As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a brilliantly talented comic book artist and writer. I spent much of my free time—as well as plenty of spoken-for time that was owed to schoolwork—drawing characters and developing stories around them. When I wasn’t creating comics I was reading them, and Spider-Man (across all his comic iterations at the time) was my favorite. I saw him as the figurehead of my favorite universe, that of Marvel Comics. I worshipped Stan Lee, the many superheroes who populated their stories, and all associated mythologies.
This was a time when comic book characters were still a very niche-interest. Though that niche was enormous, relatively speaking, and full of die-hard devotees, the comics world was largely overlooked by the general public. Unlike today, comic book movies were a rare treat at megaplexes and usually reserved for characters who had long made the jump to other areas of pop culture, usually Superman or Batman. The idea that a film based on The Avengers could earn two billion dollars was far less realistic than the notion that a radioactive spider bite might give a high school kid great powers. Nevertheless, we who were enamored with comics were hopelessly enamored. They dominated our lives and portrayed a world we’d do anything to touch. So I tried.
In 1993, as a ten year old, I began writing letters to then-Marvel Comics president Terry Stewart. I would share my ideas for what the company was doing, my own aspirations about working in comics someday, and my questions generally. My agenda at the time was limited to the hope that Marvel might translate my ideas into products I could buy. I loved my comics and the associated paraphernalia, and often longed for things I wished existed.
As a writer, and generally as an adult, I am now well versed in the difficulty involved with getting anyone to read or consider one’s ideas. Creative work is often dogged by the sense that the artist is toiling with all their heart in hopeless obscurity, and that any attempt at reaching an audience, often even one limited to friends and family, can be a very uphill climb.
This being so, I am still astonished by the kindness I was shown by Marvel in their personalized responses (included here) to my ridiculous and childlike inquiries. The responses were from Stewart—though it would hardly be a surprise if he didn’t personally author them—and showed very generous and careful consideration to whatever wacky tangent my mom had helped me to articulate on our family typewriter.
On a trip to New York City that same year, I insisted my mom take me to the address I had been sending the letters. She complied. I had expected a giant skyscraper belonging to the publisher; something akin to the residence of The Fantastic Four, and was surprised to find a modest lobby that didn’t seem dissimilar from the office in Boston where my father worked. Smaller, actually—the major difference being a spinning rack of comics standing in one corner. I think the receptionist at the desk didn’t know quite what to make of us. She was very kind, but informed us that remodeling in the offices currently precluded any opportunity for a tour. Nevertheless, an employee whose name I’ve long forgotten emerged from the back and spoke to me for a while about comics. I was spellbound. When the conversation was over, he directed me to the rack of comics, and told me to take whatever I liked. I left with a stack the equivalent dimensions of a phone book—a device used to locate telephone numbers in 1993.
My letters and visit to Marvel Comics made the creative world a tangible thing for me, and bolstered my desire to one day do creative work. Though I’ve long left comics in my past (I can’t draw) I’ve never let go of my desire to tell stories, and often fantastic ones, like those I spent hours pouring over in Marvel’s comics as a child. More than 20 years later, I am forever grateful to Marvel, Terry Stewart, that anonymous employee, and all artists who do amazing work while still valuing their fans.