SLIFER: You’ve said that you consider yourself a commercial writer. Why do you think this is true?
WEIN: Basic logic, I think. I have a pretty good sales record. I have taken books — The Defenders, the Justice League — and made them sell. They sold better when I was writing them than other times, under other writers. Whether or not my work was better than the work of those other writers had nothing to do with it. The fact is my books sold better than theirs did. This isn’t to say I haven’t had my share of turkeys. Things like Brother Voodoo and The Golem; even the Phantom Stranger stayed around more because people thought it was creatively successful than commercially successful. If I sell a book, and they’re paying me to sell a book, and it sells, then I assume I’m a commercial writer.
SLIFER: When Roy Thomas was luring you to Marvel book-by-book, was there any indication that Roy wanted you to work in an editorial capacity?
WEIN: No, none whatsoever. At that time, I was still doing a lot of work at DC. Roy was very subtle. He was a master of subtlety. He still is, I guess, in many ways. When I found myself over there, no one was more surprised than I was. I got up one morning and went, “Oh my God, I’m working for Marvel! How did that happen?” Roy had done it beautifully. I was pretty much torn. I was doing work for both companies, and I just felt when he offered me this job it would be a lot simpler to work for one company.
SLIFER: Why did he choose you for his associate editor?
WEIN: A lot of reasons. I would like to think it was because of the good quality of my work. I’m as good a proofreader these days as anyone in the business. Not nearly as good as Gerda Gatell or any of the old string of proofreaders, who actually learned to proofread from professionals, but in today’s market of “which end of the pencil do you write with and which end do you erase with?” I am certainly as good a proofreader as many. I’m willing to take a test, I’m willing to take on anyone in the house on a proofreading contest. Also, the fact that I remember everything that has ever happened in any Marvel comic, all those absurd memories, a sort of twisted encyclopedic memory. And, at that point, Roy had been working as editor-in-chief for several years and was out of touch with the past several years’ of books. He was so involved in producing them he didn’t remember them anymore. So, he brought me along for that.
SLIFER: Did he give you any indication when he hired you as an associate editor that he would be leaving as editor-in-chief?
WEIN: None whatsoever. In fact, if I had known he was planning on doing that, I might not have taken the job. There was nobody more surprised than me when, a couple of months after I’d started there, he resigned. I woke up one morning and found myself editor-in-chief at Marvel. Eeek!
SLIFER: Do you think he had any inkling at the time?
WEIN: Oh, yeah. I think he was probably choosing his own successor, which is incredibly flattering. He couldn’t have made the decision to quit that quickly. I think he had it, at least, in the back of his mind.
SLIFER: How long were you editor-in-chief at Marvel?
WEIN: About eight or nine months. It was all I could physically stand. My health was getting the best of me. I was working 10 and 12-hour days, and I was finding out everything that every editor-in-chief at Marvel has found out — that all the things you think you’re going to do to fix the company and make things right when you’re sitting on the wrong side of the editor’s desk, turn around when you sit behind it. You find out all the realities that had prevented your predecessors from doing the things you were amazed that they were too stupid to realize they could’ve done. They couldn’t do them. They were business involvements and personal involvements. It’s just a hell of a murderous job. Especially at that point where I was editor-in-chief of close to 60 titles per month.
SLIFER: What contributions do you think you made when you were editor-in-chief at Marvel?
WEIN: Not all that many. I don’t think I was really there long enough to have that much of an effect. I was still feeling my way after about eight or nine months, finding out all the things I couldn’t do. If anything, I guess it’s probably the people I brought into the business, or at least advanced into the business, people like Chris Claremont, who had been at Marvel before I became editor, but who got the X-Men series while I was there. He was my hand-picked successor to take over the book Dave Cockrum and I had created, and he’s made it one of Marvel’s most popular titles. Bill Mantlo, who writes a number of Marvel’s more important books these days, who had been doing mostly coloring, and who I took from coloring and into writing, where he’s been successful. The coloring itself had been very unimportant at Marvel when I took over the job. But, since I was married to a colorist [Glynis Wein] I had much more of an interest in coloring than Roy or Stan ever really had. I started the cataloging of costumes on index cards so that a villain appearing in three successive issues of Spider-Man would have the same colored costume every issue instead of three entirely different coloring schemes, which had often been the case before.
SLIFER: Didn’t you have to build an entire editorial staff because other people happened to be leaving at the time?
WEIN: Yes. Tony Isabella was leaving at about that time. I think Chris Claremont was just one of the proofreaders. He was working on the black and whites. So, I got Chris as my associate editor, and John Warner went over to the black and whites working with Marv on those. Scott Edelman came in to replace somebody. I can’t remember all the people. I remember who was there, but I don’t remember all the positions they were in before I was there.
SLIFER: Do you think you had any shortcomings as editor-in-chief?
WEIN: Oh, yeah. It was one of the reasons I couldn’t stick with the job. I think an editor-in-chief really needs to be the boss, especially in a company of such freethinkers as Marvel tended to be. Everybody had their own opinions, everybody was pretty much in charge of their own books, and to stand there and be editor, and say, “No, do it this way,” was difficult. I am a very amiable person…
SLIFER: Also, a very opinionated one.
WEIN: Yes, both of those. I was hard pressed to advance my position as editor. I think only once in the entire nine months that I was editor did I sit down with a writer and argue a point and, when he could not at all see my viewpoint and why I wanted something done, told him to change it because I was the editor. And that was the only time I ever did that. All the rest of the time I tried to argue my viewpoints the best way I could and reach a compromise. I rarely played the dictator you’ve got to be to be an editor. I was trying too hard not to ruffle anyone’s feathers, and that was a mistake. If I had to do it over again, I think I’d be a much stronger editor today than I was then. I also think I’ve formed stronger opinions in the time since then.
SLIFER: You’ve told me that you don’t think you’re opinionated in the way most people are considered opinionated. How do you view yourself in that regard?
WEIN: I don’t take “opinionated” to mean exactly what, generally, people take it to mean. I was having dinner with Marv Wolfman and his wife Michele recently, and Michele decided that I most remind her of one of the Sesame Street characters, Ernie, who has a tendency to go around trying to help people out of the goodness of his heart. His friend Burt will be making a malted and Ernie will come over and say, “No, no, you’re not making it right,” and help him fix the malted. And by the time Ernie is done fixing the malted, it’s never the way Burt wanted it, but it’s exactly the way Ernie wants it.
And that is my problem. I used to do that in high school. It’s not so much wanting to force my opinion on people as it is wanting to help. I used to wander around my art classes back in high school because I was always the first one finished with whatever project we were working on, and I would stand behind people and look over their shoulders, and go, “You know, that might be better if you made a blue square here or glued this here or moved that,” and half the kids in the class would thank me and work on their projects and hopefully improve them. The other half would tell me where to stick the rubber cement! [Laughter] I’ve always been that way. It’s probably a very, very strong, submerged ego, thinking that I know better than other people. I guess someone would have to analyze me to find that out. But, it’s nothing malicious, I just usually try to do it to help people out and end up sticking my sneaker in my mouth.
SLIFER: Could you tell me how the writer/editor system at Marvel came about?
WEIN: Ego again, I think. Roy Thomas had been editor-in-chief at Marvel, he had overseen everything, and done a better job than any of his successors. He knew exactly what he wanted and why he wanted it. He was opinionated in the best sense of the word. And when he left the job it was almost an insult, or would have seemed to be an insult, for someone who had overseen all those books to be suddenly answerable to someone else, someone he had, in fact, brought in himself. So, to solve that problem, they conceived the writer/editor position where Roy would be pretty much autonomous. Certainly, he knew how to do his books and didn’t need editorial input since he had been inputting it to everyone else’s books before, and was answerable only to Stan. He just did his books the best he knew how and if there were any problems, Stan would be the only person who would tell him, “Fix that” or “Change this.”
SLIFER: And when you resigned, the same principle applied to you?
WEIN: Well, it seemed as though a tradition had started, and I was certainly not going to be the first one to stop it. Again, I had very little problem, even when I was at DC, in that regard. Most of my scripts tended to go through virtually untouched. A spelling error, a punctuation mishap, but my stuff needed very little work for a very long time, so it made sense. I’ve never, to the best of my knowledge — and I don’t think there’s anyone who can really argue with me, though I’m sure someone will — abused my privilege when I was editor-in-chief or writer /editor. I was meticulous about staying within the bounds.
SLIFER: What were you writing when you were editor-in-chief?
WEIN: When I was editor-in-chief I was writing just the Hulk. I don’t think there’s been an editor up there yet, including Roy, who was able to hold onto that incredibly complicated job and write more than a book a month as well. I was doing the Hulk. I had done the first issue of the Giant-Size X-Men but gave it up when it looked like I was going to keep the job. Then, a month later, I found myself out there writing full time again, and I ended up with things like Spider-Man and Thor, sort of out of a lack of any alternatives at the time. When Gerry Conway left Marvel to go to DC about the time I was editor-in-chief, we had a meeting — John Verpoorten, Marv, Sol Brodsky, myself, I don’t recall who else, one or two other people — to figure out where his books would go, who would take them over. And everyone there, except me, just naturally assumed that since I was next in line for doing the top books — I’d been doing Team-Up and all — and knew the characters as well as anyone, I was the logical choice to replace Gerry. I was the only other person up there who knew how to do the Asgardian, the pseudo-Asgardian Roy had conceived since he had taught me most of the rules of the game. I’ve made my errors; I’m sure Roy will be the first to point out where I’ve screwed up the language, but I came closer than most other people. The other people at the meeting just assumed I was the choice. I hadn’t really even thought of it, and couldn’t find anyone else to push them off on. So, I ended up taking them over.
SLIFER: Did you consider taking back the X-Men at that point?
WEIN: I wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair. I had given it to Chris, and Chris had gotten really enthusiastically involved, and I wouldn’t have time. If there was no one else that we could think of at the moment to take over Spider-Man or Thor, if I was the choice, then I couldn’t very well take back the X-Men and leave one of those two major titles up in the air for someone less competent, or incompetent, to handle. It was sort of like, “Do these books, there’s no one else to do them.” And I did. I had a great time doing them. I must admit that when I took over Thor I was terrified. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it at all well. I suppose history will determine whether or not I did. Certainly, I didn’t do it as well as Roy did when he came back after me. I thought he did some brilliant stuff.
SLIFER: After being a writer/editor at Marvel for some time…
WEIN: Three, almost four years.
SLIFER: After that time, you began writing Batman stories for Detective, and it wasn’t long after that that you were working at DC full time. Can you tell me why you went back to DC?
WEIN: It’s a long, complicated story. I’ll see if I can simplify it. In many ways, there was no reason for my doing it. In many ways, there was every reason for my doing it. As editor/writer at Marvel, I was having conflicts with the production department, with John Verpoorten, rest his soul, and some of the other people, over things that were not terribly important, but were becoming life and death issues to me. I would get enraged if I didn’t get the letterer I wanted or over something else very minor and very unimportant. And, I decided to take a weekend off, went away, talked it over with my wife, and came to the realization that I was over-involved. I had become obsessively involved with the books. I was watching my books with such a hawk-like eye that I had no sense of perspective on this stuff anymore. I was involved and I was making myself crazy, and I realized that I had to take a step back and get involved with something else. I got into a conversation with Paul Levitz that weekend and he mentioned to me that there might be some openings at DC and thought I might want to wander by and go “Howdy.” I thought maybe that’s a possibility, maybe that’s what I need to do — get a little variety in there, and not commit myself so fully on an emotional level to Marvel and the books I was doing. So, I went up to see the folks at DC the following week. Coincidentally enough, Steve Englehart had just left Detective and there is no bigger Batman fan than I. I volunteered to take over the strip. It gave me a chance to work with Julie Schwartz, who’s one of the closest people in the world to me. Here was something I wanted to do. I was looking forward to working with Marshall Rogers. I thought what he and Steve had done on the book was just tremendous. I committed myself to the book. Marvel was not happy at all when they found out.
SLIFER: Marvel meaning whom?
WEIN: Stan and the other Powers — Archie Goodwin, who was editor-in-chief at the time. None of them were really happy. But there was nothing they could do to me as long as Steve Gerber was writing Howard the Duck and The Defenders and doing Mr. Miracle for DC. If they wanted to jump up and down on me, I told them to talk to Steve first. He’s the one who actually opened the breech in the company’s wall. Things went on for several weeks. DC was really happy about my doing anything at all. Mike Gold and Paul [Levitz] were very enthusiastic. Marvel wasn’t happy no-how. Finally, after several weeks, almost a month, and I hadn’t actually even started my first Detective story, Steve Gerber’s situation was resolved. The way it was resolved doesn’t matter here. Then they turned to me and said, “All right, the Gerber situation is resolved, now it’s your turn. We don’t want you to do Batman.” And in my singular obsessive fashion, I said, “No, no, I’m committed to this book. Julie Schwartz is closer to me than any editor — I consider him family,” and he was very happy to have me back. His was the last book I had left when I left DC because I was doing Detective with Julie at that time. I wanted to stick with that book. I needed it for my own creative fulfillment. Stan said, “I’ll have to think about it.” A couple of days went by, Stan called me in, and we sat down. Stan finally talked to me. We talked it out. I explained that I didn’t want to leave Marvel. I was very happy doing the books I was doing, but I just would not give up Detective, And Stan finally acquiesced. He said, “Well, if that’s the case, if you have to, but I don’t like it, and I don’t want to lose you on the other stuff. Do Detective, but do it under a pseudonym. It’s not right that Marvel’s top writer is busy working on a book for the competition. It just doesn’t look good. So, do it under a pseudonym.” But I won my point. So, I called up DC and told Paul and Mike Gold what the situation was. They, too, were not happy. They were trying to re-establish DC’s credibility, trying to develop a new rapport with the readership, and didn’t feel it was right to have me come over there and work under a pseudonym. They also thought there was some commercial value to my name. And they just did not like the idea. But, they didn’t want to lose me either, and they acquiesced. So here I was. I won my case.
I could do The Batman, I could stay on my Marvel books, and nobody was happy. DC didn’t like the idea, Marvel didn’t like the idea, and I didn’t like the idea that nobody liked the idea. [Laughter.] On a long weekend of soul-searching, I spoke with Marv for a while, I spoke to you, you little devil, and you guys managed to help convince me that it would be to my benefit to go back to where I could write like myself and not be a surrogate Stan. And I decided you guys were right. It was a lot simpler to make a clean break of it, and start all over, than to sit there working for both companies and have nobody like me. My emotional make-up is just fragile enough that I couldn’t cope with that for very long. So, I came back to Marvel the following day and told Archie that I was going to leave. And I did. That’s why I ended up back at DC.
SLIFER: You’ve worked under various editorial conditions, both at DC and at Marvel. You’re probably the most qualified person to comment on comparative advantages or disadvantages of different editorial situations. For instance, did you find being your own editor had any hidden disadvantages?
WEIN: It’s hard to answer. The answer to that varies from writer to writer. I can’t even speak of myself as an exception to the rule. I have been told by people that I was one of the few people under the editor/writer system who did not abuse it. I was zealously honest. I never took advantage of that position. Marvel assumed I was qualified to edit myself because they certainly let me do it all the years I was there. There was never any problem. I don’t think I ever had a fight with the current editor-in-chief, be it Marvin or Archie or Gerry.
SLIFER: Do you think the editor/writer system cut you off from the input an editor can give to a writer?
WEIN: I never set myself off from that input. As you know, every Friday in New York, we’d go out to dinner with the guys and I’d say, “I’m doing Spider-Man now and I’m involved in this and I’d like some input.” I was always asking for input. That was the worst thing that could happen — to cut yourself off from that input. So, that didn’t happen to me. I made it a point to speak with everybody. The writer/editor system worked for me on that basis. The previous editorial system suffered from the same thing. Since it was such a loose-knit organization — Roy only interfered if you were going astray. If you were all right, he left you alone and never bothered you. So, I had never had problems with him then. At DC, I do have more input in the plotting stages with the editors. I sit down with Julie and plot out Superman, I sit down with Paul and plot out the Batman, and with Ross [Andru] I do that because, psychologically, when I am not responsible, when I am not my own editor, I like to lay some of the burden on the doorstep of the editor. I take less responsibility. In earlier stages of the work I am still the same, zealous, loony who sits there and checks the coloring when it comes in, and the lettering and the inking; I proofread the story myself, although I don’t get paid a penny for it. It’s different with every writer. There are other writers, and I’ve worked with some, who need an editorial input, who have a great deal of talent but gaping blind spots in their logic. They get so enamored of what they are doing, of a beautiful little bit they found for this story, and a nice little twist for that story, that they fail to notice the Grand Canyon in the middle of the script, and nobody else notices it either. They need people to sit there and say, “Don’t forget to cover this,” “Make sure you explain that part over here.” It’s different with every writer.
SLIFER: Do you alter your approach when you’re working for different editors, say, when you’re doing something for Warren or Heavy Metal?
WEIN: Oh, yeah. Less these days than in the old days. I used to pride myself on giving the editor what he wanted. Professional, again, the word keeps coming back. The stuff I did for Gold Key, the stuff I did for Skywald, for the early Warrens, for Marv and Archie at Marvel, whatever any editor wanted I gave them. My scripts would vary from editor to editor because that’s what they were paying me for. That’s the man I was answerable to. He was the guy who would hand me my check when I was done. The biggest advantage at Heavy Metal is that I own the project. The Gideon Faust story Howie Chaykin and I did for them recently is ours. If we want to sell the story elsewhere, we can do it. That’s the beauty of it. It allows me to use concepts I’ve had for years and would not give to DC or Marvel and let them own. A French producer has been hinting recently about doing Gideon Faust. If that comes to pass — knock on wood — it’s Howie’s and my baby, not DC’s or Marvel’s. Any coin to be had will be ours.
SLIFER: Regarding the strip work you’re doing for Heavy Metal, your approach is that if they’re not pleased with what you turn in, then you’re not interested in selling it?
WEIN: No, that’s not my point at all. If they’re interested in what I’ve got, then they’ll buy it. It’s not so much I won’t sell it. It comes from their end first.
SLIFER: From my understanding, Heavy Metal has less of an ability to articulate their wants in the plotting stage.
WEIN: I think they were pleased to actually get a story written. So much of the French material they pick up is beautifully illustrated and has nothing akin to a story; it’s incomprehensible. They were very happy to get a story — I’m not saying it’s a great story by any means. I thought Chaykin’s artwork was beautiful. I don’t know how good or bad my script was, but they were very happy with it. The mail, apparently, was overwhelming. I was complimented by the editor and asked to do more work. The stuff I do for Warren is done mostly to work with artists I haven’t worked with before. Again, it’s the magpie thing. I did a five-page story that eventually, the good Lord willing, will be illustrated by Al Williamson. I’ve done stories for other artists, including a beautiful John Severin job a couple of years ago. And Louise Jones buys pretty much whatever I give her. I’m never worried, I’ve reached a point in my career where I’m not worried about selling. There’s nothing I can’t put to paper that somebody won’t buy.
SLIFER: Looking back over all your editors, who do you think brought out the most in you?
WEIN: Three editors I’ve worked the closest with have been Joe Orlando, Dick Giordano, and Julius Schwartz. I think each of them has contributed different things to making me whatever I happen to be at the moment. Julie certainly taught me most of the rules of the superhero game. He’s got very firm rules after 35 years as an editor. “Be original!” he shouts repeatedly. And I’ve learned most things from him, and I’ve applied it to all the work I’ve done elsewhere. Dick Giordano helped me improve my confidence more than anything else. He was willing to take chances with me, push me ahead, and to pat me soundly on the back when I’d done a good job or tell me, “This could be better here.” Joe Orlando taught me about character. I learned a lot about poignancy and what best makes for a compelling character study because he learned so much from his days at EC. The three of them together made one hell of an editor for me. They taught me almost everything I needed to know.
SLIFER: Do you feel you did the best work for them?
WEIN: Oh, yeah, absolutely, far and away. In terms of an editor who’s actually given me input. I may have done good work at Marvel, but I didn’t have any active editorial input.
SLIFER: Was there any editor you worked with who you felt was a good editor, but who couldn’t provide that catharsis you needed to inspire your work?
WEIN: I can’t think of one offhand. I have been left alone for most of my career, so I never really had that problem.
SLIFER: Let’s switch to another topic now: deadlines. Missing deadlines is a perennial problem with comics professionals, and the name Len Wein has been linked to lateness. Many professionals who can’t meet deadlines don’t do comics on a regular basis or drop out altogether. Why do you feel the name Len Wein hasn’t slipped from the pages of commercial comics?
WEIN: Any answer I give will sound egotistical.
WEIN: All right, I will then. Because the stuff is good enough that, when it comes in, it can go right out to an artist. Books have been late on my behalf, I have never denied that. But, with the exception of one issue of the Fantastic Four, I have personally, in 11 years, never been responsible for a book going reprint. That may not be a great achievement, but when the stuff comes in, it goes out. Even in the old days when I was working for Julie, before the current DC structure where Paul is traffic-manager, back when Julie was responsible for his own books, I was the only writer who worked for him who, if Curt Swan was coming in at one o’clock Monday to pick up a script, would have to be in at 12:35 the same day because my stuff never, ever had to go back for re-write. Everyone else would have had to have their job in the previous Friday for Julie to edit and get it out and make sure everything was right or send it back for re-writes. If it came to it, Julie could send my scripts out without editing them, knowing he could fix the copy problems, whatever few there might be, when the job came back for lettering. I assume that’s because no one’s ever had to worry about it, having to go back when it came in. My work was always ready to go out that day.
SLIFER: What do you perceive as the worst flaw in the industry as it stands today?
WEIN: Most of the people in it shouldn’t be in it. Most of the writers and artists in the business today suffer from having grown up on the comic books. I think the big difference between comic book creators today — I won’t even use the word “professionals,” because up to and including myself most of them aren’t professional — is that they grew up on comic books, that they developed their own views and opinions and images of what comics should be, how the characters should act and react. Now, rather than doing their job, being professionals — “you’re paid to write this” — they’re fulfilling all the fantasies they had as kids about how they would do the comics when they got a chance to do comics.
Unfortunately, that carries over to some of the editors who should be the people telling them, “No, that’s a nice fannish idea. Bad professional idea. Don’t do that story.” And the industry’s suffering from that. It’s group masturbation. Most of the readership isn’t interested in the things the writers and artists are doing today. My whole opinion of comics fandom — too many people in the business are catering to the comics fans, not to the comics readers. They’re doing their work solely for them. There were several artists, until recently, and I won’t mention names because it’s really no one’s business, who were not doing their artwork for the printed story. They were throwing Zip-A-Tone and grays on the artwork that made it impossible to reproduce well, solely so that the originals would be more valuable to sell later on. They were doing their work for black and white, not for color. Same thing with many of the writers. There’s a storyline currently going on in one of the Marvel books — it’s taken three issues to explain character elements that have been explained before, and it really warranted maybe a page, if that. Three issues — an absurd amount — to fulfill someone’s wet dream. And that’s what’s happening. Most of the books aren’t interesting to the readership. They’re interesting to the other people producing them. And you can’t sustain an industry that way.
SLIFER: The recent change in the copyright laws made it necessary for Marvel and DC to initiate work-for-hire contracts. What is your position on those contracts?
WEIN: I prefer the DC contract, certainly. I have no compunctions about doing work-for-hire. I have to admit also that one of the reasons I did come back to DC is some of the little side-deals they give. Any new character you create that gets used in any sort of merchandising fashion, you collect a piece of the action. Paul Levitz is a perfect case. He created the Huntress for the JSA. She appeared in that abomination they did on NBC several months back, and Paul collected a comfortable piece of change for doing nothing on that project, but for simply creating the character. That helps. I have no compunctions about selling my work-for-hire. If I want to keep the copyright I’ll do Gideon Faust, I’ll work for Heavy Metal, or I’ll work for Mike Friedrich, or I’ll work for a number of the new places opening up where I can retain my copyright and my rights to the characters I create. When I take on a job, I know up-front what I’m doing. Yes, it’s work-for-hire, yes, I’m giving away all my rights, yes, they’ve given me this much money, and I feel it’s a fair recompense for the time and effort I spend. And I don’t cry any sour grapes over it. If I don’t want to create something to give away I won’t. I have that capacity.
I don’t like the Marvel contract simply because it claims everything I’ll do in the future. I don’t mind signing for job by job, but to say they’ll own something I’ll do 25 years from now, and in essence, that’s what it does say, that’s inhuman! I’m not going to give away the right of my first-born child on the off chance that someday he’ll be used in one of the books. I won’t sign for Marvel on that basis if I can avoid it, and I’ve been able to avoid it thus far. DC’s contract is very civil. It says simply that the job you’re handing in today is ours. Here’s your money, have a good time. We thank you for your efforts, we’ve paid you for your efforts, go away. Marvel says next Thursday when you show up, we want that, too.
SLIFER: I understand that, at DC, if you create a new title for them, it’s not under the same work-for-hire contract as if you do a Wonder Woman story…
WEIN: No, there’s a difference. You get paid for creating a new book twice as much plus an extra fee. They give you a prettier penny for the effort of creating a first issue. Again, if you create Cumquat Man and six months from now, they do Cumquat Man bop-bags, you get a piece of the Cumquat money.
SLIFER: DC, then, is more sensitive to the creator.
WEIN: Yes, they are. They’re doing their best. They do not deny what they are, but they’re trying very hard to be a little more civilized about it.
SLIFER: Do you perceive differences in fans entering the field now as contrasted to fans entering the field when you entered the field? How do you think they differ from your generation of new pros?
WEIN: I think the big difference is that we were the first of our kind, God help us. As I said, it had been 10 years since anybody else had really come into the business. We were awe-struck. We were in the hallowed halls, the Great Golden Temple. There were all the people that we’d grown up reading. There was a sense of awe and destiny. The new fans coming into the business today come in with a sense of arrogance. They feel they know much more than anybody in the business today and next week, when they’re in charge of everything, they’ll show us. And I believe that carries over into their work. As I’ve said earlier, they’re too busy fulfilling their fannish dreams to understand what to do as professionals.
The new writers, anybody who’s come into the business in the past two years as a writer, has not had the experience that I did, and Marv and Roy, in learning how to write. Sitting down there with those House of Mystery stories, learning structure, learning character, learning pacing and phraseology and dialogue. At least getting the basics down. People come in today and their very first assignment is Spider-Man! When I took over Team-Up, which was a third-string Spider-Man book, I was awed that I had such responsibility to make sure that character still sounded like Spider-Man. Nobody gives a shit anymore. Nobody really cares. Everything is interchangeable. It’s like a big white jigsaw puzzle where any two pieces fit together in any order and it makes no difference how you put them together because you’re not going to get a product that looks like anything except a big blank expanse when you’re done. I resent it. I don’t resent them coming in and bumping us “old-timers,” God help me. I resent them coming in and doing it without learning how before they try. And I think that’s going to spell the doom of this industry if they don’t learn soon.
SLIFER: How do you think people these days can come in with that arrogance and retain it?
WEIN: To coin a cliche, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Most of the people coming in today are not coming in to meet Joe Orlando or Dick Giordano or Roy Thomas for the first time. They’re coming in as a writer because Fred, their best friend, is an assistant editor at Bonzo, and says, “Hey, why don’t you try an issue of Hockey Puck Man? And so they figure they have an in, they come in confident that their stuff is sold because they’re selling to their friends, their buddies who are in charge now. Most of those buddies shouldn’t be in charge. I don’t think that 75 percent of the editors in this industry should be editors. I really don’t believe they’re qualified. They didn’t have the training. Seventy-five percent of the editors in this business should not be there. I may even be generous at that; there may be more than 75 percent. There are those who know what they’re doing, but most editors today are not training their writers and artists because they themselves have not trained. It’s like, literally, taking the chick an hour and a half out of the egg and tossing him out of the nest, and saying, “Fly, sucker, before you hit the ground, you’ve got no option.”
SLIFER: Getting back to the direct influence you have on the business, I’m curious to know what you like about what you’re currently doing. Why do you like the current series you’re working on? Why do you like Superman, for example?
WEIN: I’m not sure I do like Superman. I’m still feeling my way around on that book. I’ve done eight issues so far and I have no idea which way is up. The character intimidates me. I must admit the fact that he appears in 197,000 other titles limits what I can do with the character. It’s like being assigned to write the Brand New Testament. Here he is, this is God, this is the man who started it all, here’s what it’s all about. Go out there and tell us something new! Huh? That’s the problem. I find what I’m doing is retreating. Much of what I’m trying to get into the book is not progressing as Marty Pasko had done when he moved the relationships ahead. I think that may have been a terrible mistake. I think, like all great myths, Superman has to be familiar. The basis must remain constant. I’m trying to get back to the kind of complexity — the Superman comics I grew up on, the books Mort Weisinger did that sold so well, and nothing we’ve done since has ever really matched up to it. I’m dying to see what reader reaction is to that.
SLIFER: Have you been influenced on the Superman strip at all by the Superman movie?
WEIN: Only in terms of inspiration. Every time I feel like it’s time to quit, that I’m doing a dreadful job, I go see the movie, and go, “Nah! It’s worth it. I’ll stick.”
SLIFER: Has there been any pressure at DC to get you to emulate any elements of the film?
WEIN: None whatsoever. We’ve all been zealously opposed to suddenly finding Jor-El white-haired and talking with a Brooklyn lisp. I’m not changing anything to suit the film.
SLIFER: I’ve noticed the World of Krypton series that spotlights Jor-El, which might be considered a subtle tie-in with the movie.
WEIN: Well, that’s the company. It’s not me specifically. And I don’t think it’s a bad idea. The World of Krypton stuff will make it a lot easier for me to write Superman. It gives me a viable reference work for the backdrop. I think the only big change we’ve made is to put Clark back, part-time, at the Daily Planet, which I thought he never should have left. I think you can’t update a myth. It’s like deciding to write Tarzan today and go, “No, the jungle’s a stupid idea. I think I’ll put him in Cleveland.” You can’t do it, I think, even as good as Julie’s intentions were, he should have left them in the past. It was trying to do something new for the sake of doing something new. I don’t think it was really thought through. I’m glad to find him back at the Planet. I don’t mind using the TV, but to discount the Daily Planet was absolutely wrong. For one thing, it separated him from his supporting cast: Perry White and Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane were all still working for the Planet. He’s working for WGBS. It was a terrible mistake.
SLIFER: How about Batman? How do you feel toward him?
WEIN: Batman I’ve always liked because Batman was the hero we could all grow up to be. We couldn’t grow up to be Superman. We weren’t born on Krypton. We’d blown it from the word go. Yes, next Thursday your mom and dad can be walking on the street with you and get blown away. Twenty years from now you can be The Batman. [Laughter.] You can grow up to be a psycho, you can grow up to fight crime and injustice. There was hope. That’s why I never understood Robin. He was your age, he was already Robin. You’ve blown it again. But, you could grow up to be The Batman. He was human. He had the sense of omnipotence, about losing the humanity that everyone would like to have. He knew what he was doing. He was cool. That’s why I’ve always been able to plot The Batman a year and a half ahead. I’ve got a sense of the character. I know where he’s going, who he’s involved with. I think it’s also a lot easier. Superman, in 40 years, has had everything done with him. Batman, in 40 years, has had nothing done with him. The strip today is very much the same as it was 40 years ago. The same three or four supporting players, and none of them have really been delved into in great detail. How much more about Alfred do you know today than you knew in 1938? How much more do you know about Commissioner Gordon? It’s one of the reasons I’ve introduced new supporting players — Lucius Fox and his family, and Gregorian Falstaff — designed to be there for a long, long time, hopefully forever.
Batman is the last great American legend that still has all kinds of blind spots that need to be filled in. I’ve got an Alfred story and a Commissioner Gordon story in the works that will develop as soon as I finish off the sub plots I’ve got working now.
SLIFER: You’re also doing the Human Target series.
WEIN: The Human Target, yes. I’m an old detective fan. He’s an old character I created subconsciously back in my fanzine days. I discovered in later years that I had been influenced by an issue of Gangbusters I read as a kid and did not remember. Years later I remember dreaming about a specific story and I had it in my head. I searched for years to find out if the story had ever seen print, could find nothing, assumed that I’d dreamed it. When I got into the business DC was looking for a detective character, I submitted Johnny Double, the Human Target. Double — he doubles for people. Dick [Giordano] at the time was not interested in the Human Target concept but was real interested in a detective, so Johnny Double showed up as a regular detective.
Several years later, when they were revamping Action — Julie Schwartz had just taken it back from Murray Boltinoff — they were looking for a backup feature. Carmine wanted to try something different, Carmine, too, was an old detective fan. So, I stood in Julie Schwartz’s office and said, “Well, how about The Human Target? It’s about a guy who gets hired to stand in for other people who are marked for murder hoping he can catch the killer before the killer catches him.” Julie said, “I’ll be back in two minutes,” walks out of the office, into Carmine’s office, repeats the story, comes back, and says, “Let’s start on the plot.” Carmine bought it right then and there. We decided to do the series. We didn’t have an artist. I went out one evening with some friends to a place called Friar Tuck’s, a little restaurant across the street from DC. My friends left, and I was about to leave myself when in came Carmine by himself. He saw me, sat down, we had a couple of drinks, talked, and just discussed things. He was the publisher at the time, and it was nice of him to sit here with one of his lackeys. And he was bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t really happy with what he was doing, that he missed drawing. And I said to him, just in conversation, “Well, if you had your chance to draw something, what would you like to draw?” He said, “Well, gee, I’d like to do a detective strip.” I said, “Do you remember the idea you liked so much last week?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, the Target thing,” and I said, “Why don’t you draw that?” He said, “Nah, they’d laugh at my stuff, it would be terrible, I haven’t drawn in years …” Three drinks later I convinced Carmine that it would be a wonderful idea to draw The Human Target, talked him into it, and managed to embarrass him to the point where he couldn’t back out. I showed up bright and early the next morning with a pad and pencil in hand and said, “Let’s start working on the character.”
I wouldn’t give him the chance to change his mind. He ended up doing his first penciling job in many years, and penciled the first Target, Dick [Giordano] did the finishes, and Carmine didn’t take a penny. He didn’t get paid for it. Dick got paid for the entire job. Carmine wouldn’t accept money. But, that was the first job he’d done in years. And well after the strip was in the works they did find that old Gangbusters where the original story had appeared. So, I owe a debt to whoever had written that early Gangbusters story.
SLIFER: Are you doing any other strips currently?
WEIN: Plastic Man. He’s one of my all-time favorite characters. I’ve never understood exactly why I liked him. I just thought it was enjoyable, it was flamboyant. Woozy Winks reminded me of someone I knew. It was just a great strip. I felt all the revivals to date were not as good as the old stuff Jack Cole did. They all missed the point of the strip. I’ve decided to go back to the original. The stuff I’m doing now with Joe Staton and Bob Smith looks like the original Plas. I’ve eliminated all the new characters. Woozy is back in his floater, in that old straw hat of his. We’re going back on the assumption that everything after 1947 didn’t happen. Right back to the original Plastic Man. It’ll take a few issues, I think, for me to get into the feeling and try to capture as much of Cole as I can. I’ll never be able to duplicate him. He was a genius. What he did was uniquely his own. But I’d like to think I have a better handle on what makes the strip work than everyone else has to date. Everyone else has always played it, in the revivals, as a comedy strip. It is but it isn’t. These Plas stories mingle. I’m playing them completely straight, all things considered. They’re twisted, all things are sort of on a diagonal, but the basic plot, if you dissect all of the insanity going on, could be a Batman plot, and I think that’s what will make it work. Everyone’s crazy. The whole concept of Plastic Man has been he’s the most ludicrous character in the world, but he’s straight. He plays everything dead serious. All the people who should be normal around him are all crazy. And that’s what makes the strip work.
SLIFER: Let’s get more general about your likes. What is it that you like about comic books as a whole?
WEIN: I have to admit that they were a good, close friend in my formative years. They’re the last great fairy tales. I had a vivid imagination, obviously, or I wouldn’t be in the business. They’re a great place to do anything my imagination can conjure. Or do whatever I want. It’s a chance to communicate. I’ve stated repeatedly that I’ve never really written for the money. It’s nice to get it. I’ve never turned down a check, but I write mostly to write, so people can read what I’ve written so that the story can get out there, good, bad, or indifferent. When I did the short Swamp Thing story and people told me they cried, that was the real payment. The money I got had nothing to do with it because I had touched somebody. I went out there and reached another human being I’d never seen before, and that’s what it’s all about.