Bob Harras: An Oral History in Collage

Bob Harras was fired last year from his Editor in Chief role at DC. Unfortunately, this came with a passel of other job losses and under circumstances apparently unrelated to conduct. Harras’ removal stands out, as his editorial career has been particularly long, and particularly marked by visible allegiances and times of strife. Let’s examine that career, as it continued between around 1989 and 2020, through summation and supporting quotations, such as the below, from both colleagues and commentators, available freely online.

“As The Beat points out, it is unclear if DC editor-in-chief Bob Harraswill face any consequences for bringing Lobdell into the DC fold ten years ago and continuing to employ him after his 2013 admission.” —Eric Amaya, 2020

Rob, Jim and Bob

Everybody knows about the fanlore scandal around Harras’ preference, as an editor, to back artists Liefeld and Lee over writers Simonson and Claremont, when he was editing the X-Men stable of books for Marvel in the later eighties and early nineties. He felt that Liefeld’s visual extremity was better for business than Simonson’s more character-focused, ideologically slower-paced ideas (enjoy an interview with Liefeld where he derides the thought of an issue where the New Mutants spend the bulk of its pages shopping for a Christmas present); Harras felt that Lee’s interest in “classic” X-Men motifs like Sentinels and school was more appropriate for the title than Claremont’s desire to break new ground.

“You’ll notice throughout Bob Harras’ tenure as Marvel’s EiC, he continually pushed titles back to their 1960s status quos, even if readers howled in protest.” —G. Kendal, 2016

“Bob Harras specifically was enthusiastic and contacted me on a regular basis about doing [work for him.] I think he wanted to get a lot of young artists in the X-office cause he had just taken over that position and hadn’t been in it very long.” —Rob Liefeld, 2001

Subsequently, both writers left the titles and the company. Harras had been the editor who appointed both artists to these titles, as well as Silvestri and Portacio to X-books. Through his appointments and discoveries, we can possibly, if we fancy being both generous and gracious, call him the or a curator of what became the 90s look. He had not been the editor responsible for giving either Simonson nor Claremont their writers’ credits on these books.

Harras replaced Simonson with Fabian Nicieza, and Claremont with Scott Lobdell, giving both books an artist-driven trajectory and turning the focus of The New Mutants toward militia action and the X-Men heavily back to Scott, Jean, and their offspring. Harras began to write the Avengers in the mode of Claremont’s successful, mould-breaking X-Men run. He did not produce critically robust comics. Lee and Liefeld left Marvel at the beginning of 1992, to become millionaires founding Image on the cache they’d built on and with the mutant legacy.

“This project, which Bob Harras has called ‘Onslaught,’ is totally different from the past practice of all comics publishers of watering down and stretching content and using gimmicks as filler.” —Jerry Calabrese quoted by Sean Howe, 1996 (2014)

“Jim Lowder, SF Univ asks: Marvel’s gauge for adequacy in editorial terms seems to be mainly mainly economic rather than creative. Given that perception, how do you expect to win over readers, to the notion that these new “editorial events” will be of a better quality than previous crossovers and so on?” —quoted by Sean Howe, 1996 (2014)

A lot of the reason the 90s were rough was because Bob Harras was under orders from above to make more and more and more money. And he found ways to do it. The owners were using Marvel as a cash cow. And they milked it hard.” —Kurt Busiek, 2018

“Remember much of the negativity aimed his way by fans over the likes of Spider-Clones, Onslaughts, Heroes Reborn and Hulk reboots was as a direct result of demand from Marvel executives on high that would eventually bring much of the market to its knees and push Marvel into bankruptcy.” —Rich Johnston, 2010

The X-Books proliferated and achieved some successes, but as a whole dove, quality-wise, into a deep and ugly hole. Harras’ tenure as group editor, before and after this became his official role, saw the locking in of the crossover event comic as the centre of the X-Men’s publishing schedule. Once again, we can observe this as a motif that continues to shape the scene. Bob Harras became the Editor in Chief of Marvel comics towards the end of 1995. He kept this role and his established approach through Marvel’s emerging bankruptcy and into the year 2000, whereupon he was fired. Several criticisms of his earlier career can be seen reemerging.

“Apparently, the fact that Bob was fired for unfair and wrong reasons one September rather than for all the tens of hundreds of RIGHT reasons he’d racked up in the seven years PREVIOUS gave a lot of staffers a sudden change of heart. Amazing. Overnight, they forgot what a two-faced, cowardly liar Bob had been and what crap they’d all had to suffer through because of his shortcomings as a manager. Instead, everyone was lighting candles for Bob. Jesus. You want to know the truth? In my humble =koff= opinion, Bob did as much to help destroy the comic book industry during the 1990s than any other single human being alive. Yes, even more than Gareb. I’d even let Ron Perlman [sic] out of Hell before I’d pardon Bob. For years and years and years, the editorial philosophy at Marvel was to make each and every comic book as labyrinthine and confusing as creatively possible. Marvel had the single highest-profile comic book in the Western hemisphere—X-MEN—and Bob did everything imaginable to make it completely incomprehensible and inaccessible to new and/or casual readers. Everything.

“Here it is in a nutshell: Did you see that stupifyingly atrocious piece-of-crap X-MEN sampler comic in TV GUIDE? My rage had no words. It was a textbook example of how NOT to write and draw something a prospective first-time reader could possibly understand or enjoy or want to see more of. Hell, I’ve been reading comics for 34 years and I had to read it three times to figure out what was going on. TV GUIDE. Eight million households. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for new market exposure. And everyone connected with it failed miserably. Fire them. Fire them all. We’re DYIN’ here. We cannot afford to blow ANY opportunity to find new readers.” —Mark Waid, quoted by Warren Ellis, 2000

Pals Reunited

“Hence the effort to revive the company’s artistic core. ”Magic is the best description of the combination of art and story line with which Stan Lee launched the modern Marvel in 1961,” said Bob Harras, Marvel’s editor in chief, referring to the creator of most of Marvel’s enduring characters. By giving artistic control of the new titles to Mr. Liefeld and Jim Lee, no relation to Stan Lee, Marvel hopes to rekindle that magic.” —Deborah Shapley, 1996

Around November [1995], management decided to do away with the five-group-editor structure and finally named Bob Harras as sole editor-in-chief. In December, the foundation of the building shook when it was announced that Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld would return to Marvel; two of our books would be taken over by the Image twosome with “Thor” seemingly cancelled.” —Jorge Khoury on Heroes Reborn, 2008

“Rob Liefeld had some interesting comments on Twitter yesterday about selecting Bob Harras as the sole Editor in Chief of Marvel in 1995, ending a strange period in which there were five—Harras, Bob Budiansky, Mark Gruenwald, Bobbie Chase, and Carl Potts” —Sean Howe, 2013

“[In 1995, New President of Marvel, Jerry] Calabrese […] met with Larry Marder, the executive director of Image Comics, and asked if any of the ex-Marvel superstars at Image would like to take a shot at revising the origins of some of the company’s biggest characters, and making them more appealing for film development. […] Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld […] were intrigued.” —Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, 2012

Early last fall when Bob Harras was removed and Quesada was installed, I knew my time was over at that moment or very short.” —Rob Liefeld, 2001

To summarise, Lee and Liefeld were invited back to Marvel by editorial unknown in the hope of catching hungry eyes and big money. Marvel was losing dollars for various reasons, which you can read about in a couple of different books but which involved bad corporate investment as well as taste-based purchasing decisions and the fallout from sales-padding gimmickry; Image had made a lot of it, and so had Marvel when Lee and Liefeld last worked for them. Lee and Liefeld, apparently perhaps seen as marketing geniuses, were consulted on who should be chosen to steer Marvel back to solvency. They, sensing the opportunity for a  soft-soap free ride to rival the old days of writer-firing—this is me using my own words, so take them with a pinch—from someone similarly bent towards Marvel Age nostalgia, bet on Bob. And Harras got the job thanks to Lee and Liefeld. Isn’t it great to have good friends?

Heroes Retrained

Then came Heroes Reborn. I boldly stepped up to the plate with a sure-to-be-controversial Captain America reboot and made the mistake of drawing one horrible Captain America picture that drew the largest ire of my career. But more than that, I was in the middle of a Marvel Civil War. The powers that be were threatening to re-locate the Marvel offices to the west coast and the entire east coast office openly rooted our for our demise. No hard feelings, they were fighting for their jobs and we were way across the country and working in our insulated cubicles. When I went to New York for a signing shortly after Captain America launched at 150 times its previous sales, several Marvel editors in attendance and quite drunk told me they hoped we were over and out. Even Jim Lee with all his talent and charisma weren’t enough to turn that ship around for a second season. We were both sent packing with no renewal.” —Rob Liefeld, 2011

Three weeks after the announcement of Heroes Reborn, a Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld relaunch of Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, and Fantastic Four, Marvel posted losses of $48 million. In the wake of these disastrous financial results the staff’s worst fears would be realized — 275 employees lost their jobs from across the company in marathon terminations from January 3 to 4 1996.” —Trent Seely, 2009

Unfortunately, Marvel’s plunging profits were not saved by Jim Lee’s Fantastic Four reboot or Rob Liefeld’s Captain America. Neither of these men are writers of fine quality; these comics were dull and trends, such as art styles, that have been hot for the whole decade start to fade in appeal. Heroes Reborn was explained away as a pocket dimension and the books involved got back to normal—Lee and Liefeld left Harras in a familiar place: the “We’ll have to let you go” desk.

His name is Ronald O. Perelman. And his weapon, enemies say, is more potent than kryptonite. It’s an ax–the one he used on Jan. 4 to lay off 275 of 1,700 employees at Marvel Entertainment Group, the comics-industry leader, of which the billionaire investor owns 80%.” —David Leonhardt, 1996

“I never wanted to leave [X-Force], and never felt my firing was justified. […] I don’t recall being given a reason, and I also don’t recall asking for one. […] Considering it was a Top 10 selling title at the time, I felt it was a wholly unjustified decision” —Fabien Nicieza, quoted by Brian Cronin, 2015

Heroes Reborn was announced, and three, four weeks later, they had a massive bloodletting here,’ Tom Brevoort remembered in a 2016 interview with Newsrama. ‘They let an enormous number of people go from every strata of Marvel.'”

“‘You’d be sitting in your office, and the phone might ring. You’d be told to go down the hall to Bob Harras’ office, and you’d be told you’re getting cut. Someone from HR would be down there, too, and you’d get your severance. And once the first call came in, everybody up and down editorial row knew it was going on, and we’re all living under the sword of Damocles, praying that phone doesn’t ring.'”

One by one, editorial staffers were summoned into an office where Harras gave them the bad news. One even fainted. The staff who survived to work on the titles about to be handed off to Liefeld and Lee were told by a distraught Mark Gruenwald that they’d have to spend the next few months writing and drawing their own obsolescence.” —all Trent Seely, 2009

Friends Forever

Harras, Lee and Liefeld’s reciprocity can be seen continuing down the years. Other names also reoccur in his orbit; men we’ve now seen fired after long, long years of reports and public knowledge to be harassers, sexual and otherwise, whose presence kept their environment reflective of their prejudice. Berganza, Lobdell, Johns. Lee and Harras, a front we can observe to have been united on and off over decades, kept these people paid, close, and influential.

“Bob Harris [sic, lol], former Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics (1995-2000) is the new Editor-in-Chief of DC Comics. It’s the first Editor-in-Chief that DC Comics has had since the legendary Jenette Kahn held the position from 1981-2002. Harris will oversee DC Comics, DC Universe, Vertigo, and MAD Magazine. He will report directly to Lee and Didio.” —Conor Kilpatrick, 2010

“The new senior executive team includes Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, who have been named Co-Publishers of DC Comics, and Geoff Johns, who will serve as Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment.” —David Hyde, February 2010

“Robert Harras has been named Editor-in-Chief, VP, DC Comics, it was announced today by DC Comics Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio.” —David Hyde, September 2010

“‘Bob Harras’ personal and creative integrity is respected and renowned throughout the comic book industry,’ said Jim Lee, DC Comics Co-Publisher. ‘As an editor, he provides invaluable insight into storytelling and character.'” —DC press release, quoted at geeksyndicate

“Harras Names Berganza Executive Editor DCU, Other Changes: DC Comics Editor-In-Chief Bob Harras has announced a handful of editorial changes, which includes naming long time editor Eddie Berganza Executive Editor of the DC Universe line.” —CBR Staff, December 2010

“But it was as Senior Editor and then Group Editor, that Eddie found his niche as the “Event Editor.” Stewarding one crossover after another from INFINITE CRISIS to FINAL CRISIS and the recent BLACKEST NIGHT to now preparing for FLASHPOINT, he has been at ground zero for all DCU’s major storylines!” —Bob Harras, 2010

“‘We all left, and he’s still there,’ said Janelle Asselin, a former DC editor who spearheaded the multi-employee HR complaint against Berganza in 2010.” —Jessica Testa, Tyler Kincaid, Jay Edidin, 2017

“Berganza, a man known for sexual misconduct, was promoted to executive editor — over the objections of multiple women. […] He rose through the ranks at DC to become the company’s executive editor in 2010, despite persistent rumors regarding his inappropriate workplace behavior. In 2012, Berganza assaulted a woman in a widely witnessed incident at a con, after which he was effectively demoted, moved to the still-prestigious position of group editor for the Superman universe.” —Aja Romano, 2017

“In December 2010 after former co-worker Bob Harras being hired as DC Comics’ Editor-in-Chief, Lobdell was brought in to write for DC for it’s line wide relaunch in September 2011” —Anon, ComicVine

“I met him once, at Comic-Con in 1999, and he was very friendly. […] Multiple professionals have stated that he outright lied to them over the years. I believe them. There are too many such stories for the assertions to be false.” —Matt, 2014

“He was mocked by Joe Quesada for recommending the likes of Howard Mackie of[sic] Scott Lobdell to write Ultimate Spider-Man for Bill Jemas, only for Joe Quesada to suggest Brian Bendis – a move that may have made Quesada’s career. But at the time Bendis was the risky choice, Mackie the safe one.” —Rich Johnston, 2010

“COMIC LEGEND: Scott Lobdell and Chris Claremont nearly split the two X-Men titles between them in the late 1990s.

STATUS: True” —Brian Cronin, 2015

“Rob Liefeld was hired by DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras to launch the DC New 52 with Hawk & Dove – when that book was cancelled, Rob moved over to write and draw Deathstroke, while also writing Grifter and Savage Hawkman, drawing them together into one storyline.” —Rich Johnston, 2012

“SUPERMAN will debut a new creative team starting with issue #0 in September. Scott Lobdell joins the book as writer with Kenneth Rocafort on board for artwork and covers.” —Brandy Phillips, 2012

“New Sexual Misconduct Allegations Surface Against Scott Lobdell: Scott Lobdell announced that he is departing Red Hood and the Outlaws. […] Lobdell was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint back in 2013 when cartoonist Mari Naomi recounted an incident on the Prism Comics panel at Long Beach Comic-Con.” —Tim Adams, 2020

“While I’m profoundly grateful for the last ten years [bolding mine] on a book telling the story of a tragically flawed man in search of redemption, I depart certain that my vacancy will be filled by a dynamic new voice,” —Scott Lobdell, 2020

“In all of the recent talk about sexual harassment in comics, many of the responses to well-documented incidents in bars has been “Oh, I never saw anything like that!” or “Maybe that’s not how it happened.” Well, here’s an incident that took place ON A PANEL IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE.” —Heidi MacDonald, 2013

“[various artists] all receive at least as many mentions as Lobdell, showing what can only be interpreted as a clear bias against Bob Harras’s favorite writer.” —Jude Terror, 2016

“As of my writing this, DC Comics has not addressed Bob Harras’ role in seemingly and allegedly ignoring filed complaints with HR and assisting in Berganza’s rise in the company at the expense of many women within DC and countless more that were denied opportunities as a result of his continued employment or didn’t even attempt to throw their hat in the ring because of Berganza’s presence.” —Joe Corallo, 2017

“While this is a good start, the enablers need to account for their actions. Why do Didio, Harras, Johns, etc. still have jobs?” —Jess Lemon, 2017

“The fact that Scott Bloody Lobdell’s Red Hood is more or less the longest DC run of the 2010s really says a whole bloody lot.” —Ritesh, 2020

“The question remains now whether Bob Harras, the DC editor-in-chief who continued to employ Lobdell after harassment allegations were made public seven years ago, and who also reportedly shielded noted serial harasser Eddie Berganza for years, will face any sort of repercussions for those actions.” —Joe Grunenwald, 2020

Harras’ legacy might be aesthetic. It might be editorial. It might even be financial. It’s also visibly mercenary and collaboratively negative.

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money

One thought on “Bob Harras: An Oral History in Collage

  1. I got into comics largely during Bob Harras’s run over the X-Books, and found said books, which I was DESPERATE to get into after hearing about all the cool stuff my friends said the X-Men did… worse and worse and worse with each passing year. I remain a huge comics fan, but my early bout of comics buying was literally only about two years before I got sick of them, and didn’t get back into things until Kurt Busiek’s rise in the late ’90s.

    Even without the knowledge that Harras was a lying scumbag who promoted similar scum, I would have been amazed to see him not only move up the ranks in any comics company, but to become one of the top guys at DC. That he oversaw a disastrous era in sales (after preceding disastrous eras in sales) makes it even more astonishing.

    Waid’s comment there is probably the best one.

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