Interview “Shakespeare’s language” with David Michelinie!

David Michelinie is an independent American comic book writer who distinguished himself in the comics industry particularly with his runs on two of Marvel’s most iconic characters: Spider-Man and Iron Man. He was the one who dealt with Tony Stark’s alcoholic issues or who confronted the character, before our virtual age, to hacking in the visonary « Armor Wars» (originally titled, « Stark Wars »)  storyline. He created James Rhodes, the future War Machine. He married Peter Parker with fan favorite, redheaded, Mary Jane Watson. He co-created, the infamous, Venom (not the black symbiote introduced during the « Secret Wars » miniseries written by Jim Shooter, but the result of the suit’s bonding with journalist, Eddie Brock). I bet he didn’t guess, at the time he produced Venom, his character would meet such a great success! He wrote the second longest run on « The Amazing Spider-Man » (from 1987 to 1994) behind Stan Lee, himself. It is Peter David’s human approach and his intimate writing which granted life to his characters. He was the first to show us a vulnerable, Tony Stark; or to open the doors of the intimacy between Peter Parker and Mary Jane during their wedding years. For Marvel, again, he scripted during the late seventies and early eighties, the Avengers, amongst other titles. He worked alongside comics legends such as George Pérez, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Bob Layton, Mark Bagley, or the unique, John Byrne… He even contributed to the wedding of Lois Lane and Clark Kent (Superman) for DC Comics! Congrats, David!

And, welcome to les Chroniques des Fontaines.

1/ADF: David, how did things started for you in comic books? What was your first job in the industry? Tell us about your influences?

DM: In 1973 I had quit my job at a commercial film production company and had moved back in with my parents in Kentucky. It was then announced by DC Comics (at the time called National Periodical Publications) that they were starting an apprenticeship program. That meant they would hire would-be writers or artists to work in their New York offices doing various jobs while they learned the publishing business. I sent them some writing samples, and received a response saying that I showed promise but that they couldn’t work with anyone outside the New York area. So I packed my bags and, two weeks later, had moved to New York. After that they pretty much had to give me a chance. Fortunately I learned fast, and began selling stories to their « mystery » titles: House Of Mystery, House Of Secrets, etc.

I rediscovered comics in college, especially Marvel Comics, so I guess the people working during the mid- to late 1960s would be my earliest influences: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and, later, Len Wein, Doug Moench and others.

2/ ADF: You know, we, in France, are quite literature addicted (well, that’s what we like to think, in truth, we are such blowhards), can you tell us what is the David Michelinie writing touch or “griffe” as we say in Paris?

DM: I’m not sure what « griffe » means, but I think the things that typify my work are a solid sense of structure, an accent on the human side of the story, and a wee bit of humor here and there. 

3/ ADF: At the previous question, Terry Moore, the author of Strangers in Paradise (itw, here) told us that the point of all his stories was hope and the quiet courage it takes to get up every day and try again. Does it speak to you or not ?

DM: That pretty much defines the nature of the common hero. Superstars and super heroes get accolades, rewards, even worship. But when the everyday human takes a risk to do the right thing they’re liable to be ignored, or even vilified. It takes that quiet type of courage, that belief that it must be done, that should motivate all of us.

4/ADF: When I was young, in the eighties, in France, reading comics was dirty and shameful… Today, with the multiple cinematic universes, reading comics is very fashionable (maybe too much)… Was it the same for you, when you were a kid, in the States?

DM: Oh, sure. I started reading comics in the late 1950s, when I was about 8. Then, comics and science fiction in general were considered « that crazy Buck Rogers stuff », and was looked down upon by most adults. By the time I reached junior high school (age 12-14) I was the only person I knew who still read comics. So I gave them up, figuring there must be something wrong with me. It was only years later in college when I discovered the more realistic characters like Spider-Man that I fell in love with comics again.

5/ ADF: Any sound advices for neophyte artistes who would like to work in the comic book industry?

DM: The comic book industry is monumentally different today from what it was in 1973 when I started out. There were only two major companies in the U.S., Marvel and DC, with Archie Comics and a couple of others publishing a few titles. But both of those companies were producing large numbers of comics and employed many people and, most importantly, were run by professional and experienced individuals from the publishing business. The current situation is vastly different. Marvel and DC are struggling to stay alive, with sales numbers that are in general tiny fractions of what they used to be. And most of the people who make the decisions came from the ranks of comic book fans, not professional publishing. They don’t seem to have any idea how to produce successful comics at the sales levels of before, other than starting over with “#1” issues every couple of years to boost sales–then start over again when sales start to drop. And budgets have necessitated that most pay rates have been cut drastically.

On the other hand, there are so many more ways for a person’s work to be seen–self-publishing, online publishers, crowd funding, etc.–that while the possibility of actually making a living in comics has been reduced, the chances of seeing one’s work in print have increased impressively. So I guess my advice would be: if writing/drawing comics is your dream, don’t give up. Keep trying, learn your craft and hope you’re positioned to take advantage if an opportunity presents itself. But don’t give up your day job.

6/ ADF: What are your favorite moments of your epic runs on Iron Man and Spider-Man? Mine are when Tony Stark confronts Steve Rogers (aka “the Captain” at this time) in Iron Man 228, stand-off which announces the future “Civil War” saga, for Iron Man; and the last page of The Amazing Spider-Man 290 when Peter Parker asks to Mary Jane if she wants to marry him. One of the best cliffhangers of all time. Congratulations for your tenure on The Amazing Spider-Man, second only to Stan Lee, which is, in my french opinion (does it matter?), one of the best runs on Spider-Man ever. Only Straczynski’s more recent run can be compared to yours (according to me).

DM: (First off, I’m not sure, but I think I’ve been usurped from my #2 position on Amazing Spider-Man by Dan Slott. I believe I’m merely #3 now. (Note ADF: “Damn it! I guess you are right, Dan Slott has a ten year-plus run on The Amazing Spider-Man) Second, thanks for your compliments.)

Wow, that’s a hard pick. Between Spider-Man and Iron Man that’s over 200 stories! I guess in Iron Man I’d have to pick the moment when Tony Stark confronted his most sinister, most powerful and most intimate enemy–his own weakness. Then chose life over alcohol. With Spider-Man, my favorite moments were probably the quiet scene where Peter Parker and Mary Jane showed their true, and deep, affection for each other. 

7/ ADF: So, David, what are your favorite runs on Spider-Man and Iron Man (yours? You can say it!)?

DM: To be honest, I had never read Iron Man before I was assigned to write the series. So I really don’t have a favorite run there. I discovered Amazing Spider-Man at about issue #65 or 66, and I was blown away. I became an instant Marvel fan. So I guess those issues during that time, by Stan Lee and John Romita, would have to be my favorites. 

8/ ADF: Your favorite comic book author (you? You can say it!)? Artist? Inker? Colorist (too often forgotten!)?

DM: This is a risky area. If I don’t name everyone I know, the people I leave out are liable to have their feelings hurt. Oh, well, I’ll give it a shot and start out with a choice no one can argue with–favorite comics writer: Archie Goodwin. He was the best, and a damn nice human being as well. After that I’d have to add another good guy, Len Wein, who was a tremendous influence on my work when I first started writing comics.

Favorite penciler? I’ve been fortunate to have worked with so many terrific ones. But…I always loved Bernie Wrightson’s work even before I got into comics myself. And Walter Simonson and Todd McFarlane’s pencils were always fun to write to. Add Bret Blevins on my favorite book ever (The Bozz Chronicles) and Mike Kaluta on just about everything, including one of my all-time favorite covers: Doorway To Nightmare #1.

Inkers? Another long list: Bob Layton, Tom Palmer, Brett Breeding, Rudy Nebres, etc., etc.

Colorist? Tom Smith, Brad Nault, Petra Scotese, L. Lois Buhalis. 

9/ ADF: These days, comic book characters are rebooted on a regular basis (now once a year). DC has rebooted with The New 52 in 2011, Marvel has, in a way, rebooted its universe with Marvel Now in 2012, then, comes DC Rebirth in 2016, etc (I have lost count). Do these relaunches mean the comic books are dying? Would you reboot your own runs (joking)?

DM: I see no reason to reboot what I felt worked in the first place. If once again I was assigned to write characters I’d written extensively in the past, I would try to find some new and interesting direction for those characters to move in, rather than start them over from day/square one.

10/ ADF: With more and more superheroes movies on the screens each year, do you think people will get bored and overdose?

DM: It’s inevitable that even the most powerful popularity will fade. Personally, I’m already bored with television super heroes. But good stories and good characters will always find a market, ten years from now there might not be a new comics-based blockbuster every month, but the genre will still be represented on the big screen.

11/ ADF: If you had to work with a french artist, writer or illustrator, who would you choose? We recently interviewed Jean-Yves Mitton, the french comic book author of Mikros, L’archer blanc, etc. Are you in touch with french artists?

DM: I am embarrassed to admit that, beyond Jean Giraud, my familiarity with French comic book professionals is virtually zero. Distribution of French comics where I live is spotty at best, and though I know a LITTLE French, it’s not enough to actually read a story written in French. My apologies to your creative countrymen (And women.)

(Note ADF: on behalf of french creators, apologies accepted, David!) 

12/ ADF: A message for french comic book readers (whatever you have in mind)? And the fans who read your stories in the eighties and nineties in the pages of the defunct magazine, Strange?

DM: (Was Strange the French title for a Marvel reprint book? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with it.)

(Note ADF: Yes, Strange was a French magazine that reprinted (from the seventies to the nineties), on a monthly basis, Marvel Comics titles such as Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, The Avengers, etc.)

Just a big MERCI for reading my stories, especially to those who made it through the English language versions!

13/ ADF: Last and least, you can’t avoid this question, who is your famous french author? Zola? Hugo? Musset? Camus? Myself? Who?

DM: About the only French authors I’ve read are Jules Verne, Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant. I appreciate Verne’s imagination, but find his prose a bit dry–though that could be the translator’s doing. I read Zola’s Germinal in school and found it powerful and moving. Never read de Maupassant’s novels, but enjoy his short works. 

Thanks a lot, David.

If you love David’s work as much as we do on the pages of les Chroniques des Fontaines, just venture here : 

Our chronic of two most iconic runs on Iron Man and Spider-Man just here on our classy revue :

For Network addicts, just go there :

Arnaud Delporte-Fontaine