My sincere apologies. I’m sorry today’s post was so late that it drifted into tomorrow…that is, today. I’m trying. Sometimes life interferes with fun.
My previous post about answering submissions at Marvel garnered this comment by ~P~:
Count me as yet another young hopeful, whom, after bleeding art and story on paper, I would swaddle my creations and send them “down the Nile” to the Marvel Submissions Office.
In the mid 1980’s I had sent in a few samples of “panel-by-panel continuity” (as the office called it) and always received some encouraging replies (even though they were rejections). They may have been signed by YOU, Jim. (I saved these letters for many years, but think they were lost in a relocation.)
One time in the late 1980’s, I sent in an original submission (an originally conceived horror story – no superheroes, just various types of architecture, creepy settings, and some nasty doings with top-hatted gentlemen, rabid dogs, rats, a burning castle and a vile succubus at the end).
The reply that I later received in the mail was photocopies of practically the entire volumes of some of Andrew Loomis’ books; “Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth” and another about film techniques and direction.
The letter included in the packet told me that they thought that I had a lot of “very close, but not quite there yet” talent, and that I should cram on the pages of the photocopied volumes.
While I would love to state that you were the correspondent, instead, the reply came from Carl Potts.
The only other time I received such deep, encouraging replies was from Mike Friedrich, to whom I had sent samples after being told to do so by Norm Breyfogle, after his seeing my work.
Neither venture led to any work, or any further contact past that point. Much of the blame falls upon my own shoulders, for not hammering out sample after sample (while striving to improve myself at each go-round).
Truthfully, I felt that I didn’t want to “make a nuisance of myself” and avoided trying to jam my foot in the door (which, I guess would have been the better way to go).
Anyway, while I did manage to get a few independent comics under my belt (as writer and illustrator), the implosion of the 90’s sort of shut the door on that.
But, I will ALWAYS be grateful to ANYONE who takes the time to actually LOOK AT and REPLY TO (hopefully, with encouragement) the blood, sweat and tears of hopeful talents.
These days, there are reality shows dedicated to trying to find the “next big thing” but when I was younger, no one wanted to even look at you.
Thank you, Jim.
And thanks to any like you who know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in – waiting… waiting… for a chance.
September 2, 2011 9:46 PM
Here’s my reply:
jimshooter said… By the time I became Editor in Chief, the volume of submissions was too great for me to handle. We had to go to plan B. We’d found that it made sense to use form letters for many subs, because we found ourselves saying the same things over and over in responses. We had at least 12 different form letters, one for each of the most common types of responses. Even those form letters usually were given a personal touch — a signature by hand, a brief hand-written note added…. Interns sorted through the subs first and separated out those obviously done by little kids and, with help from my secretary Lynn and her assistant, responded. Assistant editors usually sorted the remaining subs and selected the proper form letter. Many didn’t fall into a category covered by a form letter, and those got custom-made replies from assistants, art staff, editors or me. When a submission that was really outstanding turned up, it was shown to me. If I thought it merited special attention, I’d turn it over to John Romita or one of the editors to handle. I must have turned yours over to Carl, who was great with new talent. So was Milgrom. Owsley was great with writers, though few of those turned up. Hama was great, too. And John Romita, of course.
September 3, 2011 1:07 AM
As I said, we at Marvel in general and I in particular had great respect for samples and submissions whether they were sent through the mail or shown to any of us representing Marvel at a convention. Marvel editorial personnel reviewed a lot of samples and submissions.
(ASIDE: In 1983 I arranged took every single Marvel Comics editor with me to the San Diego Comic-Con. I proposed to the show organizers that they use that as a promotional tool. In those days, Comic-Con still could have benefitted from promotion. I suggested that they announce that every single person from Marvel with the authority to hire creators would be at the show—“bring your samples.” The organizers enthusiastically agreed, then did nothing. Not a press release I’m aware of, not an announcement of any kind, not a peep. Sigh.)
Occasionally, I received letters from people who wanted to submit samples asking all kinds of questions: “What kind of paper should I draw on?” “What kind of paints or colors do colorists use?” “What should an aspiring writer submit?” Some asked for photocopies of penciled pages. Made sense. Would-be pencilers who had never seen anything but printed books had no idea what penciled pages looked like. Would-be inkers had a similar problem. And the coloring process was a total mystery. We often sent photocopies of penciled pages and coloring-sized photocopies of finished pages, along with brief explanations, to people who seemed genuinely interested and reasonably of age.
Remember, I started when I was 13, so “of age” to me was a pretty low bar….
After a while, finally, a little light bulb went on in my head….
I walked into Publisher Mike Hobson’s office with a stack of 18 Marvel art boards in my hands. “Picture this,” I said. “A 32 page book, plus covers, printed on actual, full-size Marvel art boards….”
I went on to describe my idea for the Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book. Mike loved it.
|Click pics to enlarge|
The Try-Out Book was a big success. It sold for $12.95 a copy, but believe it or not, that was a bargain. For you technical types out there, it had to be printed sheet-fed. Non-repro blue is a custom color, a “fifth color.” And the cost of the paper? Ouch. It was the lowest price we could manage.
Shortly after the first edition of the Try-Out Book shipped, I was scheduled to do a series of store appearances in the Bay Area. I arrived at the first store on the tour to find a long line of people waiting for me (I was on time. I almost always am.) with books to sign, samples to show, or just to talk. I noticed that there were copies of the Try-Out Book on the store’s shelves. Couldn’t miss them, they’re BIG.
Among the first few people in line was a fellow who had bought a Try-Out Book a day or two prior and had inked the inking try-out pages. He showed me the pages—still in the book, not pulled out. They were very good. I said, “I think we can offer you work.” I gave him my card and I took his contact info down.
Suddenly half the people deserted the line to rush to the shelves to grab copies of the Try-Out Book.
If it had been a marketing stunt, it would have been brilliant. Nah. Just happened that way.
They sold out of the books in the Bay Area….
The guy’s name is Art Nichols. Art went on to do a good bit of work for Marvel and later, for me at VALIANT. Artie, if you’re reading this, please verify this story.
THURSDAY (I have an unavoidable mission tomorrow that involves a six-hour drive. Sorry.): The Startling Conclusion of the Submission Saga
Wow, this one brings back memories. I bought the Try-Out Book, inked some pages…and never sent them in. I wish I still had them, just so I could say I inked JR Jr. once. 🙂 I still love comics, even if I never got in the business. I went to radio instead, which has some crazy stories of its own.
RE: The most effective way of handling portfolio reviews at cons: I suppose it depends on who the reviewer is representing and what their aims are. While Len and Marv were probably correct in what they were saying way back then, I don't like the strategy of discouragement ever. It seems that many reviewers are just trying to get rid of whoever's in front of them. The "good for one review" card you describe was a travesty in my opinion. When I ran publishing companies, I reviewed portfolios as a prospective employer. I tried to be honest and direct, but as upbeat and pleasant about it as possible. Now that I'm just a freelancer, when asked to review a portfolio, I try to be honest, direct and as nice as possible, as before, but.I offer the caveat that it's just my opinion, and my opinion isn't in vogue these days. I try to pass along the wisdom of the ancients and teach people things I learned from hall-of-famers when I can.
Kevin in ABQ
When I was 13, the Try-Out Book was my life. I'd come home from school, work on pages, try different aspects of the art. I poured my allowance into a closet-full of Bristol board, ink, and Rapidographs at an art store in Oakland near the Pitt campus. My drawings made friends for me.
My career went a different route – engineering – but now I get to share my gift with my kids, to get them interested. One sketch, one line of ink, one plot, one script at a time.
No, I never offered Vince Colletta more money to ink more slowly.
Thanks. Be well, my friend.
I'm glad the romance line never made it. While I loved Brigman's work, having Vince Coletta on the inks would have ruined it. As a reader, if Vince was inking it, I'd have to check the credits to figure out who the penciler was as Vince's heavy hand made it look like any other book he inked.
Yes, I've seen some of Vince's early work and can't argue that he talent.
Jim, I thought you had a story about offering Vince Coletta more money per page of inking if he'd just slow down… only to discover that after years of being a go-to guy on late books, he couldn't.
Thanks for the recommendations. I read Brigman's Alpha Flight 12 years ago, but had forgotten she had drawn those issues, and was unaware of the other work you mentioned.
Xavier Lancel (SCARCE)
Marc: I like June Brigman clean line. If you're searching for something different from her than Power Pack, you can buy her Alpha Flight issues (inked by Whilce Portacio, they mixed so well together, a thing of beauty!), Her Supergilr mini, her Questprobe episode (printed in a Marvel Fanfare issue, with the x-men), her Legion of Super Heroes issue (she did only one) or, more recently, her Meridian issues.
Thanks. The copy in the Try-Out Book did sound like you wrote it, so I'm relieved my perceptions weren't wrong.
No wonder JayJay still has a copy. It's a milestone in her career!
I, uh, love romance comics and didn't know Marvel almost launched a romance line back in 1986. Thanks for mentioning Tender Hearts. Vince Colletta's inking would have made them look like the old Marvel romances that I collect. (Click on "co: Colletta" to see Love Romances covers that Colletta inked.) It would have been interesting to see June Brigman draw something so different from Power Pack. I wonder why she wasn't teamed with Louise Simonson. Don Kraar is best known for scripting … Conan. Whoda thunk he'd be writing a romance? Thanks for suggesting this topic to Jim!
I'll tell you what I know soon. It's in the queue. Thanks.
I have one. I'll post it!
The first release of the Try-Out book was a great success, so we did a second release some time later in conjunction with a contest. The second release sold three or four times as many copies as the first one.
I know which ad you mean, but I don't have a copy handy. I'll see if JayJay can locate one.
Dear David S,
The editors and I gave them as much latitude as we could, but at some point each editor had to okay whatever craziness his assistant was inflicting on the books.
Thanks for the suggestion, Jerry.
Sad news about Bill Kunkel. He did some work for us at Marvel and I knew him a little. Nice guy.
I wrote all the copy in the Try-Out Book. JayJay did the technical illustrations of the equipment, her first work ever for Marvel.
Xavier Lancel (SCARCE)
WFPC: That may be a little oboslete right now. they don't do it the way they did.
World Famous Psycho Chicken
Thanks for posting this. I have been trying in vain to figure out how to plot and script Marvel style.
Jim, could you please tell us what happened with the Tender Hearts line of titles? From the few info I have, it should have been a line of 118p B&W comics (with 2-3 panels per page?), in cooperation with Harlequin, around 1986 . th first 4 books scheduled were
-Ribbon Summer by Fingeroth/Guice/Coletta & MC Kenna
– Love at first sight by De Matteis/Wilshire/Colletta
– Blue jay of happiness by L. Simonson/Wilshire/Coletta
– Discoveries by Don Kraar/Brigman/Richardson
I can't find a trace of it anywhere. did work began on those?
oh man! my ma got me this book and "How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way" one year and i just loved them both. 🙂
Hi Art! It's so nice to see you here and hear from you, it's been too long!! I miss you! Great story.
"…I wouldn’t put it past me for not thinking of dislodging the pages from its binding…" should have read, "…I wouldn’t put it past me for not thinking of dislodging the pages from *their* binding…"
"It was if the whole store gasped!", should have read, "It was *as* if the whole store gasped!"
UGH. I hate it when I mess up my sentences.
Good to see you're still alive, Art.
Dave (former assistant) Miller
It was if the whole store gasped! And from what the manager of that Comics & Comix store told me, every copy of the Try Out Book DID sell out that night. It was quite a evening. Even though Jim only took maybe a full minute with me, he still took his usual extra-amount of time with the rest of the people who submitted their work. The winners were chosen for the various categories, and Secret Wars posters were handed out (I got my poster for winning the inking section), and Jim bid everyone a fond farewell. I was dizzy (I’m always dizzy, but I was extra dizzy that night), and everyone was abuzz with excitement that the Try Out Book WORKED!
Not too long afterward, I received 3 pages in the mail to ink. They were pencils done by other people who were just breaking into the business. I remember inking a page over Mark Badger’s pencils, and something over Whilce Portacio’s pencils, I believe. The third page I couldn’t tell you about to save my life, as I’ve had a ton of stuff in storage that was either simply lost, or destroyed by water damage and mold. I’m still trying to go through all my old stuff to find out where I put stuff from years ago, so I just can’t recall those details.
I agree with Jim. We performed a marketing stunt of epic proportions, without even trying. It did just happen that way. I heard from lots of people that Jim and I should have taken this ‘act’ on the road, to make sure all the Try Out Books were sold across the country. But it was just one of those really great spontaneities that just couldn’t be remanufactured.
Jim, I enjoy reading this blog tremendously. You particularly have been so unfairly maligned by such a tremendous machine of malicious people out to stomp you down, along with the stupid and ignorant who think it’s the most fun thing in the world to play a big game of ‘Telephone’ distorting and outright lying about the details of your life and career. I think this blog is the very right thing for you to be doing, setting the record straight.
Even though it didn’t work out when I recruited you to work on books for Neal Adams’ Continuity Comics, I always appreciated how you never gave up. That whatever obstacle you ran into (or that was run into you), you always got back up and kept moving forward. It’s a good lesson for everyone.
I’m going to go back to being just an occasional lurker here, as I barely have time to write letters to family or friends.
I can confirm that this did happen.
I would travel up and down California on Greyhound buses to go to comics conventions. I would take my samples with me to show to anyone who would take the time to look over my work. I would get some great advice from some people, and some not so great (“you gotta spot blacks in your work”… see Shooter’s complaint about that missive in an earlier blog posting). I just wasn’t ‘getting it’ yet. Just wasn’t there. But I was determined to keep going to these conventions until I got myself work!
Little did I know that moment of me getting that work would come to me.
I had shown my work to Jim Shooter at the San Diego Comic Con that year. I don’t remember exactly how soon after the SDCC that Shooter was up in the Bay Area, where I got to see him again. But when I did, it was specifically in the Sacramento area, at one of the Comics & Comix chain of stores. Jim was there to promote the Try Out Book, along with Secret Wars.
There was an in-store competition, wherein people got to submit their Try Out Book samples for Jim Shooter to judge for each category, right there on the spot. That is, except for the writing. Jim promised to take a day or two to read everyone’s writing samples, so he could pick the winner of that category. It would have taken way too long, not to mention would have been a bit boring to see Jim read other people’s writing, or to read their writing aloud and then critique it in front of everyone. The winners got a signed copy of a Mike Zeck-penciled, John Beatty-inked Secret Wars poster, signed by Shooter.
Jim arrived at the Comics & Comix store, and the place was PACKED. Everyone wanted to meet Jim, have things signed by him, and certainly were fascinated to see the winners picked by him for the Try Out Book competition. I was third in line to show my stuff to Jim, who gave painstakingly detailed critiques to the two gentlemen in line before me, for all to see. Jim even used a Captain America story (drawn by the great Jack Kirby, of course) to show everyone, talking about the specifics of storytelling composition, and communicating visually.
Jim took maybe 7-12 minutes with each person in front of me. No one minded, as everyone was rapt with attention to Jim’s critiques. When I walked up, Jim said, “Hey, I remember you. I just saw you in San Diego. Let me see what you’ve got.” I handed over my pages to him (I don’t remember that they were still bound within the Try Out Book, but I wouldn’t put it past me for not thinking of dislodging the pages from its binding), and he looked them over for maybe 30 seconds to a minute. He then handed them back to me and he asked me to please put my name, address & phone number on the back of my pages, and he would make sure I got some work.
(continued in the next post)
FWIW, several copies of the try-out book (both editions) are for sale on eBay. Just don't forget to put the hyphen in when you do the search.
I definitely remember this book when it came out. I owned "How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way", but I never did get the "Try Out" book. I don't remember the exact reason that I didn't pick it up. It was probably that I was a little intimidated by the prospect of it. Plus $13.00 was quite a lot of money for me way back then. I was only a kid and I figured I wasn't quite ready to submit professional samples, and it would likely just be a waste of money for me to "Try Out" at that time. As I stated in an earlier post, I did eventually submit samples to Marvel in the early 90's (and I received a nice rejection letter). After that I gave up on my comic-book pro dreams perhaps a little too easily. I got married and I had to start making a living fast, so I quit creating and submitting comic samples and put all my energy into a graphic design career. It's a living, but it's not nearly as much fun as I think doing comics would have been. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought that "Try Out" book when I had the chance. I mean, what the heck? You only live once (at least as far as I know).
BTW, Mark Bagley also got his start in comics by submitting samples from the "Try Out" book.
I was a proud owner of a Marvel Try-Out book. I loved the book dearly and tried to absorb everything I could from it but honestly, I was terrified to draw or ink in it, I didn't want to ruin it!
I've never understood why the major publishers don't still do things like this. It was a brilliant idea then and it's still a great idea now. I miss things like "design the Dial-H-for-Hero" contests, the "New Talent Showcases" – creating more opportunities for young creators to get a jump start into the industry.
Anyway, kudos for creating the book! It was extremely inspirational!
Shawn Van Briesen
I always wondered how many times editors got copies of those of those inked Johnny JR pages? They're probably the most inked pages in comic history.
I still have mine, with maybe three of the blank pages gone. My father bought it for me after I broke my arm when I was 13.
Isn't this how Mark Bagley got his foot in the door?
Thanks for the time in the "spotlight" there, Jim.
I do still have my TRY-OUT book. Some pages have been removed for pencil samples (although, I didn't send them in), and I inked a few panels (but only with rapidiograph pens, so it lacked the deep, differing line-quality that brush inking could produce.
Within the pages are also many of my old thumbnail sketches – and even to this day, I love the dynamism in those rough sketches.
Some of the poses and layouts (and my "cinematography") are things I'd still use if producing comics today. Just… drawn much better. lol.
I was most grateful for the book as a total all-in-one "how-to" manual.
Up until that point I couldn't figure out what size the pages were supposed to be. My very first attempts at drawing a comic were done at PUBLISHED comic size, so I got VERY good at fine detail – one of my strengths to this day.
Thanks for the posts, Jim (I feel weird calling you Jim, and not; Mr. Shooter, as I would do in person).
They are greatly appreciated!
There was a contest that ran alongside one of the Try-Out books. Mark Bagley won the pencil division.
Wow, seeing those pages sure brings back memories. My parents bought me the Try-Out Book either for my birthday or Christmas. I noodled around with it a little bit, but never sent anything in. Knew I was outclassed. But it did provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the actual process, and just for that it was very valuable. Since it wouldn't fit on a bookshelf, it sat in our hall closet for years. In fact, it might still be there!
I still remember the rush of excitement to this day of buying the Try-Out Book, which I got the Friday it came out (this is when comics came out on Friday!). I was 14.
And all my enthusiasm shrivelled up and died when I got out my india ink pen from art class and attempted to ink the pages. My dream of becoming the next Romeo Tanghal died then and there. I inked about as well as Charlie Brown. And I destroyed page after page trying.
My sister, a year younger than me but a natural artist, tried one of the non-lettered pages that were meant for scripting and aced it. Jim, you would have hired her on the spot had you seen it. 13 years old, too.
Tried pencilling one of the pages, gave up and used the artboard with my best friend to draw posters featuring Batman and the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern.
The funny thing is I knew I was a writer. What I wanted to do in comics was writing. But I was too intimidated to try to script and finishing the plot. To this day, I still remember "a heavy tentacle swings through the air at Spider-Man…" and it makes me tense up!
Lee in Limbo
I think I must have known of the Marvel Try-Out Book back in the 80s, but I never did manage to get my hands on a copy, which saddens me greatly, because if there was ever a period of Marvel's history where I would have wanted to work for Marvel, it certainly was back when this book came out.
Sadly, I was pretty poor as a kid, and there weren't any shops I knew of where I could have bought a copy in any case. We had a couple of good art shops in those days, but I didn't really know about them because they were nowhere near my end of town, and it wasn't practical for me to visit them in any case.
Interestingly, I think I did see some copies of the try-out book at Curry's a handful of years ago, but by that time, I was no longer thinking about working at Marvel; The Marvel I wanted to work for was long gone, so there didn't seem to be any point. *shrug*
All of this goes to say, thank you for posting these pages. I've long wanted to see what I'd missed. Pretty cool stuff. 🙂
I got this book back when it came out, and I was about 14-years-old, or so. I still have it, in fact, drawn on and all that. I did submit my work, but I wasn't ready at that age and it showed. I am embarrassed looking at that work I did all these years later. Gah!
I think the "Marvel Try-Out" book was definitely a great idea, and helped educate many of us on how comic books were produced. Marvel updated it in the 1990's, but hasn't released anything like it since then. I think they should, and it, along with "How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way" should always be kept in print. Naturally, if Marvel did so, modern tools should be mentioned, including the computer's use in making a comic book page.
Thanks for the "Try-Out" book, Jim!
— Matt Hawes
I think I know where JRJr got the "Flashdance" look from..
Jim, what do you think is the most effective way to handle portfolio reviews at conventions?
At the first conventions I went to (circa 75-80), I remember panels where Len Wein and Marv Wolfman bemoaned starting page rates and how much it cost to live on one's own in New York City. This did seem to weed out the clueless middle class kids (me) from other cities who thought maybe they could write or do production work and lacked talent, burning desire or enough cut throat instincts to compete with all the other wanna-bes.
In the late 1990s, I made it to San Diego and for old time's sake, listened in on a panel that gave the basics and then passed out an as-yet-unreleased promo card to each attendee. The card could be presented with portfolio to *one* editor for a face to face review. I admit I laughed when an attendee whined that it was unfair that he would be limited to just one review. After all, he didn't know which editor might like his style….
The Try Out Book was an awesome idea… an early precursor to the social media 'conversations' many companies are trying to have today.
However, in retrospect, the '80s 'Flashdance' look doesn't wear well on Peter Parker.
Hi Jim and JayJay,
Your mention of the 1983 Comic-Con reminds me of something I've wondered about for a long time – Assistant Editor's Month. Did the Assistant's really have complete autonomy to do whatever they liked with the Marvel books that month, or were the stories planned and approved in advance?
Thanks for one of the most consistently fascinating and entertaining blogs around!
I bought this when it came out, but I also bought it as more of a fun thing and wanting to see a "how to" on comics. I was 16 when it came out, so I figured it was pointless to try to submit something that only adults would get hired to do. Had I known at the time that Jim Shooter got his start when he was 13, I would have probably been motivated to submit something. Kinda wish he mentioned that to all the kids in his forward!
Jim, since this was a success, why do you think it wasn't followed up with another one within the next few years? They did do another one (I think it was in the 90's) featuring the X-Men, but unlike the first one, which had an ad in all Marvel comics, I don't recall any advertising at all for the second and seem to remember just stumbling onto it in my comic shop.
Do you remember who drew that in house ad of you with the Try-Out book?
I suggested this story about the Try-Out book. Great to read it, Jim, and thanks for posting it!
I was only 12 or 13 when it came out and used my hard earned paper-route money to buy it. It really was awesome! I tried my hand at each section, although I never sent them in…because I fully realized I was only a kid and not ready for prime time. It was more of a fun exercise for me…and a very cool way to find out how a "real" comic book was put together. I recall thinking at the time, "Why can't we have a class in school like this?" I also remember my Mother's reaction to seeing my colored pages ("You did that?! I thought that was the real thing!"). I'll always remember it because my Mother isn't one to hand out unwarranted compliments…even at that age.
By the by, Jim, I don't know if you heard but Bill Kunkel passed away the other day. Bill wrote for both Marvel and DC in the late 70's, so I'm assuming you guys must have crossed paths at some point. I knew Bill from his work in the video game industry, which I do a good amount of myself these days. Anyway, just thought I'd pass the info along in case you were interested. Thanks again for the post!
This is the book I needed in 1983. Back then I had no idea it existed and I had never even seen a comic book store before. Toward the end of sixth grade, I created a few pages of comics as a final project for an English class. I can't remember how I got away with suggesting that to my teacher. I tried to apply everything I had learned from a library copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Emphasis on "tried." I recall going to an office supply store to get the right tools and materials, or close approximations of them. I wanted to simulate real working conditions as closely as possible for my project. Too bad I couldn't remotely simulate real creative skill. I remember where everything I drew in 1983 is … except for this project. No big loss.
Did you write all of the text in the Try-Out Book? (Sorry, I never did get a copy, and I can't find it in any online indexes.) The advice reminds me of what you've taught on this website and elsewhere, complete with references to Little Miss Muffet and Hemingway.
I had no idea that the Try-Out Book launched Art Nichols' career! His first Marvel book appeared the following year! Instant results!
Aww, JayJay, I bet you called shotgun first, too… consarn it… 😉
Tomorrow: Hijack! (insert evil laugh!)