Jerry Ordway Interview

Originally published in January 1999. I ask some questions that make me wince, but also asked about some controversial stuff that was going on at the time and re-discovered a new reason to not like editor Eddie Berganza.

 

An Interview with Jerry Ordway

 

For years now Jerry Ordway has been known as the guy doing Superman, and lately the Power of Shazam. He was recently fired off Superman, and decided to tell us why and how. He also let us know about his future plans at Marvel and possibly Image Comics. On with the interview!

 

Mike Carlin and Jerry Ordway at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con

Jamie: Where did you get your first break in comics and how did you end up working at DC and Marvel?

Jerry Ordway: My first break came when I got work through a talent search DC did at the 1980 Chicago Comicon! Mark Silvestri, and Larry Malstadt were the other “finds.” DC was first to hire me, so I stayed with them, only leaving twice, to work on Fantastic Four. Now make that three times, as I left them after being fired from Adventures of Superman recently.

 

Jamie: How does one get the much desired job of working on Superman?

Jerry Ordway: I worked my way up, like any job, til I felt I’d earned a shot at either Batman or Superman. Dick Giordano, VP of DC at the time, (1985) thought I’d be more suited to Supes. I also drew tremendous inspiration from the first Superman Movie!

 

Jamie: Why do you think Superman has been so successful for the last 60 years?

Jerry Ordway: Mainly because it’s a terrific character, with a great back story! Partly because DC has a strong vested interest in keeping it going, and the money to do carry it for periods of time when it’s not doing so well. Without a corporate sponsor, it could have fallen by the waysides in the eighties, I think.

 

Jamie: Do you think Captain Marvel-Shazam will ever be as popular as he was in the 1940’s?

Jerry Ordway: I don’t see it happening, for much the reason I used in the Superman answer. Cap hasn’t received the same commitment from DC that Superman has, and they’re not willing to treat it like a staple as they do Wonder Woman,Flash, etc– keeping the title in print through good and bad times. Maybe this attitude is a holdover to the great legal battles DC had with Fawcett, I don’t know. They own this big Icon, and they just don’t push it! It’s frustrating.

 

Jamie: What are your opinions on Rob Liefeld’s Supreme?

Jerry Ordway: Hey, I thought Alan Moore made that book special. Sure it’s a take off on Superman, but what about all the all too obvious clones of the Xmen that are published? Moore invested a personality into Supreme, and made it work.

 

Jamie: You’re best known for your Superman and Shazam work, what else have you done?

Jerry Ordway: I’ve done All Star Squadron, Infinity Inc (which I co-created for DC) inked Fantastic Four, half of Crisis, Co creatd WildStar for Image, plus done characters of my own. Currently I’m writing and drawing 3 issues of the Avengers!

 

Jamie: Are you at all interested in doing another creator owned project through Image or Wildstorm?

Jerry Ordway: Absolutely, though I would rather do it for Image. The problem I have is, I can’t afford to draw several issues for free, and hope to earn a royalty after the book comes out. I’d hoped to attempt that this next year, if I still had the Superman writing gig to bring in some money every month, while I worked on “Proton” a character I created. It’s a liberating experience, working for nothing! Ask any small press guys!

 

Jamie: What about doing some non-superhero work through Dark Horse or Vertigo?

Jerry Ordway: Again, I’d rather do my own stuff,like “the Messenger” which is more sci-fi based, but I have no interest in Vertigo. I don’t need to swear that badly in print.

 

Jamie: There have been some rumors around you and Dan Jurgens being fired from the Superman books. One rumor says two big name writers were interested in doing the books and the new editor fired the two of you to get them. Then the powers that be came down on the new editor and asked him to hire the both of you back. Is this what happened?

Jerry Ordway: Kind of. I was told that Berganza had no authorization to fire me, but did so on his own while Mike Carlin was away on vacation. When Mike got wind of it, he offered me the job back, but by this time, I had already accepted the Marvel assignments, and I didn’t think it would make for a good working relationship to write for Berganza, an editor who wanted me gone. Dan’s exit was apparently approved, as he had been on Superman for like ten years straight, and they wanted new blood. In my case, I’d only been dialoguing Kesel’s plots for a year, and hadn’t been to a Superman story conference in over five years, so they couldn’t blame me for what was going on in the books! I was looking forward to a fresh start on the character, and Cavalieri had given me a year’s commitment, which I think DC should have honored! They offered me nothing in exchange. This, after twelve years being loyal to them (WildStar notwithstanding).

 

Jamie: So if DC offered you work on another one of their other titles, would you take it?

Jerry Ordway: I want an apology from a higher-up there. None has been forthcoming, despite the fact that I was fired without authorization, in some botched scheme of Berganza’s. I know that Waid, who was apparently offered the book, and then had the offer rescinded, got an apology from DC. Why not me? So no, I won’t work for them, until they treat me with some respect.

 

Jamie: We know you’re doing the inks to Thor #9 and filling in for Avengers #16-18. Anything else coming up?

Jerry Ordway: Dan Jurgens and I have got an idea for a project that Jurgens and I would both work on– two separate titles, four issues each, involving the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Marvel’s probably going to green light it for the fall of 1999. Besides that, I’d like to work on my own characters!

 

Jamie: Speaking of your Avengers fill in, you said you were doing a ‘Marvel Family’ of sorts by bringing in Warbird (formerly Ms. Marvel) and Photon (formerly Captain Marvel II). Will you also be bringing in Quasar and Genis due to their relationship to the Captain Mar-vel name?

Jerry Ordway: Editor Tom Brevoort said I had too many characters already for my 3 issues, so no Quasar or Genis. sorry. Maybe they’ll find their way into the new project? Who knows.

 

Jamie: Did Avengers editor Tom Breevort ask you do fill in for Avengers or did you come up with the idea first and pitch it to him?

Jerry Ordway: I got the call for them to do it about three days after I was off Superman, and it was their idea. I was already committed to do the inking on the Thor issue, so it was just good luck on my part. I’m not a good one to write proposals and such. I just like to have stuff pop up, which I then can pour my energies into!

 

Jamie: Will you also be inking your Avengers fill in?

Jerry Ordway: The Avengers stuff is being inked by my WildStar collaborator, Al Gordon! Al Vey, an old friend, may ink the last one, depending on his schedule, otherwise Al will do that too.

 

Jamie: Are there any Marvel characters you would really enjoy working with, obscure or major?

Jerry Ordway: Daredevil, Spider-man, you name it! I grew up on the core books, and loved them all!

 

Jamie: If you had the chance to do another comic book in the ‘Power of Shazam’ style would you do it?

Jerry Ordway: Probably, even though it would be creative suicide. I like all-ages stuff. I have young children of my own, and there’s very little wholesome stuff for them to read. I’m not a prude, but I think comics in general are way too skewed to the older readers these days. It takes some of the fun out of it for me. I have enjoyed more adult material myself, but I think comics are slowly dying because they can’t appeal to kids– and then if something comes out that is kid-friendly, like Batman or Superman Adventures, they can’t get them into the mass market! Believe me, I love comic stores, but they aren’t as accessible as drugstores were in my childhood.

 

Jamie: Which is a stronger. Your desire to draw or write?

Jerry Ordway: I like to write stories, but the artistic side of me fights to draw them! Really, I’ve enjoyed collaborations in the past, but there’s nothing like having the pressure resting firmly on one back (mine) to get your heart pumping!

 

Jamie: What tools do you use when drawing and inking?

Jerry Ordway: I use mechanical pencils, HB lead in the summer, 2H lead in the winter. I prefer the rougher finish strathmore drawing paper, and ink with a Hunt #102 crow quill pen, along with a Grumbacher #2 brush dipped in Pelikan ink. For my color work, I use Dr Martin’s Transparent Watercolor Dyes, which are increasingly hard to find!

 

Jamie: How do you fix your mistakes?

Jerry Ordway: I use white-out, or sometimes an electric eraser.

 

Jamie: When you write and draw a comic, how much do you put into the writing part? Do you make a full script first or do you make basic plot and go on from there?

Jerry Ordway: I either do a really detailed plot, or break the story down in small layout form. I like to indicate dialogue in my plots, as a way to help me when I dialogue the pages faster.

 

Jamie: As an artist working with other writers, how much detail do you like? Lots or little?

Jerry Ordway: I like a fair amount of description, but hate when the writer can’t rein it in to six panels or less.

 

Jamie: Who are your inspirations as both an artist and writer?

Jerry Ordway: Artistic inspiration comes from everyone who ever put pencil or pen to paper, but especially, Kirby, Wood, Ditko, John Buscema, Alex Raymond, Neal Adams, Byrne, Zeck, Romita– and more! Writing comes from Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Byrne, Mike Carlin, Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and lots more!

 

Jamie: Have you been contacted about doing Marvel Knights or Marvel Tech related work?

Jerry Ordway: I was contacted about a year ago to see if I was interested in doing the Punisher, which I was not. I think Grant and Zeck said the last word on that character.

 

Jamie: Anything you want to say to your fans?

Jerry Ordway: Thanks for the support. This wouldn’t be much fun without an interactive audience! People have followed my work right from the beginning, and I owe my livelihood to them! I hope I can keep them entertained.

 

Kurt Busiek Interview

Originally published December 1998. This is the first of I believe 3 interviews I did with Kurt. He was my favourite writer during this interview. He’s still one of my favourites today.
 

Kurt Busiek 2009 San Diego Comic Con

Kurt Busiek 2009 San Diego Comic Con

An Interview with Kurt Busiek

 
Kurt Busiek is the hottest writer in comics today. Currently his busy schedule includes mega hits like Avengers, Iron Man, and Avengers Forever, the successful new comic Thunderbolts, and his critically acclaimed Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Now on with the interview.

 

Jamie: I’m told writing Iron Man was one of your dream jobs. How do you think you’re doing on the title so far?

Kurt Busiek: I’m really not the guy to review my own work; I have no perspective on it. I’m certainly having fun, and I don’t think I’m screwing up too bad. I generally see more faults in my own work than virtues, but that’s not a bad thing, since it means I’m always trying to improve. But I’m reasonably pleased.

 

Jamie: Why did you ask Roger Stern in particular to help you with Iron Man and Avengers Forever?

Kurt Busiek: Aside from the fact that he’s a terrific writer, Roger and I collaborate well together, Roger’s sensibilities and mine are close enough so that we’re pulling in the same direction, as it were, and Roger’s got great strengths in continuity and research, which is a big help on FOREVER.

 

Jamie: Out of curiosity, was there a request to have someone (Jerry Ordway) fill in a few issues of Avengers for you and George Perez?

Kurt Busiek: There was certainly pressure from above to get the books back on schedule. Tom and George and I discussed it, and we realized that the only solution that would work swiftly was getting someone to fill in. Tom had been wanting to get Jerry to do something for him, so it looked like the obvious choice.

 

Jamie: What do you think makes Avengers and Iron Man the success it is today?

Kurt Busiek: I would hope it’s that they’re solid, accessible, exciting superhero comics that deliver an enjoyable package in every issue, without making you wait until next month to see if you liked what you just read. That’s certainly what I’m striving for.

 

Jamie: Why did you choose to take Hawkeye out of Avengers and into Thunderbolts?

Kurt Busiek: I can answer that, but not for a few weeks. The story’s not over yet, and I won’t spoil how it wraps up.

 

Jamie: Why did you have Baron Zemo pull the plug on Thunderbolts deception so quickly?

Kurt Busiek: I didn’t see any reason to drag it out until people were sick of it. I thought it’d make more sense to play with the deception for a while, and then change direction when people weren’t expecting it — it’d be more surprising that way.

 

Jamie: What makes Thunderbolts unique from other ‘villain go straight’ comic books?

Kurt Busiek: Depends on the book, I’d say. In SUICIDE SQUAD, they were being forced into it. In LIBERTY PROJECT, they were being reformed by the authorities. In THUNDERBOLTS, what they do is their own choice. They haven’t fully gone straight yet, and may never do so. The book could just as easily turn back into a book about a group of villains, after all — so I think its unpredictability is a big part of it.

 

Jamie: Describe how you write Astro City differently than your Marvel titles?

Kurt Busiek: Well, I write it full-script, for one thing. But beyond that, it’s not an easy answer — not because there isn’t much difference (there is!) but because it’s not something I find easy to articulate. The Marvel titles operate off of the basic question. “What happens next?” ASTRO CITY doesn’t — its basic question is more, “So, how do you feel about that — ?” The Marvel books are the best examples of the superhero genre I can muster, while ASTRO CITY is exploring the genre and its implications, and seeing what can be done with it beyond general genre expectations. That’s not to say that AVENGERS, IRON MAN and T-BOLTS don’t defy expectation — but I’m trying to tell good, fun, involving, exciting superhero stories in those books. In ASTRO CITY, I’m looking to see what else I can do with the superhero as a story vehicle. I hope that makes some sort of sense.

 

Jamie: Why do you choose to write Astro City using unrelated short stories?

Kurt Busiek: They’re all related, in the sense that they take place in the same context and build a history that affects what takes place within it. But I don’t see any other way to do it — if I picked one set of leads and followed them on an ongoing basis, it wouldn’t be ASTRO CITY, it’d be HONOR GUARD, or JACK-IN-THE- BOX, or SAMARITAN, or whatever. Being able to jump from protagonist to protagonist gives me much more freedom to explore the genre through different viewpoints and different conflicts, to tell a variety of human stories by focusing on different humans, depending on the story I want to tell.

 

Jamie: Astro City has a unique perspective on superheroes. How did you develop it and what is your philosophy regarding it?

Kurt Busiek: I thought about superheroes for twenty-plus years, mostly. I’m not really sure what you mean by my philosophy regarding my perspective on superheroes; I don’t know what such a thing would be. But I see superheroes, as a concept, as a rich metaphorical genre in which ideas, conflicts and more can be personified by iconic beings, and the human experiences they resonate with can be played out on a broad, almost fairy-tale like canvas in a way that can’t quite be done with any other genre. This fascinates me, so ASTRO CITY is my way of creating a context in which I can play with that idea and see what can be made of it, without limiting myself to a single character or group of lead characters. It’s an engine of exploration. I don’t think that’s what you were asking, but maybe the answer’s in there somewhere.

 

Jamie: Would you prefer to do Astro City on a monthly or bimonthly schedule?

Kurt Busiek: Monthly.

 

Jamie: Now that Astro City is being done “under” DC Comics will there be any advertising within or changes to the paper stock?

Kurt Busiek: There’s always been advertising in ASTRO CITY; I can’t see why DC would change that. The paper stock has changed several times, too, depending on what paper balances economy and good reproduction best at any given time. Image had its economies of scale and used gang-bought paper over most of its line, and ASTRO CITY used whatever the “standard” was at the time. I assume that’ll be the same at DC, and any changes will be dictated by DC’s line-wide choices.

 

Jamie: Why do you bring back a lot of largely forgotten characters in your Marvel titles?

Kurt Busiek: Why not? I like ’em, and if I have fun stuff I can do with ’em, why not do it?

 

Jamie: How do you feel about writers changing the history of Marvel characters?

Kurt Busiek: Writers have been changing Marvel history at least since Stan Lee retconned Captain America disappearing toward the end of WWII and Bucky dying into Cap’s history in AVENGERS #4. I don’t object to it in principle — I’ve done a bit of it myself, here and there. What matters is what comes out the other end — is it good or bad? And that’s a subjective judgment that each creator, editor or reader is likely to have his own views on.

 

Jamie: Some people don’t think continuity is all that important and should be disregarded in order to get new readers. Do you think maintaining accurate continuity is important?

Kurt Busiek: I like exploring the characters’ histories, so I think it’s valuable for them to have a consistent history to explore. But I don’t see it as a necessity — certainly, there are plenty of great MICKEY MOUSE stories without much story- to-story continuity, and even wild shifts in tone and setting, as Mickey might be a young suburbanite in one story, a daring barnstorming pilot in another and a sorcerer’s apprentice in a third. There are many, many ways to tell good stories, and a consistent continuity is only one of them. I like it, myself, but it’s a choice, not a rule.

I do think that the publisher of a shared-universe line of titles should make a choice as to how continuity will be treated, so that choice can be consistent across the line instead of varying from creator to creator — but then, I guess that, too, is a choice…

 

Jamie: How much research did you do before starting your Marvel titles?

Kurt Busiek: Tons. I filled in the gaps in my collection so that I have complete runs of AVENGERS, AVENGERS WEST COAST, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, THOR, WAR MACHINE, WONDER MAN, THUNDERSTRIKE, MS. MARVEL, VISION/SCARLET WITCH and just about every other series that could be considered part of the “Avengers” family of titles. Then I reread them all, and keep them all close to hand for easy reference.

 

Jamie: In your opinion, what does a story need to be successful?

Kurt Busiek: Define “successful.” If you mean, what does a story need to be aesthetically satisfying, I think it needs to be well-structured, involving, with characters you can be drawn to care about struggling for something that matters, and it should reach a conclusion that seems fitting, even if the characters fail. It should be well-crafted and have some emotional resonance, and should deliver whatever effect the creators intended, whether that effect is instilling a particular theme or intellectual idea, or merely evoking a memory of a particular time and place.

On the other hand, if you mean, what does a story need to be commercially successful, that’s something that varies depending on the audience. Cool poses and lots of detailed inking could be enough one year, and a dismal flop in a later era.

 

Jamie: Have you ever re-read something you wrote and hated it? If so, what?

Kurt Busiek: Sure. I did an Arsenal story in SECRET ORIGINS that I thought was nicely understated in the script, but none of it worked on the page; it’s flat, bland and empty. I think SPIDER-MAN/X-FACTOR: SHADOWGAMES is a wretched mess. But in both cases, I tried my best under the circumstances, and just missed the ball. It happens.

 

Jamie: What comic books do you read?

Kurt Busiek: Tons. These days, favorites include KANE, USAGI YOJIMBO, SUPERBOY, SAVAGE DRAGON, CASTLE WAITING, MAISON IKKOKU and AKIKO, to name a few.

 

Jamie: What do you think is necessary to bring comic sales back to it’s former glory?

Kurt Busiek: I think we’ve got to do good, accessible stuff that’ll appeal to whatever audience it is we’re choosing to shoot for, we have to package that material in a format that target audience is willing to pick up and look at, we have to sell it in places that target audience actually shops, and we have to promote it in such a way that the target audience knows its there. I think this means rethinking the packaging and distribution of comics, as well as the content — it’s no good trying to attract more women by beefing up the romance content in a standard superhero comics and assuming that women will come flooding into comics shops to buy a product they’ve never been interested in and don’t, on the surface of it, have any interest in now, just to discover that there’s some minor alterations to the material that they might like if it didn’t come wrapped in spandex and fight scenes. I don’t see any reason to cling to the 32-page pamphlet, to gear everything for the audience that comes into comics shops first and foremost, or to assume that there’s any one approach that’ll please all audiences. Hundreds of thousands of readers buy FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE and CATHY collections — those readers are just as much comics readers as fans of SPAWN and HULK. And there are more of them.

However, I don’t expect publishers to do the kind of drastic rethinking and retooling it would take to produce mass-market-friendly comics packages; it’s very expensive to do so, and nobody wants to risk that kind of capital these days.

 

Jamie: Do you ever get the urge to write something that doesn’t have to do with superheroes? If you wanted to write within another genre what would it be?

Kurt Busiek: Sure. In the past, I’ve written JONNY DEMON (fantasy adventure), RANSOM (high adventure), WIZARD’S TALE (fantasy), MICKEY MOUSE (funny animals), VAMPIRELLA (horror), ELVIRA (humor) and more. I love superheroes, but that doesn’t mean I’d never want to write anything but superheroes.

I’d like to write all kinds of stuff, from space opera to mystic adventure to slice-of-life human drama to historical comics and more. I like telling stories, and there’s all kinds of stories to tell; why limit myself?

 

Jamie: Not including the artists you’re working with now, what artists would you like to team up with in the future?

Kurt Busiek: There are plenty of them, from Jerry Ordway and Alan Davis to Stu Immonen and Walt Simonson, from Lee Weeks to Alex Toth, Steve Leialoha, Bruce Timm, and countless others.

 

Jamie: Do you like to read novels? Do you have any favorite authors?

Kurt Busiek: sure. I’ve been reading since I was 3, and I’m not done yet. Favorite authors include Nevil Shute, Walter Tevis, Lawrence Block, Dick Francis, Madeleine L’Engle, James Thurber and more.

 

Jamie: Do you have any desire to write a novel or a screenplay?

Kurt Busiek: Sure, someday — not that I have any time at the moment…

 

Jamie: I hear your going to be a daddy soon. When is the baby due?

Kurt Busiek: December 7th.

 

Jamie: Superhero books often shy away from having characters turn into parents, and then having them raise their kids over the long haul. Do you think superhero books ought to explore this area of life?

Kurt Busiek: I don’t think it’s a question of “ought to.” Superhero comics have no particular responsibility to do so, though FANTASTIC FOUR comes to mind as a book that’s dealt with that area for decades now. I think that if writers can get good stories out of it, then great — but if they’re not interested there’s no reason to push them into it. At both of the major, long-lasting hero universes, they have a policy about time crawling along very slowly to keep the characters young, which makes it very difficult for babies to age normally — every year Franklin Richards grows is another year older the X-Men and Spider-Man get, and Marvel would rather keep those characters young, for commercial reasons. So there are logistical problems in the major universes; it might be easier to explore in a continuity that doesn’t have this kind of time policy. I’ve touched on the subject in ASTRO CITY, and I’m sure I’ll return to it in the future; I set the time policy there, after all, so I don’t have to consider the repercussions of my decisions on the stories and series of other writers…

 

Jamie: You used to be a well known letter hack. Has the urge to write a letter and see it printed disappeared?

Kurt Busiek: Pretty much. Writing stories and having them printed is a much bigger thrill.

 

Jim Shooter Interview

Originally published September 1998. In this interview Jim talks about doing a new Legion of Superheroes story but DC had to back out due to a number of DC staff having issues with him working there. I believe this was the first interview where he revealed that this occurred. 10 years later that Jim was able to do those new Legion of Superhero Stories with DC.

Looking back I think ticked off Shooter with some of my questions, which is likely why I got short answers towards the end. This would not be the last time I did this in an interview.

 

An Interview with Jim Shooter

Jim Shooter has been working in comics for over 32 years. He has been a big name writer for Marvel and DC, a writer/Editor in Chief for Marvel, has attempted to buy Marvel Comics on two occasions, and has started up three comic companies in the past. He has made major changes to the industry, whether it was for better or worse will always be argued among pro’s and readers alike. Some people love him, some people hate him. Regardless, the man knows how to make good comics. He’s back at it again with his new venture called Daring Comics. Now on with the show.

 

Jamie: I heard you started writing Legion of Superheroes when you were a teenager. At what age did you start and how long were you on the title?

Jim Shooter: I was thirteen when I wrote my first Legion story, in 1965. I regularly wrote the Legion and other “Superman Family” titles until 1970.

 

Jamie: Have you ever re-read those issues you did? If so what do you think of them?

Jim Shooter: Depending on my mood, I think my old (ancient?) work sucks, or is pretty good for a kid, in the context of the times.

 

Jamie: Would you hire anyone that age to write one of your titles?

Jim Shooter: I’’d hire a newborn Martian to write for me if its samples were good. It’s all about the work, not who or what you are.

 

Jamie: About your titles, you have a new company called Daring Comics and eventually 8 ongoing titles coming out. Can you give us a brief description of what the titles are called, what they’re about and who is doing them?

Jim Shooter: The only titles set so far are ANOMALIES and RATHH OF GOD. I’m writing them and the brilliant Joe James is drawing at least one of them.

 

Jamie: Do you plan on having company wide crossovers in the future?

Jim Shooter: Company wide crossovers? Maybe. The books will all be set in the same universe.

 

Jamie: What will be different and interesting about these characters that you won’t find in other superhero comics?

Jim Shooter: They’ll be different and interesting. Seriously, I’ll bring to these series all my best. Is there any comparison between, say, Harbinger when I wrote it and the average super-hero strip? I think I had something going there, but people who like my kind of comics will like these, I think. People who think I’m a jerk won’t. I’ll give it my best, as always.

 

Jamie: I understand the first issue of Anomalies will have a limited print run of 5,500. Is this do to financial constraints or an attempt to increase the value of the books?

Jim Shooter: Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics suggested this limited print run thing. I don’t know much about small press (though I can run a major blindfolded). I’ve spoken to the only printer I’d ever consider using, Quebecor, and that’s about the limit they’ll do for such a speculative venture, even for me, someone they know well.. Fine. So be it.

 

Jamie: Why did you decide to self finance Daring Comics?

Jim Shooter: Again, Chuck talked me into this whole self-publishing thing. Maybe I could raise money for another comics publishing venture, but after the bad experiences I’’ve had starting on a grander scale with other peoples’ money, I wasn’t willing to go that route again. At least with self-publishing, I don’t have other peoples’ balance sheets dictating my creative decisions.

 

Jamie: What format will the Daring Comic books be in? How many story pages? What kind of paper stock? Will there be outside advertising?

Jim Shooter: Normal format, 32 pages. Advertising? maybe someday.

 

Jamie: Will there be room for creator-owned work in Daring Comics?

Jim Shooter: Creator-owned work? I’m the creator, I own it.

 

Jamie: Given the bleak sales right now, do you think it is wise to start another comic company?

Jim Shooter: Again, Chuck talked me into this. We both think that somebody has to step up to the plate and do something that gets people excited again. Can I? I don’t know, but I can give it a try.

 

Jamie: Some comic pro’s think companies should stop flooding the market with superheroes and start doing other genres. What is your opinion on superheroes Vs. other genres?

Jim Shooter: I think good stuff sells. Genre doesn’t matter, for the most part. If we build it, they will come.

 

Jamie: Have you ever considered writing for another company again? If so, why did you choose not to?

Jim Shooter: I haven’t had any offers to write for anyone, and the few times I’ve inquired, I’ve been told that I’m such a pariah that it would be impossible to give me work. I recently suggested to Paul Levitz at DC that I could do “Jim Shooter’s last Legion story,” a novel length “untold tale” set in the same time as my old Legion stories. He liked the idea, and agreed, but a few days later called me back and reneged. He said that the hatred some people at DC had for me was so great, that to keep peace in his house, he had to back out of the deal.

 

Jamie: Are you disappointed you never got to buy the publishing section of Marvel Comics?

Jim Shooter: Of course.

 

Jamie: If you did get to buy the publishing section of Marvel, what would you have done with it?

Jim Shooter: I would have made it good again.

 

Jamie: Out of all the characters you created for Marvel, DC, Valiant, Defiant, and Broadway Comics, which ones do you like the best from each company?

Jim Shooter: Impossible question.

 

Jamie: What writers and artists impress you today?

Jim Shooter: David Lapham impresses me.

 

Jamie: What comic books are you currently reading?

Jim Shooter: Stray Bullets.

 

Jamie: What is it about today’s industry that bugs you the most?

Jim Shooter: Its dying.

 

Jamie: What do you think is needed to get the comic industry back to it’s former glory?

Jim Shooter: Good creativity.

 

Jamie: Will fans be able to find you be at San Diego promoting Daring Comics?

Jim Shooter: No.

 

Jamie: Anything else you want to say?

Jim Shooter: Goodnight.

 


Note: The Daring Comics that Jim discussed here never came about. Jim revealed elsewhere he was doing it because he couldn’t get work within the comic industry. When he got hired at Phobos Entertainment he shelved it.

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.

 

An Interview with Roger Stern

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.

 

Steve Darnall Interview

This is my interview with Steve Darnall. He’s probably best know for co-writing Uncle Sam, a Vertigo book he did with Alex Ross. It is a fantastic book and I’m surprised Darnall didn’t get a lot more mainstream comic writing work out of it. This interview was originally published in May 1998.

 

An Interview with Steve Darnall
Steve Darnall is best known for teaming up with Alex Ross and writing Uncle Sam, a book published by DC Comics. He also writes a comic called Empty Love Stories and is here to talk to us about comics, politics, his current and upcoming work.

 

Jamie: What is your book Empty Love Stories about?

Steve Darnall: For practicality’s sake, it’s a satire of old romance comics–and more importantly, about the attitudes many of those romance comics espoused. A great number of those stories of the 50s and 60s were written by middle-aged men–often men needing some money before the next superhero or western script came in–and aimed at adolescent girls. Now, if you were to ask a hundred people at random, “Which demographic do you think should be giving young women advice that will shape their lives forever?” I doubt very much if the first answer on their tongues would be, “Middle-aged men.” It’s absurd. So I just decided to be absurd in the extreme.

In the grand, philosophical sense, it’s about the fear of being alone.

 

Jamie: How long have you been doing Empty Love Stories?

Steve Darnall: The first issue came out in late 1994, another in ’96, a third earlier this year, and we’re planning to reprint issue #1 in July of this year–with another new issue scheduled for January–so that makes almost four years of sporadic loving.

 

Jamie: Where did you get your start in the comic industry?

Steve Darnall: The embryonic moment came when my friend Alex Ross came to me with an eight-page story he’d done involving the origin of the Human Torch. He wasn’t feeling very confident with his script and asked me to try my hand at it. I did so, we rammed the two scripts together at high speed and suddenly, I’d helped to write a comic book story. Some years later, the story appeared in Marvels #0.

As far as landing a position that suggested I could be in this business for awhile, that came when I took a editorial position at a trade publication called Hero Illustrated in 1993. I learned an awful lot about the industry, worked with some good people, won an Eisner Award and got to cultivate a lot of friendships–some of which I still maintain.

 

Jamie: Have you ever sent proposals to Marvel and DC? If so what were they?

Steve Darnall: Oh, sure. They were among the many companies that turned down Empty Love Stories–Marvel’s paying the price for that one now! Obviously, Uncle Sam came about in part because of a written proposal. I recently sent something to DC regarding a Batman story, but I hear there’s a long line of folks ahead of me waiting for that character.

 

Jamie: What inspired you to write Uncle Sam and pitch it to DC Comics?

Steve Darnall: The initial inspiration came from an evening spent over at Alex’s where I mentioned that Sam was one of the few unjustly neglected characters in the DC or Marvel Universes. At that point, the light bulbs over our heads went off. Over the next year or two–a period filled with the Persian Gulf War and the Los Angeles riots and the looming Presidential elections–we discussed the idea that there were really two Americas, the flawless giant we were told about and the rather fragile creature we were seeing in the raw. Then, as the years went by and one of us became a hot property–I’ll let your readers guess which one–Karen Berger approached the hot one about the idea of doing something for Vertigo. Alex brought up “U.S.” and the ball was officially rolling.

 

Jamie: I’m sure you got some reaction from conservative readers regarding Uncle Sam, how did you deal with them?

Steve Darnall: I accepted them as part of the diversity of opinions that make this nation great and wished they could have directed some of their indignation towards their elected officials, who are doing a far better job of selling us down the river than I ever could.

Actually, there wasn’t a lot of negative feedback brought to my attention, and most of what I did see came from people who’d only read the first issue. In fairness to them, I only read the first half of their letters.

 

Jamie: I got to ask this.. Who did you vote for in the last election?

Steve Darnall: Let me put it this way: neither Kang nor Kodos.

 

Jamie: What new books will you be writing?

Steve Darnall: The one thing that remains firmly in place is writing and publishing Empty Love Stories–something of a job in itself these days–and I’m working on getting a new issue written this spring so my artists can have it ready for release next January–just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jeff Smith is scheduled to do the cover. I’m keeping busy freelancing for some other media, in case the powers that be sink comics entirely.

Beyond that, I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline but nothing so final that I want to talk about it now.

 

Jamie: As a writer, who are your influences?

Steve Darnall: Oh God…one that leaps to mind is S.J. Perelman. An absolutely brilliant humorist. John Steinbeck. Graham Greene. Howard Zinn. Willie Dixon. Shakespeare. Woody Guthrie. Hunter S. Thompson. The Beatles.

In terms of comics: Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Los Bros. Hernandez.

 

Jamie: What comics do you recommend to other readers?

Steve Darnall: Of the current crop, my hands-down favorites are Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage, and Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting. I’ve never been big on fantasy storytelling but Linda’s work has a great sense of humor and I’m always drawn to that clean, fluid style of art. I thought Ragmop was tremendous; I was really sorry to see it go. Starman has always impressed me: it’s great to see DC publish a book that’s basically about getting along with your father. Let’s see…Palookaville, Manya, Action Girl, Scary Godmother, Bone…I must like Lethargic Lad, since I’m always calling Greg Hyland with story ideas I hope he’ll use…the EC reprints, of course…and of course, anything by Evan Dorkin.

 

Erik Larsen Interview

This is my very first comic creator interview. I used to hang out on an IRC chat channel called #ComicBooks and one of the other participants was Sheryl Roberts. She said she wanted to put together an online fanzine and was looking for contributions. At the time I was part of a Fin Addicts Online mailing list devoted to Savage Dragon and also on there was Erik Larsen. Through the mailing list we’ve responded back and forth to each other’s messages and thought since we “knew” each other I could do an interview with him. I asked Erik ad he agreed. This interview was published in the very first CollectTimes issue, in April of 1998.

Erik Larsen 2008 San Diego Comic Con

Erik Larsen 2008 San Diego Comic Con

An Interview with Erik Larsen

Erik Larsen once wrote and penciled Spider-man stories for Marvel Comics. In 1992 he left Marvel to help form Image Comics and produced his own comic called the Savage Dragon. While continuing Savage Dragon, he has recently sent proposals to write Marvel and DC titles. Erik will be writing Aquaman starting with issue #50. With this interview, we ask him about his Incredible Hulk proposal, The Savage Dragon, Aquaman and writing in general.

 

Jamie: Erik, Sorry to hear you didn’t get the Incredible Hulk job. How were you told that you didn’t get the job, and how do you feel about it?

Erik Larsen: I got a phone call from Bobbie Chase and she gave me the news. I don’t feel too good about it, as you might expect.

 

Jamie: Can you tell us any details about your Hulk proposal?

Erik Larsen: Yes, but I’m not going to. It was pretty involved–eight pages, single spaced. There’s no point going into it.

 

Jamie: Some people are still suspicious about you proposing for two books that Peter David just left. Why did you propose for these books?

Erik Larsen: Well– I just thought I needed to get out and do something else for SOMEBODY. It’s been six years since I’ve done any work for anybody but myself and I wanted to get my name out there. I was talking to Chris Eliopoulos and frankly, I don’t know anybody up at Marvel or DC anymore. I asked him to let people know I was looking for a book to write and Kevin Dooley at DC called me about Aquaman. Now, I’ve never read the book so I had nothing to go by. Kevin sent me a few issues and I visited an Aquaman website to get up to speed on the basics. I thought about it and put together a proposal.

Later, Peter left the Hulk and since that was the book I always wanted to do–I HAD to do a proposal for that even knowing that it was a long shot since most hiring at Marvel goes to their lunch buddies.

It wasn’t so much of a “Peter David thing” as it was “these are the books that are open.” Had Kevin offered me Green Lantern, I’d be doing a Green Lantern proposal and trying to get caught up on that title.

 

Jamie: Will you be sending proposals for other Marvel and DC comics?

Erik Larsen: Not to Marvel– I’ve had my fill. At this point I’m a little burned out of the whole proposal process. At some point I’ve got to think that perhaps my body of work can speak for me. I really hate to piss away days out of my schedule to have the job be given to whoever shows up at the door. It’s quite frustrating.

 

Jamie: Are you trying for any writing job or are there characters in particular that you want to work with?

Erik Larsen: The Hulk was a character that I was very familiar with and I wanted to write–Aquaman was just the book that was available. I’ll make something out of it and I’m sure I’ll think he’s cool as all hell in a few months but I never thought of it as a book that I desperately wanted to do.

 

Jamie: What Marvel or DC character currently without a title would you like to do a new series with?

Erik Larsen: I’m not so ambitious that I want to do that at this point in my life. I liked Nova at Marvel and some of the Kirby characters that have been folded into Jack Kirby’s Fourth World at DC such as the New Gods and Mister Miracle but those are hard to sell without a strong artist attached to the project. It’s much easier to keep a boat floating than to build or repair a boat. You just look out for rocks and icebergs.

 

Jamie: Writing wise, how many other books can you take on?

Erik Larsen: If I wasn’t drawing–a lot. As it is–maybe four.

 

Jamie: Over the last 5 years with Savage Dragon, you have chosen not to use gimmicks like special covers or major crossovers. Why?

Erik Larsen: I’m more interested in doing cool comics. I’ve tried a few things to get some attention but I keep falling back on doing what I think are cool comics.

 

Jamie: What can you tell us about Savage Dragon #50?

Erik Larsen: It’s the conclusion of the Unfinished Business story where Dragon goes back to Chicago.The Dragon takes on the Vicious Circle in a final desperate battle. Carnage is the order of the day as the S.O.S. comes in to help Dragon against the most vile group of bad guys imaginable. An extra-length dose of Savage Dragon for those diehard Dragon fans! Dragon faces Horde at long last and damn near everybody gets into the action.

It’s a 100 page spectacular! Featuring pinups by the best guys in comics– Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo and more than a few surprise artists (superstars >all)! Wizard Comics’ much sought after Savage Dragon 1/2 is reprinted for the first time along with Mighty Man stories that detail the past of Dragon’s most despicable bad guy–Horde!

Plus, a never-before seen Freak Force yarn by Larsen, Vic Bridges and Al Gordon tells the story of how that team came together band more Desperate Times from Chris Eliopoulos! Savage Dragon #50 wraps everything up in a nice neat bundle and paves the way for a brand new story in a completely new direction. It’s great jumping on point for new readers! Comes with our Highest Possible Recommendation!! You’ll blow a fat $5.95 on this thing.

 

Jamie: You have created a lot of weird villains in Savage Dragon. Who are your favorites and why?

Erik Larsen: Whoever I’m doing at the time. BrainiApe is a lot of fun to draw as is Octopus and OpenFace.

 

Jamie: Will Savage Dragon ever become a cop again?

Erik Larsen: That would be telling. I don’t like to give away much of anything.

 

Jamie: Are you involved with the Savage Dragon appearance in Big Bang Comics? If so, are you a fan of the Silver Age?

Erik Larsen: I’m involved as a reader. I enjoy the book a lot. I’m a big fan of comics from all ages.

 

Jamie: You have taken books like A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran “under your wing” into Image. Are there any new books coming in under you that we should watch for?

Erik Larsen: Desperate Times by Chris Eliopoulos.

 

Jamie: Will you be giving Aquaman any new powers?

Erik Larsen: No.

 

Jamie: What makes Aquaman an interesting character?

Erik Larsen: He’s underwater–his world is a different world than the one we live in. The fact that he’s a king. There’s a lot of cool stuff and potential.

 

Jamie: Do you plan on creating any new villains or supporting characters for Aquaman? If so can you tell us about them?

Erik Larsen: There will be a LOT of new stuff.

First there’s Noble-who comes from the hidden city that is deep below where Atlantis now sits. It was his understanding that HE ruled the sea and since he’s never run into Aquaman and since his race predated the sinking of Atlantis–se seems to be in the right on this one. Noble is young and handsome–He’s clean shaven, dark haired and has a cleft in his chin–very dashing. Think Lancelot. He sweeps Mera off her feet and forces poor Arthur to fight for her affection.

Lurkers– are Noble’s people. They’ve dug a maze of tunnels through the earth that are like subway tunnels to other oceans. This is all in the darkest depths of the ocean and very appealing to the Atlantians and Aquaman in particular. These tunnels will lead to the discovery of many undersea races and cities all over the globe.

Rock Creatures– are the race of lava men whose path the Lurkers crossed to build theit underground tunnels. They’re stupid and deadly.

Land Lovers. Blubber, Sheeva and Lagoon Boy are three characters who fall in love with and want to explore the surface world. Blubber is an intelligent whale (son of Pakkul: Aquaman’s whale friend while growing up) who’s an inventor. He’s fashioned mechanical legs and arms for himself and a wheel chair for the mermaid Sheeva. Lagoon Boy is a kid version of a Creature from the Black Lagoon type who can puff himself up like a blowfish to frighten off prey. This intrepid trio is earthbound for adventure.

Plus a lot more–especially villains.

 

Jamie: Do you have plans for other DC heroes appearing in Aquaman?

Erik Larsen: Not right away. Okay–some right away but none are there to hang out for long. My first issue Aquaman #50 has his birthday and folks drop by to pay their respects.

Although Aquaman is in the Justice League– I’m not going to dwell on this. In terms of the character and the book–Aquaman should never seek their help. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t ever show up but that he’d feel that asking for their help was a sign of weakness–to Aquaman, they need HIM–not the other way around.

I want to make this a great comic that stands up on its own–not one dependant of guest stars to keep it going. That means I’m going to have to make Atlantis and Aquaman the focus– not dwell on other characters from comics outside of my influence. I can’t plan anything long term with a guest star so why go there when I can do something better that’s internal and can have lasting effects on the book?

 

Jamie: Thanks again for the interview. Any other comments you want to add?

Erik Larsen: Buy lots of my funnybooks so my kids can eat.

 

Tony Isabella Interview

Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con. Tony is holding his just awarded Inkpot award.

This Interview was done via e-mail and was originally published in May of 2000. I decided to bring it back now due to the news of a Black Lightning TV series. Tony was one of the first comic creators I got to “know” via online when I joined the internet. He wrote a Tony’s Online Tips column and posted frequently on usenet (and old pre web browser based message board of sorts). Tony had actually requested letters for X-Files (Topps) on usenet and I was one that replied. I got a number of them published in the Topps X-Files series, particularly towards the end of the series.

I should also note that Tony stopped doing Tony’s Online Tips back in 2010. He currently writes a blog and you should probably read his Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning Facts in regards to some of the things he says here in regards to the character.

 

If you read Comic Buyers Guide or visit Tony’s Online Tips, you already know who Tony Isabella is. For those that don’t, he’s a long time writer who has also been an editor and comic shop owner. He has recently been getting some freelance work and he is here to tell us about his work, his past and some things he’s involved with outside of comics.

 

Jamie: What do you do differently that separates you from most comic writers?

Tony Isabella: I don’t know; maybe my deodorant isn’t strong enough.

 

Jamie: Which method of writing do you use most and prefer? “Marvel Style” or full script?

Tony Isabella: I’ve been using full script almost exclusively for several years because that’s what was requested by the artist or required by the editor. However, I went with “Marvel Style” on my MARVEL COMICS: DAREDEVIL story with Eddy Newell because a) I wanted to make sure I still remembered how to do it, and b) Eddy and I wanted to show we could do it. However, I should point out that my plots are fairly detailed. They even include some dialogue.

I don’t have a strong preference for one method over another. I’m adaptable to the needs of the story, the needs of the artist, and the needs of the client.

 

Jamie: I know you’re doing a Daredevil one-shot. When is it coming out and what is it about?

Tony Isabella: It’s one of six “Marvels Comics” one-shots; these are the comic books published within the Marvel Universe itself. They come out at the end of May. Ours features a Daredevil unlike any you’ve seen. Eddy has done his usual magnificent best to make me look good. And that’s all you’re getting out of me.

I think that a reader spending $2.25 for a comic book deserves to experience all the surprises within that comic book first-hand and not after having already read about them elsewhere. I’m proud of this story; I want my readers to get all they can out of it.

 

Jamie: In the May edition of Gauntlet Magazine you tell a story about Jim Shooter nixing a Ghost Rider story you wrote which had some religious elements in it. Do you think he did that because he wasn’t religious himself?

Tony Isabella: I think he did it mostly because he could, although I was also told at the time that he was an agnostic and the story offended him. I think if you look at interviews from creators who were working at Marvel at the time–I left for DC shortly after he came on staff–you’ll see a picture of an arrogant guy who didn’t really know too much about the Marvel Universe. He certainly never grasped that he was trampling on the conclusion of a two-year story approved and supported by three previous editors.

 

Jamie: Do you have any other stories that didn’t make it to Gauntlet that you can share here?

Tony Isabella: I think I covered the Ghost Rider stuff pretty thoroughly in that article. As for other stories, heck, I’ve got lots of them…and if I keep writing a daily online column I’ll probably get to them all by next Thursday.

 

Jamie: Do you have any new work you can announce yet?

Tony Isabella: Sadly, no. I don’t like to announce stuff until I’ve finished it and been paid for it. I do have a project awaiting a contract, various proposals being looked at by various editors, and a number of characters and concepts I’m developing.

However, out on the stands now is the first chapter of the three- issue back-up serial I wrote for Claypool’s ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK #83-85. It’s a little ditty called “Better Read Than Dead.” It’s sort of a parable for our times involving Elvira, a library bookmobile, and a censorious group called Protect Our Old People.

It was a very satisfying story to write.

 

Jamie: You’ve been doing daily columns at Tony’s Online Tips  for a long time. Do you think your column is responsible for you getting your recent assignments?

Tony Isabella: I think it’s certainly helped. It keeps my name out there before the readers and those editors savvy enough to appreciate/understand online promotion. And it’s also been a useful tool for promoting the assignments I get.

Case in point: CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY’S TORCH, the novel I wrote with Bob Ingersoll. It had the best sell-through of any of the Marvel novels to that point; an impressive number of copies were sold through my website via Amazon Books.

 

Jamie: In your column, you are a big booster of Archie Comics. Why?

Tony Isabella: I honestly enjoy their titles. The late Frank Doyle was one of the best comic-book writers in the history of our industry. George Gladir has done many excellent scripts as well. And Craig Boldman has turned JUGHEAD into one of my favorite comics.

I also think the rest of the industry can learn a lot from Archie Comics. Their characters are among the most visible in comics and I’ve found their digest magazines in nearly every supermarket I’ve ever visited.

Their comics are wholesome reading for younger readers, though I’d like to see more variation in the body types and skin colors of the high school students.

Finally, Archie serves a segment of the comics-reading public that is generally ignored by all other publishers and most direct market retailers. I think they can attract new readers to our stores and to a lifelong love of comics.

 

Jamie: With Tony’s Online Tips, you do a lot of comic-book reviews. How many comic books get sent to you per week or month?

Tony Isabella: I’ve never kept a strict count, but it’s over 300 items a month. I try to read as many as I can, but I have to set aside some time to actually write the columns…and to take care of my kids…and to answer interview questions.

 

Jamie: What comics do you buy on a regular basis?

Tony Isabella: Very few. Mostly stuff I don’t get sent for free and off-brand titles that seem interesting. I do buy extra copies of everything I write because my relatives are much too cheap to buy copies for themselves.

 

Jamie: Okay, I’m going to spill the beans. You were the secret “Deep Postage” compiler of The X-Files letters pages for Topps Comics. I understand there were quite a few behind the scenes problems doing those comics. Can you tell us some stories about the problems you faced?

Tony Isabella: The basic problem was that whoever was approving the comics over in Chris Carter Land were the poster kids for anal retentiveness. Although it’s possible that they were so picky because they never wanted the comics out there in the first place.

The main reason the comics fell behind schedule was because it took so long to satisfy the X-Files people. They went over *everything* with a fine-tooth comb, including the letters columns.

After I had written a couple of letters pages, I started writing them 50-75% longer than Topps could actually fit into the issues. That way, after the X-Files folks made their cuts, Topps still had enough to fill the pages. This also saved me from having to return to completed columns and add additional material.

I rarely ran negative letters in these columns because the editors were afraid that the X-Files people would want even more changes in the material. Almost from the start, there were never enough useable letters for our needs. That’s why I started including the “Deep Postage” news items…and making up letters completely.

I also wrote the Xena letters columns, but those were a lot easier to produce.

 

Jamie: Do you know why Topps Comics stopped publishing comic books?

Tony Isabella: Given the market conditions, falling sales, and the difficulties in producing their best-selling title, which was The X-Files, the company opted to get out of comics for the time being. I hope Topps gets back into comics publishing in the future because they were a terrific client. They paid well. They paid fast. And the people I worked with were very professional.

 

Jamie: You are best known as the creator of Black Lightning. I was curious what kind of research did you do before creating him?

Tony Isabella: The first series didn’t require much research. Although it was somewhat grittier than other DC super-hero comics of the time, it was still fantasy-based.

The second series was much more realistic. I did research for two years before writing the first issue. I went to Cleveland’s inner city, interviewed all sorts of people, tutored gang kids, and did my best to get it as right as I could without losing the fantastic elements entirely.

 

Jamie: You have often said that another writer doing Black Lightning would be like crossing the picket line. Why do you feel that way?

Tony Isabella: I’ll try to make this short. I was unfairly fired from the title I created, a title on which I was doing the best work of my career. As far as I’m concerned, this is an ongoing labor dispute between myself and DC and will remain so until they do the right thing by me. Which the company will likely never do.

There’s a lot of history between myself and DC over my creation of Black Lightning. Promises that weren’t kept. The fabrication that the artist of the first series was a co-creator of the character. The failure to promote the use of the character outside the comics industry to any great extent. And so on.

Given all this, my position is that no one other than myself should write Black Lightning. I’m ready and able to write as many Black Lightning comics as DC is willing to publish. They need no other writers for this creation of mine.

 

Jamie: Some of your fans know you went through a serious period of depression, can you tell us about that?

Tony Isabella: I was diagnosed with clinical depression around the time I was fired from Black Lightning. I probably had it all my life, but it was that event…along with some personal problems in my life which shall remain personal…which triggered self-destructive behavior on my part and convinced me to seek medical help.

I got some therapy. I got some drugs. The first worked well, the second didn’t. Eventually, my therapist and I found other ways for me to deal with my depression. Being here for my kids was the most powerful motivating factor in my improved condition.

I’ll suffer from depression my entire life, but it’s an enemy that I know and that knowledge gives me power over it. There are more than a few graves on which I want to dance; I intend to live long enough to accomplish that modest goal.

 

Jamie: Outside of comics, you are running for the board of your local (Medina County) Library. Can you tell all the stuff you do that’s involved with that and how is it going?

Tony Isabella: One doesn’t run for a position on the board, one applies. When there are vacancies on the board, they are filled–alternately–by the Medina County Commissioners and the presiding judge of the Medina Court. I’ve applied for the last two openings and never got as far as an actual interview.

The Commissioners eliminated me because I had an agenda, which is to say I think the First Amendment is a good thing. The judge went with the typical political hack; God forbid he should appoint an average citizen to the board.

Currently, I have “divorced” myself from participation in library matters in protest of the board’s decision to put filters on some of the library’s computers. It was a blatant attempt to mollify the Medina Christian Coalition and didn’t even succeed on that base level. The cowardice of the current board disgusts me.

I’ve been exploring the possibility of legal action to overturn the board’s decision, but, without the assistance of the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, that probably won’t happen. I don’t have the financial means or legal expertise to challenge the board without help…and the ACLU has turned down my every request for assistance.

I still support the ACLU. I know the organization doesn’t have the manpower to fight every battle. But it was very disappointing when they walked away from this one. Especially since they had gotten involved with library concerns previously.

 

Jamie: You were also a comic book store owner for a while. Can you tell us more about that?

Tony Isabella: Cosmic Comics was easily the most successful comics shop in the Cleveland area for nine of the eleven years I owned it. We had a full line of comics–the only store that did–and a good selection of magazines and paperbacks.

I enjoyed running the store and serving my customers, but I wanted to get back to full-time writing. Seven years into the gig, I was ready to sell, but my waste-of-oxygen attorney was never able to find a buyer who could actually afford to pay me even a fraction of what it was worth.

Unfortunately, Cosmic Comics lost its location…right on the heels of my suffering a considerable financial loss from my involvement with the International Superman Expo of 1988. The new location was so awful that I couldn’t hire or keep good employees. This led to an increase in employee theft and in shoplifting.

Add the afore-mentioned attorney, later disbarred from the practice of the law, albeit not soon enough to help me, and the store became a money pit for the last two years of its existence. I didn’t make a dime from it in those final years.

It’ll make a heck of a book someday. Might do for comic shops what Psycho did for motels.

 

Jamie: As a former editor, retailer and long-time freelancer, you have a wide perspective on the industry. What do you think needs to be done to improve it?

Tony Isabella: We must look beyond the Direct Sales Market, beyond the flavors of the month, and beyond the editors and publishers who have slim knowledge–creative or historical–of the comics art form. And we must stop pissing off the readers who have stuck with us for years and years waiting for us to get our acts together.

That and hire me a lot more often.

 

Jamie: I was wondering what your opinion is on current legal battles between Marvel and creators over the rights of characters, battles such as Joe Simon with Captain America, Marv Wolfman over Blade, etc…

Tony Isabella: I hope they win and win big. The comics industry has treated creators abominably since its earliest days. I’d love to see these guys balance the scales a bit. As far as I’m concerned, if the comics industry can only exist by treating its creators poorly, then it doesn’t deserve to exist one more day.

 

Jamie: Anything else you want to say?

Tony Isabella: Often readers ask why I’m not writing more comics. They ask the same question of many other comics creators as well. The answer, more often that not, is that editors and publishers aren’t hiring us. If they hire us, we will write and draw.

If readers want to see more comics by favorite writers and artists, by creators who aren’t this month’s flavor, they absolutely must do three things…

One. Let the editors and publishers know, frequently and politely, that you’re ready to give them your hard-earned cash for new comics by these creators.

Two. Actually buy the comics we do. Let’s suppose, for example, that MARVELS COMICS: DAREDEVIL #1 turns out to be the best-selling of the six specials. Odds are someone might figure Eddy and I had a little to do with that success…and that someone might hire us for more projects.

Three. Assuming you like the comics we do, write the editors and publishers and let them know you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us. Tell your retailer you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us. Tell your fellow readers you liked them and convince them to buy more comics by us.

Thanks. You’ve been a lovely audience. Don’t forget to tip the interviewer as you leave. He’s been working his way through beauty school and obviously needs all the help he can get.

Ramona Fradon Interview

Janet Heatherington and Ramona Fradon – Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con 2006

This interview was done at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con in April of 2006 and was published in June, 2006. I still regularly see Ramona at San Diego Comic Con and occasionally on panels.

 

Ramona Fradon is one of the great silver age penciler-creators. She co-created Aqualad and Metamorpho. Fans remember her for long run on Aquaman, the early Metamorpho stories and Super Friends. She is also well known for drawing the Brenda Starr newspaper strip for 15 years. I met her at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon and did an interview on April 29th. We cover a wide range of topics, taking careful consideration to not duplicate questions she had just recently answered on a panel (moderated by Janet Heatherington) about her career. You can hear that panel here.

Now on to the interview which includes a special appearance by another popular creator.

 

Jamie: How are you Ramona?

Ramona Fradon: I’m fine, thank you.

 

Jamie: Are you enjoying Toronto?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes.

 

Jamie: Have you been out to see the sites at all?

Ramona Fradon: No I haven’t, I’ve been sitting here drawing steadily.

 

Jamie: Are you making money?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. It’s very nice.

 

Jamie: Okay to start off, I’ve recorded your panel and I’m going to try not and duplicate those questions. At the beginning you said you read comic strips. What strips in particular?

Ramona Fradon: Oh I like all the daily newspaper strips. I liked Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, Alley Oop, Mandrake the Magician and more. The only one I didn’t really like was Brenda Starr (laughter). I never read it, I didn’t like the way it looked.

 

Ty Templeton (to Ramona): Hi, I can’t let this convention end without saying you are one of my favorite people in this business. I love absolutely everything you have ever done. My name is Ty Templeton and I worked on Plastic Man at DC. We’ve shared characters. I didn’t want to interrupt this conversation but I at some point just had to come by and shake your hand.

Ramona Fradon (to Ty): Thank you very much.

Ramona Fradon (to Jamie): Lets leave that part in (laughter).

Jamie: Okay (laugher).

 

Jamie: You said your father got you into becoming an artist. How did that go about?

Ramona Fradon: Well, he just kept saying it was conditioning. When I got to high school I took a lot of art courses. Not because I was particularly interested in it, but because it was something I could do. I had neglected studying so I couldn’t get into college with the grades I had. So I went to art school but I didn’t have any idea of what I’d do.

 

Jamie: So you just went along with the flow?

Ramona Fradon: Yeah, I went a long with the flow. When I got out I was just bewildered. I had no idea and I just got steered into cartooning.

 

Jamie: When you were learning art was there any particular influences that you had?

Ramona Fradon: Will Eisner. I just thought he was incredible when I first saw the Spirit. It was just the way it should be you know? There was a mix of serious and cartooning.

 

Jamie: Did you ever get a chance to meet him?

Ramona Fradon: I was nominated for an Eisner and at one point I was on a stage with him and shook his hand.

 

Jamie: He was here two years ago.

Ramona Fradon: He was a genius, definitely a genius.

 

Jamie: Oh yes. You mentioned that you almost worked with Fox?

Ramona Fradon: I got a script from Fox and I returned it because I heard they didn’t pay. I then did three scripts for Stan Lee at Timely. The last job was for the dogs (laughter). It was bad.

 

Jamie: Were there any other publishers besides DC and Marvel that you worked for?

Ramona Fradon: No, just those two. And mostly DC.

 

Jamie: So you never bothered with Charlton?

Ramona Fradon: I never knew anything about them. I was lucky.

 

Jamie: At DC how strict was the creative process of drawing? I know they were a lot more strict than Marvel.

Ramona Fradon: Well DC was interested in maintaining a certain format. When I started they wanted to maintain the 6 panel grid, two panels to a line. They didn’t really want to deviate from that. But as time went on they got looser. By the time I finished I could make any type of layout that I wanted. I mean, they were strict at first, they were very worried about the continuity from one panel to another.

 

Jamie: The storytelling?

Ramona Fradon: Yes, sometimes I could get something in the wrong place.

 

Jamie: Did you every deviate from the script at all?

Ramona Fradon: I never wanted to. Unless it was something that was so horrible to draw (laughter). The most that I would do is when the writer would say… and this is the thing that made me quit cartooning… there was a panel where I had to draw thousands of roses being dropped out of an airplane. And I thought, I cannot do this, this is just insane (laughter). So you have to think of ways of abbreviating the idea, the impression. Thats the only way I would change things.

 

Jamie: You’ve spent a long time on Aquaman. Do you know why Aquaman stuck around while other superheroes didn’t?

Ramona Fradon: I really don’t know. I guess it was all the silly young men that kept reading him. He’s changed though, I don’t see him as the character at all.

 

Jamie: Are you surprised Aqualad is still around after all these years?

Ramona Fradon: Yes, I never understood while he had any appeal to begin with (laughter).

 

Jamie: I know you took some time off and then they called you back to work on Metamorpho.

Ramona Fradon: Yes, I think I was out for about 3 years. George Kashdan called me and asked me to at least help get it started. I then stopped again around 1973 I think.

 

Jamie: Why did you stop?

Ramona Fradon: I had a baby. She was clinging to my knee while I was trying to draw and it was terrible. So I just quit.

 

Jamie: What went into the creation of Metamorpho? Were you given any visual cue’s on how he should look?

Ramona Fradon: No, no, we did do a lot of talking about it. The first sketches I did and I think I may have them somewhere.. I made him a conventional type hero with a cape and tights and whole thing. That didn’t seem to work, then we talked some more. I think I finally figured it out that since he was based on 4 basic elements that he should be divided into 4 parts and that he shouldn’t have any clothes on. I mean.. otherwise, how would he do that? So it just evolved as we reasoned it.

 

Jamie: Do you know why they ended his series?

Ramona Fradon: I don’t know, I know it sorta fizzled out and they keep trying to revive it from time to time. I think his time you know..

 

Jamie: It came and gone.

Ramona Fradon: Yeah.

 

Jamie: So how did you end up working at Marvel?

Ramona Fradon: Well, I didn’t “end up” (laughter). It was the 70s, I was retired for about 7 years and there was the womens movement. They had a Womens strip and they wanted a women to illustrate it. I heard somewhere that Stan Lee really loved my work on Metamorpho and maybe they were hoping I could still draw that way, but my drawing was really rusty. And besides, it wasn’t the same story.

Jamie: Yeah, not the same character. The Cat is not Metamorpho.

Ramona Fradon: No, not at all. My drawing has always been really influenced by the script. It tends to change with the script and that was quite different.

 

Jamie: The last story that I know of, that you did was an 8 page Aquaman for Just imagine Stan Lee’s Aquaman.

Ramona Fradon: Oh that’s right, yeah. That was hard to do. That was bad. I mean, I was rusty. It’s very hard to get back into illustrating a script after you’ve been gone a long time. That was not my proudest moment (laughter). And I hate the colors. There is a woman down here she’s got that.. have you seen her coloring? It’s beautiful! The computer stuff is just bad.
Jamie: Going back to Metamorpho, do you know how they decided on the colors of the character?

Ramona Fradon: I don’t know if I did that or not. I have a feeling that I did. I never colored so I’m not sure how I would have. I don’t know.

 

Jamie: Did you like inking your own work?

Ramona Fradon: No. It was like doing it all over again.

 

Jamie: I heard Kirby said the same thing.

Ramona Fradon: I never got a handle working with a brush. You never know what it’s going to do.

 

Jamie: As of late a lot of your work is being reprinted by DC. Hopefully you are being compensated for that?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. DC has been really good about royalties, they really have. I can’t complain. I get paid better now than when I was first drawing them (laughter).

 

Jamie: That’s good to hear. Have you seen the new [Showcase] Metamorpho trade?

Ramona Fradon: Yeah.

 

Jamie: Do you like it better in black and white or color?

Ramona Fradon: I think I’d like to see it in color.

 

Jamie: So you have no interest in going back and doing comics at all?

Ramona Fradon: No.

 

Jamie: Been there done that?

Ramona Fradon: Yes. It’s WORK. I don’t draw easily. I’ve seen some of these artists and they just spin it out. Marie Severin is like that. She’s just do-do-do-do and it’s a finished drawing. I can’t do that. I really struggle. It’s hard unless I’m up against a deadline I just put aside all inhibitions and just draw. Then it’s easy. Otherwise it’s just hard for me. I keep editing and changing.

 

Jamie: I’m trying to think of a Brenda Starr question that hasn’t already been asked…

Ramona Fradon: On Brenda I did my own inking.

 

Jamie: You penciled and inked that?

Ramona Fradon: It was a more comic style. It was easier to ink that. Every week, 7 pages. I used to number the panels. 25-26 panels a week, penciled and inked. It was just a grind. It was horrible (laughter). And it wasn’t like the strip was making a million dollars either. The Syndicate was so cheap. In over 5 years I didn’t get in increase in pay.

And not only that I used to get the receipts, the statements, and I began to notice that when the receipts went up, the production costs went up. And that was what my pay was based on. This went on and I thought it was crazy. So I got a lawyer. Then it didn’t happen anymore. They are just criminals.

 

Jamie: They didn’t want to pay you any more?

Ramona Fradon: I just can’t say enough bad about the Syndicate. Everybody I know that worked for them was treated badly by them. They’re all criminals in expensive suits.

 

Jamie: You mentioned Dale Messick left Brenda Starr under bad circumstances.

Ramona Fradon: She hated them. She made them hundreds of millions of dollars over the years with movies rights and merchandising. They fired her actually and they didn’t even give her a wrist watch. They probably ripped her off for all those years too. She promised she’d live forever so they’d have to keep paying that puny pension they gave her.

 

Jamie: Okay, you are doing commissions now. Is that going well for you?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. It’s as much as I want to do and I can do it whenever I want.

 

Dave Sim Interview

This interview was originally published in July, 2007. With Dave the first thing many people think about is his controversial views. I read his writing in issue #186 and his Tangents series as well. I must admit, when I first thought about interviewing Dave I had envision getting him in room and going after him like a pissed off Mike Wallace on crack over those views.

But then I met him and discovered that in person Dave was extremely nice and courteous. He also had a “spider sense” for when somebody was taking a picture of him and he would turn and smile for the camera, even while he was in conversation with others. At TCAF 2005 I saw Dave squinting at a map looking for his table as he had a signing to go to. It was in another area that I had already been to so I offered to walk him over. Later on that convention was the first Doug Wright Awards, I showed up early as did Dave and he struck up a conversation with me. They had examples of Doug’s work on the walls and we looked at them with Dave describing what was great about Doug’s work. 

At another convention a female friend of mine wanted to get a sketch from Dave but was a apprehensions about meeting him for obvious reasons. I volunteered to get the sketch on her behalf and she stood line with me until we got close to Dave and then she left. She liked Dave’s work but didn’t want to have a bad experience meeting him. When I got to Dave he asked what I wanted and I said Cerebus and Jaka. He said he would only sketch 1 character and I chose Jaka.  Dave did the sketch, looked over to Gerhard who was still working on backgrounds on Dave’s sketches and then did a quick Cerebus sketch too. Both Gerhard and Dave noticed my friend who left the line. Gerhard left his table to have a talk with her and Dave told me later on he almost did this too, but he had a long line of fans wanting sketches.

I don’t think I could go as far as to say Dave and I were friends, but we were friendly to each other. I also didn’t have the heart to go after him regarding his views anymore, even though I disagreed with them. I also had doubts that Dave would allow/agree to that type of interview either as he had his rules. Instead I proposed doing an “introduction” type interview for comic readers who were online, but didn’t read much in the way of comic magazines. I was once one of those type of comic readers. That said, I did learn about his short stay in a psychiatric facility. I had heard other creators reference this but it was good to get the story from him. It was also interesting to get his story about DC’s attempt to buy Cerebus from him, with actual dollar figures and why he turned it down.

I should probably also say that it was once believed that Gene Day died because of how Marvel treated him. I’m friends with one of Gene’s brothers (they live about a half hour from me) and I was told while Marvel’s treatment didn’t help, Gene’s family has a history of heart problems and Gene put his love of work and greasy burgers over his own well being.

After this interview was done, Dave took all the typed questions, attempted to burn them on a CD and then mailed said CD with a sketch on it. Sadly, the burn did not go right, but Dave tried again and got it right the 2nd time. This wasn’t really necessary but Dave wanted to learn how to do it.

Dave Sim Interview

Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus. He began self publishing the comic book in the late 70’s, promised to do 300 issues of the book and did so. It’s a feat few see anybody else repeating. Along the way he selflessly taught people how to self publish their own comic books, helping many to realize their dream of publishing their creations. A few of those self publishers managed to get rich or get better paying work afterwards. With this interview we talk about Dave’s start with comics, Cerebus, the help and difficulties he encountered along the way, what’s he doing now and a lot more.

Note: This interview was done via fax machine. Dave normally only allows interviews to be 5 questions, but let me ask him 20. So an extra thank you goes out to Dave for allowing the extra questions and for being a great interviewee.

 

Jamie: Assuming you read comics as a boy, which ones did you read regularly?

Dave Sim: I read the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman line of comic books, Superman, Action, World’s Finest, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, later branching out into the rest of the DC line and then Marvel Comics, Warren and then undergrounds by the time I was fifteen or sixteen.

 

Jamie: I take it you were a big fan of Conan during the 70’s?

Dave Sim: No, I wasn’t really a big fan of Conan in the 70s. I had read all of the Robert E. Howard material once and then-reading the lesser L. Sprague DeCamp knock-offs that came later-swiftly lost interest. I really should go back and find the Howard material at some time and re-read it. I would pick up the occasional issue of Conan if I liked what Barry Smith was doing on it-such as the “Frost Giant’s Daughter” issue that reprinted the black & white strip or the two-part “Red Nails” story as it originally appeared in Savage Tales magazine, but early on-with Dan Adkins and Sal Buscema inking-it just looked like a really bad Marvel comic to me. By that time I was starting to draw on my own, so a comic needed to have something more to it in order to get me excited creatively or make me want to swipe the style of the artist. Barry inking himself definitely had that effect on me. Barry inked by others definitely didn’t have that effect on me and most of his work at Marvel was inked by very incompatible talents.

 

Jamie: If you didn’t like Conan, why did you create Cerebus to be a parody of it?

Dave Sim: The decision to do Cerebus was based on my insight that what had made Howard the Duck successful was the “funny animal in the world of humans” motif whereas everyone doing work for Quack! (my intended market) was doing all funny animal strips. Since Howard had modern-day sown up that, to me, left the possibility of a science fiction “funny animal in the world of humans” or a sword ‘n’ sorcery “funny animal in the world of humans”. Science fiction required drawing a lot of straight edges and learning how to use French curves properly, so that left only one possibility. Coincidentally I had the unused mascot for Deni’s fanzine and I did a sample page for Mike Friedrich which turned out to be the splash page of issue 1. The fact that it was successful was a very hard lesson in what happens when you do something because you think it’s commercially viable rather than being what you want to do. I was stuck going through the checklist of sword ‘n’ sorcery clichés and was quickly running out of them.

 

Jamie: Considering Cerebus started off as something you believed would be commercially viable, if you were able to go back and re-do your comic career all over again what would you do differently?

Dave Sim: I’m afraid that one of my core beliefs is to never traffic in the hypothetical which I suspect is one of the reasons that it was possible to finish Cerebus. If you make a choice and then live with the consequences of that choice you are always moving forward. If you make a choice and then spend all of your time trying to assess the different choices you might have made and the possible outcomes of those hypothetical choices, then you just end up spending your life treading water and getting very little done. I conducted my comic-book career the way that I conducted it and it ended up the way that it ended up. I only see what happened, not what might have happened.

 

Jamie: How did you meet Gene Day?

Dave Sim: I met Gene Day in the summer of 1974. We had started corresponding in the fall of 1973 after John Balge and I had interviewed Augustine Funnel for Comic Art News & Reviews. Gus had started writing for Al Hewetson’s Skywald magazines and told us about his roommate, Gene Day, and that we should talk to him about doing some work for CANAR and that I should ask about doing some work for Gene’s Dark Fantasy. I had already arranged a bus trip up to see my aunt and uncle in Ottawa so I decided to make a side trip to Gananoque on the way and stay over for a couple of days. It ended up being the first of many such trips.

 

Jamie: I’ve always heard he was your mentor. What exactly did Gene do for you?

Dave Sim: Gene really showed me that success in a creative field is a matter of hard work and productivity and persistence. I had done a handful of strips and illustrations at that point mostly for various fanzines but I wasn’t very productive. I would do a strip or an illustration and send it off to a potential market and then wait to find out if they were going to use it before doing anything else. Or I’d wait for someone to write to me and ask me to draw something. Gene was producing artwork every day and putting it out in the mail and when it came back he’d send it out to someone else. He would draw work for money and then do work on spec if the paying markets dried up. He kept trying at places where he had been rejected. He did strips, cartoons, caricatures, covers, spot illos, anything that he might get paid for. He gave drawing lessons and produced his own fanzines. It was easy to see the difference, to see why he was a success and I was a failure. It was in the fall of 1975 that I bought a calendar and started filling the squares with whatever it was that I had produced that day and worked to put together months-long streaks where I produced work every day. The net result was that I started to get more paying work and a year later I was able to move out of my parents’ house into my own one-room apartment/studio downtown. I doubt that would ever have happened without Gene’s influence.

 

Jamie: Gene died an early death. Can you tell me about Gene sleeping at Marvel’s office to fulfill a deadline and the health problems that stemmed from that?

Dave Sim: Yes, Gene died at the age of 31 from a heart attack. He had been working for Marvel for several years at that point. He started as an inker which was the thing that he was the fastest at, so he built up a really good reputation as a guy who could turn a late job around in a hurry. He was so fast, the people at Marvel were convinced that he had a whole studio of Gene Day clones working night and day, but it was just him. When I’d go and visit him, he’d have piles of 11×17 photocopies of the jobs he had done-he traded his weekly Cap’n Riverrat cartoon to the local weekly newspaper, The Gananoque Reporter for free photocopying.

When Mike Zeck left Master of Kung Fu to work on Captain America, Marvel was left without a penciller for the title and the editor persuaded Gene to step in which instantly cut his revenue by a substantial amount-he was a much slower penciller than he was an inker. He also ran afoul of then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s strict rules about storytelling-that you needed to do the basic six panels to a page method with occasional lapses if you had a good reason for it. Gene, of course was a major fan of Jim Steranko-style storytelling which was exactly what Jim Shooter was opposed to and they locked horns over the subject many times with Gene doing continuous backgrounds in his panel-to-panel continuity (one large background on the page with the action taking place in individual panels set against the one background). Shooter would tell him not to do it and Gene would do it, finally doing I think a five-page sequence that was all one background. At the same time he was doing outside assignments at Marvel including a story for one of the black-and-white magazines (I think it was) which Gene was supposed to pencil and ink.

The deadline got moved up or something and they told Gene on the phone that they were going to have the story “gang inked” over a few days. This was something that Marvel did pretty regularly in the 70s to keep books on schedule. They’d get five or six guys to sit in the bullpen and ink a job to get it done faster. As you would expect, the results were usually horrible. One of P. Craig Russell’s first jobs for Marvel was part of a gang-inking on an issue of Barry’s Conan. For the longest time, my impression of the story was that they had phoned Gene and wanted him to come down and ink the job and that Gene had done so out of loyalty to Marvel even taking the train to Manhattan because he was afraid to fly. It was years later that his brother Dan mentioned to me that what Gene was concerned about was doing as much of the inking himself as he could to keep the job from being a total abomination. The more I think about that, the more it explains what happened. Gene showed up at Marvel and they gave him the address of the hotel he would be staying at. He went there and the place was covered in cockroaches so Gene went back to Marvel and asked to be put up in a better hotel. Nothing fancy, just a place without cockroaches. That was when Tom DeFalco gave him the choice of the roach-infested hotel or sleeping on the couch in Marvel’s reception area. Gene chose the latter, not realizing that they turned the heat off in the building overnight (this was in the dead of winter). So he slept there with his coat pulled over him and developed as a result a kidney infection which stuck with him the rest of his life.

In retrospect, I think the problem Marvel had was that they had no policy for the situation. They had found their solution, they were going to get the job gang-inked. When Gene insisted on coming down to work on it, it just didn’t make sense to them editorially to pay for a hotel room for him given what that was going to add to their costs on the story. For Gene, it was an obvious plus-by coming down and working on the story it would be that much better looking than it would be being inked by whoever happened to be around at the time. But, how the job looked wasn’t as big a priority for Marvel as having the job done. What to Gene looked like a sensible improvement solution looked to Marvel like a needless expense and intrusion by a troublemaker. The same could be said of Gene locking horns with Jim Shooter. To Gene, he was trying to make the book better and more interesting. To Shooter he was making it unreadable and therefore uncommercial.

On Gene’s side of the argument, sales were up on Master of Kung Fu-it had always been a marginal title since Paul Gulacy had left, on the verge of cancellation and now it was turning into a fan favourite again. On Jim Shooter’s side of the argument, good nuts-and-bolts six-panels-to-the-page storytelling always sold better in the long run for Marvel. John Buscema’s Conan outsold Barry Smith’s by a wide margin, as an example. Eventually Shooter fired Gene and I think that, as much as anything, killed Gene Day. His heart and soul were at Marvel Comics. His lifelong dream was to work in the House that Jack Built. Of course, what he failed to see was that working in the House that Jack Built even became an untenable prospect for Jack. And, of course, interviewing as many professionals as I had in my fanzine days, I had a much clearer idea of what Marvel and DC were actually like and just how ruthless the editors could be when the situation seemed to call for ruthlessness (which, as they saw it, it usually did). I knew that in a lot of ways the worst thing you could bring to the table as a freelancer was unwavering company loyalty. For many of the editors at the time, that was just inviting them to rip your heart out. Which, to me, is exactly what Gene did. And exactly what Marvel did.

Dave Sim – 2007 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con

Jamie: Prior to Cerebus you did work for other comics. What happened that made you want to self publish instead?

Dave Sim: That was a combination of things. Everyone that I did work for I was either a minor guy on their roster and so didn’t get the attention that I thought I needed or I was a major guy on their roster only because they were too small to get anywhere. They’d announce that the new issue would be out in July and then write you in August saying they hope to get it out by November. There was a sense of time slipping away while I waiting for everyone to get to the project that I was in. Gene was more interested in getting Dark Fantasy out than Hellhound, his proposed comics title. And then he acquired the rights to do an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Pigeons from Hell and I knew that was going to push Hellhound even further back. I had printed samples in Quack and Oktoberfest Comics and Phantacea No.1 which I had drawn from someone else’s script, colour covers with black & white interiors and what I figured I needed was a few more samples like that where it was all or mostly my work inside the book. So that was why I decided to do three issues of Cerebus, do it bi-monthly and make sure it came out on time, keep the price the same, keep the format the same, keep the logo the same, have a letters page, keep it to twenty-two pages-basically do all the things right that I thought the other guys were doing wrong and if I fell on my face, well fine, I’d fall on my face and I’d stop complaining about what a lousy job everyone else was doing and just go back to doing it their way. But, at least I’d have three issues of my own comic book to put with Oktoberfest Comics and Phantacea so that editors could see what I was capable of. And as it turned out I was right. To this day, I try to emphasize how important it is to come out on time and everyone just ignores me. They want to know the secret to self-publishing but they don’t want that secret. That secret just sounds like a lot of hard work. Which it is.

 

Jamie: I understand you worked for Harry Kremer at Now and Again Books, in what years did you do that?

Dave Sim: I worked for Harry beginning December 1st of 1976 when he opened up the downstairs at 103 Queen St. S. which is across the street from where Now & Then Book is now. The hours were 10 am to 9 pm Thursday and Friday and 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and for that I got a grand total of $75 a month. It was all Harry could afford. And I rented my one-room apartment at 379 Queen St. S. for $120 a month which meant that I had to make $45 a month from drawing and writing just to keep a roof over my head. I had about $1,000 in the bank from selling Harry my comic-book collection to help buy some time, but it was definitely sink or swim. As it turns out it was sink, swim or move in with your girlfriend which Deni and I did in April of 1977 so I only had to come up with half of the rent which I think still worked out to about $120 a month.

 

Jamie: How did Harry help with Cerebus?

Dave Sim: Harry helped in a lot of ways with Cerebus. For starters, he was running the comic-book store that I was living in (it was really my first home, my parents house was just where I slept and stored my comic books) when the direct market started and he was stocking new comic books as well as back issues, new comic books which included ground level titles like Star*Reach which showed me that there was room on the shelves next to Marvel and DC. Then he agreed to publish Oktoberfest Comics in 1976. Through that experience, I found out roughly what it cost to do a black-and-white comic on newsprint with a colour cover and realized that it was a lot more affordable with the new high-speed web offset presses than I had suspected which started me thinking about doing one of my own. And before the first issue was published, he agreed to take 500 copies which, when you consider that our two distributors-Jim Friel of Big Rapids Distribution and Phil Seuling of Sea Gate Distributors-were taking 500 and 1,000 copies respectively tells you what a great vote of confidence and commitment that was from a single comic book store. And then he would also buy artwork from time to time. He bought the complete issue 4 for $220, $10 a page. It may not sound like much, but it definitely paid for a lot of Kraft Dinners which Deni and I pretty much lived on for months at a time. We had our ups and downs over the years-he got seriously offended when I started charging $100 a page U.S. He liked my artwork but he really didn’t think it belonged in that price range. But there’s no question that Cerebus couldn’t have made it through the first few years without his help and, particularly, without the existence of Now & Then Books. Today (6 June 05) would have been his fifty-ninth birthday if he had lived.

 

Jamie: Is it true that Cerebus was supposed to be titled Cerberus? If so, how did it change?

Dave Sim: What happened was that Deni-before I knew her-had decided to put out a fanzine modeled on Gene Day’s Dark Fantasy. When I met her, in December of 1976, that was what she had come into the store to find out-would Harry be willing to carry copies of her fanzine if she published it? I volunteered to help and wrote down my name which she recognized from the work I had had published in Dark Fantasy. The name she had come up with for her fanzine was Cerebus. So I did a logo for her, the one that was on the first forty-nine issues and told her she really should have a name for her publishing company in the same way that Dark Fantasy was published by Gene Day’s House of Shadows. Her sister came up with Aardvark Press and her brother came up with Vanaheim Press, so I put them together and made it Aardvark-Vanaheim Press. And then I drew a cartoon aardvark with a sword as a mascot. At that point someone realized that the name of the magazine was misspelled. What she had intended to call the magazine was Cerberus, the name of the three-headed dog in Greek mythology who guarded Hades. So I suggested that we just say that Cerebus was the name of the cartoon mascot. The printer in California ran off with the originals and the money for the first issue, so the fanzine never did come out. And that was when I started thinking about my own “funny animal in the world of humans” for Quack! so I decided to draw a sample page of Cerebus the cartoon mascot in my best Barry Windsor-Smith style (see question 6 above).

 

Jamie: Somebody made counterfeit copies of Cerebus #1. Can you tell us the difference between the two so the online buyers won’t be fooled?

Dave Sim: The easiest way to distinguish the real Cerebus No.1 from the counterfeit is that the inside covers are glossy black on the counterfeit and a flat black on the real ones. The next easiest way is that if you look at the areas of solid black on pages 9, 10 and 11, they look “dusty”. That’s because the counterfeit was shot from a printed copy where there was already a slightly speckled quality because it was printed on cheap newsprint, so when that slightly speckled quality was photographed, the-now doubled-slightly speckled quality ended up looking like a fine layer of dust over the entire page because there is so much solid black on those three pages.

 

Jamie: Did you ever discover who made the counterfeits?

Dave Sim: I have my suspicions as to who did the counterfeit but, no, the FBI never managed to catch the guys who were selling them-the “mules” folded their operation as soon as word started to spread-and therefore there was no route to anyone who was behind the scam. I certainly wasn’t about to accuse anyone publicly without evidence to support it but, yes, I’m pretty sure I knew who did it.

 

Jamie: I hear that after issue #11 you over-worked yourself into a nervous breakdown. What were you doing at the time?

Dave Sim: Twenty-six years later on, I think it would be more accurate to say that I had achieved a false level of transcendence that I had been looking to achieve through LSD-the psychic equivalent of a massive and pleasurable electric shock-that left me incapable of reassuring my wife (within her own very limited frames of reference) that I was okay: with the result that she freaked out at one point and called my mother and she and my mother locked me up in a psych ward at the local hospital for a couple of days.

 

Jamie: How did you recover from a nervous breakdown and continue on?

Dave Sim: There really wasn’t anything to “recover” from. I had gone through the false transcendent state and come out the other side. The only thing I really needed to recover from was the massive doses of depressants they had given me in the psych ward. That took two or three days during which all of my muscles and motor functions were seriously malfunctioning-it felt as if I had pulled every muscle in my body so that just speaking and walking required Herculean forces of will in order to achieve. Essentially, at that point-never again wanting to experience that severe crippling effect-I began to live two different lives simultaneously. I learned how to portray myself as a normal person in order to keep my wife and parents from locking me up in any more psych wards while at the same time I began to explore all of the thoughts and experiences that I had had over the period of the false transcendent state and began to work towards putting them all down on paper in the Cerebus storyline. When I realized, a month or two later, how large and difficult a task that was going to be, I decided to make Cerebus into a 300-issue project in order to encompass it all and leave room for my own best assessment of the aftermath. The documentation of the state itself went from about issue 20 to about issue 186. I was able to stop leading my double life once I was divorced in 1983 and I no longer had the on-going threat hanging over my head that my freedom depended on my wife and mother believing me to be sane.

 

Jamie: How did you meet Gerhard?

Dave Sim: I had heard a great deal about Gerhard because he was the “golden boy” of his high school clique, one of whose members was Deni’s high-school aged sister, Karen. He was the chief set designer and star of a high-school production “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and also an illustrator and the high-school clique was his major support group. They collectively believed in him and his prodigious abilities to the same extent to which he didn’t believe in himself: which is to say thoroughly and completely. At one point the high-school clique was having a Halloween party and Karen, Deni’s sister, and Bob her boyfriend and later husband came by the apartment to smoke a joint with Gerhard and his (then) girlfriend Laurel. So far as we know that was how I met Gerhard. It would’ve been Halloween of 1981 or 1982.

 

Jamie: I’m surprised more artists don’t try and pair up with somebody to help out with backgrounds. Why do you think you and Gerhard have worked so well together for the past 20 years?

Dave Sim: I’m surprised, as well, that more artists don’t pair up with background artists. The history of the comic-book field is filled with things that worked really well that no one else ever attempted. Look at Will Eisner’s The Spirit-what a great idea to do a comic-book supplement for newspapers and yet no one ever tried it again. It’s certainly something that I would recommend. I suspect fine arts courses and architectural schools are filled with guys who just have a love of drawing still-life’s, which is all that backgrounds are. Of course Gerhard grew to hate pen-and-ink drawing which had been one of his abiding passions when he had to do the volume of drawing required, so you won’t be seeing him recommending it as a career choice anytime soon. But, yes, I do think that guys who love writing and lettering and drawing people should look around for guys who like to draw inanimate objects. Mutual tolerance would, I think, best describe how the collaboration worked and how it continues to work. If I really needed something to go in the background, I’d be specific with Gerhard but if not, I let him do whatever he thought would look best. I always got my own best results by doing what I thought was best and always got second-rate results when someone was telling me what to do, so it just seemed natural to me to treat Gerhard the same way. If you want the best results let the guy call his own shots.

 

Jamie: I recently read that DC made an offer to buy Cerebus from you at one point. When did that happen and how much did they offer?

Dave Sim: Those negotiations took place over the course of 1985 to 1988, I think it was. Ultimately they offered $100,000 and 10% of all licensing and merchandising and that I would be allowed to keep doing the monthly black-and-white and Swords of Cerebus on my own. In the middle of the negotiations I came up with the idea of the High Society trade paperback and selling it direct to the readers which brought in $150,000 in the space of a few weeks and made their offer look kind of puny by comparison. What I wanted to develop was a Superman contract-a contract that would have been fair to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster-where DC could pick the revenue thresholds, but at some point we would split all revenues 50-50 just as is done with syndicated comic strips. No go. They made a final offer to give me the whole $100,000 all at once or half now and half later on which, to me, completely missed the point. You start with a dollar amount and negotiate upward, you don’t say “You can put it all in your right front pocket or you can put half in your right front pocket and half in your back pocket.” When I realized that Paul Levitz wasn’t going to budge, I packed it in.

 

Jamie: Now that Cerebus is done are you more open to selling it?

Dave Sim: No, not really. The difficult part is done now-actually writing and drawing the 6,000 pages so it’s more like it’s nice that the book still keeps us busy, me with answering the mail and Ger doing the business side and renovating the house and both of us working on Following Cerebus and developing a website for selling the artwork and putting together a First Half package of the first six volumes in a boxed set for Christmas, 2006. If we sold it we’d just have a pile of money and nothing to do. I really like being one of the two Cerebus custodians. Part of the fun of sculpting a statue over twenty-six years is spending the rest of your life washing the pigeon droppings off of it every day.

 

[Note: Following Cerebus is a magazine that Dave and Gerhard work on. You can find more info about it here: http://spectrummagazines.bizland.com/]

 

Jamie: I understand that since Cerebus ended, you are now organizing your archives and this will likely take another few years. What do you plan to do with your archives when you are done?

Dave Sim: Actually I have a lot of help from the Cerebus Newsgroup readers at Yahoo.com who are working out all the computer technicalities and Margaret Liss of the www.cerebusfangirl.com website who has started scanning in all of my notebooks. After that it will be all of my comics material starting with my first fanzine in 1970 through until the present day, all of the paperwork and correspondence, interviews, reviews, etc. in chronological order. As she scans that, she’ll be “key-wording” each document so that it can be indexed for content and you’ll be able to type in, say, “Kevin Eastman” and it will call up every document that mentions him. The idea is to arrive at a point where that becomes the primary research resource for Cerebus. Someone wanting to do an interview like this, I can just go through and check off the questions that they can find answers to in the Cerebus Archive so that I don’t have to keep answering the same questions over and over and over. Basically the same thing that I did with the Guide to Self-Publishing where I went out and promoted self-publishing through the Spirits of Independence stops for a couple of years and then wrote down everything I had been telling people and now I can just give them a copy of the Guide to Self-Publishing if they come to me for advice. I almost never get asked about self-publishing anymore for that reason.

 

Neal Adams Interview

Much younger me and Neal Adams – before he started charging for photo’s with him. Photo taken at 2005 HobbyStar Toronto Fan Expo.

Originally published in October 2008. I asked Neal about his role in helping Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with the mid 1970s settlement for Superman. Some bits of information conflicts with Jerry’s version of events. Neal tells his version with more storytelling flair. I was also able to ask him about the Academy of Comic Book Artists, which was a short lived organized gathering of creators.

 

A couple of years ago I did a sit down interview with Neal Adams. We had a great hour long interview regarding his role in getting Siegel’s and Shuster’s 1970’s settlement with Time Warner and a few other topics. Sadly, I discovered my MP3 player was set up wrong and it didn’t record the interview. While at San Diego I saw Neal and he agreed to do the interview again. I also asked him questions regarding the Batman: The Dark Knight movie that had just come out just prior to the convention.

 

Jamie: When did you first learn about Siegel’s and Shuster’s plight?

Neal Adams: When Jerry Siegel sent a letter to various newspapers and organizations including the Academy of Comic Book Arts. I was the president of the Academy of Comic Book Arts and got the letter and read it. It was about 9 pages long and outlined everything that was happening to Jerry and Joe.

 

Jamie: I understand you took time off to be their representative to help them out?

Neal Adams: Well, obviously I could not be their legal representative, but it seemed like their legal representative was not getting the job done. Whatever they perceived the job to be or whatever Jerry and Joe perceived the job to be because they wrote this letter. Or Jerry wrote this letter. Clearly he was crying for help. And in crying for help he was saying they were not being helped by their lawyers who had promised they would intercede for them after a 15 year period where they were to remain silent and to depend on the legal system to return their rights to them. So the had stayed silent for those 15 years between the ages of 45 to 60 years old and now their lawyers weren’t answering their phones, according to them. They really had no answer to their question of how they would get what was promised to them.

So they called out for help. I realized that somebody had to do something about it and thought about who that somebody might be. It seemed to me that even if the newspapers responded, they would just write stories and for certain DC or Marvel wasn’t going to do anything about it. The people that owned DC weren’t going to do anything about it, I mean they might, but that was pretty much a long shot.

So really the question came down to who was going to help them? I felt I was in a better position than most people because while I was dependent on the companies for a certain portion of my income, I wasn’t fully dependent. I had a reasonable understanding of the situation finally and I could become involved. So I resolved myself the fact that this thing would not end this way and it had to end in a favorable situation. And that DC and their owners would be reluctant to deal with it that way so I had to somehow represent Jerry and Joe publicly to make the issue important. So I volunteered to do that. The boys had accepted my help, not my legal help, but my vocal help in the media and anywhere else I could get it. For the next 4 months I dedicated myself and my studio to undoing this tragedy. At the end, we did.

 

Jamie: I understand you got them on the Tom Snyder show?

Neal Adams: Yeah I had to go on the show myself because Tom was concerned that Jerry was too vehement and perhaps angry and Joe who was legally blind was too mellow and wonderfully pleasant. That created a kind of dichotomy between the two characters. He felt that I would be able to modify that to present a straight up story. So I appeared on the show, the boys appeared on the show and we did, I don’t know an hour or a half hour, I guess it was a half hour and discussed this. The boys appeared on a number of other shows. That sportscaster, Howard Cosell had a show at the time and they appeared on there. What I did was convince Jerry to come to New York. I hosted Joe to come in from Queens to be in these various interviews. I managed to convince the news stations that perhaps simply with petty cash they might convince the boys to stay in town long enough to get some kind of resolution to this. They cooperated to the extent that they could, they couldn’t pay them but they helped out as much as they could, so they kept the story alive. We worked pretty hard on that and like I said, we turned it around.

It took the help of the cartoonist society, it took I guess some people in the studio of good will, who helped out. In the end it turned out favourable for everybody. I told the Warner’s people from the beginning that it wasn’t necessary for this to become a controversy. They could have paid the creators of Superman the same amount of money they pay a good assistant or associate and they would be happy and there would be no problem. It wasn’t necessary to prolong this torture and make a blot on the face of the industry. And so in the end, perhaps because of pressure, perhaps because reason prevailed, they saw the wisdom of being reasonable and they agreed they would in fact not only pay the boys and give them medical insurance and give them benefits that one has when they work for a company. But they would also make them a part of their presentation of Superman, because now with the boys being taken care of they can introduce them at openings at where the movie was appearing and have them as guests at conventions. So in the end their reluctance to deal with the situation, when it turned around to being co-operative and being positive turned into a benefit to Warner’s and DC Comics. As I told them in the beginning that is what it would be.

 

Jamie: I remember you said before that the Tom Snyder’s show has never been rerun.

Neal Adams: Well, it’s a various odd thing. I don’t want to cast aspirations on anybody but I talked to Tom Snyder subsequently and he told me that they looked to run the show again and couldn’t find the tape. Which is… kinda odd.

 

Jamie: I know Jerry Robinson says he got involved after seeing them on one of the shows, thinks it was the Tom Snyder show.

Neal Adams: I think he got involved after I called him. (laughter)

 

Jamie: Really, you called him?

Neal Adams: Jerry Robinson was the President of the Cartoonists Society. And I decided I would enlist the aid of the Cartoonists Society and the logical thing would be to call Jerry Robinson. So I did, and asked if we could have some kind of meeting to see what the cartoonists society could do to help this situation. We had taken it quite a far distance, we had appeared on all these shows and had all these conversations and interviews. We were sort of getting to the end of the rope because Jerry had a heart condition and it really wasn’t good for him to stay away from his job and to endanger his health by staying in New York and staying under this tremendous pressure. Joe, on his part, because he was legally blind, was constantly banging his head on taxi cab doors as I was taking him from one place to another.

 

Jamie: Before when we talked you mentioned the Cartoonists Society got other organizations together and wrote a letter?

Neal Adams: Well, they proposed writing a letter. They had a meeting at what was called the Allied Chemical Building at the time. It was very nice. One big room with a big old table in it, a spotlight above the table, lots of space and they were having their meeting in this building and at the end of the meeting they proposed that they write a letter decrying the situation. Then they asked me if that was fine, if that was a really good idea. I kinda made a speech at that point. It was perhaps an angry speech. And I implied I suppose, that people in this room that I was speaking to, owed their living to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And that the comic book business certainly wouldn’t be what it is without Jerry and Joe. The concept of just writing a letter was not exactly what I considered to be the right amount of energy. Perhaps I said it in a little more angry way. Anyway, I got up and left. It was as I said, a rather long speech, about 15 minutes. So I said you guys do what you want to do, I’m leaving.

So on my way out there was a fellow by the door, reasonably well dressed, the place had a coat room. I was going to get my coat and there was a guy standing there. An Irish guy, or he seemed Irish to me. He stopped me and he said, “You know, that was a pretty good speech.” I said “Well, thank you but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.” He said “Well, it was a good speech anyways.” He says, “You know what you ought to do?” I said “I’m trying to do everything I can do, what you do think?” He Says, “Well you ought to hold a press conference.” I said, “Well, that would probably be a good idea but I have no idea on how to hold a press conference.” He said, “You know what building this is here?” I said, “The Allied Chemical Building on Times Square” (but it’s not the Allied Chemical Building anymore.) He said, “This is the headquarters of the International Press Corp.” I said, “Really? That’s very interesting.” And then he said, “Do you know who I am?” I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “I’m the president of the International Press Corps and if you want a press conference, you just say the word and you got it.” Whoa! So I took him by the arm gently and took him over to the Cartoonist Society and said Gentlemen this is the President of the International Press Corps and he’s offering to have a press conference for us. Within a reasonable period of time, in a few days we had a press conference. And it was.. a press conference tends to attract a lot of attention. And it did. Artists from around the country presented their point of view, some in anger, some in sympathy, and it received a lot of attention. At that point Warner’s seemed to feel that perhaps they be willing to make a deal. Not that they were reluctant to make a deal before but they seemed to be perhaps a little bit more anxious to make a deal. So we managed to put together a deal for Jerry and Joe. Maybe not the greatest deal in the world, but it certainly made it possible for Jerry and Joe to live out the rest of their lives in reasonable comfort. Which I considered to be my job.

 

Jamie: Do you remember what day that press conference happened?

Neal Adams: No, but you can probably look it up.

 

Jamie: You also told a story about putting more pressure on DC management and you going to Florida for a convention.

Neal Adams: Well, when we finally got down to negotiations and in the lawyers office there seemed to be problems on whether Jerry and Joe were going to get their names back on the strip. I had been very quiet about it because negotiations were going on between lawyers and business men. I noted that people were overlooking certain things. The representative for Warner’s asked me if there was a problem? I said, “No, but I think Jerry and Joe’s name ought to go back on the strip.” They said, “No, that’s not going to happen.” I said, “Well, I think it ought to.” So the question came up if that was a deal breaker. I agreed that in fact, it wasn’t a deal breaker. Jerry and Joe were too exhausted from this process that they had gone through to stop it, so I wasn’t going to make this a big deal.

I had a plan. Because I realized this whole thing was going to go south, the idea of putting their names back on. So I went back to my studio. I had been invited to go to Florida for a convention. So I talked to Jerry Robinson. I told Jerry, “Look Jerry, tomorrow you’re going to get some phone calls from the newspapers and probably from Warner’s.” He said, “Why are they going to call me?” I said “Well, because I’m going to be gone.” He said “What do you mean gone?” I said “Well I’m going to disappear.” He said “What do you mean?” I said, “Well I’m just going to go to Florida for a convention but I’m not going to tell anybody where I’m going. I’m just going to be… gone.” And I said, “And you’re going to get some phone calls.” [Jerry says] “What about?” [Adams says] “Well, you’ll see.”

So what I did then was, the newspapers were calling me to find out what was going on. I announced to them that the deal had been made, we’re fine. They said, “You’re happy, everything is fine?” I said, “Well, just about.” [Reporters] “What do you mean just about?” [Adams] “Well, In the end DC Comics and Warner’s have not agreed to allow Jerry’s and Joe’s names to go back on to the comic book character they created.” The newspaper guys would say, “Well how do you feel about that?” I’d say, “Well, how could I be happy about that? It’s their strip, they created it. It’s not going to cost the publishers anything to have their name on it, it’s just recognition that they created it. I don’t understand what the problem is.” They said, “Why are you letting it happen?” I said, “Well Jerry and Joe are in ill health and I can’t make it an issue, but I think it’s a damn shame.” After about 4 or 5 phone calls like that I went home, got on a plane and flew down to Florida.

So about mid-morning I’m with Jack Kirby with my family and his family and we’re in the lobby of the hotel and somebody comes running over with a phone. Said it was Jerry Robinson on the phone. So I got on the phone with Jerry and said, “So Jerry, what’s happening?” He said, “Go sit down.” [Adams] “Why?” He [Jerry] said, “Go sit down.” Fine, I go and sit down in a chair. He says, “Let me tell you about my morning.” He says, “Turns out all the reporters in town have been calling him and apparently Warner’s asking what’s this idea about their names not being on the strip.” I said, “Well I don’t know, I said the deal can go ahead. I just mentioned it along the way.” Well, he had just got a call from the Warner’s guy, who told him Neal Adams had disappeared from the face of the earth. And he’s been calling all morning because reporters keep calling and asking him about what’s going on about Jerry and Joe not having their name on the strip? And it’s not going to cost anybody anything? Why is it important? Why are they doing this? Why are they making them sign this contract? So he’s [Jerry] talking to the guy [Warner’s] saying “What’s going on? Where’s Neal?” [Jerry] “I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t know where he is.” [Warner’s] “Well, maybe you can help us. Maybe we can work something out and help settle the newspaper guys.” Jerry said, “I think you’re talking to the wrong guy. You’ve got to remember, I’m the President of the Cartoonist Society. We have syndicated comic strip artists all of which sign their name to their work. So I don’t think there is anybody I know that wouldn’t be in sympathy with the idea of Jerry and Joe getting their name on their strip again. I really think you’re talking to the wrong person, I can’t help you there. If anything, we are totally against this idea.” So the guy at Warner’s said, “Okay. Their names are on the strip again. Are you happy now?” Jerry said, “Well, we’re almost happy.” [Warner’s] “What do you mean, almost happy?” He [Jerry] said “You know, the guys have been through a lot. Wouldn’t it be nice, before they started receiving their money they got a little bonus to pay for their expenses, for the trouble they’ve been through the last several months.” [Warner’s] “What number were you thinking of Jerry?” Jerry named a number. The guy at Warner’s said “Fine. Anything else?” [Jerry] “No, I think that about covers it.” So Jerry managed to put the icing on the cake. Me, I was in Florida having breakfast with Jack Kirby and got to tell him the whole story.

 

Jamie: I know that you were involved with the Academy of Comic Book Artists. How did that start?

Neal Adams: I think there was a lot of rumbling going on in the field. There was union talk and other talk and the truth is, it was Jim Warren who came up with the idea. He thought there ought to be a group, an academy. Maybe he did it to stop the complaints going on, maybe it did it to show he was a good guy, I don’t know why. So it was really Jim Warren who started the whole idea and everybody agreed. Unfortunately or fortunately the publisher sorta tried to make themselves a part of it. In fact Stan Lee was the first President involved. Which seemed a little strange to everybody. It put a lot of pressure everybody. But Stan insisted he was a freelancer like everybody else. Nobody quite agreed with that, but after all he was in charge of hiring and firing 50% of the people in the business so one could hardly argue with Stan Lee. After he was no longer president, Dick Giordano became President and I was the 3rd President. All through that time we got things going. I did an awful lot of the work because I’m kinda a work horse. And I can’t say that Stan did anything. Stan was a figurehead, and a good figurehead in my opinion. The work, as usual, was rested on me.

 

Jamie: What were the things that was accomplished through the organization?

Neal Adams: We didn’t really accomplish much with the organization. The things we did accomplish were intangibles tangibles. First of all we put a shock and a scare through all the publishers. Because when people started organizing and getting together, the nature of doing that does scare the management. So we gained a certain amount of respect with the publishers. In fact there was a dispute between Marvel and DC Comics and they called upon us to settle it, and we did. We called a meeting and settled the dispute. I don’t actually remember what the dispute was at the moment, but that’s kind of strange if you can imagine, a freelance organization being in a position of settling a dispute. Another thing we did was during our first meeting, one of things I did was I went around and told everybody what my page rate was. Nobody wanted to talk about what their page rate was, but once they discovered what my page rate was they were able to compare page rates, they then made demands on their editors and publishers that they should be paid at least as much as Neal Adams. So when you form an organization like that you can’t easily make a super point about a solid thing like we went on strike and we got this. We couldn’t go on strike. But there were things that happened because people were listening to us. We were making changes within the group. Everybody was meeting one another that hadn’t met before. Jack Kirby had never met Joe Sinnott. So there’s these intangibles that you can’t easily codify but in fact were very, very important.

 

Jamie: DC contracts. I know DC is has been reprinting a bunch of your work.

Neal Adams: What do you want to know?

 

Jamie: I know when DC published Deadman reprints with your name on it…

Neal Adams: Well, what happened was DC was nice enough to pay me an additional royalty for using my names on the books. I say nice enough. Well, yeah, nice enough to capitulate at the end of a series of discussions. In which I never got angry. But they were still nice enough to work with me. And I think that’s a new attitude with DC comics. I think DC has gotten a lot more human, a lot better at doing business with individuals. And as a result they are now going to a project I call, printing all the rest of my crap. Which they call, DC Classics. So all the other stuff that didn’t appear in either Deadman, Green Lantern and Batman is going to appear in these three volumes. It’s pretty nice.

 

Jamie: Before you talked about lawyers and moral rights versus legal rights.

Neal Adams: I don’t think lawyers know very much about moral rights so I guess it’s not exactly a topic that I strenuously get involved in discussing. Lawyers seem to be, for whatever reason, they don’t seem to have that switch in their psyche that says even though this may be legal, it’s not right, and I ought to back away from this because it’s wrong. Right and wrong seem to be gray in the law. So a lawyer will more likely depend on the law rather than what’s right. I don’t think this is true, always with all lawyers, but it is a standard of the business of lawyering. To allow the bending of morality, their judgment of right and wrong to be satisfied by if it’s okay in the law. You see it on television all the time. You see television shows about legal firms who think it’s okay for somebody to get an award for, and use the word award as if it was some kind of prize, of an amount of money that is unrealistically high compared to the offense. So that the law firm may receive such a large percentage of that. So it’s not up to me to make these kinds of judgments that, when you watch these television shows. If the goal becomes to make lawyers rich and that’s the way it’s reflected on television shows, live in fancy apartments and drive fancy cars and to smoke cigars on their balconies, if that’s the goal of the legal business, that’s hard to believe it is a good system. It’s a very, very bad system. Making lawyers rich and destroying the lives of companies and individuals in unfair proportion makes no sense. I don’t know why. It’s sort of like when I was a kid they made the lottery unlawful and people were arrested and put in jail and then they made it legal, then had the state run it, and it paid for the educational system, especially in New York, and therefore it became okay. So why were all those people thrown in jail? I don’t know how that makes sense. I don’t know how people who spend their families’ money on the lottery are justified in participating in gambling on a regular basis. I just find it very odd that morality slides around so much under a system that’s essentially run by lawyers. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

 

Jamie: What are you doing with Continuity Studios lately?

Neal Adams: We’re doing a lot of work on the Internet. We’re doing CGI animation. New forms of what we call Animatics for the Internet that’s kind of an animation. We’re really busy producing what’s called content for the Internet. I wish we could put our signature on it all the time so when you are on the Internet and you see an animation of a refrigerator or interactive game play for selling or involving you in a new company’s product that we could say, “Hey! That’s ours.” But you really can’t at this point do that. We’re all over the place. Very few things are like comic books where you do your thing, sign your name and everybody knows you did it. Most everything else is kind of a group effort.

 

Jamie: Last question here. Did you see the new Batman movie and what did you think?

Neal Adams: I did and I loved it. It is based on to a lesser degree than I might appreciate on, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” [Originally published in Batman #251]. Or at least that’s what the author of the story says. So it would be really hard for me not to like it. Also I believe in stories as stories and not just vehicles for superheroes to knock down buildings, or to dress up in funny costumes. So I would have to say this is my kind of Batman, probably, MY Batman.

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