Saturday, October 1, 2011

Things I Never Did--1

Not Becoming a Marvel Inker

Recently my excavation of the Eternal Garage turned up more nostalgic oddities.

I moved Los Angeles in late 1976 or early 1977. Mark Evanier, leader of a cadre of fanboys who hung out together at the San Diego Comic Con, had advised me that if I wanted to draw comics professionally, I had two choices: either move to New York where the majors were located, or to Los Angeles where Disney and the animation industry were based.

I wanted to move to New York, but the prospect of moving across the continent to America's biggest city scared me shitless. I chose LA. However I did make one foray into the Big Apple. I stayed for several days with an aunt living in New Jersey. I took a train into the city to show my portfolio at Marvel and DC. It was to be my only visit to New York.

The difference between the companies was amazing. DC's lobby was an awe-inspiring piece of corporate design, with vast glass doors, expensive carpets, a cold receptionist and a huge logo on the wall. This I remember, but I don't remember much else about the meeting, not even with whom I met. I got a cordial but quick brush-off: some nice stuff here, keep drawing, move to New York.

I don't remember the Marvel lobby at all. What I recall is a nondescript hallway lined with doors. I was ushered into the office/studio of John Romita, Marvel's art director. Romita received me warmly and gave thorough yet gentle critiques of my drawings. He pulled open a drawer crammed with xeroxes of Marvel artwork. He offered me some sample pages to ink . He chose some by Marvel's tightest pencillers: covers by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, interior pages by George Perez and George Tuska. He suggested I ink a couple on overlays and he'd evaluate them.

I'd planned my trip poorly. I visited Marvel on the next to last day of my vacation. I had no drawing equipment with me. I'd have to mail the inked pages from LA. Therein lay the biggest problem. Not many years later, working by mail became common. However at the time the majors dealt only with local artists. If I wanted to crack Marvel, Romita said, I'd have to move to New York.I sent in four covers and two interior pages. A week later I called Marvel but didn't reach Romita. A week later I failed to get through again. So I gave up. Thus ended my career as a Marvel inker.

These are the only copies I have of those sample jobs. I don't have any of the original pencils. Photocopies were expensive and the copy shop a long ways off, so I often didn't xerox stuff. Stupid. Anyway, I post these not because they're particularly good--they aren't-- but because they represent a crossroads in my life.

What if I'd been brave enough to take on NYC? Not long afterward Marvel underwent a big expansion and hired lots of new kids, some not much better than I was. I might have broken in. Surrounded by kindred souls, I might have learned the craft I never learned. I might have studied at one of New York's great art schools. I might have connected with one of the era's great teachers: Giordano, Adams, Buscema. I might have had some sort of career with the Big Guys.

On the other hand, I was a small town kid already over my head in Los Angeles. My life was in constant turmoil thanks to my undiagnosed manic-depression. I was afraid to ask favors or blow my own horn. I was shy, lonely, disorganized, and broke. Who's to say I wouldn't have been one of the thousands that New York ate alive?

By choosing LA I found a disastrous romance. Its implosion drove me to take a workshop where I met the marvelous lady to whom I've been married for nearly 30 years. Our marriage brought two fantastic kids who make me swell with pride.

It's this paradox that makes time travel stories popular. You're tantalized by good things that might have happened had you decided differently. At the same time you realize the good things in your life are the culmination of the decisions you did make, good and bad. You can only live one life at a time. So you live that one and write comics about the rest.

1 comment:

Peter Bangs said...

Fascinating post. On the up side, if you'd had that career at Marvel it would probably have lasted maybe 10 years by which time you'd have been disillusioned with the comics business and had to go and learn to do something else as work dried up. That seems to be pretty much what happened to the majority of people I followed at Marvel and DC at that time. I think you and we got the better deal. We got Crash Ryan and you got a great wife and kids and you still love the medium.