A Lesson Learned
I blame Tim Burton and his damn Batman movie.
It’s all his fault. It’s because of him that I picked up a pencil and taught myself to draw. I used to draw these crude pictures of Michael Keaton’s Batman. They were pretty horrible, but to a nine-year-old kid, they were freaking awesome. There was no depiction of any discernible action. It was just Batman, standing there, with his head either turned to the side, or looking straight ahead. No background, nothing else. Just Batman.
Through Batman, I discovered the world of comics and superheroes. Mom bought me comic books, and I tried to copy the artwork without tracing. Sometimes, it went well. Sometimes, it was more like:
Mom was impressed with her little artist, and she was always buying me more paper, or pencils, or any other kind of supplies I needed. And comic books. Eventually, I was able to do enough from memory that I didn’t have to copy as much.
That is, until Jim Lee.
When Lee began his run on Marvel’s X-Men, my eyes were opened to a new style of comic drawing: flashy, over the top, yet highly detailed. I wanted to draw like Jim Lee. I began to not only copy his work, but I tried to copy his style, as well. Through that, I was able to find my own style. Lots of solid black shadows, and cross-hatching where the shadows were lighter. I guess I developed a rather dark style. My characters never smiled. Most of the time, their eyes were obscured with shadows. That may have to more to do with things happening in my life at the time, but, it was my style.
I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was good enough to work in comics, specifically Marvel Comics. The House of Ideas. That was where I wanted to be. I had a crazy dream of moving to New York City (I didn’t know that most of their artists worked in other cities and mailed their work in) and working on Spider-Man and X-Men books. Maybe I would be good enough to spend some time at D.C. and work on Batman or Superman. That would be awesome. As I got a little older, I realized that my pencil work wasn’t up to par with the professionals, so I thought I should learn to ink comics, as well. I worked at that, and I thought I was getting pretty good, as well.
I wrote to Marvel, asking them what it would take to get my artwork to them. I told them I was 15 years old, and I was looking to break into the business. They were kind enough to send me a letter (a form letter, in which they referred to me as “Terry.” That’s not my name. Not even close) back, along with a brochure of submission guidelines.
When my stepmother handed me the envelope with Spider-Man swinging on the left side by the return address, I was shaking. I was a small step closer to realizing my dream. I studied that submission brochure front and back. I decided to send in submissions to Marvel. I waited patiently for their reply.
One day, it came in the self-addressed and stamped envelope I sent them.
What I got was a letter (personalized, this time) from Mr. John Lewandowski, who worked at Marvel as an editor and was (if I remember right) the head of the submissions department. In his letter, he said he appreciated the submissions and then he proceeded to give me a full page of criticism. He sent a copy of my work back to me with his remarks written all over it in red ink. I still remember the last line of his letter:
Please do not send us any more submissions until your work has vastly improved.
Then, he personally signed it “John Lewie.”
I was crushed. Here I was, thinking I could live my dream, and this guy was saying I sucked and telling me to give up. After that, I told my dream of drawing comics to kiss my ass.
Fast forward fifteen years. I’m thirty years old, barely scraping a living in the God-forsaken restaurant business, and I’ve got a hair-brained idea of getting an original graphic novel idea published. I look up what it takes to get a graphic novel published. I see Marvel has submission guidelines online now. I also see one thing that makes me weak in the knees.
Marvel only responds to those people whom they believe have the potential to work for them.
If I could go back to 1995 and kick my own ass and tell my fat, nerdy ass not to give up, I would. I would tell myself that John Lewie wasn’t being an asshole. He was just criticizing my work to make me better, not to make me give up. Looking back, I appreciate the fact that he took the time out of his schedule to look at my work and write a letter to me telling me why it wasn’t up to snuff. I appreciate everything he told me, and I take it to heart with everything I draw.
I’m still writing that graphic novel. I’ve drawn a few pages, as well, but I can’t work like I should. Not enough time in the day. But, ever since I read that one statement online, I’ve had more of a resolve to not let this dream get away from me.
As a matter of fact, no one else should let go of those dreams, either. Even if people say you can’t do it, don’t let go of those dreams.