JimShooter.com

Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Category: 02 Early Life

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.

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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.”

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Regrets?

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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