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.
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.
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!