DENNIS O’NEIL: The Missouri Mafia
There we were, in Cape Girardeau, Mo. at a convention chatting with fans and signing autographs – yes, the Missouri Mafia together again.
There is an element in the preceding sentence that’s wrong. It’s the word “again.”
Before I explain, a warning: the subject of this week’s blather is so trivial, so insignificant that it does not merit a footnote in the most comprehensive of comics histories, even if that footnote is in a type font so tiny one could use it to put the whole of next year’s New York Times on the head of a pin, presumably near the dancing angels.
Where was I? Oh yeah, in southeast Missouri with Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich, being very well treated by the convention sponsor, Ken Murphy. The occasion was a reunion of the aforementioned Missouri Mafia – i.e., the three of us. I don’t know who first used the term Missouri Mafia, which Roy, in a recent email called “a dumb phrase,” or why. It was probably because we three, in the late 60s and early 70s, were working as writers at Marvel Comics (and Gary and I also wrote for Charlton) and we were not only from Missouri, we all had a connection to a particular parcel of the state. I was working as a reporter for the Cape Girardeau newspaper; Gary and Roy were childhood friends who lived in Jackson, about eight miles from Cape.
To make a story I’ve told probably hundreds of times as short as possible: Roy was editor of what was unquestionably the best comics fanzine, Alter Ego, and had just accepted a comic book job in New York. I did a story on him for the paper, a month later he sent me Stan Lee’s writer’s test, I did it and then Roy and Stan offered me a job, which I accepted. A year or two later, Roy recruited Gary and…voila! The Missouri Mafia.
The Mafia’s ranks were augmented by the eventual arrival on the scene of Steve Gerber, who, coincidentally, graduated from my alma mater.
We were the Missouri Mafia – Roy, Gary, Steve and I.
Except we weren’t. “Mafia” implies a group with common goals. We never collaborated on anything much, unless you count an issue of Patsy & Hedy, Girls On the Go Go, that Roy began and I finished. (What? You don’t have a complete run on Patsy & Hedy, Girls On The Go Go encased in plastic and stored in a vault? And you call yourself a fan…) We all knew each other, sure, because the comic book writing community was small back then and we all went to the same cons and a lot of the same parties. But, except in the loosest sense of the word, we weren’t colleagues. What I’m saying, I guess, is that the Missouri Mafia is one with Santa Claus, world peace, and those dancing angels, something that has no reality beyond the words used to name it.
But hey. It was great to see Roy and Gary, and to look at the changes 40 years have wrought on the town where the entire course of my life was changed.
RECOMMENDED READING: Roy has revived Alter Ego and I’m suggesting you might want to check out an issue or two. If your comics store doesn’t have them, check out the publisher: TwoMorrows.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.