The celebrated Mr. K. chats with Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, Howard Chaykin — and many more — about the comics that matter to them…
By PAUL KUPPERBERG
I’m not gonna beat around the bush: Direct Conversations: Talks with Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators — my discussions with 10 of my Bronze Age friends and peers (Howard Chaykin, Jack C. Harris, Tony Isabella, Paul Levitz, Steve Mitchell, Bob Rozakis, Joe Staton, Anthony Tollin, Bob Toomey, and Michael Uslan) — is now available for sale on Amazon or direct from me ($20 shipped US/$30 shipped Canada & Europe, payable to PayPal.me/PaulKupperberg! Please buy it!
A lot of what got discussed was how freakin’ lucky we were to be able to break into the business in the first place, followed closely by all the great and/or landmark comics and comic book legends we got to be involved with along the way. Almost 50 years after the time we were talking about, it was weird to realize that our everyday lives back then had become parts of comic book history!
Here then, My 13(+) Favorite Comics Discussed in DIRECT CONVERSATIONS, along with excerpts from the book:
PAUL LEVITZ: “We had a pretty fast turnaround time on publishing decisions. When I’ve spoken to current editors in any of these companies and told them how we got things done, they’d say, ‘You mean, you didn’t have to make a presentation? You didn’t have to get approval for that?’ No, I had whatever I had — 32 or 64 pages of a book — and I filled it with whatever I felt like doing. About a year ago, I found the ‘pitch’ I had made for the Legion of Super-Heroes tabloid (All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-55, 1978). And dear God, nobody in the world should have ever approved what was to be the first original comic tabloid edition not based on a major brand—like Superman and Spider-Man or Superman and Muhammad Ali—on anything that skimpy. A two-dollar version of one of our comics? OK, yeah. Go for it.”
STEVE MITCHELL: “Stan (Lee) was kind of a carnival barker. He knew how to warm up the audience. I think my problem with Julie (Schwartz)’s stuff was that I found it promised more than it delivered. I’ll give you a perfect example. There was an issue of The Flash — I don’t remember what number it was (#124, November 1961), but Captain Boomerang was on the cover — and the Flash was tied to this giant boomerang that was going to shoot out into space. Well, I was a sucker as a kid for anything giant… boomerangs, robots, monsters, flying saucers, Egg Fu, dinosaurs, aliens, I was there. So even though I was mostly a war comics guy — Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, and all those guys — I bought that issue of Flash instead of a war comic because of that cover. But when I read the story, it was nowhere as exciting or dramatic as the cover.”
* * *
“I inked Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972) over Gil Kane. I was in college when I did it, and no one at Marvel cared for it. So, I didn’t do any more inking for a long time. I went to work for Neal (Adams) and Dick (Giordano) at Continuity, where I would do backgrounds, secondary figures, and all kinds of crap. Then I went back to DC, Atlas Comics, and back to DC again. At some point in the mid-’70s, I started to wonder again if I could do the [inking] job, and DC was nice enough to give me some shots at it.”
* * *
“Well, I’m looking at this gorgeous Alex Toth art, and I am going nuts. I am literally bugging out—and that’s maybe the only time in my life I’ve ever used that phrase about myself. This is that famous Batman story with the biplanes (“Death Flies the Haunted Sky,” Detective Comics #442, Sept. 1974). And after he turned over the last page, Sol (Harrison) turned to me and said, ‘Nice job.’” (Laughter)
* * *
“Another time, I got to watch over John Costanza’s shoulder while he finished lettering an issue of Sgt. Rock drawn by Russ Heath, and there was this two-page spread of all these Tiger tanks in North Africa, which is still considered the most impactful piece of work Heath ever did, certainly in the latter part of his career (“Easy’s First Tiger” in Our Army at War #244, April 1972). Everybody was crowded over poor John to get a look at this stuff. A piece of art like that would cause a ruckus. And again, I was getting to see these things before the rest of the world. It was a great moment, a great perk for a fan turned pro.”
PAUL KUPPERBERG (to Joe Staton): “I liked E-Man from the start, but it wasn’t until I got to dialogue those three issues of the First Comics series (1983–1985) over Marty (Pasko)’s plots that I really got him. It was cool that you and Nick got to work together one last time on Alec and friends in those stories you did for us (Mort Todd, Roger McKenzie, and myself) at Charlton Neo Comics for The Charlton Arrow (Vol. 2, #1, 2017). But, moving on to Marvel…”
JOE STATON: “(Like) Roy (Thomas) promised, I got the pages (for The Avengers #127, Sept. 1984), which were blue-penciled by Sal Buscema, and suddenly I was an inker for Marvel. I tried to keep doing stuff for Charlton for quite a while, but obviously, I gave preference to the higher-paying Marvel work. I don’t recall ever formally quitting Charlton, but I was taking fewer and fewer scripts, and eventually, I just stopped drawing for them.”
BOB ROZAKIS: :It was all just stuff we came up with in the moment. I created Karen Beecher, Bumblebee, in the Teen Titans (#45, December 1976) because Mal Duncan needed a girlfriend, and along the way, I happened to create DC’s first black superheroine.
JACK C. HARRIS: “I remember the first issue I bought on my own: the one where Batman meets the Calendar Man (Detective Comics #259, September 1958). If you remember the cover, he was in flames, attacking Batman and Robin. And as much as I loved Batman, I really loved the Martian Manhunter. Back in those days, he was on Earth secretly and took on human form as a police detective. Nobody knew that he was even there. He was a wonderful character in a series of very inconsistent stories. Later on, he was behind one of my favorite story arcs in comics, in the Justice League of America.”
HOWARD V. CHAYKIN: “I never really had any exposure to anything other than DC. We never saw Gold Keys, and Dell didn’t seem available when we were kids. And then I became a Julie Schwartz guy because I love the Silver Age, and I love the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman . . . and I believe earnestly that those six issues of Hawkman that Kubert did for Brave and the Bold (#34–36 and #42–44, February/March–June/July 1961 and June/July 1962–October/November 1962) are canon, and everything else is a false prophet. Those six issues are so defining; no one else has ever drawn the character with any of the fluid beauty that those six issues contain.”
BOB TOOMEY: “My first Krypto story was inspired by the “meaner than a junkyard dog” line in Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” When you’re looking for a story, ideas are everywhere. Everything is fodder, and what could be better than Krypto and a junkyard dog (“A Bad Day for Junkyard Blue” in Superman Family #182, March/April 1977)? I turned that one in and did another, and I learned… I don’t know how it worked for you, but for me, I’d go into an editor’s office, ask them if they were looking for anything, and usually walk away with an assignment.”
* * *
One day, I walked into Jack C. Harris’ office, and he handed me a story title for an issue of Young Love (#126, July 1977): “My Boyfriend’s Best Friend Was My Rival!” I took it home and wrote it up. Jack was out of the office when I showed up on the day I was supposed to deliver it, so they sent me over to Joe Orlando. That was the day Joe Orlando became a very, very important person in my life. I am profoundly indebted to and fond of Joe Orlando. He took the script from my trembling hands, read it, and then, with no expression on his face, said to me the words that would change my life: ‘What makes you think you’re a f**king writer?'”
TONY ISABELLA: If I had to name the three artists I most enjoyed working with, they would be Frank (Robbins), Eddy Newell, the artist on my second (1995) Black Lightning series, and Richard Howell, with whom I worked on the Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries. … Richard was probably better at portraying emotions than almost anybody I’ve ever worked with. I knew I could do all sorts of emotional stuff with Hawkman and Hawkwoman.
MICHAEL USLAN: “One of those for our childhood has to be Superman Annual #1 (August 1960)… I remember the ad for it in some other Superman comic. The ad said, ‘Reserve your copy!’ So, I went back to the same fricking pharmacist with Bobby, and we handed him a quarter. ‘What are you buying?’ I said, ‘Well, this comic book, but it’s not going to come out for two months, and it says I have to reserve my copy now!’ He didn’t know what to do. Finally, he took a piece of paper, wrote down our names with 25¢, and put it under the cash register. But he had no idea what was going on.”
— AVAILABLE NOW — DIRECT CONVERSATIONS: An INSIDE LOOK at DC in the Bronze Age. Click here.
— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite Quotes from DIRECT CONVERSATIONS. Click here.
Sure, you know PAUL KUPPERBERG as the prolific writer of over a thousand comic books for such characters and series as Superman, Aquaman, Doom Patrol, Vigilante, Life with Archie, Bart Simpson, Scooby-Doo, and dozens more for DC Comics, Archie Comics, Bongo Comics, and others, and that he is also the creator of the series Arion, Lord of Atlantis, Checkmate and Takion, and is a former editor for DC, Weekly World News, and WWE Kids Magazine. But Paul is also the author of numerous books, including the superhero novel JSA: Ragnarok and the comics industry-based murder mystery, The Same Old Story, not to mention (but we will anyway) Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics, I Never Write for the Money, But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check, Direct Comments: Comic Book Creators in their Own Words, Direct Conversations: Talks with Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators, The Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg and Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg. You can follow Paul at PaulKupperberg.com and at Crazy8Press.com.
February 2, 2023
So Paul, if you go the PayPal route, does it result in a signed copy?
February 2, 2023
I’d probably be interested, but shipping to the Philippines would be crazy (can’t trust many post people here) which means FedEx or something. If you have a digital version which is priced reasonably, I’d consider it.
February 3, 2023
The digital eBook will be available soon on eBay!
February 4, 2023
Ordered just now!
February 3, 2023
Signed AND personalized!
February 10, 2023
Paul, you ship faster than Amazon. Thanks! I am really enjoying reading your book. If comics can’t be what they once were at least we can relive them through their history.
February 2, 2023
No spoilers. I haven’t received my copies yet. LOL
February 15, 2023
First of all, the inking on that MTU story is fantastic and it holds up today better than ever. So, go Steve Mitchell. (And your Suicide Squad is the GOAT.) And Michael Uslan’s reserve copy story is awesome.