Comic Book Historians

Peter Sanderson: Comics' Archivist part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

July 01, 2021 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 85
Comic Book Historians
Peter Sanderson: Comics' Archivist part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview comic archivist, author, critic and historian, Peter Sanderson who discusses the end of his Marvel tenure, Mark Gruenwald's death, the circumstances of the layoffs during the 1995 bankruptcy era, working with Bill Jemas, working for IGN for Comics in Context, later for Kevin Smith, and publishing various works on Marvel history and continuity like Marvel Vault 2006 with Roy Thomas, Marvel Travel Guide to New York City 2007, and curating an exhibition on Stan Lee for Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Edited & Produced by Alex Grand.   Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians.

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Alex:               I see. And we’re going to get to that, I promise. So, now, before we get to that though, you were writing the Wolverine Saga in the late ‘80s, 1989-ish or around 1989. I had those four issues with Wolverine #50. I had a Wolverine file in my house, and this was my definitive Wolverine history was, that Wolverine Saga. So, tell us about that.

Sanderson:     There’s a lot more Wolverine history that’s been added since then.

Alex:               There has… Yeah. Oh, yeah, for sure.

Sanderson:     And that’s probably coming after stories set more recently. I’m talking about his back story.

Alex:               Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, they’ve added way more which… I’ve tracked that stuff down, and that’s fine.

Sanderson:     I don’t like Wolverine tortured; I think that was Chris Claremont had a point at keeping it mysterious.

Alex:               Yeah. Right… Yeah, they got a little weird with that.

Sanderson:     Too many writers and editors don’t believe in the power of mystery.

Alex:               Right… Then Marvel Saga issue #22, Peter David wrote about the history of Peter and Mary Jane, and Marvel Saga had like kind of a little change in style there. What happened with that situation? And were you not a Peter and Mary Jane fan, as far as them being married?

Sanderson:     I don’t remember that at all.

Alex:               Oh, okay. Well, Peter David wrote that issue, is what I’m saying. He wrote issue #22.

Sanderson:     He did?

Alex:               Yeah, the history of Peter and Mary Jane.

Sanderson:     I wasn’t even aware of that at the time.

Alex:               Oh… okay. Interesting.

Sanderson:     That’s interesting. I’m finding all about this, decades later.

Alex:               [chuckle] Okay.

Sanderson:     This must have been after Danny left as editor, because Danny would not have commissioned an issue by somebody else without telling me, or asking me.

Alex:               That could have been. Yeah. That could have been.

Sanderson:     Danny’s remained a good friend, right through the present.

Alex:               Right through the present… Okay, so now, let’s go back to the dark days of Marvel, and then Jim’s going to the next section. Okay. First, what year did you leave Marvel exactly?

Sanderson:     I don’t remember. I’d have to look it up… though it’s in the ‘90s… Mid ‘90s.

Alex:               Okay. Mid ‘90s… Okay, like ’95-ish. Okay.

Sanderson:     I would say it was about the transition to writing these books, so that was okay.

Alex:               Right.

Sanderson:     I didn’t like being thrown out; I didn’t like all these people I knew being thrown out. I didn’t like the direction that Jemas and Quesada were initially embarked on with the books. Although, I think after another 10 years I started to see books by… You know, there are Marvel writers now like Dan Slott, like Jason Aaron, like Nick Spencer who I really like. But I didn’t like what’ll happen to a lot of the books right after Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada took over.

[01:00:02]

I never thought there was a point to the Ultimate line, so when the Ultimate line finally got cancelled, I thought, “Well, see, that was a waste of time. Just like a thought.”

Alex:               [chuckle]

Sanderson:     The only good things that came out of the Ultimate line, as far as I can tell… I mean, it was basically… Well, I would say why don’t we have an Earth Two? The only good things were the African-American Spiderman, which is a good idea. And setting in motion the process that got Samuel L. Jackson to play Nick Fury.

 

Alex:  So, in those final days in the mid ’90s, at Marvel, and people were getting let go, and there was bankruptcy, and this was with the Revlon people under Perelman. Mark Gruenwald passed away around this time. Tell us about your relationship with Mark and do you feel like the situation at Marvel contributed to his death?

Sanderson:     Okay. First, before I get into that, another gap to fill, which I nearly forgotten, which was that after I stopped… They’d buy me off the archivist position in the major downsizing, immediately, I got hired back to come in a couple of days a week to be a proofreader because Flo Steinberg was the proofreader at that point, who was as genuinely wonderful as you’ve heard. I really loved talking to her. But she only wanted to work like three days a week, so I would come in the other two days. And I got to sit next to George Rousseau, which is interesting too. I really should have talked more to him about his history working with Bob Kane way back in the early days of Batman. But I really wasn’t aware of it at that time, but I do enjoyed talking to him.

Then after the Jemas-Quesada administration got installed, I remember the head of the production department coming in to me one day, and say, “We’re going to have to let you go as proofreader. Editorial likes what you’re doing, production likes what you’re doing, but we have to get rid of you.” So, make of that what you will. I wasn’t getting paid that much to be proofreader, but I suspect they really wanted to bring in somebody who would work even cheaper. That was when I really left Marvel finally. Again, I was continuing to write… You’d think that with me writing these books for all the publishers about Marvel history of characters, that they’d be nicer to me.

And now of course, over time, Ralph Macchio has retired, Tom Brevoort is really the only person left from the days that I was at Marvel, regularly. So, it’s a whole new generation, so I don’t think most of them even have heard of me… Grant Morrison was there until a year or so ago. He would invite me in, to do podcasts every once in a while. But now my only real connection with Marvel is that when they have one of the screenings of the Marvel movies, I get an invitation, which is very nice. But of course, now it’ll be like at least till November, before we got another Marvel movie…

I got invited to the big… Which you may have seen on TV. The big Marvel Celebrates Stan Lee TV special. I got invited to be at that. That was really fun because so many people who’re still on the East Coast who used to work at Marvel, from my generation, were there. So. it was like a wonderful reunion.

Sanderson:     But anyway, back to Mark. Mark was… Okay. There are many things that were great about Mark. Mark was sort of beloved at Marvel, by editorial and production. Mark was sort of the spirit of the Marvel bullpen. It’s as if like Mark grew up reading Stan talking about the Marvel bullpen, and people who worked at Marvel as if it was like a really fun place to work. And now most people realize that Stan was basically doing a lot of spin there, that most of the people he was referring to were working out of their homes. But it’s as if Mark really wanted to make that happen for real.

Mark was sort of like our morale officer, unofficially. He would organize parties in the office. There’d be stunts that he’d do like he would decorate his office in weird ways. For example, there’s a TV anchor, in the New York area, named Michele Marsh, who was really good looking. Mark developed a sort of obsession with her, and he started putting photos of her up all over his office wall. This led to a Michele Marsh day at Marvel, where everybody on staff sort of crowded into Mark’s office and they were all wearing a Michele Marsh masks. And there was another time when he put his desk up on a platform. So, he was sort of towering over everybody who came in. And he filled the floor with torn paper, I guess from comics. And so, you had to sort of wade through all this paper to get to Mark. Or another time when he decorated the office like it was a medieval dungeon, and it was fun working with Mark.

The original version of the Handbook, we often had to work nights on that because it was so much work doing that. Like I would work on entries in my home in Queens, and then early evening I’d travel into Manhattan in to the Marvel offices and continue to write there on a typewriter at Mark’s assistant’s desk… And sometimes, Mark was there, or one of his assistants, David Wohl and they’re doing production work on the book. And I’d be there typing away until like 11 o’clock at night and then I’d leave.

[00:05:01]

Marvel’s location, which was like 27th and Park Avenue South, back then, this is in the ’80s, you go outside that time of night and you’d have to avoid the hookers in the subway.

So, Mark, he was a source of fun. He was a really hard worker. Now when the downsizings came, like I said, I was called into this tribunal of three; Bob Harras is one of them. One of the interesting things about the tribunal was that within a year all of them were gone from Marvel too. Like it was a day when everybody was sort of in his office, nervously awaiting, wondering if they were going to get the call and to see the tribunal. And if you did then the tribunal would tell you, you were being let go. One staffer was so upset by this that he actually fainted.

And so, after I got told by Harras and the other two staffers, they were from different departments at Marvel, that I was being let go, I went into Mark’s office and told him. I remember the look of shock on face because they had not let him know this beforehand. Now, it is said that… There are people who believe… Well as you say, Mark died soon after this.

Oh, another thing that happened was that Mark was no longer writing Captain America, and he had the Avengers books taken away from him because this was when they were referred down to Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld, and … Anyway, so Mark died, of a cardiac arrest I think, very soon afterwards. And there are people, including myself, who believe that this was a reaction, to seeing what had happened to all his friends, so many of his friends at Marvel, during the downsizing.

Alex:               As a reaction to his colleagues and friends being fired you mean, right?

Sanderson:     Yeah. During the ’80s, there’s always a lot of tension when Jim Shooter was editor in chief. And a great deal of relief when then Marvel got rid of him and Tom DeFalco was promoted to take this place. Because everyone liked Tom. He was very easy going. But, despite all the tension, what made Marvel so much fun back then, was Mark. And like I say, he’s like the spirit of Marvel. Tom Brevoort even said that after his passing.

And no, I don’t have that much contact with Marvel, anymore. They recently moved last fall, but I’ve been to their previous offices, in midtown Manhattan several times. But when I walk around there, it’s like a big advertising office with a lot of young people. I find myself thinking, is this what, like John Romita Sr, and Archie Goodwin felt when they walked around Marvel in my time? “Oh, we’re the two old guys and all these young people.” Everybody at Marvel looks really young to me now.

It’s like an advertising office, you don’t see the weird… There are Marvel posters on the wall, but you don’t see the gag posters or the decorated offices. If they have office parties, I’d never hear about them. So, it’s like really, even after Mark died, and Jemas and Quesada, took over, I was still there as proofreader. Remember? And I somehow… The editorial office was so quiet, whereas they were always bustling with happy noise during the ’80s, and everybody was pretty much isolated in a cubicle. And I remember being sort of horrified one day because I was sitting across from the office of one of the new editors, and he was going over a script with one of his writers. He was questioning specific words in the dialogue and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, this sort of micromanagement would never have happened, even under Shooter.”

They also, Marvel is on the 10th floor of this building on Park Avenue South. They closed off the receptionist’s office, on the 10th floor. They had locked doors and you need a special card to get through the doors. And they wouldn’t give me one of those cards. So, in the days when I was there for proofreading, when I came back from lunch, I had to wait for somebody to let me in.

Alex:               That stinks because of all the time that you put into that place. Yeah.

Sanderson:     My only meeting with Bill Jemas came on September 12th, 2001, the day after 9/11. Because I came into the offices to do my usual proofreading, I had no idea that they had closed the offices for that day. And so Jemas came to the door and told me that the offices were closed. So, I went home.

Alex:               So then last question, and then Jim will talk about some of your post Marvel stuff, is do you feel, like you said that Jim Shooter, although was kind of micromanaged, to some extent, the micromanagement was worse later. Do you feel it’s an injustice?

Sanderson:     Everything was worth slamming. The downsizings were way worse than we could ever have imagined during the Shooter era. Because Shooter, he gave people a hard time. But only a couple of people ended up getting fired.

Alex:               Right. So, do you feel it was a justice or an injustice that Shooter is so vilified moving forward in comics history?

Sanderson:     Hmm, I’ve going to be diplomatic here. I think Shooter did a lot of good things; that he set up an editorial structure that gave Marvel an order, and discipline that it really needed. Before Shooter, you are constantly having the dreaded doomsday deadline doom, where the story is worth getting in on time, so you didn’t end up writing a re-print.

[00:10:07]

And this was happening over and over. And you had a lot of writer-editors who were, as however talented they might be, were not necessarily disciplined, in terms of schedules. So, Shooter started up, an editorial structure with editors and assistant editors, and adhering to deadlines. And this was all important.

On the other hand, he did tend to, not micromanage dialogue, but he did tend to insert himself perhaps more than they should have, into the making of the comics. He wasn’t diplomatic himself. Like he’d look at a finished comic, and he’d review it, and he’d write things like, “Arghh!” in the margins. That’s a way of hurting editors and writers and artists feelings. There’s stories about how he was lecturing Gene Colan about how to do comic storytelling. He’s the one who had basically insisted on changing the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, for better or for worse, because what he wanted was for Jean (Grey) to be sent to a cosmic prison and be tortured for the rest of her life.

And now, I look back and I thought, “Oh, my gosh.” So, John Byrne, Chris Claremont came up with the alternate, which Shooter accepted of having Jean commit suicide… And yet, a few years later, Layton launched X-Factor, so they undid the end of the Dark Phoenix story. But Shooter, he would raise objections to a lot of what writers were doing. He also had sort of retrograde ideas. I mean his ideal, for comic storytelling seem to be the kind of nine-panel grids that Ditko did all the time. So, you could see why someone like Colan would raise his wrath. And back then, it was a question of like someone like Chris Claremont, try to find a way to do what he wanted to do in such a way that it would get past Shooter.

Some people, he seemed to leave pretty much alone, like Walt Simonson on Thor. And he’d encouraged some new comers. He was an early advocate of Frank Miller’s work… So, Shooter, was a mixed bag. He did good things and he did not so good things. I don’t think he should be vilified. I think, you should take a balanced look towards him. And I do think it’s unfortunate that he seems not to… But that’s true. I mean, he’s another boomer who doesn’t get enough work in comics. I sort of wonder why you don’t see more from him as a writer.

Jim:                 Peter, that’s actually a perfect segue to the question… Well, before I start asking you about Comics and Context, and some of the other things that you do, after Marvel. And your columns and your writing, and your books, I wanted to ask you a question exactly about that… As a comic historian, who do you think are the creators who are most… Or managers, or artists, or writers, who are most underappreciated, undervalued, and should be known by audiences today more than they are?

Sanderson:     Well, Mark Gruenwald, for one.

Jim:                 Yes.

Sanderson:     He wasn’t a great writer but he was a very good writer. He did Captain America, going for 10 years. I think Quasar was really interesting. Quasar, was sort of like doing a DC character like Green Lantern, but setting it in the Marvel Universe. And his triumph was Squadron Supreme, which is one of the great comic series of the mid ’80s and sort of was gotten overlooked in the wake of even bigger deals like Watchmen. But the Squadron Supreme limited series, very much reflects Mark because, as I’d said, he idolized Julie Schwartz and Gardner Fox.

The Squadron was originally created by Roy Thomas as a parody of the Justice League. Mark was taking it seriously as analogs of the Justice League. What he was doing is showing what would happen to the DC Silver Age Justice League if they were set in a Marvel type world.

The big theme of this is about the road to hell is paved with good intentions, that after a disaster strikes their parallel Earth, the Squadron take control, like martial law. It’s not clear whether it’s the whole world or just the United States, but they are determined to create a utopia. On the process of that, even though they’re well-intentioned, they violate various freedoms and various rights. If you’re, for example, a big second amendment fan, you’re probably going to object to the way that they confiscated everybody’s gun.

And this was sort of like a callback to what Doc Savage used to do. They would brainwash criminals that they’ve captured so that they wouldn’t commit crimes anymore. But then you see, in the course of the series, how this sort of power corrupts them when the Green Arrow analog uses this brainwashing technology on the Black Canary analog to make her fall in love with him. And it ends with the Batman analog, Nighthawk leading a revolutionary rebellion, to overthrow the Squadron, which is led by Hyperion who was a Superman analog.

And there have been so many series, like Kingdom Come, and Injustice, and Superman: Red Son that have come along afterwards, which are basically pitting a tyrannical Superman, or a Superman who has sort of overstepped his bounds against Batman, who leads the revolution, and represents regular humanity.

[00:15:08]

I mean, even as seen afterwards as the Original Dark Knight gets Superman against Batman. That all started really with Mark. He was the first one who really did this, what’s become this trope, in superhero comics.

Sanderson:     Also, for the New Universe books in the ’80s, Mark did the best one, D.P. 7, which was a bunch of people who would develop paranormal powers and we’re put in sort of an asylum where they would learn to use their powers like Professor X’s school, but also cope psychologically with the stresses of becoming a superpowered person. And eventually they find out that this asylum is being run by people who are trying to exploit the superhumans and so a bunch of them flee and lived these filmatic lives traveling the country. And I’ve longed thought that this is a series that would make a great television series. If anyone from Marvel studios is watching this, if you’re looking for more stuff from Disney Plus, this would be a good one.

Jim:                 I would just add, in terms of Gruenwald doing that with Squadron Supreme, that he was smart enough to do it with non-Marvel Universe characters, that DC when they did it in Identity Crisis, with having Zatanna actually wiping out memories and doing that with the consent of half of the heroes, to me that was just horrible. What happens there, because it takes that darkness and it actually applies it to the regular continuity heroes. I know you wrote about that, right?

Sanderson:     Identity Crisis took a fall for that reason. For that reason, it also… Well, the horrible murder of Sue Dibny.

Jim:                 Yes. One of the most, just lovely characters in the whole DC Universe.

Sanderson:     And also, the Elongated Man series was a comedy mystery. You don’t take comedy characters, and rape and murder them. But anyway, the closest thing that I can think of at Marvel, that was the horrible storyline, David Michelinie wrote it, unfortunately, in Avengers in which Carol Danvers is in effect, hypnotized and raped by this son of Immortus, Marcus, and impregnates her.

The Avengers, when she gets back, just sort of nod their heads and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And Chris Claremont was so infuriated about that, that when he did an Avengers Annual later, he had Carol sort of call the Avengers on the carpet about the horrible way that they had treated her,

Jim:                 Yes. I mean she actually said how angry she was. And I thought that was very smart to dig themselves out from that. I’m not a big fan of rape of superheroines, anyway. I think it’s…

Sanderson:     That’s a good point you made. It’s similar to when Alan Moore originally wanted to do the Charlton superheroes in Watchmen. Dick Giordano, I think was making a similar point. He didn’t want the Charlton heroes to be like turn dark and dysfunctional. So, he wanted Moore to come up with his own character, so Moore came up with the Watchmen that we know. Most of whom you can see their foundation of the Charlton characters, but he’s changed some of them up. Then the Watchmen, like the Squadron, were basically characters that the readers didn’t have an emotional investment in, at first. Then it’s easy to have them turn bad.

Sanderson:     But in the case of the Squadron, keep in mind, Hyperion and the rest, didn’t realize they were doing bad until these things started blowing up in their face, and Nighthawk finally beat them. And they had the epiphany that, “Oh my, what have we done? We’ve established this tyranny with all the best intentions, but it’s still a tyranny.”

Now, you want to hear about other people, I think are underrated?

Jim:                 Yes. Give me a couple more.

Sanderson:     My old friend, Peter Gillis, who was working for Marvel and DC in the ’80s like me, and I did a lot of what I thought, brilliant stories. He did an Eternal series, which has never been reprinted, but maybe when the Eternal movie comes out, it will be. He did amazing issues of What If. He did good issues of Captain America, and a good long run on the Defenders. He was pushing the boundaries of what you could do with the superheroes’ stories. And yet he’s never really been a fan favorite, or after the ’80s he stopped getting work. Although, he’s back doing independent comics now. But it’s like, I think he’s an underrated writer.

There are other writers that, if we’re talking about the color generation, like I keep waiting for Steve Gerber to be rediscovered, not just by current readers, but by the mainstream press because it’s been said that he was doing Vertigo comics before Vertigo. He was making major moves towards more sophisticated comic book stories in the ’70s. He deserved to be rediscovered.

Don McGregor, I’m really happy that the movie people, they not only use… What Don was doing in his Black Panther stories, in the ‘70s he was getting a hard time from other people in Marvel editorial. Things like, “Why do you have to do a series with no white people in it?”.

Jim:                 This is my objection to Shooter, is most of those people left Marvel because of Jim Shooter’s decisions or behavior. And that was my favorite error of Marvel, probably.

[00:20:04]

Sanderson:     Well anyway… It’s like Don, he wasn’t getting support at Marvel when he was doing these stories. He wasn’t getting paid much. He was originally sort of pushed off the Black Panther in the middle of the storyline. And yet now, he’s getting more recognition in the world at large. He’s on the Black Panther movie DVD. He got invited to the premier. The movie, of course, is full of stuff that they took from Don, and also from Christopher Priest. That’s like the Black Panther, the movie, this billion-dollar franchise is largely adapted from the work of Don McGregor who got a pittance for it. And the thing is, that I would like to think that Don would get more comic book work, out from this. But no, he doesn’t.

Jim:                 We just interviewed him just a weeks ago. It was a real treat.

Sanderson:     Yeah, he’s wonderful.

Alex:               Would you happen to know who at Marvel editorial was giving Don the hardest time?

Sanderson:     He never mentions names, so I don’t know. I can make guesses but I don’t know. And I’d rather not make a guess… Yes, a lot of people left Marvel in the ’80s because of Shooter. And you could argue that DC’s revitalization would not have happened without Shooter because John Byrne left because he was fed up with Shooter. Frank Miller left because he was fed up with Shooter. The Superman revamp, and Dark Knight, which were the major phenomenon of DC in the mid ’80s that really got the company moving again.

It’s funny about Byrne, because Byrne used to throw these huge parties. He owned a mansion in Connecticut. And yes, this was back in the days when you could make real money off of comics. He had a mansion in Connecticut and he’d throw these big parties a couple of times a year and he used to invite like basically everybody in the business. There was one summer party, he’d invited Dick Giordano too, and Shooter was there too. Right under Shooter’s nose, during that party, John was talking to Dick Giordano about going to DC and revamping Superman.

Now, I’m not sure that Don left because of Shooter because I think once Shooter rose to power Don was already gone. But I’d have to check that.

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Jim:                 We should probably move on and talk about your Comics and Context column. Is there anybody else you just want to fairly quickly say people should be invested?… I agree with Steve Gerber completely.

Sanderson:     Well, in one of my talks with you guys before we did the podcast, one of you mentioned Archie Goodwin as an editor. Also was a writer, because he was a consummate craftsman as a writer, and he was beloved as an editor. He was behind the Epic line, which of course, Marvel has no equivalent of now. He was doing a lot of experimenting in new directions and giving creators room to experiment.

And when he went to DC, I remember him telling me that he thought that the secret of being a good editor was to pick the right people. and then let them do what they want. Trust them… I think maybe because Archie was never a writer who did… Yeah. Well, Manhunter, the work he did with Walt Simonson, at the start of Walt’s career, is this enduring gem. But for the most popular books that Archie wrote aren’t like major collectors’ items now. And so, I don’t think younger generations really know about him or appreciate him as much as they should.

Jim:                 Yeah, I agree. The works he did at Warren in the late ’60s when he brought in people like Steve Ditko… Gave him some of the best works Ditko ever did.

Sanderson:     And you see, at the time I didn’t even know about that. Those are all the books that I’ve read only when I started visiting the Columbia Library’s comics collection… Oh, and also, he wrote the Star Wars comic strip and comic strips of Secret Agent Corrigan with Al Williamson doing the art for both. Those are really good. I’ve read those at the Columbia Library as well.

Jim:                 Let’s talk about Comics and Context. You started that in 2003?

Sanderson:     That sounds about right. I did it for about five years.

Jim:                 You talk about Dark Shadows, and your love for Dark Shadows, and then Top Cat, and then comics, and… Just everywhere.

Sanderson:     Well, I have no problem dealing with animation because, for my money, comics and animation are closely related art forms. You’ll notice if you follow my Facebook page that every day, I do anniversaries and birthdays for major people in both comics, and in animation. As well as other related fields, like I’ll do New Yorker cartoonists, for example. Last week, I did Leonardo DaVinci because he did caricatures. He’s another one of the fathers of cartoon art.

Dark Shadows, which I really love… Sometimes, I would give myself leeway to do something that’s in fantasy or science fiction, even though it wasn’t comics. Maybe if I had the blog to do over, again… Well, I enjoy writing about this stuff. The thing is that I was doing it for no money, and it took a long time to do these columns because it always turned into like 10 pages typewritten. Well, not only do I keep being told nowadays that blogs are dead, but even back then I was being told that people will only read short entries in blogs.

I have no idea how many people used to read Comics and Context, so I’m always grateful when I find somebody who did. I’d like to do something like this again, but I’ll have two problems with me.

[00:25:00]

One is my recent health problems, that three years ago I fell outside the Columbia Library. I had fractured my hip, and when I was in the hospital for five months, they discovered that I had kidney disease. And so, my health has not been that good that that’s sort of varies my energy level. Today I’m feeling energetic because I’m talking to you guys. I like to get my energy level up to the point where I could do writing every week because I want to spend my senior years leaving a body of work, at least do one more book on my own. Which is this bios thing that’s titled Various Great Comics of the Past, and Comics Creators.

And the other problem is that it’s hard for me to justify doing stuff for free anymore.

Jim:                 So, when you say no money, you mean literally no money?

Sanderson:     No, I’m now past my retirement age, and it’d be nice to have a source of income. Really after spending in my lifetime studying, criticizing, writing, comics histories, I really wish… When people tell me that the comics business is booming, or that comics are taken more seriously than ever by the mainstream, I keep thinking that if it was really that good, I’d get offers of work. I’d have friends who’d get offers of work. But I’m still looking out for the opportunity to do something more with comics, to do another book, to do another blog, but I… Yeah, if it was going to be another blog, I’d want it to be hosted somewhere where people go and actually see it because I don’t think most people were even aware of Comics and Context at the time.

Jim:                 Yeah. What I was going to ask is, besides the ones that are still up through Fred, are the others available online or are they lost?

Sanderson:     I’ve not checked for a while. Last time I checked, may have been a year or two ago, and I could find a whole lot of them online.

Jim:                 I could find the 2010 ones because they were on Fred, but I was having trouble with the others. In a throw back to when we first started talking, it’s sad that when they reprint the comics as well, so many of them don’t include the letters pages.

Sanderson:     Well I guess DC’s new facsimile editions, I think they include the letters pages, don’t they?… But yeah, I probably have most of them Comics and Context on an old computer but the old computer has been dying. So, I hope that they’re not lost forever. What’s possible is that Ken Plume, who was my editor on my column Comics and Context, he may have copies of all these stuffs.

Jim:                 You should find out cause that’s a historical artifact, in my opinion. I’d like to see them preserved.

Sanderson:     And sometimes people say, if only you could find somebody to publish them, or publish some of them anyway. If, say for example, I decide to do a book about superhero movies, I’d already reviewed a lot of them in Comics and Context. And that I’d have to write a whole lot of new movie reviews, of course, but it could be a basis for a book.

Jim:                 Oh yes, absolutely. We should talk about that. That’s an interesting subject as far as I’m concerned as well. Was there a difference between what you were doing there, and what you were doing for Publishers Weekly? Was that the same style of column? You were doing that around 2007.

Sanderson:     Publishers Weekly, I’d be asked to do reviews, and I got paid very little for them. That’s like, apart from the books that I did for places like Abrams at DK, virtually everything, throughout my career, whether it was Amazing Heroes, or it was Publishers Weekly, paid nothing or virtually nothing. And for whatever reason, Heidi Macdonald stopped offering, or, whoever was in charge of the comics reviews at Publishers Weekly stopped offering me those. But I was dealing with them for a while.

I think one of my problems though, with Publishers Weekly, is that Heidi had kept sending me, stacks of books that they’d gotten in and none of them had anything to do with the superhero genre. So, it was sort of like… And I don’t confine myself to the superhero genre, these books tended not to be to my taste.

Jim:                 Ah, that’s interesting. I noticed that when I was looking at some of them, it didn’t seem like your wheelhouse, exactly.

Sanderson:     Even though I could do like… I’ll read Eisner books, I’ll read Kurtzman books, I’ll read Moebius, I’ll read various French comics. Tintin. I’ll read genres that are not superhero genre. But I basically am an expert at, or consider myself an expert on the superhero genre at Marvel and DC.

Jim:                 What do you think of Peter Coogan’s book? Which I think is very important to the understanding of the genre.

Sanderson:     Peter Coogan’s books, Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, I think it is an extraordinary book. I think everybody who’s in the superhero comics studies should read it. I had, some months back, I was having a fight with various people on Facebook about it because Peter sets out the definition. He sets out the definition of what qualifies a character to be a superhero. I think these are very important guidelines this sets out. And I think that he argues convincingly in favor of all of them, and so I follow them myself, but there are other people who I was having arguments. Like people saying Batman is not a superhero because he has no superpowers, or people saying that Shadow is a superhero.

[00:30:01]

No, he’s a pulp vigilante. Or the Phantom, I agree that the Phantom is an ambiguous case, but I really don’t think the Phantom goes all the way.

Superman is the very first super hero, and part of the reason is that it was Superman that inspired all these imitations, within a year or two. Whereas the Phantom, I think, even though he first appeared as a costumed vigilante who was operating in the big city, they very quickly moved into his jungle location. So, I think that he really should be classified as a jungle hero in the Tarzan mode. Peter Coogan agrees with me about the Shadow, and the Phantom, and Batman. I mean, there’s very little space between us in terms of…

I think my only real quarrel with Peter is that after he it comes up with all these specific qualifications for being a superhero, like you have to have a costume, you have to have an insignia, you have to have extraordinary abilities, whether they are superhuman or not, things like that, you’ll have to have an ongoing mission. But when it comes to defining a supervillain, he has a much broader definition. So, example. he includes Professor Moriarty; he includes the James Bond villains like Goldfinger and Blofeld.

I tend to think that, there’s part of me that thinks supervillains should be reserved for the costumed villains, the ones who battle the superheroes. But still, I can still see Peter’s point. I mean when I watched Silence of the Lambs, I think, “Hmm, Hannibal Lecter is sort of a supervillain.” There’s the ambiguous cases like Superman’s main enemy is Luthor, who’d usually doesn’t wear a costume, and usually doesn’t have super powers. But since he’s Superman’s arch enemy, he must be a supervillain. But then, you look into Luthor’s history and there are plenty of stories where he has a costume. And there are stories going all the way back to Golden Age with the power stone storyline in which he has super powers too. So, it doesn’t bother me to call Luthor a supervillain.

Alex:               Right. Before I go on to this next section, quick question. When you were doing the Comics and Context for IGN and then you moved over to a site called Fred, did you have any association with Kevin Smith during any of this time?

Sanderson:     No. You Ken Plume moved out… He was my editor on this, and who was the one who got me to do the column. He had the connection with Kevin Smith. But to this day, I’ve never had any contact with Kevin Smith whatsoever. Maybe someday, but I’ve never, so far. Like I say, I didn’t get paid by Kevin Smith when I was doing it for Fred, and when I was doing for IGN, I didn’t get paid either. And then I read a story about how this company had bought IGN for millions of dollars, and I’m thinking, “So, IGN can’t afford to pay me?”

Alex:               [chuckle] Exactly.

Sanderson:     I don’t think anyone, apart from Ken Plume and IGN, really appreciated my work, anyway…

Alex:               Yeah, that’s interesting… So, tell us about working on The Marvel Vault in 2006 with Roy Thomas. This was a visual Marvel history… How was, let’s say, working with Roy in comparison to working with someone like Mark Gruenwald?

Sanderson:     Roy wasn’t the editor. The editor was… I dealt with the editor at the company that published Marvel Vault. I didn’t really have contact with Roy because it was basically decided that Roy will handle Marvel history up to a certain date, and then I would take over. So, it wasn’t a collaboration with Roy at all. Although, I know Roy, I’ve met him a few times, we get along fine.

Alex:               Okay. So, it was just more like it was just your section of the book and he had his other section. Okay… Now tell us about, these are some fun projects, so a Marvel travel guide to New York City in 2007. This is interesting. It’s kind of like exploring Marvel’s New York City. Tell us how that came about.

Sanderson:     Oh, again, I don’t really remember who asked me to do this, and how that came about. I was asked, it’s not like I wrote out a proposal and submitted it to publishers. I’ve never done that… Well actually I have. I had an agent at one point, and I did some proposals for him that he tried to sell around, but he never got anywhere with them. And eventually, he dropped me as a client because they said I wasn’t bringing in enough money. But this agent never found work for me. I thought I’d be asked by other people to work, do projects and then I’d tell the agent, and he’d negotiate the deal. So, if there’s such thing as an agent who actually finds work for comics historians, I’d like to know.

But anyway, I really enjoyed doing the Marvel Guide to New York City. Because really, you can walk around Manhattan, and if you know enough about Marvel history, you continue with classic places that Marvel stories happened there. Even like in the first Avengers movie, the big fight with the aliens at the end, happens right in front of Grand Central Station, on Park Avenue South, just several blocks away from one of Marvels old locations. And whenever I walked down to Grand Central now, after that movie, I always think, “Oh, they got this place in such good shape after the big battle with the aliens”.

Alex:               [chuckle] They really cleaned it up real nice. Damage control.

Sanderson:     Really. I was researching the travel guide, basically, my own memory of Marvel stories, and what I could find online. So that if I had like the access to the Columbia Library back then I’d be able to do much more.

[00:35:04]

And even since the book came out, there have been… Like Dan Slott has been very good at using real New York City locations. Like there’s one issue of Spiderman where there’s a party at Bryant Park, or Paul Tarvey had Peter Parker, working at a scientific firm that was down at South Street Seaport.

I enjoyed that sort of thing and what I’d really like to do… For a time, I thought if only I can find somebody who would pay me to do guided tours of New York City, pointing out Marvel locations. But then I find out somebody had beaten me to it. But I’d really like to do, like a sequel to that book. And maybe add a whole lot of stuff to it or maybe do an expanded version like Marvel’s Guide to the United States and deal with Marvel stories that are set in like Los Angeles or San Francisco, or Chicago, or the Everglades for Man-Thing. Things like that.

Similarly, I mean I wish that Abrams would have, after I did the Marvel Universe book for them, that they would have invited me to do an update, but they never did. And, it may be that they no longer have the rights to do Marvel stuff because ever since Disney bought Marvel.

Alex:               Yeah, that’s right. That’s when a lot of these stuffs stops, is around 2008 or so when… Then Disney buys it and then a lot of those books kind of disappear.

Sanderson:     I don’t go into bookstores that often anymore, but I remember the last time I was at Barnes & Noble, I said, “Oh look, here’s some Marvel and DC, encyclopedia type books that I wasn’t asked to work on because nobody knows me anymore.” But some of those are still being done, but not made really as regularly.

There was a time when, after I was hot doing these books, then Tom DeFalco for a while, seemed to be doing a lot of Marvel books for other publishers, with DK and so forth. Then there’s Matthew Morrison, and I think he still does them from time to time. But I don’t know if there are as many as being done, as they were back then.

Alex:               So, then tell us about curating the exhibition on Stan Lee for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.

Sanderson:     I was doing that. I was teamed up with a friend who did a lot of work at the museum, named Ken Wong, and we traveled to various collectors that we had knowledge of, and asked them to look through original art pages that Stan had written. Look through them, and decided what we’d want. And we did have contact with some of the real big guns of Marvel collectors, like Society of Illustrators now has done some amazing Marvel shows, Marvel art shows. There was that big Marvel exhibition that toured the world, which I saw when it was in Philadelphia that had a lot of really great original Marvel art.

Sanderson:     But anyway, we contacted a number of collectors in the New York City area. We got some pages. I think we’ve managed to cover pretty much every aspect of Stan’s work in comics. The delightful thing was when we had opening night and Stan was there, and to see how much he liked the exhibit. Also, he was so excited by it, I remember, there was an exhibition case that had stuff from top to bottom, at one point, he got down on his knees on the floor to look at the stuff on the bottom of the case. Because Stan was, until his last few years, despite his advanced age, he was amazingly active.

I remember when he arrived at the museum, he took a brief nap, I think. But then he was full of energy.

Alex:               Yeah, that’s cool. So, did you get to chat with him much during that?

Sanderson:     No, not much. But, of course, I got to meet him there. Not the first time… I first met him in the ’70s when he was making an appearance at a small convention in Boston. But this was the first time I’d really met him since. Even though he’s done introduction to some of my books, or, at least, sections that had his name on them. But yeah, we didn’t really talk much, but I did enjoy the fact that I was introduced to him as the co-curator and that he loved the exhibits so much. So that’s a bright memory.

Alex:               I got one last question and then Jim’s going to do the last section… You brought it up, kind of talked about it a little bit, but comics and ageism. All right. There’s a funny thing there, where it seems like comics, are they a young person’s world, not just in the fans but in the creator and artist. If they are to stay, somewhat culturally relevant to that time, it seems like what they end up doing is they hire younger people, kind of let go some of the older ones, and then a cultural amnesia tends to take place. Where it’s almost like there’s this 15 or 20 year… After 20 years, and the people back then are kind of forgotten. What’s your take on that? Is ageism inherent in the comics industry or is that just a myth?

Sanderson:     Well, that’s weird because early on, in the ’60s in the Silver Age, it was mostly people who had started out in the Golden Age, so it was mostly middle-aged people. Like Stan and Jack were middle age when they created Fantastic Four #1, which shows, by the way, how valuable middle-aged comics creators can be, that they did their best work in early middle age.

I should say that there are some people like Jim Starlin until Marvel got him angry again, recently, he was doing work for Marvel.

[00:40:00]

Peter David still works regularly for them. There are other people from my generation, or slightly younger, who you see who is still… Like Colleen Doran seems to be busy all the time, which is interesting because Colleen had a style, which in the ’80s that wasn’t like any of the male superhero artists that I wondered how well she’d do in the comics industry. But a lot of those male artists have fall by the wayside. She keeps growing strong because there’s a bigger market for the kind of fantasy projects that she often does.

Sanderson:     It’s not like ageism is… And people seem to be happy when they could get Walt Simonson to do something for Marvel. But there seem to be a handful of people who are still held in high enough regard that they still invite them to do work. But yeah, it still seems to be that most of the baby boom generation has been discarded. It took longer at DC because they didn’t have the downsizings. In fact, there are old friends of mine from Marvel, like Mike Carlin who are still at DC, still in the business. Although Mike has switched from comics to animation, so maybe that’s the point here, to keep in mind. Putlery Jamonds who was one of my Marvel contemporaries, she at DC. Bobby Chase, Bob Harris, although part of that is when Bob Harris went to DC, he brought over some of the people that he knew and liked from Marvel.

At Marvel, was the fact that the downsizings cleared out most of the baby boom generation and they knew Jemas-Quesada administration hired a lot of new people, who it seemed to me, had little connection or knowledge, or a liking for the works of the past. And part of this is sort of inevitable that you get young people. Always the new generations of young people who come along and fill editorial positions, and to come up as new writers. But yeah, I wish that, especially since there is, as I say… I don’t know what the audience is now. What, is it mostly people of younger generations who just don’t care about the Gold and Silver Age stuff? Or the stuff from the ’70s and ’80s? Or, you know, how much of this is…

When you see these big hard cover volumes recreating stories for past decades at Marvel and DC, who is buying these? Who has enough money to buy these? It seems to me there must be a substantial market of middle-aged and now senior citizens like myself, who are interested in the older stories and the older creators.

Personally, I wish Steve Englehart was working at DC and Marvel. I wish that Don McGregor was doing more work. I wish that Peter Gillis was working at DC or Marvel. Chris Claremont is under contract, but they toss him a couple of stories a year to do, but nothing else really. Not since his Nightcrawler limited series.

Jim:                 Do you think at some degree, Peter, the writing, the structure of comics has changed and you’re referring to people who believed in doing… Certainly, Englehart did continuing stories, but the notion wasn’t too do it based upon a six-issue trade paperback, that their style is different.

Sanderson:     I assume the writers could adapt to doing six-issue works that we collected as the trade paperbacks. But it is also true that you have to move with the times. And that in some ways, you look at the Stan stories for the Silver Age, and in some way respects they’re dated. I could see how new readers could say, “Well, Stan’s dialogue is corny”, but the thing is if you look past the corniness, it’s highly effective. He always gets the effects he wants. He makes these stories live. They’re vivid through his dialogue and narration.

And it amazes me that there’s still a huge Jack Kirby cult, considering that his main work is now 50 years or more old, and that I look at today’s comics and I don’t see anyone who’s really drawing like him. In fact, I hope I’m just not being cranky here, but it’s hard for me to think of a current artist regularly working at Marvel and DC who I think is a real standout, and has really distinctive, powerful style. A lot of it looks like it’s all of the same mold to me.

Sanderson:     Whereas when I started reading Schwartz’ DCs in the ’60s, I was seeing Carmine Infantino, and Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson. When I went over to Marvel, I was seeing Jack Kirby, and John Romita, and Gene Colan. It’s like all giants… There’s so many comics being done now; you can’t have a giant in every book. Giants seem to be in short supply these days.

Jim:                 I think there are some good artists that are at Marvel. I mean, that do things that are distinctive. I thought that Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer with Allred was very distinctive, and was a really nice book.

Sanderson:     He’s an exception to the rule.

Jim:                 I think Mark Waid’s Daredevil with Chris Samnee was an excellent writer-artist duo that I really enjoyed their work together too. But it is far and few between.

Sanderson:     I was more impressed on Daredevil, with Mark’s writing. Allred is sort of like, he’s not a standard superhero artist by any means. He’s very stylized, and so he’s sort of a special case. But I did enjoy the work that he did on covers for the Batman ’66 series that DC did.

[00:45:05]

But I don’t think of Batman as a standard traditional superhero artists. There are artists from past generations who are still active and who are still really great, like Alex Ross.

I’m happy with some of the younger writers nowadays, than I am with the artists in general. I can’t say that I buy any books these days. I only buy a handful of comics these days, and I tend to buy them for writers, not for artists.

Jim:                 Are they mostly Marvel, or is it a mix of Marvel and DC?

Sanderson:     It’s a mix, but DC keeps canceling the books that I like.

[chuckle]

So, I mean, it’s Justice, ran for years, but it’s over now. Batman 66, ran for years, and it’s over. Then I discovered Scooby-Doo! Team-Up, which I loved, unexpectedly, because it was not just Scooby-doo crossing over with the other Hanna-Barbera characters, but with DC superheroes. And they usually did the Silver Age versions of those heroes.

Jim:                 Oh, some of those were fun. The Green Lantern one that Mark Russell wrote was really nice.

Sanderson:     So, those were fun. I should collect more of them. I have about half of them. And it does, of course, raise the conundrum that that implies that the Hanna-Barbera funny animals and the DC superheroes inhabit the same Earth.

Jim:                 Did you read the Mark Russell Flintstones series, the 12 issues?

Sanderson:     I did not like it.

Jim:                 You didn’t like it? I’m curious about that.

Sanderson:     It goes back to my theory that characters are designed… I mean, well yeah, superheroes were originally read like mostly by children or by people who are teens and early 20s like the soldiers who read the superhero comics of World War II. But it’s like the superheroes, they were meant to be melodramas, and over the decades they have made a transition to becoming more sophisticated, and more adult.

Hanna-Barbera characters we’re done for children. They are meant to be comedies. So, when I read the Mark Russell Flintstones, and I see Fred and Barney talking about how they committed genocidal acts in Vietnam…

[chuckles]

Sanderson:     No!… On the other hand, I did like Mark Russell’s Snagglepuss.

Jim:                 Snagglepuss was great.

Sanderson:     I did like that.

Jim:                 Snagglepuss, I’m not sure I followed the logic in that Snagglepuss is a funny character, and there’s suicide, and everything else in that series.

Sanderson:     Well, I still think that Snagglepuss should be done as a comedy character, but I think that this is the exception to my rule because I think that that particular series was just so well done. And it didn’t have things like Fred and Barney committing war crimes either. It was sort of like Snagglepuss is an analog for real life, gay play rights in the 1950s.

Alex:               Right, and that is interesting. Yes.

Sanderson:     It deals with blacklisting and homophobia, and I thought that was really interesting. But it’s sort of interesting too, to I realize that when I was a small child and I was watching Snagglepuss cartoons… Never occurred to me that he was gay. But now looking back, I think that the Hanna-Barbera writers probably did intend him to be gay, and they got a to cast the sense.

Alex:               It’s probably right. Because anytime I did a Snagglepuss impression, when I was a kid, a friend would be like, “Oh, you sound gay when you imitate him.” I was like, “Oh.”

Sanderson:     Well, you might not know this, but there was a lawsuit in the ’60s because Snagglepuss was doing commercials for Kelloggs Cocoa Krispies, I think, and Bert Lahr sued because he claimed that they were ripping off his Cowardly Lion voice.

Alex:               Oh, yeah… Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s true too.

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Sanderson:     I just saw the Wizard of Oz again on TCM recently, and it occurs to me that, to say that Bert’s Cowardly Lion sounds like Snagglepuss, is not quite right because the Cowardly Lion actually has this sort of street rhythm to his voice, even though he’s not a tough guy, he tries to sound like a tough guy. I think that Daws Butler, when he did these voices, he might’ve used someone like Bert Lahr as a jumping off point, but he took it in his own direction. Just like Daws Butlers, Hokey Wolf voice, everybody says that’s as Phil Silvers voice. But it doesn’t really sound like Phil Silvers, but it evokes the fast way that Phil’s Silvers talked.

Jim:                 I want to talk about your teaching that course you took, but I do want to go back to the Flintstones just for a second, and say, “As an ABC nighttime show that is a little bit different from some of the others in that it did deal with some adult issues such as infertility. And adoption and the difficulties with adoption and things like that.

Sanderson:     There’s a big difference between adoption and war crimes. There’s a big difference between doing it funny, I struggle to see the Flintstones as a serious drama.

Alex:               I think Alan Moore should do a good Hanna-Barbera interpretation. It might not be to some people’s likings, but guaranteed someone would rape someone if Alan Moore wrote Hanna-Barbera.

Sanderson:     Oh yes, Alan Moore… In some ways he claims to be a feminist, and in some ways, he is but there’s just too many rape stories in his canon of work.

[00:50:01]

It’s like, when you think about it, Watchmen ends up with the epiphany that Doctor Manhattan has, that because the original Silk Spectre fell in love with a man who tried to rape her, and gave birth to the second Silk Spectre, that this is a miracle that justifies existence. I’m thinking this doesn’t happen. Women do not and should not fall in love with people who’ve tried to rape them. Rape is not a good thing.

Jim:                 But Alan Moore never had Sue Dibny raped, so I give him credit for being better than that.

Alex:               There we go. He picked his victims…

Sanderson:     At least, he’s doing it with his own creations and not with… [inaudible 00:50:42].

Jim:                 That was such a good… And then pinning it on Jean Loring, another woman… It’s just the most awful story. There is.

[chuckle]

Sanderson:     What about the infamous story about the dead girlfriend? I think it’s Green Lantern’s dead girlfriend… In the refrigerator?

Jim:                 In the fridge… Alex is going to defend that now, for like an hour, if we let him.

Alex:               Well, Jim and I chatted with Kevin Dooley at the Comic Fest. He actually drew the door covering some of what was going on in that refrigerator. Now, he thought it would appeal to the young readers at the time.

[chuckle]

Sanderson:     Well look, it’s better now because you have more female writers and editors. But it’s almost like that Carol Danvers story, we mentioned earlier. I remember saying at DC in the ’80s, there’s this big poster, a roll up of a Crisis on Infinite Earth‘s cover with Superman, holding up the bleeding but corpse of Supergirl, and Superman has got throwing his head back and is wailing in torment. And I’m saying, “Why is DC selling a poster of a dead woman covered with blood for kids to put up over their beds?”

Why is it that it’s women always get killed? Much as I admire the dark Phoenix Saga, you could say that its subtext is, that women cannot emotionally handle power. I mean there’s all sorts of things that have been done in the past in comics. That now look like horribly misogynistic things. Like okay, V for Vendetta, go back to Alan Moore, supposedly for our own good. V captures Ivey, shaves her head and imprisons, tortures her a little. Then he says, “Well, this is for your own good because I wanted to have you recreate the… Go through the same experience I was in when I was held captive.

I’m thinking, “Why? Why do we have to torment this woman in order to too complete her training? Why?… “

Jim:                 You know, Peter, after when this is done, sometime in the next two weeks, I want to have a phone conversation with you about Watchmen on HBO too. Because I know that was a hard one for you to get into.

Sanderson:     I never did.

Jim:                 You never really did, did you? Because that took Alan Moore’s and did turn it into essentially about women, which I thought was an interesting take on it. But I know you never warmed to the concept very much.

Sanderson:     No, it was a story completely removed from what Watchmen was about. The characters that they carried over from Watchmen didn’t act like in character as far as I was concerned. And now of course, I’m not sure if there’s going to be a sequel to this because I know that the show writer for that Watchmen TV series has said, “Oh, I don’t have any more ideas. And what do you mean, I ended on a cliffhanger? I didn’t end on a cliffhanger.”

“Yes, you did” … I didn’t like Doomsday Clock either. It’s like I wish DC and Warner’s would just realize that Watchmen is just as, we don’t need a sequel to Hamlet or for Moby Dick. Watchmen stands on its own as a work of art. It should not have prequels and sequels. And even if you try, you’re not going to come up to the level of Moore and Gibbons. Leave it alone.

Jim:                 So, let’s talk about your teaching career. The course that you taught, it was on comics and literature?

Sanderson:     Comics and literature at NYU. It was an eight-week course. So, I picked various books, most of them superhero genre, but not all. So, like Dark Knight was in there, and Watchmen was in there. There was a Sandman collection in there, but I also had A Contract with God, and I also had Maus.

I remember that I only had like maybe 10 students, and one of them was an older man. I remember having a big fight with him about with Contract with God, which he thought was terrible. Contract with God I think is uneven but I think that the title story is one of the best things that Eisner has ever done, and is a genuine tragedy. But he wouldn’t have any of that.  I think at least one of the students thought it was going to be like a class where we’re talking about the latest issue of the Incredible Hulk and I had to disillusion him. But in any event, we offered it in a few subsequent years. Not enough people signed up for it.

So, like I said, I wonder if in a way I got into comics too early because part of me thinks that it’s because of the power of the Silver Age comics.

[00:55:00]

And that if say in the ‘80s or the ‘90s, if I’d been born later, maybe I wouldn’t have even seen comics. Because by that time, they were in special comic books stores, they weren’t on newsstands, or mom-and-pop shops. And it may be, that I’ll be more attracted to these characters in animated TV shows or in the movies, not the comics. And of course, the comics were not more uneven back then because in the Silver Age, there were only a handful of comics from Julie Schwartz and Stan Lee, but they were all on a very high level. The more the comic book companies expanded their output, the more uneven the lines became.

But also, that to trying to do things like teaching comics. I mean I have some friends who are successful at teaching at comic book courses, Karen Green, Diana Schutz on the West Coast, but maybe I was trying a little too early. Well, it’s sort of a moot point anyway right now, because again, I have the health problem, and we can’t go into New York City anyway, and all the city universities are closed. It’s been a long time since I tried to propose an NYU course, and I don’t think my contacts at NYU are there anymore.

What really bothers me is that I never did a dissertation at Columbia. I was so like everything but dissertation because I couldn’t think, I was subject dealing with Shakespeare, which was my main author as an English literature student, that hadn’t been done before. And I really would have wanted to write about comics, but it would have been impossible in 1978 at Columbia to do a dissertation on comics.

Now, of course you can, and now there’s a whole generation of people like Peter Coogan who teach comic book courses and write academic papers on comics and I missed out on that. It would be wonderful to have Karen Green’s job, which she gets to fly all over the world, it seems, as a comic book librarian.

Jim:                 That’s how we close out, that Peter Sanderson, a man ahead of his time by far.

Sanderson:     You know, in a way, a lot of us were ahead of our time, because those of us who are reading Stan Lee’s superhero comics in the sixties, back when comics were considered by mainstream culture to be trash, that were only read by kids and stupid kids at that. I was being made fun off for continuing to read comics when I was a high school student. And now, now it’s like superheroes dominate popular culture. The Marvel Studio movies are hugely popular. But those of us who were reading the stuff back in the ‘60s, we were foresighted. We were ahead of our time. We were like a half century ahead of our time.

Alex:               Well, this has been an awesome episode, Peter. Thanks for hanging out with Jim and I today. It really seems like you we’re a comic fan critic, historian, reviewer before it was culturally cool to do so that you were ahead of the curve on that and I think it’s great. I’m amazed by how much of my childhood in the ‘80s and memorizing the Marvel Universe and memorizing the Marvel Saga, it was all based on you putting it all together, and making it easy for a new fan like me who was 10 years old in the ‘80s, to be able to access works like Marvel Masterworks and all that stuff. You were the gateway for me to them, to look at the old comics.

So, on behalf of me and other gen Xers, thank you so much for introducing us to Marvel.

Sanderson:     Thank you. Those are very kind words. I would just add that in the Marvel Universe Handbook, I was following the pattern set by Mark Gruenwald even though I took over as main writer.

Alex:               All right. Cheers.

Sanderson:     Cheers.

Jim:                 Thanks, Peter.
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