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October 7, 2007

Steven Massarsky, 1948-2007

The attorney and New York businessman Steven Massarsky, one of the co-founders of Voyager Communications, the parent company behind the early 1990s comics market mainstay Valiant Comics, died on Friday afternoon in Manhattan from complications due to cancer.

Massarsky was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, and attended Brown University and the Rutgers University School of Law. He owned an artistic management company which eventually became a thriving entertainment law practice. Among his clients at the former were the Allman Brothers Band; at the latter, Nintendo and Aerosmith. The statement that hit the wires Friday emphasized his role in helping launch the career of pop singer Cyndi Lauper.

imageIn 1989, Massarsky teamed with deposed Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter and J. Winston Fowlkes to create Voyager Communications Inc. and Valiant Comics. Massarsky had employed Shooter to do some work on a Marvel-related license before they became partners. Backed by the venture capital group Triumph (who owned 40 percent of the company) and employing key licenses from the defunct publisher Gold Key (Turok, Doctor Solar, and Magnus Robot Fighter), Valiant launched as a kind of tightly edited and plotted alternative superhero/fantasy line in an era that had come to be defined by looser writing in service of extravagant art. In 1993, with the market surging due to a number of confluent factors, Valiant's expanded line and series re-launches gave the publisher its greatest success in terms of individual issue sales. According to a statement by Jim Shooter, Massarsky, who along with Shooter and Fowlkes was a 20 percent owner of Voyager, was in charge of marketing at the company. One thing he did in that position, according to a poster at Newsarama, was to call a fan based on a random selection from that month's mail and solicit their opinion about the company's output.

(Jim Shooter's contentious, personal take on that time period -- he was eventually forced out of the company -- including his view on Massarsky's various actions can be found here.) The Newsarama thread linked to above contains similar discussion of that same period.

In summer 1994, Voyager Communications Inc. was sold to Acclaim Entertainment, Inc. (one uncredited source had it as a $65 million sale). Massarsky remained as the division's President and Publisher. Like most comics companies in the mid-1990s, Valiant experienced a sudden downturn in sales. This was followed with a number of periodic reorganizations, abortive re-launches and name changes through the parent company's bankruptcy in early 2004. In a way, Voyager and its comics company Valiant was emblematic of a time of a brief but chaotic period in American comic books where a rush of success could be followed by an extended tumble, where having many of the trappings of a prominent publishing effort were no guarantee of sustained market presence and long-term viability. It was also a model for current comics companies in its blend of original and licensed properties.

More recently, Massarsky was founder and CEO of a company called Business Incubation Group, which provided advice and resources to entrepreneurial effort at key points in their early development. That company was founded in 1999. A listing at a mentorship program at Brown in which the deceased was active indicates Massarsky resigned his positions at that company, although no date for that event was given.

The site ComicMix provided in its coverage a quote from two unnamed comics industry sources, one positive and one negative.

He is survived by his mother, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, five nieces, one nephew and a fiancee. A service was held yesterday.
posted 10:14 pm PST | Permalink

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