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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Andy Belanger: Deadlines and DDTs

When I attend a comic convention, I typically make a beeline to any comic pros who wrote or drew for DC comics during the 1980s and early 90s. Once I've exhausted those avenues, I typically enjoy walking around the con snapping pics of cosplayers and making conversation with any comic book fans -- after all, the whole event is about fandom. I tend to zero in on late Generation Xers or Millennials (so basically, people around my age). I figure that if they're around my age and are attending a comic convention, then they probably grew up absorbing the same pop culture I did, and hence we've got a few things we can reminisce about and get some sort of discourse going.

All this to say, during 2018's Ottawa Comiccon, I stumbled into Andy Belanger totally by accident as I was walking by his table in artist's alley and caught a glimpse of his Swamp Thing print and decided to ask him about it. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, I realized I NEEDED to interview this gentleman. Here is the conversation that ensued:


Andy Belanger at 2018 Ottawa Comiccon. Photo by Justin Francoeur

Justin: So which comics did you grow up reading?

Andy: So, when I was a kid -- and you're talking about comics in the 80s (which was when I got into comics) -- I grew up in a town called Kitchener–Waterloo that's about an hour west of Toronto. There was a second-hand bookstore there called KW Books and they had shelves and shelves with, like, thousands of comics for sale at, like, a quarter a piece. You know what I mean? Like from ten cents to a quarter. I would just buy TONS of them, but I was mostly concerned with monster comics.

From DC, it was Creature Commandos and GI Robot. From Marvel, it was Tomb of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night. And then I would buy Batman. I was always into Batman when I was that age. And those were the books I was into at that age.

Weird War Tales #93 (1980) & Weird War Tales #113 (1982)


Justin: So you would've been a big Universal Studios Monsters fan when you were younger?

Andy: Oh yeah -- massively. So the libraries in Ontario used to sell these orange books -- they were square and had an orange cover -- and they were based on all the Universal Horror films. They were a picture book with words describing what happened in the horror movie. I've been collecting them, since. I actually order them off ebay from old libraries to recollect these orange books -- and they're filled with old black-and-white film stills from the movies. From there, that's what really spawned me into loving monster comics and making monster comics and that kinda stuff.


Andy Belanger's Universal Studios Monster book collection. photo source: Andy Belanger.

Justin: So then you're not so much into the superhero fare, but more into monsters ?

Andy: Well, I'm into superheroes NOW -- I got into superheroes later. After I was sort of into that stuff, I got into [Mark] Bagley's run of Spider-Man and I also got into Thor quite a bit. Around 10 or 11 years old I discovered Heavy Metal Magazine, and from then on ALL superheroes were gone and it was just European -- like Moebius and [Milo] Manara.

Justin: I think it's a common feeling that if you've been reading a specific type of comic for a while, they start to seem slightly formulaic and predictable, and you start getting bored and want to venture out and look for something different...

Andy: Yeah, and I always felt that the European art that you'd get in Heavy Metal was miles better. When I became a comic book artist I didn't understand that an American artist will do 200 to 300 pages a year, whereas a European artist does 40 paintings. SO there's a big difference. Anyways, that was the stuff I was into in the eighties. I'm still an 80s freak -- y'know -- I love the Predator comics, the Aliens comics, the Predator vs Aliens comics, all that stuff from Dark Horse comics.

Justin: The Aliens film franchise... rank the movies.

Andy: The last one was the worst one of the bunch, I think. I preferred Alien Vs Predator to the newest Aliens film. Aliens: Covenant was one of the WORST Aliens films ever made -- everything that had to do with Michael Fassbender (Andy starts punching the table) filled me with rage. The level of stupidity of the characters surrounding HIS character FILLED me with rage. My problem with Prometheus and Aliens: Covenant is the stupidity of the people in it -- they're just TOO dumb. Like, you can't be a scientist and take your helmet off on a strange planet. If I know more about science than the scientists in your movie, you've got a problem. And I can suspend disbelief better than anybody, but that stuff -- I just had NO sympathy for those films. Guys petting a 'space snake' -- "don't worry -- I'm just going to PET it". What?! What?! For me, literally, I think they just keep getting worse with every movie they make -- save Alien 4, because I think Alien vs Predator was a BETTER film than Alien 4.

The comic books are different -- those Aliens and Predator comics (from Dark Horse) I loved when I was a kid. Terminator, Robocop,... I had ALL that stuff.


Andy Belanger Batman '66 art


Andy: I miss magazines, dude. I miss going to the store and picking up Fangoria. I used to go to second-hand bookstores looking for Famous Monsters magazines. Even modern ones like Juxtapose and Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal Magazine is making a comeback, but they're pretty much in comic book stores only. I've worked for them twice last year: I did a story with Grant Morrison, and I did a story [in Heavy Metal #284] with Donny C. Cates and Duncan Trussell.

I used to work for DC quite a bit on Swamp Thing with Scott Snyder, so I would go to the DC parties in New York and Grant [Morrison] would be there and we'd chat. Very cool guy. He's funny. Like, he had me howling. I was on the ground laughing.

Justin: How did you land that Swamp Thing gig?

Andy: It was crazy. Becky Cloonan did some of it (and Becky and I worked together at the time) and Scott liked my art, too. So I did part of the annual, and I did a few issues after that -- but they were all really rush jobs.

Andy Belanger Swamp Thing art. 
Justin: But you knew your Swamp Thing already? You knew this history of the character?

Andy: Well yeah, I knew how to do monster stuff.

Justin: But this was New 52 Swamp Thing, so I guess the previous history didn't matter that much anyway... Did you give much story input to Snyder? Or were you more or less the guy who laid out the panels and the pacing?

Andy: That time Snyder gave pretty bare-bones scripts -- because he was doing a lot of the writing after.

Justin: So the 'Marvel Method', in which he gives you a general idea of the story, let's you illustrate it, and he fills in the words afterwards?

Andy: Well, not completely, because he did include dialogue, but for my first time working with Scott I felt it was a bit more like the Marvel Method.

Andy Belanger Poison Ivy, Swamp Thing and Deadman art

Andy: Following Swamp Thing I went to Image Comics. I started Southern Cross with Image... and I've been working on that for three years. Last year I did two stories for Heavy Metal Magazine (under the new Morrison revamp). I do WWE comics for BOOM studios... because I'm a pro-wrestler.

Justin: What?! Really?! Who are you? What's your wrestler name?

Andy: 'The Animal' Bob Anger is my wrestling name -- my alter ego, if you will. And I wrestle for IWS.


Photo © André Lemelin | The photos can not be passed on to a third party, nor sold, exchanged, reproduced, marketed, modified or cropped unless a written authorization by the photographer. | The use of the photos by the user is equivalent to the acceptance of the above conditions. | info@andrelemelin.com
Andy Belanger as 'The Animal' Bob Anger. Photo source: Photo © André Lemelin


Justin: I was just wondering about that. You're more fit than most comic book artists...

Andy: yeah... I have to be. Being a wrestler is INSANE. My trainer, Big Magic, is training us -- it's NXE training. Now I'm on this huge health kick, I've lost crazy amounts of weight. I'm in better shape now than I was when I was 25. I'm 40.

It's the most fun I've ever had. I've got a wrestling mask like a luchador. It's nuts. My instagram is mostly art, but if you go to my Facebook, specifically, it's mostly wrestling pics.

I'm in a tag team... my character is a lot like George 'The Animal' Steele. I'm biting people. I've chewed turnbuckles apart. I come out on a chain. I do all that stuff. They bring me out on a chain.

Justin: My guilty pleasure -- on a Friday night when it's too late to go out and do anything, and it's too early for me to go to sleep -- is to search youtube for old WWF wrestling footage from the 80s.

Andy: 80s wrestling is the greatest wrestling of all time. Not only in WWE, but the smaller versions like AWA. That stuff is amazing! Bruiser Brody matches!

Justin: I stopped following wrestling just before The Undertaker started. I can't remember why I dropped it -- maybe I was into something else? But all my memories are of Hulk Hogan and the Rock n' Wrestle era. That's what I grew up with.

Andy: Yeah, that's the BEST stuff. That's my favorite stuff, yeah. When I think about wrestling... I mean, I'm a wrestling STUDENT now. I go through the history, I go through everything, but 80s is still always my favorite.

Justin: So you're a pro-wrestler? Is that your day job?

Andy: Comics is my day job... I'm considered a professional wrestler, but it doesn't bring in enough money. If I want to make money as a professional wrestler, I'd have to travel A LOT. I have a baby and I'm 40 -- I'm not willing to travel a lot. So, I just like wrestling in Montreal and Ottawa. I've wrestled here, in Ottawa, twice.


Photo © André Lemelin | The photos can not be passed on to a third party, nor sold, exchanged, reproduced, marketed, modified or cropped unless a written authorization by the photographer. | The use of the photos by the user is equivalent to the acceptance of the above conditions. | info@andrelemelin.com
Andy Belanger tagging in Mike Sciascia, Photo source: Photo © André Lemelin


Justin: Has it ever happened that you had to throw down with someone in a bar?

Andy: Like a fight? No. People don't fight me in bars. Since I've moved to Montreal 6 years ago and started wrestling, I think I've almost gotten into 5 bar fights, but it's because I'll stand up (while they're picking on a friend of mine) and they'll just back down. I'll bring out 'The Animal' personae and everything deescalates.

I've been in wrestling matches where the matches turn into a fight.

Justin: For real?

Andy: Yeah, and you don't know what to do. A guy will mess up a move and get really angry and starting punching your face for real.

Justin: What do you do with that?

Andy: I didn't know what to do -- I just acted professional. I continued looking after him -- being gentle -- well, it's not gentle because you're fighting. But I just wanted to be professional and I didn't want to hurt him. And that's the way I took it. But next time that happens I'm going to beat the crap out of them. (laughs)

Justin: Have you gotten badly injured in the ring?

Andy: Oh yeah! Of course! My first 'table' -- I took the wood, snapped back and slashed my face open... it cut my lips open. I broke a rib. I got a REALLY bad black eye in one of my matches... on my own. I had a flag, and I was waving this Canadian Flag (as The Animal) and there was a piece of doweling on it that whipped around and hit me in the eyeball -- before the match. My eye went blood red, blood was pouring out of my face, and I had to do the match. Under my mask was just blood pouring out of me and it was my own fault -- I did it to myself. Actually, I broke my rib myself -- I tripped over my own feet and landed on the rope. Most of the stuff you do as injury sometimes ends up being really small that you did yourself... by accident. But I'm very careful at my age. I don't let people pile-drive me or do anything involving my neck.


Andy Belanger Superman and Batman (with Bane) art



And this was my interview with Andy Belanger. And...whether you're a Swamp Thing fan or wrestling fan... you now realize why I NEEDED to interview him. Andy was super polite and easily the funnest interview I had all weekend at that the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon. Do go up to talk to Andy if you see him at a comiccon, he's a pretty stand-up guy and easy to chat with. 




The above wrestling photos were taken by André Lemelin, and André can be reached at info@andrelemelin.com. Photo © André Lemelin | The photos can not be passed on to a third party, nor sold, exchanged, reproduced, marketed, modified or cropped unless a written authorization by the photographer. | The use of the photos by the user is equivalent to the acceptance of the above conditions. | info@andrelemelin.com

Monday, July 2, 2018

Celebrating the Force of July

I was looking around for something to post in celebration of Independence Day 2018 and was shocked to discover that a post about the ill-fated Force of July wasn't easy to find. Hence, here's our write-up.

Created by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo, the Force of July first appear in 1984's Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1.

Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) -- cover pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Jim Aparo

The cover of this issue is noteworthy since:

a) Frank Miller penciled it (and it would appear Jim Aparo inked it),
b) the "It's 1984: Do you know where your FREEDOMS are?" call-out is a reference to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (which was also adapted as a film in the UK that year) AND popular American television Public Service Announcement "It's 10PM. Do you know where your children are?", and
c) Batman is nowhere to be found on this cover (which is odd considering his name is in the title of the book).


For the sake of keeping this article relatively short, I'm NOT going to give you a play-by-play of what happens in this issue. All you really need to know is that a new super-team (sponsored by an ultra-patriotic US politician, naturally) is introduced as new antagonists for the Outsiders. Seeing as how this issue was an Annual -- and thus needed to resolve within 48 pages -- the Outsiders go toe-to-toe with the Force of July, get defeated and captured, but manage to rally at the last minute and thwart a dastardly scheme and save the day. The story ends in an ambiguous way and the reader is left wondering if the Force of July survives at the end. Spoiler: they do.

The roster included (from left to right): Mayflower, Major Liberty, Sparkler, Silent Majority, and Lady Liberty. [That's Metamorpho lying face-down on the ground between Major Victory and Sparkler.]
 panel from Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) - pencils by Jerome Moore, inks by Jim Aparo

While this particular story (written AND edited by Mike Barr) was somewhat clichéd and will probably never make anyone's 'Best Of' list, it was admittedly exciting to get a NEW team of characters for the Outsiders to battle. The series was still within its first year of publication and slowly building its own distinct rogues gallery (Masters of Disaster, anyone?) -- so this was good. A team of super-characters privately sponsored by the government is an idea as old as time itself, so we weren't really moving into new territory here. Regardless, the Force of July made formidable adversaries and had an interesting patriotic-themed gimmick, so this was a really cool concept to a 10 year-old me. [Just to be clear, I wasn't a 10 year-old when this Annual came out -- I was a 10 year-old when I started collecting and reading Batman and The Outsiders back issues.]


The next time we saw the Force of July was nearly a year later in The Outsiders v1 #2. The Outsiders v1 (aka Baxter Trade format) was a pretty exciting time for Outsiders fans -- we were treated to a glossier paper stock and back-up features spotlighting individual Outsiders members.

As a direct consequence of Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1, we find the Force of July punching their way out of a mountain. They are now part of a plot involving the Bad Samaritan and Gobrachev.

panel from The Outsiders v1 #3 (1985) - illustrated by Jim Aparo

By this point, the Force of July have been relegated to c-list villains and are easily dispatched by the new and improved Outsiders (Looker is now on the team).

They next appeared in 1987's The Outsiders Special #1. The Outsiders Special #1 was followed by 1987's Infinity Inc. Special #1 (released that same month) -- it was a cross-over. You were able to join the two covers to create a REALLY big battle scene between The Outsiders, Infinity Inc., the Force of July, and Psycho Pirate.

Covers to The Outsiders Special #1 and Infinity Inc. Special #1 (1987). Art by Eduardo Barreto

The cross-over ends with the Force of July deciding to withdraw from the battle because it was going to turn into an international incident on foreign soil.

They redeem themselves in The Outsiders v1 #23 (1987) when they team up with The People's Heroes to defeat a Russian menace known as 'Fusion'. This entire issue was staged as a flashback that occurred between 1986's The Outsiders v1 #13 and The Outsiders v1 Annual #1.  This is a particularly charming issue since The People's Heroes are ANOTHER patriotic-themed team of super-powered characters ALSO created by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo -- and it's pretty amusing to see the two teams (who are essentially American and Russian counterparts of each other) interact.

panel from The Outsiders v1 #23 (1987). Illustrated by David Ross and Bob Smith.

By the end of this issue, it was starting to seem plausible that the Force of July could actually be a team of government-sponsored super-heroes with a conscious who actually do good for the DC Universe (rather than a 'puppet' super-hero team controlled by the U.S. government).

The Force of July would last be seen together -- as a unit -- in the pages of John Ostrander & Kim Yales' Suicide Squad v1 #27.

---

I'm not sure how detailed I want this article to be, but it would be kind of a shame if I didn't explain who was who, and what their powers were. Aside from Major Victory, nobody on this team had a Who's Who listing, so I'm just going to by what's been revealed in the comics.


Major Victory:

He led the team and wore an enhanced suit that gave him super-strength, super-endurance and the ability to fly. Most notably, he was a die-hard American patriot who did what he did for America. There wasn't really much more to him than that. He was arguably the most boring of the bunch.

panels from The Outsiders Special #1 (1987) - pencilled by Chuck Patton and inked by Bob Smith


Lady Liberty:

She appeared to have the ability to fly and the power to shoot energy beams. What kind of energy? I'm not sure -- they left it kind of vague. Whatever it was, it could be used to disintegrate things, levitate and move people/objects (like a tractor beam) or create thick smoke. I get the feeling her powers could do whatever the writer needed them to do in order to suit the story. In the spirit of the Statue of Liberty (which was a gift to the United States from the people of France), she spoke with a French accent. It is also revealed that she was originally from France.

panels from The Outsiders Special #1 (1987) - pencilled by Chuck Patton and inked by Bob Smith


Mayflower:

She's the group's botanokinetic (aka: ability to control plants with her mind). Her powers vary from making vines raise from the ground (to entangle someone) to having fully-grown redwoods sprout from the ground (to crush someone). A dialogue with Geo-Force gave a bit of insight into her origin -- she was originally from England and shunned for being a "freak", and she somehow found her way to the United States and was recruited to join the Force. I imagine she spoke with an English cockney accent. Her codename is based on the English ship that transported the first batch of Pilgrims to North America in 1620 -- hence her 'thematic' costume.

panels from The Outsiders Special #1 (1987) - pencilled by Chuck Patton and inked by Bob Smith


Silent Majority:

He didn't talk very much and had the power to create duplicates of himself at will. It would appear that injuring him also allowed him to create duplicates of himself. Each of his duplicates were an exact replica of him and had his proportional strength. It didn't seem like the duplicates had independent thought. He was like a DC version of X-Factor's Multiple Man (of Marvel Comics) if Multiple Man was less chatty and his duplicates all had a hive-mind. 'Silent Majority' was actually a term popularized by 37th U.S. President, Richard Nixon, to describe an 'unspecified large group of people in a country who do not express their opinions publicly'.

 panels from Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) - pencils by Jerome Moore, inks by Jim Aparo


Sparkler:

This bratty-looking kid had the power to fly and shoot fireworks. He also had the power to turn himself into a living firework -- but we never saw this ability again after his first appearance. A 'Sparkler' is another name for a hand-held firework that burns slowly and shoots sparks everywhere.

panels from Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) - pencils by Jerome Moore, inks by Jim Aparo


Abraham Lincoln Carlyle:

He was a later addition to the team and first appeared in 1987's The Outsiders Special #1. Other than being an early example of an Uncle Sam cosplayer, Abraham's only ability was that he was rich and really REALLY wanted to be president of the United States. At some point he manages to get a hold of Psycho Pirate's Medusa Mask, and that becomes his power.

panels from Suicide Squad v1 #27 (1989). Art by John Snyder and Pablo Marcos.

---

So, what became of this interesting crew of super-powered patriots? Well... with the exception of Major Victory... they all got killed off when they fought against the Suicide Squad during 1989's Janus Directive cross-over event. (which will make a great article for another time. wink wink)

Suicide Squad v1 #27 (1989). Cover art by Karl Kessel


Following the Janus Directive cross-over, Major Victory got absorbed into the Suicide Squad and fought alongside them for about 2 years before parting ways. Ultimately, he became a casualty of Eclipso's vengeance and bit the dust in Eclipso v1 #13 (1993).

---

As far as fan reaction was concerned, the most surprising thing about the death of the Force of July was that it DIDN'T happen in an issue written by Mike Barr. By 1989, when the Janus Directive cross-over event was published, Barr was still working with DC Comics -- so I'm not entirely sure how this one slipped through the cracks.

While I never read any real criticism or praise about the Force of July in the letter columns of Batman and the Outsiders' issues, quite a few readers did chime in after the death of the team. One reader wrote in to comment that they were thankfully to Ostrander "for ridding DC of more deadwood by having the Squad kick the tar of the Force of July. They were growing awfully lame."

Another reader, Charles D. Brown of Brentwood, NY, theorized that the creation of the Force of July was Mike Barr's "way of sticking it to right-wingers and to express his own opinion that 'government-approved' super-heroes will never be as good as the real thing because the very fact that they do work for the government doesn't allow them to have as much of a conscience and a free will as 'outside' heroes. And after seeing Force of July, Checkmate, Suicide Squad and all other tearing at each other over false tips, barely visible sources, or just because somebody with a security pass says so -- you know Barr was right."  He also added that Abraham Lincoln Carlyle won't be missed, and that Sparkler was pretty annoying. (What can we say, Charles? Every team needs it's 'Cousin Oliver/Danny Chase'.)

Every reader who wrote in had no problem with the Force of July getting killed off and even applauded it, but always concluded with "...but you could've at least kept [insert name here] alive. They had a really cool power and would've been great on the Suicide Squad."

---

...and this concludes our article on the Force of July. Hopefully, you are now armed with new knowledge and know what's going on every time someone out there makes a 'Force of July' joke. (probably not very often)

Happy Fourth of July and God Bless America!

-Justin

Friday, June 29, 2018

Neal Adams talks Batman villains, Continuity Comics and Bucky O'Hare

Neal Adams is a fascinating speaker -- he's interesting, he knows how to control the flow of a discussion and he's humorous. Attendees of the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon were very lucky to be treated to a one-hour Q&A Panel with Adams on the first day of the convention. When Neal Adams speaks, comic fans can't help but gather to listen.

The first twenty minutes of his Q&A panel had Neal Adams delivering a monologue encouraging new artists/writers to self-publish since most publishers are hesitant to take a chance on any concepts that seem 'too new'. Examples he cited were Dave Sim (creator of Cerebus the Aardvark) and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators of Superman from back in the 1930s). It was essentially a 'Don't give up your dream' speech. The rest of the panel was opened up for fans in attendance to ask questions.

I often tend to forget that Neal Adams played a big part in building some of the more popular elements of the Batman mythos; Neal worked on Batman in the early 1970s for several years and  was integral in helping Batman lose his 'campy' Batman '66 image and bringing him back to being a grim and brooding dark knight. I was the first to ask about the inspiration behind the new Batman rogues Neal Adams introduced.


THE CREATION OF THE LEAGUE OF ASSASSINS

Neal Adams: "That [idea] came from Murder Incorporated. Murder Incorporated was a semi-International murder/assassination organization that existed in the world. You also have the Yakuza. So there already were organizations like that -- at least two -- in the world. To pick up an idea that was lying around the street available for anybody, the League of Assassins was a very very logical thing to do."



First appearance of the League of Assassins from Strange Adventures #215 (1968). Art by Neal Adams.

Members of Murder Inc. photo source: Mafia Wiki



RA'S AL GHUL

Neal Adams: "The idea of Ra's Al Ghul is a little bit different. I was doing Batman with Denny O'Neil for Julius Schwartz, and [we] were trying NOT to do clowns, because basically -- you see, you guys don't necessarily know this because you're not old enough to know this -- Batman and his villains come from Dick Tracy. Dick Tracy had all these [villains]... Prune Face, Flat Top, The Blank... so when Bob Kane and Bill Finger were doing Batman, basically they stole the ideas of these crazy-weird guys from Dick Tracy. So we get the Mad Hatter, the Joker, the Penguin and all these kinda off-beat characters. A little hard to believe that a real Batman would be fighting these guys -- but you believed it with Dick Tracy, so why not Batman?"

"So when Denny and I picked up doing Batman, the question was: do we bring in the clowns? Not to begin with. So we didn't at the beginning, but we knew that sooner or later we were going to HAVE to. I went to Julie [aka Julius Schwartz] and told him that Batman needs a Moriarty. Julie said "what do you mean?" and I explained that we were going to start doing the Joker and the Riddler and the Two-Face, and we NEED a Moriarty. We need a real villain that's AS GOOD as Batman, because Sherlock Holmes -- the greatest detective in the world -- had Moriarty. As we all know. And he did well by him, if it wasn't for Moriarty, who knows if we would've had a successful Sherlock Holmes? We NEEDED one. Julie said "let me think about that"."

First appearance of Ra's Al Ghul & Ubu from Batman v1 #232 (1971)
Illustrated by Neal Adams and inked by Dick Giordano 

Neal Adams: "Julie came in on Monday and said "Ra's Al Ghul!" My reaction: "What does that mean?" He replied "It means that's your new villain. It translates to 'Head of the Demon' in arabic. It's up to you to figure out what he looks like." So I did. That was my job. He looks sorta like Jack Palance if you shaved his head back a little bit. Do you know who Jack Palance is? Evil, evil actor. A wonderful evil actor -- for those of you who are old enough to know: when Jack Palance came on the screen you'd start to shudder. His eyes were close together and sunken in his head -- just a horrible-looking guy. He was the villain in 1953's Shane. So that was Ra's Al Ghul. It launched Batman with a NEW villain, and then we can bring in the clowns, because there was always Ra's Al Ghul lying in the background. You don't see much of Ra's Al Ghul if you think about it. He's sort of like that entity that's waiting back there to mess everything up. And sometimes you think that Ra's Al Ghul is trying to be a good guy -- and then he kills a few people and you go "well I guess he's not"."

actor Jack Palance circa 1954. source: wikipedia 



MAN-BAT

Neal Adams: "Batman NEEDED a Ra's Al Ghul, and I think he needed a Man-Bat. He needed a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde who is not exactly a clown -- so I created THAT. By the way -- Man-Bat -- when is he going to appear in a movie? He's in the cartoons, he's in the toys, but he's not in the movie. They keep on resurging Two-Face. What's the deal with that? I don't get it."

Man-Bat from Detective Comics v1 #407 (1971).
Illustrated by Neal Adams and inked by Dick Giordano.



CONTINUITY COMICS

Back in 1984, a very small and relatively unknown (unknown to me, anyways) publisher was sporadically releasing comic books. This publisher was called Continuity Comics. Early titles you may recognize included Captain Power and the Soldier of the Future, Zero Patrol, Revengers, Armor, Echo of FuturePast (first appearance of Bucky O'Hare), and Toy Boy. During the late eighties, Continuity Comics really began stepping up their game and started releasing a flurry of new titles: Megalith, Ms Mystic, Cyberrad, Hybrids, Samuree, Crazyman, a big cross-over called DeathWatch 2000, another cross-over called Rise of Magic, and then... nothing. I always wondered what happened to this publisher. It was only a few years ago that I discovered that it was Neal Adams' publishing company. I've always wondered what happened to Continuity Comics...

Neal Adams: "Remember we had that thing in comics when all these collectors jumped into comics and started to buy all these issues? And we were getting sales of upwards a million copies per issue? A lot of you guys don't know about it because it's fading into the precincts of history... a lot of guys thought that they could make so much money from comic books by buying boxes and boxes of comic books. SO suddenly, a comic that you wouldn't expect to sell that well... sold a million copies. The comic book stores are going 'This is great! This is fantastic!'."

house ad in Continuity Comics circa 1991

Neal Adams: "Until one day, all these crazy guys who thought they could make all this money on comic books called each other and said "If we all do this, and put boxes and boxes of comic books in the garage, we'll never make any money on this! To hell with this! I'm quitting!." Boom! The next day -- nobody's buying 'em -- they're in the stores. 1500 stores went out of business. 1500 stores! People were selling comics for 50 cents a piece in boxes at the front of the store. You can't stay in business that way... you just paid $1.50 for those books, and now you're selling them for 50 cents! So they went out of business. Diamond [Comic Distributors] had to finance a whole bunch of comic book stores. We almost lost the business with this crazy collector nuttiness... and nobody backed off from it... they all thought "Oh! Money to be made!". Well, it was stupid."



Neal Adams: "Unfortunately we got caught in the middle. We had done Deathwatch 2000 -- it was a cross-over within our comic books. We had gone from selling 15,000 copies to selling 100,000 copies per issue per title for 3 months... I put 3 million dollars in the bank... and then everything fell out. And so, instead of going bankrupt (which certain comic book publishers did), I just backed off and went into advertising. And so our studio has been doing advertising since then until I started to get back into comic book now. And now we're going to go back into publishing. Carefully. Very very carefully."


Editor's note: A few years ago, I manage to acquire a small collection of Continuity Comics from the early 90s and decided to binge-read them on a long weekend. Most of the titles I read were pretty interesting -- they all had that Neal Adams realistic-type art and the colors were very vibrant -- and you could feel the plot momentum picking up as the books progressed. Continuity Comics went defunct a little too soon before they could fully mature and gain a strong cult-like following. I am curious to see what the new Continuity Comics will be like.   



DEATHWATCH 2000 TRADING CARD SET

In 1993, Continuity Comics released a 100-card trading card set celebrating their BIG comic book cross-over event: DeathWatch 2000. I do remember seeing these in stores, but didn't know these characters well enough to actively want to collect these cards. It always did strike me as odd, however, that there was a chase subset within the card set featuring Shaquille O'Neal, Ken Griffy, Jr. and Manon Rheaume -- three professional athletes being featured in a very decidedly NON-sports trading card set.

DeathWatch 2000 Shaq and Ken Griffey Jr. insert cards. source: www.tradingcarddb.com


Neal Adams explained: "You have to remember that those cards were produced by another company, and that company is a sports card company. They worked with us and planted that stuff with us, with a plan in mind that we were going to continue to move on with it. And we ended up not continuing on with it."



THE ORIGIN OF BUCKY O'HARE

Bucky O'Hare will forever be remembered as a cartoon about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals (led by a green rabbit) who piloted a spaceship and had galaxy-spanning sci-fi adventures. The cartoon had a really catchy theme song, a Nintendo game, and a series of highly-articulate action figures. Like, seriously, this could've held up against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And then... as quickly as it appeared... Bucky O'Hare vanished. Neal Adams told us all about the rise and fall of this rabbit.

Neal Adams: "It became a television show for one season, and then Hasbro ruined it. Now we're coming back with it."

screenshot from Bucky O' Hare and the Toad Wars episode 1 (1991)


Neal Adams: "I'll tell you how it all happened: understand that I'm a socialist in the worst way. I foment trouble. That's what I do. I look like a fireman or a cop, right? But I'm a fomentor, okay? I'm always going to be doing SOMETHING that's going to upset SOMEBODY... all the time."

"What was I going to do here? I was going to go to Europe with certain properties and go to the Frankfurt Book Fair and show the properties and sell them to one magazine or another (or a book publisher). They would buy it, and I would come back to America and I would take it to DC or Marvel comics and they would say "Oh! I like that! We'll do it as a comic book!" and I would have to say "Gee, I'd like to sell it to you as a comic book, but I can't -- I sold first-time rights in Germany... so you can buy second-time rights or third-time rights.. but you can't buy FIRST-time rights". They'd reply "What does this mean?" and I'd reply "What this means is that you DON'T own it! You can NEVER own it! But you can use it, and you can print it... but you can never own it." Like, let's say I brought Torpedo from overseas and brought it to America -- nobody in America could own it because it's owned in Europe (or the first-printing rights are owned in Europe -- which I can withdraw)."

"So this creates a problem for American publishers. American publishers WANT the first crack at it, but I'm taking Howard ChaykinMichael Golden (and other different really good artists) to Europe, selling their properties, to the first-time licensor and then bringing them back to America. So I went to people in my studio who I thought were good, intelligent and creative. I went to Larry Hama and I said "Larry, do you have any characters you'd like to do?" and he said "yeah, I've got this bunny... this rabbit... an intergalactic rabbit." I asked "well, what's he named?" and Larry replied "Buck Bunny". I said "Buck Bunny? okay... So how about writing it? I will take it to Europe and try to sell it. I will license it. I will control it. But you will OWN it." I don't own Bucky O'Hare -- Larry Hama does. I control it, which is -- for me -- better, because then I can fight people. Which is good."

panel from Bucky O' Hare #3 (1991). Art by Michael Golden.

Neal Adams: "So, we had to find an artist. Who could we find to do this? Who was the most brilliant artist I could think of? Michael Golden. It took him about a year, and he did six pages. So, I took him to Frankfurt, along with with other stuff that we did, and I presented it to this guy named 'Bilar' from Germany -- and he [Bilar] looks at it and says "Ha! Bucks Bunny? Ve haff a Bucks Bunny! Ve get it from Varner's!". Oh crap. (It did sound a little like 'Bugs Bunny', didn't it?) So, I'm in Chicago and I'm designing a show called 'Warp'. (Some of you guys may have heard about it. And if you haven't -- too bad. It doesn't matter [for this story].) So we're heading for the airport and my wife, Marilyn, looks at the sign to the airport and she says "O'Hare! O'Hare is a rabbit, too, isn't it?". I said "yes, it is... Bucky O'Hare." So that's how 'Bucky O'Hare' got his name. So now it's 'Bucky O'Hare', now I can sell it."

House ad from a Continuity Comic promoting the new TV show & Hasbro action figures.

Neal Adams: "Now we started to peddle it: we did a television show (13 episodes), we did toys, we did licensing. Between LarryMichael and myself, we made 3 million dollars... and then Hasbro pulled the plug on it because they screwed up the distribution."

Fun fact: Neal Adams co-wrote the Bucky O'Hare cartoon theme song.



To close, Neal Adams talked a bit about his plans for Deadman -- but we interviewed him BEFORE the panel about this, and he gave us a more in-depth interview -- which you can read here. He also explained the origins of the comic book Direct Market, but it's a pretty long and involved story, so we may post that at a later date. All in all, it was a very enlightening Q&A session and I learned many things I was previously unaware of.

Once again, we wanted to thank the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon and Leeja Murphy and the rest of the Agence Pink for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Neal Adams speak about the characters we grew up reading about and watching on TV throughout our youths.

-Justin Francoeur

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Anthony Kuchar interviews Peter David for DC in the 80s

Peter David is one of those names in comics that any seasoned reader has seen appear more than once. From his unforgettable run on Marvel's Incredible Hulk to his memorable runs with DC's Aquaman and Supergirl, his reputation as a hardworking writer -- pumping out stories for a hungry comics readership -- is the stuff of legend. As warm in life as he is prolific, I got the opportunity to interview David at Niagara Falls Comic Con this year.

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Anthony: You started working for DC with Star Trek in 1988, this was when the original movies were still being released...

David: ...well technically the original movies are STILL coming out...

Anthony: ...true, but I'm referring to the original cast with William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nemoy as Spock and all those other great guys. This was an interesting era, because Star Trek The Next Generation was just staring to air on TV. You were writing a lot of comic stories... I have one here... "Who killed Captain Kirk?". This was an interesting run of stories because you incorporated some of the animated series characters (i.e., M'Ress).

"Who Killed Captain Kirk?" TPB. Published in 1993.

David: Well technically, I didn't 'incorporate' them as the characters were already part of the crew when I came on board as the writer. So, y'know, I just wanted to... People are always crediting me for things I didn't do. People come up to me and say "How did you come up with the idea of turning the Hulk back to grey?" and I keep saying "I didn't do that, Al Milgrom did", and people are always surprised.

Anthony: Was it a bit of a logistical nightmare working on Star Trek comics? Trying to keep things in continuity -- was that something you were concerned about or anything like that?

David: No, I really wasn't really the least bit concerned with that. My stories were set in the time period BEFORE the movies, pretty much. I wasn't really concerned with what they were going to do in the NEXT movie that was going to screw up my comic books, especially considering they blew the freakin' enterprise while I was on the book, so no, there wasn't really any logistics. That wasn't a problem. Star WARS was a problem with logistics -- when they had to do the comics that were set in between the movies with no idea what was going to happen in the NEXT movie. Jo Duffy once told me how she turned in a plot and Lucas Films said "No, you can't have a speed bike chase" which then told her there was going to be a speeder bike chase in the next movie. Star Trek was not any particular logistical nightmare other than getting stories approved.

Anthony: It's interesting because I was reading the foreword to this collection (written by George Takei) and he mentioned something about a villain being introduced that was based on a real-life politician, who was campaigning an anti-gay platform in the late 80s...

David: (chuckles) ...it's entirely possible... God knows I don't remember since this was almost a quarter century ago.

Anthony: No problem. Let's talk about super heroes. The Phantom -- your first super hero work for DC -- you brought the Phantom back to his roots (he was fighting pirates and smugglers and that sort of thing). You wrote the first Phantom mini-series, what was that like?


Issue #2 & #4 of the 1988 The Phantom mini-series

David: Oh, it was tremendously exciting. First off, I had to impress my new employers -- I had to show them that I could turn out stories that were publishable and written within a reasonable length of time. I also worked with Lee Falk, the creator of the Phantom, which was tremendously exciting for me. I mean, I still have the cover of issue #1 autographed by Lee Falk to me. So, it was a wonderful experience.

Anthony: You wrote the first 4 issue mini-series, but you didn't write the follow-up ongoing series published after that. Was there a reason you left the title? Or were not brought back on?

David: I honestly don't know -- they were continuing with The Phantom, but I was doing so much other work at that point that it may simply have been a matter that I didn't have the time.

Anthony: Next I'm going to ask about Action Comics Weekly -- namely Green Lantern. You wrote Green Lantern in that series (from issues #609 to #620). What was it like writing a Green Lantern feature for 1989's Action Comics Weekly 'experiment'?

Action Comics Weekly #614 (1988). Cover by Mike Mignola and Ty Templeton.

David: It was NOT one of my most fulfilling assignments. I kept asking Denny [O'Neil] for advice in terms of what I should be writing, and Denny kept telling me that I could write whatever I wanted to write, except that it turned out that Dick Giordano had very specific ideas that he wanted to use... (laughs) ...which Denny never told me. So, the stories I was producing weren't up to Dick's expectations of the comic -- which is understandable because I never even KNEW what his expectations were. He wanted me to write something dark and gritty, and I was writing something that had more humor to it -- so it was pretty much diametrically opposed from what Dick wanted. I have no idea to this DAY why Denny didn't tell me what Dick wanted me to do, but as a result, Green Lantern was not one of my enjoyable forays.

Anthony: That makes sense. It was kind of in a weird place -- the actual book had been discontinued at that time -- the last 'regular' issue being Green Lantern Corps #224 in 1988. Did you have any affinity for Hal Jordan?

David: My take on Hal Jordan was that his origin pretty much made no sense, because the ring was supposed to find somebody who had NO fear. The only type of human being who has no fear is a psychotic. Everyone who has ANY rationality has fears of some kind or other. If nothing else, a fear of dying. Finding someone with no fears at all meant that the ring had found someone completely insane.

panels from Action Comics Weekly #609 (1988). art by Tod Smith and Danny Bulanadi



Anthony: Do you remember working on the Blasters one-shot? It was an Invasion! spin-off...

Blasters Special v1 #1 (1989)

David: If you say so. (laughs) I barely remember anything about it. The only things I remember are... #1 I got to work with James Fry -- a long-time friend who's one of the funniest people in the entire universe. I still remember when James called me up and he said "Peter! I want to tell you this: he's a werewolf, she's a vampire, they're detectives, they're... (wait for it)... Thirst & Howl!" and I started laughing hysterically, and James said "You think that's funny?" and I said "I think that's hysterical!" and he replied "You're the first person who's laughed!". And I said "well everybody else is an idiot, I think that's friggin' brilliant." I'm going to do that as a comic book someday, I swear.

So, at any rate, I remember that... and the other thing I remember about Blasters is 'Ben Steel and his bear, Hans'. I think it was James' joke -- it was not mine -- I always thought that that was amusing. Other than that, and the fact that Snapper Carr started it, I remember absolutely nothing about Blasters. Remember, you're asking me about stuff in the 80s -- that was 35 years ago.

panel from Blasters Special v1 #1. pencils by James Fry, inked by Robert Campanella


Anthony: Oh yeah. Well, anything you can recollect is great. Do you remember Giglamesh II? Jim Starlin wrote that series, but he claimed it might've been based on an idea that you had? Do you remember anything about that?

David: I pitched Giglamesh to Denny O'Neil and he said "That sounds really interesting, let me think about that". Every so often I'd check in with him and say "Should I write something down?", and he'd say "No no, don't write anything yet. I'll send you a format." Which he never did. One day Denny calls me and he says "I've got some bad news. We're doing a Giglamesh comic, Jim Starlin's doing it, he came up with the idea totally on his own." And I said "Well that really sucks", but I knew it was possible -- things happen. That was until I spoke to Jim. I asked him how he came up with the idea and he said "I didn't come up with the idea, Denny pitched it to me." After I uttered a string of profanities, I went straight to Dick Giordano and said that I'd been ripped-off. I had told him what had happened, and they paid me a 'kill fee' for the work that I wound up never doing, and Denny swore that they'd be doing two Giglamesh comics now -- Jim's and mine -- which I knew was absurd. And, which of course, was absurd because they never did it. So, I was flat out ripped-off with Giglamesh.
Gilgamesh II v1 #1 (1989)

Anthony: Wow. That's a shame. It's interesting -- there was a lot of interest in Giglamesh during the late eighties -- I guess because some of the work had finally been translated.

David: Yeah.

Anthony: It's a shame that never came though. I wanted to ask you a few questions about Aquaman. Probably second to your Incredible Hulk run, Aquaman is one of the characters you've had a lot of history in terms of reviving and revamping (both aesthetically and character-wise). How did you get the Aquaman assignment and what was your approach to it going forward?

David: DC offered me the Aquaman assignment -- they really liked they way Atlantis Chronicles had come out -- in fact I seemed like the logical person to take over Aquaman. They launched it with a four-part limited series called Time & Tide and, I guess, were satisfied enough with the work I did that they felt I could handle the ongoing book.

Issues #2 & #4 of the 1994 Aquaman: Time and Tide v1 mini-series

David: I started trying to think of ways to make Aquaman interesting, because you have to understand -- that at the time that I was taking over Aquaman -- the general public had zero interest in him. I mean, when I told fans that I was going to be writing Aquaman, the most asked question was "Why?". He was seen as one of the lamest characters. Certainly his portrayal in Super Friends didn't help.

Aquaman as seen in the 1980's Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon

David: To me, Aquaman was tremendously exciting, I saw him as the Tarzan of the Apes of the DCU. He survived in environments that no ordinary person could, he was super strong, and at the very least he was bullet resistant (considering how he could stand up to the crushing pressures of the ocean with no trouble). I thought that he had tremendous amounts of potential.

I decided that I had to radically change his appearance, that that would be a good start. So I gave him the long hair and I gave him the beard, and I developed the idea of him losing his right hand and having it replaced with a harpoon. I thought that would make him look a lot more 'dynamic'. I mean, if the old Aquaman walks into a room, you'd go "hey Aquaman! What's going on?". If the long-haired bearded guy with a scowl walks in and he's got a harpoon on his arm, you're gonna go "um.. yes? what can i do to help you, sir? don't kill me." I wanted that kind of gravity to his appearance -- so that when this guy walked into a room -- you KNEW he was a bad-ass. He was NOT someone you wanted to screw with.

panel from Aquaman v5 #5 (1995). art by Jim Calafiore and Howard M. Shum

David: The harpoon-hand was an idea that I REALLY had to sell DC on. I had a meeting with Paul Levitz and the top editors about what I wanted to do, and I had to convince them of the quality of the idea and that it would totally work for Aquaman before they eventually signed off on it. So that was signed off on at the highest levels of DC comics.

Anthony: Wow. Because obviously such a dramatic change affects the brand of the character. Kinda like taking Superman's 'S' away.

David: Absolutely. Yeah, exactly.

That was one of the hardest sells that I'd ever had to come up with.

Anthony: It's interesting because you also altered some things about his past, but then there's other things that kinda come before -- like his son being killed by Black Manta, his relationship with Mera -- that you didn't change. What was the reason for the those kind of decisions?

David: Because it worked. Why should I change the concept of Ocean Master being his half-brother? It worked. It had for a couple of decades, I saw no reason to screw with it.

Anthony: Were there any Aquaman stories you never got to do? That you felt unfulfilled?

David: Well, yeah. I mean, I had a conclusion to the whole harpoon-thing. I was going to kill Aquaman off, Aqualad was going to take over the mantle of Aquaman, then eventually Aquaman was going to return as an elemental being with no attachment to humanity, and Mera (of all people) was going to manage to ground him enough that he would be able to restore himself to his human form. At which point he would no longer have the harpoon-hand. That is, essentially, what DC wound up doing, but -- while I was still writing Aquaman -- I did this storyline where I killed him off and was then told that I had to bring him back immediately. And I said "but we have this whole storyline I was going to do!" and they said "You can't kill him off. People won't believe it because they'd just got done killing off Superman" and I was furious because that was my whole friggin' storyline. And I finally threw up my hands and said "That's it! I'm outta here!".


The 'Death that was Not Meant To Be' from Aquaman v5 #45 (1998)
Pencilled by Jim Calafiore and inked by Peter L Palamiotti 

Anthony: That's interesting. So editorial was really concerned that the Death of Superman storyline would take away the thunder of the Death of Aquaman storyline?

David: Yeah, except my attitude was that Aquaman was a LESSER character than Superman, so people might readily BELIEVE him being killed off. But the editor said "no, we can't do it", at which point I threw up my hands and said "Fine! I'm out!". They brought in other writers to write Aquaman, and then several years later they killed off Aquaman and brought him back as an elemental being. So they finally got around to doing MY story -- except, y'know -- other people had their names on it. (chuckles)

---

It's hard limiting yourself to "on topic" questions when talking with Peter David. The man is a wealth of information, and could talk for any subject for extended periods of time. During the weekend, David had a pretty constant stream of fans coming to his booth, getting copies of Incredible Hulk, X-Factor and Supergirl signed. Something I found interesting was that a fan asked David to sign a particular issue of Supergirl where the cover had the title character with a bunch of kids, and no title. But the kids where using american sign language to spell SUPERGIRL. It was a really cool moment.

cover of Supergirl v4 #65 (2002)


As always, we'd like to thank the 2018 Niagara Falls Comic Con for organizing this event, and Susan Carver of the Press Relations team to allowing us the opportunity to meet with Peter David. The NFCC was a great show, we can't wait to see who next year's line-up of guests will be, and if you're ever in the area you should make a special effort to check it out.


-Anthony Kuchar

A graduate of Brock University’s Dramatic Arts Program, Anthony has had an interest in comics since he was young and his favorite 80’s DC books are Batman: The Cult, Sandman, The Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Ronin.

if you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy:

-Peter David reveals DC's "Big Plans" for 1990's Atlantis Chronicles
-Review of 1986's Aquaman v2 mini-series