Paul Kupperberg Interview
What brought you to Impact?
I kind of just stumbled into Impact. I’d been freelancing at DC since 1975, with the occasional foray into staff positions (I was the assistant public relations guy in 1978, the head P.R. guy in 1982, and an editor on at least two occasions during the 80s), and in 1991 I came on full time as an editor in the Development Group (which was kind of a catch-all department; as the name implies, it developed new properties, but we also handled licensed characters and movie tie-ins, as well as doing some titles that were part of the DCU). Impact was already underway by the time I came on staff, the creative teams chosen, all the development done on them, bibles prepared, etc. Once the books were launched under my group editor, he handed them off to others to carry on.
Why were you brought on as editor for the titles you did?
You know, I think it was a case of “eenie-meenie-minee-moe.” There was a tendency among certain people to lose interest in a book once it was up and running–they were mainly interested in the brainstorming, the shaping of the concept and all, not in the grunt work of producing a monthly book. So someone had to run the show on the latest batch of books. I was the warm body with the lightest workload, being the new kid on the block at the time.
What’s your opinion of the books you edited?
I edited BLACK HOOD, THE FLY and THE WEB. To my mind, BLACK HOOD was the best of the entire Impact lot, beautifully written by Mark Wheatley, with art by Rick Burchett, who is one of the best storytellers and artists in the biz. BLACK HOOD could have stood on its on as a title, without all the rest of the Impact line to prop it up.
Though thoroughly integrated into the Impact Universe, I thought THE FLY was also a strong title, the best at capturing the atmosphere and the feel of what Impact Comics set out to do…good comics for an entry level audience. The writing really caught the gosh-wow wonder of a kid suddenly endowed with all these cool powers and, of course, Mike Parobeck was just the best. A sweet guy and a major talent. He really made that book sing.
THE WEB was near the bottom of my list of Impact favorites. I don’t know exactly why–Len Strazewski did a good job on the book, as did Tom Artis, but it just never clicked for me. I think it tried to do too much, be too big for what I thought the Impact line should be, which, as I’ve said elsewhere, was to be cool, new and accessible heroes.
What involvement did you have in getting the artists lined up for the titles?
As far as the initial creative line-up, zippo. Like I said, I came on board after all the groundwork had been laid. Later on, when fill-in artists or replacements for departing talent were needed, I made those decisions as the editor.
This would include Al Bigley (on the Fly)? What made you choose him?
Al’s samples were in the right place at the right time when I was looking for a fill-in artist on THE FLY. He had a clean, straight forward style with just a hint of the cartoony to it, very much in the same school as Mike Parobeck, who he filled in for. Mike was such a strong and distinctive artist, I was looking for a guy who could match the FEEL of what he did and Al fit the bill.
Did you have any role in Alan K. (Turner Alan/Allen) being cast in the role of Comet artist?
Nope. That was entirely Priest’s doing. I’d run into charges of nepotism before by hiring Alan, so I didn’t go there anymore.
What can you point to as your favorite moment in the Impact books you edited?
That would have to be the run of BLACK HOOD. I loved that book, thought it was beautifully done and was very proud to be a part of it. Of course, with Wheatley and Burchett doing the creative, I could also sit back and just let them run with the ball. These aren’t guys who need a whole of editorial supervision, and when you’ve got the right people on a project, the editor with any brains whatsoever knows to get out of their way and let ’em rip!
What involvement did you have with Crucible?
I was…lurking, I guess would be the best way to describe it. By this time, Christopher Priest (then known as Jim Owsley) had taken over the Impact books and was trying to salvage something out the mess it had become. Priest and I were still together in what was left of the Development Group and were looking at the revamped/revived Impact books to be part of a very ambitious publishing plan we were working up (and which never came to anything, unfortunately). I remember a lunch at Beefsteak Charlie’s near the office with Priest, Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, and myself, where a vast majority of CRUCIBLE was plotted out. So I was there, throwing in my 2 cents.
What was going to happen in the Steel Sterling stories after the ones that were in the 3 relaunch issues?
No clue. We worked out the initial 3-parter (which was to have run serialized through the three re-launch issues), and then there was a wait-and-see attitude, so I never really planned much ahead. I knew it would involve Steel trying to work his way back into the world that Mr. Jordan had erased him from and reveal what the “most beloved man in the world” was actually up to. And there was going to be an emphasis on Steel’s relationship with the woman who HAD been his wife before Mr. Jordan erased him from history, bringing them together the way they were fated to be. But beyond those generalities, I didn’t have any concrete plans.
Saleswise, do you know which books were selling the best/worst?
Why, in your opinion, did Impact Comics get the axe?
Oh, there were a lot of reasons, I’m sure, some having to do with internal politics, the contract between DC and Archie Comics, etc., but mainly, it came down to what it ALWAYS comes down to, sales. Books don’t sell, books don’t get published.
Do you think, if given an honest chance, that NEW Impact would have fared better than the original?
The key phrase is “if given an honest chance.” Frankly, I don’t think Impact was ever given that chance. I think there were problems with the line right out of the gate, some well-developed but wrong-headed thinking going into its creation. This was supposed to be a younger reader line, an entry-level line for kids who would, eventually, move on to more “grown-up” comics, like the DC Universe line, Marvels, whatever. But the Impact line quickly became just another line of comics, with the same interdependent storylines, multi-part continuing stories and crossover continuity that every other comic book line had.
Impact, to my mind, should have kept the stories to single issues, downplayed the title-to-title continuity, and kept it simple. Our target audience should have been 8 year olds. Instead, Impact became just another line of continuity-clogged comics.
Would the re-launched Impact fared better? Impossible to say. It was very strong, well-written, well-drawn material, but, again, off the target for an entry-level comics line. But for what it was, had it been published and given time to develop and catch on, I think it would have been found an audience. Not the 8-year olds I think we should have been after, but an audience.
If you had the chance to re-start the Impact line where it left off, who wold you involve, and what would you have go on?
Man, answering that involves way more thought than I’m willing to give it for something that’s pure speculation. I think that the Archie heroes are absolutely great characters; I read and collected the Might Heroes stuff (lots of stories by Jerry Siegel, and art by Paul Reinman, one of my all-time favorite cheesy artists!) back in the mid-60s, still have a bunch of those old books. Like any character, they’re loaded with potential. Like any character, how good they turn out depends on how you exploit that potential.
Seeing as how I feel comics STILL needs a strong entry-level line for kids, I could see aiming them at that market…which, of course, would just be the futile pounding of heads against the wall, since the only place to find comics these days is in comic specialty shops, places 8 year olds are unlikely to go without their parents…and places most parents don’t want to go into. IF something could be done to market these things in places kids had access to (like supermarkets, CVS or Walgreen-style pharmacies, etc.), they could work. The little bit Archie Comics is doing with the characters in their books is interesting, but as a fan of the characters, I’d like to see more.
I would probably go for more of a psuedo-manga Pokemon take on these guys, make them stand-out from other characters. Go back to a simpler formula, with one-issue stories, or even some multi-story issues. There’s a way to do continuity without a reader having to buy every issue of every related comic in the line just to keep up and I’d go that way. When I was writing Superman for him, Julius Schwartz told me, “You need to tell the reader in every story that Clark Kent is secretly Superman because every story is bound to be SOMEONE’S first Superman story.” We don’t do that anymore. Comics these days assume that anyone who picks up an issue is fully versed in the background and history of every character, and that’s fine for a lot of what we do, but if you want to attract new readers and keep them, you’ve got to give them a place to start and be brought up to speed. You can do that with every story in such a way as to not bore or alienate steady readers.
What would you have changed in the Impact universe if you had the chance?
A lot. I would have simplified the approach from the get-go, made the books more accessible for the target readership (young kids and new readers). Let’s face it, as good a book as BLACK HOOD was, it was over the heads of most 8 or 10-year olds. THE FLY is the closest book to how I would have liked to see the line as a whole go. JAGUAR was a close second, but even there I think we missed the target.
It was implied by one Impact writer that there may have been a “minimum” time limit for the Impact line, in the agreement with Archie/DC. Meaning, 3 years, no matter what the sales were. Any insight on this possibility?
It’s possible but I tend to doubt it. I doubt DC would have gone into a deal that contractually obligated them to publish a failing line of books for–in this case–almost two years past the point of profitability. Again, it could have been the case, but it sounds unlikely. The three years may have been the length of the first option on the characters, with options for renewals after it.
Any idea why Len Strazewski was kicked off the Web for the last two issues? (Len’s comments can be seen here)
Nope, not really. I read Len’s comments and I have some recollection of there being a conflict between him and the editor, but I can’t recall its exact nature. I know Len is a strong-willed individual, as is Priest (Owsley), so the possibility of those two butting heads on any number of issues is highly likely. Len’s not one to sit quietly by when he thinks he’s been the victim of an injustice. Jim’s not highly tolerant of being aggravated. Putting those two personalities together is an inevitable recipe for conflict.
As far as Jim getting rid of talent to replace them with his buddies, that’s unfair. People were leaving the books, some due to burn-out, some to take other assignments, others fired for a variety of reasons, etc. Naturally, an editor is going to first look to his friends–provided they’re qualified–to replace people who have left. The editor/creator relationship can, depending on the people and the project involved, be very close and intense; if you’re going to be forced into the kind of creative foxhole putting out monthly comics entails, you’re naturally going to look towards people you know, like and trust to be in there with you.
As I recall, I wrote the last two issues THE WEB, but it wasn’t like Len was kicked off it to make room for me. Whatever the reason for his being fired, however it was handled, we were in a situation where the books were on the verge of cancellation, there were a couple of issues left to go of the title, I was there and knew the material, so I wound up writing ’em. That was expediency, not malice.