ROAD TRIP!

KC and Big Stitch recovering from Laysic eye surgery from several years ago. (It didn’t take.)

KC and Big Stitch recovering from Laysic eye surgery from several years ago. (It didn’t take.)


A KC Column by KC Carlson

Those of you who are reading this on the day that it is posted (Wednesday, December 23) should know that while you are reading this, I am in a car with my wife Johanna, a week’s worth of luggage, probably at least one of the various stuffed Stitchs we own (a Carlson family tradition), and a car full of CDs and books (old school!). This car will be safely driving 70 to 75 mph on Interstate 64 towards Richmond, Virginia, so we can spend Christmas weekend with Johanna’s family.

The one-way trip is just over a thousand miles. I’ve probably driven this route at least fifty times over the last 15 years, originally to care for my ailing mother. After she passed — and after many of our Richmond friends fled Richmond — I’d hop in the car and drive to Wisconsin to see my Westfield and other comics friends frequently, just to get out of Richmond for a few days. A little over three years ago, Johanna got great job offers in Madison, Wisconsin, and I didn’t have to be talked into coming back. The year we moved, I did the drive at least a dozen times, transporting things we wanted to be responsible for as well as for house-hunting trips.

Now, the drive is an annual Christmas holiday event from Madison to Richmond (and back). Just once a year.

What’s all this have to do with comic books, you might ask? Good question, because the very first time that I ever drove at least part of the route, in 1992, I ended up being the editor of Legion of Super-Heroes at DC Comics. I think it’s probably part of one of the oddest extended job interviews in history, encompassing two countries, ten US states, and over 500 miles driving through Canada.

IT ALL BEGAN…

This all started on May 25, 1992. I was working that day, despite the fact it was Memorial Day, completing production on (I think) issue #5 of Comics Retailer magazine for Krause Publications. I didn’t finish up until after midnight. After putting the issue to bed for the next day, I trudged back to my desk to attempt to tidy up a bit before going home. Instead, I typed a letter of resignation and slid it under the door of my publisher.

The whys, wherefores, and questions about why I decided to quit Krause after only five months were many and complicated — and not necessary for this story — except to give it a starting point. Perhaps I’ll write more about that in the future.

KC and Beau together. a sure sign of upcoming shenanigans.

KC and Beau together. a sure sign of upcoming shenanigans.


After I submitted my resignation and had a couple of days to let it sink in, I realized that it was actually a pretty stupid thing to do. This was the first time I ever quit a job without having a good idea what I was going to do next. I had nothing at all lined up, and I was too embarrassed to call Westfield for what would have been the second time to ask for that job back. So I started making calls. Not for specific jobs, but to people I knew who were connected around the comics industry. One of my first calls was to Beau Smith, who, at that time, was one of the most “connected” people in comics, although he didn’t leave the small town of Ceredo, West Virginia, all that much.

Of course, I also called DC Comics. I had left there in 1990 (or maybe early ’91), when my “jack-of-all-trades” job as Richard Bruning’s “assistant” ran out when Richard left DC (temporarily, as it turned out). I left DC on good terms, and Dick Giordano really wanted to find a place for me in Editorial, but DC was in transition at that time, both physically (the DC office moved twice over the next few years) as well as in staffing (because Dick was beginning to look down the road at retirement from the company). I told a number of people at DC that I was looking for work, including Mike Carlin, who had graciously let me continue doing letter columns for him after I was let go from DC earlier. And I remained in constant touch with DC Westfield subscriber (and now columnist) Bob Greenberger.

AMAZING GOOD LUCK

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (not from my era on the book)

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (not from my era on the book)


News traveled fast in those pre-internet days, and within just a couple of days, I had four or five offers, some perhaps not so concrete. (NOTE: I’m told it doesn’t happen like this anymore. Good jobs in comics seem to be more scarce today. Not to mention every other industry.) The most surprising call was from Mike Carlin, who called to offer me a job as a full DC Editor. Michael Eury was stepping down, and they were looking for somebody to inherit his books, which at the time included Legion of Super-Heroes, Valor, Eclipso, a couple of miniseries including Timber Wolf (a LSH spin-off), and the not-yet-officially announced Legionnaires series.

I had heard about the latter through the LSH grapevine, and I was excited about it, as it was being drawn by Chris Sprouse, whom I first met and liked during my first run at DC in ’89/90. I was actually one of the (not officially publicized) “Legion of Hammerlocke Editors” — one of, I think, eight different people who were briefly associated with that early Chris Sprouse comic. I started thinking it would be fun to work with Chris for real.

My brain was spinning after being offered the Legion books to edit. (Mike Carlin actually said something like “I’ve been told that there are about only four or five people qualified (I’m thinking: “geeky”) enough to edit this series, and you’re one of them.” (Unspoken: “…and the others all have better jobs…”) After mentally “gosh-wowing” a couple of times, it finally dawned on me that this was Mike Carlin calling to offer me a job — not Dick Giordano.

“Hey Mike… How come you’re calling me and not Dick?”

“Dick’s wife has been having some health problems, and he’s not doing all that great either, so there’s been talk about me starting to transition over to his job since he’s not in the office as much these days.”

“Oh… I’m sorry to hear about Dick. Congratulations to you, though!… Um… So, do I need to talk to Dick? And how/when do I do that?”

Mike then said that Dick was still in charge of hiring, and I needed to chat with him. He mentioned that Dick would be at the Heroes Convention that weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, so he’d be out of the office until the following week. We left things at that. For now.

AS THE LEGION TURNS

Introducing (formally) The Legionnaires.

Introducing (formally) The Legionnaires.


Shortly after that, I was talking with LSH folks Tom McCraw and Mark Waid, where I discovered that that particular Heroes Convention was hosting, among other things, a gathering of Legion of Super-Heroes fans called Reunion 2992, and that both Mark and Tom were going to be there. I immediately realized that this was too much of a coincidence to pass up, and I on-the-spot decided to go to Charlotte. I called Mike Carlin back to inform Dick that I would be looking for him at the show.

Shortly after that, I was talking to Beau on the phone, telling him I was driving to this show. I asked him if he was going or if it was near where he was. He wasn’t going but told me that if I could take a route that would bring me close to his office in Ceredo, I should stop by. I assured him I could do that, and a day or two later, he called to talk to me about a job with Eclipse. Later on, I figured out that this was most likely just a ruse by Beau (and probably Dean Mullaney) to put me up at a hotel and have a nice dinner before I attempted to crash the Heroes Convention, not knowing for sure if I had a place to stay. Beau did ask me a few interview-like questions, and then we just BS’d the rest of the night, as we normally did when we got together.

The next day, I drove to Charlotte for the convention. Being at this Legion event was very weird for me. By the time I got there, both Mark and Tom probably knew why I was there (or if they didn’t, I told them — and swore them both to secrecy for the rest of the weekend).

And then I took care of the other thing I was in Charlotte for — talking to Dick Giordano about becoming a full-time DC editor. Luckily, it didn’t take me long to find him. He greeted me with a big hug and a “Hey! I hear you’re coming back to edit comics for us!” To which I replied (loudly — he was hard of hearing) “Well, I think that’s actually your decision, Dick!”

“Nope, that’s Carlin’s call now,” said Dick. I explained that Mike had told me the opposite, and that I needed somebody to please make a decision. “What are you doing Monday afternoon, then?” he asked.

“Well, I’m guessing that I’ll be standing in your office at DC with Mike Carlin, and one of you will be telling me when I’m starting at DC again.”

“That sounds about right. See you then!”

Then Dick went back to signing autographs. That was the entire extent of our conversation that weekend.

Good thing I had already planned on being in NYC on Monday. More on this later.

A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LSH

Legion Outpost #6 cover by Dave Cockrum

Legion Outpost #6 cover by Dave Cockrum


I knew a few folks in LSH fandom but not well. I know I had met Mike Flynn and Richard Morrissey at either the DC offices or at other conventions. Flynn had been in DC’s Marketing/Sales Department for a time. I also think I may have corresponded a bit with Harry Broertjes and maybe first met him in Charlotte. I was one of the lucky people who saw Flynn’s announcement in the Legion comic book about the first issue of The Legion Outpost fanzine, and I eventually got all 10 issues. I wasn’t yet writing about comics then, but I wanted to contribute to The Outpost in some way, so I sent them cash. Either Mike or Harry referred to me as that crazy guy who was sending them $10 or $20 when everybody else was sending quarters. I just wanted to make sure I always got the fanzine.

It was tremendously hard being at this LSH event, knowing what I knew about what was “probably” going to happen to the LSH book in the near future. I could not say a single thing to anybody. And, well, technically, I didn’t have the job yet.

(For more info on Reunion 2992, the’s a great article recapping it in TwoMorrows The Best of the Legion Outpost TPB (2004).)

FORESHADOWING

Legion #38, my first issue as editor. Cover copy foreshadowing much?

Legion #38, my first issue as editor. Cover copy foreshadowing much?


I don’t recall exactly when I first met Tom and Mary Bierbaum. Perhaps it was at this show. I was nervous about talking to them there, as in our phone conversations, Mike Carlin let it slip that DC wasn’t always very happy about the current LSH team, especially the writing. Which I took as his way of strongly hinting that DC wanted creative changes. I knew that this was definitely going to be a problem, because at this point in time the LSH book was team-written by the Bierbaums and Keith Giffen — and if sides had to be drawn, I had a pretty good guess who DC would pick. The Bierbaums had come up through fandom, a route that always made editors suspicious, while Giffen was an established professional with other DC work under his belt. I had heard somewhere (maybe at this LSH gathering) that Keith was possibly leaving the LSH book soon, and the Bierbaums were excited to show what they could do solo. I was also interested in seeing what that would be like. But I also knew my (probable) new boss wasn’t exactly a big fan. (sigh.)

On Sunday, I drove from Charlotte to Baltimore to stop by the Diamond Trade Show that was going on that day. I was supposed to talk to somebody about a job there, but he blew me off. Typical Diamond. I didn’t care. I’ve would have hated working for that guy. I’m really there to pick up my DC Comics gal pal Tammy Brown and drive her back to Brooklyn, where I’m crashing on her sofa for a day or two. Which gives me easy access to NYC for my DC Comics meeting on Monday.

The next morning, I took the subway into DC, hung out at the “new” temp offices, officially got offered the job, and accepted. Later in the week, I jumped back in the car and drove to Buffalo, NY, where Mark Waid was currently living. Hung out for a day or two. We went to see Batman Returns on opening weekend and discussed it endlessly.

Eventually, I realized I only had so much time to get back to Wisconsin and get my stuff packed up and stored until I had my own place in the NYC area. But I’d never been in Canada before, and it was RIGHT THERE near Buffalo, so I drove up to Niagara Falls, took a quick look, hopped back in the car, went through border check, and drove back to Wisconsin through Canada on some seemingly deserted and endlessly straight road where most people were moving about 100 mph. And soon I was also. I made such good time I was asked about it at the Canadian/Wisconsin border. “I don’t know what you mean, officer. I was just driving like everybody else…” (That’s another thing that doesn’t happen anymore, taking a side trip through another country. Border security is a lot different now.)

Total mileage: approx. 2,800 miles round trip.

The Legionnaires get their own title!

The Legionnaires get their own title!


And that was my job interview for Legion of Super-Heroes editor for DC Comics. I had a lot of fun working at DC, and I hoped that I helped produce a lot of comics that ended up being somebody’s favorites. My only big mistake at DC was saying “yes” to editing the Superman books.

But that’s another story…

Hey, Beau! We’ll see you in a few days! Quite a surprise we got cooked up for next week, ‘eh?

__________________________________

KC CARLSON: I miss LSH. I mean, the real one… (walks away rapidly, whistling)

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. Like there’s only ONE real Legion…

 

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