On History: 2002 Danny Fingeroth Interview

By | Tuesday, March 29, 2016 Leave a Comment
I seem to be having some deadline problems lately, so for today's post, I'm just going to pull out a Fantastic Four-centric interview I conducted with Danny Fingeroth back in 2002. (And for the record, I'd still like to see "Fathers and Sons" published!)

Sean Kleefeld: Happy New Year, Dan. I've put together some questions for you about your work with the Fantastic Four, if/when you've got a few moments.

Now, I suspect few people associate you with the FF since you've only written a handful of stories that directly involve them. Despite that, however, you've had a surprisingly large impact on the group, adding some significant history to the Thing and some powerful emotional baggage for the Torch. But let's start at the beginning of the process: how did you get your various writing assignments for the FF? Were they written as inventory stories, or to let you test the FF waters?

Danny Fingeroth: They were pretty much inventories. I've always loved the FF, and was happy to write or edit those characters whenever I got the chance.

My Thing story ("The Day After") in Marvel Fanfare was originally pitched to Marvel Comics Presents, along with three other springboards. The others were accepted and published. Luckily, editors' tastes vary, and Al Milgrom liked the Thing story and bought it for Marvel Fanfare to be included in an issue (#46?) that featured a Mike Barr FF story as the lead. I was as surprised as anybody when the FF office had no problem with me establishing Ben's girlfriend and how she reacted to her guy's having turned into a monster. So it's part of the "official cannon" now. I'd be curious to know if any other writer has ever referenced it.

SK: It's clear that you're writing the characters as people first, but the "super" issue seems almost less than incidental at times. When writing those stories, what made you decide to keep your focus so far away from super heroics? Was it a sort of challenge to yourself, or simply a desire to do something a little different? Is that why you kept looking at the FF as individuals rather than a group?

DF: The FF (and all great characters) are individuals first. Their personalities are expressed through their words and their actions (or heroics, if you will). I tried to do both. With inventory stories, since you don't know when and where they will appear, there can be tendency to go for the all-out slugfest or the inner-focused story. I thought I balanced the super with the personal, but I could be wrong.

SK: Although you've clearly acknowledged the FF's history in your work, your Human Torch story (Fantastic Four #342) especially plays off already existing continuity. Was there any concern on your part on not being redundant or were you confident enough in your vision to do something unique?

DF: I always thought Byrne's original story dealt with some issues that could credibly rear their heads again. In real life, we don't get over traumatic events in one fell swoop, so I figured the Torch would still have feelings about the kid in FF #342 who set himself ablaze trying to imitate him. In a similar manner, several years after the initial Iron Man-Tony Stark alcoholism story, that idea was brought back because the creative team at the time felt there was more to say on the topic.

A series you did work extensively on was Dazzler. One of the things that strikes me about that comic is that there are a surprising number of Fantastic Four relations. Her early villains included Dr. Doom, Terrax, and Galactus, and the Human Torch was played with as an initial potential love interest. That seemed to create some good, successful stories early on but those relations tapered off as the series progressed. So I'm curious if you felt that angle wasn't working for the book, or if it was a more deliberate attempt to bring the series to the attention of existing Marvelites.

Boy, this goes back a ways. Those FF-related characters just seemed appropriate for Dazzler. To have her take on Galactus sure attracted attention. And Black Bolt was a natural. His awesome sound converted into immense light power by Dazz seemed like the ideal showcase for her power. We also played off and with X-Men characters, and many others.

Let's face it, Dazzler was a hard concept to get taken seriously. We felt it important to place her clearly in the same universe as the Marvel's other heroes, the FF among them. (Maybe it was my subconscious way of getting to write the FF, too.)

You've done your fair share of editing as well. And the FF have cropped up in several of those books. They made a number of appearances in New Warriors and are fondly remembered for helping Spider-Man first rid himself of his alien costume. How much input did you have in bringing the team (and how they were used) into those books?

DF: The Marvel Universe is an interrelated place. Anybody can show up anywhere at anytime. Now, if taken too literally, you should by all rights have hundreds of heroes showing up every time Dr. Doom or whoever is doing their bad guy thing. After all, why take a chance? But, of course, it's not the real world, so license is taken and if it's the FF's book, they'll generally be the ones to save the day.

On the other hand, if appropriate either to character or marketing considerations, guest-stars are fun for the creators and the readers. So who came up with the idea for a particular guest-star at a particular time is hard to say. Hopefully, a story would evolve so that that the most logical hero or villain to insert would be dictated by the story's needs. On the other hand, sometimes a writer or artist just has a need to have the Thing show up and announce that it's clobberin' time.

Of course, as often as not, a guest-star is used as on outright attempt to gain attention and sales for a book. (Ideally, a reader would say: "I bought this comic that I never buy because Wolverine was in it. But now that I've read it, I like it enough that I'll come back for next issue even if he's not in it.")

SK: You mentioned earlier that you helped launch The Complete Fantastic Four, a weekly reprint book in England from 1977. How did that come about? I understand the financial need to drop color and print only black and white art, but didn't having to go back and shade everything in grays raise the cost of producing the books again? The thing that struck me, too, was that each issue had one full-size "current" story and half of an old Lee/Kirby yarn. How did that format come to pass?

DF: The Marvel UK books were intended to compete with the weekly black and white British-made comics (Beano, 2000 AD, etc.) that were then popular. For the weeklies, we usually split monthly Marvel books into chapters, adding recap splash pages. There was some new material, too, such as Captain Britain, Night Raven and others. Some was produced here, some in the UK. There would be four or so features per issue. The theory with the Complete Fantastic Four, as I can best recall this ancient history, was to devote a complete magazine to one character and see what would happen. (A magazine called Rampage that featured the Defenders launched around the same time.)

The British distribution system was very different from the then-dominant US newsstand system, and more like our current direct market. In other words, there were no returns of unsold issues, so a retailer would only order what he thought he could sell. If he ordered a hundred of a title and only sold eighty, then next week he'd only order eighty. Or less, to be sure he wasn't stuck with extras. With no real back issue market for the weeklies (at least then), no title could last more than a few years. Weeklies were always being cancelled and others launched to start the ordering level at a high number that would inevitably spiral down.

The Lee/Kirby stories were included because... well, because they were great! Why else?

As for the gray tones, they were mostly zip-a-tone. Those were overlays with glue on the back that came in various types of moire dot patterns. It was pretty inexpensive to add, and was supposed to make the comics look more like the black-and-white the UK public was used to seeing in a comic. Clearly, these books were intended for casual readers, as the hardcore fans generally preferred the regular color (or colour) comics from America.

SK: The last thing I want to touch on is an unproduced graphic novel you did called "Fathers and Sons." From what we have seen of your FF, coupled with the title, I have to presume it's a very well-written look at the relationship between Reed and his father, and how that relates back to Reed and Franklin's relationship.

DF: "Fathers and Sons" explores that relationship and several other actual and metaphorical father and son relationships, including those between Reed and Franklin, the Mad Thinker and Quasimodo, as well as the Vision and his twin children (who were later established to not be "real").

SK: John Byrne had already established some of Reed and Nathaniel's relationship by that point, hadn't he? How did that project get going? After Mark Bright bowed out of the project, Al Milgrom took the pencilling duties going so far as to re-create Mark's first dozen or so pages for consistency. What happened to keep Marvel from producing something that was already written and drawn? Al was editing a number of things at the time anyway, wasn't he?

DF: I pitched the project to the the FF editor, who loved it and gave it the go-ahead. As time went on, the story became less and less in line with developing Marvel continuity. And since it wasn't scheduled, it fell between the cracks. Marvel has many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars worth of written, penciled and inked material that for various reasons has never seen the light of day. It's the nature of the business. (For an idea of how Al's FF pencils and inks look, check out the Thing-Wrecker story he and I did that was published in FF #355.)

SK: One final question, how many people would need to pester Tom Brevoort in order to get "Father and Sons" published? :)

The more the better, I suppose. Also, if you could get folks like Tom DeFalco, Jeph Loeb, Walt Simonson, etc. to say they'd like to see "Fathers and Sons" see print, that might carry some weight. It would have to be solicited as a peek into the past, or into an alternative universe or something like that.

SK: Thanks for your time, Dan.

Take care, Sean.
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