McGREGOR ON METH: The Rise of ComicBook Babylon

A comics interview article by: Don McGregor

While fans and readers may not know of the project yet, ComicBook Babylon is already getting plenty of attention from professionals. An introduction by Stan Lee and art by '70s fan-favorite Michael Netzer compliment rants by author and long-time creator-advocate Clifford Meth promising to expose the soft white underbelly of the comics industry.

The new book from Aardwolf Publishing – which is currently half-way through an already successful Kickstarter – collects Meth's interviews with such icons as Alan Moore, Harlan Ellison, Frank Miller, and many others unafraid to speak unpopular truths. Among other tales, it goes behind the scenes to expose how Meth and Neal Adams negotiated and delivered an unprecedented settlement for X-Men co-creator Dave Cockrum from a greedy Marvel who didn't want to part with a penny. In short, this book looks at the real villains of the comics industry.

Writer and friend of Comics Bulletin Don McGregor had a few questions for Meth.


Don McGregor: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Clifford Meth: No. I wanted to be a superhero, but being a writer was the next best thing. When I came across Harlan Ellison's work as a teenager, I finally understood the power of words: the pen is mightier than the sword if the right person wields the pen.

McGregor: When did your love affair with comics begin?

Meth: At five. My mother bought me Avengers #33, and I became a Marvel addict. By age seven, I could recognize artistic styles from just a panel or two. You could show me anything – Gene Colan, John or Sal Buscema, John or Marie Severin, Don Heck – I loved them all and understood visually what separated them from their peers. Of course, these folks had very distinct styles; today's artists are far more similar with only certain exceptions. But I could also hear the difference between Stan Lee's scripts and those of Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, or Chris Claremont. I had an ear for voice and a good visual sense, so comics were very important to me.


Spider-man Stan Lee


McGregor: When you started doing the interviews with comics creators what did you learn that surprised you most?

Meth: How different they were as individuals; how fame and fortune, or obscurity and ruin, had so thoroughly impacted their lives. But people take those same measures differently. Stan Lee, for instance, was nothing but generous, gracious, and warm from the first minute. I was a cub reporter freelancing for Home Viewer the first time we met and Stan bought me lunch. Barry Smith, on the other hand, was a horse's ass, stuck on himself, pompous...

You can't paint generations with a broad brush but, by and large, the older guys were craftsmen who never became superstars in their own heads: Don Heck, Joe Sinnott, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr. – these guys were always a pleasure to know. Some of today's crowd should take a lesson; what goes up will likely come down.

McGregor: When you wrote your original columns did you have any thought of what you hoped the series might achieve?

Meth: Yes. I'm very unrealistic. I hoped people would read them and that they'd make a difference. I'm forever grateful if I've helped anyone with what I was doing then.

McGregor: What do you see in the present as movies based on comics bring in big dollars? Do you believe that, as seems to be the case, few of the original creators are making money from the films? Do you expect anyone making millions – either behind the scenes or in front of the cameras – will speak about this at all?

Meth: This is a very loaded set of questions. You know as well as I do that as much as we might enjoy these films, their successes are the final insults added to the injurious relationships that creators have had with publishers from the get go. Having their original art torn up or not returned was bad enough. Being told, after 20 years on the day shift, that their "style" was no longer fresh was devastating. Now, seeing films making hundreds of millions and getting zero participation from characters they created, co-created, or designed – it's really tragic. It's antithetical to the messages that youngsters take away when reading.

But these publishing megaliths, which were gobbled up by entertainment empires, don't consist of guys like you and I. They consist of bottom feeders, pirates and, even worse, attorneys – just about the lowest form of human dreck.

It's a short life, Don. Our job is to help each other get through it, not take advantage of everyone we meet along the way.

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