Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #102 (July 1991)

New Talent Department

Marvel gets a lot of unsolicited (that is to say we don’t ask for them) submissions. Mostly art samples. Plenty of story plots. Occasional lettering or coloring work. Some character sketches or brand new series proposals. Just as a matter of curiosity, I went around this morning, Wednesday, April 10th, right after the day’s second mail delivery, and tallied up how much each editor got in the way of unsolicited material. The total for our 15 editorial teams, three executive editors, and editor in chief today…52 pieces. Assuming that’s a typical day’s worth, multiply that times 5, you get an estimate of how much we get in a week (260 pieces). Multiply that weekly total by 52, and that’s how much we get in a year. 13,520 pieces of average.

If you’re thinking of submitting anything to Marvel, you might want to stop reading this column right here. Having done columns on this subject before, and having received stacks of blistering letters responding to the no nonsense information in those columns, I can safely say that what you are about to read is going to be somewhat discouraging. I mean it. Go away if you wish to retain your optimism about the odds of you getting hired as a Marvel writer or penciler on the basis of sending in some lively samples.

Okay then, I assume all those of you still with me either have no intention of joining the daily 52 others who hope to strike up an assignment or you are so secure in your abilities that you can’t be daunted by one curmudgeonly executive editor’s doomsaying diatribe. Here’re just a few facts about the situation.

Fact: Out of the 52 submissions we get a day, approximately 90 per cent of them are not even in the ballpark of the professional standards we maintain here.

Fact: Marvel has a submissions editor whose primary responsibility is to review submissions. The catch is that he is in no position to buy anything for publication. Say that he read the greatest Daredevil story that he ever received. All he can do is pass it along to the Daredevil editor and hope he agrees, since only the Daredevil editor can buy a Daredevil story. So why send to the submissions editor at all? Because then at least you’re guaranteed to get some sort of letter of acknowledgement of your submission. You take your chances sending it directly to any other editor.

Fact: Editors’ highest priorities pertain to getting books sent to printers. Medium priority is finding new talent to work on their books. Lowest priority is answering every single submission they get and critiquing aspiring writers and artists. Most editors I know only answer submissions if the samples are great – the rest go into the trash.

Fact: I can only think of three or four persons who became artists for Marvel by sending in unsolicited submissions. I can think of no formerly-unpublished writers who “broke in” that way.

Fact: If you have the talent and perseverance, you’re going to make it into the comics business and nothing in the world will stop you. But how do you know when you have enough talent or enough perseverance? Your friends and family are not usually qualified to judge.

Occasionally there have been discussions at editorial meetings about whether we should issue a public statement saying “Marvel does not accept submissions.” This would a) save us (mostly the submissions editor) a lot of work, b) save the submitters the cost of postage and return postage, c) save our mailroom personnel work, d) save the trees that made the paper that the submitted work was done on and that it was photocopied with (never send originals!) Because the percentage of talent found through submissions is so low, we would not be cutting off a significant source of new talent: as I said above, the talented ones are going to find a way in no matter what our public policy. The reason why we don’t abolish submissions? (Get set. This is one of those industry secrets I regularly expose in this column.) It would be terrible public relations. We would look like a monolithic corporation which is totally inaccessible to Joe and Mary Average. We would be stomping on the fantasies hold by a goodly number of our readership – that they could become us.

Sometimes I ask myself if it is not crueler to encourage the fantasy out there that what we do is easy and that anyone could become one of us than to politely, firmly, adultly let the world know the real odds against the hundreds of thousands of them becoming the hundreds of us. Maybe issuing a blanket ban on submissions would be a less cruel kind of rejection than sending a specific rejection to thousands of specific submitters for the specific work. You tell me.

Now as bad (odds-wise) as the situation is in general, it is even worse for aspiring comics writers. Why? For one thing, Marvel needs about half as many writers as it needs pencilers or inkers. Why? Because it takes less time to write a page than to draw one, so writers tend to be able to do two pages to every artist’s one, and consequently we need fewer writers to write the limited number of books we do. Secondly, it is far harder to evaluate writing talent than it is to assess artistic talent. An editor must have the time and patience to wade through pages of text to evaluate a writer’s talent, whereas the basic level of an artist’s talent can be perceived with a cursory glance. The easier something is to evaluate, the more likely that it will be evaluated. You can quote me on that.

Know what? This long-winded discussion is merely a preamble to doing a specific New Talent Department submissions review. Say what? That’s right my personal editor Jim Salicrup asked me to merge the content of my column with that of the New Talent Department columns this month, either to save space or because he couldn’t find someone else to do a new talent review. I said what the hey.

So here, with almost no further ado, is a plot submission by Louis DeRoys and Jean-Jacques Dzialowski of Paris, France, culled from a stack of incoming mail. I was given a number of synopses by various people to choose from. I went with this one because: 1) It was a complete synopsis, telling me what the beginning, middle, and end of the plot would be. 2) It was very readable, being a single page long, containing just the pertinent information about story content without trying to be clever with its presentation. 3) It featured Daredevil, a hero I’m quite up on character-and-continuity wise. Take it away, gentlemen (or should I say mes amis?)…

It is precisely twelve years since Matt Murdock assumed for the very first time the guise of Daredevil. Like every night, the crimefighter patrols over the streets of Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. He soon comes upon two men about to gun down a woman. He tries to stop them but it’s too late: the woman, mortally wounded, dies in his arms. This scene bearing too much resemblance to Elektra’s tragic fate, Daredevil is assaulted with past memories and starts reacting with overwhelming anger, mixed with guilt over his recurrent failures.

Daredevil sets out to find the real culprit to avenge the woman. Ben Urich being unable to provide sufficient clues, the man without fear frantically begins his quest for information and revenge while questioning himself more and more about his life’s purpose, for it seems that whatever he has done in his life, evil has always prevailed over the forces of good. What is he in the great scheme of things?

Furthermore, has he not become one of the bad guys over the years of fighting? A mere fighting machine? What is he compared to such people as the Avengers, the Fantastic Four? Has he ever saved the world from great perils? Nope. He couldn’t even save his own father. Or this woman.

He eventually makes a fateful decision on a fateful day: “Now it’s time to call it quits!” He thinks. But there is one last mission he needs to accomplish. He ends up discovering the Kingpin’s implication and the instrumental presence of Fred Myers, perhaps better known as Boomerang. The latter was hired an enforcer by the Kingpin, but double-crossed him to get a hold of a great amount of money that would enable him to retire from crime and to marry the woman he loves, thank to whom he reformed. Unfortunately, Kingpin retaliated by having this woman killed and Boomerang ambushed. This time, Daredevil comes by just in time to save him and tells him the whole story. Grief-stricken, Boomerang stands prepared to avenge her but DD can’t allow that. He, who was once ready to do it himself, now knows better. Deep inside of him, he knows one day he’ll find a way to defeat the Kingpin once and for all. And this is why he can’t give up being Daredevil, because the little something he does each day still remains something. It still counts.

As for Boomerang, DD lets him go free. The reformed villain decides to take time to figure out his next moves. He knows he is partly responsible for his lover’s death. He’ll be true to her memory.

Daredevil watches him go away. Everyone has his ghosts to live with, but as Boomerang proved it. Evil does not always win completely. The fresh dawn brings DD back his faith and hope. He’s about to being his twelfth year of war on crime, with more eagerness then ever before.

I’m back. And here’s my critique. In general, I liked the story in that it is something more than hero-fights-villain-just-because-that’s-what-heroes-do. It was about loss of love and making life decisions and cool adult stuff like that. Furthermore, it attempted a nifty parallel between DD and Boomerang, and resolved the conflict it set up by the end of the story. (Too often, unpublished writers will submit multi-issue stories, something that never in the history of Marvel Comics has ever been purchased from an unpublished writer!) Clearly, Messrs. DeRoys and Dzialowski know what a story is and enough about Daredevil to put him in a situation that is specific only to him.

So in general I liked it. Here are the particulars I didn’t like. First, making a specific time reference like “twelve years since his origin” is a real taboo at Marvel, since it is our policy to avoid references that lock our characters into a tight time frame. The jury’s still out on the relationship between Marvel Universe time and real world time.

Second, unless those gunmen in the first paragraph have a whole lot on the ball, there’s no way DD would let them get the better of him, even on the worst night of his career. Daredevil’s abilities and competence shouldn’t be compromised just for the sake of plot requirements (i.e., the woman had to die to make him feel bad.)

Third, what “recurrent failures” has DD had to cope with? Elektra alone is not recurrent. His father? Sure. But that was before his crimefighting career began. He just hasn’t had all that many failings, as far as I can remember.

Fourth, Daredevil questioning his purpose…again? Deciding to drop out of the hero biz? This is nothing new. I’ve seen this in DD’s series a number of times, the best of which may be Miller and Mazzuchelli’s “Born Again” storyline. Sorry, I just don’t buy that premise anymore.

Fifth, I have some problems with Boomerang here. I like stories that reveal new facets to old villains, here that he had a girlfriend. I also like putting villains through the same emotional wringers our heroes go through. What I don’t like is Daredevil letting him go. Without cracking open my back issue collection to check, I’m still reasonably certain that Boomerang has committed a number of murders on panel in the past. This is something Daredevil would be aware of, and even if he wasn’t, he’d know Boomy is a wanted man. I just can’t see him letting the guy go, no matter how he related to Boomerang’s loss of lover. Daredevil is, in my opinion, an agent of justice, and I can’t see how DD would decide that being repentant about one person’s death makes up for all the death’s Boomerang caused that he remains unrepentant (and unpunished) for.

To sum up the critique, while there are good things in this synopsis, it would take a whole lot of work to take out and replace the things wrong with it. Few editors if any have the time to work with neos to bring their stories up to minimum publishable standards. Editors (and readers, for that matter) are better served by the editors using that time to work with professional writers whose work is already publishable in order to fine tune, polish, and make those stories even better.

Unpublished writers bold enough to have waded through this potentially depressing discussion, take note, You would be better served concentrating on getting published any place that will publish you, rather than trying to start at the biggest company in America – Marvel. Once you have a body of work in print, it will be a whole lot easier to get a Marvel editor to want to commit to the time and energy of working with you.

Now then, in the interests of helping those 13,520 of you who feel the need to submit better material, I’d like to try something. I’d like to offer Messrs. DeRoys and Dzialowski a chance to do a plot for a five-page story featuring Captain America, (a character I’m very familiar with) and I’ll do what I said is almost never done with neo-writers – I’ll work with them, step by step, to make the plot publishable. Then…we’ll pass it along to a penciler (to be found among the art submissions we’ve already received) and I’ll work with him/her in the same manner. In fact, I’ll go all down the line, through the various creative disciplines, publishing it in these pages at each step along the way. Sound like fun or what…?

Okay, gentlemen – get to work!

–Mark Gruenwald