Teach Your Children Well

When I was a kid I went through a variety of creative “phases.”

I wrote short stories. I wrote poetry (yes, poetry, even before I was an angsty teen) and songs. I even drew a comic strip (“Bugland Bugs,” which was a simple black-and-white featuring a variety of bugs with strong personalities). 

Now, most people look at that type of imagination and creativity in childhood and simply see a kid at play, or a phase that the child will outgrow as he enters his teens and then on into adulthood. I daresay most people outside of my parents saw my written work, my comics, and my poetry as simple attempts to relieve my own childhood boredom and nothing more.

To me, though, those creations were important work. And I worked tirelessly on perfecting the funny in my comics, as well as the depth of the characters and their images on the page. On my stories and poetry, I wrote and wrote and wrote until my right wrist and my fingers on that hand ached so much I could write no more.

I was fortunate enough to have one adult besides my parents in my life at the time who encouraged such pasttimes, and who actually made an effort to help me see some fruits of my labor. One of my Fourth and Fifth Grade teachers actually submitted some of my work (written and comic) to the school newspaper, whereupon I received my first byline/credit ever in a mass-distributed work.

I won’t say those works won me any awards or accolades or friends. They didn’t. But they were a significant boost to my self-esteem and an encouragement to keep up my hard work.

The greatest encouragement I ever received, though, came not from my family, nor my friends, nor my teachers, nor any other individual with whom I can associate a face in my memory.

One day, out of the blue, I decided to submit “Bugland Bugs” to DC Comics for possible publication as… what? I didn’t really know. I was too young to commit to a complete monthly comic book, and I had no idea whether DC syndicated comic strips in newspapers. All I knew was that they published Superman, my personal comic book hero, and I thought that might make them a great place to submit my own comic.

I put my cover letter and a sample of my work in an envelope and shipped it off to the address printed in the front of a recent issue of Superman I had lying around. I was hopeful, but not really expecting a reply.
 Although I was an optimistic child, I knew full well that the world of comic book publishing was run by adults, and that kids weren’t typically hired on for anything beyond their own Lemonade stands or selling mail-order greeting cards and Grit.

I also submitted my work to EC Comics (then-owner of Mad Magazine) and Marvel, just to hedge my bets.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later I received in the mail what would become my very, very first (of many) rejection letter… from an editor at DC Comics.

I remember holding the envelope in my hands, gawking at the big DC logo on the front of it, and turning it over and over, both excited and trepiditious of its contents.

Finally, I ripped it open. On the back of the letter was an image of all my favorite DC characters, standing on each other’s shoulders from bottom of the page to top (Superman was at the very bottom, of course, supporting them all). On the front was a neatly typed letter from a DC editor whose name I do not remember, although I do remember most of his words: “Your characters aren’t yet developed enough for publication at DC,” he wrote. “But it’s a good start. Keep working at it.”

That letter made my day.

Sure, I got rejected, but my work had been noticed by someone at a powerhouse publication like DC Comics (and I was only about 10 years old). And that editor, whoever he was, was not required by any law or sense of decency to bother writing back to me. He could’ve just tossed “some kid’s” work in the trash and forgotten it, but he didn’t.

I was honored to be officially rejected by DC Comics, and I still am to this day.

I wish I had kept that letter, though. I do not know what happened to it.