“You have to be prepared to drown your babies.”
This is what Joe Quesada said before a packed audience hanging on every word in an auditorium at last summer’s Wizard World 2001. The panel was titled What Marvel Wants, and every comic hopeful with a colorful name badge attended, hoping to witness the revelation of the “magic bullet”. The one trick that will bridge the gate and lead one down the path of comic superstardom (if such a thing exists), and ensure that one’s name will be forever mentioned among comic visionaries. Let’s ignore the fact that every creator has their own distinct, yet often rousing, tale of “breaking in” and that the first bit of advice offered will be the following sentence, “Well…it’s different for everybody.” Regardless of this established fact, everyone was there to catch a glimpse of the industry’s magic wand, take hold of it through slight of hand, sneak off to their private residence, and proceed to become the next Bendis.
And I was right there with them.
What we received instead was a pep talk, magnified to the nth degree, which managed to suspend disbelief for just long enough to be considered inspiring. I returned home with renewed purpose and strengthened resolve. A couple weeks later, several members of Marvel’s editorial staff received the latest version of The Crucible, highlighted by a series of production upgrades that included a spiral binding and a greytone paper stock. It cost a bit of pocket money, but it was flashy and naïveté caused me to believe that it would draw additional attention. Five months later, no word back, and still glad I did it.
It was also five months later when Quesada’s summer advice would truly manifest.
The date is Wednesday, January 9th and while the afternoon will bring new books, something feels decidedly awkward. Something about the way I woke up possibly, with alarm set to disrupt peaceful slumber at 8:30 a.m.. Little did I know that the clock was mistakenly set for 8:30 p.m., and that the small contraption would provide no stern signal to exit the bed and stumble to school for the first day of spring classes. But apparently it didn’t matter…because I woke up at 8:30 in the morning anyway. 8:30 exactly.
Existing in a state of perpetual exhaustion since high school, the eventuality of me actually awakening without the aid of some blaring device should’ve been enough to indicate that something unexpected was approaching. Nearly an hour later and I’m walking across my school’s campus with a strange uneasiness hovering within perception. I initially chalk it up to disappointment that Winter Break has concluded so quickly, or that I’m becoming both nostalgic and anxious regarding the fact that this is the last semester in which I’ll be allowed to hide from the real world.
The first class is longer than it should be, and through the haze of attendance and class introductions, the chance to drop some story bits or dialogue into my story notebook doesn’t present itself. Following the ordeal, I stop by the computer lab to kill time through a bout of mindless internet surfing before leaving campus to grab my weekly stash of 4-colored goodness. Before hitting my first site, I always check the e-mail account, in the hope that something interesting accidentally landed in there.
What I found was a message from Marvel Editor C. For those that didn’t read Fear Itself a couple weeks ago, Editor C, after looking over a couple of samples, invited me to pitch him an 8-page story for an upcoming anthology due to release in the summer of 2002. It had been about two weeks since I fired off the pitch, and frantically checking my e-mail had become old a week prior.
I opened the missive to find the unthinkable had occurred…he didn’t like the story. Though he found a few plot points strong, overall he thought the proposal wasn’t appropriate for the project he was putting together and was going to pass on it in favor of a more established scribe.
Without thinking, I quickly replied asking him to be slightly more specific in his critique and if I could rewrite the pitch addressing his concerns. Building the better pitch was one reason I didn’t just accept, “No,” and my nature as a stubborn bastard was the other. The next hour was spent swearing at myself, and mentally dissecting the pitch I’d sent him. One aspect of the pitching process that I’m confident will always strike me as aggravating is the necessity of slowing down one’s mind enough to actually render the thing to a minimum amount of pages. In one’s mind, the pages are laying themselves out, the characters are speaking believably, and a scribe feels excessively clever. Now, convey all of this without venturing over two pages in length. It’s enough to give anyone a considerable headache, but it’s a necessary evil.
Editor C replies a couple hours later, and explains further stating that the plot presented didn’t really fit in an anthology meant to serve as a celebration of the character. That one little “C-word” provided a focused clarity missing from my story’s formula. Celebration. You’ll witness first hand (next week) just why my 8-pager had little business in a celebratory anthology. Instead of highlighting an aspect of the character that I found desirable, I dragged him through the mud, and attempted to deconstruct him in eight pages. A juvenile coping mechanism for a character I didn’t hold much affinity for.
That entire evening became devoted to the genesis of the bigger, better, and more intelligent pitch. I was past the point of mental badgering over a lost opportunity and had entered a new phase of thinking…never give up. Don’t quit. Hit the wall until it cracks. Resistance is only a signal to show up with a bigger hammer. I was attempting to fashion that hammer, at a blinding speed, and over the fallen ashes of the pitch that didn’t explosively strike the bullseye.
I even ignored the opportunity to spread some much needed “jam”. SBC message board posters know what I’m talking about 😉
The room was barricaded, the laptop fired up, and a potential masterpiece was the hopeful end result. I didn’t even care if the story was usable for the anthology, I was only determined in removing any foul taste that my original pitch may have left in its simple wake. What I sent off the next morning was a story 360 degrees divergent from the original.
I had drowned my baby, quickly and without apology. Hopefully it made some sort of impression.
Excuse me while I check my e-mail again…
Next time: The veil is lifted as I reveal just what the hell I was pitching for, as the failed pitch is violently and publicly vivisected. It’s the anatomization, and unintelligent plots will never feel the same