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The Making of "Jayson Gets a Job!"

Aug. 9, 2010 to present

"Job" Creation

Several years before I launched “Jayson: The Musical,” I considered bringing my comic strip to another medium. For me, television was the most natural fit, as my strip was constructed like a traditional sitcom, with its own couch, door, and fourth wall. But this being the pre–“Will & Grace” era, there was no such thing as an (overtly) gay sitcom on TV. And since I had no experience and no connections in television short of a “Situation Comedy Workshop” I took in New York (more on that someday, I promise), I wasn’t in any position to go pushing on Hollywood’s envelope. Nonetheless, I took a stab at writing a pilot episode for “Jayson: The Sitcom.” In my pilot script, I introduced two new situations to open up the series. First, I gave Jayson a job – a really shitty job. While the comic strip had always portrayed Jayson as being unable to land or keep a job, my own reality was that I’d always had to work – meaning that I had to take whatever job I was offered. And the worst job I ever had was in telemarketing. So, to depict Jayson’s rapid descent from lofty college perch to hardscrabble reality, I put him in a shitty telemarketing job. With a fucked-up boss lady who had the hots for him. And no way out. (Always write what you know, folks.) The sitcom obviously never went anywhere, but I save everything I write, and I repurpose it whenever possible. So when I started work on my new graphic novel, I reread that pilot script. Though I found room for improvement, I also found inspiration in the telemarketing scenes. So in the opening chapter of “Jayson Gets a Job,” out-of-work Jayson lands a temporary assignment as a telemarketer for a Lillian Vernon–style catalog merchant called “Lily Rose.” This is hardly the last job Jayson will have in the course of the book, but it’s great way to set the stage for the adventure to come. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the other situation from the pilot script that has found its way into the book.

Dirty Frank’s cleans house

Once upon a time in Philadelphia, there really was a bar on the corner of 13th and Pine Streets called Dirty Frank’s. And Andrea Jartman, who inspired Jayson’s gal-pal Arena, really did live above it. I never lived with Andrea, but when I created “Jayson,” it made narrative sense to put Jayson and Arena under one roof. They were such behavioral opposites and such emotional trainwrecks that, despite being best friends, they were destined to clash if they ever moved in together. Which is one reason I never lived with Andrea. Jayson and Arena have lived above Dirty Frank’s bar for almost 30 years now – or three years in cartoon time – and have never set foot in the place. Robyn bought the building almost 20 years ago and he’s never set foot in it either. When I was writing the pilot script for the “Jayson” sitcom, it seemed obvious that the bar should be another setting where all the characters could hang out. But I didn’t want to invite comparisons to “Cheers,” so I put my spin on it by turning it into a laundry bar – a place where young singles could quaff a brew or two while they washed their clothes. I called it “Suds.” The pilot script went nowhere. But as I started developing plotlines for my new graphic novel, I decided it was time to capitalize on the fact that all my main characters live above a bar – and that Robyn owns it! So just wait till you see what happens in “Jayson Gets a Job” when Robyn decides to put his own unique stamp on Dirty Frank’s!

Jayson flirts with a pilot

Years after I wrote my “Jayson” sitcom pilot, I was approached by a development executive about putting “Jayson” on TV. It was in 2006, right after I published the “Best of the 80s” and “Best of the 90s” collections and made my first appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con. Billy Cogar from Here! TV, a premium cable channel for LGBT audiences, introduced himself and asked for my press kit and copies of my books. I figured I’d never hear back from him, or that I would phone and phone him until he finally broke down and served up a warmed-over rejection like: We’ve decided not to move forward on your project. But no, he actually got back to me within a week – and served up a piping-hot rejection. He told me that he loved the books, they made him laugh, he was going to keep them around the office for others to read but – there’s always a but – the material was dated and the situations weren’t sexy enough for their premium subscriber. Dated? Well, the material is from the 80s and the 90s. It says so right on the cover. Not sexy enough? Well, a running joke in the series is that none of the characters ever get any. Billy invited me to write a “Jayson” pilot script anyway, bearing this feedback in mind. I told him I couldn’t write a pilot for these characters that met those criteria. But maybe I’d write something else for him that did. I never did. But Billy’s feedback, along with the feedback I was getting at conventions, did inspire me to start writing new “Jayson” stories, culminating in my first graphic novel, “Jayson Goes to Hollywood” (2008), followed by “Jayson Gets a Job,” which I’m working on right now.

My ghetto summer

In the third chapter of my upcoming graphic novel “Jayson Gets a Job,” Jayson visits an employment agency. This chapter is based on something that actually happened to me shortly after graduation, after my sure-thing job had fallen through and I was desperate for work. Despite everyone’s warnings that no legitimate agency takes money from the job seeker, I agreed to pay this agency a commission to help me find a job. Despite my credentials as a newly anointed Penn grad with a double major and stellar grades, my employment counselor, in attempting to sell me to potential employers, would describe me in a sing-songy voice as “a really nice guy…” No mention of my academic credentials, which began to make sense when I realized that none of the jobs she was submitting me for required even a high school diploma, much less an Ivy League degree. I told her I wanted to work in marketing; she sent me to a rubber stamp maker. I told her I was interested in publishing; she sent me to Sir Speedy. Things hit rock bottom when she asked me if I was willing to sell shoes. I actually went on the interview. The store manager made the astute observation that with my background, I would hit the door the minute something better came along. He was right, but the rent was due and I needed a job. I finally landed at a ghetto print shop that paid minimum wage, which in those days was $3.25. After taxes I was clearing all of $100 a week. And I still owed the employment agency $625, which I paid off in weekly installments of $25. It was a long, hot summer.

Some kind of business

After scraping by for four years in a series of dead-end jobs, I decided to take the plunge and pursue my MBA. My biggest fear was that I’d give up my already meager income for two years and graduate without a single offer. My friends all pooh-poohed this notion (“An MBA is the most marketable degree there is,” “It’s not like getting a liberal arts degree,” “You need more education to do the kind of work you want,” etc.) Two years later I graduated at the top of my class from Emory University’s MBA program – without a single job offer. Oh, there were excuses (“The placement office is going through a transition,” “The economy is still reeling from the stock market crash,” “You’re so unusual!”). But the reality was, I had earned the world’s most marketable degree and had no job to show for it. I temped for over a year in a series of jobs that did not require an MBA, and worked with a series of placement specialists – the au courant term for employment agencies. My favorite placement specialist was the woman who said [insert southern drawl here]: “I see you just got your MBA, and you got it in some kind of business [italics mine].” She had a position I’d be perfect for, because the woman I’d be replacing “got her MBA in English [ditto].” The job turned out to be selling textbooks to universities. I didn’t make the cut. If only I had earned my MBA in English.

My favorite rejections: Atlanta

When I earned my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, I had precious few opportunities to interview for jobs. When I earned my MBA from Emory University, I had many more opportunities to interview, and therefore to be rejected, for jobs. Here are a few of my favorite Atlanta rejections:

• I introduced myself to an executive from the international marketing division of a major soft drink company after he spoke to our marketing class. I asked if I could send him my resume. He agreed and handed me his business card. I mailed off my resume with an enthusiastic cover letter. A few weeks later I received my resume back in the mail, with all the active verbs circled. In the white space, the executive wrote “Good.”

• During the final semester of my MBA program, I interviewed with a major American greeting card company. I thought it was a great fit because I had already worked in printing, writing, and cartooning prior to earning my MBA. The recruiter told me to give him a few weeks, but that I would hear from him one way or the other. I waited seven weeks. When I finally reached him by phone, he chortled, “Well, if you haven’t heard from us by now, surely you must have figured out that we’re not interested.”

• After earning my MBA and still without a job offer, I landed an interview with a small marketing firm just outside Atlanta. I didn’t own a car and I had to rent one just to get there. The interview seemed to go well; I offered smart, solid answers to all the questions posed by my interviewer, the woman I would be working for. I arrived home that afternoon feeling like I had nailed it. The next day my rejection letter was already in my mailbox. Astounded, I phoned my interviewer’s assistant to ask her what had happened. She reported that my would-be boss was intimidated by me and afraid that I’d show her up.

My favorite rejections: Los Angeles

Here are a few more of my favorite job rejections, Los Angeles-style:

• In 1999, when I was itching to move from New York to Los Angeles, I interviewed with a major polling firm that had a branch office in Claremont, about an hour east of L.A. I had a breakfast meeting in New York with one of the firm’s principals; dinner in New York with the head of the Claremont office; and a final interview onsite in Claremont. The final interview was primarily an opportunity to meet the staff I’d be managing. I brought pastries to seal the deal. The interview went fine. The head of the Claremont office said that all he had to do was get Corporate approval for the hire, but that because his office was profitable, Corporate had always rubber-stamped his choices in the past. I sailed out of the building and plunked down a deposit on a nearby apartment. Two weeks later I learned that Corporate had rejected my hire outright.

• Soon thereafter, I interviewed with an established market research firm in Glendale, just outside of L.A. They knew that I was a manager and what my salary was. They came back with an offer of an analyst’s job – the job of the people I supervised – for 33% less pay. I told them I wanted to move to L.A., but not at that price.

• In 2000 I moved to L.A. to run the market research department at a dotcom that imploded a year later. Needing a job, I landed an interview at a renowned market research firm that made its name publishing initial quality ratings for the automobile industry. I was called back for three interviews, each of which lasted over three hours, one of which included an hour-long aptitude test. After the third interview I heard nothing. When I pressed them for a decision, they admitted that they didn’t have any jobs, but kept bringing me back because they found me interesting.

My favorite rejection of all time

In 1999, when I was still living in New York but trying to move to L.A., a British-based market research firm with a branch office in Manhattan was about to establish a second branch in L.A. My headhunter arranged for me to meet the head of the L.A. branch at the Manhattan office. The interview was cordial enough (he was jet-lagged, having just flown in on the red eye), but he soon informed my headhunter that he was really looking for “foot soldiers” to jumpstart the L.A. branch – although he might need someone more experienced down the road.

Two years later, after I had relocated to Los Angeles, I got a second opportunity to interview with the same firm, and the same man, arranged by the same headhunter. I was at the top of my game as a researcher, having performed my job successfully for 12 years – and still I came up empty. Making matters worse, this man offered only perfunctory feedback to my headhunter, leaving me to conclude that he just didn’t get me.

Four years later, after circumstances dictated my reinvention as a Processes and Standards guy at the Evil Aerospace Giant (EAG), I was so miserable that I phoned my old headhunter and asked her if she had any market research jobs in Los Angeles. She told me she was struggling to fill an opening at – you guessed it – the firm that had already rejected me twice. And the same guy was still in charge. I protested that he doesn’t get me, I’d be wasting my time – but she insisted that he wanted to talk to me, and I was weak enough to take the bait.

Having been away from the market research business for several years, I thought long and hard about how I might cast my EAG experience in the most advantageous light. I could talk about how I entered an industry I knew nothing about and came up to speed quickly – a beneficial skill when meeting new clients and trying to grasp their business. Or I could talk about how my EAG experience helped to understand how multinational corporations function, and how their marketing decisions get made. Or I could talk about how I won the respect, and ultimately the leadership, of a team that was already in place when I arrived – a coveted talent. Whatever the question, I was ready!

Throughout the interview, I drew upon my carefully prepared answers, weaving past and present experiences into one seamless bundle of positive attributes that rendered me perfectly suited for the job. Or so I thought. This time, the man’s feedback was swift and specific: “He talks too much… His answers were long and rambling… He’s bound to waste my analysts’ time talking when they should be working.” Interesting. Never mind that I possess an unassailable track record for quality, productivity, and focus – which he could have easily confirmed if he had bothered to check my references instead of fabricating excuses.

I will probably never know why this man so delights in rejecting me. But I do know that I will never give him the opportunity again.

 

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