Meeting an editor for the first time, I had absolutely zero expectations. Well, maybe one: I wasn’t prepared for such a casual atmosphere. She wasn’t wearing fancy business attire, nor were we on a double digit floor of a large corporate building, in an office that overlooked some impressive cityscape. The reality was that I was in a college art studio–a back drop that initially felt foreign but quickly dissolved into nostalgia. She was dressed rockstar casual in jeans and a t-shit, and was seated at a leveled drafting table. She politely accepted my handshake as I tried to conceal my nervousness.
“I’m Jeremy Holt,” I almost stammered.
“Nice to meet you, Jeremy,” she replied. “I’m Joan.”
“I have to inform you that I don’t have a portfolio to show you as I’m strictly a writer. Believe it or not, I’ve actually come all the way from Brooklyn, New York to take this meeting with you.”
“Really? That’s funny, my office is actually in Midtown. How are you affiliated with the school?” she asked.
“I’m class of ’05. I wrote a script for a graphic novel that got passed around and now here I am.”
We discussed the plot for a bit and she responded well to some of my concepts and themes. Shortly after, she graciously accepted the first issue and said she’d definitely read it and get back to me.
My meeting with Dan Vado was even more brief. The moment he saw my naked script with no art, he curtly ended the meeting and said to get some art together if he was going to look at it. Unsure of how to even start looking for an artist, I spent the flight back to New York thinking about how to proceed with the nuggets of insight that I received.
A few days later, I decided to send Joan a handwritten card thanking her for her time. I realized that these types of meetings are all about the follow up, and it would be way more classy to send a message through the post than through the internet.
Returned to Sender: Insufficient Address
Re-examining her business card to hopefully discover an error on my part, I was dismayed to find none. I was stumped. I also refused to write her an email that would undoubtedly end up in a slush pile or worse, her junk mail folder. With no foreseeable alternatives, I headed into the city on my way to the offices of DC Comics.
As I pushed my way through the large revolving doors at 1700 Broadway in Midtown Manahattan, I was greeted by a fairly large foyer with a security desk near the center.
“Hi, My name is Jeremy Holt and I was hoping to leave this in the mailbox of Senior Editor Joan Hilty of DC Comics.”
“There is no soliciting here,” he said without looking over at me.
“Oh, I’m not soliciting anything. I had mailed this card to an Editor at DC Comics, whom I met last week. It was returned to me for insufficient address. I can’t stress how important it is that she receives this card.”
“Son, there are six floors of DC Comics up there. If you don’t write on the envelope which editor it needs to go to, they’ll never get it.
I slid the envelope over to him and said, “Oh, but I did. See here? I even addressed her as senior.”
“I’m sorry, but you’ll need to make an appointment,” he said without looking at the envelope.
“Great. How do I do that?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Um…okay. Could you maybe leave it in her mailbox?”
“I’ve written to the correct address stated on her business card. This is 1700 Broadway, correct?”
“Then what would you suggest I do?”
“I don’t know. Call her.”
Completely frustrated with this pointless exchange, I found myself dialing the number to her office in some inane act of defiance to the security guard. As soon as her voicemail picked up, I suddenly realized I had made a mistake. Against my better judgement, I left an awkward voicemail. Completely defeated, I walked home kicking myself for letting the security guard influence my first and most likely last interaction with a DC Editor. Two weeks came and went with no response.Continued below
Determined to not let my first big mistake derail what little rapport I had built, I wrote her an email briefly explaining the situation and reason behind the phone call.
I have little doubt that you received my rather awkward and random voicemail earlier this week. Clearly my intention to formally thank you for your time and consideration in the form of a card was foiled by the US Postal Service and one very unpleasantly useless security guard. I didn’t want to thank you via email but evidently I’ve been given no choice. So thank you for speaking with me down in Savannah, GA.
The next day she replied.
It’s too bad we didn’t connect. However, nobody without a building ID can get into my building without making an appointment first, as you would have learned if you’d contacted me before trying to drop by. The security guard wasn’t being useless – he was doing his job.
Thank-you notes are appreciated by editors, but we prefer them by post or email, not unannounced visits. So you’re not off on the right foot with me, especially since your writing has interesting ideas, but isn’t yet ready for prime time. I haven’t had time to give it a close enough read for more specific impressions and suggestions, and I’m still willing to, but I’m about to go out of the country on business/vacation until the 8th. I’ll be in touch after that.
My heart took another nose dive into my gut. I hadn’t tripped right before the finish line, I had collapsed before the starting gun was even fired. I hated myself for being so reactionary, impulsive, and impatient. The waiting game is part of the process, but I had no one to tell me this at the time. What insightful glimpses I did manage to get of the inner-workings of the industry were through chats with Tom Adams, owner of one of New York City’s finest comic shop: Bergen Street Comics.
“Who did you say you spoke to at DC,” asked Tom as he stocked the new release shelves with that morning’s shipment.
“Joan Hilty at Vertigo,” I sighed.
He handed me a copy of Guerillas by Brahm Revel; a friend of mine whom I wouldn’t meet for another year and a half.
“This guy is a local and comes in all the time. He originally pitched this to Joan, but when she finally got back to him about it three months later, he had already signed it over to Image,” he continued, “I’d say wait three months then abandon hope.”
And that’s what I did. I decided to shelve comic book writing for the time being, and put all my focus back into the day job. The week that marked three months, I clocked into work and headed up to the third floor to grab a station behind the Genius Bar to start a nine hour grind of tech support. Three hours and almost twenty satisfied customers later, I noticed a familiar name in the appointment queue.
Joan Hilty – 2:30 – Mac
I quickly grabbed the closest concierge member on the floor, and demanded they seat the 2:30 Mac appointment with me. My mind began racing with a multitude of scenarios on how this was going to play out. Before I could get ahead of myself, a woman was seated who wasn’t Hilty. We made pleasant introductions at which point I asked, “Are you Joan?”
“No, that’s my spouse,” she said.
I suddenly realized the chances of another Joan Hilty living in New York City who owned a Mac was improbable, but not impossible. I quickly dismissed the idea that I was about to salvage my failed interaction with the DC Editor.
“I have been on the phone with Apple support for four fucking hours, and they couldn’t solve my problem! All I want to do is have events in my calendar sync with both my Mac and my iPhone. It works on my Mac but not my iPhone,” she explained.
Checking her mail settings, I noticed a set of out-dated server settings from the discontinued .Mac service that were not changed when the new MobileMe service was implemented earlier that year.Continued below
“Fixed,” I said as I slid the phone back to her.
“Are you serious? Did you just save my life in two minutes?” she asked as she began typing a new event into her iCal on her Mac. “Type an event in on my phone. I have to make sure this works, my work revolves around my calendar.”
I then typed in Free Comic Book Day. Ten seconds later, she had an inquisitive look on her face.
“You a comic book reader?”
“What do you read?”
“Lots of things. I’m mostly into creator-owned stuff: Image, ONI, Dark Horse, Vertigo.”
“Oh, really? My spouse works for Vertigo.”
I paused deciding if this was a moment I would have to just let pass. It wasn’t.
“Actually, I know her. We met down in Savannah during Editors Day a few months ago.”
It was her turn to pause to process what I had just said. Quite suddenly, her eyes flashed a look of recognition.
“Were you the one that stopped by her office a few months ago?”
I dropped my head in shame, but also out of relief that she was connected to the same Joan Hilty. “Okay. Yes, but I had no other way of sending her this thank you card I had written.”
“Oh honey. That’s a big no-no in the publishing world,” she smiled as she started to collect her things. “Look, you really saved my ass today. Would you mind if I brought your name up in pleasant dinner conversation?”
I believe my jaw actually dropped. “Please don’t feel the need to.”
“No no,” she interjected, “It’d be my pleasure.”
A few days later I received my first notes based on an unsolicited script that I managed to give a Senior Editor at DC/Vertigo. She basically provided an excellent blueprint on what to consider when crafting an engaging comic book. She pointed out every single flaw that I presented, but backed each criticism constructively. It was at this point that a larger context came into view, and I felt as if I had just been given a piece to a puzzle that I didn’t even realize I was constructing. What became clear to me in that email was that there was an underlining process I wasn’t even aware of. I could feel it in my soul that that email would become a defining moment for me as a writer. I just had to implement the tools Hilty had given me.
I spent the next few months revising the story, structure, and script format. I had found several scripts by Jason Aaron and Joshua Dysart, and I liked aspects of each of their formats. I emailed both of them and Joshua was nice enough to reply and explain how he came up with his. I ended up creating my own template that was an amalgamation of the two. This both helped me better structure my stories as well as make revising easier. I’ve since learned that script format is the foundation for which to build your world upon. If it’s unstable everything will fall whenever remodeling is required, which is almost always.
Word began to spread at work on what I was doing in my off time. A friend of mine mentioned he had met a guy at a bar that he would occasionally go to, who drew comics. His name was David James Cole and had done some work for DC on their Bird of Prey title. Needless to say, his work was legit. After exchanging a few emails, I invited him to a release party that Bergen Street Comics was hosting one weekend. We clicked immediately and decided to get a five page pitch together for New York Comic Con that was a few months away.
What did I know about putting a pitch together? Absolutely nothing, but I couldn’t be been more excited to attend my first comic convention. Especially when David sent me the first drawn and inked page from my very first graphic novel: Death Tax. The missing pieces of my dream were actually coming together, and I could start to make out an image…
TO BE CONTINUED…