Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview David Anthony Kraft discussing his Defenders run, then dive into his character defining run on She-Hulk in her first series, his Music references like Blue Oyster Cult, his Beatles Marvel Super Specials, his Children Books with Marvel Special Projects under Sol Brodsky, why he left Marvel and DC Comics in 1983, publishing his Comics Interview Magazine from 1983-1995, publishing sci fi books by authors like Don McGregor, his work in animation for shows like GI Joe Extreme, his recent work Yi Soon Shin, and his 3 mentors, Leigh Brackett, Stan Lee and E. Hoffman Price in this second of a 2 parter. Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistoriansSupport the show (https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians)
Jim: I want to ask a couple of questions about Defenders which relates to the Steve Gerber stuff that preceded you. What was it like coming on a book like his? His was like nothing I’d ever read before.
Kraft: He was a really good friend… Salicrup and I started this separate studio from Marvel called Mad Genius Associates. Some of the places have this totally wrong. They have Steve being a part of it, he wasn’t. It was Salicrup and me. We were at 850 or was it 750, 8th Avenue. In the same building, as the guy who wrote Network, Paddy Chayefsky.
Jim: Oh, wow.
Kraft: Used to ride the elevator with him. Those were golden times. Steve needed a place so he sublet from us. He was in the offices, and we all, being freelancers, we kept crazy hours. Do you know what I mean? A good time to work might be 4:00 to 8:00 in the morning, and then you sleep or whatever.
We hung out a lot. We kicked ideas back and forth a lot, stuff like that. I always loved, really, his Man-Thing, and a lot of his Defenders was amazing. Because he never knew what he was doing. That’s the point. [chuckle]
Jim: That was the very definition of chaos to me, wasn’t it?
Kraft: Yeah. Yeah. When Roger Slifer and I took over Defenders, there was that dangling bit, Elf with a Gun thing. Steve had no clue what he’s going to do with that. There he was, no help at all. [chuckle] He’s like, “I don’t know. Seems like a good idea at the time.”
We had him hit by a truck which seemed like a very, kind of Dada conclusion. You know what I mean? Ahis happens, and not everything needs a neat pat answer. I hate that later on; they tried to answer that. It’s like you don’t have to explain everything in life. Some things just happen.
Anyway, he was like, “That’s the best ending outside of anything I might’ve come up with. And I have no idea what I might’ve come up with.” He might’ve come up with something with me, or Roger, or Salicrup, or somebody else helped him come up with it in a last-minute dinner. That’s what made this stuff so crazy. That’s how Howard the Duck could come to exist.
Jim: When you came on the Defenders, was there pressure to make it more commercial or to normalize it in any way at all?
Kraft: I never had any pressure of any kind. That’s what was so great about those days. Here’s what was bad, you got your page rate, and that’s what you got.
Alex: Archie Goodwin was editor in chief, right? At the time?
Kraft: Yeah. I mean it was a revolving chair. There was Len Wein. Then there was Marv. Then there was Gerry for, I don’t know, three weeks. Then there was Archie. Then there was Jim. In those days, nobody tried to direct that.
When you had a book, as the writer, you were basically in charge of that book. Now, on the top of the books, there was more attention paid, you to know what I mean? It’s like, “Don’t use this villain too much, or this or that.” Basically, we were kids, we just had free reign.
Jim: Let me ask you about a couple of storylines in your run on Defenders. Obviously, the one that sticks in my mind is the return of Demon Hunter or Devil Slayer, whatever we were calling him, at various times. Now, Buckler wasn’t part of this. Was this the first time the character had been used without him?
Kraft: Actually, if you think about it, the first time was in the book that I did with him.
Jim: Oh yeah. [laughter]
Kraft: Which was started as Astonishing Tales but it ended up published as a Spotlight. If you look at that, he disappeared halfway through it. And you’ve got Arvell Jones, and other people pitching in to finish the thing up.
It’s like what I was saying earlier Rich would over-commit to things, and then he’d have to have a lot of ghosts. Arvell started as his ghost for years, and so did George, and so on and so on. And they got careers out of it, because like I say, Rich was good. If you look at some of the early Deathlok stuff, my God it’s great.
Jim: Oh, it’s great
Kraft: Yeah, the busier he got, the less he would put into something, and then sometimes nothing at all. Half of that Spotlight didn’t have Rich. [chuckle] I don’t know what he was doing but it wasn’t that. Because I thought of it as my character, it was kind of natural to put him in Defenders.
Jim: Did you talk to him about it, or did you just go ahead and do it?
Kraft: No, I just went ahead and did it. I mean, mileage varies, I’m sure there were so many people doing books. Sometimes, you talk to people about stuff but a lot of the time, there wasn’t any time to talk to people about stuff. “Where’s the plot, Kraft? Verpoorten would say. I would go home and pull one out of my ass. [chuckle] It wasn’t as studied as things are maybe today.
Jim: And then he took the character back somewhat in his own…
Kraft: Yeah, he did something with it and he didn’t talk to me either. Tit for tat, right?
Jim: Now, I’m not sure you got even a mention in terms of…
Kraft: No. No, you know, I chided him about that, by the way. [chuckle] I was like. ” Oh, you forgot me, have you?
Jim: I wondered about that.
Kraft: Yeah, [chuckle] I did too. I was like, “Have we forgotten me then?
Jim: Because that was his sole creation at that point.
Kraft: Yeah. But that also happens.
I mean if you look around, there’s people like, “I did this.” You know, where’s the other people there? But I don’t think it was intentional. I just think he didn’t think about it.
Jim: And what else. in terms. of your run on Defenders? Now did you do the Sons of the Serpent storyline?
Jim: Okay. But you really made Hellcat into your own too, right?
Kraft: Actually, she was my favorite. I think it shows. [chuckle]
Jim: Yeah. Now, that stands out.
Kraft: We had the Comics Code, and today, all my jokes aside about shooting heroin into your eyeballs, in Batman somebody can put a needle in somebody’s eyeball, it’s totally fine.
Not so much in my day. When I was writing World’s Finest for DC, which was when I returned to them later. I did a long story leading up to World’s Finest 300. And then there was a code, like a little epilogue, a five or six-page story that David Mazzucchelli drew.
I had Superman and Batman at a bar afterwards. Remember, these were the characters as they were then. I had Superman order milk and had Batman order a shot of Jack. Dick Giordano stopped that. “Batman cannot drink whiskey.”
Alex: Oh, really.
Kraft: Today, Batman can stab you in the eyeball.
Jim: Yeah. Easy.
Kraft: Those were different times. With the Code there and everything, we had to be circumspect about stuff so Hellcat, I had her being promiscuous in a fun way. There’s the real doleful official way of looking at it, like, “People who are promiscuous are bad.” I was like, “No, not always. You can have fun in your life. It’s okay.”
I had her like that but I had to have it go under the Code’s radar. I always had her flirting with everybody, and coming on to everybody, and things like that. That’s why she was the happy-go-lucky Hellcat.
Jim: Were you doing She-Hulk at the same time? Because She-Hulk was a long-running book for you. You pretty much…
Kraft: Well, I did about as many Defenders as She-Hulk. I did 25 or 26 issues.
Jim: Yeah, those were your two long-running books, weren’t they?
Kraft: Yeah. The She-Hulk came after. There and again, I give Jo Duffy credit, mainly not because we ever talked about it but because she didn’t blow the whistle and turn me in. I pushed it even further with the She-Hulk. I had her having two different boyfriends. It was knowingly, because she was conscious of what she did as either self.
When she was Jen the attorney, she had a more steady boyfriend, Richard Rory who I always liked from Steve’s stuff, so I brought him back. Then she had Zapper which was really, if you flip it, is like a guy who has the young girlfriend. She had the young boy toy. And she did that knowingly. That as far as I know, hadn’t been done.
They could have made a stink about it, but the Code was so busy looking at like, “Are her breasts too big? Is there too much thigh showing?” They were too stupid to notice the actual theme and stuff. [chuckle]
And I liken it to this, when I was on staff editing, and Starlin’s books would come in, I like his stuff really a lot. There were things I knew would be, all hell would break loose as Chris would always write in his stories, “And then all hell broke loose…” I knew all hell would break loose if that Warlock story that he did that had the anagrams for everybody’s name like John Romita, and Len Wein, and so on. And it was this competition to see who could build the highest piles of shit. It was his metaphor for Marvel and DC.
I knew, if I said anything around the office, there would be hell flying. I just rubber-stamped it and sent it to the printer.
Alex: How cool.
Kraft: Nobody saw it, Len, John, or anybody, until after it was printed.
Alex: Right too late.
Kraft: And then, all hell broke loose. [chuckle]
Jim: But you knew going in. That’s great.
Kraft: Well, here’s the same thing, I mean, yeah, that’s the kind of control we had if you think about it and in a weird way. You know what I mean? Don and I were the gatekeepers, if we let a thing through, it went through unless the Code objected to it. And then later, they’d call people on the carpet and stuff.
The same thing with the She-Hulk, why I give Jo Duffy credit is she didn’t blow the whistle on me. She didn’t make any stinker on the office. She just let my stuff go. I like that. That established the She-Hulk. You know I mean? It was like, she embraced her sensuous side, instead of the usual puritanical type, the imperial morals.
Alex: Right, which is still a lasting trait of She-Hulk.
Jim: It just occurred to me, and I hadn’t thought of it before, that in Dan Slott’s run where he had She-Hulk engaged to John Jameson.
Kraft: I haven’t read it but I like it.
Kraft: Because it makes sense. I put Man-Wolf into She-Hulk, and I put Hellcat in the same issue because, “Hey, I like them. They’re my characters.” It makes perfect sense for that to happen down the line. I really hated… See, Defalco and Gruenwald ordered me to do that Spectacular Spider-Man annual where Man-Wolf returns to the status quo where he’s just a beast.
Jim: Oh yeah, I remember that. I didn’t like it at all.
Kraft: Oh, I didn’t like it either but here’s what they said to me, “This is what we’re going to do whether you like it or not. Out of courtesy, we’re offering you the chance to do it.” Well, if somebody has to do it, I guess I’ll do it because I was associated with the character.
I thought it was a lack of vision. They did not see the potential in that character. Why don’t we just make a stupid limited character back. You know, it’s like just, “Uhm!” [chuckle] My name is on it but I that wasn’t my story.
Jim: Anything else you want to say about She-Hulk?
Kraft: For mere mortals, a lot of time has gone by, when I reckon it in mortal years [chuckle] It’s like, how long has she been around now, 30 years more?
To me, I am gifted with an extraordinary memory, so everything is current to me. It’s in real-time, she’s as fresh to me as when I did those. It’s weird to think in those terms, but that character sure did last a long time.
I did an introduction to Marvel Masterwork: Savage She-Hulk, they did a couple of volumes. I pointed out that there were two things that I was trying to do there. I hated the idea of She-Hulk because Stan always said we’re not like DC. They have Super Monkey and Supercat… You know, etcetera, etcetera.
Kraft: And we don’t do that. Well, then it became necessary to do that, and Stan did that first issue, almost overnight.
Alex: Didn’t he do that to kind of match the TV show or to pre-do it before the TV show or something like that?
Kraft: There was a feeling that Universal was going to do an end-run and try to have a female Hulk. And so very rapidly, Stan had to do that… To protect…
Alex: Right, so it’s more just to create the character before someone else did.
Kraft: Yeah. To protect the thing. If you look at Stan’s issue, she’s an attorney and she turns into the Hulk, that’s all there is. Everything else about it fell to me. Why I requested it? I went to Shooter and I said, “I hated the idea but here’s why I hate it even more.”
I always loved the Hulk but all I could see was a lot of people are very derivative, and so what they would do is a female version of the Hulk. I thought that would just be horrible. I went in and said, “I don’t like the idea of this at all, but I have to do this book so it’s not like the Hulk.” [chuckle] And that was my sales pitch for that.
I gave her a libido. I gave her a couple of boyfriends. They’ve done all the stuff with the Hulk since where he’s intelligent and stuff, but I had her drinking martinis and driving around in a pink Cadillac.
Alex: That’s cool.
Kraft: It was as far from the Hulk as you could possibly get. My last issue, I if I have any regrets it’s that I waited too long. My idea about the She-Hulk was this, I tried to treat it like an original Marvel character. When they were starting, those stories were pretty primitive, if you go back and look at it. There was always a robot, etcetera.
That’s why, in the early She-Hulk there’s a robot. Well, I was trying to start it like Marvel from those primitive times, and then advance it to Marvel at the current time. I think I took too long. They cancelled it with issue 25, and I was almost where I wanted to be.
I got Salicrup, who was editing Two-in-One to let me do a She-Hulk and Thing story. That’s the one where she’s driving around in the Cadillac and drinking. And at the end of it, and I got this past the Code, she’s hitting on the Thing all through the story, at the end they’re quarantined together for three days. I’ll leave it to your imagination… But the Code being the Code, they didn’t catch that.
Alex: That’s cool.
Kraft: I felt I finally got where I wanted to go, then they gave it to John Byrne. [chuckle] He was like, “Look what I’m doing with the She-Hulk.” By god, damn it.
Jim: I have one more question, and then I’m going to turn it over to Alex to basically bring us home, and we still have a lot to talk about.
In the Defenders, the Blue Oyster Cult use of that, because we kind of jumped right into the comic book stuff. Tie in Blue Oyster Cult and your early days in relation to music and just how that impacts the comics stuff that you did.
Kraft: Before I ever got to Marvel, I mean those were the days… When I was a kid the Beatles run at Ed Sullivan and from there on, I was sold. In fact. I actually was into Elvis before the Beatles but I think at that point I was an actual fetus. That was my kind of thing so Rich and I… And Rich was always into rock, so we kind of hit it off on that.
We put Blue Oyster Cult into the Demon Hunter over at Atlas. It made sense, that was kind of the soundtrack to the character. That’s why I did it when I brought him over to Marvel.
Interestingly enough, I invited Eric Bloom up to the bullpen and he came up because they were…
Jim: Oh, wow!
Kraft: I’ve got some snapshots, and I don’t know why Stern-o pushed himself into the picture.
Stern-o and Shooter are in the picture too. It’s like Shooter thought he was a drummer and stuff. I mean he was so out of anything rock.
Kraft: Anyway, whenever I could, I would try to tie stuff in. You know what I mean? I put Rush stuff in. Usually, the band were kind of chuffed for that to happen, and it got a lot of press in the rock media.
When I was writing Defenders with Roger, that was a tight, tight, tight deadline because Gerry had jumped ship again. Suddenly, an issue of Defenders needed to be scripted, which was drawn but there was no written plot. There were no notes on the side from Keith. And we couldn’t get a hold of Gerry or Keith because it was a holiday weekend.
We just had to come up with the entire rationale for a four-part story based on nothing, and do it over the weekend. We were at Roger’s apartment and we split up scenes and stuff. I took Hellcat from the start. I’m like, “Give me her.”
I put Rush lyrics into there because they sort of seem to fit the story. That was the 2112 album. Roger wasn’t familiar with it, but when I introduced him to it, he liked it. Because we put Rush in there, they invited us backstage to a show, and so Roger got to meet them too and stuff.
Blue Oyster Cult, I was backstage a couple of times but there’s a shot in FOOM that I don’t think the printer returned, so I don’t have the actual photo. I only have the printed version of it. There’s a shot of me with the Cult and they were so short. They were not short on talent, but physically, they were so short. If you look at that FOOM picture, Eric is standing on his tiptoes trying desperately to be as tall as me. [chuckle]
Over time, they were very popular, and when Kiss was up-and-coming, they would open for Blue Oyster Cult. And then, when Kiss got very popular it switched, and Blue Oyster Cult would open for Kiss. I was in Toronto once for a Stadium concert and it was, Kiss were the main liners and the Cult were opening. Backstage, it was so funny because, I’m not a tall guy. I’m 5’9, but all the Cult guys were shorter than me.
Then you had the Kiss guys who, without their boots were all 6’8″, 10, 12 feet tall. And then with their boots on… I’m talking into Gene’s navel, you know, hoping it gets up to the top of the tower somehow. And then there’s these little tiny Cult guys. [chuckle] Anyway, that’s the behind-the-scenes stuff.
I always tried to work that stuff in. Here’s what’s funny, I have only found out in recent years, something I never would have thought. I thought they were pretty you know… They were big and they were well-established. I guess they looked at Marvel and thought, “Hey, they’re big and they’re well established but I have had many, many people tell me that they came to Rush or BOC because of the comics I wrote. I never thought that would happen. I’m like, “What? Really?” That’s amazing.
Jim: Now, that’s interesting.
Alex: Then you also expressed your love for music and the Beatles in those two Marvel Super Specials you mentioned earlier, and that was in ’78. Then shortly after, you also then got into children Marvel books for Children’s Press, Marvel books in Simon & Schuster. Can you tell us about the children books?
Kraft: Yeah. Here’s the other thing, I don’t know if Jim Shooter has a bad memory, or if he just pitches his stories to whoever’s listening, I have no way of knowing which. I always got along well with Jim but he’ll do strange things like that. He’ll tell the same story six different ways. Why do I bring this up? Well, because he has many times said Sol Brodsky did nothing at Marvel. Weird.
Alex: Which is interesting because he wrote the obituary for Sol, saying he did a lot. So that’s interesting that he would say that later.
Alex: Yeah. I see what you’re saying.
Kraft: I’ve seen interviews with Jim where he’s like, “Sol changed light bulbs. There was nothing for him to do.” That’s not how it was at all. Sol did so much stuff and that’s why I bring this up. I don’t know, I think Jim probably believes whatever he says, when he says it. I don’t know.
When we were out drinking after work, we always got along, but sometimes I can’t figure it out. At one point, in his blog, he accused me of plagiarism for doing the rock stuff. I’m like, “Plagiarism my ass. Marvel, sent out press releases, in the rock press. Don’t be accusing me of plagiarism.” Which gracefully, he apologized for.
The thing with all this stuff is Sol was doing plenty of things. He was the vice president years before Shooter made vice president. He had his own whole department.
Alex: He was VP of…
Kraft: Of Marvel.
Alex: Of everything. Okay.
Kraft: But what he really did was special projects.
Alex: There you go.
Kraft: And there were billions of special projects all the time. So, there’s, I see lists that people have compiled like, “Here’s what Jack did.” They’re not even a third of what I did. That stuff that Sol packaged doesn’t make most of those lists. It would be pop-up books for South America with Marie Severin, and John Romita, and me. Things like that, and I don’t see those on any list anymore.
Well, all that stuff was coming out of Sol’s department. That was his department doing industrials, as he called them. I used to do a lot of work for Sol, and when they decided to do… I think Galton made the decision. When they decided to move into children’s books, and do the Marvel Books imprint they needed an editor. Sol turned to me because, hey, I’m great, right? [chuckle] You can take it from me.
Anyway, it was kind of interesting because when Marvel moved from 575 Madison down to 387 Park Avenue South, there was an edict posted, that no freelancers, artists, or writers would be allowed anymore to work in the bullpen.
I said to Sol, “How am I supposed to edit Marvel books? What, I’m going to have people come to my apartment? That seems pretty unprofessional.” Sol was like, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” So, I had no idea.
When we moved to 387 Park Avenue South, to my great surprise and I think to Jim’s chagrin, I had an office exactly diagonally opposite his. [chuckle] And I wasn’t on staff.
Kraft: So that was kind of weird but funny. I think Sol had a sense of humor but he also had power. He did not change light bulb. Yeah, and he was very good-natured. I call him my Jewish father, because he, you know…
Alex: Oh, that’s cool.
Kraft: I have a southern father etcetera, etcetera.
I was the editor of those books. What happened was, on the main floor at Marvel, the editorial floor, they were like, “We want the Marvel library down here.” It was up on the business floor. It was put in my office, and I was moved around the corner from Jim Galton on the executive floor. [chuckle] It was great because I was freelance. I could come in when I wanted, do whatever I wanted.
Alex: That’s really cool. Yeah.
Kraft: Yeah, it was. Anyway, that was my editing the Marvel book stage.
Here’s where Sol came through for me. I had bought a house, the very one I’m in now on Screamer Mountain. It was like being with the mob, I had a first mortgage, a second mortgage, I had a note for furniture, and everything else. And then the fourth week, I had utilities and insurance. I had to run as fast as I could.
Sol gave me a contract with Marvel that guaranteed me enough work to cover all that stuff. It was one of those contracts which a lot of those guys there had, but if they didn’t give me enough work, they had to pay me anyway. I was kind of covered for stuff, which was great on his part, and then I had to do it all. That’s how I ended up doing that until I went back… I’d been publishing before I went to Marvel, and I kind of went back to publishing.
Alex: Now, you mentioned, and I think Jim might have some questions on this, is that by 1983 after Shooter’s changes, it became really regimented and organized like DC, more of a conservative sort of environment. You left and that you’ve worked on World’s Finest at DC. Jim did you have any questions about that period?
Jim: Yes. All that took place, the reasons for leaving Marvel, and whether there was a role in relation to Shooter in that. Also, you went back to DC and you did a little bit of work for World’s Finest. That was it. Then in terms of writing comics, that was sort of a change in your career, is that right?
Kraft: Sort of. I went to do World’s Finest because my friend Roger Slifer was editing, and he had some issue, no pun intended, with an issue. I pitched in, and did a fill-in. He liked it so much, he was like, “You should just do World’s Finest.” We always worked together really well. There were periods of time where I was his editor, and times where he was mine.
And here’s the weird thing, we made each other work really hard. You’d think that wouldn’t be a good thing, but if somebody points out a flaw in a story, and they’re right, how do you let it go? You know what I mean? It’s like, “Well, the story would be improved if you did this, and this.”. and, “Godammit, now I have to rewrite it because it would be improved.” [chuckle]
We were kind of good for each other but we made each other really a lot of work. That’s how I ended up on World’s Finest. And then, when Roger left, I kind of left too.
Alex: I see.
Kraft: I’m not even getting into all the DC things. DC is the most fucked up place I ever worked: tried to fuck you on the rates, blame you for shit you didn’t do… My final issue on that, we were trying to create new villains for World’s Finest. I was doing a Swordfish and Barracuda story and Pat Bastian called me and said, “You don’t have this in! We’re taking off the book.” And I’m like, “Have you looked in the drawer?” He’s like, “No.”
I said, “Well, look in the drawer.” … “Oh! The script is here.” Duh [chuckle] Anyway, so I’m like, “You’re not having someone else write it.” … “Oh yes, we gave it to somebody else to do over the weekend because you didn’t have it in.” … “Well I did have it in because you’re holding it. It was in the drawer.” … Boo! DC Comics. [chuckle]
Alex: Now, I see.
Jim: A question on that, because you worked at DC when Infantino was still publisher and then you went back when it was Jenette Kahn and those guys were running it.
Kraft: And Paul… Yeah.
Jim: But you found it frustrating both times?
Jim: Was there any difference, any improvement? What was it like between the two experiences?
Kraft: Uniformly horrible. [chuckle] I mean DC, the first time I went there, Gerry hired me. He approached me. I didn’t approach him. And he said, “I will give you this rate to write these books for me.” DC stalled on paying me, so long that I was six books in. Then when Gerry left, they slashed the rate that I had agreed to work for because it was offered to me.
Alex: I see.
Kraft: And they thought I was going to put up with that, which I wasn’t.
Alex: Roger Slifer was there. There’s always a person there that you knew.
Kraft: Yeah. When he left, they were like… And I’m not the only one. I mean everybody thinks of Dark Knight but I remember talking to Frank Miller… I don’t remember which issue of the original Dark Knight #3 or #4. I think it was #3. They did the same thing. They called him and said, “We’re having somebody else color it because the coloring isn’t here.” And he was like, “The coloring is on your fucking desk, goddammit.” They’re like. “Oh! Here it is.” Jesus Christ, that place. [chuckle]
Jim: They were going to have someone else color that issue of Dark Knight?… That’s insane!
Kraft: Yeah. Yeah. And he was adamant, and pissed off. And here’s the thing, it was just like my fucking script. It was already there. And they were going to do this… Ooh, I could just go on. [chuckle]
Kraft: I’ll try not to rant but wouldn’t you think if you were mistaken, and I said, “Look, the script is there.” Look, and you pull it out, and it’s in your hand. Don’t you think you owe me an apology?
Kraft: I’m off the book. My script wasn’t there. Someone else wrote it, and you’re holding it.
Alex: Yeah that’s mean
Kraft: Proper implications to follow.
Alex: At this point, you had left both Marvel and DC in 1983. And just from what I had read about you, back in ‘74 when you’re establishing a lot of the connections in comics, you had founded your own specialty sci-fi publishing company, Fictioneer Books. You published books by Kline as well as other science fiction people as A.E. Van Vogt, Robert E. Howard, Jack London, and even Don McGregor.
Then in 1983, as an imprint of this Fictioneer publications, you then published the Comics Interview magazine which was a very successful Eisner nominated magazine, comic creator magazine, where you were interviewing various creators from ‘83 to ’95. Am I understanding all that correctly?
Kraft: Yeah. You have definitely done your homework. The only thing is I was publishing before I started at Marvel.
Alex: Right, back in ’74.
Kraft: I think it was ’73. No, ’73. I think it was, yeah.
Alex: Because you were publishing stuff all this time, and then you decide to do this magazine when you left comics, right?
Kraft: Actually, some of my publishing knowledge, and my production knowledge became useful. It surprised me because the old guard at Marvel, Sol and John, and Verpoorten and so on, they were pretty accomplished and they had been around the block more than once.
When we did that Beatles book, I found a photographer in Canada John Roan who had taken pictures of the Beatles on tour and those pictures had never been published. It was a scoop. I could have unpublished pictures of the early Beatles on tour. When we got the paper, it was a pulpy paper that the book was printed on. I think it was called Baxter.
What happened was, it soaked up the ink, like an ink blotter. They were taken at concerts in days before anything was as advanced as it is today, when it comes to photography. There was black backgrounds, and spotlights, and Beatles in the foreground, and stuff. When it hit that paper, it blotted like an ink blotter.
Everything got really, really dark, and hard to see. That was a catastrophe because you could see the pictures you just couldn’t see them once they were on that. When we got the printer’s peripheral is like, “Holy shit!” Sol called me and he’s like, “We got a catastrophe here.”
I was able to actually… And this was so cool. I loved this because I was able to… I knew something that they didn’t there. I’m like, “I can fix that.” And they were like, “What? How?” And I said, “What you do is, you leave the black plate off when they when they print it. You just use the red, blue, and yellow plates and it will lighten up.” It didn’t lighten up as much as the actual original pictures but you could actually see the pictures at that point.
That came from my, before Marvel days. The publishing stuff, Don’s book, they came after. There was a period where Don was banished for Marvel. For lack of a better word, he’s being persecuted. And Don and I, from when we were editing together and on, we were friends and stuff. Well, when I was really bummed out, I let him dialogue some Defenders pages here and there, which helped him and it helped me. What’s funny about it is it wasn’t the pages anybody would think. Like all those really depressing Scorpio pages are 100% me.
They read like they’re Don, but they’re not. Don’s stuff is some of the light stuff. [chuckle] It doesn’t read like Don because it’s light stuff. He was not supposed to be credited and I still put his name on there because it’s my goddamn book, and I’ll credit him if I want to. And it got through and stuff, and then people complained, of course.
That’s when I published a couple of Don’s books like Dragonflame and Other Bedtime Nightmares, and The Variable Syndrome. Which we edited and worked on many a night at the Green Kitchen which still is on the corner of East 77th and 2nd. Keith and I used to plot there too.
Anyway, Don’s name, because his books were loved, I knew that there should be a market for that. Phil Seuling who was still around, and was a mover and shaker in those days, he came to me, he wanted to buy enough of them to guarantee a second printing which was cool.
Alex: Oh, that is cool.
Kraft: Yeah, so that was that. And then it got less fun… Here’s what happened at Marvel from my point. It became so much a bureaucracy with all the different editors, and all the different chain of commands, and this family, and that family, and you can’t use this film… It became two jobs. It became a full-time job to get work, which of course didn’t leave any time for a full-time job of doing the work. And then there were various edicts which I tried to obey.
Like on She-Hulk, it’s not my nature to do single issue stories, unless I actually have a legitimate single issue story. At that time, Jim Shooter was asking for, or demanding, whatever you want to say, single issue stories. I thought well he’s the editor in chief of Marvel, it’s within his prerogative to do that. I tried to accommodate, but I don’t think it led to my best work.
My best work is, “Just leave me the hell alone.” I don’t know what I’ll do till I do it, but when I’ve done it, it’ll be okay. [chuckle] This other thing of coming in advance and then knowing this, it’s like, “Holy Jesus Christ. I have no idea.” I mean it would be like telling jazz improvisation people to submit sheet music in advance. It’s like, “I don’t know how to do that.” I come from the old school of anarchy; you know.
As far as the comic stuff goes, when Salicrup was at Topps, I did an adaptation of the Dragon Heart movie for him with Ron Lim.
Jim: I have that. I remember that.
Kraft: I think it was Paramount but whoever was the production company, they sent me a really nice letter that I did a great job on it. That was nice. Then after that I worked in animation for a while with Roger. Then I thought I needed a year off. You know, when I stopped Comics Interview. I stopped on issue 150 which matters to no one except me, but I hate sloppy things. And I felt like the bottom was dropping out and it did. Marvel went bankrupt within a year.
Alex: That was in 1995 when it ended.
Kraft: Yeah, and you don’t know that. You know what I mean? It’s like many times, it had looked like the bottom dropped out and it recovered. I just had this feeling, and I thought I’d rather stop with Comics Interview #150.
Alex: A solid number.
Kraft: Where it looks like I actually know what I’m doing rather than stop with 156. “Screech… crash”, which is kind of what happened to Amazing Heroes; I think 202 or something. It’s like, “Oh, Jeez…”
Anyhow, who cares, right? I kind of do. So yeah, I’m like, “Wouldn’t it have been better to stop with issue 200? I mean, come on.” I stopped with 150 and…
Alex: Was it because of the internet? Was that a part of it or just…? No.
Kraft: No. The early ‘90s, early to mid-90s, it was really a comic book glut, and most of those books were not very good. That was the early days of image and all the fancy-schmancy different covers and into this, into that.
Better sales than had ever been seen until it all collapsed. That’s really what went on. I mean, it just imploded, the whole direct sales market. Fortunately, I got out just ahead of that. In my editorial, I said, “It’s better to leave the party early, instead to be ejected forcibly later.”
And I thought I needed a year off because I’ve been running on deadlines for so many years and it turned into ten years off. [chuckle] It doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing anything I was xeriscaping my mountainside, and building gazebos, and things like that. I was totally off deadline and stuff.
Then I was feeling all charged up, I’m like, when you’re all dressed up and you have no place to go? I was all recharged. I was talking to Jim Salicrup, and I said, “God, I’m just bursting to do something, and I have nowhere to do it.” and he put me in touch with Onrie Kompan and we have been doing the Yi Soon Shin comics now for 10 years.
Alex: Okay, and that’s what you’re doing now. Yeah.
Kraft: Yeah. Stan wrote the introduction to the first graphic novel which collects the first arc. They are not available in comics shops, or direct sales market at all. Period. And we have now broken well over 100,000 sales. Because you can’t sell anything in the direct sales market anymore. They have these ideas about what will sell. Their idea is. that will not sell, except outside of that it sells like hell.
Inside of it, Diamond sold… Don’t fall and hit your head, Diamond says is they’re the International Comics Distributors. The International Comics Distributors, we did a test with them, in one month they sold less than 500 copies. Onrie sells 500 copies in a single day at a convention. That’s not a comic book distributor. We’re just off on our own.
Alex: Uh-huh that’s interesting.
Kraft: We have licensing deals. It’s cool.
Alex: A quick aside in 1995, at the end of Comics Interview, you worked as a story editor and scripter for the cartoon G.I. Joe Extreme, is that right?
Kraft: Yeah, and Street Fighter, that year too.
Alex: And Street Fighter. What got you into the cartoon business?
Kraft: Oh, you asked the question… Well for years, I watched everybody, including Steve Gerber, get sucked into animation. I don’t know if you remember animation then. It was very poor. There would be a meteorite heading towards Earth that would destroy all life and the characters would stand there like in DC poses, straight up and they point. They’d go…
The voice acting in animation was always terrible. And the voice acting in say, like the Simpsons was better than live-action. In adventure animation, it was just awful.
I didn’t get into comics in order to make a quick buck. I got in comics because I love comics and wanted to do the best I could. I wasn’t after the fast buck. I didn’t want to hack shit out overnight. To me that’s always how animation was. I was like, “I will not get into animation and that’s an end to it.”
You know, when you have a bathtub and you pull the plug. Eventually all the water drains down? Well I felt like that was everybody I knew, and I was clinging on to the edge. [chuckle] And eventually, I got sucked down there too. [chuckle]
I can tell you how it happened. After I quit publishing and I thought, “Wewsh… At long last, I have a moment to breathe.”
Roger called because he was good about staying in touch. I don’t know if you know this, but he was killed in a hit and run… accident.
Alex: Oh, that’s terrible.
Kraft: Yeah. Really.
Alex: Roger Slifer.
Kraft: Yeah. It sucks…Years later but still… Anyhow… Stepping off a curb in Santa Monica, and they never caught the person…
Roger and I, since we started at Marvel the first day, we stayed good friends all those years. We always stayed in touch no matter what we were doing and stuff. He called, practically, every day. He called me up, and he said… He had been in animation and I was not going there.
He called me and said, “It’s the new season, and there’s two shows, G.I. Joe Extreme and Street Fighter. They’re both looking for a producer. I’ve been producing G.I. Joe and I have all the credentials. I know what’s going to happen. If I apply for G.I. Joe, I won’t get it, and maybe I would have got Street Fighter. If I apply for street fighter and don’t get it, maybe I would have got G.I. Joe.”
Well, being the wise ass, I am, I said, “Apply for both of them, and when you don’t get either one your ego doesn’t have to be deflated.” [chuckle] Well so he did, and he got both jobs. [chuckle]
Alex: Wow. Cool.
Kraft: Then he called me back and he said, “You have to come here and help me. There’s no way to do two seasons in one season.” You know I mean, of two shows. And he said, “You will be my secret weapon.” You know how we started up talking about how people help each other. He was like. “I will not tell them you exist,” but because we had worked together for so many years, we knew two things, you could count on us both for deadlines and quality. Who else would know that, right?
He was like, “You need to come out here you got me into this, blah, blah, blah.” I kept going no, and the money kept getting better and finally I was like, ”Oh, the hell with it all, I’ll do it then.” I went out there and that’s how I ended up working on those two seasons. He was a man of his word, he said, “If they’re happy with the work, and they think I’m doing it, I will tell them it’s you and I will get you credit.” Most people say that and then they conveniently forget later, but he did not.
Alex: Oh, cool.
Kraft: I wrote a bunch of episodes, of course, I’m on notice but I’m also credited as story editor. Technically, here’s what’s funny, I never signed a contract with those companies. I could be like, “Hey, you owe me.” I wouldn’t do that of course…
Alex: But you got checks. You got paid for your work though?
Kraft: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Alex: Yeah. That’s awesome.
Kraft: When he got me the screen credit, I’m credited as story editor. Technically, I never got paid. I did, through him. [chuckle]
Alex: Oh. Okay.
Kraft: That’s kind of funny, I’m credited but I’m not on the payroll of that company.
Alex: That’s funny. I see what you’re saying.
Alex: Yeah, because he was actually giving you the direct money himself.
Alex: He got your name on the credits but you were not their employee.
Kraft: After it was done and they really loved what we did, he’s like, “I had this secret superpower here, that…” He actually got me the credit but you’re supposed to sign contracts with them and everything. [chuckle]
Alex: That’s almost like a ghostwriter arrangement but you actually got credit for what you did.
Kraft: I got paid for the scripts by the company, and I got credited for those, but being story editor and stuff, that was a different thing. I swore I would never do it, and then it was my mouth. It was like, “Applying for both and you won’t get either one.” He got both of them. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, so then he had to…
Kraft: And he couldn’t let go because the money was good. It’s a good thing I did, I arrived there worn out after all those years of deadlines. And when you’re publishing, there’s nobody to pass the buck to, every buck passes to you.
Alex: That’s right.
Kraft: It was day and night. One year, when I was publishing after ‘83, I published 52 books or magazines. That’s one a week. Me. I had 1.10% of the market [chuckle] which I thought was quite an achievement for me, but it ran me ragged. I was really needing a rest. That’s why I didn’t want to do it. I was like, “I’ll do it next year.” Well, thank God I did do it, because next year the entire animation industry imploded.
Alex: So, you kind of are able to leave before it gets really bad.
Kraft: Yeah. I put it like this, you know how squirrels store acorns through the winter? Thank God I did those shows because I stored up my acorns for subsequent years. Everybody I knew in animation was scrambling because there’s just wasn’t any work after that.
Alex: How crazy. Now, last question I have before we close out, is you’ve named three mentors, okay, so Leigh Brackett, female science fiction writer, Stan Lee, and E. Hoffman Price as mentors. Can you tell us stories about…?
Kraft: You got me really, dude, you do your research [chuckle]… Funny.
Alex: Yeah. Can you tell us a story but about each one that basically put them in a role as a mentor for you?
Kraft: Okay. E. Hoffman Price, remember I told you how I liked Otis Adelbert Kline stuff because it was very Burroughs-like. I was in that phase. And then I became the agent. Well Otis Adelbert Kline was E. Hoffman Price’s mentor. When Price was starting, he was kind of like an acolyte of Kline.
Alex: I see. Basically, you’re in that lineage with him.
Kraft: I contacted him in high school, like I said, I didn’t know any bounds. For some reason we carried on a correspondence for 25 years. I visited him, I don’t know, half a dozen times in Redwood City, California.
But it was interesting because he really bridged the gap. I don’t know why I’m interested in things like the pulp magazines. There’s no explanation for it, but I’ve always been interested in the origins. The original Conan stories, the original Edgar Rice Burroughs serialized stuff.
Price was friends and collaborator with H.P. Lovecraft, and friends with Robert E Howard so it was this kind of weird bridge. They to him we’re like Roger Slifer, and Jim Salicrup is to me.
He didn’t mentor me in the sense of teaching me to write, rather wisely he wouldn’t do that. He would tell me things about writing but he didn’t want to get involved in any critical sort of stuff or anything.
What I learned from him was to be specific when you’re writing. I was writing text then; this is before I wrote comics. I had a story that I had been submitting that was getting rejected. He was like, “Don’t just say it was a warm pleasant summer day… You know… It was the 4th of July, and people were pouring with sweat… etcetera. Get specific.”
I rewrote this little story, specifically, which he hadn’t read. It sold the second time out to Amazing Stories. He was a sort of a mentor, but he was friends with Leigh Brackett and Ed Hamilton and wrote Captain Future and all kinds of the original science fiction all through science fiction from the ‘20s to the ‘50s. Then he went into comics.
Leigh Brackett was his wife. She wrote those Eric John Stark. They’ve been reprinted as books but they were originally pulp stuff. And then she wrote lots and lots of movies and things. I met them through E. Hoffman Price. She looked at my early work and stuff that’s obvious, and yet you really need this kind of advice. She’s like, “Where’s the dialogue?”
If you write a movie, or as it happened later, you write animation, there’s no captions, there’s no description. You’d better be able to tell the story in dialogue. Tell it well so it doesn’t sound like exposition and things like that. I got that from her.
Stan, I just grew up reading him. I think all of us did, you know, who were at Marvel, the second tier of us. I think that accounts for our verbosity because Stan really wrote a lot. Therefore, we wrote a lot. Well sometimes, that was good but sometimes, it was just over writing.
Today, I mean, let’s just tie them all with the same brush, shall we? Today, the underwriting is so bad it’s like it could use some actual writing in there.
Alex: Yeah. I got you.
Kraft: One extreme to the other. There’s a middle ground in there somewhere. This is a mass criticism, there’s always exceptions, of course, but people who are writing comics think they’re writing for TV or movies, and they’re dead wrong. They’re a different medium. I’ve written for both.
Don’t think you’re writing for TV or movies, when you’re writing comics. Write a goddamn comic and use the strengths of comics. Comics can have thought balloons; they can have sound effects. They have things that you can’t have elsewhere. When you watch a movie, like say, the X-Men movies, you can’t be in their heads, or Spider-man. You know what I mean?
Kraft: He’s worried about Aunt May, he doesn’t mean to do this bad thing, you’re very sympathetic to them. They can’t do that in movies. You have strengths in comics don’t fucking throw them away… Those idiots. [chuckle]
Alex: That’s interesting. Yeah, you’re right. A lot of modern comics, specially after the Frank Miller kind of era, they don’t really… I mean they still have thought balloons but not nearly as many.
Kraft: Yeah. And yeah, there were all the old clichés but now there’s all the new clichés. It’s like that Who song, “Meet the new clichés same as the old ones”.
Alex: This is Alex Grand and Jim Thompson with the Comic Book Historians Podcast, finishing an interview with David Anthony Kraft. David, thanks so much for joining us today we really enjoyed your insight into comics, the pulps, sci-fi writers, and the different people you’ve worked with. It was an absolute pleasure for us because you really offer this rock ‘n’ roll journalist, publisher, comic writer perspective that’s really rare. I’m really glad that people are able to learn that about you, if they haven’t. Or actually, just relearn it about you if they know it already.
Jim: Yeah, it was kind of Gonzo. I really enjoyed this one. This was fun.
Kraft: Well, I’m looking forward to what you do with it.
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