Thursday, August 13, 2009

One Day in Metropolis

The Kid Who Saved Superman is a kids chapter book I wrote for a series of DC Superhero chapter books published by Stone Arch Books. I've written six books featuring Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman for this series, but this particular one has been getting some press because it involves a contest the publisher held for grade school kids to have themselves written into the story. On Tuesday, I made a trip in to DC Comics to meet the winner on his tour of the company, a little adventure I wrote up for the Stone Arch blog:

My Day at DC With the Kid Who Saved Superman
and Seven of His Friends, Plus Stanley

I tell lies for a living. Locked away in my office, day after day, I sit behind this desk and make up stories to (hopefully) entertain people. I’ve told some whoppers in my time, great big lies about the fate of mankind and the history of the world...I’ve even come close to destroying the universe on more than one occasion. But that’s only because the lies I tell are about some of the most powerful fictional heroes in the world, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Phantom, and Dr. Who. Of course, not every bit of prevarication can be so epic, so sometimes I turn my attention to more fanciful lies with friends like Bart Simpson, Scooby Doo, Wishbone or the Powerpuff Girls.

So it’s rare that I get to incorporate as big a chunk of “reality” into my lies as I did when I wrote The Kid Who Saved Superman, one of the books in Stone Arch’s DC Super Heroes line. Stone Arch held a contest for students to write an essay about a real hero at their school. The winner would receive a starring role in the book, along with his/her hero and school.

As you know by now, the winner was 13-year old Hakeem Bennett, an eighth grader at P.S. 36K, The Nathanael Greene School, in Brooklyn, New York. (Yo, Brooklyn! My home town!!) Hakeem wrote about Matthew Brown, his visually impaired teacher who, with his sidekick, Stanley the guide dog, takes public transportation to school every day and teaches his students, among many other things, the very big difference between a “disability” and a “handicap.”

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to crawl out of my cave, take the train from Connecticut to the DC Comics offices in New York, to meet the true heroes of The Kid Who Saved Superman, Hakeem and Mr. Brown. And Stanley.

I arrived at 11:00 a.m. and was greeted by DC Licensed Publishing Editor Ben Harper, and his boss, Group Editor Steve Korte. They introduced me to the gang from Stone Arch Books who were in town from Minnesota to join us on the tour: Capstone Publishing President, Fiction Joan Berge, Editorial Director Michael Dahl, and Bob Coughlan.

Next, Mr. Brown and Stanley arrived, followed shortly thereafter by Hakeem and his sister. After all the introductions were made and the troops organized, Steve began the tour by taking us to the very top. Well, top floor of DC at any rate, which is home to the office of company President and Publisher, Paul Levitz. Paul’s office isn’t quite what you would expect of a corporate big shot, lined as it is with bookshelves full of comics and graphic novels and decorated with hundreds – I don’t exaggerate – of action figures, toys and statues of DC’s line of superheroes.

DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz and
Hakeem discuss the writer's craft in Paul's toy filled office.

Hakeem with author Paul Kupperberg and the original
manuscript of The Kid Who Saved Superman.

Hakeem and his box full of kryptonite.

Paul spent some time talking with Hakeem and Mr. Brown about the contest, comics, Brooklyn (like me, Paul’s a native) and their school before we presented Hakeem with a few mementos of his visit, including the seriously cool JLA Trophy Room: Multi-Colored Kryptonite Replica Display, (seriously, I want one, too) and a copy of the original manuscript of The Kid Who Saved Superman. Hakeem was a little disconcerted to discover that the book, which had to be written before the contest winner was chosen so it could be published on time, featured not “Hakeem Bennett” in the starring role, but...Judy Porter?! I had just made up a name, which happened to be a girl’s name, and wrote the story with her taking Hakeem’s place. She was then replaced (along with “Ms. Shiner,” who served as the stand-in for Mr. Brown and P.S. 36K’s principal, Ms. Schneider, who was, unfortunately, unable to join us on the tour) by Hakeem and company by my editor at Stone Arch, Donnie Lemke.

Hakeem revealed his desire to one day be a writer and asked the old pros in the room for some advice. Paul, who on his way to becoming DC’s head honcho, has written a few hundred comic book stories of his own, Michael Dahl, who in addition to his editorial job is author of several DC Super Hero and other books, and myself, were happy to provide the young author with the fruits of our many years of accumulated wisdom...all to the accompaniment of a smiling and nodding Mr. Brown saying, “Does any of this sound familiar, Hakeem? Heard any of this before?”

We had to get moving on as Paul had real work to get back to (remember, kids: With a great office comes great responsibilities!), so we moved on to DC’s incredible 7th floor lobby. When the elevator doors open, visitors are greeted by a wall-sized mural of the Metropolis skyline. As if that weren’t impressive enough, a turn to the reception desk to your right brings you up short at the sight of a line of telephone booths...and the figure of Superman landing in front of them!

Hakeem, Kal-El, and Kupperberg.

That's Hakeem on the right...Mr. Brown and Stanley on
the left...but who's the guy in the middle?

Now, I’m no stranger to DC Comics (heck, my picture is even up on the wall…if you know where to look it), having worked there as a writer and editor for...oh, a long, long (LONG) time. But every time I tag along on one of these tours, it’s like I’m seeing this crazy fun factory for the first time, through their experiences. Its walls are covered by framed copies of everything from famous comic book covers and posters to advertisements and sketches and character designs and theme park blueprints of all the ways DC’s great superheroes have been used over the decades. There are little surprise touches everywhere. Is that Clark Kent sitting in that chair in the conference room? Hey…that’s a real piece of green kryptonite in that display case! Wow, is that really one of the costumes Christian Bales wore in the Batman movies? The answers are: Yes. It is. Uh-huh, we have one costume from each film on display. Check out the photos.

Hakeem meets the press.

The Green K is kept here to prevent Superman hanging out
in the lobby and bugging the receptionist.

Michael Dahl and Batman! Watch out, Robin...someone's
angling for your job!

Speaking of Batman, DC’s third floor reception area is modeled to look like the rooftops of Gotham City, complete with the Bat-signal shining on the wall and a water tower in the middle of the lobby. It actually hides the office kitchen…Joan asked if she could get one for Stone Arch’s office, but she’ll have to check with the Gotham City Water Department about that.

Michael discovered something to his liking as well that he actually got to take home. A self-described “fanboy,” Mr. Dahl was delighted to find that he was welcome to as many comic books as he could carry. We have the photos, but we’ll spare everyone….

Superman and and Superman's Best Pal, Michael Dahl! Bump!

After Steve and Ben presented Mr. Brown with a Superman statue of his own (they also sent one along for Ms. Schneider’s office at P.S. 36K) and Hakeem, Mr. Brown and I signed copies of The Kid Who Saved Superman, it was time to let the good people of DC Comics get back to creating more comics, books and toys for us all to enjoy.

From the rooftops of Gotham City, I descended to the streets of mid-town New York City and the real world. Sometimes when I’m locked away in my office, telling my lies, I can forget there are real people out here who read those stories for fun and, sometimes, even inspiration...and, more importantly, I might forget about the real people who, every day, inspire me to write about heroic deeds and noble ideals in the form of superhero adventures.

I really do need to get out more.

Hakeem standing before the Daily Planet, where he hopes
to one day get a job as a mild-mannered reporter!

1 comment:

rob! said...

That's a really great story. I didn't ever get to visit the DC offices until I was in my 20s, and I still had that "Oh, wow" feeling.

I gotta get a hold of that Superman Stone Arch book, my gf's nephew would love it.