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GK: How daunting of a task was it writing The Avengers for five years?

RS: The hardest part was keeping ahead of shifting deadlines, and hanging onto my cast. At one point, I was almost as ahead of schedule with Avengers as I’d been with Amazing Spider-Man, but then the West Coast Avengers debacle set me back several months.

GK: Was the hardest part working with an ensemble or trying to conjure an interesting villain for them?

RS: Neither, actually. I’d already been working with ensemble casts in all of my other assignments. The difference with the Avengers was that the entire cast was made up of super-heroes. Villains could be a challenge, as the Avengers really had only – what? – Kang and Ultron to call their own. But I could assemble small armies to give them a hard time.

The trick was in figuring out which Avengers I could use. Three of them – Cap, Iron Man, and Thor – had their own books and would be unavailable for long stretches of time. Others would be pulled away for months at a time into miniseries. Keeping the right mix of characters was the biggest challenge, but after a while I managed to develop a pretty good working repertory company of heroes.

GK: For the most part you worked with Milgrom and John Buscema on Avengers; what were they like to work with?

RS: It was fun and frustrating in both cases. Al was always a great idea man, but he was often drawing another book, as well as pulling down a day job as an editor. Because of time constraints, we never got to really collaborate as much as I would have liked. When John Buscema came back to The Avengers, he turned in full pencils for the first issue, and they were magnificent. The only problem in working with John, is that his heart was never really in drawing super-heroes. Try as I might, I could never get him as interested in The Avengers as he was in Conan.

GK: You also wrote the original West Coast Avengers miniseries; was this based on a pitch?

RS: No, I came up with WCA at a weekend convention in Rome, Georgia, that I attended with Mark Gruenwald. Gruenie wanted me to come up with a miniseries, and I wanted to nail down some of the non-active Avengers. There were a couple dozen Avengers or former Avengers at the time, and I had tried to limit the number of active members in any given issue, just to avoid writing crowd-scene comics. I had plans for most of the characters who didn’t have their own books, but every time I turned around, another writer was glomming onto one or more of them for a miniseries, often for someone other than The Avengers editor.

The West Coast Avengers was my solution to that. The original plan was to establish a second branch of the team in California. And once the miniseries was over, I’d have the members of both branches to draw on for stories. I could assemble teams of select Avengers for whatever wild challenge I could concoct. It was never supposed to spin off into its own monthly title. But, it sold very well, and the next thing I knew...

GK: Why didn't you write it when it earned a series?

RS: I was never given a choice in the matter. Steve Englehart had been lured back to Marvel, and there was obviously some interest in having him write a series that would recapture what he’d done with The Avengers in the ’70s. The first I heard about the West Coast Avengers series, it was already a done deal. So, I went from having all of these characters lined up to completely losing control of half of them. I had to scrap plans for at least a year’s worth of stories. It took me months to get caught back up.

I remember, when John (Byrne) later wound up writing both series, he told me that he intended to mix and match Avengers as the need arose. I couldn’t believe it. I said, "That was my plan, but they wouldn’t let me do it!"

GK: What made your Doctor Strange tick? Did you do some research of the occult for it?

This splash page by Michael Golden and Terry Austin is from the classic "To Have Loved...And Lost!" which was originally presented in Doctor Strange #55. Throughout his career, Roger’s work has always been graced by the finest artists comics have had to offer. This issue was no exception.

Click on image to open up in larger panel!

RS: A little, but not too much. I crossed paths with a few people in the city who were into the "occult scene" as it was at the time. Nice people, for the most part, but I couldn’t write the book just for them. You have to realize that studying the occult is like studying religion and mythology. There’s some interesting stuff there, but a lot of it is contradictory.

No, Stan and Steve had come up with their own take on sorcery, and in my opinion, it was much more interesting that anything you’d find in the Necronomicon. More convincing, too. I did my best to follow their lead.

GK: Strange also seemed to benefit from some of the humor you injected into the title; would that be fair to say?

RS: Oh, there’s always room for humor. The trick is to make sure it’s the right amount and the proper kind of humor for the character. I didn’t use a Spider-Man type of gag, for instance, with Doc. Or give a Wasp bon mot to Captain America.

GK: You loosened the character up a little and gave him a real love life with Morgana Blessing. You even had Strange interact more with the common folk instead of mystics.

Partly, that was my own little back-to-the-basics approach. The early Doc stories had him standing between normal people and the forces of the beyond. There was an unfortunate tendency in writers to let the weird stuff take over in Doc. But if everything in the series is weird, and everyone is a mystic, then nothing is special anymore.

Morgana Blessing was the sort of woman that Doc would have had a relationship with, in his previous career as a high-priced surgeon. She was the Earthly love, in contrast with the ethereal, extradimensional Clea. All the regular readers loved Clea, of course, but the relationship she and Doc had was not exactly an enlightened one. If Clea had just been Doc’s lover that would have been okay, but she’d also become his student, his disciple. It was a case of "I love you, Clea." "And I love you, Master." And not in a sweet, innocent, "I Dream of Jeannie" way, either. Not a healthy relationship...not healthy at all.

Frank Miller and I had several long conversations about that during the five minutes or so when he almost became the regular penciler on DOC. I gave that a lot of thought, and that led to the story arc Marshall Rogers wound up drawing – the one that started by introducing Morgana and culminated with Clea leaving Earth.

GK: Why do you think other writers have had such a tough time writing Doctor Strange? He's had more titles canceled than Man-Thing, and yet he seems like such a terrific character.

RS: He is a terrific character. I don’t know why other writers have had problems. I enjoyed my tenure on Doc a great deal, despite the shifting art teams. It’s a series that I could see writing again, if I had the right artist and editor.

GK: Again on Doctor Strange you also worked with some fantastic artists (Paul Smith, Michael Golden, Dan Green, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, etc...) and delivered some terrific issues; were there any standouts for you?

RS: Michael’s post-Clea story was definitely a favorite. It just flowed. I wish we could have done more, but he couldn’t keep up with the deadlines.

The arc with Marshall took an issue or two to get started, but I think it paid off well in the end. It was designed to be collected in a trade paperback, by the way, but it never was – at least not in North America. Marvel could still get a good collection out of that arc. In fact, you could bookend it with the five-page story I did with Michael and Craig Russell [for Doc #46] as the prologue and issue #55 as the epilogue.

The "Destroy All Vampires" story [issue #58-62] was another favorite. I wish that Dan Green had been able to pencil the entire arc, but he was becoming very much in demand as an inker on X-Men around that time, and poor ol’ DOC couldn’t compete with those royalties. Still, Steve Leialoha jumped in and wrapped things up nicely.

And then, there were Smitty’s issues. Geez, those were fun to write. I remember, when I wrote the plot for "The Chosen One" [Doc #66], I asked him to draw a mysterious Asian archer. This was when ninjas were all the rage, and I asked that the archer be dressed in western clothing, "not a ninja." And Paul said, "Thank you, so much!" We were both pretty tired of ninjas by that point.

There were also a few one-issue stories that come to mind – Kevin Nowlan’s first story, another story with Leialoha, and one by Bret Blevins. Nice. Every artist brought something different to the table, but I liked ’em all, really.

GK: Of all your work, the one that really stands out for me is Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment. What was your interest in doing this story? (I think you even dropped a hint of it in Doctor Strange #57 with Doom's appearance.) How long was this story brewing? And how long did it take to get completed?

RS: I think that story was something like seven years in the making. After the success of the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel, Marvel was soliciting ideas for more stories in that format. I came up with a list of four or five possible plots, and the story that became Triumph and Torment was the one that Jim [Shooter] liked best. Once it was approved, the only problems were finding the time to write it and finding the right artist for the job. As I’ve mentioned, Marvel’s deadlines were changing faster than anyone could keep up with. Every time I thought I’d be able to get started on the graphic novel, the deadline for one of my regular assignments was moved up. It was an insane time.

I also kept looking for a time and place where the story would fit in with Marvel’s ongoing Universe. John [Byrne] had a major Doctor Doom storyline going on for a while, and I set work on the plot aside for many months while that he was working that out. It wasn’t until I was fired from the Avengers that I decided, to hell with it. I’m going to break down the plot for this sucker and give Marvel the best damn Doctor Strange story they’ve ever seen. Once that was done, I asked for Ralph Macchio to be the editor – and I believe he lined up Mike Mignola for the book. And Mike suggested Mark Badger for the inks and coloring.

But from selling Marvel on the idea to actually producing the story – yeah, it had to be seven years. Good call on Doom’s appearance in issue #57, by the way. That was meant to be a teaser for the graphic novel.

GK: It's such a perfect story; what was some of the inspiration for it?

RS: Aside from the original Lee & Kirby stories, of course, a lot of the inspiration came from a short Doom story that Gerry Conway and Gene Colan did for Astonishing Tales in the early ’70s. The crux of their story was that every midsummer night’s eve, Doom would challenge the lord of the underworld for the soul of his mother...and he’d been doing this for decades. I remember reading that when it came out and thinking, "What a great little story." I also remember thinking that an adventure where Doom took the fight into the underworld would make a great sequel. I just never suspected that I’d be the one to wind up writing it.

GK: Do you have fond memories of this book? All the trouble Doom goes through to reclaim his mother's soul; in a strange way this story gives Doom closure to whatever good was left inside.

His first graphic novel, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment was released as hardcover by Marvel Comics in 1989. The sadly out-of-print tome contains an essential Dr. Strange story that was illustrated by Mike Mignola and Mark Badger.
RS: There was closure for Doom; that was the whole point of the story. I always thought that a graphic novel should have some real impact on the characters’ lives, that it should be more than just a big fancy comic book. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The story was important for Doom – and for Strange. Events forced Stephen to reassess his opinions of Doom.

I had a good time writing the story. It was my biggest project at the time, and the first work of mine to be printed in hardcover. And I got to work with Mike Mignola. Damn, he’s good. He’s also a great raconteur. If you ever get a chance, get Mike to tell you the story about his "Lord of the Flies" Boy Scout troop.

GK: All right, how did you end up at DC? Were you a little disillusioned with Marvel after a while?

RS: I wound up at DC because I was fired from the Avengers and no Marvel editor was returning my calls.

No, I take that back, I did get one call. Jim Salicrup had become the editor of the Spider-Man titles and he called me up and offered me work on Spectacular Spider-Man. But this was right after Spider-Man – well, Peter Parker – had gotten married to Mary Jane Watson, which I thought was a huge mistake for both characters. So I thanked Jim and asked him to give me a call if and when that fell apart.

But I wasn’t disillusioned with Marvel, so much as I was disappointed in the place. I’d been working steadily for them for nearly twelve years, turning out stories that I thought were pretty good. The readership seemed to agree, and I’d never gotten any complaints from any of my editors. But then, suddenly, it was all over.

I’d disagreed with one editorial suggestion about the Avengers line-up. My editor wanted a change that I thought distasteful, and I sent him a memo to that effect. I would have liked to have discussed the matter further, but I was never given a chance. Instead, I received a message that I was fired.

And then, I discovered that my exclusive Marvel contract was pretty much worthless. Thanks to some wording in the fine print, I was required to deliver so many pages of material to Marvel in a given time, but Marvel wasn’t required to give me any assignments. An interesting Catch-22. Fortunately, the contract also had an escape clause, so I exercised it and went calling on Mike Carlin, who by that time had landed at DC.

GK: Was there some adjusting you personally had to do to write at DC?

RS: Not a lot. There were different characters, but I’d grown up with most of them. And I’d worked with Mike before at Marvel. We just sort of picked up where we’d left off – except that now we were working together on Superman, instead of the Fantastic Four.

One of the first things I wrote for Mike was a Superman Annual. I still remember writing out that plot. I started to type "Cut to Clark Kent in the city room of the Daily Bugle" - I’m pretty sure my finger was poised over the B-key - and I stopped myself. I looked at the screen for a moment and then I typed "Planet..." And I got a chill. I had already broken down an earlier scene featuring Superman. But it wasn’t until I had Clark in the city room of the Daily Planet that it sank in - I was really writing a Superman story. Wow.

The biggest adjustment? Well, DC was big on proposals at the time, but I actually enjoyed writing those. I used to joke that the proposal stage was the biggest difference between working at Marvel and working at DC.

At Marvel an editor would ask, "How would you like to write Captain Potato Salad?" And if you said you’d like that, he (or she) would say, "Great! The plot was due two months ago. Where is it?"

Whereas, at DC an editor would ask, "How would you like to write Potato-Salad Man?" And if you said you’d like to, he (or she) would say, "Great! Write up a proposal." You’d do that...the proposal would reviewed...maybe you’d get together for a meeting or two...write an addendum to the proposal incorporating the editor’s suggestions...and then it would finally be approved. And at that point, you’d be told, "The plot was due two months ago. Where is it?"

Of course, since then, Marvel has started asking for proposals, too.

GK: Can you share a little insight how working the Superman titles was like with the heavy editorial direction they seem to be under? Was there room to write and be creative in that structure when so many writers are essentially trying to tell one story?

RS: Oh, sure, of course. I wouldn’t have stayed with the series so long, if there hadn’t been. Now, it helped that we started off with two titles, and slowly expanded to three and then four...eventually four-and-a-quarter(ly). But it was no harder than working for Marvel Comics. I used to think that, at the time, Mike Carlin was editing the best Marvel Comics around – they just happened to star Superman and have a big DC up in the corner of the cover.

One of the things that made the Superman titles work so well together were the annual Super-Summits. Mike would bring us all together in a room somewhere – often a room with no windows – and we would toss ideas back and forth for a couple of days. Mike would cover one wall with paper, and as the stories came together, he’d literally outline the next year’s worth of stories. Then we’d all get copies of the outline, and copies of each others’ work in progress. It worked pretty well for a quite a number of years.

GK: Was it a creative high working on the "Death of Superman" and all the storylines that followed them with all the media attention and sales they received?

RS: Well, sure. Once the Death storyline started getting media attention, DC finally started promoting the books. And then, they started collecting some of the previous story arcs that we’d worked so hard to produce.

You know, I still run into people who think that the "Death of Superman" was part of some marketing scheme, but that was far from being the case. The whole thing was story driven. And it was a story we came up with at a Super-Summit because management didn’t want us to marry Clark and Lois ...just then.

We all showed up at the meeting, ready to plot out a wedding for Superman #75. What we didn’t know until then was that another division of Warner Brothers had gotten the green light from ABC to produce the Lois & Clark television series. They didn’t mind us having Lois and Clark marry, as long as they got to stage the wedding on TV before we married them in the comics.

So we decided to kill Superman. Actually, it started with a jest – Jerry Ordway’s, I think – that "We could always kill him." It all grew from there. But, geez, I could go on for another fifty pages about how the story grew, and it’s all been covered in print dozens of times already.

Marketing scheme. Yeah, right. We’d been trying to get DC’s marketing people to promote the Superman books for years. They’d promote the dickens out of Batman, but Superman? It was as though they didn’t know the character existed. Thank heavens for Martha Thomases. She’d just started working at DC around that time, and she didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to promote the company’s most famous character. She put the word out to the media and – BOOM!

Of course, if something big had happened – if George Bush (the elder) had barricaded himself in the White House and said, "I don’t care if Clinton wins, I’m not coming out!" – the news about Superman would have been buried on Page 64 and no one would have noticed. But the news releases happened to hit on a slow news week, and everyone noticed!

In fact, there was an amusing bit of fallout from the "Death of Superman." The week that the news media woke up to the story, there was a full-page ad in People magazine – for Energizer batteries, I think. It showed a big dramatic shot of Superman with the caption, "Runs Like He’s On Energizers." Well, when the agency for the battery people heard that Superman was dying, they weren’t all that thrilled. And when the merchandising people came down to yell at Mike, he pulled out his copy of the interoffice memo that they had signed off on a few months before, the memo about the impending "Death of Superman" storyline.

I guess everyone started paying more attention after that.

GK: When you reflect on your Superman work was it all you wanted it to be? And was it fun being the writer who wrote Superman's obituary, destroyed the Daily Planet, revealed Clark's identity to Lois Lane, did part of the wedding ceremony, worked on Reign of the Supermen, etc...I mean Superman went through a lot of character development during those years.

"Swan Song" featured in Action Comics #700 by Stern, Jackson Guice, Denis Rodier, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. After one-hundred issues on the title, Roger leaves the party by marrying Pete Ross to Lana Lang, while also wreaking the landmark Daily Planet building in the process.
RS: That he did. It was an exciting ten years, and I was lucky enough to have a big part in all of it. It was always a thrill to work on Superman. Remember, I’d grown up with Superman, starting with the George Reeves television series. It felt good, like I was giving something back. When I received a fan letter from a seven-year-old on my first issue of SUPERMAN, I knew I was doing it right. And when Curt Swan called to tell me how much he enjoyed the scripts I was writing for him (for Action Comics Weekly)...wow! "Sell my clothes, I’m goin’ to heaven!"

By the way, I wrote the entire wedding ceremony. The last twenty pages of the Wedding story – everything from the rehearsal dinner to the ceremony – was mine. Literally, in the case of the ceremony. It was based on the vows that my wife Carmela [Merlo] and I wrote for our wedding. I figured that if it was good enough for us, it was good enough for Clark and Lois.

GK: You also wrote The Death and Life of Superman novel; how did you get that assignment?

RS: I got that assignment at Mike’s suggestion. The "Death of Superman" had gotten so much public attention that Bantam Books became interested in publishing a novelization. And Mike suggested that, instead of bringing in a novelist from outside, I should write it. Made sense, I suppose. The story was still ongoing, and it would have taken too long to bring an outside writer up to speed. And not knowing what I was getting myself into, I agreed to write the book...only half expecting that the deal would go through.

Well, the next thing I knew, I’d received a contract and discovered that I had about four months to adapt the story – a story which we still hadn’t finished, mind you! And at the time, the only prose I’d written was a handful of short stories. But, I’d given my word, so I jumped into the deep end and started swimming. Luckily, I was adapting work I was familiar with, but there were a lot of scenes I had to subtly change and re-pace to make them work in a different medium. Some scenes had to be dropped. And I came up with a number of new scenes to introduce characters for a non-comics-reading audience.

Oh, and I would occasionally have to take a week off to write an issue of Action Comics so I would have something to adapt later. That was the only thing I could stop for because Bantam wanted the book to go on sale at the same time as Superman # 82.

Towards the end, I was getting by on five to six hours of sleep a night. May and June of 1993 are a complete blur to me. But somehow, I got it done. Carmela helped keep me sane. She maintained a timeline of everything that was happening to all of the characters in the story, helped run down research, and proofread everything at least once before it even left the house.

Charlie Kochman was my editor on The Death & Life of Superman. He’d just started working at DC in the Licensed Projects department. Charlie had a background in book publishing and was able to guide me through the process with a minimum of pain. I remember, at one point, Charlie saying, "I think we owe you a Spring." I’m not sure what my reply was; probably not very coherent, whatever it was.

According to Carmela’s journal, we finished going over the final galleys of the story at about three in the morning on July 15th, then packaged them up and put the package out for the special overnight courier to pick up. We were too wired to sleep, so we went to an all-night diner and had scrambled eggs. It was just us, the counter people, the cook, and three cops who’d stopped in for pie and coffee.

As it turned out, the courier got lost and didn’t pick up the package until 6:30. But the galleys did get to Charlie that day. And the book went on sale August 25th – right when it was supposed to. It was pretty successful, too. Got me on the New York Times bestseller list.

GK: Once you started writing prose, was this something you wanted to do more of?

RS: Not at first. In fact, after I was finished, I took several months off. By that point, I really needed the break. It wasn’t until Smallville that I started to seriously consider writing more novels.

GK: How did you end up writing the Smallville novel, and was your previous experience on Superman an asset?

RS: I suppose the fact that I’d written a much longer book under battlefield conditions – and that it had been well received – made me a logical candidate. Smallville: Strange Visitors was the first of a planned series of original novels, based on the characters from the WB television series, and Warner Books wanted to get it off to a strong start.

But I really wrote the Smallville novel because Steve Korté asked me to. (Steve is another of those behind-the-scenes DC editors you probably don’t know about – unless you read the acknowledgments in my books.) I was a little reluctant at first, because I still had memories of the crazy deadlines of nine years before. But Steve was persistent, and comics work had pretty much dried up, so I finally said yes.

And I was glad I did. I got into the show, and it became a really fun assignment. I taped every episode and played those tapes over and over until I got the rhythms of the actors’ voices down.

I just wish the book had been better promoted. It was the first of a series, after all. If Warner Books had spent a little money and effort on marketing, they could have had a bestseller on their hands, and a real evergreen series. I mean, look at all of those Star Trek novels! There’s a line of books based on the characters from every single Trek series; in some bookstores they practically have their own wall!

GK: What led you to writing Legionnaires?

"The Better Part of Valor" featured in Legionaries #56 by Stern, Tom McGraw, Todd Nanuck, and Pamela Ekland. Behind the scenes, Rog’s wife would often help by contributing plot and story ideas to this title.
RS: It’s all Tom Peyer’s fault. He was writing both Legion books at the time, and he was looking for someone to take over one of them. Tom treated Carmela and me to a great lunch at a place on the northside of Syracuse called Zebb’s. I think it may actually be in Mattydale, New York. Whatever, the food is great; I recommend it if you’re ever up that way.

Okay, there are two things you have to know about Peyer. The first is that he was my youthful protégé. Tom had helped me out on a deadline crunch years before, and I had sort of helped him get his foot in the door at DC. The second is that he can be very persuasive.

So there we were at Zebb’s, enjoying our burgers, and Tom started to reel me in: I could have my pick of the titles – Legion of Super-Heroes or Legionnaires. All of the artists were great. KC Carlson was the editor and a good guy to work with. The story conferences were fun. Tom McCraw – who was not only the colorist but also the co-plotter for both books – kept track of everyone’s ideas, and every month he would deliver a plot springboard for each title. McCraw knew everything there was to know about Legion history, and was great to work with; if you used his ideas he was happy, and if you didn’t, he was philosophical and never let it get in the way. It was an all-around good team and if I joined, we’d be working together again. Here, have some more fries.

At the time, my only regular assignment was Superman: Man of Tomorrow, which was published four times a year (at the most). I was writing an annual or two and an occasional special project, but mainly I was waiting to hear back from editors about some proposals I had written. I liked the Legion – I’d read some of the earliest stories as a boy, and I’d even helped Jim Shooter plot his last two stories back in ’76 – and I’d always enjoyed working with Tom. And since the Legion books had been relaunched after the Zero Hour miniseries, we had a relatively clean slate. I decided, okay, why not?

As it turned out, everything Peyer had said was true. It was a good team. And it gave us all an excuse to gab incessantly on the phone. AT&T should have given us "Frequent Caller" minutes.

But, you know, I was never completely satisfied with my Legion work. For one thing, there were just too damn many characters. That was the major philosophical difference I had with the rest of the guys. I wanted to limit the number of Legionnaires in the stories. I felt there were already too many super-heroes packed into each story; there was no room to develop them. But everyone else seemed determined to introduce even more heroes. It was unwieldy and was becoming more frustrating with every issue.

GK: In what way did your wife, Carmela, help out in you writing Legionnaires?

RS: As I recall, Carmela first started to help out with the Mantis Morlo issue [Legionnaires #45]; Tom McCraw’s springboard for that story was even more densely packed than usual. Now, Carmela is very good at organizing complex information, so when she offered to read Tom’s outline, I was happy to let her.

Carmela, why don’t you explain what happened next?

CARMELA MERLO: Hello, George. Here is what I remember...

After I drew up a timeline of all of the plot threads for issue #45, it was easy to see that there were too many beginnings and middles and not enough endings. Of the eight plot threads, only one, the election of a new leader for the Legion, was going to be resolved that issue. There were two cliffhangers: one of the on-going storylines, and the Mantis Morlo storyline, where he and his minions ambush a Legion Away Team. I suggested rearranging several of the subplots so that they interlocked better, and turning the Away Team’s cliffhanger into a same-issue victory; I thought of a way for the Legionnaires to hand Mantis Morlo a quick defeat.

All good ideas, Roger and Tom Peyer agreed. But Roger was really pressed for time that month, so he asked if Tom was interested in writing the plot. And Tom said, thanks for the offer, but he, too, was a full plate that month. By then, I was really fond of that story, so I volunteered to expand the revised springboard into a rough draft of a full plot. It was scary and challenging but great fun. Roger still had to do a lot of work to turn my rough draft into a finished plot, but he assured me that I’d been a big help.

RS: Well, she was.

CS: And that’s how it began. There were always so many plotlines and so many characters, that this became part of my routine. Most months, I’d draw up a timeline of the latest springboard, discuss any changes with Roger and both Toms, and do a rough draft of the plot. I started to "hear" the characters speaking, so eventually I started jotting down rough drafts of dialogue.

The wedding reception photo of Roger and Carmela that ran in the Marvel Bullpen section of all the Marvel titles for a month in the early eighties. Left to right: Christie Scheele, Tom DeFalco, Carmela Merlo, Roger Stern, John Byrne, Mark Gruenwald, and Belinda Glass... and bringing up the rear, Jim Shooter (who actually is standing on a cinder block for comedic effect.
It upset Roger that I didn’t have a "proper" co-writer’s credit, but that never bothered me. I got listed as the "Adult Legionnaire" – Roger’s coinage – which was a kick and a half. From my point of view, I got to help with all the fun stuff. It was a delightful team. To this day, whenever we run into any of those folks at comic book conventions, we can pick up conversations right where we left off.

RS: There you have it. The credit issue still bugs me. I felt that Carmela was doing enough work that her contribution should be officially recognized. I more or less had KC [Carlson] convinced to officially have Carmela recognized with a DC rate and credit. (I pointed out many times that, as a beginner, her rate would be less than mine, so DC would be saving money on the deal. I figured that would make the bean counters happy.) But then KC was gone, and before I could convince Mike McAvennie that it was a good idea, there was a grand purge of both Legion titles, and everyone except Tom McCraw was fired. C’est le guerre.

By that time, I was getting assignments from Marvel again, so I had plenty of other work...for a while.

GK: After Action Comics, you worked a lot less at DC, was this more of a personal decision?

RS: No, that was just one of those damned things. I was perfectly willing to write more for DC. I wanted to, and I tried to. There were a number of projects I proposed – or was approached about writing – which never came to pass for one reason or another.

I really, really wanted to write a new Creeper series, for instance. I spent about six months researching everything that had ever been done with the character, and developing a take on the Creeper that would be fresh without ignoring all the good things that had been done with him. That proposal sat on one editor’s desk for a while, and then was passed on to another who told me – honest to God – that my proposal was okay, but he really thought that the Creeper needed ‘more of an edge.’ And I thought to myself, "This is a series about a guy who skulks around in the dark with a red lion mane across his shoulders and jumps out at people, laughing like a maniac, and you think he needs ‘more of an edge’?!" I thought that, I didn’t say it. "The Creeper needs 'more of an edge.'" How about if we feed him through a planer? Or, hey, I know – let’s add Poochie to the series.

But, just as I was getting the run-around at DC, Marvel editors started calling again.

GK: Of late you've done a lot of comics that have a retro feel to them like Avengers #1 1/2 and The Incredible Hulk vs. Superman. Are these projects that you were easily attracted to?

RS: Tom Brevoort and Glenn Greenberg asked me to write those projects, and they didn’t have to ask more than once. Work with Bruce Timm and Steve Rude? On classic versions of some of my favorite characters? And get paid on top of that? Man, I was there! I never had so much fun writing comics. I wouldn’t call ’em retro, though, unless beautiful art and good storytelling is considered ‘retro.’ Maybe it is.

It was just such a joy to work on stories that had rectilinear panels with gutters and white space! My god, when I first started to work in comics, the paper that the books were printed on was already yellow! "Already yellowed for your protection," as I used to say. You couldn’t refer to someone in a story as "driving a white car," without having readers write in, "That car’s not white, it’s beige."

Sorry for going off on a tangent there, but one of the things that really bugs me about most comics these days is the lack of white space. I mean, we finally have paper that is WHITE, and the artists and/or colorists seem determined to cover every last square millimeter with color – often over-rendered color – to the point where you can’t see anything. It just makes my eyes bleed.

GK: Who paired Kurt Busiek and yourself to write Avengers Forever?

RS: It was Kurt’s suggestion that I help out on Avengers Forever. He was going through a spell of ill health, and needed someone to lend a hand.

GK: Was this a unique experience?

RS: No, we also worked together on Thunderbolts, Untold Tales of Spider-Man, and Iron Man. We tag-teamed the plots. Kurt scripted Avengers Forever (ditto with T-Bolts and UToS), and I scripted Iron Man. We ran up some pretty good phone bills tossing plot elements back and forth.

GK: Every Avenger and every variation of that Avenger was in the book; was it as fun a project as it looks to work on?

RS: Oh, yeah. It was a helluva busy year, but I had a great time doing it – even though Kurt made me read "The Crossing." Plus, I got to turn Nixon into a Skrull. Any series that gives me a chance to take Nixon to the cleaners, I’m there!

GK: What was it like, working with John Byrne and Al Milgrom so many years later on Marvel : The Lost Generations? Did you feel you successfully dealt with the gap between Marvel's fifties comics and the start of the Silver Age?

RS: Lost Gen was in many ways, just a beginning. We came up with so many new characters, and there was so much more that could have been done with all of them, if we’d been given the chance. John and I talked over a number of possibilities for follow-up series.

Unfortunately, Lost Gen was sort of undone by the changes in Marvel’s editorial and management. I got the distinct impression that the new guys didn’t want to have anything to do with projects started by the old guys. I know it wasn’t being promoted. I had been writing information about the stories for the monthly solicitations, and midway through the series, I noticed that less and less of the promotional copy I’d written was seeing print. Nothing I could do about it by that point. Too bad.

If you are going to make an impression on fans, you’re going to need a kickass introduction – which is exactly what Paul Smith accomplishes with the splash page to his debut on Dr. Strange with Roger Stern. (Original black and white pencil art.)

Click on image to open up in larger panel!

One thing that I wish we’d done differently with Lost Gen was the numbering. We devised the issue-number countdown – from twelve to one – to show that each issue was set farther back in the past. John and I belatedly realized that, by counting down sequentially, some readers were getting the impression that these were the only stories that "happened" – whereas a closer reading showed that there was obviously a lot of stuff that happened in between. What we should have done was designate the first-released issue as, let’s say, #547...the next released as #463...and so on down to #1.

GK: Tell us a little of your involvement with The Science of Superman book which looks like a hell of an interesting book.

RS: It is a hell of an interesting book. I mainly just supplied research material and vetted the first draft. Mark Wolverton wrote the text, and did a bang-up job. No big surprise there. I was already familiar with his writing from American Heritage of Invention & Technology (a magazine which I highly recommend, by the way). Mark is a very good writer and has the ability to make science understandable. He did all the heavy lifting, and probably wasn’t paid nearly enough money for his efforts.

GK: We should talk a little about your new novel. What’s it about?

RS: I’m so tempted to say "It’s about 75,000 words long," since that was what the publisher had asked for as a word count. But I can’t say that. The word count for the final manuscript was actually over 87,000 words.

My latest novel is part of a new series of JLA novels that DC and Pocket Books are producing. Alan Grant wrote the first one, a Batman novel called The Stone King, and the second in the series was Carol Lay’s Wonder Woman: Mythos. Those books were followed by Mark Schultz’s The Flash: Stop Motion, Christopher Golden’s JLA: Exterminators, and Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern: Hero’s Quest.

And now, I’ve topped off the series with Superman: The Never-Ending Battle, which went on sale in late May of 2005. It stars Superman, of course, but all of the other major Leaguers play very important roles...Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, J’onn J’onnz, the Batman. Even the Atom has a few scenes. As does Aquaman.

Superman: The Never-Ending Battle is an original story that has something for the whole family: mystery, thrills, action, intrigue, adventure. And it’s a love story. In a way, I think of it as a sequel to The Death and Life of Superman. I even had Charlie Kochman as my editor again. Just don’t go looking for Doomsday in it.

GK: In what manner is the comics industry different compared to when you started?

RS: Oh, gee. The industry seems even less healthy now than it did twenty-eight years ago, which is a frightening thought. When I first came to work at Marvel in the mid-seventies, a number of the writers who were already established in the business seemed more interested in going to Hollywood and writing for Fantasy Island or something. The conventional wisdom at the time was that comics would be dead in a couple of years. Looks like they were wrong by about a quarter century.

What’s frustrating is that there was a period in the ‘80s, a good five-to-ten years, when it felt like we were really starting to turn things around. There were a lot of people producing really top-notch comics – Frank was writing and drawing Daredevil, John was on the F.F., Walter Simonson took over THOR. We were all challenging each other, and everyone was trying to top themselves every month. It was such an exciting time creatively, and that was reflected in the sales. There was a slow, steady growth in the direct market, the newsstand was still a viable marketplace, and subscription sales were going up as well.

As I recall, at one point Marvel’s three biggest sellers were Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and GI Joe – and all thanks to different markets. Amazing Spider-Man sold best on the newsstands, X-Men sold best in the comic shops, and the Joes sold best through subscriptions. When you totaled everything up, those three titles were probably selling within a few thousand copies of each other. Imagine that! In the early 1980s, our comics sales overall were really going up in a major way for the first time since the ’60s. Even Marvel’s lesser titles sold over 100,000 copies per issue. My issues of Amazing and the Avengers sold somewhere in the mid-200,000s, every month.

After all the work we put in, after all the gains we made, now it has to be done all over again.

I wish I could be more optimistic. There are still a lot of wonderfully talented people in the business, producing great work. But there are a lot more who can’t get work, and sales overall still stink. I just hope to hell that somebody can turn it around. There are a lot of stories I still want to write, and I miss writing comics.

"The Death-Trap of Doctor Doom" featured in Avengers #1 1/2 by Stern and Bruce Timm. A wonderful homage to the roots of the Avengers that captures the spirit of what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started so long ago.
But, hey, I can’t complain too much. After all, I got to work with Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Steve Ditko, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, John Romita – Junior and Senior! – Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Terry Austin, Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Ron Frenz, Tom Grummett, Paul Ryan, June Brigman, Steve Rude, Bruce Timm...so many wonderful artists! I hope they’ll forgive me if I don’t name them all. That would probably take another whole page.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself. Spider-Man made the down payment on my house, and Superman paid the mortgage. Dig it – for twenty-five years, I got to write comic book stories. I got paid to do it. What could be better than that?

Okay, writing comics for another twenty-five. I have the time...

I have actually written a few comics stories in recent years, but you probably haven’t seen any of them. I wrote two Phantom stories for Egmont’s Fantomen comic, though from what I can tell, only one of them has seen print so far. Unfortunately, that publication is not readily available to the American audience...and it’s published in Swedish. There was an Australian edition, but the publisher used a computer program to translate the Swedish version back into English, with the result that it reads nothing like my original script.

I’ve also written three short Spider-Man stories for Panini UK’s Marvel Rampage magazine, and I’m in the process of writing a like number of Hulk stories for them. Rampage is quite an interesting publication; it’s like a cross between a video game magazine and a pop culture mag for kids – with the bonus of short comic strips and attached premiums. And while it is in English, it’s not generally available outside the UK.

There have been a few new Stateside opportunities recently. Earlier this year, Mike Carlin gave me the go-ahead to write a story arc for the JLA Classified comic. It’s a pretty complicated story, but I’ve been having fun plotting it. That will run just five issues, of course, and it won’t see print until sometime in 2007 at the earliest. I’ve also gotten a couple of nibbles from other publishers, but there’s been nothing firm so far.

Still, live in hope and all that. I would dearly love to get a regular comics writing assignment, but if I can’t...well, I have a number of ideas for new novels. All I need is a good publisher.

MarvelMasterworks.com would like to thank Roger Stern for taking the time to chat with George Khoury, and also to George for delivering such an outstanding interview!


A select list of collected editions that feature stories by Roger Stern:

Avengers Assemble Vol. 3 HC: includes Avengers #1 1/2
Avengers: Above and Beyond TPB: includes Avengers: Ultron Imperative one-shot (also set for reprinting in Avengers Assemble Vol. 4 HC, due in January '07
Avengers - Kang: Time and Time Again TPB: includes Avengers #267-269
Dr. Strange vs. Dracula - The Montesi Formula TPB: includes Doctor Strange #58-62
Spider-Man vs. the Black Cat Vol. 1 TPB: features Amazing Spider-Man #226-227
Wizard Best of Spider-Man Deluxe HC: features Amazing Spider-Man #229-232 and AMS #248 - "The Kid Who Loved Spider-Man"
Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko HC: includes Speedball #1
Back Issue #10: features tag team-interview between Roger and Ron Frenz about "The Kid Who Loved Spider-Man"

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