Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Breaking in at Marvel Comics Group: becoming a comic book writer, as told by David Anthony Kraft


Breaking in at Marvel Comics Group: becoming a comic book writer, as told by David Anthony Kraft

Happy Birthday this week to DAK- Many happy trips more 'round the sun, many howls at the moon!

Part One: Man-Wolf! Wait...Man-Wolf?

Lue Lyron: So the story goes, one day working as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics Group, you’re walking past Roy Thomas, after hearing you’d get a series to write one day for a while, and he stops his conversation with Steve Englehart, who was visiting from California. Roy just turns casually to you and says, “I’ve been meaning to assign you a book. I have your first series for you to write.” Then he picks right up talking to Steve, while you walk away savoring that bombshell.

(DAK’s account of how he and George became the new creators on the ongoing Man-Wolf series appeared in Creatures On The Loose #33, a personable text piece of that sort that delights we readers. This is the team’s introduction in their first color comics issue at Marvel in 1974.)
DAK: Everyone likes to use the phrase, “break into comics”- but I like to say, I was invited.

Not that I wouldn’t have broken in!

Lue: You already had taken on work, in high school, as a literary agent for the work of pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline, and published several books under your own Fictioneer banner.

DAK: 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.
During that time, I put an inquiry to see if I could work for Marvel.
One day, I went to the mail, and found a letter from (Marvel Editor) Roy Thomas.
I’m excited because hey, it’s Marvel ! Their response was:
‘Problem is, not enough work for the writers we have but you’re welcome to write a script.’
Practical person that I am, I didn’t!

Years later, he was looking for an assistant. I was editing a metaphysical magazine editing in Raburn County. I got this letter going “you should work for Marvel”- so I agreed!

Part of the deal was, and why I mentioned this was, I didn’t know how expensive New York was. By today’s prices, it would look inexpensive, but- money bought more! How do you know that as a teenager? How could you not want to go to work for Marvel.

The offer was : a salary, to edit books on staff. Roy was editor-in-chief over about forty color books, and he was busy writing his own books, but didn’t waste time nitpicking. So the only other two editors in color at that point are Don McGregor and me!
I’d written for Skywald the year before. They gave me lots of assignments on the black and white magazine line. People don’t intend to do it, but they stereotype. Since I’d worked on monster books at Skywald, they started me on monster books. But that’s not what I wanted to do: I wanted to do the Marvel Super Heroes stuff.

I admired Will Eisner for what he could do with a six, seven page story. Characters, plot, dialogue- all in a short space. It’s a special skill. It’s not what comes naturally to me. I’m better in a longer format, where I have more room to develop ideas. I assumed my break would come eventually.

When it did, it was probably one of the brightest days of my life.

I’m really curious whether I talked as fast as Roy back then as now or if that was a New York thing. He’s talking to Steve Englehart, who was just in from the Left Coast, and he says “I’ve got your first color assignment,” for which I was elated. That’s what I came to Marvel to do.

So I have my first color comic at Marvel, and it’s Man-Wolf.

Remember Xerox? The more you copy it, the more it loses integrity. So, with Marvel cashing in on versions of the Universal Pictures monsters, they already had Werewolf By Night.

Lue: So how did you go from Xerox to Moon Rocks to Space Opera?

DAK : Well, let’s start with the timeless werewolf trope: change when the moon is up, then menace people: this was like the third generation Xerox, and it’s sort of a third rate werewolf. I can’t just be an echo of other things. So I was simultaneously elated and dismayed.

When I’m the audience, I want to be entertained. When I get an assignment, it’s my turn. When I start, I have no ideas! Then I’ll get one. Then another. Then I’ve got too many ideas for the book!

I wasn’t given any limitations or parameters. It’s possible (Roy) forgot to tell me, but he gave me no direction. It’s not like he said ‘you need to put JJJ in the book.’ Since he’d been running around menacing people and J. Jonah Jameson was in it, I assumed that’s what they wanted- but not what I wanted. Roy would stay home and write in the mornings, then come in and deal with the creative types. Basically Roy and Stan would raise hell if you fucked up, so I made it a policy not to!

You assume the norm of your time period’s the norm, and when I came in, Roy was too busy to worry you about the plots. I went in, co-editing Hulk and Spidey, and when I was writing Man-Wolf, nobody was editing me- I was editing me! Since I was copy-editing by day, then writing nights and weekends, I was copy-editing and writing my own stuff and it’d go straight out. I thought it was normal! So I was my own guy. I went in to Roy- I thought he was going to shoot me down on this: “I think it’s a boring idea to have him running around menacing people. I want to make him a science-fantasy character. I want to take him to space, other dimensions- I want to make him a god. I wanted to make him a legitimate Marvel character. I’m at Marvel, I’m going to make him a real Marvel character! So I told him, and he said: “sounds good to me!”

If you use an established villain, you have to check in- he kept the characters on cards. You had to coordinate with other writers- not that you couldn’t use them, but you didn’t want to step on what was done that month. So I used the Hate Monger- no one was using him. I was editing and writing my own comics- it was a dream come true!

In the shuffle, Tony Isabella had done the plot for issue thirty-three, so I worked from there. I dropped hints of what I wanted to do with this shadowy partner (of Kraven), both here and in The Defenders, Professor Turk. Basically, the same character.

So there’s this portal on the moon, and when the moon was full, more of its radiation was there. I created the stone as this mystic symbiote. When I eventually got him where he was going, he was the wolf man all the time. When this happened, these elements weren’t wide spread in the media at the time. This is why Dino De Laurentis, I think, wanted to option Man-Wolf for a movie. Thank God that wasn’t made at the time- it would’ve sucked!

“wall-crawling weasel”
First rule when you write established characters: research how they speak. So I went back to Amazing #1 and read them all, trying to capture Jonah’s voice.


I was writing off of the artwork when it came in. I think Tony (Isabella) had plans, had he stayed on the book, to bring Spidey in- which would’ve pumped sales. But it wasn’t my vision.

I wanted to segueway into the space fantasy stuff, rather than jump right in. Tallulah Gorge is the largest gorge this side of the Mississippi. Since I’d just come from here, see, it seemed like an excellent locale, thinking visually.

It isn’t like you experience the book as a reader; creatively, you work over here and there on different things, write three pages here, then deal with the plot you need today now, and so on.

When George was ready for work, I didn’t have the plot ready. George had been an assistant to Rich Buckler. I decided I wanted to keep this guy. So they were trying George out on my plot, and when it came in, it was kinetic, visually active. He didn’t draw like Kirby, but less imaginative artists would take Stan literally. He was known for getting up on a desk and showing you what the heroes were like.

He would tell you he had a long way to go when it came to perspective and anatomy, but the key important thing is to tell an exciting story! Once I saw that issue from George, he really captured the feeling I thought Man-Wolf needed. So I Mom and Dad’d Roy and John Romita. Softball in the park

He gives the book a whole different feeling. I’m OK with it if John is. So I went to John and said, “Roy is down with it.” I didn’t do it altruistically, it was to make the best show. Thinking visually is what comics is all about.
So, the second George Perez issue- where they come down to Georgia- came up and I didn’t have a plot. It was easier to show him, so I took some sheets of paper- I have no idea how things were being done before. I put him on the bike: he’s that kind of primitive beast, how does he handle that? But then, I’d had a motorcycle crash, on a Kawasaki 750.

I had a Norton, so I made it that. I passed a sign and wondered what it said, which was “T-section.” Uh oh. So I had some people behind me who gave me some perspective. My friend Brian told me “you were like a jockey riding side saddle, but the cycle wouldn’t stay up! You did everything you could.” I could see the pavement- I thought I was going to lose my eye, my face! Talk about hyper awareness. I’m doing 60 miles an hour. My helmet was all that kept my face off the pavement. I flew off the road. I flew upside down and hit the embankment, but my face was still on. AT first I’m so relieved, even though it also tore up my knee; I almost lost my leg. I turned around then and here came the bike at me! So I did very basic layouts. I have a very good storytelling sense, and I did these Keith Haring-type drawings.
More of this interview will be transcribed later.
You can find some of Kraft’s new work in the first issue of the newly-revived quarterly Tales From The Crypt! DAK wrote “Zombie Bank” along with his co-writer, Onrie Kompan- who is also co-writer on the series Dave edits, Yi Soon Shin. Yi premieres its third volume this year.

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