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Flashback

hollywoodsuperstars01

From 1984 through 1986, I wrote a comic called Crossfire, which was one of my all-time favorite projects. I co-created the character with my friend Will Meugniot and the book was drawn by another friend, Dan Spiegle. It was published by a small publisher called Eclipse that after a few issues had trouble paying me because it was having trouble getting paid by its dealers and distributor…and there were other problems, like a flood that wiped out the company's office and most of its assets.

If we'd gotten paid in full for every copy sold, I think it might still be going…but that didn't happen. For the last half of its run, I wasn't getting paid much and sometimes nothing but I didn't care. I was having too much fun to stop. When we reached the stage where Dan, the letterer and the colorist might not get paid properly, I shut it down…reluctantly. A lot of people told me they missed it and the little essays I wrote in the back, which were not unlike a lot of things I now write on this blog.

One person who told me he missed the comic was a wonderful gent named Archie Goodwin, who was then the editor of the Epic (creator-owned) line for Marvel. I was already doing Groo for them and one day at a comic convention in Texas, Archie took me to lunch and said he wanted a book like Crossfire in his line. He said, "Come up with something you can do with Dan Spiegle and we'll publish it." That was a nice offer so when I got home, I invented a comic that was more science-fictiony and super-heroic than Crossfire. I figured that was what Marvel would like…and I had a premise that would allow me to do the same kinds of stories that people, or at least Archie, seemed to like about Crossfire.

I wrote a script, Dan drew about eight pages and at the next convention Archie and I both attended, I presented them to him. The next day of the con, we met for lunch and I learned that having a proposal rejected by Archie Goodwin was a more pleasant experience than having one accepted by some editors I've known. He essentially said, "I like this a lot and I'll buy it if this is the book you want to do but I was hoping for something with no super-heroics or s-f or fantasy in it."

He went on to explain that the folks at Marvel in charge of such things were looking for something that might snag young women aged 16-24 who, research told them, were not attracted to the current Marvel line. The company was working out a deal to put a small comics display near the section of many bookstores and newsstands that sold Harlequin Romances and other (allegedly) female-directed publications. The problem, he said, was that Marvel really didn't have the right product to put on it.

"Give me something set in Hollywood with adventure and soap opera overtones," Archie requested. He mentioned the newspaper strip, On Stage, which he loved and which he'd written for a time. "Something like that," he said, and he suggested I try to get the word "Hollywood" into the title.

That afternoon, I took a long walk to mull, then went back to my room and wrote down some notes for a book called Hollywood Superstars. Archie and I talked it out the next day and he said, before I'd written a page of it or Dan even knew of its existence, "You've got a deal."

He made two requests of a creative nature. In Crossfire, the title character drove a light blue 1957 Thunderbird, in part because I was then driving a light blue 1957 Thunderbird. Archie wanted one of the Hollywood Superstars to drive a light blue 1957 Thunderbird. "Fine with me," I said. The other request was that I not yield to the temptation to introduce fantasy or super-heroics into the book. He had a hunch about a potential new audience that could be reached if I didn't drive them off by trying to attract the Wolverine fans. "Now, you're got a deal," I told him.

But as it turned out, neither of us had a deal — a deal on paper, anyway. The terms were fairly simple and quite standard but it somehow took close to a year to work out the minor points. We would literally spend less time writing and drawing Hollywood Superstars than we did waiting for the contract. By the time it arrived and we could begin work, two big things had changed at Marvel. One was that Archie had left. The other was that no one there seemed to have any interest in a rack near where they sold Harlequin Romances or in chasing that elusive female readership. There didn't even seem to be any interest at that moment in publishing anything that wouldn't attract Wolverine fans.

Which was their right. In hindsight, I kinda wish they'd come to me and said, "Look, we know our editor asked you for this comic but our publishing interests have changed and we don't think we can sell it right now. How about if we work with you and Mr. Spiegle to come up with something we do want to publish?" I'm skeptical that Hollywood Superstars would have sold well even if Marvel had been gung-ho excited about publishing it. Not in that marketplace, not without something like Archie's proposed alternative marketing plan. But I knew for sure it wouldn't sell if the folks at Marvel disliked the whole concept as much as some of them seemed to dislike it. Alas, they didn't propose any alternative deal. Instead, they sent me a schedule of when to deliver the first issue of Hollywood Superstars…so Dan and I went to work.

As I recall, they had the right to cancel after #4 and I told Dan that was all we'd probably do. For some reason, we wound up doing five before they pulled the plug. My guess? Someone there just got too busy and forgot to cancel it sooner.

I hope none of this sounds like I'm complaining. At the time, a few things bothered me, most notably a very rude (and wholly unnecessary) phone call I received from one of the Marvel editors up there. He acted like I had somehow tricked Marvel into publishing a comic they didn't want to publish and suggested that if I thought that was what Marvel readers wanted to buy, I really didn't understand the comic book industry. A year or so later, he came up to me at Comic-Con, told me Archie Goodwin had explained the whole thing to him, and he apologized. So that stopped bothering me.

The thing that did for a long time was the color separation work on the book. Back before we had computer coloring, back when this book was done, colorists colored stats of the pages and then a color separator would convert that work to negatives that could be burned onto printing plates. Marvel worked with some firms that did that very well but they had a few that did poor-to-mediocre work. Hollywood Superstars was assigned to one of the latter kind and they did such bad separations that Dan, colorist Tom Luth and I can barely stand to look at the printed books. If you ever do, trust me: Tom did the usual excellent job you see on the other comics he's colored.

But happily, neither you nor I nor anyone has to look at those badly-reproduced comics now to read the stories in Hollywood Superstars. Nat Gertler's About Comics has just issued a collection of all five stories in black-and-white. (No, the essays are not included but most of them are on this site.) I just got mine and I enjoyed it a lot, especially the nice back cover blurb from one of the best writers in comics today, Kurt Busiek.

This is the extent of the Hard Sell you'll get out of me. If you'd like to purchase a copy, here's the link. Hope you use it. Hope you like what you get. If nothing else, the artwork by Dan Spiegle is superb.