Paul Kupperberg on July 26th, 2020

Continuing a look at fanzines from yesteryear, scans of photocopies of fandom’s first ‘zines by founding fan-fathers Dr. Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas. Today, Alter-Ego #1 (Spring 1961), “a new comic fanzine devoted to the revival of costumed heroes” and published months before the Fantastic Four and the future Marvel Universe was even a twinkle in Stan’s eye (FF #1 on-sale date, according to GCD was August 8, 1961). The cost to order the next issue of AE was “24¢ in postage stamps.”

Combining comic book news and historical essays on DC characters the Wizard, the Specter, and Wonder Woman, AE also featured the first chapter of a Roy Thomas written and drawn parody, “One for All and All for Wonderous Woman” starring the Bestest League of America. (The seeds for Not Brand Ecch! were planted early and deep in this one…!)

I especially love that the issue features a look at the first issue of DC’s 80-Page Giant Secret Origins , one of my all-time favorite single comic books. It should be noted that in order to repro that cover, it had to be laboriously traced by hand onto a mimeograph stencil, the work I assume of Roy, who provided most of the art for the issue.

Next: Alter-Ego #2!

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Paul Kupperberg on July 25th, 2020

From November 1962, the thirteenth issue of comic fandom founding father’s Professor Jerry Bails’ The Comic Reader, continuing the posting of scans of photocopies of these classic fanzines, HERE and HERE. Comics industry news… fanzine reviews… letters of comment from Julie Schwartz, E. Nelson Bridwell, Don Glut, and others. Try not to cry when you look over the price list of comics for sale.

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Paul Kupperberg on July 21st, 2020

Continuing the scans of the granddaddy of comic book fanzines, The Comic Reader (formerly On the Drawing Board), shot from the 1970ish photocopies of the zines made from copies lent us by publisher Dr. Jerry Bails, that began HERE.

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Paul Kupperberg on July 20th, 2020
A circa-1970 self-portrait by Dick Giordano

Hard to believe it’s been almost a decade since we lost Dick Giordano, artist extraordinaire, human being extraordinaire-plus. In the decades we knew each other, he would be an object of my fannish admiration, my boss, my co-worker, my collaborator, someone in my employment as a freelancer, and, always, an inspiration. He was also, on occasion, a mentor, shepherding me through minefields at DC during trying times with a less-than-truthful direct report, and other dilemmas.
I wrote this short tribute to Dick that originally appeared in Charlton Spotlight #6 (Winter-Spring 2011-2012):
# # #

The first time I became aware of Dick Giordano was during his tenure at Charlton Comics. As much as I loved his art (what’s not to love?), it was his editorial transformation of tiny Charlton from major cheese factory to creative competitor that earned him my admiration. Later, Dick loomed large in my career, being the top guy in DC Comics’ editorial when I went on staff in 1991; in fact, it was Dick who essentially hired me. Dick was one of the nicest human beings on the face of the planet, which always struck me as a bad quality to have when you’re managing a large number of people, especially a large number of flaky, creative people. I figured you were better off being able to raise your voice and be mean to get people to pay attention. But Dick knew better. Plus, everyone he oversaw as DC’s editorial director knew damned well that when Dick asked you for something, he was asking you as someone who had done your job before, no matter what your job happened to be. And done it well, likely under mediocre conditions. He had the love and respect of everyone there. Dick always spoke in low, measured tones and we all leaned in to hear what he had to say.

One of my rare pairings with Dick doing the full art job. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #163 (June 1980)

Dick, as was no secret, had a hearing problem and wore hearing aids in both ears. He often missed what was being said, especially in meetings when several people were speaking at once. My voice happened to be pitched to whatever frequency Dick could still hear in, so I never had a problem talking to him.

Dick grew up professionally at Charlton, on staff and as an artist throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but I only ever recall two or three times spending any time talking about the old days with him. The first time was during one of the few and far between lunches we had after he had retired from DC but before I left my editorial position. Over a Rob Roy (or two) and a good meal at a pub down the street from the office, Dick talked about some of the talent he had worked with.

The second was on the drive back to Connecticut (I live in lower Fairfield County, he, at the time, in upper) from Shea Stadium where a bunch of DC staffers had just seen the Mets game, viewed from the Warner Bros corporate box (with wait staff! ballpark hotdogs served on trays! by waiters!), a birthday present to Mr. Giordano from DC’s upper management. I don’t follow sports, not any of ‘em, so I could care less about going to a Mets game, but I went because it was Dick’s birthday and, let’s face it, whether you care about baseball or not, how often do you get to hang in a corporate skybox and get served wieners by waiters?

On the drive home, I asked Dick how long he’d been living in Connecticut and he said he moved up here to work at Charlton in Derby and I just started asking questions about the physical plant and how things worked there and some of the people he’d known. Dick loved the place as you can only love somewhere you spent so much fun and formative years; it’s the way I feel about the “old” DC, the company as it was in the mid-70s at 75 Rockefeller Center, with a staff of maybe 35 or 40 that interacted like one, big sick, dysfunctional family. It was an amazing time to be there, at the nexus of the Silver and Bronze Ages, where you still had Swan and Infantino co-existing with Kaluta and Wrightson. Dick was there for, and instigated, the Charlton equivalent of that time during his Action Hero phase.

The last was in 1991, fresh on staff at DC as an editor, and, having just been handed DC’s revival of the Charlton Comics character, Peter Cannon—Thunderbolt to work on, I found myself invited to lunch at New York’s Society of Illustrators with Thunderbolt’s creator, Pete Morisi, and his old pal and Charlton colleague, Dick. To say that there was ever a more content fly on the wall than me, listening to these two old buddies exchange stories about the good old days.

Even after Dick retired from DC and returned to fulltime freelancing, we kept in touch, most often when I would call him with work for everything from custom comics to an illustration for an issue of Weekly World News. Dick was always happy to hear from me and took the job, delivering precisely what I had in mind, only better than I had envisioned it. Because he was Dick Giordano, one of the masters of the art.

I was fortunate to know Dick as an artist, a boss, and, best of all, a friend.

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Paul Kupperberg on July 19th, 2020

Yes, I cut up some of my comic books in the late-1960s. Get over it!

Books and histories about comics were virtually nonexistent. Reprints, especially from the Golden Age, were few and far between. And the big “and”… and, there was no internet! Those hooked into fandom could share their mania through the mail in the form of fanzines, but access to most of the good stuff was limited. So when DC started running these “Fact Files,” the stories of their only sometimes-seen Golden Age heroes, I was hooked. These, and other pages aimed at fans, their own stilted, insurance business-mindset attempt at what Stan Lee was doing in his own Bullpen Bulletins, were the closest thing to a comic history education I could get at the time.

My guess was these were written by DC’s resident historian, E. Nelson Bridwell*… though Paul Levitz (post-posting) sends word he believes fan turned assistant editor Mark Hanerfeld wrote them. (Rendering moot my little aside about Nelson: Ironically, while I ate up his 1960s history lessons, when we worked together on two 1970s comic book miniseries (World of Krypton and Secrets of the Legion of Superheroes, the first of which he edited, the second we co-plotted), I often wanted to strangle him for trying to choke the stories with all his damned historic details.)

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Paul Kupperberg on July 18th, 2020

What was the comic book news in 1961?

Many, many (many!) years ago, when Paul Levitz and I were first starting to make our mark, Jerry Bails, comics historian, indexer, one of the fathers of comic book fandom, was kind enough to lend his personal collection of the early print fanzines he had produced that had helped kickstart our hobby to a couple of fans halfway across the country. By himself, and later in collaboration with another fan, Roy Thomas, Dr. Bails was a pioneer of the fan press, helping spread news of early 1960s (mostly) DC Comics and connecting fans across the country via his mimeographed publications, starting with On the Drawing Board in 1961.

Bail sent those early fanzines to Paul and I, teen publishers in 1971 of a zine called Etcetera, that would eventually inherit (five publishers after) the title of another Jerry Bails creation, The Comic Reader. He popped them into the U.S. Mail, which delivered them to us in Brooklyn from his home in Michigan, where we each made photocopies (some of my copies of the earlier issues, presented here, were made on some early thermal copying process that have tanned with time but were kept out of the light and remain thankfully readable), before shipping them back to Bails.

Presented here, OTDB #4 – 8. The title changed to The Comics Reader with #8, and the stash of copies I came across begins with OTDB #4 (October 7, 1961), and runs through #13 (November 6, 1962), by which time the title had changed to The Comic Reader, and was running a dozen pages.

More to come!

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Paul Kupperberg on July 18th, 2020

Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Started Cutting Up Silver Age Comic Books

First of all, I didn’t know it was any age of comic books at the time. I was a reader making the transformation to fan; readers read comics, maybe saved them, but didn’t collect and wasn’t aware of their history. In the late-1960s, DC Comics ran a series of fan pages in their comics, no doubt in reaction to Stan Lee’s popular Bullpen Bulletins and Soapbox at Marvel. But, like all attempts back them to emulate Marvel’s growing success, instead of matching Stan’s easy, breezy style, DC’s pages (mostly written by fans-turned-professionals E. Nelson Bridwell and Mark Hanerfeld, although there’s at least one among my clippings signed by Marvin Wolfman) were kind of the stodgy, informative side.

But that was cool with me! As much fun as Stan’s pages were, they were mostly hype and happiness. It was like the difference between Marvel’s “thanks for writing!” postcard and empty-envelope No Prize and DC’s 1960s form letter reply to fans, a double-sided 8.5″ x 11″ letter printed in teeny 9-point type and so stuffed with information about all things DC (or National Periodicals in those days) and where to go to learn even more that I read and reread it for months after getting it in response to some letter I’d sent in! (Scans available here) I never learned a thing from a No Prize!

“The Wonderful World of Comics” was one of those regular text features; I also threw in “The Spectre Interviews Neal Adams!” because I’m that kind of guy. “Fact Files” and “The Greatest Heroes of Them All” and some miscellaneous pages to come in future posts.

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Paul Kupperberg on June 12th, 2020

I’ve always admired the hell out of Denny O’Neil (May 3, 1939 – June 11, 2020). I admired his skill as a writer. I admired his ability to continually grow and hone his craft, whether in comic books or prose. I admired the simple, surefooted way he approached story and dialogue and his calm, confident style of editing, as well as his knack for explaining and teaching what he knew.

Brooklyn Book Fair, 2009. From left to right:
Bob Kahan, Ed Catto, me, Jim Salicrup, Denny O’Neil, Tom DeFalco, Marifran O’Neil, Peter Sanderson, Danny Fingeroth, Heidi McDonald, and Keith Williams.

But what I admired most about Denny O’Neil was the man he had become.

I first met Denny when I was a kid doing fanzines in Brooklyn and just starting to hang out at the fringes of the professional world of comic books. I was already familiar with his name and his pseudonym from Charlton Comics and some early DC Comics work, Sergius O’Shaughnessy (the name borrowed from a character in Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park), having been a reader since 1967’s “Children of Doom” (with Pat Boyette, in Charlton Premiere #2), 1968’s Wander (with Jim Aparo, in Cheyenne Kid), through to his groundbreaking work at DC on Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Justice League of America, Bat Lash, and others. As an aspiring comic book writer, I read Denny’s stories and despaired. How was anyone supposed to compete with somebody this good?

I won’t go into details because it’s not my story to tell, but suffice it to say, the Denny O’Neil I met in 1971 wasn’t the same man I got to know several years later, when I had myself, finally (I was 19 at the time but very impatient) broken into the comic book business. Denny had found a way by then to master the demons he had manifested in his younger days and emerged from his struggles a changed and better person. Eventually, Denny would become a sort of comics Zen-master.

It just so happens that Denny was my editor on the very first story I wrote for DC, “The Stranger,” a “World of Krypton” story for 1975’s Superman Family #182 (with art by Marshall Rogers and Frank Springer). I have no recollection of the plotting session except for being scared (as we used to have to say in those Comics Code days) spitless that I had to somehow convince the guy who had written “No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!” (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76) and “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” (Batman #251) and “A Vow from the Grave!” (Detective Comics #410) that I had a story worth telling. Looking back at the story, even by 1975 standards, I have to believe Denny was just taking it easy on a newbie.

Denny never stopped being an influence on comic books and creators. His work wasn’t about over-the-top, larger than life superhero bombast; you could almost feel his disinterest in the comic booky/science fiction/outrageous elements of superhero comics. He brought a lot to his runs on Justice League of America and Superman, but most of his contributions there were to the group dynamics and relationships between the characters.

In the mid and late-1980s, before he assumed the monumental task of overseeing the Batman line of comics as group editor, I would stop in his office on a fairly regular basis to say hello and shoot the shit. In 1986, I pitched a Phantom Stranger miniseries to Denny. Knowing my audience was a lapsed though still guilty Catholic, my verbal pitch likened the Stranger to Jesus as a character who is on Earth to suffer for humanity. I laid on the symbolism pretty thick and Denny threw in helpful suggestions to shape and build the story. Then he sent me off to write it up, saying, “Don’t think this former altar boy didn’t see what you did there.” (P.S. on PS, Denny gave me notes on the first draft of the pitch before he had to give it up to make room on his schedule; the project was turned over to Mike Carlin, who steered it the rest of the way to completion.)

Denny’s 37-issue run on DC’s The Question (with Denys Cowan) that began in 1987 remains one of the best series of its day (possibly in comics) and one of my favorite runs of any comic book. He wrote a 1994 bestselling novelization of the epic Batman: Knightfall storyline, as well as some earlier novels, and he literally wrote the book on how to write comic books, 2001’s The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics.

Denny also wrote a bunch of DC Universe novels in the early-2000s. After reading his 2009 Helltown (featuring the Question, Batman, Lady Shiva, Richard Dragon, etc.), I asked him how the hell he was still doing it, better than ever, after all those years. Denny thought about it for a moment, then shrugged, and offered, “Practice?”

Practice that sometimes made for damned near perfect.

Rest in peace, Dennis J.

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Paul Kupperberg on May 12th, 2020
Keith Giffen, me, Marty Pasko, at Terrificon, August 2017.

I made Marty Pasko my comedy bitch one night at a comic book convention in the late-1970s or early-1980s. I could always make Marty laugh; I’m a fairly funny guy and he was a fairly easy audience, but I didn’t own him until that night when a bunch of us were gathered in somebody’s hotel room where some drinking might have been taking place, and I announced, likely apropos of nothing, that I could crack Marty up in just three random phrases. The challenge was accepted.

I opened with, “Yellow pages.”

Like I said, Marty was an easy audience, but he managed to keep his reaction down to a tight little smile.

“Direct dialing.” I added. That quick, Marty started to lose it.

“Wankel rotary engine,” I said, stretching out each syllable until Marty exploded, literally falling to the floor in hysterical laughter.

That did it. I owned him. I could make Marty laugh whenever I wanted, and I usually wanted. It was that much fun.

I’ve known Marty Pasko since I was a kid. We met way back in our early-1970 days of comic book fandom when we were still teens (I can’t for the life of me remember the circumstances of our first meeting) and were friends from the start. He preceded me into the comic book business by only a couple of years, but Marty’s abilities began at a level that I was still trying to reach several years into my career. His credits in comics and animation and television are well established and his reputation as a writer hard-earned and wholly deserved and covered elsewhere—Marty, who once told me that Turner Classic Movie channel host Ben Mankiewicz had his dream job, would be thrilled to know his obit made Variety—but my favorite memories of Marty aren’t professional.

Not that I wasn’t a fan. I read everything Marty wrote, not just for enjoyment but to learn a thing or two about making comic books. One of the earliest and best lessons I received in comics writing from Marty was in 1976 when he hired me to help him break down the script for what was to become the unpublished tenth issue of DC’s The Joker. I had a handful of five-, six-, eight-, and ten-page scripts for Charlton Comics and DC’s anthology titles under my belt and had never worked on a book-length story before, let alone one populated with established characters. I don’t know if I was of any help or if my presence saved Marty any time because he spent a lot of it explaining to me the why of everything he was doing in the story and how the pieces connected to the whole. Maybe he just needed someone to bounce ideas off of, but in the end, I believe I got a lot more out of that afternoon with Marty than he got from me. Forty-plus years later, when I wrote a book on writing for comics, Marty’s name was included in the dedication and acknowledgement page. (Our only other “collaboration” came in 1983 when I was asked to dialog three issues of First Comics’ E-Man over Marty’s plots. The next time I saw Marty after they had been published, he gave me a nod, accompanied by the comedy writer’s straight faced, “Funny.”)

The Joker plotting session took place in the loft in the West 20s in New York where Marty rented space from the owner, a friend of his who produced low budget porn films. It wasn’t unusual for Marty to wake up in the morning and have to pass through an active “sound stage” on his way from his room to the kitchen for coffee.

At his 1975 New Year’s Eve party at the loft, he told us all the story of being awoken one morning several months earlier by a man in a bloody butcher’s apron who mistook his room for the bathroom. Going to investigate, Marty discovered filming was in full swing for a special effects heavy scene involving the murder and dismemberment of a young woman tied to a bed. As Marty recalled, “The chicken blood was flowing like wine.” In January of 1976, the film Snuff was released in America to great controversary as it allegedly depicted an actual murder on film. Only the “murder” had been committed by a special effects crew in 1975 against the very interior backdrop we had been sitting in front of when Marty told us the story and then edited into the 1971 grindhouse movie Slaughter, filmed in Argentina. I was twenty years old, still living with my parents in Brooklyn, and I wanted Marty’s life. (That insider knowledge got me and my friends thrown out of the packed Manhattan movie theater we’d gone to see Snuff at when, in a stoned frenzy and to the shocked horror of the rest of the audience, we started laughing hysterically at the otherwise poorly executed execution.)

Marty gave me a good lesson in writing funny in 1976 when he and I were part of a group of comic professionals who had gathered at Paul Levitz’s Brooklyn office (former home to The Comic Reader fan publishing empire) to write the material for an auction catalogue for something called the Narrative Arts Alliance, proceeds from which were to stage “The Great American Comic Book Arts Exposition.” I don’t remember who else was there (Steve Gerber, perhaps?), or whether or not the auction ever occurred (I’m certain The Great American Comic Book Arts Exposition never happened), but I do remember us having too much fun as we tried to top each other’s jokes. My tendency was to go big and broad; Marty showed me how to sneak a joke up on the reader instead of slapping them in the face with a wet flounder. He also provided the cover art for the auction catalogue.

Around 1980, Pocket Books published a series of eleven novels based on the Marvel comics characters. Number nine was an anthology, Stan Lee Presents the Marvel Super-Heroes, and one of the stories was Daredevil in “Blind Justice” by Kyle Christopher, aka Martin Pasko. I’m still not quite clear why he chose to use a pseudonym on that story because he had nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary! Not only was it well written and conceived, but Marty used the opportunity offered him by prose to delve far deeper into the character than writers are usually able to reach on the comics page. He took the time to put himself quite literally in the character’s head and show us the world the way the blind Matt Murdoch would “see” it.

As far as I know, that was the only piece of prose fiction Marty ever published. I regularly praised him for the story (I had done two Spider-Man novels in that series, neither anywhere as well written), and some twenty years later, I tried to get him to have another go at it when I was an editor in DC’s Licensed Publishing department. I offered him several prose fiction projects, but he always turned them down, citing time as the factor. But I think his creative heart was really in the “script,” whether it was for an issue of Superman, or an episode of Simon and Simon or Batman Adventures.

Elsewhere, others have mentioned Marty’s meticulous attention to detail in his writing. The truth is, Marty was neurotically meticulous. He quite literally could not relinquish a job until it was as good as he could make it. That sensibility extended to the work he oversaw as an editor, as I learned when I worked under him in DC’s licensing department. We worked on high profile campaigns with DC’s characters for the United Nations, General Motors, the U.S. Postal Service, NASCAR, Six Flags, and others, and Marty’s eye for the minute was impressive. And often exhausting for those of us who worked for him. When I showed him the final revisions for a particularly troublesome double-page spread for an issue of the Celebrate the Century Superhero Stamp Albums we created for the USPS, he sighed and said, “I guess it’s as good as it’s gonna get. Not as good as I wish I could make it, but…” and signed off on it. Another time when we were talking about writing, I said I never felt like I could get much more than 60% or 70% of what I thought a piece should be successfully down on the page. Marty ruefully responded, “I envy you your high percentage.”

At the 1977 Chicago Comic Convention (L to R): Paul Levitz, Don McGregor, Mike Grell, Stan Lee (behind Grell), Len Wein, me, Marty

I ate a lot of meals with Marty Pasko. For years, he was part of the regular lunch crew at DC, with Bob Greenberger, Brian Augustyn, and others. But the best meals were the ones Marty and I shared with our families, at our homes, in the mid-1990s. Marty and his (then) wife Judith and daughter Laura Kate (now Simcha) lived in Secaucus, New Jersey and my (then) wife Robin and son Max lived in Stamford, Connecticut, and we would take turns entertaining. Marty wasn’t exactly equipped for suburban Connecticut though; he came to our backyard barbecues in slacks and dress shoes. Once, when we took the kids apple picking at an orchard in a neighboring town, we had to leave Marty behind in the car because he refused to hike up the hill in the rain.

The last time I saw Marty was in 2017 when we were both guests at Connecticut’s Terrificon. Marty had flown in from L.A. for the weekend show and stayed with me Sunday night before his return flight the next day. I had recently completed writing a memoir about my abusive childhood, and that night, Marty was one of the first people I told about my experiences. We sat in my living room talking until 3 a.m., and it was Marty’s loving and empathetic reaction to my story that convinced me, finally, to try to get the book published.

Looking back over it, this remembrance rambles all over the place. As an editor, Marty would probably toss it back and tell me to find a narrative thread and try again, but I think I’ll leave it the way it is. I will, however, employ a narrative device to end it that I learned from him: the “comedy callback,” or a joke that refers to an earlier joke in a routine.

Ready?

“Hey, Marty… Wankel rotary engine.”

I love you, old friend. Rest in peace.

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Paul Kupperberg on April 19th, 2020

From Weird War Tales #76 (February 1979), here’s “The Fire Bug,” a 5-pager I wrote that was illustrated by Howard Chaykin, lettered by Ben Oda, colored by Jerry Serpe, and edited by Paul Levitz.

How ironic! >Choke!<

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