Monday, May 16, 2011

Smoking & Farting.

Awww... Smoking baby. So cute!
The other day I was with Blake in the playground. There were other parents and children around which made it all rather lively even though Blake and I were far too superior to directly interact with inferior beings. As I was pushing Blake on his swing a mother approached a father and asked him if he had a light. He did and she merrily lit her cigarette and started puffing away. I carried on pushing Blake without saying a word, but I might have thrown a judgmental glance in her general direction. And so, this woman walks around with her lit cigarette at waist height which just happens to be where many little heads were moving around. It was open space, but I could still smell the smoke which meant I was inhaling it with all the accompanying benefits that come with it. The mom of the year then lay down, smoking away, when her little boy came to her and hugged her. She held her cigarette as far away as possible from the boy and asked him to let go because "she was smoking". I repressed the urge to put her on fire and make her truly "smoking". It was not worth it.

"How did I get that weird burn scar on my ear? Funny story... Not funny haha."
This was here on our visit to Israel, but it also happens everywhere else. Moronic and irresponsible parents who smoke around their children. Smoking laws have improved over the last few years and it is a delight that people can't smoke in restaurants and clubs in many parts of the world, but people can still smoke next to their children which I find to be absolutely mad. It is child abuse, impure and simple. Children to smoking parents are not only exposed to all the dangers of second hand smoking, they are also far more likely to become smokers themselves when they grow up.

Thelma balked at the cost of smoking for two.
I find lots of similarities between smoking and farting. The only reason smoking is acceptable is because it became a common habit before the health issues were fully known. Now it is practically impossible to ban this nuisance as there are too many addicted smokers in the world: 1.2 billion according to a fifth of the population - how depressing is that?!

Little Nelly wanted to be just like mommy: tall, beautiful and smelling like rotten eggs on fire.
You know how you sometimes have to fart, but you just can't do it in public? You find a little corner as further away from the nearest person and you try to fart as quietly as possible to avoid attracting attention and then you walk away as fast as possible just in case it might smell bad and you will be in ground zero where people might figure out you are to blame. That is because farts smell awful and decent human beings do not want to spread putrid stench among other people. Yet, many smokers think that does not apply to cigarette smoke, which makes them either dimwits or self-centered jerks. Just like I won't get up on a table in the middle of a restaurant, bend over and fart, I would also not light up toxic materials on fire in the middle of a restaurant.

Janice was very displeased as little Jack was exceeding his two cigarettes a day limit, but who can say no to those eyes?
To me cigarette smoke is just as vile as the average fart with one big difference: farts won't give you cancer,   heart disease, emphysema and asthma in children at risk.  As a parent you get to smell lots of farts and poopies, not to mention those which you enjoy as the proud owner of your very own anus. If it was cancerous we would all be dead by now.

"Dad, can you cough out a lung again?! That was hilarious!"
One of the best things about my husband is that he detests smoking just as much as me, if not more. There is absolutely less than zero chance for me to ever be in a relationship with anyone who smokes, unless it could somehow work without kissing. Because kissing a smoker is a lot like fitting a small but actively used ashtray in your mouth and sucking on it. It would be what I imagine a fart would taste like.

"I think I can..." *COUGH* "I think I can..." *HACK* *SPLUTTER!*
I genuinely believe that parents should be legally forbidden to smoke around children or in shared spaces with children (which would include the home, the car, etc.). They should adopt the same etiquette used when farting and do it alone, in a far corner and be very embarrassed to be caught doing it in public.

Trivia: Farting, unlike smoking, can be done underwater.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On Being a Gay Parent.

Like Father, Like Son
In eight days I will be a gay parent for three years. Looking back it is interesting to compare my expectations and how things actually turned out. The biggest surprise was just how much of a non-issue it all was.

We weren't the first gay parents via surrogacy, let alone via adoption. We weren't even part of the first or second waves. But we were fairly early while it was still "cool". Over the last couple of years gay parents are everywhere, both in real life and fiction. It seems that every other TV show nowadays features a gay parented family in one form or another (Brothers & Sisters, Glee and Modern Family being the most famous).

When we decided to become parents I got a bit excited for lots of different reasons. One thing my husband and I immediately agreed on was that we could no longer cut corners. We are gay, we are proud and that is it. No more lying, hiding and feeling guilty about it. Having a child meant that I had to stand tall and I prepared myself for a fight that never arrived.

I know it has been only three years and there is potential hassle in the future, but believe it or not: up until now we have suffered exactly zero discrimination, abuse and harassment with the exception of one American immigration nobhead who insisted we should come through as two separate families with two different immigration cards as the USA doesn't recognize gay families. Big fat whatever. There were a couple of simple misunderstandings when people assumed I was married to the mother of my child. But no actual obstacles anywhere, no intentional grief.

The doctors office, Blake's nursery, swimming class, local park, neighbours, my family, my friends... No one raised an eyebrow anywhere. Not one bad word. I am not under the illusion that the world is perfect and gays and their families are accepted everywhere, but at least I managed to find huge pockets of sanity and acceptance in England, Israel, Canada and the US.

My blog has been going since 2005 and I expected a shift in focus once my son was born, but I figured I would be chronicling my battles against ignorance and bigotry on the way to TV interviews and book deals (not to mention a movie about my life starring myself opposite Daniel Craig as my husband). Since I encountered no aggression about my gay dad status I instead found myself writing about everyday parenting stuff which was both somewhat disappointing and amazing.

I arrived late to the party. A quick search showed that there are already plenty of gay parents blogging away.  Blake isn't the one-in-a-billion freak of nature I was worried he would become. He already knows in real life a whole bunch of children with gay parents.

It does not mean I can't contribute to the cause in my own little way. Even though my blog is not the most visited I still get a decent amount of traffic and can spread the good word. My webcomic Fabtastic about a gay-parented family fills another void. So I can happily do my part to contribute. But at the end of the day I am just another gay dad with a blog.

And isn't that wonderful?

Poor Leo has a lot on his mind.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SuperBlake returns.

Just watched the last episode of Smallville and it was a fitting end to the series: it was sheer poop. It wasn't a disappointment like the ending of Lost as Smallville was always crap, crap enough to be compelling viewing. Well, not really. Not sure why I watched it. Anyway, this post isn't about that. It's about another young hero wearing the red and blue. Meet SuperBlake!

Heroes can't leave home looking like drek.

As I mentioned before, we're staying in Israel with a nice beach in walking distance, so we started going almost every day. Right after four the sun isn't too hot and the water had the time to warm up a bit. Blake donned his Superman outfit he got from our dear friend Wendy and he took cute up to 11. Heck, up to12.

"Papa, are you taking pictures of me, or of shirtless guys?"

OK, I don't really have much to say. We go to the beach a lot and splash in the water wearing Superman gear. The end. Now, more pictures:

Underwater action pose!
Team Super!
I wet my pants, but SuperBlake will save me.
A family that stands in the sea together, gets wet together.
Flight lessons.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Mother of all Posts.

A couple of TV shows reminded me that it is Mother's day today. Well, in the States, Canada and a bunch of other countries. So first of all, happy mother's day, etc. Now that that is out of the way, on with my post.

Mother's Day and Father's Day are odd days for gay couples and Modern Family addressed that issue head on in their latest episode. Mitchell brings Cameron breakfast to bed on Mother's Day and Cameron gets offended that he is being treated as the "mother", a woman! The entire episode throws wacky situations at Cameron as everyone treats him as the "mother". To make amends Mitchell reads for Cameron the definition of a mother from a mother's day card: "warm, nurturing, supportive". That is what everyone sees in Cameron when they refer to him as the "mother". Cameron is satisfied with that and the drama is over.

I find that a bit offensive. Why would these three words be the sole domain of mothers? Fathers can't be warm, nurturing and supportive? Gay people are not the only mother-less families. In some families the mother has passed away or even just left. In other families the mother is the one earning the big bucks, leaving the child rearing to the husband. To say to a father who is doing a good job that he is "like" a mother is offensive and sexist. When Miron would jokingly refer to me as Blake's "mommy" I would just put a stop to that then and there. No smiles or jokes, just a stern face and a "no, I am not."

Basically, what I am saying is that having a vagina does not automatically make a person a better parent or instill certain "motherly" qualities in them. Just like being gay does not mean I have a better fashion sense than straight men. Oh goodness, just ask my husband...

To add insult to injury, later in the same episode of Modern Family they unwittingly take a jab at lesbian mothers. "You only get one mom" Jay weeps as he gets emotionally overwhelmed thinking about his dead mother (this quote is also the title of the episode). Really? I would expect that from any other sitcom, especially one from the eighties, but not from Modern Family, a sitcom priding itself for the portrayal of a gay parented family. Some kids got two moms, you know.


Friday, May 06, 2011

Fun in the Sun.

Fun in the sun.

The weather in Israel this time of year is great. The sun is out and it is warm with a gentle breeze. July-August is a nightmare with scorching heat and ridiculous humidity. I once came out of the airport on a visit and felt as if I stepped into a steam sauna. Literally. It is not quite perfect for going to the beach as the water is still a tiny bit cool, but I decided yesterday to finally give it a try. The last two times Blake came to visit it was winter time so even though we stayed near the sea we did not go for a dip.

I don't know what took me so long, but after being here for over three weeks I finally took him to the beach yesterday. Blake's first encounter with a sea was on our last holiday in Barbados just after his first birthday, so his standards were quite high, but the beach in Tel-Aviv proved to live up to them. The beach was clean and the water was fairly calm with gentle waves.

Sand! It's so grainy!
I got the to the beach, took Blake's clothes off and left him in his Swimmers ( a water-proof diaper). I bought him a set of beach toys including a bucket, spade, watering can and so on. Blake was very excited and started playing in the sand, but very quickly he discovered that it is much more fun playing in the water. He just sat in the water and played with the soft mud, but occasionally he lost his balance or got splashed by a wave, so he did not make it through the experience dry.

Water! It's so watery!
I found it a bit odd to see so many toddlers running around naked. I was pretty sure at least one of them was five. I know from pictures that my parents let me prance around naked at the beach, but that was a different time. I may have become jaded and cynical, but I wondered how many of the people sitting and lying around were pedophiles who were enjoying the view - who could easily take snaps of the children with their iPhones. In fact, I had to be very careful when taking pictures and videos of Blake to avoid getting any underage genitalia caught in the frame by mistake, which was a bit tricky with them running all over the place.

"I peed in the water!" One of the boys shouted and ran out of the water giggling.

Another boy topped him by peeing in the water, scooping it in a plastic bucket and then asking "Who wants water with my pee in it?".

Helicopters! They are so... Helicoptery!
The vicinity to Sde Dov Airpot meant lots of helicopters and planes taking off and landing over the stretch of beach which was a huge bonus for Blake. When it was time to go he had a massive tantrum, but I assured him we would come back tomorrow and we indeed did, with Daddy to boot. I will try my best to take him there every afternoon for as long as we are in Israel.

Blake's true love.
The nice thing about Blake is that as much as he loves his electronic gizmos, take him outside and he could not care less about any of them. He loves running and exploring and being active and on the second visit to the beach with daddy he was all over the place, running up and down the beach and anywhere in between. But when we got home it was very comforting and fun to snuggle with his iPod, play games, learn stuff and watch cartoons. He needs to rest for tomorrow's beach excursion!

`God, are you there? It's me, Blake. Can you get me an iPad please?`

Thursday, May 05, 2011

How Not to Break into the Comics industry - Chapter 5

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

Wrong kind of breaking in...
My motto used to be: “If your chances are one in a million, you simply have to try a million times.” It sounded good, but I soon realized that trying something a million times can be quite tiring, daunting and probably impossible to achieve within one life time. If I sent in one pitch a day it would take me 2739 years to reach a million pitches. I don’t think I sent in more than 50 over the years so I still have 999,950 pitches to send.

There are two misleading facts that are used to encourage aspiring writers:

1.       Brace yourself for disappointment. Many great writers have faced rejection many times before someone finally recognized their talent.

2.          You are your own worst critic, so don’t dismiss your work right away.

Here is the cold hard truth: Sure, JK Rowlings was a working mom who toiled away at writing late at night and she worked very hard on her Harry Potter books only to be rejected again and again. Now she is one of the world's most famous and beloved writers and a very rich woman. But here is the thing: for every JK Rowling that was discovered there are thousands who were not. PK Douglas from Ireland who wrote a series of books about a boy who could talk to squirrels and MT Putalot from India who wrote a book about a little girl who could walk on thoughts both do not really exist, but even if they did you would have never heard of them because their books never got picked. These many writers, who will always outnumber by a thousandfold the published ones, will try and try again and eventually give up or die before they get published.

As for a writer being his own worst critic? Nonsense. If you think that what you wrote is rubbish, there is a very good chance it actually is (though it does not mean you can't polish your work and improve it). Sure, there is room for personal opinion and taste, but if you have been writing fantasy books for decades and submitted them to every fantasy literary agent and editor under the sun, there is a good chance these books are just not good enough. It may not necessary be the case, but it is possible, indeed probable. 

Then there is just plain luck.  That was where things got extra frustrating for me. Editors did like my stuff, it just that the timing was always crap and something popped up to get in the way.

Back in the summer of 2000 I flew from New York to Chicago in the hope that my first big American comics convention as an aspiring writer will also be my last. The next time I will be on the other side, talking on panels and signing books. Technically that might still be true as that convention was so far my only comics convention in the States. I attended a few more over the next few years, but on the other side of the Atlantic.

In New York I stayed with my aunt and uncle whom I knew fairly well. In Chicago I stayed with cousins of my mother's whom I had never met. It was convenient, but also a bit awkward. My mom’s cousin was very nice and I spent the first evening watching her daughter's extremely cheesy wedding video. I must say that both bride and groom looked good enough to be movie stars, so at least I could make some small talk about how attractive they were.

Back in the day I was a regular poster on the same Spider-Man message board I mentioned earlier and some of us have agreed to meet at the convention, maybe even get together for dinner. Unfortunately no proper meeting place or time were agreed, so I managed to meet only one fellow poster and we kinda sort of hang out together, but mostly did our own thing. So for the majority of the time I was walking around alone among the many booths and attractions. There was the usual cosplay nonsense of people dressed up as their favourite characters and embarassing stuff like a female wrestling arena with tons of fat dorky guys watching two hot babes wrestling. I sat down at a couple of panels with creators I liked, but for the most part I was focused on my goal.

My main target was Joe Quesada. It was just before he became Marvel’s Editor in Chief, but, heading Marvel Knights, he was still an important person. I had exchanged a couple of e-mails with him in the past and written a couple of entertaing letters for his books so I hoped my name might ring a bell when I introduced myself. Regardless I had a piece of paper with three pitches which I intended to give him in person. For that I needed to stand in line like a good boy and do that when I handed him over a book to sign. I had no comics with me yet, so I had to buy one book that Quesada worked on.

Joe Quesada
Here is when things got extremely frustrating and annoying. There were timetables for signings and they were announced, but every time there was a Joe Quesada signing, by the time I reached the end of the line they had already closed it off as it was too long. Three days of the convention and it kept happening. I only stood successfully in line for Mark Waid and Paul Jenkins.

It was the third day and I had to leave early. My cousin’s husband was to pick me up and drop me at the house of another cousin where I was to stay the final night before flying back to New York. The convention was a complete and utter failure and I didn’t even really enjoy it as I was flopping around on my own. I made my way to the exit and popped into the men’s room on the way out to empty my bladder. As I was washing my hands, Joe Quesada entered the men’s room and walked past me. I dried my hands and walked out. I stood outside with my heart racing. What should I do? I can’t just pounce on him like that, it is rude. On the other hand, this is my only chance. Also, it looked like a sign from Above: I try getting to talk to him for three days unsuccessfully and on my way out I run into him at the men’s room? At this point I realised that there was nothing to gain from being shy.

So I waited outside. At least I had the sense not to follow Joe to a urinal. When Joe walked out I walked over reaching out for his hand and introduced myself. He looked surprised for a second and quickly wiped his still wet hands on his shirt before shaking my hand. I said my name and gave him the page. He glanced at it and then folded and took it with him when we parted ways. He was so nice about it. I followed up by e-mail and was politely rejected, but I still appreciate his attitude and courtesy. It was not the last time we talked.

My mom’s other cousin was a hairdresser and he gave me an atrocious haircut for "free". When I flew back to New York my aunt opened the door for me and looked at me in shock.

“He gave me the same haircut twenty years ago!” She said.

The next day she took me to her gay hairdresser to fix it. That was the end of my summer of 2000 American comics adventure, but there were still many adventures awaiting me back home on the other side of the pond.


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

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How Not to Break into the Comics Industry - Chapter 4

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

During the first few years of my reading comics, the internet had already existed, but not as the go-to reference resource it is today when you can Google anything and anyone. So I was not quite sure if Ralph Macchio the comics editor was the same Ralph Macchio who starred in the Karate Kid movies. It did make a bit of sense. If I was a has been actor with a flailing acting career I would also use my fading celebrity status to get an interesting job elsewhere. Even before my visit to New York I found out that the two Ralph Macchios were two different people.

Ralph Macchio
Ralph Macchio
 In 2000 Ralph Macchio was editing the Spider-Man books and that made him the most important editor for me. The Spider-Man books received many of my letters and many of my story submissions were Spider-Man related. Around that time it was announced that Axel Alonso, fresh out of a long stint at DC Comics' Vertigo division, is going to take over the Spider-Man books. Ralph Macchio still had one popular Spider-Man book to edit: the instantly popular Ultimate Spider-Man. He was still a very important editor.

The problem was that I had no one to introduce me like Charlotte Jackson did for me with DC Comics and Joey Cavalieri. I decided that this was where my intense letters writing campaign should come in handy. If I would call Ralph Macchio and said hi, maybe he would be intrigued enough to agree to see the dedicated letters writer from the Middle East. What the worst that could happen? He would tell me that he is too busy to meet me?

During my stay in New York I stayed with my aunt and uncle. They had a great big apartment on the ninth floor at 3rd Avenue and 11th street. Most of the time I was alone as they were both working during the week. So there I was all on my own sitting next to the phone with a piece of paper on which I had scribbled Marvel Comics' number. I picked up the phone and dialed the number. A recording asked me to dial the last name of the person I wanted to talk to and then I waited nervously. I almost wished the answering machine would pick up so I could avoid making this call., but no such luck. Ralph answered with a "Hello."

I hung up and stared at the phone.

What a moron. Why did I hang up? What was the big deal? Now I had to wait at least five minutes to avoid explaining why I hung up. The easy and cowardly thing to do would be to simply not call again. I do not know the guy and I bet comics and book editors are too busy to answer unsolicited cold calls on the phone. I had this inner conflict raging in my mind. Oh no, I am not going to just leave it. I will call him and he can tell me to fluff off if he wants to, I really have nothing to lose here.

I have history with acting and theatre. I was in two different youth groups as well as being a theatre major in high school, followed with a foundation acting course in LAMDA when I made the move to London. So this was just another acting exercise. I had to decide what to say, rehearse it a few times until it stuck and just deliver it when Ralph Macchio would answer on the other side. If I could memorize entire plays, a couple of sentences should not be a problem. No need to hang up in a panic when I know exactly what to say.

I practiced a few times and called again.


"Hi, Ralph?"


"It's Michael Bregman. I happen to be in New York for a few days and I wondered if I could drop by to say hi."

That was it and it worked. I knew all these letters would end up being worth it. Ralph agreed with me a time and date and the conversation ended. I was so freaking pleased with myself and I was grinning ear to ear.

The grin disappeared instantly when I realized I agreed on a date that falls on my visit to Chicago. I had to gather up the nerves again to quickly call and move our meeting. I felt as if I was pushing my luck, but Macchio did not have a problem with it and we agreed on another date. Relief!

Finding the Marvel Comics offices (they moved since) was a piece of cake. New York's grid design made it very difficult to get lost. I arrived early and excited and waited in the reception area waiting for Ralph to pick me up. It was very fancy with a big glass wall decorated with Spider-Man's symbol. I could not believe that I got to visit the offices of both Marvel and DC in the same trip. Obviously I was doing something right and if I kept it up I might just finally get my break. That was the interesting thing. With all of what was happening and the people I met the fanboy in me never took over. I was completely focused on my quest to publish my first story and nothing else will do. So while my fanboy was constantly stimulated he was kept on a very tight leash.

Ralph arrived and we shook hands. I did not get a proper tour of Marvel Comics, only the parts we were passing on the way to Macchio's office. There were two young people there who were very nice and polite and I can only assume they were his assistant editors. I mentioned casually my letters to the letters column and  Ralph had no idea what I was talking about. 

I did not know if I should feel like a complete fool or like a cunning mastermind. I cold-called the man out of nowhere and got to meet him without him having any idea who I was. I would have expected him to ask "who are you?" or "why?", but I guess I introduced myself by name with such confidence he thought I might be somebody. Who knows? The important thing is I was standing in Mecca. With all due respect to DC Comics, I was a Marvel fanboy back then.

I handed Ralph a few Spider-Man pitches and he informed me that he is leaving the books and that I should contact his replacement Axel Alonso. Once again I felt as if I ran like crazy to the docks only to see the ship sail away on my arrival. We chatted politely and I told him I thought he was getting the better deal with Ultimate Spider-Man as it was a fresh and focused start while the Spider-Man books were currently a bit of a mess. He agreed. LA Williams asked me to drop his name to be considered for an editor or assistant editor position when I told him I was going to visit Marvel Comics, so I did, but nothing came out of that either. Just another shot in the dark.

We parted ways and  another visit came to an end. I got no free comicbooks this time, but on the other hand my pitches were accepted gracefully without any funny faces, so I could not really complain.

I visited both Marvel and DC Comics and now the only thing ahead of me was the three days comics convention in Chicago where I was determined to get Joe Quesada's attention. Months later I also followed up my Spider-Man pitches with the new Spider-Man editor, Axel Alonso, who has been recently appointed as Marvel's new editor in chief, but we will get to that later.


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

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

How Not to Break into the Comics Industry - Chapter 3

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

New York, 2000
I can never think of New York as a real city. It is a movie set where giant lizards and giant marshmallow men smash down suspension bridges, tidal waves wash away entire buildings and planes crash into buildings. I know the last one happened in real life, but it felt just as unreal. Most of the Marvel comicbooks (very unrealistically and somewhat lazily, I must say) take place in New York. One visit I asked my aunt where Forrest Hills was. She thought for a second before showing me the general direction and asked why. She gave me a concerned look when I answered that that was where Peter Parker lived. I repressed giving her a concerned look for not knowing that. How can people live in New York for decades and not know that Avengers Mansion is on 5th Avenue or that Gwen Stacy was thrown to her death by the Green Goblin from a tower on the George Washington Bridge? I mean, seriously!

So visiting New York was for me not much different from visiting Universal Studios. While it is way down on my list of places I want to live in, as I find the city to be too intense and loud, I adore visiting it and I must say that it has been quite a while since my last visit. I then had three weeks at my disposal, but I had to remain focused and follow my battle plan which, of course, I had. 

I got to meet LA Williams which I already mentioned in my last post. Though he had already left DC Comics I still managed to get a tour of the offices thanks to my friendship with him. Charlotte Jackson, a DC Comics assistant at the time, was an integral part of the attempt to bring me in as an intern. Once Ade left she arranged for his replacement, Joey Cavalieri, an imporant editor in his own right, to give me the tour and in general encouraged me not to give up and was all "you go, girl". I am very grateful to her to this day.

Walking into the reception area, I almost felt the need to take off my shoes in this holy place. It is a bit of a blur now, but I remember it was well decorated and there was a big Superman statue welcoming everyone. While waiting I asked the receptionist where the toilets were. When she did not get it I quickly corrected to "rest room" even though I was perfectly rested and only really needed to pee badly. While waiting I also popped over to say hi to Charlotte and thank her again.

Joey did not keep me waiting for long. We shook hands and the tour started. He took me through the various departments, including a floor dedicated entirely to Mad magazine and pointed things out. We did not take the scenic route and it was a bit rushed, but it was still impressive and exciting. I appreciated the fact that a busy DC Comics editor took about twenty minutes out of his time to show me around. We got to his office and he showed me David Letterman's studio right across the street and said he could watch from his office and see all the stunts and segments they were often filming right outside the studio. I got to see the black and white pages of a new upcoming book. He then opened a big drawer full of tradepaperbacks, grabbed a few and handed me those I have not read. It was too much fun.

We arrived back at the reception area and Joey smiled warmly and shook my hand for goodbye. I realized this was the end so I quickly rushed to open my bag and take out a piece of paper with a few game pitches. I asked if he does not mind taking a look at them.

I looked up from my bag and was taken aback by the expression on Joey's face. It was a mixture of disappointment and disgust, as I if I tricked him. The whole tour was just the cover for my true intention: stuffing unsolicited stories down his throat (which was partly true as getting published was certainly more important to me than getting the tour). If I had pulled down my pants and taken a crap right there in front of him and he made that face I would have still said it was an unwarranted overreaction. He took the piece of paper and we parted. Charlotte Jackson told me she will follow it up with Joey, but it was hardly a surprise when nothing came of it.

Still, I got a VIP tour of DC Comics and got some free comicbooks, so it was certainly not a complete loss. Besides, the rest of the trip was still ahead of me and there were more places to visit and some interesting   people to meet.


Prologue   I Chapter 1 I Chapter 2 I Chapter 3 I 

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 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

How Not to Break into the Comics Industry - Chapter 1

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

When I first started reading comics regularly around 95-96 I was into specific characters, especially Spider-Man who was a childhood favourite from the early cartoon shows. I did not care much for any of the behind the scenes stuff and did not give the credits any attention. At first it did not matter to me who edited, wrote or drew the stories. Slowly certain writers and artists stood out as better than others and I started paying attention. I also realized that if some people can do it for a living, why couldn't I?

The internet had still not quite hit the mainstream when I got on-line. I had a very slow computer even for the time and the depressingly slow dial up connection was a struggle. I would load up an HTML page and keep myself busy for the two minutes it would take to load up. During that time I went on IRC chatrooms to talk to people from other parts of the world just for the novelty of it. Kids today take it for granted, but for me it was mind blowing. The rest of the time I started hanging out on what was probably the first Spider-Man message board (AKA SMB). It was a collection of comics-related message boards that is amazingly still around today and in a very similar format to what it used to be 15 years ago. There I got to start chatting to other fans about the Spider-Man comics and was quite shocked to find out that most people did not like the Clone Saga storyline which I had really enjoyed. There were instantly two camps on every single issue and it was fun bickering and arguing about it as if it really mattered (it didn't).

The peak of my dorkiness was creating a small website that petitioned the return of Ben Reilly, Spider-Man's clone and temporary replacement who was then killed off to wrap up his storyline. In my defense I was only nineteen.

While making new friends all over the world, the real fun was brushing elbows with industry professionals. Paul Jenkins, Todd Dezago, Peter David, Tom Brevroot, Karl Kesel and many others who popped in and out to answer fan questions and just hang out.

There were some nice surprises along the way. I got to ask certain authors questions about their work by e-mail and compliment them for their work. I wrote to Karl Kesel , who was writing Superboy at the time, to tell him that his new storyline looks great, but I missed the first two issues and will wait for the tradepaperback. He wrote back to tell me that it was unlikely the story, fun as it was, will be collected and asked for my address. Shortly after, I received both issues by post and they were signed with lots of cute scribbles. These two issues are probably the most cherished part of my collection tied with my copy of Amazing Spider-Man 5 Miron bought for me when we just started dating and wanted to impress me (He did!)

With the introduction of e-mail it was easy and quick to submit pitches to editors. The downside was that it meant that lots of fans and would-be writers were flooding these addresses with pitches and it was difficult to stand out. I submitted story pitches everytwhere I could. Some of them were OK, but others were raw and amateur. Some editors, like Tom Brevroot, understandably brushed off any attempt to pitch as I am sure I was not the only one trying. Some interactions I had with various editors were actually quite lengthy and will be mentioned in detail later on, but actually one of my biggest disappointments was from a very short interaction.
Stuart Moore
Stuart Moore was editing Punisher at the time (around 2000). Garth Ennis just started his immensely popular run and I had no expectations to even get a reply. Sending in my Punisher pitch was just another shot in the dark. The story was very simple; the Punisher takes down a man with mystical powers who then puts a curse on the Punisher before he dies: all the people the Punisher has killed over the years will rise up from their graves and come after him. What would be a nightmare scenario for most is a delightful treat for the Punisher as he has loads of fun killing the same bastards a second time. He would go for a third serving if he could!

Within less than a day two replies from Stuart Moore waited in my mailbox. I wondered why two: if he wrote to say he is not interested that should only take one message. So with great anticipation I opened the first message. He loved it! He did not just like it, it seemed he was actually excited about it! I got off my computer chair and did a little happy dance. I was so thrilled: I finally made it! I was going to write back to him to ask what he would like to see next, script samples perhaps?

Avenging Angel Punisher
Then I remembered there was a second e-mail. I should probably read it before I write anything. My heart sunk as soon as I started reading it. Stuart got back to me and said that after he talked to his boss (I presume  it was Joe Quesada who was heading Marvel Knights at the time before becoming Marvel's CEO) and they were not crazy about taking the Punisher in a supernatural direction after the failure of a recent storyline turning the Punisher into a demon fighting angel. The story was considered a failure and Garth Ennis managed to save the character by giving him a new realistic and gritty direction. I was frustrated as my storyline was nothing like that story and would leave the Punisher character just the way he was without affecting the status quo. I agree that the Punisher works best when fighting mortal mobsters and criminals, but since he is living in the colourful Marvel Universe there is no reason why he can not occasionally deal with crazy scenarios. I tried hitting the iron while it was still hot by quickly sending Moore a few more story ideas, but nothing stuck.

To add insult to injury the Punisher has eventually returned into a supernatural territory in 2008 when he was killed off only to return as a living dead creature called "FrankenCastle".

It was not the last time one of my concepts would catch the imagination of a comics editor only to be eventually rejected due to objection from above or in order to avoid clashing with current ongoing storylines. I should take it as a compliment that I even got that far, but when I think about it I can not avoid feeling a bit bitter.

I am going to drown my sorrow with a bottle of Vodka (or rather chocolate milk, whatever is in the fridge right now) and continue chronicling my adventures later.


Prologue   I Chapter 1 I Chapter 2 I Chapter 3 I