“Sounds like you have some regrets about missing out on youth, Jim.”
Yes. It was tough sometimes. The guys would pass by my house on their way to play basketball or whatever the sport of the season was. They’d yell “Hey, Jimbo,” my invitation to play. Couldn’t do it most of the time. Deadlines. Had to sit there — the left end of the couch was my spot — sketch the pictures and write the words.
I wore out that end of the couch. Upholstery rubbed bare. Armrest frayed.
No choice. First of all, my family needed the money. Badly. Second, my editor, Mort Weisinger, mean as a snake at his nicest, would have screamed at me more than usual if I was ever late.
Mort would call me every Thursday night, right after the Batman TV show to go over whatever I’d delivered that week. He’d call me other times, too, whenever, but Thursday night was our regularly scheduled call. The calls mostly consisted of him bellowing at me. “You fucking moron! Learn to spell! What the hell is this character holding? Is that supposed to be a gun? It looks like a carrot! These layouts have to be clear, retard!” When you’re 14 and the big, important man upon whom your family’s survival depends calls you up to tell you you’re an imbecile, it makes an impression….
It got to the point where any time I’d hear a phone ring I’d clench up, white knuckled. Very Pavlovian. Even in school, or some other place that was ostensibly safe, a ringing phone jolted me.
Mort used to tell me I was his “charity case.” He said that the only reason he kept me on was because my family would starve otherwise.
By the way, Mort did call me at school once. They sent somebody down from the Principal’s office to bring me to the phone. Some question about a cover design….
The net effect of Mort’s honking at me was slowing me down. I’d sit there for hours, immobilized, useless, unproductive, because I was sure that anything I put on the paper would be wrong and therefore, Mort would scream at me. My mother would occasionally plead with me. She’d say, “We really need a check.” I started working in my room, sitting on my bed to keep my lack of production more private. Every once in a while she’d come upstairs, look at the blank page on my lap board and start crying. That was tough. She meant no harm. But that was tough.
At some point, my fear of delivering work that Mort would rip me to shreds over was eclipsed by the fear of failing to deliver, or delivering late, which would be worse. Then the stuff would flow…! I could go like the wind!
There was no FedEx back then. The fastest way was airmail special delivery. Fifty-five cents! An outrage. Still, many a night, I went on the streetcar to downtown Pittsburgh where the main Post Office was — open 24/7 — to mail pages that absolutely, positively had to be there ASAP. Usually overnight, believe it or not.
Sometimes, airmail special delivery wasn’t fast enough. I had to get on a plane, fly to New York and hand the envelope to the National Periodicals (DC) receptionist, escape before Mort knew I was in screaming range and fly back home. Round trip airfare, student standby, was $25. That hurt, but, again, no choice. I did it often enough that TWA gave me a special ID card to speed up check-in.
Net, net, net I spent a lot of time not being a kid. I don’t recommend it.
I made up for it a little bit in my senior year. Just took some time for me. Went to a couple of football games. Went to a couple of parties. Went to a couple of dances. It was my last chance to be a kid and I wanted a taste.
Couldn’t take time from work, so I sort of sacrificed school time. I already had a National Merit Scholarship and full scholarship offers from a bunch of schools, including MIT and NYU, so no worries. I was absent or late 90 days. Suspended 3 days. At our Senior Class Banquet I received the “Best Attendance Award” — yes, a joke.
P.S. By then, I sussed out that DC wouldn’t keep sending me checks if I wasn’t any good. I learned to ignore Mort’s abuse, let it run off my back.
Years later, I found out he used to brag about me to other DC editors. I was his “discovery,” a “prodigy,” to whom he could give any assignment, any book, any character, and always get good material, never a rewrite needed. I was the young hotshot he was grooming for big things. Not bad for a fucking moron/retard, I guess.
More response than you wanted, I suppose, but there it is.