I started writing for television in 1980, with two episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (“Mark of the Saurian” and “Hand of the Goral”), proudly becoming a member of the Writers Guild of America. Then the WGA went on strike, a long one. When it was over, writers with years of work and dozens of writing credits to their name were out hunting for the same work I was, with my measly two episodes.
In 1981, I went to a Guild panel discussion on finding other writing work, along with other hungry writers. After the panel, a soon-to-be friend, Larry DiTillio, told me about an animation company he was working for, called Filmation. They’d just started production on a new show, She-Ra, Princess of Power, and might be looking for writers.
I went in, read the pilot and some sample scripts. I pitched a couple of episode ideas to Art Nadel, the producer, and got hired to write one. After that I was put on staff, for the to-me amazing salary of about $700 a week. Besides Larry and Robert Lamb, a storyboard artist and writer, there was another guy, J.M. Straczynski, who went on to some later success.
I freelanced for Hanna-Barbera on a few episodes of Challenge of the Gobots, and then I went to work as a staff writer and story editor for DIC Animation, whose initials, we soon learned, stood for “Do It Cheap.” Care Bears, Ghostbusters and other shows whose names I’ve forgotten and I bet you have too. I worked for DIC off and on over the years for such shows as Dennis the Menace and The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
I pitched all the while to live-action shows, selling an outline to Night Rider and not selling to many others. My destiny, it seemed, was in cartoons.
In 1988, another writers’ strike was called. Since animation writers’ work isn’t covered with WGA contracts, I was working, but hit the picket lines to support my fellow scribes.
I was picketing at 20th Century Fox and struck up a conversation with an older writer. We got to talking, and he said he was working on a brand-new cartoon about turtles and mutants, or something. He needed help and I needed a job, so off I went to Jack Mendelsohn’s tiny Sherman Oaks office and four years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I started doing computer stuff, started writing shows, and became a Story Editor on the show. We wrote and story-edited a half-dozen other shows, including James Bond Jr, Police Academy, and Camp Candy. I learned more about writing, and writing for animation from Jack than anywhere else. Best job I ever had.
You should also know that Jack was one of the writers on the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and he’s selling autographed copies here.
During my stint with Jack, I got so busy re-writing other scripts that I had no time to write my own. I partnered with another writer, Ted Pedersen, and in our ten years together we wrote for Turtles, Spider-Man, X-Men SkySurfers, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, ExoSquad and many, many shows.
In 1995, Ted and I, like many other writers, were early users of this thing called ‘the internet.’ We had an idea about a book explaining this new technology to kids. A year later, the book we’d co-written, Internet For Kids, was published, and was a big hit (not Stephen King huge, but kids’ non-fiction huge). It went into three editions and 12 foreign languages. We followed up with How To Find (Almost) Anything on the Internet, and Make Your Own Web Page – a Guide For Kids. Separately, I was hired to write a couple of chapters in Using Windows 95, and later, The Rosenberg Espionage Case.
Ted moved to Seattle and our partnership ended (he died in 2011). I started a side business doing websites for clients, writing copy and still managed to do the occasional cartoon.
Over the years, I’d saved my outlines, scripts, writers’ bibles and other material from the shows I’d written. They were sitting in my computer, or in the garage in boxes. I was thinking about sending them to recycling.
Then I got a letter from a fan who was introducing his son to what had been his favorite show, Challenge of the Gobots. He knew I’d written for the show and asked if I had any scripts or other show memorabilia.
I dug up a storyboard out one of those boxes, made a copy and sent it to him (the jerk never even sent me a thank-you email! I hope his kid learns better manners from his mom).
Other people were interested in the shows I’d written as well. I began looking at those boxes of scripts, outlines, show bibles and artwork with a fresh eye. “There’ve got to be more fans of these old shows,” I thought. “How do I find out?”
Losing Normal is my first novel. In progress. Excerpts here.