Tagged: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad – The Big Reveal (Not A Review, Seriously!)

Suicide Squad Beacon Premiere

This is not a review of Suicide Squad, the latest movie that pisses off the critics. John deserves first crack at that, and you’ll see it in his regular space here at ComicMix this Sunday. And Arthur does his weekly review thing, and I wouldn’t usurp his turf. And I’ll bet our pal Robert gets a few comments in well before the home video release. Yeah, I’ll offer a few opinions here, but after reading the inner-most thoughts of so many of those professional movie reviewers I feel a strong desire to pull the bedsheet off of the painting.

Here’s the bird’s eye lowdown: the professional movie critics are sick and tired of superhero movies. Be warned – no matter what’s up there on the screen, the critics have wandered out of the theater in search of Elvis. Capes and cowls are crap. Enough is enough. Screw you, Robert Downey Junior.

Suicide Squad is not the Gone With The Wind of superhero flicks, and after Batman v Superman and The Killing Joke, it probably seems better to me than it should. Yeah, there’s too many people in it: without them, you can’t establish a squad. There’s one completely unnecessary supervillain plotline, which seems to be the hallmark of recent DC-based adaptations. Big deal. Suicide Squad belongs to three of the most compelling characters in contemporary comics: Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, and The Joker. And The Joker is only there to establish why Harley is Harley – and Harley is… complicated.

Here’s my big review: if you pull the stick out of your ass before it, and you, plump down into your popcorn-littered seat, you just might have fun.

Suicide Squad the movie is fun. It’s not Deadpool type fun, although the first DC/Marvel movie crossover should be Harley Quinn Meets Deadpool. Yeah, I don’t think that will happen either.

If you’re a movie critic or a professional Internet crank, “fun” doesn’t pay the rent. Critics’ vitriol should be measured the way most guys measure their penis, confusing inches with millimeters. The genre is not done. The genre has been with us since Douglas Fairbanks Senior first donned Zorro’s mask. Costumed heroes are a movie staple. If the earth didn’t open up and swallow those theaters playing Batman v Superman, the genre is safe.

Pick up a newspaper. Read about Donald Trump. The zika virus. ISIS. Killer cops. Hurricanes and tornados. Mongo crashing into Earth. After all that, trust me, Suicide Squad is a fun movie worthy of your time and your need to relax after all that heavy lifting.

Superhero movies have been with us for 100 years and, whereas the current fad will lessen eventually, they will be with us for the next 100 years.

Critics: deal with it.

Love, Mike Gold, professional crank

John Ostrander is “Indifferent Honest”

Harley Quinn Suicide Squad

On August 1, the Suicide Squad movie premieres in NYC and I’ll be there. I’ve watched the trailers and the hype and, I must say, I’m hyped up. From everything I can see, David Ayer (the writer/director) and the cast have read my work on the Squad comic and are using it. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller especially seems pulled from what I did and for me personally that’s very exciting.

I don’t expect the film to be a direct translation of the comic; this is a different medium and has different needs. I love my fans a lot but there’s not enough of them to fill a single theater for a week. The movie has to appeal to those who never heard of the comic. However, in its DNA, this is the Squad I created. At its core is the concept of The Dirty Dozen with supervillains. That was my concept. Amanda Waller was my creation. So – yeah, that’s my Squad up there.

The Squad as a comic and I suspect as a film will also reflect, to a certain degree, some of my sensibilities. The main one will be the moral tones of gray. For a long time, despite being in four colors, comics were very black and white. There were Heroes (white) and Bad Guys (black) and the Good Guys beat up the Bad Guys. Comics were very primal in their Good Vs. Evil.

I don’t see things like that and I don’t write that, especially with the Squad. With the Squad, the bad guys are forced to “do good,” with that “good” defined by Amanda Waller who herself is morally very gray. Even the “heroes” who went along to keep the Squad in line were themselves compromised morally, often just by being associated with the Squad. They had their own problems. No one was 100% good – or 100% bad either.

That’s how I see people so that is how I must write them if I am to write honestly. Shakespeare has Hamlet say

I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me. . .

I think that’s true of all of us. We are all only indifferent honest.

These days that may not be a popular view. There’s a lot of black and white thinking out there. People are viewed in black and white terms; issues are defined in black and white terms. Too often discussions these days start from the premise “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Politics and religion are prime culprits in this but fandom can be the same way. Example: when Wil Smith was cast as Deadshot some people were outraged – the film was going to suck because Deadshot wasn’t white. No discussion was allowed.

I can go that route as much as anyone. I really don’t like Donald Trump and I’m not prepared to reconsider it. I don’t understand people who are in his corner; I find him to be a dangerous megalomaniac. However, my job as a writer to to find a way to understand him and his supporters. Where is something like them, like Trump, in me? If I wanted to write a Trump-like character and not make him just a cartoonish buffoon (well, any more of a cartoonish buffoon than he already is), I have to find those parts of myself that resonate with him, with them.

Once, in Wasteland, I wrote a story from the perspective of a serial killer. I wanted the reader to identify with him, to find out where he lived in them so first I had to find those points in myself. That took me to some very creepy places but, I think, the story worked. From what I’ve read, Jared Leto felt he had to do something like that to play the Joker in the Squad film. It’s a weird contradiction – you have to use empathy to create a character without empathy. And then I ask the reader to go there as well.

Ultimately, with the Squad stories I wrote, I asked the readers to identify with the villains. As Will Smith’s Deadshot says in one of the trailers, “Don’t forget – we’re the bad guys.” If the film works (and I think it’s going to), it will ask the audience to identify with these “bad guys” – just as we did in the comic.

Hopefully, we will all be uncomfortably entertained.

Mike Gold: Suicide Squad, John Ostrander, and My Damn Good Luck

Johnny O Squad LogoAre you tired of all the comics-related movies this summer? I didn’t think so, but I do understand why some of the movie critics are. These poor bastards see a couple hundred movies each year, they have little choice over which ones they must review and after a couple years, the daily smell of hot popcorn must become cloying.

Still, a couple of these writers have become complete assholes about it. Fine, fine. It is a great tradition among the professional critic set to cast their noses so high in the air you’d think they’d drown in a drizzle.

Having just seen The Killing Joke in a real movie theater – that part was cool – I’m only a couple days away from seeing Suicide Squad­ at the New York City screening. I’ll be joining my friend, frequent-collaborator and fellow ComicMix columnist John Ostrander, creator of Amanda Waller and the concept of The Suicide Squad.

This will be a highly personal experience for me. John and I have been friends for 45 years now, which speaks highly of his astonishing tolerance. Amanda Waller and Company first got on their feet in my apartment in Evanston Illinois before I returned to DC Comics in 1986. John and I were plotting the Legends miniseries and, since Bob Greenberger was my assistant way back then and he and John had been kicking some ideas around we decided Legends would provide a great launchpad for the Squad.

We really weren’t sneaking John in through DC’s back door, although that image pleases me. When Dick Giordano offered me the job of senior editor, he was hoping that I would bring John and some of my other First Comics collaborators to the company, or, in many cases, back to the company. This was no surprise: it was exactly the same deal, with the same hopes, that DC’s then-executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld made with Dick when he was editor-in-chief at Charlton nearly 20 years previous.

John and I met because we were comic book geeks. We both were at a party dominated by people in Chicago’s burgeoning theater scene, which gave us the likes of John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, David Mamet, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. In fact, John co-wrote the play Bloody Bess that starred Franz and Mantegna. When I arrived, the party’s host recognized me and semi-snarlingly said “Oh, we have a couple of other comic book fans here” and I was escorted to a lonely couch where us fanboys couldn’t infect the others. John was sitting on said couch, and we hit it off immediately.

Friendships come and go; the really good ones can exist forever and endure long periods of limited co-existence. I am lucky to have John in my life as a constant – our friendship never lacked personal contact despite my moving from Chicago to New York, back to Chicago, and then back to New York (well, Connecticut, really). John has also moved around, calling Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Michigan his home. We share emails almost daily, phone calls frequently, and in-person visits whenever possible (in the comic book racket, that can be with alarming frequency given the now-12 month convention season), often over amazingly great barbecue. John and I have shared our good times and our bad, the worst of which for each of us being the death of our respective wives thirteen years apart.

John Ostrander has always been there for me, and that is why I am looking forward to the Suicide Squad premiere.

Even if the film breaks.

John Ostrander: Fame

Suicide-Squad1

I’m famous. Kinda. Sorta.

I’m comic book famous. I get invited to conventions and the convention organizers pay my expenses. While I’m at a con, I sit at a table and autograph comic books, maybe speak on a panel or two (where my opinion seems to matter) and chat with various fans who come up.

While I’m at the convention, I’m sorta famous. I leave the convention hall, take off my badge, and nobody outside really knows who I am or cares, which is cool. I can go to the store or a restaurant or, really, do most anything short of dancing naked in the street. No one cares. I’m not famous. I’m just another person and that’s great.

I won’t pretend that it’s not an ego-boost to be sorta famous. The attention is flattering and I’ve seen parts of the world as a result of being invited to a con that I might not otherwise ever visit. Mind you, unless I make arrangements to stay a day or so after the Con I don’t actually see much of the city I’m visiting. Cons are working weekends for me; I’m there to meet with the fans.

One thing that comes with the semi-famous territory are requests for interviews. They’re usually connected to some work I’ve done. Nobody is asking for my political opinion about the current presidential race. (Two words describe it: Trump. Yech.) Right now, with the Suicide Squad movie about to debut, there’s been a spate of interview requests regarding my work on the Squad.

Interviews can be funny critters. I want to answer honestly but I also want the answers to be entertaining. Certain questions, such as how it began, are part of every interview and if you’ve read my answer once, you’ve probably read it several times. I feel like the old codger who is telling his tales over and over again to an audiences whose eyes are increasingly glazed. Still, I’ve had nice experience doing interviews and I give good blather. Point me in a direction and I can talk for a long time.

The interviews I’ve been doing about the Squad have generally been fun. One or two are with people who have interviewed me before so there’s an easy rapport.

Two interviews in the batch stand out for me. On one, I video taped some answers that may be included as bonus supplemental material when the Squad movie eventually goes on blu-ray. The other was an audio tape interview for NPR and it focused mostly on the work that my late wife, Kimberly Yale, did with me on the Squad.

I will admit, the video tape interview was very cool and I’m excited about being part of the Squad blu-ray (if I am; you never know what they’ll decide when it comes to picking material). It was done in Detroit at an industrial setting. The electricity had gone out for the whole neighborhood (hey, it’s Detroit) so it was shot mostly in natural light. The guys were friendly and knew their stuff and it was a lot of fun.

The NPR interview focusing on Kim was very different and I was very gratified that it happened. It gave Kim her due and I can hear her delighted giggle in my mind’s ear. As I told the interviewer, if Kim had been there, I wouldn’t have gotten more than three words in. She would have been ecstatic about the Squad movie and would have wanted to be in it and to direct it. Mostly, I was just happy to remind people what a good writer she was and how important to the Squad. Kim wasn’t part of the book from the beginning but she was a big part of it as we went on.

All this attention will probably dissipate very soon. The movie will come out and do enormously well (I have really good feelings about this) and my semi-fame will go back into hibernation, as it should, at least for now.

And we will all be much relieved.

John Ostrander: You/Not You

You : Not You

One of the interesting facets of talking about writing is the contradictions you find in the craft. For example: All your characters are you. All your characters are not you.

All of your characters are you.

Every character you write must have some of you in it. All of them. Not just the ones you like to identify with. All of them. The large and the small, the good and the bad, male and female, no matter what age, race, or nationality. If you’re going to write honestly about the character, you must be in the mix.

This can get uncomfortable. Once, when I was writing a white supremacist  in an early issue of Suicide Squad, I had to look into myself and ask, “What in me is like this man?” Look, I’m an aging white guy; there’s going to be something there. No matter how much I’ve worked at freeing myself from that, and I have, there’s going to be something there.

I found it. It’s not enough to understand such a character’s point of view; it’s necessary to find what is in you that is like that. However much I dislike that aspect of myself, it is there to some degree and it can be used. It was.

We all have multitudes within us. We are slightly different people depending on who we are with; with our parents we’re slightly different than we are with our siblings than we are with our friends than we are with our lovers and partners. Each of them know a slightly different aspect of us. That’s one of the purposes of supporting characters; they bring out different aspects of the protagonist.

We play so many different parts in our own lives on a daily basis, we should be able to find some aspect of ourselves – good or bad, laudable or disreputable – that will allow us to identify, to be, the character that we are writing.

I’ve often said that writing dialogue between several characters is the writer having conversations with his/herself. We are all our characters.

All of your characters are not you.

You have to have some perspective on the characters that you write and that requires some distance. The differences are important.

There is, mostly in fandom, a form of criticism pertaining to a “Mary Sue” (among female characters) or a “Larry Stu” (among male). Generally, it means a character is an idealized and unrealistic version of the author. For the most part I dislike the term; it’s too easy, too lazy, and too pat a critique. The person using it generally only has to accuse the author of either having a Mary Sue or Larry Stu and that’s it; no further discussion is needed or, often, allowed. The accusation is made. End of story.

However, as with most stereotypes and clichés, there is a germ of truth. A good character can be very seductive. Few people believe themselves to be evil; even Shakespeare’s Richard III, who describes himself as a villain, believes he has a right to do what he is doing. I met someone once who believed that if he could take something that you thought was yours, he was within his rights to do so. “You only have a right to what you can hold onto,” he would claim. Not someone I wanted to spend any time with, but an interesting idea for a character.

I saw a TV interview with a guy who was doing time because he was a hired killer for the Mob. Coldest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen. Literally would just as soon kill you as look at you. “My life doesn’t matter to me, so why should yours?” was what he said. Again, not a person I would ever want to meet, but it became part of my core concept for my version of Deadshot in the Squad. Lawton doesn’t have a death wish; he just doesn’t care if he dies – or if you do.

The whole “You are your character/you are not your character” thing is a dichotomy and that’s fine by me. I think that most often you find the truth in contradictions. It’s what Del Close taught in his Second City and iO improv classes. Del held this contradiction as a rule: it’s not either/or; it’s and/both.

Finally, don’t try to reconcile or explain the contradictions. State them and trust to your reader to dope it out. Do your job right and the reader will think that the character is them… and not them.

John Ostrander: They Grow Up So Fast

Suicide-Squad-Amanda-Waller

I’ve been watching DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow over on the CW. Among the characters that have been appearing on the show are Firestorm and Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Well, not so much Hawkman any more, maybe. I didn’t create those three characters but I certainly played with them a lot and, for a while, left my sticky fingerprints all over them. So it’s interesting watching manifestations of them in other media.

I’ll be experiencing that big time come August when the Suicide Squad movie hits the multiplexes. I created Amanda Waller and I defined characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang and it will be exciting to see how they translate for the screen. I hope.

None of the character portrayals will translate directly from the comics to movies or TV. I’m okay with that; none of them have so far. Different media have different needs. That’s why they’re called adaptations. The material is adapted from whatever the source was. My only question about any given adaptation is – how true is it to its roots? Did they get the essence of the character or the concept right? If you’re going to do Captain XYZ Man, there should be a resemblance to what makes up Captain XYZ Man. Right?

OTOH, I haven’t always done that and Suicide Squad itself is a good example. The comic was originally created for DC by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru; my version shared the title, a character or two, and some history with the original and not much else. Of course, as buddy Mike Gold pointed out in his excellent column this week, Kanigher may have gotten the title (and not much else) from a feature in a pulp magazine called Ace G-Man. What goes around comes around?

Amanda has appeared several times, including the TV show Arrow, lots of animated series, the Green Lantern movie, video games, the TV series Smallville, and probably more. I may need to double check my royalty statements. Any number of actresses have portrayed her and voiced her. She doesn’t always look the same. In Arrow and some of the comics, she’s built like a model. However, in all the variations I’ve seen there have been certain aspects that are kept – she’s female, black, and she’s ruthless as hell.

Even with other characters, I don’t always keep to how they were conceived. My version of Firestorm changed (evolved?) throughout my run. At one point when we decided he was a Fire Elemental (the Elemental idea was popular for a while starting with Alan Moore making Swamp Thing the Earth Elemental) and Ol’ Flamehead’s look was drastically altered, not always to universal approval.

Still, I think I kept to the essentials of the characters and, when I changed things, I kept within continuity as established although sometimes I picked and chose within the continuity.

All that said, I (mostly) enjoy seeing the variations and permutations of these characters. It’s like watching your kids grow up and moving away and seeing what they become. It’s not always what you expected but, hopefully, you can still see your DNA in them.

Marc Alan Fishman: Dear DC Entertainment…

Justice League War

Dear DC Entertainment,

I quit. I’m out. I’m done. This past week I’ve paid actual money I earned to view Batman v. Superman, as well as Justice League: War (on Netflix. And yes, I know that’s not new, but it’s still new enough to count). I freely admit my expectations were low. Lower than low in fact. I was hoping for some decent visual effects, maybe a few more jokes since the last time, and I prayed for some semblance of lessons learned from Marvel.

I got none of it.

Instead, you produced 2 ½ hours of angst, rain, punching, and death. And then you took your New52 Justice League comic series and ran it through the wringer in order to produce it as an animated adventure designed solely to appeal to 13-year old bitter tweens. You’ve sullied both mediums so egregiously that I’m honestly having trouble concocting any legitimate snark for these abortions given birth in motion. Alas, I honest-to-Rao can’t do it. My eyebrow is not cocked high. No smirk remains emerging from the corner of my mouth. I sit here in a bent-over stupor wondering who specifically allowed for either of these films clearance to see the light of day. Especially given that Marvel hasn’t made a single misstep in their recent releases… and Age of Ultron wasn’t even half the quality of its predecessor.

It’s not a shame. It’s not sad. It’s not depressing. It is soul-crushing.

You clearly couldn’t have missed the tidal wave of the zeitgeist in the aftermath of Man of Steel. Nary a stone was left unturned where the public did not denote in every feasible outlet in print and online that Snyder’s Big Blue Boy Scout was a banal shell of his former celluloid self. In the wake of every Marvel movie, it was clear what you needed to do, DC. A little humor and life-saving could go a long way. But you never wanted that for us, did you? You couldn’t deal with a little humility in the face of your financial defeat.

(And before the DC flamers decide to load their Trump cards of the current box office numbers of BvS, let’s just make this abundantly clear: Marvel’s movie profits since Iron Man utterly decimate DC’s by billions. With a ‘B’. If you need me to show you the math on it… e-mail me at info at box office mojo dot com.)

Offering us up a fight between your biggest two licenses sounds good on paper, until you forget within two and a half hours to develop any other plot or characterization to build a universe with. Instead of that, you chose to celebrate murder, nightmares, thievery, matricide, patricide, and wanton destruction. Spare the death from that aforementioned list and replace it with snarky one liners? You get Justice League: War. In both pieces action trumped all else. And because of it, we your once loyal fans leave exhausted but not sated.

In contrast, lesser sequels at Marvel – like Iron Man 3 or Thor 2 – upped their action ante but kept the bigger picture in mind. Tony Stark was a PTSD-suffering futurist thinking about macro-metahuman issues. Thor contends with having to grow up and be the demi-god he was meant to be… all while the cosmic conundrum (building toward Infinity War) leaves Earth in the center of the battlefield. While both films were shadows of their original counterparts, neither left me in a punch-drunk stupor; wondering how a 20-year veteran of crime fighting suddenly dropped his guard over the coincidental nature of matriarchal nomenclature. A bit too complex a thought, I know. I digress.

DC Entertainment… I am ashamed of you. You hold in your possession the world’s most recognizable licensed properties in super-hero-dom. With the financial backing by the same financiers of the multi-billion dollar Harry Potter franchise writing the checks. With all the potential you’d ever need to level the playing field by the competition now nearly a decade ahead of you in world building. You’re akin to Ohio’s Governor when it comes to wanting the throne with literally no path save for chaos in order to achieve it. Look upon the world left in ruin. The smoldering ashes of fan’s hope left glowing hot by hours of endless, needless violence. All you’ve left to show for it are a pile of Martha and Step Brothers memes. You can lie to yourself with your international box office ticket sales. But you can’t lie to your fans anymore.

Now lay in the coffin you put in the ground and pray your rewrites and reshoots for Suicide Squad right your ship. That being said… I’m not holding my breath for it.

 

Mike Gold: Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Thievery

Brave and Bold 109 S&SThe 1950s were a time of great experimentation for comic book publishers. Retail outlets were disappearing and post-war military scale-backs undermined PX sales. Superman was kept alive by its massive television exposure, but virtually all other superhero comics were either gone or in deep trouble.

Necessity being the mother of invention, comics publishers back then had no choice but to try new ideas and concepts. Western comics were hit-or-miss; those that featured top-line movie stars or characters were doing okay, the others were sort of meh. Romance comics, teevee tie-ins and some funny animal books were selling. The horror and crime comics that had been keeping publishers such as EC, Harvey and Gleason in the money were being condemned by the media, camera-hungry politicians and sanctimonious self-appointed “experts.”

So until DC and Marvel finally succeeded in rejuvenating the superhero genre, experimentation was the watchword of that decade. And that brings me to the subject of Robert Kanigher.

Brtave and Bold 314 S&SThis man was a legend. A writer and editor, Bob was best known for creating or co-creating Sgt. Rock, the Metal Men (over a weekend, no less), the silver age versions of The Flash and Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy, Rose and Thorn, Ragman, the Viking Prince, Sea Devils, and Enemy Ace. On the other hand, Kanigher was also… well… according to Wikipedia: “Kanigher was as well known for his unstable personality and violent temper as he was for his brilliance as a writer.”

I can attest to this personally, even though we got along quite well. When he died in 2002, I phoned a major comics writer/artist, a decent, considerate and polite man with a fine sense of humor who was a student of Bob’s at the Joe Kubert School. He immediately let out a joyous rebel yell that could halt a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.

Kanigher also had a fantastic memory.

When DC Comics was searching for new ideas and formats, he came up with quite a few – and most of them were quite good. Some were brilliant. He started up a title called The Brave and the Bold which initially featured legendary white knight types such as The Silent Knight, the Golden Gladiator and the Viking Prince. In issue #25, he dumped the swordplay in favor of a new series, Task Force X – The Suicide Squad.

Ace G-ManThis Suicide Squad ran six issues before being retired to the Old Comic Book Characters’ Home. The name was resurrected by John Ostrander in the mid-1980s in the Legends mini-series, and that’s the concept that was in the Arrow teevee series and will be in the movie theaters in August.

But The Brave and the Bold was not where the Suicide Squad first met the public. In fact, The Brave and the Bold was not where the The Brave and the Bold first met the public.

Shortly after the turn of the last century, Street and Smith started up a weekly prose magazine on pulpwood paper featuring rip-roaring adventures. It was called Brave and Bold, and it ran for 429 issues. Not a bad run at all. Publisher of Nick Carter Weekly, Street and Smith went on to create The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger and many others.

The Suicide Squad is another matter. There was no such magazine under that name before Kanigher’s creation. However, The Suicide Squad was the very popular lead feature in Ace G-Man Stories. The G-Men (government men; the movies’ version of a highly idealized FBI) genre was very popular in our media and as far as the pulp era was concerned, The Suicide Squad was the leader of the pack. Created by Emile C. Tepperman (Operator 5, The Spider, Secret Agent X) the series ran from 1939 to 1943, when the host title was cancelled due to wartime paper shortages. All or almost all of these stories remain in print in anthologies and in electronic books.

Sky Devils PulpSo… did Bob Kanigher “borrow” these names? Let’s be fair: they were not under trademark, and publishers recycled titles all the time. If you don’t believe me, riddle me this: if Fawcett sold its characters to DC Comics, why does Marvel publish Captain Marvel? Hint: it’s not because of the word “marvel.”

One more thing. In 1960 Bob Kanigher and artist Russ Heath created a series for DC called “Sea Devils,” debuting in Showcase #27. Some think that, perhaps, Bob was inspired by the 1953 movie of the same name, starring Yvonne De Carlo and Rock Hudson. Or, perhaps, Bob was inspired by the 1937 movie of the same name, starring Victor McLaglen and Ida Lupino. Or the 1931 movie of the same name, starring Molly O’Day and Edmund Burns.

Or maybe, just maybe, Bob’s encyclopedic memory stored the details of Sky Devils, a pulp series that ran from 1938 to 1940. That one was published by Martin Goodman, the man who, at that very time, was preparing to launch something called “Marvel Comics.”

Of course, that Sun Devils is not to be confused with DC’s Sun Devils, created by Gerry Conway and Dan Jurgens.

What goes around…

John Ostrander: Through The Years

Warning1

I recently was talking to my friend and frequent (and upcoming) collaborator, Jan Duursema, about just the technological changes I’ve seen in comics over the course of my career. It must be getting close to thirty years since I began all this.

When I first started, I wrote my plots and scripts on a manual typewriter with a carbon copy for me. For you boys and girls who don’t know what a carbon was, it was a black inked piece of paper that you placed between the first and second pieces of paper. As the typewriter key struck the first page, the force of it would penetrate the carbon and leave an identical letter on the second page. If you hit it hard enough. In theory.

When I began, I wrote out my plots and scripts in longhand on yellow legal sized pads of paper from which I would then transcribe to the typewriter. It was easier to make corrections on the yellow pad than on the typed page. There, if you even made a spelling mistake, you had to haul out the Wite-Out (sic) or Liquid Paper. These were small round bottles of white paint with a cap with a small brush in it and it was a pain to use. If you didn’t seal it up properly, the liquid would dry out and become unusable. Some inkers who use it to this day either for corrections or to create effects.

When I worked at First Comics, I lived in Rogers Park which is on the far north side of Chicago. The First Comics’ offices were originally in Evanston and I could walk there or take a quick elevated train trip and drop off the plot or script. It got more complicated when I started working for DC Comics as well. Their offices were in New York City and I couldn’t easily walk my stories there.

If I got my work done soon enough before deadline, I could use the U.S. mail but, as my good friend and oft-times editor Mike Gold could tell you, that is usually an unlikely occurrence. Mike once called me on a script I was doing for him and informed me I had gone past deadline and was approaching funeral line.

More often I used Federal Express and usually their overnight delivery service. DC and Marvel both provided pre-paid shipping labels in those days but, still, there were too often the mad dashes to the FedEx office. The closest one to me, by odd happenstance, was in Evanston near the First Comics offices. The key was to get there before it closed (promptly at 5 PM as I recall). If you missed it and you had to get the script in the next day, it necessitated the late night run to the central FedEx office out near the airport. When I finished the writing really late, it meant a mad dash to try to get to that FedEx office before it closed at midnight. I remember one especially hairy run with my wife, Kim, driving and running red lights while I stuffed the pages onto the envelope and completed the shipping label. Some nights it was like a gathering of the local comic book fraternity of both writers and artists as we all tried to slip in under our respective deadlines.

I thought I had graduated to technical nirvana when I traded the manual typewriter in for an electric one. This one had a correcting ribbon built in! However, this was also soon replaced when I bought my first computer. Mike and others in the industry had been pressuring me to get one but, as usual, I was resistant. I am usually not the first to embrace a new technology. I may not be the dead last to do so but it’s usually a near thing. I got a Mac because that’s what most of the people I knew in the industry had.

Side note: one of the beefs I have with the movie Independence Day was that, at the climax, the alien mothership is destroyed by a computer virus introduced into its systems by a Mac computer. Macs couldn’t talk much with other computers on Earth; it can talk to an alien computer? Bah!

Working with a computer enabled me to quickly correct mistakes and, as I went on, I discovered spell-check. An even bigger discovery was the Internet and email. With email, I could simply send my work in and the offices would get it the next second. Which of course enabled me to push the deadline even harder.

With the Internet, I also discovered I could do my research when I needed it without setting foot outside my door. Previously, I had to go to the nearest available library during library hours, hoping they would have something. That wasn’t useful when I was working on something in the middle of the night. With the Internet and search engines, I could look up anything at any time.

Sometimes, however, you can get lost in research. I remember on an early Suicide Squad story I spent a lot of time looking up Soviet train schedules to see if my team could possibly get to certain places I said they got at the times when I had them doing that. Was that strictly necessary for the story to work? Well, no. But I think I hit my obsessed button and I couldn’t get out.

Another advantage of working with computer was that I could work more efficiently and could take on more assignments. OTOH, it also offers many more ways of goofing off. Hellooooo, Facebook!

These days I no longer write my stories out long hand; I compose right on the computer. However, I do use a written journal with which to work out the stories and characters. That still feels more natural. My thoughts seem to flow from my brain down my arm through my pen and onto the page. It’s more organic, more creative, for me that way.

The point of all this is that while I have had a good long career it hasn’t been that long since my days with the manual typewriter and the Liquid Paper. I’ll probably be getting another computer fairly soon; I’ve had the one on which I write this for more than a few years and it’s time. I suspect I won’t fully understand everything the new computer does; I doubt if I really understand even half of what my current one does. Technology has made me a more prolific writer – but has it made me a better one? Actually, I think it has. Re-writing has become easier, for one thing.

However, I don’t think it has made me better on my deadlines. How close am I to the funeral line, Mike?