I have been told that you
were the Impact guru. That you pushed for "years"
to get DC to lease the rights to the characters. This true?
Sort of. I pushed for years for DC to establish a line of
super-heroes that would primarily appeal to new and younger
readers younger than the older teen and young adult market
DC was pursuing at the time. Quite separately, DCs
newsstand marketing director Matt Ragone (now head of
Marvels distribution) was pushing for this same thing as a
means of bolstering sagging newsstand sales. Matt and I developed
together the basic Impact philosophy.
Given the high cost of this experiment, DC was disinclined to
go with a line of original properties, and at least one group
editor felt such new properties should be made competitively
available to the mainstream universe. The Impact team thought the
characters, be they original or revivals, should be created with
this new audience in mind and, therefore, wouldnt fit
easily into the mainstream universe.
Restricted to revivals, I dont recall why we decided
upon the MLJ characters except for the fact that the Tower
superheroes were under some legal confusion.
Did you have plans for the
No. I love those characters and I consider the 1960s series to
be a high water mark in a crowded pool. But the concept's really
set in that era, and I think in order to revive them you'd have
to kind of turn them into something else.
However, I think there's a small core of exceptionally
talented people available today who could look at these
characters and concepts and bring them into the 21st century.
Again, it would take a lot of money and a genuine long-term
commitment, but I think it could be done. I didn't feel that way
a dozen years ago as those types of writers and artists were
preparing their own coreator-owned properties -- the medium was
entering a boom period at that time.
The key to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in the 60s was that a highly
talented pool of people created a symbiotic universe that they,
as creators, really wanted to play in. By and large these were
people who weren't having as much fun working for the established
comic book companies -- certainly guys like Wally Wood, Steve
Ditko and Mike Sekowsky were less than thrilled about their
opportunities at DC and Marvel at that moment in time. These
types of conditions exist today. Of course, you could assemble
the same type of group today and have them create something
original that would be just as good, but I think the
nostalgia/fandom factor accounts for something.
Coincidentially, the guy who ran Tower Comics -- Harry Shorten
-- was one of the first editors over at Archie and he co-created
the original Shield.
What was your first
introduction to the Crusaders (pre-Impact)?
Well, Im four days older than water, so my first
introduction to the MLJ heroes was back in The Double Life of
Private Strong #1 and The Adventures of The Fly #1. It was also
my first introduction to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. I think I was
seven years old, and I was in fanboy heaven. I actually
remembered reading Fantastic Four #1 when I was barely eleven and
remembering the artist was the same guy who did The Shield four
I dont have any particular fondness for the golden age
material outside of the names and the costumes, which were
great. But, then again, the names and costumes of new superheroes
are two of the most important elements. As such, these characters
continue to have a lot of potential for a new and younger
The main ideas for the
Impact line. Were they yours, or did you allow your writers
to propose whatever they wanted and go from there?
Editorially speaking, the mood and the tone of the Impact
titles were developed in phases. The first phase consisted of
bringing the team together: editors, writers, artists. As group
editor I was responsible for this, but as we brought in editors
they made their recommendations as well. The second phase
consisted of sharing the marketing philosophy with the team and
having writers and artists, in consort with their editors,
develop first draft proposals. Armed with these proposals, the
entire editorial team gathered for a two or three day (I forget)
editorial retreat to hash out the line. DC President Jenette Kahn
and Editorial Honcho Dick Giordano participated in this retreat
and took an active role in the development. The third phase was
the final individual title development based upon the first
drafts and the input from the editorial retreat, and that was
handled by the individual title editors and their writers and
Did you hand-pick the
creators that were involved in the Impact series?
I think its fair to say I played the biggest role in
assembling that team, but the other creators, editors and
supervisory staff (primarily Dick Giordano and, to a lesser
extent, Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz) certainly had their say as
Can you give me your
thoughts on the late Mike Parobeck?
I'd known Mike from our Chicago days -- I'm still a major
Chicago-booster, and I spend about two or three weeks a year back
home (indeed, I just returned). It's common to go out of one's
way to say nice things about people who have died, but in Mike's
case they're all deserved. He was a truly talented, sweet,
honest, gifted guy. Had he moved to New York or Los Angeles at
the right time and played the game the right way, he probably
would have been one of the Image creators. The fact that he did
neither was to his credit.
I had dinner with Len Strazewski last week, and Mike's name
came up once again. He really was a great guy.
Who came up with the visuals
and background for Fireball?
I don't recall -- it's been a long time. I really liked the
idea of a southern hero, as virtually all heroes had been bland
non-descript WASP northerners.
Did you already have the
main 6 titles planned before the "Impact Conference"?
Thats the way I recall it, although I could be wrong.
Those initial six each addressed a different substrata of the
potential audience. The Shield wasnt The Fly, The Web
wasnt Black Hood, and so on. Those directions were worked
out, those substrata defined, at that editorial retreat, and we
affirmed those directions and made some adjustments at that
second editorial retreat a year later.
Grant Miehm said he was
slated to be the Jaguar's writer until he turned in his Shield
proposal. Were there any other different creative lineups
planned at the beginning?
I dont recall Grant being slated to write The Jaguar,
although that certainly could have been the case.Each title had
its own creative team and each creative team wrote its own
bible before we started work, and as I recall the
bible-writers were the initial creative teams when we got into
It's been said you had
"many irons in the fire" regarding possible
"new" Impact titles. Any in particular you
As we were working on the individual titles, we kept in mind
which MLJ characters had yet to be used. These characters could
have been introduced in established series and be
spun-off into their own titles later, and I think we
were building towards one or two of those. Many Impact writers
and artists had ideas for spin-off characters. A few people
indicated interest in Steel Sterling, which surprised me as I
thought it had been MLJ's least defined character. I know a few
would have jumped at the chance to do The Hangman.
There were allusions to an
eighth Impact series (LONG before Crucible). Can you eloborate on
what it was to be?
I dont recall that specific decision having been made.
Some of our creators had made suggestions, but I dont
recall our making any commitments at our second editorial retreat
the following year.
Some of the founders (Tom
Lyle, Tom Artis, etc) at Impact left before Impact's 1st
birthday. What were your thoughts on this?
To their credit, most of the talent stuck with their series
until Yogi Berras Axiom was clearly fulfilled. I dont
recall Tom Lyles specific reason for leaving I like
Tom so whatever reason he had didnt seem to bother me. Tom
Artis left because he got into a significant disagreement with
Michael Golden, who was our cover editor. It was a respectful
disagreement, and I understood his decision. Tom Artis is one of
the great undiscovered artists out there if he had been
doing an X-title at the right time he would have been a founder
of Image Comics.
And do you think that was
one of the causes of the downfall of Impact?
Clearly, without the massive promotional and marketing support
that was needed to attract a new audience, the line couldnt
make it. The decision not to supply that support was made as we
were completing our earliest issues, so some of our line editors
had little continuing enthusiasm for improving the books.
These were new characters in a new universe for a new
audience. It was going to take a lot of work and a lot of
marketing support and a healthy amount of time. Given the fact
that it never got past the initial stage I think we did a pretty
good job at that time we received more mail on the
individual Impact books than we did on most other titles (we
checked), and most of this mail was from younger readers who were
not regular DC comics readers.
When Matt [Ragone] left DC for Marvel, the Impact line got
orphaned. We were told this by DCs marketing director in no
uncertain terms (and Im putting it politely) in a meeting
in Dick Giordanos office with two other people. Impact
required and was designed to require a lot of
marketing support in order to attract that new audience. So,
after that meeting, the feeling was that Impact was doomed and
the talent was wasting its time on books that would go nowhere
they certainly wouldnt generate royalties. The
editors involved also saw that portion of their careers
I dont particularly fault a corporation for changing its
direction and priorities. In that sense Impact was a fun
opportunity, and Im grateful to have been given that
Impact, as much as I could
tell, had practically flawless continuity. Congratulations on
keeping such a good rein on the characters (although it's 10
Thanks. Its fairly easy to keep continuity going when
youve got a small creative group and only four editors
(including our cover editor), and its a lot easier to
maintain continuity when you begin with a clean slate.
What was your opinion of
Impact Comics, as a whole--during your tenure there?
Like I said, I liked parts of everything and a lot of most.
Given a little time I think all would have been first rate. The
Web was the hardest to establish it was intended to be the
lynchpin for the Impact continuity, but we never got that far.
What caused your departure
from the editorial post at Impact?
My job was director of development, so I went on to develop
other projects just as I had done in the past at DC. Quite
frankly, when the air was let out of the Impact line I began to
look past DC and I had signed a letter of intent to move on to
another operation about a year before I left the company, so my
last year was spent mostly winding up projects. I created a new
project at Dick Giordanos request but I declined to make a
personal commitment to it as I was contractually obligated to
With a decade of hindsight, if I could have changed any one
thing at Impact I would have placed one person as the sole line
editor of the line so it could be guided by a single editorial
vision. Well, I would have had an Impact art director as well, in
order to better develop a more fully realized unique look. Of
course I would have placed myself as that sole editor: its
as close becoming Doctor Doom as you could get in comics!
What exactly were your
duties as editor of Impact?
I mentioned my role in guiding its creation we really
didnt stick around long enough for my duties to evolve to
the next level.
The Coming of the
Crusaders. Was this your idea?
I had moved on to other projects by that time. Jim Owsley and
I discussed it quite a bit, but I believe it was really his baby.
Your opinion: Why did Impact
Comics fail to make it past its second birthday?
I think Ive addressed this above: it needed a lot of
support and the company decided to go in other directions, which,
of course, is its right.
Overall, do you think Impact
Comics was a success?
It was a success in that, to the limited extent it was
promoted, we seemed to achieve our major goal of attracting a new
and younger audience -- people like yourself. Financially, any
project like that would have taken years to make any real money
(comic book publishing is a marginal business at best, without
merchandising and licensing revenue), but it didn't do badly. DC
kept publishing the books for quite a while. When they quit they
kept on paying Archie the licensing fee even though Archie tried
to make a deal to get it back, essentially telling DC they could
stop paying if they returned the rights. DC declined, so I infer
financially DC did okay with the books, at least against their
Is there any specifics you
can give to help shed some light on DC's deal with Archie?
One rule that sticks to my mind a dozen years later was that
we were always obligated to show characters using seat belts when
in cars. Archie always had a major commitment to social service,
and since I've been in that line of work for over 30 years I
respected that commitment. It was a good thing to do for our
intended younger audience.
The only other commitment or restriction I recall was that the
characters be "Code-approved." I wanted the contract
language changed to "Code-approvable" because at that
time DC's editorial director Dick Giordano really, really wanted
to quit the Comics Code.
DC had a contract that guaranteed them use of the characters
for a certain period in exchange for a guaranteed minimum
payment. I don't recall the terms, and I'm sure there was an
automatic renewal should a certain revenue level be maintained.
As I noted above, DC kept the license through the original period
well after they decided to cancel the last title. I suspect DC
still owns the "Impact" name -- to the extent that it
hasn't been used in trade for a long time and might be perceived
as up for grabs.
As I recall, and I could be completely wrong here but for some
reason it sticks in my mind, after the DC/Archie deal expired Joe
Simon regained control of The Fly and of the Simon/Kirby version
of The Shield -- although not the name The Shield. I think Joe's
calling it "Shieldmaster" on his website.
Did you think Crucible was
the right way to go to re-tool and "save" the line?
I wasnt involved in the line at the time except as a
consultant to its editor Jim Owsley (Christopher Priest). What
Jim (he was still Jim at the time) wanted to do made sense to me,
and I had complete faith in him. I was the guy who hired him as
an editor at DC I hope hes forgiven me for that by
Many people (older readers
of the previous incarnations, mostly) slam the Impact line,
saying, "they ruined the characters." What would
be your response?
People say that with every make-over. I know a few older
comics fans who I respect greatly who feel that way about the
Barry Allen Flash and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern they
would have preferred a revival of the Jay Garrick Flash and the
Alan Scott Green Lantern. And to a certain extent I feel that way
about one or two of the revivals done in the past
decade certainly the everything you knew is
wrong approach has grown real old for me. But Ive
lived through countless revivals.
"The Impact line was
made for kids, not adults." Your thoughts on that common
That about says it all. The idea is that younger readers
say eight to thirteen have a hard time getting into
comics: if you like Batman or the X-Men or any of the half-dozen
top franchises the cost of entry is extremely high. More
important, the commitment to reading a lot of closely
interrelated titles is exhausting for a newcomer. The idea was
that you could read any of the Impact titles as a stand-alone
without feeling like you should buy a lot of titles you
dont want. I still believe in that philosophy in order to
attract that new and younger audience.
I know this may be a tad bit
involed, but is it possible for you to give some personal
thoughts/opinions on each individual title?
That's real hard -- I think I'd have to go back through the
whole stack, which I don't have available to me right now (let
alone the time to do so).
Which Impact title was your
favorite? (artwise, storywise, characters, etc...)
Well, thats a loaded question. I liked parts of all the
titles, and I outright liked most of them. But Ill bite the
bullet and say that Black Hood was my personal favorite. No
slight to the others intended.
Can you give us a short bio
Hmmm. That's a whole lot of stuff. I've been a freelance and
staff writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines since 1967
(I was 17), and a radio broadcaster (disc jockey and newsman)
between 1969 and 1996. I've been a political activist since 1965,
and was a public information manager for the Conspiracy Trial
(a.k.a. The Chicago Seven trial, a major political case) during
1969 - 1970.
I've been involved in youth social services since 1970,
working on drug education, sex education, runaway youth and, more
recently, early childhood education to this day. I co-founded the
National Runaway Switchboard in 1973.
I co-founded the Chicago Comicon in 1975 and was involved with
their shows between 1976 and 1985. I joined the staff of DC
Comics as public relations/marketing manager in 1976 and stayed
there for two years, when I left to edit a home video consumer
magazine. I left that to return to comics in 1981 when I
co-founded First Comics (Jon Sable Freelance, American Flagg,
Mars, GrimJack), where I acted as editor-in-chief through 1985. I
returned to DC Comics in January 1986 and stayed there for seven
full years, as senior editor (later group editor) and as director
In 1993 I took a job as publisher of Classics Illustrated
while, at the same time, packaging comic books for Image Comics
and Valiant Acclaim) Comics. Classics ended the following year,
and I expanded my work into full-time media and political
consulting work servicing a wide variety of clients -- doing a
lot of comics-related consulting (publishing and television/movie
and licensing rights). reviving the Stratford Festival Theater,
working in the forensic psychology field, and of course my early
childhood education work. In the past couple years I teamed up
with artist Frank McLaughlin to produce two books: How To Draw
Those Bodacious Bad Babes of Comics, and How To Draw Monsters for
Comics. Both Frank and I are tied up on other projects -- Frank's
drawing a daily newspaper strip which doesn't allow him much time
to draw another How To book, but we might do another should time
become available. And I'm under agreement to produce a newspaper
column and somewhere along the line I'm supposed to find time to
write a book about my days as a political activist.
Other than that, I haven't done all that much.
If asked to work on the
characters again (Archie versions, of course),would you?
That's a tough question. I believe in the mission more today
than ever before: without new readers -- both here and in the
U.K. -- comics will die. Archie has the only truly viable
newsstand distribution business in comics because they are almost
wholly dependent upon newsstand sales. I like Sielberkleit and
Goldwater and I really like the family atmosphere over there --
comics publishing really only generates enough revenue to keep a
family owned business healthy, and the business doesn't fit well
into a massive corporate culture. But I'd need to see a real
long-term commitment from anybody who would want to pursue this
mission, and in today's comics market that isn't always possible.
Of course, nobody's asking me and I've got my own commitments,
but if the planets were aligned correctly, hey, I've always been
a fan with a mission!
Finish this sentence:
"Ideally, Impact would have ___"
"...ruled the world!"
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