Interview: Bob Rozakis on Creating an Alternate History for the Comics Industry
The notion of retelling history with a twist has become a very popular sub-section of fiction, heavily mined by Harry Harrison and by Philip Roth. In comic books, Marvel’s What If? title and DC’s Elseworlds imprint also explored possible scenarios. But no one has ever looked at how a single element could propel comic book history in an entirely new direction.
Until now, that is.
Bob Rozakis has begun writing a series of articles tracing just such an alternate history for TwoMorrows’ Alter Ego and Back Issue. Rozakis is certainly no stranger to comics, given his lengthy tenure as DC’s Production Manager, co-creator of ‘Mazing Man, and writer of titles such as Superman, Freedom Fighters and Secret Society of Super-Villains.
COMICMIX: As DC’s "Answer Man," what can you tell me about the origins of your new article series?
BOB ROZAKIS: I had proposed an Elseworlds back in 1998; just after I left staff, in which Green Lantern and Flash were the heroes who survived the Golden Age instead of Superman and Batman. In addition to the story itself, I had created an "outside the box" chunk of history to go with it. The proposal was rejected, but the idea kept percolating. Finally, I approached Roy Thomas and Michael Eury with the concept of writing the entire alternate history and they were both quite enthusiastic.
CMix: What was the key event that would change comic book history?
BR: In 1946, after spinning off his All-American Comics line from DC, Max Gaines sold his share back to Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. In my alternate reality, Gaines buys them out instead… and the DC line becomes part of AA Comics.
CMix: Who is Ted Skimmer, your “source” for this information? He’s a vaguely familiar name.
BR: Ted worked for AA Comics from 1944 till 1997 in both the production and editorial departments. In the alternate "real world," he was an editorial assistant who handled a number of letter columns for DC in the ’80s.
CMix: How did you manage to work out all the permutations, down to editorial assignments?
BR: I started with the major events — the sale of DC to Gaines, the AA version of the EC books, Showcase #4’s introduction of a new Superman, and filled in pieces from there. Some things started out as part of a chapter and just kept growing –I’ve done full chapters about the movie, TV, cartoon and comic strip adventures of the characters.
CMix: Was it hard to transpose Superman and Batman into Green Lantern and Flash? What was the toughest transition?
BR: Actually, once I started putting the pieces together, it was fairly easy to swap the "careers" of Superman and Batman with those of GL and Flash. Creating Kid Lantern and coming up with Green Lantern’s Pal, Doiby Dickles in his own book seemed like a natural. So was bringing in Girl Lantern and Flashette.
So far there has not been anything too difficult to switch. Many of the pieces just fall into place.
CMix: Did you have to rethink what the actual creators behind the characters would have done? For example, Batman made Bob Kane a household name. Would the same be true for Martin Nodell for Green Lantern? Is Bill Finger still ignored given his role with GL?
BR: In the AA universe, Gaines treats his creators much better than Siegel and Shuster were treated by DC. He gives them a share of profits on the characters. Finger and Nodell are acknowledged as the creators of Green Lantern.
CMix: Would the rising fortunes of AA versus DC change how talent was treated? Was M.C. Gaines likely to have been nice to Nodell, Finger, Gardner Fox and E.E. Hibbard?
BR: As I said, in the AA universe, they — and William Moulton Marston — are treated much better. I’m sure there are people who would say the real Gaines would not have been so generous, but I set the stage for it to happen and it makes sense the way it happens.
CMix: When did you think to split this into Golden Age and Bronze Age?
BR: I wanted to do an entire 60-year history. Alter Ego covers the Golden and Silver Ages, while Back Issue covers the Bronze Age through the present. In order to run chapters simultaneously, we split the history into two "Books" — one for each magazine. The split point is 1970, when Mort Weisinger retires as editor of the Green Lantern family of titles.
CMix: Any thought to what happened during the 1950s and 1960s? Where will those years be covered?
BR: Plenty happened in those decades and that will all be covered in upcoming issues of Alter Ego.
CMix: The visuals are amazing. Who did the work?
BR: Shane Foley is one of the regular contributors to Alter Ego and he has done a number of the covers for the AA titles.
Alex Wright is a master of photo manipulation and some of the things he’s come up with are incredible. Wait ’til you see the movie and cartoon pieces he’s done for AE #79.
And Rich Fowlkes is Shane’s counterpart at Back Issue.
Then there is Larry Guidry, an artist who had created some "alternate reality" covers for his own amusement, one of which Roy Thomas used in his All-Star Companion, Vol. 3. I found some of Larry’s other work online and thought it would fit in well in the AA Universe, so I contacted him. Since then, he has created a whole variety of new covers, as well as designed the AA version of the Teen Titans.
Not only have these guys done pretty much everything I’ve requested, they’ve really gotten into the project and have been coming up with things on their own as well, even for parts of the history I haven’t even started on yet. Alex Wright came up with a great movie poster for the 1978 Green Lantern movie.
I also got two of my old collaborators, Alex Saviuk and Stephen DeStefano, to join in. Alex has designed the Silver Age Batman of the AA Universe while Stephen has come up with the new Green Arrow.
CMix: Did Roy Thomas or Michael Eury question where you took your history?
BR: Both of them have been very enthusiastic and have only pointed out when something I’ve written seems to be a contradiction or if I’ve left out some piece of information.
CMix: What’s coming in the next chapters?
BR: The second chapter in Alter Ego #78 is called “Weird Fantasies" and recounts how Bill Gaines and Julie Schwartz join forces to create such titles as Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science, Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space.
That’s followed by "Media Blitz" in #79, which covers the various movie serials, cartoons, radio and TV series of the ’40s and ’50s that featured Green Lantern, The Flash, and Wonder Woman.
Back Issue’s second chapter is called "Woodchucks" and tells how the "second generation" of staffers were hired in 1973. That’s followed with a parallel "Mixed Media" chapter about the GL movie, Super Friends cartoons, et al from the ’70s into the ’90s.
CMix: Any plans to collect the completed history into a single volume?
BR: I’m hoping that the series will generate enough interest to make a TPB collection a necessity.
CMix: Any other comics work on your plate?
BR: Nothing else at the moment. But if this series is a hit, maybe DC will want to take another look at that Elseworlds proposal.
New issues of Alter Ego and Back Issue are on shelves now. You can find out more about TwoMorrows Publishing and their products at twomorrows.com.