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.

Richard Kyle Interview

Mike Royer, Richard Kyle and Erik Larsen. From San Diego Comic Con 2011, Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

From about 1998 to 2012 I did interviews off and on for CollectorTimes.com under the column name Coville’s Clubhouse. The website stopped updating in 2014 and has since gone off line. I’ll be reposting my interviews here one at a time in no particular order and in some cases be talking a bit about the interview. This one is was published online in the July 2012 edition of Collector Times.

This interview with Richard Kyle was the last one I done. I was “retired” from doing interviews but this was an opportunity that I could not resist. I had learned from Bob Beerbohm that the first person to use/create the term “Graphic Novel” was Richard Kyle. In 2011 San Diego Comic Con was celebrating 50 Years of Comic Fandom and brought in a number of people involved with the earliest comic fanzines and Richard Kyle was one of them.

After a panel he was on, I asked him about doing an interview some time after the con was over. He agreed and we exchanged phone numbers. I called him, we did the interview, I transcribed it and mailed it to him for review. Then I broke my right foot. Richard mailed back an altered transcription which I read, I knew would want to make changes to but didn’t do anything about it for a while. My office was upstairs and I was living downstairs on a lazy boy chair as my foot needed to be elevated at all times otherwise it would swell.

After my foot healed somewhat and with some prodding from Richard, I got back to the interview and we worked out an mutually agreed upon transcription of the interview. I also got Richard to give me permission to post the original column, giving his definition of the Graphic Novel. He also had another column that he wanted posted as well about his theory on comics, which I happily did.

Some of the interview goes into more detail about what he meant by Graphic Novel. Around this time there was much discussion online about what a Graphic Novel was by people in the industry. Some would say it had to be an original story, not a collection of previously printed comics and that Maus & Watchmen weren’t really Graphic Novels. I heard Will Eisner on a panel insist it wasn’t about “two mutants smashing each other” not long before he passed away. Others felt it had to be a complete story that ended and books like The Walking Dead series didn’t fit the definition. One creator believed it was the story that mattered and not the format. Some creators still have animosity towards the term and only have it on their books begrudgingly, in part due to what could be incorrect assumptions of what the term is supposed to represent.

I thought the best thing to do was to go to the source, Richard Kyle and get his take on what he meant when he created the term Graphic Novel. The interview covers more than just his definition of the term Graphic Novel, but I’ll let you read about the other things Richard has done within comics in the interview itself.

Richard Kyle came up with the term “graphic novel” in a 1964 article titled “The Future of Comics.” He was a contributor to early comic fanzines and often argued that the comics industry should publish more sophisticated stories for an older audience. He was also a comics retailer and in 1976 co-published the first book identified as a “graphic novel,” Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger. I met Richard at the San Diego Comic Con 2011 and he agreed to be interviewed about his thoughts on the graphic novel.

 

Jamie: I guess we’ll get started with your background. Where abouts were you born?

Richard Kyle: Oakland, California in 1929. A couple of months later the stock market crashed.

 

Jamie: Did your family go through hardship during the Great Depression?

Richard Kyle: Not the Depression itself, initially. My father had tuberculosis and was on 100% medical disability from the Navy, so there was enough money to get by. He’d been in the submarine service – I think he served on the D-1 – and a chlorine gas accident had seriously damaged his lungs. Tuberculosis set in. He died when I was four years old, and although my mother remarried, the years afterward were not easy. It wasn’t until the war came along that things began to get better. Then there were jobs for everyone. So after my mother and stepfather divorced, I left school to work. I got my education from science fiction magazines, pulp magazines, detective stories, and comic books. On balance, they were no worse teachers than the ones in public schools.

 

Jamie: When did you get interested in comic books?

Richard Kyle: Apparently with comic books with the first regularly published comic book – Famous Funnies. Maybe its first issue. At the time, there weren’t any others for me to see. Now I know it was made of up of newspaper comic strip reprints. Then, I didn’t have a clue.

One evening I went to the corner grocery with my stepfather to get milk and bread. Right beside the cash register was a pile of comic books. I’d never seen anything like them. They cost a dime, the equivalent of two dollars in today’s money, and that was a lot in the Depression – so I knew better than to ask for a copy. Especially since I couldn’t read worth beans. But, read ’em or not, I was in love with comic books the minute I saw them. They were something new, and I’ve always been in love with new.

I haven’t any memory of actually buying a comic book early on. I know I must’ve read practically everything that was being printed, however, because I have scraps of memories of so many of them. From New Comics to Pioneer Picture Stories to the early Funny Pages, to the newspaper strip reprint comic books and so on. Although I don’t remember most of them in detail, I do remember individual strips. Siegel and Shuster’s “Dr. Occult,” and “Radio Squad,” “The Clock,” “The Wake of the Wander,” and others. The Clock was probably the first masked character in comic books, although his mask was just a square black cloth with slits cut out for the eyes. He left a card behind, something like The Saint. It said “The Clock Strikes,” or something like that. He had his own private torture chamber –really-that he used to get the truth out of bad guys [laughter]. As near as I recall, there was an episode where he had a guy hanging up by his hands, trying to keep his bare feet off broken glass.

“The Clock” was created by George Brenner who later would take him over to Quality, where Brenner became editor. At Quality he would also do “Bozo, the Robot,” about a guy fighting crime inside a giant, rocket-propelled hot water heater with arms and legs and lots of rivets-an early-day Iron Man-and a strip called “711,” about a guy – inmate #711 – who escaped jail every episode to fight crime. And then broke back in at night to hide his secret identity. Something like that.

But they’re only pieces of memories until just a little while before Superman appeared. Then I-and the other kids-suddenly became conscious of comic books as something unlike anything else. Guys stopped collecting Big Little Books and started collecting comic books. We got them used from a nearby Salvation Army store.

I loved Siegel and Shuster’s “Slam Bradley,” in Detective Comics. As long as it was drawn by Shuster, I liked it more than “Superman.” Then there was Paul Gustavson’s great “Fantom of the Fair,” for Amazing Mystery Funnies, about a caped crime-fighter who lived in the catacombs under the New York World’s Fair. It was produced by Funnies Inc., one of the original comic book art studios. And over at Blue Bolt, from Novelty Press, Funnies Inc. had Bob Davis’ terrific, and now virtually forgotten “Dick Cole, Wonder Boy.” He wasn’t a costumed character, but the strip was a great favorite of mine. Funnies, Inc. also produced “The Human Torch” and “Sub-Mariner” for Timely/Marvel, along with Tarpé Mills’ forgotten “Fantastic Feature Films,” another favorite.

In fact, I guess it was Funnies Incorporated that I was a fan of more than any single publisher, including DC-although I was a great Batman fan. I’d initially been a full-on fan of “Superman,” then Joe started doing halfhearted layouts. But when it was Siegel and Shuster together it was a great strip.

 

Jamie: Yes, they put together a studio and were asked to crank out a bunch of work quickly and the quality of it went downhill.

Richard Kyle: Still, they also had a unique touch. Take “Slam Bradley.” Slam was a detective, he had a partner named Shorty. He was Slam Bradley’s pal. The little guy rode around on Slam’s shoulder a lot of times. He was ridiculous when you think about it, but as a kid without a father, I identified with Shorty. A lot of other kids my age did too. There were a lot of ’em in orphanages in those days. But, Joe left to produce “Superman,” even though Jerry was still writing the stories, it wasn’t the same. There was a magic between Jerry and Joe that made their work together unforgettable.

Once, I was talking with Jerry about how much I liked “Slam Bradley,” and he said that it was created after “Superman” but published first. That it was a more realistic development of the “Superman” idea, which the publishers of the day thought was too far-fetched for the customers. And if you think about it, Fawcett’s “Captain Marvel” has the same structure as “Slam Bradley”-in one, a young boy is literally transformed into a strongman, in the other a little guy gets to ride around on his shoulder, almost becoming him.

 

Jamie: Jumping ahead, how did you discover comic fanzines?

Richard Kyle: A science fiction fanzine I subscribed to mentioned Dick Lupoff’s fanzine Xero and praised its comics coverage. I subscribed, and Dick asked me to write a piece about the Fox line of comics for him. [Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego #101 has just reprinted it.] At the same time, comics fandom was forming, and because of the Fox article I became a part of it. I’m not an organizer, so my contribution to the creation of comics fandom was mainly the comics stuff I wrote.

 

Jamie: From what I’m reading, you came up with the terms “graphic novel” and “graphic story” in Capa Alpha #2. This was in 1964. How did you come up with those terms?

Richard Kyle: It’s curious. Until recently, I thought I’d invented them solely for Capa Alpha. But a while back, I discovered an earlier remark in an old letter of mine where I said “there ought to be a name for more serious comic book stories.” So it must have been in the back of my mind.

I was aware that Lev Gleason’s editor Charles Biro–Daredevil, Boy, and Crime Does Not Pay–called his more grown-up comics “illustories.” And, as I’ve mentioned, in the mid-’30s a few comic books tried putting “picture-stories” in their title. And then Picture Stories from the Bible, of course. (And that in the ’50s, EC had identified their new and lame half-text, half-comics stories as “picto-fiction.”) But they were really “shame names,” except Biro’s, that tried to avoid the perceived semi-literacy of “comic book,” not names created to describe the form accurately and to celebrate comic books for what they really are.

I wanted a name to match the kinds of stories I wanted to read-that is, stories for guys in their late teens to their mid-forties that used all the conventions of the “comic book” without apology, sound effects, motion lines and all the other devices that a lot of editors and writers and artists were ashamed of. I was aware of how careful I would have to be, given the failure of earlier attempts. So I thought of basic words and terms. “Novel” and “story” were about as basic as you could get. And “graphic”-my dictionary told me-was exactly right. [I used the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, definitions 1, 2 and 3.] The words felt good in my mouth, too, and that was important.

So, “graphic story” and “graphic novel” were it. And why these commonplace words were called pretentious, or why comics for grown-ups were, too, I’ll never know.

However, no one in Capa Alpha commented on this column-nor any other column of mine. So when Bill Spicer, the publisher of Fantasy Illustrated, invited me to take “Graphic Story Review” over to FI, I jumped at the chance. His magazine, which would be renamed Graphic Story Magazine, was the single most important and influential fan magazine of that time.

I soon realized no professional would take the advice of a fan. I had thought the comic book publishers would be smart enough to at least test a comics magazine in a good-looking, uncontaminated format that had only grown-up stories in it. But none of them ever did-except Lev Gleason, Charles Biro’s publisher on Boy, Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay–and he chickened-out before Tops’ first sales figures came in. Tops was the same size as Life magazine and was displayed with the grown-up periodicals, so it had a job penetrating the market. However, its final sales figures for Tops weren’t that bad at all. I know because I was working for a major San Francisco magazine distributor at the time. A lot of the big newsstands sold out three or four times.

It is amazing how conservative comic book publishers have been over the years. Even in the days when they were taking in money hand-over-fist they were afraid to do anything new. The publishers needed a demo. They’ve always needed a demo.

Years later, in 1976, there was an opportunity to provide that demo, and when Denis Wheary and I published George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again in hardback we subtitled it “A Graphic Novel.” It had taken its time, but once that demo stared the publishers in the face they finally accepted it-after Will Eisner legitimized the term, with a book that wasn’t a novel. The publishers were afraid to the end.

 

Jamie: Now did you see Graphic Novels as a literary designation, for stories that were more sophisticated regardless of how they were published or more of a format, like a think hardcover book?

Richard Kyle: Both. Because one requires the other. In the literary world “short story” and “novel” don’t just describe the length, they also describe the complexity of the material and suggest the seriousness of it. So I saw the graphic novel as having content that was as complex and serious as a motion picture or a text novel.

 

Jamie: You weren’t thinking about the Europeans-?

Richard Kyle: No. The Wikipedia entry for “graphic novel” says that I created it to describe European comics, and that I regarded them as superior to American comics. That’s wrong. Some were, some weren’t. At the time I came up with the term “graphic novel” in 1964, I hadn’t seen-or heard about-any of the European albums except “Tin-Tin”. I was introduced to the others in ’70 or ’71 by Fred Patten, a comics fan and member of LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, who became my partner in an international comics and fiction bookstore. We carried only new, in-print, books and magazines. No back issues. Fred wrote and spoke French, so we had access to everything, fan and professional, that was being published in Europe. But that was years after I introduced “graphic novel.”

It’s true enough that up to that time, with few exceptions-say a piece by Jack Cole, or Will Eisner or Kurtzman or Krigstein or Kirby or Alex Toth or-very soon-Jim Steranko, American comics seldom presented what I would regard as serious graphic novels or graphic stories. And, even when the exception came along, it was almost always presented in a format that made it seem shoddy and cheesy until you took a second look.

Actually, I shouldn’t say “serious” in this connection. I should say “grown-up.” I didn’t demand that the stories be thoughtful and profound and grim and all that. Just something that would interest and entertain me as a grown-up. But despite exceptions, despite superior packaging, the Europeans weren’t doing that much better than we were. They had brilliant layouts by Guido Crepax, Hugo Pratt, Druillet, and Mobius, but we had the guys I mentioned, Cole, Eisner, Kurtzman, Krigstein, Kirby, Toth, and Steranko, and others, who were admired by the Europeans.

Anyway, despite the refusal of the American comic books publishers to experiment with a fan-created term and format, “graphic novel” eventually caught on, and the professionals were forced to accept it. Even public libraries have a graphic novel section now. And it turns out that despite all the professional resistance here in the U.S., they’d been using the term in Portuguese for years-as “novela grafica,” or something similar. I wish I had known. It would have been a lot easier to talk professionals here into using the term if professionals there, even in another language, were using it.

 

Jamie: Some people think a graphic novel needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. That it can’t continue on, book after book, with an endless narrative. Do you have an opinion on that?

Richard Kyle: You can do anything with a graphic novel that you can do with a text novel – good or bad. Somebody once described a novel as a full-length portrait of the author’s universe, and a short story as a detail from that portrait. That applies to the “graphic novel” and the “graphic story” too.

 

Jamie: Something sequential-like?

Richard Kyle: No, not sequential. At least, not completely. I’d say “Narrative Art.” “Sequential” is a beautiful, important-sounding word that seems to describe comic book art at large. But it doesn’t. It only describes newspaper strip art. Reality isn’t merely a series of so-called “still” pictures strung end-to-end, like a movie or newspaper strip. It’s endlessly complex, and the comic book story – the graphic novel and the graphic story – has the capacity to portray that world more fully, more realistically, than the simplistic cause-and-effect world of the daily newspaper strip.

 

Jamie: In what way?

Richard Kyle: The comic book story couldn’t develop in newspapers. There was only a limited amount of space, three or four panels, except on Sundays, where the best they had to work with was a page. And newspapers were in the news business, not the comic strip business. They hired news editors, not full-time comic editors. Comics were tolerated because they brought in readers, not because they wanted comic strips defiling their newspapers, taking the place of real news — and the newspaper syndicates served those papers. Many editors were openly hostile to comics. And still are. They’ve never understood that just as newspapers cover current news, comics in those same newspapers cover current emotions. The syndicates are no better.

A sort of exception was Will Eisner’s “Spirit Section,” and it was inadequate. Despite Eisner’s best intentions, there was the short story limitation. Not much room fro growth there.

 

Jamie: What kind of growth?

Richard Kyle: The panels of comic book stories – graphic stories and graphic novels – relate not only to the frame behind and the frame ahead, as the frames of newspaper strips and movies do, but, like a hologram, they relate to everything – not only the frame in front and the frame behind, but to the whole page or spread or book, just the way we relate to the universe around us. Our modern conception of “time” hasn’t been with us very long. Just a few years ago, before the invention of the movies, the ordinary person would describe “time” as an endlessly flowing river, formless, without boundaries. Then, after the invention of movies, he’d describe time as something like a movie reel that could be run backward into the past and forward into the future, like H.G. Wells’ brand-new Time Machine. It was natural, then, that people would see newspaper comic strips as analogs of movies-as “paper movies.” We accepted that conception of time as real because we could easily visualize it, correct or not. But movies don’t report reality, they represent it. We can’t run life backwards and forwards like a reel of film in a movie projector.

We’re part of the universe, and the universe is a part of us. Somehow or another, like waves and particles in physics, comic book stories combine a serial view of time with another view – a hologram that embraces everything, from a “full-length portrait of the authors universe” to “a detail from the portrait.”

It’s a matter of time. The thing about both newspaper strips and comic book stories that differentiates them from other forms of pictorial storytelling, is their conception of time. When you put a border around a comic book illustration, it becomes a new universe. And that frame contains all of the conventions of the comic book story within it. If, say, you take all the borders off a Hal Foster “Prince Valiant,” something goes wrong. And if you put frames around the pictures in a New Yorker spot cartoon spread, that seems equally wrong. Why?

“Prince Valiant” which used no word balloons or sound effects, but it’s clearly a comic strip. It has the frame around its panels. Occasionally Foster uses the vignette without the frame, but it’s understood to be there. Within those frames is another universe, complete in itself, like an equation. However, “before-and-after” is good enough for a cartoon spread.

A panel may represent any amount of time. I remember a lecture given by Burne Hogarth, who drew the Sunday “Tarzan” strip and taught drawing and anatomy. He showed one panel from his Sunday “Tarzan,” and explained how that single panel represented 15 minutes. And it did. He had crammed 15 minutes of time into this one panel. His inspiration was Michelangelo and the Renaissance artists.

If you look at photos of the Sistine Chapel you can see that Michelangelo’s use of the idea of painting a picture in time. And Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer may have had his origin in a panel of the Last Judgement. The figure is in extreme perspective, so that as your eye tracks from the back of a panel to the foreground it gives a sense of dynamic movement. The seemingly broad exaggerations that people see in Jack’s work are Jack’s way of telling a story in time. Instead of having a dozen little frames, as Krigstein might, he would have one large and powerful frame containing the same information.

But the thing about the so-called “still” picture is that it isn’t still. The nearest thing you can find is that represents a still picture is a terrific blur. We live in a world of blurs. The whole universe is moving at incredible speed, in every direction. But we’ve so accustomed ourselves to the blurs, to the selective seeing, that we don’t see them. They merely provide fodder for comic book critics, along with the sound effects, thought balloons, and the rest of the conventions. Jack knew this, and he drew the blurs.

You take a picture of somebody, even with a good camera and they can be alive and dead in the same photograph because the camera hasn’t stopped time, it hasn’t slowed down the bullet, it has just made reality a little less blurry. If you’ve seen photographs of insects that are taken by electronic microscopes you see them in extraordinary detail because you are seeing them almost completely frozen in time, close to absolute zero. Truly “still.” they look unreal, alien.

The impressionists re-saw the way we looked at things. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” was painted while he was in a mental hospital, true enough, but consciously or unconsciously, Van Gogh was painting a picture of the blazing Einsteinian universe – before Einstein.

The graphic novel has the potential to re-examine the world and see it on fresh terms. You do that by seeing something other than a river flowing by. There is something else that time is. It’s doing something sequentially and not sequentially at the same time. In Eastern philosophy, there is a sense of the world being a gestalt, that it’s all happening everywhere, all at once, right now. There isn’t a past, present or future, There is now. The conception of time is seen as an artifice.

But you asked about “sequential.” I think Eisner successfully applied this sequential terminology to his own work, the post-“Spirit” stuff when he started doing his self-described “graphic novels.” But the sequential universe is entirely cause-and-effect, before-and-after. It doesn’t see the other side of anything. You need enough pages to do that.

 

Jamie: With graphic novels, do you think they need to be a minimum number of pages?

Richard Kyle: They need enough to fully exploit a complex storyline. If it’s just an incident of something of that kind, no matter how long it is, it’s still not a novel.

There are short graphic stories that have done it – Steranko’s “At the Stroke of Midnight,” Krigstein’s “The Master Race,” Metzger’s “Möbius Tripp,” and work by Cole and Kurtzman and others – so it clearly can be done.

 

Jamie: Nowadays, it seems the graphic novel term applies to the physical format. They really don’t care about the content. Do you agree with how the term has evolved over the years?

Richard Kyle: Probably not. As near as I can tell, the term is made to describe something thick that has some sort of pictorial narrative. But if you notice, people-including the news media-also confuse matters with straight novels. They’ll still describe, say, a non-fiction book by a well-known non-fiction writer as a “novel”-either because it’s thick or because all thick books are novels. Or because all bestselling books are novels. Or something. But some genuine graphic novels are being done, I think, and that’s what counts. It’s always that way in the arts.

 

Jamie: I’m not sure if you are aware of some thicker books that were published prior to George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again–Lynd Ward’s novels-in-woodcuts, Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer, Milt Gross’ He Done Her Wrong. Dell did a couple of paperbacks that were all comics and St. John published another, The Case of the Winking Buddha. Have you seen any of those things?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know anything about Obadiah Oldbuck. Lynd Ward’s books are novels-in-wood-cuts, pantomimes on paper, one picture to a page, wordless, soundless, with time presented as simple before-and-after. They are fine books, but they’re not comics. Some interesting novels-in-woodcuts were also done in France during the ’30s.

In the case of the novels-in-woodcuts there is no delineation of time except before-and-after, and very little of that. So, although I enjoy them, they don’t deal with time satisfactorily.

As for the paperback-size comic books, I thought they were pretty lame, with disappointing breakdown. I read a couple of them. The writing was pretty poor. They were over the top, caricatures of private eye novels with smart-ass remarks and that kind of stuff. But none of them were labeled graphic novels. The publishers called them comic novels or something.

 

Jamie: Would this be The Case of the Winking Buddha that St. John put out?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know. Probably another one. There were three or four different companies. I never thought they were serious works. It was kinda like doing a deliberately lame motion picture. A near-inadvertent “Airplane.”

In any case they weren’t called “graphic novels” which is what the argument seems to be about. So the answer is that there may have been comic book stories that people might have called “graphic novels”- but they weren’t labeled that on the book itself. Which could be true of a lot of the stuff like that Milt Gross book.

 

Jamie: He Done Her Wrong?

Richard Kyle: Yeah, that was a parody – a funny one, I recall – of the woodcut novels, which was very popular at the time. It was a spoof.

 

Jamie: What do you consider to be the first graphic novel? There are a number of claims to the first one.

Richard Kyle: The only thing I’ve ever said was that Denis Wheary and I – he was my partner in publishing George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again – published the first book labeled a “graphic novel.” It was a hardback, bound in blue cloth, with silver stamping. The term “graphic novel” appears on the dust jacket copy and the title page.

You can call things anything, however. In Eisner’s case, he called a collection of short stories a graphic novel. But before he did that, Joe Orlando who had access to Bill Spicer’s Graphic Story Magazine, where there was a discussion of graphic novels, used the term on a romance comic. [Jamie’s Note: Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (1972) was called a “graphic novel”].

 

Jamie: For a while there Eisner was saying he had created the term and that he even published the first one, but he would correct this towards the end of his career.

Richard Kyle: At that point I hadn’t paid much attention to inside-comics for several years. But there was an article in the local Los Angeles Times. They used the term with Eisner’s name on it, and it was obvious that they were working from material supplied by DC Comics. I wrote letter to DC and included a copy of Metzger’s book, published two years before Eisner used it. They talked to Eisner and Eisner ran a quote about having come up with the term independently, which is not implausible.

However, he also used the term “graphic storytelling” which isn’t the best coinage I ever made but it was mine. Then Eisner then came up with a book title Graphic Storytelling and there were some other things. It was clear that whether consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, Eisner picked up the title from our reviews of “The Spirit” in Graphic Story Magazine.

In the beginning I didn’t make any effort to identify myself with the creation of the term. I was certain that the pros, being what they are, pros, weren’t going to take suggestions from some fan in the jillikins. That turned out to be the case, and when Eisner began producing his collections and calling them “graphic novels,” well, then, the professionals had finally spoken. I only made an issue of it when Eisner began to lay claim to the term. If it was important enough for Eisner, then it was important enough for me. Eisner had read my reviews of his work. He knew me.

 

Jamie: I believe they’ve just discovered some letters between Eisner and Jack Katz where Katz was talking about The First Kingdom as a graphic novel, this was before Eisner even started A Contract With God so some people think he might have picked it up from there.

Richard Kyle: He could have. But Beyond Time and Again was the first book labeled a graphic novel.

 

Jamie: With Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again, you said you published over a thousand of them?

Richard Kyle: A hair over or under 1,000 copies. Somewhere in that range. The records are packed away.

 

Jamie: Do you recall the markets it was sold in? Was it in both what would be become the direct market and in bookstores as well?

Richard Kyle: No. Remember there was no direct market. And the regular bookstores regarded every kind of comics except Disney reprints as something out of a sewer. We sold a lot of books pre-publication. We sold them retail at conventions. And to large dealer-wholesalers like Bud Plant and Bob Sidebottom. We sold a lot of copies at my own bookstore. And through my Graphic Story World / Wonderworld magazine, which had a circulation of almost 3,000-a big circulation before the direct market.

 

Jamie: Over the years the term “trade paperback” has become interchangeable with the word “graphic novel.” Do you know how that came about?

Richard Kyle: I don’t know. I haven’t been in touch with inside-comics stuff since I closed my bookstore. But I imagine they borrowed the term from mainstream publishing-mainly to avoid calling them some fan name, I expect. However, the thin and flat 8 ½ x 11 format doesn’t really lend itself to commercial success-it resists bookstore display. It’s too tall. It doesn’t shelve well. It doesn’t “show spine” at all well. We’ll see. People seem to like saying “graphic novel.”

 

Jamie:  Jim Steranko did a book called Chandler: Red Tide and people consider it a proto-graphic novel because there was a lot of text and some panels with some word balloons. Do you consider a book like that to be a graphic novel?

Richard Kyle: I’ve only read the original book and Jim was dissatisfied with that. He seems to feel much happier about this one. I’ll have to see what the new Red Tide looks like to make any judgment. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Jamie:  Okay, with the term “graphic novel,” some people feel the term diminishes comic books. Was that the intention?

Richard Kyle: No. I’ve never had anything against comic books. I read ’em.

My objection is that comic book publishers have seldom published anything for grown-ups. And when they do, they try to hide it. If adults want to read comic books mainly directed towards much younger people, fine. In fact, of course they do. And among text novels, Treasure Island is a favorite of mine, and Tom Sawyer, and there are a whole slew of children’s books are among my favorites, not just comic books.

My argument is quite simple. If you want to reach a five-year-old child, you publish five-year-old child stories. If you want to reach ten-year-old children, then you publish stories a ten-year-old would be interested in, and so on. If you want to sell to a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old then you publish a book that a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old would want to read. It seems simple. But, no.

Most comic book publishers will tell you they’re not in it for the art, they’re in it for the money. Well, if they’re in it for the money, then why don’t they test the market, so they can make more money? Why don’t they find out if they can sell something to sixteen-year-olds in addition to the fourteen-year-olds that they already have? And so on.

And if they are only interested in the money, then why don’t they go where the money is-to young adults with a lot of disposable income? There is something wrong with the comic book “industry.”

For a time, Marvel was so successful they could have easily have tested the market with a good-looking, magazine-size, graphic story magazine of at least 100 pages of new stories, in full color and priced right for an older, more affluent, audience-a good solid magazine that published in the same issue every month, on a running basis Smith’s or Buscema’s “Conan,” Archie Goodwin’s and Gene Colan’s “Dracula,” the Englehart/Starlin “Master of Kung Fu,” and Jim Steranko’s great “SHIELD,” which was always too sophisticated for little kids but a hit with adults.

They didn’t. And it’s strange, because Marvel did publish the next thing to it, the first issue of the Savage Sword of Conan, 8 ½ x 11, in full process color, and it sold out and had to be reprinted. But they never did it again. The rest of the industry did no better – except for one shining moment-when Dick Giordano gave the go ahead for The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen books. Heavy Metal has always been too esoteric for a general audience. Marvel’s Epic was simply lame.

And then look at the case of The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. They came out, they were a huge success, they made an unbelievable amount of money. It may have saved DC Comics from just being folded up and written off. And what did DC do? They got in a silly argument about censorship with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the creators of all that money-and the guys who had made a great success with a new format. So Miller and Moore quit and went to other companies, more or less permanently. It’s just dumbness, it’s incredible that these people could have been so foolish. Many years have passed, but I don’t know of anything dumber in the business.

DC couldn’t experiment intelligently. They came out with tabloid-sized comic books in a brand-new format. You remember ’em? And what did they put in them? Reprints. I recall standing in a line at a grocery store, and they had the tabloid-sized comics displayed by the cash register. There were two guys behind me. One of them said, “Hey, Tarzan!” and the other said, “Forget it. It’s just a reprint.”

And on top of that, because of the format DC was using, they couldn’t publish the complete original comic book story. So they dropped four pages or so. Instead of offering more, they offered less. What a way to promote a new format. Then they came out with Action Comics Weekly, a sure disaster from 3000 miles away. It was, I suppose, DC’s idea of testing.

 

Jamie: Any last words, Richard?

Richard Kyle: Yes. The idea of the graphic novel, and the graphic novel itself, did not originate with the professional comic book writers or the professional comic book artists or the professional comic book editors or the professional comic book publishers – it originated from the demand by comic book fans themselves for grown-up comic book stories.

And even though many years have passed, every comics fan should remember the industry’s folly, because it is waiting to happen again.

The iPad Plus is on the way.

Richard Kyle also supplied us with his theory on comics titled “The Graphic Narrative.”

Comic History Secrets Revealed!

I’ve been going to comic book conventions since 2003 and have been audio recording panels and awards since 2005. Along the way creators have spoken about some behind the scenes happenings that don’t always become public knowledge.

DC Bloodlines Logo

Marvel Superstar!

 

On the Comics Can Be Good column at CBR, Brian Cronin writes about the 1993 DC Bloodlines Annuals. In these annuals a new superhero character was created, which was a selling point to get fans to buy these books. The vast majority of these characters were not very popular and went into comic book limbo almost immediately after their appearance. The same thing happened with the 1993 Marvel Annuals that had new characters in them too.

 

 

 

 

 

Creator Mike Grell wrote the Green Arrow Annual #6 and came up with a character called The Hook. Grell was at the 2008 Toronto Hobbystar ComiCON and was on a panel along with Bob Layton and David Michelinie. It was called The Men of Iron / Sketch Off Panel where Layton and Grell did sketches and all 3 talked about their careers, focusing mainly on their time on Iron Man. The panel was moderated by Blake Bell.

The conversation drifted towards working with editors and around the 37:30 mark, David Michelinie spoke about declining to work on the Marvel annual (he was writing Amazing Spider-Man at the time). Mike Grell spoke about working on the Green Arrow Annual #6.

Michelinie: I remember one year in the annuals. (…) One year they had everybody create a new character which Marvel would then own. So I declined to do the annual that year. You always have a choice. You can always say no.

 

Grell: DC had that policy. There was a line of books that they did. They mandated that everybody had to create a new character and by the way, it was work for hire and DC owned the character. Being a professional prostitute [laughter from the panel] I did, but I accidentally created a good one. I had already sent in the outline for the story as soon as it went in I went “OH CRAP! THAT’S A GOOD CHARACTER!” [Laughter] I got on the phone with the editor and I unsold it. [Lots of Laughter] The character that I created, I convinced them it wasn’t very good. The character I created, the one that showed up in print was this war veteran who had a prosthetic hand or a prosthesis and when he would active his power, his hook would become this giant hook/claw thing that could cut through anything. By the time I’m done the editor was going “Yeah that’s great! That’s great!” *Whew!* that was close.

GreenArrowAnn-06-47

The Hook from Green Arrow Annual #6 – created by Mike Grell and Mike Collins.  © DC Comics

 

Marvel and DC likely did this because of Image Comics. They began publishing in 1992 and very quickly became the #3 publisher in the industry. Image was creating lots of new characters that had fans excited. Marvel and DC likely wanted to counter with their own “exciting” new characters but didn’t want to pay creators for them. So they got what they got. I should say that not all characters to come from this were a bust. Garth Ennis and John McCrea created Hitman, who had a well loved solo series.

I can’t speak for all creators, but I think with a lot of creators would really hate to have created a character and have it earn all sorts of money and none (or very little) of it going to them. It bothers them a lot and it can bother them for the rest of their lives. Much like if somebody broke into your house and stole your prized possession and then flaunted it in front of you at every chance they got for the rest of your life and you can’t do anything about it. The pain is such they’d rather not have created the character at all.

Plus there is always the possibility that they might use the character in a situation where it’s much more agreeable to them. It could be with another publisher or even the same publisher with different editorial policy down the line. Some creators work in other mediums like prose books, cartoons, video games, etc.. and those other fields may provide better deals. There is simply no reason for creators to provide good characters to non paying publishers if they think they’re going to regret the decision.

1 2 3 4