ALTER EGO #135 (84 full-color pages, $8.95) commemorates LEN WEIN in the late Silver Age! The award-winning, Eisner Hall of Fame writer/co-creator of Swamp Thing, Human Target, and Wolverine—also scripter of Justice League of America, Batman, Superman,Teen Titans, Phantom Stranger, Korak, X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Star Trek, et al.—talks about his early days in comics at DC and Marvel! Art by WRIGHTSON, INFANTINO, TRIMPE, DILLON, CARDY, APARO, THORNE, MOONEY, and others! Plus FCA (Fawcett Collectors of America), Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt, the Comics Code, and DAN BARRY! Edited by ROY THOMAS.
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“I’ve Never Had ToGet A Real Job!”Award-Winning Writer & Editor LEN WEIN Talks About Nearly
Half A Century In ComicsInterview Conducted & Transcribed by Richard J. Arndt
NTERVIEWER’S INTRODUCTION: Len Wein is one of thecrew of teen-age writers who entered the comics field in the late1960s. Over the past 45 years, he’s created or co-created “The New
X-Men,” Wolverine, Swamp Thing, The Human Target, DominicFortune, and many more. He’s been the writer on The Teen Titans,Fantastic Four, Thor, The Phantom Stranger, The Incredible Hulk,The Amazing Spider-Man, Before Watchmen, “Supergirl,” and anincredible number of other titles. He’s been an editor at Marvel, DC, andDisney. He was the editor who hired Alan Moore to write SwampThing, as well as the editor on Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Herecently wrote the Ozymandias limited series for DC. This interviewwas conducted Aug. 21, 2012.
“Oh Boy, I’m Gonna Be A Comic Book Artist!”
RICHARD ARNDT: Let’s start things off with your background.Where did you grow up?LEN WEIN: I was born in the Bronx, New York. I had one kidbrother. When I was 7½ years old, I stepped out between twotrucks onto the street. My father grabbed me by the back of thecollar just in time to pull me out of theway of anothertruck driving by.He stood there for asecond and said,“We’re going to thesuburbs!” So I grewup in Levittown,New York. I wasn’tthe only comic fanthere. Even though Ididn’t meet many ofthese fellows until Iwas grown, MichaelGilbert grew upthere. Bob Schreckgrew up there. BillGriffith grew upthere. So there was asmall group of comicsenthusiasts who grewup there, completelyunaware of each other.
Swamped!(Above:) When Len Wein began writing The Phantom Stranger with #14
(July-Aug. 1971), he started off with a monster-in-a-swamp scene, illustratedby Jim Aparo. (Left:) A year later, he and artist Berni(e) Wrightson caused
a minor sensation with Swamp Thing #1 (Oct.-Nov. 1972). Thanks to Jim Ludwig for the page from PS #14, and to the Grand Comics Database
Later that same year, I got very sick. I spent some time inthe hospital and my father brought me a bunch of comicbooks to keep me occupied. As they say, “Done is done.” Iwas hooked. I was a comic book fan from that moment on.
RA: Do you remember any of the titles in that batch?WEIN: They were mostly DC, I think. I remember Batmanand Superman. There were no Marvels, because Marveldidn’t exist back then. They would almost have to havebeen DC comics.
RA: When did you first begin to make your move to becoming aprofessional in the comics field?WEIN: Eighth-grade art class. In the 8th grade back then,when the arts were part of our curriculum—unlike
today—I drew a picture of a shark. My art teacher looked atme and said, “That’s a very good picture. You actually haveartistic talent. Enough to be an actual artist.” I looked back athim and said, “Oh, boy! I’m gonna be a comic book artist.” Hesaid, “That’s not what I mean.” But I said, “Yeah, but that’s
what I meant!” So I majored inart the rest of my high schooland college career, to help mein becoming a comic bookartist.
RA: I haven’t actually seen a lotof your comic art… but I do recallyou did a fan illustration for oneof Jim Warren’s fan pages back inthe 1960s… in Eerie #22 (July1969). It wasn’t too bad, as Irecall.WEIN: Thank you. Yep, therewere a lot of aspiring artists
who showed up on those fan pages. When I became aprofessional, I actually got to draw one four-page story forGold Key. It was a story called “Walk the Plank” forGrimm’s Ghost Stories [#9 (May 1973)]. That’s the onlyactual story I’ve ever drawn.
RA: The Grand Comics Database lists three stories you illus-trated, one apparently a ghost penciling job for Sal Trapani for
Masquerader Of The Lost Arcs(Above:) Len Wein was a fannish double-threat. First, as a writer:His brief interview with Jack Kirby in the 6th issue of future fellow
pro Mike Vosburg’s fanzine Masquerader in the early 1960s wasquite possibly the first conversation with “The King” ever published.
WEIN: I did a bunch of stories for Twilight Zone, a bunch for BorisKarloff. I wrote Star Trek for two years. I did The Microbots. I didMod Wheels for a year or two. I had the best time at Gold Key. Theywere the nicest guys to work for.
Marv [Wolfman] and I had had a problem at DC. We’d gottenblackballed for something that we had not done. Artwork wasdisappearing, and we were the two young kids on the block, and itwas assumed that we were taking it, which we had not. So Marvbasically left the industry for a while and became an art teacher. Idecided that I wasn’t quitting comics. There were other places towork besides DC. So I went literally down the block to the GoldKey offices one afternoon—made an appointment. I came in withsamples of my work and told the two editors there—Wally Greenand his assistant, Paul Kuen—that I wanted to work with them.Those two were among the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Well, when Isaid I wanted to work for them, they hit me with the “Springtimefor Hitler” face. You know the reference? [INTERVIEWER’SNOTE: Mel Brooks’ film/play The Producers had Jewish stage producerstrying to make a light musical called Springtime for Hitler as a taxdodge, so it was a play that they never intended to succeed.] There aregreat shots in the films where the audience at opening night gets alook at what’s coming at them, and the expression is always “Whatthe f—- are we watching?” Well, both Wally and Paul looked at mewith that kind of expression and said, “In God’s name, why? Whydo you want to work for us?”
I said, “I like your books. I’m a professional writer and I thinkwe can help each other.” They agreed to go ahead and try. I becametheir top writer for 2½ years. I did a lot of work there. Most of mywork was there, actually. Some appeared at Marvel at the sametime. And at the end I got back with DC. Dick Giordano’s attitudetowards my blacklisting was “Blackball, smackball!” He said, “I’lluse you.” With that, I started getting back to DC. They finallydiscovered the truth about the art thefts and the blackballing waslifted. I started making much more money at DC than at Gold Key.
I finally had to ask Wally and Paul, “I know you can’t matchthis but I’ve got to ask… otherwise, I’ve got to go.” So they said“No, no. Go. Go. Thank you for everything you did. We lovedeverything you did. We loved working with you and we’d love tokeep working with you, but we can’t afford you anymore. Youshould go where the money is.” So they sent me on my way.[laughs] It was very sweet, very paternal.
RA: That’s nice. One of the stories I recall as being very good during thistime period was one you did for Marvel called “The UndergroundGambit.” It was a spoof on underground comics and Robert Crumb. Idon’t know if you remember that one or not…WEIN: I do remember it. I don’t recall the artist—was it SalBuscema or Marie Severin?
RA: Actually it was Herb Trimpe. It was a story about a guy who fakes
Hey, Kids—Comix!(Left:) Writer Len Wein and artist Herb Trimpe created a horrific homage to underground comix in Marvel’s Creatures on the Loose #11 (May 1971)… in the
being a hip underground cartoonist and ends up in hell.WEIN: Oh, yeah! Well, Herb would have been mynext guess. I vaguely remember that. It certainlysounds like one of my titles.
RA: One of the reasons it sticks in my memories wasthat this was the first time (1972) I’d ever heard ofunderground comics. As a Midwestern boy who grew upin a rural area, the notion that there were these comicsthat were unheard of by most people—hidden even,secreted away—was fascinating to me. It was like aSteve Ditko curio-shop story come to life. It eventuallyled me to search out these books, and the creators likeRobert Crumb, so thank you for that.WEIN: [laughs] You’re welcome!
RA: Still, it was a pretty good little story. You probablysold it to Tower of Shadows or Chamber ofDarkness, but it ended up in one of the retitled, mostlyreprint-filled, monster titles—Creatures on the Loose#11 (May 1971).You must have just gotten back into DC’s good
graces when you wrote the first “Swamp Thing”story—the eight-pager that appeared in House ofSecrets in 1972.WEIN: Yeah, I’d been back at DC for a little whileat that point.
“‘Swamp Thing’ Was One OfThose Weird Cases”
RA: Can you tell us how that story came about?WEIN: “Swamp Thing” was one of those weird cases. I don’t reallyremember. I know that it came to me on the subway on the way tothe office. I was still writing mystery stories by the dozens for JoeOrlando. I was on my way in and I had nothing really firm to givehim. So I came up with the idea on the subway, but I don’tremember what sparked the notion. I do remember how it gottitled. That’s one of my favorite stories. I kept talking about theuntitled story as I worked on it. It was that “swamp thing” storythat I’m doing. So when the story finally needed an actual title, Ifound it was actually already in place, just sitting there.
RA: Well, it did work out pretty good.WEIN: Yeah, it worked out nice! [laughs]RA: I’ve talked to Gerry Conway about his co-creation of Man-Thing.…WEIN: Oh, I’m having lunch with Gerry tomorrow!
RA: Say hello for me. Now, at the time, he was your roommate?WEIN: Gerry and I were sharing an apartment.
RA: He was working on the first “Man-Thing” story [for Marvel]. Bothinitial stories were published at nearly the same time. The first two storiesdidn’t really resemble each other plot-wise, but both were featuringswamp monsters.WEIN: I know. It’s one of those bizarre coincidences that crop upfrom time to time.
RA: I should mention here that Roy Thomas had a big hand in creating“Man-Thing.”
WEIN: Yeah, I’m told he did. Roy was a fan of a character that Idiscovered later and became very fond of, which was the old“Heap,” the one published by Hillman Comics. A lot of people saythat I just stole the idea of “Swamp Thing” from “The Heap.” But Ihad never heard of “The Heap” at the time.
RA: Well, “The Heap” was also “stolen,” if that’s the word you want touse. So it doesn’t really matter.WEIN: Really?
RA: The Heap, DC’s Solomon Grundy [the Heap’s first appearance wasin 1942, Grundy’s was in 1944], all the early undead swamp creatures incomics were “inspired,” either directly or indirectly, by the classic story“It” by Theodore Sturgeon, which was originally published in themagazine Unknown in 1940. Alfred Bester, who created SolomonGrundy, admitted in an interview that he’d gotten the idea for Grundydirectly from Sturgeon’s story. In fact, Roy Thomas and Marie Severindid a great adaptation of “It” for Marvel in 1971 [SupernaturalThrillers #1 (Dec. 1971)], just a few months after both “Man-Thing”and “Swamp Thing” first appeared.WEIN: I’m a big Solomon Grundy fan. I don’t like the new one,but I used to like the old one. At the time, though, I just wasn’t thatknowledgeable about older comics. I just knew what I knew. I usedto follow Kirby and stuff. It really comes down to “great mindsthinking alike,” I think. I’ve made that point many times over theyears, including one in court on a case where I was testifying as anexpert witness. Every year, every single year, there are two moviesabout exactly the same thing. Same thing happens in stories,especially SF stories. Two or more writers will come out withsimilar stories at roughly the same time. Notions or ideas get
Just One Of Those [Swamp] ThingsThe cover of DC’s House of Secrets #92 (June-July 1971), showcase for the first Len Wein/Berni
Wrightson “Swamp Thing” story, which was originally intended as a stand-alone effort. Wrightson(the spelling of whose first name soon reverted to “Bernie”) is seen in a 1975 photo from a fanzine.
16 Writer & Editor Len Wein Talks About Nearly Half A Century In Comics
two weeks! That’s how I sold“The Human Target”! I basicallyjust made Jonny Double into anew character.
RA: Did Dick Giordano do the firstfew stories?WEIN: No! Carmine Infantinodrew the first two “HumanTarget” stories. Dick inked them.Dick was involved in nearlyevery “Human Target” story insome way or another for yearswhile I was writing him. Hedrew and inked or just inkedanother artist on almost all thestories I wrote. But howCarmine got involved was inter-esting. Most of us at DC used togo out to a local pub after workon Friday nights. One Fridaynight, a week or two after I soldthe “Human Target” story,Carmine and I were the onlytwo guys left in the room. Hesaid, “I’m tired of being thisboss all the time. I’d love todraw something again.” I askedhim what he wanted to do. Hesays “I don’t know. Some goodold-fashioned detective stories. Iused to love those.” I asked him,“What about the character youjust OKed? What about ‘TheHuman Target’?” He thoughtabout it and said, “Naw. I don’tthink so.” It took me a half hourand a couple more drinks to talkhim into penciling the first one.
RA: That’s pretty good. Carmine’sa great artist.WEIN: Yep. It worked out pretty neatly.
“You’re WritingThe Flash!”
RA: You also worked on The Flash. This wouldhave been after Carmine’s days on that book,though…WEIN: Yes. I think the artist was Irv Novick.Irv and Dick Giordano were illustrating mystories there. That reminds me of one of myfavorite stories. Julie shared an office inthose days with the late, and much beloved,E. Nelson Bridwell. Nelson was editing LoisLane early in my career. I came in to pitchsome ideas for a possible “Lois Lane” story,because it would give me a chance to writeSuperman. While I was sitting in his guestchair, Nelson was called into a meeting. SoI’m just sitting there waiting. The room was empty. Julie wasn’tthere. Nelson wasn’t there. I’m just sitting there, as patiently aspossible. Suddenly Julie comes storming into the room. Mind you,
he recognized me. All thosevisits to DC back in the daywhen I was a fan and so on. Heyells, “You! What the hell areyou doing there?”
I was terrified, because Juliecould be terrifying. I started tostammer and said I was justtrying to sell some “Lois Lane”stories to Mr. Bridwell. Heliterally grabbed me by the backof my collar, pulled me out ofNelson’s guest chair, dumpedme in his guest chair and said,“No, you’re not. You’re writingThe Flash!” I said, “What?” Hesaid, “You couldn’t possibly beany worse than the son of abitch I just fired.” That’s how Igot to write The Flash! [laughs]RA: I’m not going to ask then whowas fired.WEIN: I’m not going to tell you,either. [both laugh]RA: You also wrote at least onestory for “El Diablo.” That wouldhave been for Joe Orlando.WEIN: I only did the one. It wasa four-pager that Gray Morrowdrew. El Diablo had a very oddorigin. He was struck bylightning and was in his civilianpersona a quadriplegic! Hebecame a version of Zorro atnight! I always wondered if thepeople who were reading thestrip wondered how this guywho couldn’t move kept suchgreat muscle tone?
RA: I guess because he spent all night outriding horses?WEIN: Exactly! Fighting crime and using awhip! It was an odd strip.
RA: You did a lot of fill-ins during this timeperiod, for both DC and Marvel.WEIN: Yeah. I was hungry. When I washungry, I would write anything.
RA: Then you went with Joe Kubert on Korak,Son of Tarzan and “Carson of Venus”—both ofthem being Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations.WEIN: Well, Joe Orlando edited the firstthree or four issues, and then Joe took thebook over. I wrote three Burroughs adapta-tions—“Carson of Venus,” “Pellucidar,” and“Korak,” all for Joe Orlando and then Joe
Kubert—God rest his soul [INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: This interviewtook place only a week or so after Kubert’s death]—came in to take over.That was interesting. I have a very peculiar, personal style of
Carmine InfantinoEditorial director of
DC Comics from 1967-71, publisher 1971-76—
and, as the originalartist of the Silver Agetitle The Flash, one ofthe most importantcomic artists of thelate 1950s and early
Dick Giordano,who would serve as
DC’s managing editorfrom 1983 into the
1990s, was an artistwhose work (esp. his
inking) adornedmany a comic book
over the years. Thanksto Pedro Angosto and
Target PracticeThe first “Human Target” splash page, from Action Comics #419 (Dec. 1972).Script by Wein; pencils by Carmine Infantino; inks by Dick Giordano. Thanks
book, Paul Levitz, bless him, who was in charge of thesales records at that time, came and told me that sales onSwamp Thing didn’t drop one copy when Bernie left.When I left, the sales went right into the toilet. I told him,“Thank you! That does more for my ego than you haveany idea!” The emphasis in comics is so dependent on theartist that it really helped knowing that people bought thebook for my stories, too! Who knew?
“Roy Thomas And Gerry Conway Were Very Sly”
RA: Somewhere in the mid-1970s on, the majority of yourbooks began to be from Marvel Comics. You did The IncredibleHulk…WEIN: I did all four of the top titles: Amazing Spider-Man,Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and the Fantastic Four—all atthe same time.
RA: Was your work on those titles why you ended up gettingthe editor-in-chief title?WEIN: No, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were verysly. They decided early on that they wanted me workingfor Marvel. As I mentioned earlier, Gerry and I wereroommates. Gerry would give up a book and,offhandedly, say to me that he was giving up that book—Werewolf by Night was the first one. He’d say, “You wannatake it over?” I’d say “The same pay rates? Yeah? Thenwhy not?” So I took over Werewolf by Night. Then it was,“I’m leaving Marvel Team-Up. You wanna take it over?”“Want to do Spider-Man?” Well, you bet! Sure! So I kepttaking on titles that Gerry was leaving. So, and one-by-one, my schedule filled and I had to give up books at DCto do the Marvel books. I left Phantom Stranger. I left…whatever. One morning I woke up and discovered that Iwas working for Marvel. It took me a while to realizehow that happened!
Later, after I was fully at Marvel, Roy Thomas offeredme a job as his assistant editor. At Marvel, there was onlyone editor and one assistant for all the books. So I took it,what the hell! Joe Orlando, before I left DC, spent a lot oftime trying to convince Carmine to make me an editor.Carmine, being old-school, wouldn’t do it. He said, “Givehim ten years. Let him get seasoned. We’ll talk about itthen.” But Roy, when he hired me, knew he was going tobe leaving the editor-in-chief job and becoming awriter/editor in just a few months. He basically hired meto replace him. He didn’t tell me this, though. Then, six months in,I was offered the job of editor-in-chief. I took it! What am I, anidiot? Over at DC, Joe Orlando’s going over to Carmine andsaying, “See, Schmuck! I told you! Now he’s running the compe-tition!”
I lasted about half a year before it completely burned me out. Itwas a rough job. Marv Wolfman followed me, than Gerry steppedin…. He lasted about three weeks and asked me how I could dothis job. It was driving him crazy! There was only one editor and ahuge amount of books! There were a half dozen or more DCeditors, and none of them had more than ten books. No one editorcould really do the body of work that Marvel expected. Eventually,under Jim Shooter, they split the books among a whole communityof editors, like any normal publishing company. It was a lot easierto take care of eight books a month as opposed to 58 books amonth! That’s how many I was doing, about 50 books a month! It
was killing me, as it did every editor who followed me, untilShooter. There was no better editor who ever lived than ArchieGoodwin, with the exception of maybe Julie Schwartz, and it evenburned him out after a year or two.
“Bat-Murderer!” And “Gideon Faust”RA: We’re near the end of the time period we’re discussing, but I reallywanted to talk about your “Batman” story “Bat-Murderer!,” which cameout in Detective just after Archie Goodwin’s acclaimed run on that title.In fact, the only reason I was reading Detective at that point was forArchie’s stories. Plus, he had great artists drawing those stories. Somewere young and just starting out like Simonson or Chaykin. Others wereat the top of their game, like Toth and Aparo.WEIN: Archie was one of those guys that artists loved to draw for.Look at those Creepy and Eerie stories he wrote. Artists fell over
If The Hulk’s Hunting For The Missing Link—Has He Tried Looking In A Mirror?
While Len had stepped in to take a Roy Thomas “plotline” and turn it into a script for The Incredible Hulk #145 (Nov. 1971), that proved to be a one-issue stand…
and he didn’t return as Ol’ Green-skin’s full writer till #179 (Sept. ’74), aided andabetted by penciler Herb Trimpe and inker Jack Abel. Thanks to Barry Pearl for the scan.
he four publishers who remained active in the CMAA duringthe late 1970s and the 1980s—Archie, Marvel, Harvey, andDC—continued to challenge the need for a code. Marvel
president James Galton, at a meeting of the board of directors inOctober 1976, questioned whether there was any need to continuethe use of the seal. Others, however, felt that the seal remained“essential to the viability of the comics magazine industry”(CMAA Files [minutes, 19 Oct. 1976]). Galton’s question wasspurred in part by changes in the comic book publishing industrythat would enable new publishers to bypass the CMAA and itscode administrator entirely. Beginning in the late 1970s, aninnovation was under way in comic book distribution that was tohave tremendous impact on the way comic books were marketedand sold. That innovation was direct market distribution.
Changes in distribution during this period were linked to anearlier change in the industry, the rise of independent publishers.In the 1970s, there was a movement toward independentpublishing, which initially served as an outlet for creator-ownedproperties. Until that time, all of the rights for characters wereowned by companies, not by individual writers and artists. Newpublishing companies were started that allowed creators to retainthe rights to their characters. At first, distribution was limited tomail order and a small number of specialty shops, and the profits
were not high enough to lure top talent away from the majorcompanies. But by the end of the decade, a proliferation ofspecialty shops and the emergence of direct market distributioncreated a market capable of sustaining these independentpublishers (Jacobs and Jones 269).
EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION: We near theconclusion of our reprinting of Dr. Nyberg’sgroundbreaking history of comic book
censorship—a work we’ve felt honored to be able to re-present, with awealth of added illustrations, for Alter Ego’s audience. Previous install-ments have appeared in A/E #123-128, 130, 133, & 134. As we’ve saidbefore, Seal of Approval is “footnoted” in the MLA style which listsbook, article, or author name, plus page numbers, between parentheses inthe main text: e.g., “(Hart 154-156)” refers to pp. 154-156 of whicheverwork by an author or editor named Hart appears in the bibliography(which will be printed at the conclusion of our serialization, a few issuesfrom now). When the parentheses contain only page numbers, it’s becausethe other pertinent information is printed in the text almost immediatelypreceding the note.We’ve again retained such usages and spellings from Nyberg’s book as
“superhero,” an uncapitalized “comics code,” “E.C.” and “DC,” etc. Inthe captions we ourselves have added, however, we have reverted to A/Ehouse style and preference. These captions, of course, do not necessarily
reflect the opinion of Dr. Nyberg or of the University Press of Mississippi,the original publisher of the book—the original edition of which can stillbe obtained from UPM at www.upress.sate.ms.us. Our thanks onceagain to Dr. M. Thomas Inge, under whose general editorship the volumewas originally published in 1998 as part of its Studies in Popular Cultureseries, and who was of great help to A/E in helping to arrange for itsreprinting here… to William Biggins and Vijah Shah, acquisitions editorspast and present at the U. Press of Mississippi… and to Brian K. Morrisfor retyping the text on a Word document for Ye Editor.The preceding segment dealt with the alterations made to the code in
1971 in order to acknowledge changes in American society since 1954—which included allowing the use of “vampires, ghouls, and werewolves,”as long as they were handled in the “classic tradition” of “high caliberliterary works… read in schools throughout the World.” In 1976, outsiderJenette Kahn became DC’s new publisher, and longtime comics writer JimShooter ascended at the beginning of 1977 to the post of Marvel’s editor-in-chief….
A EA E//
Publish Or Perish(Left:) Jenette Kahn, publisher of DC Comics from 1976-2002. Photo undated.
(Right:) Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, on left, and Marvelpublisher Jim Galton, circa 1980. From Jim Shooter’s blog. An in-depth
interview with Shooter will appear in Alter Ego #137. (Note: Galton’s lastname is spelled “Galston” in Nyberg’s book. Typist Brian K. Morris corrected
the spelling for this reprinting.)
Dr. Amy K. NybergSeal Of Approval:The History Of
The Comics CodeConcluding Chapter 6 Of Our
Serialization Of The 1998 Study By DR. AMY KISTE NYBERG
Under the old system,which is still in place [in1998] and accounts for aboutone-quarter of all comic bookdistribution, comic books aredistributed by companies thatalso handle other periodicalsand are sold in outlets thatcarry a variety of magazines.Retailers are able to returnunsold copies to the publisher for credit. Under the direct marketsystem, distributors who specialize in comic books and comics-related merchandise solicit orders for upcoming titles and sellcomic books directly to retailers on a non-return basis. Theirprimary customers are comics specialty shops, which pay less fortheir comics through the direct market system but forfeit the rightto return unsold copies. Store owners develop an inventory of backissues that then may be sold to fans and collectors at a later date.The number of specialty stores in the United States increased froman estimated twenty-five in the mid-1970s to between 3,500 and5,000 by 1990 (Thompson 58). The number of such stores is hard toestimate because many of these retail outlets were served by morethan one distributor, and because distributors protected theircustomer lists.
As a result of this change in distribution, companies were ableto eliminate some of the guesswork involved in production. Underthe newsstand distribution system, as many as seven of every tencopies of a comic book were returned to the publisher. Becausecomic book orders for direct market sales are solicited before thecomics are published, publishers know in advance how manycopies of each title to print for distribution to specialty shops.Often, companies will print more copies of a particular title thanwere ordered so they can fill back orders. In addition, distributorsmay speculate on how well a particular issue of a comic book willsell and purchase more copies than retailers order. Particularlysuccessful comic books may have additional press runs (Salicrup38).
The new distribution system, which eliminated some of the riskin publishing comics, led to a boom in independent publishing inthe 1980s. Independent companies who were early leaders in thistrend included Aardvark-Vanaheim, created in 1977 to publish a
Conan parody entitled Cerebus; andWaRP Graphics, started by Richardand Wendi Pini in 1978 to publishtheir comic, Elfquest. The firstcompany to bring out regular-formatcomics among the independents wasPacific Comics, which publishedcomics from 1981 to 1984. FirstComics, started in 1983 in Chicago,was a strong performer in the 1980s
before folding. The leading independent company in the early1990s has been Image Comics, started by a group of creators whocapitalized on their popularity with the fan community to producetitles that have outsold many comics marketed by the largercompanies. While Marvel and DC still dominate the comic bookindustry in terms of number of titles, sales figures on their titleshave dropped as independents cut into their market. Althoughsome of these independent publishers, like Image, produce profes-sional quality four-color comic books on a monthly schedule andcompete successfully with the major publishers, many independentcompanies publish only one or two books, often on a highly erraticschedule, and the number of such companies fluctuates almostdaily as smaller companies are started, merge, or fold.
These independent companies distribute comics only throughthe direct market system. Bypassing the newsstand distributionsystem, the enforcement arm of the comics code, these independentpublishers do not submit their titles for code approval nor are theymembers of the Comics Magazine Association of America. As aresult, the CMAA and its code administrator have no say in thecontent of comic books which make up a significant part of thecomic book industry today. It was inevitable that independentcompanies, freed from the constraints of the comics code, wouldproduce adult-oriented material for the evolving market—whichone study suggests has led the industry “once again—but this timenot innocently—to confront the adult themes of violence, sexualityand obsession” (McCue and Bloom ix).
Unlike the underground comics, these new independentlypublished comics did represent an economic challenge to the estab-lished publishers. And, more important, these comics demon-strated the possibilities of a distribution system that was moreopen to experimentation and to the expansion of the audience for
The Declaration Of IndependentsTwo early independent comics were
writer/artist Dave Sim’s Cerebus (a.k.a.Cerebus the Aardvark), published by theCanadian company Aardvark-Vanaheim,
and Elfquest, published in the U.S. byWendy & Richard Pini’s WaRP Graphics.Wendy was the writer/artist, with co-
plotting by Richard. Earlier, in 1974, hadcome Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach #1,commonly considered the first true
ast issue we shared some amusing Hillmancrime covers. This time we’ve unearthedmore gems, many drawn by the talented Dan
Zolnerowich. “Zolne” is perhaps best rememberedfor his classic Planet Comics covers for FictionHouse. But his work for Hillman is equally striking.And, speaking of Hillman....
Noted art collector, book, and magazinepublisher Alex L. Hillman founded the company in1938 with a line of True Confessions titles. Theseincluded Real Confessions, Real Romances, True Crime,Crime Detective, and Real Detective.
Hillman branched out into comics with thepublication of Miracle Comics #1 and Rocket Comics#1. Both sported a February 1940 publication date.
Stupid Crook Tricks!(Above:) Boy, leave it to those country hicks! First the store-owner
Introductionomic fandom has a lot of reasons to thank the late Gordon BelljohnLove, publisher and editor of the adzine juggernaut, RBCC... or, tospell it out, Rocket’s Blast-Comicollector. Over time, it has
become even clearer how much we owe G.B.Certainly, Jim Van Hise would second that motion, for it was at
Gordon’s side that he learned the writing and magazine business. I talkedto Jim on October 8, 2012... and thanks to Brian K. Morris fortranscribing our conversation. —Bill Schelly.
BILL SCHELLY: I thought we should start with just talking about youand your background first, like where you were born and where you grewup.JIM VAN HISE: Okay, I was born in Tonawanda, New York, whichis not far from Buffalo, in 1949.
SCHELLY: How did you end up in Florida?VAN HISE: I had grandparents who lived in Florida because mygrandfather worked at Cape Canaveral. We would go down thereevery summer. Sometimes, we’d stay as long as a month to visit,and we started doing that in the early 1960s. And so in 1970,when I decided I just wanted to go out on my own, I decided thatwhere I would move is to Florida, because I always hated thewinters in New York. Since I had been exposed to Florida and Iknew what it was like, I decided to move there.
SCHELLY: I know that you are a fan of comics, but you also have otherinterests, maybe even stronger interests, in pulps and science-fiction andso on. Can you describe how your personal interests evolved as a kid?VAN HISE: When I was a kid, there was a package of moviesgoing around, the horror and science-fiction movies that theystarted showing in the ’50s. I guess the package was called ShockTheatre, but in Buffalo they called it something else, like Super-Duper All-Night Theatreor something. So I became interested in those kinds of science-fiction movies. Ipicked up a science-fiction paperback around 1959 called Forgotten Planet by MurrayLeinster because it showed, like, a giant insect on the cover, and that’s how I startedreading science-fiction. I didn’t discover pulps till the late ’60s, when I found acouple copies of Weird Tales in an old book store.
SCHELLY: So that came later. What about comics?VAN HISE: I got interested in comics when I was probably around ten or so. Myfather brought home a comic book for me when I was sick. It was Showcase #29 withthe “Sea Devils,” and I actually still have it. [NOTE: That was the Nov.-Dec. 1960 issue.—Bill.] And when I started buying comics regularly around ’63, that’s when I started
57Comic Fandom Archive
A Dynamic Duo(Above:) Jim Van Hise
(on left) and G.B.Love at Miami Con in1971. Photo courtesy
of John Ellis.
(Right:) Showcase #2(Nov.-Dec. 1960),featuring the “SeaDevils,” was one ofthe first comics Jimremembers reading.
Alter Ego’s Multi-PartTribute To G.B. Love & RBCC – Part 3
Chatting With JIM VAN HISE
difficult over the phone, because he was kind of hard to understand. Whenyou met him initially, were you able to communicate with G.B., given hiscerebral palsy? How was that for you?VAN HISE: When I first met him, he had an assistant working atthe office, Andy Warner, and Andy would be able to explain whatG.B. was saying. But when I started to work for G.B. later in 1970, Iworked for him six days a week and I came to be able to under-stand what he was saying. It was basically like learning how tounderstand what someone is saying who has a thick accent. Hecould talk over the phone, but unless you were used to talking tohim, you probably wouldn’t be able to understand what he wassaying.
SCHELLY: Fandom was a great place for people who weren’t in themainstream and maybe who were shut-ins or maybe had various issues.In a way, it was a saving grace, probably, for Gordon, wouldn’t youthink?VAN HISE: Well, it started out as a hobby. I mean, I think he onlymade like five copies of the first issues of Rocket’s Blast, usingcarbon paper in the typewriter. Then he had letters in some earlyDC comics in the early ’60s and people started writing to him fromthat. Then he began printing copies in mimeograph, and it wasworthwhile to put ads in Marvel Comics to build up his circulationeven more.
SCHELLY: He found a place where he was accepted and in fact couldexcel, really.
Chatting With Jim Van Hise—About G.B. Love & RBCC 59
The Rocket’s Blast Specials #1-2Love’s Rocket’s Blast Special fanzine presented early attempts to chronicle the history of comics. RBS #1 (1963) presented “The Timely Story” by Raymond
Miller, behind an illo of the Human Torch, Captain America, and Sub-Mariner (who else?). RBS #2 (1963) offered “I Remember This” by Margaret Gemignani,and numerous tracings of Golden Age comic book panels and covers, and sported a Human Torch cover. Cover art by Buddy Saunders. RBS #1 shown from the
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ALTER EGO #135LEN WEIN (writer/co-creator of Swamp Thing, Human Target,and Wolverine) talks about his early days in comics at DC andMarvel! Art by WRIGHTSON, INFANTINO, TRIMPE, DILLON,CARDY, APARO, THORNE, MOONEY, and others! Plus FCA(Fawcett Collectors of America), MR. MONSTER’s Comic Crypt,the Comics Code, and DAN BARRY! Cover by DICK GIOR-DANO with BERNIE WRIGHTSON!