HOW NOT TO SUBMIT A PROPOSAL
How about all this hubbub about Marvel’s Epic line, and its throwing open the House of Ideas to the regular joe? On CBR alone Augie recently tackled the subject, as well as has noted raker of muck Rich Johnston who has pondered whether or not non-Marvel publishers can “survive the mountain that’s about to fall on them” … a mountain undoubtedly comprised of rejected Epic proposals.
Well, that one’s an easy one to answer for my company since we don’t make a secret of the fact that we don’t accept proposals.
And on the off chance you want to submit your completed graphic novel to Submissions Czar Ryan Yount, well, he’s not a hard guy to track down, either. So no deluge to avoid for us.
Here’s the story of how not to submit a proposal.
Back in late 1999, flush with our successful collaboration on Astronauts in Trouble: Live From the Moon, artist Charlie Adlard and I thought we might like to pitch a Batman Elseworlds to DC,
and I had an idea that was so brilliant, so obvious, but so not-ever-done, that it’d be an easy sell. I wrote up the following, and Charlie did two illustrations to show the mood and feel.
This is the story of Bruce Wayne and how he didn’t become Batman.
The story beats follow CITIZEN KANE, with a dying Bruce Wayne looking out the window from stately Wayne Manor… his hand reflexively grasping at the air, as we witness his last words… “Bat… man…”
Figures on the street assemble before a bank of television sets as a newsman tells of Wayne’s death: “Potent figure of our century…” “Greatest newspaper tycoon of this or any other century…” “Bruce Wayne helped to change the world…”
A reporter (that we show only in silhouette and from three-quarters behind, as in the film) speaks to his cronies about a fresh, interesting pitch on the last story of a man who lived his life in headlines. “We need an angle…” “Well, what were his last words?” “Batman?” “What the hell does that mean?” …and so on. They decide to interview those who knew him best.
The reporter, called Pennyworth, goes to see Wayne’s second wife, Selina Kyle. A curator of museum-quality jewelry exhibits, she tells Pennyworth (and us) the story of young Bruce.
Thomas and Martha Wayne are shot and killed, just as we know the story, but this time there’s a difference. A petty thief and his muscle do the job this time, armed with a Saturday Night Special and a Louisville Slugger. This time, however, young Bruce does not grow up to be a revenge-filled creature of solitary justice, because he’s not raised in lonely Wayne Manor by his family’s trusted manservant. No, this time, Jonathan and Martha Kent are in Gotham City on holiday, and witness the brutal crime. The killers are brought to justice by the proper authorities, who enact the death penalty, and young Bruce is brought to Smallville where he’s raised by the good and kindly Kents. With such a solid family foundation, Wayne’s period of grief is healthily dealt with, and he grows to be a man with firm Mid-Western morals and ideals.
When Bruce turns 21, he inherits the Wayne family fortune and returns to Gotham City to reclaim his birthright. In a moving goodbye to his adopted parents, wherein Bruce explains why he’s leaving Smallville, he states, “The common man needs a champion. Someone to look after their interests. If I don’t, someone else will. Perhaps someone who will not champion the common man, but exploit him.”
Perhaps someone like Lex Luthor… and we can’t have that.
After a montage-like sequence where we shorthand his moving in to Wayne Manor, addressing the loyalty of Alfred (who, we assume, has acted as executor and “regent” while the Kents raised young Bruce), and settling in, we show a restless Bruce wanting to make good on his promise to champion the common man. Wayne uses his inherited fortune to stage elaborate and grandiose events to draw attention to society’s ills and perhaps raise money for all sorts of humanitarian causes. The crowds that these sorts of things attract are happy to party for Wayne’s causes, but he sees that no real good is being done in Gotham City. Somber and grim-faced, he ponders the problem.
This time, Selina Kyle says, “Rome fiddles while Nero burns.”
The reporter then goes to interview Lois Lane, and all sorts of irony is shown between the two; The Interviewer being interviewed, and such. We still don’t see the reporter, Pennyworth, that clearly. But, prodding, he elicits the tale of how Wayne leaves Gotham to come to Metropolis, to buy The Daily Planet. He shows a glimmer of the man he might have been when he stops a gang of punks from attacking Lois Lane, who’s on her way to join the staff of the Planet. She has no idea the gallant man who stepped in to make the odds a little more even is her new publisher…
…we trot out select members of the Superman cast as we build to the main conflict… and intimate that fellow rich-guy Ollie Queen and test pilot Hal Jordan are among Wayne’s confidantes… but these guys aren’t superheroes in this world, either…the conflict is that of Wayne’s campaign to be elected mayor of Metropolis against the incumbent, Lex Luthor. Without a Superman to rail against, Luthor is a tamer version of the one we know… and yet still driven, and I suspect, heartless. But straight-forward, in his own way, and therefore predictable. Wayne does political stump speeches in front of our version of the big CITIZEN KANE campaign posters; this one, however, says “WAYNE.” Wayne thinks he has him beat, but is defeated in the election. There are accusations and counter-charges, but in the end it is revealed that Wayne lost in a fair fight. It saps him of his will to help the common man, when the common man so soundly has rejected him. My one visual image for this one to help you see what I’m getting at is an older Wayne… maybe mid-forties, greying at the temples, a little paunch, leaning out on a window sill, looking at his adopted home. The angle should be from below, and lit by streetlights, also from below. Behind him, on the wall, we see the shadow he casts has some tell-tale points, almost… bat-like…
The reporter then interviews Dick Grayson, who tells of a boyhood encounter with a defeated Wayne on a city street. Now Police Commissioner in Gotham City, Grayson was then a street thug, and the young punk can’t believe his luck that the vaunted (and rich!) Bruce Wayne is walking around unescorted. Instead of a fight, however, Bruce appeals to the inherent goodness he senses in Grayson and convinces him to turn his life around. “There’s only one person in the world that can decide what I’m going to do” Grayson says without irony to a still-dejected Wayne.
The reporter then interviews a frail Barbara Gordon, who was the attending nurse at Wayne’s deathbed, and Pennyworth hears the tale of Wayne’s final moments:
Bitter, intense, defeated, this Bruce Wayne returns to his ancestral home of Wayne Manor where he lives out his days friendless and alone. He’s chased away his friends; he’s isolated himself. Until we witness, on his deathbed, Wayne’s final thoughts. They play out before us… the death of his parents, from his point of view:
The thief with the gun has it pointed at Dr. Wayne; the guy with the baseball bat has got Martha’s pearls in one hand and the raised bat in the other. “C’mon, lady, give it up. How much is it worth?” She tries to wriggle away as the other guy says, “Oh, a man’s life, I suppose,” and shoots them both. We understand that the “Bat… man…” Wayne calls for as he dies is not the superhero we know but a warning to the man who killed his mother that he is coming to the afterlife for his vengeance he was denied on this earth.
The reporter, who we see clearly now, runs his hand through his hair to straighten an errant curl that’s fallen across his brow. He straightens his glasses and puts it all into perspective for us. “He had everything, Wayne did, except the one thing he could buy… peace.” “He’s at peace, now, Mr. Pennyworth,” says the nurse. “Call me Clark,” says the reporter, and the reader will hopefully enjoy this payoff so much that they’ll want to see us do the story of baby Kal-El raised by Alfred Pennyworth….
Sounds cool, huh? Well, I wrote this up and Charlie did up his sketches and we showed it to Mike Carlin (or maybe Bob Schreck, I forget), and you know what he said? “Yeah, thanks; we’re not looking to fill up on any more Batman Elseworlds right now. Always best to ask before investing so much time and work.”
So, you see? There’s really nowhere else to go with something like this. You can’t do it as a Moon Knight story, say, since it’s so heavily invested in the Bat-family… and even the play on words of the title isn’t going to work with any other grim-avenger-of-the-night character you can come up with on your own. So all that work goes nowhere, and for nothing.
Which is the real reason that no other non-Marvel publisher isn’t going to have to “survive the mountain that’s about to fall on them” because that Mighty Marvel Mountain of Manuscripts isn’t going to fall. A really well-written proposal tied strongly into a Marvel character won’t work with cosmetic changes made for another publisher, and a poorly-constructed proposal won’t be green-lit by anyone, anyway.
So, hopeful writers, sure, go ahead and do your Omega The Unknown revamp you’ve been waiting years to do; you may very well hit that lottery. But remember you only have one place to sell that proposal. Do the same amount of think-sweat on a new thing, and you have all the other comics publishers to offer it to.
That’ll increase your chances, and maybe even get you noticed enough that Bill Jemas will come to you someday and ask you to take a crack at Omega The Unknown…
Mail about this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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