Monday, May 02, 2011

How Not to Break into the Comics Industry - Chapter 2

I Prologue   I Chapter 1 I Chapter 2 I Chapter 3
Chapter 4 I Chapter 5 I

Between the years 1998-2001 (more or less) I instigated a relentless letter writing campaign to the letters page of practically every single comicbook I read and back then I bought around thirty books a month. The reasons for that had everything to do with my attempts to break into the industry. Once I found that some writers first got noticed after writing fan letters, most notably Kurt Busiek, I decided to give it a go. With most letter pages accepting e-mails it was quick and easy to do so.

I wrote hundreds of letters and got over fifty published before I stopped (both writing letters and buying comicbooks on a monthly basis). I signed as Michael Bregman and to stand out a bit more I used "Gan-Yavne, Israel", my last address in Israel even though I was already living in London for a few years. The reason was simple: Israel stands out more than England among the other addresses and I do not only get a better chance to get published, but also to better stick in editors' memory, especially after repeat letters.

I can proudly say that I am (as far as I know) the most published Israeli comicbook letters writer. My greatest achievement involves winning three consecutive no-prizes. I am not sure how many people won three no-prizes and certainly three no-prizes one month after the other. There ought to be some Guinness Record for that. A no-prize is an empty envelope from Marvel addressed to the winner. They are awarded to readers who point out continuity errors and offer a solution that explains the error.

This is what a no-prize looks like. Mine are 2000 miles away at this time, so I might scan them in later.

Did my campaign work? Yes, to some extent. Some editors still gave me the time of day, even though they most certainly did not recognize my name, most likely because it was usually the assistant editor's job to take care of the letters page and I was just one out of many many letters writers. Writing letters certainly did not hurt my case and it did get me noticed with one editor.

One evening Miron and I were sitting in our old apartment when the phone rang. Miron answered and handed me the phone. When the man on the other side introduced himself as LA Williams I nearly had a stroke.

Lateef Ade Williams (credited as LA Williams) was a DC comics editor then, assistant editor on several books and the editor of Impulse, one of my favourite books at the time. Several of my letters were published in the pages of Impulse. Next to Spider-Man writing Impulse would have been my second choice. Towards the summer of 2000 Miron suggested that I should contact  comics editors in New York regarding a summer internship. I sent in a few e-mails, but did not really expect any of the editors to get back to me.
So you can imagine how excited and thrilled I was that an editor of one of my absolutely favourite books has troubled himself to call me from across the ocean. He was very much in favour of the idea and suggested to kick off the procedure to get me there. Soon enough things got complicated. I needed a working permission to go to New York even though I declared that I am willing to do the internship for free. After trying to sort out things with DC's legal department we hit a brick wall. My course teacher at my UK art university where I was studying animation at the time said that they have connections with Warner Bros, DC Comics' parent company, but he was too busy and distracted to really do anything about it. So that amazing, potentially life changing opportunity slipped between my fingers. I decided to go to New York anyway and at the very least visit Ade at his office and maybe get the tour of DC Comics and give him a few pitches. I worked on several Impulse concepts and was determined that by the end of the summer of 2000 and my trip to New York I would have sold my first comicbook story. As you already know, that never happened. Sometimes you expect some things to go wrong, but what happened next was so bizarre and unexpected, I could not have possibly seen it coming.

Ade left DC Comics and disappeared. I could not get in touch with him as the only contact details I had were his DC Comics e-mail address and phone number. News websites reported the story in bits and pieces. I later on found out the full story. Rather than bite my tongue and not mention something that has not been mentioned before I would refer to what Joe Illidge, an ex-associate editor at DC Comics said in an interview with Rich Jonhston for Silver Bullets Comics.
Joe tells me about how LA Williams was dealt with by DC, taken from a number of close sources. Joe tells me that when Maureen McTigue was demoted and then resigned from DC, she was co-editing Secret Files ­ a monthly book with a reputation of being hard to edit with multiple creative teams. Joe says his book was offered to LA Williams to take on. Joe reports "LA said that if he took it on, he'd be the editor of two books. Following DC procedure, an assistant editor of two books is promoted to associate editor with both title and pay increase. If he took on Secret Files, he asked if he'd receive promotion and pay? He was told no. So LA declined to take the book. After which, his group editor told him in confidence that if he didn't take the book and sales of Impulse continue to decline and is cancelled as DC expected, it doesn't bode well for his career in the department."

The character of Impulse lives in Manchester, Alabama. The decision was made to see if the actual governor of Alabama could make an appearance in the book. According to LA Williams via Joe, "LA spoke to a representative of the office of the governor, and received an approval from the office of the governor."

Joe continues "So LA went about producing the book. The black and white artwork was produced and circulated throughout DC. The book was produced, supervised by Dan Raspler who was supervised by Mike Carlin. LA handed over a finished copy of Impulse to Dan Raspler but didn't receive any feedback. The book went to the Comics Code, which also meant a trip through DC legal and editorial administration, without any feedback. The book was solicited with an announcement that the governor of Alabama would appear, in Previews, two months before printing."

"Someone from DC's marketing dept. was even quoted in an Alabahma newspaper over the story. And nothing was seen to be amiss."

"Now, DC gets copies of all their books one week before shipping. LA was called into a meeting with Paul Levitz, Debbie Stegman, Mike Carlin and Dan Raspler. He was told what happened was wrong and he should have worked through proper legal channels. LA said that he'd given Dan Raspler a copy of the book. Dan stated that he'd told LA he was concerned about an element of content and that LA should go to Paul Levitz about it. LA disagreed with this and stated that if he had been told to do so, he would have, but even if Dan did have an issue with this, DC protocol and practice is very strict. Protocol dictates that information should be delivered through chain of command. So if a group editor like Dan Raspler had concerns, he should have taken it to the executive editor, the exec editor should have taken it to the exec VP and somewhere along the line a decision should have been made. All two months before printing."

"LA Williams was told he could work for DC as long as he wanted to but would no longer considered for promotion to associate editor. And that Impulse was cancelled. Once LA left DC, the book was handed to Cavalieri and DC opted not to cancel it."
So there it was. How unlucky was that for me? Sure, it was even more unlucky for Ade who is a great guy, but from my point of view it started to seem as if some curse was following me; lining up my shots only to have someone sneeze and startle me, making me throw my bowling ball straight to the gutter. I was not far wrong. This was not the first or last time that would happen.

Being creative I used the internet and white pages to look up Ade. I eventually got his home number and surprised him with a call. He did not understand why I was trying to still contact him when he could not possibly be of any help to me. I said that I was very grateful for his kindness and helpfulness and since I was going to New York anyway I would still like to meet LA Williams the man, if not LA Williams the DC Comics editor.

I went to America for three weeks in the summer of 2000 spending most of my time in New York with a brief visit to Chicago for a large comics convention held there. I popped over to Harlem to meet Ade for lunch. He told me he thought I would write good stories since I was able to write good letters. It was very flattering, but also very frustrating considering he could do very little to help me now. Regardless, we kept in touch. Ade and I met for a lively dinner together with our spouses the next time we visited New York. Ade was then organizing the Harlem Festival. We somewhat kept in touch over the years, but it did not help that our friendship reminded both of us of our failures with the comics industry, but we got over it eventually once we established ourselves in new fields.

Ade and me, a long time ago, showing off our deserts.

Meeting LA Williams was only one highlight of that trip as I got to meet several important editors and get a personal tour of the offices of both Marvel Comics and DC Comics.

But that is a story for another day.


Prologue   I Chapter 1 I Chapter 2 I Chapter 3 I 


Ana Caban said...

Hi Mickey,

I don't much about the comics industry and I am sorry to hear about your experience with DC Comics. However, I have known Lateef "Ade" Williams for nearly 30 years and I have to agree that he is an extraordinary human being.


Mickey said...

Right? :)

Sort of got out of touch over the years so if you see him tell him Mickey says hi. ;-)

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