Shedding Some Lantern's Light:
An Interview with
In 1993, DC Comics created a controversy that has since dominated comics fandom. The Green Lantern series was suddenly given to a new writer, Ron Marz, and the title character was corrupted and removed from the book to make way for a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. Writer Gerard Jones has kindly consented to giving us all the inside poop on what happened with Green Lantern and the other books he wrote for DC.
In case you're wondering why we're running this in the Archer's issue...Green Arrow teamed up with Hal Jordan one last time before Hal's life went in the toilet. That's as good a reason as any.
Fanzing: How did you break into comics? Did you start out on "The Trouble With Girls"?
GJ: "Break in" implies I was out somewhere trying to get in despite the efforts of others. It was an almost accidental process. My friend Will Jacobs and I were building careers in other fields, writing for "National Lampoon," had sold a couple of books, when we decided to write a book called "The Comic Book Heroes" because we were big fans of silver age comics. Researching it and promoting it put us touch with a lot of comics editors. Carl Potts was one, and he suggested I try a couple of stories for his "Amazing High Adventures" anthology, which I sold, although they never saw print. Dave Olbrich and Tom Mason were two others, both at Fantagraphics at first. When they started Malibu Comics they asked Will and I for an idea and we sent them pieces of a novel we'd never finished called "The Trouble with Girls," and they liked it. After that, more offers came, and I chased after most of them, but without giving up books and screenplays. It was a fun detour in my career. Mostly fun.
Fanzing: Can you explain "The Trouble With Girls" to me? I've bought a trade paperback and numerous individual issues, and I think the stories are funny...but I'm not sure I really grasp the overall idea. I mean, you have a main character who's a dashing, quite intelligent adventurer and lover...and yet he also seems white bread, naďve and innocent. A sort of "James Bond meets The Tick", which aren't really two characters I'd mesh together. What is the concept of this character?
GJ: Geez. How do you explain a joke to someone who doesn't get it? Or, more to the point, what does anyone get out of the explanation? Some people responded to Lester Girls instantly, some never got him. Will and I obviously got him. For both of us I'd say he's still our favorite work in comics. But I do have to say, I don't think there was a Tick when we came up with Les. I don't think he has any comic antecedents exactly. He's just....what he is.
Fanzing: Do you feel you are better at plotting or dialogue, or both?
GJ: Dialogue just kind of flows for me. Plots I have to work hard on. I also used to misfire on plots a lot if I didn't have time to do the work.
Fanzing: What audience do you aim for when you write?
GJ: See, that was always a problem in my superhero work. The superhero stories I loved best had all been written for kids, and I wanted to follow that tradition. I also wished my work could be more mainstream, accessible to anyone who picked it up. That's what guided Will and me on "Trouble with Girls." We wrote for ourselves, therefore for anyone who happened to have a similar sense of humor. But with superheroes I knew the core market was an esoteric, pre-converted fan market, deeply invested in continuity and certain conventions of the genre. I'd resist, accede, resist again, stumble this way, that way, never find a coherent vision of what I was supposed to be doing. I was best on things like "The Shadow" or the early "El Diablo," with very clear-cut character intents, or something like "Girls" or the early "Mosaic" where I was really writing for myself. The more communally owned by fandom the material felt, the less coherent my approach was.
Fanzing: Which artists do you like working with the most, and why?
GJ: I've had wonderful experiences with artists. Only a very few have seemed to be cynical about the work, or just couldn't keep up with the schedule, or whatever. Tim Hamilton was tremendous for putting all those years and all that dedication into "Girls" for so few rewards. Mike Parobeck was a great joy, and I miss him. Mark Badger has a phenomenal storytelling integrity, really wants to own everything he works on. Gene Ha is meticulous, thorough, intelligent, ambitious in everything he does. Joe Staton was great, and fast as hell. Norm Breyfogle was very thoughtful, always stretched himself. So did Cully Hamner. Eduardo Barreto was an exacting draftsman, always gave me precisely what I asked for. Paul Gulacy was a gas and I wish I'd worked with him again. The same with Dan Spiegle, who made one "Shadow" script a highlights of my comics career. And on and on.
I enjoyed stretching myself to work within every new relationship, had no particular favorite kind of artist. Badger would want to sit down with me physically and go through every page in detail, then run thumbnails by me with extensive changes that made me respond, then make more changes in the drawings, so I was constantly evolving the material with him, and that was fun. Ed Barreto was 180 degrees from that--he wanted full, detailed plots, the more information the better, and he'd turn around every detail I requested. That was equally fun in a different way.
Fanzing: How did Guy Gardner's new direction and series come about? Was this something dictated by DC or proposed by you?
GJ: The Guy series was planned before I got involved. There wasn't much of a direction planned, except that Andy Helfer wanted it to be smart-ass and funny in the Giffen-DeMatteis mold. By the time we got it rolling, though, Kevin Dooley was in charge, a lot had changed in the Justice League aesthetic, Guy wasn't the star with the fans he'd been, and I don't think either of us quite knew what to do with it. I really liked the miniseries, "Reborn" I think we called it, but it felt like the creative momentum was long gone by the time the monthly happened. We tried the goofy humor because we really felt that the gritty-action stuff that was all over the business at that time was overexposed and losing favor. It just didn't click, though. I felt bad, because Joe Staton was very unhappy with the direction and felt it doomed us, and he got fired when the sales were low. At the time, though, I felt it was our best shot at surprising people and rising above the pack with a character who seemed to be running out of steam.
Fanzing: You were on the Guy Gardner series for about a year. At the time, you were writing Green Lantern, JLE, Guy Gardner, doing the Elongated Man mini and I-don't-know-what-else. Did you leave Guy Gardner because it was too much, or was there another reason for leaving?
GJ: I was overworking myself. My son was born right after I started it. I was also doing a lot of Ultraverse work for Malibu. The final straw was a script job for HBO that had to be done quickly. And that didn't get produced, ultimately. Something had to give, and Guy was the one.
Fanzing: What was your vision for Guy Gardner? Was he an anti-hero/villain (as first portrayed after Crisis), a brain-damaged jerk with some buried redeeming qualities (Giffen's view), simply a macho tough guy (the Dixon/Beau Smith take), or something else?
GJ: I liked the Giffen-DeMatteis character, although I never took the brain damage idea very seriously. I saw him as their character, but more limited by his own fragility and vanity than any real illness. I liked him a lot. I felt he was best as a counterpoint or a foil than as the sustainer of a whole series, though.
Fanzing: I remember that, when Guy's series first started, many young fans were writing in to say, "I like your series because you kick ass." Is this the reaction people were supposed to have, or did that disturb you at all?
GJ: That was Guy's charm. And I think in saying that they were showing that they caught on to the irony, too. Like wrestling fans who know it's fake but still play along with the bad-ass pretense.
Fanzing: How did you approach Green Lantern, and how do you think this varied with your predecessors?
GJ: Well, when I was first offered the job I wanted to start from scratch, do a Byrne-Superman restart on Hal. Or if not that, then a new Green Lantern, not Hal. Or at least just a new launch that barely mentioned '70s and '80s continuity. What I really wanted to do was an updated version of the John Broome-Gil Kane GL of the '60s--especially the period from around '66 and '67, after Hal broke up with Carol and left Ferris Aircraft and was knocking around, disillusioned but carefree. Footloose. I wanted that quality, light and colorful, but with him getting summoned off to cosmic emergencies, sometimes dark and suspenseful, but always with a fun approach. I wanted him kind of battered, rough edged, some romantic melancholy. But funny too.
Unfortunately, that was very hard to reconcile with what my editors felt was best for the property. Andy Helfer really wanted the '80s continuity acknowledged and built from. The multiple GLs trying to fit into the one role was his idea--and it was a good one. There were some good stories to be told there. But it meant delaying where I wanted to get. I feel like my Green Lantern flashed through at moments, but it would get lost in material that didn't feel like mine, that I wasn't invested in.
Fanzing: Did you have an overarching plan for Hal Jordan?
GJ: My plan was to get eventually to the point I'd wanted to start from--Hal self-directed, unburdened, light but tough. Kind of a soldier of fortune quality, in a way, a little of that old Caniff charm, that pre-military Steve Canyon. Kevin Dooley had some real doubts about that, though, about the '60s echoes, the lightness. He felt we needed long cosmic epics and really earthshaking villains to anchor it. Like Andy he believed in really acknowledging previous continuity. He also had some ethical problems with the Guardians, not unreasonably, and he was uncomfortable with my take on them, which was essentially that these were gods, and like the old Greek gods they were above conventional ethics, and Hal was willing to buy into that. Kevin wanted echoes of the Denny O'Neil approach, Hal pitting his human ethics against the Guardians' arrogance.
At a personal ethical level I agreed with him, but one of the charms of Green Lantern for me was always its strange, antidemocratic authoritarianism, the acceptance that these weirdos possess inscrutable knowledge of cosmic patterns and the future that our little time-constrained, sentimental brains don't have a prayer of second-guessing, so their appointed agents just have to go on faith. It's both religious and military, which is why Hal as a pilot, as implicitly a military guy, was perfect. I wanted to play all of his agonies of the '70s and '80s as a crisis of faith, maybe a midlife crisis, from which I wanted him to emerge complete. But that tradition, or expectation, of Hal opposing the Guardians on very American ethical grounds, was quite woven into the DC view of the character.
So the Hal I ended up writing always felt schizophrenic. And Kevin and I became more competitive than cooperative at a point. There are a few moments, like that issue where Hal's old friend Olivia Reynolds turns up as the toy salesman, where I felt like I was really hitting something. But those became less and less frequent, until it was all just a big mess. Ultimately, Green Lantern was the biggest frustration of my entire writing career.
Fanzing: Did you have any plans for The New Guardians, The Chosen, Malvolio or any other interesting peripheral GL characters?
GJ: Some editors and assistant editors requested mentions of them for long-time fans, but I really didn't want to go into that continuity. I just didn't feel connected to it at all.
Fanzing: Around the time Green Lantern #25 came out, there were 5 comics featuring Green Lanterns being published - Green Lantern, Mosaic, Guy Gardner, GL Corps Quarterly & JLI. By #50 the number of books was cut to 2 - GL and Guy Gardner, with Guy almost removed from the GL sphere. Was there a decline in interest, or were the books cancelled due to editorial demands?
GJ: Mosaic was cancelled because it was so odd for the DC universe aesthetic. Paul Levitz and Mike Carlin felt it would inevitably lose sales, although I didn't feel the evidence was there for that. I think they also feared that it would make the whole GL universe more confusing for readers. The other comics were just victims of slow sales declines. The whole business was declining, DC was hitting hard times, the main GL series lost a lot of sales, no doubt at least partly because of my boring stories.
Fanzing: What were your original intentions for Star Sapphire's baby? I notice your remarks in the original proposal for Green Lantern 48-50 that you wanted an easy way to just get out of that subplot.
GJ: I don't honestly remember that stuff very well. I know that when the sales started slumping and the pressure came down from above to jumpstart GL, Kevin suggested the baby idea. Which isn't inherently a bad idea, but I think I was too quick to agree with it without thinking through what it implied. Basically Kevin just offered it as a "how about this," and I went with it in the spirit of appeasing my higher-ups so that I could focus on the stuff I wanted to do, which is the worst reason to do anything creatively. Later on, when we thought we were aiming for a really new beginning, I regretted the baby decision, and Kevin agreed with me. It's like a sitcom. When you can't think of anything else, someone has a baby. But babies always kill the show.
Fanzing: Here's the heart of this whole interview: "Emerald Twilight". To put it succinctly, you had a story written and in the works for GL #s 48-50. There were even ads for it in some of DC's books. The gist of it was that another group of Guardians return, WITH the Zamarons (their mates, with whom they'd retreated to breed a new race of immortals), and they claim that the first group of Guardians currently on Oa are frauds. The GL Corps splits up over who to believe, and Hal Jordan faces off against the rest of the Corps. At least from this summary, it sounds like the most exciting Green Lantern story you'd done in the previous year of the book! What were the seeds of discontent that led to this story being yanked, your exit from "Green Lantern" and the emergence of Ron Marz's "Emerald Twilight"?
GJ: This is complicated stuff. Kevin and I had gotten off on the wrong foot from the time I finally finished the initial two-year arc and was ready to make the character "mine" at last. We basically just didn't define our relationship early. We didn't talk about the marriage before we went to the altar, we just went up there with these romantic dreams. When Kevin was Andy's assistant he had said he wanted me to make the character mine, but I think he saw himself as still being very involved with the material, where I thought he was really going to cut me loose. I also don't think I ever clearly articulated what I wanted to do with the series, and I think he anticipated something different. Meanwhile, he was getting a crapload of pressure from above, being a new editor at a time when Image was coming on strong and DC's market position was slipping quickly. The more I ran with the character, the more nervous Kevin became and the more he got involved in asking for plots and rewriting, and the more I resented his hands-on involvement, and we started fighting about every damn little thing.
Basically it became a bad marriage. It was all about power and control, not making the product good. If I did something because Kevin insisted, I'd do it reluctantly, dully. If I did something because I wanted to do it, I'd fall the other way, into the worst kind of self-indulgence. And as it got worse, Kevin started rewriting more, and then things got really schizophrenic. In the last several months of my run I don't think there was a single issue I liked, felt was mine, felt was what I'd wanted to do. And Kevin felt the same! It's not so bad if the writer is frustrated and pissed at his editor but the finished product holds together. Writing company-owned superhero comics isn't about anybody's self-expression, it's about entertaining the fans. But neither Kevin nor I were very experienced with this kind of situation, and we just couldn't get out of the swamp. We both learned a lot from it. Neither of us would do anything like it again. Unfortunately we'd nearly killed the series by then.
Anyway. It was obvious we needed something radically different to happen. Even before Paul, Mike and others said so, Kevin and I were talking about using issue 50 to turn everything upside down, bring in a new Green Lantern, give Hal an indefinite break, and get back to basic, exciting stories. Which meant pulling together all the subplots we'd both tossed into the soup, making sense of them and getting them out of the way. And I really, really worked on it, making it not just make sense but making it as lean and exciting as I could. And emotionally involving. Unfortunately, Denny, who was Kevin's boss, and Paul and Mike, didn't feel it was big enough to turn around readers' perceptions of what by then had been a lousy comic for about a year. Particularly if the writer stayed the same. As Denny said to me later, sometimes the market has to see that a complete creative shift is occurring, including the creative team. Which makes total sense, although at the time I was very angry and frustrated. This whole series was my frustration, the series I really wanted to make great but that for four years had never felt like mine, and here I saw a chance to start over and make it good at last, and I just couldn't get there.
What I feel worst about in retrospect is that Kevin was apparently going to bat for me again and again with his bosses, but because he wasn't free to tell me what was going on behind the scenes, and because I was mad at him about other petty crap, I blamed him. I criticized him to his bosses, wrote a nasty fax, really puerile ways to blow off my frustration. I apologized later, and I think everyone understood that I was just a clueless freelancer, 3000 miles away. But it was an ugly finish. I quit so they didn't have to fire me. Then they had an emergency plotting session, Paul, Mike, Denny, Archie, and Kevin, and they handed that plot to Ron Marz, who was coming up at the time, had worked with Starlin, had a cosmic resume going. And I think sales went up sharply and stayed up for quite a while. Certainly the character generated more interest after that. So you can't criticize the decision.
Fanzing: I notice in your proposal that, in the end of #50, Hal quits being Green Lantern to instead become "The Protector". What were your plans beyond #50? Was there going to be a new central character, a la Kyle Rayner, or would the book follow Hal?
GJ: First, I hasten to say that "The Protector" was a working title! We were going to do better than that! But yeah, there was going to be a new, younger GL, which I'd originally preferred to doing a Hal who was too burdened by the ball and chain of continuity. Hal would have popped in and out, maybe gotten his own miniseries, and then maybe or maybe not have become a GL again. I had various thoughts about the down-the-road story. But issue 51 would have been the introduction of a new GL, a completely new character, who was still in the vaguest development when it all ended.
Fanzing: I have to ask the big question. What is your opinion of "Emerald Twilight"?
GJ: I'm afraid I didn't read it. I felt burned about the whole thing for a while so I just didn't think about it, and by the time I calmed down it didn't seem to matter anymore. I heard, of course, that Hal had gone crazy and killed everybody, and I didn't like it much, because I felt that DC was using kiling and sadism to boost sales at every opportunity. I felt like the frustration of all these guys who'd been in comics too long and were caught between greed for the big money that was out there and a frustrated desire to do comics they really liked was spilling out. It was a poisonous mood, and I think the desperation over GL brought that out in an especially nasty way. But that may also reflect my own disgust with the business at that time and my own plans to get out of it. I don't know if it's a legitimate critical opinion or not, or if my opinion could even be legitimate in this case.
Fanzing: What are your thoughts about how DC has tried to deal with the Hal Jordan debacle? Do you think they've been concerned or dismissive of the large number of Hal fans?
GJ: I honestly haven't paid any attention. I haven't paid attention to anything in comics for about five years now. I will tell you what I learned about comic book characters, though. I used to feel fond of this imaginary character named Hal Jordan because I loved those '60s comic books. But then I realized those comic books will always be just what they are, old comic books, and they'll never be new again but I can also read them whenever I want, and they're not made any more or less real by the fact that some other writer is out there now writing about a figment called "Hal Jordan." It doesn't matter. "Hal" doesn't exist. Only John Broome's "Hal" or Denny O'Neil's or whoever's "Hal" exists, and each one ends when those comics end and is alive again only when you reread them.
Fanzing: If DC had come to you right after "Emerald Twilight" had been published, patched up any hard feelings and asked you to come back and somehow salvage Hal Jordan, what would you have done?
GJ: I don't know. I can only think it might have been an attempt to try again at that original approach I described. But by then there'd been so much water under the bridge, so many lousy scripts that I was embarrassed about. I don't know if I could have had the excitement I once had. To be honest, I don't know if I would have had it even had they left me on. I think my version of 48 through 50 would have been fun, but could I have brought any fun or punch to the creation of the new GL? I don't know.
Fanzing: You worked for DC beyond "Emerald Twilight" on other books like JLI and JLA. What was it like to still work for DC after this much publicized mess of being yanked off GL? I mean, they still put you on a major book like JLA. What was the vibe you were getting from them?
GJ: Everyone was very pleasant and respectful, although it was also clear that I'd shaken their faith in me as a commercial writer with the way GL went. Unfortunately, my own morale was very low. I pretty much stayed on the Justice League stuff out of loyalty to Brian Augustyn. And because I didn't want it to beat me. I didn't want to go off sulking and say, I'm not going to work for DC anymore, nyah nyah nyah. Especially since DC hadn't done anything wrong. Plus, of course, I wanted to prove that I was still good. In retrospect, though, I should have taken an indefinite break from DC.
Fanzing: You left JLI/JLE to take over JLA following Zero Hour. Your team was led by Wonder Woman and the main members were Flash, Hawkman, Fire, Ice Maiden, Nuklon, Obsidian and Blue Devil. Oh, and the bird-alien who narrated the series each month with the "This one's about..." motif. There are a lot of questions about this run, but let's start with the main one: the line-up. Who chose it and why?
GJ: The line-up was basically Brian's. He certainly allowed me some input, but he felt it was appropriate that he choose the characters as the editor. Which was fine, given that I was feeling pretty battered and wondering if I had any business writing DC superheroes. I made up the bird-guy, though, for better or worse.
Fanzing: What was the reason for not going with "an all-star return to greatness" before Morrison's restart of JLA? Was it your choice, in keeping with the Giffen-era "mix of major/minor stars with emphasis on characterization"? Were there still problems with using the big names? Some other reason?
GJ: We were still seen as continuing the Giffen series at that point. Sales were somewhat down, but that was still the momentum we were running on. We never even considered the all-star approach, and I don't know if Brian would have felt free to pursue it. I think it took that series conclusively running out of gas to open the door to Grant's version.
Fanzing: Not to be rude, but I have to ask this. Why a tractor beam? Wouldn't it cause windburn and asphyxiation as it hauled people up miles and miles? Since the ship is orbiting Earth, wouldn't the beam be dragging them across the landscape, narrowly missing mountains and skyscrapers, as they ascended? Even if we suspend disbelief...why a tractor beam? I guess what I'm saying is...why the tractor beam?
GJ: I didn't know fans still asked questions like that! That's cute. It was a tractor beam because it was different and we thought it would look neat.
Fanzing: Probably one of the more interesting ideas from that run is the death of Maxwell Lord and his brain commanding Lord Havok. However, you didn't get to bring Lord Havok back after issue #100, as the book was canceled twenty-some issues later. What were your plans for him?
GJ: I'm embarrassed to admit it--but I don't remember! For some reason, which I also don't remember, we had to let that story lie fallow for a while. Was someone else going to do something with the character? I've lost it. Anyway, he was supposed to be a running nemesis. I remember Brian and I talking about having him take over the headquarters, or the team in some way, and there'd be more revelations about how much of him was Max deep inside. But I didn't expect to be there long enough to play it out, so I let it go.
Fanzing: If JLA had continued after the Flicker arc, what else would we have seen? Did you have any major arcs planned?
GJ: Actually, no. I was pretty much doing JLA story by story at the end. Several times I decided to quit and then thought I'd stick it out for a few more issues. The point when it was cancelled was just about the same point I'd finally decided to quit anyway. Maybe I'd have done a couple more issues to tie things up. But I was done.
Fanzing: JLA was the last major series you did for DC (so far as I know). You'd been yanked off GL, Beau Smith was writing Guy Gardner, JLE/JLI had been canceled. JLA was your main book, and your run on it...well, it didn't look like your best efforts compared to work you'd done five-to-ten years prior. The "Red Winter" arc in JLE was extremely good, in my humble opinion, and from there things seemed to decline. By the time you were on JLA, you had the Power Girl pregnancy story that led to her son instantly becoming an adult and fighting a guy with eyeballs on his limbs, and then you had El Diablo (the Hispanic street vigilante) become an actual Mexican devil, and I don't remember what else. In a nutshell: What happened?
GJ: Another baby plot! I forgot about that! Makes me feel even stupider for agreeing to the other one. That was the editor's idea too, I'm pretty sure. But it may have been my idea to do the instant-growing-up trick to get out of it. Jesus. Sloppy stuff. Again, a product of feeling disengaged from the material and agreeing to ideas I didn't really believe in. The kind of thing I would never do anymore.
Anyway. My morale for DC work was very low by then. Even before I quit GL, I was so angry and discouraged by that situation that it was hurting the rest of my GL work. My heart was with "Prime" and my other Ultraverse work. And "Oktane" at Dark Horse. I have to say, though, at the time I felt that I'd really rebounded with my last several JLA issues. I actually liked the El Diablo stuff. I don't know how it would look now, but I felt like I ended on a quietly strong note.
Fanzing: I knew this would delve into some heavy and perhaps depressing subjects, which is why I saved the most fun ones for last. You did some of your best work on "Justice League Europe," which later became "Justice League International." And as the world's biggest Elongated Man fan, I just have to ask you some questions about this series as well as the "Elongated Man" mini-series. First off, did you enjoy your run as the writer of JLE/JLI?
GJ: I did, mostly. It was odd, because I'd been writing dialogue over Giffen's layouts in that smart-ass DeMatteis-Helfer mold, and then Brian said he wanted a very different tone, so in shifting from being a dialoguer to a full scripter I almost had to become a new writer. But both were good times. I liked playing with all the international stuff. Trying to get a little Carl Barks in there with the DC jive.
Fanzing: Who designed the new outfits for Dr. Light, Power Girl and Elongated Man? Was it you or Ron Randall? And were you pleased with the results?
GJ: Ron drew them with both Brian and I kibbitzing. They all had my approval.
Fanzing: Since you're obviously a big fan of Ralph Dibny, what was the reason for having Ralph and Sue leave the book (with the haunted suit of armor tagging along)?
GJ: That's another thing I don't remember. Brian and I both loved the characters. Did Brian want to shift it to the more serious? Did he feel that I was letting them dominate too much? I'm just trying to speculate on what it might have been. That's a lost moment.
Fanzing: In issue #49, Little Mermaid was spotted amongst the members of the Global Guardians. In issue #50, she was asked if she was dead and mentioned it was her evil twin (which was funnier back when Jay Leno joked a lot about that concept). Was this to cover a flub, or had you wanted to bring her back?
GJ: Again I don't remember, but that sure as hell sounds like a bad joke to cover a mistake.
Fanzing: You wrote the Elongated Man origin in Secret Origins. I've been collecting every Ralph Dibny appearance there is, but I wasn't able to find any previous stories featuring Ralph or Sue's families, or the details of how the couple met and got married. (Near as I know, Sue's first appearance is in the issue of "Flash" detailing their honeymoon.) Did you create most of Ralph's origin story yourself, beyond what was in the one-page origin in Flash #112 and the few other stories cited?
GJ: Yeah, the honeymoon issue was her first appearance. I made up all the Secret Origins stuff with the help of the few tiny clues John Broome and others had dropped.
Fanzing: How did the "Elongated Man" mini-series come about? I mean, I love the guy, but I didn't think DC would ever be willing to put out an E.M. mini-series! Did you just pitch it at the right time, or have compromising photographs of an editor, or what?
GJ: Those were prosperous times for DC. Everything they did seemed to make money. Brian's stuff was looking good, my stuff was selling well, nearly every Justice League character was hot, superhero humor was in fashion. It wasn't a hard sell for a miniseries.
Fanzing: "Red Winter" in Justice League Europe 45-50 was a direct sequel to the "Elongated Man" mini-series. The thing that most stood out to me was that, in comparison, the tone of Ron Randall's artwork was much more serious than Mike Parobeck's. Both artists have a cartoonish quality to their work, but their styles are very different. While "Elongated Man" dealt with the Eurocrime gimmick villains who pattern themselves on cuisine, "Red Winter" centered on the Rocket Reds waging a military attack. Was the tone of your stories dictated by the artists you are teamed with, or did you ask for Parobeck on "E.M." because the story was meant to be slightly silly?
GJ: When Brian and I originally talked about Elongated Man, we both agreed that Mike was the guy we wanted to draw it. Later on, as JL turned more serious, I was intrigued by the prospect of spinning the silly EM stuff in another direction. Ron was the artist on the book, and I thought he did a very nice job.
Fanzing: Do you feel that Elongated Man has real potential, or is he always going to be a joke character?
GJ: I loved his '60s stories in Flash and Detective. Can he work in the self-important aesthetic that's developed since the '70s? Probably not for long. I don't read comics anymore, but I assume they haven't changed much. If they ever lighten up significantly, he could find a niche. A likable character with interesting quirks and a fun power should always have some potential, if the medium widens enough to make room for him.
Fanzing: Your book, The Comic Book Heroes, written with Wil Jacobs, presented an overview of the history of comics and its subculture. Do you have any plans for follow-up essays? What are your thoughts on the current trends in comics?
GJ: I haven't read comic books since finishing that book in '96. Literally, I don't think I've read a single comic book. A contemporary comic book, I mean. I've read '50s Tarzans and Mickey Mouse and things like that. So I shouldn't be thinking about an update. But--there are a lot of errors in that book I'd love to fix. There are definitely some self-serving, pissed-off passages I'd like to modulate. So if someone wanted to publish a new edition, I'd probably agree. I'd just have to figure out a way to handle the update. I don't think Will would want to do it either. Maybe we'd have to take on an assistant. [Editor's Note: Pick me pick me pick me!]
Fanzing: I'd like your comments on a recent hullabaloo amongst the comic book world. Over at Marvel, Joe Quesada made remarks about "Darwinism" being the reason for seeking out fresh talents amongst the aspiring writers and artists. Given that there are a surplus of big name talents who can't get work in the industry, "survival of the fittest" doesn't seem to be the true motivation. The great Green Lantern artist Joe Staton can't get assigned to anything more than Scooby Doo, to give just one example. Chuck Dixon recently bemoaned the fact that he's about the oldest person working to any great degree at DC and Marvel. So, do you think Joe Q's Darwinism is a real philosophy, or just an excuse to hire newbies who'll work cheap?
GJ: Well, from what you say, it's obviously a colossally stupid remark. I don't think anyone's cited social Darwinism for the past seventy years, and even then it was only fascists. Plus it doesn't sound like he even understands the concept.
Obviously there's something to be said for looking for young visions when the old ones have ceased to sell. That's just practical. And I don't feel the business "owes" it to people to provide work just because they've been around a while. But to make a blanket policy out of that is stupid. Who created Marvel Comics in the first place? Lee and Kirby were both in their forties, had been in the business for over twenty years, had cranked out reams of material until they should have been utterly burnt out. Ditko was only a little younger. Then Buscema, Romita, Kane. When they did start hiring young people, they were well into their twenties and already had careers in other fields. Steranko, Adams, Thomas, O'Neil. Even in comics it helps to have people who've lived a little bit and picked up a few techniques. Really new kids are more likely to ape the shit they grew up on than do anything accomplished and exciting.
Fanzing: What are you currently doing now?
GJ: I've just finished a book called "Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Superheroes, Fantasy Games, and Make-Believe Violence." It's coming in the spring from Basic Books. It's essentially why what gets dismissed as "violent entertainment" is good for people, something that I think everyone knows intuitively but no one has been willing to say lately. It's been my main project for the past three years or so, and I'm very pleased with it.
I also still help my friends at Viz Communications adapt Japanese comics to the American market. Last year I developed and wrote the Pokémon newspaper comic strip for them, which was my last original works in the comics medium, as far as I can see now. The book collection of it just came out from Viz, called "Pikachu Meets the Press." It's a nice bookend to my career in the medium, refreshingly free of the stifled anger and, what to call it, the fetishistic esoterica that runs through the superhero genre.
Fanzing: What is your relationship with DC now that Kevin Dooley is gone and Ron Marz isn't on GL anymore? If you wanted to work for DC comics again, could you?
GJ: First of all, I have to stress that neither Kevin nor Ron would ever have had anything do with my feelings for DC. Kevin and I had our arguments, but I don't think either of us is carrying that baggage around anymore. And Ron's just another guy doing the same job I was doing. Everyone at DC has always been cordial and professional with me. And although I don't think anyone there would look at me as a hot commercial prospect, I imagine anything I showed them would be considered. On the other hand, I feel so far from comics now, it's hard to imagine the scenario.
Fanzing: By the way, you first discovered us via our early Green Lantern issue where I made a few less-than-kind comments about your runs on G.L. and JLA. At the time, Fanzing was still in its infancy and I really didn't imagine that any pros would ever read it, and I may have been a bit blunt and unprofessional. I just wanted to take a second to say I'm sorry if I offended you. Thank you very much for the interview, Gerard, and we wish you the best.
GJ: I wasn't offended. The whole point of entertainment is to entertain, and fans have to be able to get pissed off about boring stories. Thanks for the interview, too. It's not entirely pleasant to go back over these old memories, but it's nice to be able to get it all said, just once.
If you'd like to learn more about Gerard Jones, the Library of Fanzing recommends the following books:
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