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Category: 02 Early Life (Page 1 of 2)

Untold Tales

SEVEN – Tomorrow

I wrote what’s below and I can’t take any more time today….

First, Untold Tales

A few stories I promised to tell:

An Ad-venture and an “Expensive” Lesson

I lived in Pittsburgh in the early 1970’s, and sometimes I worked freelance for Pittsburgh-based Lando-Bishopric Advertising, usually on the U.S. Steel account. At various times, I served as a concept creator, copywriter, designer and illustrator. Yes, illustrator. I’m not as practiced, fast and facile as most good comic book artists, but give me lots of reference and all week to make one illo and I do okay.

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Sex and Drugs

Let’s do the drugs first. Whoo-hoo!

 

Drugs

 

I think I wrote the first drug use story in the Comics Code era. It appeared in this issue of Action Comics:

 

It was the second feature, a Legion of Super-Heroes story entitled “Forbidden Fruit.” Comic Book Database, www.comicbookdb.com, while often useful, gives credit for writing this story jointly to Mort Weisinger and me. Why do they do that? Mort never co-wrote anything with me, or even made a significant edit on any of my scripts. Sigh. No, I wrote it, just me.

 

The story was published in April of 1969.

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Fatal Five design drawings, 1966

A Letter From Curt Swan

I came across this yesterday. It’s the first letter I ever received from Curt Swan, hand written on a 14×16″ piece of vellum. What a wonderful letter, what a brilliant artist, what a great man.  

P.S. Check out how neat the lettering is.  : ) 

(Click on the letter for a more satisfyingly large image)

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman

When I was fourteen, I went on my first business trip. It was in June, 1966, soon after school ended for the year, and almost a year after I’d written the first Legion story DC bought. Fresh out of ninth grade, I was off from home in Pittsburgh to New York City to spend a week in DC’s offices learning more about comics production—things like coloring and inking that are hard to explain over the phone. At DC’s insistence, my mother had to accompany me.

Even with the income I was making from DC added to the mix, my family wasn’t exactly prosperous. When you start deep in the hole, it takes a long time to dig out. My mother was worried that she didn’t have anything appropriate to wear. And there was no money to go clothes shopping. A friend of hers from church who was a seamstress offered to make her a few dresses, as a gift.

But, as for the trip itself, DC paid all expenses—the airfare, meals, the hotel. They put us up in the Summit Hotel, a top shelf place in those days. It also happened to be located at Lexington and 51st, right across the street from 575 Lexington Avenue, where DC had its offices. For about a week, I reported to the office every day, met people and learned things. 

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Here I Go Again

Four years after leaving my career in comics in (I thought) ruins I was making my living writing ad copy freelance and working part-time in a department store. I got a call from Duffy Vohland, an editor at Marvel. He’d gotten my number from a fan, Harry Broertjes, who’d found it somehow. Duffy invited me to come up to New York and talk to the editors at Marvel about getting back into comics, and told me that National, too, would probably be interested again. Mort had left and no one else there held a grudge. Marvel had never had a grudge.

The next day I flew to New York and presented myself at Marvel. Marvel had moved to larger quarters, but they looked even more cluttered and used than the previous ones. There was a huge paper maché figure of Thor, donated by some fans, suspended on wires from the ceiling in the production area. There were piles of stuff everywhere–old comics, envelopes, books, trash. Two people were sword fighting with yardsticks in the hall. There seemed to be a lot more people, most of them young, strange-looking and dressed for playing frisbee in the park or painting a house, maybe. My tour guide, Duffy, pointed out a few corners where there were sleeping bags where a few otherwise homeless staffers spent their nights. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that four years ago?

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My Short-Lived Inking Career

I worked at Marvel for a short time back in late 1969. Stan hired me as a “staff writer,” but I never actually got to write anything. There weren’t very many staff people, there was a lot of work and most of it needed to be done in a hurry — all hands on deck! So, I ended up helping out with whatever the crisis of the moment was, doing a little of everything — editing, proofreading, paste-ups, lettering corrections and sometimes even minor art corrections.  Sometimes, Stan would gather everyone, and I mean everyone in his office — the only space where, as few as we were, we’d all fit — and we’d brainstorm plots for whichever books were next in the queue. He’d ask “Where did we leave Iron Man.” Someone would remember. People would voice ideas. Stan, it must be said, did most of the heavy lifting. With all of the above going on, things got frantic sometimes, but I loved it.

Anyway….

I wanted to make more money. No, make that I needed to make more money. New York was and is a far more expensive place to live than hometown Pittsburgh. I asked about freelance work. There wasn’t any freelance writing available. At DC, I’d been taught to color, but coloring at Marvel paid very little — my rate would have been under a dollar a page. I knew I couldn’t color fast enough to make the money I needed. Lettering? No. Making a small correction is one thing, but lettering a whole book…? I don’t know. I think I could have done it, but it would have taken a lot of practice time even to get ready to try out. Penciling? I’d always done layouts for the stories I wrote for DC, and in fact, in his very first letter to me, my DC editor, Mort Weisinger suggested that I might want to someday “draw features for DC.” But there’s a long way between sketchy layouts and finished pencils. The only finished drawings I’d done up until that time were in art school in a very non-comics style. Again, it would take lots of practice, at minimum, to even make a credible try. 

That left inking.

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Washed up at Eighteen

In 1969 on my first day of work at Marvel Comics they found me a small table and chair in a corner. Literally. Marvel in those days had only two real offices, Stan’s and Sol Brodsky’s. Sol was the production manager, which meant he handled anything Stan didn’t want to, which meant anything technical, administrative or financial. Sol’s office looked like a combination production office/storeroom. Beside Stan’s and Sol’s office office there was a reception area and two small partitioned areas. Mimi Gold was the receptionist. Near the reception room, a fellow named Allyn Brodsky (no relation to Sol) read and answered fan mail. One partitioned area was occupied by John Romita, Marie Severin and Tony Mortellaro, all slaving away at art boards. The other area had Morrie Kuramoto doing virtually all the production work by himself, John Verpoorten coloring and somewhere in the back, Stu Schwartzberg running the stat machine. And, oh yes, in a dim corner, me.

The whole place had a cluttered, used look and feel–as opposed to DC’s offices, which were opulent and huge by comparison, populated by an army of dignified people tiptoeing around, speaking in solemn tones, as though they were discussing insurance, or some other “real” business. And at DC they wouldn’t let you in without a jacket and tie. In fact, the first time I went to New York to discuss business in 1966, Mort met me at my hotel to make certain I was properly dressed before allowing me to go up to the offices. He wanted to make sure I wouldn’t embarrass him by showing up in a tee-shirt or something. At Marvel, nobody cared what you wore.

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A Leap of Fate

Some time around the summer of 1969, I was taken off of Adventure Comics, my one regular title, because the Legion of Super Heroes, my regular feature, was reduced to a second feature in Action Comics. That move made no sense to me. While other National titles had fallen precipitously, Adventure had remained fairly constant during my tenure, according to the statements of ownership printed in one of my first issues and in my last (the way I figured it, the ol’ “Marvel writer” had come through) — but Mort explained that falling sales on Superboy had prompted the shuffling. Supergirl would be put into Adventure, and presumably would hold the half million readers buying the title, while as a back-up, the Legion (which starred Superboy) would no longer “dilute” the sales of Superboy. And, it might shore up declining sales of Action. Meanwhile, I would be given Jimmy Olsen as a regular assignment along with the Legion back-up to fill my schedule.

Since Jimmy Olsen was not one of my favorite characters, I was somewhat disappointed by all of this. I was also very tired of working for Mort. He was a great man who taught me a great deal, but by his own admission he was not an easy person to work for.

Finally, at age eighteen, thanks in large measure to Mort’s teaching, and in spite of his frequent, brutal, often cruel criticism, I felt fairly confident in my ability — confident enough to dare approach Marvel.

I called Stan Lee. Miraculously, I got him on the phone, even though he’d never heard of me. Even more miraculously, I got him to agree to see me. He told me he’d give me ten minutes.

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Secret Marvels/Marvel’s Secret

I became established as a regular writer for National Comics, working through the mail and over the phone with Mort Weisinger on virtually all of his titles–Superman, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics, Jimmy Olsen, Superboy and Captain Action. As the “kid who wrote Superman,” I became a mini-celebrity. This Week magazine ran a short feature about me, as did the Pittsburgh papers and TV news shows. I was asked for autographs! Quickly, I learned to sign “Shooter” with a Superman “S.”

Still, I haunted the newsstands to buy the latest Marvel Comics. Though Mort, an excellent, if harsh, teacher, taught me much about writing comics and writing in general, Stan Lee was still my greatest influence. I felt guilty, vaguely traitorous, but I continued to study every Marvel Comic I could lay hands upon. I comforted myself with the knowledge that Mort himself read all the Marvels. I’d seen stacks of them around his office the first time I’d visited New York. The simple truth was that little-but-growing Marvel Comics had become the leader in the comics field and the the other companies, including huge-but-declining National Comics, scared. Time after time, Mort tried to respond to the rising Marvel threat. He tried using odd panel shapes, as some Marvel artists did, to “make the page layout more exciting.” He tried running bright colors in the panel gutters to make the pages gaudier and, in theory, more exciting. He tried imitating the wisecracking humor, both in the dialog and in the editor’s notes, the extreme action, the gutsier characterization and every other superficially apparent quality of Marvel Comics. Nothing worked. The secret of Marvel’s success remained a mystery to him.

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