Saturday, December 3, 2011

Memories of Gary Gygax

Quite a number of people emailed me yesterday to point out a post on Jim Shooter's blog about his meeting with Gary Gygax and some "executives" from TSR back in the Fall of 1981. Of particular interest were these paragraphs:

Gary and his troops talked about what they did. Gary struck me as a brilliant, clever and creative guy.

I was also impressed that his top executives, suit-and-tie business people types who wouldn’t look out of place at MetLife, all knew the game and played the game. They clearly loved D&D.

Then it was our turn to talk about what we did. Galton and the licensing people made it clear that they were far too dignified and sophisticated as human beings to ever read a comic book. They joked about not knowing anything about the comics.

I have to believe the TSR people had to be a little insulted. If Marvel’s execs thought that proper adult business people worried only about dollars and deals, that actually reading the books would be somehow embarrassing, then what might they be thinking of TSR’s game-playing execs?
After reading that, I have to wonder who these "executives" at TSR were. While I don't doubt Shooter's recollection that they, like Gygax, "clearly loved D&D," it does fly in the face of the received view of TSR's history that, by the time the Blume brothers were fully in control (and they were in 1981, as I understand it), the company came increasingly to be run by people who didn't know or care about gaming. Now, maybe at this early stage, the culture of TSR hadn't yet changed, I don't know, but it's nevertheless fascinating to read an outsider's perspective on Gygax and the other TSR-ites he met back in 1981.

Thanks to everyone who pointed me toward this story.

16 comments:

  1. TSR was getting a bad rep by the early 80s if I recall. That whole SPI thing, where they acquired the assets only and not it's liabilities (something as an accountant today I would advise) soured SPI's magazine subscribers to TSR.

    Then there was something about trademarking "Nazi" that made them look like lame.

    Lastly, when when the internet took off in the 1990s, all those cease-and-desist orders to fan stuff on the internet sealed its reputation.

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  2. That was Lucasfilm that had "Nazi" as a trademark.

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  3. 123,

    That's right. As I recall it, the trademark was in Lucasfilm's name and was intended to refer to the particular illustration of a cardboard stand-up figure for TSR's Indiana Jones Roleplaying Game. Somewhere along the line, the story got rather garbled and TSR was blamed for attempting to trademark the word "Nazi," which even Lucasfilm didn't attempt.

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  4. "...it does fly in the face of the received view of TSR's history that, by the time the Blume brothers were fully in control (and they were in 1981, as I understand it), the company came increasingly to be run by people who didn't know or care about gaming."

    Conjecture: It could be a relative culture thing. That is, people who were, to all observers at TSR, starting to put business ahead of the game artform, might still appear to Marvel like crazed radicals.

    For example: If the suited executives were the Blumes themselves, obviously they had played D&D and would still know a lot about it. Just a thought.

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  5. A hobby can also be ruined by people who don't care, but also by people who care too much. Joe Quesada and Spider-Man, anyone?

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  6. Thanks for the link to this interesting article. I went ahead and read the whole thing because Shooter and Gygax are two people I find to be really interesting for two very different reasons. It isn't that long of an article and it is worth reading the whole thing.

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  7. As a kid I raed the comic book trades, and Jim was called out as a jerk in many interviews. I didn't know anything about him but hated him. I've been reading his blog for months and I find him warm, funny, and hip. I'm glad he can finally tell his side of things. Plus he has gems like this Gygax piece. His blog is a must for old school comic nuts.

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  8. As a kid I "raed." There's some irony right there...

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  9. Shooter has a bad reputation for being hard to work for when he was EIC at Marvel.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Shooter#Marvel_Comics

    He pissed off a lot of old timers and then he created the notorious "New Universe" which was a huge failure.

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  10. That he was difficult to work for depends on which talent you ask. The complainers usually get the attention. Not many people have great things to say about the boss. Even decades later.

    But it is a fact that Shooter fought for artist royalties (unheard of at the time) and went out of his way to find work for down on their luck talent who created the Marvel vibe but got tossed aside due to the favoritism of others. Its often artists who got rich at Marvel who bitch about Shooter. That says a lot. Spoiled "Rockstars", like the overrated John Byrne.

    A lot of people worked on New Universe. They all at least deserve praise for thinking outside the box (a more toned down superhero universe where actions had realistic consequences, and no "alien invasion of the week"). This is something companies do all the time now, and NU paved the way failure or no. Fans of the big companies come and go with their appreciation of that, and it was not the right time for it. Jim's accomplishments far outshine his "failures."

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  11. He is a really talented and gifted guy, but there ARE loads of people he pissed off with his style of being EIC, and on the other hand, yes he very well did fight for creators rights. As for the NU, yes other people wrote that horrible, horrible, horrible failed experiment but it was his idea. He's a flawed genius which is why I find him so fascinating.

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  13. I'm reminded of that line the Blizzard execs said in the South Park WoW episode: "We don't actually play World of Warcraft. We have lives."

    There's a reason that was funny (beyond the obvious). When asked, everybody at the company is going to say they use the product and they love the product because they are paid to do so. So I'm not so sure this anecdote is enough to completely discredit the popular perception that it was "all just corporate suits" at that time, but it would sure be nice if that wasn't the case.

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  14. Wouldn't care that he pissed off John Byrne, but Gene Colan and Doug Moench were hardly "spoiled Rockstars" (and Colan could draw rings around Byrne).

    Interesting piece. Pretty pathetic attitude on the suits. Still, though he clearly stated he was a comics fan as a kid (mentioned the EC's speficially), I seem to recall a somewhat dismissive remark about "graphic novels," so I'm doubtful EGG was a lifelong comics fan.

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  15. Doug Moench, however, is a bald face liar. No one has ever backed him up on his loopy tale that Shooter wanted to kill off all the heroes in the Marvel Universe and bring back new characters in all the roles (makes no sense, I know, but Moench peddled that tale in several industry magazines at the time). I believe Colan's beef with Shooter was he had problems not being paid on time for his Howard the Duck newspaper artwork (understandable), and Shooter eventually forcing him out of Marvel. Loved Gene's classic Daredevil and Tomb of Dracula, but at the time Shooter forced him out and Colan went to DC, his artwork was in a word awful. Night Force, Nathaniel Dusk and even his Batman artwork was virtually indecipherable, sloppy and murky as a swamp(BTW, Giordano eventually booted Colan out of DC with virtually the same complaints Shooter had, so...) Byrne sadly has entered full blown mental illness at this point so being someone who has pissed him off is almost a badge of honor.

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  16. Shooter's comments on TSR management in late '81 are on the mark. Most of the top execs at that time were still gamers, or family members of gamers. (Nepotism was a bigger issue than corporatism.)

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