I wasn't always a military history writer. I actually got my start in the comic book industry, working for Marvel Comics in 1977. I knocked around working for Marvel, DC, and some smaller companies for a few years (and a couple of non-industry detours), before returning to Marvel in 1986. After doing some freelance work, I landed a staff job working in Marvel's Domestic Licensing department as an administrative assistant (secretary), a story for another time. While the Domestic Licensing gig was my day job, I was still able to moonlight freelance writing. One of my accounts was Marvel Comics Presents. And, it was while writing for that series that I had an experience that, if not unique, was certainly rare, as you are about to discover. Marvel Comics Presents was a bi-weekly anthology title launched in 1988 (it was where “Weapon X,” the story that served as the basis for the 2009 movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” first appeared). Each issue contained four eight-page stories, with the lead story being a multi-part serial. That meant that editor Terry Kavanaugh had to have ninety-six stories on hand for the yearly tally of twenty-four issues, as opposed to twelve stories for monthly titles like Spider-Man. Even when it later became a monthly, he still had to crank out forty-eight stories. And, unlike the monthly titles who had regular creative teams, he needed to solicit work from a wide variety of creators in order to meet his deadlines. His need spelled my opportunity and Marvel Comics Presents became my most regular account. One day in early 1990 I pitched to Terry a plot concept involving Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat. He liked it and gave me the go-ahead. Little did I know that the result would be that my story about a burglar would become state’s evidence in a murder trial. In 1990 I was an administrative assistant in Marvel Comics’ Domestic Licensing Department, having been hired there after years of working in the Editorial Department as a freelance writer and associate editor of Marvel Age, the company’s magazine devoted to news about creators and upcoming comics. My move to Domestic Licensing was greeted with relief and joy by Editorial because they knew that finally there’d be someone in Domestic Licensing who knew the company’s characters and histories (a major point of friction and embarrassment by Editorial—think of the red and blue of Spider-Man’s costume with the T-shirt licensee switching the location of the two colors, Domestic Licensing staffers not knowing it, and the mistake only by accident caught at the eleventh hour). If you think I'm joking, I have on my shelf a set of coffee mugs from Applause (three mugs in a set) that feature the images of the DC characters Batman (2) and Wonder Woman. The top of the boxes read: COMIC BOOK HERO MUGS. And, printed blow that label in the lower left-hand corner is the name: MARVEL COMICS. It's a nice collectible, and quite the rarity. Now back to the story. Though I had given up my job at Marvel Age when I moved over to Domestic Licensing, I continued to do freelance writing for the company on the side. This double-dipping by staffers was a long-standing, common company practice. Some, like me, supplemented their paychecks by writing, others did so as colorists, and still others (usually assistant editors) by editing the letter columns. Part of my responsibilities at Marvel Age was to write the “Coming Attractions” column which, as its title suggests, contained (very) brief summaries of the stories in the following month’s titles. This meant I had to go to each editor’s office and get whatever information I could about the titles they were responsible for—not always an easy task—as a result I got to know all the editors and which ones would most likely be in need of stories. My writing goal was to land an on-going monthly series. Lacking that, then to get the next best thing: work. As a result, I had to know a lot about a lot of different characters. As an aid I created a notebook and jotted down in it the distinctive speech patterns of every character, including supporting ones. One of them was Felicity Hardy, a cat burglar whose villain name was Black Cat. Hardy was a member of the Spider-Man group of villains/supporting characters and part of her dynamic was, at the time, a complicated romantic relationship with Spider-Man at the same time that his alter ego Peter Parker was seriously involved with Mary Jane Watson (this was before the two got married). That part of the relationship I didn’t touch. What I liked was Black Cat's history of burglary and, coupled with my love of history and most recently at the time visits to France, that led to my story, “The Crown Jewel Caper.” My wife is French and in one of my early visits to her home country, we went to Versailles to see the palace. This monument to the glory of France during the reign of King Louis XIV is beyond description here, so I’ll just say that it’s the ultimate expression of royal excess—it bankrupted the country. Okay, I have to continue the history lesson a little bit more. Many of the French crown jewels were lost during the French Revolution. So my idea was to have the Black Cat do the ultimate heist of seizing the lost French crown jewels whose hidden whereabouts in France she had supposedly found. The story has some personal fun bits in which I have an Inspector Gorlier (my wife’s uncle), detective Henri Poirot (nephew of Agatha Christie’s Hercule), and villain Hervé Marat (last name coming from the French Revolution firebrand Marat). The story itself was unmemorable but for a fact outside of its control. I wrote the story in the classic Marvel style: the writer creates a detailed plot, the penciler breaks it down into visuals, and then the writer receives a copy of the pencil art in order to produce the final script. The combination is then lettered, inked, colored and finally sent off to the printer. Once completed, a story usually appears three months later. Time passed. At one point I noticed that my Black Cat story hadn’t been published during the expected time-frame I thought nothing of it until a couple more months had passed. One day when in Terry’s office, I asked him why my Black Cat story hadn’t been printed, was there something wrong with it? He told me that the pencil art was being held by the New York City Police Department. He went on to explain that the inker assigned to lay down India ink over the pencil artwork to make it suitable for printing had murdered his wife and that blood had spilled on some of the pages, thus making the story art state’s evidence in the murder trial. Well! Fortunately, at the time I habitually made full-size Xeroxes of the pencil art of my stories for my personal files. After recovering from my shock, I told Terry that I thought I had a set of Xeroxes of the story. In checking my files, I confirmed that I did and gave him the copy which was passed on to another inker. Finally it saw print in Marvel Comics Presents Vol. 1, No. 57, cover date August 1990, “The Crown Jewel Caper” (which you'll note that the back cover mistakenly titled it as "Black Cat Takes on the Kingpin of Crime!").
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