Devin Grayson Interview

Originally published in March 1999. This was the first female comic creator I interviewed and I again wince at some of my questions. I was very happy to be interviewing her as all of my previous interviews were with men. For those with short memories Devin was in a relationship with Mark Waid at the time and she was falsely accused of getting and keeping work at DC Comics because of that relationship by assholes back in the day. Devin stopped writing comics after a while and I can’t say I blame her. I hope she’s happy doing whatever it is she’s doing today, she deserves it.

 

An Interview with Devin Grayson

The fastest rising hot writer in DC Comics is here. Devin Grayson has been wowing people with her Catwoman work and has recently gotten more spotlight with her JLA/Titans crossover, the new Titans series, and her upcoming work involving the Batman’s No Man’s Land event. With this interview we find out who Devin is, how she sees things and what she’s up to.
 
Jamie: You’ve said in the past you didn’t get interested in comics until you saw the Batman Adventures cartoon. What did you do before becoming a comic writer?

Devin Grayson: I went to college and took some post-graduate courses in writing while working on a novel which I have yet to complete (I got sidetracked by the comics!) and I had a day job as a project manager in the research division of a large Northern California HMO.

 

Jamie: Before breaking into DC Comics, what comics did you write?

Devin Grayson: None, actually. My interest was pretty limited to the Bat-verse (that is – I didn’t really want to “be a comic writer” I just wanted to write Batman and Nightwing and all of the cool Gothamites), and “Like Riding a Bike” in The Batman Chronicles #7 was my first professional work in comics.

 

Jamie: Did you ever have any association with the Friends of Lulu and do you have any opinions of female focused groups like that?

Devin Grayson: I am not a member of the Friends of Lulu, and don’t intend to become one, nor would I presume to generalize about female-focused groups (they can be assumed to vary widely, both in intent and effectiveness). All I can say is that for myself, personally, there’s a danger in joining such groups. My fear is that instead of actively doing things that challenge gender-bias, I would let “being a member” serve as my “good deed” – that is, I could begin to assume that my membership in and of itself was what I was doing to promote healthy gender politics and – let me emphasize this again — for myself, personally, that’s not the best way to effect change.

 

Jamie: Who are your writing influences?

Devin Grayson: In comics the writers I turn to most frequently for inspiration are Alan Moore, Neil Gaimen, and Frank Miller, though there are certainly a whole bunch of other people I admire and have learned from, including, among many others, Dennis O’Neil, Terry Moore, Chuck Dixon, Scott McCloud, and Mark Waid.

In other media, I’m deeply influenced by Milan Kundera, A.S. Byatt, Stendhal, James Baldwin, Tom Stoppard, David E. Kelly, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Rilke, Anne Rice, Nabokov, Tori Amos, Terry Gilliam and then also by people like Jung, Joseph Campbell, Thomas Moore, and more recently Buddhist scholars like Pema Ch√∂dr√∂n and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Really, though, the lovely thing about writing is that you’re constantly influenced by absolutely everything. My own psyche influences my writing more than anything else, and my psyche is a magpie.

 

Jamie: Are there any particular artists that you would really like to work with?

Devin Grayson: I’ve been very fortunate with artists. I’d love to do more with Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze someday soon, and there are some wonderfully talented people out there who would be a lot of fun to work with, but I enjoy coming across people by chance – there’s no one in particular that I’m obsessing over right now.

 

Jamie: Are there any characters that you haven’t written yet that you want a crack at?

Devin Grayson: There really aren’t. Again, I’ve just been so tremendously fortunate. The characters I feel most attached to are the Bat-characters and the Titans- characters, and I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work closely with both.

 

Jamie: Avengers fans are confused as to why a new Black Widow is being created when there is a perfectly good one already in existence. Can you tell us the reason for the new Black Widow?

Devin Grayson: Um… because it’s a story element? Tell you what — a good remedy for being confused about something is to check it out. This would make more sense to discuss AFTER the miniseries comes out, no? ūüėČ

 

Jamie: After reading The Titans it’s pretty clear you really know these characters and how they think and feel. But you’re not a long time comic fan, how did you “catch up”?

Devin Grayson: I read a whole bunch of stuff at once, instead of having to wait for the monthly to come out. It was great! I just brought up all the back issues I could get my hands on, until eventually I had them all, and then I read them straight through (after reading them out of order, actually, which was another thrilling exercise). What I lost was the anticipation of waiting for the next installment to come out, but the end result is that it’s probably fresher in my mind than in yours. You were probably reading The New Titans in the eighties, I was reading The New Titans two years ago!

 

Jamie: Now that the Titan lineup has been revealed, who are your favorite members?

Devin Grayson: Oh, I really can’t answer that, I’d make the characters jealous. ūüėČ The truth is that it’s a lot of fun to play with all of them, to juggle and watch them have their moments and shine in different stories.

 

Jamie: Comic fans on Usenet have been a hot topic lately, do you lurk on the newsgroups and have any opinions on them?

Devin Grayson: I don’t lurk, I don’t read newsgroup boards, and I have a personal policy against posting. I also don’t coddle professional friends who go onto the boards and then get upset about something they read there, I just tell them to get off the boards. I do have a website (2KComics.COM) where you can get information about what I’m working on, and an active email address that seems to allow people to contact me with relative ease (you had no trouble tracking me down for this interview, for example!).

As a newcomer to all of this, I find it a little disturbing just how accessible so many of the comic pros are, and accordingly, how entitled many fans feel to their attention – you don’t get mad at screenplay writer when he won’t show up in a chat to discuss his latest work, and you don’t demand that novel writers read your opinion of, or riffs on, their stories. I guess it stems from the fact that the majority of comic professionals were once fans themselves, so there’s a slightly more natural mutuality there than in the other media I mentioned, but that relationship also seems to foster some real serious jealousy and nastiness that really is a little bizarre when you step back from it. I think there are a group of pros who really like getting “strokes” from fans, so they put themselves out there, and after awhile that breeds familiarity and expectation. And if it works for them, great, but I don’t want to be held accountable to that. Personally, I don’t like receiving feedback about the work I’m doing while it’s still in progress, except from the editors, whose job it is to guide me and assess my work. I’d much rather do the work than talk about doing the work. And personally, I do find negative feedback hurtful to receive, and positive feedback distracting. Not to mention that so much of it gets so unnecessarily personal – after Wizard magazine ran a picture of me, a well-intentioned friend forwarded me some posts about whether or not I was “doable” and whether or not I needed to lose weight, and whether or not I could possibly actually be in love with my boyfriend. I mean, these were “threads”! And all I could think was, would these people say this stuff to my face? It’s not all like that, obviously, and I feel bad for all of the truly kind, well-meaning fans who get drowned out by this cacophony, but I’ll tell you – if even one person is posting things of that nature, why on god’s earth should I be held responsible for checking it out to “be in touch with my fans”? I absolutely refuse. There’s nothing in my job contract that says I have to be subjected to that. I’d rather do interviews like this, and enjoy the really nice experiences I have meeting fans in person at conventions, or receiving the frequently very kind and encouraging emails and letters they send.

I’ve always felt very grateful for the level of enthusiasm present is so much of comic fandom, but I think that there needs to be some space for fans to discuss whatever they want to discuss WITHOUT fear of hurting anyone’s feelings, and message boards seem like a good place for that. So I give myself the space I need to work and the fans the space they need to comment by staying away from all of it.

 

Jamie: Has your The Weinbergs been given a new title yet? If not what are some of the alternatives being suggested?

Devin Grayson: No, alas, we’re still in flux, and the book has now been pushed back for a December release –which is disappointing for me, since I’m excited about it and I really want it to be out there, but is in the long run a huge show of faith by DC. They want more time to market it, and also, our artist, Yvel Guichet, got the chance to work on a high-profile No Man’s Land assignment (the two-parter which introduces Harley Quinn which I saw some sketches for today – it’s amazing!), so I’m excited for him and pleased that more people will get a chance to see how remarkable his work is before The Weinbergs comes out.

The one other title we played around with was RV5: Relative Velocity, but I think somebody somewhere had concerns about that, so I’m not quite sure where we are now.

 

Jamie: How will The Weinbergs be different than other ‘kids with powers’ book like Power Pack?

Devin Grayson: As much as I enjoyed Power Pack, I don’t feel that the series have anything in common. I’ve been struggling to find an eloquent was of explaining this, but The Weinbergs doesn’t fit into any pre-existing genre I’m aware of. The Power Pack was an utterly charming tale of innocence wading through polarized alien forces of good and evil. The Weinbergs is very human, gently making fun of the superhero genre while absolutely revering and empowering it. The Weinys aren’t kids who find themselves suddenly blessed with magical powers – their powers are their PROBLEMS, they’re unhealthy manifestations of social dysfunction, and to top it off, these kids aren’t particularly good at using them on command anyway. They set off on their mission for all the wrong reasons, pursued by all the wrong factions (including the police, Child Protection Services, and the D.E.O.) and are very much their own worst enemies. Yet I don’t want the story to sound overly dark or, well, grim and gritty. It’s a very personal piece of fiction, and these kids have managed to utilize a lot of my humor and a lot of my pain. The Weinys have powers the way we all have powers – these weird things we can do that we’re not always comfortable with, like manipulating people (Allure), or bullying them (Temper). Instead of having to learn to be better superheroes, these kids really need to learn to be better people. Fighting supervillains may be the easiest part of their day.

As I’ve said in other interviews, in a very real sense, The Weinbergs is my way of using some of my pre-comic-reading-days sensibilities about characters and story-telling to celebrate my newfound love of the medium. When working on JLA/Titans, I was very aware that the project was something of a love-letter to the die-hard fans – it’s not a book I would hand to someone unfamiliar with comics. But The Weinbergs was crafted with my non-comic-book-reading friends and family very much in mind – it’s meant to be accessible to a very wide audience, and it’s the kind of project that really makes me wish there were easier ways to get information about comics out to people who don’t normally read them. It was so excited to “discover” comics in my early twenties, and then to watch my friends and family start to get turned on by them. My mom, a family therapist, now takes comic books to meetings of the American Psychological Association, and reports that they love them there – I just think that’s so cool, and as hard a time as the industry is having, I truly believe that the medium is viable, young, and nowhere near to having maxed out on its audience potential. The Weinbergs is my way of saying, look, this stuff’s not so scary, it’s not all “super” this and “uncanny” that – the stories can be character-driven, you may find you can relate to some of them, and its totally worth checking out. And that this is a DCU book, and I’m able to say all of this from WITHIN the superhero genre, is really exciting to me.

 

Jamie: Your new Vertigo mini called MUN deals with role playing games. Is this something you did in the past?

Devin Grayson: Actually, I had a bad month with titles. ūüėČ “MUN” is now called “USER.” And to answer your question, yes, I did do role playing in the past, particularly online role playing, which is what “USER” covers. Offline, I had friends who sort of made up their own games – funky amalgamations of different series – so I don’t know what they would properly be called (well, I do, but it wouldn’t mean anything to anyone but my gaming buddies – a shout to all of you Sapien gamers!). Online, I was part of the AOL “Rhydin” community, which I think now has a fancier name, but at the time was basically (and delightfully) free- form.

 

Jamie: Can you give us some details on what the book is about?

Devin Grayson: User is about a mun in trouble. “Mun,” short for “mundane,” is a term online role-playing gamers use to refer to their real selves when they’re IC (in character). For those unfamiliar with the concept, online role-playing is a lot like traditional role playing (Dungeons & Dragons being perhaps the best known example), except that it’s all done through computers, with players using screen names to portray fantasy characters that then interact over the course of fairly unstructured, spontaneous adventures. There are ways to roll dice online to help determine the winner in “combat” situations, but unlike live role-playing games where you play in person with a group of friends, in online gaming you might never know the real identities – the “muns” — behind the other characters you play with.

The story is about a young woman who, when threatened by a dangerous family situation, manages to challenge her own faulty self-preservation instincts through the medium of online role-playing. Though the fantasy world she explores turns out to be easily as fragile and damaged as her day-to-day reality, the ability to learn to honor the archetypal masquerades chosen by herself and the other players in the fictional world awakens her own sense of empathy and competence in the real one. In my time with online RPing a couple of years ago, I was really struck with how creative and powerful some of it is. I mean, yes, there’s also the more obvious flip side about how some people take it much too seriously, and initially the protagonist of “USER” is using it in an unhealthy way for escapism. But she soon learns that slaying dragons is the easy part. It’s making sense of the little evils of everyday life that’s almost impossible.

We have John Bolton on board to paint the “virtual world” scenes, and Sean Phillips to pencil the “real world.” I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with!

 

Jamie: Do you prefer to write established characters or your own creations?

Devin Grayson: It’s so different, it really is. I guess, from a technical point of view, I prefer my own characters, because frankly, it’s easier. It’s easier politically (no editorially forced crossovers or the like), it’s easier in terms of reader response (fans can’t say you’re “wrong” about your own creations), and it’s easier in terms of not tripping over stories that have already been told. And there is no rush like watching an idea turn into a character right in front of you – that moment when the character transcends the little notes you’ve been scratching onto an index card or whatever, and steps forward and introduces themselves (and then immediately starts bossing you around :: laughs: :).

But on the other hand, comics is a highly interactive medium, and part of the special thrill of the job is getting to work with what I call “communal characters” and icons. The first time I wrote the word “Batmobile” in a script – a professional script I was getting paid for – I had to stop to let an absolute laughing fit pass over me. It was just too cool. And when I was done laughing I sat back and really felt just awed and proud for a sec. I was putting words in Batman’s mouth. That can be pretty heady stuff. I don’t think I could stand to do either exclusively though, so right now I’m really enjoying moving back and forth between the two.

 

Jamie: How much detail do you give your artists when you write?

Devin Grayson: Judging on what I’ve seen of other professional’s scripts, my panel descriptions are pretty detailed. In my first year of writing comics, I spent a lot of energy researching and choreographing fight scenes, and I soon realized that that was actually something a lot of artists prefer to have less direction on, and I was fine with that and I pulled back a little. I think you know, when you’re writing, how important any given detail is. Sometimes a lot of details really are important to set-something up or communicate a plot point, and other times, there’s some room for the artist to come in and let their style shine through. So in any given script I’ll have several dense three paragraph panel description and a page or two full of: “he arches an eyebrow.”

 

Jamie: What comics are you currently reading?

Devin Grayson: One of the downsides of being a relatively new comics fan is that I’m not in the habit of reading titles on a regular monthly basis. More often than not, I let some stuff accumulate, and then read it all in one sitting. So there are a bunch of books I enjoy, but none that I’m reading in the traditional sense of remembering to run down to the comic store every Wednesday and scoop up the next installment. The exceptions are stuff I have to read for work, like the Bat-titles, for example, which I often read in the script or Black and White phase because I have to be current, and stuff my friends do, which they make sure I have.

 

Jamie: I can’t help but think that you and Mark Waid read, discuss, and influence each others work. How much influence do you think you’ve had on Waid’s work, and vice versa?

Devin Grayson: Let me say straight off that it makes me uncomfortable to be asked about my private life in a casual way. I understand that since Mark and I have the same profession, it makes the relationship seem like a part of my working life, and therefore fair game for questions. But actually, the relationship is part of my personal life, and isn’t an appropriate subject for professional or causal conversations. That said, in the interest of clarifying: Mark and I actually have very well delineated boundaries around work issues. We have separate offices, separate jobs, separate editorial contacts, and with one or two exceptions, spend more energy on staying out of each other’s ways professionally than on working collaboratively. We also have very different thematic sensibilities, and are invested in very different kinds of material – I really love the dark, reality-based Bat-stuff, for example, and he’s much more into the shiny, happy side of heroing, which I don’t relate to as well. Obviously, it’s great to have someone around who you can run things by, and we have a lot of respect for each other’s work – I think he’s certainly one of the contemporary masters of story structure, exposition, and clarity – but overall, I think that’s one of the least valuable parts of the relationship, especially when put into perspective with the costs of trying to share a life, and a professional field, in public. Every now and then Mark and I manage to be really helpful to one another – clarifying a plot point, or offering up an observation on characterization or some such, but there are a lot of pros I do that with – and actually, Mark has his own little cabal that he tends to turn to, and I have mine (chiefly Jay Faerber and Brian Vaughan, my 2KCOM brethren), since Mark and I kind of come from different comic-writing “generations.”

 

Jamie: You said you got interested in Comics in your early 20’s, what do you think is needed to attract other adults to comics books?

Devin Grayson: Creative, accessible, contemporary material that doesn’t rely on nostalgia for the medium or the assumption of previous reading experience. Sandman was one of the first comics I became seriously enamored of – by the time I started reading it, it was already partly in trade paper back, so it felt familiarly “book-like” to me, and the story didn’t presuppose that I’d read anything other than the story itself.

 

Jamie: Currently you’re writing Titans and you have Black Widow (Marvel), Mun (Vertigo), The Weinbergs (DC) mini series, and a 4 part Huntress/Scarecrow arc coming out in the Batman books. Is there anything else?

Devin Grayson: Well, “Mun,” as I said, is now called “User,” and I’m also working on a thirty-eight page No Man’s Land one-shot for The Batman Chronicles about Leslie Thompkins and her “hospital zone.” I added a few small contributions to the Nightwing Secret Files, and co-wrote JLA #32 with Mark Waid — one of two exceptions to my let’s-keep-our-professional-lives separate rule! The story deals with the JLA’s response to No Man’s Land, so I came in to that project as sort of a Bat-representative. And I’m discussing a Legends of the DCU story with a couple of different editors, and also still hoping to do a Nightwing/Oracle miniseries, and perhaps more Bat-work down the line.

 

Paul Levitz Interview

Originally published in February of 1999. I did this interview in part because my editor Sheryl Roberts was a big Legion of Superheroes and Paul Levitz fan. After I e-mailed it in she thought I was hard on Paul (brutal was the word I recall) and she told me she e-mailed him an apology for the interview. Every time I re-read this interview I cannot find what I asked that was so hard, except perhaps some industry ‘comics not selling as well as they used to’ stuff and getting him on record on Bill Finger Bat-Man co-creator credit (which I think even Paul is happy has changed for the better). I’m not sure how Paul felt about it and I haven’t bothered to ask him either. I think this was the first ‘online’ interview that Paul did and if I remember right it would be several years before he did another.

 

An Interview with Paul Levitz

For those who don’t know who Paul Levitz is, look inside your DC Comics. You’ll see his name in the fine print beside the title ‘Executive Vice President and Publisher of DC Comics’. So he’s a big chief, but he was also a comic pro – best known for writing the Legion of Superheroes. He talks to us today about the state of the industry, current goings-on at DC, and his former work on LSH.
 

Paul Levitz at 2016 San Diego Comic Con

Jamie: Exactly what does the Executive Vice President and Publisher of DC Comics do? What is your job description?

Paul Levitz: The job is basically to supervise the day to day operations of the company. I spend the majority of my time on our publishing business, and the balance working with our product, promotional and media licensing.

 

Jamie: What was the path that took you from lowly fanboy to VP of DC? What kind of educational preparation did you get and how did you get hired at DC initially, and what did it take to stay there and to move up?

Paul Levitz: The path is mostly luck, I suspect, and being in the right place at the right time. I was going to NYU’s business school while I was working as an assistant editor at DC (two days/wk of one, three days of the other–the work providing the means for me to pay for school, obviously). Joe Orlando had hired me to do his text pages freelance while I was in high school, having decided from my fanzines that I could be a writer before I thought I could be, and later asked me to come on staff. Over the next few years, when more business/editorial opportunities opened up as Jenette arrived at DC, I was one of the rare folks with some knowledge of both.

 

Jamie: What is your opinion on the current comic market? Some people say it’s been niggling upwards since February ’98. Is this true?

Paul Levitz: I think the market’s fairly stable. The better retailers’ sales are rising, but we’re still losing some of the weaker ones.

 

Jamie: What do you think is needed to improve the comic industry?

Paul Levitz: More great comics, more places to buy comics.

 

Jamie: Some people think we need to change the 32 page pamphlet format to something else. Do you think we would gain readers if they were in Archie style digests or in magazines?

Paul Levitz: All depends on where you can offer those formats for sale. For example, the Archie digests are perfect for young girls with their supermarket display space, but I doubt that would work for super hero material…and Vertigo-type material wouldn’t even be allowed in the door.

 

Jamie: How is DC trying to get non-comic readers buying comics?

Paul Levitz: We did a major cross-promotion with Cartoon Network last year, giving away hundreds of thousands of comics and advertising this on tv. We’re also reaching out thru bookstores for our paperback formats.

 

Jamie: Over the last few years we have seen a number of quality books come out from DC like Chase and Young Heroes in Love but they soon get canceled. Do you have any idea why these books don’t succeed?

Paul Levitz: Not enough people think they’re great.

 

Jamie: Looking back on those titles, is DC going to do anything different with Keith Giffens new title Vext?

Paul Levitz: It’s different type of material, and perhaps that will help.

 

Jamie: What new titles and Archives can we look forward to in 1999?

Paul Levitz: I can never keep track of what stage we’re at in making announcements, so I don’t do them. Watch DC OnLine.

 

Jamie: Now that Hypertime is established in the DC Universe, will the Elseworlds label still be used?

Paul Levitz: Yup.

 

Jamie: Hypertime has been called a continuity mistake fixer by some fans. Do you agree with this?

Paul Levitz: Time will tell.

 

Jamie: Continuity has been a hot topic as of late. Some pro’s say it hinders the the industry, while others seem to revel in it. What’s your opinion on continuity?

Paul Levitz: I loved playing with continuity as a writer.

 

Jamie: Will there be any more Kingdom related story lines?

Paul Levitz: Yup.

 

Jamie: Does DC already have something planned for the next ‘skip week’? If so, what?

Paul Levitz: Next one is a JSA stunt.

 

Jamie: Is there any chance Bill Finger will be credited as Batman’s co-creator in the Bat-books?

Paul Levitz: Not likely. Bill was technically Bob’s ghost writer rather than the co- creator, so for a host of legal reasons it’s unlikely to ever happen.

 

Jamie: What titles do you read that are not published by DC Comics?

Paul Levitz: Varies with the month…the new Spirit, Cerebrus, any of the classic Marvel titles when written by a writer I enjoy (I’m dipping into Thor and Avengers occasionally these days).

 

Jamie: What do you think caused the shift from dark/grim hero comics to bright/fun comics, and how long do you think it’s going to last?

Paul Levitz: The tide seems to shift with the mindset of the major writers working at a time. The grim/gritty crew had the tail end of Vietnam and Watergate as their childhood worldview, and that probably showed in the work. I’m not certain what the next generation responded to–maybe Reagan?

 

Jamie: Do you think this shift to bright/fun comics has hurt the Vertigo line?

Paul Levitz: Nope.

 

Jamie: Paul, you are certainly considered *the* writer of The Legion of Superheroes by the majority of fans. Here are some questions related to the Legion: How did you get the writing assignment the first time? How did you get the writing assignment the second time?

Paul Levitz: I was a lifetime Legion fan, and at the time Jim gave up the book for a staff gig at Marvel (1976) I had a fair amount of influence over assignments, and must have begged/pleaded/persuaded Denny to give me the chance.

Second time out, Mike Barr was editing the series and talked me back on when I was between major assignments and the book came open.

 

Jamie: You’re work on the second run is far better than the first run. What changed to make you a better writer?

Paul Levitz: Mostly me. I had the maturity to stick to assignments I could do, instead of overcommitting my writing time and spreading myself too thin (result: fill- ins, sloppy work, etc.). Plus the great advantage of the long collaboration with Keith, at the peak of his fecundity.

 

Jamie: Speaking of writing, who were your mentors and what did they teach you?

Paul Levitz: Joe Orlando taught me the most about comics writing and editing. My creative inspirations as a writer came from Roy Thomas’ work, particularly on the Avengers, and therefore at one remove from Stan Lee’s. Denny was particularly helpful in teaching me how to tighten and edit my copy.

 

Jamie: It was fairly common knowledge in fan circles that you used cards to keep track of the characters in your second stint as LSH writer. How exactly did that work?

Paul Levitz: Never used cards, actually. Probably comes from a remark about using a SCORECARD to keep track. Basically, a column down the left spelled out the plotlines I had in works. Sequential columns were labelled by upcoming issues, and indicated the developments I expected.

 

Jamie: We know that you were for the reboot of the series when it happened. As a fan instead of “The Boss,” what do you think of the post boot Legion now?

Paul Levitz: Couple of good stories–particularly the riff on xenophobia–but I’m a harsh judge because I can’t help seeing it through the eyes of my personal preferences. It’s not a title I can judge objectively.

 

Jamie: What can fans do to show their commitment to the Legion if they don’t feel the current books are worth buying?

Paul Levitz: Write MacAvennie and Carlin, tell them.

 

Jamie: What conditions would have to be in place for you to consider a third stint at writing the Legion books?

Paul Levitz: Never thought I’d do a second run, so I certainly don’t expect to do a third. When I’m done with the day job, who knows…

Jerry Robinson Interview

 

Jerry Robinson – 2008 San Diego Comic Con

Almost all of my early interviews was done by e-mail. This interview was my first face to face with somebody. I really wanted to interview Jerry Robinson because he was a part of golden age comic book history. It took place at Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon. April 29th, 2005 and was originally published on June 2005. I had met Jerry at the convention, asked him for an interview and he agreed but after his signing was done.

I waited (about a half hour) and we went into a quiet room to do the interview. What I wanted to do in particular was ask about his history and find out first hand some things I had read about Siegel and Shuster that I wasn’t quite sure was true or not. I has also recently read Gerard Jones Men of Tomorrow and was really exciting about all of the new info it had revealed. Jerry was able to fill in some holes for me, making me very happy.

Jerry Robinson created both The Joker and Robin the Boy Wonder. He spent¬†20 years drawing comics before becoming a political cartoonist. He was¬†also instrumental in getting a settlement from DC Comics in the 1970’s¬†for the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Part of his¬†story and this interview surrounds his role as it is described in the¬†recent critically acclaimed book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones.

 

Jamie: What Year were you born?

Jerry Robinson: 1922.

 

Jamie: 1922.

Jerry Robinson: A long time ago. Before you were ever even thought of (laughter).

 

Jamie: My Dad was born in 1940.

Jerry Robinson: Oh boy, my you’re a youngster.

 

[Note: I’m 30 years old, but Jerry¬†Robinson has full rights to call me a youngster.]

 

Jamie: What did you do prior to assisting Bob Kane on Batman?

Jerry Robinson: Well, nothing professionally. I started right in on Batman. I came¬†to New York at 17 and was going to college. I started with Bob in that¬†same year in 1939. I just did it to earn my way through college. Little¬†did I know I’d still be talking about it 60 some years later (laughter).

 

Jamie: Did you say you met Bob through college?

Jerry Robinson: No, no. I met Bob through a strange circumstance. I had sold ice¬†cream after I had graduated high school, in the summer before going to¬†college, to earn enough for the first year, or semester. I was very¬†light, only 98 pounds. On the track team as a matter of fact, very¬†slight, almost as slight as yourself. So peddling Ice Cream on the¬†bicycle all summer on the cart I dropped to probably no more than 78¬†pounds. Then my mother insisted I take $25 dollars, that’s all it took,¬†to go up to the mountains to the resort and she said, “fatten up.” She¬†was afraid I wouldn’t survive the first semester in college (laughter).

Just by sheer chance, I went out to a tennis court one day and I was¬†wearing a white painters jacket and at the time you decorated them. So I¬†had cartoons all over mine. I had drawn for my high school paper but¬†that was my only involvement in cartooning. So I was wearing that¬†painters jacket as a tennis jacket and I was trying to find a partner at¬†the tennis court. Tennis was a family sport, my brothers were champion¬†players. So I was standing there looking for a partner and felt a tap on¬†my shoulder and heard “Who did those drawings?” I thought I was going to¬†be arrested or something (laughter).

I turned around and said “I did.” “Well, those are pretty good. I just¬†started a new feature called Batman and the 1st issue is on the stands.¬†If you come with me I’ll show you.” We went down to the village and¬†bought a copy. I was 17, he was about 24. He said, “If you come to New¬†York, you’ve got a job. I need somebody to help me on Batman.”

I was going to go to Syracuse College, but I had also luckily applied to¬†Columbia. I quickly called Columbia to see if my application was still¬†good, which it was, then I called Syracuse and told them I was not¬†coming. I called my parents and told them I’m not coming home, I’m going¬†right to New York as I had a job. I went to Columbia and began¬†moonlighting on Batman.

 

Jamie:  So it was Bob Kane you met at the resort?

Jerry Robinson: Yes, he was the one that tapped my on the shoulder. Then I met Bill Finger.

 

Jamie: Yes, I was about to ask about him as well. What was he like and how did you meet him?

Jerry Robinson: Well, I met him through Bob as he wrote the scripts. He and Bob really co-created Batman.

 

Jamie: Yes.

Jerry Robinson: Unfortunately, only Bob’s name is on it. I started an award for¬†Finger, similar to the Shuster Awards here that will be given at San¬†Diego this year. It’s The Bill Finger Award and this will be the first¬†year.

 

Jamie: Excellent.

Jerry Robinson: Bill never got credit. He died broke. It’s a tragedy.

 

Jamie:¬†Yeah, that’s what I heard. Do you have any photos of him by any chance?

Jerry Robinson: I don’t, we didn’t take pictures at the time. There are some that¬†exist and have been published.

 

Jamie:¬†I’ve seen one, but that’s it.

Jerry Robinson: I’ve only seen two or three at the most, different shots. One he’s¬†playing Golf, one is a head shot.

 

Jamie:¬†Yeah, I’ve seen one where it looks like he has a painters cap on and¬†he’s looking sideways.

Jerry Robinson: Yeah. He was a great guy and was really a mentor of mine. He was 24 or 25 when I was 17. I was coming from a little town to New York for the first time in my life. I was going to University and going to my room at night and drawing all night. He took me around New York, showed me museums, foreign films, plays. He was very well read and a well rounded guy. He was my first cultural mentor.

 

Jamie: What was Bob Kane like?

Jerry Robinson: Well Bob was.. he had a great flair in his drawings. He was a¬†comic artist before starting Batman, so it was a very difficult¬†transition for him to go through, from comic art to doing more realism.¬†So he struggled with the art. I think it’s easier to go the other way¬†around. I started out doing illustration and later I did a humor strip¬†that went for 17 years through syndication. That was an easy transition,¬†being able to draw realistically to drawing humor. Not so easy the other¬†way around.

 

Jamie: How long did you work on Batman?

Jerry Robinson: I think from 1939 to 1947.

 

Jamie: Wow. Why did you stop?

Jerry Robinson: Well, I wanted to do something more. Something under my own name.¬†I wanted to do more creative writing and do different things. I never¬†liked to continue to do something for too long. I like new challenges. I¬†went on to do a lot of different comic strips. I partnered with Mort¬†Meskin, we did strips for DC and other publishers. We did Johnny Quick,¬†Vigilante, The Black Terror, Fighting Yank. Then I worked with Stan Lee¬†for 10 years. I did a lot of stuff during the 50’s, crime, science¬†fiction, war, which I enjoyed as each book was a different challenge.

 

Jamie: Yeah, they published everything.

Jerry Robinson: Yes. I really wanted to be a political cartoonist, so around 1961¬†I quit to do political cartoons. I did them for 33 years and I wrote and¬†drew my own feature. That was 6 days a week and it was syndicated¬†throughout the US and abroad. In between I was a book illustrator, did¬†books and advertising. I curated a lot of shows (at museums). I traveled¬†around the world, went to about 43 different countries. Did a lot of¬†exhibitions and was a part of international juries. So it’s been a very¬†interesting and satisfying career.

 

Jamie: I imagine so. I know for part of that career you went to the National Cartoonists Society. I understand you became the President at one point?

Jerry Robinson: Yes I served as President of the National Cartoonists Society and later on became an editorial cartoonist and served as President of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. A lot of Canadians belong to that.

 

Jamie: Yes, we have a strong group of political cartoonists.

Jerry Robinson: Very strong, yes. I have an International Newspaper Syndicate¬†(called Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate) that started in 1979 and we¬†represent the leading cartoonists in some 75 countries now. Including¬†many Canadians I just visited, like Brian Gable, Bado (Guy Badeaux), all¬†top, top cartoonists, world class. Dave Anderson of the National Post,¬†Patrick Corrigan of the Star, Andy Donato of the Sun, all great¬†cartoonists and others too. Roy Peterson in Vancouver, Dale Cummings¬†from Winnipeg. For a country of this population it has an extraordinary¬†number of great cartoonists. I’m very, very pleased to have them in my¬†syndicate.

 

Jamie: Now the National Cartoonists Society, what is that, is it a bargaining agent or a social society?

Jerry Robinson: No. We did have committees and took up professional issues, but it¬†wasn’t an union. It was a professional society for professionals, we¬†discussed professional problems. We exchanged ideas and met socially as¬†well.¬†It was started during world war one, when a number of cartoonists¬†started going around entertaining at hospitals for wounded soldiers.¬†They one of them said “Gee, we ought to form a more organized group.”

There was about 6 or 8 of them to begin with and it grew to 3500 today.¬†There was Milton Caniff and Rube Goldberg and other popular people,¬†mostly strip cartoonists it started with, then other genres joined then,¬†later editorial cartoonists as well. The editorial cartoonists had their¬†own problems and later on they formed their own organization, The¬†Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. A lot of them belong to¬†both. The NCS is like the parent organization. The Magazine association¬†which I mentioned earlier also formed their own group to discuss their¬†own problems. But NCS is still like a parent and it’s still running.

 

Jamie: Did you ever do any comic strips?

Jerry Robinson: I did one that went for several years. Called Jet Scott, it was a science adventure. I also helped friends on various ones; none that were my creations.

 

Jamie: Ghosted?

Jerry Robinson: Yes, just for periods of time when they needed me. On Jet Scott I did daily and Sundays.

 

Jamie: I was wondering if you read the book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones?

Jerry Robinson: Oh, sure have!

 

Jamie: Your name appears in there quite a bit towards the end.

Jerry Robinson: Gerard interviewed me quite a bit for the book. It was a remarkable book. He did great deal of research.

 

Jamie: Oh yeah.

Jerry Robinson: There were things there that I didn’t know myself (laughter). I¬†would recommend the book. Also Kavalier and Clay.

 

Jamie:¬†Yeah, it’s fictionalized —

Jerry Robinson: Yes fictionalized —

 

Jamie: But a lot of it rings true.

Jerry Robinson: I met Michael Chabon in San Diego last year. I had the honor of getting elected to the Hall of Fame at the Eisner Awards. Along with Jules Feiffer and Al Capp.

 

Jamie: Yes I know of them.

Jerry Robinson: Michael had gave the keynote address, he’s a very charming man and¬†really bright.

 

Jamie:¬†How familiar are you with Siegel’s and Shuster’s past, I have some¬†questions but I don’t know if you would know about them.

Jerry Robinson: I know some of it.

 

Jamie:¬†Okay, there is a story about either Siegel or Shuster was a mailman¬†and they had to deliver something to DC’s offices and that demoralized¬†the staff at DC and somebody gave them a tip or and told them not to¬†come back?

Jerry Robinson: No that is a mix of two different stories. Siegel did become a¬†mailman, he had a writers block from the trauma of losing Superman. He¬†would walk by a newsstand and see Superman all over the place, there, in¬†movies, etc.. and he would literally get sick to his stomach. He¬†couldn’t write anymore but he had to support his wife and child. There¬†was a government agency he worked at, sorting mail, he wasn’t a mailman¬†on the street. It was a very simple, non creative job. It’s what he had¬†been reduced to.

And Joe, he was certifiably blind, he had bad eyesight even when I first¬†knew him. So he couldn’t draw. He was supported by his brother but he¬†got a job as a messenger. He delivered packages like mail and one time,¬†he did by chance have to deliver something to DC Comics . . . Joe told¬†me that story himself.

 

Jamie:¬†Okay, so it was Joe then. That’s something I wanted to clear up as I¬†heard two different stories about that.¬†In the 50’s Siegel went back to work for DC and in the 60’s he¬†stopped. I heard he tried to copyright Superpersons or something like¬†that. Do you know anything about that?

Jerry Robinson: Well I know it was a long drawn out legal battle over the years.¬†He (Siegel) had really created a Frankenstein (DC) and they could afford¬†to hire the top lawyers and draw out the negotiations for years and he¬†couldn’t afford to do it. From time to time they sued them and it just¬†dragged on with more lawyers. It was a sad time for them.

 

Jamie: Do you know exactly why he left DC in the 60s?

Jerry Robinson: In the 60’s, no I don’t know.

 

Jamie: Okay.

Jerry Robinson: I know originally they were cut off once they had started the suit. They were fired and they had no income. I know they had a rapprochement for a period of time but it was nothing substantial.

 

Jamie:¬†And there was another court battle in the 70s. It either went to a¬†district court or to the Supreme Court…?

Jerry Robinson: Well, it went through a number of courts but not to the Supreme Court. It never got to that level. It was always lost in lower courts.

 

Jamie: Okay.

Jerry Robinson: I think if they brought suit under the proper clause, which is¬†very involved technically, but conceivably they might have won in the¬†Supreme Court. But they didn’t have the wares at the time. Jerry had¬†already had a heart attack. In fact, the night before we had settled it¬†Jerry had ordered me to settle it. I couldn’t tell the other side¬†because then we’d lose our leverage, but he was afraid he wouldn’t¬†survive the negotiations. He wanted to leave his wife and child with¬†some security.

 

Jamie: Okay do you know what state it the case was filed in . . . was it New York?

Jerry Robinson: Yes, they were all filed in New York State. I can’t tell you¬†what level it stopped at, but they never won, either because of¬†technicalities or it wasn’t written up properly or they didn’t have good¬†representation. The initial error was at the very beginning when they¬†sold it but it wasn’t filed properly, the details would be too long, but¬†they might have won on other grounds. But it never went to the Supreme¬†Court. I don’t think a jury ever got to hear it. So it was drawn out,¬†you are talking about billions of dollars when it comes to Superman.

 

Jamie: During the court case, I believe Carmine Infantino was the publisher of DC Comics at the time.

Jerry Robinson: Yes.

 

Jamie: Where was he in all this?

Jerry Robinson: As far as I know he was never involved. We never dealt with him. They were owned by Time Warner and we negotiated with Time Warner, their vice president and their lawyers.

 

Jamie: In the 70s, Jerry wrote out a 10 page letter and apparently sent it out to everybody and it helped get the media on his side initially.

Jerry Robinson: He did do that, but he didn’t get much headway. The media¬†discarded him. It was only after he got on the Tom Snyder show and that¬†was national, and got some of us professionals involved to help him with¬†it did it start to go somewhere. That gave us the leverage we needed to¬†negotiate with Time Warner. Also the movie was coming out at that time¬†and that gave us leverage as well.

 

Jamie: About that letter, do you know if Jerry wrote that during the court case or after it? Men of Tomorrow is a bit murky with that.

Jerry Robinson: Well, it was probably written in between court cases. Siegel was¬†frustrated as there was no settlement and he didn’t get anything. It was¬†out of desperation he wrote that. He tried a lot of things. As you can¬†imagine he was very frustrated and depressed. I mean Superman is one of¬†the greatest properties in the 20th Century. He was stripped of¬†everything and couldn’t make money for his family. And they (Siegel and¬†Shuster) were both terrific people. I knew them both well. I even double¬†dated with Shuster (laughter).

 

Jamie:¬†There are two stories about Jerry Siegel appearing on TV, and I don’t¬†know which one is true. There is one, it wasn’t mentioned this way in¬†Men of Tomorrow, where he was in a talk show audience and he stood up¬†and told everybody that he was the creator of Superman and he had to¬†make a living bagging groceries. Apparently you saw this, was that on¬†the Tom Snyder show?

Jerry Robinson: I remembered that it was the Tom Snyder Show yes. I saw it yes, I was working late for a deadline and I heard the name Siegel and Superman and I looked up and that was the first time I was aware of the their plight. I had thought they had made a settlement in the previous years. I was very upset in hearing that and immediately called Jerry in California and begun to work on restoring their rights. Neal Adams had also called them and we teamed up. I got the National Cartoonist Society, I wrote up.. what you would call a declaration of support. The Society had brought Siegel and Shuster in and I had went over to the Society of Magazine Cartoonists, they are an organization filled with mostly New Yorker and humor type cartoonists and they gave me the floor. It so happened it was all on the same day so I raced over, addressed them on their plight and they passed the same resolution unanimously. I went to other organizations, the screen writers and called all the names I knew like celebrities like Jules Feiffer and others there was this one science fiction writer . . .

 

Jamie: Harlan Ellison?

Jerry Robinson: No, I know Harlan and he would have, but I didn’t know him at¬†the time.

 

Jamie: I believe the names are in Men of Tomorrow.

Jerry Robinson: Maybe, I don’t think they got all of them, actually. But what¬†happened after the signing and we had a celebration at my apartment and¬†Siegel and Shuster were over and I met Eli Wallach and his wife on the¬†way there. Not that they did anything, when they heard about it they¬†asked “what can we do?” and I told them we just got done the signing and¬†that’s how they ended up being there. So there was Jules Feiffer and¬†everybody was there. We had promised to give the scoop of the signing to¬†Walter Cronkite for his program, he was the top newscaster. So we all¬†gathered in front of the TV at that time. We had broke out the bottle of¬†champagne waiting for him to announce it. At the very end of the show¬†they had a sign and an animated Superman in the background flying across¬†the screen and he said “At last, truth, justice and the American way has¬†won.” We all toasted and everybody was crying and it was a very moving¬†moment.

 

Jamie: That happened right after the settlement?

Jerry Robinson: Yes.

 

Jamie: I know you said you had everybody sign a declaration, but was there anything legal involved or like a boycott because I understand Neal was talking about doing boycotts. Was it anything like that or just a show of support?

Jerry Robinson: It was a show of support, we really didn’t have to go to that¬†measure. What I personally did was use my persuasion on the Vice¬†President of Time Warner, I called the night before the settlement in¬†order to restore their names. Time Warner depends on talent of all¬†kinds, it’s a multi media company, it does movies and everything. I said¬†look, you are going to get a lot of bad press. Be aware of what you are¬†doing if we can’t come to a reasonable solution. Restore their names,¬†their dignity depends on it. So they finally agreed on it, but that was¬†the night before the settlement. They were afraid that restoring their¬†names would give them a claim in the future.. not that they don’t¬†deserve it. They got a settlement but not what they deserve, they really¬†should have been multi millionaires.

 

Jamie: Yes . . .

Jerry Robinson: But they had security for the rest of their lives, at the time they were both really destitute.

 

Jamie: What do you think about the future of comics with graphic novels?

Jerry Robinson: Well, the future is unknown, but I think it has a tremendous¬†future. The comics are in the hands of creative people and it’s a very¬†versatile media. The parameters keep expanding. Who would have foreseen¬†the work being done today with graphic novels, in different mediums at¬†different levels, computerized works of art? But in my analysis the¬†creativity and the art is surviving. The form might change though,¬†technology always dictates what is going to happen. It happened with¬†newspaper strips and comic books, it depends on a confluence of events.¬†I wrote about this in my book, it would take too long to go into detail,¬†but that’s the bottom line. It took a number of events and people at the¬†right time and the right place for it to happen.

 

Jamie: Thank you very much for the interview Jerry.

 


Sadly, Jerry Robinson passed away late in 2011. I still see him, his wife Gro and occasionally his son Jens at conventions, often right before the Will Eisner Awards.

I also interviewed Neal Adams about his role with Jerry and Joe Shuster’s mid 1970s settlement. That I will publish later this week. I should say that writer Brad Ricca has a fantastic book called Superboys¬†that goes into great detail about Jerry and Joe’s fight for their rights. I highly recommend his book as it was a story that really needed to be told.

I should note that Marc Tyler Nobleman has a picture book called Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman that revealed a lot of new information of Bill Finger. Among which that bill has a granddaughter and great grandson who are now receiving royalties for Bill’s work. Today Bill Finger is recognized as co-creator of Batman. Jerry would be very, very happy with that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention’s Marc’s Boys of Steel picture book that also added some new information regarding the creators of Superman.

Deadpool and X-Men Origins: Wolverine revisited

Deadpool Movie

 

I have yet to see the new Deadpool movie, but by all accounts it’s very popular and people are loving it.

The new movie reminds me of the previous Deadpool appearance in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In that movie we first see Ryan Reynolds play Deadpool and people were happy in the early part of the movie because he got the snappy patter part down. The sucky part was at the end, where they made Deadpool the main villain for Wolverine and changed him.

wolverine-deadpool-origins-thumb

Don’t get sick.

 

As more than one person mentioned, they took the ‘Merc with the Mouth’ and removed the mouth.

What the new Deadpool movie popularity shows is why they did this. Imagine if they had Deadpool, as he is in the recent movie, battle Wolverine at the end? Would everybody want to see the hero of the movie Wolverine win? As popular as Hugh Jackman and Wolverine is I think an extended fight scene against classic non stop black humor joking Deadpool would not have worked out so well for him in his own movie. So they decided to change Deadpool into a character that you wouldn’t like and did so by taking away his mouth and his costume. Now it’s clear, cheer for Wolverine and boo the bad Deadpool.

You may think they shouldn’t have had Wolverine fight Deadpool in the first place and I agree. Superhero movies always seem to want the villains to have some sort of connection to the characters origin. Examples being the Joker being the one that killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in the first Michael Keaton Batman movie or the hamfisted Sandman connection to Uncle Ben’s death in the 3rd Tobey MaGuire Spider-Man film. The Wolverine movie was supposed to be about Wolverine’s origin and they already used Sabretooth in the first X-Men film. While Sabretooth plays a major role in this film, he was last seen by movie goers as a fairly minor player in the first X-men film who gets killed. This makes Sabretooth an unsatisfying final villain for this film. Another major villain with origin ties was Lady Deathstrike, but she was used and killed in the 2nd X-men film. None of the other characters on the “Team X” would work as the main villain either.

I also think felt they had to tie into the Weapon X story line since it’s so featured so much in the 2nd X-men film. There was backstory there and this movie was to fill it. Ideally, they would have done a better job with Sabretooth in the first X-men film (have him kick Wolverine around some then disappear) and used him in the 2nd in a similar way to set him up as the big bad Wolverine specific villain you wanted to see him go up against. Hindsight is 20/20 though, I imagine when they were making the first X-men film they were just hoping the movie wouldn’t bomb and were not planning for a solo Wolverine movie 9 years later. So with all other options gone, they decided the main villain had to be Deadpool, but a version of Deadpool that wouldn’t be liked and that’s what we got.

 

wolverine-vs-wendigo
Personally, I’d have liked to see Wendigo be the big villain for the first Wolverine movie. He ties into Wolverine’s first appearance in Hulk #180 & 181 but there obviously wouldn’t have had the Hulk in a FOX movie. They could have brought in Shaman from Alpha Flight to explain/deal with the ‘human soul trapped with the Wendigo curse’ bit. If they go a little further than the comics did at the time and add in the cannibalism part of the origin it would have been a horror movie element to the film, making it stand out. I know when they do movie rights specific characters are put into groupings and I don’t know that Wendigo would have been in the X-men grouping or the Hulk’s grouping since the character has appeared in both characters stories over the years, not to mention many other Marvel characters. The same goes with Shaman, I have no idea of Alpha Flight are their own grouping or if they are part of the X-men.