It was in late June of 1977 and I had been working in the Marvel Comics Bullpen for exactly six months when I was told the production manager wanted to see me. He had been looking at my hand-copied version of the entire first page of Webster’s Dictionary, complete with all the various forms of type, italic, bold, latin words, etc. which I had submitted to him as a sample in my not-so-subtle way of letting him know I was ready to receive a freelance assignment.
Big John Verpoorten was about 6’7″ and must have weighed over 400 pounds. I’ll admit, even after having been in the army ten years earlier, I was still somewhat intimidated, and even a bit apprehensive at the thought of going into his office. I’d worked just outside his door for half the year by that time, and I don’t think he had ever even looked at me, much less spoken to me.
The Big Man smoked a hefty “bulldog” pipe and could reduce a freelancer to a pool of yellow liquid with one look or comment.
But I was ready.
He was holding my sample page in one hand and looking at it in much the same way that I imagined a giant in a children’s book might look at an interesting leaf he had stooped down to pick up from the floor of an enchanted forest.
He uttered not a word, but with a puff or two from his pipe, gently put my page back down on his desk, then leaned over slightly and took a 17-page pencil job from a grey flat file. It had a rubber band around it. He held it out to me. As he did so, he looked directly at me. He didn’t have to tell me to do a good job on it.
I went back to my desk, sat down and resumed breathing.
I looked at the title page. It was a western story that took place in Las Vegas. There was a drawing of a big neon sign of a smiling cowboy that took up most of the page. It was by Herb Trimpe. The page itself was clean and looked as if the graphite drawing had somehow just magically appeared on it. There was no evidence that the artist had even touched the pages except with the tip of his pencil.
It was a Friday. I took it home and had my evil way with it over the weekend.
When I got to work on Monday morning, I walked into Big John’s office and handed him the completed job.
Again, he didn’t speak. He just looked at the pages and raised one eyebrow. I took that as a sign that he was pleased.
Over the 20 years or so I worked for Marvel, I lettered over eleven hundred more stories. I don’t remember most of them.
But they say you always remember your first.