admit this, but sometimes stimuli external to the comic book affect the tone of our reviews, and I’d imagine that on the day I wrote that Defenders review the Yankees had shelled my beloved Red Sox or maybe my wife’s dog defecated in the house (in other words, I had stepped on yet another house pet I.E.D.). Regardless, I decided to take a whack at Andy in my review, and after the Slugfest had been posted, I didn’t think anything more of the matter. The review was out of my system. I needed to move on to the following week’s new comic book releases, and no one had emailed me to complain about or praise my Anti-Schmidt jabs.

A couple of weeks later, I was boarding my flight home to New York after attending the Chicago Wizard World convention. I didn’t recognize the man sitting next to me, but I assumed he was a comic book professional because EVERYONE on that flight was associated with comic books: Mark Waid, Bill Tucci, Greg Rucka, etc., etc., etc. Before take-off, Vertigo Editor Jonathan Vankin, who I met just prior to the flight and was sitting across the aisle from me, asked me about setting up reviews of some of his titles. He politely complained that no one was reviewing Hellblazer. Obviously listening to our conversation, the man sitting next to me chimed in to echo Jonathan’s complaint, “Me too. I’m always having problems finding reviews of my books.” He then asked me, “You write comic book reviews?” Extending my hand, I proudly (probably in a ridiculously self-important way) declared, “Even better! I’m a Reviews Editor. Keith Dallas, Silverbulletcomicbooks.com!”

He shook my hand and replied, “Andy Schmidt, Marvel Comics.”

Time stopped for a moment as my Defenders review comments immediately came back to me. Honestly, it’s hard NOT to recall exactly how you asked someone what drugs they had been smoking when suddenly you’re face to face with him. This wasn’t REALLY happening, was it? I mean, what were the chances of me sitting, NOT just on the same airplane, but IN THE VERY NEXT SEAT to the guy I smacked around in a review posted two weeks prior? Can someone please calculate the odds?

And that’s when I wondered if this was all a set up. Was Marvel SO upset with my review comments that they intercepted my travel plans and then manipulated my return flight’s seating arrangement so that I’d be sitting right next to Andy? Did their supremacy in the comic book industry give them clout with the airline industry? Was Tom Brevoort behind me with a garrote waiting for Herr Schmidt’s signal to extinguish one more disapproving critic?

Time resumed when Andy asked me, “Silverbullet, huh? Hey, one of your reviewers took a shot at me…” I interrupted him to confess, “Yes, that was me.” I figured there was no point delaying fate. When Marvel has targeted you for termination, it’s best to get it over with quickly. Denying my actions, like some modern day Peter, would have only provided me with a brief reprieve… and at that point I wasn’t enjoying House of M anyway, so if I was going to be put out of my misery, it might as well have been then.

But rather than vociferously defend his Defenders editorial comments or berate me about my inadequacies as a reviewer, Andy actually told me, “Yeah, I think I could have written my comments better so readers would understand that I was being sarcastic.” That’s right: Andy actually AGREED with the crux of my criticism (if not my tone). Or perhaps he suspected there was a Federal Air Marshal on board our flight, and he didn’t want to get arrested for pummeling me at 30,000 feet. Regardless, he and I had a polite, friendly chat the entire flight, and we agreed to keep in touch and try to arrange more reviews of Andy’s books.

(Indeed, a quick aside to my SBC reviewers: those of you who enjoy the advance PDFs Marvel sends us, you have two people to thank: Jim McCann and Andy Schmidt, as it was Andy who first suggested to Jim that SBC be sent advance PDFs. Anyone remember the first Marvel title we reviewed in advance? Kelvin Green, Dave Wallace, Shawn Hill, do any of you recall?

Time’s up. It was September 2005’s Drax #1.)

From that point on, Andy and I corresponded every few weeks, and after a few months he graciously invited me (or I probably finagled) to meet him at Marvel’s office so we could lunch in Manhattan. I had never before visited Marvel’s fabled palatial halls, and when Andy gave me the grand tour, I suspected (and still suspect) that some sinister social psychological experiment was under way, one which required as many people as possible be crammed in as little space as possible with all the environmental controls disabled, just for good measure. Case in point: when I first met Andy, he shared a 15’ by 15’ office with Tom Brevoort, Molly Lazer and Aubrey Sitterson, and furnace-like blasts of air showered down from the ceiling. I’ll assume the grandmaster of this experiment (whoever he may be; you may pick from the usual DC Comics’s suspects) was measuring the amount of time it would take an enclosed group of people in the most uncomfortable of settings to finally lose their mind and assail each other. So the next time you read a Marvel comic book that you feel is harebrained, don’t blame the editors; blame their work environment.

Anyway, Andy and I usually met up for lunch once a season, and let me assert that in an industry filled with remarkably sociable, accommodating people, Andy is without a doubt one of the most friendly, intelligent, humble, down to earth professionals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. During our lunch meetings I learned how much respect and adoration Andy has for the comic book medium. As we discussed the comic book industry and the latest comic book “events,” it became obvious to me that Andy was providing me with his sincere individual perspective, not some robotically regurgitated “Marvel agenda.” In other words, Andy voiced opinions I was a bit surprised to hear from a Marvel editor. I mean this as a high compliment: Andy is “one of us.” He is as much an addicted and critical fan as the rest of us.

Our first lunch will most likely remain the most memorable for me. It certainly will be hard to surpass. It was January 2006, and I arrived a bit early at Marvel’s office for our lunch date. As I sat in the reception room, Keith Giffen strolls in and says to Marvel’s receptionist, “Keith Giffen, here to see Andy Schmidt.” I was totally geeked as my first thought was “Holy %$&^! It’s Keith Giffen! An artist I’ve adored since I was a teenager reading Legion of Super-Heroes!” And when I realized why Keith Giffen had arrived at Marvel, my second thought was “Andy Schmidt, you dumb schmuck! You double booked lunch!” And then my third thought was, “Holy %$&^! It’s REALLY Keith Giffen!”

When Giffen sat down next to me, I introduced myself and said, “I’m also here for Andy. You having lunch with him?” Giffen replied, “Yeah.” I said, “Me too.” Realizing what Andy had done, Giffen sighed and muttered, “dumb schmuck.” A few minutes later, Andy came to the reception room and greeted us with a meek, “Okay, guys, I goofed.” At that point I was expecting the brush-off; I was already wondering when the next train back out to Long Island would leave, and honestly, I probably should have been dismissed because Andy’s Annihilation event was about to get underway, and he and Giffen most likely needed to use lunch to discuss some important matters. Much to my surprise and gratitude though, both Giffen and Andy asked me to join them for lunch. So for the next two hours I got to have lunch and converse with one of my comic book idols about a myriad of subjects. It was an encounter I doubt I would EVER have experienced, unless through the help of an intermediary. So my elation that day was all thanks to Andy.

When I got home, I emailed Andy to thank him for allowing me to join them for lunch as I told him how much of a Giffen fan I was. I also asked Andy if I acted “the fanboy” in any way, and Andy assured me that I had not. In fact, he replied, “You acted more normal than I did when I first met Keith… and I was working for Marvel when I first met Keith.”

One last story at Andy’s expense: one morning late last summer Andy sent me an email with the subject line, “Annihilation Script?” The message read, “When are you sending me the Annihilation #3 script?” Of course, I had no idea what Andy was referencing. Script? What script? Did Andy mean “review”? Does he want me to review Annihilation? But then my imagination took the best of me; Was Andy so impressed with my writing that he’s tapping me to helm Annihilation? Was this my big break? Was Andy taking me under his wing to abet my career? Will the days of my wife telling me that I am good for absolutely nothing finally be at an end?

Make no mistake: deluded thoughts like these are the product of drinking too much Mountain Dew in the morning. Thankfully, before I made an absolute fool of myself by announcing on every comic book internet messageboard that I, Keith Dallas was now writing a Marvel Comics limited series, I realized what was up: Andy sent an email to Keith Dallas that he meant to send to Keith Giffen (I guess I’m the first “Keith” in Andy’s email address book). I then called Andy to instruct him to re-send his email to the appropriate “Keith,” but I don’t think I confessed to Andy the delusions of grandeur that his email (and my Mountain Dew consumption) triggered. Unknowingly, Andy got his revenge for the Defenders #1 review comments I threw at him so many months ago.

I have other anecdotes I’d love to share, but I fear if this “tribute” goes on for much longer, I will lose the attention of my dear readers (if I haven’t lost it already). So I’ll conclude with this: if I was a great friend of Andy’s, I would say that history will mark Andy’s editorial departure as the “trigger event” of Marvel Comics’ downfall because the loss of such a keen evaluator of talent and an exceptional guide of storytelling excellence is just something that Marvel cannot withstand. However, since I’m only a good friend of Andy’s, I will instead claim that, despite their separation, great achievements are on the horizon for both Andy and Marvel Comics. (Sorry, Andy, but I need Jim to keep sending me those PDFs; my reviewers would kill me otherwise.)

In all seriousness, Andy, I congratulate you on the stellar work you’ve spearheaded at Marvel, I am grateful for how you have aided an improved relationship between Marvel and SBC, I look forward to our future lunch meetings (now far away from the hellish Marvel office environment), and I wish you the best of fortune in your new pursuits. Indeed, I can’t wait to read and review your first freelance work as it’s been a while since I asked what drugs a creator has been smoking.

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