Roger Stern Interview
Originally published in June 1998. I was really excited about this interview. The first comic I ever bought was Avengers #276 by written by Roger Stern. The following story line in Avengers (Assault on Olympus) made me a comic fan for life. Back when I first started reading comics I wasn’t paying attention to the credits in them. After I graduated college (and was poor) I couldn’t afford very many new comics, so I did a lot of re-reading of my old ones. That’s when I discovered that I really liked Roger Stern stories and they also held up really well. Roger is one of the creators I’ve not yet met in person, but some friends of mine has (they actually had a sit down lunch with him, his wife Carmela and Kurt Busiek) and they told me he is a great guy.
When long time comic readers think of great writers, Roger Stern is a name that always pops up. He has written everything from Avengers to Starman, from Dr. Strange to Legionnaires. This month, we got him to talk about his past, present, and future work. Plus, his life outside the comicbook industry.
Jamie: Do you remember the first comic book you read? What was it?
Roger Stern: No, I read my first comic over 40 years ago, so I don’t remember which one came first. But it was probably an issue of WALT DISNEY’S COMICS & STORIES.
Jamie: Did you always want to become a comic book writer or were you aiming for something else?
Roger Stern: Actually, I set out to be an engineer. But I became disenchanted with engineering school and transferred to Indiana University, where I majored in radio and television. After graduation, I worked at a radio station in Indianapolis for a couple of years, and did a little freelance writing (for little or no pay) on the side. I had actually sold a PHANTOM story to Charlton when the radio gig dried up. (Charlton canceled THE PHANTOM before my story was ever used, but at least I was paid.)
Jamie: What kind of formal writing education did you receive?
Roger Stern: Very little. I tested out of the college level composition courses. I did take some journalism courses as part of the radio and television curriculum, but most of my education was on-the-job, writing commercial copy, record reviews, and the like.
Jamie: What other jobs did you have before writing comics full time?
Roger Stern: Before the radio job, I worked as a drill-press operator at a couple of small factories and a general worker for a machine shop. And of course, there were all those summers of mowing lawns and painting fences.
Jamie: How did you break into the comic industry?
Roger Stern: I got the chance to test for a proofreading position at Marvel in December of 1975. I passed and have been working comics ever since.
Jamie: Marvel is going to make your Masters of Evil II / Mansion Under Siege Avengers story into a TPB (Trade Paperback). Do you know if anything else you’ve written is going to be reprinted as a TPB?
Roger Stern: The Avengers story is the latest trade paperback reprinting that I know of. My work has also been reprinted in THE BEST OF MARVEL COMICS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WAR & REMEMBRANCE, RETURN TO THE AMALGAM AGE OF COMICS: THE MARVEL COMICS COLLECTION, SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN: NOTHING CAN STOP THE JUGGERNAUT, SPIDER- MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES, SPIDER-MAN: THE ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN, SPIDER-MAN: THE SAGA OF THE ALIEN COSTUME, SPIDER-MAN’S GREATEST VILLAINS, THUNDERBOLTS: MARVEL’S MOST WANTED, THE VERY BEST OF SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN VS. THE AVENGERS, X- MEN: DANGER ROOM BATTLE ARCHIVES, and over a dozen Superman Trades.
Jamie: Of all your stories, which ones are you proudest of?
Roger Stern: The Avengers Mansion story is up there … along with a half-dozen or so SPIDER-MAN stories, my run on CAPTAIN AMERICA, some DOCTOR STRANGE stories, several Superman stories, and most of my run on STARMAN.
Jamie: You wrote the Death and Life of Superman novel, what are the differences between writing a book vs. writing a comic book?
Roger Stern: You have to work harder to sell an action scene in prose. With a comic, you can tell the artist to draw a spectacular explosion, and there it is! Describing that explosion effectively in cold hard type is serious work. On the other hand, I found that long dialogues — which in comics can come off as a series of talking heads (if you’re not careful) — are much easier in prose.
Jamie: Are you planning on writing other novels?
Roger Stern: Not at present.
Jamie: I hear you and Kurt Busiek are going to change Photon’s name to something else… any winners yet on the new name?
Roger Stern: I’m still lobbying for Captain Marvel, as that is who she was created to be. Unfortunately, someone else is currently using that name.
Jamie: What’s up and coming with new Marvel Universe stories and creative teams?
Roger Stern: After the initial Strucker/Invaders arc, there’s a four-issue arc with a quartet of Monster Hunters set in the era of the pre-hero TALES OF SUSPENSE, TALES TO ASTONISH era. After that, we have — in no particular order — a Revolutionary War story (inspired by a subplot from one of Jack Kirby’s Captain America stories), the story of Doctor Strange’s return to America (after his apprenticeship to the Ancient One), maybe a story featuring a pre- FF Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, and eventually (I promise!) the Eternal Brain!! Upcoming artists include Mike Manley, Jason Armstrong, Neil Vokes, and Brent Anderson.
Jamie: Other than Marvel Universe and Legionnaires, what else will you be doing?
Roger Stern: I recently co-plotted SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #259-261 with Glenn Greenberg and a CAPTAIN AMERICA/IRON MAN ANNUAL with Kurt Busiek (which Mark Waid will be scripting). I’m about halfway through the scripting of SUPERMAN: A NATION DIVIDED, an Elseworlds one-shot set during the Civil War. And I’m plotting a secret project which I can’t tell you about yet.
Jamie: Last year at San Diego Con you said “But there’s just so many of them!” in regards to writing Legionnaires. How do you feel about the big cast of characters now that you have been writing them for an additional year?
Roger Stern: Still too many of them. But we hope to get around this by focusing on subsets of the team … probably to the sounds of wailing and teeth-gnashing from the hardore Legion fans who want to see all the Legionnaires in every issue (and don’t have to write the bloody things).
Jamie: How do you feel about the new editorial decision to move Legionnaires to a more action oriented plot lines?
Roger Stern: No problem with that. (Actually, we’ve always tried to put as much action into the stories as we could. It was just hard to see with all of those Legionnaires in the way!)
Jamie: I hear you’re a big lover of snakes, can you describe your pets? How many snakes do you have? What kind of snakes are they?
Roger Stern: Carmela and I have a dozen or so … some common Garters, a couple of King Snakes, several Rat Snakes, and a Ball Python. They’re clean, non-demanding creatures who don’t take up a lot of room. They don’t bark and when they shed, it’s all at once. Did I mention that they’re hypoallergenic? If you’re allergic to dog and/or cat dander, you might want to consider a snake. Of course, they won’t fetch …
Jamie: Did your love for snakes cause you to change Princess Projectra into a snake? Or was there another purpose for turning her into a snake?
Roger Stern: I -didn’t- change Princess Projectra into a snake. In the new continuity, I introduced a new character with similar powers, a divergent background, and a more serious name. I decided that Sensor would be a snake because — as Carmela has rightfully pointed out — there are too many snake-based villains out there. And, as I was being forced to add some Legionnaires anyway, I wanted to add a non-humanoid to the mix, as well as a member (Umbra) who was -not- white and male.
Jamie: Are there any members of the Legionnaires about whom you would like to write a solo series?
Roger Stern: Not off hand, no.
Jamie: If you could buy one comic character and do an indy title with him/her, who would that character be?
Roger Stern: I wouldn’t be interested in removing any established characters from their home universe. I don’t see any point in that.
Jamie: Do you have any aspirations to become an editor?
Roger Stern: I’ve been an editor. Didn’t like it.
Jamie: What did you think of the last episode of Seinfeld?
Roger Stern: I wish that it had been as funny as the rest of the series.