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Re: Old Superheroes Never Die
The guy is a sweetheart and a great artist to boot. Now he's teaching
----- Original Message -----
From: Eric Chun <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, January 17, 2000 5:48 PM
Subject: Old Superheroes Never Die
> Hi guys/grrls!
> Great email from the comicart-l mailing list:
> January 7, 2000
> Old Superheroes Never Die, They Join the Real World
> By HERB TRIMPE
> In 1996, after 29 years as an artist for Marvel Comics, I got fired -- 56
> years old, two children still in college and no job.
> Things had started to get shaky two years before. The American comics
> industry was taking hits from changing tastes in the youth market --
> boys had plenty of other entertainment options, mostly electronic -- and
> Marvel couldn't seem to lure the general population. Never mind that in
> comic books sell in the millions to all ages. It also didn't help that
> Perelman's acquisition binge overextended the company, or that Marvel
> the market with spinoffs and endless No. 1 issues, devaluing the
> of the faithful.
> By 1995, a new wave of artists and writers had supplanted the older pros,
> my employer was giving me less and less work.
> I had joined Marvel in 1967, after a year in Vietnam and three years as a
> student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Stan Lee, then the
> in chief, hired me as a production assistant. I would draw comics,
> the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four, over the next three decades --
> the last two from my home studio in Kerhonkson, 120 miles from Manhattan,
> where I live with my wife, Linda Fite, a writer ("Claws of the Cat") I met
> I have kept a journal more for therapeutic reasons than anything else.
> excerpts recount my journey, from Hulk to seventh-grade art teacher.
> March 15, 1995: F.F.'s been cut. Fantastic Four Unlimited is the only
> comic I'm drawing. With pages reduced, my work is cut in half. Called Nel,
> who apologized. He'd try to get me more work to meet the four-page weekly
> quota, but things don't look good. There've been a bunch of firings.
> April 1: I'm beginning to hate drawing comics. It becomes harder and
> to compete with the new creative "stars." Experience doesn't seem to
> May 27: Turned 56 yesterday. Sent in my application today to the State
> University of New York's Empire State College. The Center for Distance
> Learning offers credit for life experience and independent study for
> like me, who can't attend regular classes. Not sure what I'll major in.
> art. Maybe history.
> Aug. 10: Accepted at Empire State. A mentor will help design a degree
> Nov. 20: F.F. Unlimited was canceled this week. No warning. Went down to
> York yesterday. All the editors either in meetings or out to lunch. Talked
> human resources at Marvel today. The lady seemed embarrassed. Said maybe I
> should consider retiring. I told her I wasn't going to hold the gun to my
> head. They'd have to shoot me themselves. With a family, I need the health
> care benefits and income.
> Dec. 15: No matter what I say or who I call or write at Marvel, I can't
> assigned to another book. I've tried reason, outrage, guilt trips and
> begging. Nada. I haven't been able to scrounge together enough work to
> my monthly quota. The place is a shambles. When I press, they admit sales
> down and so is morale. The scuttlebutt is that more layoffs are coming.
> Jan. 3, 1996: More firings. About 19 people gone, including Nel.
> Jan. 8: Worked on my own comic strip, about a minor league baseball team.
> calling it "Chicken Scratch." It's going very slowly. I guess I'm not that
> interested. What to do? I'm trying to be convinced that change is good,
> will be guided toward positive ends. The upheaval is great at times,
> Jan. 11: Finally talked to my tutor for my first Empire State course, Far
> Eastern history. He's assigned two texts, and we'll confer once a week.
> a long, drawn-out process -- the writing, the paperwork, trying to connect
> with the tutors for each course. If I didn't have all this time and money
> invested, I'd quit.
> Jan. 23: The job thing is a downer, but I'm generally excited and
> Tom DeFalco at Marvel called after dinner to see how I was doing. When he
> editor in chief, he kept me working during another slow period when all
> new editors were hiring their pet artists. Great chat. He knows some
> at King Features.
> Jan. 26: Rumors, rumors and more rumors. Marie says she's having the same
> trouble I am -- getting just the odd coloring job, no substantial work at
> all. The checks keep coming, but this is getting weirder and weirder. It
> helps to talk to someone in the same boat.
> Feb. 3: I feel like I'm turning into somebody else.
> Feb. 7: Freak out in the a.m. -- anxiety, I think. Feel dizzy and panicky,
> the world closing in. Shaky and sullen the rest of the morning. "Chicken
> Scratch" seems hopeless. Inked four installments, and it's mediocre. Not
> all as I imagined. (What did I imagine?)
> Feb. 16: Marie called. They have "terminated her contract." The blade
> closer. I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop -- right on my drawing
> Feb. 18: Wrote again to the editor in chief of Marvel, offering to take on
> any work. Can't get anyone to answer my calls.
> March 5: I've decided to go for a B.A. in art. It's the shortest route to
> degree. I'm thinking about teaching.
> March 7: Spring two weeks away. Packaged strip with cover letter to submit
> five syndicates.
> March 14: Got a rejection slip from United Press International in one
> It's hard to see how they even looked at it. Their guidelines said 8 to 12
> weeks. One week! Gad! I knew it had to be, so why get bent out of shape?
> down, four to go.
> March 22: Contacted or attempted to contact the art department heads at
> schools -- Marist, Bard, Vassar and SUNY, New Paltz. Things slid downhill
> the afternoon; got real depressed. Then I got a rejection from King
> That makes three to go. Saw the comet on the way to Kingston.
> April 2: Where's Marvel? Linda says call. Marie says no, why bother? Let
> ride. My Order of Battle is just about wrapped up -- the list of projects
> laid out in November to work on. I don't know exactly what to do. Worked
> the yard with Linda in the afternoon.
> April 29: A bright spot. Got a letter from Tribune Media Services. A
> submissions editor liked the strip and is going to pass it on.
> May 1: Lo and behold, got a call from Marvel! A message about a job on
> X-Factor -- breakdowns. Six months of nothing, and now this -- a one-shot
> of loose pencil drawings. The call is upsetting.
> May 13: Well, the wait is over. Today it came, via Federal Express. I got
> fired by mail, effective June 8. No warning, no phone call. The letter was
> delivered with another package I was expecting from Marvel. You couldn't
> what it was by the envelope. A stealth termination. Opened it up. Bang!
> Gotcha! Ha! I've been waiting a long time, and still they caught me off
> May 17: Got a package from Marvel today, a pile of termination agreement
> paperwork. I'm supposed to sign forms swearing that I won't talk trash
> Marvel, won't reveal any superheroes' secret identities, won't say
> mean about Stan Lee, won't make a fuss, and other legal mumbo jumbo. If I
> don't sign, I don't get termination "benefits."
> May 20: Wrote a letter to Marvel asking for more severance pay. It struck
> that I should send it Fed- Ex on their account number. Small thing, but it
> made me feel good.
> May 25: Got rejection from Tribune Media. Oh, well, I did have a hope.
> I'll rework the strip and submit it again in a year. The entire comics
> is in trouble. But I've got to do something.
> June 7: Revenge is still in my heart.
> June 8: Stone Ridge Library Fair. At a booth, selling old comics, the
> hundreds that Marvel sent me over the years, to help the library fund.
> would ask, "Are any of these ones you drew?" Signed a few autographs for
> middle-age die-hard fans. Ironic, eh, considering the situation.
> June 9: Final strip rejection yesterday -- from L.A. Times Syndicate. The
> plan is to go to unemployment tomorrow.
> June 10: It hits me today about this being the first weekday of no
> job. It is the first time since before the Air Force 34 years ago. An
> interesting sensation. Like hanging over the edge of a cliff. But maybe I
> June 11: Went to Kingston to sign up for unemployment. The line was a real
> mixed bag of humanity. Felt awkward, but the staff was patient and
> The thought of going for job interviews depresses me. But the thought of
> never working again depresses me even more.
> June 26: Went to a job interview at a company that makes sports
> and other stuff. They want an artist with experience in Quark and
> and all that computer stuff. Hey, I can draw rings around your Adobe
> Illustrator! They don't know or care.
> July 17: The session at the N.Y.S. Department of Labor was very
> I'm amazed at how many programs are available. I took a bunch of notes. My
> head is filled with possibilities. I've been classified as a dislocated
> worker. There is a possibility of having my education paid for, at least
> part, by either the state or the V.A. or both.
> July 23: I feel pretty positive lately. I like the schooling, just the
> of it. I also enjoy the writing.
> July 28: Sent out fliers to Extreme, Dark Horse, Malibu, Fantagraphics,
> Topps, DC and about five other comics companies.
> Aug. 1: Made four calls for jobs. If I'm to put comics behind me, I need
> go through this. I wanted a journey into the unknown, and I've got it.
> Aug. 11: I can't stop obsessing about going to the Department of Labor.
> of the people there wanted to cut my benefits. There's something about
> dealing with government agencies that makes you feel like a criminal. What
> I going to do about work? A freelance thing in Bedford looks like a
> possibility. I feel flat on everything -- school, running, building
> weigh 165 and worry about getting heavier. I've been having a lot of
> disturbing dreams.
> Sept. 1: Picked up the van at the body shop; old thing made new. Picked up
> the Underwood at the typewriter shop; another old thing made new. The
> question is, can an old thing like myself be made new?
> Sept. 14: I've got the Empire State stuff planned for the year. Computer
> graphic design, college algebra and a primitive art course this fall. Then
> Renaissance art, Far Eastern history II and an English lit survey class
> semester. That should do it for enough credit hours for the B.A. Like the
> scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz," I think I need that piece of paper. At
> I'll be accomplishing something this year.
> Oct. 3: Wrote a letter to the D.O.L. to try to get assistance in taking
> Empire State classes in Quark Express, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop,
> explaining that learning those skills will increase my chances of finding
> full-time work.
> Oct. 5: Linda went to New Paltz to see Mose Allison in concert. I just
> couldn't bring myself to go. I don't feel like being with people. Hate to
> answer those "How's it going?" questions.
> Oct. 7: The computer graphics course is going pretty well. The Adobe
> Illustrator exercises are simple, but the computer aspect of the whole
> business is so cold. The lines are cold, the tone is cold. And it seems so
> silly to be drawing with a mouse and software when I can do it faster and
> better by hand.
> Dec. 15: I am so grouchy with Linda, criticize her for every little thing.
> She drives me nuts with her implacable calm and what-me-worry? demeanor. I
> think she's in denial.
> Dec. 18: Got next semester's courses lined up, including a couple of study
> groups in New Paltz. I like being in class, so I'm looking forward to
> even driving across the mountain in January and February.
> Dec. 28: Marvel is bankrupt. I wonder what Stan thinks. It's a shame what
> Perelman did to that company. Corporate suits! As Flo always says: "Herb,
> they just don't care. Don't you get it?"
> Jan. 29, 1997: Sometimes I just want to walk out of the house and keep
> I feel extraneous. Despite all my interests and enthusiasms, I guess I
> buy into that notion of man as breadwinner. I can intellectually deal with
> not contributing income to the family, but emotionally it's another
> It gnaws at me.
> March 1: Talked to an adviser in the art department at SUNY about applying
> for the master of fine arts program. I was not encouraged. She thought I
> should take some preliminary painting courses. I don't have the time.
> March 11: Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn are at each other's throats over
> March 14: Took a bunch of paintings to Kingston to have slides made to
> with my application to SUNY, New Paltz. The head of the department seemed
> have a snotty attitude about my commercial art background.
> May 1: Was not accepted into the M.F.A. program at SUNY. I figured.
> May 23: Sent in my application to SUNY, New Paltz, for the master of
> nal studies in humanistic education program, designed for educators and
> service professionals. Considers the whole person -- mind, body and
> It seems to center on an issue that is not normally found in our
> institutions, and that is compassion.
> June 9: We all went to the Empire State graduation ceremony at Rockland
> Community College. It was really wonderful. The hall was filled with
> families, including many kids of graduates. The graduates were encouraged
> say a few words. Some of their stories of accomplishment were very
> One guy bounded up to get his diploma and yelled: "Yo! I'm a freakin'
> miracle!" It was great.
> June 13: Was accepted into the program in humanistic education.
> Aug. 25: First day of school. Everybody seemed to know everybody else,
> Sept. 17: Had to give up my duties as deacon at St. John's Episcopal
> because of the full-time student workload. There's very little time for
> journal writing. Plus, with a new focus, I don't feel the need as much.
> March 17, 1998: The amount of reading is monstrous. I'm determined to beat
> C-plus/B-minus high school average.
> May 21: It's cool to have classroom buddies. My teacher friends and
> professors have encouraged me to consider public education. They think I
> would have something to offer.
> July 13: Ha! A judge approves a reorganization plan for Marvel
> Group so it can emerge from bankruptcy protection.
> Jan. 18, 1999: My student teaching, through Pace University in
> starts tomorrow. Half a semester in elementary school, half a semester in
> high school. I take the National Teachers Examination core battery test on
> Saturday to get certified. Six hours' worth. I did the practice test this
> morning, including getting up at 6 and beginning at 7:30, just like the
> thing. I did O.K. on two sections, but the professional-knowledge part was
> Jan. 19: First day of school, at Truman Moon School in Middletown. I'm
> student-teaching kindergarten and first grade. Greg, the regular art
> who will take me under his wing, briefed the kids on the color wheel and
> it works. They are extremely cute. Greg handles these kids very well, and
> they behave with respect. It is important to set guidelines and stick to
> rules. I can see a certain face has to be adopted.
> Jan. 21: I can see myself as I observe, a detached kind of thing, and I
> wonder what I am doing here. All those years in the rather isolated
> of a commercial artist, and now, at 59, this.
> Jan. 26: Greg is using Picasso's Blue Period to teach the kids about cool
> colors. I love it when a kid says, "Pablo Picasso!" I got a hug at the end
> the day from a kid who said he was going to miss me until the next class.
> still haven't gotten names down. Five classes a day, 25 classes a week.
> That's a lot of kids.
> Feb. 8: The kids don't listen to me. Well, a few do. The restrictions are
> tight. Against the wall, hats off, no getting up, noise to a minimum --
> teacher as cop. I don't really like it.
> Feb. 10: I'm beginning to hate this, but I'm not quitting. Teachers in the
> grad seminar class are very supportive. Many said last night that student
> teaching was the most miserable experience they'd had.
> March 2: The lesson on making kites is working well. My Pace evaluator,
> came to observe today. It was Mrs. B.'s class, which was the noisiest,
> rudest, most raucous they've ever been. They did a good job, but I looked
> pretty bad, which is what I was. Maybe public school is not for me. I
> understand discipline, and man, can these kids jerk you around. Greg says
> will come in time. I'm not convinced.
> March 12: My last day at Truman Moon. I'm not looking back. The kids have
> been awesome and exhausting. Some didn't understand I was temporary.
> you going to come back?" they asked. Very cute.
> March 16: First day at Washingtonville High School. The day seems to be
> without as much pressure as elementary school. I'm jumping right in. Will
> begin the Chinese art project tomorrow.
> March 22: A couple of kids already know which buttons to push.
> March 25: Had fun. Apprehensive as always, but the two new projects in
> commercial art and printmaking are getting some lift under their wings.
> Landscapes are coming nicely. Some excellent stuff. How can one day leave
> feeling so rotten, and the next, like, "Hey! I can do this!"?
> March 26: Good news! I passed all three of the core battery sections,
> higher than the national average. All I need to do is get through student
> April 6: The Chronicle of Higher Education has an ad for a job at Savannah
> College of Art and Design in Georgia -- professor of sequential art. I've
> a strong body of published work, and I'm a teacher. It sounds perfect for
> April 15: All goes well. The last two days have been great. Wrapping up
> Chinese landscapes. It's amazing how fantastic some of the work is! Better
> than I could do.
> May 7: Got a letter from human resources at Savannah. They are "very
> interested." They want me to go down to visit, maybe teach a workshop.
> May 15: Went to a teachers' job fair. Left resumes with several school
> districts looking for art teachers. We'll see what comes of it.
> for my master's almost wrapped up.
> May 18: Last class at SUNY, New Paltz. Grade point average, not counting
> class, is 3.96.
> May 26: Birthday again. Beats the alternative. From 0 to 60.
> June 3: Flew down to Savannah yesterday. The visit didn't seem to gel.
> June 4: Feeling unsettled about Savannah. One of the guys in the
> was very excited that I might teach there. Most of the others present were
> lukewarm or chilly. No matter what goes down, that school could really use
> -- or someone like me. Not a one had any field experience to speak of.
> July 1: Sent a resume in response to a newspaper ad for an art position at
> Eldred Central School in Sullivan County. This is the first of a
> new-generation resume that excludes dates that can pinpoint my age. Vern
> others had advised me to do this. They look for the age thing, he says.
> Gee-whiz, golly, I thought age discrimination was illegal!
> July 7: Flew back to Savannah to teach a workshop as part of the job
> application process. Great time with the students. We'll get back to you,
> they say.
> July 9: The Eldred principal, Ivan Katz, called today. Asked if I could
> in for an interview on Tuesday. Told him we were going to the beach
> He said, "How about today?" So I drove over. Nice guy -- loves the Hulk.
> amazing school -- like something out of "Father Knows Best." Built in
> brick, with high ceilings and the old slate blackboards. Lots of varnished
> wood trim and parquet floors. Neat.
> July 13: Haven't enjoyed the vacation (Bethany Beach, Del.), obsessing
> whether somebody will offer a job. I keep calling home to see if there
> been any messages on the machine. Finally, there was a message from Eldred
> give them a call. Yes! Nothing from Savannah.
> July 19: Called Savannah. The department chairman said there never was
> a job, the ad was an old ad, run by mistake, blah, blah, blah. Sorry, hope
> you weren't inconvenienced, and so on. Talk about backpedaling.
> July 20: Met with the Eldred superintendent, Candace Mazur. I sat on the
> front steps for a few minutes before the meeting, and I noticed the sign
> front was painted in the school colors -- green and gold, the same as my
> school. Their mascot is a yellow jacket, ours was a hornet. I was my usual
> overtalkative self, but she didn't hold it against me. She offered the
> position. Seventh-grade art, remedial math and a class with special-ed
> It feels nice to be wanted. I feel pretty good about teaching in a public
> school, like maybe I can make a contribution. That's corny.
> Sept. 8: First day of class at Eldred. Up at 5 a.m. Very foggy on Route
> It's a little over an hour, door-to-door, but I enjoy the transition time.
> Even though today is more or less an orientation day, I got them drawing
> last 20 minutes. The kids are great, a little rambunctious, but it seemed
> almost too easy.
> Sept. 13: Monday morning. Man, it's early. Forgot my lunch, my wallet and
> money. My lessons are organized, but my life isn't. Bruce, the high school
> art teacher, says I should put my car keys and wallet in the fridge with
> lunch bag. He's got 30 years of teaching experience, so I listen to
> everything he says. The class came up with rules for conduct. Assigned a
> dictionary person. If an unfamiliar word arises, that person will look it
> We'll keep a list. Also, introduced the riddle of the week. We get until
> Friday to figure it out. Winners get a fancy refrigerator magnet.
> Sept. 14: Reviewing basic elements of art, which are part of state
> guidelines. I didn't know what they were myself until I started teaching.
> explain, they draw examples. Seems a little boring to me.
> Sept. 16: Had to have a little talk with a student. Some are very
> accomplished at being passive-aggressive. Down to a science, in fact,
> Einsteins at it. I tend to cut the kids a lot of slack. I told them in the
> beginning they would have more freedom in this class than others, because
> the workshop environment. They are beginning to run with that ball. I
> have kept my big mouth shut.
> Sept. 21: I think I'm suffering from post-job-getting depression today.
> like, O.K., here you are, now what? The kids are having a good time with
> diorama. I showed them how to make palm trees out of brown wrapping paper
> construction paper.
> Sept. 24: Something like an anxiety attack upon arriving. It slipped away
> things got moving, but I felt shaky. Maybe I am too old for this. The kids
> were wound up. Maybe they sensed something. I'm trying to develop that
> certain "face," but it doesn't come natural.
> Sept. 27: A couple of kids were really off the wall today. I suppose I
> write them up. I have refrained from doing that because they calm down
> a talking-to. I know disruptions take away from the rest of the class. But
> the class is a minicommunity, which I believe it is, doesn't the class as
> whole have a responsibility toward the one, just as much as the one has a
> responsibility toward the class? In society, I'm not sure it's right to
> remove the offender, and everyone else goes along, business as usual.
> Everyone has to be responsible.
> Sept. 28: Feeling pretty good today, and the class went extremely well.
> Angels all. I concluded that the way the class acts is in response to the
> the teacher acts in various subtle ways. The trick is to keep positive no
> matter what. I struggle with this.
> Oct. 15: Teaching is like flying a plane. You leave school one day feeling
> like you're spiraling down toward the trees, expecting that the next day
> crash will come. You brace yourself for the impact, only to find that
> have leveled out at treetop height, and you climb and enjoy the remainder
> the flight.
> Oct. 22: Ordered a varsity jacket today. Green and gold with my old
> number, 5.
> Nov. 4: Second-period art class observed and evaluated by Ivan, the
> principal, today. The kids were perfect, and I didn't bribe them.
> on meeting went well. He thinks I can teach. I felt pretty good.
> Nov. 5: Friday. Half-day today. If Ivan had been here today he would have
> fired me. I had two kids on the floor who wouldn't get up, the occasional
> missile across the room, endless interruptions. I gave up. Are real
> supposed to say that?
> Dec. 1: Feeling very positive the last couple of weeks. Administration and
> staff very supportive. Got my varsity jacket today. Full circle.
> Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company
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