A Four-Colored “Rest of the Story”

(I’ve spent much of the last few weeks listening and reading stories by Paul Harvey.  If you’re too young to know who that is; do some research.  For now, you’ll have to content yourself with a story I don’t think he ever told, but one that his nonetheless true.)

“Neither a man nor a boy ever thinks the age he has is exactly the best one- he puts the right age a few years older or a few years younger than he is.” –Mark Twain

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The world of comic books has never been an easy one to break into.  Oh, I don’t mean that comic book shops are frightening or that Archie Comics have disappeared from the checkout lines in groceries.  No, any person that wants to can quickly and easily immerse themselves in the four-color world which the professionals have created for them.

When a person tries to be a comic book writer or artist; that is when the real challenge began.  If it is difficult today, it was almost impossible back in the mid 1960’s.  Legendary creators like Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, and Steve Ditko would be some of the first to start DC Comics as fresh new talent.  But James didn’t know any of that.  Or perhaps he did, and simply didn’t care.

James started out, as many comic creators do, as a fan.  He found himself with a stack of comic books, eagerly flip through each page, and became motivated.  It wasn’t long until he started creating comic books of his own.  He scripted them, drew them, and soon had a finished project.  Having successfully crafted his own stories, he thought they were suitable for publication.  So he did what any ambitious young fan would do.  James mailed his story ideas to DC Comics.

Nowadays there are policies.  Comic book companies typically do not accept submissions by mail.  Work that is sent in unsolicited is unilaterally returned.  The editors have their contracted staff that is already assigned their titles months in advance.  Big companies take care of their big-name properties.  Taking the time to read through work that they probably couldn’t read?  Well who has time for that?

72119809 But this was a different time.  In the mid 60’s comics were about to be surprised by Bat-mania and earlier in the decade the cover price had surged from a dime to twelve whole cents.  So perhaps editor Mort Weisinger was feeling reckless.  Perhaps he simply liked the conversations that he had with James through their letters.  Whatever the reason, Weisinger took the crude story that had been crafted and offered James a job.  The inexperienced fellow was now in charge of writing and drawing the Legion of Super-Heroes feature for Adventure Comics.

This was only the beginning of James’ career with super-powered heroes.  Not only did he have a successful run on Legion of Super-Heroes, but he also scripted Superman Family tales and in 1968 he would be the writer on the new Captain Action title.  He took a break from comics for personal reasons, but rejoined the industry in the mid-70s.  He wrote some more stories for DC Comics before he headed across town and signed on with Marvel Comics.  It was there that this previously rookie fan had the job that thousands of folks only dream of.  From 1978 until 1987, James was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

Now, James had other things to do with his life.  He would eventually step away from comics and pursue other employment.  Still, back in 2007 he would return to the title that started it all and script one more run on Legion of Super-Heroes.

You might be thinking how impressive it is that this man could have such a lengthy career.  The 1960’s up until only a few years ago?  That’s quite a record in comic books no matter who you are.  However, James had a secret.  A secret that even Weisinger didn’t know as he communicated with the youth.  It wasn’t a terribly scandalous piece of information; there wasn’t anything the creator could have done anything about.  Yet, one wonders if he would have gotten his first job had his boss known the truth.

paulharveySee, Jim Shooter’s first foray away from comics; the one he took just as 70’s were starting off?  Well he took it just as he was graduating high school.  He used many interactions from his high school life to shape the scripts of teenage heroes.  For this man, this legendary weaver of stories that sent in his story ideas and received a job offer through the mail?  Well when he was first hired, he was only 14.

“And now you know… The Rest of the Story.”

A Labor of Love

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” –Confucius

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I sit at a desk, typing this at my job.  The clock reads 7:11 on the bottom right hand corner of my screen next to two computers hanging out with a red “x” near them and two orange icons.  I look up to the timepiece on the opposite wall and it confirms what their brother has already stated.  I was off work at seven.

Being the diligent employee that I was, I came in about fifteen minutes early to acquire my projects for the day, enjoy a little quiet time, and generally prepare myself for any visitors that might stop by.  An eight hour shift is reasonable.  My job is one that does not require a lunch break.  I rule over all; the lone employee, deciding how I should spend my day.

I read articles on my favorite websites.  I play a move against my mother in Scrabble.  I file.  I play another move.  I read.  I eat lunch.  I play a word, wishing that I had room for the word “talents” on the crowded board.  More reading and filing occurs as I chat with customers about their selections and the newest episode of their favorite television show.

And that is how I find myself still sitting in front of this computer with the lights on.  I have a stack sitting next to me that begs to be finished.  I shall probably spend at least an hour attacking that quest.

What’s that?  You pity me in this little snapshot of my life?  Oh, posh.  Today I manned the comic book shop.  I could have left quite a while ago; I’m not getting paid anymore.  However, I’m sitting in a room full of four-color fun and I refuse to leave until I’m all caught up. 

Batwoman is teaming up with Wonder Woman to find a killer in an underwater maze.  Animal Man is joining Swamp Thing to keep the darker side of the world from taking over the plant and creature aspects.  There’s a brand new Iron Man series that’s started.  Words and images combine for entertaining stories that literally (ha!) have the fate of the world in the balance.  Every week a new tales are told about good struggling to overcome evil.  Heroes attempt to save those in need and art shines through as powerfully as Superman’s punches.  How could I leave all this fun behind?  Why would I stop having all this fun? 

Those that write stories should be those that devour them as well.  I know I do.

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