5/13/2010

The Marvelous Internship

I wrote the following article as my final project for the magazine writing class I took this past semester:

The elevator door slides apart and I step through. The only thing that tells me I've come to the right place is the large cardboard standee for "Iron Man 2" sitting in the corner of the otherwise sparse lobby. There are glass double-doors in front of me. I walk up to the door and pull the handle. It doesn't open. I notice the receptionist sitting at her desk on the other side of the door. She waves me back. I release my grip on the handle and the receptionist reaches underneath the desk. I hear a 'click,’ pull open the door and step through.

I’m in New York City, my first time, standing in the 11th floor offices of Marvel Comics, which are located in an unassuming building on 5th Avenue, a few blocks from Times Square. From the outside, the building looks like any other that lines this stretch of Manhattan. I probably would have walked right past it had my cousin Adam not been with me. Adam has lived in New York for about 10 years now, and without his guidance I would have been lost as soon as I stepped off the Peter Pan bus at the Port Authority bus terminal.

I’ve come to New York, to Marvel, to interview for a summer internship position, which was the furthest thing from my mind when I applied to go to graduate school at Emerson College in Boston. Hell, it was the furthest thing from my mind up until a few months ago, when I started following one of Marvel’s editors on Twitter.

Her name is Jennifer Grünwald (@jengrunwald) and she’s worked at Marvel since 2002. She was having an “open-question-ask-me-anything” day, and I asked her how a person goes about getting a job at one of the two big comic book companies (the other being DC Comics). Within minutes, she replied, “@oyboy Well, aside from applying as one would do for any job, there's always an internship. (Which is how I got hired!).”

I hadn’t thought about interning at a comic book company while in grad school. As much as I love comic books, and I’ve collected them for about 20 years, it didn’t seem to be a realistic possibility. I had interned at a comic book company once already, in Los Angeles, while an undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It was a small company called BOOM! Studios, and I drove across the country to work there during the summer of 2007. It was an enjoyable and educational experience. I had never seen the industry from the publishing perspective before. I was even offered a job, but I had a year left before I received my bachelor’s degree, and that was more important to me at the time.

Grünwald encouraged me to apply for an internship and see how it went from there. So I did. That was on March 18, a Thursday. I filled out the internship application over the weekend and submitted it. On Tuesday, March 23, I sent a tweet out into the ether: “Registered for the fall. Spring might be tough, but the fall should be a breeze. Still hoping for the summer internship. C'mon, @Marvel!”

Someone at Marvel was listening.

Less than an hour after sending that tweet, I received the following response from Ryan Penagos (@Agent_M), Marvel’s website editor: “@oyboy You're a Journalism student? What department did you apply to? I need a good journalism intern for Marvel.com.”

Now, I’ve had an email address for almost 20 years. I’ve been online in some form or another for more than half my life. I’m comfortable with technology in a way that used to worry my parents (especially after my father would receive a $300 bill from AOL). But even I was amazed by the rapidity of Twitter.

I quickly tapped out a response to Ryan on my phone: “@Agent_M I had applied for editorial, but I'm really open for anything. I have a big interest in the industry in general.”

From Ryan, an hour later: “@oyboy Yup, saw your application. We'll see what happens.”

Two days later, on March 25, I received an email from Sara Del Greco, Marvel’s internship coordinator. She asked me when I would be able to schedule an interview.

I was flabbergasted, nearly speechless. In the span of a week I had applied for an internship at Marvel and been asked to come in for an interview. Perhaps not all thanks to Twitter, but I know it helped. My immediate thought was, This wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. Maybe not even two years ago.

My email back to Del Greco basically consisted of, “Whenever you want me to come in for an interview, I’ll be there.” This was Marvel. The big time. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a class schedule or the 200 miles between Boston and New York get in my way.

The first comics I read as a child were published by Marvel, though I was ignorant of the fact at the time. I was unaware of things like publishing companies and writers and artists. All I knew was the four-color images that popped off the page dazzled me. I just liked the stories. Later, when I realized this was a job, that people sat around writing these stories and drawing these pictures, I hooked. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write. And I wanted to write comics.

I’ve never been able to pinpoint what it is about comics that has fascinated me for so many years. It long ago stopped being about the requisite superhero characters. Spider-Man, Superman and Batman were fun when I was younger, but as I got older I didn’t care so much about the characters I was reading as I did about who was writing them. I became enthralled by the process and sought out examples of comic book scripts wherever I could find them. Some I found online, and later a company called Titan Books published two volumes of “Writers on Comic Scriptwriting,” featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, along with examples of their scripts. Those books became bibles to me, so much so that the spine is cracked on Volume 1 and pages have started falling out of Volume 2.

I learned that some writers write very intricate, detailed scripts, wherein they describe everything from the characters’ facial expressions to the pattern on the wallpaper. Most comic books are 22 pages. One writer, Alan Moore, often wrote 100 pages of script for every 22-page comic book. Other writers are very sparse in their descriptions, sometimes only a paragraph or two per page, entrusting the artist to lay out the pages to best tell the story. It was the process of taking pages of dialogue and description and turning them into coherent, monthly serials that enchanted me, and I wanted in on the magic.

I’ve gone to a number of universities and colleges, lived all over the country, from Los Angeles to Boston, and the one constant throughout all those years has been comic books. I’ve lugged my collection back and forth more times than I care to remember. If there was one opportunity I was going to drop everything for and jump at, it was working at Marvel or DC Comics.

And here I am, April 2, slightly more than two weeks since I first inquired through Twitter about working at Marvel, waiting for an interview. The kid I used to be, the one who sat on his bedroom floor surrounded by stacks of comic books, all perfectly enshrined in their plastic bags and cardboard backings, flipping through stories he’d read countless times before and would read countless times since, he was crazed with excitement, bouncing off the walls inside my chest.

I calmly sit in the waiting area, across from a wall display filled with new comics, the way a doctor’s office has copies of Sports Illustrated and People, and fill out the internship application paperwork. I fight to stifle a grin every time I look up and see the life-size Hulk statue glowering at me from just inside the entrance to the offices.

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