Tag: Paul Levitz

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day’s gonna be my last / Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We all gonna get it in due time / I don’t belong here / I don’t belong there / I’ve even stopped believing in prayer — Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam,” 1964

The first time I was able to have a conversation with the late Representative and true American hero John Lewis was about six years ago at the Baltimore Comic-Con. It was during set-up so the room was comparatively open and, as I was attempting to locate my booth I saw Representative Lewis behind a table. His name was on the sign behind his table — “Congressman John Lewis.” I did one of those patented Tex Avery eyeball takes.

I previously had been at the Heroes Convention at the Charlotte North Carolina Convention Center. A bunch of older white guys were walking around wearing suits that, each, could feed a family of four for three months. In the midst of that gaggle was Sarah Palin. I looked around to make sure I was at the right place because I could not believe these folks were there to add to their Funko Pops collections.

I was right; the state Republican Convention was upstairs and the comic-con was downstairs. The white men in their expensive suits looked disgusted but, to be fair, they always look that way. Sarah saw the cosplayers and beamed a megawatt smile. So you can’t say I’ve never said anything nice about Sarah Palin.

But this time, the statesman at hand was there for a comic book show. Considering he worked in Congress, seeing a couple thousand people dressed up as The Joker (including babies) was just another day at work. I approached him, he offered me a seat, and we chatted about the relationship between comic books and political organizing. It was one of those “holy crap” moments that make life wonderful.

Rep. Lewis did say I was the first to recognize him at the show. I laughed and said “Oh, just wait until the show starts.” He looked skeptical, but my prediction quickly came to pass: that was just about the only time during the show that I could see him clearly from the aisle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior”

Brainiac On Banjo #075: Nice Guys Finish

Brainiac On Banjo #075: Nice Guys Finish

If you’re a regular reader of this slice of pop culture pie, you might be surprised by today’s week-opener. Perhaps you should get comfortable, put down the vape pen and pull over to the shoulder. We’ll discuss your driving habits later.

I’m very disappointed Dan DiDio is no longer co-publisher at DC Comics… even though I still don’t understand how you can have “co-publishers.” But that is not something we’ll discuss later. It’s Publishing, and that’s the next town over from Chinatown.

On many occasions I have used this vessel of bubbling hot ether to criticize Dan and DC – and Marvel, for that matter – for being too quick on the reboot pedal. I won’t repeat myself at this time (except in my sleep) because you get it. You might not agree, which is fine, you might agree, which is fun, or you might be somewhere in between. No matter. I remain disappointed.

As I have only a limited ability to convincingly blow smoke up a great many asses simultaneously, I shall share my reasons. First, and most important, as publisher Dan was not afraid of trying out new things and new approaches. Because necessity is indeed the mother of invention, this is – to me – is the most important skill set a publisher can have… and Mark Waid, who has just taken a similar position at Humanoids, Inc. should consider this license.

Wednesday Comics, the most ambitious endeavor DC had undertaken this century, was created by Mark Chairello when Dan was DC’s executive editor; he green-lit it, which is part of the job. Mark said Dan (and then-publisher Paul Levitz; DC goes through more publishers than CatCo) were constantly after him to edit something. He sure did.

I could cite many more examples – his interest in many of DC’s lesser-known characters led to some wonderful character revivals. Every such example entails risk, and if too many of those risks do not pay off, one’s job can be handed over to somebody else. It also provides fodder for Brutus when corporate politics goes nuts. Of course, corporate politics is a self-replicating virus that it is nuts – and almost always is anti-creative. Publishing is a very risky business.

It’s also one that does not inure to the expansion of your database of friends. Not everybody is going to accept your weird ideas, particularly when someone thinks that their toes are being tread on. Imagine how Curt Swan might have felt when he was offed from Superman.

Fact is, Dan has quite a reputation as a nice guy. From his many associates and his great many convention appearances, it is clear he is the real thing… unless, perhaps, you feel it is your ox who is about to be gored. Sadly, that comes with the job.

My personal experiences with DiDio are limited. He was overwhelmingly kind to me at his Suicide Squad movie pre-party and at the world premiere; I hadn’t worked for DC for a while, and he was under no obligation to be so swell. Sometime later, I was at my old pal Jamie Graham’s booth – Graham Crackers, get it? – at some comic book convention (after over a half-century, they all run together), and Dan was there, diving through the long boxes trying to complete his collection of Marvel ComicsWhere Monsters Dwell – which, after all, was a reprint title. He looked up, very slightly embarrassed, and pointed out that he was, after all, a comics fan and collector.

Damn straight, pal! That should be in every comics publisher’s job description. Every single one. And here’s the best reason: whenever corporate brings in somebody from Earth-Prime who thinks publishing comic books is the same as publishing greeting cards or hawking toothpaste, they fail. Always. They also make asses of themselves.

The good publishers only make asses of themselves when it sells comic books. That’s called “priorities.”

Should Dan have been fired? I don’t know. There are plenty of rumors, but decades ago I learned such rumors are at best untrustworthy and, more likely, complete bullshit. I don’t know. You don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if DiDio still doesn’t know the complete story. Did I mention corporate politics are so revulsive I wouldn’t be surprised if AT&T eventually hires Donald Trump for the gig?

I hope Dan remains in the comics racket. So many long boxes, so little time.

Continued After the Next Page #009: Conversation with John Workman – An Oral History of Comics

Last summer, as we were getting this site up and going, one of the first things that I did was reach out to legendary comic letterer and artist John Workman. I had met him at a couple of conventions in the past, and he had told me some interesting stories about how comics were made in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I felt that the stories were amazing insights into the world of comic making, and I wanted to get all the details so that we could share those incredible stories with all of you.

My intent for our initial interview was to clarify some details he had told me about making Thor in the 80’s with Walter Simonson. What ended up happening was an almost two-hour conversation and a truly life changing event for me. I clipped out a little bit of our conversation for a column last year called When Thor Road the Bus.

Before I get too far along, I must say that John Workman is one of the nicest people that I have ever met. He is thoughtful, considerate, inquisitive, and incredibly talented. Since our initial phone conversation, John and I have spoken a couple of more times over the phone, and my wife and I spent a lovely afternoon with John and his wife Cathy at their home last November. He has become a regular email pen pal of mine. I consider John a friend, and I am lucky for it.

The purpose of this article is to share with the world some of the amazing things that we spoke about. The topics range from the page counts for comics in the 70’s to his time at Heavy Metal. There are some funny stories about Harlan Ellison and Wally Wood. There is the tale of the “Lost Mignola Batman Story”, and much more. So hang on and I will try my best to navigate all this history and bring it into the world so that we can all share in its wonder.

Jeannette Kahn and Dollar Comics

I had mentioned to John that the title to my column on PCS would be called “Continued After the Next Page” as a throwback to comic days of yesteryear. He broke out into some pretty cool comics production history.

John Workman: I worked at DC from 1975 to 1977 before I went to work at Heavy Metal. During that time, as had been true since the early 1950s, there were thirty-six pages [thirty- two interior and four for the front and back covers] in a regular comic book. Of those pages, somewhere over 20 (27 in the ’60s) were devoted to actual comics material with the rest being made up of a combination of paid ads and “house ads” that let readers know about other DC publications. Shortly after I arrived at DC, the number of comics pages dropped to seventeen, and I remember two things that we had to do. We [the production department] had to white-out all the pages numbers down in the corner so people would be a little less aware that they were only getting seventeen pages of comics, and we had to go in a lot and put in “Continued After Next” or “Second Page” or whatever, because the seventeen pages of comic material was broken up by more ads. There were a lot of in-house ads to fill out the issue because seventeen pages was only one more than the total number of pages in a book.

I was shocked at this and felt the need to clarify Continue reading “Continued After the Next Page #009: Conversation with John Workman – An Oral History of Comics”

Steve Ditko: Inside His Studio Sanctum Sanctorum

I wrote my first letter to Steve Ditko in early 1973, while I was still in high school. It was the typical letter, the type a budding fan-artist back then might send to a seasoned professional comics artist — full of effusive praise, capped with a request for some secret kernel of artistic knowledge that would magically transform overnight a fan’s crude artistic efforts into professional-level artwork. Ditko did his best to answer, giving what was, in retrospect, a solid list of advice.

Two years later, I wrote Ditko again, and this time, I asked if I could stop by his studio for a visit when I was in New York City later that year. He politely declined, and I pushed that idea into the dustbin of history – not realizing that 28 years later my request would become a reality.

More than two decades passed before I wrote Ditko again in 1997. In the interim, I joined the Air Force, learned to be an aircraft avionics technician, got married, had kids, opted to be a career Airman, traveled and lived abroad for nearly a decade, earned a bachelor’s degree, retrained into public affairs during the early 1990s military drawdown, kept drawing, and kept publishing my fanzine, “Maelstrom.” In fact, my third letter to Ditko was a request for what I knew was an extreme long shot: An interview for an upcoming issue of my ‘zine. Again, he politely declined.

I wrote a few more letters during the next two years about nothing in particular – including a couple while I was stationed in the Republic of Korea in 1998. In one of them, I included some terrifically supple Korean-made brushes that were ridiculously cheap, but feathered ink like a Winsor & Newton brush costing 30 times as much.

I retired from the Air Force in 1999 and published “Maelstrom” #7, and dutifully sent Ditko a copy. Our correspondence continued off-and-on until 2002, when I started preparing a Steve Ditko article for “Maelstrom” #8 – along with a cover I drew featuring many of Ditko’s more notable characters. When the issue was published, I sent him a copy, and something about it obviously struck a chord as he sent me several letters of comment. Suddenly, the correspondence was a regular back-and-forth, and as my letters got longer, so did his. Some of Steve’s letters were 10, 12, or even 16 pages long.  Continue reading “Steve Ditko: Inside His Studio Sanctum Sanctorum”