A Creator’s Christmas Scare! (Encouragement for Creators & Dreamers)

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He was a popular Victorian writer of short stories and novels, whose work had met with both critical and popular success. But at the age of 30 he found it increasingly difficult to duplicate the same level of financial success he’d enjoyed with his earlier books. In fact, his literary career was in steep decline.

This British writer had mounting debts to pay and an expectant wife to support, so he reaccessed his work and the way in which he presented it. He searched for fresh ideas and found one he felt could get his byline back on the covers of the popular literary magazines. And he took inspiration from the work of a fellow writer, Washington Irving, the American novelist who’d produced the creepy classic The Ghost of Sleepy Hollow.

Twenty years earlier, Irving had noticed a renewed interest in Christmas traditions, in both the U.S. and Great Britain, and had penned several successful holiday-themed tales. Both Irving and his British contemporary approached their work in similar fashion, and both enjoyed a good ghost story. Then, remembering the long-held wintertime tradition of recounting spooky legends of ghosts and goblins by the fireside, the struggling writer realized he could meld the two genres for his next project!

He’d unearthed the basic skeleton for a cracking good read, but as yet his story lacked a heart. He searched for that heart during long hours of contemplation, when he “walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed.” And he found it at last after a visit to Manchester’s factory district, where he observed the pitiful state of the poor and their wretched working conditions, a sight that reminded him of his own childhood days spent working in a glue factory. He suddenly realized his Christmas story could be used to strike “a sledge hammer blow” for society’s neglected and needy classes.

Since Victorian times, a familiar sight at Christmas.

He hoped his tale would create greater public awareness of their plight, and encourage his readers to reach out to their less fortunate brothers and sisters — especially at Christmastime, “a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers … and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” He completed his cautionary tale in six weeks, and planned to have it published early in December, 1843.

Not satisfied with the pathetic sum his last publisher paid him, the writer had decided to pay for publication of the story from his own pocket, and hence enjoy a greater share of the book’s profits. He felt the book would be popular at Christmas and hurried to have it ready in time for holiday shoppers (and readers); but two separate production errors delayed the book’s publication. With less than five shopping days left, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol finally arrived in bookstalls late on December 19th!

To cover the cost of printing the initial 6,000 copies — and realize enough profit to cover his family’s living expenses, Dickens hoped to net £1000 from sales (£20,000 by today’s standards, or roughly $30,000). But although the book had completely sold out by Christmas Eve, the writer made less than one-fourth that amount! An additional printing was quickly prepared and it too sold out shortly after the New Year; and by May of 1844, a seventh printing had sold out!

A Christmas Carol was both a critical and popular success, but the book’s profits continued to disappoint Dickens. And as if to rub salt into his financial wounds, a rival publisher pirated the book and began printing a competing edition! Dickens immediately filed a lawsuit, but the publisher just as quickly filed for bankruptcy, and poor Dickens was left with all the legal fees!

But it’s Christmas, and we can’t have Dickens’ literary adventures end on a sour note: a few years later, the writer realized audiences would actually pay to watch him read his book on stage; and after 127 packed-house “performances,” A Christmas Carol finally provided the sound financial returns Dickens’ had hoped for!

You know the rest: since its publication, A Christmas Carol has never been out of print; it’s a perennial classic that’s sold millions of copies and been adapted for stage, screen, radio and television. And despite a couple of bumps in the road to its publication, and a little sweating over its profitability, Dickens proved that a dollop of creativity, some savvy marketing, and a lot of faith can go a long way!

Dear dreamers and fellow creators, “May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

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An Invincible Dream (Conclusion)

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Last week: Joe and Jerry were just two Jewish kids who loved science fiction and adventure pulps. Both boys were sons of immigrants, both had overcome social and economic adversity, both dreamed of better things. After they met in a Cleveland high school, they began to hang out together, dream together, and create together! And together, Joe and Jerry came up with a brilliant idea for a new heroic character. There had never been anything like it. The two young men knew the idea couldn’t miss. Or could it?! Often, timing is everything. Was the world ready for something different? Probably so. Were the publishers ready? Not yet.

Joe and Jerry modeled their new science fiction character after the Old Testament hero Samson, and decided to make him an alien being trying to fit in to life on earth — because that’s what they themselves felt like in America, strangers in a strange land. And, like the story of Moses, their character’s mother would place her baby in a vessel that his father would launch into the river of space. The vessel would find it’s way to earth, where this extremely foreign child would grow up. He would live among us, blessing us with his special talents; but he could never be one of us. Even though he looked identical to humans, he would never actually feel like one. He would never be able to forget he was an alien.

Joe the Artist.

We said America was a land of opportunity, didn’t we? Originally, Joe and Jerry got the idea to market the hero as a comic strip for daily newspapers. They showed their ideas to an editor named Max Gaines. Gaines wasn’t interested. Then the boys approached several newspaper syndicates, none of which were interested in running a strip featuring their hero. So Joe and Jerry finally threw in the towel. They put away their story samples and started working on other things.

During the mid-thirties, something very American and very Jewish was beginning to captivate readers: comic books — which were mostly reprints of the Sunday “Funnies.” By 1938, magazine publishers began to fully realize the profitability of the form. One such publisher decided to start up a comics magazine featuring all new material. Word got around to Gaines, who apparently hadn’t forgot young Joe and Jerry. He contacted all the right people, and Joe and Jerry’s comic strip, reformatted as comic-book pages, was published in July 1938 as the lead story in the first issue of new magazine.

Jerry the Writer.

The hero created by two Jewish boys was an immediate hit. The character literally took off. Other publishers quickly copied him, and a lucrative new entertainment genre was born. A year later Joe and Jerry’s hero got his own comic book, with his name as the title (a first for comics). The next year a popular radio show premiered. It was almost immediately followed, in 1941, by a series of high-quality animated shorts that played before feature films. Eventually, the character got the live-action treatment, in a 1948 movie serial. All these appearances of the character were hugely successful.

In 1952, Joe and Jerry’s creation burst into television! The show was such a hit that people went out and purchased TV sets just so they could see it. There were lunch boxes, toys, games, and costumes. The trend of licensing a character for tie-in merchandise started with this character, and it changed the face of marketing. There were more cartoons and trading cards, and finally, in 1978, the character received the big-budget motion picture treatment. The movie cleaned up at the box office, and was followed by three sequels and another TV series.

Still another weekly series premiered in 2001 and ran for ten years. And in 2013, the most expensive movie version yet, premiered to legions of excited fans. It made $668 million worldwide, and its sequel, arriving in 2016, is one of the most discussed and anticipated movies in years. Have you figured out who we’re talking about yet?

Today, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world. He’s credited with jumpstarting an art form that has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry. If not for the success of Superman, there’d be no Batman or Captain America or Spiderman. And the movie industry would have lost the source material for several of its highest grossing films. In fact, movie versions of comic books (we call them graphic novels these days) have helped to invigorate Hollywood — just as Superman invigorated comics. It’s quite possible Superman is the most important fictional character ever created, the match that lit the fuse that ignited an entire industry — several industries, actually. But it almost didn’t happen!!! Superman almost succumbed to the kryptonite of rejection!

“Write the vision; make it plain … For still the vision awaits its appointed time; If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come….” (Habakkuk 2:2-3 ESV)

Here’s 77 Years of An Invincible Dream:

1941 theatrical shorts.
Kirk Alyn, 1948 serial.

 

 

George Reeves, 1952 TV series.
Superman comics were as popular as ever in the sixties!

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Christopher Reeve in the first big movie version, 1978

 

Still stamping out crime in 2008!

 

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel, 2013. (Sequel in 2016)
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