Now this is a real treat. Aquaman scribe Paul Kupperberg, who wrote for Aquaman in his own book and in Adventure Comics, commented on the Shrine a few days ago and I immediately beseiged him with a request for an interview. Paul graciously agreed to answer my breathless, nerd-riffic questions:
Aquaman Shrine: Did you grow up wanting to write comics?
Paul Kupperberg: I really don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer or didn’t read comics, so I definitely did. I’ve got buried, way deep in the back of an old filing cabinet the comics I used to write and draw when I was seven, eight years old, with characters like Martian Manhunter, the Atom, Daredevil, the Justice League, and a TV show I really loved called Rescue 8, about a Los Angeles fire department rescue unit, that was in reruns back then. This was the early-1960s...I started buying comics when they were still 10¢, so I was right there when DC started bringing back the Golden Age characters like Flash, Green Lantern, and the rest and Marvel introduced Spider-Man and the rest of them and I never stopped reading.
My goal was always to become a writer, whether for comics--which, really, seemed like the impossible dream when I was a kid--or something else. Anything, as long as I got to write. I did fanzines in the early '70s with my friend Paul Levitz, and we eventually both broke into the business, Paul by writing letter columns for Joe Orlando and me by selling some short horror stories to Charlton Comics in early 1975. A few months later, I made my first sale to DC, a World of Krypton 10-pager for an issue of Superman Family, drawn by Marshall Rogers and Frank Springer.
AMS: You wrote the Mera back-up feature before moving up to the main Aquaman strip. Did you search out this assignment or was it given out to you? Was writing such a short back-up (7,8 pages) feature difficult?
PK: I'm sure the assignment was given to me. Back then, DC was a tiny little place with maybe 35 people working there and just about everybody who worked for the company lived in the New York area. You’d go up to the offices, which were in 75 Rockefeller Center then, drop off your current assignment, pick up your check, schmooze with the other freelancers, and someone would grab you and say, 'I need a three-part Aqualad back-up,' or whatever, and you had your assignment. Eventually, there was an Editorial Coordinator, first Levitz, then Karen Berger, and finally Pat Bastienne, into whose office you’d go and say, "What’ve you got for me?" and they’d hand you an assignment. The business was a different animal in those days.
Anyway, in the case of the Aquaman franchise, that would have been Paul Levitz who had me do an Aqualad back-up for Adventure Comics (#453, Oct. ’77 - #455) that was penciled by Carl Potts. It dealt with Garth’s back story...something to do with his having purple eyes that made him an outcast or some such. It’s been thirty years. I forget the details.
I guess since I was already doing Aqualad, Paul figured I might as well do Mera as well, which was a three-part back-up beginning in Aquaman #58 (Nov. '77) and was drawn, though just barely, by Juan Ortiz and Vinnie Colletta. This also looked into the character’s history...the details of which also elude me.
Were the Aqualad and Mera stories difficult to write because they were only six-pagers? Heh! Maybe for these current-day wussy little gotta-have-six-issue-story-arcs-to-tell-a-story writers, but for us old-timers, shorts were our bread and butter. Everybody still had plenty of anthology titles, particularly DC, with the likes of House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Unexpected, Ghosts, Weird War Stories...not to mention back-up features in a lot of the superhero books, plus, in the mid-70s, DC had the 100-Page Super-Spectacular Line. I learned how to write in 6-page stories; it was probably almost two years into my career before I actually got to write a story longer than ten or twelve pages.
AMS: You've written nearly every DC character under the sun, was writing Aquaman more/less/the same fun?
PK: It sounds corny, but writing any and all the DC characters was fun. I've been a reader since I was like five years old and fan since, I guess, I read Jules Feiffer's book, The Great Comic Book Heroes, which turned me on to the history of the form. I was reading Wonder Woman when I was six years old because I liked the Andru and Esposito art, I devoured the Jack Schiff Batman stories, Martian Manhunter, Weisinger's Superman...everything by Julie Schwartz. Green Lantern, the Atom, Flash, Hawkman, Adam Strange, the JLA. Showcase. The Brave and the Bold. This stuff was iconic and huge to me and when I finally got my chance to write these guys, any of these guys, how could it not be fun? Scary, yes, but hugely fun. I remember initially freezing up on a couple of assignments over the years, particularly the first time I got to write Superman. To this day, I still get a thrill over the fact that I actually got to write all these characters...and they even paid me for it.
AMS: Since the book was about to be cancelled as you took over (though it continued into Adventure Comics, Aquaman's home away from home), did DC pay too much attention to what you were doing? I've heard many writers say the most freedom they've ever had is when they take over a book that the company plans to cancel (Frank Miller on Daredevil, Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, etc).
PK: I didn't know the axe was about to fall! Aquaman was my first regularly assigned gig when I took it over with #62 (July '78) from David Michelinie, a writer whose work I tremendously admired. I knew it wasn't the healthiest title on the schedule, but I really did expect to have a longer than two issue run on it. I didn't know the book was dead until after I turned in the script for #63.
AMS: You've written superheroes, horror, funny animals, even He-Man! Any particular genre you enjoyed the most?
PK: Not really. I do enjoy writing humor--I just did a couple of Scooby-Doo stories for DC--but superheroes are my first love. I guess, really, whatever I'm writing, as long as I feel it's turning out well, is going to be enjoyable.
AMS: Many writers have said they found writing Aquaman difficult because they feel he is so limited. Did you feel this way?
PK: There's no such thing as a limited character, just failures of imagination. Aquaman's no more limited than Superman, but do Superman poorly and he'll seem limited too. Aquaman's got plenty to work with, a man of two worlds who's uncomfortable in both, a character torn by his duty to his people and his own happiness, a king who secretly doesn'want his crown, a failed husband and father...I could go on. But most people come to the character with just 'he swims underwater and talks to fishes.' Leave him alone, give him the dignity he deserves, and send him off on stories that fit the character. Steve Skeates did it. Michelinie did it. Peter David did it. It can be done.
AMS: You wrote one of my favorite issues of JLA, #217, "All the Elements of Disaster!", which features Aquaman pretty prominently. Was this on purpose or just the natural effect of the story you wanted to write?
PK: Oh, that was another of my Atlantis stories. Between Arion and Power Girl, I got into this Atlantean rut and probably overused that stuff. But since I was doing an Arion-villain-brought-forward-in-time story, Atlantis was the natural location and Aquaman was the logical focal character.
AMS: You've had some of the greats illustrate your stories--Jim Aparo, Don Newton, Don Heck. Any other favorites who worked with you? Anyone you really wanted to work with but never got the chance?
PK: I've been very lucky with artists in my career. In addition to Aparo, Newton and Heck--all of whose work I adored--I had stories drawn by Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Bob Oksner, Ross Andru, Irv Novick, Jerry Grandenetti, Bill Draut, Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, George Tuska, George Evans, Win Mortimer, John Byrne, Howard Chaykin, Joe Orlando, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Marshall Rogers, Kyle Baker, Mike Mignola...it's hard to remember them all, but I'd venture to say I had something drawn by most of the DC artists I grew up reading and admiring. I missed out on a few guys, like Nick Cardy, Murphy Anderson, and, of course, many were retired or gone by the time I hit the scene. And there were a whole slew of Marvel artists that I also never had the chance to work with, of course, like Gene Colan, John Romita, and John Buscema. Look, of the first half-dozen stories I sold to Charlton in 1975, three were done by Steve Ditko, Don Perlin, and another newcomer, Mike Zeck, so I was off to a good start.
AMS: Picture this: DC wants to release a TPB called "The Greatest Paul Kupperberg Stories He Ever Told." What are the some of the ones you'd want in there?
PK: The shortest book ever published...!
Well, off the top of my head and in no discernable order, I’d have to go with:
Superman #404, "Born To Be Superman," an 'Imaginary Story' of what-if Clark had mysteriously lost his power at 16 and Superman had "disappeared," with art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Oksner
Action Comics Weekly #641, The Phantom Stranger in "Tommy’s Monster," with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Phantom Stranger mini-series, with art by Mike Mignola and Craig Russell...reprint any one of the four issues
Showcase #100, the all-star one-shot celebration of one of my favorite titles, co-written with Paul Levitz and with art by Joe Staton
Vigilante #50, the wrap-up to that series with the suicide of Adrian Chase, art by Steve Erwin
DC Comics Presents #65, teaming Superman with Madame Xanadu in one of my personal favorite art-jobs of all time by Gray Morrow
Green Lantern #148 and #181, the first introducing the GL Ch'p, then his second solo appearance, both as 'Tales of the Green Lantern Corps' back-ups, both by Don Newton, who also inked the second story
Green Lantern Annual #2 (1985), a 'Tales of the Green Lantern Corps' story, "Old Man Lantern," about a GL who can no longer function because of the onset of Alzheimers, art by Trevor Von Eeden
Justice League Quarterly #6, "Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed?" a Power Girl story in which she learns that someone impersonating her secret identity life is doing a better job at living it than she was, with art by John Calimee. Also includes one of my favorite lines, which I stole from my friend William Messner-Loebs, "You might as well live my life for me. I just keep getting it wrinkled."
Justice League Quarterly #16, "Return To A Dark Knight," a General Glory parody pastiche of Miller's Dark Knight Returns, only told in ten pages.
There's probably a few others--man, I hope so...be pretty sad if I was only proud of a dozen out of the 600 or so comics I’ve written.
It was a real thrill for Paul to check out my humble little shrine here, and an even bigger thrill to get a chance to talk to him! Thanks so much, Mr. Kupperberg!