For "Sunnyside" Novelist, Comics and Kirby are GOLD

Novelist & Comic Writer Glen David Gold

Our two-part interview with novelist Glen David Gold (Carter Beats the Devil, Sunnyside) concludes today. Part one can be found by clicking here. In this installment, Gold talks about his love of comics and comic collecting, including his favorite creators, arranging a tribute to Gene Colan, a unique piece of Jack Kirby art he owns, and more.

Newsarama: Glen, did you find your collaborations in comics, in working in that visual medium, affected your writing when you went back to the medium of comics?

Glen David Gold: Hmm…I’ll have to think of an honest answer for this.  I mean, I grew up with comics tied so tightly to me, they’re basically all I read until I was in my teens, so I think they affected the way I told stories anyway.  

To collaborate with someone, then come back into my own writing…I like it because I’m not king of the world (laughs)  That’s a terrible phrase.  I like it because I can be bossy when I’m writing my own fiction, but not when I’m collaborating.

But now that I think of it, anything I’ve written that’s worthwhile has come from workshops – things I’ve shown other writers.  And it’s a collaboration, in a sense, because the other people don’t write things, but they’ll pitch ideas.  That comes down to everything from line readings to larger plot questions that I’ve assimilated from smart things other people have said.

So it’s not like it’s a group writing session, but it is getting that editing from suggestions from other people.  And I’m told I’m more open to that kind of thing than a lot of other writers are.  

Nrama:  The impression that I’ve gotten from your writings on comics is that there are very specific creators who made an impression on you – you talk about growing up in the 1970s, reading a lot of Marvel books.

Gold: Yeah.  I grew up in what was in some ways the absolute nadir of artwork at Marvel, and so the creators that you think of are the ones who gave a little bit of panache to the house style, which had sort of ossified at that time.

You could always tell when you were reading a Steve Gerber comic – in fact, I wrote a thing for NPR about Steve Gerber.  They never used it -- I had a serious exegesis on Howard the Duck and the Elf with a Gun.

Nrama: I got to do one of the last interviews with Steve, and we talked about doing a follow-up to discuss Omega the Unknown – various scheduling issues and his illness meant that never happened.  I wanted to get the ending to the original series out of him!

Gold: Ahh!  One of the great mysteries – where was that actually going?  I liked that book quite a bit, because it was so grimy and sweaty and uncomfortable, all the way from the very beginning.  

I don’t think anyone ever used Jim Mooney’s art as well, not even on Supergirl.  There was just something about it that was so frightening.  I really enjoyed it.  In fact, I bought a page from issue 1 from Jim at a con a few years before he passed away – It's the page where they suspect the kid is a midget.  Right after it turns out his parents are robots.

Nrama: It had a really uncanny quality to it that made you ask, “how is all this going to tie together?”

Gold: Yep.  And then corporate gets involved, and corporate doesn’t care where it’s going, and it’s gone.  That was very, very disappointing.

I dropped out of reading comics for a long time.  And when I came back, about 10-15 years ago, I started reading a contemporary artists' stuff, not a lot of superhero things, and I liked a lot of it on an artistic level, not just a nostalgic thing.  I came to appreciate it as an art form all over again.

Right now, I’m just crazy about Jason’s stuff.   And I love Jeffrey Brown and Chester Brown, though I haven’t seen a lot of his stuff recently. And Chris Ware, of course.  I’ve been completely a fan since the first issue of  Acme Novelty Library – I remember the retailer, I think it was Rory Root, just handing it to me and saying, “Read it.”  And he was right.

I mentioned Allison Bechdel, who I’ve followed for years.  Bryan Lee O’Malley – Scott Pilgrim is a recent thing for me, I didn’t pick it up until the fourth volume, but I was very happy to get into that.  I'll look at anything Gabriel Ba and/or Fabio Moon does.  Jack Staff -- and like I say, whatever Chris Sims orders me to buy.

Sometimes you’ll just find something random.  Graham Roumieu, who did In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot,  he did this completely insane book called Cat and Gnome.  It’s this little tiny book of a cat who appears to be sexually attracted to a garden gnome, and the cat’s flirting with it for like 150 pages.  I was at a book signing, and the person behind the counter was all, “You have to read this,” and they were right.

Every year when I got to San Diego, I discover something I never knew about before.  Two years ago, I met Nicholas Gurewich, who does  The Perry Bible Fellowship – had no idea who he was.  I was standing in line to meet Lynda Barry, and he hands me this book, and my reaction was, “This is you?!  Oh my god, you’re genius!” (laughs)

I found Jeffrey Brown’s work at San Diego.  Paul Hornscheimer…both of Craig Thompsons’s books, Goodbye, Chunky Rice and Blankets.  The one I found two years ago that I really, really liked was Exit Wounds.

There’s a number of people at Top Shelf and Drawn and Quarterly and Buenaventura, and they know my taste, so when they see me coming, they always have great recommendations.  I guess I’ve been to every con since 1992, and so I keep showing up, and they know what  it is I dig on.

Anders Nielsen?  I did a review of Don't Go Where I Can't Follow -- I actually wrote it for the Washington Post, but they wouldn't print it since they couldn't get the book at Barnes and Noble.  I suggested that there were these things called "comic book shops," but nope.   So it went to the LA Times and I'm very happy to have promoted the book.

I'm new to this, but digging on Al Columbia.  That Pim and Francie book is like Henry Darger, Tex Avery and something really disturbed, literally the stuff of repetitive nightmares.  Also, Ashley Wood -- if I could draw, I'd like to draw like Ashley Wood.

And about two months ago, I sat down with all 13 volumes of Fables and was stunned every single moment of the day.

Nrama: What was your reaction to San Diego last year?  Did you find anything new?  What was your reaction to the increasing size of the con?

Gold: That's a complex issue.  Ultimately, it's a good thing that so many people are there, and it's weird that so few of them carry comics.  I remember trying to find a current issue of the FF or Spidey on the floor -- no one had one.  But on the other hand, every time a Manga girl slows down in front of Bud Plant, that's victory for our side.

Nrama: It (the con) just keeps mutating, doesn’t it?

Gold: It does!  The best part?  The associated media down there -- goth culture, Japan-mania, Lolita culture, video games -- every single one of those fandoms has very very hot girls who come to the con (laughs).

I bet there are people who’ve gone to the con for 10, 15 years, whom I’ve never seen.  We’ve just always been on different aisles.  It’s interesting because people can be all separate and all together at the same time.

Nrama: Given your fondness for collecting original artwork, found any good pieces at the con?

Gold: Oh, yeah! (laughs)  Two years ago, I got my world rocked by finding the Jimmy Olsen #133 double-page spread by Jack Kirby featuring the first appearance of the Whiz Wagon.  

Nrama: No!

Gold: Yeah!  And also, I picked up a very personal piece of art to Kirby, the “Dream Machine.”  It’s something he drew in the 1970s, it’s very crazy.  And…before that, I picked up a nice Chris Ware page.  Al Columbia, whose work I didn’t know at all, I picked up a page by him from Scott Eder a few years ago.

The difference between a good con and a great con is one piece of artwork.  There have been years where I haven’t found anything, and years where I’ve just gotten one or two things.  But it’s the thrill of the hunt.

Nrama: Do you have a big room in your house filled with framed pages, like a museum room?

Gold: No, when I first had my own office, I did the whole Gertrude Stein thing – frame-to-frame, floor-to-wall, every-goddamned-thing-framed.  And it looked crazy!  It literally looked like a lunatic worked in the office.  So I basically have five or six things on the wall, and I rotate them.

Right now, I have a Kirby monster splash...a Thor page, and a couple of ‘70s pieces, everything is by Kirby.  I own a Ditko Spider-Man page and so I have to keep reorganizing so that my desk faces it.  In fact, when I walk down the hall, I have to take the page off the wall and walk with it.  I have dinner with it in the chair next to me.  I ask it how its day was.  I finish off the night with a loving dab of Windex.  You know.  

What else do I have?  One Gene Colan piece.  I love the buttons out of Gene.

Nrama: I know you did that story with him and curated that exhibit in San Francisco – do you know Gene personally?

Gold: Yeah!  Andrew Farago, who runs the Cartoon Art Museum, is a friend of mine, and I had the idea for a Colan exhibition, and he basically let me choose the artwork.  So I just polled a dozen of my favorite art cronies, and we put together our favorite Gene Colan pieces, and the exhibit ran about six months.

They flew Gene out here, and we gave him the lifetime achievement award from the Schultz Museum.  He and his wife are great!  They’re like the grandparents I don’t have.

Nrama: When Marvel started those Essential volumes a few years ago, I found his work in black-and-white just exploded off the page.

Gold: Oh yeah.  When I saw Gene’s work in the ‘70s, I liked it, but it seemed kind of muddy.  I didn’t really understand it.  And then the first time I saw a page of his original artwork, my reaction was, “Holy smokes!  This is so detailed and deep and discerning!” (laughs)  So I started collecting it immediately.

Nrama:  It’s astonishing how many books he was doing at one time over at Marvel.

Gold: He was so fast!  And the incredible thing is now he’s 84, 85 and 100 percent blind in one eye, 90 percent in the other, and until he broke his shoulder.  I have one of his very first commission pieces – it’s a version of Carter Beats the Devil with Howard the Duck instead of Carter.  Here's hoping that shoulder works again.  I have a ton of other things I want him to draw.

Nrama: Your Escapist story deals with a subplot scuttled as a result of the “Dreaded Deadline Doom.”   Can you think of a particularly egregious example of this you remember from reading comics growing up?

Gold: Hell, yeah.  I was a Luke Cage reader.  And I recall that you'd crack open  a new issue...and there were Vince Colletta's inks, and you were like, damn, a half-cockaroach with a gun?  That's the new villain?  

Also, Jim Shooter's run on the Avengers.  That run from about 150 to 179 or so -- it feels like half the time I didn't even want to go to the comic shop, since it might be a fill-in.

Nrama: More of a fan question – there’s something sort of unique and wonderful about the sheer strangeness of late-1970s Kirby that only now seems to be picked up on by “mainstream” creators in books such as Godland.  What do you feel is the unique appeal of this work, and why do you feel people might not have gotten it the first time around?

Gold: Yeah, I wrote an introduction to the Fourth World Omnibus, Volume 3, where I tried to tease that out.  People didn't get it back in 1970 because there was nothing like it.  And it had the misfortune to look like a comic book.  

So it was expected to obey normal narrative constraints.  Instead, he was scripting it like an opera, and his ideas were exploding so quickly -- he was an uncapped gusher -- that it really was like trying to chase an oxcart down a hill while boulders were causing it to spill its load -- the Hairies, Mystivac, the Black Racer, Mother Box -- out the side and into the wilderness.  

The appeal is an incredible fusion of political and universal ideas.  Plus mystery.  

Nrama: Given your fondness for the 1920s era, I’m curious as to how you feel this led into the Golden Age of Comics.

Gold: Would you believe I never even considered that.  I'm sure there are academic studies linking the line drawings found in popular magazines to the eventual upswing in rocket-based literature in the 1920s to Joe & Jerry and Jor-El.

 But to keep it in my purview -- audience expectations -- I think the idea of heroes on screen -- serial idols, Douglas Fairbanks, war heroes -- doing things that special effects rendered miraculous -- led obviously to comic books.

Hey, I like that.  I'm going to start believing that.

Nrama: With increasing print prices, there is much speculation that the future of comic book publishing will revolve around computers and digital copies.  What are your feelings on this development, in terms of the advantages and disadvantages it might offer?

Gold: Personally, I'm wondering how the CGC will start certifying people's iPads.  

Nrama: Who, in your opinion, are some of the great underrated creators in comics?  They do not have to be limited to one particular era.

Gold: Since I'm 46 and don't have my finger on the pulse, I'm guessing you know all these people.  I'd just say they should be known better: Marie Severin (her sense of humor drove Marvel higher; her cover layouts generated a lot of stuff we love); Kate Beaton.

Did I remember to say I love everything Matt Fraction and Jeff Parker even tread near?  Like, if either one of them was only involved in a project to the extent that he sighed heavily on the cover and drew his name in the resulting condensation, I would like it?

Nrama:  Is there some great older comic you’d like to recommend?

Gold: I could be classy and go for “This Man This Monster,” Fantastic Four #51, but that's too easy.  Even Marvel Premiere #30, Warriors Three, with the unbeatable Buscema/Sinnott art team -- that's too easy.  What If? 13, “What if Conan Walked the 20th Century,” that one is great, but that's not what I'm going to recommend.

Instead, here's one for true scholars of the bizarre: Mister Miracle# 12.  In which Jack Kirby dramatizes the phone call he got from Carmine Infantino, telling him the Fourth World is over.  The issue is insane and wonderful and depressed as hell.  

Nrama: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?

Gold: So we started this interview something like 10 months ago.  In that time, I've been teaching MFA students, and I've written a few essays for presentations I've been doing -- how to stop fearing the finish of your novel; how to love the evil Charlie Chaplin.  

I was slacking off on coming back to look at this, because I was worried I would see the world so much differently than I had before.  My worldview has become much more grim in the last year -- and I know that's outside our balliwick here.  But I'm pleased to see, in looking over my older answers, that all that needed to be updated were some cultural references.

But I wanted to link to something else:

This links to a huge interview -- about four times longer than this one -- that's just about how I made Sunnyside up.  Not much in the way of funnybook content there, but also a lot about narrative issues.  And how Chaplin seduced Hopey Glass.

Sunnyside is now available in paperback.


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