15 October 2012

A Somewhat Radical Suggestion from 1987

Yesterday I shared a panel from Teen Titans Spotlight, #10, published in the spring of 1987. The letter column in that magazine included this missive from a fan angling for DC Comics to publish stories from, well, people like him. The reply in italics came from editor Mike Gold.

Ironically, this was about the time that Marv Wolfman was starting to suffer from writer’s block, even as the need for monthly Titans stories was expanding. But with its small staff, tight deadlines, and universe-wide storytelling, DC couldn’t open the transom to just anyone.

Whatever happened to young Barry Lyga from Maryland, with his naive (but shared) vision of fans writing superhero stories? How did his submissions fare? Did he ever break into the comics business or get his stories published? Oh, yeah.


ericshanower said...

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Goth Girl Rising are two of my favorite books of the last few years.

And Barry doesn't live at that address anymore, so blacking it out was probably good policy but not necessary.

J. L. Bell said...

I used Lyga's Astonishing Adventures… in an SCBWI workshop on good dialogue a few years back. It's nifty to see a letters column preserving the early steps of a successful writer.

After blacking out the Lygas' 1987 address, I found that he'd done the same on a DC rejection letter that he'd put on his website. So I decided the effort was worthwhile. I left in "MD" just in case someone wanted to believe this must be another Barry Lyga.

ericshanower said...

I really like seeing his site's series of rejection letters.

J. L. Bell said...

Just last night I invoked that series of letters to encourage someone at a writer's group.

Richard Bensam said...

Boy, what a crummy answer to Barry's entirely reasonable suggestion.

At the same time a DC editor was dismissing the possibility of novice writers being granted an opportunity to write a solo story featuring one of the Teen Titans, Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald was actively recruiting novice writers to write solo stories featuring heroes from the Avengers. Solo Avengers ran for twenty issues, and a further twenty issues renamed Avengers Spotlight. Further stories commissioned for the book appeared as backups in other comics or in Annuals. Mark was then the only editor at either company who was actively working to foster new writers. The book was invaluable working experience because it gave his prospects the awareness of being under the gun: this wasn't a practice story for some obscure black and white publisher no one had heard of. Your failure would be out there for the whole world to see.

Heck, just a couple of years earlier, DC itself had tasked Ernie Colon with cultivating a group of inexperienced writers and artists, the result being a series called New Talent Showcase. I know Mike Gold was aware of that book, and I guess now we know what he thought of it.

J. L. Bell said...

To be fair, one thing Mike Gold thought of New Talent Showcase might have been that it had lasted only twenty issues before being canceled and the company's top brass had decided never to do anything like that again. In other words, he might have been laying out a policy that others had put in place.

Having been behind an editorial desk for the first eleven years of my career (not in comics), I can't help but agree with Gold's statements that (a) most material coming in over the transom is unpublishable, and (b) it's really hard to justify the effort of helping hopeful authors improve their work when you're wrestling with lots of projects and deadlines already, however much in theory you'd like to find and support new talent.

Lately a lot of book publishers are moving away from replying to unagented submissions, or even looking at them. I suspect Marvel is now under Disney's corporate policy of not looking at anything not requested to avoid lawsuits. It would be nice to say that such closed-door publishers will eventually suffer from not nurturing new talent, but I'm not sure that will ever really happen.

ericshanower said...

For its last few issues New Talent Showcase was renamed Talent Showcase and began to feature work by established talent as well as newcomers. I had work published in both iterations of the title. I think, by the time of the title change, when editor Sal Amendola was brought on, the writing was on the wall--the series wasn't going to last much longer unless something close to a miracle happened. I'm not sure that the problem was that submissions were too amateurish for editorial to deal with. My sense was that the work just wasn't generally very good so that after the first few issues, when the curiosity factor wore off, the issues didn't sell very well.

The nickname for the book, after all, was No Talent Showcase. Obviously that wasn't a reflection on the potential of the contributors, many of whom have gone on to successful careers, but a reflection of the overall reality that the work just wasn't quite up to snuff.

I know my story in New Talent Showcase #13, the second professional comics job I ever did, wasn't top rate, although I was doing the best work I could do at the time with the resources I had for reference. (I still kick myself for some of my depictions of stock car racing--laughable.) Years later Karen Berger, who was the editor, told me that this story (with script by Mindy Newell) was one of the New Talent Showcase pieces she was proudest of having published--so that was nice. And I'm not saying it was downright awful--none of the New Talent Showcase material I've seen was downright awful. But in general it wasn't top drawer. And what reader is going to keep buying a comic series for long when it's just not good enough?

The series was a nice try--and I'm happy to have benefited from the fact that New Talent Showcase existed back when I was "new talent." But as an experiment, the results seem clear, and I think DC Comics drew reasonable conclusions from those results.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the inside look at the series. I was struck in looking back at the credits for New Talent Showcase and Solo Avengers Spotlight (to coin a title) by how many names I recognized. Not all, of course, but they did appear to provide an entry point for people who’d become more prominent in the following decades. But the sales seem to have been average or worse, and those are the first titles to be canceled in lean times, however much they might pay off years later.