Interview Series with Former Marvel Writer/Editor - Barry Dutter
This interview series is with none other than Mr Barry Dutter! In some of the Facebook Comic Groups I'm in, he's been a long time seller. After his time at Marvel he's gone on to remain in the entertainment industry through writing and being on gameshows. I've bought from him several times and he's a great seller that always has great books. He's also been gracious enough that when I started selling he gave me some really good advice. I figured he'd be an excellent person to interview for the blog and would have some great stories to share!
What got you into comics?
- When I was a very young child, my father worked as a salesman, selling supplies to Barber shops. At this time, barber shops would sometimes keep a stack of comic books on hand, so kids would have something to read while waiting for their haircut.
My dad would occasionally ask the barbers if he could take a few comics home for his kids, and the barbers were often happy to comply. (I’m not saying my dad was cheap, but I should note here that this was a time when comic books cost 10 cents or maybe 12 cents, but my old man was still looking for a way to score free books for his kids!)
Over time, my brother and I had put together a nice little stack of comics that my dad had brought home for us. Among the ones that I remember having were X-Men number three, which had the first appearance of the blob, and Avengers annual number one. We were too young to actually read the comics, but we sure loved looking at the pictures.
One day, I came home from school to find that my mom had thrown away all of the comics. (As all moms must do at least once.) My brother and I were a little upset about it, but we got over it pretty quick and went outside to play kickball.
Flash forward to 1974. I am now 10 years old. My friend Robbie Nightingale and I went to the local corner store to get some candy. While in the Candy store, the comic book rack caught my eye. I had vague memories of liking Comics from when I was an infant.
I saw there was a Comic called Marvel Two-In-One. The price was 25 cents and this seemed like a great deal to me, because you got two heroes for the price of one. Along with an assortment of candy, I purchased Marvel Two-In-One number four. This was the official beginning of my comic book collection.
Favorite childhood memory about comics?
- My favorite childhood memory about Comics would have to be going riding my bike into town every Tuesday afternoon with friends. We would see all the new Comics on the Comic rack and I would squeal with glee at the site of each new Marvel comic.
Sometimes, if we got there early, the owner of the local stationary store would even let us clip open the bundles of comics and pick out the ones we wanted. That made us feel pretty special.
Tell us about your time at Marvel.
- In my senior year of high school, I started writing for Comics fan magazines like the Comic Buyer‘s Guide and Amazing Heroes. When I was around 25 or so, I put together a few of my best articles and sent them in to the editors of Marvel Age magazine. They liked my stuff enough to start giving me freelance work for Marvel Age, which was the marvel house fanzine at the time.
One day, I asked if I could come in and get a tour of the Marvel offices. My editor was Dwight Zimmerman, and he was more than happy to give me a tour. At the time, I lived in New Jersey and it was just a 45 minute train ride into New York City.
One of the first people I met on my tour was Jim Salicrup, who was the editor of Marvel Age magazine in addition to editing all of the Spider-Man comics at the time.
A few weeks later, I called the Marvel offices to see if Dwight had any more work for me. Dwight wasn’t there, but Jim picked up the phone. Jim explained to me that Dwight had been promoted to a different position at Marvel and would no longer be editing Marvel Age.
That was when Jim had a flash of inspiration. He asked me if I would be interested in taking over Dwight‘s old job as the associate editor of Marvel Age magazine.
Now, I should state that it has never been a goal of mine to work on staff at Marvel. My entire life, my goal was always to work for Marvel as a freelancer, first I wanted to work as an artist and then I wanted to work as a writer. But I knew that the only way most freelancers got work at Marvel was by starting on staff first. So it seemed like a good way for me to get my foot in the door.
Jim hired me to work as the associate editor of Marvel Age. I was working out of Jim‘s office, where they also produced all of the SPIDER-MAN comics. Occasionally I would pick up the phone and might find Stan Lee or Todd McFarlane at the other end. Trust me, it was a huge thrill to talk to superstars like that.
After six months, the opportunity came up to go work in another office. I was hired by Mike Rockwitz to work as his assistant editor. (It was an upward move, because the Marvel Age gig was considered a part-time gig and paid less than full-time editorial work.) Initially we were mostly just working on Conan Comics and magazines, but in time, we ended up working on mainstream marvel heroes like Captain America, Mighty Thor, and Fantastic Four.
While I was on staff, I had the pleasure of working with some of the greatest Comic-Book artists of all time. One time I picked up the phone and asked Jim Lee to draw a Conan cover for us and he did. Another time I called up John Byrne and asked him to draw a Captain America trade paperback cover for us and he did.
Once a month, John Buscema would send in an envelope containing a 50-page story that had been written by Roy Thomas. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was working with big John and Rascally Roy. Legends, both!
The Art Director of Marvel at the time was John Romita, another legend. When an artist would send in a cover sketch, sometimes I would bring it down to John Romita's office and he would put a piece of tracing paper over it and show how the artist could fix it. John was so talented, it was such a thrill watching him work.
While I was on staff, I had the pleasure of working with Mark Gruenwald who would become a good friend. I even went to his wedding. At the time, Mark was in charge of editing the bullpen bulletins page. Originally, that page was written by Jim Salicrup, but Jim was nice enough to pass it off to me at one point, and Mark was nice enough not to fire me off of it.
While I was on staff at Marvel, I pursued as much freelance work as I could get. I was doing the weekly bullpen bulletin page, which paid very well. Then finally I got my first monthly book for Marvel: Ren & Stimpy.
I started picking up other work, including titles such as Beavis and Butthead, Power Rangers, VR troopers, etc. finally I was getting enough freelance work that I didn’t have to be on staff anymore. So I left staff and for the next two years, I worked almost exclusively as a writer for Marvel Comics.
Among the characters that I got to write for Marvel over the years were Nick Fury, X-Men, Spider-Ham, Marvel Boy, Cloak and Dagger, and even the Hulk.
That was the best time of my life. I remember one time I was in the middle of writing the regular monthly Ren and Stimpy book when I was also asked to write the 48 page quarterly edition as well. This was in the days before the Internet, so pages were coming in over my fax machine for me to script.
I remember being a little annoyed one day that work was coming in when I wanted to go out and party with my friends. But at that moment, I stopped and caught myself. And I said to myself, “The work doesn’t last forever. Enjoy it while you can.” I knew the business well enough to know that many talented writers and artists who used to get work from Marvel and DC often found themselves out of work a few years later.
In 1996, I moved from New Jersey to Florida. At the time, I was writing a couple of monthly books, plus the bullpen bulletins page, and had more than enough work to keep me busy. About a month later, all my books were canceled. Half the editorial staff at Marvel was fired, and suddenly me and a whole bunch of other people found ourselves out of the Comics business.
Most of the people that I worked with ended up never going back into Comics. That kind of shocked me but I guess people need to live their lives and people have bills to pay and there are not that many jobs available in the Comics business.
I’m still friends on Facebook with most of the people that I worked with at Marvel. We all consider that a very special time in our lives. We were there when the company enjoyed its greatest success ever. I was on staff when Spiderman number one sold 2.5 million copies and X-Men number one sold 8 million copies a short time later. It was truly a glorious time to be in the industry.
What got you into selling comics and your biggest mistake when selling?
- I collected comics for 30 years. And all those years I swore I would never sell any of my comics. But there came a time when I was low on cash and I realized I wasn’t really looking at my old comics anymore. I had 50 long boxes that were just sitting collecting dust in a garage at my dad’s house. It occurred to me that I could start selling them.
I sold my entire collection on eBay, one piece at a time. It was fun and rewarding, so it occurred to me that I could maybe start selling other people's collections. I looked on eBay and the seller was offering a collection for $7500. The collection looked pretty good; the pictures in the ad showed some key issues.
The seller promised that the collection was worth $30,000. That seems like a great exaggeration to me, but I figured, even if the collection was only worth $15,000, it would still be a good investment. So I pulled the trigger. I put the whole thing on my credit card and paid $7500 for a comic book collection.
The 17 boxes were delivered to my door the next few days later. When I opened the boxes, I was disappointed to see that the boxes did not contain that many key issues. Much to my surprise, all of the best books had been pictured in the ad. The rest of the books were rather uninspiring.
I sent a bunch of the books to CGC for grading, which turned out to be a huge mistake, as most of the books that I sent you were in poor condition and received low grades.
I sold the entire collection on eBay and for a little while, I had what I like to call “the illusion of making money.“ There was money coming in every day for these sales, but after all was said and done, I took in a total of $5,000. Which meant that I lost $2,500 on the collection, not counting eBay fees.
To make matters worse, I had paid for the collection with my credit card, which meant I spent the next several years paying interest for a collection that I had already lost money on.
That was by far the worst investment I ever made. A year later, I purchased another collection on eBay for $3,000 and sold it for $9,000. That was a much better investment. I tried one more time with a collection that I basically broke even on and finally realized that buying things on eBay with the intent of reselling them on eBay for profit was not a practical business model.
What's your favorite title or character to collect?
- I don’t really collect comics anymore, except for IMMORTAL HULK. I have enjoyed that series. Incredible Hulk was my original favorite comic book character. I always hated the fact that SPIDER-MAN seemed to get all the attention at Marvel while Hulk was number two. But in time, I came to love Spidey as well.
- I don’t have a personal collection anymore so I don’t really have an answer to that question. I’m strictly a reseller. Having said that, I have never owned a copy of any of the marvel grails, so it would certainly be fun to have an AMAZING FANTASY #15 someday.
Most unique or favorite thing in your collection?
- When I was a kid, we found out that Red Sonja artist Frank Thorne lived in my town, Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He was listed in the phonebook, so we called him up and asked if we could meet him. He said sure. So my dad brought my brother and I over there and Mr. Thorne was kind enough to do sketches of Conan and Red Sonja for us. I still have those sketches today. It was such a thrill finding out that an actual Marvel Comics Artist lived right there in my hometown!
Raw or Graded? Why?
- Raw all the way, baby! So you can read it! I sell tens of thousands of comics every year but I very rarely deal in graded books. To me, once a comic has been slabbed, it sort of stops being about reading the comic at that point. And it becomes more about the person just wanting to own a collectible.
Best find or score?
- I have scored lots of great Comics over the years, but so far, nothing I’ve ever found will compare to the score that my friend Jake had once. He was in a warehouse digging through boxes of Comics when he actually found a copy of AMAZING SPIDER–MAN number one in decent condition. The owner of the warehouse had told Jake he could have any comic that he found for 25 cents. So Jake grabbed a stack of books and paid 25 cents each for all of them, including AMAZING SPIDER-MAN number one. To date, nothing I’ve found has ever come close to that.
Advice to new collectors or sellers.
- My advice to collectors is to always try to negotiate. When it comes to comic cons and even online sales, the price listed is not always the lowest price for the item. Many sellers are willing to go lower.
My advice for other sellers is to try to do better than just doubling your money. You always want to make 3 to 5 times your investment on any collection that you buy.
A huge thank you to Barry for a great interview and a special look inside the Marvel Bullpen! Click here for more content!
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