Sunday, August 30, 2009

Let Justice Be Done!

Out this week: Captain Action #5 from Moonstone Comics. In addition to featuring the continuing saga of current-day CA and an episode of Action Boy written by my pal Vito Delsante, it also contains a 6-page story starring the "classic," 1960s CA, "Captain Action Classified: The Missile of October," written by myself and illustrated by John Hebert.

Me, Lady Action, Ed Catto, Sean Ahearn, Joe Ahearn, Vito Delsante and a table full'o merch!

I did an appearance at the fabulous Jim Hanley's Universe, one of New York's premiere comic shops on 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building, last Friday to sign that issue (and anything else people wanted to bring for me to sign...and believe me, some folks dug deep and found some ancient comics for me to scrawl all over). Signing with me was the aforementioned Vito Delsante, as well as CA Enterprises muckety-mucks, Joe Ahearn and Ed Catto...and the lovely and ever-dangerous Lady Action (aka Nicky).

Me, Lady Action, and the equally dangerous Vito Delsante

A great time was had by all and a lot of Captain Action fans passed through to pick up copies of the new issue, some oh-so-cool CA merchandise (I got a Cap cap!!!), including the new coffee table book, and spend some time talking. A few old friends came by to say hello, some on purpose, others who just happened to be there on their regular weekly visit.

Team Action will be appearing next at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 13...I'm hoping to be there with them 'cause I hate to pass up a chance to visit the old neighborhood, meet some new friends, and be surrounded by books and book lovers!

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!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Weekly World News XXIV

A piece I wrote for Weekly World News in July 2005. Change a couple of dates and facts and it still works, four years later...

The Moochers and the Paupers Rock Wall Street
© Weekly World News

NEW YORK, NY – Their once expensive suits have grown tattered, their designer shoes are scuffed and worn, but these five former businesspeople haven’t lost their taste for the good life...just their ability to pay for it.

They are The Moochers and the Paupers, a singing group made up of men and women who used to have it all until they lost everything but their voices to hard economic times.

“I was on top of the world,” said 42-year old Dennis Donnity, until 2004 a stockbroker for the prestigious New York firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe. “I was earning a couple a million a year, lived in a penthouse in Trump Towers, and was married to a gorgeous trophy wife. Then I lost my job, my home, my wife, and everything else.”

Now he sings for food in parks and on street corners.

They all have similar stories. “I was on the fast track to making partner in the legal firm of Lacey, Buttons, and Bowes,” recalls Michelle Phipps, 36. “But then the economy slowed up, the firm lost several major clients, and I was out on my can, canned.”

“A couple years ago, I was worth $17 million bucks,” sighed entrepreneur John Pilpop. “Now I eat out of supermarket dumpsters and have to sleep on the couches of friends and relatives.”

The five out-of-work financial workers met on the unemployment line the week after Thanksgiving, 2004. “We were all reaching the end of our unemployment benefits and started talking over day-old donuts salvaged from the Dunkin’ Donuts dumpster,” explained lead singer Melissa “Moocher” Elliot, a former financial analyst for Goldfinger & Sacks. “Dennis mentioned that he played the guitar and Michelle admitted that she could sing and shake a mean tambourine.

“Well, the next thing you know, we all broke out in song and passersby started dropping coins in my coffee cup...which was annoying since I wasn’t finished drinking it and at a buck sixty-nine a cup, well, you can understand.”

Ex-banker McGuinn McGuire was the first to suggest that they form a group. “We made almost 17 bucks in 10 minutes just goofing around. I was mooching my meals and a bed off my brother-in-law and couldn’t get arrested in the job market, so what did we have to lose?”

The Moochers and the Paupers started playing gigs on street corners in the Wall Street area. “It was kind’a embarrassing to be singing for spare change where my former co-workers could see me,” admitted ex-Wall Streeter Melissa Elliot. “On the other hand, seeing me must’ve made them realize they could be in my boat, so they started dropping tens and twenties into the hat.”

McGuinn McGuire began to write songs for the Moochers and the Paupers that reflected their economic plight, including “Unemployment Dreamin’,” with such lyrics as:

Oh, my job is gone ‘cause I was downsized today,
I went searchin’ through the want ads,
and then began to pray.
No one wants to hire,
if you ain’t minimum wage,
Man, I used to drive a Jaguar,
now it’s bus fair I cadge.

Their most popular number is the haunting “Check Day, Check Day”:

Check day, check day, so good to see,
Check day, check day, how fast 26 weeks does flee,
Oh, unemployment, unemployment is not new to me,
Which makes check day a close friend indeed.

“We’ve started to attract quite a following,” John Pilpop said. “Some of our fans are even employed!”

“The group’s booked to play the 42nd Street subway station next month,” reveals Dennis Donnity. “We’re very excited.”

Michelle hopes success doesn’t spoil the Moochers and the Paupers sound. “Once you actually own your own bed and stop having to eat from dumpsters, it takes the edge off your art, you know?”