A visitor came to my office at Marvel and, finding the door locked, knocked. The door opened about eight inches to a hard stop at the foot of my assistant editor who scowled through the opening, “What.” Material would then be passed through the opening with the door locking securely thereafter. And that was the only way I ever got any work done around there. Thank God for Adam Blaustein.
I didn’t know Maddie Blaustein. By the time Adam became Maddie, we were orbiting different planets. There was absolutely no animosity or falling out, more like a falling away, with my moving in new directions and living far from New York. So I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about Maddie, who passed away this week, but I can share an awful lot about Adam. These are just a few highlights:
I’d known Adam for at least a year before it even occurred to me to hire him. He was working as a framer at an art supply store a few blocks from Marvel, and I routinely had things framed for the office. When my assistant, Keith Williams, went freelance, I remember whining to Adam about the politics of replacing him. I caught a lot of grief for hiring Keith, who was black, some people figuring that’s why I hired him—which wasn’t true. I’d interviewed a bunch of writers and one artist. I hired Keith because he was an artist, because he could circumvent the at-times arduous production delays by closing the door and doing things ourselves. I was a writer, I didn’t need another writer in the room.
While waiting on my framing job, Adam suggested himself for the AE position, and I actually tried to talk him out of it. It paid next to nothing and it was often thankless work. I may have been one of the least popular editors at Marvel Comics in the early 1980’s, and I rightly assumed the immeasurable maturity level of most Eds working there at the time would invite hostility toward Adam. If he actually wanted a career in comics, being my assistant was probably not the best way to go.
But, surprise, this Blaustein guy was a comics fan who knew the universe. He became my assistant and, ultimately, one of my best friends. He married my wife’s best friend, and for awhile it was one of those sickening sitcoms with the two guy best friends and the two girl best friends.
He had amazing insight and depth of character and was a constant source of personal and professional advice. He had a great place in Jersey City, where we could climb up on the roof at night and watch the most spectacular view of the New York skyline you could imagine. He got arrested once for carrying a dull sword on a New York subway. That sword is in my house, now.
We tended to close bars even though neither of us drank. Some of the best times of my life, the very best, occurred with Adam riding shotgun on some night adventure in lower Manhattan.
We usually patrolled the Marvel offices armed. We had full-scale, official-weight replica model Colt 1911 automatic pistols tucked into our waistbands, which Marvel VP Mike Hobson would have to routinely explain to the uninitiated straights he routinely entertained next door. We wore ties. My, how that was hated, too. Of course, they weren’t real ties. They were Morris Day ties—skinny ties that are laughably out of fashion these days.
When Congress passed the bill making Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, Marvel chose not to observe that day. I pulled out my checkbook and wrote Adam a check for his salary for the day, and we closed the Spider-Man office—Adam drawing a defiant Spider-Man “black power” fist (in black symbiote costume, of course) and adhering it to our window.
The one time I ever borrowed money from Mark Bright was to loan it to Adam so he could take Golda—who later became his wife—out on a date. Golda, my wife’s best friend, was a Haitian American who, once they were married, was regularly harassed at department stores for presenting an Amex card belonging to “Golda Blaustein.” This is stuff you just can’t make up.
I bought one of the first Apple Macintosh computers, an odd little thing that came with something called a “mouse.” Adam and I stared at it for about an hour, wondering how on earth to work the thing. I knew MS-DOS fairly well, but had never seen a GUI and certainly had never seen a mouse. Reading the instructions, which said “point at an element on screen using the mouse,” I picked the mouse up, placed it flat against the screen. The thing didn’t work, and I grew frustrated, handing the manual to Adam with the mandate: figure out how this thing works. Which he did. And later taught me hw to use it.
We were, it seemed, loathed by other editors. Mainly because Adam really wasn’t a guy who took crap off people. I didn’t take much crap, either, but I’m pretty sure I took more crap than Adam did. Some people didn’t like him because they didn’t like me and couldn’t woo him over to their clique. Some didn’t like him because not only was he not in the clique but he thought cliques were stupid and said so.
Many of the editors called our office, “the Robo-Office” because I bought an answering machine and hooked it up in there (this was pre-voicemail). We were openly scoffed at in editorial meetings for needing “a computer and an answering machine”—two things no working editor today could conceive of being without.
Adam once made Peter David jot down scenes from his comic book plot on flash cards. Over lunch, Peter ran through the plot, with Adam routinely plucking out “Peter Scenes”—usually moments of brilliance ruined by Peter either not trusting the readers to get it or congratulating himself on his brilliance—out of the deck and tossing them on the floor. By coffee and desert, Peter had a leaner stack, “There ya go, Go write that!” We both loved Peter. We both thought Peter was brilliant, and felt awful about the manhandling we, well, really, I, had to do Because The Boss Said So.
He had great hair. “So, let me get this straight,” I said to him, “you... wash it, then let it dry.” That’s all he ever did to it. Back in those days I had Morris Day hair, meticulously layered and time-consuming to maintain. This guy rolls out of bed, washes it in the shower and heads to work with it wet.
We mainlined coffee. We played jazz cassettes on a high-end stereo—not a boom box—in the office, next to a chaise lounge, beach ball and palm tree. The Spider-Man office was the coolest editor office in the joint, which also tended to invite ridiculous criticism from the other editors. But, if the joint was cool, Adam was a huge part of that. He was the sharpest, hippest, cigarettes-and-coffee guy you’d ever meet, which geeks like me tended to find threatening. A gifted mimic, he’d have me in stitches, at times entertaining the freelancers who routinely dropped anchor in the Spider-Office.
We moved apart in later years, which I’ll take the blame for. After my divorce, my reclusive tendencies took firm hold as I drifted out toward Pennsylvania and ultimately Colorado and out of comics altogether, losing track of a lot of friends along the way. I’m deeply saddened I could not be there for Maddie toward the end, but I have great expectation and hope for Maddie to be, finally, at peace, enraptured in love.