Q&A With Comic Book Legend Tom DeFalco at Pittsburgh Comic Con

Former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief visits the Steel City for this weekend’s Pittsburgh Comic Con.

Legendary comic book writer and former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief, Tom DeFalco has worked on such prolific titles as  “Dazzler” and “Thor” but is most well-known for this time on “The Amazing Spider-Man” series.  I was lucky enough to catch up with him and discuss comic books, the stress of being a Marvel Comics editor and the impact of superhero films on the industry.

**Editor’s note: the questions and answers have been edited for clarity**

Q: How’d you get started in comics? What was the initial motivation?

Tom DeFalco: As a young child, I was fascinated by newspaper comic strips. I actually use to cut them out and make my own books. And somewhere along the line a cousin showed me a comic book and I thought, ‘Oh, they stole my idea’ [laughs]. But I was fascinated by the concept of comic books and comic strips and was always interested in the medium. Growing up, I knew right away I couldn’t draw. I liked telling stories and planned to just be a writer, but always planned to be a pro writer. When I was growing up there was just a handful of really good comic book writers. It just never occurred to me that I’d ever do comics, so I just concentrated on all sorts of other writing. I think after I got out of college – I don’t know what was the motivation – my goal was to do a comic strip and I got in touch with Archie Comics and they offered me a job. So, I started working at Archie Comics and got involved in comic books. I did get involved in comic strips over the years, but comic books are more fun.

How much have conventions changed over the years?

TD: They’ve changed tremendously over the years; now they charge for signatures which we never used to do back in the day. When I started, conventions were a place to interface with the fans and more to promote things. The promotion angle is gone. Although some publishers still think the promotion angle still functions—I don’t believe it does anymore. I think everybody who rakes us in here to make their big announcements are just wasting their big announcements.

What was it like taking over [Marvel Comics] after Jim Shooter as editor-in-chief? Following the way he promoted comics and then when you took over, any troubles you had to go through during that process?

TD: Well I had to reorient the way people were looking at things. When Shooter was there he took everything very personally. In many regards, he thought he symbolized Marvel. And I didn’t think I symbolized Marvel. I thought, I had enough trouble being Tom DeFalco, I wasn’t going to be Marvel Comics. And I didn’t take things personally and I owe a lot of that to Larry Hama. When you were in a position of power in those days, in the comic book industry, you’d have a lot of fansies that would just rip you apart and write the most horrible things about you. And when there wasn’t a controversy they’d make one up. And Larry, my good buddy, would sit on my couch and read whatever horrible thing they had written and laugh hysterically as he read it. As a result, when I think about bad reviews or bad things people are saying I think of Larry laughing and I’m light-hearted about it. He did me the greatest favor in the world – and knowing Larry he did it on purpose – because he didn’t want me to feel bad. So, I never took things personally. So, that was a major change. And also, Jim really knew what he wanted, he really wanted a specific thing. I’m a lot flightier. As a writer, I have a very wide net and do a lot of different kinds of material. And as a result, I was much more spread out and fascinated by all sorts of different kinds of material.

tom-defalco-signing-spider-man-for-fan-at-pittsburgh-comic-con

Tom DeFalco signs an issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” for a fan at the Pittsburgh Comic Con

What was your favorite project you worked on as a writer?

TD: As a writer that’s really hard to say. Me as a writer, when I’m going to be working on a comic book character I have to fall in love with the character because I intend to be there for years. At any given time, I was in love with Spider-Girl, I was in love with Thor, in love with the Green Goblin. When I think of it I’m always torn between Thunderstruck and Spider-Girl. It is always hard to figure out which of your children you love more. But those two were very special to me.

When you were editor-in-chief in the mid-90s with the success of the Spider-Man and the X-Men cartoon shows, did you feel any added pressure as far as pushing those titles out at a quicker pace?

TD: No, no. We always had pressure pushing out the Spider-Man books and the X-Men books because those were the most rabid fans. The X-Men fans just wanted more and more X-Men material. We could never satisfy them. No matter how many books we produced it was never enough for the fans and the marketplace. Same thing with the Spider-Man books. We were constantly running just to keep up with the demand that we had. There was a time with G.I. Joe too. When we were doing three or four G.I. Joe titles and could’ve been doing six or eight if we had the people who could do G.I. Joe and it still wouldn’t have been enough at that time.

With the current success of the Hollywood blockbusters [comic book films] did you ever think it would blow up like it has over the last decade?

TD: Absolutely not. When I was there [at Marvel Comics] we were struggling to give the rights away to the films. We kept figuring if we could ever get a movie it would help sales, it would help this it would help that. I wasn’t sure they’d ever be a Spider-Man movie ever filmed. I use to tell people I worked on every version of the Spider-Man movie expect the ones that actually got made [laughs]. I probably worked on about seven to ten Spider-Man movies, none of which ever got made.

I think I was just trying desperately to be Stan Lee and there’s only one Stan Lee, I should’ve known better [laughs]. -Tom DeFalco

Do you think it is good for the comic book industry now, the success of comic book movies?

TD: I think it is good for the fans. Certainty the Marvel movies are a lot of fun. They do a lot of the same hoo-haw material guys like me and Ron Frenz loved doing. It was the same material we were doing in the 80s and 90s as opposed to the grim and gritty stuff that they’re doing now. So, I think it is wonderful for them. Back in the day I thought, if you do a movie sales will go up. Today I look and sales are horrible. So, I don’t know if that’s a reflection that has anything to do with the movies or if it’s a reflection to do with the distribution or if that’s a reflection of the kind of material they’re putting in the comics.

With Dazzler, did you have any fun working on that particular title? I know that was somewhat of a promotional title at first and a lot of mishaps happened with delays [in publication] at first.

TD: Yea delayed for a couple of years. Yea I had a lot of fun with Dazzler. I think I was basically chosen for Dazzler because I had worked for Archie Comics and they were thinking of something for the mass market and maybe something for the Archie audience and that sort of stuff. It didn’t quite go in that direction. But like I said you fall in love with every character as you’re doing it. And I really had a lot of fun. I forget how many issues I worked on, seven or eight, but I really enjoyed each of those issues. I was just starting out at Marvel and this was my chance to make a mark. I look back at some of those things and think, ‘Wow what kind of dialogue was I writing, what was I crazy?’ I think I was just trying desperately to be Stan Lee and there’s only one Stan Lee, I should’ve known better [laughs].

I know you said you fall in love with your characters, but at a certain point deadlines are deadlines. Was there any pressure while you were writing?

TD: There was always pressure. There still is pressure. That was just the name of the game. Back in the day the book had to be done by a certain time because if you missed shipping it almost wasn’t worthwhile publishing that comic book anymore because it wouldn’t get distributed properly. We just accepted that as our lot in life. If you had to pull all-nighters, you pulled all-nighters. You just did whatever you had to do to get that book out. I don’t even consider it pressure – it was the nature of the beast.

Did you enjoy writing more or your time as editor-in-chief? I could see that as a more responsibility more problems, sort of thing. What were the pros and cons?

TD: I always considered myself a writer who was masquerading as a staff person. And I always knew that being editor-in-chief was a temporary job and I always considered it a temporary job. I think it’s like being a football coach. When you have a winning team, you’re the greatest guy in the world. You lose a couple games it’s like, get rid of this bum. I knew it was something I’d only have for a few years. I figured I might last two or three years. I lasted longer. I did have fun as editor-in-chief, but my true love has always been writing.

Do you think fans are too harsh on writers, creators and even now just Hollywood movie producers and directors? Do you think they have knee-jerk reactions far too often?

TD: I don’t know if they have knee-jerk reactions. The fans like what they like. I think that what they like today might not be what they like two or three weeks from now. I can tell you that from when I was on Spider-Man that basically people would tell me they liked Roger Stern better. And I’d agree with them because I liked Roger Stern better too [laughs]. You know when I was on Thor people would say, ‘Ah you suck, we like Walt Simonson better.’ And you know, I liked Walt Simonson better too.

Any advice for comic book creators or writers trying to get into the business?

TD: My feelings about writers is you should just be a writer first and do a wide variety of things. And let comic books be one of the things you do. Because if you’re going to create stories, be able to create stories in different kinds of mediums.

DeFalco is currently working on “Reggie And Me” a title from Archie Comics. He will be at the Pittsburgh Comic Con, presented by Wizard World, which runs through this weekend, November 4-6 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

 

 

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Pittsburgh Comic Con Preview: Q&A With Kevin Sorbo

Former “Hercules” and “Andromeda” visits the Steel City for upcoming Pittsburgh Comic Con

The Minnesota native, author, and television/movie star will be visiting Pittsburgh this upcoming weekend for the Pittsburgh Comic Con at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The second annual Pittsburgh Comic Con, sponsored by Wizard World, which host over a dozen celebrities, writers, illustrators and geekcentric personalities including the cast of Netflix’s hit series Daredevil,  Nichelle Nicols of Star Trek and WWE Superstar Finn Balor.

I was fortunate enough to speak with the former star of USA Network’s Hercules: The Legendary Journey and SyFy’s Andromeda via a phone interview last week. Sorbo, whose wife is a South Hills native, shared his thoughts on life at conventions, how he overcame health troubles and shared some advice on the industry.

**Note some of the questions and answers have been edited for space. Listen to the interview in its entirety through the link below. Original article featured for the Point Park News Service.**

Q: When you go to conventions, what is it like for you? Do you have more of the Hercules crowd or more of the Andromeda crowd?

Kevin Sorbo: You know between Herc and Andromeda– if it’s between those two shows – it’s probably Herc seventy percent, Andromeda thirty percent. I find that kind of interesting because Andromeda was the first show ever created by Gene Roddenberry. He wrote it way back in1969 after the original Star Trek series finished. You know I shot Hercules in New Zealand from 1993-2000 and I shot Andromeda from 2000-2005 up in Vancouver, B.C. But since then in the last eleven years, I’ve shot 51 movies, but now more than half the crowd comes up more to talk about one of my other movies then those other two. It’s sort of a crossover crowd now, not just a fantasy and sci-fi crowd. It is a crowd that appreciates whether it’s a faith-based movie, a psychological thriller or an action movie, whatever it might be. I bring quite a variety of pictures now because it is amazing how people want different shots not just the two shows that I did for such a long time, so it is quite a mixture now.

 Any convention horror stories?

KS: No. You know people are pretty cool though. I realize there’s a lot of other actors there and stuff, so people are going to go to the shows they want to go to. There’s a lot of television channels, right? So not everybody has watched my stuff and I get it. So the people that come to your table really are people that want to meet you. You do those Q&A sessions – they give you Friday, Saturday or Sunday – you do the  Q&A, you go to a private room and there’s anywhere from 50 people to 2,000 – it really depends on how big the con is. And they’re there because they like you, they’re not there to heckle you or give you a hard time. That doesn’t really happen. You know I think if you get more of a hard time, it’s really just out in the general public. Certainly when I was I doing Hercules. You know I couldn’t go out to any pubs or bars to watch a football game without some drunk guy coming up and wanting to pick a fight with me. It’s like ‘Dude, it’s just a T.V. show I’m not half-God, okay.’ But you know it’s the male ego we all got problems with that.

I know you had the health issues and everything else, which I’ll get to but what was it like coming down from 90s T.V. star, a household name to then kind of reinventing yourself?

KS: Yeah, I suffered three strokes back in 1997 at the end of Season Five and an aneurysm in my shoulder that was congestive of a problem something we didn’t really know what was going on. But it took me three full years to really get back to feeling normal again. But we kept the show going with Hercules those last two years the best we could; we passed “Baywatch” just two years prior to my strokes as the number one show in the world, we held that spot for five years. You know it was kind of cool to be part of something like that. You know and then I had Andromeda and I think Andromeda was sort of a way to reinvent myself in a different way. Instead of becoming the Gilligan of my show with Hercules, you know I became a completely different character with Andromeda with Captain Dylan Hunt. And since then I’ve shot 51 movies and been very busy with my own production company. I just directed a movie in Alabama that will come out next year; I also did the lead acting in it. I’ve been very fortunate to keep my career going and through the independent world. You know I’ve done some bigger movies…but the independent market has been very good to me. I’ve got three movies lined up already for next year, I got three more movies coming out next year that I shot this year, so knock on wood I’m still staying alive.

 

I know you mentioned the health problems before, how’d you manage to overcome that adversity and stay positive through it all?

KS: You know a lot of that had to do with my wife. You know I’m a pretty strong willed person to begin with, but when I got sick like that she made me write this book ‘True Strength’[True Strength: My Journey From Hercules To Mere Mortal] and you know I didn’t want to write it. You know I guess it’s once again that insecurity and the male ego thing because I didn’t want people to see how weak I’d become. You know you’re playing a part like Hercules and you’re cruising along, you’re in great shape and then you get an illness like that that could’ve killed you. It does a lot to you on the inside as well. I just had to find a place where I’m not going to let anyone set my limitations and certainly myself. So she helped me just push through it. She’s a Pittsburgh-New York girl and she’s got a tough personality and she just said ‘You know what? It happens, stop being a freaking baby about it. What are you going to do now to make yourself better?’ And you know I think that was huge to let me look in the mirror and go ‘I can beat this.’

So you take it somewhat of a blessing in disguise?

KS: You know it was in a way, it sort of slowed me down in a way. I was burning the candle at both ends. I mean I was working fourteen hours a day in Hercules; lifting two hours a day and driving to set anywhere from a half-hour to an hour a day – so a typical day for me would be seventeen to eighteen hours, door-to-door. And that was for the first five years before I got sick. So it kind of put things into perspective what’s really important. It really came down to my family, my kids, my friends and stuff like that. You know it sounds corny, but that’s kind of true. You know it is being with people you care about and love that make it all worthwhile.

I kind of have to ask, any advice for aspiring actors or any creative talent in the cinema industry?

KS: You know I go speak at some of my old acting classes and some of my old coaches are still coaching out here in L.A. I go speak once every couple of years at these classes. And I tell these guys, you know you’re going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face. There’s a lot of reasons why you’re not going to get jobs and you know they’re stupid and they’re petty – you’re too tall, you’re too short, you’re too old, you’re too young, you’re too fat, you’re too skinny – it’s all about rejection in the industry. You get involved in this business because you love the craft of acting. Get into because of that don’t get into because you want to be Johnny Depp and be worth $100 million every movie and be super famous. If that happens, that’s just a bonus. Do it because you want to be an actor. It’s a simple as that.

Sorbo’s films “Let There Be Light” and “The Reliant” are due out next year. He will be appearing at the Pittsburgh Comic Con, present by Wizard World, November 4-6. Guest can purchase tickets on site or online through the resource center.

 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore