So you want to be a comic book writer. Or an artist. Or an inker. Or even a letterer. You don’t care, you just want to break in. But how does one go about doing that? Breaking into the business can be very hard indeed. If you are a writer, how do you get the visuals to showcase your story? If you are a penciler, what story do you draw? Adjectiveless Spider-Man certainly taught us that artistic ability does not necessarily equate to good story telling ability. If you are an inker, whose pencils are you going to use to demonstrate your talent? Same goes for lettering. No need to fear, however, because Jim Shooter designed a book to take care of that.
Hold that thought and let’s refer back to Crawlspace podcast #386. It is a rare podcast indeed that something pops up to make them say that they are not sure what is being referenced. That happened when talking about Jon Watts (the director of the new Spider-Man movie), an article where he talks about his history with Spider-Man, and a particular Spider-Man drawing comic. I must admit that at the time, I didn’t know what was being talked about either.
So read on fans and see if I found something that ties these two together and something even you hard core Spidey fans didn’t know.
The hardest thing about writing a Spider-history column for the Crawlspace is not in coming up with things to write about. Spider-Man has a rich history both on and off panel. My challenge became clear after I took the position. My audience is not just the new reader that doesn’t know Spider-Man’s history, it is the fan that already has read hundreds of Spider-Man comics, listened to the podcasts, read all of JR’s Spidey Kicks Butt, and the person who listens to the Spider-Man Jeopardy podcast with the aim to beat the hosts (opps, sorry – host and panelists).
That means I have to walk the fine line of finding something that is obscure enough to miss the attention of the average spider-phile, but also make sure it fits into the greater history enough to be relevant. This book mentioned in the podcast, I believe, fits that bill.
In the podcast, George references an article about Jon Watts from Superhero Hype where Mr. Watts says “I had this learn-to-draw Spider-Man comic book. There were some panels that were blank panels for you to fill in the rest of the story and then some that were just pencils for you to ink and then there were some that were already inked for you to color to decide if you want to be the penciler or the inker or the colorist or the writer. I was obsessed with this book. I would bring it to school every day until I had slowly filled up and colored every panel.” Nobody on the podcast recognized what he was talking about and assumed he must be referencing the Drawing Comics the Marvel Way. That was my first thought as well. The problem pointed out in the podcast is that this is not really a Spider-Man book. So I set out to see if there was a better answer. To find it, we need to go back to the ‘80s.
*Cue time travel sound effect*
Jim Shooter, in all of his wisdom and majesty, realized the problems stated above about breaking into the business. He designed the Marvel Try Out Book. This book is awesome. It is a comic printed on art board and is oversized. It is written by Jim Shooter and features artwork by John Romita Sr. and inks by Al Milgrom. The story is a Spider-Man story titled “Personals”. However, the comic book is incomplete. There are three pages completely done. Four pages that are inked and ready to be colored, four pages that are penciled and need to be inked, two pages that are scripted and need to be lettered, five pages that are written, but need someone to draw, and the end of the comic is left open to be written by the aspiring writer. It was, as Shooter put it, “an opportunity to prove yourself under simulated ‘combat conditions’ – as close as possible to actual, professional working conditions.”
On top of all that, the book was a contest. Readers were encouraged, if they felt their work rivaled the quality of the first three pages, to turn their work into Marvel. Here’s how the first four pages look. You can see how the parts of the comic book drop out as it goes.
The plot is fairly basic. Spider-Man stops a crime. A woman named Janet sees it and is inspired by Spider-Man’s heroism. Spider-Man struggles with Doc Ock. He reads the newspaper and sees in the personals section a letter from Janet which inspires him to continue on. Doc Ock also sees the personals directed toward Spider-Man and kidnaps Janet. Spidey must save her, but how? That is up to the person trying out his/her writing skills.
Originally the story was to be published once completed and the work of the winners of the competition would be showcased in the final product. While that never happened, the winners were announced. You may recognize a name or two from the list.
Chuck Duffie won the plotter and scripter category. He never went into comics, but was, at one time, the Maitre’ d at the Ocean Club restaurant. Jim Shooter said that he went there one time (not knowing Duffie was there) and got all this complimentary food and drinks and finally Duffie came over and introduced himself.
Mark Bagley won the pencils. Do I really need to tell you what he went on to be? He had tried for years to break into the comic book business and thought about giving it one last try with the Try-Out competition, but was deterred by the $12.95 price tag. Here’s what he had to say about the process: “I thought it was a gimmick…something Jim Shooter came up with, and I didn’t buy it. Luckily, Cliff Biggers, the guy who publishes Comic Shop News, was a friend of mine. He owned the comic book store that I went to at the time. He told me, “If you don’t do this, you’ll hate yourself.” So, he gave it to me. And, I won first place. That got me a trip to New York and a chance to meet all the editors. I went, and they threw me out of their offices. The last editor I saw on the last day I was there said, “Hey, I bet you’d like something to draw, wouldn’t you.” I said, “Yeah!” That was, I think, Mike Higgins who was editing the New Universe which was kind of winding down. He was desperate for people to work on it, and I was desperate for work. I did 4 or 5 jobs for him. After about a year and a half of doing it, I was able to quit my regular job and do comics full time. And, I’ve never looked back.”
Doug Hazlewood won the inking contest. He went on to work for DC mostly doing Superman books.
Jeanine Pasda won the colorist. To my knowledge, she never had anything to do with comics after winning this. And she must not have given Shooter any free drinks at a restaurant either since he never mentioned it in his blog.
Robin Riggs won the letterer contest. He went on to have a career in comics, but not as a letterer. He inks a lot for Marvel and DC, mostly British comics. He even provided the art for a Sir Apropos of Nothing series, which I knew of the book by Peter David, but did not know it had a comic version of it.
These winners got this certificate to hang on their refrigerator:
In the Bullpen Bulletin that announced the winners, Jim Shooter gave this word of encouragement to those who wanted to use the book to still try out: ”The contest is over, but Marvel has always welcomed submissions (at least while I’ve been in charge anyways) and always will.” Hmmmmm….. always, huh? Well we know only a sith deals in absolutes. Sith lords and Jim Shooter anyway. Here is what Marvel now says about accepting submissions:
“Marvel does not accept or consider any ideas, creative suggestions, artwork, designs, game proposals, scripts, manuscripts, or similar material unless we have specifically requested it from you. Marvel is continuously developing and creating its own ideas and materials, and we don’t have the resources to review or respond to unsolicited material. Unfortunately, any unsolicited material you send will not be read or shared. It will be destroyed, and it will not be returned.” They go on to say that you should find somewhere else to publish your work and “if you have the right stuff…we’ll find you.” Don’t call us, we’ll call you…
Marvel did come out with another one of these try out books in 1996. There was no contest involved and it was updated to show computer technology advancements in art. This one had an X-Men story with art by Andy Kubert.
It still has the big art pages, but the one reviewer on Amazon said that it didn’t have the blue pencils for people to practice inking and that the art is considerably harder to mimic than Romita’s.
I did not get the feeling that this one was hyped much and without the context attached to it, it probably didn’t sell as well. It’s been long enough. I think Marvel should consider releasing a new one.
As a side note, I found a little about this ad for the book. Somebody asked Jim Shooter about the items on his desk. This is a sore subject for Shooter. It seems that the drawing is an accurate depiction of Shooter’s desk back in the day. However when Marvel moved him out, they put several people who were not big fans of him on clean out duty (in his words: “cretins who particularly hated me”). They were not kind in the way they handled his stuff. Among the things they broke and smashed while “packing” his office included the gumball machine shown here. The monkey and the bear both survived the process, you may be glad to find out.
I wish they would do this again as a contest. It was a really neat idea. Curious if any of our readers out there entered the contest back in the day – and who would enter one now? And let me know – did I find something new to you?
“Comics: The Official Marvel Try-Out Book #1.” Spiderfan. Comic Boards, Aug. 2013. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
Douglas, Edward. “Exclusive: Jon Watts on His Childhood Love of Spider-Man.” Superhero Hype. Crave Online, 4 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
Jay Jay. “Try Out Contest Artifacts.” Jim Shooter. Blogger, 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
Lequidre, Zorikh. Comment on: “The New Official Marvel Try-Out Book.” Amazon. Amazon, 25 July 2003. Web. 1 Jan. 2016.
“Robin Riggs.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Jan. 2019. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
Saffel, Steve. Spider-Man the Icon: The Life and Times of a Pop Culture Phenomenon. London: Titan, 2007.
Shayer, Jason. “1983 – The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book.” Marvel Comics of the 1980s. Blogger, 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2016.
Shooter, Jim. “A Recent Question and an Answer.” Jim Shooter. Blogger, 27 Aug. 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
Shooter, Jim. “No, Really, This Time for Sure, the Startling Conclusion of the Submissions Saga.” Jim Shooter. Blogger, 9 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
“Submission Requests.” Marvel. Marvel, 2016. Web. 1 Jan 2016.