Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Once and Future AERO, Chapter Three!

Part Five ~~ Writing Someone Else's Character (or, The Return of Insect Man!)

I've written both amateur and professional comics, and regardless of the comic's status, I always have that inner feeling of excitement as I wait to see what the artist "gives" me.

This has been the case ever since my very first amateur comic book story, an issue of the "Insect Man" fanzine title. Insect Man -- heavily "borrowed" from Lana Lang's "Insect Queen" in DC's "Superboy" stories -- was a character that That's Entertainment's Paul Howley had created in 1965, when he was a kid. Paul drew several issues -- several dozen, actually, spin-off titles included -- on what we then called "math paper."

(Do the modern schools use -- or even have -- "math paper?")

In the mid-1980s, once Paul was a (nominal) adult and his That's Entertainment was a thriving business, the title which had ended its run as "Insect Man's Weird Tales" was revived, and the under-sized, photocopied black-and-white comics were sold to the customers at That's Entertainment... and eventually, elsewhere.

Insect Man himself didn't return until a few issues later, when he was rudely yanked from "retirement" by Larry Young. After Young, a handful of writer/artists took a shot at the hero, but no one stayed with him for more than a couple of issues.

I wasn't working for Paul yet. I was still "just" a customer, but I was fascinated by the fact that Insect Man had a history that went back about twenty years (at that time, that is). I'd always wanted to write for comics, and although this was unpaid "fanzine" work, it seemed like it'd be fun. I was a writer -- even at that tender age, I had a handful of commercial writing jobs under my belt -- but not an artist, so I couldn't get my story past the script stage.

No problem! Paul said he'd do the art chores himself!

I did a tremendous amount of "research" before I wrote my first issue. Paul had a copy of every issue he'd ever done, and I read them all. I made extensive notes on Insect Man's supporting cast, his personal history, his enemies. I decided which stories "really" happened, and which ones were "apocryphal" (like the one where I.M. stopped a gigantic villain who was terrorizing a city by dropping an "atomic bomb" on the creature... right in the middle of said city!).

Insect Man had had a sidekick named Kid Secret. I decided to bring him back into the storyline. I established that the former sidekick was now an adult, so when I.M. brought Kid Secret out of his own retirement, the "kid" re-named himself "Mr. Secret." (I liked the sound of that. It reminded me of superheroes like Mr. Scarlet, and Mr. Terrific.)

Sometime soon after I'd handed the script to Paul, he informed me that his honest assessment of his own art was that it wasn't good enough, so he'd given it to another customer who'd expressed interest in drawing it.

That customer's name was Ken Carson.

When I got to see the completed artwork, I was very impressed. Ken's stuff was definitely of a professional caliber. I ended up doing several issues of "Insect Man" with Ken, and a few other artists, too, but Ken was always my favorite artist to work with in terms of what he contributed to the stories, and especially how he translated my ideas onto the paper.

At this point you may be wondering why I've interrupted my own narrative about the creation of my "Aero" character, to jump back six to eight years and write about Insect Man.

Well, I had to explain about Insect Man, so you'd get to learn about Ken Carson.

Plus, it never hurts to give Paul's store a plug.

Part Six ~~ The Package from White Plains

Back to 1994.

I should probably mention here that by this time, for various reasons, I'd all but given up on the idea of "Two Heroes Comics" and was focusing instead on selling the "Silver Age Aero" series as a solo act, so to speak.

After a handful of letters & postcards (remember them?), as well as a couple of actual telephone calls, Dick Ayers and I had made all the arrangements necessary for him to begin work on the last three pages of the seven-page Aero origin story, entitled "Pressed Between the Pages."

So I waited. It didn't take him long to get them drawn, and to send photocopies to me. After all, the man was and is a professional. Of course, it certainly seemed like it was a long time to me. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas.

When the three photocopied pages arrived, I was totally bowled over. They were even better than I'd expected them to be. Dick had given me everything I'd asked for in the script, of course, but he'd thrown in several little visual touches of his own.

Dick hadn't lettered the pages. We'd agreed on that beforehand. It would have cost me extra, and I felt sure that I could find someone willing to letter the pages.

And I did.

Ken Carson.

Ken agreed to do the lettering for free. (What a guy!) He didn't even do the work directly on the photocopied pages themselves, perhaps slightly intimidated by the thought of working right on Ayers' artwork... even though it wasn't Dick's original art. He wrote all the captions on a stiff sheet of paper, and gave me two or three copies of that sheet.

When Ken had finished the lettering and gave it to me, he remarked that all of the caption boxes Dick had drawn in the panels were exactly the size that Ken had needed for my text. Almost like Dick had done this sorta thing before, ya know?

Now all I had to do was draft up some sort of cover letter which would explain the series to prospective publishers, and start mailing our little presentation to those publishers. I decided, of course, to send "Aero" to those publishers who catered to creator-owned projects, like Dark Horse, Renegade, Eclipse, and others.

Dick suggested sending the submission package to Topps Comics, because he'd worked for one of their editors, Renée Witterstaetter. Topps Comics handled mostly licensed features, like "The X-Files," "Zorro," "Jurassic Park," etc., so I didn't think it would be worthwhile sending "Aero" to Ms. Witterstaetter...

But you don't argue with Dick Ayers. I wasn't about to, anyway.

As it turns out, she was the only editor who replied that her company was interested. However, Renée wanted to see all seven pages of art. I quickly wrote back that the first four pages of "Pressed Between the Pages" didn't exist, but I sent her the full script.

And now... finally... without further ado... what all of these publishers got to see!

Part Seven ~~ The Script and the Submission

What follows is the script for Aero's seven-page origin story, accompanied by the original cover letter describing the series itself, and three pages of never-before-seen artwork by Dick Ayers (lettered by Ken Carson)!

The Silver Age AERO

Page One
Across the very top of the page, each creator’s name appears in its own, discreetly-sized block. For instance:
David M. Lynch
This would be followed by the artist’s credit, and if additional people are used as inker, letterer, colorist, editor, (The latter two would depend on the eventual publisher.) etc., each person will receive his or her own “block” as well. There will be one final block in the line, reading, simply:

Panel One
Panel shows a mostly-darkened bedroom. The only light is what filters in from outside, through closed Venetian blinds. A young man, Charlie, slumps dejectedly in a chair (medium shot), which faces the bedroom door on our left. He wears heavy boots. In his left hand he holds something, which could be a towel, or a washcloth, or gloves. (It’s a mask, actually.) What could be a coat, hanging on the back of his chair, is actually a cape. That’s for our information, to be used much, much later. The reader can barely tell what he or she is looking at, due to the poor lighting. Entering “through” the closed bedroom door is a word balloon, spoken by Charlie’s mother, on the other side.
Caption (Top): May, 1974.
Mother: Charlie?

Panel Two
Same as Panel One.
Mother: Charlie, are you awake?

Panel Three
Same. Mother has no “line.”

Panel Four
Mother: Aren’t you going to...? I mean, won’t Janice be waiting?

Panel Five
Same. Mother is silent.

Panel Six
Mother: Charlie...

Panel Seven
Same angle as before, but the “frame” has shifted slightly to the right. Charlie has risen from his chair. He walks to a bureau at the extreme right of the panel. Atop the bureau sits a portable record player. There are no separate speakers attached. The hard plastic unit looks something like a stylish, open suitcase, only not as wide.

Panel Eight
Medium close shot, side view, of record player’s turntable, with Charlie’s right hand in the foreground. Charlie’s actions are rather indistinct (due to the poor light), but he’s turning on the record player. Faint light from the window reveals that he is wearing a tight, seamed, suede glove, which touches and slightly overlaps the sleeve of his shirt. It’s not a normal shirt; it has no cuff.

Page Two, Panel One
Slightly different angle. Record player is almost directly facing us. Close shot of the record player’s built-in speaker, toward the bottom of the unit, in the center.
Music: “When I was young, I listened to the radio, waitin’ for my favorite song...”
Caption (Bottom)(small print): “Yesterday Once More,” © Almo Music Corp./Hammer & Nails Music/Sweet Harmony Music ASCAP

Panel Two
Caption (Top): I listened to the radio when I was a kid...
Charlie’s sitting in the chair again, in a medium shot as before, but now he’s facing us, as if we were standing in the bedroom doorway looking at him.
Caption (Bottom): And it used to be to hear my favorite songs...

Panel Three
Caption (Top): But now, it’s just to hear the news!
Close-up (still maddeningly indistinct, with no lights on!) of Charlie’s hands, neck, shoulders, and chest, as he attaches his cape to two snaps, sewn onto his shirt about six inches apart, at collarbone level.

Panel Four
“Splash” panel. Charlie, aged seven, is in his sister’s bedroom, standing in front of a nightstand. Every other piece of furniture (“every” meaning a bed and a bureau) is French Provincial. Charlie is staring at a similarly-designed (but much older and “boxier”) portable record player, which sits atop the nightstand. A short, fat piece of chalk is Scotch-taped to the tone arm, so records won’t skip. Charlie’s a short, skinny kid, with closely-cropped, sandy-colored hair, and he’s wearing a crew-neck shirt and shorts (not cutoffs). Beside him stands his sister, Marsha, six years older. She’s a bit chubby, with medium length dark hair. Marsha’s hair is pulled back in a ponytail, except for her bangs, which are curled. She stands about a foot taller than her brother. Both are laughing uproariously at the comedy record playing on the record player. A word balloon will be coming from the record player’s sole speaker.
Caption (Top): 1963.
“Free-Floating” Title (placed in most eye-pleasing location!):
...starring AERO!™
(The “AERO” logo should have a 1950s kind of “look” to it, like somebody’d made it out of “space-age plastic!”)
Word Balloon (from record player): And furthermore... Ask not what your parents can do for you, but what you can do for your parents!
Caption (Bottom): When your dad’s half Irish, I guess it’s inevitable that your whole family’s going to love everything about Jack Kennedy, even if it’s just a comedy record spoofing him.
Caption (Bottom, Below Other Bottom Caption) (small print): “Prez Conference,” © Beechwood Music Corporation BMI.

Page Three, Panel One
Charlie in his living room, back to the reader, standing in front of (and partially obscuring) a large TV set. The 3’ high black-and-white TV stands on short wooden legs. He ceremoniously holds up a glass of milk. The room’s light source is from the off-panel windows to the right of the scene.
Caption (Top): Every kid who watched “Big Brother” Bob Emery on Boston’s WBZ-TV, as I did, five days a week, would stand and toast the president... with his or her glass of milk.

Panel Two
Portrait of President Kennedy, shown on TV, complete with a seated Charlie’s reflection.
Caption (Top): My earliest memories of watching “Big Brother” included toasting President Eisenhower.
Caption (Bottom): Now JFK was the president. In fact, he had been for almost three years.

Panel Three
Charlie, medium shot, as seen from behind. He’s facing the living room wall to the right of the TV. He’s looking up at a (naturally) different portrait of JFK, which hangs about five feet from the floor. On either side of it is a window. Directly beneath the painting is a radiator that stands about two-and-a half feet high.
Caption (Top): We had our own painting of JFK. Whether it was because my Dad was Irish, or because my parents always voted Democrat, I may never know.
Caption (Bottom): All I know for certain is that JFK was a hero, to all the kids my age...

Panel Four
Charlie, in a schoolroom, sneaking a look at a comic book. In the background, thumb-tacked high on the classroom wall, are two-dimensional cardboard “busts” of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in silhouette.
Caption (Top): ...just like the astronauts, and like Washington and Lincoln...
Caption (Bottom): ...and like Superman and Batman...

Panel Five
Medium close shot of Charlie, at home, reading a Captain Aero comic from the 1940s.
Caption (Top): ...and Captain Aero.
Caption (Bottom): Yeah, that’s right, “Captain Aero!

Panel Six
Medium shot of Charlie, as in Panel Five, in background. In the foreground sits Charlie’s Uncle Ted, watching Charlie indulgently.
Caption (Top): Y’see, Captain Aero was an aviator, in these cool old 1940s comic books my Uncle Ted had...
Caption (Bottom): Uncle Ted. Another hero. To me, anyway.

Page Four, Panel One
Charlie, walking down a road, slightly behind a boy and a girl, both in their mid-teens, both with dark hair. Charlie wears a plaid, button-down shirt (buttoned all the way to the neck), black sneakers, and light-colored slacks.
Caption (Top): Anyway... it was November 22, 1963. I was walking home from the bus stop, and my next door neighbors were talking to each other, ignoring me.
Caption (Bottom): (I was just a kid, y’know.)

Panel Two
Medium close shot of just Charlie, as in Panel One.
Caption (Top): I heard them say a few things about ... somebody... who’d done something, or had had something done to him, and what he had been doing before that, and where his wife had been...
Caption (Bottom): I really don’t remember any of their conversation distinctly, ‘cause I wasn’t involved in it.

Panel Three
Charlie, entering kitchen, on left. Charlie’s mother, seated at a round kitchen table on the right. She looks sad, he looks shocked.
Caption (Top): But when I walked in the kitchen door, and my Mom told me that JFK, “my” president, was dead...

Panel Four
Charlie, seated in front of the TV, back to the reader. He holds a pad of paper in his lap, and a crayon in his left hand, although it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s doing, from this angle. I don’t want any of the childish, “ghoulish pictures” Charlie mentions to actually be shown!
Caption (Top): ...I sat and watched the endless news broadcasts about the assassination, drawing my own ghoulish pictures of my president bleeding all over his limo....

Panel Five
Close-up of Charlie’s face. His eyes are wide, like he’s in shock. Tears begin to trickle from his eyes.
Caption (Top): I knew this was the worst thing that could have ever happened, EVER, in all of history...
Caption (Bottom): ...and nothing like it could be allowed to happen again!

Panel Six
Medium shot of Charlie, on the right, sitting in front of the TV, which is on our left. The paper and crayon have both been dropped to the floor. Charlie is yawning.
Caption (Top): I thought not of my real-life heroes, but of Superman, and Batman, and Capt. Aero...
Caption (Bottom): ...and knew that they could have saved my president!

Page Five, Panel One
(Charlie is dreaming.) Medium long shot of JFK’s limo. Against logic, it is the first car in the presidential procession. JFK and Mrs. Kennedy are smiling and waving, oblivious to the nondescript man standing in the street, directly in front of the limo, aiming a rifle at JFK. The man should look average and nondescript, but not like Lee Harvey Oswald! Charlie has no idea what the alleged killer looked like at this point, nor does he know that Oswald supposedly fired from the book depository. Charlie, raised on cartoons and comics, dreams a much more direct confrontation.
Caption (Top): I fell asleep wondering why, out of all the superheroes in the world, nobody’d saved JFK!

Panel Two
Medium shot of “Oswald” firing his rifle at the president. From out of nowhere, a young boy has flown into the path of the bullet, which bounces off the boy’s chest. The flying boy looks like Charlie, of course, wearing what is basically a perfectly-tailored Superman costume minus its chest insignia, with the addition of a domino mask a la Robin, although Charlie’s mask matches his “Superman” cape, boots, and trunks.
Caption (Top): Somebody could have! Somebody should have!
Caption (Bottom): I would have.

Panel Three
Medium close shot, Oswald’s point of view, as “Super Charlie” flies menacingly toward Oswald.

Panel Four
Medium shot of Charlie, wrenching the rifle from Oswald’s grip.

Panel Five
Medium shot. Charlie swings the rifle like a baseball bat.

Panel Six
Medium shot. The rifle wraps around a startled Oswald like a piece of rubber... (this is a seven-year-old’s dream, remember!)

Panel Seven
(Medium close shot.) ...imprisoning Oswald!

Page Six, Panel One
Medium shot of “Super Charlie” shaking hands with JFK, as Jackie looks on approvingly.
Caption (Top): The president and his wife were still thanking me for saving his life...
Caption (Bottom): ...when I woke up.

Panel Two
Medium shot of Charlie, on the floor, as in Page Four, Panel Six. He is obviously waking up.
Caption (Top): As I awoke, I again thought of Superman, and Batman...
Caption (Bottom): ...and Captain Aero. Like so many heroes before me, I knew what had to be done!

Panel Three
Charlie, back to us, running up a staircase. This staircase has no railing, but it has a wall on both sides.
Caption (Top): Superman had to travel from Krypton to Earth to become a superhero.
Caption (Bottom): I just had to run to my room!

Panel Four
Charlie stands next to his bed. On it are several comics, including a Captain Aero, which Charlie holds. The picture of Captain Aero shows him wearing a leather flight jacket, riding breeches, and a white scarf.
Caption (Top): The way I figured it, Captain Aero hadn’t been around for almost twenty years.
Caption (Bottom): (Besides, just like Superman and Batman, he was never really real, anyway!)

Panel Five
Charlie, rummaging through a bureau. He pulls out a pair of dark blue cut-off pants with one hand, and a short-sleeved, crew-necked pullover shirt with the other. The shirt is striped, with the stripes running sideways.
Caption (Top): So why couldn’t I be a new Captain Aero?

Panel Six
Charlie is kneeling in front of an open closet door, pulling out a pair of short, over-sized brown boots. In the back of the closet is a child’s ski set (two skis, two poles, all wooden).
Caption (Top): Well... maybe not a Captain. I’d only turned seven just six days earlier, so I was still pretty young yet.
Caption (Bottom): (Even younger than Robin!)

Panel Seven
Close-up of Charlie’s hands. From a top drawer in the bureau, Charlie pulls out a pair of tortoise-shell-rimmed sunglasses with his left hand, and a pair of bulky yard gloves with his right.
Caption (Top): The rising in rank could come later.

Panel Eight
Charlie holds up a square, black piece of fabric. Every so often, along its edges, the material is very slightly frayed. Charlie is pushing an open safety pin through one corner of the black fabric.
Caption (Top): For now, I could settle for being “just plain” Aero!

Page Seven, Panel One (inset in extreme upper left hand corner of page)
Medium close shot of Charlie’s bed. Atop the comic books shown earlier, Charlie has thrown virtually all the costume components he’s been accumulating (shirt, shorts, “cape,” boots, sunglasses, gloves, and one of the wooden ski poles).
Caption (Top): My earlier ambitions had included doctor and fireman...

Panel Two (inset in upper left hand corner of page)
Same as in Panel One, but all the clothes, plus the boots, cape, sunglasses, and ski pole, are gone (presumably now on Charlie).
Caption (Top): ...But this time I knew I’d found my life’s work!

Panel Three/Splash Panel
Charlie stands facing the reader, wearing his new “uniform,” looking somehow absurd and heroic at once!

Panel Four (inset, in lower right hand corner of page)
Extreme close-up of the “modern” Charlie/Aero’s gloved hands, as he looks at a small picture of Aero, 1963.
Caption (Top): May, 1974:
Caption (Bottom): Damned if I wasn’t right.

Panel Five (inset, in extreme lower right hand corner of page)
Aero, 1974, in a pose very similar to that of Panel Three’s eleven-years-earlier pose. He is now in full costume. His pants and shirt are dark-colored (red). His gloves are seamed suede, as is his mask, which resembles a ski mask. Both are a lighter red, as is his cape (which hangs to his knees) and the stylized “A” insignia on his chest. The mask has holes for his ears (a la Captain America), mouth, and eyes, although the eye openings are covered with hard, tinted plastic. Additionally, the mask appears to be open at the very top, showing Charlie’s hair, but it’s actually a black wig, sewn onto the mask itself! (Charlie’s hair is light brown). His boots are calf-high, black, heavy, “normal” boots. His uniform has no trunks, nor belt. His shirt attaches to his pants with several snaps, even as his cape attaches to the shirt with the two snaps mentioned in Page Two, Panel Three. Thankfully, he no longer carries a ski pole, either!
Caption (Bottom): Stupid kid.

Part Eight ~~ The Results?

Did you right-click on that thumbnail of page seven? If so, then you probably saw that bright red note from Renée Witterstaetter saying, "David -- I do like your story, but we aren't buying right now. Thanks, Renée." Umm, so, what, "right now" means "only as of, like, twelve minutes ago, since I told you a few days ago that I'd like to see more, which strongly implies that the reason I wanted to see more was to make a final decision as to whether or not we'd publish it?"

Okay, enough of that sour grapes crap. But really... !

So, the one publisher that had expressed any initial interest had turned us down. The next step was to assemble another small list of publishers and submit it to them.

Well, this was the time that a close friend died -- shortly after it, actually -- and there were even more bad things going on in my life at the time... stuff that you'll probably never hear about unless I "semi-fictionalize" it and write about it someday. (Note: Don't hold your breath.)

Simply put, my personal life was about to go all to hell. For several months, actually.

So... there was no second set of submissions. Ever.

Pardon the honesty here, but my creative projects didn't mean diddly squat during that period, moody Irish motherf**ker that I am.

And so I guess you could say that Aero died stillborn. Or something.

Sorry to end on such a depressing note, but you all know that my stories don't usually deliver any kind of an uplifting feeling any-freaking-way... so if you want sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, stick to Lesley Gore.

Next week: You get to learn about a related series of stories called the "Dover Street" stories... and read the first one. Oh, and if you're a fan of Leonard Cohen? You may get a kick out of the little tale I've entitled "Angelina."

No, silly, not that Angelina.

Thanks for your time, and your indulgence.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Once and Future AERO, Chapter Two!

Part Three ~~ The 1980s, again!

It occurred to me earlier today -- "today" meaning the day I actually wrote this section, not the day I posted it -- that when I wrote "I 'filed' the two pages [from Dick Ayers] somewhere and more or less forgot about them... For about six years, anyway... " I was wrong.

Sometime in either 1987 or 1988, I contributed a brief article entitled "He Who Rides the Night Winds" to That's Entertainment's in-store newsletter. It was a history of the Western Ghost Rider character -- not the flaming-skulled motorcyclist -- that had been published during the 1950s by a comic company called Magazine Enterprises, and then in the 1960s by Marvel Comics. This is the same character that has been referred to since then as the Night Rider, the Phantom Rider, and the Haunted Horseman!

Anyway, I used that article as an excuse to contact Dick Ayers, ostensibly for background information on the character's history and incarnations. Dick was more than gracious in answering my fannish questions.

Now we can proceed to...

Part Four ~~ The 1990s

Somewhere around 1993, five years after I'd ended up leaving That's Entertainment, I began going through an incredible period of creativity. Not necessarily productivity, I hasten to add. But the ideas themselves wouldn't stop coming.

I came up with a list of over two dozen concepts. Most of these were envisioned as comic books. And not just because I happen to like comic books, I'll admit.

Y'see... I've never been a fan of the kind of prose writing which wastes a page or two describing the color and texture of somebody's freakin' carpet. If I'm writing a story, and take the time to mention that the curtains in somebody's kitchen are old and ragged, there's a purpose behind my mentioning it, even if said purpose is not immediately apparent.

For that reason -- and let's call it... ohhh... "laziness?" -- I was attracted to the comic book format for writing my stories. If I wanted my characters, Billy and Bobby, to be in a kitchen, all I'd have to do is write "Billy and Bobby are standing in the kitchen," basically. Then it'd be the hard-working artist's job to draw a whole kitchen, complete with kitcheny-type stuff, and to put Billy and Bobby in it.

And the artist could also worry about what the freakin' curtains looked like, if there even were any curtains! That'd be up to him or her. But, once again, if I mentioned in my script that "the kitchen curtains are old and ragged," it'd be for a reason.

It was at this point that I realized how Stan Lee was able to write, like, 47 Marvel Comics titles a month during the glory days of Marvel Comics. He'd plot (or co-plot) a story, and then tell an artist -- like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Dick Ayers or Don Heck or whoever -- what he wanted. Then he'd add captions and dialogue to whatever came back to him.

Lucky guy. But I digress.

One of my two-dozen-plus concepts was a comic book title called "Two Heroes Comics."

I don't remember what gave me the initial idea, but "Two Heroes Comics" was going to feature... well... two heroes. Two different heroes. But both would have the same superheroic name. Aero.

Oh, hell, I'll just reprint what I wrote in my list of concepts:

Two Heroes Comics will consist of two separate features, both named “Aero.” (The title was originally planned as a flip book, but it seems that people are getting sick of those.)

“Aero,” a/k/a “Kid Aero,” or the “Silver Age Aero,” (but never in the actual stories) runs from 1963-1974.

“Aero II,” the “Modern Age Aero,” takes place in modern times (therefore, 20-30 years after the stories in “Kid Aero”), in the same “universe” as “Kid Aero.” It’s a much more technologically-based series. Flashbacks will reveal that Aero II originally began “life” as yet another superhero, the Raven, who almost died in the line of duty. His current powersuit also serves as a life-support system for the recovering man within it.

The fact that “Aero II” and “Kid Aero” live(d?) in the same universe will hopefully raise many questions in the readers’ minds: “Is ‘Kid Aero’ still alive?” “If so, will the two Aeros ever meet?” (If they do, there’ll only be about 10-15 years’ difference in their ages, due to the fact that “Kid Aero” was a superhero when he was... well, a kid!) “Will ‘Kid Aero’ sue ‘Aero II’ over the name?” Several major points in the “Aero II” series are “set in cement,” but there is a lot of leeway during “down times.”

You probably noticed that there isn't a hell of a lot of info on the "Kid Aero" series. And you may have also guessed why, but I'll get back to it.

My concept for "Kid Aero" was simple. It was based on a "what if" idea, namely, "What if I had decided to become a superhero on the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination?"

You have to understand. Kids in those days had two kinds of heroes.

There were the fictional heroes. On TV, for me, those were characters like Zorro, and The Lone Ranger. And in the comic books, there were superheroes like Superman and Batman.

In real life, our heroes were astronauts, and presidents (past & future).

Even at that tender age, I knew instinctively that Zorro, The Lone Ranger, Superman, Batman, and all those like them... They were always going to "live" to see the next issue, or the next episode.

And, years before the near-tragedy of Apollo 13, or the fire that killed the Apollo 1 astronauts, those who were my age never even considered the possibility of anything happening to the heroes of our country's space program.

But someone shot -- and killed -- our president!

Kennedy's death shocked and saddened people literally all over the world. It certainly had an effect on seven-year-old David.

So, to repeat: Thirty years later, I wondered, "What if I had decided to become a superhero on the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination?"

Well, this is -- and was -- the "real" world. I didn't become a superhero, of course, at that time or any other.

But Charlie Farrell -- my fictional alter ego -- did.

And unlike Bruce Wayne, who promised himself at a tender age that he would train himself for a war on all criminals, a war he began in young adulthood under the name of "Batman," Charlie Farrell said at seven that he was going to become a superhero immediately.

At seven.

What a jerk.

Needless to say, from that point, Charlie's life (in the fictional world) and mine (in the real world) took increasingly divergent paths.

And that was the concept behind "Kid Aero."

My series would follow Charlie Farrell from childhood into young adulthood, as he became less of a joke, and more of a real hero. Eventually, he would have a really cool costume, but at first...

Hm. At first, what would "Aero" wear? It would have to be something hastily-thrown together, of course.

Something like... oh...

Something like that, perhaps. Yeah!

(So. I still have absolutely no idea who I was supposed to be in that photo. However, revisionist history being what it is, I now know who he was. If that makes any sense.)

Now all I needed was an artist. Someone truly professional. Someone whose art would mesh with the nostalgic, 1960s feel I wanted for the strip. And if it were someone who'd actually worked in comics back then, someone with "a name" among comics professionals, so much the better...

Okay, you're all with me here. Of course I thought of Dick Ayers.

And to make an already-long story a bit shorter than I might -- if I were ever to allow myself such an indulgence -- let's just say that when I approached Dick with the offer... he accepted. (And that's why the above description of "Two Heroes Comics" gave such short shrift to "Kid Aero." Those concept descriptions were designed to woo artists, and "Kid Aero" already had one.)

I explained to Dick that since I'd created the character, and even the visual, in my way, I owned the character outright. However, I had absolutely no intention of perpetuating some of the underhanded, crappy tactics which had screwed comic creators out of royalties, reprint rights, etc. since the comic book business had begun.

Basically, I told Dick that:
  • The fact that I owned Aero would in no way influence my percentage of the money paid by whichever publisher decided to give Aero a shot. Dick would get a more-than-fair percentage of an artist's page rate, where I would "only" get the writer's page rate.
  • Dick would keep all of his original artwork. That's a given nowadays, or at least, it sure as hell should be!
  • Dick would get 50% -- in other words, he'd be paid as if he were Aero's co-creator -- of any licensing "deals" involving Aero, should he become a successful character. 50% of the option fee for movies or television (if any). 50% of the toy rights (if any). 50% of the video game licensing fee (if any). 50% of the profits from the role-playing game licensing fee, the greeting cards, the cloisonné pins, the trading cards, the Halloween costumes, the breakfast cereal, the inflatable "love doll," and so on!
  • These points, and presumably more in a related vein to be determined later, would be expressly stated in a contract between Dick and myself, to be drawn up and signed before anything was signed with a prospective publisher.
And if I changed my mind somewhere before drawing up and signing that contract? Well, then, Mr. Ayers could simply walk! Not only would that screw up my deal with the publisher -- after all, Aero was being sold with Dick Ayers' involvement prominently featured -- but what publisher would want to enter into a business relationship with someone whose own people wouldn't stay with him?

So, this being a work-for-hire for lack of a better term, I of course had to front Dick the money for the artwork, against any future reimbursement by a publisher. Dick suggested that instead of having him draw the entire seven-page Aero origin story, I should submit the concept to publishers by attaching the full script to only three pages of amazing Ayers art.

To paraphrase George M. Cohan, I thanked Dick, and my wallet thanked Dick!

I sent Dick my script, along with about 47 pages of photocopied photos, mostly of myself (a/k/a "Charlie Farrell"), my Uncle Eddie (a/k/a "Uncle Ted"), and a few cover shots from a 1940s comic book called "Captain Aero."

And... I waited.

Just like you have to wait another week to see what I saw when the large manila envelope arrived from White Plains, NY.

Thanks for your time.

Next time: You'll get to see what I saw! Three never-before-published pages of Dick Ayers artwork!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Once and Future AERO, Chapter One!

David M. Lynch's First Rule of Writing: Never throw anything away.

Part One ~~ The 1960s

The very first character -- a superhero --- that I remember creating was "Lobster Man," a rather unimaginative sort who popped into my head when I was about five or six years old. Someday, I'll tell you more about him. But not now.

  • The very first story spawned by my young mind was the now-painfully-recalled tale of "The Grandson of Dracula," which made its almost-debut a year or two after Lobster Man's creation. Only a few paragraphs of the story were ever actually written down (by my mom, no less), and only parts of it were plotted, as well. And if you're a glutton for punishment and want to know more about the story, all I can remember at this late date are two plot points:

  1. The main character's father -- the Son of Dracula, natch! -- was briefly mentioned at the beginning of the story. He was an American soldier in World War II, who was unceremoniously staked right in his foxhole by another American soldier who'd discovered his true identity. Swear to God.
  2. The climactic battle which resulted in the death of Drac's Grandson -- I don't recall ever having given him a real name -- took place atop the uppermost tracks of a freakin' roller coaster. Again, I swear to God.
When I was really young, I would often act out the stories I created in my warped little brain. I seldom took these sessions all the way to the point of dressing as the characters, but if my memory serves me correctly, I did end up dressing as the Grandson of Dracula, wearing a costume comprised of:
  1. A Frankenstein mask (Of course it made no sense, but my "costumes" were assembled from whatever I had around the house!).
  2. A pajama top designed to look like a gaudy sportcoat (It had wide red, white, and blue horizontal stripes, and IIRC, red lapels.).
  3. A wooden ski pole as a "weapon." I don't know why I used a ski pole rather than one of the zillion toy guns I owned. Maybe it was more in keeping with the superheroes, who didn't kill. Captain America had a shield, not a gun. Thor had a hammer, not a gun. And so on.
  4. Lord knows what else.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say in my typical roundabout fashion is that I don't know who or what I was supposed to be on the day the above photo was taken, but it sure as hell wasn't Lobster Man or The Grandson of Dracula.

It wasn't Red Raven, either. He came very slightly later, when I was about seven. (Yup, that's another tease, for another time. Sorry.)

I went through a lot of phases when I was a little brat kid. I had to, as a sort of coping mechanism for the fact that I didn't have too many neighbors my own age. What I did have was a sister who was six years my elder. She and I didn't play together very much. I remember two games we played a lot, however:
  1. "Jocko" was what we called the game where my sister played a young girl who owned a monkey named Jocko. I, of course, was Jocko. Yay.
  2. "Chicken Hawk" was what we called it whenever we would ride our horses -- real horses, I should add -- to various imaginary farms, warning all the farmers to lock up their chickens because the dreaded chicken hawks were coming! Swear to God. Damned chicken hawks never even showed up. (Chickenshit was more like it, apparently!) And obviously, since it was our game, they could have shown any time we wanted them to, and I dimly recall at least one time when I suggested to my sister that such a confrontation was necessary for the sake of an exciting storyline... but no. She controlled these stories. No wonder I wanted to be a writer as I grew older, so I could be in control of the story.
But I digress.

Something else that I had, which was ten times better than neighbors and a damned sister any day of the week, was 4.7 acres of mostly fields, with some surrounding woods... added to an over-active imagination.

When I wasn't in the house watching television or reading, I was usually outside in the field -- my father often instructed me to "go outside and play with yourself" [sic], which was about as racy as the humor got in my house during the sixties -- and that gave me leave to play on one of the two huge wagons we had on our property.

When I say "wagons," I'm not talking about the "little red wagon" variety. Nope. We had two full-sized wagons. One was similar to the old "covered wagon" you'd see in all the TV and movie Westerns... but without the cover -- or metal "ribbing" -- itself. The other was a "tilt-cart," kind of a forerunner of the dumptruck. Both were ancient, and starting to rot.

Potential death-traps, in other words. The perfect playground accessories.

There was no such thing as a "child-proofed" anything in my day. I guess they figured that if you survived all the scrapes, gashes, broken bones, concussions, and the like which you were bound to encounter while growing up, it was God's way of showing the world that He'd meant for you to make it to adulthood all along!

(Hey, not bad. I just managed to combine "intelligent design" with evolution's "survival of the fittest" angle.)

But hey, I'm still digressin' my ass off here, so what's say we only stay stuck in the '60s long enough to say that, in reference to the above photograph:
  1. Somewhere in the back of my childish mind, I must have been pretending that the green monster toy -- The Great Garloo, by Marx -- was a gigantic figure in his and my "reality." Otherwise, I would've been a pretty crummy superhero to attack something smaller than myself... and with a damned ski pole as a weapon, no less.
  2. Again, I really have no idea who or what I was supposed to be in the above photo.
Okay, boys'n'girls... Let's jump ahead roughly twenty years. Cuz I can.

Part Two ~~ The 1980s

During the mid-1980s, I was working at a store called That's Entertainment, in Worcester, Massachusetts, which sold comic books, records, sports & non-sports trading cards, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and the like... and just about anything else one could call a collectible. (Can you say "milk bottles," boys'n'girls? Sure you can.) TE's owner (and Jerry Seinfeld lookalike), Paul Howley, was a shrewd businessman trapped inside the body of a "kid" who refused to completely grow up, at least where it concerned things he didn't have to act like an adult to accomplish.

I certainly hope that doesn't sound like an insult. It's meant as the exact opposite. "What I'm trying to say in this awkward way" (Sorry, old Rod Stewart line!) is that Paul generally didn't take things too seriously, which made him a really fun person to deal with, work for, etc.

(One example: Paul used to take a perverse delight in telling people "I sell funnybooks for a living." My personal view was that he purposely used the term "funnybooks" to good-naturedly thumb his nose at those who took the comic book hobby too much to heart. You know, like the oft-seen geek-made-good characters in movies and TV nowadays, who make constant, all-too-serious references to "graphic literature?" That type of person would positively cringe at a term like "funnybooks.")

In fact, it was the last Day Job -- notice I did not use my usual "Crappy Day Job" designation -- which I actually enjoyed going to "work" at.

During my stint at TE, the so-called "black & white boom" -- spearheaded by the fluke success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- hit the comic book market. All of a sudden, anybody who had -- or whose dad had -- two or three thousand dollars to spare could become a comic book publisher. ("Could," and, in far too many unfortunate cases, did.)

Paul and I were both at the store one day, talking about an old TV show we'd both enjoyed as kids during the 1960s. It was a program called The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

According to Paul's recollection of that day, I was the one who asked aloud why none of the comic companies -- many of which had nostalgic licensed projects in the works -- were doing a revival of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series.

Paul and I suddenly became the 1980s equivalents of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, with their old "Hey, kids! Let's put on a show!" exuberance. (I'll leave it to you to decide which of us was Mickey, and which of us was Judy... !) It was decided that That's Entertainment would secure the rights to publish a Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic.

(I am greatly over-simplifying this story! Lord, am I ever! If you want all the dirty details, you can start here.)

Anyway, the decision was eventually made that the U.N.C.L.E. series would feature stories by various writers and artists. Several submissions were... umm... submitted. There was even a sheet of photocopied sketches -- not original art -- and an accompanying cover letter from comics legend Dick Ayers!

Ayers had been working in comics for almost forty years, and had helped usher in the so-called "Marvel Age of Comics" in the 1960s. Personally, I'd particularly enjoyed his work on two Marvel titles, Ghost Rider (a Western character, not the motorcyclist with the flaming skull that came later) and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.

The "fanboy" within me asked Paul if I could keep the letter and the drawings, and he said yes. I "filed" the two pages somewhere and more or less forgot about them...

For about six years, anyway...

* * * * *

That's all you get this week, gang. Sorry! Next week, Chapter Two (including "Part Three," in my quest to confuse everyone!), which is all about Dick Ayers, myself, and the creation of AERO!

Thanks for your time.
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