Breaking into the big time with little stories…

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #240


Having recently stepped back to take a look at my life in comic books in Panel by Panel: My Comic Book Life (currently doing that funding thing on Kickstarter), I’m reminded of what a lucky fellow I’ve been. Not only for the opportunities that allowed me to break into the business in 1975 in the first place, but also for the creators with whom I got to work and the properties I was being trusted with… you know, under the watchful eyes of editors who usually possessed far more experience and taste than I.

Those first half dozen or so years of my freelance career were a jumble of strange little assignments, with the emphasis on anthology titles like House of Mystery and Weird War Tales and back-up stories in superhero titles. Every now and again I’d be handed a book-length assignment like the the new Doom Patrol in Showcase or what would become the industry’s first miniseries, World of Krypton, but my bread and butter for a long time were back-ups and shorts… not to mention introductory and interstitial pages in anthology books and letter columns (which kind of counted as writing fiction, as we had to write fake letters for those titles that didn’t receive mail).

Here then, because I’m feeling nostalgic, 13 MORE OF MY FAVORITE BACK-UP STORIES (THAT I’VE WRITTEN). (I did go down this road once before.)

Ghostly Haunts #52 (October 1976). “Sleep of Ages,” art by Steve Ditko. It’s like, the third story I’d ever sold, and until I flipped through the issue in the candy store by the bus stop on Nostrand Avenue on my way to classes at Brooklyn College, I had no idea—hadn’t even harbored any hope—that it would be drawn by S*t*e*v*e D*i*t*k*o!

House of Mystery #252 (May/June 1977). “The Devil Strikes at My Old Kentucky Home,” with art by Don Perlin and Romeo Tanghal. As the regular writer of the five-page House of Mystery introduction/ interstitial pages I thought I’d be clever and give the House an “origin” of sorts. When I came up with the story’s title, a play on the song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” I thought I was double clever.

Superman Family #183 (May/June 1977). “Death is a Computer,” art by Carl Potts and Al Milgrom. Newbie writers didn’t walk in the door and get to write a top feature like Superman, so I had to settle for being Superman adjacent for several years until I finally earned my spot in Julius Schwartz’s rotation of writers. Of course there was nothing shabby about walking in the door and writing for editor Denny O’Neil—a legend years before I even knew where the door was—on a strip set in the Superman universe.

DC Super Stars #14 (May/June 1977). “Let There Be Dr. Light,” art by Dick Ayers and Jack Abel. It was an “All-New Giant Secret Origins of Super-Villains” issue and I hope my convoluted contribution of the origin of Dr. Light (he stole the technology from the planet Thanagar via a time/space warp through which pre-coming-to-Earth-to-become-Hawkman Katar Hol chases him) didn’t make it into canon. But it did make it to the drawing boards of two stalwarts of the industry, Dick Ayers and Jack Abel!

DC Special Series #1: 5-Star Super-Hero Spectacular (September 1977). “The Telephone Tangle,” art by Steve Stiles and Bob McLeod. Again with the clever! Shortly before getting the assignment to write an Atom story for this one-shot anthology, I’d read an article in American Heritage magazine about Elisha Gray, who applied for the telephone patent later the same day as Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Without bothering to dig too deep into the matter, I concocted a “Time Pool” time-travel story that took Atom back to Bell’s unveiling of his invention at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and painted poor Elisha Gray as an unhinged homicidal sore loser.

Crazy Magazine #32 (December 1977). “Star Warts,” art by Alan Kupperberg. Hard truth: I couldn’t care less about Star Wars. I was a 22-year old cynic when the movie came out and while I thought it was well done, I recognized the source/inspirational material (1930s Buck Rogers movie serials) and was too old to take on another fandom. But… I did love Mad Magazine, and recognized the odds of my ever breaking into that hallowed hall of humor were slim to none, so I had to be content to sell my wit to Marvel’s Crazy Magazine. “Star Warts” wasn’t my best movie parody, but it was my first and a boy never forgets his first.

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #240 (June 1978). “Dawnstar Rising,” plot by Paul Levitz, art by James Sherman and Bob McLeod. Not my first foray into the future dialoging a Legion story over a Levitz plot, but a definite favorite for the chance to put words to the stunning pictures of Jim Sherman!

Weird War Tales #65 (July 1978). “The Last Cavalry Charge,” art by Danny Bulanadi. The art by Bulanadi on the story itself was fine and dandy, but that cover by Joe Kubert, at first glance so simple, was stunning!

Weird War Tales #68 (October 1978). “The Greatest Story Never Told,” art by Frank Miller and Danny Bulanadi. You know that sequence in Miller’s Daredevil #164? Ernest Hemingway beat him to it in my script from a couple of years earlier.

Weird War Tales #74 (April 1979). “The Cold War,” art by George Evans. I asked editor Levitz how a legend like EC Comics great George Evans ended up drawing my stupid little three-pager. Paul told me a lot of guys needed shorts to fill the down time between longer assignments and when Evans came around that day, my script just happened to be at the top of the pile. Like I said, I was a lucky guy!

World’s Finest #257 (June/July 1979). “Time Keeps on Killing,” art by Jose Delbo and Frank McLaughlin. I would, over the years, have the pleasure to work many, many times with artist Jose Delbo, including a couple of years together on the syndicated Superman newspaper strip, but this was our first collaboration.

The Legion of Super-Heroes #267 (September 1980). “The Grounded Legionnaires,” art by Steve Ditko and Dave Hunt. Lightning struck twice when Steve Ditko penciled yet another of my stories, this time a LSH back-up, one of two stories for the franchise I scripted solo.

House of Mystery #294 (July 1981). “Congratulations, Mr. Bates – It’s a Warlock!” art by George Tuska and Tony DeZuniga. George Tuska was a legend, an artist’s artist who was then still producing beautiful work more than four decades into his career. While we’d work together again (on the Masters of the Universe miniseries and a couple of continuities of the Superman newspaper strip), “Congratulations, Mr. Bates – It’s a Warlock!” is my favorite of our joint efforts thanks to the lush inks by another master, Tony DeZuniga.


— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite Comic Book Back-Up Stories. Click here.

— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite COMICS BACK-UP STORIES (That I’ve Written). Click here.

PAUL KUPPERBERG was a Silver Age fan who grew up to become a Bronze Age comic book creator, writer of Superman, the Doom Patrol, and Green Lantern, creator of Arion Lord of Atlantis, Checkmate, and Takion, and slayer of Aquababy, Archie, and Vigilante. He is the Harvey and Eisner Award nominated writer of Archie Comics’ Life with Archie, and his YA novel Kevin was nominated for a GLAAD media award and won a Scribe Award from the IAMTW. Now, as a Post-Modern Age gray eminence, Paul spends a lot of time looking back in his columns for 13th Dimension and in books such as his upcoming memoir, Panel by Panel: My Comic Book Life



Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Love it! (I read some of these! I’m a little younger than you are, but never was as motivated! But I became a writer!)

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  2. Boy, James Sherman never fails to impress. I could stare at his Legion work all day and still find new elements that blow my mind. What a talent!

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