Monday, February 8, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 48


In early January of 1987, the first issue of my new comic book series of The Man From Uncle was released to retailers in the United States and Canada. I was hoping to sell 15,000 copies but we sold 12,000. Unfortunately the printer had surprised me by printing 21,000 copies so I was now stuck with an extra 9,000 comic books. I planned to be more careful for future issues.

In the first issue of The Man From Uncle, David M. Lynch wrote a column to explain to our readers what we were trying to do with this new series. He wrote:

“How many of you watched the recent A-Team episode, The Say Uncle Affair, just to see the reunion of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, remembering perhaps, 1983’s “real” reunion of their characters from the 1960’s, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin? Okay now, how many of you younger readers don’t know what I’m talking about?
Listed as a “spy spoof” by TV Guide, who usually knew what they were talking about, The Man From Uncle premiered in 1964. Inspired primarily by the popularity of the James Bond films, Uncle was designed as a dramatic series about the exciting, glamorous, and often dangerous life of the secret agent. James Bond creator Ian Fleming was peripherally involved in the series’ beginnings, although ultimately, his only contributions were the names Napoleon Solo and April Dancer. Solo pretty much became the “man” in The Man From Uncle (at least at first) and as for April Dancer, lead character in the eventual spin-off, The Girl From Uncle, well…the less said about her, the better. (and I know I’ll get letters about that!)

Uncle ran four seasons on NBC-TV, dying a slow death after being poisoned in its third season by the “camp” craze (inspired by the success of the Batman TV show). It made many of the manufacturers of licensed Uncle toys, books, models, and other products wealthy, or wealthier, anyway. It made a somewhat obscure Scottish actor named David McCallum become firmly entrenched in the public mind-perhaps too firmly, as McCallum himself has lamented-as Illya. It made it much easier for what seemed like dozens of imitative spy shows, some quite fine in their own right, to make their TV debuts. Shows like “I Spy” and “The Wild Wild West” hit the American airwaves even as we received British imports such as “The Avengers” and “Secret Agent”, and that list is far from exhaustive.

It also made me, as a young boy, very happy. When I was eight years old or so, I thought Illya Kuryakin was really cool! (Nowadays, watching old Uncle episodes, I identify more with womanizer Napoleon Solo, but that’s not important right now.) I wore turtleneck sweaters, like Illya did. I even had my hair cut like his, for cryin’ out loud! I was, I’m sure, the biggest Uncle fan in my hometown. And my mother, in her infinite wisdom, bought me all of the James Bond toys she could find. Even as an eight year old, I wondered about that. I still do.

Anyway, it was this nostalgic element that convinced me (as well as my co-writer, Skip Simpson) to write some stories for Entertainment Publishing’s new Man From Uncle comic book. And I can safely say that Paul Howley, the new book’s publisher, is doing it primarily for the same reason. And as for our approach to the book, we’ve decided to “first season” it all the way. We’ve placed the 1964 show in our editorial time machine and moved it to 1987, bypassing (among other things) the aging process real actors go through, indefinitely postponing the 1983 TV reunion movie “The Fifteen Years Later Affair” and avoiding, in a sense, the unfortunate death of Mr. Waverly, actor Leo G. Carroll.

This project is as important to all of us as it is to you, if not more so, because we really care about the material, and we hope that caring comes through in the finished product. I’ve read some issues from the late 60’s Gold Key Man From Uncle series, when they first came out as well as recently, but even as a child, I felt cheated somehow. These comic characters were different; they weren’t my “friends” from the TV show. I, for one, don’t want you to feel the same way now as I did then, as corny as that sounds, so hopefully, whether you read this issue as an old Uncle fan, a new convert (thanks to syndicated television) or even somebody who is unfamiliar with Solo, Waverly, and that “other guy”, you won’t.”

By the time we released the second issue in early February of 1987 we had already received quite a few letters from fans of the Man From Uncle TV show. Some loved the new comic book series but some people complained that the characters in our comics didn’t look like the actors who played them in the television series. Ken Penders agreed to work harder to make the characters look more like the original actors from the television show. Every letter we received commented on how well written the stories were. But for some reason that I couldn’t remember, David M. Lynch only wrote the first two issues and he later wrote issue #10. I recently contacted David to find out what had happened. What follows is David’s reply.

“Okay, I'll try to just keep this to the bare facts (or how I perceived them), and not try to impress or entertain you with my wonderful writing skills.
As I saw it, the publication of the U.N.C.L.E. series presented a problem for you. Not exactly a moral issue, but close. Paul Howley the eternal kid and funny book fan suddenly butted heads with Paul Howley the businessman. According to everything you'd
told me while I was writing the amateur comic book, Insect Man, you really liked my stuff. (You'd even told customers that the story titled "Mummy Dearest," in Insect Man #98, was one of the best six comics you'd read that month.) But U.N.C.L.E. wasn't Insect Man. U.N.C.L.E. was going to be an investment, and there was a lot of money -- licensing, printing, advertising, etc. -- involved.
I think you felt awkward. And my feeling was (and I realize I may be wrong) that you were forced to think along the lines of, "Gee, I like David's Insect Man stories, but I'm just one fan. Maybe my judgment is clouded by the fact that he's a friend & employee, and it's kinda cool that someone else cares about Insect Man. But U.N.C.L.E. is a professional assignment. What if the rest of the world doesn't like his stuff?"
Anyway, by then Ken Penders was the chosen artist, and he'd also submitted Shadow Blade to you. The writer of Shadow Blade, Stan Timmons, had a two-part U.N.C.L.E. script under his belt, and my feeling was that you accepted it primarily because you
feared that I might submit a script that wasn't good enough to publish. (Skip's co-authorship doesn't count, except possibly in a negative way, because you'd never seen anything written by him!) Quite honestly, I understood that decision from a purely business standpoint. Skip's attitude wasn't so charitable, but then again, he was still smarting from being told his artwork was too cartoony for a serious superhero or adventure comic. (And from a purely marketing standpoint, you were right, of course. You had learned something about what would and wouldn't sell!) Besides, once you'd seen the first few pages of script, you seemed to relax and trust me (and Skip) a bit more.
However, as Skip and I moved from the plotting stage for #s 1 & 2 (both of which we co-plotted pretty much 50% each) to the scripting stage (which technically, I typed 100% of, meaning the script itself -- along with any 11th hour changes -- was more "mine"), I re-learned something I'd forgotten since high school. The closer I get to a deadline, the closer I get to meeting it. (I used to do term papers the night before they were due... but I'd get a B!) This is a nice way of saying that I generally get things accomplished at the
very last minute. This drives publishers and editors nuts, understandably. (I also recall that a couple of weeks or so before the deadline, the computer at That’s Entertainment literally ate the floppy disk, destroying my work up until then. At the time, I felt that you didn't believe me, and that you thought that I was stalling. But it really happened.)
Anyway, you may have been worried that I -- or Skip and I -- would miss future deadlines. Coincidentally, everybody in U.N.C.L.E. fandom seemed to want to be part of the legend, and script or art submissions were coming from all over. I remember that one fan in particular wanted my help in re-writing a treatment, and I finally told her she should do it alone. Skip and I each wanted to do an issue on our own. Kevin Burns had submitted an idea. And there were more...
Again, this was business. And you were smart to build up a backlog of submissions. Also, since the pressure was off of me to churn out U.N.C.L.E. ideas, I felt free to work on other projects with Skip, like what ended up as The Bird.
So, from my end of it, there was no problem with any of your business-based decisions.
Guess that's it for now. Hope it meshes with your own memories. I also hope you give me credit for the endless phone calls with Lois Sloane at MGM/Turner. As I recall, I handled all the negotiations UNTIL the time came to talk money. Then you took over!”

I’m glad David could help me fill in those memories because I couldn’t for the life of me remember why he didn’t write ALL of the issues we published.

Stan Timmons wrote issue #3 of our Man From Uncle series and Ken Penders drew it. This was released in April of 1987. At the same time, my sister-in-law, Madeline got married to Armand Paladino and they went on a cruise for their honeymoon. They were the first young couple I knew that went on a cruise. In the 1970’s my wife, Mal, and I were asked to “house-sit” for the parents of Steve Ruth, one of my boyhood friends. His parents were considered to be quite wealthy and cruising was mostly for the rich in those days. When they returned from their trip they told us about the elegance and exciting adventures of their cruise. I never dreamed that we’d ever be able to afford to go on a cruise but after my young sister-in-law went on one and told us how much fun it was, we called our local AAA Travel Agency to see if we could afford to go. The agent was very courteous and “helpful” and she booked us on a Caribbean cruise. (When we got on the cruise ship we felt pretty silly because we paid full “brochure” price for our trip. That’s really stupid. Discounts are easily available) My parents had offered to take the kids for the week and this was our first real vacation without them. We were really looking forward to spending a week without Adam and Cassandra.

Next chapter: We miss the kids! (Crazy right?)

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