Back in 1989, DC Comics had procedures for getting proposals for new titles through what they called “the pipeline.” I assume they still have procedures; I wouldn’t know, since, with the exception of Karen Berger’s recent and reasoned rejection of a project I proposed to her, I haven’t tried to sell anything to DC in years.
But in 1989, my time on The Doom Patrol had just come to an end and I was seeking a book to replace it on my schedule. Since one couldn’t count on being chosen to replace another writer on an ongoing book, the best way to find work was to create something new. One such proposal was called Bloodhound, which I worked on with Graham Nolan (who had replaced Erik Larsen on the last few issues of my run on Doom Patrol) for editor Bob Greenberger. Bloodhound, as I recall, was pitched and rejected. Oh well. They can’t all be winners, right?
Another proposal, though, was supposed to be a sure bet. An editor (although this, as well as previous and subsequent experience with this person both as a writer and a colleague has proven, the title alone does not validate the position) approached artist Stephen DeStefano (co-creator with Bob Rozakis of the charming ‘Mazing Man, as well as a ton of work ever since, including Ren and Stimpy, the Venture Brothers, and Instant Piano) and myself with the idea of doing a series based on the Flash rogue, the Trickster.
The idea was to bring a humorous and offbeat slant to a character who had been around for almost thirty years and who, let’s face it, wore harlequin shoes and used such weapons as explosive teddy bears in his battles with the Flash. The Trickster series would just take that already existing level of absurdity to the next level, removing him from the world of conventional superheroics, surrounding him with a cast of wacky supporting characters, and letting hilarity ensue.
It was, Stephen and I were assured, a lock. An influential editor telling us to go forth and pitch a project that had his complete support and backing? Why, the proposal was just a formality!
A formality that kept getting kicked back to me by the editor for revisions, rewriting, and rethinking. Most were minor, cosmetic tweaks; I know this because I still have the files for three of the four drafts for comparison. Still, multiple revisions are not uncommon, nor are they any real indication of a proposals’, or a series’, chance of success. My proposal for the 1996 series Takion underwent six editorial revisions before being accepted, evolving from a revival of the Roger Stern/Tom Lyle incarnation of Starman to a wholly new character; for all that, Takion ran just seven issues. On the other hand, I was the editor who submitted the Grant Morrison/Mark Millar proposal for the 1996 series Aztek that was accepted on the strength of its first draft (and which then-group editor Denny O’Neil called “the best proposal” he had ever read); that series lasted ten issues.
But, four revisions later, The Trickster was as dead as the commissioning editor’s current career in comics.
I was told that it had been rejected by Dick Giordano (I forget what his title was at the time–managing editor, editorial director, something like that), who had “problems” with my work. Of course, two years later, when I met with Dick to discuss his “problems” with me I learned that not only had Dick not rejected the proposal, the editor had never even submitted it. Dick apologized for this treatment by one of his staff, then asked me if I would be interested in taking an editorial position that would soon be opening up. I told him indeed I would be…and was subsequently informed by the Trickster editor that it was he who had been responsible for getting me the staff position that Dick had offered me; indeed, he had to fight Dick tooth and nail to get me the gig. The reason for the editor’s behavior, as I later learned from a third party who witnessed the exchange, seemed to have stemmed from an offhanded joke made by a DC executive regarding my output for his office. I find it hard to believe the executive really had issues with the amount of work I was doing; I am, according to the excellent and comprehensive Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, currently the 19th most prolific writer (by number of stories published) in DC’s history–twenty years ago, I probably ranked several places higher on the list. Prolificacy doesn’t seem to have been a punishable offense, then or now.*
Very few projects are as fraught with drama as was The Trickster. Like I said, revisions were (and likely remain) a common practice, and it wouldn’t be the first or the last project of mine not to make it beyond the proposal stage. Hell, I’ve got a couple of file folders full of them. But The Trickster was a particular disappointment, both because it would have been a fun book to write and would have meant that I got to work with Stephen on a monthly basis. (We had previously done one story together–“Thud, Thud, Thud in the Mississippi Mud” in Tru Studios’ Trollords #7 in 1986–and would later be teamed up again on the Johnny Bravo story, “Johnny Delivers” in Cartoon Network Cartoon Cartoons #22 in 2003.) As you can see from the character sketches accompanying this post, whatever I might have done with the stories in The Trickster, Stephen would have drawn the living hell out of ‘em!
Of course, ideas don’t ever go to waste. I’ve since recycled many elements from The Trickster proposal into a young adult novel, of which I’ve written about 16,000 words.
Next time: The Trickster proposal of which I’ve been speaking.