When I was a kid, I wanted to write and draw comic books. Actually, I did write and draw comic books — stick figures urinating/defecating all over each other — which I’d then Xerox and sell to my classmates for a quarter. (I often wonder how much I’ve progressed in life since then.)
But I had greater aspirations: writing Uncanny X-Men for Marvel Comics. As much as I liked the company’s other heroes — Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Goddamn Batman Punisher — my favorites were Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, Nightcrawler, and Jean Grey’s enormous boobs.
At 10 years old, I knew that I had plenty of competition for the gig, so I decided to make a direct appeal. After school one day, while my parents were still at work, I dialed the Manhattan telephone number listed in small text on the title page of every Marvel comic book. (I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. Long-distance calls were seriously long-distance, and cost more than my allowance.)
A company operator picked up and asked to whom she should route my call.
“My name is Marty, and I want to write X-Men!” I explained. “Can I talk to the editor in charge?”
In retrospect, I have no idea why she connected me — a boy with a dream — to one of the most powerful men (if not the most powerful man) in the industry. I can only assume that she lost her job a couple minutes later.
“Yeah?” the editor said in a gravelly, businesslike voice.
“Hi!” I chirped. “I want to write X-Men! How can I do that?”
(Long, awkward silence.)
“Who gave you this number?”
“I found it! Inside X-Men! My name is Marty!”
“Right…” He took a deep breath, clearly thrilled to spend his workday humoring an overenthusiastic child. “You can mail sample material along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to—”
“How much money will I make?” I interrupted professionally.
“Jesus, kid, I don’t know. Maybe $13,000 if you’re lucky?”
My jaw dropped. My eyes widened. My heartbeat quintupled.
“Oh my God,” I shrieked. “I am going to be SO RICH!!!!!!!”
“Sure you are,” the editor sighed. “Just stay in school, and… uh… don’t do drugs, all right?”
Unfortunately I lost interest in comic books a few years later. My art skills had plateaued, and — after the much-hyped death (and return) of Superman, the much-hyped crippling (and physical therapy) of Batman, and the much-hyped declawing (and re-clawing) of Wolverine — I realized that superhero plot-lines were less satisfying than actual literature.
Except, of course, when stick figures urinate/defecate all over each other. Got a quarter?