“What’s all that?” I asked.
Submissions, I was told. People were always sending in samples and submissions.
“What do you do with them?”
Nothing, someone said. Hold onto them for a while. Sometimes, when Stan was out of town and his secretary got bored, she’d return some, unopened. If the pile got too big, they’d just throw them all away.
I asked if I could take care of them. Answer, words to the effect, “Knock yourself out.”
It was 1976. I was brand new associate editor, fresh from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. All my friends were back in the “Burgh. My girlfriend was back in the ‘Burgh. I didn’t have a lot to do after work except more work. And, occasionally hang out with the other new guy, Roger Stern. So, every night, I took a dozen or three of those submissions home with me.
Home was the YMCA. Not the nasty McBurney Y downtown. Past experience taught me not to trust that place. I stayed at the Vanderbilt Y on East 47th Street, a much nicer place.
|The Vanderbilt YMCA on East 47th Street, NYC
It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford an apartment—after all, I was making a cool $11,700 a year—even though rents in New York were absurdly high compared to Pittsburgh. The rent for a cramped, fifth floor walk-up dump in Manhattan that had no hot water was double what I paid for a nice, big, modern one-bedroom in Pittsburgh. Okay…I reconciled myself to that fact. But, still, finding an inhabitable, available walk-up dump, bribing the super, who you’d never see again and thus, snagging it before the other million people desperate to have it was a problem. Seemed like that was going to take some time.
The room at the Y was small, just barely big enough to fit a narrow little bed, a small dresser and what they called a desk. The bed took up most of the room. You couldn’t open the dresser drawers because there wasn’t enough room between the dresser and the bed. Couldn’t sit at the desk for the same reason. The bathroom was down the hall.
They limited the time you could stay there. No more than six days in a row, I think. They didn’t want people living there for extended periods.
Fine by me. The Y wasn’t so bad for my purposes, actually. I took the bus or, once in a while, a plane (stand-by discount!) 400 miles back to Pittsburgh most weekends. The return bus left Pittsburgh at midnight. I went straight to work from the Port Authority Terminal Monday morning and Monday evening checked back into the Y.
And it was only seven bucks a night!
A few times, on weekends when I couldn’t afford to go back to the home town, I had to check out of the Y and sit up all night at Chock full o’ Nuts drinking coffee, waiting till the next morning when it would be okay to check back in. One time I couldn’t hold up, and I took the cheapest hotel room I could find. At the Shelton, on Lex, I think. It broke my heart to part with the $18 it cost, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
And, oh, the relative comfort of the good old Shelton Hotelton!
On a typical evening after work, I’d grab some cheap eats somewhere—you could eat at the Y for under two dollars if you weren’t fussy about food—go to my little closet-room, sit on the bed and start in on the submissions. I wrote answers to each and every one. Short and as upbeat as possible to the crayon-on-paper-bag kid submissions, but sometimes long, detailed critiques to the rare submitter who showed some real talent.
All those letters were hand written. I didn’t have a typewriter. Not even at work. And I couldn’t type anyway. Still can’t, unless you count this two-fingered pecking I do as typing.
Slowly, the mountain eroded away.
I remember one submission, a detailed story plot, from someone in England that was beautifully written, intelligent and thoughtful. The guy just needed to work on the architecture a little, plotting 101 stuff. But aside from those few structure quibbles, man, the thing was good. I sent him the most encouraging letter I could without a promise of work (which I had no power to make).
Never heard from the guy again, don’t remember the name on the sub. Sometimes I wonder if it was Alan Moore or one of the other British Invaders who turned up years later.
Almost every day I’d come to the office and drop off a bunch of envelopes at the mailroom. The people I worked with thought I was nuts, bothering with submissions. But, I’d gotten my first job in comics by sending an unsolicited submission to Superman editor Mort Weisinger. I had tremendous respect and great sympathy for those who packed their best efforts into manila envelopes and sent them off to the home of their hopes and dreams.
I lived out of a suitcase at the Y for four months. Then one day this guy walked up to my desk at Marvel and said, “I heard you were looking for an apartment.” He introduced himself. It was Dave Cockrum. He had a huge three bedroom out in Bellerose, Queens. He explained that he’d just split up with his wife, and without her salary he couldn’t afford the place unless he got somebody to share it.
It had never occurred to me that living in a borough other than Manhattan was a reasonable alternative. Queens, huh? Commuting by bus and subway…?
Sure. You betcha. Had to be better than the current situation.
I took it sight unseen and moved into the back bedroom at Dave’s place a few days later. It was six times the size of the closet-room at the Y, and the living room, kitchen, etc. we shared were modern and nice. We had a terrace! It overlooked the lot where they parked the Good Humor trucks, but still…. Wow.
By that time I had finished with the mountain and it was fairly easy keeping up with the incoming. I still took subs home once in a while. It was a lot more pleasant answering them on the comfy couch in the living room than sitting on the lumpy bed in that coffin-like Y room.
Many years later, late nineties, I think, I was at a convention in Ramapo, New York. I think it was organized in association with a school. They had an amazing number of professional guests for a small town show. I got to meet the great Kurt Schaffenberger at last. Never met him while working at DC.
Jerry Ordway saw me sitting at my table and came over. Out of his pocket, he pulled a very old, well-preserved, hand-written, long letter explaining the fundamentals of inking.
“Remember this?” he said.
|Nova #8 Cover Inked by Jerry Ordway