Jim Shooter: Creator of Superheroes And Villains
You could say he’s the super boy who revitalized America’s comic book industry.
In 1966, a Pittsburgh high school freshman took his pen to paper and started creating stories of superheroes, villains, and characters we could identify with. He sold his story Legion of Super-Heroes to DC Comics. From there Jim Shooter went on to write stories of Superboy, The Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman, and others that have entertained youths in households across the country for decades.
Shooter’s track record is second to none in the industry. He developed skills to become a comic book writer, editor, publisher, and occasional artist. With over 3,500 works under his belt and innovative ideas that forever changed the comic book industry, Shooter’s contributions are indelibly etched into America’s comic book culture.
A Yearning for Better
As an eight-year-old, Shooter like most boys his age was eager to dive into the latest issue of their favorite comic book. But he soon lost interest as he noticed a trend of sameness in each new story. Years later at 12, he was recovering from surgery in a hospital ward and had access to oodles of comic books. To his amazement, nothing had changed with his old favorites. But his attention was drawn by a well-worn issue of Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man no. 2.
While still young, he thought he could help with his family’s financial woes and spent the next summer at a desk crafting his solution while other young boys played outdoors and enjoyed warm summer days. “It occurred to me, at a rather tender age, that if one could somehow get paid for this sort of thing, one had, indeed, discovered a legal racket. Thus were the seeds of my writing career sown,” he says.
“All I had to do was figure out why Spider-Man comics were better, learn how to do that, make some Superman comics that were as good as Marvel’s, and sell them to National. Simple,” he says. Figure it out he did, weaving the Marvel feel and depth into his DC story and actually breathing life back into the languishing Legion of Super-Heroes. Not only did DC pick it up but also requested more from him and soon checks began rolling in.
He became DC’s lead writer for Legion of Super-Heroes. While at DC, he added new characters to the superhero line-up including Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, and Ferro Lad. Antagonists were introduced such as the Fatal Five and the Sun-Eater. He also spiced up his stories with death and drama, developing a style that drew more readership.
Launching to Super Stardom
He takes pride in being one of the last to learn from notable figures such as John Buscema, Frank Thorne, and Win Mortimer, leaders in the industry prior to its decline in the 1960s. “I was among the younger guys, but, by virtue of the fact that I’d started at age 13, working with ancient ones – for instance, Sheldon Moldoff, who began drawing comics in the ‘30s drew my first published story – I had old-guy sensibilities. I often related better to the old guys,” says Shooter.
While in high school, he continued to write stories, create page layouts, and design covers. Shooter was accepted to attend New York University in 1969 but opted for a job offered by Marvel Comics instead. He worked for Marvel as a writer and assistant editor in the years that followed, honing his craft and expanding his abilities.
In 1978, at only 27 years of age, Shooter became editor in chief for Marvel Comics. He sought to build a staff of the best of the best in creative talent and offered significant perks not seen elsewhere in the industry including royalties, incentives, and benefits. While at Marvel, he developed a series of storytelling lectures to help his staff learn fundamentals passed on to him by the “ancients” who were experts and pioneers in the field. His lectures focused on story structure and comics craft which broadened his team’s capabilities and launched Marvel into dominance in the industry.
“It’s hard to find a guy who worked at Marvel in the ’70s or ’80s who hasn’t heard my famous ‘$1.98 storytelling lecture.’ Ask some of them. Or ask Chris Claremont if he’s ever heard my Little Miss Muffet lecture,” he says.
During his time with Marvel, he oversaw some of the best performing projects in Marvel’s history. Shooter scripted the 12-part Secret Wars which was met with criticism for using all of the company’s characters, but it also set records for comic book sales.
He also introduced novel ideas never tried on such a large scale. Shooter partnered with Mattel to produce character toys including Shogun Warriors, Rom the Spaceknight, and Transformers. Other innovations included developing mini-series and publishing large-character graphic novel formats. Shooter’s ideas are widely used in the comics industry today.
Adventures in Later Years
Shooter and a group of investors founded Voyager Communications and began publishing comics in 1989 under Valiant Comics. Initially, the comics were based on Nintendo and WWF licensed characters and later, he rekindled the superhero stories of Magnus and Robot Fighter. At times, Shooter would pencil a story under the pseudonym Paul Creddick, his brother-in-law’s name.
After Valiant, he and some co-workers founded Defiant Comics in 1993 followed by Broadway Comics in 1995. Shooter became the creative director and editor in chief at Illustrated Media, a custom comics company in 2003. In 2007, 31 years since he last worked for them, Shooter was invited back to DC Comics to write the newest installment of the Legion of Super-Heroes series. It was his first major published work in years.
Today, he continues to work with Illustrated Media as a consulting editor and freelance writer. Among his notable works there was a series of Voice of America comics for the U.S. State Department. He is also part-owner and creative consultant for the sci-fi firm Phobos Entertainment.
Over the years he earned esteemed awards such as the 1979 Eagle Award for Best Continuing Story and the 1980 Inkpot Award. In January 2012, he became an Inkwell Awards Ambassador and still is to this day. But his most lasting legacy is the impact of his innovations, talent, and drive that revitalized an entire industry. He was the mild-mannered boy that became the superhero of the American comics industry. Learn more about Jim Shooter at jimshooter.com.