With Further Ado #306: Getting Ready for SDCC (part 1) – Don McGregor preparations

Ok, I guess the cat is out of the bag! San Diego Comic-Con has invited Don McGregor to be a guest of honor this July. And for his spotlight panel, I’ve been asked to be the moderator. As if anyone can “moderate” Don McGregor. He’s a man of many passions -always ready with larger-than-life stories, and contagious laughter, his strong friendships, and his focus for doing the very best he can.

And like everyone else, I’ve always found his best is always pretty damn good!

Clearly, the convention has saved the best for last this year. Don’t miss Don’s spotlight panel: It’s Sunday at 1:00 pm in Room 4.

And to help you get ready for this panel, let me steer you to this podcast. I had so much fun interviewing Don a few years ago, and John Siuntres ran it as a Word Balloon Podcast episode! You still can give it a listen right here.

Comic fans know of Don’s many accomplishments: the Black Panther stories, his Killraven adventures, Sabre – one of the first indie series to bravely navigate the direct market, Nathanial Dusk, Alexander Risk, Zorro (in comics and newspaper strips)…the list goes on and on. Just last month, in fact, I stumbled across an issue of Doctor Strange that Don wrote that was new to me!

The Mark of Z …uh, make that : D !

Beyond that convention appearance, I’ve the privilege of interviewing Don several times for several different articles. Every time, he’s fascinating and fresh with new stories and clever insights.

This Zorro article was originally published in TwoMorrow’s Back Issue #138, on sale about three years ago. It’s full of so many of things that make Don a longtime fan favorite. So, allow me to reprint a part of that article here for your reading pleasure.

(Digital issues – and many of the actual issues- are on sale at TwoMorrows.com)

The Journey to becoming Zorro’s Scribe

Don McGregor was a life-long comic fan, and comic strip fan whose professional output would including the groundbreaking Black Panther, Killraven/War of the Worlds and Sabre series. But one of this favorite heroes was always Zorro.

“As a kid growing up in the state of Rhode Island, if you ever told him that he’d have a chance to write these characters like James Bond and Zorro… to get that chance…..” McGregor wistfully remembers. “Both characters that I love dearly. There was a tremendous responsibility – that I felt I had – to bring something to the characters and yet try to capture what I loved about them as well.”

“They (iconic characters) don’t seem to change – whether you do your own character, whether you are doing them for Marvel, or DC characters, or characters that are owned by another company, or franchised characters. To me – I loved all of them. So as a storyteller, I was like: ‘What’s the best story I can tell? What do I need to look at here?’ I was looking at everything that’s been done. And then isolating what I really, really like about it and emphasize it. And what I’m not crazy about, deemphasizing that. You can’t be slavish to it either.”

“So after doing the Bond stuff, I was doing Spider-Man for Jim Salicrup at Marvel. Jim had been at Marvel for years. He had been at Marvel for as long as I was there. In 1973, Jim was already there. So Jim and I knew each other. Without Jim Salicrup I would never have gotten to do a Spider-Man book. That one [McGregor’s Spider-Man story in Spider-Man #27-28, 1992] dealt with guns and that one was right after my son had been threatened with guns. That’s what prompted me to write “There’s Something about a Gun.” I felt really very strongly about it because my son had been threatened at 3:00 in the afternoon on a sunny Brooklyn street.”

“I wrote that book- it was going to be two issues of the Spider-Man book. And then at some point, Jim had decided it was be collected in an put into a Graphic Novel format.
And typical in Don McGregor fashion, I didn’t ask for more money. I asked for more pages”

“And then Jim was going to Topps as editor-in-chief. That was totally unexpected. To complicate matters, the new folks in charge had a different vision. “The new editor didn’t want Spider-Man to be shot.” Changing directions at this late date for the story “just made it look like I didn’t know what I was doing,” recounted a frustrated McGregor.

“At any rate, Jim made it over to Topps. And he started talking bringing the project to Topps. He (Salicrup) talked to me about doing a monthly book. I had not done a monthly book at that point in time.” McGregor, known as a writer who overdelivers in every story, wasn’t known as a speedy writer. “I had to really think about it a lot.”

Meanwhile, McGregor was being pulled in other directions too. “That’s when comics were doing really, really well,” said McGregor. “Marvel approached me about doing an X-Men thing with Professor X. So that he came from a different world, with a different society. I know what they wanted; they wanted me to do ‘Building Wakanda’ (again). I know that was what they wanted, but I didn’t like the attitude.”

“And I was already contemplating the stuff with Jim. I think I had just said ‘Yes’ to Jim about it.”

But there were other temptations. “I had gone to the San Diego Comic-Con,” explained McGregor. “This was just then when Milestone (publishing) was really starting up then – and Dwayne McDuffy asked me to come out one night. Dennis Cowan was with us. He wanted me to do one of the Milestone characters. I had this story that had dealt with AIDS in NYC. Some of the editors would flinch at that, but Dwayne never flinched at all. I really wanted to do that. I really liked Dwayne a lot. And this was a chance to work with him.”

“But… I had just – two days before -told Jim I was doing Zorro,” said McGregor. Don was committed to the Zorro series, and it was time to start the marketing.

“Jim was like, ‘Try to find ways to promote the book’. So, there was a ZORRO #0 book.” Don protested to Salicrup, “But that was going to come out before the first issue, and I am on issue #3, I’m introducing Lady Rawhide.” Salicrup told him to just do a 12-page story.

The 12-page story was a bit infamous. “I remember this quote from Jim: ‘It was mind-numbingly brutal.’ I remember coming back to speak to my mom, she was alive in those days, and I said, ‘Well mom, wondering what your son is doing these days? I’m learning how to become mind-numbingly brutal’”.

“I was already writing Zorro. I was writing Zorro #0. I wasn’t’ supposed to write Dracula vs. Zorro. But as it turned out, Jim said, ‘You are going to write Dracula vs. Zorro’. And that’s a whole different kind of research,” said McGregor. “If you’re researching Zorro, you’re researching early 1800s in California, but you are also researching Mexico, Indian cultures, the business systems and the people who came up from Mexico to be in California. So there’s a lot of research going on.”

“But when you are doing Dracula vs. Zorro, you are dealing with totally different locales: you are dealing Spain, and Paris. You’re dealing with the Zorro mythos and the Dracula mythos.”

In the end, McGregor was happy with the finished product. “I got really lucky having Tom Yeates drawing it and Sam Parsons coloring it. Literally the best part of comics is when you are working close with an artist, and you start to see it come to life.”

Rene Witterstaetter and Salicrup recruited top talent for this series as cover artists, including Frank Miller, Adam Hughes, Paul Gulacy, Mike Mignola, Brian Steelfreeze, Jae Lee, Mike Grell, Keith Giffen, Joe Sinnott, George Perez, Julie Bell, Joseph Michael Lisner and more.

The stories themselves were nuanced and thoughtful. Zorro dealt not only with righting wrongs but also with the realities of maintaining a dual identity, his friendship with his aide Bernardo, and issues of parental approval. McGregor packed so much into each story.

Interior artist Mike Mayhew was just starting what would become a brilliant career. His talent and ability to inspire were evident in his early work in this series. He was able to a capture the thrill of Zorro’s confidant adventure with bold and confident layouts- full of both nail-biting thrills and ear-to-ear smiling fun.

The last issue would be penciled by Hearn Cho, but Mayhew was already working on a special four-part story called Zorro: Matanzas. Topps’ Zorro ended all too soon and while it was teased that this story would be reprinted later during the 1998 publishing run by Eva Ink, it didn’t see the light of day until Dynamite published the story in 2010.

The Zorro series served up a first for McGregor. “It was the first time I heard from the readers all over the world. Thank God for the readers.”

Lady Rawhide

Don McGregor typically brings more than just adventures to the heroic fiction he writes. He has a knack for what is now called “world-building” and for creating a cast of characters who may even outshine the hero. Such is the case with the breakout character from this series, Lady Rawhide.

Back in the 90s, this character was red-hot. Her early appearances were always on Wizard Magazine’s top ten lists, and the essential sexy allure of the character was undeniable.

“Going back to the beginning days of doing the Zorro book,” recalls McGregor, “I’m reading all kinds of books. Zorro productions had a huge resource of books of that timeframe, some of them dealing with Indian culture, some with the mission system. I would go into Topps, I would Xerox what I needed – also some of those books were history books- to find what was pertinent to what I was writing about.”

“I think you will note in all my stories, there are women characters in those stories,” said McGregor. “One of the things with doing Zorro, that would have been difficult for me, would be doing a monthly book that really didn’t have any women that didn’t work in the tavern or under the aristocracy, whatever -that traditional kind of woman character. That was the impetus to start trying to create a woman character ..and thus became Lady Rawhide.”

“She was lightning in a bottle,” said Witterstaetter. “She was very strong, but very sexy. Don had a lot of affection for that character She was a perfect foil for Zorro and added a sense of adventure and romance.”

A Rose by Any Other Name…

While the character started with the name of Lady Rawhide, Don flirted with the idea of changing her name before she debuted.

“I asked to rename the character Lady Mayhem. I was out to dinner with (his wife) Marcia and a friend of hers. The woman said, ‘Why are you going to change it to Lady Mayhem? Mayhem is not in control; Rawhide is durable and tough.’ ”

Immediately after I called up Jim. I said, ‘Hey Jim, she’s back to Lady Rawhide!’ ”

“So, she brought a lot to the series. I was working with Mike Mayhew.” Co-creator Mayhew brought his elegant draftsmanship to the character. Mayhew designed the character, and then drew her so well that fandom embraced the character.

“Originally that was not her outfit,” reveals McGregor. “I had her in chaps, covering her legs. And Mike had drawn a version of that. But to be honest with you…it just wasn’t sexy enough. The thing about doing costumed characters – the costumed character can steal the scene – can steal everything. “

The creators struck a chord with the final version. Lady Rawhide appeared in the Zorro series, in a promotional Topps comic, in Wizard Magazine Presents “½” issue, two limited series and was almost made into an action figure in the Playmates Zorro line. Her adventures would be reprinted, and expanded upon, by subsequent publishers.

Need more Don McGregor Zorro? I also wrote about this collection of the newspaper strip collections here.

Don’t be shy! For more of Don McGregor, stop by and see him at SDCC, especially at his Sunday panel.