Ambidextrous: Revisiting the Rejection File
Ambidextrous: The Rejection File
Was looking through some boxes from the recent move and stumbled upon one of my once-prized possessions---the shiny green folder that was going to help me break into comics…
Originally, it was just a place to keep stuff from my Civil Rights class, but it soon became a repository for anything involved with my possible future as a professional comic book writer. Because obviously, before deciding that you want to “break in,” comprehensive homework must be done. Other successful writers must be approached, real-life editors must be queried, books must be read, actual comic scripts must be written, etc. Think most people make the critical error of just running straight for the finish line, believing that a love of comics and an outline for the next big crossover will carry them successfully past it. It’s so much more complicated than that, and will require you to be smart, patient, and fiercely stubborn---not to mention things like talented and lucky and who even knows what else. But before all that even comes into play, you should have a very concrete idea of what you’re actually doing, and just how many real and imagined obstacles are standing in your way.
Best thing I ever did was spend a year researching the comics industry from all angles, to find out how it really works. Cause the way you think it works might not be even remotely accurate, and you have to find this out immediately (as I did) before wasting too much time. So I saved almost everything that I thought would be helpful one day---correspondence with other writers, print-outs from Chuck Dixon’s personal site (which used to run these little essays about writing comics), and a Flash script written by Mark Waid---to get a better idea of how a comic script was actually put together. There’s also the Image Dossier, which was the result of someone starting a thread on the Comicon boards, asking Jim Valentino exactly how Image worked. Valentino was kind enough to answer any and every Image-related mystery that people threw his way, and I felt it necessary to destroy several trees, printing the whole thing out for posterity. There’s even an ad for NextPlanetOver.com at the top of the page. Anybody remember that site? But as a student of the game, this is the kind of stuff I’d never get rid of, along with what will always be my personal favorites---the stack of rejection letters.
Don’t know if the major companies send them out anymore, but most everyone working in comics likely has a couple lying around. Mine are from several companies---
Dark Horse sent me the same form letter twice, but that’s probably because they rejected two separate projects, or it’s even possible I sent the same proposal twice thinking the first copy got lost somewhere. I also have one from CrossGen, which was a company I remember being so excited about when they first emerged. Might’ve been the whole “creative compound down in sunny Florida” thing, but they had some great ideas and perspectives, and on top of that some fantastic artists. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a number of them are over at Marvel doing equally exceptional work, and though what I received was likely a form letter, it really didn’t have the feel of one. The Vice President of the company said my “writing certainly shows potential” and I believed her, damn it!
But the big daddy of rejection letters, the one I’m still excited about getting, came directly from Marvel Comics and was written and signed by Chris Claremont himself, who was still serving as Editorial Director there. Like with CrossGen, there was definitely some standardization, but Claremont specifically added---“I would suggest you try stories involving characters with a somewhat lower publishing profile, generally those who do not presently have series of their own. Current books, and particularly those in the X-Canon, are generally a particularly tough nut to crack.”
Isn’t that just about the coolest ____’in thing ever? You have to know that in the beginning, it’s all very fragile, the dream either crushed or emboldened by the smallest things. I remember feeling pretty incredible about this. When it came to the X-Men, Claremont was about the closest thing to God, and he read one of my stories, which back then weren’t any good at all. There have been a lot of moments like this over the years, and I’ve been trying to really focus on those instead of sitting around all pissed off that 2008 won’t be the “Year of Miranda Mercury” that I’d originally imagined. All of the stuff in this folder was from around the year 2000, and now, eight years later, what are we looking at?
The latest Miranda Mercury script (Miranda Mercury and the Infinity Class!) is abusing me a little bit, but that’s pretty normal. The opening and closing scenes are already locked down, which is a little different for me. It feels necessary here because the middle is the kind of thing that will quickly expand if left to its own devices. ‘Cause really, I would ask Lee to draw complicated action scenes all day if there weren’t arbitrary things like page counts making me stop. But after what he went through a couple weeks ago (more on that later), I’m feeling this little twinge of guilt for following that up with a story that changes scenes every two pages and introduces brand new characters even faster. And it’ll likely get worse the more I dig in…Jack Warning wasn’t always meant to fight the League of Pneumatic Ninjas on a snow-covered mountaintop, but once that went in, it seemed almost irresponsible to change it.
Several months back, when we were deciding the final sequencing of the stories, this nearly became our third issue, instead of The Raiders of ____ Time! Reason being that Raiders has a major twist that I believed would make it more difficult to write, having only spent two stories prior really defining who Miranda and Jack are. This Infinity Class stuff was supposed to be “easy” you see, the title character of my great work kicking superheroes in the teeth and laughing about it. Thankfully, I wasn’t scary and wrote Raiders as 297, which did something to Lee’s work that we’ll both be trying to channel going forward (again, more on this later), leaving 298 as the much easier to handle, semi-straightforward superhero story. Yeah, didn’t happen that way at all---Raiders was hard and the Infinity Class is actually proving itself harder.
Still, hoping to have a workable draft before leaving for San Diego, in addition to continued progress on the soft reboot of The God Complex, which is also turning into a lot of fun. Four scripts have been gathering dust for a long while, and I’m going in to make the work more reflective of how I write now, as everything has the stench of 2003-2004 all over it. The execution is just so long-winded, a product of my own meager skills combining with a loose impression of how comics were written back then. The opening scene in the original draft came in at nine pages and now it’s been condensed into four. Miranda is all about trimming the fat off the narrative and makes this book feel so much slower than it is. But I’m looking at it with more experienced eyes and asking some pointed questions. Why is this shot here, why is everyone talking so much, why in the hell did I frame it like this, why is it that I used to suck so bad…? At least now when I’m terrorizing artists, it’s being done with some semblance of skill…and about that…
Lee Ferguson’s most recent art-related trauma involved the last two pages of the current issue, which just had to be saved for last due to their intensity. It was a two-page spread smack in the middle of the story, and it took him an entire week to pencil. It’s easily the most complicated thing he’s ever drawn, the most complicated thing I’ve ever asked anyone to draw, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I told him if he sold the original artwork to anyone else, I would come down to his home and kill him in his sleep…and really, I kinda meant it. To me, the real tragedy of ASP’s restructuring is that people won’t get to experience the Evolution of Lee Ferguson as quickly as possible. Because this man is an absolute beast and not enough people realize it yet. We’ve been working on this for a few years now, and he just keeps getting better---everything I throw at him is taken to another level and I cannot wait for everyone else to jump on the bandwagon once the publishing is sorted out.
But really, all of this can be traced back to that folder and what it really contained…the hope that if I could learn enough about the comic business, I could find a way to break into it and prove that my stories, characters, and perspective deserved a place there. The people that wrote me letters (of encouragement and rejection) probably don’t even remember it, thinking me one of the hundreds, maybe thousands of fans that want to ultimately bridge the gap. And that’s what pushes me through the disappointments along the road, thinking about how many others are holding onto stuff like this, and what context they can now apply to it.
Tom Peyer said something recently about how 2008 wasn’t emotionally ready for he and John Layman’s Tek Jansen book and that’s a sentiment I definitely think applies to Miranda Mercury…that despite all of our planning and preparation, the world wasn’t quite ready. So we have to take some time to correct that. It’s all good though, we’ll get you there---been at this a long time already and obviously, another few months ain’t gonna stop me…