It is hard to come up with an adequate introduction for a creator who has had such an important impact on the comics scene. With ground breaking work on such titles as Man-Thing, Howard the Duck, Void Indigo and Nevada, he has constantly shown that comics can tell a wide range of stories, from dramatic to absurd to funny to shocking, and he has never been afraid to try something new. While doing this Steve Gerber doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence and continues to produce work that stands up to repeated reading. His answers to my questions are a case in point.
DS: I’d be interested to hear your opinion. I know that whenever I discuss this question with the Editor here at SBC we decide that cover prices are way to high for what we get, especially in light of the “disposable” nature of a lot of the writing in comics. We put this down to the production house methods which demands high numbers of staff and our own situation of being in a little country at the bottom of the world whose currency is worth very little compared to the US dollar.
SRG: I hadn’t even figured exchange rates into the equation. You’re dealing with a couple of different issues here. The “disposable” nature of the writing in many comics is a writing problem, not a pricing problem. As I’ve been saying for years now — and Warren Ellis and Steven Grant have been beating the same drum in their online columns and forums — don’t buy comics you don’t read, or, given the prices today, that you can’t even imagine wanting to read more than once.
Now, obviously, no one knows if a comic will be worth reading again before they’ve read it the first time, but there are comics whose content is completely predictable, based on the reader’s experience, if nothing else. When a series has proven unsatisfying for several months preceding, what’s the point in letting the publishers and creators pick your pocket yet again? I’ve never understood the fans who buy comics purely out of habit or just to keep their collections complete. Unless you’re in the fertilizer business or a terrorist, a large pile of manure isn’t any more desirable than a smaller pile.
The larger question, though, has to do with the viability of the 32-page comic book format and its distribution almost exclusively through comics shops. Now that the industry is staring death in the face, it’s finally starting to come to grips with the fact that this format is useless. It’s drastically overpriced for what it is; even in the U.S., readers are paying more than a dime per page of story. Advertisers hate it. Newsstands hate it. Bookstores hate it. The only people who don’t hate it are fans with large supplies of unused mylar snugs — oh, and mylar snug manufacturers, I suppose. The format made a certain amount of sense when comics were both cheap and widely available in other kinds of stores, but it’s now an anachronism. In fact — although I’m somewhat less certain of this — the entire paradigm of the comic book as periodical may be outdated. The only serialized stories that general audiences follow these days are the ones delivered into their homes on television. They watch The Sopranos or The Practice or Survivor because they don’t have to leave their homes and make a special trip to get them at a store that sells serialized stories, and nothing else. (A slightexaggeration about what’s available in the comics shops, but you see the point.) I’m not even sure they’d watch them on TV if they could only get ten minutes’ worth at a time — which is about what it takes to read a comic book — and if each episode cost three bucks to view.
The future of printed comics is in trade paperbacks and maybe some kind of magazine format. And the future, if there is one, will not be comprised of vast superhero universes with forty years of sacrosanct continuity. The content of comics has to change, too, to attract a wider readership. Repackaging Spider-Man in a magazine format won’t cut it. The industry is going to have to broaden its scope and attract creators whose life’s ambition isn’t to write and draw the characters they grew up with. Otherwise, the comic book business is as good as dead.
What’s happening in the marketplace now is not a repeat of the early ’50s or the early ’70s. In the ’50s, widespread distribution of comics wasn’t an issue. That was becoming less true by the early ’70s, but even then you could still find them, without much effort, in drug stores and dime stores, at mom-and-pop candy stores — just about anywhere people went to shop. And until about the mid-1980s, cover price wasn’t much of an issue, either. Nobody balked at the idea of a fifty-cent comic book. In the past fifteen years or so, though, distribution outside the direct market has all but dried up, and prices have risen, what, about six hundred percent? The “cheap entertainment” model no longer fits when it’s just as expensive to buy a comic book as it is to rent a video. Or when three comic books cost as much as adding HBO to your cable lineup.
What we’re going through now is not a “slump”, it’s a full-blown crisis. The problems run very deep, and they can’t be solved by any of the old methods — flooding the market wit more books, cutting the number of story pages per issue, raising the cover price. Some truly radical thinking is required, and how the industry responds to this current dilemma is going to determine whether or not there is a comics industry three or four years from now.
So far, the prognosis ain’t good. Instead of putting forth the effort to think in new ways about the future, comics people have begun to quote the old bromide that comics do well in bad economic times — as if a Bush recession is going to save the industry. This is, to put it bluntly, complete horseshit. In the first place, it isn’t even true. Comics’ best sales period ever, in the entire history of the medium, was during World War II, which was a time of economic recovery in the U.S., following the Depression of the 1930s. Comics sales slumped in the recession of the early ’50s and again in the recession of the early ’70s. There was an uptick in the early ’90s, yes, just before the economic boom of the Clinton years, but that was a fluke brought on by the influx of speculators. It’s not going to happen again. The industry isn’t just going to get better all by itself.
DS: How would you describe the reaction of readers to Howard the Duck and did this reaction surprise you?
SRG: After Howard was “killed off” in Man-Thing #1, the reaction was unbelievable. Marvel was flooded with letters demanding that we bring him back. The character struck a nerve that surprised everyone, myself included.
DS: Regarding the court case you had with Marvel about creator’s rights concerning the Duck, did this action harm your career in the short and/or the long term?
SRG: It may have, in the short term. Fortunately, I was doing most of my work outside the comics industry while all that was going on, so it didn’t have any long-term effect. I’m apparently one of the very few writers my age in comics who doesn’t seem to have trouble finding work.
DS: Was it worth it?
SRG: That’s a harder question to answer. All I can say with any certainty is that if I had it to do over, and everything happened exactly the same way, I would probably do the same thing again. I couldn’t live with myself otherwise.
DS: Browsing in my local comic sho
p this week I found a copy of the “Stewart the Rat, brought it home and had a read. It’s pretty surreal. How did that project come about?
SRG: I had been friends with Dean Mullaney for a number of years before he and his brother Jan started Eclipse. After I left Marvel in 1978, Dean wanted to do a book with me. The rat idea was, I suppose, a natural follow-up to the duck. Looking back, I consider it a mistake; I should have done something else, something radically different, first. At the time, though, the temptation to do a reverse-Disney — first duck, then rodent — was irresistible.
DS: In the late 80’s you started to work as a writer for animated TV series such as Thundarr the Barbarian, G.I. Joe, Mr. T etc. What changes in your approach to writing did TV scripting demand?
SRG: Actually, between leaving Marvel and getting started in animation, I had another experience that provided a kind of epiphany about comics. Mark Evanier hired me to write a bunch of stories for Hanna-Barbera’s overseas publications. I was working on characters like Jabberjaw, Hong Kong Phooey, even Scooby-Doo, and having to tell a complete story in six pages. All of a sudden, I couldn’t extend a story over ten issues and an annual, as I did with the Defenders “Bozos” sequence. I had to learn how to communicate complex ideas — some of these were very strange stories — in a way that looked simple, and, even more importantly, I had to learn story structure.
Structure, simplicity, and brevity are the essence of writing for film, TV, and animation — and for comics. Please understand, I don’t mean that you have to tell brief, simple-minded stories in any of those media. What I’m saying is that the simplest route to a complex idea is very often the most engaging and the
most effective. If you want a visual analogy of this principle, look at artists like Alex Toth or Carl Barks or Frank Miller. They all pare down the sheer number of lines in a drawing to the most essential, the most expressive. Jack Kirby’s work was a variation on that; he could do very “busy” backgrounds, but they usually served as contrast to the massive, dynamic shapes of his characters.
Anyway, to get back to the question — I had to learn structure, simplicity, and brevity. That part I got. I also had to learn to “work well with others,” at which I failed miserably. For better or worse, I just don’t have the right temperament for writing TV or film. I’m not good at “collaborating” with producers, network executives, and censors. I had some good experiences in the field, mostly at Sunbow Productions on the G.I. Joe series and at WB Animation on the Superman and Batman shows, but I finally had to leave it behind.
DS: I notice you also worked on the Dungeons & Dragons series. What did you think of the new movie?
SRG: Haven’t seen it.
DS: Was your work as co-writer with Beth Woods on the episode Contagion for Star Trek, the Next Generation a good experience on that level? From what I’ve heard Start Trek TNG was a very producer driven show.
SRG: Beth and I worked directly with Gene Roddenberry on that episode. Let’s just say that after we finished Contagion, I didn’t want to do another one. (Beth did a write at least one more episode, I believe.) I liked Gene tremendously as a person. Beth and I had dinner at his home one evening, and besides discussing our script, we spent a couple of hours swapping stories about his battle with Paramount over Star Trek and mine with Marvel over the duck. We had a long talk about show biz in general, about politics, religion — you name it. It was a very memorable evening. As a producer, though, Gene drove me completely nuts. Beth and I must’ve done about six or seven drafts of the Contagion script, and it really didn’t get any better — just different – after about the third or fourth. It got to the point that Gene was asking for changes just for the sake of making changes. It was his show, of course, and he had every right to do it his way, but I can’t work like that. It was a case of two very independent thinkers whose thinking didn’t mesh.
DS: Void Indigo has achieved an almost cult status as an important piece of work that is marred by its cancellation. What were the reasons for the halt in publishing?
SRG: There were two reasons. First, I was working full-time in animation, and that caused problems — entirely my fault — with the schedule of Void Indigo. Then, of course, there was the controversy surrounding the book. After they saw the first issue of what was supposed to be the ongoing series, a number of distributors urged their retailers to boycott the book. They were offended by the sex and the violence. As a result, orders dropped from something like seventy or eighty thousand on the first issue to something like fourteen thousand on the second issue.
Given the scheduling problems and the resistance from retailers and distributors, Archie Goodwin, who was editing the book, felt it wasn’t worth continuing the series, and reluctantly I had to agree. You have to remember, this was just a year or so after the settlement of the Howard the Duck lawsuit, and I wasn’t much in the mood for banging my head against another brick wall.
DS: It’s weird that the distributors would bulk at that violence when titles like the Punisher etc dealt with a far more mindless violence and no one seems to have raised an eyebrow about that.
SRG: If I remember correctly, the more violent version of Punisher, as well as books like Watchmen and Dark Knight, didn’t appear until a couple of years after Void Indigo. By that time, the audience and the distributors were willing to accept them. Also, there was a sexual component to some of the violence in Void Indigo that people found disturbing. That was the intention, of course, but the audience just wasn’t ready for it.
DS: How do you think the comics audience has changed since then?
SRG: For a little while, it got younger and hipper, and its points of reference changed. It was an audience that also went to movies regularly and watched MTV and maybe read the occasional horror novel. Its notion of what constitutes a story went completely to hell, because movies had gone into the business of providing thrill rides, not real narratives, but it was an audience no longer outraged by any material that couldn’t get through the doors of the Southern Baptist Convention.
DS: The story summary available for issues #3-6 of Void Indigo appears to be from correspondence between you and Val Mayerick. How did it find its way onto the web?
SRG: I posted it on the CompuServe comics forum back in the late ’80s, I think, to answer some forum members’ questions about where the series was headed. The synopsis itself was written at Archie Goodwin’s request, before we made the final decision on the fate of the book.
DS: Do you feel vindicated by the success of Nevada, a series that shares its sense of the bizarre.
SRG: I wish that were true. Nevada wasn’t nearly the success I wanted it to be. I think it’s the second-best thing I’ve ever written, after the Foolkiller limited series, and it was beautifully drawn by Phil Winslade, but neve
r really took off. It’s the only major work of mine that’s currently available in trade paperback, so I’m hoping readers will discover it over time.
DS: Oh, I thought the appearance of the Trade paperback reflected good sales on the part of the individual comics.
SRG: Good enough to justify reprinting it in that format, but not a howling success in the comic book shops.
DS: At one stage there was talk of a second Nevada mini series that you were starting to write. How far did that get?
SRG: From DC’s point of view, the sales of the first limited series didn’t warrant it, unfortunately. I hope to do something with Nevada on the Web or with another publisher, eventually.
DS: What is it about the Foolkiller limited series that makes it your best work?
SRG: It’s the fullest exploration of a character I’ve ever done, and of all my work, it’s the least glib, the least facile. It doesn’t take any shortcuts in terms of characterization or plot, and it never attempts to resolve the moral ambiguity of its protagonist. It leaves it entirely to the reader to judge whether Kurt Gerhardt is a hero or a villain. Or both.
On the surface, Kurt might seem to fit the definition I gave above, but for the fact that he was acting as self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner, which tends to cast a certain moral pall over his actions.
DS: Had any chats with the folk at Marvel about getting it released as a trade paperback?
SRG: I’ve mentioned it. They haven’t shown any interest. It’s a shame, because it’s exactly the kind of property they say they’re looking for. (Bill Jemas, if you’re reading this — make someone dig up this series for you.) The problem may be the artwork. They hired J.J. Birch to pencil the book specifically because they were impressed with his work on DC’s Catwoman limited series. Then, by some twisted logic I’ll never understand, they intentionally hired an inker they thought would prevent the book from looking like Catwoman. I forget now who that inker was, but he was totally unsuited to J.J.’s pencils. The pencil art was a lot stronger than what finally appeared on the printed page.
DS: With your involvement things like the CompuServe comics forum back in the late ’80s you were one of the first creators to take advantage of the possibilities that the Internet held for comic professionals. What did you think about the net back then and has it meet your expectations?
SRG: A little history first:
I first got interested in computer telecommunications back in the mid-’80s, when Gerry Conway showed me an early email service called MCI Mail. I was working on the G.I. Joe animated series at the time. The producers’ offices were in New York, and I was based in Los Angeles. The producers weren’t yet computerized, but MCI Mail offered a service where I could transmit a script electronically and then have a hard copy delivered to the producers within just a few hours. Up to that point, we’d been using Federal Express to ship scripts cross-country. Suddenly, we had a way to cut the lag time — in 24-hour increments — between finishing a script and getting it to the production offices. (This was before inexpensive fax machines became commonplace, too.)
MCI Mail was expensive, though. So I began looking into other possibilities and discovered computer bulletin boards. When Sunbow, the producers of G.I. Joe, opened an office in Los Angeles, I set up a BBS that both the writers and the producers could use. Now, if a writer finished a script at three in the morning, he or she could upload it to the BBS, and both I, and the producers, could have it in our hands at start of business the next day.
During that time, I was also investigating the commercial online services like CompuServe and BBS networks like Fido and something called RelayNet, which allowed locally-based BBSs to participate in world-wide conferences similar to Usenet forums. All of these services, though, were entirely text-based. There was no World Wide Web at the time, no such thing as a browser, top speed was 2400 bps, and there was no interoperability between services — a CompuServe user, for example, couldn’t send a message to a BBS or even to an AOL user. On top of all that , the online population was very limited. Most people barely knew what a personal computer was, and the concept of a modem was something futuristic, exotic, highly technical, and vaguely unsettling. So the possibilities for comics were extremely limited. You could upload and download files (artwork and scripts) , interact with fans and a handful of other professionals on the forums, and do online conferences, but that was about it.
Then, in 1993 or ’94, the Web came into existence; the first browser, Mosaic, made its debut; and the Internet exploded. By that time, modem speeds were up to 9600 bps, and the concept of transmitting at least simple graphics over the net, directly from one user to another, was beginning to look real. That’s when the real possibilities for comics on the net started to become evident. The biggest problem then, as now, was bandwidth. At 9600 bps, it took forever just to receive, say, a JPG scan of a comic book cover. Nobody wanted to wait forever while those things loaded, and you can’t blame them. At the same time, though, it was becoming clear that all this stuff was only going to get faster.
I thought then, and I still believe, that the real future of comics is on the Web. Now, I don’t mean that printed comics are going to become “obsolete.” They’ll always be around, in some form or another, but as computer graphics displays get better and simultaneously cheaper, as network speeds get faster and bandwidth increases (about a third of U.S. homes now have cable modems or DSL), and as printed comics get progressively more expensive, the Web looks more and more attractive as a distribution channel for some new breed of comics.
Has it fulfilled its promise yet? No. It hasn’t even come close.
There are a number of reasons for that.
First, the comics industry in general tends to be a “late adopter” of new technology. It took ‘way too long for the publishers to grasp the idea that comics could be lettered and colored digitally, and, as I mentioned earlier, they still haven’t managed to introduce anything resembling nuance into digital coloring. And they’re still only flirting with the possibilities of digital “inking,” which, if executed properly (big “if”), would allow comics to be reproduced on paper with the penciller’s style very nearly intact.
Second, too many of the experiments with comics on the net have been an attempt to replicate on a computer screen what comics do on paper – the daily strips distributed by email, for example, or Scott McCloud’s recent Zot! serial on the <A
HREF=”http://www.comicbookresources.com/”>Comic Book Resources site. True enough, Scott didn’t limit himself to the spatial constraints of a comic book page, but he also chose to ignore the multimedia capabilities of the Web, because he considers those extraneous to his narrow definition of “comics.” Daisy-chaining panels down an effectively bottomless page is one way to do comics on the Web, but I think it’s very far from the most effective way.
Third, some other Web-based comics ventures — most visibly Stan Lee Media, where I worked briefly — both suffered from the dotcom euphoria syndrome of the late ’90s and abandoned the very quality that makes comics unique, the melding of words and pictures into a gestalt that is both visual and literary. They chose instead to adopt every new technology
uncritically, just because it was new. So what you got on sites like stanlee.net was the Web equivalent of mediocre Saturday morning cartoons, not comics at all.
What’s been overlooked, though, about Stan Lee Media, in the flurry of news about the financial shenanigans and stock manipulations, is that its business model was actually working! Yes, the company expended far more energy and time on promotion than on substance. Yes, it spent money foolishly and profligately. Yes, most of its product was utter crap. And yet, in spite of all that, there was a theme park ride and a movie deal, the latter admittedly dicey, on 7th Portal. The Drifter series had been picked up by Sci-Fi Channel for an original TV series. There were substantive licensing deals for toys and other merchandise on the verge of completion when the company ran out of money. If the people running the company had been just a little bit wiser, if they’d been able to hang on for another six months, Stan Lee Media might have been a colossal success story rather than a monumental embarrassment.
I’ve been involved with two Internet-based comics ventures — one prior to Stan Lee Media — so far. The earlier one never got off the ground for a variety of reasons, including personality clashes among the principals and a drastic underestimation of how much money was needed to fund such a venture. Stan Lee Media failed, because it became a textbook example of every stupid dotcom cliche.
There were huge lessons for me in both of these experiences. What I’ve learned, though, does not include the notion that every Internet-based comics venture is doomed to failure. Exactly the opposite, in fact. I’m absolutely convinced that such a venture can succeed, if it’s adequately funded, competently managed, and maintains at least as much focus on substance as on promotion and deal-making — and if it has a real vision of what comics on the Internet can be.
In fact, I’m in the process of putting together such a venture now. For obvious reasons, I can’t discuss any details, but I think I’ve got the right team of people this time, as well as a very workable business model, and I strongly believe we have a distinctive vision of how to do comics on the Web.
DS: I can’t help think that such a move is just exchanging one set of problems with another. I recall being at a seminar about this topic at SPX in 1999. Some of the speakers were trumpeting the Internet as the dawn of a new freedom in comics but I was struck by the irony of the fact that my friend and I had been wandering all over Bethesda the last few days looking for Internet access and had no luck at all. All the reader of a traditional comic book needs is some light.
SRG: There are always trade-offs. Some projects will always be better suited to paper than a screen. But there’s a Japanese manga publisher who’s subsidizing the development of an e-book reader designed specifically for comics. And the Web is only going to become more pervasive, despite the hiccup it’s experiencing now — and unlike comics’ current crisis, the Internet’s problems are a hiccup. The net is going to recover and come roaring back. It’s very fashionable to put it down now, but that won’t be the case in a year or so.
No offense, but comics fans are almost as conservative as comics creators and publishers; they don’t want to see this happen, because they don’t completely understand it, and because it necessarily changes the entire framework of what it means to be a fan. After all, you can’t really collect digital media. They’re instantly reproducible with no loss of quality, so the fan whose definition of himself is based on his longboxes will be facing a major crisis of identity. But the change is coming, and nothing is going to stop it. For fans, creators, and publishers alike, it’s the old, bitter choice of adapt or die. I thought then, and I still believe, that the real future of comics is on the Web. Now, I don’t mean that printed comics are going to become “obsolete.” They’ll always be around, in some form or another, but as computer graphics displays get better…..the Web looks more and more attractive as a distribution channel for some new breed of comics.
SRG: A couple of reasons. First, there’s never been an established format for comics scripts, as there are for, say, screenplays or teleplays, and until recently, when writers began posting script excerpts on the net, new or aspiring writers had very few examples to work from. For new writers, the template eliminates the worry over what kind of impression the manuscript itself will make, because it provides a professional format and allows the writer to concentrate on content instead.
For established writers, it can work much the same way. I use the template for my own scripts, because it lets me forget about the technical aspects of word processing while I’m working. If I want to start a new story page, I hit Alt+PageDown. If I want to start a new panel, I hit Alt+P. If I want to enter a line of dialogue, I hit Alt+D, and that’s it. The template does the formatting for me, and I don’t have to stop and think about fonts, paragraph styles, tab settings, or whatever. Those are the things the computer is good at, so I want it do the drudge work. I’d rather pay attention to the story.
I should mention, by the way, that the template isn’t available on my site at the moment. As of Word 97, Microsoft changed Word’s programming language from WordBasic to Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which meant the entire template had to be rewritten in that language. VBA is much more powerful, but it’s also a bitch to learn. For the past couple of years, I’ve been putting it off, and using a very buggy hybrid version for my own work. That was fine for me, because I knew where the bugs were and how to get around them, but it wasn’t something I could inflict on innocent users. Finally, though, I’ve climbed a little way up the VBA learning curve, and I’m in the process of coding a completely new version of the template.
I’m actually very excited about this. I’ve been able to fix some functions that never quite worked the way they were supposed to under WordBasic, and I’ve added some features that I always wanted to have available, and that make the template much more user-friendly. I’ve also added a lot of error-trapping procedures that should have been included from the very beginning. And I may eventually be able to make this version work on the Macintosh, as well as under Windows, since Word now uses the same programming language for both platforms. (I can’t promise that yet, but it’s something I’d really like to do.)
Anyway, about 85% of the coding is done now, but I still need to update the user manual and put the new version through at least a brief round of beta testing before I release it. Assuming my testers don’t find any major bugs, the new template should be available at www.stevegerber.com sometime in June.
DS: The interactive bibliography system that Steff Osborne put together for your site is a great idea and the best implementation of this sort of thing that I’ve seen. Have the additions to the bibliography by the public turned up any surprises for you?
SRG: Unfortunately, there are bugs in that program that Steff hasn’t had time to correct yet, and they’ve kept people from entering much new information. She’s been busy with other, paying work, but I’m going to star
t nagging her about fixing the bibliography.
DS: What do you make of geeky comic fans who spend all their time making websites (ie http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~Sdarrens/mtmain.html ) for their favorite comic characters?
SRG: If people enjoy doing it, I think it’s fine. It’s really just a 21st century equivalent of writing fanzine articles. Those sites may help rekindle interest in some character or creator who’s been out of print for a while. And, as an added benefit, it allows the fan to become a little more comfortable with the technology that surrounds all of us.
In that latter sense, it has a lot in common with my work on the comic book script template. If anybody had told me twenty years ago that one day I’d be writing computer programs — as a form of recreation, no less — I would have thought they were out of their minds. That changed when I discovered a good reason to write a computer program. Now, I actually find it relaxing, despite the occasional frustrations, simply because it uses a completely different part of my brain from the part that writes fiction.
DS: What work have you been doing recently?
SRG: Most recently, a Superman Elseworlds called Last Son of Earth, a two-part prestige format book that came out last summer. I’m currently writing the sequel to that one.
There are other projects in the works, but I’m not at liberty to discuss them yet.
DS: This one sneaked past me while I was avoiding comic shops at the suggestion of my bank manager, so can you give me the pitch on what it was about?
SRG: It sneaked past a lot of people. DC did almost no promotion on it.
It’s an Elseworlds book that takes the Superman legend and stands it on its head. The premise is: What if Earth had been devastated, and an infant Clark Kent, the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, had been rocketed to Krypton, rather than the other way around.
DS: What do you think this and the upcoming sequel add to our concept of Superman’s character that nobody has covered before?
SRG: I’m not sure that it adds anything to the concept of Superman’s character, because this version isn’t the same person at all. What it does explore, in a way that’s never quite been done before, is the society and culture of Krypton, how a human would respond to being raised in that culture, and then, in the second book, how that person would react upon returning to the world of his birth, and to a humanity that’s barely survived a cosmic catastrophe.
The third book picks up the story eleven years after the end of the second and actually takes Clark back to Krypton and into the midst of a war between cultural factions there. Jor-El, his adoptive father, has begun to unearth the records of Krypton’s ancient past, a period before the Clone Wars — what you and I would call the “Silver Age” Krypton — and wants to rebuild Kryptonian society on that model. He’s opposed by the Council of Elders and even his own father, who are determined to protect Byrne’s neo-Vulcan version of Kryptonian culture, even if it means civil war.
I’m having a lot of fun with the third book, because it’s allowing me to play around with some of the wackier elements of the Silver Age Krypton — the Scarlet Jungle, the weird animals, the Phantom Zone — in completely new ways. There’s even a new version of General Zod, a little riff on the multiple varieties of kryptonite, and a Luthor who’s gone almost as loopy as the Joker.
It’s interesting — while I was researching the Weisinger-era Superman material for this book, I really came to appreciate how inventive it was. Much of it was silly, sure, and Weisinger clearly had no judgment as to when he’d crossed the line into too much of a good thing. But when you look just at the level of inventiveness, at all the concepts and characters he and his writers were originating on a regular basis, it’s pretty damn astonishing.
You can make the same statement about the early Marvel era, as well, and about Jack’s Fourth World books.
You asked me very early on why I didn’t much care for comics today, and I think this may be the answer. Nobody is doing much imagining anymore. Think about it. How many new Batman villains have there been since, say, the early ’70s? (Harley Quinn is the only one that comes to mind, and she wasn’t even created by DC.) How many new characters has Marvel launched since the 1980s? How many new Spider-Man or Fantastic Four villains have we seen in that time? Where are the writers and artists who are willing to dive off the deep end, even within the established continuities, as I did with the damn duck? (And others did, too, with various other creations — I wasn’t a completely isolated phenomenon.)
Writers are willing to settle for regurgitating the stories and characters they read as kids, and readers are willing to — well, let’s not extend the metaphor any further.
You know, I’m not a big fan of Alan Moore’s ABC books, but if there’s a reason they’ve been so successful — apart from the fact that Alan is a magnificent writer, I mean — it’s that he’s had the courage to show people something they haven’t seen before. He may be packaging it in familiar wrapping a lot of the time, too familiar for me, but at least it’s new. At least it’s the product of one writer with one very distinctive point of view.
DS: Thanks again for spending your time on this, I appreciate it.
When Steve’s upcoming projects get announced (or to get them announced) we will be doing a catch up interview on those and any other topics that seem relevant. In the meantime you can keep up to date with Steve’s work via his website: