From the TCJ Archives

Fear and Loathing with David Anthony Kraft: A Savage Interview with Marvel’s Most Outspoken Writer!

This ran in The Comics Journal #35 (June 1977).

David Anthony Kraft and Roger Silfer wrote and Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson drew The Defenders #46, April 1977.

THE COMICS JOURNAL: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

DAVID ANTHONY KRAFT: I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. As a matter of fact, my first big aspiration was to drive a Road Grader — one of those huge tractors that blade gravel highways in the country. Couple that with my motorcycle obsession, and you can see that I’ve always been on a power trip! Writing is only a slightly more subtle version of the same thing; in all honesty, while there’s no question that I’m a born writer and a natural at it, I’ve always wanted to be a celebrity. A wealthy celebrity. And. I’m well on the way toward realizing both qualifications of my goal. Already, after few years in the comic book business, I'm financially far more well off than many people who’ve spent two or three times as much time at it — and every day my bank accounts and popularity expand. They’re growing, just as my abilities are increasing. It’s an amiable arrangement.

How long did it take for you to break into the comics field?

Actually, that’s a peculiar question. I never really got around to any serious attempt to break into the comics field. They came to me, instead. I sold my first story, a science fiction vignette, when I was 18 and in high school. The following year I sold a couple scripts, strictly by working on spec by mail, to Jolly Solly Brodsky at Skywald. They appeared in Psycho. But after high school I spent a lot of time getting stoned and riding a motorcycle, doing construction work and traveling with a carnival, and just, in general, pissing my time away. I lived on the West Coast for a while, in Oregon, where I cracked up a Kawasaki 750 at 85 mph and consequently spent a considerable amount of time flat on my back. Oh yeah, and right after high school, I had an abortive career in the US Army that lasted all of a month. Finally, I was working in Georgia as editor of a book publishing and of a bimonthly metaphysical magazine, when Rascally Roy Thomas contacted me with an offer to work for Marvel. Since I’ve always been a comics freak — and particularly a Marvel reader — I took him up on it. So, as you can see, I never really around to a prolonged siege or even a pilgrimage to New York City to knock on doors. I just flew up from Georgia and started immediately as an editor and writer at Marvel.

Whose work influences you?

Everyone’s. If it’s shit, I’m influenced to avoid that sort of thing myself. If it’s good, I look to see what makes it that way, and how I can apply the principles to my own work. I’m always studying stuff and the stuff around me to increase my facility and improve my ability. I’m an intense and relentlessly devoted word artist, and if you look closely at my work, you can’t help noticing that I take great pains in picking the right words and composing with an almost poetic rhythm and cadence.

From "Deathgame" in Creatures on the Loose #33, January 1975, written by Kraft, penciled by George Pérez and inked by Klaus Janson.

Obviously, my influences are not all in the comics field, which is an intensely incestuous industry that seems to produce more and more idiot-mentality craftsmen all the time, people who lack the tiniest spark of creativity and are incompetent enough only to endlessly imitate what’s already been done better a half-dozen or a thousand times. Rock music influences me to a tremendous degree. Surprisingly, most writers in the industry are isolated from contemporary youth culture; alienated from it and afraid of it, and precious few of them are into rock at all. I’m a media freak, an absolute addict. I read almost every national magazine published, as well as subscribing to more esoteric periodicals and also reading local publications as well.

Movies are a mania with me, and I went through a period this summer where I went to at least seven films a week, sometimes more. Movies and comics are goddamned near the same thing; except, lately, in many instances, comics are better. The quality of, say, Logan’s Run is so low that even an average DC comic is close competition for the film. I do not, however, watch TV at all — ever. TV creates mush-minded automatons and destroys the ability to think. I’m convinced of it. TV is shit. Even when they get a good theatrical release, they chop it up, censor it, and re-edit and use it to sell dog food. There’s no to skip or ignore the ads like you can when you read a comic book. In fiction, Tom Robbins is the nearest thing to a god that I’ve found yet; he knows where it’s at, has a sense of humor, and unlike most so-called writers these days, he’s literate. Hermann Hesse is good. Kurt Vonnegut is a proper pessimist, much like myself (or vice versa). And he’s an interesting author. Carlos Castenada treats the metaphysical questions that a drug-addled mind like mine frequently finds itself caught up in, and discusses differences in perceptions and realities that the average American chooses to ignore.

Science fiction was a big fave with me during my teens, especially fantasy adventure in the Edgar Rice Burroughs/Otis Adelbert Kline mold. Philip Jose Farmer is a total mindfuck. LSD, mescaline, mushrooms, THC, hash, uppers and downers, alcohol, and marijuana have all influenced me enormously. I’m a confirmed acidhead; I stayed stoned on it for 20 days straight this summer. Friends influence me. Experiences I’ve had (the peg-legged heavy in Creatures on the Loose #34 was based on a real dude in Georgia, the local head of the KKK, who ran a small gas station and who has since been shot-gunned to death, for instance).

From "Nightflight" in Creatures on the Loose #34, March 1975, written by David Anthony Kraft, penciled by George Pérez and inked by Frank McLaughlin.

I want to mention, though, that I do not read the worthless paperback series garbage like Ed McBain, the Destroyer books, Lin Carter and the like. It’s the written equivalent of TV — pap. Anyway, as you can see, everything influences me, either positively or negatively.

When Logan’s Run was offered to you, did you jump at the chance?

Hell, no! A group of comics people, maybe a dozen in all, saw the movie on the same evening at a theatre in Times Square. Normally, I get very impatient with anyone who makes noise or talks during a film, but this piece of shit upset me so much that it took every bit of restraint I had to keep from screaming obscenities at the screen at the top of my lungs. I settled for punching Dauntless Don McGregor repeatedly and yelling into his ear whenever I built up an overload of disgust. The script is piss poor, possibly the worst thing next to Green Lantern #93 that I have ever read (and I’ve had plenty of time to study it since I’m supposed to be adapting it to the comics page). The direction is of high school quality — that is to say, utterly amateurish. The soundtrack sucks, besides being too deafeningly loud. The acting is absolutely non-existent: Michael Dork has the talent of a newt. The special effects rival Lost In Space. The whole thing is a joke, shot in a shopping mall, but because it’s an MGM production with money behind it and a heavy publicity program, people flocked to see it and even the New York critics went exceptionally easy on it — after all, what can you expect from a science fiction film, right? What really made me angry, though, was the fact that at the same time this turkey opened to full houses in NYC, two other fine SF flicks were playing in smaller, less well-attended theatres. Both A Boy and His Dog and The Man Who Fell to Earth are infinitely superior, but since they weren’t being pushed by a major studio, they didn’t get the same degree of attention. I raved for at least three hours steadily after seeing Logan, and sporadically for another three months. John Simon, meat-cleaver maestro of New York magazine, ripped Man Who Fell to shreds in his review column for being pseudo-art masquerading as art, while casually dismissing Logan because it made no pretensions beyond being sheer bullshit. That kind of thinking drives me wild. It encourages mediocrity. Someone ought to slip Simon 750 micrograms of acid — maybe then he’d understand what’s going on around him.

Kraft wrote, George Pérez penciled, and Klaus Janson inked "Enter the Eternal Ice-World of Box! Part Four" in Logan's Run #4, April 1976.

Anyway, you can imagine my reaction when the comic book adaptation was offered to me. An immediate and resounding “No!” Unfortunately, I allowed myself to be shown the artwork for the second issue, and since I’d become very disillusioned with the strictly amateurish look of the books I wrote for DC, a chance at working on an exceptionally good-looking product with George Pérez and Klaus Janson was just too much to pass up. We’d worked together earlier on the Man-Wolf series in Creatures, and George and I get along well and work together in an almost perfectly symbiotic and natural fashion. Therefore, I reluctantly accepted the assignment. If nothing else, it helped establish my contradictory and paradoxical nature around the Bullpen. The reaction I got from Steve Gerber and others when they heard I was working on Logan’s Run was phenomenal! After all, I had more than established my loathing for Logan as a film. But I felt (accurately, I think) that we could in this case produce a comic book adaptation that was actually better than the film.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

Always. There’s the Defenders, of course, which I’ll probably be doing without Slifer in the future (at least until they retire me!). I’ve got some really bizarre plans in store for Scorpio — the old S.H.I.E.L.D villain. I guarantee the Defenders will be weirder than ever in months to come!

From  "Who Remembers Scorpio?" in The Defenders #46, April 1977.

I’m putting together an underground comic, strictly outrageous, surreal and bizarre stuff all written by me, and illustrated by Pérez, Russell, and others of similar superior ability. It won’t be the usual so-called underground work by people like Wein and Chaykin, which looks and reads exactly like their commercial “overground” work. Not at all. In fact, I’m not sure it won’t leave a lot of regular regressive mentality comics fans bewildered, angry, or just uncomprehending. But sod it, I intend to publish some of the sick stuff I’m really into, straight and warped stuff that’s real. Title is tentative, Space Kraft, and I’m accepting advance orders from trusting, experimental and free-thinking individuals for $2, c/o Mad Genius Associates, 850 Seventh Ave # 806, New York NY 10019. Adults only. I’m writing a behind-the-scenes-in-comics non-fiction book, akin to Bouton’s Ball Four. I write rock-and-roll material — news, interviews, and reviews. I write for Celebrity and other straight markets. I’m always working on new projects; but I’m also prone to procrastination, in favor of other fun stuff, so you never know when any of this will reach fruition.

Do you think the comics industry is headed in an upward trend?

No — I know it isn’t. Sales are down. Mediocrity runs rampant, editorially as well as creatively. Anything deviating from the norm is frowned upon, and some of the top writer / editors are devoted exclusively to preserving the status quo. There’s one cardinal sin which is absolutely unforgivable, and that’s for a comic book to be boring. There is no excuse for it, no defensible reason. Yet take a look at most of Marvel’s output, particularly the “top books,” and nine times out of ten you’ll find yourself bored to tears. I’m in favor of absolute creative anarchy. Why should every book resemble everything else published the same month? Deathlok, Warlock, Man-Thing, Killraven, Howard The Duck are what there should be more of — diversity.

And I have next to nothing favorable to say about Dull Comics. There’s some kind of curse that hangs over that place, an uncanny certainty that no matter what you do or how hard you work at it, it’ll still somehow -manage to come out looking just like every other shitty book they publish. That place is surreal. They’re living in 1956 on Earth II or something. They just spent a reported $10,000 to have their cover symbol redesigned; they’ve succeeded in makings themselves look just like Charlton Comics, a company that successfully drove itself into extinction. DC is ludicrous; they don’t publish comics, they publish ass-wipe. Despite all my pessimism, however, I love the comics as a medium, and I hope the whole industry doesn’t drive itself out of existence, as it appears hellbent on doing.

What are your feelings towards comics fandom?

I like it. I was a bit of a fan myself. I just wish they were a little more discriminating, that’s all. More power to fandom!