Sunday, September 2, 2018

BEGINNINGS

When I started in comics, the primary purpose of the DC anthology books—titles like House of Mystery, Weird War Tales, House of Secrets—was to find, and train, new writers and artists.  You didn't need to be published to get in the door, you needed to show that you had talent worth cultivating.  I used to call it the vaudeville of comics:  Those books were a kind of small-town theater where you could learn your craft before graduating to comic book Broadway.

The short story format provided a fantastic storytelling education:  You had to deliver a fully-realized plot, character arcs, and convincing dialogue in five to eight pages.  Working on those stories taught me so much.  And it certainly helped that my teachers were legendary editors, and wonderful people, like Jack C. Harris, Paul Levitz  and the late, great Len Wein.

I’d love to see more regularly published anthologies on the market today.  It's great that the business is attracting accomplished screenwriters and novelists, but I'm sure there are many talented people out there, with no credentials, who could benefit from being trained by experienced editors.  And the industry will benefit, in turn.

(If you want to know how my first comic book sale, to DC's House of Mystery, came about just click here.)



©copyright 2018 J.M. DeMatteis

43 comments:

  1. I have a lot to say on this topic, but no time right now. I will return with my thoughts though...



    JAack

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    1. Let me just start by saying, the world is obviously a much poorer place with Weird War Tales not being published monthly.

      However, there is more to it than that.

      First, you are right. The proving ground for creators is a big loss.

      It has been replaced with indie books. The fatal flaw here are two fold

      1. It isn't the same as working for one of the big two. Things like deadlines, and adaption aren't possible. Many books from the biog two are late these days, likely because of a lack of experience with deadlines.

      and chasing your own vision, can limit what an editor (something as I understand is a different animal entirely at Image) can give ytou. Especially since you don't have to follow it to get published at some places.

      2. What is you can write but not draw? Draw but not write? and can't find or afford to pay someone to do the others?

      Well, you don't make comics. Hoe much talent is rotting on the vine for that reason.

      There are plenty of other important facts to look at, as well.

      It is also a way top keep older creators involved, and in the public conscious. That in turn could bring people to the attention of new creators.

      Buy the book for Jim Starlin's story, leave having found Tom Stein (a person I made up)'s work.

      Of course Starlin is doing just fine, but guys like Englehart can draw comic readers, but don't have a movie reminding the world of their biggest contributions. Openly at least.

      There is also another factor, no one talks about.

      Comic books.. aren't mainstream, and for people past 13 never were. Fandom certainly wasn't.

      Nerd culture, comics, science fiction, fantasy, etc., is usually chosen to be separate.

      That was always the trade off, you get fewer customers... but they are more loyal.

      The creator of Elric once said that if fantasy were as popular when he started reading as it was in the 2000s, he wouldn't have bothered. That it was rebellious.

      ANd that is true. All those things are rebellious. Hell, Hippies, punks, Metal, glam... there are big overlaps o the Venn diagrams of nerd crap and performers and fans of more traditionally rebellious things.

      And the fact is, when you are in your 40s, you are happy this stuff your wife gently mocks you for is getting acceptance. When you are 15, 16, 17... 22, you like the idea that it is your own place.

      The movies have robbed comics of that. They are no longer underground. So the next generation of nerd have no haven there.

      And the mainstream aren't picking up comics. They actually did a study in England, they gave two stories that ere the exact same, except with sci-fi elements.

      Those unfamiliar wit genre fiction read more shallowly... despite it being essentially the same story.

      he larger public does not accept such things. There is a reason why Winter Soldier (which dealt with complex themes of safety and freedom) was not the launching ground for Marvel like Guardians of the Galaxy was (which was played for laughs).

      I lie both movies, and both came out the same year. But it was GotG that sprinted ahead. It is why Marvel leans so heavy on comedy afterwards.

      Even most people who like comic book movies, have little respect for comics.

      What does this have to do with anthologies?

      continued...

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    2. ...continued.

      Well, that loss of nerdom has to be compensated for. This is a chance for Marvel to re-enter Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.

      Marvel's best bet is to consolidate nerdom. BE a one stop shop. Back in the Dark Horse days, there were people who would come into stores for evry Star WArs comic... but nothing else.

      Anthologies are a good proving ground.

      This can also be a place for established creators to do less typical stories. Stretch creative muscles they have either been wanting to, or didn't know they had.

      All of these things seem like pluses for the anthology. But, lets say that there is a cash flow problem... which there is in everything in comics these days. I say start it off on the Vertigo model.

      As I understand it, DC never expected Vertigo to be a big seller, but they thought it did have A market, and was important to put out. So they adjusted it, and printed fewer issues.


      And separate from Vertigo... I think... since it is by the story, and perhaps short ones at that... it could pay less for the stories, and cut costs that way.


      I think the problems comics face now are plenty. But they start with three big decisions made by the industry

      3. According to insiders, the owner of Marvel made the choice to sell comics exclusively in direct market, which drastically shrunk potential fans. The day after Avengers box office numbers came out, they should have reversed that.

      2. When they started compensating creators more fairly in the 80s (a good thing), they didn't develop a proper plan to get them to be editors. Not many editor were creators anymore... at least not enough to take notice. The experience angle has shrunk.

      1. The big one that kicked it all off, the death of the anthology. Comics became a less diverse place in terms of content. There was no longer a barometer for what other genres people were buying, or a way for editorial to know what talent was out there and not being published.

      There was no longer a training ground for creators. There was no longer a way to draw in fans of other nerd genres (And they do overlap a lot).

      And in essence, that shrinking of all the problems now, I believe, have roots in those decisions.



      Jack


      Ps.s I just hope part 1 made it through.

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    3. It did! And thanks for your insights. So much there. But I'll focus on one thing—and that's your point about training. When creators get their start doing indie comics, they're usually working on their own, or with minimal editing. They're not getting the kind of training I did from Levitz, Wein, Shooter, et al. And that's a shame.

      All that said, there are plenty of terrific new writers out there who have come up through different channels than I did. But it would be great to have a new training ground, with experienced editors at the helm; especially for writers who have talent but don't have experience in other fields. Or even comics. Who knows what would be lurking out there in the slush pile?

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    4. ...

      There was a writer who I really liked his indie stuff. He was pretty quickly snatched up by MArvel. I was pretty excited.

      I read his first story. It was pretty good. I felt one element was under used, and one character he created was annoying. But that's life. It was still a good story.

      The nexx issue was an established character I am rather familiar with, It w was pretty off in terms of character.

      However, it was coming off a run that got the character completely wrong, so I thought maybe it was an attempt to fix it, that just got bogged down.

      The next two I read for him (they were short runs for each), had pacing problems and more character issues.

      There was a lot of raw talent. I saw it. I loved it. But, when it was introduced to the big companies the personal vision couldn't take be properly put into established character.

      The basic aspects, now having to fit into a certain number, were not economically used.

      Much of the problem, is that he is in a groove. The talent with some of these creators are rotting on the vine as soon as they make it to the big times, because the focus isn't there.


      Jack

      This is totally worth a view. I swear...
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KzmWYO7AF4

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    5. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out!

      One of the reasons I started my writing workshops...and I really don't do them frequently enough...is because I wanted to share my years of experience with new writers. Offer them at least the beginnings of the kind of training I had when I came into the business.

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    6. Hope you enjoy it when you get a chance.

      As for the second paragraph, maybe you should take an editing job at Marvel or DC.

      Jack

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    7. I'm not sure why enjoying the video is an "interesting though.."

      It is an interesting video, but its Starlin and Roy Thomas. For a comic fan, that is a no-brainer.


      Jack

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    8. That was in reference to the first suggestion, not the second.

      But you're were just being a smart guy, weren't you?

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    9. Well Dematteis, if you hadn't been so occupied on your snarky comment, you might have realized that me hoping you enjoyed the video WAS the first comment.

      Still stands by the way.

      But, I'll let that slide (I know, I'm all heart) and just say...

      I'm glad you find it interesting. I hope you find it interesting enough of an idea that you actually do it.

      I hope you bring some of your comic writing pals with you. I hope you inspire others you didn't have a close relationship with.

      That legacy has been broken. I really think it was a loss to the industry.

      In a certain way, you and Claremont are the intellectual sons of Len Win (and I bet you never got him a card for father's day either).

      And you of Gruenwald, and Denny O'Neil too.

      There have been great editors who didn't write (or at least not known for it) who have worked in comics. Karen Berger was hired to Dark Horse BECAUSE of that fact.

      That doesn't mean that it can ever undo the importance of that link. And that is at best on a life support in the industry these days.

      There needs to b room for both.

      Hell, I think Frank Miller is teh best example of something that can go wrong with NO creators as editor. People always say Frank Miller "lost his spark."

      I'm not sure I see it that way. There have been some Miller books that are less than stellar (I'm sure the most famous is in your mind right now, we won't name it), but there are still shades of the old Frank Miller in there.

      I think he just has had a lot of editors who only knew him as a fan, and didn't have much experience themselves, and thought "you can't question Miller."

      I think someone like Denny O'neil, could have brought out a lot in Miller's less than loved works (Yes, MAYBE... but only maybe... even that one, come one, you know which one I mean).

      So, yes, I am glad you find it interesting. I just hope that is not where it stops.


      Jack

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    10. Honestly, Jack, I don't see an editorial future ahead, as intriguing as the idea is, but never say never.

      The great thing about working with editors like Len and Denny early in my career was that I had so much respect for them before I ever walked into their offices. I was totally open to anything that had to teach me because...well, why wouldn't I? It was Len and Denny!

      Mark G was a contemporary— we were, I think, the same age—but I had tremendous respect for him professionally. Loved working with him on CAPTAIN AMERICA. A terrific editor who was always offering up fantastic ideas but gave me the freedom I needed to tell my stories my own way.

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    11. According to Wikipeida, you and Gruenwald were born about 6 months apart... but that mustache gave him the wisdom of the millennia.

      I think it is a shame that mentor way has been lost. But, in all honesty I wonder if that would still happen.

      It seems when creators come over from indies as their first stop, there is less likely to have that desire to learn.

      I mean, if they got there with your instincts, it makes sense that they would bet on that more than as a student.

      Of course, since the opportunity is rarer, how can we know. If Chris Claremont was editing X-Men, maybe a writer WOULD say "Man, what can I learn from the guy who turned the X-Men from bastard son of the Marvel universe, to bordering (if bordering) on flagship.

      I suppose it is pointless to wonder and speculate. The elements aren't all there to judge.

      But we have gotten off track.

      Isn't the real question, how good was the chemistry between Starlin and Roy Thomas in the video?

      I'd watch a show hosted by them on just about anything.


      Jack

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    12. It was nice to see the two of them together. Starlin is getting the recognition he deserves these days, but I think Roy still gets forgotten sometimes. He was SO PIVOTAL to the growth and maturation of the universe that Stan, Jack and Steve built. A fantastic writer who brought new depth to those characters and new cohesion to the MU.

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    13. Hmmm.

      Starlin is just now getting the recognition he deserves and Roy Thomas is forgotten.

      Interesting.

      Seems to me, Starlin and Roy Thomas have been getting love since the 70s. For Decades they have been beloved and revered figures.

      Of course, that is only among comics fans, which which in the world of comic creation, probably doesn't count that much.

      It only really counts if people who never havem and probably never will read the source material praise your work. Standing in line for an autograph, without ever having experienced the work that they ACTUALLY poured themselves into.... just the interpretation from another person.

      But those decades of respect are better than nothing, right? Okay, maybe not, but it doesn't take away from anything, does it?
      Also, don't forget, before Roy Thomas ever wrote a comic, he was one of the driving forces in forging comic book fandom.


      Jack

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    14. It's been my experience that Roy Thomas's name doesn't come up often enough, even in fan discussions of major writers and pillars of the MU. Not that he's forgotten, just that I think he's very important to the history of comics, and Marvel in particular, and deserves more recognition.

      And Starlin's star has risen considerably since Thanos hit the big screen. Not just with fans of the movies. I think there's a whole generation of younger readers out there who don't know comics history, who may have never read Jim's seminal works, who are being turned on to them now.

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    15. I'm going to have to disagree with you.

      As someone who sees comic ans once a week... my guess is because I am a masochist... Roy Thomas gets all kinds of love.

      Yes, it does usually start with talk of his writing. Maybe its his Golden Age stuff, maybe its his Avengers, but usually Conan.

      Whenever it is Avengers or Conan (depending on what the context of the conversation is) it always comes back to his contributions outside of writing.

      Someone tells a story from an interview where Roy Thomas is heralded be a colleague has having dome something great. or an idea he had.

      All while of course pointing out how amazing it was that he was writing memorable stories at the same time.

      It is a little hard for it not to come up every now and then, or to forget what you new, when Alter Ego still comes out monthly.

      And that is his true legacy, and why everyone remembers him... he was a comic fan (Hell, THE fan) who did what we all said what we would. I made it all run better. Wrote the stories everyone remembers. Made the stuff we loved, and everyone else forgot, loved again.

      That is why, you can start reading comics today, and so long as it isn't in a vacuum devoid on conversations with other people, it won't be long before you can quote his history and accomplishments backward and forward.

      Jack Kirby had a problem with hims for at least a little while. Given as weird some of teh Only-Kirby folk can get... that may have derailed things a bit once upon a time.

      As for Starlin...

      While I may not be as fresh face as I was in those Amazon days, and my face full of beard, but I am still in that prides 18-34 demo, and in comics that makes me a whippersnapper.

      You will find few people who will spout more love for Jim Starlin than me. I even own some of his stories from fanzines.

      And my entrance was atypical.

      The Infinity Gauntlet has been borderline assigned reading since it came out (I first found the blinding glory of the Starlin with the Dreadstar Graphic Novel).

      as such, every person even slightly interested in the Marvel U has trumpeted or heard his work praised since 1991. And while I like it a lot... I think his 70s stuff is better.

      Not to mention the Batman fans. Oh Lord, the Batman fans, and his killing of Jason Todd. For the most part they are furious... that it was undone.

      Then there wa Infinity Watch, Infinity War, Infinity Crusade., Marvel: The End. And those are just the ones that weren't cult faves.

      Anyone who has any desire for cosmic comics gets pointed to Starlin as soon as they start asking questions.

      The problem is that cosmic comics have historically been... and really still are... a nitch market. Especially after Frank MIller and teh rise of eh street level.

      And of course, Joe Quesada openly preferring that world to the more fantastical as EIC.

      And I don't think that group has really grown, even wit h the [oluarity of Guardians of teh Galaxy. In fact. I think comic readers overall have been shrinking hard this decade.


      And lets say that under some bizarre twist of fate. A 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 occurrence event of me being wrong happens.

      If you have been a comic fan for more than... lets say three years, and you haven;t found Starlin yet, that is on you.

      If you didn't read the Weird (an underrated mini series from 1988 that lives in dollar bins) then you don't deserve t read it.

      If you passed by the cover of Warlock #15 and you weren't even curious, may you have made your choice about the kind of comics you'll read.

      If it took a movie to get you to take a peek into the Death of Captain Marvel, after 3 or more years reading comics... I think it is clear you have come to a conclusion about just what you are looking for.

      Admittedly, this is coming from a guy who owns a copy of Eagle #1.

      So, I might be getting a little over passionate about Starlin, I can admit that.

      Jack

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  2. I'd love to see Marvel and DC publishing anthology books as a showcase for training new talent.

    DC revived HOUSE OF MYSTERY a few years ago, but not as an anthology. Which seems kind of like bringing TWILIGHT ZONE back as a long-format story. (And since there's also a revival of TZ in the works, that's a distinct possibility).

    --David

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    1. From what I've read, David, the folks behind the new TZ really respect Serling and his vision, so I hope they're not tinkering with the format!

      Long live the anthology!

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    2. Seeing as how "Get Out" was, despite clear inspiration from "The Stepford Wives," a unique work and very Twilight Zone like, I think Jordan Peele's involvement is a good sign.

      The problem I have is that it will be CBS streaming exclusive. I suppose that is the safer bet, but it means I won't be able to see it.


      Jack

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    3. So you wait till all the episodes of the first season air, then invest in CBS AA for one month (I think it's six bucks) and binge them, then cancel. Problem solved!

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    4. It is somewhat of a personal stance issue.


      Jack

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    5. Now I'm imagining you with a very specific personal stance: Maybe standing on one foot, leaning forward, with one arm across your chest and the other outstretched...

      Sorry. I couldn't resist. : )

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  3. I love anthology comics, but the idea is that in today's comic book marketplace, US readers will not support the anthology format in the same way as serial-character series.
    British readers have, apparently, always been more willing to support an anthology comic book.
    It seems like the only US-published anthology comics to really thrive after the early-1980s were Dark Horse Presents and Negative Burn.

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    1. Well, the TV anthology was dead a couple of years ago, then came BLACK MIRROR and now everyone's tripping over themselves, trying to get new anthologies on the air. So I continue to hold out hope for a regularly-published comic book anthology!

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    2. I think it is hard to judge just how receptive an American audience would be to an anthology comic series. The big two haven't tried in earnest to do one in 35 years.

      You can't really know what someone wants if it isn't offered.

      Jack

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    3. Which is why it's time to offer it!

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    4. Actually, I did think of one in the past 35 years. Marvel Comics Presents. Which lasted for 175 issues, and near as I can figure, was only cancelled because of the contraction of he industry... not any major lack of interest in and of itself.

      It also had the mix of new and established talent I mentioned.

      Jack

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    5. All right, so now the campaign to bring back MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS and DC SHOWCASE begins.

      --David

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    6. I wasn't thinking Showcase, but...

      Some of the characters that didn't take over the past few years, may have had a better chance if they were in Marvel Spotlight, rather then replacing a classic character.

      Building them with a test set of issues.

      Worked for Ghost Rider, Iron Fist, Shang Chi, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, and Moon Knight.

      Jack

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    7. I just want to point out, that MCP, was a mixture of new and established creators, just as I intended.

      They kicked the whole thing off with writers (in this case 3/4 writing characters they were known for), and then added new talent later.

      It was done steadily.

      It was also a place for creators to write things they might not beable to elsewhere. I remember Nocenti did some fleshing out of Typhoid Mary in those pages.... and wrote an interesting look at a U.S.S.R. citizen (Colossus) living in America.

      Gerber wrote some off the wall stuff. Starlin wrote a story where Pip had a picnic, and Thanos contemplated between ticks of a clock.

      Also fleshed out characters known mostly for teams.

      And, there were stories, I still vividly remember.

      I didn't realize this, but it did most of what I suggest up above. While I don't think it should only be superhero anthologies (though not a bad idea) it is a good model for some of the things that could keep an anthology going.

      JAck

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  4. The first dozen or so issues of Marvel Comics Presents has a really great Man-Thing story in it.

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    1. Don't recall that. Who wrote it?

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    2. Steve Gerber.

      Jack

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    3. Apparently.

      The first eight also had a Doug Moench Shang-Chi story, as well.

      And, issue #1 had an Al Milgrom Silver Surfer story.

      And, before Gerber's Man-thing story was over, it also had the first 3 parts of Ann Nocenti's Colossus story "God's Country."


      Jack

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  5. Dematteis, did you know that you wrote a story called "The Survivor," that was printed in Bizarre Adventures#33?


    Also, a good way to ease people into anthologies may be with some back door anthologies, like Gerber's Man-Thing, Phantom Stranger, even Astro City (which is only barely backdoor) and has been running for almost 25 years.

    Jack

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    1. Wow. Forgot about that. That was very very early in my Marvel career. I'll have to pull that out and take a look.

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    2. So... are we filing that under did or didn't know?

      It was also probably the first depiction of a gay bar in a Marvel comic.

      Don't let anyone ever tell you you didn't blaze trails. I mean, it is a weirdly specific first... but it's a first.

      Jack.

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    3. Yes, of course I know I wrote it...but it's not a story I've ever thought much about. Pretty sure I wrote that just before (or maybe just after?) the GREENBERG THE VAMPIRE story appeared in B.A. Denny O'Neil was the editor on both those stories.

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