Interview: Jim Shooter Goes Back to the BeginningA comics interview article by: Bryan Stroud
[Publisher's Note: My pal Bryan Stroud has graciously consented to our rerunning some of his old reviews here on "Flashback Fridays" on Comics Bulletin. Bryan runs the Silver Lantern blog and has done dozens of interviews with notable comics creators over the years. To start this series, I asked Bryan which interview he'd like to feature. His answer was one of the most controversial – and tallest men in comics.]
Jim Shooter was one of my most fascinating interviews. He'd been there and done that with many, many legendary talents and defied the odds time and again. This conversation took place in March of 2008 when he was in the midst of a new run on the Legion of Super-Heroes
Bryan D. Stroud: You started at the record age of 13 in the industry, but I understand no one was really aware of it at the beginning. Was that by design?
Jim Shooter: Well, I lived in Pittsburgh, and the offices were in New York, so everything was done through the mail and I think, I have no way of knowing this for sure, but I think my boss, Mort Weisinger, the guy who hired me, I think he thought I must be a college student. I was clearly not an older man.
JS: So I think he assumed I was in college. What had happened was I sent in a story over the transom and he sent a letter saying, “Hey, this is good, send another one.” I sent him two more together in one batch. It was a two-part story. And then he called up and said, “I want to buy these and I want you to do more,” and he gave me my first assignment, and then after that every time I’d finish one he’d give me another one to do, and so I was like a regular after that. So I was working away and, after a couple of months, he called up and asked if I could take a couple of days and fly up to New York; the company would pay and everything, and spend a couple of days in the office so I could get a little training. I’d been doing this all by just winging it. And I hesitated, because I’m a high school kid. I’m going, “Oh…uh…um…I don’t know.” And then he asked me, “How old are you?” And I said, “I just turned 14.” And he said, “Put your mother on the phone.”
JS: So what happened was that I did actually make the business trip, but I had to wait until school was over that year. It was my freshman year in high school. I had to take my mother with me on my first business trip. (Mutual laughter.) So that’s embarrassing, having to take your mother with you on your business trip.
BDS: Oh, yeah, almost as bad as on a date.
JS: It was terrific, though. They flew us up to New York and we stayed in a nice hotel, he took us to a Broadway play. It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, as a matter of fact. We spent a day at his house and I spent several days in the office getting things beaten into my head. It was a grand adventure with fancy dinners and all.
BDS: Sure. It had to be quite the eye-opener at that point in your life.
JS: It was, yeah. He took great delight in telling me which spoon to use. (Chuckle.) So that was that story.
BDS: I’ve read where you preferred reading Marvel Comics as a kid and kind of wanted to incorporate more of their style into what National was doing. What exactly did you see at Marvel that DC lacked?
JS: Well, I was born in ’51 and when I was a little kid basically DC Comics were, more or less, all there were as far as super-heroes. I mean when I was a little kid I read Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck and Superman and maybe World’s Finest. Whatever I could get my hands on. And when I got to be seven or eight it began to occur to me that it was the same story again and again and again. Comics in those days were written…at least DC Comics, were written for young kids. Mort used to tell me, “Comics are read by 8-year-olds.” Okay.
So, I started to get bored with them. I quit. I stopped reading them, because I found them kind of tedious. So the years pass and I’m 12 years old and was in the hospital for minor surgery, and when you’re in a kid’s ward in a hospital in those days, it’s awash with comic books. (Chuckle.) I was in this room with 3 other kids and there are just stacks of comic books. So, I had to kill a lot of time and so I picked up some of these comics and the first ones I picked up were the ones that I knew; Superman. I read them and found that nothing had changed. (Chuckle.) It was like; there was no difference between 1958 and 1962. And one of the reasons I read the DC titles first was because the other comics were so dog-eared and ripped up and read to death. But finally I got bored enough to try some of these newfangled Marvel comics and they were so much better. It was like, “Wow! These are fun!” So at that time the idea flickered across my little 12-year-old mind that if I could learn to write like this guy Lee, I could sell stories to these turkeys over here at DC, because they needed help. I mean I literally thought that; and my family, we were broke and needed money and when you’re 12 you can’t get a job in the steel mill, you know?
BDS: Yeah, they frown on that.
JS: Yeah, so my only hope of making any money, besides delivering papers, was to make something and sell it. And I wasn’t qualified to weave baskets or anything, so I thought I’d try this. Everybody was just terribly amused by this whole notion, but I thought I knew what I was doing. I literally spent a year studying. I mean literally getting my hands on all the Marvel comics I could and trying to take them apart and figure out things like, “Well, usually by page 6 the bad guy shows up,” and stuff like that, and that’s when I wrote that first one and I sent it off to Mort Weisinger at DC comics. This was in the summer of ’65 when I was 13. I got back a nice letter saying, “Send us another one,” and that’s what started it all. The first one I wrote that was bought was in fact the two-parter I sent in after getting the letter. Mort later bought the first one I wrote.
BDS: Fantastic and you were able to discern a little bit of…well, I don’t know if you could ever call Stan’s stuff formula, but the general gist and drift of how they worked.
JS: Yeah, the sense of it and the mechanics of it. I also realized that I was doing this to sell. I mean I think what most kids do is in their first issue they kill Aunt May and whoever their favorites are get married and they just do sweeping changes and stuff, and I realized that if I wanted to sell this, it’s got to fit in the pattern; so I was very canny about it. I tried to do a little bit of what Stan did.
For instance, one thing I noticed was that Stan’s people talked better; they talked more humanly and that they had more personality. So I tried to do that. The thing is I really wasn’t a good enough writer at age 13, but since I didn’t know what a comic book script looked like, I actually drew every panel. Kind of a crude drawing. I didn’t try to do the finished art, it was just the only way I could think of to let them know what the picture should be. I think it was a combination of the visual thinking, like the script was okay and the visual ideas were good and I think that’s what kind of put me over the bar and made Mort think that they were good enough to buy and that I was good enough to train.
BDS: So it was almost like a thumbnail thing you were doing without knowing you were doing it.
JS: Yeah, I literally drew every panel in crude little drawings, just to show what was happening, and therefore was forced (chuckle), to do a lot of things right, like have the first speaker on the left and have enough room in the panel for the copy. I quickly discovered before anyone had ever told me that once you get up over 40 words you’re probably in trouble.
JS: No, seriously. That’s a good rule of thumb for a regular sized comic book panel, and no one told me that, but when you’re lettering it all in (chuckle)…
BDS: Yeah, it becomes very apparent.
JS: It's like, “Oh, geez, this copy takes up the whole panel.” So what I ended up with was good enough to make the cut. And also the timing was good, because comics went through a big decline in the '50s and literally for years if DC needed a penciler or a writer or whatever, there were a lot of unemployed guys on the street. They would just call up one of the many people who’d been laid off, because all of these other comic book companies were going down the tubes. Well, eventually, they kind of ran out of them. People had moved on and done other things; they died, they retired and it had kind of come to the point where DC actually needed new people. So right around that time I turned up just when they needed somebody and P.S. a lot of other people turned up around that time, too, right around when I came in. There was also Archie Goodwin and Denny O’Neil and E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas. Shortly after me, I think, came Neal Adams. A whole new wave came in except that they were all like 30 or 40 (chuckle) and I was 13.
BDS: Was this also right about the time when Arnold Drake and some of the other folks were trying to start up the Guild or whatever? Did that have any impact on things or were you aware of that at all?
JS: I’d never even heard about it. I was in Pittsburgh. My only contact was Mort Weisinger. He kept it that way on purpose. And when I came up to the office, as I did periodically after that first trip; by the way, I only had to bring my mother once. These days if you let a 14 year old kid go to New York on his own, from Pittsburgh, they’d come and arrest you. But in those days, nobody batted an eye. I mean, once I’d been up there and Mort had seen that I was a foot taller than he was, I would go on my own. Stay in a hotel. No one batted an eye and it was all fine. In those days the policeman was your friend; any adult would take care of any child, so, anyway, I used to go up on my own sometimes and have these training sessions with Mort and various people. He taught me…I mean I was taught coloring, I was taught inking, I was taught…not so much penciling, but sort of penciling story-telling. How to convey the stuff dramatically and production and covers and also licensing and marketing, all kinds of stuff; I think he was secretly grooming me to someday be an editor. So, I met other people in the business, but it was always under Mort’s supervision. No way he’d let me hear about a guild.
BDS: Yeah, and obviously that you becoming an editor did come to pass later. You created several new members of the Legion to include Ferro Lad, the ill-fated Ferro Lad. Where did you draw your inspiration for those? Did they just spring forth from the brow of Zeus? (Chuckle.)
JS: You know what? In those days, yeah. I mean in those days I was young, enthusiastic and I’d just kind of do it. I didn’t even know how. I was really winging it and sometimes I would just…you know one of my problems with the Legion was that there were too many guys with powers where they’d point their fingers, I mean that’s it, whereas with Marvel comics people actually hit things, knocked things over and lifted things. So I tried to come up with guys who were strong and powerful and knew karate and stuff like that. But other than that with a lot of those early characters I just one day said, “Ferro Lad.” Hey, I lived in Pittsburgh. It’s a steel town.
BDS: (Laughter.) Perfectly logical. Now at the time it was almost unheard of to kill off a hero. Was he slated to die from the very beginning? It was a fairly brief interlude from his introduction to his demise.
JS: Yeah, like four issues. Basically, yeah, I wanted to kill a hero. Remember I said I wanted to make everything fit in the pattern and I didn’t see a lot of heroes dying. Well, Lightning Lad died temporarily and they brought him back. So I thought probably that wouldn’t fly if I wanted to kill one of the other characters, so I thought, “Well, if I make up one of my own, maybe they’ll let me kill him.” So he was brought in as the victim right off the bat. I was actually still amazed that Mort went with it. He didn’t have a problem with it. Anyway, that was the plan.
BDS: It’s kind of interesting because it seemed like he actually made more appearances post mortem than prior. He really wouldn’t die.
JS: Yes and no. I like characters to stay dead if they’re dead and as you know, in comics, if you follow them at all, like Phoenix they all come back somehow.
JS: Superman comes back…and you know I never really liked that idea. I acquiesced to it a couple of times at Marvel like when Frank Miller wanted to bring back Elektra. “Oh, geez…” And of course when you have a character like Phoenix you expect her to come back, but in any case he did remain dead. He just showed up as a ghost sometimes. As far as I know he stayed dead.
BDS: Yeah, or as a long lost twin or whatever.
JS: Well, I never paid any attention to that. (Chuckle.) I don’t count that. That was one of the things that I was thinking when I started out writing the Legion. “These guys go and get in all this danger all the time and no one ever gets hurt.” So I wanted to be more realistic. People might get hurt sometimes or somebody might die. And that’s why I did it. Anyway, that’s the Ferro Lad tale. By the way, he was supposed to be black.
BDS: Oh, really?
JS: Yeah. That’s why he had a mask on. I noticed there were no black characters anywhere, except at Marvel with the Black Panther. What an unfortunate name. And a few others, maybe working a few black characters into a crowd scene. I thought why wouldn’t there be a black guy? But I suspected that would be a problem. So I put the guy in a mask. Actually, the truth is, I drew him wearing a mask first, and I hadn’t really thought it all out, but being that he was conveniently in a mask, I thought, “Okay, he’s black.” He was in a mask in my first issue. Then I mentioned the idea that he was black to Mort and he vetoed it. “No way.” “Why not?” He said “Because then all the distributors in the south won’t carry the book.” I thought, “Well, I don’t know how to argue with that.” Anyway, he adamantly refused. Meanwhile Marvel sort of bravely marched on and started having more and more black characters and stuff and they seemed to get away with it. (Chuckle.) By that time Ferro Lad was dead, so it didn’t make any difference.
BDS: It sounds a lot like the story Neal Adams was telling me with the drug scene and so forth where Stan, as you said, just marched ahead with it and then all of a sudden, “Gee, they’re doing it. I guess maybe we could.” (Chuckle.)
JS: You know I don’t know whose came first, Stan’s or mine, but we actually did a drug story in the Legion. It was around the same time, and I certainly hadn’t read his when I did mine so I don’t know whose came first, but basically I did a backup story, this was when the Legion was moved into Action Comics, and did a backup story called “The Lotus Fruit,” where Timber Wolf gets addicted to this Lotus fruit, which is a hallucinogenic fruit and in the original ending he did not kill what’s her face, but he did remain addicted and had to go through like rehab and stuff like that and it was rejected by the Comics Code. So for Mort it was the only story I ever had to do any re-write on. He said, “You’ve got to change the ending. It’s got to be that when his girl was in danger he just heroically somehow throws off this addiction and then he’s cured. Period. And drugs are bad.” So I wrote it, the hokey ending. We caved in and Stan didn’t. (Mutual laughter.) So there you go, the two companies in a nutshell for those days. It’s different now.
BDS: Very much so. It’s kind of interesting that among your other creations the Fatal Five has had remarkable staying power. Did you have any inkling that they’d endure for 40 years? I’ve even seen them in animated cartoons.
JS: The story there is that back in the ancient days of the Legion Mort used to tell Otto Binder or Edmond Hamilton or whoever, he’d say, “Knock off Moby Dick.” (Chuckle.) And then you’d get “The Moby Dick of Space.” And they would. They’d do the giant space whale against the Legionnaires. And they would literally do that. They would just pick a classic and kind of do the Legion version of that. It was a normal thing. So I’m working away for Mort and one day he calls me up and he says, “There’s a movie coming out called ‘The Dirty Dozen;’ go see it and then do a story like that.” “Huh? What?” So I was just appalled. I can’t go see a movie and then do it as a Legion story. So what I did was I looked in the newspaper at the ad and that’s all you had to see. “Okay, it’s World War II. They get bad guys for this suicide mission that no one can accomplish.” All right. I can do that. I never saw the movie. And to this day I’ve never seen the movie.
JS: But I know that it was a World War II thing where they recruited nasty criminals to go on this suicide mission and so that was simple enough. I just worked it out. I thought first of all that it’s got to be a big enough threat that the Legionnaires need help. (Chuckle.) Second, there’s got to be a reason why the bad guys would do this. And then I cooked up the whole thing with the Fatal Five and the Suneater and all that crap and yeah, I am surprised that they have endured so long. As a matter of fact I’m surprised sometimes when my little box of DC comics comes from Cable Corps once a month and I go through it and, “Hey! That’s one of my guys!” (Chuckle.) It’s kind of cool seeing all these characters pop up again after, what? It’s been 43 years for me.
BDS: Exactly. My daughter giggles at me because I’ll watch JLU or something and I’ll suddenly gape at it and say, “Do you know who that is? That’s Mordru! Mordru the Merciless! Do you know how long he’s been around?” (Laughter.)
JS: Yeah. I remember Mordru.
BDS: Another of your characters, as a matter of fact. Like I said the legs some of them have are pretty remarkable. It must be somewhat satisfying for you to continue to see that after all this time.
JS: Yeah it is, it’s nice. They make toys and stuff. It’s really cool. I have to say DC Comics really have been good about stuff like that. Every time a toy comes out, a Legion toy of any kind, even if I didn’t create it, Paul Levitz sends me two copies of it. One for my kid (chuckle) and one for me. He used to always send me one and I wrote him a thank-you letter and said, “I give these to my son, Benjamin.” Well then I get a whole second set. It’s Paul and, “Well, you need some for yourself.” And then on top of that in recent years, every year, once a year I get a check from DC. They don’t owe me anything. I mean all that stuff was work for hire. But they say, “Hey, your stuff is appearing in this cartoon show and we’re making these toys and stuff. We don’t owe you this, but here’s a token of our gratitude.”
BDS: Very nice. You can’t beat that at all.
JS: No, I tell you, it’s been great. I thought, “Wow. That’s how I would do it if I were there. If I were running the show that’s what I would do.
BDS: It’s only right. In fact I think I saw on Neal’s webpage he was receiving a check from Paul for some such thing and he was touting what a stand-up thing that was to do and so forth.
JS: Yeah, it really has changed. (Chuckle.) Neal used to always say that the original building DC was in at 575 Lexington, it started out being this golden color. It had this sheet metal exterior, golden color and Neal used to say that as the years passed he watched that fade to sort of a shit brown.
JS: It really did, (chuckle) but I think they’re back to gold now, as far as I’m concerned. They’re doing good. I mean, it’s a big company and things will go wrong, and they’ll irritate me once in awhile, but basically I think that they’ve done a lot of stand-up things and kind of feeling their way along with some stuff, but they’re really doing pretty well.
BDS: Very good. Can’t ask much more. I saw on the Grand Comics Database that you were given credit for penciling a couple of the Adventure stories and that you did some layouts as well. Do you recall that?
JS: Well in my first stint with DC I did those little layouts for every single panel of every single page of every single story.
BDS: Okay, so that’s what they’re referring to.
JS: Yeah, I would do these roughs, but…I mean they were comprehensive. Everything was there. This cracks me up about Wikipedia and places like that is like on a story where I wrote it; I laid it all out; I drew the character and drew the costume he was in, to the best of my ability, obviously Curt Swan did the final art and it looked a hell of a lot better, but they’ll give credit to the penciler as the co-creator of that character. Why? They penciled the issue, yeah, but I drew that guy. Every detail about him is from me. I came up with it all by myself. Nobody coached me. Oh, the other thing that cracks me up is when they give Mort plot credit. I mean, “He couldn’t possibly have done this, so it must be Mort.” They’d give Mort plot credit on stuff I sent in over the transom. I mean, come on. Anyway, it’s not like it makes a big difference in my life. But it’s like I’m the “co-creator” of a character that I did everything on.
BDS: Exactly. I had the opportunity recently when it came to my attention that the original art for the Green Arrow postage stamp from a few years ago was up for sale on ComicLink.
JS: Yeah, I remember it.
BDS: Anyway the description was touting it as being by [Jack] Kirby, and it’s got Mike Royer’s name right on it and so I forwarded it to Mike and I asked if Jack penciled it and he wrote back and said, “No and by the way Roz Kirby did not approve it, either. Would you mind telling them for me?” “I’d be glad to, Mike.” So I understand the mindset. Give credit where credit is due.
JS: I don’t begrudge any credit to Curt Swan or the other guys, because they did great stuff for me and had to put up with a lot of bad drawings. (Mutual laughter.)
BDS: A couple of different people interpreted your stories. Did you appreciate one over another? Gil Kane or Curt or whoever?
JS: I’d have to put Wally Wood and Gil Kane at the top of the list. Curt, certainly. I think other guys would kind of take more liberties with it. Some of that…I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining too much, but sometimes I would call for a difficult shot. And if you’re a comic book artist and you’re getting paid by the page and there are no royalties and this crazy kid in Pittsburgh wants you to draw 25 Legionnaires and the city of Chicago and a hundred elephants, each with a different flag, yeah, you do a big head and (chuckle) you hope that he writes a caption that says, “Meanwhile…”
Anyway, there were some guys who really honored the layouts, like Curt. I mean if I called for it, he drew it. He might change the angle a little bit or he might…he would improve it. No question. But he really did deliver what was asked for. And the same with Gil. I think Gil just threw the stuff on the light box and doctored it up. I’ve got a good Gil Kane story. I never met him. He never was in the office when I was up there, and the first time I ever went to a convention…I didn’t know there were conventions, but the first time I went Gil Kane was being interviewed on stage. And at that point since I lived in Pittsburgh and had been kind of sheltered by Mort, pretty much nobody knew who I was; to look at, anyway. So I went into this interview and the interviewer happened to be a guy from Pittsburgh, and he saw me. He kept interviewing Gil and then he started asking Gil, “Who are your favorite writers to work with?” And Gil said, “Writers are all idiots.” (Mutual laughter.) And the guy said, “There must be one that you like.” He said, “Well, there was this kid from Pittsburgh…” And the interviewer said, “Are you aware that he’s in the room?” He said, “No. I never met him.” So they called me up and I met Gil Kane on stage for the first time, introduced as the only writer he ever liked to work with. The reason for that is not because I’m a great writer, but because I did all the layouts for him. (Laughter.) So he could just zip through all that stuff. But it was really a fantastic thing. Good old Gil.
BDS: Oh, yeah, it had to be just a bit surreal. That’s funny.
JS: And like I said therefore, just like Curt, he would improve it, but he would follow what I did, and so did Woody. Woody did one issue with me and up until then other than a mention here or there in a letter column I’d never gotten my name on a book because DC didn’t do credits. Now, of all the people at DC, there was only one guy who would sign his work and they wouldn’t white it out. If anybody else signed their work, they’d white it out, but Woody they didn’t mess with. I think it was probably because he had a .38 in a shoulder holster.
JS: Seriously. But he would always do that little Black Forest Script “Wood” somewhere on the first page. Woody, (chuckle) Woody and Gil had this in common; they both hated writers, except that Woody also hated editors and art directors.
BDS: (Laughter.) Equal opportunity.
JS: Anyway, when Woody was given my script, which was all these layouts with all the lettering, he drew it and I’m sure he found it easier, just as Gil did. He honored it. He did it…well he made it look 100 times better, but he basically did what I asked him to do and on the first page of that book he put “Shooter and Wood.” I wasn’t a writer, he thought. “The kid’s an artist. He gets credit.” (Laughter.)
JS: So years later when Woody was working for me I told him that and he said, “Well, I hate writers, but you’re an artist.” Funny stuff. And they didn’t white it out because it was Woody. Mort always used to say, “The character is the star. I don’t want anybody to know who YOU are, I want them to care about Superman.” “Okay, I don’t care, shit, just send the check, I don’t care.”
BDS: Is there anyone over the years you wish you’d had the chance to work with but didn’t?
JS: Yeah. Lots of guys. There was just tremendous talent out there. I gave Frank Miller one of the first jobs and coached him a little in his early days at Marvel and I never got to work with him. It just didn’t come around. He was slow at first, so it wasn’t hard to keep him all booked up. (Chuckle.) It just never coincided that he was around to do something that I needed. He did some covers off of my sketches, but that’s about it. Lots of guys, I just can’t think of them all.
BDS: Sure. This has been a few decades ago after all.
JS: By the way, it was great working with Neal, although I only worked with him on covers. In the old days with Mort, with every story Mort required a cover sketch or a detailed cover idea if the writer in question could not sketch. As a matter of fact, he required two cover sketches for each story. What he would do is he would take the better one and make it the cover and make the other one the splash page because he used to do the symbolic splashes, rather than splash panels that started the story. He’d call it the second cover. So I did two cover sketches.
When I did the interior stuff I just did it in pencil, but with the cover sketch, I colored it, because they taught me how to color, so I did a whole color comp of this cover. I put the logo and everything. And usually they’d pick one of my designs and follow it. I can’t think of an instance where they didn’t pick one of them. What was really, really cool was the first time the book comes out and I see the cover and it was Neal Adams. It was like, “Whoa!” It was amazing. Because more than any other guy, Neal would look at my crude little drawing and he would know what I meant. And he would say, “All right. I’ve got it.” And then he would do this brilliant thing that was like he was reading my mind. (Chuckle.) And I would look at it and say, “Yeah, I meant that.” (Mutual laughter.) “That’s what I meant. Yeah, good work, man.”
BDS: Just knocked it out of the park.
JS: Oh, unbelievable. Doing those covers with him…I just couldn’t wait to see what he did.
BDS: Sure. You and the rest of the world. He’s a formidable talent.
JS: He’s doing a cover for the new series, by the way.
BDS: Oh, is he? I hadn’t heard that.
JS: Yeah for issue #44. Yeah, he asked to do it. He actually sent an e-mail to Levitz and Didio saying, “Hey, good move hiring Shooter and I want to do a cover.” And they asked me, “Would that be okay with you?” I said, “Oh, sure, let’s give the kid a break.”
BDS: (Laughter.) Yeah, I guess we could do that.
JS: “We could see our way clear.” So anyway, he insisted I give him a sketch, and so I did, and now I’m sitting here and can’t wait to see it. I can’t wait to see it. It’s going to be cool. I’m not going to get many covers from him, he’s a busy guy, but it’s a very, very cool that he wanted to do one.
BDS: Absolutely. I can feel the chills down your spine from here.
JS: It’s going to be good.
BDS: Was there any particular creation that you came up with that you liked above all others that really satisfied you?
JS: Hmmm. You’re talking old days. I was very happy with the Parasite. I think I did that when I was still in 9th grade. Yeah, I was. And it was one of the early Superman stories I did and the story was not great. I did not do a great job, but hey, come on, give me a break. I was 14. But the character idea I thought was good. They asked me to write a Superman story and I looked at the Superman villains lying around and thought, really, this guy hasn’t had a new villain forever. And the villains he had were all scientists or sneaky guys. They weren’t real heavyweights. So I wanted to have somebody who was a physical challenge for him. So I was in 9th grade, and in Biology class we’re studying parasites and I said, “Hey!” (Chuckle.) And to this day that character is still around. You see him every once in awhile. He was on the cartoon show and that’s kind of cool. That’s one of those that just sort of leaped out and I’m happy with how it turned out. I tried to create a lot of interesting ones. I liked the Fatal Five and Mordru.
BDS: Right and after all most of the time your hero is only as good as what he or they are pitted up against and so it’s an important part of the formula.
JS: Right. Absolutely. I look around comics these days and I’m not seeing enough of that. There are some guys who are coming up with new stuff with a fair amount of frequency, but an awful lot of guys are just sort of strip-mining everything that’s already there. We as an industry need to get back to dazzling people with our brilliant creativity.
BDS: Very much so. It seems like a lot of the creators I’ve had the privilege to speak to look at a lot of today’s stuff and they just shake their heads. It’s more form over substance if that.
JS: I agree. I think that a lot of this stuff is…I mean the art is so good. It’s better than it ever was, I think. The guys can really draw, which is not to say they’re telling the story well. The line is really good. Probably the best quality of draftsmanship we’ve ever seen, but the writing I think has gone down hill. Back in the 50’s and 60’s some of the stories might have been dull, but you could pick up any comic book by any publisher and you could read it and it would make sense. Nowadays you pick up two dozen comic books at random off the shelves at the local comic book shop and you’re lucky if you can find one that you can make any sense out of. I’m not even talking about if it’s any good. I’m talking about being able to actually follow it.
And you know something? If I have trouble, and I’ve been doing this for a long time, what if some new kid picked up one of these? I got my comp box of DC books the other day and in one written by a “star” writer, the characters are talking, and they’re referring to the “Halls.” The Halls doing this and that and I’m thinking, “Who the hell are the Halls?” Finally I thought, “Isn’t that Hawkman’s last name? His civilian identity last name?” Yeah, that’s who they’re talking about. And if I didn’t have that dim memory in the back of my brain someplace, how would anybody else ever understand what these people are talking about? I used to do the brother-in-law test where I’d give my brother-in-law, he’s a smart man, he’s a lawyer, and I’d give him a comic book and I’d say, “Read this and tell me what you think.” He’s an avid reader. He would always have a novel he was in the middle of, and he would sit down and most of the time he’d get to about page 3 and just kind of throw up his shoulders. “I can’t make any sense out of this.” And if he ever got to the end of one, then I knew it was okay.
BDS: It sounds like a perfect test, and you’re right. Without that back story…
JS: Introduce the characters.
BDS: There’s a thought. (Laughter.)
JS: (Chuckle) Give us a fighting chance! You don’t have to tell us every detail of the guy’s existence, but “Oh, his name is such and such. I think he’s a good guy. Oh, I see, he flies. Okay, cool.” That kind of thing. It’s like I tell everybody, go to the local Barnes & Noble. Pick up any book. You can probably read it and make sense of it. Turn on the TV. Watch a show you’ve never seen before. You’ll figure it out. In the first couple of minutes you kind of find out who everybody is and what’s going on. Go to any movie, except Lost Highway, and you can pretty much follow it. You might like it, you might not, but you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of a Swedish movie with no subtitles. But comics? A lot of them you just have no idea what’s happening and you feel stupid, because it looks like you’re expected to know who the Hall’s are. And comic book guys are adamant about it. They will defend this stuff. They’ll say to me, “Oh, you want to make it tedious and boring.” No. Read a Stan Lee book. I never felt I was being lectured to or he was boring me by showing me that The Thing was strong, because he would do it in a way that was clever and interesting, a part of the story and you liked it. “Okay, that guy’s strong.” They don’t get it. You try to explain it to them and they think you’re a dinosaur.
BDS: Yeah, and then wonder why the industry’s been struggling so badly the last many years.
JS: Well, I hope the Legion is better than that. I mean I hope this new Legion is readable. Francis Manapul is a great artist. He’s still young and he’s still learning. He’s going to be a good one.
BDS: It sounds like it’s off to an excellent launch and there’s certainly been plenty of ink or electrons spilled about your return, so that bodes well also.
JS: I think that once Francis and I get to work together a little bit more and we’re all on the same page…well, I’ve already seen it. This guy gets better with every page. He’s a kid and he’s got tremendous talent, but there’s a lot of stuff no one has ever even told him, (chuckle) like explaining establishing shots and introducing characters, but I’m always dazzled when I see what he drew. He works so hard and there is so much work in every page. So I think that’s gonna come around and I want to be there when he gets his Eisner.
Come back next Friday for part two of this fascinating interview.