Wednesday, June 1, 2016

There's just one DAK: David Anthony Kraft creates comics Pt. 1 (1970s Marvel)

The story goes, a motorcycling youth fresh from a stint traveling with the carnival came to New York City, all of 20, 21, hoping to join Marvel Comics Group. David Anthony Kraft arrived with counter-cultural rebellion and a head full of imagination.
His high school years spent reading science fiction paper backs in the back of the classroom led straight to a professional status: he took the initiative and inquired about becoming estate executor to pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline! (I discovered Kline's initials presented as OAK and wondered if that wasn't the inspiration for the "DAK" nomenclature.) Science fiction writer Leigh Brackett (who famously drafted The Empire Strikes Back script) and Marvel's Stan Lee were also formative influences. Fictioneer also published hard back editions of Jack London, Frank Baum, the autobiography of A.E. van Vogt, Robert E. Howard, and E. Hoffmann Price, a colorful ex-soldier and pulp writer who became an early mentor.
The every-ready editor got in touch to share:
Fictioneer Books didn't become a publisher -- it began as one. Before going to Marvel, I published Robert E Howard and Jack London and L Frank Baum hardcovers, plus editing and publishing sf writer A E Van Vogt's autobiography in trade pbk, along with an Otis Adelbert Kline original trade. Then, I got busy with comics, and when I got back into publishing, it made sense to publish what I knew, hence: Comics Interview mag and the various original comics series, also under the Fictioneer imprint.

If you were a Friend of Old Marvel in the 1970’s, DAK was editor for FOOM, Marvel's 70's fanzine, a precursor to his 80’s career with Fictioneer’s David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview, and began picking up writing assignments, such as GIANT SIZED DRACULA #4 , SPIDEY SUPER-STORIES, and CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #33-37, the strip where his writing career for Marvel Comics Group began.
His earliest writing for Marvel was Man Wolf, in Creatures On The Loose. One must marvel at writing the son of a character so important as J. Jonah Jameson, much less to work side-by-side at times with JJJ and Spidey co-creator Stan “The Man” Lee himself! Only recently did a photo, courtesy a post by Sean Howe, reveal his first scripting job at Marvel ended up in the hands of Marc “T-Rex” Bolan himself.
After some time at Marvel, he decided to try writing stories for the new company around the block: Atlas Comics, created by Martin Goodman and edited by his son, Chip. DAK envisioned a career and lifestyle turn not unlike Steve Englehart, on the West Coast. There, he helped create Demon Hunter-a character later reincarnated, so to speak, as Devil-Slayer at Marvel, illustrated by Rich Buckler.
He and best friend Roger Slifer took over scripting chores for DEFENDERS on Gerry Conway's sole story arc following Steve Gerber's departure, with #44. His first solo arc there would become perhaps his signature story at Marvel: "Who Remembers Scorpio?" His first arc paired him up with gifted Keith Giffen, an auteur who went on to great commercial and critical successes at DC.
Dave Kraft, or DAK as he came to be known, continued utility writing stories for annuals, while writing Defenders full-time in the late 1970s. In the next few years, Kraft went on to write nearly every major Marvel character, in comics, activity books- even a Sunday circular story, Spider-Man meets the Dallas Cowboys. Thor, Cap, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, The Hulk, Tarzan, Dracula, and adaptations of the most memorable science fiction/ fantasy movies of the day were often adapted by Kraft, who also fondly recalls the get-togethers that broke out in off-the-cuff plotting sessions between Marvel creators. Trish Walker, aka Patsy Walker, who appears on Netflix's Marvel's Jessica Jones television series, was recruited to become a Kraft favorite in The Defenders, easily one of the most successful feminist heroines without resorting to text-book cliches in place of a vivacious, worldly personality! .
His philosophical Scorpio- with fears of aging, loneliness, and a decidedly Everyman demeanor, offering beers to his captives-is discussed a couple of posts back along with his Soviet Union/ environmentalist storyline featuring Red Guardian and the Presence. Here were my observations for #51 (1977) and its surrounding storylines, as related personally to Dave "The Dude" himself. I know the drama and comedy of "Who Remembers Scorpio?" gets a lion's share of love, but #51 packed more story into its first half alone than a lot of modern comics do in nearly two!
The Ringer was in one of my very first comics, but here his dialogue made him even more original! Val trying to enter college was a hoot! I think Stern- a writer I've enjoyed a lot from the 80's- got a lot of his riffs from you (Peter trying to leave grad school was similar to Val's entrance). It may have been one of those things where one internalizes the feel of stories or songs that impress you; Gerber was inspirational that way, too (and I'd love to talk about how some of his stories reflect conversations with fellow writer friends).
Here's one thing I just love about Nighthawk vs. The Ringer: you were deconstructing comics long before Alan Moore, and did it in a less sadistic & cynical way. I'd love to have seen Kyle internalize more of his unusual experiences, like with the Sons of the Serpent, the hilarious "Bring Back My Body To Me" plot, and this, for another, and reflect them in his quirky character, as it does rescue him from his Batman rip-off origins. You seem to maybe have identified with Moon Knight as a rougher-edged sort of hero, and pretty much have to confess you like Nick Fury; I imagine Steranko has something to do with that! Patsy's talk with Jack has some nice undertones- she's a really good character in and out of costume. Even with a double page spread, you got SO much into #51. Your fans really got their money's worth.
I adored JLI when I collected it in high school and college; there was Keith Giffen again, always creative and off-center but capable of straight-ahead derring do. Your Defenders issues, to me, anyway, and I'm back up to #54, seem to have inspired that JLI approach. I know you weren't the first guy to write witty superhero dialogue, but you really killed in 1977. I also enjoyed the 'Man Who Fell To Earth' reference (a 1976 sci fi movie starring David Bowie, directed by Nicholas Roeg) from Dollah Dollah Billz y'all, and I think with your double bill movie marquee in #53, you used the juxtaposition of that movie with Death Wish as a foreshadowed analogy between Val and Lunatik. Granted, Bronson didn't say "a hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich!" Maybe I'm reading too much into the choice, but I doubt it: that would be subtle. It did coincide with Prof. Turk & Val sharing a theater viewing! Tastes may vary, but these issues really speak to me and my personal aesthetics- it's fair to say they must've shaped them, which, since I read most of these outside #58-61 as an adult, suggests their quality and endurance as pop literature.
I don't know if Giffen was the one who suggested bring back Subby or if it was just a mutual convo in answer to letting go of Stephen a while, but between him, the Hulk and The Presence, there's some strong evocation of classic Marvel. And that was the idea at the time: keep what worked and endured from classic Marvel, but tell new stories that reflect the times and sometimes more sophisticated ideas, without losing the wonder. Val's college stint- I've got to guess that's your idea, and once again, you were writing better, stronger female super heroines before Claremont, who has that rep-that's so in keeping with what I love about classic Marvel: the mix of fantasy/ sci fi elements with quotidian themes. The Quotidian- how did HE not get made?
I don't want to leave out discussion of Scorpio and the Zodiac- they had some clever nuances, especially Jake Fury (or was that an LMD too?)- but you probably hear less about #51. Ringer crushing Kyle's flight backpack made for a terrific scenario- so much commentary without beating you over the head with the obvious. The scene was about stripping away Nighthawk's understanding of himself- grounding him, as it were. The callback to Scorpio in the aftermath was ingenious. Knowing how concepts work, I imagine some of this came together subconsciously, and it'd be interesting to hear how much of the process was set intention, and how much was found inspiration from the process.
As 1978 began, he also created his Blue Oyster Cult homage storyline in DEFENDERS, transforming lyrics and song titles into a saga about half-human, half-demon Vera Gemini's bid to rebirth the Demon Race on Earth as in ancient days.
Here's where he brought Dr. Strange back to the title and also brought Devil-Slayer into the Marvel mainstream. Look up my early blog "The Cult and the Kraft" from 2010 for more.
His departure in 1978 from Marvel followed a creative attempt to give Marvel another prestige format magazine story based on popular music idols, after the KISS Marvel Super Special became a runaway smash. On Marvel Super Special #4: The Beatles, with art by George Perez, Dave Kraft made a successful pitch of a deluxe, higher prestige format magazine at the board room level to James P. Galton, the publisher. Stan Lee took him on a shopping trip, to trade in his biker hippie look for a snazzy business suit, as chronicled in Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. When he could not get the same deal for his other Marvel work, he left the company as a matter of principle. Before he left, he wrote an answer to the unyielding requests for various B- and C-list guest stars in the form of "Defender For a Day," chronicled in #s 62-64. When Wizard spotlighted the story as "The Best Comic (For All The Worst Reasons)" Kraft took their tongue-in-cheek article and framed it on his wall of celebrity and friend photos in his office in Krafthaus!
DAK bought his home in the mountains of northeast Georgia with his earnings. "Land was like $5000 an acre at the time," he recounted. One of his earliest guests while building his mountaintop home "Krafthaus" was David (Kung Fu) Carradine, shooting a movie a couple of miles away. He came by to pose for a picture and shoot the breeze with The Dude, balancing on the precarious balcony overlooking the valley below Screamer Mountain. He surprised DAK by telling him his two favorite Marvel characters were Dr. Strange and pop-lyric-reciting vigilante Lunatik. Who knew Carradine was a comics fan? Hearing a writer-much less the writer for these two characters, and creator of Lunatik- lived in the neighborhood where he was shooting, Carradine couldn't resist meeting him in person.
He no doubt heard, visiting Krafthaus that day, how Lunatik was quickly created one Friday afternoon at Marvel before Kraft and company left for dinner. Artist Carmine Infantino, who created the modern style and uniform of the Flash in the Silver Age seed of Showcase #4, turned up, asking for the plot and characters for the next issue, "to give him something to draw over the weekend." While Salicrup and Slifer waited, Kraft drew and colored the next nemesis. DAK modeled Lunatik on Alice Cooper, particularly the face painting, gave him a head of reddish-purple frizzy hair and a green jumpsuit (villain colors!), and set Infantino loose with a Lunatik designed on the spot!

Maybe you have to understand 70's cool to get the full-on vibe, but DAK and other creators broadcast the NYC feel in their comics and magazines read around the world. It is good to know someone came away still able to laugh! I can only imagine being there, just like I did as a child. We'll explore Kraft's 80's work and fortunes next time, when we establish who truly made the She Hulk as we've come to know her, plus the establishment of fandom staple David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview! Have a look at my entry on the first Yi Soon Shin four issue series, for his present-day efforts with Chicago's Onrie Kompan. Don McGregor himself, replying to my happy birthday wish to him this year, mentioned his fond memories of the two of them editing The Variable Syndrome (novel, 1981) and Dragonflame and Other Bedtime Nightmares (1983) in The Green Kitchen restaurant to the wee hours of the morn. So! There’s still an awful lot to uncover, and that’s a fact! So pick us up the next time we talk about DAK! But meanwhile, give the moon a howl, and remember to wish DAK happy birthday wherever you are each May 31st. May your deadlines be undead lines, and may you slay’em!
-C Lue The Poet

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