It went by and I almost missed it. Twenty-five years ago last Friday, I became a Comics Professional. I could have sworn it was August 10–I distinctly remember that Bob Wayne was hired a week before me–but I just checked the calendar. August 3.
I’d had a couple of stories published in Action Comics, but they weren’t anything to write home about. Mostly, my “professional career” had consisted of a long series of articles in various fanzines like Comics Buyer’s Guide and Amazing Heroes. I’d been the editor of the latter for about an hour and a half in late ’86, which deserves a series of blogposts in and of itself, and by spring of ’87 I was packaging and editing my own magazine, the ill-fated Comicsweek!, an industry news tabloid that was printed at roughly the size of a military parachute but with more hot air. It lasted five issues, the only thing remarkable about it was that it launched the career of industry pundit Sidney Mellon, and it was about as far ahead of its time as a wagon wheel is today…but DC Publisher Jenette Kahn noticed it when she was hiring for a new “indy-feel” imprint to be called Piranha Press, and while I didn’t get that job when I was interviewed, I apparently made a decent enough impression to be offered a regular staff gig as an Associate Editor.
This job, I should stress, at age 25, was all in the world I had ever wanted. Ever. I didn’t dream of being a writer or an artist. I dreamed of being a DC editor. This is true, my hand to God. Joining the ranks of Julius Schwartz and Robert Kanigher and Dick Giordano and others…helping guide the fates of the heroes who’d looked after me as a boy…that, I was convinced, was my calling. So I packed up what few things I had in my L.A. apartment, drove cross-country to New York, lay on a friend’s fold-out couch that Sunday night in sleepless excitement, and set out Monday, August 3 to the DC offices.
I wore my one suit to work that day (for the only time ever). It was raining that morning, but that didn’t make it any cooler outside in August in New York. I had no umbrella. It was a wool suit. And I wasn’t sure how the subways worked and ended up getting out about thirty blocks downtown. By the time I walked into 666 Fifth Avenue, I looked like a bar rag. Nonetheless, Ruthie the receptionist buzzed me in and Dick Giordano showed me to my desk, which I shared with an art director named Julia. Julia told me that the desk and office had belonged to the late Nelson Bridwell, who’d passed on a year earlier, driven to his grave (I’ll swear to the day I die) by John Byrne’s revamp of Superman. Nelson was a genius and the most well-read and well-educated man ever to hold a blue pencil, but because of his various health problems and his general “fanishness,” particularly his unmatched dogmatism regarding DC continuity, he wasn’t terribly well-regarded by his peers. Julia indicated the dark, triangular shadow on the back of the office door under the coathook. “There’s a shadow there because that’s where Nelson hung his coat, which he wore every day regardless of the weather,” she said. “We call it the Shroud of Nelson.”
If you’re wondering what an Associate Editor does–or did in 1987–I’ll list my job duties those first two days. Ready? Here we go:
I erased Green Arrow pages.
Eight hours a day for two days.
Back then–less so now that so many artists work digitally–but back then always, once an inker finished embellishing a pencilled page, the underlying pencils had to be erased so as to leave the cleanest possible ink lines. Normally, that’s part of the inker’s job, or the inker’s assistant. In this particular case, the inker was Dick Giordano–the book was Green Arrow #1, by Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan and Dick–and since Dick was also the Editor In Chief, rank has its privileges and sometimes, whenever Dick inked something, whoever on staff could be spared was the poor schlub who had to endure the thankless task of erasing. As the New Kid–especially since both Mike Gold and Andy Helfer had separately been told that I worked for them and thus it took two days for them to argue out who “owned” me (Helfer), I could definitely be spared.
It was an ignominious start to an editorial career that ended with far more drama than it began–I lasted August 3, 1987 to Christmas Eve, 1989–and while it had its ups and downs, I still have more fond memories of that time than of any other point in my career. And regardless of how brief my tenure was, it clearly led to bigger and better things, all of for which I am grateful. I still have gee-whiz moments about what I do for a living, and I still, on occasion, get a flash of unbridled glee about comics now and again even after all this time. But that Monday 25 years ago really was one of the greatest days of my life. Wool suit or no.