Post by guest contributor Mark Behar
Enjoying spring training? I can’t help but feel like Alex Anthopoulos has rewarded my penance for watching 19 years of mediocre baseball. He heard my prayers! And by prayers I mean the sound of my remote hitting the wall. But I digress.
Let me take you back to another hopeful time, following the team’s 2006 campaign. T’was a mixed bag in the post-White Jays era. Warren Sawkiw wrapped up another year of radio colour commentary, BJ Ryan completed an entirely sustainable 3.5 WAR season as the team’s new closer, and the Jays’ sickly logo design continued to inspire a group of young Finnish game developers who searched for just that right look. All-told, that squad won 87 games. That ranked them 7th overall in the American League, but JP Ricciardi could at least point to 5 entrants in the All-Star game—the team’s highest total since sending 7 men (!) to the mid-summer classic in 1993. Postseason hopes aside, the team at least had some star power.
I was still licking my wounds from an early setback to my career ambitions. A couple of years prior to this, I had contacted an author and offered to adapt his popular book about gangsters into a graphic novel. He agreed to let me try, and, in the search for suitable comic book artists, famed inker Joe Rubinstein introduced me to his mentor, the legendary Dick Giordano, a wizard with the brush and the executive behind Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
I still don’t know why Joe and Dick agreed to work with me at that point. Simply put, I had no clue what I was doing, but in the course of putting together art samples and workshopping comic scripts, I learned to write for the format—decently enough that, in time, we found an interested publisher. It all came crashing down on me when the publisher found out that I had involved an original author. “Why create a graphic novel as an adaptation when the original author has no claim to the historical content in the book?” he asked me. I had no answer. More importantly, the original author required that any publication that bore his name contain no swear words—an absurd demand that made the publisher run away and never look back.
Rather than gravitating toward the superhero genre, I had always sought to use the comic format to tell the stories that interested me personally. I read history. I studied the prohibition-era gangsters. And I’ve loved the Jays since, at 5 years old, I watched the team led by Bell, Moseby, and Barfield head to the playoffs. I asked Dick Giordano, my mentor at this point and a man who constantly validated his reputation as ‘the nicest guy in the industry’, if he’d join me in pitching a series of promotional comics to the Blue Jays. A hardcore Mets fan, he replied that baseball was his second religion and that he’d happily help—he’d even draw the pitch for free!
Dick famously inked the Superman vs. Mohammed Ali comic in 1978, and I hoped to bring this graphic sensibility to a series of sponsored Jays comics. I gathered an all-star team of creators in case of future opportunities. I attended Seneca’s post-grad Marketing Management program and made the business plan a partial focus of my work. I spoke with the marketing reps for several MLB teams and struck up a relationship with the Jays’ former Marketing Director before securing a meeting at the Rogers Centre front office.
Frankly, I think they were kind of surprised at what I had put together, a 5-page sample with a sort-of Dennis the Menace feel, although I suggested that biographical stories about players like Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells would generate more fan interest if they pulled the trigger. The initial meetings seemed positive, but over the course of time their interest dithered. Perhaps my business model didn’t make sense to them. Perhaps they couldn’t convince their sponsors regarding the value of the ad space. Bobbleheads sell tickets, but comic books? At one point I got MLB’s VP, Marketing on the phone and he practically yelled at me for proposing an alternative to the league’s official comic book publisher, who had not produced anything for years and whose work looked downright terrible.
Dick Giordano felt upset (mostly for me, frankly) that the Jays had jerked us around. Even in his early 70s, Dick produced a ton of work, but I, too, lamented the lost opportunity with the Jays, especially when it became clear that I would waste my energies if I pushed for a deal with one of the other teams.
In March of 2010, I returned from my honeymoon in the Dominican Republic to a number of sad text messages. Dick Giordano had passed away from complications related to pneumonia. I was heartbroken, and the industry mourned the loss of a legend. I wish to this day that we had secured a deal for either of the projects that we pitched together, but the guy taught me a lot and our correspondences meant the world to me. His pleasant attitude and his practical wisdom still inform my creative sensibilities.
I certainly have some great memories, too—and the 5-page Jays comic that we pitched to the Jays survives. Please enjoy, and imagine the summertime giveaways that might have been.
All images © 2013 Mark Behar. All rights reserved. Click each on to enlarge.