“One day…this is all gonna be a funny story.”
The preceding is a bit of knowledge often dropped by my best friend whenever life starts to run contrary to that little plan we all have mapped out in our head. With the holidays in full swing, and time running shorter than usual, many an online columnist is spending time to reflect on the year that was. Because of this, you can understand my hesitation in traveling a similar path, but after skimming the index, and considering what was really going on when I wrote some of these articles, I wonder, what was Ambidextrous in ’03, missing all the invisible ink? There was an underlying sub-plot creeping its way through the column, and roughly one year after everything started, I’m taking a deep breath and telling you about my own personal Rambaldi artifact. I’m going to tell you about Epic Comics.
Welcome to the year in review.
Keep it secret.
Keep it safe.
Shortly before Christmas of last year, I got an e-mail from Mark Millar titled “It’s the bat signal you’ve been waiting for.” For a couple weeks, he’d been hinting at some revolutionary initiative that Marvel Comics was planning, something that would alter the way in which companies seek out and nurture “new” talent. Had absolutely NO idea what he was talking about of course, but he intimated that I’d be involved somehow, which while encouraging, seemed incredibly unlikely. I mean, come on…this was THE Marvel Comics, right? Regardless, my Christmas present for last year was a communication from Mark Millar, by way of the House of Ideas, announcing the coming of Epic Comics.
The mission statement of the imprint was pretty straight-forward, new creators bringing new flavor and new approaches to Marvel. Those comprising the test phase of the experiment were encouraged to submit scripts to the submissions editors for consideration, as soon as possible. Subject matter and genre were completely open, and all concerns regarding creator-owned material were to be discarded, as such material was welcomed by the imprint. The chief concern was that Marvel’s standards of quality were met, and that the stories we proposed could appeal to a general (non-comic) reading audience. It was suggested that if we chose to pitch them re-imagined takes on established Marvel characters, we either choose characters that didn’t have regular titles, or be prepared to match the output of those currently working on the monthly titles. So, slightly terrified at the prospects of writing Spider-Man better than Bendis, or doing X-Men better than Morrison, I naturally chose the first option.
Picked a couple Marvel characters over the holidays, dusted them off, and started brainstorming, jotting ideas, notions, and dialogue in the notebook, trying to find a comfortable fit. Something I’d be excited to lead into the new year, and also something that no one else in the initial talent pool would even conceive of hitting the submission board with. The easiest avenue, and simultaneously the most dangerous, would’ve been to brush off one of Marvel’s underused black characters and forcefully eject them into the twenty-first century. Chances are, this would further distinguish my script from the one next to it, but I had to admit how effectively obvious the move was, and how it’d be setting a precedent that may prove difficult to shake later on down the road. It would have to be worth it, a story meant to change perceptions, that went out of its way to face a stereotype, smack it into submission, and continue onto the next. Despite all this … was it worth the risk?
Wrestling with everything for a couple weeks led into early January, and the decision was finally made. Keyed in on a character and just wrote blindly everything that came to mind, regardless of whether I could fit it into the initial storyline. Too much television causes me to think in seasons; so when I reach issue six, I keep going. Ask me what happens at the close of issue 12. Maybe issue 25? Every idle thought, every technique, and every twist I’d acquired by design or accident went into my Epic pitch. Had never been more excited at any point in this journey, and ignored everything that could’ve become a distraction. I worked and I wrote; sometimes at the same time, detailed at length in those Multi-Tasking articles with the lame secret codenames.
Though the dual articles marked the last instance of me directly referencing the work being prepared for Epic, a more telling sign of what I was constructing in relative secrecy was the month of interviews that ran here from late April into May. By this point, I’d already had the phone conference with Marvel President Bill Jemas, had turned in a couple scripts, and to my absolute surprise…the editors appeared to be reading them. This was cool for the obvious reasons of course, but as personal and self-motivated as the act of writing tends to be, sometimes it’s necessary from a motivational standpoint, to be made clearly aware that your work is being dissected on some level.
Now I can’t front, initially, the commentary was somewhat disappointing; that moment when you excitedly hand something in, and it returns covered in red ink. But after going years attempting to shed the fear that I’m writing ideas, and casting them into a bottomless pit, I appreciated the fact that anyone was taking time out of their day to read a document with my name on it.
Based on the massive number of e-mails and notes we traded back and forth, and the almost weekly phone conferences, I became convinced that my strength of will would not allow me to turn away without a greenlit series. Keeping up with the tweaks and revisions was challenging, and soon fell into a familiar rhythm. I’d receive a set of notes and panic, believing there was no way to address them without fundamentally altering the story I needed to tell. A few hours later I’d start thinking, and eventually come up with some inspired brilliance that was undeniable; something that couldn’t be sent back for further review. I was wrong. Often and again. But seriously, this was Marvel Comics, and there was no way in Hell that I was ever going to write you people a column about how I cracked under the pressure, how I couldn’t take it any more. Matching wits with the House of Ideas? I imagine there are far worse places to be.
Meanwhile, the stockpile of interviews that’d been running here in my absence expired, and after stopping to review the new Matrix, I took a week off to move back home, and ultimately return with Barrier Method. Besides being column 100, it was a small way of thanking everyone that’s supported the column, and launched a decidedly more “personal age” of Ambidextrous. Using this space to chronicle the scripting of Youngblood: Genesis, my weekend at the San Diego convention (starting with that horribly memorable plane ride), and the completely bizarre flooding of my car, has likely made things slightly inaccessible to “new readers,” but while my foundation was built on haters, blueprints, and passionate railings, that time is effectively done. Quite simply, it was time to stop talking about it, and start being about it.
Epic was a chance to begin firmly within one of the big two, but as the summer wound down, all the “will” in the world wasn’t enough to quiet that sinking feeling in the back of my head. Progress was slowing to nothing, and the frustration built to that breaking point I swore to never reach. The fleeting light at the end of the tunnel had me writing
A New Hope with renewed faith, one final victory within reach, having made the decision to walk away if I couldn’t finally bring this home. Eight months of almost nonstop work dispensed into one last script. If I received the usual round of notes I’d become accustomed to, I’d walk away, sanity and spirit intact.
Sure enough the script returned, not nearly as red as its predecessors, but red nonetheless. So I did what any other self-respecting writer would do, having been trapped on the verge for several months…I re-wrote the script one last time. One more time, I swear. The document hit my editors and ran the gauntlet, eventually shuttled back to my inbox, still not quite there.
Writing that last e-mail to the Epic editors, withdrawing from the project that had consumed more than half of 2003 took forever, and after getting it sent, the remainder of the week was spent rationalizing the decision to anyone that would listen. Everyone seemed to completely understand, surprised that I hung in as long as I did, but preventing that disappointment from leaking into the column was difficult, and those fleeting thoughts when I occasionally imagine the contents of my final column came more and more frequently. My general bad mood manifested itself fully in Closing Argument, after being stockpiled for weeks, and I told myself to leave it there.
Everything happens for a reason, and setting a couple creator-owned things into motion, doing more writing just because (and not just because my editor is waiting for a revision), combined with a few good comics, brought the swagger back. Clement Sauve’s Cross pages filing themselves into being was the icing, as was the positive response to the preview that Markisan ran in ATR a couple weeks back. To finally see even a small part of the story fully realized was extremely gratifying, and another thank you to everyone that posted a comment, and to everyone that sent an e-mail; all of which helped me stay up when circumstances threatened to turn me into a bitter bastard.
Physically, the Epic experience hasn’t left me with much; emotionally, it’s strengthened my resolve, and hopefully a stronger, more dangerous writer stands in its wake. When any relationship ends, it’s instinctive to go over all the signs you missed, or what you should’ve said and done, but with hindsight taking precedence…it’s all good. For several months, editors at Marvel Comics were returning my phone calls, and there’s a lot of other cats that can’t say the same. Honestly believing myself one revision away from world domination for almost a year, hell…guess it’s almost funny.
And then…there is this year’s Christmas gift to consider, but more on that in 2004.
It’s been real, ya’ll; see you next year.
Here comes tomorrow…
Special thanks to Mark Millar, for setting me straight with a couple of sentences. Thanks to Rob Liefeld and Jimmy Jay, for treating me like a superstar with absolutely no reason to. To Stephanie Moore and Teresa Focarile, good lookin’ out. To all of the other SBC columnists that made me look bad on a weekly basis, I’m not playing games next year 😉 Craig Lemon, thanks for never touching a word I sent you, even though you probably should’ve. J Brice, I want some Ambidextrous apparel in the SBC store, dude.
Last, but certainly not least, is the guy that had my back every step of the way. Take a bow Markisan (and stop taking so many vacations, slacker 😉