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Don McGregor on "Killraven,” Part Three: Extreme Situations in War

A column article, Classic Comics Cavalcade by: Jason Sacks, Daniel Elkin

Welcome back to part three of our four-part interview with Don McGregor! In this part we discuss topics including the smoldering Volcana Ash, the amazing The 24 Hour Man, Orson Welles and auteurism!

Read part one of this interview here, part two here and part four here 

CB Daniel: The character Volcana Ash, that was some smoldering sexuality that you added there.

CB Jason: Good choice of words there, Daniel.

McGregor: Yeah, I loved her. I liked Volcana a lot. Volcana's definitely back in "Final Lies, Final Truths, Final Battles.” I looked around for the script pages, knowing you guys wanted to do this, but I didn't find them. They're somewhere in my filing cabinets. There's so many times over the years when these books and the other series were being discussed that I don't know exactly where everything is.

I did find, I think the very final page that I was going to write for the "Killraven" series. It's just draft copy.

Killraven Don McGregor Marvel

CB: Do you remember some of your ideas for it? 

McGregor: I'm looking at a page right here because I have a yellow sticker on it. This is stuff with lines scratched out and handwritten stuff. I know there are some images: worn torn flesh, bloody pink, beach syrup sand, goldish lemon, oh yeah. This was going to be a real happy ending. I know that any regular readers of my work will have at least one scene that they will not expect me to do! Not even you, Jason.

Now that we've hop-scotched around the series, what thoughts do you have about them? Did you find there was a progression as you read through the entire series? Did you see things set up earlier have impact later on?

CB Jason: So I would say that the thing that impressed me the most – and it had been years since I read the books last -- I was surprised at how well the story progressed. I feel like it really did move ahead in a logical sequence for me month to month. There was a surprising amount of continuity between those stories. In fact that brings me back to Grok. The realism of Grok's injury is that he gets hurt and unlike in a superhero book, he doesn't recover right away. Grok suffers a terrible injury and he becomes a burden for the rebels. I just love the way the story played out its touch of realism in an incredibly unreal storyline.

McGregor: See, this goes back to what we were talking about earlier because I had created those characters -- I could do things with them and didn't have to ask permission from anyone. So you could have revelations about this character and I wanted to feel progression of this trek but also their lives. They're being changed by events that happen, sometimes slowly, sometimes brutally, sometimes emotionally. I think that we don't realize at the time how things are affecting us and how it will shape us emotionally later on, you know. So my hope was that it was part of the journey. It was part of the life journey, and hopefully getting the people to care about what happened with these characters on that journey.

CB Daniel: For me the story of the threat of The 24 Hour Man stands out the most. So I'm wondering, was that a story that you just had in your head for a while, or did that just come out as you were putting this book together? Because it's a pretty serious story!

McGregor: Yep. I'll tell you the background of that story, and once again, I don't know how everything was in it got through. I'm just really amazed that a story with that sexual imperative as its center piece exists at all.

Craig Russell had given me a call and told me that the Bleecker Street Cinema was showing Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. I had said to him "Oh yeah I've never seen Citizen Kane," and Craig is going, "You've never seen Citizen Kane?!"

"Contrary to popular opinion, I've not seeing every movie, Craig."

"Well you know we have to go now, you have to see Citizen Kane!"

I think it's a shame that they no longer have the Bleecker Street Cinemas. It's a shame that so much of the Village Streets, many of which started as cow paths in the early New York years, thus their twisting illogic, many of the classic places that made the Village the Village are gone.

Sections of it are a tourist-trendy, but there are still places you can find that retain a lot of the history and ambiance.

This is all before VCRs and DVDs and Blu-rays made films and TV series available to people everywhere. One of the great things about New York City, in those days, if you knew where to look, what you were looking for was probably somewhere to be found.

Anyhow, after seeing Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, Craig and I went to a souvlaki restaurant that was just down the street where they carved lamb right off the slowly spinning spit, right off the sidewalk. Terrific, tasty sauce. Haven't been there in years, and I don't think I saw it when I last was in that area. Ah, I suspect it's lost.

So anyway, after the film, we were talking about films and we took these sandwiches and were sitting at a table. You're not going to find reasonable relation here, but The 24 Hour Man comes from sitting in that Greek restaurant, after seeing those two Orson Welles films.

I had this idea of where we would repeat a scene, but see it without any knowledge of what was going on and seeing it again at the end and knowing exactly what the bizarre actions meant. Which probably was Citizen Kane stimulating that approach. Craig really loved it because obviously he could have nearly a page that he could reuse and then he would only have to draw one or two new panels for it. I remember Craig was actually sketching some stuff on napkins. And I had a woman come running up in a storm in a cemetery, and that's basically where I started developing The 24 Hour Man. Again, I don't know how we got the story through.

On the one hand it's about the life imperative, the survival of a species; on the other hand it's a horrifying perverse corruption of conceiving birth. I don't want to analyze the issue too much that's really up to you guys and anyone who reads the story, but I think there is a touch of empathy in this world gone wrong.

CB Daniel: The amount of emotion that you've put into this character that is just here and then gone, it is impressive. Really impressive. 

McGregor: Thank you. Impressive in what way though, Daniel?

CB Daniel: Just that you had a full story in these, I don't know how many pages the whole thing was. There's a beginning, middle, and end, but it's so expansive. There's just so much emotions going on there. There's horror, there's passion, there's a confusion. It's really one of the most impressive things that I've read in the combined War of the Worlds story. It's amazing!

McGregor: Well thank you!

CB Jason: Right, because it feels like it's so particular of it's era because you had to create this world inside of this superhero-type story, as opposed to maybe a few years later being able to exploit these ideas. Instead it could only be done in the context of this story of these adventures. It's a unique story that could only be created in its era.

McGregor: I think there were other books to exploit things, and I think there was a time frame where writers could explore boundaries and themes if they were inclined. Doug Moench wrote some great books with Master Kung Fu. Steve Gerber did it with Howard the Duck and Man-Thing, among other things, and I know I'm forgetting a number of names.

It was a time where you could do it because there weren't people going over everything before you actually set the books out to be more. I don't really think that "Killraven,” if the filtering policy was in place, -- "The Morning After Mourning Prey" -- would have ever seen the light of day. It just wouldn't have gone through. My hope was that every time we came out with a book that it would add to the series for the people who are really following it. At the same time that it would have its own individual impact but it would also fit as part of the series as a whole. I also hoped that with each new issue, the readers who loved "Killraven" would find something unexpected, but also something new that they could explore and contemplate and enjoy. "Oh wow. I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wasn't this." I didn't want to be telling the same story over and over again.

"The 24 Hour Man" is nothing like the story that follows it: "Red Dust Legacy.” After "Death-Birth" and "The 24 Hour Man" you wouldn't think there would be any trouble with that story. In it, Killraven and Carmilla Frost square off over whether Killraven should destroy the incubators adapting baby Martians to Earth germs, a part of Wells's original novel.
"Red Dust Legacy" doesn't offer any easy answers to this.

It showcases how extreme situations can get in war, and how violent the opposing opinions can be. It showcases how such acts divide us emotionally and intellectually. And what happens to someone who can act that extreme, how does it affect or change them. Right at the time "Red Dust Legacy" came out, we had a meeting with many of the writers present about violence in the comics. And I came under fire for this scene with the Martians.

There was trouble over it.

One of the people of editorial was coming at me over the scene was also a writer. He had done a scene in one of his titles where women had been hung upside down with boiling oil or something poured over them, and if I recall correctly, the implication was that they were in some sort of ecstasy during the torture.

How the fuck can that person be getting onto me about looking at the devastating complexities of war when they're doing something like that? All I want is for this playing field to be even you guys.

Let me tell my story. You tell your story. That's your business, not mine!

If I like it, I like it. If I don't, I don't. That's my own personal opinion.

So I mean there's a lot of incredible work done by Steve and Doug and others in that time period. You had some real choices in different approaches of creating a comic book. I can't remember specifics because it's been too many years. Hell, many times I can't remember my own stuff.

CB: Don, I mentioned that in the Essential collection that they had the Marvel Team-Up story and other stuff. They kept trying to get Killraven in with the regular Marvel universe. How did that make you feel that they kept throwing Spider-Man in there, and all these things?

McGregor: See Daniel, I haven't looked at those books, or ever read them. You're talking about the fill-in issues that were done when we were late on deadline. I'm trying to organize my thoughts here. We're going way back.

Let me digress here, a little.

During the time period when “Killraven” and the “Panther” were being done, I was at a comic convention one weekend. I was talking with Jim Steranko and Jim invited me to join him at dinner with Walter Gibson, the creator of the Shadow. Jim knew that I was a pulp fan, like himself. I really wanted to go. I really wanted the chance to talk with Walter Gibson. But I had promised John Verpoorten that I would have pages for him on Monday. And I knew that if I went out and stayed out late at night, I'd never get any pages done. I'd be lucky if I finished two pages, but at least I would have kept my word to John. That's an important distinction, to John. I would give my word to John, others, not a chance. I tell Jim that I can't, and Jim is telling me, and he's right, that Walter is getting older, how many chances would I ever have to spend time with Walter Gibson, asking him any question I had about the Shadow. On the one hand, I will always regret that I didn't go; on the other, I kept my word to John. I have no idea what pages I wrote, but I still miss that opportunity to be with someone like Walter Gibson.

As you can tell, I'm still torn by this. So keeping my word and trying to meet the deadlines were important to me.

You will never find an artist that I worked with who can say that they never had anything to draw because I didn't get them script pages. Never happened. I know the artist, like myself, is trying to make a living while at the same time trying to create.

The only thing I could really be late with was finished copy, writing the Marvel way, where you do the plot first, and the finished script after the book is drawn. And my plots contained many of the dialogue bits and captions that would appear in the final script.

Not long after Craig came onto Amazing Adventures, the company wanted to put out a reprint issue to give us time to catch up. I hated the idea that we had to do a reprint so early into the series so I had this impulse to do have Craig do some pin-up pages of the characters. I could put in a lot of the background history of them that I had not been able to include in the books themselves. That way, the regular readers would get something new. Somehow, I managed to talk the idea into happening, and that became "The Rebels of January and Beyond.”

Just talking about it, I can still feel that moment when I walked into John Verpoorten's office and John looks up at me and said, "Congratulations, Don."

I'm immediately wary. I know this probably isn't good.

"For what, John?"

"Do you know what a reprint book is supposed to do, Don?" John asked, from behind his desk.

I'm hesitant. "Uhhh … yeah … it lets you catch up."

"Well, congratulations, Don, you've just made Marvel Comics history."

I suspect I don't really want to know how. "Okaaay. How … How did I do that?"

"You've just managed to put out the first reprint book late."

At any rate, when they did fill-in issues, I never read, maybe never even saw them.

Please join us tomorrow for the final part of the interview, including the Kilraven graphic novel, Yellowstone National Park, amazing comics art and the difficulty of creating innovative layouts.

Read part one of this interview here, part two here and part four here

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