Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview comic artist, Ron Frenz in the third of a 3 parter discussing his run on the Mighty Thor with Tom DeFalco co-creating characters like Mongoose, Quicksand, Earthforce, Code Blue, the Celtic Gods, Stellaris, the New Warriors, starting up and ending Thunderstrike amidst the Marvel Bankruptcy, leaving Marvel to work on Superman/Blue with Dan Jurgens, co-creating Spider-Girl and the MC2 Universe, making the second Thunderstrike volume, drawing for Outdoors life and his current project, The Blue Baron inked by the legendary Sal Buscema. Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians.Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians)
Alex: Welcome back to Part 3 of the Ron Frenz Career Interview, here at the Comic Book Historians Podcast, with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Let’s continue.
And your Thor run, I felt that what you and DeFalco did was you brought back a lot of the magic from the Jack Kirby – Stan Lee run. Was that intentional? Were you kind of looking at a lot of those old ‘60s issues?
Frenz: Well, they’re two things. One was, Tom wasn’t sure he could do cosmic. He preferred characters like The Thing, and Peter Parker. He wasn’t sure he could do Thor. Ralph Macchio said, “You just did two issues.” And he goes, “Yeah, but those were fill-ins. I don’t know. We’ll talk about it.”
Because I was so hot to do it. I mean, I soon as they offered it to me, I was… You know, I’m a big Buscema fan, big Kirby fan, so I was so all hot to do it. And I was sure Tom could do it too. But that’s one of the reasons why Tom started off by doing the splash fills because he figured, “Let’s go big… Let’s go big or go home, and see what happens.”
The biggest thing that pushed us in the direction of the traditional Thor was that we both knew we couldn’t do what Walt was doing. Because Walt’s connection to that material was so personal. His connection to the Norse myth, his connection to that storyline. I mean, he’d done it when he was a kid. Remember, he had drawn most of it when he was a kid. And was re-creating it as a professional.
We could have tried to do Walt, but we would’ve failed miserably. I’m sure. I mean, because people know when they’re being shucked. We knew we couldn’t do that, so we were going to try to do a transitional phase where we’d just go real big and cosmic and… Yeah, and our connection to Thor was the Lee – Kirby stuff, and the Lee – Buscema stuff. I grew up reading the Gerry Conway – John Buscema stuff, so, we were going to go cosmic.
But we also talked about it, and we wanted Thor to have the whole Eric Masterson thing, even though it didn’t happen until a year or so in to the run, was something we had talked about from the very beginning… Is merging him and giving him a human identity again, or human connection to Earth. Because we just felt that that was something that helped the character.
I mean, even Walt gave him Sigurd Jarlson. Gave him that identity as a connection. Thor should have that connection. Because what makes Thor not just your typical Asgardian is his connection to us. It’s his connection to Earth.
Frenz: So, Tom and I talked about all of that. But yeah, that was… There wasn’t so much an edict like we should just go do Lee – Kirby. A lot of that was me because, the same way I studied Ditko when I was first awarded Spider-Man, I went deep into Kirby when I was first awarded Thor.
And there were people that weren’t happy about it. Brett Breeding wasn’t happy about it. He loved those two fill-ins we did, though it was more my natural style, kind of Buscema-ish. And Brett was much more a fan of that. As I started to go more Kirby, in our early run, he was pushing back against it. He wasn’t crazy about it. And I understand where he’s coming from.
I think, some of the best stuff we did together as far as blending was, he finally decided to stop fighting the Kirby and we did, in Thor #400, when Joe Sinnott came on board, there was a sequence we did called the I… This Hammer (Or, If You Knew Uru Like We Knew Uru!). It was inked by Brett, and it’s some of my favorite Thor stuff, we did together because I was able to get some of the Kirby weight into the characters, but Brett was embracing it, instead of fighting it, and I thought it worked great. Plus, Brett colored it himself, and there’s like a couple of pin-ups in there that are just like, “Wow.”
Alex: Yeah. I love the whole build up with the set storyline. Such an explosive issue, that was. And you guys co-created a lot, in #388 you went inside a celestial’s brain, right?
Frenz: Right. Yeah.
Alex: I remember reading that, going, “My god, [chuckle]… So that’s what’s in there.”
Frenz: Well, yeah. Like I said, that was Tom challenging himself to see if he could do cosmic. He’s just a big dive into the deep end of the pool kind of guy. And what really worked with those early, the first couple of years on Thor, is how tightly plotted it is.
Tom is a structure guy, okay. Second to none. I mean, of course I’m a big Tom DeFalco fan but I don’t think there’s anybody better working, not just in comics, just as a writer, at structure. He knows how to plot things to get the biggest impact out of it, to get the information out there. He will sow seeds early on… Because we did like, first we introduced Leir and the Celtic gods.
Then we go in to the celestial stuff which there’s things going on… The B story where Asgard’s under attack. Even the Leir story involved the hit and run attack from the Seth people. So, we have that percolating as the B story… I mean, the guy’s incredible at those kinds of things. When to bring something up in the spotlight, and when to let it fall back into a B story. To this day, I just marvel at his ability to structure and plot to the greatest effect, working the characters.
Alex: Yeah, concise, and it really maximizes the impact. Yeah, and there’s a lot of characters: Mongoose, Quicksand, Earth Force, Grog, the New Warriors, Stellaris, Nobilus, Eric Masterson, I love that character, then Code: Blue, Dargo, you mentioned, the Thor core. How are these brainstorming sessions like? Did you guys basically… Like you said earlier, you guys talk and it would kind of brainstorm out. Were you guys throwing costume ideas at each other? How did all that work?
Frenz: I’d have to go character by character, or incident by incident. There’s not a real pattern to it. We don’t have like, “Okay, Thursday, New idea, Thursday. Pitch me some ideas…” No. it was never like that.
Alex: I see… Each one has its own kind of mixture of you guys.
Frenz: Right. Right, exactly. I mean, some of them came from me. Earth Force was something that I developed in art school.
They were called the Aten Trio because the Aten is the sun disk that they have in the palm of their hand… Since we were doing the Egyptian gods and everything, I pitched it to DeFalco and he goes, “Well, what’s an Aten?” And I told him, and he goes, “Nobody knows what an Aten is.” So, we came up with the different name, Earth Force. And I think we renamed one of the characters, but these were two characters that were based on friends of mine, and the one character was based on me, but I got to do them in a Marvel comic years later.
Of course, Erik Larsen does that kind of shit all the time, he doesn’t care. But for me that was a real big thrill to be able to use something from my past… Mongoose was a character we were going to do for Spider-Man, and never got around doing, before we were shit-canned.
Alex: Right. Because Mongoose is kind of like a Puma type of character in a way.
Frenz: Well, he was… See that’s the thing, when we create new villains, because that’s what’s cool about being able to create, is you create somebody… Puma simply was faster than Spider-Man. If you read the stories, yes, he has claws, and yes, he is vicious, yes, he has super senses, and all this kind of stuff. But the reason that he was an incredible deadly foe for Spider-Man is that he’s faster than Spider-Man.
Spider-Man’s spider sense could go off, and Puma could still nail him. We’d never seen that before. And Mongoose was going to be something in a similar vein… The original plan for Mongoose, in Spider-Man, because Mongoose shows up in the issue of Spider-Man towards the end of our run, where he fights Crusher Creel and Titania at the airport. They were working for the Masters of Evil, and they go to the airport to pick up Mongoose. But once the fight starts, Mongoose sees what’s going on and disappears into the crowd.
Now, we were going to use him… He was letting the Masters of Evil pay for his ticket. But the reason that he was coming to America was that he had a past with the Cobra, and that he was here to kill the Cobra. So, I was playing off of an old Hot Wheels race track thing called… It was the Snake – Mongoose Hot Wheels playset.
Jim: I had those. I had both of those.
Frenz: Yeah. It’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. So, I had decided…
Jim: The Cobra was a green car and our Mongoose was an orange car. I love those guys.
Frenz: Yeah. Now, that’s kind of where it all came from in my brain, that we could do this story where Spider-Man gets caught, because Spider-Man had already fought Cobra with Mister Hyde a couple of times.
Jim: That’s awesome.
Frenz: We were going to do something where Spider-Man gets stuck between this grudge-match between Mongoose and Cobra. And we never got around to it because we got canned. But we figured, we had to rejigger the character a little bit, and we still have never gotten the chance to really tell you his origin.
When we tied him in with High Evolutionary, I think that some people are just assuming that he was evolved from a mongoose, which if maybe… Okay. But he does wear like a foreign dog tag around his neck. And that’s always been a part of his design. So why would he be wearing that if he was an evolved mongoose. You know, that kind of thing.
I never had fully formed ideas, but I’ve always had some idea who this person was before, and why he is the way he is.
But, yeah, so we introduced him in Thor and we got some real mileage out of him. He’s the one that almost killed Eric Masterson, and made it necessary for Thor to merge with him.
Alex: Right. Yeah, that’s right. And he was quite a villain, actually, for a lot of issues.
Frenz: I like Mongoose. I actually like that redesign. I redesigned him when he appeared in Thunderstrike. I gave him a new outfit. I really liked his second look a lot.
Alex: Yeah. I really like Stellaris. I mean, we didn’t know she was a hot number under that outfit until later, but I like her character. I like the tech of her armor and stuff.
Frenz: Thank you.
Alex: New Warriors. Tell us about co-creating the New Warriors. Tell us about that.
Frenz: Well, that was Tom kind of acting at his capacity as editor-in-chief. Because he actually did feel that we should have more teenaged characters, because he thought it was the best way to draw teenage readers. He saw that our readership was starting to skew older. And he actually thought that maybe he contacted some magazine distributors, and found out that the most popular magazines at that point were skateboarding magazines, Thrasher Magazine.
And he started to pursue, crafting a team of teenaged characters. And he just figured, “Since Thor is the book I’m writing, let’s do it in Thor.” He enlisted me in doing some slight redesign of some of the characters and stuff. But that’s… It was always intended for it to spin off into its own title and of course, they lucked out getting Fabian and Mark Bagley to do it. But, yeah, we were just kind of there to light the fuse, and it was those guys who really did the work.
Alex: Yeah, and it was an awesome fuse. I remember because that was for Acts of Vengeance, I think.
Alex: And Juggernaut was in that issue. I remember, I love the artwork of Thor like, “Okay, now I’m getting serious”, and he really powers up Mjölnir in this. So much tension. I remember, when I read that, I’m like, “Oh my god, what’s going to happen in the next page?” I mean, that, I love that.
Frenz: I’m glad to hear that. The two things with DeFalco that were always fun for me, because he’s a total pro so don’t misread me, but he has an element to him that I think most fans would appreciate. In that he could still think like a fan, even though he’s a total professional.
And the thing he used to break through the celestial brain dome, okay, where he used the channel to the Asgardian energy of his own body, through the hammer and all those kinds of stuff was something that Lee and Kirby had. He used it against Galactus one time.
When I say Tom thinks like a fan, his attitude is, if Thor can do that, why doesn’t he do it more? [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, that makes sense. And fans think that way. That’s true.
Frenz: Now, he used it sparingly. He used it against the celestial dome, and he used it against the Juggernaut, because nothing else defeats the Juggernaut. Otherwise, you’re just sending the Juggernaut to different dimensions all the time, right? So, we used it against the Juggernaut, and it didn’t really do much, unfortunately. But that was Tom, using the past of the character effectively. And yeah, I had no problem with Thor occasionally pulling out the big gun, and try to do some real damage, you know, that kind of thing.
I think that’s, what’s interesting to me is our Thor run, seems to be very much embraced by fans. His Fantastic Four run, not so much. But I actually see them as being having a lot of parallels because somehow, Eric Masterson isn’t held against him the way, getting rid of Reed for a while was, you know, that kind of thing. So, I don’t really completely grasp it to understand it because I felt that they were both very much the same kind of roller coaster ride.
Alex: Yeah. Well, I like both… So, tell us, as you mention Eric Masterson, Thor turns out he was kind of hiding in Eric Masterson’s brain there, subconsciously. But tell us about evolving Eric Masterson in to him becoming Thor, and then starting the Thunderstrike title in ’93.
Frenz: Well, initially, like I said, for very early on, we knew we were going to introduce Eric, and we knew what our plan was for Eric. But we wanted to do a slow burn on him. We wanted the readers to get to know Eric, and to like Eric just a supporting character before we ever pulled the trigger on the other stuff.
Frenz: From talking to people, I think we succeeded, in making Eric a likeable guy, and an admirable guy before we struck him down. So, we knew why Thor was connected to this man. It wasn’t just… Not that Thor might not have done the same thing for just a guy on the street, but that’s certainly wasn’t the case. He knew that Eric would’ve done the same for him, type of thing.
So, when we merged them, it was just great fun. Tom wanted to do it, and my only hesitation at all was he wanted a different look. And I said, “I can’t really say yes then, until I come up with something I like.” And I sat at the table at a friend’s house with Brett Breeding, and we threw some ideas on paper. And we came up with a look that I liked.
So, I called DeFalco, and I said, “Okay, we can pull the trigger on this now because now I know what he looks like. And I’m happy enough with it. We’re good.” And he said, “Okay.”
Alex: Yeah. I love that that costume. I think it’s great.
Frenz: Thank you… Still to this day, I think it was, it utilized things that Walt came up with. I think it streamed-lined it without changing it that much.
Alex: I love that show, The Greatest American Hero, and I love the idea of this, kind of kooky, funny blond dude getting powers he doesn’t understand and he’s crashing into buildings, like he’s not sure how to do it. And he’s a funny guy, socially awkward and I felt like the Eric Masterson Thor, it felt like that to me. So, when I read it, it felt like putting on a glove that I understood. I loved it. And I love that character, and I really enjoyed him. His odd couple thing going on with Hercules. I love those issues. I think that’s hilarious.
Frenz: Well, thank you. We were having fun with it too. And I always think that if the creators are having fun, then I think the readers are having fun as well. But it was a great ride. I mean, I woke up every day, we were on Thor, knowing that these were going to be the good old days, someday. Because were having fun creating, and the book was selling well, and Ralph Macchio was happy with it. It was just a wonderfully creative time. It was great fun.
But, yeah, Eric was… We really didn’t work that hard on Eric. We wanted Eric to be a plain, regular, decent guy that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with, and then, hand him the keys to the kingdom, and see how it goes. The only problem was having him be a bit of a… The readers don’t really like it if your lead character is a screw up for too long. So, we always try to put him in a different situation. Once he started to get comfortable, then we would take him to Asgard, and we’d have him deal with some of that stuff.
In much the same way that once we gave Peter Parker the Symbiote, you had to make sure, as long as… The very science fictiony thing to do to Spider-Man. But as long as Peter reacted like Peter, to all this bizarreness, it’s ok. Right?
Frenz: So, what we did, that kind of freshened up the strip, I think, for a lot of people is we got rid of the Shakespearean dialog, when it came to Eric. And you were seeing everything in the Thor strip, through fresh eyes. You were seeing them all through Eric’s eyes. And I think, that tends to freshen things up, not just for the readers but for us as well. For the creators as well.
I did this one sequence we did earlier on with Eric where he goes to Asgard, and the Asgardians are all there, and they have to save Odin, and Balder is saying, “We may lose soldiers in the attack but we’ve got to attack Annihilus, and we’ve got to get Odin back, for Odin, for Asgard.” And Eric is standing in the back and says, “Uhm… couldn’t we sneak in?”
Frenz: And all the Asgardians look at each other and go, “We don’t really sneak that much… Uhmm… Okay.”
Now, that kind of thing. It’s moments like that, I love, I just thought they were wonderful.
Alex: Yeah. And Tom, when we interviewed him, I asked him about that. He can insert like that funny book mode, in the middle of the drama, which is pretty cool.
So then, one more question then Jim’s going to go to the next section is, so when Thunderstrike starts up, that’s kind of like when image was really like exploding and there’s a collectors’ market. You guys had these kind of fancy covers and all that. First, what do you think of the image revolution, when it happened? How did that reflect on to the sales of Thunderstrike?
Frenz: It probably, couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the speculator market was insane at the time, so I’m sure we probably, we sold a lot of copies but I bet you, there’s a lot of people have still left in the warehouse too. That kind of thing.
It was a very bizarre time because we were getting ready to wrap up the Eric storyline, and it was the sales department that came to us and said, “We think you should spin off Eric on his own book.” And Tom said, “Really.” The idea came from the sales department, we had to come up with something. It was not our idea to have him become a solo character. But we then huddled and came up with Thunderstrike, and the name on the mace, and all that kind of stuff. It was all us but it was at the behest of the sales department.
It was delayed because my mom had a stroke. And my brain was not where it needed to be to get it out… I think it was supposed to come out in April and it didn’t come out till August, or something like that. Anyway, when we finally did get it up and running, yeah, it had some foil on the cover. I put like one lightning bolt behind him that was supposed to be foil and production went and put a lot of lightning bolts in there to make in foil. It works. I mean, it’s a solid cover till to this day. Frenz: And it did so well. It made some, I made some money. I think I got like $2 a book to sign 5,000 copies or something like that.
Alex: Oh, nice.
Frenz: It was just a crazy, crazy time for collecting. I don’t like that. I don’t like the slabbing. I’m an old man. I don’t like the slabbing now. I didn’t like the collector frenzy then. DeFalco was one of the people that was saying, “Guys, didn’t we just see this happen to baseball cards, and collector cards? Are we going to just stand here and let it happen to comics too?” And sure, as hell, they did. I mean, the whole market exploded. But, yeah, I mean, and the book sold solid. The book was only cancelled after two years, along with Force Works and a bunch of other books because the Perelman’s people.
Ron Perelman’s people came in and bought the company there, and decided that canceling half the line would make the half that’s left, sell twice as well. Tom was at the meeting when they had pitched that, and he laughed out loud, and realized they weren’t kidding. And that’s how he got marked for termination. It was just a very bad time for comics, in general, and Marvel in particular.
As far as how it worked with the Image… I never begrudged the Image guys going off on their own. I wish they wouldn’t have talked about it as much because if you remember, there was a lot of talk before the books finally came out. [chuckle] They were talking. They were yapping about it for about a year and a half or two years before the books finally showed up. And that, I didn’t agree with. But I mean, I don’t begrudge these guys. It’s their own success. Marc Silvestri is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in the industry. Any success he has, God love him. I got no problem with any of these guys.
I mean, we did a …
Jim: Were you frustrated by Heroes Reborn when they did come back in…?
Frenz: The reason I was frustrated by Heroes… I wasn’t so frustrated with Heroes Reborn; I was frustrated with… Well, wait a minute… Yeah, Heroes Reborn. Yes. I was frustrated with them and I’ll tell you why.
The reason I was frustrated, is Thunderstrike was cancelled, it was cancelled because nobody would have considered cancelling Thor. But then, just a year or two later, they do Heroes Reborn, and they hand stuff to the Image guys, and what happened? They cancelled Thor.
Jim: Yep. That’s right.
Frenz: That pissed me off. [chuckle]… I mean, that really bugged me. Yes. But when they brought Thor back, they brought him back with John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson, and stuff. I mean, he certainly got his due when they brought him back. But, yeah, that part of it was very, very frustrating. Sure… Sure.
Jim: When you were there when the Image guys were at peak power, was there pressure? I know that some people had to change their art a lot, to stay current or relevant. Was there pressure for you to draw differently? I think about how Herb Trimpe had changed completely in what he was doing.
Frenz: Well, that was Herb’s choice. My understanding is that there were some guys who embraced that more than other. The one thing I notice was that Al Milgrom started handling some of the detail a little differently. I think he thought he was kind of leaning in to that a little bit. He would break up the blacks a little bit more. And we would talk occasionally and I’m going, “You know, Al, as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need to do that.” And he said, “Not. Not really for you Ron.” [chuckle] That kind of thing.
I totally understood where he was coming from, but I never worried about it. Maybe in some of the storytelling, I would acknowledge it, I would try to open up… The one guy that I really admired when we were going into Thunderstrike was John Romita Jr. And JR had done a cable miniseries at that point, and he was doing, I think The Punisher War Zone and things like that.
There was elements of his type of storytelling, and his type of using splash pages, and everything that I incorporated into Thunderstrike #1 and to some of the later issues of Thunderstrike. But beyond that, I really could only do it if I understood what they were doing.
And quite frankly, putting lines all over somebody’s face that don’t mean anything I never understood it. I mean, I can pick a light source, then I can shadow it more or something, but those lines don’t mean anything… [chuckle]
Frenz: So, I couldn’t do it. Maybe, if you would’ve brought in a different inker that understood what that stuff was, they could’ve inked over me and added it. I don’t know. But I couldn’t put it in my pencils because I didn’t… What the hell was it supposed to be? I mean, I understand what cross-etching is but, my god, who has lines all over their faces?
Jim: So, what were your last days at Marvel, at this point, like? You had lost Thunderstrike, did you have any assignments or were you just…
Jim: Because you were kind of under contract, weren’t you?
Frenz: Yeah, I was under contract for several years on Thor, and for Thunderstrike, and Mark Gruenwald was in charge of that unhappy job of… He tried, desperately to find me some work so I could keep my contract. He had to call me at one point and say, “Ron, I’m sorry. It’s just not there.” And I said, “Mark, thank you for all of your efforts. I know you’ve been busting your ass, and I know it’s been heartbreaking in that company, lately.” I said, “And I can’t thank you enough. I’m okay.”
Frenz: I got a call from Mike Carlin. Brett Breeding had told him that Thunderstrike was ending, and Mike Carlin does not believe in poaching talent, at all. If you’re busy on something for another company, he will not approach you. But when Brett had told him that Thunderstrike was over, he called and offered me the slot on Superman. That’s why I was able to tell Mark Gruenwald, “I’ll be okay.” I said, “I know you’ve got plenty of other people to worry about, you go worry about them. I’ll be okay.” And I went over to Superman for a couple of years.
Jim: Can you talk a little bit more about Mark Gruenwald? When we interview a lot of people, they talked about Archie Goodwin as being the best editor they ever worked with.
Frenz: Oh, god, he was incredible. Archie was incredible, and so is Mark. They were both cut from the same cloth. They were both incredibly professional people, who never lost sight of the child inside them. That’s the two things that they have in common. They were an incredibly important type of person to have in a company like Marvel. People that understood their adult responsibilities and did their jobs well, to the top of the standard. But were also were very child-like and joyful.
I didn’t know Mark Gruenwald well. I wish I had known him better. He was very close with Tom DeFalco, so when the few times I was in the offices, he was very welcoming and very warm. We did shows around that time, where Mark would do Marvolympics, and Marvel gameshows, and stuff, to involve the audience and to make use of the people from Marvel that were there. It was back when Marvel had an expense account, [chuckle] and all that kind of stuff. We would do like a Marvel version of Hollywood squares. We would do Marvolympics where we would do stupid things and crawl under chairs and… It was just for goofy fun. He usually was…
Jim: It’s not like the bullpen, you know, like that notion that we had in the ‘60s that there was this magical bullpen where everybody hung out with Stan Lee…
Frenz: Yeah… Yeah, and Mark was the cruise director for all of that. Yeah. He was just, it was terrific. I remember a couple of times being invited into his office and just sitting and yapping, when I would be visiting. He was a terrific guy. And I really felt for him, those last days at Marvel. His wife has posted stuff about it in his own journal. He would say… There was just entry, after entry where, “I had to fire so and so today…” It just broke his heart. I couldn’t have helped. I probably contributed greatly to his leaving. I hate it. I hate the idea that I was part of it but…
And Archie was the same energy. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Archie well, either. My first trip on a plane, as the young man was the premiere of Return of the Jedi in Denver, Colorado. The Marvel people were invited. I was on the regular book but I was also… Archie wrote and I penciled 10 pages of the actual Return adaptation. So, I rented a tux, flew out to Denver. Jo Duffy was there with a beautiful gown, and Archie had a tux, and we all went to the premiere. We were being hosted by a guy in jeans and sandals, it was all so silly. But there was the premiere, the mayor of Denver, Colorado was there, and all this kind of jazz. It was wonderful. I got to hang around Archie during that period of time.
Frenz: I remember one time visiting in the offices, and I was in Mary Jo… She only likes to be called Jo. I’m sorry Jo. [chuckle] Jo Duffy had me back in the office, she shared with Archie, and we were sitting there just shooting the breeze. And Archie comes walking in and she just, indicative of the kind of thing they were doing all the time, she would go, “The floor is lava!” And he would just start jumping on desks and crawling across flat files, and jumping from chair to desk, to get to his seat without touching the floor.
And you know, we’re just a bunch of kids. It was just wonderful. That was also the office that I met Steve Ditko in, briefly. Because he was doing a back-up, it was called The Djinn or something, for back-up for…
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Frenz: What was that book? Not Coyote… What was it called?
Jim & ALex: Yeah, it was.
Alex: It’s Coyote.
Frenz: And he was doing the back-ups for that. So, he came in and Archie Goodwin went, “Oh, Steve, this is young Ron Frenz. He’s the guy that’s doing Spider-Man right now. They’re making him do you!” And Steve turned to me, and he was real straight faced, “Shame on them.” And he put his hand out and I shook his hand and I said, “It’s an incredible pleasure to meet you, sir… And they’re not making me, believe me.” That kind of thing.
Jim: He did some good work on that. He had some good inkers. And I liked that a lot… We’re going to do Superman pretty quickly. So, Carlin, got you to come over to DC…
Jim: And it was a very different experience for you from years at Marvel, wasn’t it?
Frenz: Very, very different. It was very scary, and very overwhelming. I don’t think I ever really got my feet under me, to tell you the truth. Because they were doing the weekly books, basically, with the triangle numbering. And it was crazy.
Mike wasn’t the editor anymore. He had been promoted to executive editor. So, I had two different editors in the course of that, Joey Cavalieri, and… Oh my gosh… I’m not thinking of the other gentleman’s name… K.C. Carlson, were my two editors on Superman. They were struggling to keep the team together. It was a very weird time to be in the Superman books, because parts of the team were starting to break-up. Some people were resentful of other people getting certain treatment, and it was just a very, very, very weird time to be on the books, my one Superman comment.
Jim: Were there great [inaudible] artist at that, I mean, Ordway was still doing stuff?
Frenz: Ordway had pretty much phased off, Jurgens was writing my title. Bogdanove and Louise were still on…
Jim: Oh, they were great.
Frenz: Yeah, they were still doing Man of Steel. Roger Stern and Paul Ryan were doing the new quarterly… What was that called? Man of Tomorrow… Who was doing action?… Was Butch Guice still there? No. Barry Kitson… or was it Kieron Dwyer? I don’t know but there were a bunch of different people… I’m trying to remember who was all in my meetings. I know Roge was there. I know Louise was there, and Jon Bogdanove was there. Dan Jurgens was there. Joey Cavalieri was editor by that point. And it didn’t go well. Every time somebody kind of got a rhythm going, “Oh, this would be cool to do.” Somebody would have a reason why it wasn’t a good idea. That kind of thing. And it was very hard…
Jim: Too many people in the kitchen, isn’t it?
Frenz: Well, there’s a lot of people in the kitchen but when… Not to take anything away from Joey Cavalieri or K.C. Carlson, but Mike Carlin is a very distinct individual. [chuckle]… Mike Carlin gave up a lot of braincells and a lot of heart tissue to making these books what they were. And he rode herd on an incredibly creative group of people and did it effectively. That is not something everybody can do. Specially, when the people that are doing it are challenging you because you are not “Mike Carlin”. You understand what I mean?
Frenz: I felt very deeply, I felt a lot of compassion for K.C. and for Joey. Especially, Joey.
Jim: Tell me about Superman Red/Superman Blue.
Frenz: You would have to talk to Glenn Whitmore about that. I came up with Superman… When they were going to do the change in the powers and they were going to do the containment suit, they sent out a memo to everybody on the books. It said, “If you’d like to pitch a new look for Superman, we’ll be looking at them. So, feel free, if you have an idea, to pitch it, and we will let you know.”
I wasn’t planning on it. I was kind of the new guy on the books, so I really wasn’t planning on doing anything. I couldn’t help but think about it when I was done with my work for the day, and that kind of stuff. And I finally was able to put together a look that I kind of like, and I sent it to them, and didn’t hear anything more.
Frenz: They, at one point, sent me my next cover, and they just sent a Xerox of my sketch. And switch over, “Are we doing a month where we’re all going to like preview our designs or something?” And they said, “No, we picked yours.” And I went, “Oh. Nobody told me.” They went, “Well, we’re telling you now. We picked your design.” And I went, “Okay.”
They gave me, like a one-time payment. It was really great. I have all the action figures… They didn’t send them to me. I had to buy them. But they did a shit ton of action figures off of that design. And I bought the watches, with the new S symbol on it. All that kind of stuff. So, that was a lot of fun.
I think they picked mine for two reasons. One is, I was, from what I saw, I think I might have been the only one that played with the S. I think everybody else kept the S normal. And two, I think, they were already looking at doing Superman Red/ Superman Blue. It was something that Glenn Whitmore, being the colorist, had wanted to do for a long time. He fondly remembered that imaginary story and really wanted to do it. And the fact that my design was monochromatic, I think that helped them choose mine because they looked at it and went, “Oh look, he’s all blue, we could finally let Glenn Whitmore off our back and we could do Superman Red/ Superman Blue. Because they ended up doing that pretty quickly, into that whole storyline. I can’t help…
Alex: How was working with Dan Jurgens as a writer?
Frenz: Dan and I never really had a lot of contact. I got the impression he wasn’t happy to have me. He tended to be very critical. We had one or two conversations. We had one or two phone conversations, but he was not welcoming, as far as like, he wasn’t interested in co-plotting or anything like that. He very much… I think because one of the things that worked for those books was a little bit of competition between the different titles. And I think Dan felt that he was in a healthy competition with the other writers. So, he wanted to be very clear on what were his ideas. He really wasn’t looking; he wasn’t inviting me to like pitch a bunch of ideas and stuff. That never came up. But I didn’t feel like I needed to because the books were up and running. He’d been writing them for years at that point.
It wasn’t a collaboration at all, like it was with Jo Duffy or Tom DeFalco, or Roger Stern, or any of those guys. But it worked. But like I said, I was overwhelmed. I mean, you had to like hit the ground running, every month. And turn in layouts almost immediately, and turn in pencils as quick as possible. I don’t mean this in any other way other than speaking for myself, it was a meat grinder. I had a hard time…
Our individual issues, I was happy the way they came out. I was certainly, proud to be working on Superman, and thankful to be working on Superman, but it was a meat grinder. I don’t think I really rose to the occasion very well. The guys that did it for a long time, the Brett Breedings and the Jon Bogdanoves, and the Roger Sterns, and the Dan Jurgenses, and the Jerry Ordways, the guys who did it for any period of time, they have nothing but my respect. Because it was a tough gig. It was a very tough gig.
Jim: And last, Superman question, you tried to bring DeFalco over to DC at that point too, didn’t you?
Frenz: Now, that was after I was on Strange Visitor.
Frenz: That was after that. They decided to throw me that bone since I had designed the suit and they wanted to do it as a separate character. That was a whole separate process that I tried to bring Tom over for, but it didn’t work out.
Jim: And then that didn’t turn into the book it was supposed to be launched as either, did it?
Frenz: No. It was supposed to be an on-going, and when it didn’t turn into an on-going, I said, “So, do I go back to Superman?” And they went, “No. Because we just hired a whole bunch of new teams.” And I went, “Oops…” So, again, being born under a lucky star, I had somewhere else to land. I was…
Jim: And that takes us back to Alex.
Frenz: We had done Spider-Girl, so we ended up going back. I ended up going back to do MC2 with Tom, yeah.
Alex: I love that. I’ve read all of them. I like the ones that you penciled, the most, I will say that. But I do love the whole story.
Frenz: Now, don’t be a suck up, Alex. Don’t be a suck up.
Alex: No, no, no. I do. Because… I mean, I do love all of your stuff.
Frenz: Pat Olliffe deserves your love and respect.
Alex: No. I do. And I do because he did some Spider-Man stuff too. I do enjoy his stuff a lot. But because I was so used to your Thor, I think I just gravitated more to that. But that being said, I loved all the issues of Spider-Girl. That What If #105, yeah, it spawned the MC2 Series. This was before the later Thunderstrike, Volume 2, you guys did but you worked on a grown-up Kevin Masterson in A-Next. How was that? How was kind of continuing, everyone growing up, basically?
Frenz: It was great. What I said about Thor, knowing that was the good old days, I would say that A-Next is probably the most wildly enjoyably creative period that I’ve ever had, professionally, in comics.
Frenz: Because Tom was editing all the books that first year, and so, there may have been a slight shift in the percentages, with my contributing to plotting and stuff on A-Next. And we just had a fantastic time. We were doing the kind of comics that we enjoyed, and seeing if we could catch a market with it. That first year, was just a lot, a lot of fun.
Alex: Yeah, it was cool to see Nova kind of grow up and he was like, had a different personality at that point. He was taking himself more seriously.
Frenz: Yeah. That was actually, I was… Even when Pat was drawing the book, I was occasionally whispering into Tom’s ear, or into Pat’s ear, and all that kind of stuff. And I designed the adult Nova, and my idea was, we needed to pick one guy, who was from the prior generation. And basically, what I saw was Nova was that generation of Superman. He was the establishment now. [chuckle]. I mean, to our younger characters, he was the big guy. He had the ship that orbited… He was a cross between Superman, and Space Ghost. He had the Starship orbiting, and geosynchronous orbit… He was the guy.
Frenz: Whenever I got the chance to draw him, he always had the jutting jaw, and was always, literally looking down on Spider-Girl, that kind of thing. Yeah, that was how I kind of saw him as I kind of picked him as the guy who was a teen on the prior generation, who was now the Superman.
Alex: And then you ended up, back on Spider-Girl. The series was doing pretty well, at that point. Tell us about, what were the circumstances that got you back on the Spider-Girl, after Pat Olliffe?
Frenz: Well, I was kind of the regular fill-in guy, what little Pat needed that. I mean, Pat’s a machine. He really didn’t have need for anybody to be a net or anything. But I would do the occasional fill-ins. I was doing freelance, around the business. It’s not really even the comics businesses, much I was finding work elsewhere. I did some storyboarding and things like that, for companies in California.
But what ended up being the case was, that Pat had gotten on the radar of some important people, at the time, at Marvel. Bill Jemas was the publisher, or something like that. But he was still involved creatively. He wanted to write. He kind of wanted to be Stan Lee, and he had seen Pat’s work, and really liked it. So, Pat was offered this work. Spider-Girl was going to be cancelled with issue #60, I believe. And Pat had been offered this work involving Bill Jemas, that was going to put him on the radar of some important people, and hopefully lead to more work, and everything.
But it was going to require that he leave Spider-Girl early. And he really didn’t want to do that, but he couldn’t really turn down the new work either, knowing Spider-Girl was cancelled. So, they actually called me to say, “Would you be willing to come on board and do the last few issues of Spider-Girl?” And I said, “Yeah. Absolutely.”
Frenz: I was kind of coming back on board just to kind of steer her in to the dock there. So, I came in for the end of Season of the Serpent, and #60… I think it was #60. It was supposed to be the last issue. The one with all the female characters on the cover, and it was inked by Al Williamson and everything, and it ends with a splash page. That was supposed to be the last issue of Spider-Girl. And as we were… Wait. No. There was going to be one more.
Because we started, the last issue of Spider-Girl was going to be a flash forward of another 15 years. Benjie was going to be a teenager, and Mayday was going to be… Tom plotted the whole thing. Mayday was going to be pushing 30 and all kinds of stuff. It was cool little story.
I penciled the first three or four pages. Al Williamson inked the first two or three pages, and then we got word that we weren’t cancelled again. On April’s Fools’ Day, they called Tom and said the book was not cancelled. And he finally figured out that it really wasn’t cancelled. And they needed a plot by the next Tuesday or something. And my reaction, when I got the call from the office was, “So, you’re bringing Pat back, right?”
They said, “Well, Pat’s working on these other projects with Bill Jemas.” And I said, “I know. But if he knows Spider-Girl is not cancelled, he’s going to want to come back to Spider-Girl.” And I talked to Pat about it, and he says, “Ron, I’m okay here. Spider-Girl, you co-created her. Go do Spider-Girl.” And I said, “Okay.” So, I was back on Spider-Girl.
Alex: Yeah, and you worked on Spider-Girl till 2010. You went for a while, like 12 years or something, that series.
Frenz: Oh, yeah. We went to #100. We went from #61 to all the way to #100. And then, that was only cancelled with the idea… We had to lie about it. But they were already planning doing a re-launch as Amazing Spider-Girl. And we did Amazing Spider-Girl for 30 issues. Then we did Spectacular Spider-Girl, turned into like a four or five issue miniseries. And then we went into the Spider-Man Family, for another… I don’t know, another couple of years’ worth of stories, I guess.
Yeah. It went on for quite a while after I came back. That’s the thing. When it survived the cancellation at ’60-’61, that was still based on what Tom and Pat were doing. So, I didn’t really feel like I was a part of that, other than I was benefitting from it. But when we got to the next time that it was going to be cancelled, and it survived, then I knew, “Okay, people have been seeing my work, so they’re still supporting the book. That’s good.”
I slowly became more acclimated. I was really working in Pat’s shadow, those first couple of years back. I was just trying to do a cartoonier version of what he was doing and I mean, the character got really skinny and very cartoony… I look back on the stuff now, I’m not all that crazy about it. But I finally got to a point where I was able to put the ghost of Pat Olliffe behind me, and kind of re-embraced my own attitudes about the characters and stuff.
Frenz: Early on, when I was pitching stories, I was always pitching stories that were MC2 stories but weren’t Spider-Girl stories. Because I wanted to bring all my old friends back. I wanted to do all the characters at once and Tom would constantly say, “Ron, that’s an interesting story but it’s not a Mayday story. We need to do a story about Mayday.” And he was absolutely right.
Alex: Yeah. I love the whole MC2 thing. Because I was growing up with the characters. It felt like a continuity for me… So then, you did some Captain America stories, Sentinel of Liberty, a couple of issues. Then tell us about doing Thunderstrike Volume 2, because I really like Eric Masterson. It was cool to see kind of the Earth-616 version of Kevin, kind of grow in to him being a teenager.
Were you guys kind of thinking, “Okay, we have to make this different from what we did with him on A-Next?
Frenz: Oh, absolutely.
Alex: Tell us about the genesis of that.
Frenz: Well, what happened was DeFalco, we were wrapping up Spider-Girl, and DeFalco sent out an email to everybody at Marvel that said, “Ron and I are wrapping up Spider-Girl. Does anybody have anything they’d be interested in having us do?”
And I’m trying to remember the gentleman’s name… It was somebody who was in charge of like trade paperbacks or something like that, I forget. He was an editor, in charge of something. And he went, “Well, I don’t know about everybody else but I would love to see you do a Thunderstrike miniseries.” Without telling us what he wanted it to be. He just said, “How about a Thunderstrike miniseries?”
Tom, kind of went, “Oh, wow, there’s some interest. Anyway…” And then the next time Tom was in the office, he found out it was already in the schedule. [chuckle]
Frenz: And he went, “Ron, this is scheduled.” I went, “What?… We don’t even have an idea.” He went, “I know. We better get one fast because this thing is scheduled.” So, the first thing we thought, “Are we going to bring Eric back?” And Tom and I had both gone through major losses at that point. So, we did not feel it would be playing fair with the readers to just bring him back. Because we didn’t feel we had an idea that sold it at all.
So, it became second generation. It became, doing Kevin again, and we basically just had a hand shake agreement that where ever we went right with the MC2 Kevin, we’d go left with the 616 Kevin. And that’s what we did. So, that’s kind of how we ended up where we ended up.
It was kind of fell through the cracks. I mean, to this day, we talk to Thunderstrike fans at conventions who don’t know that Kevin had his own miniseries in the 616. That kind of thing. Looks like a lot of things these days. A lot of my fans, have moved on and they’re now collecting Randy Bowen statues and original art. And they don’t really keep track of what’s being done in the comics, that kind of thing.
Alex: Yeah, I do like that Kevin was used again, even after you guys were finished with the Volume 2. I think what, in Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re one of those that he was in there for…
Frenz: As guardians of the galaxy, yes. Yeah.
Alex: Yeah. I thought that was pretty cool. Yeah. I like that they’re using them.
Frenz: Well, I’m glad… Yeah. I don’t have a problem with them keeping him alive. We didn’t. We, certainly, were hoping that he’d get some use from other writers, and other artists, and stuff. I mean, we certainly didn’t do the miniseries just to kill him off. I mean, of course, we were hoping, we’d get a series out of it, but it just didn’t work out that way.
So, yeah… I mean, anytime you create something new, you feel a certain amount of ownership to it but if you’re a grown-up, you realize that Marvel owns it, you don’t. And some of it is going to make you wince and some of it is going to make you weep… And sometimes, it’s better not to read it at all. That kind of thing.
Jim: Ron, were running short on time, I want to ask you a couple of things… After that, you go back to DC, and it’s now in New 52 world, were people happy about that or ashamed of themselves? What was it like to be part of New 52?
Frenz: I didn’t feel like a part of anything. What I was called upon to do, by different editors… They had started a policy, and I think Bobbie Chase, who used to be at Marvel, had something to do with it. Where some of the younger artists, the younger illustrators were having trouble with the blank page… They had tried to re-institute plots, but like Tom DeFalco was doing plots for Legion Lost, but the artist Pete Woods who’s a fantastic illustrator, had never worked plot script.
We were that far away from Marvel style that he wasn’t comfortable working from a plot. He wanted a full script. So, they were trying to retrain some of their illustrators to work plot script. I was doing layouts on Legion Lost for Pete, even though he really didn’t need them. Artistically, it was just for storytelling purposes, and I ended up doing some other books, at DC, part of the New 52 stuff, like Katana, Justice League, Dark, there were a couple of other books. What was it though… the seven?
Alex: Team 7?
Frenz: Sovereign Seven or something, it was one of the books that came over from…
Jim: It’s that. Team 7.
Alex: Team 7?
Frenz: Team 7. I guess that’s what it was, yeah. Where they included like Black Canary, and characters like that. But it was over for Wild Storm. I did layouts on the first few issues on that, and most of it is for no credit because they didn’t want to screw up the… What’s the word I’m trying to think of?… The incentive. They didn’t want to divide the incentive further, so, they would pay you a flat fee to do these things. I did some Superboys for… I think those were DeFalco’s stories too. I’m not sure. Yeah, I think he was working on that. Yeah, I just…
Jim: Superboy, that was from the tube… It was so strained by that point.
Frenz: Yeah. It was the New 52 Superboy. So, there was a lot of that going on. And a lot of it, there were a couple of times that I actually got a credit, and it was interesting because I got a credit in one of the Superboy. It’s like a, “Special thanks to Ron Frenz” or something, and people assumed that it was because it was a Tom DeFalco story, that I must’ve helped him plot it or something. Believe me, Tom DeFalco does not need my help, coming up with story ideas, okay?
That credit was because I did thumbnails for the artist. And that was the only reason for it. They did a big crossover at that point, between Teen Titans and one of the other groups. I forget what it was, because there was a lot of stuff coming over from Wild Storm, at that point. But they did a big crossover that it was going to be a big fight scene and all this kind of stuff. And the artist needed some help, either working off plots or full scripts. A couple of times, I did work off full scripts.
They were just basically trying to give the new illustrators a leg up. So, they wouldn’t have to deal with a blank page. That kind of thing. So, I was doing that. I found out that Scott McDaniel was doing that, and I think Larry Hama did some stuff for them. Just trying to help out the next generation of illustrators, and get paid for it. That kind of thing.
Jim: A lot of them still need help today.
Frenz: Well, that’s all a matter of opinion. It’s certainly a different world now. I mean, the schedules are much more fluid, and deadlines are aren’t as deadly. These days, with everything just being sold through comic shops, if you miss a deadline, they just resolicit it and nobody cares. That wasn’t the way it used to be.
Jim: And there’s some great art… I mean, people like Chris Samnee. There’s some fantastic storytellers still, today.
Frenz: Oh, absolutely. Actually, there’s more fantastic illustrators out there than ever before. They’re just not doing what we remember as being comics. The Marvel style of dynamic storytelling just isn’t out there anymore. I don’t think there’s anybody, currently, that’s really representing that much. But the people that have discovered comics in the last five, 10 years, they don’t care. They love the comics that they love. Everybody loves the comics that were being done when they discovered comics.
That’s why my wheel house is the late ‘60s and ‘70s. That’s… everybody, their ideal comic experience is whatever is going on when they discovered comics. That’s what I found out, and that’s completely fair. I mean, that’s what makes the world go around. Different opinions.
Jim: That’s exactly right. Alex, should we leave it?… That seems like a good ending.
Alex: Yeah. So, I would say that, when I was a kid, there were two comics I noticed on the newsstand at 7/11, and that was a Thor issue you did with Annihilus on the cover. They’re kind of in a cave. And then there is the Spider-Man and Iron Fist fighting Chemistro, and those are the two comics that I picked up. The Chemistro one was fine, but the Thor that you and DeFalco did, that sucked me in. Where I was like, “Mom, I need you to find me a comic shop. I’m going to read these and I’m going to find out what happened before this.” And it got me into collecting the Marvel Universe trade paperbacks and classic X-Men.
Your art, the stories that you and DeFalco told, were my gateway into the entire Marvel Universe. And I love the stuff that you’ve done. I’m really thrilled with today’s podcast. I can still even, now, go back and read that stuff, and I feel that same magic as I felt when I was like 12, and looking at this stuff.
Frenz: Wow… I appreciate that Alex. I really do. Of course, we have to give full credit to Jack Kirby because that Thor cover was ripped off of the Jack Kirby Fantastic Four cover with the Hulk.
Alex: And I found that out later…
Frenz: So, it all comes back to Kirby.
Alex: It does. It does.
Frenz: And I will say, since we didn’t have time to do it now, this has been my history. And currently, I’m working on Sitcomics.net. Out in California, doing a book called Blue Baron, and working on a book called The Heroes Union and it is being produced by a gentleman named Darin Henry, who discovered comics in the ‘70s. So, this is very… He sought out Sal Buscema, to pencil these books for him, and Sal had retired from penciling, but recommended me because of our work together on Spider-Girl, and Sal was inking the stuff.
Again, Darin grew up reading this stuff during the ‘70s and that’s what he’s trying to channel with these books. They are great fun, and I highly recommend them.
Sitcomics, there’s several titles being done by different artists. All terrific. All with a different voice. And Darin is doing some wonderful work. So, I do want to put a pin in that for everybody, okay?
Alex: Yeah. Absolutely. Yes, because it’s like sitcoms but as a comic, right? And that’s kind of the concept there.
Frenz: Right. Well that’s… The Baron, for years, he started out working as an assistant on Seinfeld. And has worked on sitcoms most of his life, as a writer and a show runner for Disney and overseas producers and stuff, that’s why he went with Sitcomics. It’s not because they’re all humor comics or anything. He’s writing some really solid superhero stuff. Kind of turning some of the tropes on their head, and everything… I’m having a lot of fun with it.
Alex: Yeah, cool.
Frenz: So, definitely check it out. You guys need to check it out, but everybody needs to check it out. All right?
Alex: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And also, everyone check out Ron Frenz’ Outdoor Life, from 2013. He did an interesting…
Alex: Segment there, that actually does feel like a Marvel comic but there’re no costumes.
Frenz: That’s what they wanted at the time. They wanted it to look more like a Marvel comic. Then the new editor came on and said, “That’s stupid. We don’t want to do that anymore.” And I wasn’t doing it anymore. But he pays you money, and you take your chances. But thanks, I appreciate it.
Alex: Well, Ron, thanks so much for joining Jim and I today. We had a blast.
Jim: Really fun.
Frenz: Well, it’s been a lot of fun for me, walking down memory lane, and everything. I appreciate the fact that you guys are out there doing these podcasts, and keeping some of the history alive and informed. So, thank you very much, guys.
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