An Interview With Len Wein - Co-Creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine

Written by Bryan Stroud

Len Wein in 2017.

Len Wein in 2017.

Leonard Norman Wein (June 12, 1948) was an American comic book writer and editor best known for co-creating Swamp Thing (for DC) and Wolverine (for Marvel), and for helping revive the X-Men (including the co-creation of Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus). Additionally, he was the editor for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' influential DC miniseries Watchmen.
He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2008. Mr. Wein passed away on September 10, 2017.

Len was another joy to speak with and was completely approachable and friendly.  Another titan of the industry, he began in fandom, broke through as a professional writer and then took the editorial reins for a time, but at his core, Len was a story teller and thankfully he was happy to share some stories with me.  I had the pleasure of meeting up with him in San Diego in 2015 and it had just been announced he was going to do a new Swamp Thing miniseries and also one for the Metal Men.  He was like a kid in a candy store, and that smile of his was so infectious.

This interview originally took place over the phone on May 16, 2008.

Teen Titans (1966) #18, co-written by Len Wein & Marv Wolfman.

Bryan Stroud:  How did you get your start in the industry?

Len Wein:  Ah, wow.  It’s kind of a long, complicated story.  It was a different world back then.  When I was a teenager, DC used to throw a tour every Thursday afternoon in their offices and for several years I would skip school once a month on a Thursday.  And Marv Wolfman and I and a few of our other friends would go up and take the DC tour.  We became familiar faces up there.  I also started doing fanzines when I was in my early teens.  So they were aware of me to some degree from that.  So did MarvMarv had a fanzine. In fact, Marv had several fanzines. And eventually Marv and I decided to submit some work of our own to Dick Giordano over at Charlton comics.  By the time we finished the samples we wanted to present, Dick had moved to DC comics.  So we went up to the DC offices one day to show him the work, which was essentially stuff that Marv had mostly written and I had drawn.  And Dick wasn’t even in that day.  We didn’t even think to make an appointment first. 

Stroud: (Laughter.)

LW:  So while we’re standing in the lobby, we ran into Carmine Infantino who was DC’s editorial director at that point and Joe Orlando coming back from lunch.  And they recognized us and asked, “What are you guys doing here?”  We said we had come to show samples to Mr. GiordanoCarmine said, “Well, Dick isn’t in today, but show your stuff to my boy Joey here and if he likes it, you’re in.”  So we gave Joe the samples and waited around and finally Joe came out and said, “Well, the art still needs some work, but I kind of like the writing and if you guys want to submit some stories to our new House of Mystery title, I’m looking for writers.”  And we did and we both sold stories and that’s how it started. 

Stroud:  Okay, so you ended up in the horror genre right out of the gate then, huh?

LW:  Exactly. 

Stroud:  Is that one that you enjoyed or had a particular penchant for or just happened to be where you landed and took it from there?

LW:  It happened to be where I landed.  I mean, I enjoy all the genres, but frankly if I could have sold an Archie story to get in, I’d have done that.  (Mutual laughter.) 

Stroud:  I love it.  Youthful optimism and thank goodness for it.

LW:  I think I was 19 at the time, so exactly.  It was youthful optimism. 

Stroud:  A writer tends to paint a picture with words and some are more successful than others.  How do you get across a vision in your mind to translate it to a visual medium like a comic book?

LW:  Well, part of it is that I started as an artist. 

Stroud:  So, you knew what an artist would be looking for.

LW:  Exactly.  The samples we showed Joe was stuff that I had drawn, so I know how to describe art to an artist so that I can see it all in my own head.  In fact, over the decades that I’ve written in this business only twice has an artist ever come back and said, “You can’t draw that shot.”  I would do a quick sketch as I saw it and they’d go, “Oh, you’re right.  I never saw it from that point of view.”  And they went back and drew it.  But I used to have artists, especially at DC, guys like Irv Novick and a few of the others who would come into the office waiting for their next assignment and ask Julie Schwartz, “Do you have any Len Wein scripts lying around?  He’s always easy to draw.”

Stroud:  So, you automatically had an affinity with them.  So how was Julie as an editor?  Did you enjoy working for him?

LW:  I adored working for him.  He was a great curmudgeon.

Stroud: (Chuckle.)

LW:  Really cranky half the time, but a very good-hearted guy.  He was in many ways my mentor.  He taught me many things about how to do what I do and I adored working with him.  He was just one of the great guys in the business.  I mean we really wouldn’t have a business today in many ways if it weren’t for Julie Schwartz

Stroud:  I’ve heard similar stories from others and I only regret that when I started this project I waited too long and he’d already left us.

LW:  He had a good long run.  I think he was 89 when he left?

Stroud:  Something like that.  I know it was way up there and still very active in the con circuit and so forth.  Nothing to regret there.

LW:  Exactly.             

House of Mystery (1951) #191, main story written by Len Wein.

Strange Tales (1951) 169, co-written by Len Wein.

Blue Beetle (1986) #20, written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  Despite what may be some obvious biases for you, do you think a story or the art makes a comic successful?

LW:  Both of them.

Stroud:  Okay, nothing superior in either?

LW:  You know there are artists who argue that you can tell a story without words, but you’re still telling a story.  It’s always about the story first and foremost and the best way to get it across to the reader. 

Stroud:  It’s kind of a solitary exercise being a writer.  What helps keep you motivated?

LW:  The mortgage.

Stroud: (Laughter.)  That sounds familiar.  Denny O’Neil said, “I knew that I had two mouths relying on me out there and if I fouled up I might never work again.” 

LW:  That’s exactly it.  I mean, it is the comic book business, and people always tend to forget that.  You know if you want to be an artist, God bless you, go out there and rent a garret in Paris and starve, but this is my occupation.  This is how I earn my living and deadlines and letting the next guy down I think motivates me more than anything.  I find that it’s almost impossible for me to write something that doesn’t have a deadline.  Where I know that people are relying on me to finish my part of the job. 

Stroud:  That does make all the difference, I’m sure. 

LW:  Absolutely.  It’s always the thought, “If I don’t do my job, then (pick the artist’s name) doesn’t get to feed his family this month.

Stroud:  Exactly.  So there’s more skin in the game than just yours.  You’ve worked with both full script and Marvel method.  Which one did you prefer?

LW:  In my perfect world I prefer what they call the Marvel method.  It actually was not created at Marvel.  It just came to be called that.  I do that because it allows me to avoid what I call defensive writing.  When you’re writing a full script, you’re done.  You have no idea what the artist is going to do with it.  And every so often you’ll ask for, let’s say for argument’s sake, a long shot of Superman leaping from the roof of a building to fly somewhere.  And the artist will decide he needs a close-up in there.  A close-up of Superman’s face.  And so you don’t know what he’s actually doing in that picture.  And I find that when I write full scripts I tend to write defensively.  You know, the art description will be:  “Superman leaps from the building,” and there will be a caption that says, “As Superman leaps from the building…” and Superman thinking, “I think I’ll leap from this building.”  Just to make sure that if the artist draws a close-up, you still know what the heck’s going on. 

Justice League of America (1960) #107, written by Len Wein.

When you’re working in these plots first and these pencils first format, you know exactly what the artist has drawn and it liberates you to write other things.  You can advance the plot; you can get more characterization in there.  If the artist has told the story well visually, as so many do your entire writing approach changes to the story.  I did a several part story a number of years ago for DC and I won’t mention the story or the two artists; I don’t want to denigrate any of them.  And one of them was one of the hottest artists in the business at the time and I turned in a script for the first chapter off this guy’s pencils and I was really happy with the script.  It was full of flowery captions and all kinds of nifty stuff I enjoyed writing, and then he left the strip into the first issue for whatever the reason was and an old pro, a legendary old hand, came in and took over for the rest of the series.  And I did a script for the second issue and I was very unhappy with it.  I just didn’t like it.  I wasn’t getting those flowery captions.  I wasn’t doing various and sundry things and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t making it work. 

This was a guy anybody in the business would have been thrilled to work with.  He was a real pro.  I mean a legend, and I’m thinking, “Geez, with this other guy I got to write all this great stuff and this guy…what’s wrong?”  And so I went to Marv Wolfman and I said, “Here.  Look at these two jobs.  What am I doing wrong?”  And he looked at them both and said, “You’re not doing anything wrong.”  I said, “So why the difference?”  He said, “The old hand,” the guy who drew the second chapter, “told your story.”  “What?”  He said, “Look at it.  Everything you need to know, he tells the story in the pictures.  The first guy drew a lot of very pretty pictures, but half of those captions are there so you can tell the story he’s not telling in the pictures.  You didn’t need to do that in the second part.  The old pro did his job.”  (Chuckle.)  I think that defines the difference in working with the first style.

Stroud:  I can see that and it wouldn’t have occurred to me without your perspective. 

LW:  It hadn’t occurred to me until Marv pointed it out to me. 

Stroud: (Chuckle.)  The things we learn from the school of hard knocks.  Were there any other writers you enjoyed or who inspired you?

LW:  Most of my influences in terms of comic books; there’s really only one major influence on my writing and that’s Bob Kanigher.  When I was a kid my two favorite strips weren’t any of the superhero books going on at the time.  My two favorite strips were actually Sgt. Rock and Adam Strange, neither of which was really superhero.  One was a war series and the other was science fiction, about a character who actually isn’t a superhero at all, but who wins the day by outthinking his opponents all the time.  And I loved to see scripts by Kanigher.  He could make you cry. 

Bob had a way of writing a story, especially if there were 12 Sgt. Rock stories in a year, 4 or 5 of them would leave you in tears.  He’d just write a visceral, gut-wrenching, heart-touching story and I tried to emulate that wherever I can, but my actual influences as a writer are guys out of comics.  The biggest influence is probably Rod Serling.  I’m a huge fan of his writing and his work.  Also Ray Bradbury and Paddy Chayevsky.  My business card lists me as “Len Wein, Wordsmith,” and the guys I mentioned were all that.  Guys who told amazing pictures in words.  They just had an amazing command of the language.

Stroud:  A very worthy list of people to look up to.  Now that so many comics are done on the computer, do you think that’s a good thing, a not so good thing, or any opinion?

LW:  Wow.  I came into the computer game a little late.  I guess it was the mid-80’s.  I had just written my first animated script and had made some money and a number of my friends…I was working at DC and there was a computer store downstairs at the time…anyway, Marv Wolfman, Diane Duane and I think Bob Greenberger all said to me, “Oh, good, you’re buying a computer now.”  I said, “No.”  They said, “That wasn’t a suggestion.  That was a statement,” and they literally grabbed me and dragged me downstairs to the computer store.  (Chuckle.)  And I walked in and the guy behind the counter said, “Can I help you?”  I said, “Yes, my friends tell me I’m looking to buy a computer.”  He said, “Well, what sort of computer are you looking for?”  I said, “You know the term ‘user friendly?’”  He said, “Certainly.”  I said, “I’m looking for one that’s idiot friendly.”

Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #151, written by Len Wein.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

LW:  So I’ve been working on a Mac all these years, and Marv told me, “You need to work on a computer because it will increase your writing speed threefold.”  And he was absolutely right.  Not that I write any faster, but I’m an anal retentive writer in that I like turning in pristine looking scripts.  So even though for many years I was my own editor, and literally the only person who would ever see the actual script would be the letterer, or before that just the letterer and the editor, if I screwed up I would re-type the whole page.  I wouldn’t turn it in until it looked pristine.  And once I had the computer, if I screwed up, I simply hit the appropriate keystrokes and fixed the mistake, and I got a whole lot faster.  (Laughter.)  So if nothing else, at least it served that purpose. 

Stroud:  Well, and if you’re like me, when you sit down to write something, I don’t know, there’s something about a PC.  Maybe because it’s right up in front of you at eye-level, and when the mind is flowing so much more quickly than the fingers, I find it helpful in that respect.

LW:  Oh, absolutely.  I became an accidental touch typist; I’ve done this for so long.  I learned touch typing the hard way; just by doing it.  I never took a class.  I used to be a hunt and peck typist and then one day, maybe 5 or 6 years into the business, I was working on a script, you know, copying over my notes, and I was typing away and realized all of a sudden I was looking at my notes and I was typing.  I wasn’t looking at the keys.  I had finally learned just by doing it over and over and over again how to touch type.

Stroud:  I’ve got in my notes here that you did work for quite a laundry list of publishers.  Warren, Marvel, Image, Gold Key, DC, Eclipse, DEFIANT, Disney…

LWBongo, and there’s probably a few others in there.

Stroud:  Definitely.  I’m sure that’s not a comprehensive listing.  Did any particular one treat you better than another?

LW:  I’ve been treated well and poorly almost everywhere I guess, depending not on the company so much as the people with whom you work.  I’ve had nothing but a wonderful experience of late working at Bongo comics, doing The Simpsons and Futurama scripts for Bill Morrison, who’s one of the dearest people in the history of the business.  I mean, he makes it a joy to work there.  I had much the same experience working for Penny- Farthing Press when I was doing “The Victorian” for them a couple of years ago.  These are just people who care about the product and want it done right and well.  And I’ve had editors that…well, DC, fiscally, has been very kind to me over the years and that is much Paul Levitz’s doing.  Making sure I see residuals and royalties on my creations and my work.  At Marvel it was great fun while I was writing there.  It was the old west.  We were really producing books by the seat of our pants.  It was great fun.  So I’ve been lucky.  For the most part, I’ve been treated very well almost everywhere I’ve worked.  An occasional editor here or there…I did not get along and so I’d move on to something else quickly.

Stroud:  Did you feel like you had more artistic freedom in any area more so than another? 

LW:  Over the years I’ve had tremendous freedom.  I did my own editing so often.  That’s almost absolute freedom.  And I’ve had the respect of many of the editors for whom I’ve worked where I’ve had essentially as much freedom as I wanted or needed.

Stroud:  You introduced some new characters at DC in particular to include obviously Swamp Thing and The Human Target.  Did you have a favorite or is that like asking if you have a favorite child?

LW:  Exactly.  Let’s be honest, we all have favorite children, we just won’t admit it. 

Batman (1940) #307, written by Len Wein.

Stroud: (Chuckle.)

LW:  Actually some of the characters I’ve written that I did not create I enjoyed writing just because of the fan in me.  The chance to write Batman; when I was the regular Batman writer for a number of years it was a big thrill for me.

Stroud:  Such an icon, yes of course.

LW:  Also he was one of my all time favorite characters, and at Marvel the Hulk was one of my favorites.  But you missed the characters over there who are probably more seminal in many ways that I created.  Like the New X-Men.

Stroud:  You bet.  You created Wolverine, in fact, isn’t that true?

LW:  I did.  I created Wolverine; I created Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird, the Punisher’s arch-enemy Jigsaw.

Stroud:  What does it feel like to see them on the big screen?

LW:  Emotionally, terrific.  Financially, not so much.  As I said, the difference between the two companies; DC and Marvel, is I see money off of all of my characters at DC in any incarnation.  If they do paperback books, if they do movies…  I also created Lucius Fox, the character Morgan Freeman plays in the current run of Batman films, and I do absurdly well off of him being in those films, financially.  Because Paul Levitz made sure I signed creator equity contracts whenever I create a character.  Even on something potentially so unimportant…as I said to Paul when I argued with him about signing a Lucius contract, “It’s a middle-aged guy in a suit.”  He said, “Sign a contract.  You never know.”  He was right.

Stroud:  Wise counsel.  I’m sure his background as a creator helps to influence his decisions and treatment of talent.  Neal Adams has been very praising of Paul for the same thing. 

LW:  He’s an old, old friend.  I’ve known him since we were both teenagers, but more than that I have great respect for him as a human being.  He’s an honest, ethical, decent human being.  I have nothing but the highest respect for him. 

Stroud:  All too rare.  Especially in the corporate world.  I don’t mean to belabor Swamp Thing, but I stumbled across something that said the woman on the cover was modeled on someone’s wife or some such thing?

LW:  You’re talking about House of Secrets #92?

Stroud:  That’s the one.

LW:  That’s Louise Simonson.  Many of the characters in that particular short story are modeled on real people.  The villain is Mike KalutaBernie [Wrightson] himself I think is sort of Alex Olsen.  All of the people in it…it was one of those sorts of things where Bernie was trying something and basically had many of the shots posed and took photos and worked from that.

House of Secrets (1956) #92, written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  Oh, kind of the Alex Ross method.

LW:  Exactly.

Stroud:  I know you’re not necessarily a production guy, but wasn’t it Gaspar Saladino who did the logo on Swamp Thing?

LW:  Yes it was.  He lettered the first six or seven issues, too.

Stroud:  A talented man.  A sweetheart of a guy, too.        

LW:  An old friend of mine.  I haven’t seen Gaspar now in probably 25 years, but a very good friend from way back when.

Stroud:  A super guy.  He was my very first interview and was trying to make it easy on me, for crying out loud. 

LW:  One of the legends.  Probably Gaspar and Todd Klein in terms of design work are two of the great letterers of the business.

Stroud:  You mentioned some of the artists you worked with over the years such as Carmine and Dick and there were also Gray Morrow and Bob Oksner and Bernie.  Did you feel like anybody was…

LWHerb Trimpe.  So many good guys.  Ross Andru was just one of the great honeys of the business. 

Stroud:  Yeah.  Did you have a favorite, or is it fair to ask that?

LW:  It’s not fair to ask that.  (Chuckle.)  Everybody contributed differently.  They all bring their unique talents to the table, and it changes the project depending on the work.  One of the series I wrote, for example, with two legendary artists over the run, when I was working on one of them, the artwork jobs were spectacular, but it was the book that took me the longest time to write each month.  And then that artist left and was replaced by another now-legend in the business and it became the quickest book I wrote every month.  No difference in the terms of the quality.  They brought individually unique things to the table, but it was just the fact that everybody brings something different. 

Stroud:  I’m sure that does change the dynamic.  You worked on a couple of other Swamp Thing type characters.  The Heap…

LW:  Which I was fortunate to actually do with Carmine Infantino, who had drawn the original back in the 40’s.

Stroud:  Yeah.  And then Man-Thing for Marvel.  Were there differences?

LW:  They’re all different.  Every one of them was a different character.  I mean, just because they’re swamp monsters doesn’t make them any more the same than the fact Superman, Hawkman and The Angel can all fly.  One of the things that most people I think don’t know, and it’s funny, is that I wrote the second Man-Thing story.  Gerry Conway did the first, I did the second, and I’m actually the person responsible for the tagline.  “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.” 

Swamp Thing (1972) 1, written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  I sure wasn’t aware of that.

LW:  In the first story, anything the Man-Thing touched burst into flame, and I went, “Oh, this is going to be an interesting protagonist.  He can never touch anything!” 

Stroud: (Laughter.)

LW:  So I came up with the handle that only if you were afraid of him would you burn.  If you were pure of heart, you were okay.  (Chuckle.)

Stroud:  I’ll be darned.  I didn’t realize that was your baby.  Cool.  You came in right toward the close of the Silver Age, though no one has been able to quite define when that was, precisely.  I’ve heard different years speculated…

LW:  I know.  It’s very bizarre.  I’ve read articles in the last year, in fact, both of which posit the Bronze Age, or whatever you want to call it, the Corrugated Tin Age, or whatever…

Stroud: (Laughter.)

LW:  Well, they argue that it started with one of my two books, either it changed over with the first issue of Swamp Thing or it changed over with Giant Size X-Men.  I find it bizarre that one way or another, people seem to think I’m somehow responsible.  (Chuckle.)  I’m a transitional point in the history of the industry. 

Stroud:  So, I take it there was nothing evident in your experience that would show a transition.  (Chuckle.)

LW:  No, I was just trying to get the job done and make my deadlines.  (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud:  It seems like during your tenure, both DC and Marvel seemed to be losing the bedrock younger audience.  Any thoughts as to why that might have been?

LW:  I think we started to cater to our most financially sound audience and as a result lost…when we started to cater to the direct market; when all we really cared about was producing books for the audience we already knew was going to buy the books, we started to lose that open door that brings new readers in to buy the books.  Your average comic book reader today is in his mid-20’s or 30’s.  When these guys die, the industry is over.  We’re not bringing in a new generation to replace them.  It used to be the theory that every issue of every book was somebody’s first issue.  And more than that, that your average audience lasted 3, maybe 4 years, after which there was a brand new audience coming in all the time, so that your average comic book reader was always say 12 or 13 years old.  Now that’s incredibly different.  Every year, your average comic book reader is a year older than he was the year before.

Stroud:  The demographic just keeps shifting upward then.

LW:  Exactly. 

Stroud:  That doesn’t bode well for the future.

LW:  It doesn’t.  I go to Golden Apple Comics out here in the San Fernando Valley every Wednesday and I’ve been doing it for 20 years now, and there are some teenagers who come in there; some folks in their teens.  And I guess the occasional kid coming in with their dads, who are comics fans, who pick up the newest Archie or Simpsons or some kid related book, some of the Johnny DC titles like Scooby-Doo or one of those, but we’re not getting the audience in the way we used to and I worry about that.  I don’t know what the end state is going to become.  In ten years we’ll start watching our readers die of old age.            

Stroud:  Exactly.  Even initiatives like Free Comic Book Day doesn’t seem to be quite turning the tide, at least in my very cursory observation.

LW:  I was terrified.  Again, I never want to say anything negative if I can avoid it, but there is currently a book out based on one of my characters that as a result of Paul Levitz’s kindness, I see money off of as the creator every issue.  And I got my monthly check that came in just this week, and I looked at the sales figures and the book is selling under 7,000 copies!  I used to publish fanzines that sold more copies than that. 

Stroud:  That’s a precipitous drop to say the least.  They used to get canceled for much higher numbers than that.

LW:  We used to cancel books that sold a quarter of a million copies!

Defenders (1972) #16, co-written by Len Wein.

Dreaming Special (1998) #1, written by Len Wein.

Daredevil (1964) #124, written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  Astounding.  When I was talking to Carmine or maybe it was Al Plastino they were saying that when they get their royalties on the new Showcase Presents, if you’re familiar with those, they said the sales figures on those are very strong.

LW:  Those are doing fine.  That’s why there are so many.  I see money for those as well because they’ve been reprinting some of my old House of Mystery stuff and The Phantom Stranger and a lot of my earlier work is now showing up in these Showcase titles.

Stroud:  There’s obviously still an audience for the older work, but the newer stuff doesn’t seem to be exactly burning up the world. 

LW:  Nope.

Stroud:  It seemed like there were some other younger writers coming in around the time you were, hitting their stride along with you, did you ever interact with say, Cary Bates or Denny or Jim Shooter?

LW:  How do you not?  I mean, we all came in together.  We weren’t living in isolated communities.  We used to all play poker together on Friday nights.  Literally those guys; Marv Wolfman and many other folks at the time, Mike Barr, Steve Mitchell, Tom DeFalco, I could probably name 15 or 20 guys.  The Friday night game used to be at the apartment shared by Paul Levitz and Marty Pasko way back when.  We all interacted.  I brought Jim Shooter back into the business, in fact.  At a convention in Pittsburgh.  He’d left comics.

Stroud:  Oh?  You must have been editing then perhaps?

LW:  I was editing, over at Marvel.

Stroud:  What did you propose to him at the time?

LW:  “Send some stuff.  You were always very good.  Let’s see what you’ve got.” 

Stroud:  I noticed you had some co-scripting credits with Marv, Roy Thomas and a few others.  When you do a co-collaboration how does that work?

LW:  It’s different with everybody.  Sometimes one person plots and the other person dialogues.  There’s a number of those.  Probably at Marvel, I would say the majority of those co-scripting credits are from things that somebody plotted and somebody else had to finish dialoguing.  Either way.  Either I was dialoguing off of someone else’s pencils or someone else’s plots or someone was dialoguing off of my plots. 

Avengers (1963) #86, co-written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  Okay.  I was trying to visualize how two people could work a single script and I just couldn’t think of a way.

LW:  It works many ways.  There are lots of co-writing methods.  I mean, Marv and I, just a few years back, wrote a screenplay together.  And we did it basically by plotting the whole thing out as a team, then sort of splitting the screenplay in half, and I don’t mean literally in half, but “All right, I’ll take scenes 1 to 3, you take scenes 4 to 6, I’ll take scenes 7 to 9,” and then putting it together; going over it together to homogenize everything and make it into what works. 

Stroud:  Is it quite a bit different writing for other entities like that?  I mean a screenplay vs. a comic script, or are there enough similarities to make little difference?

LW:  There are more similarities than differences.  There are differences, but there are also many similarities. 

Stroud:  So, it wasn’t any major leap out of a comfort zone to do that kind of work.

LW:  Oh, it always was.  At least for me.  The first time I did anything, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to it, firmly convinced that it was impossible to do and I would never be able to do it right. 

Stroud: (Chuckle.)  And yet you did.

LW:  Thank God. 

Stroud:  I saw an interesting credit that you worked with Harlan Ellison on something for Dark Horse?

LW:  I wrote a story for The Dream CorridorHarlan is one of my two oldest friends in the world. 

Stroud:  Are his mercurial tales…well, if you’re good friends, obviously it’s not a problem.

LW:  (Chuckle.)  As I told him to his face, he’s not an easy row to hoe.

Stroud: (Laughter.) 

LW:  He is a loyal, dear friend and he’s never boring.

Stroud:  A perfect description.  When you moved up to become an editor at both of the big two, was that a breath of fresh air or was it from the frying pan to the fire?

LW:  I love editing.  I actually probably prefer editing to writing.

Stroud:  How come?

LW:  I can control the entire package.  The final approval of every step of the process.  That, I like.  I get to hone it all that way.  While I’m a nit-picker, I’m not an omnipresent pain in the neck.  My number one rule, and I’ve said this in a number of interviews over the years, was I always felt I did my job as an editor best when it appeared I was doing it least.

DC Special Series (1977) #27, written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  A light touch.

LW:  I hired the right people, pointed them in the right direction, and got the hell out of their way. 

Stroud:  As a writer, that certainly must have influenced your methods.  You probably tried to be the sort of editor you wish you’d had. 

LW:  Exactly.  Not so much the kind of editor I wish I’d had, but the kind I’d been fortunate enough to have.

Stroud:  I was at the local Barnes & Noble recently and went to the graphic novels section and I was kind of stunned to notice two racks of graphic novels and six of manga.  That seems to be the sudden push everywhere.  Do you have any opinion on what it’s doing or where it’s going? 

LW:  No, actually I don’t.  I don’t get manga at all.  I’ve done some translation over the years on a couple of manga projects.  I just don’t get manga.  My son, however, is awash in it.  His room is filled with as many manga magazines as I have comic books.  But I just don’t understand it.  I don’t understand the fascination.  I don’t understand what it’s addressing.

Stroud:  Yeah, I remember sitting one Saturday morning with my daughter watching Dragonball Z or something and I said, “Okay, so they sweat, they scream and they punch each other out.  Is that all this is?”

LW:  That’s what it seems to be. 

Stroud:  I’m completely baffled as well, and yet it seems to be the only profitable niche these days other than, as we talked about before, the reprints.

LW:  Well, the trade paperbacks and those bookstore things really do help to support the business.  That, of course, and the films. 

Stroud:  Yeah, it seems like licensing is where the money is any more rather than the publishing aspect. 

LW:  I think DC and Marvel make a considerable amount of money off the trade paperbacks. 

Stroud:  It makes sense or they wouldn’t keep cranking them out.  You had kind of a baptism by fire when you did Justice League.  You were right there during a major Earth-One and Earth-Two crossover, plus it was the 100th issue.  Did that intimidate you at all?

LW:  Sure.  You’d have to be stupid not to be intimidated. 

Stroud:  And yet you seemed to carry on the tradition quite well.  Did you have to do a lot of research?

LW:  No, I had read everything at that point.

Incredible Hulk (1962) #181, written by Len Wein.

Stroud:  Okay, so it was all stored up in the data center.

LW:  Uh-huh.  Then.  I mean, today I would have to spend days researching.  At that time it was all in my head.  It was also, dear God help me, almost 40 years less continuity to have to worry about. 

Stroud:  (Laughter.)  You touched on some of the projects you’re involved with today.  Any other things that you’re doing?  You mentioned Bongo and what else?

LW:  I’m working for Bongo and I’m writing a video game which I actually cannot talk about.  One of those non-disclosure things.  Those are NDA’s, right?  Non-disclosure agreements.  I keep referring to them as DNR’s, and I know that’s wrong.

Stroud: (Laughter.) 

LW:  “Do Not Resuscitate.”  That’s different.  (Chuckle.)  And I visited New York just a few weeks ago to talk with Dan Didio about a number of new projects for DC, but it’s way too early to talk about those until they actually start rolling along. 

Stroud:  But you’ve maintained some continuity all this time.  Is there any genre you’d like to work in that you haven’t?

LW:  No.  I mean, I’ve been absurdly fortunate.  I’ve written comic books, novels, animation, live action television, screenplays, and now video games.  I’m not sure there’s any genre that’s left for me to actually mess with. 

Stroud:  It doesn’t sound like it.  It sounds like you’ve conquered all the worlds.  Is there a legacy you’d like to look back on with particular satisfaction?

LW:  I would hope the bulk of what I’ve done over the years…  I’ve always said we don’t get to decide what we’ve done.  History decides that for us.  Hopefully after I’m gone people will still be reading what I’ve written.  That would make me very happy.            

Phantom Stranger (1969) #21, written by Len Wein.


Len Wein meets Hugh Jackman in 2008.

Swamp Thing (2016) #1, written by Len Wein.


Bryan Stroud

Bryan Stroud is a longtime fan of DC Comics, particularly the Silver and Bronze Ages, and has been published in a number of places over the last decade plus, to include the magazines Comic Book Creator andLurid Little Nightmare Makers and websites like The Silver Lantern and Comics Bulletin.  Bryan wrote the afterword to “Think Pink,” is a frequent contributor to BACK ISSUE magazine, Ditkomania and co-authored Nick Cardy:  Wit-LashHe and his indulgent wife have dined with Joe and Hilarie Staton and Jim Shooter.  He owns a comic book spinner rack that reminds him of his boyhood.