Danny Fingeroth: Writing Full Circle

A comics interview article by: Tim Lasiuta
Danny Fingeroth has a remarkable resume of accomplishments. His tenure as Group Editor for the Spiderman books (at Marvel), and writer on Darkhawk, Dazzler, Howard the Duck, Avengers, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Deathtrap prepared him for his future jobs as Editor in Chief for Bryon Preiss Multi-Media and AOL. For television, Whirlgirl benefited from his editorial touch.

Currently, Mr. Fingeroth keeps a busy schedule, publishing Write Now! for TwoMorrows, and has published two books focusing on an academic approach to superheroes. Superman on the Couch and Disguised As Clark Kent are both amazing dissertations on the nature and origin of superheroes of our time.

You can’t keep a good writer down.

Tim Lasiuta: Danny, your career has taken you from admiring those working in comics, working in comics, teaching about comics, and writing critical studies about the legends that empower the superhero fantasies that fuel the industry. What were the critical junctures that led you to the various phases of your career?

Danny Fingeroth: Well, as a kid, of course, I just pure and simple enjoyed reading comics and talking about them with my friends who were also fans. The "junctures" were first becoming a comics professional and then, once in the industry, trying to figure out ways to generate income while pursuing my interests and utilizing my experience.

TL: Given your stint at Marvel Comics, what do you think of the direction that Marvel has taken today with their flagship characters?

DF: In general, I think it’s unfortunate the superhero genre has abandoned kids. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Let’s face it, stories about super humans in garish costumes who go around emoting while battling other outlandish characters are primarily designed to appeal to kids. That’s not to say that like a good animated cartoon superhero stories can’t also function on subtler levels for adults, in a similar manner to the way something like The Simpsons does, but first and foremost they’re entertainment and life lessons for kids, and I think it’s unfortunate that’s gotten away. I won’t bore everybody with a tirade against "darkened" heroes and villains, but overall, I don’t think that phenomenon is good for the characters or the industry. Look at the most popular superhero movies—especially 2007’s #1 movie, Spider-Man 3. Superheroes don’t get more traditional than that!

I think the evolution of the comics away from kids, while understandable in terms of comics history, is unfortunate, and not just for nostalgic reasons, but for the plain and simple reason that if you don’t get readers involved with superheroes at an early age, you likely never will.

Notice I’m not bemoaning the fate of comics in general. Between manga and graphic novels produced by companies like Scholastic, and literary GNs from companies like Hyperion, I think kids (and adults) will be reading comics for the foreseeable future, whether in print or on electronic devices. But superhero comics—as opposed to superhero movies, TV shows, and electronic games, which are all more popular than ever—seem continue to be marketed at and read primarily by men 30 and above, which leaves a whole realm of fantasy un-aimed at and untouched by those who would respond to superhero comics the most if the comics themselves gave them a chance.

TL: Your intellectual treatises on superheroes, Superman on the Couch (now in third print) and Disguised As Clark Kent (late 2007), examine the mythological issues that define heroes and the sequel tackles the Jewish origins of the same heroes. What kind of experiences did you have that led to the research and publication of those books? What kind of response have they gotten from readers?

DF: It seems like my whole life has led to my current multiple-hat-wearing, one of which is the scholar hat. I’ve always been interested in what makes people, real and fictional, tick, and Superman on the Couch was a chance to do that. Strangely enough, although I have no psychological training, the book has been quoted in real psychology texts, and I recently actually wrote a foreword to a psychology book! The Creative Use of Popular Culture in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Play-Based Intervention, edited by Lawrence C. Rubin, PhD, due to be published in May by the Springer Publishing Company. And I’ll be addressing a therapists group later this spring. Weird.

Disguised as Clark Kent had to do with my curiosity about the largely Jewish men who created the major superheroes. The fact that they were from the same background—grew up in the same neighborhoods—as my own parents, aunts and uncles was always fascinating to me, and I decided to explore what—if anything—there was about Eastern European Jewish immigrant culture that would have given rise to the superhero.

TL: Having examined superheroes from such a high moral, mythological, and mental level, do you have plans to write a 3rd book in your critical studies?

DF: Thanks for the compliment. You make me sound like Reed Richards. I’ve got a few projects in the works that take off directly and indirectly from Couch and Disguised, but nothing I’m able to discuss right now.

TL: Clearly, your background in comic book production is quite diverse, and your editing of Write Now! with Mike Manley has garnered rave reviews. What circumstances led to your creation of the magazine from TwoMorrows?

DF: Actually, Mike edits Draw! He and I were the writer-artist tem on the first couple of years of Marvel’s Darkhawk series, and we did a crossover between Write Now! and Draw! that was later expanded into a trade paperback called How to Create Comics From Script to Print. (It also generated a DVD, How to Draw Comics from Script to Print, which is more art-focused, but also has a bit of me blabbing on about how to write comics.)

When I saw Draw (which had come out before Write Now!), I did think that there might be room in the marketplace for a companion magazine focused on comics and animation writing, since no such magazine then existed. I pitched the idea to publisher John Morrow, he liked it, and that’s how Write Now! came about.

TL: With any publication like Write Now!, there are highlights, and not so highlights. What stands out from the 18 issues already in stores?

DF: Actually, issue #18 should be out in April, and that’s my belated 85th birthday tribute to Stan Lee issue. It’s coming together amazingly. I have contributions from many incredible people who’ve worked with Stan from the ‘40s through today. Since Write Now! is a writing mag, I asked people to focus on Stan as writer, editor and teacher, and I have some amazing interviews and recollections from people including Joe Sinnott, Todd McFarlane, Dan DiDio, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Paul Ryan, John Romita Sr. & Jr., and so many more—an amazing list. And WN #18 also has articles exploring Stan’s writing from Jeff McLaughlin, Jim Salicrup, and David Kasakove. and lots, lots more. WN #18 may well be the highlight of the mag’s run—and we’ve had a pretty amazing run up to now, as it is!

Also, I’m proud of the interviews I did over the yeas with Stan, Will Eisner, J.M. Straczynski, and other luminaries. Funnily enough, The Best of Write Now trade paperback is also coming out in April and has many—but by no means all—of the magazine’s highlights, including rarely seen scripts by to writers Jeph Loeb, Mark Millar, Brian Bendis, et al., and little-seen, un-inked pencil art by Jim Lee, Steve McNiven, Mark Bagley and lots of other brilliant artists.

TL: You have written for the comic book market, book publishers, AOL, and television. What do you see as the important skills that have enabled you to succeed in those different markets?

DF: A professional attitude and a fair amount of talent. I’ve also trained myself in networking and entrepreneurial skills since leaving the protective womb that was Marvel Comics in 1995. It’s been an educational journey.

TL: Given that you have created unique characters and written for other peoples' creations, how do you see the current writers strike affecting the world of comic book publishing?

DF: I guess that’s a moot point now that the strike’s over. I guess there may have been some TV and movie writers with time on their hands who were pitching stuff to the comics companies. In the big picture, a three-month strike wasn’t that long (although I’m sure to people who lost work or jobs it seemed very long). It was exciting to interview Heroes’ head writer Tim Kring (for Write Now! #17) on his cell phone while he was walking the picket line.

TL: All over the Internet is the four-week course you are teaching at NYU on writing comic books in late February, 2008. Was this an extension of Write Now! or a great way to inspire future comic book scribe?

DF: I’m not teaching at NYU this semester. I’m teaching undergrads at The New School. Dennis O’Neil is teaching a 10-week course at NYU’s SCPS adult education division, where I had been teaching a while. He and I then co-taught there, and I sort of handed it off to him. Not that he needed me to hand him anything. He’s had years of highly acclaimed teaching and writing experience—and he’s Denny bleepin’ O’Neil!

TL: What’s next up in the Fingeroth plan?

DF: My Rough Guide to Graphic Novels from Penguin should be out later this year. (I’m readin’ a lot of graphic novels—not a superhero in the bunch!) Write Now! #18 is the Stan Lee issue. Issue #19 focuses on The Dark Knight movie. Issues after that will focus on Frank Miller’s movie version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and lots of other cool stuff. I’ve got some actual comics projects in the works, as well as some book projects, none of which I’m ready to discuss yet, but they’re quite exciting. One project I’m working on involves me and one my heroes, Harvey Pekar.

So things are looking exciting for the next couple of years, Tim. Hope you and your readers will be along for the ride.

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