Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Category: 02 Early Life Page 1 of 2

A Diller, a Dollar, a Donald Duck scholar

On a November day in 1957 I found myself standing in front of Miss Grosier’s first grade class in Hillcrest Elementary School in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, trying to think of a really good word. She had us play this game in which each kid had to offer up a word to the class, and for every classmate who couldn’t spell your word, you got a point–provided, of course, that you could spell the word. Whoever got the most points received the coveted gold star.

“Bouillabaisse,” said I, finally.

“You don’t even know what that is,” Miss Grosier scolded.

“It’s fish soup.”

“You can’t spell that!”

“Can too.”

“Come here. Write it.” She demanded.

I wrote it. She looked it up and admitted that I was, indeed, correct.

Easiest gold star I ever won. And I would like to thank, albeit somewhat belatedly, whoever wrote the Donald Duck comic book in which I found the word bouillabaisse. Also, I’d like to thank my mother who read me that comic book and so many others when I was four and five. She read slowly, pointing at the words. She explained what “new” words meant (she, too, had to look up bouillabaisse). She patiently answered my questions about the stories.And so I learned to read from those sessions long before I started school. While most of my classmates were struggling with See Spot Run, I was reading Superman. I knew what indestructible meant, could spell it, and would have cold-bloodedly used it to win another gold star if I hadn’t been banned from competition after bouillabaisse. Oh, the agony–denied the glorious victories I might have won with teletype, vacuum and prestidigitation–darn that old Miss Grosier, anyway.

The Problems with Marvel Comics

In 1962, my ten-year-old self discovered a copy of Fantastic Four no. 4 in a barbershop.  I was stunned. This had been going on for four issues without me?!

Some years before I had begun to get bored with comics as I started to notice a certain sameness to the stories. I remember realizing that the adventures my friends and I made up as we played Superman in the backyard were more exciting than those in the comics. Two things prevented me from getting back into comics up to my earlobes right then–first, my family, always in hard times, had fallen into even harder times, and there simply was no money for such things, and second, those whatchacall’ems–Marvel Comics? They were impossible to find around Bethel Park, Pennsylvania in those early days. How Bruno’s Barbershop acquired one remains a mystery.

During the summer of 1964, I spent a week in Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital where I had minor surgery and a major revelation. There were lots of comic books lying around in that kids’ ward, and I had lots of time to read. There were Archies, Harveys, Dells, Charltons, Nationals–and Marvels! All of the Marvel Comics were ratty and dog-eared–read to death, it seemed. Their wretched condition plus some childish loyalty compelled me to read one of the relatively pristine Superman comics first. I hoped that perhaps all comics had gotten better since I’d stopped reading them back when I was an eight-year-old kid. I was twelve, then. An eternity had passed. Anything was possible.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – 1965

Everyone who’s ever attended grammar school has had to write at least one composition entitled “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” Most of my friends suffered through the ordeal, begrudging every word that flowed like molasses from their Eberhard Faber # 2’s. I, on the other hand, rather enjoyed writing my composition. I thought it was easy. It occurred to me, at a rather tender age, that if one could somehow get paid for this sort of thing, one had, indeed, discovered a legal racket. Thus were the seeds of my writing career sown.

In 1965 I sold a script for a Legion of Super-Heroes story to the late, great Mort Weisinger, who edited the exploits of that august group back then, thereby fulfilling my childhood dream of raking in big bucks just for putting words on paper.

I wrote that first script in the summer of 1965, laboring long and hard up in my hot, stuffy little room while other 13-year-old kids were out playing baseball, swimming, hanging around and otherwise enjoying their vacations. Ergo, the origin of Jim Shooter, Professional Writer and Legion Scripter Emeritus is precisely How I Spent My Summer Vacation in 1965.


Yesterday’s blog got this comment:

“Sounds like you have some regrets about missing out on youth, Jim.”

My response:

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.

I Aimed to be Better Than the Worst

Note from JayJay: This is part of a piece Jim wrote some years back, and he says he had to condense the events slightly due to space considerations. He has plans to write an expanded version when he has more time, but in the interest of continuity, I’m posting these segments in mostly chronological order. Mostly.

At age thirteen, I was ready to write a comic book. I had desperately sought copies of Marvel Comics–borrowed, traded for, or managed to scrape up twelve cents to buy. I studied them. Analyzed them. Read till I knew them by heart. So, I wrote and drew, as best I could, a story of the Legion of Super-Heroes starring Superboy, for National’s Adventure Comics and sent it off.

I picked the Legion because I judged it to be the worst comic book National Published, and therefore, it seemed, the one where they needed me most. I waited, alternating between confidence and despair. Months passed. Finally an encouraging letter came! Essentially it said “send us another one.”

Growing up with The Legion of Super Heroes

My rather young debut as Legion scripter created a unique situation: I was about the same age as my characters. I was also about the same age as my audience. Better still, my friends, who were also my audience, were the same age as my characters, so my friends became my characters who were my audience, who… You get the drift.

We all aged together, characters, friends/audience and me. I’m sure working with a teen-aged writer aged Mort a few zillion years, too, but the point is that the Legion grew up with me from early 1966 to early 1970. That may not mean much to anyone else, but to my point of view, it made those characters very special, and good, bad or indifferent, I feel responsible for the characters of the Legionnaires I wrote in that period.

With Mort’s blessing I struggled to find raison d’etre for a character called Bouncing Boy, who previously had been offered up at face value, and played straight and serious. I found my Bouncing Boy among my Bethel Park Senior High classmates, in the person of a friend whose initials, T.K., and slightly rotund body had earned him the nickname “Teakettle.” Going through high school coping with a weight problem and the name Teakettle is not a whole lot different, I think, than being Bouncing Boy in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Thus, in my mind, they became one, and BB grew into a bright-but-insecure, self-effacing, lovable guy who was resigned to the role of comic relief and once described himself as the Legion’s “…self-appointed chief of morale.” I found similar models for the other Legionnaires. It was easy. Everyone is a character in high school, because no one has learned to hide it yet.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén