Someone asked me recently, "How long have you been writing?" Thinking that he was referring to this blog, I replied that I had just started. "No," he said, "I meant, in your life. When did you first start writing?"
There are a number of ways to answer that. I sold my first comic book script, "The Touchdown Trap" starring Robin, the Teen Wonder, in 1974. It appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #445 and, over the next 25 or so years, I sold more than 400 others. Though the majority of them were superhero tales, I also wrote some war stories, westerns, monster/horror tales and even a couple of romance stories for the variety of books that DC Comics has published. After I left DC in 1998, I wrote half a dozen Archie Comics stories and "custom comics" for the US Postal Service, Con Edison, the San Francisco Giants, and others.
But the first time I got paid for something I wrote really goes all the way back to the summer of 1961. (A little background here: I grew up in Elmont, NY in a development that had been built in 1955. There were no through streets so the neighborhood was self-contained and we defined it as those 35 homes.)
In an attempt to earn a little money to buy more comic books (which only cost 10c at the time), I came up with the idea of publishing a neighborhood newspaper. Using a 4x6 pad and carbon paper, I hand-wrote the first issue of The Daily Doodle. The price was one cent. I was able to sell it to my parents (not surprisingly) and a few of the neighbors they were most friendly with. Over the remaining weeks of summer vacation, I produced a new issue every day and built a readership of perhaps a dozen families, delivering such important information as who got a new lawn sprinkler, the scores of our neighborhood baseball games, and that there was a bad smell coming from the drainage ditch that ran along the edge of the development. I even prompted a publishing "war" when one of my friends, envious of my success, started his own newspaper; his endeavor only lasted a week or so.
When school started, I switched to producing only a Sunday paper, priced at two cents. Since it was no longer a daily publication, I changed the name to The Doodler. I also "automated" the process, producing the issues on a typewriter instead of by hand. My circulation had grown to about twenty copies a week, so I would type an original and four carbon copies at a time, repeating the process until I had enough. (It was during this period that I honed my four-fingered typing skills that serve me through today.) Most of my news "stories" were only a couple of sentences long. After you told readers that Mr. Jones had bought a new Buick or Mrs. Smith's dryer was broken, what other information was there?
I continued to publish The Doodler for about four years, eventually expanding to a bi-weekly, two-page format for a nickel. By then, almost all of the families in the neighborhood were buying it, meaning I was typing the same thing six or seven times in order to generate enough copies. (Sometimes I felt sorry for the people who got those fourth-layer carbon copies because they were fuzzy and not that easy to read.) Just imagine what a publishing empire I could have had if I'd had access to a Xerox copier!
When I delivered that final issue, a few of the neighbors were indifferent about it and some who said they would miss it, but there was one who said to me, "How am I going to find out what's going on around here now?" That almost got me to reconsider.
The Daily Doodle was not the first writing I produced for an audience, however. We have to go back even further, to my fourth grade class, for that... next time.