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October 10, 2007

Newsmaker Interview: Larry Marder


The cartoonist and famously well-connected comics industry veteran Larry Marder announced on his blog this week that he was leaving his position as president of McFarlane Toys. I wanted to ask him a few follow-ups for clarification purposes, if only to find out what was next and what it was like to commute every week by airplane.

I apologize for any time I took him away from his signature creation Beanworld, and my thanks to Larry for agreeing to answer my questions.


TOM SPURGEON: Can I ask how long the decision's been in the works, and if there were any triggering factors that led to it taking place right now, even if it's just time of year or something like a break in the work calendar?

LARRY MARDER: I had been restless for about a year now because the internal dynamics of McFarlane Toys were in flux. I was increasingly uncomfortable with decisions that were being made. As a result, Todd and I fell out of sync. It is his company and he has the final word on all policy. I no longer had the ability to make a serious contribution to the direction of McFarlane Toys so it was time for me to move on.

As Jack Kerouac wrote in Lonesome Traveler, "I have no axe to grind; I'm simply going to another world."

In my case, that is Beanworld.

SPURGEON: Can you talk more explicitly about your creative plans for the near future, where Beanworld fits into it, and how this change in employment will help or perhaps hinder those plans? Basically, you're back on Beanworld now, right?

MARDER: Right. I'm going to concentrate on Beanworld for the immediate future. The old trade paperbacks are mostly out of print. So one of my most immediate tasks is to get all the previously published material back in print in a viable format for today's marketplace. Plus, the material that would have made up the fifth collection was never published at all. And there are various other Beanworld odds and ends floating around that are probably worth being collected too.

To me Beanworld isn't just my comic book -- it is also my sense of aesthetics. I plan to do other things with Beanworld that go beyond comics or animation. It is an amazing thing for me to have my imagination and creative abilities focused on only one thing, me, after so many years at Image and McFarlane.

SPURGEON: When you started working with Image a decade and a half ago you held one of the only positions of its type. Now it seems like there are a greater number of opportunities for well-connected insiders in terms of comics publishing and related industries, both in consultant terms and in staffed positions. Do you foresee yourself eventually seeking out work on that side of your professional resume in this new marketplace? Are you open to that possibility?

MARDER: Sure, I would welcome an opportunity to try my hand at something like that again. I'm always open to interesting challenges. I like to solve problems through careful analysis, consensus and cooperation.

I definitely achieved that at Image Comics. I always said that being Executive Director of Image was like being a head coach of an all-star basketball team where the players were also the owners. It was a volatile time in the industry and the Image partners were young, cocky, and their pockets full of cash.

But at the heart of the Image Revolution there was a great tale. Through industry speeches and advertising I told the partner's story to the world-at-large in a concise fashion that turned the company's public face around. At Image I was a very public person.

imageAt McFarlane Toys, I did more or less the same thing but it was more internal than external. My position at McFarlane was very behind-the-scenes. It was my job to keep all the various divisions scattered all over the globe pointed in the same direction. Sometimes it seemed like I talked on the phone for eight years. If I wasn't on the phone, I was in someone's office listening, gathering facts, analyzing.

I perceived the McFarlane empire as a giant jigsaw puzzle and it was my job to collect all the pieces and fit them together and be able to make sense out of it all. I was very good at this for a long time. I could explain Todd's mission to a new employee or a supplier or a licensor or a lawyer or a banker far more efficiently than anyone else.

SPURGEON: You've been away from comics without being away from comics. Now that you're re-orienting at least a part of your life towards comics -- I know you're going to SPX this week -- what's your general feeling about the market and the culture as it's developed since you played such a significant role giving the market its current shape while at Image?

MARDER: When Marvel bought Heroes World in the mid-90s and knocked the Direct Market out of its orbit, almost every decision made for the next year to 18 months was knee-jerk, defensive, and reactive. Everyone was looking for a deep foxhole to hide in. The business transmuted into what it is today.

Fortunately, the Internet came to the rescue like the proverbial calvary. Now, once you get their attention, today's creators and publishers can communicate directly and immediately with their fans. No more garbled messages filtering through the magazines and papers.

I was shocked at how quickly the word traveled that I had started a blog last summer. I went online and the Beanworld community immediately showed up and said they were happy to see me.

SPURGEON: Now that it's over, what was that commute like? What's it do to a person to have that lengthy of a trip to work every week for so many years? Do you have a lot of frequent flier miles? Will you ever step on a plane again?

MARDER: Every Monday morning, I would wake up in California at 4:15 am to catch a 6:45 am flight to Phoenix. It's only an hour flight and it is amazing how many of the same people I'd see every week, doing the same thing as me. Then, every Friday night, I'd catch a flight after work and fly home to California. On Friday, I often flew with many of the same folks as I had the previous Monday. The commute became very routine. I could do it in my sleep and often did.

What is even funnier, often, as part of my responsibilities, in the middle of one of those weeks, I would have to fly on a day trip to LA or Burbank to call on a movie studio licensor.

[Part] of my job was also, coordinating with McFarlane Design, the toy company's R&D division in New Jersey, and I flew out there to visit for a full week about four to six times a year. Over the last five years, I also spent a lot of time in Hong Kong and China, with the McFarlane employees at TMP ASIA. That office coordinates all the engineering and quality control of the toy manufacturing process in the Chinese factories. Between April of last year and June of this year, I made seven trips to Asia. The jet lag one experiences upon the return of one of those trips is staggering.

Yeah, I have a lot of miles. And I won't miss constantly flying one iota.

posted 9:05 am PST | Permalink

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