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 Chödrön 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? 😉

 

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. 😉 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. 😉 “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 Ordway Interview

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

 

An Interview with Jerry Ordway

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: How do you fix your mistakes?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: Anything you want to say to your fans?

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

 

Kurt Busiek Interview

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

Kurt Busiek 2009 San Diego Comic Con

Kurt Busiek 2009 San Diego Comic Con

An Interview with Kurt Busiek

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Kurt Busiek: Monthly.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: What comic books do you read?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Kurt Busiek: December 7th.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jim Shooter Interview

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

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

 

An Interview with Jim Shooter

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Jim Shooter: Of course.

 

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

Jim Shooter: I would have made it good again.

 

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

Jim Shooter: Impossible question.

 

Jamie: What writers and artists impress you today?

Jim Shooter: David Lapham impresses me.

 

Jamie: What comic books are you currently reading?

Jim Shooter: Stray Bullets.

 

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

Jim Shooter: Its dying.

 

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

Jim Shooter: Good creativity.

 

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

Jim Shooter: No.

 

Jamie: Anything else you want to say?

Jim Shooter: Goodnight.

 


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

Roger Stern Interview

Originally published in June 1998. I was really excited about this interview. The first comic I ever bought was Avengers #276 by written by Roger Stern. The following story line in Avengers (Assault on Olympus) made me a comic fan for life. Back when I first started reading comics I wasn’t paying attention to the credits in them. After I graduated college (and was poor) I couldn’t afford very many new comics, so I did a lot of re-reading of my old ones. That’s when I discovered that I really liked Roger Stern stories and they also held up really well. Roger is one of the creators I’ve not yet met in person, but some friends of mine has (they actually had a sit down lunch with him, his wife Carmela and Kurt Busiek) and they told me he is a great guy.

 

An Interview with Roger Stern

When long time comic readers think of great writers, Roger Stern is a name that always pops up. He has written everything from Avengers to Starman, from Dr. Strange to Legionnaires. This month, we got him to talk about his past, present, and future work. Plus, his life outside the comicbook industry.

 

 

Jamie: Do you remember the first comic book you read? What was it?

Roger Stern: No, I read my first comic over 40 years ago, so I don’t remember which one came first. But it was probably an issue of WALT DISNEY’S COMICS & STORIES.

 

Jamie: Did you always want to become a comic book writer or were you aiming for something else?

Roger Stern: Actually, I set out to be an engineer. But I became disenchanted with engineering school and transferred to Indiana University, where I majored in radio and television. After graduation, I worked at a radio station in Indianapolis for a couple of years, and did a little freelance writing (for little or no pay) on the side. I had actually sold a PHANTOM story to Charlton when the radio gig dried up. (Charlton canceled THE PHANTOM before my story was ever used, but at least I was paid.)

 

Jamie: What kind of formal writing education did you receive?

Roger Stern: Very little. I tested out of the college level composition courses. I did take some journalism courses as part of the radio and television curriculum, but most of my education was on-the-job, writing commercial copy, record reviews, and the like.

 

Jamie: What other jobs did you have before writing comics full time?

Roger Stern: Before the radio job, I worked as a drill-press operator at a couple of small factories and a general worker for a machine shop. And of course, there were all those summers of mowing lawns and painting fences.

 

Jamie: How did you break into the comic industry?

Roger Stern: I got the chance to test for a proofreading position at Marvel in December of 1975. I passed and have been working comics ever since.

 

Jamie: Marvel is going to make your Masters of Evil II / Mansion Under Siege Avengers story into a TPB (Trade Paperback). Do you know if anything else you’ve written is going to be reprinted as a TPB?

Roger Stern: The Avengers story is the latest trade paperback reprinting that I know of. My work has also been reprinted in THE BEST OF MARVEL COMICS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WAR & REMEMBRANCE, RETURN TO THE AMALGAM AGE OF COMICS: THE MARVEL COMICS COLLECTION, SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN: NOTHING CAN STOP THE JUGGERNAUT, SPIDER- MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES, SPIDER-MAN: THE ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN, SPIDER-MAN: THE SAGA OF THE ALIEN COSTUME, SPIDER-MAN’S GREATEST VILLAINS, THUNDERBOLTS: MARVEL’S MOST WANTED, THE VERY BEST OF SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN VS. THE AVENGERS, X- MEN: DANGER ROOM BATTLE ARCHIVES, and over a dozen Superman Trades.

 

Jamie: Of all your stories, which ones are you proudest of?

Roger Stern: The Avengers Mansion story is up there … along with a half-dozen or so SPIDER-MAN stories, my run on CAPTAIN AMERICA, some DOCTOR STRANGE stories, several Superman stories, and most of my run on STARMAN.

 

Jamie: You wrote the Death and Life of Superman novel, what are the differences between writing a book vs. writing a comic book?

Roger Stern: You have to work harder to sell an action scene in prose. With a comic, you can tell the artist to draw a spectacular explosion, and there it is! Describing that explosion effectively in cold hard type is serious work. On the other hand, I found that long dialogues — which in comics can come off as a series of talking heads (if you’re not careful) — are much easier in prose.

 

Jamie: Are you planning on writing other novels?

Roger Stern: Not at present.

 

Jamie: I hear you and Kurt Busiek are going to change Photon’s name to something else… any winners yet on the new name?

Roger Stern: I’m still lobbying for Captain Marvel, as that is who she was created to be. Unfortunately, someone else is currently using that name.

 

Jamie: What’s up and coming with new Marvel Universe stories and creative teams?

Roger Stern: After the initial Strucker/Invaders arc, there’s a four-issue arc with a quartet of Monster Hunters set in the era of the pre-hero TALES OF SUSPENSE, TALES TO ASTONISH era. After that, we have — in no particular order — a Revolutionary War story (inspired by a subplot from one of Jack Kirby’s Captain America stories), the story of Doctor Strange’s return to America (after his apprenticeship to the Ancient One), maybe a story featuring a pre- FF Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, and eventually (I promise!) the Eternal Brain!! Upcoming artists include Mike Manley, Jason Armstrong, Neil Vokes, and Brent Anderson.

 

Jamie: Other than Marvel Universe and Legionnaires, what else will you be doing?

Roger Stern: I recently co-plotted SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #259-261 with Glenn Greenberg and a CAPTAIN AMERICA/IRON MAN ANNUAL with Kurt Busiek (which Mark Waid will be scripting). I’m about halfway through the scripting of SUPERMAN: A NATION DIVIDED, an Elseworlds one-shot set during the Civil War. And I’m plotting a secret project which I can’t tell you about yet.

 

Jamie: Last year at San Diego Con you said “But there’s just so many of them!” in regards to writing Legionnaires. How do you feel about the big cast of characters now that you have been writing them for an additional year?

Roger Stern: Still too many of them. But we hope to get around this by focusing on subsets of the team … probably to the sounds of wailing and teeth-gnashing from the hardore Legion fans who want to see all the Legionnaires in every issue (and don’t have to write the bloody things).

 

Jamie: How do you feel about the new editorial decision to move Legionnaires to a more action oriented plot lines?

Roger Stern: No problem with that. (Actually, we’ve always tried to put as much action into the stories as we could. It was just hard to see with all of those Legionnaires in the way!)

 

Jamie: I hear you’re a big lover of snakes, can you describe your pets? How many snakes do you have? What kind of snakes are they?

Roger Stern: Carmela and I have a dozen or so … some common Garters, a couple of King Snakes, several Rat Snakes, and a Ball Python. They’re clean, non-demanding creatures who don’t take up a lot of room. They don’t bark and when they shed, it’s all at once. Did I mention that they’re hypoallergenic? If you’re allergic to dog and/or cat dander, you might want to consider a snake. Of course, they won’t fetch …

 

Jamie: Did your love for snakes cause you to change Princess Projectra into a snake? Or was there another purpose for turning her into a snake?

Roger Stern: I -didn’t- change Princess Projectra into a snake. In the new continuity, I introduced a new character with similar powers, a divergent background, and a more serious name. I decided that Sensor would be a snake because — as Carmela has rightfully pointed out — there are too many snake-based villains out there. And, as I was being forced to add some Legionnaires anyway, I wanted to add a non-humanoid to the mix, as well as a member (Umbra) who was -not- white and male.

 

Jamie: Are there any members of the Legionnaires about whom you would like to write a solo series?

Roger Stern: Not off hand, no.

 

Jamie: If you could buy one comic character and do an indy title with him/her, who would that character be?

Roger Stern: I wouldn’t be interested in removing any established characters from their home universe. I don’t see any point in that.

 

Jamie: Do you have any aspirations to become an editor?

Roger Stern: I’ve been an editor. Didn’t like it.

 

Jamie: What did you think of the last episode of Seinfeld?

Roger Stern: I wish that it had been as funny as the rest of the series.

 

Steve Darnall Interview

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

 

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

 

Jamie: What is your book Empty Love Stories about?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: What new books will you be writing?

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

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

 

Jamie: As a writer, who are your influences?

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

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

 

Jamie: What comics do you recommend to other readers?

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

 

Erik Larsen Interview

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

Erik Larsen 2008 San Diego Comic Con

Erik Larsen 2008 San Diego Comic Con

An Interview with Erik Larsen

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: Will Savage Dragon ever become a cop again?

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

 

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

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

 

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

Erik Larsen: Desperate Times by Chris Eliopoulos.

 

Jamie: Will you be giving Aquaman any new powers?

Erik Larsen: No.

 

Jamie: What makes Aquaman an interesting character?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus a lot more–especially villains.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Tony Isabella Interview

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

It was a very satisfying story to write.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

That and hire me a lot more often.

 

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

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

 

Jamie: Anything else you want to say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramona Fradon Interview

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: How are you Ramona?

Ramona Fradon: I’m fine, thank you.

 

Jamie: Are you enjoying Toronto?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes.

 

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

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

 

Jamie: Are you making money?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Jamie: Okay (laugher).

 

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

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

 

Jamie: So you just went along with the flow?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: He was here two years ago.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: So you never bothered with Charlton?

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: The storytelling?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: Why did you stop?

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

 

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

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

 

Jamie: Do you know why they ended his series?

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

 

Jamie: It came and gone.

Ramona Fradon: Yeah.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Jamie: Did you like inking your own work?

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

 

Jamie: I heard Kirby said the same thing.

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

 

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

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

 

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

Ramona Fradon: Yeah.

 

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

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

 

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

Ramona Fradon: No.

 

Jamie: Been there done that?

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

 

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

Ramona Fradon: On Brenda I did my own inking.

 

Jamie: You penciled and inked that?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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