Written by Bryan Stroud
Jack C. Harris (born August 30, 1947) is an American comic book writer and editor known mainly for his work in the 1970s and 1980s at DC Comics. He was hired by DC Comics as part of the company's "Junior Woodchuck" program and became the assistant to editor Murray Boltinoff before being promoted to the position of editor himself. Harris wrote text articles and letters columns for various series and his first published comics story was "Political Rally Panic" in Isis (1976) #3. In his time as a writer for DC, Jack contributed to characters like Kamandi, Batman, and Sgt. Rock. As writer of the Wonder Woman comic, he returned the series to a contemporary setting to reflect the timeframe change made from the World War II era to the present day in the television series.
As an editor, Harris edited the first appearances of several new characters in their own eponymous series including Black Lightning; Shade, the Changing Man; and Firestorm. Among the new talent Harris helped to enter the comics industry was the writing team of Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn and artists Trevor Von Eeden, John Workman, and Bob Smith. On the advice of artist Joe Staton, Harris gave British artist Brian Bolland his first assignment for a U.S. comics publisher, the cover for Green Lantern (1960) #127.
Jack is an absolute treasure trove of memories with a sharp memory and some terrific anecdotes. Did you ever wonder who came up with Arkham Asylum or the number of members of the Green Lantern Corps? Look no further.
This interview originally took place over the phone on September 5, 2010.
Bryan Stroud: It looks like you started your DC career as a “Woodchuck.”
Jack C. Harris: (Chuckle.) That’s what they called us.
Stroud: In Amazing World of DC Comics #4 it says, “Our newest Woodchuck comes to us from Wilmington, Delaware via the Philadelphia College of Art where he earned a BFA and also taught a course on the History of Comics and the U.S. Army Signal Corps which he served in Germany. Mr. Harris lists as his hobbies comics (Adam Strange and Green Lantern especially), creative Make-Up, Amateur Theater and movies.”
Harris: I think I wrote that myself.
Stroud: Do you remember who did the little illustration of you that accompanied it?
Harris: I did. I actually graduated with a degree in illustration, I just never used it, but it was very helpful when I was an editor being able to direct artists and to talk in their language.
Stroud: That sounds exactly like what Len Wein told me.
Harris: Yeah, Len had that art background.
Stroud: He said it was very helpful when an artist wasn’t sure what he meant about how to do a shot and he would sketch it out for them.
Harris: Exactly. I could do the same thing.
Stroud: Your interest in comics history must have served you well as a member of the staff at DC.
Harris: Right. Just to briefly give you a history of how it started, I was into comics at a very young age. But my favorites before I discovered superheroes were Little Lulu and anything that Donald Duck was in. Those are the two that I was really into. Then I discovered Superman on television first. Some local kiddie show was showing the Max Fleischer cartoons and I remember watching those. The first one I remember seeing was an episode called “The Arctic Giant,” about a giant dinosaur ravaging Metropolis, and I’d heard of Superman, but that was the first time I’d ever seen him. Then some months later I saw the first television show that I remember seeing. George Reeves in black and white, and I was dumbfounded because it was live action. I thought, “He’s not just a cartoon, he’s real!” Then I think it was that summer I was on vacation with my parents and we stopped in at some store along the way and my mother said I could buy a comic book. She gave me a dime; remember when comics were a dime?
Stroud: Weren’t those the days?
Harris: I walked over and began looking for Little Lulu and Donald Duck and then I looked down and saw an issue of Action Comics and it had Superman on the cover and surprisingly that was the very first time I knew the colors of his costume. Because I had seen nothing but black and white television. So, all of a sudden, I found that Superman had a red and blue costume. Very cool. So, I picked it up, and while the Superman story was okay, what really got me in that issue was a Tommy Tomorrow story, which was drawn, I remember, by Jim Mooney and that was my introduction to Science Fiction. I’d never seen anything like that before in my life. And it just blew me away.
I remember there were house ads in that edition of Action Comics, including Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space and so that’s when I started looking for those. And while I was in there and got Superman I also got World’s Finest and got into that. The science fiction titles were my real love. Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures and things like that. I really, really loved those. Those were my favorites hands down. If I had a dime and said, “Well, I can buy one comic. There’s a Superman and there’s a Mystery in Space.” I would always go for the Mystery in Space. No contest.
And then of course when fandom started, I was there. What I remember was Julie Schwartz’s letter columns in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures and the Flash and things like that and they were very oriented toward the reader. He wanted us all to get involved. I really got sucked into that. He would publish everybody’s full address and created the network, which later became fandom. So, I wrote a letter at one point and won some original artwork from Adam Strange and that got me on mailing lists for Jerry Bails’ Alter Ego. Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas. I started reading that and I realized there were other people in the world that loved comics as much as I did. Then I got very much involved with buying all the fanzines and kept up with that kind of stuff, too. I wanted to be an artist. That was my goal. I started a correspondence with Sid Greene who did the Star Rovers in Mystery in Space. I corresponded with Sid for quite some time and in fact right now, hanging on the wall in my den is the original artwork, one of the splash panels to a Star Rovers story, which Sid gave me during our correspondence. Oddly enough he was one of the few artists I wasn’t able to work with because he passed away before I ever got to work at DC, which is really too bad.
Then when I got into college…actually I went into the Army first and the Army paid for my college, for which I am extremely grateful, so when I got out of the Army I went back to college and I met some other comics fans. One of my friends pointed out this article by a kid in Indiana who created a course on comic books that he was teaching in his college and I thought that was amazing. So, we proposed the same thing at the Philadelphia College of Art and they accepted it and we had a course that we created and taught for two years at the University of the Arts, which is now called the Philadelphia College of Art. In doing that we also had guest speakers from DC Comics to come and speak at our course. Along the way we had Len Wein and Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano. They all came down to Philadelphia to talk to our course, so I got to know them, which was very good. Then when I got out of college and started to apply for jobs, I applied at DC and dropped a lot of names like Len Wein and Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano. Of course, I’d met Julie Schwartz at a couple of conventions and had visited at DC comics, so they knew me up there.
So, I got a job as Murray Boltinoff’s assistant, which I did for a couple of years and then became an editor myself and worked there for seven years or so working for DC until I went completely freelance after that. I’ve been doing that ever since, so along with teaching at the School of Visual Art and I’ve written a whole lot of stuff along the way. As a little aside, by the way, the guy who was doing that course in Indiana that inspired us to do it, too, was Michael Uslan - who later became the Executive Co-Producer of all the Batman movies.
Stroud: Wow! The seven degrees of separation strike again.
Harris: And of course, he also was an assistant editor at DC for a while, too. Mike and I became good friends and remain good friends to this day.
Stroud: Outstanding. I’ve managed over the last year or so to assemble the complete set of the Amazing World of DC Comics prozines and what a treasure trove of stuff they contain. From issue #4 on you were very heavily involved.
Harris: Absolutely. That was our little pet project that I think Sol Harrison created as a training ground for all the assistant editors. That was our project. We did that completely on our own. The editors would help us if we asked. Otherwise, it was ours. We did that whole thing.
Stroud: You got to interview a lot of your heroes during the course of it all.
Harris: Yes, in fact the cover of #7 with that really nice Curt Swan drawing of Superman is another of the pieces that hangs on the wall of my den. He gave me that, as a gift, which I thought was very nice.
Stroud: Wonderful. I wish I could have got to know Curt.
Harris: Curt was terrific. When they started giving the artwork back to the artists, we had a foot-high stack of Curt Swan artwork and so when Curt came in the first time after that was okayed, we said, “Curt, here’s all your artwork back.” He looked at it and he said, “Oh, my God, I can’t carry all that home. You guys can have it. Divide it up.” (Laughter.) Everyone just dove in. One of the pieces I got was a splash panel from World’s Finest he’d drawn that was inked by Al Milgrom. So, years later I’m talking to Al via e-mail and he said, “You know, you have a piece of my artwork.” I said, “Which one is that?” He said, “The World’s Finest page, which was the only time I inked Curt Swan.” “Oh, yeah, I remember that piece. I have it tucked away somewhere.” So, I said, “You know, Al, I really think you should have this piece of artwork, but I would not have any idea what to charge you for it, so instead what I want you to do is to draw me the best drawing of Hawkman you’ve ever done and I’ll trade you.” So that’s what I did and I have this really nice Al Milgrom Hawkman drawing that no one in the world has seen except me as a trade for the World’s Finest page. I thought that was an equitable and unique sort of trade to do with Al.
Stroud: And everyone’s happy.
Harris: We both got what we wanted. (Chuckle.) It was a very good deal for both of us.
Stroud: I don’t suppose there was such a thing as a typical day in the production department, but can you try to describe it?
Harris: Well, the production department was different from the editorial department. The editorial department was mainly us sitting in our offices thinking. (Chuckle.) We were just sitting there sort of staring off into space. “What are we going to do next?” But no, it was never the same twice. It was always different. We’d be plotting the stories or going over the artwork or coordinating something with somebody else, or making sure that you weren’t doing something that somebody else was doing or that your artist was available and other scheduling things. I think my favorite part of it all was sitting and plotting stories with the writers. Sometimes we’d get the artists involved, too. We’d just get together and throw ideas around. “What would be cool?” A lot of times we’d start with an idea for a cover. “Okay, this would make a good cover. Now, how do we build a story around it?” Sometimes we’d plot maybe three or four issues at a time. Sometimes we’d just try to do one good story. We’d want to use a particular villain. We’d want to do something unique. It was always just throwing ideas around. That was probably the best part of the whole experience.
Then the second thing was when the artwork would come in and the artist would come in and show me the art and my first thought was, “I’m seeing this before anyone else in the world. No one else has seen these drawings and this story before except me. Then the rest of the world will get to see it, but right now I get to see it.” Then of course some of the people I got to work with, like Steve Ditko. Nobody gets to work with Steve Ditko. (Laughter.) There are only like ten of us in the whole world who have worked with Steve Ditko. That was unique. And then meeting people that I’d always admired and then working with them. I mean Julie Schwartz was my hero, and now here I was his colleague and later his friend. That was fantastic. And again, Curt Swan and Joe Kubert and Dick Giordano and I can’t even think of all the names. Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson and people like that. I had known them by their names before that and now I was not only working with them, but in some cases telling them what to do or what to draw. (Chuckle.) I mean, telling Steve, “Don’t draw it that way, draw it this way.” “Okay,” and he’s making these changes. “My God, I’m telling Steve Ditko what to draw. And he’s agreeing with me!” That was an experience that was just unique.
Stroud: Everyone is just fascinated with Steve, too. That aura of mystery he’s surrounded himself with has only fanned the flames, I think.
Harris: It’s terrific. I used to help it along. I remember one thing we did. It was a series for a while called DC Profiles. It was a little half page profile of all the people that were involved. It was just a little quick interview with somebody and you’d run a piece of their artwork or their picture on the page with it and Mike Gold, who was working on it at the time and he was coordinating all these and he came to me and said, “Do you think we could get Steve to do one of these profiles?” I said, “No way. There is no way you could get Steve to do it.” Then I said, “You know, I have an idea, though.” So, the next time Steve came in I said, “I know you don’t want to do one of these profiles, but here’s the thing. You always said that you should let your artwork speak for you. So, what I’d like to do is a half page of all the characters you’ve done for DC in a group shot and we’ll run that as your profile.” He said, “That’s a good idea.” So, we did it. (Chuckle.) So, for that profile it just said something like, “Steve Ditko lets his work speak for him,” and there’s this big drawing of all his characters and I thought that was just really cool.
Harris: It also helped continue the mystique that Steve has built up around himself. The thing that I like about Steve, and it parallels some of his characters; remember Mr. A and he never compromises. Something is either all good or it’s all bad. There’s no gray area. That’s Steve. That’s the way he feels. Either it’s all good or it’s all bad. If you accept any part of any of those then you’ve compromised your own feeling toward those things, and you really shouldn’t do that. I always respected that.
Stroud: He’s a man of firm convictions. We corresponded for a while and I’ll always be grateful for his giving me his impressions of being Jerry Robinson’s student. What was it like to work with Jack Adler?
Harris: He was a very creative guy and Jack had very specific ideas for coloring things. He was a very good trainer for the people coming in and he loved teaching people how to color and what would work and what wouldn’t. He always had these wonderful, creative ideas. Whenever I wanted to do a special cover, I’d ask Jack. I’d say, “Jack, can this be done? And if it can be done, what does the artist have to do in order to make it easier or to make it work?” And he was always there with the idea of how to work things. I liked working with Jack a lot. He was creative in a whole different way. Not as an artist, but more as how to present the art in a new and unique way. That’s what I liked about working with him. The last time I saw him, and it was a long time ago, was at a memorial for Julie Schwartz when he’d passed away.
Stroud: He’s still very sharp and frustrated at his physical limitations, but he is in his 90’s after all.
Harris: I used to love all his wash covers when I was a kid. I was just fascinated, but I could never figure out how they were done. They looked like photographs. How in the world do they get this effect? I remember a Green Lantern cover that was done that way and I remember a Detective or Batman cover in the wash cover technique and it was fantastic. “How is that done?” It was a really great thing when he showed me. “How do you do that?” “Let me show you.” He pulled out some old original art and he said, “We do this ink wash and then we half tone it.” It was fantastic. I loved it. He was always very happy to tell you about his “secrets,” because he wanted everyone to learn how to do it. That’s true in the industry as a whole, by the way. Everyone I ever met was always leaning over backwards to tell you how they were doing things and how it was done, from the writing to the artwork. Joe Kubert made a whole second career out of that. He created a whole school to teach people how to do it.
Stroud: You worked with some legendary editors. You mentioned Murray Boltinoff already and of course Joe Orlando…
Harris: Julie Schwartz.
Stroud: Of course. Do you remember anything significant you learned from them?
Harris: I always thought Julie was the best editor in the world. Julie was always good about sparking the idea. You had to come in with an original idea. He inspired me to do that. Whenever I came in to see Julie with an idea, I always had like twenty of them written down. I’d just throw them at him. “How about this? How about this? How about this?” Usually there was at least one out of the twenty that he liked. We could then build on it from there.
Joe Orlando was also a good teacher. One of the best things I ever heard Orlando tell was when he was talking to an inker. He said, “Every time you do a job, you get better. You improve. Here’s what you do if you have a twenty-page story. You work from the middle. You work so that the first page and the last page are the last two that you do. So, they’re going to be your best. So, when someone opens the book, they’re going to see one of your best pages and when they’re finished with the book, they’re going to see one of your best pages. So, the first and last pages should be the last two pages that you do. I thought that was brilliant advice. What a good idea. That way you’re going to leave them with that. You’ve showcased your best two pages when they open the book and when they close the book. You’ve put your best foot forward and left that impression also at the end. That kind of thing would come from the artists and the editors all the time. Very clever.
Stroud: Utterly brilliant. I’m reminded of something I read by a music producer that said your first couple of tracks on an album should be the ones that grab the listener because that’s what they’ll hear first. Very similar.
Stroud: Did the Comics Code give you any grief?
Harris: I never had any trouble with the Code at all. We were pretty well versed on it by then. I do remember trying to get things over on them occasionally. I recall an issue of Challengers of the Unknown that had Swamp Thing guest starring in it. Just for fun I had Bernie Wrightson ink the one panel that showed the Swamp Thing in it. Bernie inked that one panel just as sort of a tribute thing. In black and white it looked like Swamp Thing was showing his ass off. The Code objected to that and we said, “It’s green. He’s a plant, for heaven’s sake. Imagine the whole thing as green and it won’t look like he has a naked butt.” “Okay, all right. We’ll let it go through.” We had to explain it to them.
Stroud: (Laughter.) I always enjoy the stories of battling the code. Russ Heath sure had no love for it.
Harris: That was another thing. I got to work with so many people who drew my stuff. Russ did a chapter once in one of my Wonder Woman stories and it was so amazing to have him do that. Then to have Joe Kubert doing covers to books that I wrote: Hawkman and mystery stories, just the little throwaway stuff with this great Kubert illustration on the cover. My jaw would drop. It was like, “My God, here’s Kubert doing MY story.” That was probably the best thing about it. To get the story drawn by the people that you really admired as a kid.
Stroud: I can only guess. You lived the dream of many fans.
Harris: Oh, gosh, I got to write Adam Strange. I got to edit Green Lantern. Those are my favorite two characters. And right now, with the Green Lantern movie about to come out, I am so excited. I mean this is what I envisioned years ago. This is one of the characters that I helped. There are elements of that storyline that I created, that I made up, that are still being used.
Stroud: Which ones, Jack?
Harris: Well for instance I figured out how many Green Lanterns there really are. There are 3,600 of them. I figured that out and it’s all based on the circle. The galaxy is a circle and every degree is a space sector. That’s how we came up with that. It’s 360 degrees, so there are 10 per degree, so that makes 3,600 Green Lanterns to cover the entire galaxy. That’s how it works. That was my theory. I have to put this claim out, too. I’ve put this claim out before and people say it’s a claim, but I can prove it. I created Arkham Asylum.
The story goes like this: Of course, Arkham Asylum was not created by anyone at DC, it was created by H.P. Lovecraft. Arkham Asylum is where all the nuts who were driven crazy by the elder gods. They went to Arkham Asylum which is in Massachusetts in the Lovecraft stories. It’s nothing that anybody at DC came up with. But during one of those times that Denny O’Neil came to visit and talk at my college course, I remember we were at dinner. We always took our guests to dinner. So, I was talking to Denny and I said, “Denny, you know criminals like Two-Face and the Joker shouldn’t be just jailed. They’re nuts. They should be in an insane asylum. And what better one than Arkham Asylum from the Lovecraft stories?” He thought that was a great idea. So, he used it. And if you look, it was in Batman #258 from September of 1974. That’s the first mention of Arkham Asylum in DC comics history.
It’s been reported elsewhere, but that’s incorrect. If you check it, this is the first time it’s ever been mentioned, in this story. If you look at it, if you read it, the story involves Two-Face being brought in out of Arkham Asylum. The guy who breaks him out is a military man named John Harris. And that’s Denny O’Neil’s tip of the hat to me for the Arkham idea. Now I think it was Len Wein who picked up on that idea and later expanded the whole history of Arkham. But Denny did it first in that issue of Batman and I’m the one who gave him the idea for it. Every time I see Arkham Asylum I go nuts.
Stroud: What a great story. Thanks for sharing that.
Harris: I think in the Arkham Asylum intro they mistakenly try to determine where the first appearance was and they are mistaken. They got I much later than when it really was. I have a page of artwork from that that Dick Giordano gave me from that story and it’s where John Harris appears. I have that page.
Stroud: Rightfully so.
Harris: And if you have any questions about that story, ask Denny O’Neil. He will confirm it.
Stroud: It looks like you were right in the thick of things during the infamous DC Implosion. Several of your titles succumbed.
Harris: Oh, yes. The most tragic one was Kamandi, because that was the cutoff. Kamandi just missed the sales quota. A little more and he would have made it. But it was just the cutoff. That was a very sad thing. It was nobody’s fault. It was actually upstairs. DC was expanding and the corporate people upstairs said, “No, you can’t keep expanding. That was all last year.” If I remember right, we had a bad winter with a lot of snow and a lot of people didn’t buy things. A number of factors were in play that made it so we couldn’t really afford to expand the way we wanted to expand, so it just all collapsed and it was really bad because it impacted lots of people. We had all these work plans and all of a sudden, we had to let a lot of artists and writers know, hey, we don’t have any work for you. It only lasted about three months, but we had material for six months. There were tons of stories that ended up as backup features and stuff like that. I think most of the stuff we produced later on was published, but not in the formats originally planned.
Stroud: More inventory than you knew what to do with.
Harris: Exactly, so there were people not getting regular work. “We have a monthly book, but we have three months worth of work already, so we’re not going to talk to you for three months while we publish this stuff.” It was upsetting.
Stroud: Did any careers end over that to your knowledge?
Harris: I don’t know that any out and out ended, but a lot of them were altered. Most people went off and did other things for other people. There were other companies and other things they could do.
Stroud: I don’t know that it was the same timeframe, but I recall hearing about people like Mike Sekowsky and Alex Toth taking off for California to do animation work.
Harris: Yeah, but overall, I think it was more career altering than career ending.
Stroud: One of the titles you were editing was rather groundbreaking: Black Lightning.
Harris: Did that one die in the implosion? I can’t remember.
Stroud: I think so. I seem to recall seeing it on the cover of one of the Canceled Comics Cavalcade issues. Not to mention Firestorm and Shade the Changing Man.
Harris: You’re right. Black Lightning was fun. I liked working on Black Lightning. I liked working with Trevor (Von Eeden). Trevor was actually my discovery. As a kid of maybe 13 or 14 years old he sent in some drawings done in ballpoint pen and they were like the best thing we’d ever seen. (Chuckle.) He came in with his father, I think it was, and we gave him work almost right away. When Black Lightning came out, we said, “Hey, let’s have Trevor do it.”
Stroud: What was the response to the book at the time?
Harris: It was popular. People liked it. I got a lot of good mail on it and people thought it was great. It was not quite as edgy as I wanted it to be, but I think it was the times. We were trying to tread very carefully because I didn’t want the racial thing to be the main point of the story. I wanted it to be incorporated into it, but not to be the main focus of the story. For instance, when we were first discussing it, we had the name first, and I asked the question: “Do we really want “Black” to be referring to his race? Couldn’t it be something else that’s black? Maybe he shoots black lightning out of his hands or something?” It didn’t work out that way, so it does look like the name “Black Lightning” was because he was black and I didn’t necessarily think that was the best idea in the world. But the best part about that was introducing Trevor to everybody. I thought he was terrific and that it was a great beginning to his career. Later on, he did some Green Arrow work for me and he really did a great Green Arrow, too.
Stroud: I note that you’ve done work on humor, horror, superheroes and adventure. Any preferences?
Harris: The thing I had the most fun with, strangely enough, was Kamandi because it was unique. He wasn’t a superhero and it was sort of science fiction, but it was sort of this primitive thing, too. It was weird. Almost unclassifiable. So, I could do just about anything I wanted to, and what I did, based on a lot of what (Jack) Kirby had already done... I remember in one of the early issues he had drawn a map of Earth after the disaster and noted a number of different things along it and I picked up on all of those. I said, “As Kamandi moves across this world, we’re going to talk about every one of those things on that map that Kirby mentioned.”
The one that sticks in my mind was in Africa and it was called The Valley of the Screamers. I said, “What the heck is that? What could he have been thinking about?” I had no idea what he was thinking about, but here’s what it’s going to be…we never got to write this story, but this is what it was going to be: It was going to be evolved elephants. Evolved elephants that had gained human intelligence, but the problem was that they didn’t evolve physically. They never developed opposing thumbs and so they couldn’t pick anything up. They still had the flat elephant feet. So, they could think of all these great ideas and use their trunks, but it wasn’t enough. They didn’t have enough articulation to create the things they were thinking about, so they all went mad and they would scream a lot. (Mutual laughter.) Something like that. Just something bizarre and out there. I had a lot of fun with that book because those are the sorts of things you could do with that format. The most outrageous stuff you could think of would not be out of the realm. Kirby had such a wealth of stuff going that I had that ammunition along with my own wacky sense of adventure and I could get anything I wanted.
Stroud: I was kind of impressed, speaking of maps, that you produced a map of Rann in one of the issues of AWODCC.
Harris: Oh, yeah. I did that back in college. We were doing the science fiction issue and I said, “Hey, I’ve got a map of Rann.” “Really?” “Yeah, let me show you.” I redid it for that issue of Amazing World. I’d done it for fun on my own. I think I’d actually gone back and gone through the stories where there were segments of maps in Adam Strange. It seems like in one of the Showcase issues you could find one and I incorporated that exactly into the map that I drew. That little segment of the map is accurately reproduced into the Rann map. I drew that and pasted the whole thing up. That whole two-page thing I did all by myself. I got the artwork out of the library and did up some stats and got the lettering and everything. It was great. I think John Workman did the lettering, but the rest of it was mine. I’ve still got that paste-up somewhere in my storage unit.
Stroud: When you were picking up on a long running series like Wonder Woman, how did you go about tackling something with such a long history? Did you pay much attention?
Harris: Yeah, I was very interested in that. Strangely enough, I went back and thought; “Now when did I start buying Wonder Woman?” Because when I was a kid that was a “girl’s comic.” Why did I start buying it? So, I tracked it back and found the first issue I’d bought. What else was going on at the time? Well, the Justice League had just come out, and of course Wonder Woman was in the Justice League. So that had to have been the reason I started buying it. Because of the affiliation with the Justice League. So, I remembered reading it and I thought, “This is the strangest book I’ve ever read.” Because it was Bob Kanigher doing some really bizarre stuff. If you read some of those early issues, he was doing stories that were coinciding with the Justice League’s debut. That year Wonder Woman was full of just really, really bizarre stuff. Crazy stuff. I just thought it was a little too much. (Chuckle.)
But what I liked about it for instance was, and I know some later editors sort of disagreed with this, but I liked the fact that the Amazons were technically advanced along with everything else. They had great advanced science. They had time machines and all kinds of advanced weapons and I really liked that technological aspect. My other things was that, since if you remember at the time it was the Woman’s Movement, Wonder Woman had sort of been tapped as a spokeswoman for the feminist movement, which I thought was a great idea. My take on it was this. Let’s treat it like this: Let’s treat it that she’s already totally accepted in everything she does. Which basically is part of the fantasy. But that’s how I worked it. She never really ran into any problems because she’s a woman. Everything was just accepted. And it worked out very well. Then I wanted to play around with the Amazon legend. My favorite time was when she was challenged in her role of Wonder Woman. To give it up. I think it was in issue #250 when they had a big tournament and she lost the right to be Wonder Woman. That was one of my favorite stories. The other one came from the notion that she never teams up with anybody. She never had any guest stars. So, I had a story where she met Hawkgirl. A Hawkgirl team-up with Wonder Woman. So those are my two favorite Wonder Woman stories that I wrote. One where she loses the right to be Wonder Woman and then the one where she teams up with Hawkgirl.
Stroud: Julie would be proud. Those were original ideas.
Harris: I think the cover of the one where she’s with Wonder Woman was by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano where they did this really nice full-figured shot of Wonder Woman which I think has been used innumerable times for different licensing things, that particular drawing. I think maybe in Les Daniel’s book one of the end papers is that picture of Wonder Woman.
Stroud: So, an iconic image was created.
Harris: Exactly. I was very proud of the fact that that cover has seen a lot of action after the fact. I loved the fact that I was able to do that story with the tournament. It was just pure fantasy. It all takes place on Paradise Island and the gods are involved. Neptune is involved and then it gets technological when they actually go into space for the final part of it. And then Hawkgirl, which was cool because at the time the only two female members of the Justice League were getting together in an adventure of their own.
Stroud: You served as editor for the Legion for a while and based on the popularity of that book and the passion of their fans did that set you back at all?
Harris: A couple of times. I got people hating me and people loving me. (Mutual laughter.) For instance, I had Ditko do a couple of issues, and boy, did they hate those. They didn’t like those at all. But the real reason I did it was that Steve worked so fast. So, in a deadline pinch if I had him do a story, he could do it really quickly. I kind of liked his take on the Legion. I thought he had a nice feel for the characters and everything, but a lot of fans really had a problem with it. It was funny. It was the opposite ends of the spectrum. Some of the fans loved it and some hated it. Nobody was lukewarm about it. It was a very Ditko type of feeling. You hated it or you loved it and there was nothing in between.
So, it was kind of tough on me. The Legion fans were kind of tough on me, but I don’t blame them. When I was growing up, one of the things that I noticed, and you had to experience this for yourself, was that there was a generation gap when the Justice League was out. The older fans, and I’m talking about the ones in high school or older were Justice League fans, but the kids just getting into comics were Legion fans. I think there was a big difference in the complexity of the stories. The Justice League stories were very complex and you had to sort of be up on all the characters in their own books in order to properly follow the Justice League. You had to know what Green Lantern was all about, for example, because they didn’t go into a whole lot of characterization and background on the characters in the Justice League. They just assumed you, as a reader knew the characters.
But in the Legion, everything was in the Legion. Anything you wanted to know about the characters was in that story. You didn’t need to read three other books to know what those characters were all about and the stories were rather straightforward and easy to follow compared to the more complex Justice League. So, you had this generation gap and I, of course, was in the Justice League camp and I just sort of looked down on the Legion. I just didn’t read the Legion a lot when I was into comics. It was only later that I started reading it. When I became the editor of it I had that thing where, “Oh, what do I know about this? I don’t know that much about it.” Even though I was the assistant editor on it when I was working with Murray. So, in going back, if I had to do it over again, I remember Gerry Conway was writing it for me and Gerry knew about as much about it as I did, so we had this sort of feel our way along going on and I don’t think we quite hit on what the fans wanted as often as we should have. If I had to do it over again, I’d have had Paul Levitz write it from the beginning. I would have said, “Paul, you write this.” Then we’d have been okay, because no one knows the Legion better than Paul.
Stroud: Well, he is at the helm again.
Harris: As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here looking at this Legion #1 that Paul autographed for me, which I’m happy to have. Anyway, that was kind of a tough period for me. I think of all the Legions I did I think the only one I was really happy with was when we did a mini-series called Secrets of the Legion and that’s where we established that R.J. Brand was Chameleon Boy’s father. I thought that was a wonderful surprise and that, I think was the best moment I did in the Legion. Otherwise I wasn’t too happy with what I did with it. Although some of the covers I thought were kind of nice.
Stroud: Yes, in fact, it looks like you worked with Mike Grell not only there but on his Warlord series, too.
Harris: Yes. Warlord and he did some Green Lantern covers for me, too. Grell and I had a great relationship. We had a wonderful time. I enjoyed the Warlord. It was just so different. We gave him sort of carte blanche on that. The only time I ever did anything with that was we did a story once where the Warlord goes into a sort of parallel world where it’s like a Dungeons & Dragons game and at the end of the story we pull back and the two guys playing Dungeons & Dragons are me and Grell. Which I thought was great and as we’re playing the game this other guy comes in to scold us for not doing our work and it’s Joe Orlando. That part of the story idea came from me and I remember that I actually dreamed it and I called Grell up and told him about the dream and he wrote that story based on my dream and then wrote that part in at the end of the story. I forget what issue it was, but the Warlord is on the cover fighting (I think) with Tweedledum who has a chainsaw. It was just a really wacky story.
Stroud: I used to get the biggest kick out of Gardner Fox’s stories where he’d incorporate himself or Julie into them.
Harris: Remember when I said I used to correspond with Sid Greene? When Sid Greene did his pencils and inks, he had Julie in every story he ever drew. I used to have fun going through the old Star Rovers stories trying to find Julie. He’s in every one of them. He always characterized Julie somewhere in the story. Therefore, I knew Julie years before I knew who he was. “This guy always appears in every one of these stories. This guy is always there. Who the hell is he?”
Stroud: It sounds like you were kind of the go-to guy for TV series adaptations. You did Shazam and Isis at least.
Harris: Isis was my first assignment. Actually, it was the first series that I had. I remember that Steve Skeates had plotted a story that I then dialogued and the other book I did myself. That was the first assignment they gave me, was Isis. That was a lot of fun. At one point, and I don’t know why this happened, I was doing every DC super heroine at the time. I was writing Isis, I was writing Batgirl, I was writing Supergirl, I was writing Wonder Woman and I was editing Starfire. Those five female characters I was doing. Plus Hawkgirl and Hawkman that I was writing. All at the same time. For some reason I was the guy who writes the female characters. I don’t know how it happened. I thought it was kind of cool.
Stroud: Between your two primary assignments is it safe to say you got the most satisfaction out of being a writer?
Harris: Yeah. When you’re totally in control of something like that it is more satisfying. When editing you had to let people do their own thing. You didn’t want to get too heavy handed on them. So, they came up with the ideas and they presented them to you. Writing was a lot more completely satisfying, and the best surprise was when you wrote something and you envisioned it in your mind’s eye and then the art comes back and it’s either exactly what you envisioned or better than what you’d visualized. That was always the greatest thrill. The one guy that used to do that with me most was when Dick Ayers was drawing Kamandi. I would think up something and I would write it and then he’d come back and the artwork would be better than I had envisioned. That just blew me away. It was amazing. He would do that all the time. I would go, “My god, that’s better than I imagined.”
Stroud: Someone had told me that Dick Giordano was a beloved editor because sometimes things would come back not exactly as he’d expected, but he liked it as much or more than what he’d had in mind.
Harris: He did one or two of my Batgirl stories and no one could draw women better than Dick Giordano. So, I’d have these scenes and Dick would turn in his artwork and it was always just astounding. The other one was when I did a series of Robin stories that Kurt Schaffenberger drew. I was a big Kurt Schaffenberger fan and when he turned artwork in it was like, “Holy Moses!” Although the best one might have been when I did the Batman graphic novel, “Castle of the Bat” that Bo Hampton painted. He took a sabbatical from his teaching job to paint that book. I remember at the time I was laid up with a broken leg. I’m sitting there in my living room and my kids are bringing the mail in to me and what Bo would do is that he would color Xerox the pages for me and send me the pages that way. As he’d finish them, I’d get two or three of the pages to see what they’d look like.
So, I remember sitting there one day with my leg up in a cast and I got a package from Bo and it had a few pages in it and I pulled them out and looked at them and I thought, “These are great. Hey, wait a minute. I think he already sent me this one. This looks really familiar.” I looked at the pile I had and he hadn’t sent it to me. It was my mind’s eye vision of the page. He had nailed it so exactly, that I actually thought I’d seen the page before. Either he was really good about painting the pictures or I was really good at describing it, but it was exactly what I’d envisioned. It was truly amazing.
Stroud: I was a little surprised to see you’ve done a little bit of work for Marvel.
Harris: Oh, yeah. I did a couple of things for them. I created the Annex character for one of the Spider-Man annuals. It was Spider-Man Annual #27 from 1993. During that year they decided they were going to introduce a new character in all the annuals. Either a villain or a superhero in every one of the annuals, and of all the ones that they did, Annex was the only one that got his own mini-series later. I did a four-issue mini-series of Annex as well. So, I was very happy with that. Plus, I did a Spider-Man mini-series called Spider-Man: Web of Doom. Then I did a couple of other short stories. I did a Cat story that was published and I also did a couple of stories that weren’t published. I did a Marvel Team-Up that Ditko drew that was The Hulk and Human Torch team-up that never saw the light of day. I also did another story where the guy who drew it murdered his girlfriend or something and of course that particular story was never published.
Stroud: Oh, boy. Did you use the Marvel Method on those stories?
Harris: Yeah, that’s how I did them all. I like doing full scripts, though, because you have more control. I like to write in such a way that I describe the scene and sometimes also explain what not to do. “This, by the way, is the most important thing on the page.” I felt like I had to emphasize things or invariably they’d pick the wrong thing. I tell my students that any mistake you make as a writer will be accentuated by the artist’s mistake. And they’ll always pick up on that one thing that you don’t want them to pick up on. You have to be very specific and tell them exactly what to do, otherwise…well, here’s my worst experience: It wasn’t a comic book, so I can tell the story. It was a children’s book. In fact, it was a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe story. The scene is that this character, a bad guy, is trying to convince He-Man and his friends that he’s a good guy. So, they’re walking through the jungle and suddenly these two jungle cats run out. I’m envisioning a tiger and a lion. While they don’t exist in the same jungle, in the fantasy world, they do. So, the scene was that the hero was holding these two jungle cats by the scruff of their necks, holding them back so that the heroes can go by without being attacked, which I think is a very exciting, dramatic scene. You can picture it in your mind, can’t you?
Harris: The hero holding the lion and the tiger back. So that’s what I wrote and I remember what I described. I said, “Jungle cats.” Now the guy who painted this was an awful, awful artist. Just dreadful. And the editor was just as bad because he’d let him get away with it. The scene depicted in the book ended up being the character holding two house cats.
Harris: And that’s how it went through! They’re in the middle of the jungle being attacked by two housecats. The guy’s holding them by the scruff of their necks.
Stroud: What a disaster.
Harris: It was a total disaster. And the whole artwork in the entire story is awful. The story opens after a battle and they’re all supposed to be bandaging their wounds and recovering and this scene of carnage after the battle. The way it was drawn the scene looks more like a cocktail party. They’re all standing around and one guy has a bandage on his arm. That’s it. The rest of them look like they’re having a cocktail party. It was the most awful, worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen in my life. And of course, my name is attached to it.
Stroud: The last thing I wanted to mention before I let you go is that one of the reasons I was particularly interested in talking with you is that you unknowingly brought some joy into my childhood. Our Comics Club back in grade school, (membership: three) once wrote a letter to DC and we were thrilled beyond all words to get a reply in the form of a postcard that showed Superman flying with a mail sack and it was signed by Jack C. Harris. So, it’s something we’ve treasured ever since.