From Comics to Cosmic, Part 8: In Which Captain America Loses His Freedom

“From Comics to Cosmic” is a new series from noted comic book writer/artist Steve Englehart. Read about the intense and often unbelievable ups and downs of his experience working in the comic industry. Check back daily for more of his exploits! Previous installments of “From Comics to Cosmic” can be found here.

When I started writing my first monthly comic, Captain America, my editor said to be “We expect you to make this book sell and meet your deadlines. If you can do that, you can keep doing it. If you can’t, we’ll fire and you and get someone else.” That was the sum total of Marvel’s editorial policy at the time. If you could meet those two requirements, you had carte blanche with how you met them. I was encouraged to be as creative as possible and given complete freedom to follow my muse in the land of popularity.

Many people today are amazed at this. “They gave you an established icon like Captain America and said do whatever you want?” Yes, they did. And when I did make the book sell and did meet my deadlines, they gave me The Hulk and The Avengers and a whole lot more. I’ve talked about how writing periodicals teaches you to write. I should add that complete freedom lets you explore anything that seems like a good idea without once looking over my shoulder or second-guessing myself. So when I wrote comics, I lived in the moment, letting my stories tell me what to write about, riffing off the zeitgeist month by month.

Today, the comics companies are top-heavy with editorial interference. In my last jobs for them, I discovered that there was now an editor, and a second editor of equal rank to double-check him, and a continuity editor, and the editor-in-chief, all of whom had to weigh in to justify their positions. These worthies tend to create company-wide objectives for story arcs, then expect the writers to fill in the blanks they’ve left. They expect writers to give them synopses for the next twelve issues in their series, so that when the writer finally gets to that twelfth issue, the material is so old and stale that he might as well just blow his brains out, for all the satisfaction he can derive from it.

Once we creators were Marvel or DC. Today there are very few creators and everyone is a cog. That’s one of the main reasons I decided to come back to novels, where I can once again find “We expect you to make this book sell and meet your deadlines.” (And though I have met those deadlines so far, I know that even that’s not real ironclad on this side of town.) I do have to tell my editor what I’m planning, but that’s not ironclad, either, as once again, the story’s free to mutate. Are books the new nirvana? (Gee; a Carrie Bradshaw moment!) No, probably not; all printed media have their issues now. But freedom remains more fun than the alternative.

Steve Englehart is a novelist, comic book, film, television, and video game writer known for his work on high profile titles, including Marvel’s Captain America, The Hulk, The Avengers, Dr. Strange, DC’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and many more.


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