First ThisJayJay wrote a short story that I really like. She tells me that she now has it available online for small change. She also told me she gave me credit as editor because I made a few nuts and bolts suggestions, like “try this sentence again in English,” and “spell ‘its,’ the possessive, right.” (JayJay here. Jim is too humble as usual. He pointed out such a major storytelling flaw in my first draft that I still can’t believe I made a mistake like that and didn’t see it.)
Being associated with that story is good for my rep.
Here’s the cover:
Here’s the blurb I wrote for JayJay:
I hope they don’t make this story into a movie. I’d have to see it because I know the author. The movie would be very difficult to sit through. I don’t deal well with horror stories that pry their way into my id and set up shop manufacturing nightmares. Reading this story, superbly written by a woman who should be locked away somewhere and prevented from doing any more was hard enough. I don’t need to see it on the big screen. Avoid this. Do not read this story. It will upset you. It’s a romance, by the way.
I meant every word.
This story, though complete, is just the first episode of a series, by the way. The tale continues.
I don’t often plug things here. I wouldn’t do it even for JayJay if I didn’t think I was doing my fellow travelers on this blog a favor by pointing out something cool.
Custom Comics, Made to Order
Custom comics are created to a client’s specifications. They’re used for advertising, marketing, premiums, promotion, education or any kind of communication, really. Propaganda, anyone? : )
The first time I left the mainstream comic book business, around 1970 at age 18, I found myself creating comics again almost right away, working freelance for an advertising agency in Pittsburgh called Lando-Bishopric.
Funny how that happened. While I was writing for DC, occasionally, on a slow news day, a reporter or news crew would do an interview with “the kid who did comics.” I was on TV, on the radio and in the papers many dozens of times while I was in high school. Anyway, the copy chief of L-B called my parents’ home one day. I happened to be there. He asked me if I was the kid who did comics. I guess he saw me on TV. They had a gig for me.I met with the copy chief and an art director, Jack Beale and Jack Dillon, respectively. They actually had several gigs for me. One of them was a series of comics-style projects for U.S. Steel.Lando-Bishopric handled, among many other things, half of the U.S. Steel account. The other half was in the hands of Grey Advertising in New York City.
L-B and Grey were working together on a campaign for U.S. Steel called “Where’s Joe?” It was meant to raise awareness about American steel industry jobs being lost to Germany and Japan. They wanted some comics-format ads. I put together a pitch piece and sample pages. The Jacks liked them and I was called to a meeting.There were more than a dozen L-B execs gathered in the conference room to review the proposed project. I didn’t know who any of them were except the Jacks. One of the Jacks presented my work.Some loud, cranky guy at the end of the table started criticizing the sample pages. He actually had only one significant complaint, and it was only one balloon, which he read aloud. He read it wrong! Dyslexic? I don’t know. He was making noises about killing the project because that panel didn’t work for him. And no one was debating the point! The Jacks sat there in meek silence.
So I piped up. I said, “You’re not reading that correctly.” Then I read it to him—the actual words that were there.
He seemed pleased. He said, words to the effect, “I like your attitude, young man.” And he went on about believing in your work and sticking up for it…clearly a message intended for the rest of the creative in the room more than me. He apologized for misreading the words. He approved the project.
It was a McHale’s Navy moment. Just when you thought McHale was in trouble, the Admiral would admire his initiative or boldness, and McHale would skate.Later, I found out that the loud guy, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, was the account rep who landed the U.S. Steel account. He was easily the most powerful man in the agency. Even the President kissed his ring. Everyone feared that if Mr. Loud wasn’t suitably worshipped he would leave and take U.S. Steel with him.
Everyone at the agency was afraid to work on any project for Mr. Loud’s accounts because if he didn’t like what they came up with, he just might have them fired. So they were all always “too busy.” They farmed work for his accounts out to freelancers like, oh, say, me.
Maybe if I would have known who he was and known that I was supposed to be afraid of him, I would have kept my mouth shut in that meeting.
Nah. Not me. I’m not good at keeping my mouth shut.
I continued to get work. A lot of work. Once I had stood up to Mr. Loud and therefore, somehow, became his favorite creator, a lot of Loud projects came my way. I think, I hope that I kept getting work because I was good, as well as because Loud liked me.
I continued to tell Mr. Loud what I thought. He had ideas occasionally that I politely told him were lame, and/or offered a spin to them that made them less lame. He continued liking my attitude.
The only example of my U.S. Steel work that I could easily lay hands upon was this poster:
It’s been rolled up for 42 years, sorry, but Patience, Fortitude, a coaster and a couple of my fellow dumbbells held it down for its photo.
By the time I created the above, the name of the ad campaign had been changed to “U.S. Steel: We’re Involved.” Same message, but a spin that took it away from seeming so focused on the company’s negotiations with the union regarding a no-strike contract and higher performance standards.
Those cartoons, done in the Jimmy Hatlo They’ll Do It Every Time style, were used in many ways. One of them was made into a national TV commercial. It showed a flatbed tractor-trailer arriving to pick up a ten-pound box of specialty steel and suggested that a motorcycle and sidecar would be arriving later to pick up the 20-ton order.
They were all about inefficiency, waste and stupidity on the part of management as well as labor.
That was just a tiny bit of the overall We’re Involved campaign, of course.
I have a great story about representing L-B to the execs at Grey, but this is already running long. I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Years later, at Marvel, I had some involvement with Marvel’s custom comics business. Usually, I just pontificated. Other people did everything and usually, I just passed my hand over the results and blessed them.
Here’s a notable custom comic that Marvel did for the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. This was important enough so that I was a little more involved, but the brilliant Jim Salicrup did all the heavy lifting.
There’s a stupefying story that goes with that book, too. I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Marvel created a host of custom comics. Clients included Campbell’s Soup, Kool-Aid, GlaxoWellcome (for an asthma medicine), and, of course, Hostess Brands, for whom we did the the ubiquitous Hostess ads in the comics. It was a sideline.
At VALIANT, desperate to make money to keep the lights burning, we sought custom comics business. This was our first custom job, for a telecom company called PHH:
It’s a cute little eight panel story. PHH LDN Man can’t defeat “Mr. Sincerity” from the phone company, whose answer to everything is “reach out and touch someone,” but PHH LDN Man clues in the CFO that all she needs to do is kick the bum out and sign up with PHH.
My partner at VALIANT, Steve Massarsky was fond of making deals that personally benefitted him. He was supposed to give up his law practice when we started VALIANT, but since he was sleeping with a woman who happened to be a principal of the venture capital firm that funded us, controlled the board, stipulations of his contract were not enforced. Therefore, as a lawyer, he represented Nintendo for entertainment, represented us, of course, and, being previously involved in the music business, had connections at MCA. With a couple of record producers, dealing mostly with himself, he put together a deal to produce for MCA a licensed Super Mario Bros. album. If that sounds strange to you, well, you have no idea how hot Super Mario Bros. was at that time. To me, even at that time, though, it sounded unlikely to succeed. I couldn’t imagine video gamers buying a music CD just because the Super Mario Bros. were on the cover.
But, we did it, VALIANT made a few bucks and Massarsky made a ton of money, personally.
The pencils were by Art Nichols who did a magnificent job. I think Vince Colletta inked it, correct me if I’m wrong, Artie. I wrote the story. I had to work the songs into it, and they wanted a literacy theme. Ay-yi-yi!
We didn’t do the CD cover art, but we did everything else. I’m proud of this work. Here it is:
P.S. There’s some good music on this album, including the great Roy Orbison’s last recording, “I Drove All Night.” Dire Straits, Sheena Easton…it didn’t suck. But it failed in the marketplace, as I figured it would.
The most impressive custom job we ever did at VALIANT was for Nintendo of Japan for their F-ZERO game. We did an in-pack custom comic book for the game. Here are a couple of pages:
We also did the box cover art:
Why is this impressive? Because this work was done for a product to be sold only in Japan.
The Japanese were and are very proud of their comics industry. As a rule, at least at that time, they didn’t think American comics were anywhere near as good as theirs. The consensus opinion was that they were the pros and we were quirky, amateurish second-stringers.
But, on the basis of our licensed Nintendo comics for America, Nintendo of Japan picked us, Americans, to do their custom comic in-pack and box cover art. An honor.
I wrote it, Art Nichols penciled it and Bob Layton inked it.
We did several other custom comics jobs, including one for Kraft General Foods and on for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Cheesasaurus Rex book had a print run of two million copies and the KFC book had a one million copy run.
Penciled by Wanderlei Silva, inked by Bob Layton and “Knob Row,” our artists in training, I think.
Penciled and inked by the great comics art production guru and brilliant kids’ stuff illustrator Ron Zalme.
We took cipher characters invented by nitwit ad agency people, gave them personality and had them star in real stories.
We got rave reviews about the KFC book from the client. The Cheesasaurus Rex book went over so well that Kraft wanted a sequel, and intended to make the comic book a regular series.
I wrote the script for the Cheesasaurus sequel. Kraft loooved it.
The scripts for “Piracy on the High Cheese” and “The Sharp, Tangy Revenge of Cheesefinger” are available for download.
(In the Downloads section of the sidebar – J.)
About that time, MetLife came to us and wanted a custom comic series to reach the inner city, lower income and Hispanic markets. I pitched a concept. They loooved it.
Then I got forced out of VALIANT.
None of the pending projects went forward. The MetLife people later told me that the VALIANT people they dealt with after I was gone were “idiots.” That’s a quote. They pulled the plug. Kraft cancelled the proposed Cheesasaurus Rex series for similar reasons.
The scum who succeeded me as the “creative” heads of VALIANT were not competent to do the custom work. In truth, they probably didn’t care and weren’t trying that hard, because, at that point, they were making so much money from the regular comic book line I’d built that the lucrative custom work didn’t seem that important.
TOMORROW: A Miracle and Illustrated Media