Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mego Teen Titans - 2009

This was the first piece I ever did for TwoMorrows' Back Issue! magazine (#33), a very small (500 words) sideline piece to accompany a larger article about the Teen Titans.

I was incredibly nervous about this being my first time in the magazine as a writer (I had been a reader and LOC writer since the first issue), so I must have gone over it half a dozen times trying to make it flow as well as possible. It must have gone over okay, since I did a number of articles for Back Issue! after this.


If one word could sum up the legendary Mego toy company, that would be it. Capable of producing breathtakingly cool plastic reproductions of kids' favorite comic book, movie, and TV characters, they just as quickly could make something so pathetically cheesy that Santa wouldn't have dared leave it for you under the Christmas tree.

And no Mego line is a better microcosm of those inherent contradictions than Teen Titans. Produced in 1977, the Teen Titans line consisted of four figures--Wonder Girl, Speedy, Kid Flash, and Aqualad (Robin having been Mego-ized in 1972). Despite being established characters in the DC universe, Mego chose not to brand them with their massively popular World's Greatest Super-Heroes label, and their packaging was different than the standard WGSH design, even though in trade ads they were sold alongside the WGSH line.

Within the line itself, quality varies wildly. While Kid Flash, Speedy, and Aqualad are spitting images of their comic book selves (and Speedy coming with a full complement of detailed accessories), Wonder Girl has the creepy, dead-eyed visage of a baby doll, something I doubt any young boy would've been caught dead buying. At least you could buy Batgirl or Supergirl because you had feelings for Babs or Kara that you were too young to understand, but Wonder Girl looks like she wants to help you whip up some brownies in your sister's Easy-Bake Oven.

Also, Teen Titans would become victims of Mego's cost-cutting practices at the time. They used an inferior, cheaper plastic on them, causing "molting", where the caucasian skin tones eventually turn a sickly grey, making the kids look like they're the stars of Teen Titans Zombies.

As many toy manufacturers have learned, kids are an inscrutable bunch, and you never know what will sell. While the WGSH line was a monstrous, industry-changing hit, the Teen Titans line flopped. According to Benjamin Holcomb, author of the ultimate WGSH reference work, Mego 8" Super-Heroes: World's Greatest Toys, "The Teen Titans had an extremely short production life, offered to retailers only once, at Toy Fair in February 1977. With no marketing support, the Teen Titans failed." (Yet the line lasted long enough to produce one tiny packaging variant and two different sets of arms--one that bent, one that didn't--for Wonder Girl)

One of the other things going against the line was Mego's (usually excellent) timing. In 1977, there was no Teen Titans cartoon or movie, and the Teen Titans comic was heading for its second cancellation. Ironically, the Titans would take off to nearly unrivaled heights of popularity under the genius hands of Marv Wolfman and George Perez just a few years later.

Partly because of their unusualness (face it, you don't see a lot of Speedy toys out there, even in a post-DC Direct world) and the fact that they weren't collected en masse like a lot of the other WGSHs, the Teen Titans now go for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to collectors.
Teen Titans Go!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tex And Me - 1999

Tex Blaisdell was one of the legendary artists that taught at The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art while I was a student there. But those of us who lived at the Clinton House--one of the ramshackle student houses--got to know him a little bit more than as just an instructor.

Tex taught at the school two days a week, so he would stay at the Clinton House on Thursday nights, which means on Thursday and Friday afternoons the dozen or so of us who lived in the Clinton House would have a garrulous, chain-smoking, and profane giant of a man sitting at our kitchen table, working, smoking, and telling stories. (Pictured above with Tex is, L to R, me and two fellow Kubies, Sean Murphy and Dan O'Connor)

When Tex died in 1999 I was deeply saddened, and more than a little mad at myself I didn't take the time to get to know Tex better. Figuring his death might not even be mentioned in the various comic book zines at the time, I decided to write a letter to The Comic Buyers Guide, which they printed in their April 30, 1999 edition.

I've been fortunate enough to have had a lot of my work--both art and writing--see print over the years. But this remains one of the things I am the most proud of, even over a decade later.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Captain Action & Aquaman - 2010

A couple of months ago, my friend Ed Catto was kind enough to ask me to write a one-page piece about the Ideal Aquaman Captain Action dolls from the 1960s, to run in Moonstone's Captain Action Season 2 #2.

I was only happy to do so (because I don't write and talk about Aquaman enough), and was thrilled to see the piece in print when I met Ed at the 2010 New York Comic Con, where he had me autograph some copies.

I didn't want to post the piece on any of my blogs while the book was out, but now that a few months have passed I figured it was okay--brief as it is, I thought it came out well and looks good (which is why I'm posting it in its original form instead of as text). I'm posting it today because I'm hoping Santa will read it and leave me a MIB Mera Super Queens doll under the tree.

Click the above graphic to see a more readable version, and thanks again Ed!

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Richie Rich Meets Frankenstein" - 2009

This was the second "Guest Blogger" post I did for the blog Frankensteinia, exploring one of the more esoteric corners of the Frankenstein legend. It was really fun to write, and looking over this piece again makes me want to do another one--Frankensteinia is such a great site I love being able to contribute to it.

Richie Rich meets The Frankenstein Gang!

Yes, the Poor Little Rich Boy's adventures did go beyond just looking for places to store his money. In Richie Rich Vault of Mystery, (one of approximately 10,000 different Richie Rich titles) Richie and his less solvent pals had all kinds of adventures, none as exciting for monster fans as this issue, when he encountered Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man!

This story opens with Richie and his pal Freckles visiting "The famous old Castle Theater!"
Richie and Freckles at first thing the spooky sound is just the wind, but things start seeming more suspicious when an old sandbag comes crashing down the rafters, almost killing Richie! Richie is still not put off, but even he starts to worry when a knife comes sailing from out of the darkness and lands just a few inches above his head!

They decide to split, but on the way out they encounter...The Wolf Man! (Freckles calls it "The Ghost of the Wolf Man!"--why it couldn't just be The Wolf Man, I don't know. Maybe Freckles knows something we don't). He begins to chase them, throwing stage pegs at them. He hits a lever on the wall, causing a trap door to open underneath Richie and Freckles, who fall down into it:

They land in a room where props are kept, where they run into Frankenstein's Ghost (again with the ghost stuff!). They run away from Frankenstein, only to run into the Wolf Man again. They head down another corridor, only to be met by...The Ghost of Dracula! End of Part One!

After a break consisting of two one-page Richie gag strips, we're back to our main story
Hmm, these monsters seem pretty clumsy. I wonder...

Anyway, Richie's pants get stuck on a nail, and in his rush to escape he tears off his pocket, leaving a trail of money in his wake. While Freckles runs away, Richie stops to notice that the monsters are happily scooping up the cash! What kind of monsters are these?

Richie and Freckles hide in a nearby sarcophagus (you'd think this would be a perfect time for the Mummy to make an appearance, but no). The monsters think they've scared the kids off, so they resume their "plan", which involves them heading down yet another trap door. Richie and Freckles follow them, and we see that the monsters are in the middle of digging through a wall, into the bank next door!

Richie is now convinced these aren't real monsters, or ghost monsters, or whatever--they're just crooks in make-up! Freckles asks what he and Richie can do to stop them, but Richie says they don't need to do anything!

Freckles is confused at that, as the monsters drill make it through to the bank:

...the end!

While its disappointing to this monster fan that Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man aren't real, merely crooks involved in a Scooby Doo-esque plot, I am intrigued at the notion that these (or any) monsters do, in fact, exist for real in the universe of Richie Rich. After all, Richie and Freckles don't immediately come to the conclusion that these are just guys in costumes--for a moment, they believe they are the real deal, which I find an intriguing footnote to the world of Richie Rich.

Like most Richie Rich stories, there are no writing or art credits on this story, although its safe to assume that this was penciled by the great Ernie Colon, at least. He does a great job rendering the three monsters, especially on the cover, which is about as moody as Harvey was going to allow a Richie Rich comic to get.

One other interesting note: in this story, Dracula is clearly the ringleader, yet the group is called "The Frankenstein Gang." We know who the real star is, don't we?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Magic - 2010

This was a piece I did for the awesome horror movie site The Terror Trap, as part of their "Reflections on...Fear!" special series of posts for Halloween. I had told this story numerous of times, but had never had the chance to write it down.

I had to flesh it out a bit to make it worth reading, and it was a blast to do. I was awed by the line-up of people the guys at TT had involved for the "Reflections" series, and felt a bit out of my league. But they must have liked what they read, because I'm currently at work on another piece for them. Stay tuned!

In 1978, I was seven years old and at the time my Mom was working weekends. That meant I spent Saturday nights with my Dad and one of the few things he and I had just between us was watching the re-runs of the original Star Trek, which were blanketing the airwaves at the time.

Around this same time, the movie Magic--starring Anthony Hopkins as a demented ventriloquist (redundant?) was out, and the trailer for it was a creepy, slow push-in on the doll as it talked right into the camera. It was so creepy, in fact, that whenever it came on my parents would change the channel, lest I get too upset and freak out. Keep in mind, this was in an age before remote controls, so my parents actually had to get up out of their chair to change the channel. I was either a well-loved child, or they simply couldn't take their son devolving into a blubbering mess.

Anyway, one Saturday night my Dad and I having our regular dinner (pizza, yum!) and enjoying the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise. During a commercial break, my Dad went upstairs to go the bathroom, leaving me alone in front of the TV. I think you can see where this is going.

In the middle of the block of ads, comes the commercial for Magic. I think it took about half a second for me to spy those creepy, dead eyes of the ventriloquist dummy, and I ran screaming upstairs, probably two steps at a time. I got to the bathroom door--still closed--and began pounding on it to be let in, I was so terrified. I can only imagine what must have been going through my Dad's head as he heard his son pound the door and scream as if he was being stabbed.

In what seemed like an eternity, my Dad opened the door and retrieved me. He calmed me down, apologized for his lack of oversight, and we went back downstairs. By that point of course the commercial was over, and I uneasily sat back down to finish my pizza and watch the rest of the episode. I'm sure whatever it might have been, it paled to the fear I was feeling that even something as comforting and fun as Star Trek could be interrupted by a jolt of pure terror.

Years later, when I was toiling away at a video store and watching movies by the metric ton, I screwed up the courage to take our beat-up VHS copy of Magic home and watch it. Of course, it didn't come close to inducing the white-knuckle fear the trailer had instilled in me, and I had to chuckle that I ever got so scared over something so silly.

Here's the trailer I'm referring to. Despite having seen the movie, I still can't quite watch it comfortably, so for those of you with stronger constitutions than I, have fun:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Spider-Man and His Amazing Power Records - 2010

This was the most recent piece I did for TwoMorrows' Back Issue! magazine, an all-Spider-Man issue. I love the old Power Records, and am always looking for an excuse to write about them!

It should come as no surprise that the Amazing Spider-Man was unquestionably the "marquee" character for Power Records' book-and-record adaptations of Marvel Comics characters, taking up the majority of vinyl real estate alongside his fellow stars Captain America, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Conan the Barbarian, and assorted "monster" characters (whose Power Records we discussed back in Back Issue #36).

But, despite being the headliner of over a dozen different Power Records releases (in both 45" and LP format), when you're talking about Spider-Man as Power Records star, you're really only talking about six stories: "Mark of the Man-Wolf", "Invasion of the Dragon Men", "The Mad Hatter of Manhattan", "Return of the Conquistador", "The Bells of Doom", and "The Abominable Showman." Power Records never met a story they couldn't repackage, and they got a lot of mileage out of these six audio adventures.

Undoubtedly, the most famous of these stories is the book-and-record adventure "The Mark of The Man-Wolf" (an abbreviated version of The Amazing Spider-Man #124 by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro), where we learn that J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son John, having brought back a mysterious, glowing rock from a recent trip to the moon, is turning into a snarling, savage man-wolf at night.

Later, J.Jonah gets his son to tell him how all this came about, and even though John warns him to leave, Jonah doesn't listen. Sure enough, John Jameson turns into a werewolf again, ready to attack his father. Spider-Man, never one to listen to JJJ, shows up and tests a "theory"--that the moon rock around the Man-Wolf's neck is causing the transformations. In a wonderfully vivid, genuinely frightening (to the then-nine-year-old me, at least) moment, we hear Spidey forcibly rip the moon rock pendant off of the Man-Wolf's neck, sounding like it took a nice hunk of skin along with it:
The actor playing the Man-Wolf (sadly, uncredited) lets loose a piercing howl, a moment as powerful anything Power Records ever produced.

Now back to normal, JJJ is unwilling to bring his son to a doctor, because of the publicity that might generate. Spider-Man, disgusted, walks away, ignoring Jameson's protests---a typically downbeat ending for a Power Records Marvel Comics story.

While the other Spider-Man stories don't quite reach the level of oomph that "Mark of the Man-Wolf" does (maybe because "Man-Wolf" is the only Spider-Man story adapted from an actual Spidey comic book), they all have their moments of fun, excitement, and pure goofiness that were the hallmark of Power Records.
In "Invasion of the Dragon Men" (the only other Spider-Man story to be produced as both a book and record set), an astronomy class heads out into the woods to do some star-gazing. Two kids, Jimmy and Sue, sneak off to neck in the woods (although from the way the voice actors play it, it sounds like its a bit more than that!).
As written, Jimmy's an unfunny jerk, but for some reason he's able to talk Sue into making out (Sue, you can do better). A few moments later, the young couple come across a small army of reptile men, led by an actual fire-breathing dragon! The dragon in question is named Draco, self-described "King of the Dragon-Men!"

The next morning, Peter Parker's Spidey-Sense goes off, and (after giving Mary Jane the brush-off), he investigates as Spider-Man. He finds Draco and his men operating in an underground base. Despite Draco's impressive size and strength, Spider-Man continually mocks Draco throughout the story, culminating in a battle atop the Empire State Building. We learn that Draco is not an alien, but a human named Demosthenes Drake who had his blood mixed with a giant species of iguana. Draco lunges for Spidey, only to seemingly plummet to his death. I say "seemingly", because Spider-Man does find a tiny iguana, just as it crawls away into a hole in a wall. Does this mean Draco might return some day? We'll never know, since Power Records didn't do sequels.

The other Spider-Man adventures were audio stories only, appearing all together on an LP, as well as on individual 45s. In "The Mad Hatter of Manhattan!", a Batman-esque crook goes on a crime wave, using a hat of his own invention that gives the wearer almost superhuman powers. In "The Return of the Conquistador", an ego-centric Spanish History professor believes he is the reincarnation of an ancient conquistador, bent on taking over the world, one murder at a time. In "The Bells of Doom", Spidey meets a super-villain named Ultra-Sonic Man, who is bent on getting revenge against members of the recording industry (and that makes him a super-villain how?), but decides to try and take out Spider-Man first. Good plan!

Finally, in "The Abominable Showman", Peter and Mary Jane go to see a magic act by a guy named Merlin. It seems harmless enough, but nevertheless Peter's Spidey-Sense tells him there's danger. Turns out Merlin's three "assistants" (a rope, a monkey, and a robot) are helping Merlin get revenge on the university eggheads that didn't recognize his vast intellect. Thankfully, Spider-Man puts a stop to all of it before Merlin's plan can come off.

Spider-Man was played by two different actors (one in "Man-Wolf", and one in the other recordings), both of them doing a solid job in the dual role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (each use the old voice actor's trick of dropping their voice an octave when meek Parker changes into the heroic Spidey).

The sound effects are uniformly powerful and evocative (even though the sound of Spider-Man swinging away is the same one as Superman flying into the sky--Power Records knew how to save money), and there are some just plain odd and/or heavy moments for what are meant to be children's records--in "Return of the Conquistador", two cops discuss a victim that's had his ear sliced off(!), in "Bells of Doom", there's a reference to poet Rod McKuen (kids love poet humor), and I have to wonder what a parent might have thought if the only part of "Invasion of the Dragon Men" they overheard was Jimmy and Sue getting hot and heavy.
The two book-and-record sets make for great packages, featuring top-flight creators (the aforementioned Conway, Kane, and Romita on "Mark of the Man-Wolf", and Larry Hama, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin on the art for "Invasion of the Dragon Men") on the accompanying comic book. For whatever reason, Power Records did not see fit to put that kind of effort on the jacket art for the LP-only Spider-Man records; both front and back sleeves feature sloppy, sketchy artwork that looks like it was done in-house rather than by anyone at Marvel.

I was curious whether Gerry Conway had any hand in the adaptation of his story for the Power Records version, and here's what he said, giving us some additional insight as to how the Power Records came about in the first place: "No, I had nothing to do with the adaptation or the record, sorry to say. I do recall that this was the product of a deal made by Martin Goodman's son, Chip Goodman, while Martin was out of town. Apparently Chip sold all media rights for all Marvel properties to some guy who offered him a $5000 advance, with a five year term, and no guarantee that he'd actually produce anything. This record, and a couple of other things (Stan Lee at Carnegie Hall, I believe, was one) were the only projects that ever went anywhere as a result of that deal. Needless to say, I heard Martin wasn't too happy with Chip as a result."

Sadly, none of the Power Records material has ever been collected onto a modern platform; apparently various copyright issues prevent it. Which is a darn shame, because the material, with its corny jokes and audio pops and hisses, still works on modern audiences--on my Power Records blog (, I've posted entire book-and-record sets, along with mp3 audio files, and on almost every one there's a comment by some now-grown comic fan who says they play the records for their kids, who love them. Power Records truly were powerful!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Interview with Gerry Conway - 2008

Initially, I didn't plan to include interviews on my writing blog, but I really am quite proud of some of them, if for no other reason than I was able to keep my composure with people whom I idolized. Almost all my blogs have featured interviews with writers, artists, editors, and more, and they are some of the things I'm most proud of as a blogger/writer/historian.

Some interviews I've done via email, and some live over the phone. For the most part, I prefer to do them via email because transcribing a live conversation is so tedious it drives me crazy. That said, I have to admit that with a few exceptions, live interviews come out much better, since its an actual conversation which inevitably yields more interesting observations.

Case in point: the time in 2008 I got to interview one of my comic book heroes, Gerry Conway. I was in the middle of my run on my JLA Satellite blog, and growing up Gerry Conway simply was the JLA writer, period, clocking in more years and issues than any other writer for the team, before or since.

Gerry was incredibly generous with his time, answering some of my geekier questions with charm and humor. I knew as soon as I first posted it back in July 2008 that this was one the best interviews I had ever conducted.

Growing up when I did, Gerry Conway simply was the writer of Justice League of America, always had been the writer, and always would be the writer. The JLA was under his authorship when I first discovered the book, and he was responsible for almost all the stories I think of when I think of the book.

Since Gerry had left the world of comics to write for television, he was (for me) tough to get a hold of, so I resigned myself to not being able to talk to him directly for the blog.

Luckily, he started his own blog,
Conway's Corner, and through that I was able to contact him and ask him if we wouldn't mind talking to me for JLA Satellite.

He generously said yes, and I got to spend part of an afternoon doing something I never would have dreamed of when I was a kid reading his comics: sitting around talking JLA with the Gerry Conway:

JLA Satellite: After writing issues in between other writers like Martin Pasko, Cary Bates, how did you end up writing JLA full time?

Gerry Conway:
Well, let's begin with, I did those [early] issues during my second run at DC.

I worked at DC three separate times, first time was in the late 60s where I broke in, basically trying to get every assignment I could. The second times was after I had spent five years at Marvel, and I sort of brought in as a Great White Hope by Carmine Infantino, to offset the fact that Marvel was doing very well, so I was kind of a feather in his cap.
So they sent me around to write for a variety of different editors. I'd always loved the JLA, it was one of my favorite books growing up, so one of the editors I definitely wanted to work with was Julie Schwartz.

Julie brought me aboard to write some issues, and at that point he was casting about, trying to decide who was going to be the regular writer on the book.

I then went back to Marvel for about a year, maybe less, and when I came back to DC, it was under terms of an exclusive contract, for which they were going to guarantee me a certain amount of writing each month. By that point Julie decided he wanted me to be the regular writer for JLA.

JLA Satellite: I ask this of everybody--Len Wein, Frank McLaughlin, because unfortunately he's not around to talk about it--what was it like working with Dick Dillin? Even then, his run on the book was astounding, but nowadays, if an artist is on a book for six months, that's a huge deal...

GC: Dick was one of the old pros, he'd been around a long time, and the old pros, they looked at it as a long-term commitment. In fact, they were glad, because it meant they didn't have to hustle, and they could just concentrate on doing good work.

I never actually personally met Dick. We collaborated in the traditional DC format of me writing the scripts in advance, and they would be filtered through the editor, and the writer and artist, for the most part, unless they were personal friends, didn't connect up. It was kind of a hands-off system.

But as I worked with him, and I discovered what were his strengths, what he enjoyed doing, how could I focus my writing on things that would bring out the best in him.

He brought his own take to each of the characters without ever giving the sense it wasn't the same character [that you knew]. It as quite an accomplishment.

JLA Satellite: Did you have any expectation you'd be on the book for so long?

GC: You know, I actually enjoyed working on the book so much that it never occurred to me I would leave it [laughs]. Short of leaving the comic book business, I thought I would be writing the book. It felt like this was my home.

JLA Satellite: It certainly was an extraordinary run. I mean, as far as I ever knew, you always wrote the JLA!

[laughs] I had written it longer than any other writer to the point I left--I wrote it even longer than Gardner Fox.

JLA Satellite: I was about six or seven when I first discovered the book around 1978, so you were The Writer, so, okay, Gerry Conway Writes the JLA, sort of a fait accompli.

GC: Yeah, it's just part of the Natural World.

JLA Satellite: [laughs] Yeah, exactly--I was like "That's who writes this book." Anyway, something else I've wondered about--when you created Firestorm, he joined the JLA not too long after. Was that something you had in the back of your mind as you were creating him, that you'd use him in JLA, too, or was that sort of an accident?

GC: I didn't think of it in those terms. I believe I brought him into the JLA after his own title had been canceled.

JLA Satellite: Yeah, it was in between his book ending and his back-up strip in The Flash.

GC: I just wanted to keep writing him. I thought he fit into the group really well because they didn't have a really young member.

JLA Satellite: That's related to something else I wanted to ask you, they would occasionally have these polls where they would ask readers "Well, who do you think should join?", and one time they asked, Zatanna was the #1 choice, so they said "Well, next issue she's going to join!"

I realize this is very obscure, but I'm sort of fascinated--how closely would you guys follow that? What would happen if the people who bothered to write in picked the most ridiculous character, and you'd be stuck with them?

GC: Well, I think we would've found a way to make it work, but the reality is the reason these characters would be the favorite choice is because that's the character we did the best, or had the most intriguing back story.

So, it wasn't likely they'd pick somebody out of left field.

JLA Satellite: [laughs] You'd be stuck writing Ragman or the Queen Bee or somebody like that...

GC: Well, you'd have to admit, that could've been kinda cool [laughs], to bring in somebody...and this is what happened later, after I left the book, that they brought in some really left field characters, and that can be fun, that can be a way to really pump up the excitement.

But I think we knew it was a fairly safe bet that we'd have the most likely candidates.

JLA Satellite: I had a contest on the blog, asking people to pick the best character who should've joined but never did, and someone sent in Shade, the Changing Man.

When I first saw it, I thought, that's the stupidest...but then when I thought about it, I thought, that would've been really interesting!

GC: Exactly.

JLA Satellite: To throw that bomb into the book like that, so I said, ok, that's the winner.

GC: Exactly, and it should be fun like that, otherwise why do it?
JLA Satellite: The three-parter you wrote, "When A World Dies Screaming" (JLA #s 210-212, drawn by Rich Buckler) was originally conceived (and promoted) as an all-new treasury-sized JLA comic. Any idea why it was scrapped? And whose idea was it to use it in the regular book a few years later?

GC: The treasury-sized books were dropped because of mediocre sales versus expensive printing costs. I don't know who thought to use it in the regular books later, but it certainly made sense not to waste the material.
JLA Satellite: Why did you leave the book at #216, only to come back two issues later? I remember buying that on the newsstand and going--like I said, it didn't occur to me someone else could write the book--"Wow, what's going on here?"

GC: I hate to say it, but it's so long ago, I don't really remember the circumstances.

I know I was having some trouble at DC, in and around that period, and there was some interest in changing up the title in some way. I don't really remember the exact circumstances, I'm much clearer about why I left the book ultimately [laughs].

JLA Satellite: [laughs] Yeah, well, well get to that in second. But you left at the end of #216, co-wrote the JLA/JSA team-up with Roy Thomas [JLA #'s 219-220], wrote the ""Beast Men" story [JLA #'s 221-223], which was very intense, much more intense than anything I had seen in the book before. And then JLA Detroit kicked in not long after that.

What was the genesis for that change? Was JLA not selling well, so DC would've been open to that kind of experimentation?

GC: There was a sense, at that time, that they needed to shake things up.

It was right about that time that John Byrne was doing Superman [actually, that was two years later--Rascally Rob], new editors were being brought in, and regardless of what sales of the title was, they felt they needed a change.

The book had been doing very well. The sales took a hit when we did JLA Detroit, but before that I don't think they had been doing particularly badly. I think it had been doing fine.

But there was this sense that it needed sort of a revamp--and I didn't necessarily disagree, one way or the other, but I saw an opportunity to do something new for me--by that point I had been writing the book nearly ten years--but here was an opportunity to bring in some new characters, and it seemed like it might work.

And we had a new artist, Chuck Patton, and we had a new editor, and sense of, let's try something a little different.

It didn't work, and I think part of the reason it didn't work was the choice of characters, part of the reason it didn't work because of the collaboration between Chuck and myself was okay, but it never really sparked, it was a combination of things.

After five or six months, I'm not sure how long it lasted, but I was starting to campaign to change it back--"You know, this was an interesting experiment, but I don't think it's working. Let's go back to the formula that had worked and find some way to revamp it."

But by that point, they felt the problem wasn't with the book, it was with me. That was the problem, so they decided just to replace me.

JLA Satellite: I was going to ask you about that--you were gone in the middle of a storyline. All of a sudden, someone else was writing the book. There was no discussion of it on the letters page, and I remember thinking, what the hell's going on here?

GC: These things happen. I was burning out, as a writer. I had a lot of resentment over the way I was being treated at DC, by some of the people there. I felt I had been scapegoated for policy changes that hadn't anything to do with me.

I had been hired to put out a lot of writing--you know, that was what they wanted when they brought me on. And then I became criticized for...putting out a lot of writing.

JLA Satellite: [laughs]

GC: No one said, hey, we'd like you to cut back a bit and focus on a handful of titles, and we'll work with you on that. They decided I couldn't do it; I was old news and they didn't want to hear it.

They pushed me out; first they fired me off the editorship of [Fury of] Firestorm, then I was pushed off that book, which I had created, and then they took me off JLA, a book I'd been writing for ten years.

Then they basically started cutting my assignments without replacing the work that they had guaranteed me, and that they were paying me for. And then they wanted me to give money back!

At the end of the year, they had guaranteed me X number of pages, writing during the course of the year, and paid me for that, and then when they hadn't given me the assignments to do it, they said I had failed to deliver.

It became really rancorous, it was really bad--

JLA Satellite: Hard to believe you left to work in Television instead.

GC: Yeah, certainly, you get treated just as badly, but...

JLA Satellite:'re paid a lot more.

GC: I did go back and write for Marvel; they thought I was doing a pretty good job.

And you know, all the people that were involved with that are no longer with the company. Today, I don't have any resentment over it because its, what, twenty-five years ago? And I certainly had my share of the blame.

JLA Satellite: I specifically wanted to ask about Aquaman, because this [JLA Detroit] was a big moment in the character's history. Here was a character not in the book that much, and here he is taking the reins and taking charge.

When you were scoping out the plans for changing the book, was Aquaman someone you wanted to write more of, and this was the way to do it, or was it more of, "Hey, I have this idea to rejigger the team, and this character, because he's not appearing anywhere else right now, would be the most logical candidate"?

GC: Yeah, it was that.

The goal was to have a group of characters who could relate to each other, specifically in this title, and we could do continuity within this title. That's why I started focusing on Red Tornado, say, and Zatanna, for story lines before this because they didn't have series anywhere else. And it made it easier to develop personal conflicts and personal storylines.
It was hard to get conflict between Superman and Batman if they don't have that conflict outside the book.

JLA Satellite: Looking back over your run, I was reminded how much of Red Tornado's story you built up in JLA--you developed his relationship with Kathy, you introduced the orphan girl, his adopted daughter Traya; a lot of the stuff that people would use when they were writing Red Tornado. So I wondered if you were looking to do that for Aquaman.

GC: I really like Aquaman, I really loved the Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo run in the 60s. I thought what they were doing was just awesome.

So I thought he had a lot of potential, it's just at that time--it really makes no sense for an ocean-based character to lead a team that's based on a lake.

JLA Satellite: [laughs]

GC: You know, if you think about it, it's really dumb, but hey! It seemed like a good idea at the time.

If I had to do over again, and I thought about it the way people think about it today, I would've picked a character like Martian Manhunter, but he wasn't as interesting a character as he would become later on.

JLA Satellite: You did that two or three-parter, where Aquaman goes to look for Mera [JLA #'s 241-243], and he quits! He finally says, you know, I need to be with my wife and I'm gonna leave.

That was very abrupt, because he sort of burnt a lot of bridges with this group, saying "You need to have commitment, commitment", dragged them all the way out to Detroit, and then goes "Naah, I'm gonna leave."
I look back on that and realize that was probably wasn't necessarily something that was your idea, because they had the [1986 Aquaman] mini-series...

GC: At that point, I was being told what to do. My autonomy on the book--whenever I had any--probably ended around the time I left the book that first time, and after that I was basically trying to manage my way within the DC system.

I don't think [Aquaman leaving] would've been my goal, leaving a group he had brought together.

JLA Satellite: [laughs] Yeah, I have to say, when I read those issues, I was fourteen or fifteen, I was really mad--"Gerry, you've made Aquaman a big jerk!"

But they had that Neal Pozner mini-series that I really loved, just a few months later, and I eventually I figured, oh, okay, this was probably some edict from DC, saying, we gotta get him out of this book.

When you're a kid, you tend to think the writer and artist are running everything, you think everyone is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, totally running the show. Later on, you go, ok, I see what's going on.

GC: Nowadays they coordinate things a lot more, and I think it works a lot better. But back then you had a very weak management team at the top of things, and you had editors that have never done this kind of work before.

JLA Satellite: I have one other nerdly question, and then I'm done with these sorts of questions--when you were coming up with the idea for JLA Detroit, a lot of the characters that bailed out were not appearing anywhere else--Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Hawks, was that your choice not to include them, or was it...
GC: No, that was my choice, in one sense, I wanted to include new characters. The reason being, the template I wanted to use was the transition from the old Avengers to the new Avengers, around issue #20, where you had this group made up of the permanent Marvel superstars, it then transitioned to this group of new characters who were going to be led by one familiar figure.

JLA Satellite: Right, Captain America.

GC: I remember that's when the book became interesting to me. It allowed the title to be whole.
If I had used more characters from the general DC universe, they would've come in with their own baggage, their own personalities, and at that point I just wanted to write something that was essentially a new book.

That was the plan, but it never coalesced.

JLA Satellite: Wow, I've waited all these years to learn these things!

GC: [laughs]

JLA Satellite: Looking back...when I talked to Steve Englehart, he was really happy to talk about his year on the JLA. Because most of the time when he's interviewed, he's asked about his Batman stuff with Marshall Rogers or his Marvel work, but he was very proud of his JLA work, and he didn't get asked about it much.

Do you look back at your JLA run, and say "That was some of my best stuff"?

GC: There were a handful of titles I was really connected to as a writer and a fan, of course one being [The Amazing] Spider-Man, another was Firestorm, because I had created him and felt paternal about it, and JLA, because it was one of the first books I can remember being a fan of.

I can still remember the first three or four I bought off the newsstand, one with Kanjar Ro, or maybe even Despero, it was really early. And so I was always a fan of the book even though I lost track of it a bit when I became a Marvel fan.

I felt, you know, a personal commitment to it, and I really enjoyed writing the stories. I really enjoyed the "here's the group, let's split up into smaller teams" stories, I enjoyed coming up with the Crisis each year, trying to top the previous year. The more complicated...

JLA Satellite: Poor Dick Dillin!

GC: Yeah..."What can we do now?". That was a lot of fun for me...once I found a way to hook into individual characters and develop stories for them, like The Red Tornado, then it really felt like a personal book.

Plus it was an ego trip...after a certain point you realize, "Wow, I've been doing this longer than anybody...this is cool! I want to see if I can break some records..." So there was a certain amount of fun doing that.

JLA Satellite: Are there particular ones you look back on and think "Those were the best ones I did"?

GC: Yeah, I think most of those would be the "Crisis" stories I did, I'm particularly fond of the crossover with the western characters [JLA #'s 198-199] because that to me was fun...doing Jonah Hex [laughs] was strange doing that.
I liked the Red Tornado story lines...I don't remember specific issues, I remember story lines, arcs. It was fun.

JLA Satellite: Yeah. I've mentioned here before, and on your blog, that--and I am barely kidding when I say--that I think that JLA #200 is the single greatest piece of literature ever produced by Western Civilization.
GC: [laughs] Oh, wow. How old were you when that book came along?

JLA Satellite: Let's see...1981, so I would've been ten years old.

GC: I figured it would've been around that time.

JLA Satellite: This probably won't make the interview, but I have to mention this--years ago, I had a girlfriend who also read comics.

Now that's rare enough, but she didn't like superhero comics. I guess if you don't first find them as a kid, they don't resonate with you, so she couldn't understand why I liked them so much.

So one day we decide to exchange comics we each liked, and she asked me for one comic that summed up what I liked about superhero comics. So I bought her a copy of JLA #200.

GC: Wow.

JLA Satellite: So anyway, I give it to her, its in a bag and board, and she puts it off to the side.

She lived in another part of the country, so we only saw each other every few months. I go back, a month or two later, and there's the book, in the same spot it was when I left, completely untouched.

And I thought to myself "This relationship's doomed! She can't find the time to read one measly 72-page superhero comic!"

And you know what? I was right! We eventually broke up.

GC: [big laughs].

JLA Satellite: I thought "How can you not read this?" Its so much fun, it moves so fast, the artwork is so nice..."

Really, I'm like, "If Gerry Conway only wrote one comic book in his life, this would be enough." This thing was the most tremendous comic ever.

GC: [laughs]

JLA Satellite: I'm going to leave it at that. I cannot express how much it means to me to get to talk to you. I appreciate all the work you did, its so beloved to me, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me for the blog.

GC: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for remembering.

I can safely say there probably wouldn't be a JLA Satellite blog without Gerry Conway. His run on JLA gripped my then-seven-year-old imagination, introducing me me to a world of heroism and camaraderie that has stuck with me, all these years later. This blog is in part a tribute to how much I loved those books, and Gerry Conway was the creative drive behind most of them. Thanks--for everything--Gerry!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Colouring Book Theatre: Monsters - 2008

I followed up my first "Guest Blogger" piece for Plaid Stallions fairly quickly with another installment of Colouring Book Theatre. I was still a bit shaky about doing these--as you can see from the ultra-spare text--but in a weird way it gave me the confidence to try my hand at longer pieces for other people.

Will Eisner's The Spirit Coloring Book wasn't the only odd coloring book offered for sale in the back of Warren mags:

Always solicited alongside Eisner's effort was a coloring book from another comics master, this one at the very eve of his career: Berni Wrightson.

Berni Wrightson, with his intricate line work and obsessive cross-hatching, seems like an odd choice to headline a coloring book, but again, like Eisner's, this book was clearly aimed at the older, comics collector audience. And if the cover didn't tell you this book wasn't made for kids, maybe the opening page would:
"...Mommy, what color is the inside of someone's skull?"

The book is made up of fifteen "plates"--single-sided, page-size illustrations highlighting a particular gruesome character. There's a Ghoul:


A, ahem, "Swamp Creature":
As well as a vampire, a glob, a mummy, a werewolf, a cyclops, Frankenstein, a plant monster, a zombie, goblins, the creeping dead, an axe-murderer(fun!), a witch, and my favorite, a gun-totin' alien:

Each piece also comes with a little goofy poem describing each creature. Since the opening page says the text is copyright comics pioneer Phil Seuling, I have to assume he wrote these wonderful, EC-style ditties:

The book measures a whopping 11x17", which is a perfect size to enjoy all of the detail Wrightson put in his work. It makes me long for a classic Swamp Thing treasury comic--that would've been a sight to behold!
A very fun book, and I guess perfect for a kid who loves monsters and horror. Though at the prices this book commands on eBay, I don't think anyone would hand this treasure over to some crayola-mad tyke.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Colouring Book Theatre: The Spirit - 2008

This was the first "Guest Blogger" piece I ever did, for one of my favorite blogs, Plaid Stallions, for a feature called Colouring Book Theatre. I remember being so nervous, even though by this point I had been running The Aquaman Shrine for almost a year and a half.

I guess there was something about taking over a friend's blog, even briefly, that really made me so much more conscious about exactly what I wrote. I can't help but think that made my own blogging that much better.

Will Eisner never did anything the same as anyone else.

When I learned of the existence of an actual Spirit coloring book, published in 1974, (in research for my site, I was pretty surprised. After all, anyone old enough in the seventies to remember the Spirit probably was a tad past coloring book age, so I wondered who this book was aimed at. But who am I to question Will Eisner's business sense?

The book itself is treasury comic-sized, 10x14", and instead of a sequential story, it consists of fifteen classic Spirit splash pages, complete historical and story information for each of them.

Some of the splashes chosen for the book are unusual selections for a coloring book, like this one:

While others are a little more poster-ish and feature nice big figures to color:

And some look like they'd be a huge coloring project to undertake:
sg'd have to buy a second box of crayons before you could finish that one!

After an ad for other "Gleeful Guides by Will Eisner"(?) like Occult Cookery(??), Communicating with Plants, and Living with Astrology, the back cover features a nice big friendly shot of Denny Colt:


I'm not sure where these were sold--there's no price or UPC code, so I doubt they ever made it to any department or toy stores. They were at least sold via Warren Publication's Captain Company, who ran a small ad for it in their magazines at the time:

Will Eisner never believed comic books, as a medium, were meant to be just junk entertainment. And that belief found its way into every Spirit project, even a coloring book. You could give this book to a kid and it would challenge them, just like his work always did.

...I wonder if this will ever show up in DC's Spirit Archives series?

Monday, December 6, 2010

"The Monster Lives!" - 2008

This was the first "Guest Blogger" piece I did for the blog Frankensteinia, a simply superb site all about Mary Shelley's legendary creation--to me, it is the character-centric blog.

I've always felt like, with my own sites, I'm always striving to achieve the level of fun, visual splendor, and panache that my pal Pierre Fournier brings to Frankensteinia, and I was really touched he would ask me to write something for it. While I think I was trying a little too hard here (and it shows), overall I thought this piece, "The Monster Lives!" came out fairly well.

It's a standard tactic, in all of entertainment--go all-out on a grabber of an image to promote a project, even if that quality can't be maintained inside and/or later. Whether it be a paperback book cover, a movie poster, or a comic book cover, audiences have come to expect a certain amount of bait-and-switch when it comes to advertising.

But I would be hard-pressed to find a bigger bait-and-switch than the one Dell Comics pulled with their series of Universal monster movie "adaptations." I put that in quotes because once you get past the gorgeous painted cover(by Vic Prezio), you wonder if somehow a different comic got bound inside.

Published in 1963, the story, called "The Monster Lives", is by Don Segall and Bob Jenney(pencils and inks), opens with all the familiar trappings of the Frankenstein story--Dr.Frankenstein and Fritz and conducting an experiment to bring the dead back to life! We flash back to Frankenstein's colleagues scoffing at his theories, so he and Fritz go about their secret work at night. Grave-robbing, Fritz bringing back the wrong brain, etc.

Lightning strikes, and the monster arises! I assume that Dell, scared of the all-powerful Comics Code, didn't feel they could include too much horror(even though they were adapting a film over thirty years old at this point, and never submitted their books to the Code anyway), so you get panels like this, which aren't exactly draped in mood:
Fritz waves a torch at the Monster, which scares him off, and he escapes. It's here that the word "adaptation" really takes a beating, as the story completely diverges from the one we know, forging its own path in giant, size-thirteen boots.

The Monster comes across two kids having a picnic. As he approaches, he's not exactly met with kind words:

After the little girl falls to her death, The Monster picks up the boy, but accidentally drops him off the cliff, too, and the kid plunges to his death(serves him right for throwing a rock at the Monster!). Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz track the Monster down, drug him, and take him home.

The local constabulary and the Burgermeister figure this must be the work of Dr. Frankenstein, and head for his castle with torches(ah, I see they have the Patriot Act in wherever this is). The three of them escape via a secret tunnel, where the Doctor reads in a newspaper that America is hosting a meeting of the world's leading scientists! They hypnotize the Monster, put him in a coffin, and board a steamer bound the for U.S.

After cryptically hinting to the ship's captain as to what's in the coffin, the Captain unexpectedly drops by their cabin, and sees the Monster! The Monster, still hypnotized by the Doctor, is ordered to strangle the Captain, which he does
The three of them arrive on shore, meeting up with Hobbs, a farmer that Frankenstein made arrangements with(?). He comments "You know, this is pretty risky business, helping people get into the country illegally." Dr. Frankenstein's response? "You've been paid well enough for your trouble." So shut your yap, Farmer Brown!

While in the barn, Fritz proves to be way more trouble than he's worth, provoking the giant, murdering monster for no good reason:

This causes the Monster to cry out, which attracts Hobbs' wife, who knows nothing of her husband's nefarious dealings. She screams at the sight of the Monster, which startles some horses, who kick loose. Frankenstein grabs them both and strangles them to death. Sheesh!

Hobbs returns with yet another partner, who helps Dr. Frankenstein load the coffin into his truck, bound for New York City. Soon after, Dr. Frankenstein bursts into the scientist's meeting, and tells them of his experiment. Meanwhile, that idiot Fritz wants to hypnotize the Monster himself, and using the code word "Wake!"

Unfortunately, Fritz can't remember what the code word for "stop" is, and the Monster is now again on the loose! He smashes his way out of the hotel, knocking the good Doctor over.

He seeks refuge on an ocean liner, marked with "Danger--High Explosives On Board" signs, where some welders, scared by the Monster's sudden appearance, drop their tools, setting the ship on fire. To make matters worse, they tell the cops the Monster started the fire! Geez, ol' Frankenstein can't catch a break in this story!

The police and fire department don't want to risk an explosion so close to the city, so they tug the ship further out to sea. An explosion knocks the Doctor and Fritz into the water, but traps the poor Monster:

As you can see, the Doctor is just so torn up over the living hell he's put his creation through. The End!

It seems unfathomable to guess what Dell was thinking with this. Selling the book as a movie adaptation (it appeared as part of their Movie Classic umbrella title) is a cheat beyond belief, and in their own way Dell came up with an even grimmer story than the one they were diverging from!

This wasn't the only time Dell pulled this--they did adaptations of
Dracula, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and The Mummy all in the same style--gorgeous covers, dripping in atmosphere and making one think of the classic films--but with insides that seem to be from another planet, what with their complete lack of shadows and day-glo colors.

The Monster deserved better, but that cover still rocks.

"Rarr--Prezio good!"

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...