Monday, March 14, 2011

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.”

In almost no time, I sent them two more. I waited. Months passed. On February 10, 1966, the suspense ended with a phone call from Mort Weisinger, Vice President of National Comics and editor of the Superman family of titles, which included Adventure Comics. He was a little worried over my age, fourteen by then, but, nonetheless bought the first three stories I’d sent him and commissioned others. The money from those stories couldn’t have come at a better time for my family.

I’d like to thank Stan Lee who wrote those Marvel comics in which I found the inspiration to write as well as a how-to course. Also I’d like to thank my mother, who believed in her son (as mothers are wont to do) enough to encourage me to try.

I’d also like to apologize to the people who wrote the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics back in the early sixties, Otto Binder and Edmond Hamilton. I say I chose Adventure Comics as my target because I felt it was National’s worst comic. Perhaps it was in some ways, but since then I have learned to appreciate those works. The writers were talented, skillful gentlemen, indeed, though perhaps not quite fully in touch with the desires of the audience at that point.

13 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Thanks for posting, JayJay. I look forward to more segments and an expanded version someday.

A few questions for Jim:

1. You were focused on Marvel in 1964-65. Were you also reading Gold Key back then, or did you discover those titles later?

2. What exactly about the Legion didn't you like back in 1965? As a child and as an adult, I've always thought your Legion stories were THE Legion stories, but I never thought the earlier Legion stories were the "worst" that National had to offer at the time, so I was surprised by your childhood assessment.

3. How did your feelings toward the Legion change over time? Did you feel more invested in it because you created characters for it?

BTW, I'm reading your LSH #47 right now, working up my way up to the end of the ENEMY MANIFEST TPB. Haven't read the Legion since the 90s. You brought me back! Unfortunately, the credits in the TPB don't specify that you didn't write #50. Wish I could see the ending you originally intended.

But despite all the disappointment you've experience, you always manage to rise again. I'll be reading your Dark Horse titles after I'm done with ENEMY MANIFEST. Can't wait!

jimshooter said...

1. I started reading Marvels around '63 and I picked up the Gold Key comics as well. And DC Comics here and there, especially if Gil Kane was drawing Star Sapphire.

2. The first thing was that John Forte's art was so stiff and awkward and the Legion's club house was as big as a phone booth but twenty of them would go in there. And the club house had an old fashioned keyhole on the door a thousand years in the future. The stories were absurd... Lightning Lad was missing once and his sister posed as him. And the way they figured out that she was a girl is that they noticed she didn't have an Adam's apple.

Perhaps readers will notice in my first Legion story I made the club house big. Like skyscraper big. (I did layouts for all of my stories.)

3. See tomorrow's blog.

Patrick Daniel O'Neill said...

I think Forte's art is the thing that most hampered those Legion stories...Binder and Hamilton were writing stuff that in other artistic hands would have been far better. Even your stuff was much improved once Curt Swan became the regular artist on the feature.

Marc Miyake said...

Thanks for the answers!

Didn't know you liked Gil Kane's GREEN LANTERN. Who could have guessed that you'd do layouts for him only a few years later? I still haven't read his CAPTAIN ACTION issues after the one he did with you. Maybe someday ...

I've long liked Forte's art on the Bizarros. If it weren't for the Bizarros, he wouldn't have been drawing the Legion. Trouble is that the stiffness suitable for Bizarros just doesn't work with human beings.

I guess your more dynamic layouts were an attempt to be the anti-Forte. I always think of Forte figures standing straight up - anything but a stance your Karate Kid would assume.

It took you two years to replace the Legion headquarters, but it was worth the wait! I've read your Fatal Five returns / Dark Circle sequence many times since I was ten. I recall you saying that Weisinger told you the Dark Circle issue didn't sell. Can't understand why. That issue was the first time I ever saw superheroes up against a real army. A massive force, not just a couple of tanks. Normally, I don't like deus ex machina endings, but the drastic situation and the continuity tie-in with the Controllers justified it in my eyes.

Looking forward to tomorrow's blog!

Kris Brownlow said...

Jim, did you have much face-to-face contact with Mort or was it mostly the phone contact you described earlier? It seems like a number of the DC editors have been described as "arrogant", did they all seem that way to you? Was it arrogance, or perhaps, in some cases, just an insistence on professionalism that some freelancers didn't like?
Mort's treatment of you (especially since you were very young) doesn't strike me as professional at all, it was boorish.

(btw, caught one small typo, Edmond Hamilton's first name is misspelled.)

JayJayJackson said...

Oops, that's my fault. I transcribed it wrong. Fixed!

Martin Gray said...

As a Brit, reading the early LSH years later, I had no problem with the Clubhouse visual - I just assumed it was a Tardisl deal.

Dan said...

Forte's art truly *was* "stiff and awkward" ... but for me, that's part of its charm. (Heck, maybe it's *all* of its charm!)

PC said...

I decided to buy the LSH Showcase volumes, now up to Vol. 4.

Both Forte and Swan were stiff and one-dimensional as artists. Siegel's early stories weren't bad, but after Hamilton took over, even Siegel's occasional fill-in became formulaic and gimmick driven. There was no characterization, no character development.

Adventure #346's cover doesn't do justice to the interiors. Right from page 1, I could feel "Whoa! So that's what they were talking about when they said Shooter's stuff was fantastic." Everything was different, the poses, the camera angles, which is a shame because after a while Swan started ignoring Jim's layouts and going back to being a brick.

Steve Fox said...

"The money from those stories couldn’t have come at a better time for my family..."

That's such a telling thing for a man to say about money earned as a child.

I think credit to childhood gumption and optimism may be in order.

jimshooter said...

In answer to Kris' question...
My first business trip to New York City was in June 1966 with my mother, since I was 14 at the time. After that, during the next few years, I went to New York with fair frequency, usually by myself, usually for several days at a time. So, I spent a fair amount of time in DC's offices, meeting with Mort and other DC people -- Jack Adler, who gave me an education with regard to art production, coloring and printing; Carmine Infantino, who discussed cover design with me, Tatjana Wood -- I think -- regarding coloring, George Klein -- I think -- explaining inking. And lots more. E. Nelson Bridwell, who was Mort's assistant, of course. Lots of other people, especially people who worked in the office. I think I met everyone who worked in the office. Not so many freelancers. I attended several general editorial meetings. I learned a lot.

Funny, these days, if parents let a kid in his mid-teens, alone, fly 400 miles from Pittsburgh to New York and stay there by himself in a hotel, they'd arrest the parents. Back then, nobody batted an eye.

People don't believe how nasty Mort was. They think I'm exaggerating. Nah. It had nothing to do with "strictness" or "professionalism." He was nasty. Ask Roy Thomas, who worked for him for a couple of weeks and quit. Ask Carey Bates.

I suspect he was especially tough on me. Nelson said so. Our theory was that he was "grooming" me (with a bullwhip) for a staff position. Supporting that theory: he spent a lot of time explaining publishing; distribution; international publication, product and media licensing; merchandising; art production; printing production and all other phases of the business to me.

Everyone else was nice, civil.

JayJayJackson said...

I googled "roy thomas mort weisinger" and it came up with a google books result for "The Krypton Companion" by the wonderful Michael Eury. It has a reminiscence by Roy Thomas talking about his days with Mort.
Here:
http://tinyurl.com/5tx39l9

Kris Brownlow said...

Thanks for the replies Jim and Jay Jay.
Jim, I certainly believe your descriptions of Weisinger. One only has to look at the caricature of Mort that the great Wayne Boring drew of him:

"Stop fighting me! I'm trying to teach you to draw, Stupid!"

Boring, Swan etc, they all said Mort was horrible.