Any writer submitting pitches and proposals to publishers is going to stockpile anecdotes along with rejection letters. An excellent example of this in my case is my series Little Dragon, created in the spring of 1982 and currently represented by Caliber Entertainment.
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A sumptuous sample from a promotional poster for “Dragon” by S. Clarke Hawbaker, circa 1984.
A holocaust on a parallel world drives refugees to Earth, where an underground hides their numbers by creating Terran identities for them. One refugee enlisted by the United Nations Intelligence Agency (UNIA) gets involved in international intrigue and espionage.
What It’s About
The main character of this series may be the first person to have dual citizenship on two different worlds.
World #1 is homeworld, a parallel planet of graceful and fantastical structures scattered under an opaque sky among plains and mountain ranges as wild as the Mongolian outback. One day, an infant Negro girl is found in a temple and baptized TAYM, which means “citizen of the cosmos.” Taym is reared by a temple avec, a scribe and teacher, and, like most people on homeworld, is given a pet that becomes her best friend: a white-skinned, blue-eyed dragon that can manipulate its size that she names ADAMS.
World #2 is Taym’s birth planet, Earth. Taym returns to Earth as a young adult, one of many refugees fleeing a holocaust on homeworld. She adopts a new identity as a Sino-African student named Lee Jun Fan (“little dragon”), and four years later is hired out of Peking University as a field operative for the United Nations Intelligence Agency (UNIA), which leads to adventures around the world.
DOYLE McCULLAY is Lee’s UNIA partner. Doyle is athletic, scholarly, worldly, and sometimes seems to know a bit about Lee’s secret past. Handsome, solemn, secretive, and attentive, Doyle personifies the romantic hero.
AUSTIN HALL (RAF, retired) is UNIA’S Operatives Division commander (ODC). A proud Scot and natural leader, people respect him because of his courage, intelligence, and know-how.
CHARLES ANDERSON MESMER is the avec who became Taym’s proctor and guardian. Leaving homeworld for Earth disillusioned Charles, but his position as the trustee of the refugees’ dragons while on Earth has buoyed his spirits.
Little Dragon was originally called Dragon and was the second comic book series I created. It was inspired by an instrumental piece of music called “The Dragon” by Vangelis. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventures, and Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint’s novel The Blind Spot were major influences as I developed it.
Originally I hoped to interest the owner of a local comic book shop, Peter Stark, to publish the series. A friend of mine, Dennis Stick, was the store’s manager, and he and Stark had been discussing publishing a comic book. Dennis liked Dragon, Stark was willing to consider my pitch, and his wife, Elaine, a graphic artist, liked the series enough to draw a concept sketch of Lee. In the end, Stark decided to pass on Dragon, but Elaine gave me permission to use her sketch in my submissions.
The first concept sketch for Taym, a.k.a. Lee Jun Fan. Art by Elaine Stark. Not precisely what I had in mind, but a gorgeous art deco piece nonetheless.
I believed the best chance for a non-superhero series like Dragon to catch on was as a back-up feature, in the “non-tradition” tradition of series like Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s Manhunter in DC’s Detective Comics and Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer in Pacific Comics’ Mike Grell’s Starslayer, but about this time DC announced plans to launch an anthology series in 1984 that would feature new creators and new characters (New Talent Showcase). I mailed DC a letter asking when they would start taking submissions, and in June I received a reply from assistant editor Ernie Colón telling me to go ahead and send in a script that “should deal with adventure, or science fiction[.]”
A few days after I submitted Dragon, I called Colón to verify that he had received my package. To my delight, he instantly recognized my name, and said he not only liked Dragon, he was putting my submission on the top of editor Marv Wolfman’s must-read pile.
I don’t mind saying, I was thinking, “This is it! My big break! I’m getting my foot in the door at DC!”
Did I presume quite a bit there?
Sure, but, hey, I was young, and it wouldn’t be the last time I made that mistake.
Six months passed, during which time DC sent out occasional mass-mailers to let contributors to New Talent Showcase know that the editors were still going through all submissions. Then, in December, talent coordinator Sal Amendola sent me a letter to say that DC was “backlogged to the point where we won’t be able to buy any [new scripts] for some time … the ironic aspect of a successful new talent search.”
“Oh, well,” I thought, “at least DC liked Dragon, even if they couldn’t use it.”
Again, was I presuming too much?
A few years later, I was reading an interview with Wolfman where he commented that DC had printed every submission sent to New Talent Showcase that had been worth publishing during the book’s run.
Before submitting Dragon elsewhere after DC, I thought it might be a good idea to get some honest feedback about the proposal. I asked a friend, Dan Jurgens, who was beginning to make a name for himself at the time as the penciller on Grell’s The Warlord, if he would read it, and Dan kindly agreed.
Dan recommended a couple of minor changes, but, to my delight, he not only liked the series, he gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Dan explained that he usually isn’t one to cry or get choked up when reading comic book stories, “But you got me.” Dan paid me another compliment when I mentioned that I was thinking about submitting Dragon to a new publisher called First Comics. First had been hinting that they would like him to draw something for them, and Dan suggested I tell the editors at First that, if they accepted Dragon, he would be interested in drawing it.
I don’t mind saying, I was thinking, “This is it! The big break! No way First can turn that offer down!”
And they didn’t.
They just never responded to it.
All anyone at First ever told me was, “Trademarking a title like Dragon is next to impossible. We had a lot of trouble with trademarks for one of our series, Mars.”
Looking back now, as cool as it would have been to have First accept Dragon, it would have been just as neat to see how Dan would have drawn the story.
That same spring, I read that independent publisher Aardvark-Vanaheim, best known for publishing Dave Sim’s Cerebus, was considering publishing more titles. I thought Dragon might be different and intelligent enough to interest A-V, so I submitted it. A few weeks later, I received a letter from the publisher Deni Laubert (who was Deni Sim at the time) to tell me that Dragon “has sat on my desk for a good while” because “although I liked the story well-enough [sic], I can’t make a decision without an artist.” Laubert didn’t know any available artists, so “I am sending your script on to Mike Friedrich, an agent who brings together writers, artists and publishers.” Being a pro-active type, I called Laubert to ask if I could search for an artist as well. To my delight, she not only didn’t mind, she confided that, if A-V did decide to publish Dragon, she was considering making it the company’s first full color book.
I don’t mind saying, I was thinking, “This is it! The big break!”
Page 1 of the first “Dragon” story, art by Cris Palomino. All I have are black-and-white copies, but Cris’ original artwork was painted in full color on artboard.
Dan’s offer to draw Dragon had only been for First Comics, but he suggested that I contact Grell to see if Grell could recommend an artist from his network. As it turned out, Grell highly recommended a young lady from Los Angeles named Cris Palomino. Long story short, Grell made the introductions, Cris liked Dragon, I liked her art, and we sent samples to Laubert. A few weeks later, Laubert wrote to say she had decided to pass on Dragon: “The work is good, just not, when finally seen, what I want to publish.”
The following spring, I happened to meet another artist who I believed would do a terrific job on Dragon. So terrific, in fact, that I thought it might be worthwhile to submit the series to A-V again with his art samples. Laubert was kind enough to reply that she still wasn’t interested, but also made an enlightening confession. Even though my submission had initially sat on her desk for quite a while, “I had pictured the story as a very lightly-handled fantasy, something that someone like Lela Dowling would draw. What I see here is a Science Fiction Adventure with some superhero overtones.”
Laubert was always gracious and encouraging, so I mean no disrespect when I say that misunderstandings like this happen when you’re submitting, even when both parties have the best of intentions, and it’s something freelancers working in all media should be prepared for.
Now about that artist I happened to meet …
What had happened was, my friend Dennis Stick got a call from a young artist named S. Clarke Hawbaker asking if Dennis knew anyone looking for a comic book artist. If Clarke’s name sounds familiar, he would eventually go on to draw Marvel’s Nomad, but on that day Dennis told Clarke about me, Dragon, and A-V, so Clarke contacted me. We talked, Clarke drew some character sketches, and I submitted them to A-V. When that didn’t work, we discussed checking out to see if we could publish Dragon ourselves, but soon after that Clarke started getting nibbles from DC Comics and other publishers, so he couldn’t continue with Dragon. Nevertheless, I’ve always been grateful for the time he spent on the series.
Lee and Adams by Mike Grell, circa 1984. Adams looks a bit more like a puppy than I’m used to here, but it’s a darn nice piece. And it’s mine. 😉
Which leads to kind of a funny story.
While Clarke and I were considering the self-publishing route, we and some of our friends attended the Minneapolis Comic Book Convention, where Grell happened to be one of the convention’s guests. Grell is one of Clarke’s biggest influences, so I thought I could thank Clarke for the wonderful work he was doing on Dragon by having Grell draw a sketch of Lee and Adams to give to Clarke.
Now, for this story to make sense, you need to know the convention took place around my birthday, because, just as I was pulling out my wallet to pay Grell for the sketch, my girlfriend scooted up, dropped her own money on Grell’s table, and said, “I’m buying that for you for your birthday present.”
What did I do?
What could I do?
Fortunately, Clarke was very understanding when I told him the story and gave him a super nice Xerox of Grell’s sketch.
They say you’re getting old when you can’t remember the important things. Well, call me old, because there are two things in my Dragon file that I can’t remember how they got there.
A pair of cover sketches for “Dragon” by David Day. According to the notes at the bottom of the sketches, these are a “sketch for cover painting,” but I honestly do not remember who asked Day to draw these or why. The difference between the first and second sketch, and the reason for it, should be pretty obvious.
The first are a pair of pencil sketches by David Day for what I believe should be a cover for the first issue cover Dragon. David’s brother Gene was a friend of Dave Sim, so my best guess is that Laubert requested these sketches and sent them to me. But I could be wrong. I do sort of remember seeing the first sketch and liking it very much, except that Taym looks a tad Nordic for a Sino-African, but that is corrected in the second sketch. To be honest, though, if not for artist’s signature and some notes jotted at the bottom of each sketch, I would have no idea who drew these or why.
The second thing is truly embarrassing. It has been several years since I went through my file on Dragon, and while I was assembling material for this piece, one artist conspicuous by his absence was Christopher Jones. Chris and I have been friends for over 30 years, and I frequently and sincerely call him my brother from another mother. We even broke into the comics industry together in 1988 with Street Heroes 2005. So, with everything that went on with DC and First Comics and A-V, why didn’t I ever ask Chris to draw Dragon?
Well, apparently I did.
Chris drew a cover piece, two character sketches, and four pages of artwork from the first story. Judging by the art and lettering style, I would guess he drew these around 1986. As you can see in the samples below, Chris did a wonderful job, and hopefully, being younger than me, he will remember the backstory to this artwork and fill me in.
Artist Rob Davis as Charles Anderson Mesmer. Pretty cool, huh?
That was that until 1996, when my friends David D. Arnold and John Olson launched their own comic book company, Sundragon Comics, and David asked to print Dragon in their anthology series, Scales of the Dragon. I said sure, but, remembering what First Comics had said about Mars, I decided it might be a good idea to change the title to Little Dragon. (Why didn’t I do this sooner? I don’t know.) Next, I contacted an artist friend, Rob Davis (Deep Space Nine, Quantum Leap, Scimidar) to see if he would be interested in drawing the series. As a big fan of Rob’s, I was thrilled when he drew “The Picture in the House” for my anthology series Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft a couple of years earlier, and I thought his character-driven style would work wonderfully on Little Dragon. Rob said was interested and drew some sketches to show how he would handle the characters. (Rob liked the series so much, in fact , he used himself as the model for Charles, which I think works beautifully.) David, John, and I thought the sketches looked great, and, before I knew it, Rob had drawn the first two stories of the initial four-part story-arc. Unfortunately, before Rob could start drawing story number three, Sundragon was forced to close its doors.
Not very long after that, though, Gary Reed at Caliber Comics asked if I had any intellectual properties that I would like to contribute to a content library he was building to pitch to film, television, and gaming producers. I did, and among the content I sent was Little Dragon.
And that, as say they, is that, except that some of my properties, like Nightlinger and Blood and Bullets, have had producers ask about them, but as of this writing there have been no nibbles for Little Dragon.
Maybe some day …
Now you might be asking, “Is there a purpose for all this reminiscing and namedropping?”
To which I ask, “You mean besides reminiscing and namedropping?”
Well, yes, there are a couple of reasons.
First, in my book Comics Writing, I advise people wanting to write comics that they should get used to disappointment. I include a few examples of my own disappointing experiences at the end of the book, and am now offering these anecdotes as further examples of the frustrations that can be experienced when submitting to publishers. If you can’t put up with this kind of stuff, then writing comics is probably not for you.
Second, I wanted to say THANK YOU (in alphabetical order) to David Arnold, Ernie Colón, Rob Davis, David Day, Mike Grell, S. Clarke Hawbaker, Christopher Jones, Dan Jurgens, Deni Laubert, John Olson, Cris Palomino, Gary Reed, and anyone else involved with Little Dragon that I am forgetting or overlooking. Things have not worked out so far for Little Dragon, but these people provided me encouragement or assistance or both along the way, and that is awesome. This ind of consideration is something else that people wanting to write comics should learn to be prepared for.
I also have to admit that I am surprised by everything that happened involving Little Dragon. What started out as a little blog about a couple of interesting anecdotes led me to remembering events and art contributions I had honestly forgotten. For a series that has yet to be published, Little Dragon certainly had a lot of things happen to it!
Finally, besides the reminiscing and namedropping and gratitude, I wanted an opportunity to tell the world how proud I am of Little Dragon. The first eight-page story in particular features some of my favorite moments from anything I have written, and I believe it is one of my strongest stories.
And that is as good a place as any to stop. But if anything more happens with Little Dragon, believe me, I’ll let you know.