There are a few things I will always appreciate about my time pitching a Luke Cage series to Marvel’s Epic imprint…
Obviously, it was an honor and a thrill to even be brought into the mix, and the experience of interacting with folks from Marvel’s editorial department, and even president Bill Jemas in a few cases, was invaluable and critical at this stage in my development. I’d just finished college and had that little bug in my ear telling me that I was on the verge of something major—that after devoting almost four years and countless thoughts to this cause, that I was about to be handsomely rewarded. For months during this lengthy process, I’d wake up every Monday morning and have the same thought before crawling out of bed, “This could be the week everything changes for me.” And that feeling kept me going through everything else that was happening around me, pushing me towards what I honestly believed was the true finish line…which it ultimately wasn’t, but it was important at this point that I felt like it was.
I was also introduced to Lee Ferguson along the way, a professional and personal relationship that continues to this day on the long gestating Miranda Mercury project. And in the aftermath of the publishing initiative, I was in position to pitch a number of stories for the newly re-launched Unlimited books, which had been turned into an anthology series that paired less established writers with more established artists. Just below is a re-presentation of the commentary I posted for the first Marvel Comics story that I ever had published, which appeared in Spider-Man Unlimited #3 and was called “6th.” It’s about how Peter Parker is able to stay a few steps ahead of a world that’s always a split second away from killing him, but it was really about something a little more personal. All is explained below…
Originally published as “Five Five Zero Four” on May 3, 2004-
Three days from now, my very first Marvel comic hits the stands, and I feel obligated to deliver some poignant reactive thought about it, but it’s really all one word responses in here. Wild. Gratifying. Crazy. Exciting. Unbelievable. Bizarre. Unreal. I managed to snag a First Look copy of the issue last Wednesday, and still haven’t thought of anything moderately intelligent to say. The phrase, “it’s cool,” only carries so far, right? But that’s it right there, that’s the word I’m using anytime someone asks me how it feels. It’s cool. Cooler than I can express.
Trying not to actually read the story I wrote, only blazed through it pretty quickly to check that everything is still there, much in the same way I do with Ambi. every week, because otherwise I’d develop a serious case of the nerves. You should’ve seen me in the final days of production, tweaking the script almost into oblivion, bothering my editor more than twice with, “there’s just one more thing I want to look at again.” So, it’ll be left up to you good people whether or not I made the most of my eleven pages, because my opinion is obviously biased by a tendency for self deprecation. It’s cool though, because I’ve got something else for you to consider this week.
This is the secret origin to 6th, the short I wrote in this week’s Spider-Man Unlimited #3, and if written well enough, this account will read as completely unnecessary, but it really illustrates the difference between my thinking right now and six years ago in how I approached writing a story. For the first couple years, I’d create these sprawling apocalyptic type epics built around complex action sequences, very obviously imitating the styles of Chuck Dixon, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison, but as often happens when we’re wearing our influences too proudly, we ignore what makes them work. Attracted to the style and completely ignoring the substance, and the emotions driving the situations forward. I didn’t get that without the feeling, there wasn’t really a point.
Now, the feeling is where everything starts, piss me off and I’ll write a story about it, hurt my feelings and it becomes a series, catharsis broken into panels. I have questions and I’m scared of far more than I’m comfortable with, so you know, I’m writing comics about it, emotional investment cranked to its height, which makes the process both easier and harder. My old The Reserve story came from being frustrated over my pursuits at “breaking in,” feeling so close and yet incredibly far away from anything that resembled an end point. And end points are what 6th is about.
The first draft of the story wasn’t about death, like the final draft ended up being, and centered around a cool little sequence between Spidey and Venom. Once Venom disappeared from the story, due to some contradictions with the villain’s own series, I had to find another angle, and when the time came to make the first revision, simply adding the Vulture wasn’t enough. It lacked that sense of weight and balance that was originally anchoring the fight scene, and for whatever reason, I’d been having bad thoughts that week. Probably has something to do with watching too much evening news, but if I’m pointing to one thing that just terrifies me, that was just messing with my head around that time, it was the notion of “untimely” death and the methodical pattern that leads to it. Death by split seconds.
It could’ve been a leftover from that horribly bizarre San Diego plane experience that found me sitting next to the emergency door, and the flight attendants having us practice going into our crash positions…just in case. I’m not one of those dumb ass dudes that believes they’re invincible, and nothing bad can or will ever happen to them, but this was the first time I was confronted with an even remote possibility of death. With becoming one of those headlines we get to see every morning, before they move on to celebrity news and the weather. And all I could think about it were reasons not to slowly freak out, this damn Justin Timberlake song I couldn’t get out of my head, and the fact that my comic writing legacy would now be a scripting job over someone else’s plot, that I finished in five days. That’s it right there, the idea that I won’t have the chance to finish whatever it is I’m supposed to. Will likely never reach a point where I’m like, “you know what, that’s it, I think I’m finished,” but I know it wasn’t anywhere near that window seat, looking out over the water. Not even close.
So, the more revisions I completed, the stronger this aspect became in the narrative, and hopefully, the more individualized the story became. That was something that was incredibly important to me, that I was writing something that could only be related through Spider-Man. Writers are often cautioned against becoming too emotionally involved in characters which are owned by corporations, as your control over them is never unlimited; even though this is a smaller venue, I’m glad I went ahead and put this down. No one expects to change the world with eleven pages, but with any luck, something about this will stand out.
Realizing that you may not have a chance to do better tomorrow, the almost orderly coincidence that influences or interrupts our day, and what this all means to a guy who can “feel” danger coming is what the story is ultimately about. The Vulture’s in it too, and Ale Garza’s pencils effectively bring this crazy aerial dogfight to incredible life.
The issue also includes a story by fellow newcomer Tom McLaughlin and Scott Kolins, and it’s wrapped in a wonderful cover by Steve McNiven. If you have an extra three bucks on you this week, please pick it up. It was a story that meant something to me, and hopefully will mean just a little something to you. And if it doesn’t, please let me know…it’s cool.