A Conversation with
Roy Thomas (Part 6)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Okay, Roy, on to the Lightning Round. If you could grace us with your gut reactions to the following:

  • Marvel's crappy merchandising in the '60s and '70s! C'mon, a clear plastic Thor pillow?!

That's a pretty good description. In the early days, Marvel was a little, schlocky outfit who was happy with anybody with a dollar bill who walked in the door. Marvel never expected to make much money from their characters. DC had Superman and Batman, two hot commodities with 200+ issues of history. Marvel didn't, so when somebody came along with a cheaply animated series that wasn't animated very well, Martin Goodman and his son just took the money and ran with it. Stan didn't have much control of it then. He got really excited for a while, but many of the items only frustrated him, I'm sure.

  • The Spider-Man LP. Do you own a copy of the Spider-Man LP?

The what? Oh! [Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero:] Songs Inspired by the Amazing Spider-Man. I think I do actually.

  • Do you still read current comics?

DC sends me their product. I do try to read some of them. I read the second JSA issue. It's not bad; it's just not the JSA, as far as I'm concerned. The third issue was going off on some tangent; I couldn't get through that one. I do enjoy the wonderful DC Archives volumes.

  • In 2099, do you think comics will exist?

In some variation, yes. I doubt there will be printed comics, but then there may not be printed newspapers either. I wouldn't bet on comics in their regular form being around TEN years from now. That's not a new prediction, and comics always manage to come back.

Competition gets fiercer. Comics aren't reaching young people. Comics caught on in the first place because kids wanted to read. They wanted a cheap, fast, easy read. Kids read less and less, in general. Today the kids go right to video games. If you lose the kids, all you have left are the young adults, and I don't think that's a very dependable market. When they grow out of it, who comes up to take the kids' place?

  • Right. Bad girl comics? Over?

I think it peaked a year or so ago. That might explain Red Sonja's popularity to some degree. Though she was one of the top three most popular of Howard's characters, so there's probably more to her than that.

  • Who was the best softball player on either the DC or the Marvel softball teams?

I don't remember. I only played one season or so, and by that time I was too long in the tooth. My legs gave out on me. Once I began working off-staff, I didn't feel close enough to do much more of that type of thing.

  • Have you ever read an Image comic?

Not in a long time.

  • What would your favorite Image comic be?

I wouldn't have one, unless I was working on it. I could care less.

  • How about Charlton?

I liked Ditko's artwork on Blue Beetle. I preferred the earlier, crudely drawn Blue Beetle.

I enjoyed Son of Vulcan when I was writing it. I didn't like the artwork, but the writing was good. Son of Vulcan was the first comic I ever wrote.

My favorite was Bullseye! [Laughs.]

  • How about First Comics?

I like Alter Ego!

  • Atlas?

It's hard to even imagine what Atlas was. Atlas was Marvel Comics "through a glass darkly." I liked the name "Ironjaw."

  • Dark Horse?

Dark Horse is just a licensing company. I enjoyed working with them, but they don't have much of an identity. Basically, you have Tarzan and Star Wars. It's like the Gold Key of the '90s.

  • Malibu?

I was hoping to work for them at one time. I liked their new universe idea. I was sorry I was never a part of that.

13 for 13. Excellent score for the Lightning Round!

Now it's time for my thought-provoking pseudo-psychological question, which will seem innocuous enough on the surface but will instead serve to strip away the outer protective layers to your soul, revealing your true self for all your fans to see:

  • Do you check the comics that you wrote in the Overstreet guides occasionally, to check their "value" to collectors? Does the monetary Overstreet "value" mean anything to you personally?

Conan was hot at one time; now it's not. Does that mean that my work was worth less? It's nice to see that value to ensure your work was not some throwaway item. But then I see the values given to All-Star Squadron. The going-rate is about a dollar. I consider All-Star Squadron better than much of my work that is valued much higher. In fact, I'd rate the All-Stars better than many writers' work that has a higher value! I don't think the "value" has much to do with their quality. It'll go up and down.

I hate to admit that the comic that I made the most money that I wrote was Secret Defenders # 1. Because of when it came out, I made a lot of money on that comic. Although I'm happy with my work in it—and I wasn't even the first choice to write it—but it made me a lot of money. Nothing like Todd McFarlane or Rob Liefeld would have made on their books, but a lot of money for a single issue. In that case, the Overstreet value has no bearing on it.

For what it's worth, I agree with you on The All-Star Squadron. Now it's time for my Junior College Thesis Question:

We've all heard of the Golden Age and the Silver Age. In my view, the '90s should be referred to as the Oblivious Age. Sales are slipping, the market is shrinking, and the comic companies don't appear to care. The kids simply no longer read the books—

But they do put them in bags and hope they appreciate in value.

If you were editor-in-chief at Marvel, DC, or wherever, what would you try to get the kids back in the marketplace?

I'm not sure they CAN be gotten back. The only approach that I WOULD take would be bringing back the story values. There are some out there today. We must try to find some story values that aren't all grim and dark. I am so tired of that. If all the kids can relate to is darkness and grimness, comics may as well just die and soak up into any form. I have no interest in that kind of story.

To me, comics were optimistic, bright, and cheerful. People had troubles, but we were still dealing with heroes. I see that missing now. After reading one of these dark, grim books, I feel almost dirty when I get done with them. Now that's a personal reaction based on my age, background, and so forth. I don't wish to hold that up as a standard, but comics need to find some way to get back to being about heroes again, not just about guys with super powers who are stronger and better than the next guy. If they defeat the other guy purely based on strength, then there is no right or wrong involved with it. The heroes are as bad as the villains are. If that's the standard, then comics are in bad shape, and America is in sad shape. That doesn't just apply to comics, but to movies or whatever. I don't want to sound like a prude—

—but it's lost its charm.

Yeah, it's lost its charm. I've been in this business for more than a third of a century. I still do some work for the industry, but I can no longer be comics' fan of new material in the same way that I once could. I see it as a competition. The industry is moving in directions that I don't like. In my position, those new directions are either something I have to ignore or something I have to keep pace with. I don't care much for either of those options.

What I've wanted from comics, at least since the mid-'70s, was to get away from the standard super-hero. That's why I got really immersed in Conan, then to All-Star Squadron and Arak for DC. I'm looking for something that allows me to use comics for the type of stories that I want to tell. I'd like to find enough of an audience to support me. I don't have much interest in pandering to an audience whose tastes I don't respect.

If the audience likes what I do, as they did when I was writing the early Marvel comics or even All-Star Squadron, that's great. If the audience doesn't like what I like to write, then maybe I should find something else to do. I'm not interested in pandering to an audience whose tastes I don't respect. Unless it's for the basest of motives: to make a dollar. That isn't the reason I'm in this field. And if that were the reason, then I wouldn't have any interest in entertaining the audience or even knowing them.

[Chuckles.] Just a bunch a people interested in grimness and if their comics appreciate in value. I never bought comics because I thought they would appreciate in value. I bought them because I liked the character or the artist or the writer or the theme. I can't appreciate comics as an investment. If I can't read it, I have no interest in owning it.

Some of the grim books are very well done. I just have no interest in that.

Well said.

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