Comic Book Historians

Danny Fingeroth: Editor & Writer Part 3 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

August 02, 2019 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 46
Comic Book Historians
Danny Fingeroth: Editor & Writer Part 3 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Chapters
Comic Book Historians
Danny Fingeroth: Editor & Writer Part 3 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Aug 02, 2019 Season 1 Episode 46
Comic Book Historians

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Danny Fingeroth, former editor and writer of Marvel Comics for close to two decades in a third parter. Danny takes us into his Darkhawk series and his final days at Marvel as Tom DeFalco was removed as editor in chief, and other changes that took place that caused him to leave the company, his time with Byron Preiss in new comics media, Whirl Girl for Showtime, his publications for TwoMorrows WriteNow! and Stan Lee Universe, his scholarly comics work Superman on the Couch, Disguised as Clark Kent, Rough Guide to Graphic novels, his time promoting Will Eisner awareness, his coordination of Wizard World Convention Panels and his upcoming book, A Marvelous Life, The Amazing Story of Stan Lee.  Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians

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Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Danny Fingeroth, former editor and writer of Marvel Comics for close to two decades in a third parter. Danny takes us into his Darkhawk series and his final days at Marvel as Tom DeFalco was removed as editor in chief, and other changes that took place that caused him to leave the company, his time with Byron Preiss in new comics media, Whirl Girl for Showtime, his publications for TwoMorrows WriteNow! and Stan Lee Universe, his scholarly comics work Superman on the Couch, Disguised as Clark Kent, Rough Guide to Graphic novels, his time promoting Will Eisner awareness, his coordination of Wizard World Convention Panels and his upcoming book, A Marvelous Life, The Amazing Story of Stan Lee.  Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians)

Alex Grand: So Danny, last time we were talking, we were on more toward the end of your Spider-Man editing time, and you were writing Darkhawk, and one of the things, a lingering question I had from before was, you were editing Spider-Man, but also writing Darkhawk, and Darkhawk was under a different editor, is that right?

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah. The policy at Marvel in those days was not only could staff people, not only were they allowed to do freelance work, but they were encouraged to do freelance work. So I was writing Darkhawk and, let’s see, the first editor I think had been maybe Greg Wright, and then it had been Howard Mackie, and then Nelson Yomtov]. So yeah, it was … The theory was that you couldn’t be your own editor, so somebody else on the staff would have to edit. Anyway, so that’s how that worked.

Alex Grand: I know that’s different from the ’70s, when people like Marv Wolfman could edit and write, like Dracula for example. So was it weird for you to have your own editor, but then you also edited other books? Did you ever disagree with their editorial decisions?

Danny Fingeroth: It was a surreal kind of thing, because it was that classic comics industry, incestuous kind of thing where you’d be editing somebody, and somebody else would be editing … I guess when it was just a cross … If the person you were editing was at the same corporate structure, level as you were, it was generally not a big deal. I guess when it got weird would be when say you’d be editing somebody much higher or much lower than you in the structure. And to his credit, say Tom DeFalco never pulled rank. Tom was in many ways the perfect freelancer. Not only would tom not be a prima donna and not say, “I won’t do this or I won’t do that,” but he was such a perfectionist that he’d often do his own rewrites before you even got to edit the thing. He was concerned for the quality of the story and so on.

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Danny Fingeroth: But it’s obviously, there are potential pitfalls when the person who has the power to evaluate your job performance is suddenly, not suddenly, but is also someone working for you as a freelancer. And in the history of comics, this is pretty much starting with Martin Goodman hiring half of his relatives to be on staff, including Stan. I mean, I guess that whole thing of people having multiple and possibly conflicting relationships is pretty much a comic industry tradition. So it could be weird, but I’d say most of the time it worked out. I won’t say there were never glitches or never … I mean, that was certainly a lesson to me when I went freelance for that period in the late ’80s, when I saw that … I took a calculated risk. I decided I wanted to do this, and I learned that just because someone is your friend and your lunch buddy and whatever doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’re going to give you work.

Danny Fingeroth: That was a eye opening lesson in reality for me. Although by the same token I think there were also maybe assignments I got because I was somebody’s buddy or somebody they’d known a long time. Probably similar to going into business with relatives, because comics, especially in the ’80s and ’90s, was very incestuous, in the best possible way.

Alex Grand: I like that. Incest, in a good way. The most positive form of incest.

Danny Fingeroth: There you go. That’s right.

Jim Thompson: As a southerner, I just want to speak up and say yes.

Alex Grand: Jim knows about that. Did you have fun building the Darkhawk character?

Danny Fingeroth: That was a hell of a lot of fun. The character came from a skeletal outline in here that Tom DeFalco wrote. It was maybe three or four double spaced type pages. So the basic framework was there, but there was tons of stuff that needed to be filled in, and I remember developing a lot of it with Greg Wright, who then I think maybe he went freelance, and then it went to Howard. Yeah, it was a lot of fun, because I knew that the mandate was Spider-Man for the ’90s. So he was a teenage kid, and he even went to Midtown High, which was still in Queens at that time, if you know your New York geography. Farfield’s is nowhere near Midtown.

Danny Fingeroth: I was able to bring changes on the basic outline. I think in the original outline, if you know your Darkhawk, I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds here, but the original outline, it was sort of a classic comic book thing where his father gets killed, and when Chris finds the amulet, and so Chris vows to get revenge on the people who killed his father and on crime in general. So I was proud of the different angle I brought to that, where he actually saw what looked like his father taking a payoff from some of the gangsters. I thought that that added an extra angle, like here his dad had taught him his whole life to do the right thing, and then he sees his father taking a payoff, and then the guy disappears. Spoiler alert, later on it turned out there was more to it than that, but I patted myself on the back. I thought that was a clever thing to bring to it.

Danny Fingeroth: It’s like here’s this guy who instills in you this set of values, then you see him betraying those values, and then what do you do, how do you live your life, especially if you get an amulet that gives you super powers? I think that’s actually, in a way, almost a classic Marvel thing where everything is not black and white, where suddenly there’s this extra complication that happens in real life. I mean, how many times, as you get older you look back on your life or your parents’ life or other people. You go okay, this person had this set of beliefs, but then they did this thing that really went against them. Why would they do that? What is this about real life that makes people have to compromise their beliefs? So I thought that was one of the things I’m proudest of, that series was that angle on it.

Danny Fingeroth: And then it was fun building up the relationship with his family and with the kids at school and so on. There was one story, it’s funny, Mike Manley has been posting some artwork on Facebook lately that reminded me the story where there’s a big hostage situation at his high school, and Chris has to rescue the kids and so on. It was fun to do a lot of that stuff.

Alex Grand: Yeah. So now, as you’re ending your run at Darkhawk, which was a long run, then this goes into the end of your time at Marvel. So some of the things that were happening at the time, there’s a lot of weird corporate decisions being made, Marvel was declaring bankruptcy shortly after, Mark Gruenwald died from a lot of people think the stress and his heart defect that he was born with, and you leave Marvel around this time. So can you tell us about what led you to leave? Did you feel like the ship was sinking and it’s time to leave? What happens?

Danny Fingeroth: Well, I mean, it’s funny. The way you gave that list, and if you look at a calendar, then your reading is valid, and that a lot of these things happened one on top of the other. In my experience of it was a lot more drawn out. In other words, yes, between ’94 and ’96, looking back from the perspective of 2019, that’s a short period. But when you’re living it, man oh man, it seems to be taking … It’s slow motion if anything. It’s not speeded up.

Danny Fingeroth: A question that I sometimes get asked, and that I’ll ask myself here, because I think it’s relevant to your question. Someone will ask me, “What was it like at Marvel in the ’80s and ’90s?” Which is a really general question, and generally I prefer more specific ones. But the answer I give is we thought we’d beat the system. If you look at the Marvel editorial roster from the mid, whatever, from 1980 to 1995, it doesn’t change a whole lot. There was sometimes where maybe somebody leaves staff, they don’t replace them. But Marvel was fairly stable in that period. And our joke used to be boy, how badly you’d have to screw up to get fired in this place? I mean, people just … It seemed like a pretty secure thing, and it seemed like, especially, wow, we beat the system. We’ve been working … I or several other people of my generation or my era, we’ve been working here for 15 years, and with editorial royalties and writers or artist royalties, we’re earning like lawyers without having to go to law school.

Alex Grand: Yeah, it’s pretty sweet.

Danny Fingeroth: That was … Yeah. So we really thought we beat the system, and then we realized we were totally deluding ourselves. Because I think what has happened is that both Shooter and DeFalco saw part of their mission as protecting their editorial staff from corporate ups and downs. They saw themselves and acted as lead shields from corporate. Because I think I may have mentioned this last time, which is a thing, when you’re a fan or when you’re starting out in comics, the editor in chief of Marvel seems like god manifest on earth. What could be a higher position? Well it turns out the editor in chief of Marvel is middle management.

Alex Grand: Right, right.

Danny Fingeroth: There’s numerous corporate levels above that person. So there was the, I think the trigger event of everything that happened was when Marvel bought Heroes World, and then decided to put all their distribution with that company, and that backfired. Because I mean, there was this glut of comics from all companies, and I think Marvel was putting out, whatever, 120 comics a month at that point. But people for whatever reason, people were generally buying them. Sales were slowly declining. And then that Heroes World debacle just broke the supply chain. And there had been things brewing in the upper corporate levels I think having to do with the stock price and a lot of other stuff that I vaguely understand. But the chain was broken of supply, the spell … I figure there’s a constant ratio of great and medium and terrible comics, but when you’re putting out 120 a month, and even if 10% of them aren’t very good, that’s still, whatever percentage of a good comic.

Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s still a good comic, yeah.

Danny Fingeroth: So I think that was part of what happened, and then of course that all got mixed in with the clone saga controversy, which increased Spider-Man sales and profits, and company profits, but it was obviously controversial. So all this stuff happened, and again, Darkhawk was declining in sales, so that was canceled. I was also doing a miniseries then, Spider-Man Friends and Enemies, which had Darkhawk, Spider-Man, Nova, and Speedball, because each of them was the Spider-Man of their era. So all this stuff happened, and then suddenly Tom DeFalco was no longer the chief, the corporate folks pushed him aside. He didn’t leave his office, even though he was no longer chief. He didn’t leave his office because, I think he had various reasons for not wanting to leave the premises, and the corporate people didn’t want him to leave because I think having him there would give the illusion of stability. So it was a totally surreal period where Tom is in his office, we’re all … A lot of us are still going to him for advice on what the hell’s going on, but he has no actual authority as chief anymore. He’s just a … He’s a freelancer occupying this office.

Danny Fingeroth: But things pretty much hanged overnight. There was what’s called a restructuring, which was very popular in corporations in the ’90s, and I think still is, where my title didn’t change, my salary didn’t change, but everything changed around me. And suddenly I had a different boss, who for numerous reasons I didn’t get along with, Tom was no longer my boss. So I started looking … They had what was called the Marvelution, if you remember that phrase. And the mascots of the Marvelution was the Spider-Man clone, that was considered the most exciting thing going on at the company.





Danny Fingeroth: But the Ben Reilly Spider-Man, when they had the big meeting announcing the Marvelution, the big visual was this huge picture of the sweatshirt Spider-Man, the Scarlet Spider. So I was pretty much ready to quit that day. It really was very … I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a corporate thing, a corporate restructuring, but for me, and I think for a lot of people, next to the death of a loved one or the end of a romantic relationship, I would say this was the most unpleasant and intense thing that ever happened to me, was that day, that resurge.

Alex Grand: Oh wow.

Danny Fingeroth: And a lot of people. I mean … And I got a lot of mixed messages, because even corporate and management, nobody really agreed what the future should be for the company. They’d done this drastic thing, I think it was a lot of people trying to protect their jobs at various corporate levels, and cooler heads prevailed and convinced me not to walk out, but I started looking around, and I actually had … I had known Byron Price because he was doing, his company had the license for the Marvel short stories and novels, so I was consulting on the Spider-Man related stuff. So I knew Byron. And there were some other ways I had known Byron or people close to him. He offered me this job running this new division called Virtual Comics, which was part of his Byron Price Multimedia Company, which was different than his Byron Price Visual Publications, although they operated out of the same headquarters and so on.

Danny Fingeroth: It took me a couple of months to work out a deal with Byron, and I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen at Marvel, and there were several rounds of layoffs, and I did not get laid off. They wanted me to stay there. But I could see it was only a matter of time, you know what I mean. I look back and I go well, there were three or four rounds of layoffs, and maybe they would have kept me on or maybe they wouldn’t have. Byron gave me an opportunity to go somewhere, to still be involved with comics, to be on the … And to be able to say, “Ha ha, I’m going to the cutting edge of the internet.” So all those things happened at once.

Danny Fingeroth: Look, I guess it’s … Mark. So that was by ’90 … Well, ’96 I think was, maybe it was early ’96 when there was a big round of layoffs. Yes, Mark very closely identified with the company. I guess he did have … Did they find out he had a genetic … Because I know both his parents had heart problems. So I imagine he was predisposed to that. But certainly the stress of the Marvelution and all the aftermath obviously didn’t help. Mark really was so closely identified with the … Well we all identify with the company, because it really, many of us had grown up there. And it had many of the aspects of a family. And we really had deluded ourselves into thinking that we were immune from corporate and economic realities.

Danny Fingeroth: And then as it often does in the situation, the switch, it changed overnight. But the funny thing, I went over to Byron Price, part of the reason I was there was to recruit Marvel staff, Marvel freelancers to do comics, which I did, so I got Fabian and Louis Simonson, Ron Lim, Jimmy Palmiotti half a dozen other people. And of course what we had also was Stan Lee, because at that point, somehow Stan was able to do side projects if they weren’t considered directly competing with Marvel. So he had done these series of prose novels for Byron called Rift World.

Alex Grand: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jim Thompson: Sure.

Danny Fingeroth: The novels were written by a guy named Bill McKay, but it was called, it was branded Stan Lee’s Rift World, and Stan was involved with developing and creating the characters and the scenarios for the novels. And then, Byron wanted to do, and did, a comics adaptation that Stan scripted, and was involved with the plotting of also. So then I was Stan’s editor on that. So that was part of my role there also was to be a liaison with Stan Lee on material he did. And I’d worked-

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s cool.

Danny Fingeroth: And I’d worked with Stan, even been his editor on a few projects over the years. So in some ways it was like still being at Marvel, because I was working with so many of the same people.

Alex Grand: People.

Danny Fingeroth: But it was much different than that, it was a much smaller company. Like I remember, on my first week there I said to somebody, “Where’s the mail room?” And they pointed to the postage machine and said, “There’s the mail room.”

Alex Grand: Right.

Jim Thompson: So Danny, did you start as editor in chief, or was that something that developed as you were there?

Danny Fingeroth: at Marvel or Byron Price?

Jim Thompson: No, at Virtual Comics and Byron Price.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah. I started as editor in chief. I came … I was part of … At Marvel there’d been a lot of title jockeying and title … They went from having one editor in chief to five editors in chief. So yeah, at Byron, that was the big thing. I believe I was vice president / editor in chief.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, that’s what I thought, and I wondered, was it segmented between … Because you guys were releasing them … Obviously they were online, but they were also being distributed as print? Is that right?

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, that was another entity and enterprise that changed very quickly, because I think Byron had been doing bits and pieces of experimenting with digital comics, and then he brought me in to run this line. So yeah, we put them up first, they were on I think the Virtual Comics website, but we also put them out on CD ROM. And then we did print them. There was a big push, we took out a lot of ad space, and had articles in the buyer’s guide and in the Diamond catalog. And every once in a while at a convention I’ll get somebody who will bring up those comics for me to sign. We also put them out as paperback editions. So we put them out in multiple iterations.

Danny Fingeroth: I don’t know, obviously they never got the traction we were hoping they would. I look back on those, I think they were very good imitation Marvel comics. I mean, we had very good Marvel creators. I was writing, I did one called The Skul with one L, so you could trademark it.

Alex Grand: Oh, okay.

Danny Fingeroth: That was me, Ron Lim and Jimmy Palmiotti, and was it Greg Wozniak or Chris Wozniak? I always got those names mixed up. But one of the-

Alex Grand: That’s funny.

Danny Fingeroth: And they were, I thought they were very good comics. Me, Byron, basically me and Byron came up with the basic premises for the characters. It was the downtime in the market in general. The characters did not have the name brand recognition of Spider-Man or Iron Man, although we did our best to imitate them.

Jim Thompson: And you did use the digital form to some degree in that y’all had click and point discoveries on the panels, and things like that?

Danny Fingeroth: Wow, you really … Yeah, did you see that stuff online, or on the CD ROM?

Jim Thompson: There was a New York Times article in 1997, I think it was.

Danny Fingeroth: Holy cow.

Jim Thompson: About this stuff. And it was interesting, because it introduced it talking about things like Shannon Wheeler and Desert Peach and that kind of online presence. And then it got to you, and also Carl Potts doing VR1, and I was wondering about that. Were you guys both competing to get Marvel talent?

Danny Fingeroth: I don’t know if we were … I mean, when you say competing to get Marvel talent, I mean, there was people we wanted, and who if they weren’t under a specific contract, why not … There was a lot of ill will at that point. When that Marvelution, so called, happened, a lot of people had their lives and their income severely disrupted. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t gone through it, but it wasn’t just a matter of oh, we need to save money, and we’re going to lay off X number of people. A lot of things shifted, a lot of promises that had been made, or that had been assumed to different people, were broken, and there was just less work. I mean, you cancel a lot of books, there’s just less work to go around. So were we competing? We just offered people what we could offer them, and they either took it or not, and some people were eager to take it, because either they felt badly treated by Marvel, or they felt it was only a matter of time before they would be badly treated by Marvel.

Danny Fingeroth: I think the idea of Marvel or DC or any company as having the freelancers’ concerns as their first priority, that illusion was shattered. And people realized that it was every man for himself.

Alex Grand: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jim Thompson: You left there and went to work for a development visionary. Was that because they were shutting down, or did you just make a lateral move?

Danny Fingeroth: Well, again, there was some overlap. Virtual Comics lasted just about two years, and then there was stuff going on at Virtual, which was part of Byron Price Multimedia, which was also a publicly held company. So there was stuff going on, and they shut down that department. And to anybody who’s ever worked in an internet startup, especially in that era, this’ll probably sound familiar, where someone will say to you, “Well, we can’t afford to pay you anymore, but can you keep coming in so it looks like we’re still in business? You can use our fax machines and our computers to send out resumes and make phone calls. But it would really help us if you could just …”

Danny Fingeroth: That happened to me at a few different startups. So after Virtual I was freelancing some for DC and some for Eric Fine, and moved over to a company called, I forget the name. But Eric was editing at a kids book company. I had probably one of my few jobs outside comics at another startup that was in the self help area, where again I brought in a lot of comics people to that. That was, again, a classic internet startup where they said, “Here, put together an editorial and writing department.” So I had to hire 20 or 30 people in like two weeks. That was an interesting thing to do.

Danny Fingeroth: So while I was doing that, I was doing consulting for Visionary Media, which was founded by a guy named David Williams, who’s actually now got a very interesting company with his brother called Pocket Watch. It’s becoming a major player in the kids entertainment, online and the non online world. But David had started this World Girl character, and he was early into the digital entertainment world. And he, one of the people he had involved was a guy named Buzz Potamkin, who was a major player. He was the head of television at Hanna Barbara, he was one of the people behind the I Want My MTV campaign, and the Power Puff Girls, and the Berenstain Bears. Look up the name Buzz Potamkin. So he and a guy named Glenn Ginsburg were the people running this Visionary Media, and they had a very simple, straightforward business model, which was we will put together various kinds of flash animated cartoons in various genres, and if somebody at a studio likes them, we’ll make more. And we’ll make a deal with them, and hopefully everybody will make money.

Danny Fingeroth: There were some internet plays that were more complicated than that, or had more bells and whistles. This was really simple. Here’s stuff. Do you like it? Okay, give us money and we’ll work out what you wanted. And that’s where World Girl came from, we had half dozen other properties we were starting to work on. And that had been part of Showtime Online, just like actually Virtual Comics had been involved with the AOL Greenhouse for a while. There was a lot of shuffling of funding and corporate sponsorship in the Wild West era of the internet.

Danny Fingeroth: So a similar thing happened. Virtual ran out of funding in-

Jim Thompson: And World Girl actually was, that was the first real example of media convergence, in that that was playing online but it was also getting some television play, wasn’t it?

Danny Fingeroth: I think it got a little bit of television play, because of the Showtime connection.

Jim Thompson: And Alex, that’s interesting for you because this was really an early example of motion comics, like the stuff that you play with. That’s exactly what it was. I can’t think of a much earlier example of it in that form.

Alex Grand: Right, right. Although maybe that ’60s Marvel … Those could be seen as motion comics.

Jim Thompson: It is a prototype almost.

Danny Fingeroth: It’s a little more motion than that. We called it, or it was called flash animation. It was pretty rudimentary, and before it had been that, I think when David first put it up, I think it was just still images with text. As the bandwidth that more and more people had became higher and higher, you could do more with it. But I think doing full animation with it, there were a lot of companies doing various kinds of animation, and some very interesting stuff. Again, it was one … Ice Box, that was probably the most … Am I remembering … I think Ice Box was one of the better known ones. There were a lot of companies. There was some kind of cult popularity animated series, Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln comes to mind. Seth Feinberg, but he spelled it on his website Z-E-T-H, he did something called Abolbo, which was really hilarious. There were all these really interesting, bordering on brilliant, web tunes that of course made no money.

Jim Thompson: Well, they didn’t know how to make money, and the technology, the broadband wasn’t quite there, it was ahead of its time in a lot of ways.

Danny Fingeroth: You know, and then that led to one of my stranger gigs, if we’re getting in the weeds of the oddball Danny Fingeroth gigs here. I ended up working on a Superman choose your own adventure CD ROM.

Alex Grand: Oh cool.

Danny Fingeroth: At DC that I was on, and Luis was on, a guy named Rider Wyndham, a few other people. I mean that was a branching adventure.

Jim Thompson: When was that?

Danny Fingeroth: ’98, I think.

Jim Thompson: Oh okay.

Danny Fingeroth: But it later on ended up on the Warner website as a serialized adventure. And then, I can tell you exactly when this next one is at Showtime … This is probably the J Michael Straczynski, Jeremiah Show. Do you remember that show? It was on Showtime.

Jim Thompson: No.

Alex Grand: Yeah, I do actually. Yeah. And that one guy worked on it who was Joe Kubert’s friend from Eastern Europe, I forgot his name. But he had a graphic novel about Sarajevo and all of that. Yeah, that was the Jeremiah Show, right.

Danny Fingeroth: Oh, was it? Okay, yeah, I know … Not Ervin Rustemagic.

Alex Grand: Yeah, him.

Danny Fingeroth: I don’t think he … No, I think you’re maybe mixing it up with something else. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Rustemagic was involved with brokering the deal, because it was a French graphic novel by Herman Hupon.

Alex Grand: Yeah

Jim Thompson: Oh yeah.

Danny Fingeroth: But the show starred Luke Perry and Malcolm Jamal-Warner. And the premise, it was a post apocalyptic show, and everybody, I think everybody who’s hit puberty died. And this was 10 years later. So you had a lot of 20 something people who looked good without clothes, because it was Showtime. It turned out to be a very good show and very well written, especially the ones that Straczynski himself wrote. So what they wanted was they wanted … This was around the time that AI had that website where … The Spielberg movie? And they had this website where if you wanted to participate, you give them your phone number and they’d call you with all sorts of clues, some kind of contest or scavenger hunt going on. So in that same light, what they wanted to do is they wanted to show what happened in those 10 years between whatever the apocalypse was and where the Jeremiah show kicked in.

Danny Fingeroth: So it was basically, I think going to be done from the point of view of one or more of the scientists who unleashed whatever the horrible thing was that destroyed civilization that would document how the world went do hell in a hand basket, and how there were plagues and nuclear disasters and wars and terrorism.

Danny Fingeroth: And I was doing it with a guy named Jim Prozer, who was a novelist and whose father was the manager of the Copa Cabana, but that’s just a piece of showbiz trivia that … Anyway, so we’re doing this thing, and they need it in a hurry, so they put me and him in a hotel room for like a week. And then 9/11 happened.

Alex Grand: Right.

Danny Fingeroth: And suddenly nobody wanted a website about plagues and terrorism and nuclear disasters and the end of the world going to hell in a hand basket.

Alex Grand: Right, that’s funny.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, I mean, it was grimly funny, but I mean … And to their credit, Showtime paid us what they said they would and stuff.

Alex Grand: I see.

Danny Fingeroth: But that was something that could have been very big for the real life.

Alex Grand: Yeah. So Ervin Rustemagic was the producer of that show.

Danny Fingeroth: Okay. I mean, I didn’t remember that, but I’m sure it’s true.

Jim Thompson: So Danny, I have one question about your DC time there when you were … Because you didn’t write a lot for DC, but you did do a Superman story, Too Close to Home.

Danny Fingeroth: Right.

Jim Thompson: And I can’t find it. I don’t have that issue, or if I do, it’s somewhere I can’t-

Danny Fingeroth: It’s in an annual. It’s in one of their annual, the super specials.

Jim Thompson: Yeah. Was that your only Superman comic?

Danny Fingeroth: No, I did another one … Actually I got one that got reprinted numerous times. It was called Sole Survivor. It was me, Randy Green, and I forget who inked it. But it appeared in a … I don’t think it got printed in a Superman comic per se, but it was in a DC super something, and then it was reprinted as part of a collection later on. It was a cool … I mean, I doubt I’m the first person to come up with the premise, but the idea was scientist on earth who is convinced that the earth is going to blow up, and sends his son … Or wants to send his son rocketing out into space. So it was just a riff on the classic story.

Jim Thompson: Oh yeah. That pops up every once in a while.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, yeah. So those are the two I did. I think all the work I did at DC … Well obviously that digital thing was a different department. But I did three Superman stories for Joey Cavaleri, one of them never got printed I think, partly because he’d given the arc to a new guy who had a very oddball style that, maybe that was considered too oddball. I don’t even remember what the premise of that was. But it didn’t get printed. And I was working for awhile with Kevin Dooley on the miniseries, a spinoff … It was a spinoff from Chase, with their comic called Chase, or a character called Chase, a female.

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Jim Thompson: Oh sure. Yeah, it was good, with … Yeah. The art was great on it.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah. So I was pitching I think some kind of spinoff from that, that I think never happened, and then before anything got finalized I think Kevin for whatever reason was no longer there. That was all the work I ended up doing. Oh, well I guess if you count, I think I did some Flintstones.

Alex Grand: Oh yeah?

Danny Fingeroth: I think … Yeah, definitely a couple of Flintstones stories, maybe, I don’t think … I might have done one Jetsons. But as far as the superheroes, that was all I did for DC.

Jim Thompson: Mm.

Alex Grand: Oh, okay.

Jim Thompson: And then you went to work for Tomorrows after that?

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah.

Alex Grand: How did you get into working at Tomorrows, and what did you start with?

Danny Fingeroth: Tomorrows was a whole different kind of situation, because I was not working for them, I was working with them. And I’ll explain to you what I mean by that. In other words, Mike Manley was doing Draw Magazine, which was a wonderful magazine. If you haven’t picked it up, I highly recommend it. And I basically looked at it and said to myself, huh, wonder if they’d want to publish something that’s about writing. And I think I may have met John once or twice at the San Diego Con or something, so I basically either emailed him or called him.

Danny Fingeroth: I think at the same time, I think he was thinking of a similar thing, I wonder if there’d be a market for a magazine about comics writing. So I happened to call him at the right time. It was a partnership. I wasn’t ever working for John. It was more a matter of we were partners in this magazine.

Alex Grand: Venture. And that’s called Write Now Magazine, and it takes the reader behind-

Danny Fingeroth: Danny Fingeroth’s, it’s called Danny Fingeroth’s Write Now Magazine.

Alex Grand: Danny Fingeroth’s Write Now Magazine.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah.

Alex Grand: And Write Now with a W. And it takes the reader behind the scenes of the comics industry, and it culminated into a best of compendium book. Tell us, how was it developing the format for Write Now Magazine, and how was it interviewing and talking to different people, and what was your mission statement with the magazine?

Danny Fingeroth: That’s like five questions in one.

Alex Grand: It is.

Danny Fingeroth: It actually, it ended up in the How To Create Comics From Script To Print book and the CD ROM that Mike and I did. Perhaps the first ever trade magazine crossover in history. But I mean that book, it’s still relevant. And it also ended up in the Stan Lee universe book.

Alex Grand: Right.

Danny Fingeroth: That book sprang out of the 85th birthday issue that Rory did for, Alter Ego and I did for Write Now, and then I ended up going to Stan’s archives and getting a lot of new material, never before seen stuff that made up the rest of the book. But it was very interesting for me. I’d done some editing of articles for some of the various Marvel magazines, the Xanadu super special, so I had some experience with editing and writing text like that. But I was certainly not a journalist by training or experience.

Danny Fingeroth: That led to some actual fortuitous accidents, because I didn’t know what you couldn’t do. I mean, I’m very grateful, on the first issue, because I’m a writer and editor and I lean so toward text that even though I had a lot of illustrations in the first issue I didn’t have nearly enough, and John pointed that out to me. It was great doing those interviews. I’ll tell you one in a second, but if you read the … By maybe the fifth issue I’d gotten to know what I was doing. But the first maybe three, four, five issues, there’s a lot of interviews there that they go on quite a bit and I think they’re interesting, but in later issues I probably would have trimmed them down some, so you’re getting a lot more raw material in the first few issues.

Danny Fingeroth: Here’s the thing about writers and creative people in general of course, and comics people in particular. Is they spend all day alone at their desk or their drawing board. I mean, I guess a lot of them, especially if you’re inking or something, it doesn’t require a certain kind of concentration, you can be on the phone. But a lot of them are just focused on their work. So when somebody asks them what they think or about their careers or about their theories on comics, they’re more than happy to talk about it at length.

Alex Grand: Because they live in their head most of the time.

Danny Fingeroth: Exactly. What I think I bring to a lot of things I do is this insiders’ point of view, so I’m asking them questions that a journalist or a historian or an academic might not think to ask. Two things I found fascinating, or among the things, I found very few people speak in complete sentences. Even people who seem like they’re speaking in complete sentences and may seem very, and who are very articulate and very intelligent speak in fragments and digressions. I think J.M. Dematteis is one of the few people who I ever interviewed who speaks in complete sentences.

Alex Grand: Oh, interesting.

Danny Fingeroth: As if he was writing.

Alex Grand: So transcripts get tricky that way.

Danny Fingeroth: Transcripts get tricky, because you don’t want to alter what someone says, you don’t want to alter their meaning, but you need to also cut out the ums and the repetitions and the moments where they’re buying time while they’re getting their thoughts together. So that’s tricky. What I found fascinating was I had what is called nuts and bolts, which now is literally I’d show scripts, and plots, and pencils, and layouts, and literally show how things were done. But for the interviews, I could say to somebody something like, “Well how did you break in?” And they’d say, “Well, I was having lunch with John Byrne one day, and then he said …” And I go, “Wait a minute. You’re talking like everybody has lunch with John Byrne. How did you get to be someone who …”

Alex Grand: Right, go to the beginning.

Danny Fingeroth: And a lot of people would say things like that. They would leap ahead like four steps in their career. Somehow they would start the story when they were already, if not already a professional of some kind then already had at least a foot in the door. And I found that interesting that I often had to very, probably very annoyingly, try to backtrack. “No, how did you get to that, how did you get to …” You know. The point was not to show … Obviously, no reader, you can’t duplicate somebody’s life. But you can, I thought it was important to show that well look, you may not think you know anybody, but you probably know somebody who knows somebody in some kind of position to at least get you in a door or get you in a meeting or get your work in front … I mean, especially now in the age of the internet that’s even more true.

Danny Fingeroth: But back in the early 2000s, it was, we had the internet, but it was … So I found that fascinating that so many people would skip ahead to, like, “So, I’m talking to George Lucas.” How did you get to be in the room with George Lucas?

Alex Grand: Right. Well that’s interesting. So then that leads into, like you mentioned, the Stan Lee universe, 2011, a book that you made with Roy Thomas, and it’s full of interviews of people who were there during the ’60s Marvel renaissance and the creation of all of those characters. How was it going through that, and did you learn things you didn’t already know about that era?

Danny Fingeroth: All this history, like all history, has multiple layers to it. It was interesting, I know it’s not a great, colorful word. But we did those interviews with people, and yeah, it was. I mean, I think especially say Al Jaffe, who I’d known … I got to know Al maybe a few years before that, and Al, who’s 98 and still got all his marbles, and still doing MAD. So 10, 12, 14 years ago. It all ties in there. It ties in with my books too, because I … And my starting to do conventions. Because you get to meet these old timers, and you get to hear their stories, and you hear where their stories, where different people’s stories contradict each other.

Alex Grand: Right.





Danny Fingeroth: I mean, everybody thinks of Al of course from Mad Magazine and the Mad Fold In, and the Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. But Al worked for 10 years as a writer and editor and artist for Stan Lee.

Alex Grand: Right, oh, okay, yeah yeah, right right.

Danny Fingeroth: And the same with Jerry Robinson and the … I mean, Stan and Will Eisner are two people that everybody worked for at some point for various reasons. People wanted to apprentice with Eisner because he was Eisner. People liked Stan as a person and as an editor. But he also had a high volume of work that he needed done.

Danny Fingeroth: I think that was one thing I realized, just how many people who you wouldn’t think of as people who worked for and with Stan did that, and in what capacities. And also the idea of how Marvel grew and changed over the years, how big it had been in the ’50s, and then suddenly became small in ’57 when they had one of their periodic implosions and how that gave birth to Marvel. I ended up going out to Stan’s archives in Wyoming, which I recommend, and they’re open to the public, you just have to get to Laramie, Wyoming. Stan’s archives have a web finding page. You can search out things. But the problem is that they are not always, because I think some of them are cataloged by people who don’t know their comics history like you and I do, who does? They don’t know all the fine points.

Danny Fingeroth: Some of it was ambiguously cataloged, and I tried to order some online, and I did, and what I got was technically what described, but it wasn’t really what I was after. So I realized it would be good to take a trip out there. So we put that into the budget, and I went out there for a week. And I’d say the most fascinating stuff I found was a lot of radio shows Stan had been on in the ’60s and ’70s. And some of them were boilerplate, it’s great, buy it kind of things, but some of them were very long form, really fascinating interviews or debates or conversations. I’m thinking of one that Stan had with Hilda Mossey on the Barry Farber Show in 1968. Hilda Mossey was Frederic Wertham’s partner in research and comics hating. And I mean this was 10 years after, or more, closer to 15 years after Seduction of the Innocent. But it still was a very heated kind of discussion. I found a recording of Stan and Jack in 1967 on a local New York station.

Danny Fingeroth: So I had a lot of that stuff transcribed, and that’s in the book, and it’s … So that was really the mind blowing thing about going to that archive and finding this stuff that had not been heard or seen in decades. And there’s a lot of it. I think it would have been even more. At one point there was a fire at Marvel Productions, so Stan lost a lot of his stuff. But there was still a ton of material, and I had to go through it very quickly to try to determine what it was.

Danny Fingeroth: But a very interesting thing about Stan was that for all his salesmanship and hucksterism and ballyhooing, if you listen lose, he said a lot of stuff that was very frank and very honest, but he said it in the same tone that he would say the it’s great, buy it, or I’m working on this, or I just had lunch with this big movie … You know what I mean? You really have to listen. But Stan always said stuff that was really remarkably frank for someone in the high level position he was in, and including in these radio shows. So that, I think that if anything is one of the great selling points of the Stan Lee universe, and helped fuel a lot of my research in thinking about him for the biography too.

Alex Grand: I see what you’re saying, yeah. As far as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, well you and I spoke once in person about this, about there’s a synergy, and that the sum of the parts was greater than the individual parts. Before Jim talks about Superman on the couch with you, can you elaborate on that synergy that you feel occurred there?

Danny Fingeroth: I was a talking head last year in that series, that Robert Kirkman series on comics.

Jim Thompson: Yeah.

Danny Fingeroth: And I felt bad, because there was … The interviewer was doing his job. His job was to get people to say controversial stuff. Even though I knew that it was going to be an interview like that, I let myself get backed into a corner. So there’s a clip of me going, “No Stan Lee, no Marvel Comics,” as if I was negating Jack Kirby’s or Steve Ditko’s roles. But I mean, the full belief that I have is that without any of those, certainly without Stan, without Jack, without Steve, you know what I mean, maybe you could say since Steve quote unquote only did Spider-Man, their most popular character, and Dr. Strange, all three are irreplaceable. And in his way Martin Goodman is irreplaceable. You know what I mean, there’s … He’s the power behind the curtain. I think all four … You look at the work they all did before, and the work they all did after. And there’s something magical, I don’t think it’s just that I was eight or 10 years old when that stuff came out. I mean, there’s something magical about what they all did together that transcended, to me, what they’d done before or since.

Danny Fingeroth: Everything then becomes a debate about credit and money, and those are not small topics. But I mean as far as the magic on the page, and the sense of wonder that it engenders in a kid or an adult reader, I mean, that … Yeah, I think they all somehow, whether they loved or hated or got along with or didn’t get along, whatever went on, what came out on the page was, I think the best work of all their combined careers.

Alex Grand: Right. Yeah, it was a special time.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, yeah, yeah,

Jim Thompson: Okay, let’s move on to your books, because I want to have room for three of them, and then we’ll get to the new Stan Lee book. But I want to talk about Superman on the Couch, I want to talk about Disguised as Clark Kent, and I want to talk about the Rough Guide to Graphic Novels.

Danny Fingeroth: Okay.

Jim Thompson: Let’s start with the first one, which would be Superman on the Couch. Was that your first straight up, I won’t say textbook, but book that’s not a comic book?

Danny Fingeroth: Pretty much. I had been writing some articles for various online and print publications. And I’d been doing a lot of writing of course for Write Now, not just the interviews but there were articles and editorials. So I’d been doing a lot of writing. And of course I’d been writing my whole life. But yeah, that was the first booky book. I had my credit on some novels for Byron Price, but those, now it can be told, those three Spider-Man novels that were variously credited to me, Eric Fine, and Piers Saskigran were actually, they were plotted by me and Eric and they were then, the actual novels were written by Piers. But Byron didn’t think, and probably correctly, that a novel should have more than two writers in the credits of any one novel. And I did some short stories.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, this was my first book of quote unquote criticism or pop culture insight. And it came about, a brilliant editor that I went to high school with, a guy named Evander [Lamke 00:49:04], I ran into him at a high school reunion, and we’d known each other somewhat over the years, but he said, “Do you have any ideas for books on comic books or superheroes?” And I think I pitched him a half dozen ideas, and this is the one that he liked the most, so I developed it from there.

Jim Thompson: Was this before Peter Coogan’s book? And was he still working … He’d done a dissertation by now I think.

Danny Fingeroth: Boy. You know, I think it was before Coogan’s book. Maybe it was being worked on simultaneously. But I think mine came out before Coogan.

Alex Grand: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jim Thompson: … saying what is a superhero in a lot of ways, and asking a lot of interesting questions.

Danny Fingeroth: Although as opposed to Peter, I mean, Peter, the point of his book is to say, “Here is a definition of superheroes.” Mine was more of asking the questions and saying it’s a very elastic kind of definition. So in that way Peter and I took opposing point of views. But one thing that book did was it put me on the map with Peter and Randy Duncan and a lot of other comics academics, that sort of introduced me to this whole other world of people who were approaching comics in a much different way than I’d ever been familiar with.

Alex Grand: Which is cool that you can cover it from both ends like that.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, I think so. And I think also that I had, not that I’m the world’s foremost authority in independent comics, but I’d always had an interest in underground comics and alternative comics. I realize they had a credibility. I think maybe back to my fine arts film background, I realized there were a whole lot of ways to approach any medium. So all this … I mean, I find it funny, and maybe I said this last time. I still find it funny that people who know a lot about comics, including professionals in comics, when you mention the name Raina Telgemeier, they go, “I never heard of that person.” And you go, “You know, she’s the highest selling graphic novelist in the world.” And then they’ll go right back to saying, “And comics are over, nobody’s reading them.” May I repeat, she sells a million of each …

Alex Grand: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Danny Fingeroth: So I was and am more interested and open to considering all sorts of comics, and I think that makes me a viable part. There’s a whole word of comics academics, intellectuals, that range all the way from people with PhDs and beyond to people like me who’ve been in the business and people like Nicky Wheeler Nicholson, who has a master’s, although I think not in comics. But somebody educated like that, who also is the granddaughter of the founder.

Alex Grand: Of DC.

Danny Fingeroth: Of DC. So there’s a wide range of comics studies people and people writing and talking about comics. Anyway, to go back. I know that’s a much more complicated … What was your question about the book, about Superman on the Couch?

Jim Thompson: Well, I mean-

Alex Grand: Well, isn’t it also an exploration into American identity and a deconstruction of the superhero genre? I mean, you really dissect all this, don’t you?





Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, well I think what had happened is one of the reasons I even pitched the thing was it didn’t seem to me that anybody since Wertham had written a book about superheroes and psychology, which seemed like a weird thing to me. That somehow that … Maybe Wertham made the topic so radioactive. If you read Jerry Jones and the Jacob and Jones books about their history books, there’s a lot of psychology in those. So I think there were different history books that maybe incorporated a lot of insights. I mean, I have to say mine, ultimately, Superman on the Couch is probably more of a sociological than a psychological study. But I do try to deconstruct it, and find the origins of it. A lot of it I look at now and I realize, boy, I really accepted a lot of the history as given at that time without question. There was a lot of those creation myths of the heroes. Certainly nobody, as far as I could tell, had attempted that kind of approach since Wertham.

Jim Thompson: It’s a very funny book though. I mean, I like a lot of the … You do things like calling the Justice League the Judgment League, because they’re … That was one of my favorite lines in the whole book. And you get into things like the Hulk, his anger versus Batman’s anger. Talk about that for a minute, because I thought that was a brilliant section of the book, when-

Danny Fingeroth: It’s so brilliant I’ve forgotten it. You better remind, what did I say?

Jim Thompson: The Hulk’s anger is all out … Like it’s pure, it’s a pure expression of anger with nothing else behind it, whereas Batman, it’s channeling it, and you basically go through and talk about how his anger creates everything that’s about Batman, but it’s a controlled anger.

Danny Fingeroth: I guess I did say that. I mean, what I remember … I don’t know about discovering, but what I found most fascinating was how so many of the superheroes are the product of a violent sudden loss, a traumatic … To me that was not so much a surprise, but just how deeply it went. And I think I continue this in disguise as Clark Kent, and maybe put a finer focus of having a Jewish background on it. But that idea of everything you have could suddenly go away, and everything could be taken away, and everyone you love could disappear. And the fantasy, I could say with Batman and Robin … Robin is a complicated character in general. That’s … No one since like the ’50s has ever been able to really give a credible explanation of Robin.

Jim Thompson: Yeah. Guys that work today now, especially, it’s very, very tricky to do.

Danny Fingeroth: I mean, I have to say, I know it was controversial, but I really loved Frank Miller’s take on it in All Star Batman and Robin, just Batman is essentially abusing this kid, and his answer to any question is, “I’m the goddamn Batman.”

Alex Grand: Yeah. I like that too.

Danny Fingeroth: It short circuits any … Is it psychological or criminal abuse to bring a 12 year old on your deadly … “I’m the goddamn Batman, shut up.”

Alex Grand: Yeah, right.

Jim Thompson: Having to eat rats was a bit too far for me.

Danny Fingeroth: Actually the one point I considered … I mean, I remember having a long discussion with Denny O’Neil about how does he rationalize taking a 12 year old … Really there’s no really good answer except it’s comic books, and it was the 1940s, who cared?

Alex Grand: But Batman is a sadist though. So for me, that Robin origin was consistent with Batman being a sadist and Joker being a masochist and all that stuff.

Danny Fingeroth: But this whole thing about traumatic loss I thought was very, gets to the heart of the characters and the heart of where they came from, which was the eve of World War II, and the tail end, of course they didn’t know it was the tail end of the Great Depression. Look at what’s going on. Little Orphan Annie, there’s all … There’s so much … The Dead End Kid. There’s so much in the culture about children or young adolescents tossed out on their own for … I think it’s so powerful, that whole metaphor.

Danny Fingeroth: So the fantasy of … I think one thing I do remember, I remember a lot of things, but one of the points I remember making was that whole fantasy of being an orphan. It’s a much … It’s a nice, vicarious fantasy, if obviously, if your parents actually do get killed in front of your eyes, that would not be such a great psychologically or any other way. But the fantasy of you and your pal Batman fighting crime and dodging bullets, what a great fantasy.

Alex Grand: Right, that’s the fun part.

Danny Fingeroth: What I was trying to do with that book, although I was doing it for an academic publisher, and I’m hoping at some point in the next couple of years to do an updated version.

Jim Thompson: I was going to ask you about that.

Danny Fingeroth: That’s next on my agenda. It just seems to me that that with superheroes, even if the superhero movie and TV genre fell off a cliff, then it would just be another chapter, like why did it fall off a cliff?

Jim Thompson: Well, you’re writing this book and you’re talking about why the audience is drawn to it in terms of film, and this is four years before Iron Man. You’re drawing a lot of conclusions, but you’d have to want to rewrite some of that in light of what has happened.

Danny Fingeroth: I’d say Superman on the Couch was in print for like 14 years and it went through four or five printings. But at this point the rights have reverted to that, and to Disguised as Clark Kent. I have the right to both of those books back. Disguised as Clark Kent was unfortunate, because it was the same editor, but shortly before that book came out, he parted ways with the company, so there was nobody … It was an orphan. So there was nobody whose job depended on that book doing well, so it got lost. Although I personally think it’s a much better written and researched book than Superman on the Couch.

Jim Thompson: Well let’s talk about that, because we don’t have all day. Let’s talk about that one for a few minutes too, because that’s an area that I think a lot of people like to argue about, get defensive about in relation to Shuster and Siegel and what Superman represents, and there’s so much of that topic of Jewishness in comics that I want to hear what you were aiming for.

Danny Fingeroth: Well, I mean, I’m … Given my background and my interests, I knew that was there. And I have to say, the thing, what helps it was Ari Kaplan’s series of articles in Reformed Judaism magazine that later became his book Crack Out Of Krypton. At that point I don’t know if I’d met Ari yet, and I didn’t know if he was … Somehow it seemed, again, talk with my editor, what would be a good follow up to Superman on the Couch, and this … It’s a cliché that Jews like to buy books about Jews, but it’s also true. So you know there’s an audience for it. And I had a lot to say about it. I was hesitant. If you put in the term Jews and superheroes on Google, you will get as many hate sites as you do tribute or joyful sites. I mean, it’s a little scary.

Danny Fingeroth: I really thought, boy, am I just giving … Whereas what I’m seeing as yes, we made these superheroes, somebody else who’s inclined towards prejudice and anti Semitism and nuttiness would have a like, it’s another Jewish conspiracy. So I really had to think a lot about that, and I think I addressed that in the book. And what I tried to not do is to not … I clearly say, I’m seeing these Jewish metaphors and Jewish subtext. But clearly in 99% of the time it’s not what the creators had in mind. What the creators had in mind was doing something that would have the widest possible appeal, but you can’t separate them from their context.

Danny Fingeroth: My favorite thing is Joe Simon, who was very nice, and anytime I met him was very complimentary and generous, he said, “There’s no connection.” He sent me an email saying, “There’s no connection, we never were trying to do anything Jewish, it’s a non-topic.” I got permission from him to reprint that email. And then, I forget if this is in the book or not, they did that Captain America, the death of Captain America story at Marvel, right around that time. And I’m listening to NPR one day, and Joe Simon is on, and the interviewer says, “Mr. Simon, how do you feel about the fact that they’ve killed your character?” And Joe says, “I’m sitting shiva for Captain America.”





Danny Fingeroth: And I’m thinking, well that’s pretty funny for a guy … I mean, it was a really funny thing to say and really appropriate. I saw well that’s really … Joe’s no idiot. He knew that that would be a great sound byte. But it’s pretty funny for someone who said, “Oh, there’s no Jewish connection at all.”

Alex Grand: Right.

Danny Fingeroth: For him to invoke that phrase, which is the name for the Jewish mourning custom is sitting shiva, and mourning for seven days, shiva meaning seven. And again, my favorite discovery was the Jewish subtext in the Thor, in the Norse god Thor. He kept imploring Odin to let him marry the mortal Jane Foster, and Odin kept forbidding him to. Odin looking very biblical and rabbinical the way Kirby drew him, with the beard, and fondly Jane is willing to convert to become a god, and that becomes a disaster.

Danny Fingeroth: I have no doubt that neither Stan nor Jack had any intention of that being the subtext of the story, but when you’re looking at it, and it … When you’re not looking for it, to me anyway as a grown-up reading it, it popped out. And there’s a lot of interesting things in history. So did Siegel and Shuster mean for Superman to be a metaphor for Moses? I think it was there in their background. I think they-

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I don’t think it matters whether it was intentional or subconscious, it seems like it’s there.

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Danny Fingeroth: I never … People have tried to give a literal interpretation of the name Kal El. To me that was a little much. I think they didn’t even give him that name until a while later. A lot of stuff that we think of as the Superman mythology came later from different writers and different editors, and you can’t not credit Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz with a lot of their contributions to the heroes.

Danny Fingeroth: I had fun with that book, but I think it’s a serious topic as well, and I think I … Again, I’ve learned more about research and more about … I mean, if my books are about here’s some research and here’s what Danny thinks, I think I was more comfortable with both for Disguised as Clark Kent.

Jim Thompson: I just wanted to say the whole time you were talking, I don’t have that book. I have the others. So I’m walking around holding the Harvey Pekar Yiddish book, because-

Danny Fingeroth: Uh huh, Yiddish guide, yes.

Jim Thompson: Because you’re at least, you are in that one. So it was my way of connecting.

Danny Fingeroth: Well that’s pretty funny.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I want to do the Rough Guide next, because I think that’s relatively important, and it’s easy to brush off as being part of a chain of books. But you’ve got a lot of really informative history in there, and it covers so many different topics and grounds. And a lot of this is not what one would expect from somebody who had worked at Marvel most of their career, in that you bring a great knowledge of what was happening in alternative comics and other things to it. So yeah, please talk about that.

Danny Fingeroth: That was funny. I get a call one day from the editor of that book, and he says, “Would you like to write the Rough Guide to Graphic Novels?” And I said, “Sure.” I said, “But it is funny that you didn’t all me when you did the Rough Guide to Superheroes.” I would have expected that. But sure. I mean, they offered me, it was a good financial deal. And I don’t want to brush it off by saying it was a work for hire, because all the great comics we love are work for hire. I guess they asked me for a list of some things they wanted. It was done in a flurry, it was done very quickly. I tried to give a wide range of stuff. I thought it was funny that they said everything but superheroes, but they still put a superhero scene on the cover. Somebody at some point must have said, “Eh, we’ll sell more if we put a superhero battle on it.”

Danny Fingeroth: I think, I guess there must have been maybe Watchmen and some other stuff. Most of it was stuff I’d read or read for the purpose of the book.

Jim Thompson: Did you have help on it, or did you do all the research yourself?

Danny Fingeroth: I think I did all the research myself. I think we must … I think with the editor and maybe other people at Rough Guides, we probably decided on the list and what would be there. There were, boy, again, it’s been so long since I’ve read. But yeah, I’d say most of the stuff, I had an issue with a couple of things that they wanted, and I insisted on putting in, inserting certain editorial comments about them if I couldn’t convince them not to have it in. But yeah, I think they recall a lot of … Whatever the parameters were, X number of main topics. I definitely wanted, I loved Harvey Pekar and his work, and that actually led to my relationship with Harvey. I’d met Harvey once or twice at conventions, “Hi, how you doing?” But when I wrote so glowingly about him in the book, he called me. And that’s how my relationship with Harvey really began.

Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s great. That’s really interesting.

Danny Fingeroth: Which led to, in 2009, which I can’t believe is 10 years ago, but I did a series of three nights at the Yivo Institute, which is like a Jewish, Yiddishist institution in New York. I did three nights in 2009 called Comics and the Jewish American Experience by the guy who was running their cultural department then, Harold Steinblatt. Saw my book on display in my local opticians, and he remembered that he knew me and he contacted me.

Danny Fingeroth: So suddenly I’m doing a night with Al Jaffe, a night with Harvey Pekar, and a night with Jules Feiffer. Those were pretty amazing. And all these different things, I’m sure you know from your own careers, a thing you don’t … I thought maybe having my book and my … I was friendly with my optician. So he said, “Oh, I like to put my clients’ books or paintings on display.” So I figured well maybe somebody’ll buy a copy of my book or something, having seen it. I didn’t think it would lead to somebody I knew from some other part of my life suddenly contacting me, and me ending up being able to do these incredible nights with … That includes the night where … I knew Al a little, but in preparing for this evening we spent a lot of time together. He really wanted to do it right, and we spent a lot of time.

Jim Thompson: I want to ask you more about the nights, but let’s go to Stan Lee first.

Danny Fingeroth: Okay, sure. Yeah.

Alex Grand: So you did a lot of research for your upcoming book.

Danny Fingeroth: It’s called A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee.

Alex Grand: It’s basically his biography, is that correct?

Danny Fingeroth: It is a biography.

Alex Grand: Yeah. And that’s different from the Stan Lee Universe book, which focuses more on his Marvel creations. Did you interview his brother and other family members? How did you come about this?

Danny Fingeroth: I’d been trying to get this off the ground for years, because it’s a no brainer. What would be the most likely book that people might be interested in who are not hardcore comics fan, but in the world outside that? Oh, a biography of Stan Lee. Well, turns out I know Stan Lee. So I tried … Stan and I talked about it at various points. I pitched the idea a couple of places and I let it lay for awhile, then I pitched it at an agent, who pitched it. So it went through various phases. Was it going to be authorized, turned out no, it’s not authorized. But again, it’s from an insider point of view, yes. So ultimately, when I told Stan I’d made the deal, he said, “Congratulations, I hope it sells well.” He said, “I’m not going to tell people to talk to you or not talk to you, it’s fully up to them.”

Danny Fingeroth: At first he didn’t want to do. He said, “I’ve done too many interviews.” But then I would occasionally in my subtle way gently nag him about it. I live in Washington Heights, where he grew up, so I would occasionally send him photos of the George Washington Bridge at sunset, the George Washington at night. So I don’t know if that touched some kind of sentimental chord, and for whatever reason though. And I guess it was also during the period when I was his regular interviewer at the Wizard shows, when I was traveling with Wizards for four years. So for whatever reason he ultimately did decide that he would do an interview with me, and then he did a follow up.

Danny Fingeroth: I asked him questions that, again, with guys like Stan and Will Eisner, who knows if you can ask them a question nobody’s ever asked, but I think I was, because I’d done my homework and because I knew him personally, I think I could ask him things and get answers that maybe he wouldn’t have thought to give to somebody else. In the book, in the biography there’s a lot from my exclusive interviews with him. And I interviewed, yes, with his brother Larry. That’s the only family member I spoke to.

Alex Grand: Yeah, so Larry Lieber was obviously a source on this then.

Danny Fingeroth: Right. And Neal Adams, and … And I had a lot of those interviews left over, well not left over, but I did for the Stan Lee Universe, so Jim Mooney, and I also spoke to Stan Goldberg’s widow, and to Ken Ball, and to Ken Ball’s daughter. Got a gazillion. Mark Evanier Thomas. I spoke to one of the people who invited Stan to his first speaking engagement at Bard in 1964. I just cold called her. She had a somewhat unusual name, so I was able to find her. Either going to think I’m a nut or call the police or something, or she’s going to be … Talk on and on. Luckily it was the latter she remembered it very well and talked …

Danny Fingeroth: So I think I found a number of people who are not the usual suspects of being interviewed about Stan and about comics. I want to emphasize that it’s not a history of Marvel Comics, it’s a biography of Stan Lee. I mean I think Sean Howe did the comprehensive Marvel Comics history in many ways, but this is about Stan. A lot with Jaffe, who I interviewed numerous times. I have a list of 50 or 60 people I talked to.





Alex Grand: Yeah, a lot of interviews. But it sounds like you were as extensive as possible and interviewed everyone you could that was around in those times.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, yeah.

Jim Thompson: Do you go all the way to final days, or do you cut off at some point?

Danny Fingeroth: Well, I mean, yes I go to final days, but there’s a lot of unfinished business regarding Stan’s life, so I mean at a certain point you have to say, “As of press time, X, Y, and Z was happening,” so it’s not a book about Stan’s final days, although obviously there’s no way to not cover it.

Alex Grand: Not have that part.

Danny Fingeroth: Because it was so wacky. I mean, every day a different story and every day a different party hear from about.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, that would seem like a tricky part to do from a legal standpoint.

Alex Grand: Yeah.

Danny Fingeroth: You are correct. And yet, you can’t really ignore it. I mean, I guess you could just say I’m ending the biography at, whatever, 2015. But that’s really the 800 pound gorilla in the Stan Lee story is those strange final days. And I think there is a book and maybe even a movie to be made about those. But I try to put Stan in context of the comics business, of American history, of pop culture history, and I think a lot of it is about, again, how can you avoid his relationship with Kirby and Ditko? How can you not …

Alex Grand: Talk about them, yeah.

Danny Fingeroth: And try to put it … In retrospect, I think oddly enough what I bring is not just insider status, and not just status as somebody who knew Stan. I by no means claim to have been Stan’s best friend. I knew him as a colleague, we were fond of each other, but I can’t claim that I was his intimate, close buddy. But what I do bring is having been in a similar position to his as an editor and writer of comics. And I’m not claiming, obviously, that I was a ground breaker or innovator in the same way he was, but that I can look at some of these controversies as someone on the inside, as a staff member at Marvel and in comics in general and say, “Boy, this may look like one thing, but there’s another way to look at whatever it is.”

Danny Fingeroth: I think that I bring that in a way that someone who hasn’t worked literally in the comic book business on staff that … And those other people bring whatever they bring as journalists, as critics, as full time freelancers. But I do think I bring a certain insight that comes with my own personal experience and career.

Alex Grand: A couple questions. So one, you come from a perspective of a writer in comics, and a creator of characters, and editor much like Stan does. Do you feel like that gave you a special insight? And then two, I think they say Jack Kirby had a very strong Jewish identity, and you remarked on the Jewish identity. Did Stan Lee, did he express much to you as far as a Jewish identity? Did that come out of him?

Danny Fingeroth: I don’t think he talked about it a lot. I mean, obviously I did an interview with him back when I was doing Disguised as Clark Kent, and I quote from that. So I would say Stan did not emphasize his Jewish identity, but he wasn’t … I don’t think he was embarrassed or ashamed of it either, and I did talk a lot about his childhood and his bar mitzvah, and various other, I’d say there’s insights into Stan’s Jewish background in my book that you probably won’t get anywhere else.

Danny Fingeroth: So yeah, he always said that it wasn’t … Look, his family, Lieber, maybe … It’s an ambiguous name, it’s not … If you put out a book with the name Stan Lieber, maybe some people would think it was a Jewish name, others would think it was a German name. It’s certainly no more … I mean, Stan Lee is a name that only a 70 year old kid would come up with. It’s like, “Oh, I’ll break my name.” So I think a lot of people thought he was Asian just because his name was Stan Lee.

Alex Grand: Right.

Danny Fingeroth: If you were going to change your name. So I think he just did it because a lot of people in comics did it, whatever their nationality, and I think in those days he didn’t want to taint his chances of doing a great novel or becoming a journalist or whatever. So I think he didn’t change his name because he didn’t want people to know he was Jewish, I think he just wanted to simplify it, and not have it be baggage when later on he would try to do whatever else.

Alex Grand: Something else, yeah.

Danny Fingeroth: He didn’t know that his fame and fortune would be connected to the name Stan Lee.

Alex Grand: And another question before Jim talks about Will Eisner is the reinvention of Stan Lee, because him and Jack, they weren’t exactly young chickens when they created the Marvel characters with Steve Ditko in the ’60s. So like you were mentioning before is that when you look at pictures of him from the ’50s and then pictures from the ’60s and after the projection of his image with his hair, his sunglasses, that brand identity of Stan Lee, can you remark a bit on his reinvention of himself in the ’60s and ’70s?

Danny Fingeroth: That’s an amazing thing. In any business, people get in to a rut and they get into a habit, especially if they’ve been reasonably successful doing what they’re doing. So I think that’s what made Stan different, I think that’s what made Will Eisner different. Kirby I think was just a dynamo of ideas. I mean, I don’t think Kirby … I don’t know if you could say Jack Kirby reinvented himself, Jack Kirby re-explored … I think Jack Kirby had an ongoing exploration of topics and themes that he’d always been interested in.

Danny Fingeroth: I think that Stan somehow figured out that he could and should rebrand himself and the company and make himself synonymous with the company. I think that’s what makes him outstanding in that field. There are some people who had very long careers just because they were competent or even gifted artists or writers or editors, but I mean, you don’t think of them in this decision to become somebody else. I think it was a combination of just Stan’s natural inclination. I think it was also that his office was on Madison Avenue. I think when you’re surrounded by Don Draper and other … By Mad Men types, and you see, oh look, everything, look, you can rebrand toothpaste, you can rebrand breakfast. You can present and change how people and things are shown to the public and sold. I think being literally on Madison Avenue was an important part of that.

Danny Fingeroth: And I think also when he started getting letters from people like Roy Thomas and Jerry Bales, he had a realization, like oh, there’s this audience of college educated adults, and while they won’t ever, ha ha, become our main audience, it’s definitely somebody we can appeal to. And look, whether did Joan ever really say to him, “Why don’t you do comics the way you want to do it?” Well I’m guessing she said it to him a thousand times.

Alex Grand: Mm-hmm (affirmative). As an ongoing thing.

Danny Fingeroth: I’m guessing there was not one conversation, but I’m thinking it was something … Marvel had almost disappeared just before that happened. And then you have, I think maybe the sudden death of Joe Maneely was a wake up call to Stan, like wow, we’re not going to be here forever. I think a lot of different factors. And something about him, I mean that’s why he was Stan Lee, because he didn’t retreat into a shell. I think Eisner had a similar but different realization, which we can talk about if you want.

Danny Fingeroth: But Stan couldn’t have done what he did without Kirby and without Ditko and without the other guy, but especially Kirby and Ditko, but I don’t think Marvel would have existed without Stan either. And without Martin Goodman willing to give thumbs up or thumbs down, or decide he was going to be hands off with Stan. I mean, that’s part of what’s in the book, how complicated that relationship was. Goodman didn’t just happen to be Stan’s relative, that was a big part of why Marvel was Marvel. And the context, if you … And Marvel also had the context of being part of Goodman’s publishing empire, which was a strange and oddball array of magazines and books that Martin Goodman published, that Marvel was a part of, and yet with Stan it became much its own thing.

Jim Thompson: I have one Stan Lee related question, and then want to get to the other aspect of your career I’m interested in. In doing this book, have you gone back and read the other biographies that have come out in relatively recent years?

Danny Fingeroth: There’s a Bob Batchelor book and then the Raphael Spurgeon book. What else-

Jim Thompson: Well, and sort of ends on …

Danny Fingeroth: Right. They were very important books to read.

Jim Thompson: Is there repetition in terms of do you go and look at the same archives and start from square one, or do you build upon the books that are previously done?

Alex Grand: And do you feel like you’ve covered things that weren’t in those books?

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah. Okay, wow. It’s funny, because just the way I learned about journalism in an oddball way from Write Now, I learned about writing biography in an oddball way by writing this book, because suddenly I’m not going to biographers’ events, and meeting biographers, and reading a lot of biographies, and reading about biographies. I mean, a classic one is I went to an event last year that was promoting a new two volume biography of Saul Bellow.

Danny Fingeroth: Well it turns out that this biography of Saul Bellow, this two volume RV exists is because Saul Bellow’s family didn’t like the previous biography about Saul Bellow that somebody else wrote 10 years ago. What I’ve discovered is that, right, let’s say you go to a job interview and the guy says, “Tell me about your life.” Or you’re being interviewed on a podcast by somebody and they say, “Tell me about your career.” Well there’s a million different ways to approach it. And you’re really in some ways creating, even unintentionally, maybe even thinking you’re telling quote unquote the truth, there’s a million ways to approach somebody’s life, there’s a million ways to approach and interpret the details of somebody’s life.

Danny Fingeroth: Have I discovered that Stan had a secret life as a spy and he was in disguise in Scandinavia for 10 years? No, I have not discovered that. But I think I have taken details of Stan’s life, discovered new, interesting details, and put together a narrative that is still Stan Lee’s life but has a unique take on it. I mean, I think I have found details in people that other people have not covered and given my insider point of view and whatever Danny Fingeroth intelligence or stupidity I bring to the table. I bring that.

Danny Fingeroth: I think if I’ve done my job right, I will have pissed off both the unquestioning Stan Lee haters and the unquestioning Stan Lee lovers.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s good.

Danny Fingeroth: Almost certainly. So that’s … So yes, you can’t … The basic building blocks of Stan’s life, they’re the basic building blocks of his life. But I think I bring … I’ve either discovered or intuited a lot of new things that other people haven’t.

Alex Grand: Right, that’s great. We are excited to read it, and we’re … When can we expect it to come out? Is that set to be November? Is that when?

Danny Fingeroth: It’s set for October. I mean, I’m still hoping October, but somewhere in the fall. Somewhere … Well, with plenty of time to do your holiday shopping.

Alex Grand: There you go. Pre order now. All right.

Danny Fingeroth: Exactly.

Jim Thompson: All right. So let’s talk about the few side things that you have done that are of great interest. One of them was, are you still the programming director for Wizard World? Or how long did that last?

Danny Fingeroth: That lasted four years. That lasted from 2013 to 2017. I was not the programming director. I was the director of the Danny Fingeroth panels.

Jim Thompson: Ah, okay. Because you were MC’ing a lot of panels a the time, right?

Danny Fingeroth: Yes. I had done their show, they had a wizard show in New York in 2013, and I had done a couple of panels there, and the guy who was running their programming, a guy named Chris Jansen, said, “Would you like to come on the road with us, and do a lot of panels?” So we worked out a deal, and that’s what I did. And I did anywhere from six to 15 panels at every show. I think Wizard wanted to up their game in panels, and Chris had worked at the San Diego Con in programming. So he was … And they hired him, and he hired me too. It became almost a marathon. I mean, obviously the 15 panels would be for some of their four day shows, like Chicago or Philadelphia. But yeah, the idea was that because I knew the history and I knew the people, I could get people to their shows and to do panels that they might not ordinarily have done a Wizard show, or if they had done a Wizard show they might not ordinarily have done a panel, or have done any show.

Jim Thompson: What was the single greatest panel, Wizard panel, that you ever put together or did?

Danny Fingeroth: Wow. Well look, one of the wackiest things, you know Ben Katchor’s work?

Jim Thompson: Yeah, sure.

Danny Fingeroth: Okay. A lot of people don’t. Ben is a genius, you can tell because I believe he got one of those McArthur Genius Grants. Ben is best known for a strip he did in a New York paper and probably for a bunch of independent papers called Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer.

Jim Thompson: Yep.

Danny Fingeroth: But he’s also done tons of other stuff, and he’s got a very offbeat, idiosyncratic, hilarious point of view on the world. But he’s not somebody you’d expect at a superhero convention. Wizard allowed me to invite him and bring him to one of their New Orleans shows, and Ben was like, “Hey, a free trip to New Orleans.” So Ben Katchor came to the show, and he and Dean Hatfield did a panel where they read from their work as it was projected on screen, so that was pretty … For the 15 people in the audience, that was really great.

Danny Fingeroth: I did a lot of history panels. There’s a lot more interest in comics history than you think. I would do a history of 1942 in comics or whatever on a Sunday afternoon at 4:00, and you think well nobody’s coming to that, and suddenly there’s 300 people showing up in the room.

Alex Grand: Wow.

Danny Fingeroth: And what I would do is I’d get people, either other historians … Every city that’s big enough to have a comic convention the size of a Wizard show is big enough to have a university. And every university of that size always has a couple of people who have tenure who are teaching comics, so they can teach whatever the hell they want. And they’re thrilled to come and be asked to be on a panel at a convention with comic artists and comic editors.

Danny Fingeroth: I’d say not a Wizard show, the wackiest panel that I ever put together, that I couldn’t moderate a few years ago was I put together a panel that had Todd MacFarlane and Raina Telgemeier on it. That was … It was during my own kid’s bar mitzvah, so I couldn’t go to it.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s funny.

Danny Fingeroth: But I was very proud to, like, holy cow, who else ever put Todd and Raina on a panel together?

Jim Thompson: That is such a weird combination.

Danny Fingeroth: But they both told me they loved it. I mean Paul Levitz moderated it, so how bad could it be? And they were, I’m embarrassed I’m not remembering exactly who else was on it, but it was … But I did a lot of how to panels, I did panels with Barbara Slade and Tom … My strategy was Wizards and whatever, I’ve done my famous Bob Dylan comics, when Prince died I did a Prince and comics with Dean Hatfield and Alex Lubet who was a local Minneapolis music and comics and Judaic studies scholar. So Wizard, I have to say, was very open to me … Of course, I’d have to do, and I was glad to, here’s Stan Lee, here’s Rob Liefeld, those were no brainers as far as comic conventions. But a Prince and comics, a Bob Dylan and comics.

Danny Fingeroth: Oh, you know what, actually one of my favorites was in Louisville. Whatever town Wizard was going to be in, I’d look at a map and I’d go what comics professional or academics or historians or whatever live within 50, 100, 150, 200 miles.

Alex Grand: oh, that’s cool.

Danny Fingeroth: Of this city? So Louisville, I’m going Louisville, Louisville. I went oh, let me look up Louisville Sluggers. I mean, Louisville’s a lot of different things and a lot of angles. But I thought well, Louisville Sluggers has a museum, and the guy who curates the museum, based on my research, seems interested in comics. Cut to here’s my baseball and comics panel at the Wizard World Louisville show with the curator of the Louisville Slugger museum, who brought in all sorts of cool artifacts from an animation show they were having. And to tie it into my other obsessions, he brought in some of their autographed bats, including a Louisville Slugger autographed by Bob Dylan.

Alex Grand: Yeah.

Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s great.

Danny Fingeroth: So that was maybe one of my favorites was that baseball and comics panel.

Alex Grand: So location really does matter.

Danny Fingeroth: In certain things. I mean, if … Let’s face it, because if somebody lives in that town, that means you don’t have to pay for air fare and hotels for them.

Alex Grand: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Danny Fingeroth: And they’re there, and they have this expertise, and they’re thrilled to do it, so why not?

Alex Grand: That’s cool.

Jim Thompson: Let’s talk about the night with ones that you did as well. You mentioned, I mainly want to hear about, for selfish reasons I want to hear about Jules Feiffer. That was my pathway into comics in a lot of ways.

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Danny Fingeroth: Me too. Well, not my pathway in, but my pathway into the history.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I just relished that book when it came out. I was reading comics already, but that book made me aware of so much before Marvel.

Danny Fingeroth: Right, yeah, everybody I think. That was an eye opener for me, that book. That was the holiday gift for that year, for 1965, was anybody who’s interested in comics, that was the book you wanted.

Jim Thompson: Now was Feiffer there, was he on stage with you?

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, yeah. Yes.

Jim Thompson: Well no, I went to a personal look at Feiffer I think in San Diego, and Paul Levitz was there by himself because Feiffer wasn’t able to come at the time.





Danny Fingeroth: Well no, I mean, it’s funny. Actually I shouldn’t have laughed, because just a couple years ago I did a thing with Feiffer and it was via Skype, which was … I take back my derisive laughter. For that particular one, because he had moved out of Manhattan, but then he was still living in Manhattan, it’s very funny, because somehow with all my contacts, nobody I knew knew how to get ahold of Feiffer. I mean, at least I couldn’t find anybody. So I ended up, finally somebody said, “Well you know, he’s got a website. Just send an email to his …” I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. But I sent an email to his assistant, and his assistant said, at least at that point, I think Jules now does do email. But they said, “You have a better chance if you send him a fax.”

Danny Fingeroth: So I sent him a fax, then I dropped Will Eisner’s name, and I said I’d done this interview with Eisner that’s been reprinted a lot, and five minutes later he called me. And turned out he lived like 15 blocks from where I was living, but I couldn’t find the guy. My favorite Feiffer … I’ll tell you about a different event, because this is, I think … They’re both funny story. But a couple years later I’d gotten to be … I’ll say I interviewed … The reason I was looking for Jules was to interview him for Disguised as Clark Kent.

Jim Thompson: Of course.

Danny Fingeroth: So I became somewhat friendly with him. And when I was … Early on in my relationship with the Will Eisner Foundation and Studio, I was doing a night about Will Eisner at Columbia University through Karen Green and her, and also Jeremy Dauber, who was the go to comics people at Columbia. I think I had sent Jules an email or a fax, but I hadn’t heard back from him.

Danny Fingeroth: Well I’m in the cab on the way to the presentation, and Feiffer calls me and says, “I’m coming to your thing tonight,” which I immediately got horribly nervous, and I was glad I didn’t know before that, because I would have been horribly nervous for however long before I knew.

Danny Fingeroth: So I’m there, and I’m doing my talk, and I know my Eisner pretty well, blah blah blah, here’s my opinion and I always do … One thing I do with most of my panels or presentations is elaborate PowerPoint slideshows. I found that that’s, especially for a visual medium like comics, duh. It’s good to do.

Danny Fingeroth: I’m going on about the classic spirit story 10 Minutes, and it was 10 minutes in a man’s life. And Feiffer raises his hand and says, “I wrote that story when I was 17.” And I go, “Oh, okay.” I mean, I hadn’t known that. And then of course all the rest of the questions about that were directed to Jules. So I said, “You know what? I’m going to sit down, and Jules, why don’t you come up here and answer these questions, because clearly they’re not questions for me, they’re for you.” So that was a very funny moment. Like, “I wrote that story when I was 17.”

Danny Fingeroth: The thing at the Yivo Institute is part of that three nights, Comics and the Jewish American Dream. I knew him less well at that point. Again, I did my homework, and I was starting to ask him questions, and he says to me, “If you’re just going to read questions, what do I need you for? I could just read the …” And I went, “Okay,” and I literally threw the questions away, and we winged it from there, and it was great. But that was up there with the moment with the Al Jaffe night when, Al and I had met before, we talked about what we were going to discuss. But I asked some question that as soon as it was out of my mouth I knew was a stupid question. And Al gave me some smart ass response, which gave me the chance to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just gotten a snappy answer to a stupid question.” That was a great moment in that series.

Danny Fingeroth: Well you know, I think I’ve learned my lesson luckily through somebody else’s … I was invited to be on a panel somewhere, I don’t want to get too specific. First one was very nice, and they seemed reasonably passionate about comics. But it was me and Joe Cubert and three or four other … I mean it was a hell of a panel, except for me. But it was really. And then the woman gets up and her question basically was, “So, graphic novels.”

Alex Grand: That was it.

Danny Fingeroth: that was pretty much it.

Alex Grand: Open ended.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah. Okay. I’m being a little, I’m exaggerating a little, but it was not … So from that, I mean it was fine, because we were all blabbermouths, and it turned out fine. But I never wanted to do that to anybody. If I ever did or ever do do a panel where I don’t know the topic, I say that at the beginning. I just say, “Here’s something that I don’t know as much about as I wish I did,” but I try to do … I mean, with the miracle of the internet, it’s hard to have any excuse to come into a panel and not know anything about the topic.

Danny Fingeroth: Yeah, so Feiffer was … Having Jules was hilarious, and funny. And I’ve done a bunch of events with him. And really, I mean, if you’ve seen Feiffer, you know he doesn’t need a moderator, you know what I mean, it’s nice that he agrees to have a moderator, but he’s not exactly a guy who doesn’t have a lot to say and is not a self starter. He’s got a lot of opinions, and he’s very funny about expressing them. He’s interesting. He’s kind of like Stan in that way, in that his range of people that he’s known and worked with is so vast and deep, and goes into so many different corners of popular culture that it’s a remarkable … To go from Will Eisner to Robert Altman to kids’ books.

Alex Grand: Everything. He just … And, oh, his political cartoons, and-

Danny Fingeroth: The 40 years at the Village Voice. I mean, what a career, holy cow.

Jim Thompson: And now he’s doing graphic novels, and they’re fun. I mean, Kill My Mother and things like … He just never stops. It’s amazing.

Danny Fingeroth: And the last one, if you read the third part, it’s a real, it’s a real, I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s very … I mean, all his work obviously. I mean, he has … Especially this. He talks about having Eisner on his shoulder, but especially the third part is very Eisner referential and deferential.

Jim Thompson: Oh, and Monroe, I mean he just, you could go on …

Danny Fingeroth: And he does I think once a month, every two weeks, something for a tabloid magazine online. He does like a biweekly or a monthly strip in a tabloid, say-

Jim Thompson: Super active.

Danny Fingeroth: Or a Jewish oriented website. I would imagine that stuff will be collected at some point. Yeah, that’s I think where he and Eisner and Stan and a couple other people keep reinventing themselves and keep trying to do new things. That was a big thing with Stan, where once in a while he would do an old timer’s panel, but he really resisted that. He much preferred to be on panels with young people talking about new stuff.

Alex Grand: That’s cool.

Danny Fingeroth: I mean, it’s inevitable who he was that he, somebody was going to ask him or he would talk about Marvel. But he really resisted being cataloged as an old timer. And again, I think Eisner, Feiffer, they’re just people who, Jaffe, no matter how old they get, they have more ideas. I ran into Al Jaffe on the street. I mean I think I was going to see him, but he was coming back from the hardware store because somebody had given him a piece of cork, and he said, “I just bought some lumber because somebody gave me this cork, so I’m going to make a cork board out of it.” Which is like, “You know Al, you could buy for 10 bucks, you could buy a cork board.”

Danny Fingeroth: But I had an amazing conversation with Al literally the other day. I went to visit him. I said, “Did you ever think of maybe coming up with ideas for fold ins and letting other people execute them, you just supervise?” And he said, “Well no, because the fun for me is doing the execution. I mean, having the idea is fun, but I love doing …” It’s wonderful that somebody that old, that experienced is still thinking that way, and I know he’s got notebooks full of ideas that, if he lives to be 200, he’ll never have time to execute.

Alex Grand: Right, to do it all.

Danny Fingeroth: So there’s some people like that that are just … I don’t know if it’s genetic or what, but it’s just amazing.

Jim Thompson: I’m going to close with Eisner, but I wanted to ask you about your experiences teaching comics as well, because you’ve done stuff at, both lecturing and speaking at things like Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but you’ve also taught things both online and at the New School and other places. Can you talk about teaching comics?

Danny Fingeroth: Teaching comics is great fun. I’d say the most interesting thing about teaching comics, some of my students, I can’t think of names offhand, have gone on to be professionals. Mostly I taught writing, sometimes I teach history. It’s a lot of fun. I would say that the most interesting change … I haven’t taught for a few years just because I’ve been busy with other things, and also because it pays so badly, which I’ll talk about in a minute. What’s interesting is when I first started teaching, I was in New York University in their adult ed program. A wonderful writer named Michael Vam hired me. He’s written that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis show that was on and other TV shows, it was through the writing and TV department at NYU.

Danny Fingeroth: When I first started teaching, it would be maybe because people knew me mostly from Marvel, it would be like in a class of 16 students, there would be 15 guys and one woman. And as the years went on, I was teaching, ran the education department, and did a lot of work, including co curating a couple shows at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. By the time I got near the end of my teaching years, which may happen again, I don’t know, the classes were half to two thirds women. So I thought that was a very interesting change. Maybe it was because of where it was. I don’t know. And I did a lot of master classes that I ran at MOCA, and did co-ventures with MOCA and NYU. So like Howard Chaykin and James [DeMatteis and DeFalco].

Alex Grand: Oh, cool.

Danny Fingeroth: Jamal Igol, Joe Cazata. Probably in the past 10, 15 years I’ve probably hosted or ran, whatever you want to call it, I moderated like 500 events. It’s a little wacky. So teaching, I would just say it’s criminal how badly teachers are paid, especially adjuncts. This is one of the great gifts, adjuncts especially having to do that a lot myself.

Jim Thompson: This is one of the great scandals …

Danny Fingeroth: In the educational system in this country, that people … I mean, I enjoyed it, and my students seemed to enjoy the classes, but the money was so … At least if I wasn’t making money doing Write Now, at least I owned it, or co-owned it with Tomorrows, and I had that pride of ownership and that the magazine was a complete, completely my vision. But to teach somewhere and put … If you’re doing it right, you’re putting in a lot of hours, not just the hours in class but the hours of prep, and then if it’s a script writing class, well you’re reading and critiquing the scripts. And man, I think it ends up for most adjuncts well below minimum wage. So I mean that’s really one of the main reasons I stopped doing it. It was enjoyable and it is a nice thing to have on my resume, and there are a number of Danny Fingeroth trained writers out there in the professional world, which I take pride in. But holy cow, the money was so bad.

Jim Thompson: So on that depressing note, let’s move on to Eisner, specifically Eisner Weeks. If you could explain what that is and your role in that.

Danny Fingeroth: Will Eisner’s legacy is controlled by his nephew Carl Graper, and Carl’s wife Nancy. They are the people who run the Eisner Foundation and the Eisner Studio, pretty much anything you see relating to Will Eisner has to be approved, and they came up with … So they, probably 10 or 12, maybe more years ago, I’m not sure exactly who came up with it, it was something called Will Eisner Week, which was the period … Will’s birthday, Will was born on March 6th, 1917. We have this thing called Will Eisner Week that celebrates Will Eisner, the legacy, the spirit, the graphic novel in general, free speech as a concept and as an idea in practice.

Danny Fingeroth: They brought me on, because I had done an event for them in New York, and I think I mentioned I found Will through a friend of mine who worked with him, my editor actually at Continuum had also worked with a guy who just died within the past couple of months who was Will’s, literally his best friend in high school. So I found him and I got Chris Couch, who had been Eisner’s editor at one point at Kitchen Sink, and I put together a couple other people, oh, Denny O’Neil. I put together a panel in New York, and I met Carl and Nancy there, and they asked me to be the chair of Will Eisner Week.

Danny Fingeroth: Basically it’s what I do best, which is nag people. So what I do is I send out emails and letters and phone calls, and say to people all over the country, “Here’s Will Eisner Week. If you have any interest or regard for Will or the work he did, or graphic novels in general, can you do an event, teach a class, do a radio show, do a podcast, hint hint, that you will brand as Will Eisner Week, and we will promote it, and the idea is to keep Will Eisner’s legacy, both his literal legacy of his graphic novels and his comics going, but also Will as an evangelist for and a lover of and a spreader of the word about comics.” So that’s what Will Eisner Week, which, it really I think we peaked at Will’s centennial year, which was in 2017, where we had close to 100 events worldwide, and live, online.

Jim Thompson: Wow.

Danny Fingeroth: So I’ll put out the word now. It’s coming up, if anybody listening, or if you guys want to do something relating to Will Eisner and Will Eisner Week in that period, I mean we’re happy to have people do stuff relating to Will anytime, but especially in that period, email me at [email protected], or go to the willeisner.com website. We’d love to keep Will’s work and his legacy in mind. So that’s what Will Eisner Week is about.

Jim Thompson: Alex, let’s bookmark that now and let’s talk about it.

Alex Grand: Absolutely.

Jim Thompson: That’s exciting.

Alex Grand: Danny, we wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for the time you’ve put in for these interviews, because we really wanted to do here was wanted to show people what an interesting career and life that you’re living, because you’ve done a lot, and you’ve been part of a lot, and you’ve met a lot of interesting people. And at the same time wanted to give people your insight into different things that happened in comic history, but also to learn more about the different books you’ve written. We’re really thankful for the time that you’ve put into this interview with us.

Danny Fingeroth: Well I appreciate the interest. I just wanted to mention, I will be at the San Diego Con, and I’ll be, oddly enough, doing a number of panels there. So come check them out. Thank you gentlemen for all your time.

Alex Grand: This has been a really fun episode of the Comic Book Historians Podcast. I’m Alex Grand with Jim Thompson finishing up the interview of the life and times of Danny Fingeroth. Thank you for joining us today, Danny.

Jim Thompson: Thanks Danny.

Danny Fingeroth: Thanks, and the best is yet to come.

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