Monday, September 27, 2010

The Last Time

This past Friday night I did something I hadn't expected to do again this year -- I took a midnight swim. As a result of the (presumably) last gasp of summer, air temperature and water temperature made it not just possible, but inviting. So, after watching TV and finishing a book I'd been reading, I did a couple of laps in the moonlight.

But as I was drying off, I started wondering if this would be my last moonlight swim of 2010. Certainly, until a few minutes earlier, I would have said that my last one had been during Labor Day weekend. But until the cover is on and the pool is closed for the season, I can't say for certain that there won't be one more night that I'll be out there.

Taking it to a larger scale, there are some things that you can say, "This is the last time I'll..." about. Your last day of classes before high school graduation, for example. "This is the last time I'll be in Physics." If the time period available for you to do something is finite and you do it at the last possible moment, you can safely say "This is the last time."

But how about something like going to a favorite restaurant? Unless it closes, when is the last time you ever go there? You may never be able to say.

Even asserting "I'm never going to do that again!" isn't a guarantee. (How many times has Brett Favre far?) Perhaps one of the best examples of that is Sean Connery playing James Bond. He announced after "You Only Live Twice" that he was done. After George Lazenby did "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Connery was lured back for "Diamonds Are Forever." This time, however, he said he would never play Bond again. Until eleven years later, when he made "Never Say Never Again." The title of the film is attributed to Connery's wife, who told him exactly that after his "Diamonds" announcement.

And how do you know when it's the last time you'll see somebody you know? Unless it is the grimmest of circumstances and you're sitting in the hospital room right before they pull the plug, you don't. Otherwise, it is only when they are dead that you can determine for certain the occasion of the last time you saw them...and, presumably, you didn't know it at the time.

So, these are the kinds of things I think about when I take a midnight swim. The last midnight swim? Who can say?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hey, Look, I Wrote a Book!

Back in 1994, I was not doing much comic book writing any more and so I decided to write a novel that had been percolating for a number of years. Weekend hours that had previously been devoted to tales of Superman, Aquaman, Air Wave, and numerous others became the time to write chapters.

The "present-day" of the story is 1992, but much of the action relates to events from 1968 and 1969, which are presented as flashbacks. (While I was certainly not the first to tell a tale this way, it has been interesting to note how this particular method of storytelling has become popular recently with the success of "Lost" on television.) I don't recall how long I worked on it, but eventually all the pieces of "The Junkyards of Memory" were done.

With my 80,000-word opus completed, I got in touch with an agent who was a friend of a friend. She said that she would circulate it to publishers she thought might be interested and I crossed my fingers. Some months later, my fingers long uncrossed, she had received a single response along the lines of, "He's a good writer, but this does not fit our publishing program." So I put the copy of the manuscript in a file drawer and stored the electronic file on a floppy disk and went on to other things.

And that is where it has remained, though two very small portions turn up every year in my CTY writing class. One scene is used as an example of how to utilize the setting to describe a character's personality; another is the basis for a radio play that the students read to learn how to use dialogue to tell a story. From time to time, one of the students would ask where to get a copy of the novel and I would say, "It hasn't been published."

Recently, however, Laurie and I were talking about some of her out-of-print books and the possibility of self-publishing them via Neither of us knew much about it, so I went to the site and checked it out. And, after doing so, I decided, "Why not publish my novel?"

I have to say this, if not for the electronic file, the book would still be a manuscript sitting in a filing cabinet. That I was able to do some light editing and then drop the entire text into one of lulu's templates is the only way this could have worked. Putting together the cover was fairly simple as well. In a couple of hours, I had everything ready to go.

And so, for anyone who is interested, "The Junkyards of Memory" is now available in hard copy ( or as a digital download (

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Lucky in Love" -- Not Lucky in Travel

Yesterday evening my old friend and 'Mazing Man co-creator Stephen DeStefano was having an art showing and book signing for his new masterpiece Lucky in Love at a gallery in New York City. Since the gallery was an easy walk from Penn Station and I have not seen Stephen in years, I thought it would be good to make the trip into the city.

Well, as they say, nothing’s ever easy.

I got on the 5:14 train out of Farmingdale, scheduled to arrive at Penn at 6:10. As I did in my years as a regular on the LIRR, I fell asleep shortly thereafter. Imagine my surprise when I woke up at 6:05 and discovered we were sitting in Jamaica station, where they were making announcements that due to “wild weather” there would be delays. (The US Weather Service has not yet determined whether it was a tornado. Whatever it was, it took out trees along a path through Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, dropping some across LIRR tracks along the way.)

Still not a major problem, however, since right downstairs at the Jamaica station is the subway and the E train would take me to within a four block walk to the gallery. And since the subways were honoring LIRR tickets, the ride would not cost anything more.

After a few station stops, we pulled into Roosevelt Avenue... and sat... and sat... and sat. Finally, there was an announcement that we should switch to another E train that was pulling in on the other track. Turned out there was a fight going on in one of the other cars of the train I was on, so it would not be going anywhere for awhile.

Not surprising, the train that pulled in was a lot more crowded. But we rolled along and at about 7:00, we finally made it to my stop. A quick stroll in a very light drizzle brought me to the gallery. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the gallery was not much larger than the subway car I'd just left... and almost as crowded.

There was a nice display of Stephen's work on both walls and I was able to squeeze my way to the back, where he was signing copies of the book. We spoke for about a minute and then he returned to what he was there to do. Since I did not want to jump the line, I worked my way back towards the door.

Unfortunately, air conditioning was sorely lacking and it grew quite warm. I decided I needed to step outside for awhile when my shirt started to look like I'd been playing Ultimate Frisbee for an hour. (My CTY compatriots would have looked at me and decided I was about to yell "Last point!") After cooling down, I tried my best to rejoin the line inside, but after once again starting to look like I was melting, I figured it was not meant to be. Stephen was being his affable self, talking and adding little drawings to the autographs for each of his guests, and the line was moving about as quickly as that LIRR train I'd abandoned.

So I headed towards Penn Station, figuring that train service would have been restored in the couple of hours since the "wild weather." Alas, that was far from the case. The station was packed with people and no trains were running. Police and LIRR officials were directing passengers to the E train so they could take the subway to Jamaica station, from which eastbound trains were operating. What I found remarkable was the number of people who weren't doing this; they seemed resigned to staying in Penn for however long was necessary.

Though you can normally access the subway from inside Penn, this was not the case. We had to go back outside and walk around the building to get to the subway entrance on the street. I was finally successful getting into the subway and when an E train pulled in, I even managed to get a seat. I was quite happy about that because the car got quite full and quite warm. (Not surprisingly, I started "melting" again.)

We crawled along, the PA system reminding us that there were delays ahead and that we would proceed when they had a green signal. About an hour later, we finally reached our destination... where there were many, many people waiting at street level for trains to carry them further east. (The first one, going on the Babylon branch, was announced just as I arrived and started a stampede towards the steps to the track. I suspect that many of those people had been there for quite awhile.)

There was no Ronkonkoma branch train on the horizon, but I'd dealt with LIRR delays many times during my twenty-five years commuting to DC Comics, so I knew some ways around a lot of the crowds. I walked to a staircase leading up to one of the tracks that was not being used and went all the way up to the crossover platform above the tracks. I wasn't the only person who knew this trick, but there were far fewer people up top than there were down below.

After about a forty-five minute wait, they announced a train to Ronkonkoma. From my lofty waiting area, I was able to quickly get down to the track and snag a seat before most of the passengers made it to the platform. We sat for another twenty minutes or so while the train filled and then finally started rolling east.

Though the train made every stop along the way, I was finally back in Farmingdale at 11:10 and home a few minutes after that. A six hour round-trip... probably the most travel fun I've had since the day in March when I came home from Becca's wedding. (Blogged here as "Planes, Trains and Automobiles.")

And people wonder why I'm so happy to now have a twelve-minute commute to work!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Amalgamated Madness

February, 1996 was very special for comics fanboys (and fangirls). It was the month when DC Versus Marvel, a four-issue weekly series co-produced by the two rival publishers appeared, pitting the greatest heroes against one another with some of the battles being determined by the votes of the readers.

What the fanboys did not know was the surprise planned for the week between issue #s 3 and 4, that for the week of February 28th, DC and Marvel would cease to exist and be replaced by Amalgam Comics. This hybrid company would issue twelve titles that week, and as part of the gag, everyone would pretend that Amalgam had been in business since the dawn of comics.

Despite the fact that this effort would involved dozens of staff members and freelancers, the powers-that-be were determined to keep it a secret. I don't know how it was handled at Marvel, but at DC it meant that any information involving Amalgam Week was dispensed on a "need-to-know" basis.

And that is where the trouble began.

Since the premise of Amalgam Week was that DC and Marvel did not exist, there could be no house ads for the individual companies' books in the Amalgam titles. "Not a problem," said our advertising director, certain that he could sell all the ad space to paying customers.

Well, it was a problem, presumably because he couldn't tell any of the potential advertisers what the big surprise was going to be. Much of the ad space remained unsold.

In a "normal" week, any unsold ad pages would be filled with house ads for DC books. These were generated on a regular basis and would be slotted in as needed. Which is exactly what happened with the Amalgam books because the people setting up the ad schedules were not on the "need-to-know" list and were unaware of the potential problem.

But the problem should have been caught because the ad schedules had to be signed off on by the ad director, the marketing director, and the editorial director, all of whom were in on the secret. For whatever reasons, none of the three actually reviewed the schedules. In each case, it was an assistant that reviewed and okayed them... and, in each case, the assistant was not aware of the Amalgam gimmick.

This "perfect storm" doesn't stop there.

Before a book goes on the press, a set of blueprint proofs are sent from the printer to be reviewed and okayed. Usually, these would be delivered to the production department and distributed to the appropriate editors who would make sure the story pages were in the proper order, etc. Someone in production would then check the ad pages against the schedule to make sure they were also correct and the proofs would be sent back to the printer.

The Amalgam books, because they had been shoehorned into the regular schedules of the writers and artists, were running very late. The film separations arrived that the printer over the weekend. The proofs were generated and would have been delivered to DC that Monday morning for an instant turnaround. But, as fate would have it, Monday was Presidents Day, so the office was closed. (Not the case at the printer in Canada, however.) To solve this dilemma, it was decided that the proofs would be FedExed to the individual editors, who would review them, call in any corrections directly to the printer's rep, and FedEx the proofs back the same day.

Well, six different DC editors reviewed proofs and not one of them said anything about there being DC house ads in them. (Two later denied that there had been any ads in the proofs they looked at, despite the fact that their signatures are on them.) Whatever the level of "need-to-know" secrecy was deemed necessary to be in on it, you know these guys had to have it.

And so the books got printed with DC house ads in them.

Printed samples arrived in the office a couple of days later and, as with all samples, copies landed on my desk. As I had been away on vacation the previous week and hadn't seen most of the finished stories (and, frankly, being a fanboy at heart), I was especially interested in looking at them. I was told that they heard me yell "Holy $#!+" at the other end of the hall.

After a couple of in-house calls to advise the powers-that-be, I was on the phone with the printer to find out the status of the six books. Then, in a quickly convened meeting, it was determined that we would have to reprint the books on a crash schedule using a cobbled-together collection of paid ads, arrange special shipping to the distributor so they would be able to make the delivery date, and trash everything that had already been produced.

Needless to say, the cost of doing this was astronomical, but it was done and the books came out on schedule, with the readers being none the wiser.

In the DC offices, however, there was plenty of finger-pointing as to who should have caught the error and when. At least one person lost his job as a result and a number of others were chastised for allowing it to happen. A meeting was held to set up procedures so that it would not happen again, but what was never addressed was the fact that the decision to keep Amalgam a secret from the staff was ultimately to blame.

As it turned out, the Amalgam mess was only the tip of the iceberg. There were so many other mistakes, many of them resulting in more shredding and reprinting, that we started referring to 1996 as "The Year of Being Stupid."

As the saying goes, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"


One postscript to Amalgam: A couple of weeks later, I had lunch with Gene and Alison, my Production Director counterparts from Marvel, and we were discussing what had happened. "You realize," said Gene after listening to the story, "that if we had made that mistake, we would have called you up and said, 'Oops, sorry!' and let it go."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hofstra Yearbook 1971

With virtually no staff in place for the Nexus 1971, my co-editor-in-chief Arnie set out to fill the gaps. As new section editors started showing up in the office, it took me a little while to figure out how he was recruiting them.

He was picking up women in his classes, using the line, "Would you like to be a yearbook editor?" Jackie, Diane, Leslie, Gail, Karen, Donna, et al. Each of them shared one class or another with my co-editor. So on the afternoon that Laurie walked in and announced, "Hi, I'm the new Student Life editor!" my response was, "Which of Arnie's classes are you in?" (Jewelry Making, if I remember correctly.)

To be fair, Arnie did not recruit only women for the editorial positions. Jean had been one of our photographers the previous year and he was promoted to Photo Editor. And when it looked like I was going to have to be sports section editor again (because, apparently, Arnie was unable to pick up any athletics-minded women), he agreed to give the post to Stephan, who had taken virtually all the photos for the section.

But there was a lot of estrogen floating around the yearbook office that year, especially as Arnie did his best to promote staff unity by having regular meetings and staff parties. He also managed to date more than a couple of them, even getting engaged to one before the year was out. (The engagement did not last, however.)

We had frequent visits from Dick, who worked for Taylor Publishing, the company that printed the yearbooks, and from Aaron and Bernie, who ran the photography studio that took all the senior portraits and processed the pictures our staff photographers took. Yet, despite all these meetings, when the end of the spring semester rolled around, everybody was scrambling to get their sections done.

But the book did eventually get finished. Arnie graduated and I took over as sole editor-in-chief, with almost all of the editors he'd recruited remaining on staff.

As for Arnie's ploy of recruiting editors in order to find romance, well, that did actually work out for him. After his lone date with Laurie -- at a 13-inning Mets game on an incredibly humid night -- she introduced him to her best friend from high school. A year later, Arnie and Carol got married.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hofstra Yearbook 1970

In the summer of 1969, I received a letter from the editors of Nexus, the Hofstra University yearbook, inviting me to come by their office if I was interested in joining the staff when I started my freshman year in September. It was a form letter, sent to all incoming students who had listed "yearbook" as one of their high school activities, but I decided I should get involved with some activities and this seemed an easy choice.

My first couple of visits to the yearbook office in the Student Center were disappointing. The office was dark and the door was locked. Despite the letter saying that they were actively recruiting new staff members, there did not seem to be any indication that this was the case.

Late one morning of the second week, I had to pay a visit to the bookstore between classes and decided to give it one more try. To my surprise, I did find someone in the office, one of the section editors. She told me that Joe and Arnie, the editors-in-chief of Nexus 1970, were indeed in need of staff members and would be glad to have me on the staff.

She asked what I had done on my high school yearbook; I told her I had handled the senior section and the sports section. Her eyes lit up at the mention of the latter. "We definitely need someone for sports," she said. She told me she would leave my name and that I should stop back that afternoon, when Joe and Arnie would be there.

I figured that, as a freshman staff member, I would probably have to sort through photos, track down scores or correct spellings of players' names, and maybe get to lay out a couple of pages. Imagine my surprise when I came back that afternoon and Arnie told me that I would be the editor of the sports section!

I asked about my duties. Would I have to schedule photographers to go to various games? No, the photo editor (who, it turned out, was Arnie) would do that. Did I have to go to all the games? Only if I wanted to. Would I have to track down the stats? No, the Athletic Department sent them over regularly.

I also asked about staff meetings and he said that there would not be too many, but the individual section co-editors did meet from time to time. When I asked who my co-editor was Arnie told me that he was working on it and he would let me know.


Over the next few weeks, I would stop by the office after classes. It was usually empty, but the door was unlocked, so I was able to go in and check my mailbox. Like the office, however, it too was frequently empty.

Then one day, I found a note that my co-editor, Larry, wanted to meet. He was a resident student rather than a commuter like I was, so he left his dorm phone number. I used the office phone to call and got no answer. I left a note in his mailbox with my number and told him to try me in the evenings (except Mondays and Fridays, when I would be working).

I think it was three weeks later that we finally caught up with each other. He called my home a couple of times when I was out. I called his dorm and got his roommate. As it turned out, I was in the Nexus office leaving him a note when he walked in, planning on leaving one for me. We talked for a few minutes, set up a time to meet the following week, and went our separate ways.


There was not much interaction among the Nexus staff members that year. I don't recall that there was ever a meeting of the entire group and there were some editors I don't think I ever met. Arnie was the only one I ever regularly saw in the office; Joe was doing an internship and became something of an absentee editor.

Larry and I would occasionally run into one another on campus. We would talk about the success or failure of one Hofstra team or another -- the football team was 0-10 that year -- and end with, "We should get together and lay out some pages soon."

As it turned out, we did not sit down and work on the book at all until almost the end of the spring semester. By that point, we had envelopes full of photos for each of the sports, sets of stats and rosters, and a lot of pages to fill.

And that was all we had. As some of you may remember, 1970 was the year of Vietnam War protests and the Kent State shootings and so Hofstra, like many other colleges, ended its school year early. As a result, there were few staff members and fewer students on campus as Larry and I put the sports section together, leaving us with almost no resources to fill the gaps.

We relied on back issues of the Hofstra Chronicle for specifics about games. There wasn't much in the way of positive commentary about the winless football team and none of the other teams had particularly stellar seasons either. Larry and I were reduced to trying to write clever captions for the photos. Our favorites were those where we came up with an interesting adjective for a player. So we had a "bespectacled slugger" on the baseball team and a "mustachioed veteran" on the football team.

We were almost done with the section when we realized we had no photos of the tennis team. Not a single one! And none had appeared in the Chronicle either, so we couldn't even swipe one of theirs. "We'll have to fake it," Larry said.

And so we did. The "Hofstra tennis player" shown in the book is me, in a photo taken by Arnie at the Elmont High School tennis court. No one ever questioned it. For the actual members of the tennis team who may have looked at it and wondered, "Who the heck is this guy?" -- now you know.


Virtually the entire staff of Nexus 1970 was made up of seniors. In fact, when I visited the office shortly before the Fall '70 semester began, Arnie advised me that he and I were the only returning staff members. As such, I was the only candidate for co-editor-in-chief... which will be the subject of an upcoming installment.