Dennis O’Neil: I’m not the man I used to be
I’m not the man I used to be. But comics aren’t what they once were, either.
Allow me to elaborate, on both myself and comics.
First, me. A looming godlike Presence — you can call him “Mr. Editor” — would like me to introduce myself. Well. I’ve gone past many of my Catholic boyhood shibboleths, but I’m still stuck with the one that insists that no Gentleman speaks favorably of himself — we’re supposed to be like medieval knights, only without all the skewering and clanking. Still, when a Looming godlike Presence commands… Okay, quick and dirty, I’ll tell you what I was.
Starting in 1965, when I took a job as Stan Lee’s assistant, I was in the comic book business. As a writer, I did hundreds of comics scripts, some of which got noticed. Also, I was an editor for 23 years, most recently of the Batman franchise, and, even more recently, a teacher of comic book writing, a job I still happily do. I’ve also written novels, non-fiction books, a few teleplays, a lot of short pieces, including stories, reviews and introductions. And columns — I’ve done those, too. And I’ve shot off my mouth in public quite a bit. That’s what I was. What I am, as these words are typed, is a semi-retired slug.
We cool, Mr. Presence?
Now, about comics… During the coming 12 months, I’ll be mostly, but not exclusively, writing about comic book-related material. Don’t expect gossip. There’s plenty of that available elsewhere, and I have a hunch that partaking of it interferes with the enjoyment comics are supposed to provide. Nor will you find me getting even with some lowlife crumb-bum who done me wrong years ago or in other ways fomenting feuds, either mine or other folks’. You won’t find the lowdown on what’s coming up in your favorite titles; I have only limited access to that kind of info these days and, again, the web is rife with news sites. And I hope you won’t find senescent grumbling about how the old comics was the good comics, dammit, and these young writers and editors, who the hell do they think they are with that trash they’re putting out and they wouldn’t know a good comic if it jumped outta their cornflakes and spit milk in their eyes…
I really, really hope you won’t find anything like that.
I do, however, reserve the right to have opinions and to express them — express them politely, or at least in civilized terms, unlike certain vice presidents.
What currently interests me most about comics are how much they’ve changed since I first walked into Stan Lee’s office over — ye gods! — forty-one years ago and now, at last, we’re getting to the difference between what comics are and what they were. In brief: like everything else, they’ve evolved. They’re different. All I need to make my case is remind you that you’re reading these words off a screen (unless, for some reason, you’ve printed them out) and not holding a pamphlet composed of brittle pulp paper besmeared with cheap ink. You and I are both employing technology that not even the most imaginative of prognosticators envisioned when Superman made his debut in 1938 and created the comic book industry.
We’ll discuss this and related topics throughout the coming year.
A final item before we part:
A couple of decades ago, when we were both employed by DC Comics and sharing an office, the godlike Presence edited a comic that I wrote called The Question which featured, on the letters page, something called our Recommended Reading. What we were recommending was stuff I’d recently enjoyed and/or found worthy, ranging from a tai chi manual to a cookbook. To our mild surprise, the feature became popular — people were actually following our suggestions. A couple of weeks ago, in an email, the Presence mentioned that we might want to revive Recommended Reading, easily the best idea I heard that week.
So here we go:
Recommended Reading: Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud.
This is the one essential book for anyone with a genuine interest in the subject.
And now, modestly, humbly, like maybe a medieval knight, I bow and shuffle out the door, hoping we meet again…
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning writer of good stuff like the novel Helltown (starring The Question and Batman), comic books like Iron Man and Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, as well as the good stuff listed above. He’ll be here every week; please feel free to comment or ask questions on our blog.