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From the Reject Pile: STARFOX’S SWINGIN’ SPRING BREAK SUPER SPECIAL

And now, to make up for a nearly month of absence, here’s a nice long one for ya:

In 1999, as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics, I had, aside from my duties as an assistant editor, drawn a few comics, pitched a few ideas that went nowhere (i.e. – Deadpool/Spice Girls – and yes, that’s for real; I’ll talk about that another day), and had written letters pages and a few things that never saw print.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I suggested an idea to editor Mark Powers and he responded with, and this isn’t an exact quote despite my using quotes, “That’s hilarious; let’s do it…if you write up the new project memo, I’ll sign it”. [By way of explanation: a new project memo was just that, a form you submitted to decision makers when proposing a new series, mini-series, one-shot, etc. On this form you indicate the creative team, title, concept, page count, etc.]

starfox_storytelling

The comic book I proposed — a single-issue humor special — was titled STARFOX’S SWINGIN’ SPRING BREAK SUPER SPECIAL. It would star Eros of Titan, AKA Starfox (seated, above), an occasional member of The Avengers, whose particularly extraordinary power was his ability to affect/appeal to people’s pleasure centers. In other words, he could make you believe anything. In his characterization in comics to that point he was often seen surrounded by women (also, above), all of whom were taken by his super-powered charms. He was in so many ways, comics’ lothario.

And Marvel comics had their share of ladies’ men. Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man was a playboy of great renown. Johnny Storm, AKA The Human Torch, often had a bevy of young ladies at his beck and call. Wonder Man was a Hollywood star over whom women swooned, and The Beast’s pheromones and charm had enticed a dame or two over the years.

But with those who’d had success with women, there were others who fell on the opposite side of that fence. One such character was Thanos, a megalomaniacal super-villain whose efforts to win the love of Death herself (in the Marvel Universe Death is a female) had lead to numerous schemes wherein many, many, many people died. Yet, for all his murderous machinations, Death still didn’t give him the time of day. And that’s where I took the ball.

Thanos and Starfox were brothers…and I pitched that Thanos, tired of rejection, asks his ever-successful-in-romantic-matters sibling for help. Starfox, recognizing his powers’ influence in his success rate, suggests instead that they travel to Earth and get help and advice from Earth’s more female-savvy super-folk.

And that was the set-up to what would be a humorous romp/road trip as Marvel heroes tried to teach Thanos how to pick-up women.

I wrote up the new project memo…it was signed…and turned in to the decision makers.

Now, the behind the scenes stuff is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I know that number crunchers and financial people had to okay it, as did the Editor in Chief and sales team, etc.

Amongst those seeing to this new project memo was a fellow who, out of my own sense of decency I won’t name by name, was in charge of running P&Ls, which stood for “profit & loss”. Basically, he would punch numbers into a computer (cover price, art & editorial costs, estimated sales, etc) to determine if the book would generate a profit or not.

Now, before I keep writing, let it be known that this was a long shot and I knew it. I was not (and still am not) a “name” creator, and if I was known for anything it was for drawing a series of anti-drug Spider-Man stories that appeared in every Marvel comic and annoyed nearly every Marvel Comics reader.

I’d never written a comic professionally before. I was pitching a story with a character, Starfox, that most folks likely didn’t know or care about (as the assistant on Avengers, the letters we got would lead one to believe Starfox was not a fan favorite if on fans’ radar at all). The chances for approval were slim.

So you can imagine my surprise when it got approved!

starfox_approved

However…

When I was informed of the approval, by the aforementioned P&L Guy (PLG from here on out), it went like this: PLG stood in the doorway to the office I shared with editor Tom Brevoort and said, basically, “Gregg, despite my strong objection, your Starfox book was approved.”

So on the one hand, awesome, wow…a total shot in the dark and it got approved. On the other hand, wow, dang, this guy, the guy who helps determine if a comic will sell and how much it’ll make, in a meeting with other people deciding the fate of this single comic, openly objected…and strongly?! Yeesh. Better still, I got a copy of the completed new project memo and someone (maybe PLG, maybe someone else) wrote, in the “comments” section, “very scary”.

starfox_scary

Good gracious…it seemed this was not a book that had the full support of the Marvel sales team.

Now, at this time Marvel Comics had been in bankruptcy for a couple of years and sales across the board were consistently slipping. When once comics regularly sold hundreds of thousands of copies, it was a rare few books that cracked the 100.000 mark month-to-month then. There wasn’t a lot of risk going on. A single-issue humor book with a third or fourth tier character was already an uphill climb without people actively working against its success.

Prior to all of this, I had long been listening to a radio personality named Phil Hendrie (this’ll all come together, I promise), whose radio show consisted of him and him alone playing several characters presenting absurd opinions and premises to which REAL people listening would call the show to debate or dispute. So…a real guy would play a fake guy/gal saying a ridiculous thing…and a real caller called in to yell at the fake person about the ridiculous thing. As Phil would say, “it was a beautiful thing”.

And at the time I was also reading ANDY KAUFMAN REVEALED by Bob Zmuda, wherein Zmuda went into detail explaining the various ruses and shenanigans he and Kaufman perpetrated on their audiences.

So putting together the state of comics and the influences I was absorbing at the time and the apparent obstacles facing this project, I had an idea.

With the internet up and running, opinionated people regularly shot off at the keyboard. As it still happens, when comics fans disagree with or dislike a thing there’s be a frenzy. Though, despite all the hate, it never made a book sell LESS. So…I figured, if I could create a bit of static…some heat…some buzz and/or frenzy, hey, maybe people will buy the book “just to see it”.

No sooner did I come upon this notion that I got an e-mail from a comics reporter asking me about this title-as-yet-unrevealed “Starfox One-Shot”.

My plan was to talk about the one-shot in such a way as to incite reaction. Once that fire was lit, I’d speak to another media outlet and tell a different story, contradicting the first. Then, another and another. In the end the plan would be that people would be either incensed, confused, or curious enough to order the book, again, just to see what was or wasn’t real. And then, when the book was released, I’d explain that that was the plan all along.

I ran my plan by my editor for the book, Mark Powers, my boss at the time, Tom Brevoort, and Bill Rosemann, now an editor at Marvel but at the time was in charge of the Marvel catalog/Previews and the solicitations therein and in a lot of ways was like Marvel’s hype-man. Everyone was okay with this approach. So I went ahead with it.

What happened next is what led to the following appearing in a column titled “Comic Book Legends Revealed” in June of this year, 2009:

COMIC LEGEND: Marvel was planning to turn Starfox into a villain during the late 1990s.”

Rather than seek me out for what happened (and a simple web search would get you here where one could then get in touch with me – I didn’t pull a J.D. Salinger), they posted an explanation by Tom Brevoort from some time in 2003:

“Since it no longer really matters, there was a one-shot, titled something like STARFOX’S SPRING BREAK SPECIAL, which would have been a light-hearted romp, heavy on the comedy. It also was somewhat influenced by the then-current Andy Kaufman mania surrounding the release of “Man On The Moon.” So when Newsarama got wind of the project, creator Gregg Schigiel gave a bizarre nonsensical interview purporting to tell what the project was going to be about. He intended to keep doing odd interviews about the thing, in order to confuse and befuddle everybody, up until the book came out. But at some later date, the decision was made not to proceed with the project, and so all that was left was the nonsensical cover story.”

While I don’t deny this as an explanation, it’s not entirely accurate and figured, hey, let me once and for all tell the tale (the tale you’re reading right now).

So…I got the e-mail requesting an interview and with everything explained about, I responded with a sordid tale of how I was going to be teaming up Starfox and Thanos and how they’d be coming to Earth and how the story would involve The Avengers, X-Men, and members of the Fantastic Four. All of this, technically, was true. I then went on to postulate how Starfox’s powers would make him a perfect villain…and a very dangerous one at that. I essentially implied that, if a guy’s powers are he can convince you of anything, who’s to say he can’t convince you he hasn’t done anything wrong? I postulated that he could be the most dangerous serial killer in the Marvel Universe.

I knew what I was doing. I knew I was treading a very, very fine line and that most people would not see the distinction between implication and actuality. I was counting on that. I was hoping people would start talking. And boy, did they. Some people got REALLY fired up; downright angry.

All of a sudden, Starfox was everyone’s favorite character and what I was doing was terrible and wrong, etc, etc.

Perfect, right? Well, here’s where things went a bit off the rails.

There was this “private” newsgroup where Avengers fans talked about The Avengers. Tom actively participated in these discussions. The people in that newsgroup were angry and going to Tom for answers/explanations. Tom’s a good guy with great intentions, and he let those folks in on what was happening, essentially saying, listen gang, this stays here in this group, but don’t worry, Starfox isn’t REALLY going to become an evil villain…just be cool.

Well, that didn’t happen. It didn’t take long for the original fellow who interviewed me to call me, furious, that I’d lied to him and made him out to be a fool and put his reputation as a journalist on the line, etc. This, of course, was not my intention, but I also still believed in my plan. So I spoke to said journalist and explained that everything I said I said for a reason and I wasn’t trying to make a fool of him. I pointed out the specific phrases I thought were most relevant and revelatory and explained that I hoped the interview would help create buzz and heat and that would in turn help the book. I explained that his reputation, when it was all said and done, would not be damaged as a result of my schemes. He seemed to understand and went back and highlighted/bolded certain passages in the piece to in theory make my subtle bits more clear.

Sadly, I’ve been unable to find that interview out there on the internet, otherwise I’d most certainly link to it here.

If there was one outright lie it might’ve been that because of this project I had to quit my job as Tom’s assistant because it was a conflict of interest for me to write an Avengers character while assistant editing The Avengers. It just so happens that around this time I’d just given my notice that I was leaving Marvel to go work at Nickelodeon, so I made that part of the story, I’ll take the hit for that one.

And so it went that I left my post at Marvel ready to start my new career as a writer/artist, perpetrator of guerrilla marketing ruses, and guy who draws SpongeBob SquarePants. During my two-weeks between ending at Marvel and starting at Nickelodeon (early February 2000), I started penciling the approved plot. As I was penciling page six I got word that STARFOX’S SWINGIN’ SPRING BREAK SUPER SPECIAL was canceled. It took a bit to confirm it, but alas, it was dead before I’d turned in a single page of interiors (I did turn in the cover, though it languished in a drawer for a good long while).

I tried to learn exactly why it was cancelled despite being approved and scheduled (see below; it would’ve come out on May 14, 2000, for what it’s worth, in the heart of spring), but got no answers. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d point to PLG.

starfox_schedule

But in the end I’ll never really know. And the world will never see what would have been. Or will they? That’s right, for making it all the way to the end of this very long, potentially interesting but more likely tedious tale, I’m sharing the never-before-seen complete plot, cover art, and the existing interior pencils as well as two pages of layouts.

PLUS, extra bonus feature: a few years after everything went down I considered re-pitching the book, without all the hoopla and scams. I even worked up a new piece of art. But enough time had passed that the things I thought funny weren’t as funny any more and the moment was gone.

But even so, considering it’s still a thing people bring up in urban legend columns, it seems I’m not the only one who remembers it…

  • By Stephen, September 8, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

    My favorite panel was at the bottom of page 3 with Thanos towering over Starfox while he sips a martini in the hot tub.

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