Posted by on Aug 6, 2012 in How I Got Here | 24 Comments

It went by and I almost missed it. Twenty-five years ago last Friday, I became a Comics Professional. I could have sworn it was August 10–I distinctly remember that Bob Wayne was hired a week before me–but I just checked the calendar. August 3.

I’d had a couple of stories published in Action Comics, but they weren’t anything to write home about. Mostly, my “professional career” had consisted of a long series of articles in various fanzines like Comics Buyer’s Guide and Amazing Heroes. I’d been the editor of the latter for about an hour and a half in late ’86, which deserves a series of blogposts in and of itself, and by spring of ’87 I was packaging and editing my own magazine, the ill-fated Comicsweek!, an industry news tabloid that was printed at roughly the size of a military parachute but with more hot air. It lasted five issues, the only thing remarkable about it was that it launched the career of industry pundit Sidney Mellon, and it was about as far ahead of its time as a wagon wheel is today…but DC Publisher Jenette Kahn noticed it when she was hiring for a new “indy-feel” imprint to be called Piranha Press, and while I didn’t get that job when I was interviewed, I apparently made a decent enough impression to be offered a regular staff gig as an Associate Editor.

This job, I should stress, at age 25, was all in the world I had ever wanted. Ever. I didn’t dream of being a writer or an artist. I dreamed of being a DC editor. This is true, my hand to God. Joining the ranks of Julius Schwartz and Robert Kanigher and Dick Giordano and others…helping guide the fates of the heroes who’d looked after me as a boy…that, I was convinced, was my calling. So I packed up what few things I had in my L.A. apartment, drove cross-country to New York, lay on a friend’s fold-out couch that Sunday night in sleepless excitement, and set out Monday, August 3 to the DC offices.

I wore my one suit to work that day (for the only time ever). It was raining that morning, but that didn’t make it any cooler outside in August in New York. I had no umbrella. It was a wool suit. And I wasn’t sure how the subways worked and ended up getting out about thirty blocks downtown. By the time I walked into 666 Fifth Avenue, I looked like a bar rag. Nonetheless, Ruthie the receptionist buzzed me in and Dick Giordano showed me to my desk, which I shared with an art director named Julia. Julia told me that the desk and office had belonged to the late Nelson Bridwell, who’d passed on a year earlier, driven to his grave (I’ll swear to the day I die) by John Byrne’s revamp of Superman. Nelson was a genius and the most well-read and well-educated man ever to hold a blue pencil, but because of his various health problems and his general “fanishness,” particularly his unmatched dogmatism regarding DC continuity, he wasn’t terribly well-regarded by his peers. Julia indicated the dark, triangular shadow on the back of the office door under the coathook. “There’s a shadow there because that’s where Nelson hung his coat, which he wore every day regardless of the weather,” she said. “We call it the Shroud of Nelson.”

If you’re wondering what an Associate Editor does–or did in 1987–I’ll list my job duties those first two days. Ready? Here we go:

I erased Green Arrow pages.

Eight hours a day for two days.

Back then–less so now that so many artists work digitally–but back then always, once an inker finished embellishing a pencilled page, the underlying pencils had to be erased so as to leave the cleanest possible ink lines. Normally, that’s part of the inker’s job, or the inker’s assistant. In this particular case, the inker was Dick Giordano–the book was Green Arrow #1, by Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan and Dick–and since Dick was also the Editor In Chief, rank has its privileges and sometimes, whenever Dick inked something, whoever on staff could be spared was the poor schlub who had to endure the thankless task of erasing. As the New Kid–especially since both Mike Gold and Andy Helfer had separately been told that I worked for them and thus it took two days for them to argue out who “owned” me (Helfer), I could definitely be spared.

It was an ignominious start to an editorial career that ended with far more drama than it began–I lasted August 3, 1987 to Christmas Eve, 1989–and while it had its ups and downs, I still have more fond memories of that time than of any other point in my career. And regardless of how brief my tenure was, it clearly led to bigger and better things, all of for which I am grateful. I still have gee-whiz moments about what I do for a living, and I still, on occasion, get a flash of unbridled glee about comics now and again even after all this time. But that Monday 25 years ago really was one of the greatest days of my life. Wool suit or no.

24 Comments

  1. Michael Minneboo
    August 7, 2012

    Great story about humble beginnings. Although it would kill me if I had to erase original art work by one of the greats. That’s a tough job. :)

    Reply
  2. Cody Walker
    August 7, 2012

    Beautiful story! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
  3. Comics A.M. | Mark Waid celebrates 25 years in the industry | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment
    August 7, 2012

    [...] Creators | Although he almost missed the anniversary, Mark Waid celebrates 25 years as a comics professional by recalling his first day of work at the DC Comics offices: “If you’re wondering what an Associate Editor does – or did in 1987 – I’ll list my job duties those first two days. Ready? Here we go: I erased Green Arrow pages. Eight hours a day for two days.” [MarkWaid.com] [...]

    Reply
  4. Bruce Kent
    August 7, 2012

    Congratulations Mark! :)

    I Hope you come back to DC someday. :/

    Reply
  5. Joey T
    August 7, 2012

    I wonder what Associate Editors do today on their first day

    Reply
  6. Mark E
    August 7, 2012

    Mark,

    Congratulations on your anniversary! Many thanks for all the artistry, adventures and flat out fun you have put on paper for the last quarter century (yup, that’s right, I did the math)

    Looking forward to your Hulk run.

    Reply
  7. Gustavo Casals
    August 7, 2012

    So basically you spent your first day of work ERASING MIKE GRELL’S PENCILS FROM UNDERNEATH DICK GIORDANO’S INKS SITTING AT NELSON BRIDWELL’S DESK.
    I just fainted from writing it down…

    Reply
  8. Bobb Waller
    August 7, 2012

    Mark,

    i remember how happy you were when you told me about your foot in the door of getting your first job in the Comic industry.
    You’ve come a long way from the days where you made sure all comic back issue comics had Gorilla covers displayed on the front.

    Congratulations on you 25 years as a Pro.

    Reply
  9. Glenn Hauman
    August 7, 2012

    Ah, those were the days, back in 666. (Just walked past there today, oddly enough, and was dismayed to see the big glowing red 666 at the top of the building has been replaced by Citi logos. Like that’s less devil inspired somehow.)

    Reply
  10. Jeff Zee
    August 7, 2012

    I think it was Ed Hannigan’s pencils Mark erased. Have you ever revealed what ended your editorial career at DC Mark?

    Reply
    • Mark Waid
      August 7, 2012

      To come.

      Reply
      • Jeff Zee
        August 7, 2012

        Great! Been curious about that since the previous century!

        Reply
  11. Aleph
    August 7, 2012

    Congrats on 25 years of AWESOME!

    Reply
    • Augusto
      August 8, 2012

      Just awesomeness we have received from you, mr waid.

      Thank you very much, for everything…

      Reply
  12. Comic book quote of the day: Mark Waid, professional eraser | Dara Naraghi
    August 7, 2012

    [...] Waid, on celebrating 25 years in the comics biz, and his decidedly unglamorous first professional job in the industry. Like this post? Share it! [...]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP (74.220.219.119) doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP (69.89.21.85) and so is spam.

    Reply
  13. Matt Mikalatos
    August 7, 2012

    Congratulations, Mark!

    Reply
  14. Matt
    August 7, 2012

    Congrats and thank you! Great story, but I want a picture of you in the wool suit, preferably rained upon!

    Reply
  15. Tony Isabella
    August 8, 2012

    Maybe it’s just grumpy old me, but I never want to see you have to work for DC Comics again. It doesn’t deserve nice things.

    Reply
  16. Eric Haar
    August 8, 2012

    Great story, Mr. Waid. Congratulations on 25 years in the industry. You remain one of my favorite writers and one of the true “good guys” in comics. I say that primarily because I believe you have a love of the medium, the art form itself, that exceeds your own self interest.

    I’ve always appreciated that you’ve walked away from books/jobs/companies when asked to do things that would “harm” the character/title you’re working on. Of course they just get someone else to do it, but the ink’s not on your hands.

    Best wishes for the next 25 years!

    Reply
  17. Paul Bixby
    August 8, 2012

    Mr. Waid,
    I have to thank you. While it wasn’t your books that first got me into comics, it was your writing and your obvious love of DC characters and their history that kept me here.
    I consider the few times I got to interact with you at WizardWorld to be highlights of my fandom. I miss your voice in the new DCU and I think they would have benefited greatly from your influence. But then, DC has so many problems lately that asking you to help would be more of a punishment to you than a salvation to us, the readers – and you don’t deserve that.
    I just found your blog via your guest spot on the Gutters and I immediately read all of Insufferable and Luthor. I will be back here every week.

    Congratulations on 25 years. I look forward to 25 more. Thank you for everything.

    Reply
  18. Chris Arrant
    August 8, 2012

    Great story. I’ve always been interested in your pre-DC career doing comics journalism for AMAZING HEROES and COMICSWEEK!. Maybe I’m predisposed to that due to my own career, but I’d pick your brain on that for horus.

    Reply
    • Paul Bixby
      August 24, 2012

      Not picking on a typo, but “For Horus!” just has me tickled … All I can picture is animal-headed, loin-clothed warriors launching a religious war against today’s evangelicals. “FOR HORUS!!!!”

      And then there’s the one confused guy shouting “FOR OSIRIS!” while everyone around him shuffles awkwardly and coughs til someone whispers in his ear.

      Reply
  19. Bill Hall
    August 13, 2012

    Thanks for sharing. I was publishing DITKOMANIA at the same time you were doing COMICSWEEK! but I’m STILL not an associate editor. Congratulations and looking forward to enjoying more of your work.

    Reply
  20. Mike Pascale
    August 21, 2012

    Belated congrats, Mark! Wonderful reminiscence. That’s right around the time I first quit advertising to get into comics, only to get back in again the following year. I would have killed to have drawn one of your tales back then (or now)! But glad you stayed and never looked back. The industry is better for it. (No one misses my Jeep ads.)

    Wonder if you ever saw Nelson’s spirit haunting the offices? Or Neal and JK? Now those would make good stories…

    Meanwhile, here’s to the next 25 being even more fun, prolific and lucrative.

    Best,
    Mike

    Reply

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