My Childhood Correspondence with Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics envelope, April 1993
Marvel Comics envelope, April 1993

As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a brilliantly-talented comic book artist and writer. I spent most of my free time—as well as too much of my otherwise spoken-for time—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. To me, he was the crown jewel of my favorite universe, the Marvel [as-then not yet cinematic] Universe. I worshiped Marvel’s iconic Stan Lee, the many superheroes who populated their stories, and any and all associated mythologies, be they within Marvel’s pages or the urban legends traded in comic book stores.

1—April 12, 1993 letter from Terry Stewart, pres. Marvel Comics.
1—April 12, 1993 letter from Terry Stewart, pres. Marvel Comics.

This was a time when comic book characters were still a very niche-interest. Though, in the idiom of niches, that niche was enormous 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, a level of success effectively reserved for Superman and 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 so enamored, whether or not anyone deemed this a respectable pursuit. They dominated our lives, seemingly from a world we would do anything to touch. So I tried.

In 1993, as a ten year old, I began writing letters to then-Marvel 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 (so I could then buy them, which isn’t strictly how commerce is supposed to work).

As a writer, and generally as an adult, I am now well-versed in the difficulty involved with getting anyone to read or even consider one’s ideas. Creative work is often dogged by the sense that you, the artist, are toiling with all your 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.

February 12, 1994 letter
February 12, 1994 letter

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 (appropriately) childlike inquiries. What my letters to Marvel might have said specifically, I have only my vague decades-old recollections and the details in the responses pictured here to glean from, but they definitely imply an actual human was thoughtful enough to read what I was mailing off to New York. The responses were from Stewart—though it would less than a complete shock to learn 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 to visit my grandparents that same year, I insisted my mom take me to the address I had been sending the letters to. A good mom with a kind heart and much patience, she complied. I had expected a giant skyscraper belonging to the publisher; something akin to the residence of The Fantastic Four, but was surprised to find only 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, letting you know this was not a workplace populated only by robots. If there had been any robots, surely they would have been only the coolest robots, like The Avengers‘ Vision. I imagine 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 the tours they ordinarily gave. Nevertheless, an employee whose name I’ve long forgotten emerged from the back and spoke to me for a while about comics, an experience that left me 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 approximate dimensions of a phone book—a device which we used to locate telephone back numbers in 1993.

March 24, 1994 letter
March 24, 1994 letter

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 pages 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 being humble enough value their fans.

‘Nuff said.

Free Movie Ideas for Hollywood

I’ve chosen to share the following ideas for films. These creations are available with an Open-Source-Public-Media-Commons-Credit-Liberty license basis. They should add some new value and revitalizationism to the industry.

It's time for new thinking!
It’s time for new thinking!

1) Batman. This is a film based on the popular film series. Bruce Wayne is an eccentric, freaky rich guy who can’t get over his parents’ murder and must dress up in a costume and fight criminals, often using interesting technology. He can have a futuristic car and there should be a good amount of impressive explosions. To add new life to the project, a respectable but young/handsome actor should play him.

2) Yahtzee. In a slam bang race against time, a band of friends must roll the dice (literally) and attain the right numbers to stop a global catastrophe brought on by a madman. One guy is trusted to write down the score, but he is later revealed as a mole. Eventually they win, but first two of them (who initially hated one another) fall in love and bang. Killer soundtrack.

3) How I Met Your Mother. This is a movie based on the TV show of the same name. It takes place after the show wraps up its story this year. It’s pretty much whatever people love about that show, but with high stakes where the guy who met the mother almost loses the mother but gets the mother back at the end. There should be a big song/dance number highlighting the awesome talents of Neil Patrick Harris.

4) Batman. This is the same as the first idea, but with new villains and actors, and a new creative team at the helm.

5) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This movie is adapted from an old book, which over the years I’m told many people have read—it should be advertised so. There should be actors in it  known for giving great, serious performances. The beginning of the Wikipedia article, I think, said the main characters were Huck and Jim. They should be played by Jaden Smith and Daniel Day Lewis. It should be a big awards movie.

6) Batman vs. Batman. This is similar to ideas 1 and 4, but with the added twist that Batman must fight himself, both figuratively and literally. To explain that, it could be a clone or a doppelgänger or something—figure it out, writers! It can be a sequel to one or both of the earlier ideas.

So get to work, Hollywood! We here at will look very forward to seeing these movies turn up in our local theaters!

Image courtesy of 1989 Warner Bros’ press kit for Batman.

Step by Step Oscar Night Recap: I Didn’t Watch

In my home of Los Angeles, Oscar mania has been raging for over a week. It’s been practically raining stars! But literally raining rain, for several days. Both phenomenons were making driving more difficult in Hollywood, and it all led up to last night’s broadcast of the 86th Academy Awards! Who would win? Who would go home without a trophy? What would they wear? The show started at 7pm EST, and here’s a recap of the night’s highlights.

Jared Leto
Wow, that broad needs a shave!

4pm PST—I went to Vons to pick up some supplies for dinner. I bought chicken, and parmesan cheese but only because it was on sale. When I was backing out to leave, an old man in a  Grand Marquis abruptly backed out of his space and lingered for a while in front of my car, as though he had forgotten what he was doing. I became agitated, and said “Move it, you fucking corpse!” I said this only to myself, and not out the window or anything. I felt no guilt. WINNER for most clever attack on a possible WWII veteran: Me

5pm PST—I did some writing, but felt unsatisfied. I began to suspect I might technically qualify as a non-genius. I tabled the issue, and ran the dishwasher.

6pm PST—I realized the garbage gets picked up tomorrow, so I dragged the barrel out of the garage and into the alley. Then I remembered that there was a disgusting rubbermaid container on the patio full of tree waste that has been filling with rain for several days, and now emitted what I would call a “swamp smell.” After a half-hearted attempt to drain it, I dropped the entire container into the trash barrel, and hoped that the city would be willing to take it away in this form.

7pm PST—I decided I should like to eat Frozen Yogurt after dinner, so I made a trip down to Yogurtland. There was an unruly man with several children ahead of me, and they sure moved slowly. He kept scolding his kids for various reasons, but he didn’t really raise his voice, proving he had more restraint than the men of my family. He seemed perpetually out of breath. I chose to mix Peanut Butter and Cookies ‘n Cream, and got cookie dough bites as a topping.

8pm PST—Realizing the Oscars were going on, I checked the updated winners list online. Jared Leto had won for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” I hadn’t really enjoyed that movie, though it was okay. I decided to concern myself with something more engaging, so I started boiling water to cook rice.

830 PST—I ate Spanish rice, into which I mixed some spinach, and two chicken breasts. I felt full, and couldn’t finish all of the rice on my plate. I felt the anticipation building for the big moment that would come later in the night, and hoped my body would sufficiently digest my dinner to such an extent that I would be hungry for froyo.

9pm PST—I looked at Amazon Prime movies, and they were mostly bad. I settled for “Hannibal”, a film that went completely overlooked by the Academy in 2001. Quickly it became apparent that the film was much more enjoyable when I saw it as an 18 year old. I pondered whether Ridley Scott had an earnest belief that awful post-production slow motion is good technique, or if it was simply more acceptable to employ this device in 2001.

10pm PST—I felt hungry enough to eat the frozen yogurt, so I did. But first I let it thaw for a few minutes. Hannibal Lecter  fed Ray Liotta some of his own brain, but my appetite had no reaction. I thought about how if someone asked me outright, I might think to lie and say I was grossed out by it, disgusted even, while I was trying to enjoy eating something. But no, not so. I like eating under almost any circumstances. I was a little put off when, in a subsequent scene, Lecter took out a tupperware container on an airplane, revealing some of Liotta’s brain inside—but only because leftover, cold meat is always on some level a disappointment.

11pm PST—I read the Oscar results online, and had no reaction. I didn’t care who won and who didn’t, but I didn’t want to risk being out of the loop in subsequent days. Several sites offered a write-up recapping the performance of host Ellen DeGeneres, the comedy bits, the musical numbers, etc—but I read none of these.

1115 PST—I thought this might be a good idea for a blog post, so I started writing it.

1130 PST—Reaching the end of this entry, I was unhappy with the result and didn’t really see it as having any value.

1131 PST—I began to reconsider the direction my life is taking.