Live From NFCC: Gerry Conway’s Past, Present & Future
Gerry Conway is a comic book legend… Let’s just get that out of the way now. He’s credited as co-creator of The Punisher and Firestorm, as well as killing off Gwen Stacy during his incredible and lengthy run on The Amazing Spider-Man which he took over from Stan the man himself. He touched on a number of topics as well as the ones listed here during his panel at Niagara Falls Comic Con which I’m happy to share with you.
The panel kicked off with Gerry explaining how he got started in the comics book industry at the age of 15. He had read about Joe Shooter writing comics at the same age and figured that if he could do it then so can he. Growing up in New York he was only a stones throw away from the publishers offices including the EC office in New York City, and used that opportunity to go on weekly tours and then separate himself from the group to talk to different editors and ask if he can submit work to them and eventually, as he repeated a bunch during the panel he was simply the right mix of arrogant and ignorant and eventually got some work. He talked about his love of sci-fi tv series, novels and comics which shaped his inspiration when writing the comics.
Being an NYC kid allowed Gerry to relate to Peter Parker on a personal level when he began his run with the character, especially considering he was so young when he started he had recent experiences to draw from when writing Peter Parker’s teenaged dating problems in the big city. On taking over from Stan Lee, Gerry said he wasn’t scared as he was confident in his abilities as he had already written both Iron Man and Daredevil for a year each, he said it was intimidating sure but he was happy to have John Romita to work with on art since he had taught him a lot about telling a story as a contributor given his 5 plus years experience on that title alone.
The talk then turned to Gerry’s Hollywood work and he talked about the difficulties getting jobs in TV or Movies back in the day coming from comics, he explained that he kind of had to conceal that background or spin it in such a way that they don’t immediately write you off. He went on to explain that he’s happy that is no longer the case. Gerry talked about paying his dues in Hollywood and did very little of fanfare until Law & Order came out. He said the key was to be ridiculously confident so that when one person said they didn’t like something he’d done it could be easily shrugged off, and it all pays off when you find someone with a checkbook who thinks you’re wonderful. Switching over to social media Gerry said he believes that although the opportunity is out there to get your work seen on a larger scale now he talked about barriers in today’s society, such as him walking into an office to pitch his ideas by lying, that couldn’t be done anymore but he did talk about how there are even more opportunities to have your work published outside the mainstream medium and still be seen and get a name for yourself by taking that avenue.
When asked if he felt like he missed an opportunity to flesh out some characters he created, he said for the most part he didn’t feel that way but when he was at DC and did the Justice League Detroit characters there was a lot of changes made before he even started writing the characters so he would have liked to do that better, he spoke specifically about Gypsy in that regard. The next question was about DC’s stance on derivative characters where creators don’t get paid for characters they created that say are deemed to be derived from a pre-existing character. He uses the example of Jason Todd which he created but DC claims is derived from Dick Grayson the original Robin so he wouldn’t get paid when that character is used. Gerry said he doesn’t agree with it, but he understands DC’s argument that so many people have touched different characters a line needs to be drawn somewhere but he feels the publisher (DC in this case) can limit new characters by telling creators they don’t want them if they feel it’s derived since once they gave him the “OK” for a new Robin he created one.
Questioned how he thinks his characters have stayed around for decades, Gerry advised that comic book writers are lovers of the medium so characters the current generation of writers read and loved as a kid, are the very same characters that they want to write when they get in the business. He gave a specific example about Roy Thomas loving this character as a kid called The Vision so he remastered that character when he began writing and now he’s become popular where as the men that originally created The Vision in the 1940’s have nothing to show for it. Gerry then spoke about all the great artists he’s worked with, he name dropped a lot but to name a few Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Neal Adams, and so on, he most enjoyed working with Russ Andru who he felt didn’t get as much notoriety as he should have. He went on to list Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr. as artists he would like to work with since he got to work with all the great 60’s and 70’s artists. Gerry then geeked out and talked about his love for Marvel and DC, and also said that if he was just getting into comics today he’d probably prefer Image Comics. He then talked about from a working standpoint he liked that DC gave more support to their creators when he was there whereas Marvel gave him more leeway to do what he wanted, but in the end he loves them both.
When asked what characters he loved working on he spoke specifically about Firestorm that he created, he loved the dual personality aspect and always welcomed an opportunity to add depth to that character but other than that he just loves most comic book character but isn’t fanatical about any specific one where he only wants to do stories for them, he welcomes all opportunities and enjoys cutting his teeth with all of them. Flipping back to Hollywood, a question was asked about how much say he got when films were developed from characters he worked on, Gerry said he gets zero say and understands why based on his history with that branch of people but it’s always bewildered him that they didn’t ask for input. He did state however he gets to go to quite a bit of the Marvel premiers.
Gerry was then asked about his time at DC and how it differed from “The Marvel Way”. He said he had no idea who would be doing the art on his books and it’d be frustrating because he would see something one way but the artist would not see it and he’d ultimately be let down. At DC he’d be writing full scripts with an editor and then turn it over to an artist who may or may not have the same vision as he would so he’d be forced into writing “safe” stories that don’t challenge the artist. He compared it to working with Andru where he knew certain things he’d like to do in his art so he would cater to that all the while avoiding his weakness’. While still on the art subject Gerry said times have changed, back in his Marvel days an artist could get 2-4 pages done in a day whereas now it takes artists he works with a month to do 20 pages. He went on to say he has no idea why the delay nowadays but the moderator suspected Facebook.
A fan then inquired on Gerry’s favourite comic book adaptations, he listed The Avengers as his favourite with Captain America 2 as his favourites from Marvel with The Dark Knight being the tops at DC. When asked if he would like to redo any stories, Gerry said he’d like to go back on almost everything since he’s 40 years older now than he was when he did his early Marvel works, he said he’s often cringing at things he’s done when putting together Masterworks or other such collections, he specifically mentions being clueless when writing minority characters like Luke Cage and now realizes things can come off as racist and wishes he could write all those old stories the way he would write them today but concedes that it was a different time and it wouldn’t be fair to the people who enjoyed those stories and who was he to say that they are wrong for loving them.
Gerry then talked about his current and future works. He’s currently working on a Spider-Man mini-series that will be released in continuity in “point form” by Marvel. He’s also talking about an ongoing series at Marvel that would potentially start up in the fall as well as DC is calling to have him do a Firestorm mini-series to reboot the character “sorta” as he put it. The first Punisher question finally came near the end of the panel and Gerry said he loves the character because people can look at Frank Castle and see whatever they want to see him. Gerry admits he’s a little too violent for his tastes but that all the different writers that have tackled him have all brought out different sides of him and it’s fun to see. He talked about the Iraq army using his symbol for their beliefs and although that’s obviously what he intended it’s good to see that it reaches different people and makes their lives a little better.
To conclude the panel Gerry was asked if he enjoyed following other writers storylines on characters he worked on. Gerry quickly quipped that everyone who worked on The Punisher wrote him better than he ever did. He spoked glowingly of Chris Claremont (Ms. Marvel), Matt Fraction (Hawkeye), Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man) and Kelly Sue Deconnick (Captain Marvel). On the subject of Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel run, Gerry said he always intended for Carol Danvers to be a kick-ass character and it was an honest effort to make a great lead female comic book hero but they weren’t sophisticated enough to do it so he was excited when she came around and made it an effective and beloved character.
Finally he touched on those dreaded puffy sleeves on Firestorm’s costume… He said it was a joke artist Al Milgrom put in but both the editor and Gerry agreed to it because it hadn’t been done before at that time and they wanted an original costume that you could see the heroes silhouette and know exactly who it was and the sleeves helped in that regard, though he cautioned he won’t necessarily be bringing them back even though he’s proud of it. Not as proud as he is off the Death of Gwen Stacy storyline, however. He said that was the best story he’s ever done not only based on the impact it had but as a self-contained story. He spoke specifically about the “Snap” and said that was something that was added at the art stage and they really didn’t think anything of it but the implication of that one word added so much to the story and said that’s how creativity is bred. He spoke candidly when he said that if you try to be creative you are going to fail every time. Wise words from a wise man, a legend even.