Friday, March 11, 2011

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.

Mort would call me every Thursday night, right after the Batman TV show to go over whatever I'd delivered that week.  He'd call me other times, too, whenever, but Thursday night was our regularly scheduled call.  The calls mostly consisted of him bellowing at me.  "You fucking moron!  Learn to spell!  What the hell is this character holding?  Is that supposed to be  a gun?  It looks like a carrot!  These layouts have to be clear, retard!"  When you're 14 and the big, important man upon whom your family's survival depends calls you up to tell you you're an imbecile, it makes an impression....

It got to the point where any time I'd hear a phone ring I'd clench up, white knuckled.  Very Pavlovian.  Even in school, or some other place that was ostensibly safe, a ringing phone jolted me.

Mort used to tell me I was his "charity case."  He said that the only reason he kept me on was because my family would starve otherwise.

By the way, Mort did call me at school once.  They sent somebody down from the Principal's office to bring me to the phone.  Some question about a cover design....

The net effect of Mort's honking at me was slowing me down.  I'd sit there for hours, immobilized, useless, unproductive, because I was sure that anything I put on the paper would be wrong and therefore, Mort would scream at me.  My mother would occasionally plead with me.  She'd say, "We really need a check."  I started working in my room, sitting on my bed to keep my lack of production more private.  Every once in a while she'd come upstairs, look at the blank page on my lap board and start crying.  That was tough.  She meant no harm.  But that was tough.

At some point, my fear of delivering work that Mort would rip me to shreds over was eclipsed by the fear of failing to deliver, or delivering late, which would be worse.  Then the stuff would flow...!  I could go like the wind!

There was no FedEx back then.  The fastest way was airmail special delivery.  Fifty-five cents!  An outrage.  Still, many a night, I went on the streetcar to downtown Pittsburgh where the main Post Office was -- open 24/7 -- to mail pages that absolutely, positively had to be there ASAP.  Usually overnight, believe it or not.

Sometimes, airmail special delivery wasn't fast enough.  I had to get on a plane, fly to New York and hand the envelope to the National Periodicals (DC) receptionist, escape before Mort knew I was in screaming range and fly back home.  Round trip airfare, student standby, was $25.  That hurt, but, again, no choice.  I did it often enough that TWA gave me a special ID card to speed up check-in.

Net, net, net I spent a lot of time not being a kid.  I don't recommend it.

I made up for it a little bit in my senior year.  Just took some time for me.  Went to a couple of football games.  Went to a couple of parties.  Went to a couple of dances.  It was my last chance to be a kid and I wanted a taste.

Couldn't take time from work, so I sort of sacrificed school time.  I already had a National Merit Scholarship and full scholarship offers from a bunch of schools, including MIT and NYU, so no worries.  I was absent or late 90 days.  Suspended 3 days.  At our Senior Class Banquet I received the "Best Attendance Award" -- yes, a joke.

P.S.  By then, I sussed out that DC wouldn't keep sending me checks if I wasn't any good.  I learned to ignore Mort's abuse, let it run off my back.

Years later, I found out he used to brag about me to other DC editors.  I was his "discovery," a "prodigy," to whom he could give any assignment, any book, any character, and always get good material, never a rewrite needed.  I was the young hotshot he was grooming for big things.  Not bad for a fucking moron/retard, I guess. 

More response than you wanted, I suppose, but there it is.

39 comments:

Will said...

Wow... me and my Big snarky mouth.
I didn't mean to "Poke at the bear" as were.

I can easily see how missing out on "playing with the guys" to work would be a bit of a bummer for your Summer of 65. But theres a huge gulf between wanting to work and HAVING to work that wasn't clear to me from the previous entry.

Some of that was a tinge painful to read and I imagine equally hard to write. I didn't know that about you, Jim. Thanks for sharing.

FWIW - My parents owned a small convenience store. It had a comic rack. That was my 1st comic "fix". In between running the cash register, sweeping the floor, picking up the pull tabs from soda cans and bottle-caps so they didn't get permanently pressed into the asphalt, working in the cooler and putting up stock. I can relate to spending my summers working. But I was helping out. Nothing depended on my actions and thats a huge burden as a kid. I got to read comics at work, I didn't have to make them..

Hell it ain't much better as an adult, but we must all find a way to cope and keep on keeping on.

Marc Miyake said...

Thank you for responding to Will's comment by revealing the details behind your world record. The couch. The paralysis. The pressure. I read your Legion stories as a child and had no idea what you were going through when you drew them. Not a clue. A normal adolescence is painful enough. But this ... ! I'm glad you did make time for yourself toward the end.

How did you balance academics with your comics work? You've told the story of how the Parasite was inspired by your biology class. Did you often find ways to make your classwork relevant to your creative work, or was the Parasite a rare exception?

Chris said...

Thank you for sharing. I've read how you got into comics at such a young age and always envisioned how cool it must have been, never imagining that your family depended on you financially. Your story adds a couple aspects I hadn't considered before, including a bullying editor.

CALVI! said...

Moving post.
Un abrazo!

kintoun said...

I wonder if any of Jim's childhood friends were jealous or impressed that he had such a creative job at that age. If so, did they ever suggest helpful ideas? I gather many teenagers had already moved on from DC comics in the sixties but I'm guessing there was some interest from Jim's peers.

Defiant1 said...

If the heat is hot enough, fire purifies metal. To be cliché... that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

Aamazing Fantasy said...

Jim, you have been a godsend to this life-long comic fan. Your MARVEL era was an amazing improvement from the years before you were in charge. I HATED buying a reprint that had a new cover for the story that was SUPPOSED to be there that month. You made things better for us buyers, even if it ruffled some creative feathers.

Patrick Daniel O'Neill said...

Jim:

Of course, Mort never showed you the sales figures for the LSH stories you wrote in comparison to the ones that came before, did he? I always knew Weisinger was a prick (I interviewed him once, after his retirement, and he acted like he alone was responsible for the success of Superman in the Silver Age), but this is beyond all previous experience.

Michael Rawdon said...

I remember reading some of this in your interview in The Legion Companion, Jim. It was (and still is) pretty chilling stuff. For us teenagers of the 1980s, knowing that you'd broken in at 13 and then become Editor-in-Chief at Marvel was quite an inspiration. But of course we had no idea of what had gone on behind the scenes.

Robert J. Sodaro said...

Jim:

For what its worth, this is definitely the consummate "...walk 10 miles to school up-hill in the snow; both ways!" story of the comicbook industry. Kind of makes whatever the "issues" prima donnas of today (in whatever field) who can't hack it pale in comparison.

Moon said...

There should be a quality documentary released about your journey Jim.

niederklopfer said...

Wow! Your blog has all the makings of a great autobiography. Truly insightful and inspiring.

uncannyderek.com said...

What an incredible story, Jim.

I would love to see a book on you.

Frank Fradella said...

I can only say that seeing my mother cry like that would have damaged me permanently if I knew I was the cause of it. What child could handle that kind of pressure? A humbling tale, sir.

Alejandro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alejandro said...

On a lighter note, finally got a copy of Solar #5 to read and the writing was masterful also the art was suprisingly good! I really dig the look of that book. The kind of art your creativity demands Mr. Shooter. I must say, well done!

Piperson said...

I can see you comic auto bio now; "I was a real life Scribbly Jibbet!" I think this would be an amazing work up there with Spiegleman's Maus!
I had heard you were writing comics at a young age, but the imagination of the situation is A LOT more romantic than the reality of the situation, so much so that I found your retelling thrilling and found myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of your situation (sorry Jim, no disrespect there. I know it must have been very painful but the absurdity of the situation is pretty extreme).
Now I'm filled with curiosity about this work that you did. Did you also draw them (at 13?!?)
This is epic Dickens-ien stuff! I hope that some day you really do a retelling of it all! thanks so much for sharing Jim!!!

Brett Wood said...

Wow. Thats pretty darn interesting! Sounds like it wouldn't have been half bad if he wasn't always yelling at ya.

Eric Linquist said...

Whew. Hardcore. Even in the sixties, was there any reason for bosses to be such a-holes? One can only wonder what additional veins of creativity Mort might have coaxed from you had he utilized a developmental approach by being an encouraging, supportive, positive mentor type. That being said, your tale does seem to have the makings of a pretty cool autobiography.

Vigilance said...

Wow, that's an amazing story. I just wanted to say what an admirer of your work I am Mr. Shooter.

Squareroot-1 said...

LOL! Loving the time-capsule blog posts, each one better than the last. So glad you're taking the time to share your thoughts.

Kevin said...

Jim, you're an inspiration. I've ALWAYS enjoyed your stories. They have HEART! Lately, things have been flowing from my brain, not the wisest things to say, but that's what's great about being 40+, you say what you feel and feel what you say, but sometimes it's saying too much about incendiary things, and believe me have I paid for it. Hopefully, someone can take what's on my wall and find a way to corroborate or validate. Quite simply, it was the censorship that got me, and I know Dark Horse has always been an advocate for our Freedom of Speech. I'm mailing you my rough draft, I trust Dark Horse to be able to take it to the next step, or let me know it's garbage. I'll always support the "hobby". I've been passionate about it since my teens, where I went to 10 schools in 12 years. Comics became my friends. They were wherever we lived, so they were the friends who came along when we moved. Thank you for the link. I'll be sure to check it daily. :)
Kevin J. Conley

cmenzel said...

Really, really moving post, Jim!

Have you ever thought about an auto biography?
I for one, would be interested to hear more.

Kind regards

Chris Menzel

JayJayJackson said...

Jim was mentioning to me that as bad as Mort treated him, Nelson Bridwell had it worse as Mort's assistant. I'm sure Nelson has some hair-raising stories. And I read something Roy Thomas wrote once, about the time he was Mort's assistant, that he had developed a Pavlovian response to Mort buzzing him when he wanted him.

JayJayJackson said...

This is a really good interview about Jim's early days: http://www.wtv-zone.com/silverager/interviews/shooter_2.shtml

Martin Gray said...

I echo the previous comments - thank for sharing such painful memories.I'd heard Weisinger was an ass, but this goes far beyond that, into the realm of active cruelty. And it was so unnecessary.

HemlockMan said...

Interesting stuff. I'd always heard that Weissinger was hard to deal with. Too bad he never took the time or made the time to tell you how good he thought you were. And of course you were so young you never stopped to think about how obviously important you were to him--so important that he depended on you for scripts.

Sonofspam said...

I had a feeling that secretly Mort was proud of you and your hard working chutzpah even if i didn't realize he was telling anyone behind your back.

But honestly that seems to be the style of work he grew up on and even reading this i never got the air of it being a personal thing it's just how he was raised i'm sure that is probably different from yours Jim since you seem to be close to your mom and an only child(?) like me.

I have worked with guys like Mort it's def not pleasant especially with someone with low self esteem but perhaps he made you better in some way.

Blackpaco said...

Awesome post. Moving, honest, real. Thank ypu, sir, for sharing so openly your history. You have always been one of my comic book heores. Now, you're just one of my heroes. Greetings and admiration from Mexico City.

William Noetling said...

Mr. Shooter:

That was a great piece, and really gave me a lot of respect for your journey. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

It broke my heart reading this story, such as the part when your mother cried.

Was this while your father was employed as a steelworker Jim, earning $7,000 a year, or while he was unemployed? I remember reading in an interview a while ago that your father was out of work at some stage.

Its a scandal if he was employed at this time, because if he was, then the steel industry clearly didn't pay him enough to provide well for his family.

Thank heavens things got much better for steelworkers in the Seventies Jim.

From Victor.

jimshooter said...

$7,000 was for a full year of work, a good year. My father never missed a day and took every hour of overtime offered. There were several strikes that took place in the late 1950's and the 60's, some lengthy, during which he took any work of any kind he could get -- even things like cutting people's grass, day labor and handyman jobs. He was a hardworking man, a noble soul.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for replying to my message Jim. Its nice how you get back to my queries so quickly.

Following on from before, when you said to me that $7,000 was "for a full year of work, a good year," does that mean that, at that time, the wages earned by steelworkers fluctuated year by year, depending on the fortunes of the steel industry? I was just curious. I got the impression from your response that steelworkers (usually) earned less than $7,000 each year at that time.

Interesting to read about your father. I find it really inspiring, reading about what he did, and the kind of person that he was.

From Victor.

czeskleba said...

Has everyone read the Legion story in Action #381? Pretty clearly based on Jim's life. at one point, Matter Eater Lad's mom even tells him "we really need a check" if I recall correctly. The main difference is that ME Lad's father is clearly not based on Jim's dad.

Anonymous said...

On reflection, I think that Jim already answered my question when he said to me that "$7,000 was for a full year of work, a good year."

From Victor.

Duplez said...

Always entertaining,and often thought-provoking. Thank you for the look back and inside. I don't envy you the experience. You've embraced both sides of the saying,"may you live in interesting times".

Regards,Wayne

Anonymous said...

One thing I found very sad about this post Jim was the fact that, at that time, the American standard of living was regarded as the highest in the world, while America had, since I think the late Fifties, been regarded as an affluent society.

To me, people who said these things didn't take into account families like yours who struggled at this time. I find that insulting. I remember reading how shocked John F. Kennedy was at the poverty he witnessed in West Virginia during his presidential campaign. Thankfully, the New Frontier and Great Society programs did help alleviate poverty, such as Medicare for senior citizens.

Kindest regards,

Victor.

mortgage leads said...

I find it amazing that you can still maintain such a comic relief to a rather lamentable period of our nation's past. No wonder you did well in your journey. I only hope our present generation can see the stark contrast of how difficult the past was compared to the "difficulties" everybody is screaming about at this very, highly convenient age.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Sixties were all that bad, mortgage leads, at least based on what I've read about that era.

The average American standard of living was, at that time, regarded as the highest in the world. Unfortunately, there still existed a big gap between rich and poor, just like today.

The Sixties did, however, see a sharp reduction in the number of Americans estimated to be living in poverty.

Kindest regards, Victor.