I chatted with Roy Thomas earlier in the week to talk about his most recent Conan project as well as the upcoming Comic Con. I wanted to hear from someone who has been there since basically the beginning and get their perspective on the changes to comic books and the Con itself. And to be honest, I also just wanted to lord it over everyone I know; I had the chance to chat with Roy Thomas. The interview is below, but for those who want the inside scoop, here's something you might not know. Roy and his wife have a small herd of Scottish highland cattle on their property, which is kind of awesome. While we were chatting Roy told me that earlier he'd been walking a mile of fencing to make sure the storm hadn't caused any damage and allowed cows to escape onto the nearby highway (which has happened before).
1. You've been writing comics for almost half a century. In that time, how have you changed, as a writer? How have you altered your methods through the years, the way you write a script, the way you deal with artists, etc.? One of the main changes in recent years is that nowadays I more rarely get a chance to deal directly with artists, which is a throwback to the way things used to be before Stan Lee brought us together. Now we often go through an editor as a sort of middle man, and it may be the case that I never actually meet or work or communicate directly with the artist. As far as writing itself, it evolves. I have to keep up at least marginally with what is going on in the field, but at this stage of my life I write what I write and if editors like it they take it and if not that’s fine. I write what I enjoy writing. I don't read a lot of today’s comics, so I'm naturally not going to write in that style, except perhaps superficially. It’s not that I feel the comics of today are necessarily inferior to those of decades past; they’re just not written for me. Every generation gets comic books they deserve, and I’m not who today’s comic books are being written for.
2. During your long tenure at Marvel, you created some of the most memorable characters there (The Vision, the Dane Whitman Black Knight, Havok, Iron Fist, Ultron, Ms. Marvel, and the list goes on). Are there any characters you're particularly proud of?
I don’t think I created a lot of major characters, but I’m happy with those that I co-created. In many cases I was trying to work with characters and concepts that were pre-existing so that I wouldn’t create characters that I wouldn’t end up owning a piece of. The thing I’m happiest about was being the co-creator of Wolverine; I never wrote him but I gave him the name and a few physical and character traits to writer Len Wein, who carried the ball from there. It was nice to see two of my co-creations (Havok and Banshee) in the recent "X-Men" movies. That was nice because the film was reasonably faithful to my characters, especially Banshee. Stan had me make Banshee a man because the X-Men couldn’t always be beating up on a girl. It's that old saying about never picking on anyone smaller than yourself: "If you win, you're a bully--and if you lose, you're a jerk." So we made him an adult Irish male who smoke a pipe.
3. How much attention do you pay Marvel and DC's current books? What stories or modern characters impress/surprise/disappoint you?
I check out recent comics, but only occasionally buy them. I am glad to see comics doing as well as they do now, especially after the problems of the 90s. What I really like, even if I don’t read many comics, is the wide variety in the field. I’ve always liked superheroes but I’m very happy to see other topics being covered in comics and graphic novels. Stan and I and others always thought comics should be as open to subject matter as any other type of genre. Nowadays you have a little bit of everything, which is the way it should be. One of the reasons the superhero genre was so popular in the past is because comics were the only place you could do it well until recently. I’m hoping for good things from the Captain America movie, Marvel has had a run of good luck with adaptations of Blade, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. Thor wasn’t exactly the version of the character I wanted to see personally, but it was fairly good. X-Men: First Class had an enjoyable story (though setting it in 1962 was odd, since even the comic didn't come out till 1963!), and Green Lantern was nice visually even if the story didn’t hang together well. In Captain America they have him using a gun, which I never really liked, but he did use them occasionally in the 1940s comics (as well as in current ones), so it follows his background pretty well. I'm planning to see it in 3-D. I've loved 3-D movies ever since the 50s, glasses or no.
4. The Marvel Wiki had the opportunity to interview Steve Englehart a while back, and one of the things they asked him, since he wrote the character shortly after the change, is why Beast became grey and furry. His recounting was that it was your idea, part of an effort (alongside Sub-Mariner getting a black, leather costume) to make them more visually striking and make him seem more like Werewolf by Night and some of the other Marvel monsters debuting at that time. Is that how you recall it? If not, what's your recollection of it. If so, is there any more to the story than that?
It’s true, except I’m not sure if it was my idea or Stan’s idea to turn the Beast dark and furry. Whoever had the idea, I thought it made sense. By the end of the current movie, Beast looks like that grey furry version, but I don’t want to take credit for it because I suspect Stan suggested it while I carried it out with writers Gerry Conway and Steve, and the artists of course. We wanted to make the character visually interesting, I was always interested in finding ways to keep X-Men around during the several years between the end of their first series in 1969-70 and their revival in the mid-70s. Stan always felt that, even if a character couldn’t carry a book on his/her own, they could always be part of a group or be the guest star. For example, The Vision was a star in The Avengers who was almost good enough for his own book, but he was better as part of the group.
5. How do you feel about on-screen adaptations of your works such as the 1984 Conan the Destroyer? How much have you collaborated on with the newest reboot of the Conan series? I haven’t had anything to do with the new one; they contacted me recently to do something for the documentary portion of the DVD. I’m looking forward to seeing it. It was a bit silly to call it Conan the Barbarian; seems to me they should have given it another name, if it's not a remake--and I sure to Crom hope it isn't! The Conan movies of the 80s didn’t have enough special effects for my taste--they didn’t live up to their potential, not even the first one, so I’m hoping for good things from this upcoming movie. I saw a trailer, and it looked very good--but then, so had Green Lantern's! I’m just happy to have had a part in Conan and in writing him in so many types of mediums--comic books, comic strips, movies, record albums. I enjoy the character, but I'm not really a sword-and-sorcery fan; I just liked the character, and Robert E. Howard's writing. Originally I was just going to bring the hero to Marvel and have someone else write it, but I swiftly grew to enjoy it. I’ve written several hundred Conan comics, but not in the past decade, so it’s taken me a while to get into the new series for Dark Horse. But it's nice to be back, even if just for a year's run.
6. Stan Lee loves doing cameos in the Marvel movies; would you ever want to do a cameo in Conan or any of your other works? I was actually surprised because I didn’t see Stan in the recent X-Men movie. Back in the 80s I'd hoped Gerry and I would get to watch the filming of some of the second Conan, but they filmed the whole thing down in Mexico--and anyway, we were off the picture by then, after suggesting Grace Jones for the role of Zula. It would have been fun to do, but I’ve never had any great desire to be an actor. I did appear in high school and college plays and sang rock and roll on weekends in the 60s, so I do enjoy performing. I’d be up for it, but no one has ever asked.
7. What are you looking forward to about Comic Con this year? I’m really looking forward to getting together with some old fan-friends, who 50 years ago really helped us launch the notion of comics fandom and fanzines. I’m not sure that many of the attendees of Comic-Don will have any awareness of this history. How much interest or knowledge do they have about the history of comic fandom? I mean, it’s been 50 years since the original comic fanzines--ALTER EGO (by Jerry Bails and me) and COMIC ART (by Don and Maggie Thompson; she's now editor of COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE) came out. I feel that a field should always keep sight of its history, of the comic books themselves, but also some little knowledge of the fandom and where all these things came from. 1970 was the San Diego Con with a few hundred people, and my first was in 1972--a far cry from what it has become now! We are celebrating 50 years of Comic Fandom and of fanzines like ALTER EGO, which is a descendent of the fanzine Jerry Bails started with my hep in 1961. That’s one of the things that’s being celebrated--the birth of the fan movement.