Tagged: Roy Thomas

Dennis O’Neil: Justice Society – Forward Into The Past!


Back from a mission, the particulars of which I am not at liberty to divulge though I can reveal that it involved a food store, and… Look! Someone has deposited a package on the front stoop. A friend? An enemy? One of those uniformed people who drive around the neighborhood in trucks? Make haste! Slit the tape, fold back the flaps, and…

Well, look at that. A book. We already have a lot of those, but hey, always room for another, especially if it’s a handsome hardcover titled Justice Society of America: A Celebration of 75 Years. Seventy-five years already? They grow up so fast…

It must have been a no-brainer, all those years ago. Superman was a success. Ditto Batman. The rest of Detective / All-American Comics’ cadre of costumed do-gooders were doing at least okay, if not better, and if those mysterious beings out there beyond the office walls – call them “readers” – like superdoers in single doses then they’ll go nuts for a bunch of such heroes in the same magazine and – here comes the challenge for the editorial department – all of them working on the same problem.

The added benefit, as Roy Thomas observes in his informative and lively introduction, was that a comic book like that could showcase less prominent characters, test whether they might be popular enough to warrant further use.

So get busy! Get that new comic book, dubbed The Justice Society, out of our collective imaginations and onto the newsstands!

And so they did. The JSA, at first a quarterly, was soon promoted to bi-monthly status and continued to grace the nation’s magazine venues until 1951, when comic books as both popular entertainment and profit centers entered their dark age, a period when they barely survived as publishing enterprises.

That tale, sad though it is, had a happy ending when comic books, and particularly superhero comic books, were reinvented and began flourishing. (You wouldn’t be reading this if that hadn’t happened.) The JSA came back somewhat altered and rechristened The Justice League of America.

The JLA was one of my first assignments when I went to work for what had, by then, become DC Comics. I don’t think I knew the size of the bite I’d taken when I took the job. It can be challenging to conjure up a worthy opponent for a single super person and thus provide conflict and drama and all that good stuff. Writing a book like JLA the writer has to provide woes for seven or eight or more. But, as the volume we’re discussing proves, writers and artists have been doing that, doing it entertainingly, for three quarters of a century.

Once a year, Julie Schwartz would revive the JSA, who, you will be happy to know, were living in another dimension, and team them with their modern counterparts. I did one of those stories, which is how I come to be represented in the volume we’re discussing and why I got copies of it, and there you go, full and unnecessary disclosure.

I’m glad to see my work in such righteous company.


Dennis O’Neil: Charlton + Wertham = Olio?

Can I pause? Can I catch my breath? Where am I? About half way through August? That means Im more than half way through the distance run that is this summer. Last commitment in October, only … I dont know? three between now and then?

Meanwhile, imagine me yelling, Oh, Leo! Something like what I yelled when I was a grade-school kid: standing in a friends back yard and calling his name and if his mother appeared asking if my pal could come out and play. Or maybe Im shouting another name, a last name: O’Leo. Irish fella, dontcha know! Actually, none of the above.

The word were going for here is not a proper noun, its a plain old common noun, one known to faithful solvers of the New York Times crossword puzzle: olio – thats our word, and would one of our New York Times stalwarts favor us with a definition? Or do you Times readers think youre too good for such a mundane task, you elitists who would never even consider watching Fox News? Well, climb back into your ivory towers then while I take it upon myself to consult the dictionary that resides inside my computer and supply the definition in question:

o*li*o: noun, a miscellaneous collection of things

So, know where I was over this past weekend? At the Connecticut ComiCon, is where. On Saturday I did a panel with my old and seldom-seen friends Paul Kupperberg, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Frank McLaughlin, and Bob Layton. Subject was Charlton Comics, which I don’t remember ever discussing in front of an audience before. Why Charlton? Well, apart from the fact that Charlton was headquartered in Connecticut, which made the talkfest site-appropriate, the company provided work for an impressive list of writers and artists who later attained comic book eminence including – no surprise here – those of us on the panel.

Paul and some colleagues are doing a Charlton revival. Might want to check it out wherever you check out things like that.

I learned a lot in those 45 minutes.

I didn’t know that the convention city, Bridgeport, was so close to where I live, I don’t expect this information to change my life.

We made some money for Hero Initiative, there in Bridgeport. Always good to make money for HI. Always worth a journey.

When I extracted the three days worth of mail crammed into the box yesterday, I was happy to see the latest issue of what is identified on the cover as “Roy Thomas’ Not-So-Innocent Comics Fanzine,” Alter-Ego. Blurbed below the logo: “Seducing the Innocent with Dr. Fredric Wertham.” The writer of the article is Carol Tilley, who, a while back, examined Wertham’s condemnation of comics and found that the good doctor had tampered with the research. She deserves our thanks for that and Roy deserves our thanks for giving Ms. Tilley a place to do us a service.

Full disclosure: I read the New York Times.


Dennis O’Neil: They Say It’s Your Birthday…

Julius SchwartzSome 75 years ago I stuck out my head, decided I didn’t like what I couldn’t quite see yet, and protested, but it was too late to go back and so I’ve been occupying space and respirating ever since.

Think 75 is a big number? Well, my component atoms popped into existence at about the time as the Big Bang, when it all began, and that was 13,798 billion years ago, give or take (and what’s a billion or two among friends?). Now, that 75 seems pretty tiny, doesn’t it? And, matter of fact, it is.

For 49 or 50 of those years, I’ve been involved in what was once a backwater of American publishing, comic books. My timing was pretty good. Roy Thomas brought me into the business just as it was emerging from a decade of disrepute, during which its continued existence was in doubt. But first the late Julius Schwartz reinvented a few once-popular superheroes and, a little later, Stan Lee concocted a new approach to writing comics. Then Roy, and Steve Skeates, and I came to New York, young guys who had grown up reading and liking the kind of fantasy-melodrama that comics purveyed, and the business evolved around us. I can’t speak for Roy or Steve, but I wasn’t thinking of a career, and that was probably sensible since no career path existed in the world of comics. I was just doing a kind of nutty fiction writing and putting food in the mouths of those who depended on me and that was pretty much that.

We’re still here, Roy and Steve and I, and so is the business.

But it’s not exactly the same business. Even those who were taking comics seriously weren’t predicting what they’ve become. The look of the product is different: the pages slicker and fewer per issue, the art style showing influences that weren’t available a half-century ago. The vocabulary is sophisticated, and the themes either more mature or more adolescent, depending on your sensibility. Comics’s usual form, the complete-in-this-issue story, is odd and rare.

Imagine that, you gentle and kindly millennials…no continued stories! And more than one story per issue! And text stories with nary an illustration in sight! And half-page humor strips!

AND…all in color for a dime!

Then, there are the movies. Oh,yeah, Hollywood had been borrowing material from comics since the early 40s and after the first big budget Superman flick in 1978, it was possible to anticipate more superdoing at a theater near you. But I doubt that anyone predicted superheroes becoming their own genre, a first cousin to science fiction but, nonetheless, their own thing, and that they would dominate summer entertainment. Cinema technology evolved in tandem with the ever-more-mature costumed good guys resulting in a near perfect marriage of form and content. We sure didn’t see that coming.

What next? Well, given everything in preceding paragraphs, you’ll pardon me if I pass on prognosticating.

Mike Gold: The Great Editorial Squeeze

Gold Art 140205Originally I had written something entirely different. I thought it was brilliant. Some of my best writing ever. Then I thought again. Then I spiked it. The piece was… inappropriate. This contradicts one of my personal commandments: thou shalt not edit thyself. Worse still, I’m now so late our ace peefrooter won’t have time to peefroot this. So there are likely to be all kinds of stupid mistakes here.

That’s the biggest hassle in the world of publishing – print, online, or metaphorical. The Dreaded Deadline Doom. I think Stan Lee coined that phrase, maybe Roy Thomas. Whomever. It’s as brilliant as it is accurate. The closer we get to an unmet deadline, the closer we get to tipping over one of those dominos left over from the Vietnam War. There’s a process in producing comics. This process is not written in stone, but it’s based upon two premises that most certainly are: 1) unlike movies, comics is a sequentially collaborative process and there is stuff that happens to a person’s work after it is delivered. If the writer is late, the penciler is squeezed. If the penciler is late, the inker is squeezed… and so on down the food chain.

It all winds up in the production bullpen, and those folks are always squeezed. Just ask ComicMix’s crack production director, Glenn Hauman. He’s been squeezed so hard for so long – he started out in DC’s production department at least a dozen reboots ago – he is often confused for an accordion.

But that’s not just the last place in the chain… it’s also the last place you want to squeeze. Those are the unsung heroes that quietly fix everybody else’s mistakes after the editor painstakingly marks them up. Of course, if the editor is squeezed, more mistakes happen. Making a mistake about correcting a mistake doesn’t balance the situation and you can never predict what’s going to go wrong.

Time is not a cure. Time is a death threat.

As an editor, I never give talent phony deadlines. When we start working, I tell folks I deal the cards face up and the deadlines I give are the real deal. Most writers and artists with any experience do not believe me.

Not at first.

This is not just a plea for efficiency. It’s a matter of respect. I respect the talent to do their job in a professional manner, and everybody should respect their fellow collaborators – including those at the end of the process, the color artist and the production artists.

Deadlines are not set in order to annoy the talent. I realize there’s some confusion on that point, because real editors enjoy annoying the talent – it’s our escape valve from the Dreaded Deadline Doom. You shouldn’t have to be Otis Redding to understand respect.

•     •     •     •     •

A follow-up to Michael Davis’ column , posted in this space yesterday afternoon.

Wait. What? You’re black?

Damn! Go know!



FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: You’ll see on February 14th!


Dennis O’Neil: Friendly Fandom Family

O'Neil Art 140109 “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

Groucho Marx

I didn’t know about organized comics fandom until 1964 when I interviewed Roy Thomas for a Missouri newspaper, and that was only a month or two before, under Roy’s aegis, I became a comics professional. And I wonder: if fandom had existed in, say, the 1950s in the roughly the same way it does now and if I’d had access to it, would I have joined?

I don’t know. I’ve liked comics and science fiction and related stuff since I was a kid, but I’m a margin guy, not a joiner. If you discount a rather dismal stint in the Boy Scouts, a year in Junior Achievement, and several years as a member of my high school speech club, my organizations have either been therapeutic or professional. The Academy of Comic Book Arts burst on the scene in the 1970s and then gradually faded to black to live on only in memory and as a Wikipedia entry. I joined The Writer Guild East, and finally and briefly, The Science Fiction Writers of America – those were the professional clubs and if there’s another, I’m not remembering it.

But being a fan might have been fun, so who knows?

What prompts this stumble down Memory Lane are the items I’ve been reading off my computer screen lately, not only about comics’ splashiest progeny, superheroes, but about comic books themselves – newsy tidbits that once would not have been fodder for the news maw but might not have interested anyone who was not a fan.

So: has fandom infected the masses?

Well, thanks for a lovely woman I once knew who had a connection or two to the world of the fan, I came to realize that this world offered much more than opportunities to immerse oneself in a cherished art form. It provided camaraderie and a private quasi-mythology for the initiates and a context in which to meet people who could become important to you, and that emphatically does not exclude possible mates. Finally, fandom provided an excuse to get out of the house and go places, mingle, party, and have an old-fashioned good time.

In other words, fandom offered some of the same benefits as religions, lodges, amateur sports, alumnae organizations, veterans organizations, yacht clubs… In some respects, fandom belongs among those groups and others of their ilk. It gives us a pleasurable way to heed one of evolution’s commandments: Find your tribe and belong to it.

But when millions share a fairly intense involvement with an art form and it has morphed into Big Business, can those millions be considered to be a tribe? Doesn’t tribal membership require some measure of exclusivity?

Wiser folk than I, please take note and provide an answer. Meanwhile, for those of you who want superhero fixes and don’t want to be part of a megahorde, may I suggest that you limit your involvement with the genre to comic books? There aren’t a tremendous number of comic book readers – heck, of any kind of fiction readers – around these days, so if it’s exclusivity you crave… don’t count on running into me.


FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Dennis O’Neil: Creator’s Right

O'Neil Art 130912(Reuters) Marvel Comics has agreed to settle a lawsuit by a comic book writer who sued the publisher over the copyright to the flaming-skulled character Ghost Rider.

The agreement, disclosed in a letter filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, if finalized would resolve five-years of litigation brought by former Marvel freelancer Gary Friedrich, who claimed he created the motorcycle-riding vigilante.

The Reuters story quoted above is pretty sketchy, but maybe we should celebrate anyway. We don’t know the terms of the deal and we may never know them; the only instance I’m aware of where a comics creator didn’t get creamed when he tried to get paid for the success of a character happened years ago when the late Steve Gerber tried to get a piece of the Howard the Duck action. Steve got some kind of settlement, but the terms of it were never made public, possibly because non-disclosure was a condition of the agreement. Whatever Steve’s reward was, it didn’t make him rich.

I first heard of the Friedrich suit from Gary himself, when we were guests at a small Missouri convention. He couldn’t say much at the time, just that the litigation was happening. I had immediate doubts. As noted above, comics guys had a habit of losing in courthouses. And Gary did lose the first round; a judge smiled upon the corporation. That seemed to end the matter.

Next, Marvel countersued to regain the money Gary had gotten selling Ghost Rider souvenirs at cons. You could argue that Marvel’s legal cadre had to do what they did in order to protect the company’s copyright/trademark – that’s their job, after all, and this is not the place to debate the merits of their livelihood. But I couldn’t help feeling that Gary, a man who lives modestly, was being bullied by a New York behemoth. The money involved could be important to Gary, and wouldn’t make a blip on the corporate accounts.

Then, today, the good news. Gary won an appeal and, barring further legal shenanigans, his retirement became a bit easier.

Anyone familiar with the history of our peculiar medium knows that its dominant narrative is that business guys get fat from the efforts of creative guys, who don’t get fat. (This is pretty well documented: see Larry Tye’s recent history of Superman, Gerry Jones’s Men of Tomorrow, and a lot of journalism in Roy Thomas’s magazine, Alter Ego.)  But their are indications of change – glacially slow change, to be sure, but change nonetheless. When I cashed my first comic book check, we pale scriveners got a flat, one-time-only payment, for which we relinquished all rights. No royalties, no foreign income, nothing for use in other media, on t shirts, lunchboxes, promotions…None of that’s true anymore. We still don’t own copyrights on work done for the big publishers, but we are guaranteed back-end money. Some might claim that we should get more, but we get something, and that counts as progress. .

Meanwhile, in legal land, Mr. Friedrich won his appeal and, as far as I know, the efforts of the estates of Superman’s creators are still in litigation, and maybe they’ll prevail. It’ll be much too late to do Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster any good, but it might benefit their descendants.

One of our kids is a lawyer. We love her anyway.


FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases


Dennis O’Neil: A Marvel-ous New Year

O'Neil Art 130905Imagine: the word Shazam is uttered and Boom! – from the far reaches of nether being a lightning bolt, a very peculiar looking lightning bolt, flashes toward Earth. But something goes amiss! A crack in the cosmic egg? A misalignment of creational energies? Instead of altering a red-sweatered youngster into a larger and much, much mightier version of himself, the boomer veers through a twilight zone and a lot of alternate dimensions and…

… there I am, newly arrived in New York City, standing on a sidewalk, puzzled. I’m supposed to begin my comic book job today, but the Marvel Comics office is closed – closed at ten in the morning! – and as I look around, I see that most of the stores on Madison Avenue are also closed. What the heck? Isn’t this a plain old weekday? What’s with the closing?

I know no one in the city except Roy Thomas, and I don’t know where he’s staying. But I remember a name that was mentioned in a Marvel comic book: Flo Steinberg. I find a pay phone. (Ah, yes, pay phones. Remember them?) Ms. Steinberg is listed in the directory and I put a coin into a slot and dial her number. A pleasantly feminine voice answers and after a brief conversation, I have the answer I sought. Stores and offices are closed because this is something we didn’t have in the Missouri town where I was, until three days previous, a newspaper reporter: a Jewish holiday. Specifically, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

I didn’t know, on that Manhattan morning 48 years ago, that Rosh Hashanah was a new year’s celebration – I’d probably never even heard the words “Rosh Hashanah” – but the holiday and my life were in fortuitous synchronization: the Jews were beginning a new year and I was beginning a new life. I was undergoing a transformation, not as arresting as the morphing of the red-sweatered kid into a red-costumed superhero, but considerably more enduring

Flo told me how to find Roy, who was rooming with Dave Kaler in a lower east side tenement. I sought him out and the next morning, which wasn’t any kind of holiday, he introduced me to Stan Lee and…Shazam? I entered a building at Fifty Ninth and Madison a smarty-ass journalist and, eight hours later, exited it a comic book guy, probably a little less smarty-ass.

Hours and days and years and decades filled up. Comic books evolved from what was widely considered to be disreputable trash into a recognized and reputable narrative form and I evolved into…what? Somebody with the same name as the twenty-something who stood on Madison Avenue, puzzled – a slender fellow with hair, he was – into who or whatever is sitting in front of a computer – a computer? – and typing these words.

Oh, and not complaining.

RECOMMENDED READING: Big Bang, The Buddha and the Baby Boom: The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation, by Wes Nisker


FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases



Art: Nik Poliwko

Starting June 29th, writer Martin Powell and artist Nik Poliwko bring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The War Chief to life in a new webstrip from Edgar Rice Burroughs Comics.

For only $1.99 per month you can subscribe to Edgar Rice Burroughs comics, featuring these All New Weekly Comic Strips:
TARZAN OF THE APES™ by Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg
CARSON OF VENUS™ by Martin Powell, Thomas Floyd, and Diana Leto
THE ETERNAL SAVAGE™ by Martin Powell and Steven E Gordon
THE CAVE GIRL™ by Martin Powell and Diana Leto — COMING IN JULY!

Don’t miss the Adventure at www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics.

Art: Diana Leto


Art: Nik Poliwko

Starting June 29th, writer Martin Powell and artist Nik Poliwko bring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The War Chief to life in a new webstrip from Edgar Rice Burroughs Comics.

For only $1.99 per month you can subscribe to Edgar Rice Burroughs comics, including the all-new Tarzan comic strips by Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg, Carson Of Venus by Martin Powell, Thomas Floyd, and Diana Leto, and The Eternal Savage by Martin Powell and Steven E Gordon.

Don’t miss the Adventure at www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics.

Carson of Venus Webstrip is Live!

CARSON OF VENUS, an all-new full color online weekly comic strip of interplanetary romantic adventure by writer Martin Powell and artists Thomas Floyd and Diana Leto is now live at http://www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics/

Brought to you by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Incorporated, Carson of Venus is part of ERB Inc’s comic subscription service. For the low price of $1.99 per month you get Carson of Venus and the all-new TARZAN comic strip by Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg. And there are more new ERB comic strips on the way. Plus, fun free collectible premiums! If you love pulpy comic strips, subscribe today at http://www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics/