Monday, December 8, 2008

How I Kicked Myself in the Nuts

I grew up wanting to be in the comics business.

From the earliest time I can remember, that was all I wanted to do. I didn't think I had the chops to be an artist but I definitely wanted to be a writer. In fact, during a session with my High School Guidance Counselor, I told him that fact. "I want to write for comics," I said. He stared at me as if I had said that I wanted to be a naked professional bull-rider. Needless to say, he had no advice for me and ended up suggesting that I become a English or History teacher.

My older brother, whom I'll call "Bub" for the sake of this story, got me into comics. Being ten years older than me, he'd bought ALL of the Silver Age books off the stands since the beginning and let me read any of them that I wanted. It was his dream to work in comics too and, in 1972, he quit college and ran off to NYC (only about an hour away from us) to work for DC Comics. He started small as a proofreader and, at first, lived with future DC bigwig Paul Levitz who had been an early fanzine friend of Bub's. He eventually moved further up the ladder, working in different editorial capacities. Bub even got the chance to do some writing for DC. He would eventually become one of DC's busiest colorists until the switch to digital coloring and the resultant downsizing.

By 1980, I was getting ready to graduate from high school and had my eye on the prize: writing for comics. "Surely," I thought, "Bub can help". I didn't mean that he should get me a job or anything but that he could certainly introduce me to the right people and get me in the door.

Imagine my shock when Bub said he couldn't do anything to help me and that, in fact, being his brother would probably HURT me. I never knew the details about this other than the fact that there were people at DC (AND Marvel) who didn't like Bub. I mean, they REALLY didn't like Bub. To the point where he had been shut out of the creative aspect of the business because other people with more leverage had decreed that Bub's name be stricken from the active roles at comicdom. "So shall it be written, so shall it be done!"

In effect, being Bub's brother meant that any animosity directed towards him would get directed at me as well. I was guilty by association. Bub told me that he seriously doubted anyone would even look at my writing once my connection with him was known. A pen name was suggested but, Bub said, accounting would still know my real name and word gets around comicdom like the Flash with a bad case of the 'runs'.

So not only could Bub NOT help me but he had poisoned the well by getting there first. There was no one to be introduced to, no doors to open, nothing to do but think about getting that Teaching degree.

And, to my everlasting regret, I accepted that and went away.

Feeling that there was no sense in fighting a war that had already been lost, I surrendered. At first, though, I sent in a few blind submissions to both Marvel and DC. I got a polite form rejection back from Marvel but never heard anything from DC. At the time, I imagined them taking my proposal and using it for toilet paper or making it into a voodoo doll that they burned later.

(This was also during a time when the one specific name Bub told me had 'blacklisted' him was one of the major stars at DC so I fantasized that this star had crushed my comic career before it ever started. Now, I sincerely doubt if this fellow ever knew my name or even SAW my proposal.)

I never tried again.

Even after editorial departments had changed and Bub himself was no longer connected to comics in any way, I didn't try. At that point, I felt as if my time had passed. You don't break into comics at 35. You get kicked out of them by the new young bucks at 35.

And still... I wonder. What if I hadn't just accepted it all? What if I had focused every ounce of my will towards breaking in and had written in a white blaze of creativity, firing off a proposal every week? What if I had screwed up my courage and went to the offices of DC and Marvel once a month (or at all!) and kept hounding them and making connections and waiting for that breakthrough chance to come? What if that 'blacklisting' of Bub wasn't as bad as he said? Would it have worked? Would I be a famous comic writer today, looking back on 20 years of published material?

These are the questions that wake me up at 2 in the morning, sweating and staring at my ceiling.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost


SmallPressFan said...

Let it go Sammy.

You have the rest of your life ahead of you. Get to work and make it count my friend.

Do not end up on your deathbed feeling ten times the regrets that you do today, make the change now and make every day that you have count buddy.

You have the talent bro, now...

Write, write, write!

alphamale73 said...

Dude I'm 35 and I'm just starting!! Don't worry about age. I would like to see some of your writings and I still would like to know where to get your mini's "Monster World".