Boppin' Comics

UNFINISHED AND ABANDONED: The Comic Book Telephone Pitches, Part 1

By Carl Cafarelli

Unfinished And Abandoned digs deeeeep into my unpublished archives, and exhumes projects that I started (sometimes barely started) but abandoned, unfinished. I am such a quitter.

WARNING: this blog piece contains no actual Batman content. Holy bait and switch!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned these two (admittedly nondescript) sequences, but it occurs to me they’re worth documenting in all their unexceptional glory.

By the end of the 1980s, I’d begun to have a tiny bit of success as a freelance writer. My triumphs were meager, but they were sales, paychecks (however paltry) for stuff I’d written. I’d begun with writing about comics in Amazing Heroes from 1984 to ’86 or ’87, added a sale to Comics Collector in 1985, and commenced my two-decade stint as a freelance pop music journalist for Goldmine in 1986. Somewhere in there, I also started freelancing (very) occasionally for The Comics Buyer’s Guide.

My association with Amazing Heroes publisher Fantagraphics ended unpleasantly in 1987. A friend of mine knew a publisher just getting started with a new magazine about comics; I met with the guy informally, we established mutual interest, but I never completed anything to submit there. That magazine was itself short-lived, and I confess that the amateur level of writing on its editorial side may have dissuaded me from pursuing it. It may be a sin of pride or just outright arrogance, but I believe in my writing; I always aim to be among the best writers involved in any collaborative project, while expecting that the other writers will also be accomplished and capable, our collective prowess spurring all of us to be at the top of our game. I had that experience with Goldmine and a number of subsequent endeavors, but I didn’t see that as likely in this particular comics zine.

I had not managed to sell any fiction to any market. Hey, see what I just said above about my nonfiction writing? Those rosy comments emphatically do not apply to the fiction I was writing in the ’80s and ’90s; that stuff was terrible. I got better, and I finally made my first fiction sales this year, to the good folks at AHOY Comics. But those earlier attempts? Yechh. Looking back on them now reminds that I should probably oughtta have a little more humility in mind before complaining about someone else’s amateur writing.

Anyway. In the late ’80s and (maybe) the early ’90s, I attempted to pitch comics ideas to two different publishers. The first was Harvey Comics, famous publisher of such characters as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. I read a notice in The Comics Buyer’s Guide that Harvey was looking to re-start its comics line, and was in need of writers. Wikipedia says that would have been 1986, but I think it was ’87 by the time I called Alan Harvey to pitch the idea of hiring ol’ CC as a freelance member of the mighty Harvey bullpen.

Harvey was pleasant and professional during our short conversation. We went over my resumé (which was modest, but not empty), and he told me what he needed. As I recall, he was looking for single-page gag strips, to be submitted via a proposal detailing the setup and the punchline. I had written humor in the past, so it wasn’t completely out of left field for me to attempt to craft some hilarious hijinks for the Harvey cast. We exchanged closing pleasantries, and he wished me luck.

I started trying to come up with something I thought Harvey could use, but I just couldn’t execute anything. I’m not sure what I was thinking to begin with when I contacted Harvey, other than yeah, I was looking to break into comics. I didn’t have any gag ideas. Knowing me (then and now), I betcha I was looking to bring some kind of continuity and longer-form storytelling into the mix, the sort of thing that was commonplace in superhero comics but not at all what Harvey would have wanted for its stable of stars. I’m also sure that I wanted to write Hot Stuff, the cartoon little devil who had been my favorite Harvey character when I was a kid, but I don’t think Hot Stuff was among the properties for which Harvey was seeking new material in the late ’80s.

(I had kind of a similar notion a few years before that, when Archie Comics attempted to revive its superhero line under the Red Circle Comics imprint. I scribbled some vague notions of a back-up strip starring the obscure hero Blackjack–figuring I wouldn’t face any potential competitors looking to be the official Blackjack scribe–in a story called “Murder In Riverdale.” Yeah, that Riverdale, as our hero solves the mystery when everyone’s pal Archie Andrews is accused of murder most foul. Although it would have been played straight and remained respectful of Archie and his pals and gals, there was no way in hell Archie/Red Circle would have considered buying that story.)

The Archie gang and superheroes? I was just ahead of my time.

Ultimately, my Harvey Comics ambitions were misplaced and unrealized, unfinished and abandoned. But I still had one more comic book publisher I would pitch over the phone. We’ll talk about my pitch to Revolutionary Comics next time. Here I come, walkin’ down the street….


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