My Recent Conversation With the Absolute LEGEND David Michelinie.
David Michelinie is a creative icon for many comic fans. Not only is he the co-creator of Venom, but he also guided Tony Stark through some legendary sorylines that were truly groundbreaking for the comic industry. David has had a lengthy career but these were the two main subjects I focused upon during our interview. His insights were genuinely interesting and I thank him for his time.
Paul: What was the first comic you recall buying or enjoying? I am essentially asking how old may you have been or where it may have been from? Everyone remembers their first comic?
David: I started reading comics some time in the early 1950s, so I have no idea what the first comic I read was. I know I read some CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED, and probably kids’ comics like CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST, RICHIE RICH, and the Carl Barks duck books. By the time I hit 8 or 9 I was reading more adventure stuff, mainly DC comics (National Periodical Publications back then), but some from smaller publishers as well. I remember reading the first Justice League story in BRAVE AND THE BOLD and the first revamped Flash story in SHOWCASE, as well as the first Supergirl story in ADVENTURE COMICS.
Paul: Were there any specific comics or even novelists that inspired you to decide to write for a living?
David: Back when I started reading comics creator credits were rarely included. So I have no idea who wrote the stories I loved as a kid. I remember reading novels by Fredric Brown and Robert A. Heinlein, and short stories by Richard Matheson, and I’m sure those had some influence. But the real reason I decided to write for a living was simple: I loved to be told stories. Either in books, comic books, movies, plays, everything. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my life than by telling stories to other people. And fortunately, I’ve been able to make a living at it.
Paul: What may have been your very first published story for Marvel? And if possible could you say who was your first editor at Marvel?
David: The first story I scripted at Marvel was “Threshold Of Oblivion”, in AVENGERS #175. Although the plot for that issue was done by editor Jim Shooter. The first story I got solo writing credit on was “Anguish, Once Removed” in IRON MAN #116. But that was a co-plotting effort with my longtime collaborator, Bob Layton. So my first totally plotted and scripted story for Marvel was “On The Matter Of Heroes”, in AVENGERS #181. (As a footnote, the first story I wrote, sold, and had published was actually for DC Comics: “Puglyon’s Crypt”, in HOUSE OF SECRETS #116, illustrated by Ramona Fradon.)
Paul: You are known for your writing on Iron Man. I ask simply how do you feel about the movies? Did Robert Downey Jr represent Tony Stark as you saw him?
David: I loved the first Iron Man movie, and I thought Robert Downey, Jr. did a fabulous job. I also thought he was great in the sequels, though the stories weren’t as good in my opinion.
Paul: What are your reflections now on the Demon In A Bottle storyline? Do you think if it was pitched to Marvel these days it would still be published in the same way?
David:Tony Stark's alcoholism was one of the first ideas I brought to the table after I was assigned to the IRON MAN comic. When I suggested it, my co-plotter, Bob Layton, liked it so we worked up a pitch and presented it to editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Jim showed admirable professional courage by approving it, adding only one proviso: "Do it well." Which, I hope, we did.
David: There's no way the storyline would be published in the same way today. There are many reasons: writers are different, artists are different, and editors are different. But most importantly, Marvel Comics, both commercially and creatively, is a different company now. The storyline might be tackled today, and it might even be better than the original, but it would definitely not be the same.
Paul: You are genuinely famous for co-creating the Spider-Man nemesis Venom. Can you describe at all how the character was created?
David: When I was writing WEB OF SPIDER-MAN, I started thinking about one of the title character’s truly unique abilities: his “spider-sense”. He had depended on that early warning tingle for decades, and it had often saved his life. So I wondered...what would Spider-Man do when faced with a vicious, unstoppable foe whose only goal in life was to kill Spider-Man--but who didn’t trigger that essential spider-sense? What would that do to his confidence, his self-image, his sense of security when he “hid out” in his Peter Parker identity? When the alien symbiote from SECRET WARS became Spider-Man’s costume for while, it had been established that the symbiote didn’t trigger Parker’s spider-sense. So I figured, what if the monstrous Spider-Man killer I was thinking of wore the symbiote, and thus didn’t trigger the spider-sense? And that was the beginning of Venom. I had started to hint at the character in a couple of issues of WEB; once when a hand came in from off panel and pushed Peter in front of a subway train, and again when an arm came out of a window and yanked Spider-Man from a wall where he was clinging. And Peter was freaked out because his spider-sense didn’t warn him either time!
Paul: This is a wonderful answer.Please continue.
Then, when editor Jim Salicrup switched me from WEB to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, he told me he’d like to introduce a new character to make the upcoming issue #300 something special. I told him about the character I was hinting at in WEB, and he liked it. But in my origin for that character the symbiote joined with a woman who blamed Spider-Man for the deaths of her husband and child. Jim didn’t think readers would accept a female villain standing toe-to-toe with Spider-Man (remember, this was decades ago), and asked if I could make the bad-guy an actual “guy”. So I came up with a new origin for Eddie Brock, added a personality, a back story and a visual description, and that plot was sent to Todd McFarlane to draw. And thus Venom was introduced to the world.
Paul: Did you ever imagine Venom would ever become such a big character for Marvel? I don't know how up to date you are with Marvel's storylines, most recently the King In Black event, but Venom is a huge banner charcater for Marvel Comic now.
David: It never occurred to me for a second that the character would rise to the height of popularity that it has. All I thought was that it would be a cool character that I would enjoy writing and, hopefully, Marvel fans would enjoy reading. Anything after that was just icing on the cake. It's not ego at all, but whenever I stop writing a character that I've either created (Venom) or simply bonded with (Iron Man), I don't read any of those characters' new stories. I have a solid picture of such characters in mind, and new writers will naturally bring their own viewpoints and personalities to their assignments. So I know the new stories won't be what I would have done, and that makes them difficult for me to read. They may be terrific, innovative, big hits with the readers, but they won't be "my" stories.
Paul: As co-creator of Venom what did you think of the approach his two movies took with the character without Spider-Man being involved? I hope you were invited to a star-studded premier.
David: I enjoyed most of the first Venom movie. I knew they couldn't reference Venom's comic book origin, or his primary motive of being obsessed with killing Spider-Man. But I thought they did a decent job of explaining the symbiote's existence, and I enjoyed Tom Hardy's performance as Eddie Brock. But I was very disappointed in "Venom: Let There Be Carnage". I thought Woody Harrelson's performance as Carnage was pretty accurate, but the writers' and the director went way over the top with the "buddy " angle between Eddie and the symbiote, and the silly slapstick "humor". Unfortunately, I imagine Sony will continue that trend in the third movie. Yes, both Todd McFarlane and I attended the L.A. premiere of "Venom". We even walked down the red carpet. (Although the walkway was cleverly replaced with a black carpet in honor of the movie's title character.)
Paul: Many writers and artists enjoy comic conventions. Is that or was that a part of your career you enjoyed? If so do you have cool convention stories you are allowed to tell?
David: Conventions were in their early days when I started writing comics in 1973. Frequently they were just one day long and often had no guests, just fans and merchants, with maybe a costume contest thrown in. But it was still exciting, and amazing for someone who had dreamed of being a writer for most of his life. To see copies of comics I wrote for sale on dealer tables? Just...wow.
Paul: I mean no disrespect, but I was born in 1974.
David: I remember one incident after I’d been writing comics for a couple of years: I was at a New York convention as one of DC’s writers. I was writing SWAMP THING then (and believe me, it was a scary challenge to follow Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson!), and with a couple of issues published I was to be on my first panel. When I got to the room where the panel was to be held, the previous panel was still going on, so I waited in the back of the room with several old pros (Denny O’Neil and such) who were to be on the next panel as well. As we waited, a kid maybe 15 years old started walking down the line getting us to sign his autograph book. He got to me at the end, and I smiled as I signed my very first autograph. When I gave his book back to the kid, he seemed a little puzzled. Then he looked up at me and asked, “Who are you?” Then he said, “Oh, yeah, you write SWAMP MAN” and walked away. I learned a humbling lesson that day: no matter how big you think you are, you aren’t.
Paul: How do you feel about digital comics? If you read still read comics do you use a tablet/laptop or prefer the paper versions of comics these days?
David: Digital is here to stay, but I personally prefer the old fashioned paper comics. That’s what I grew up with, and even though printing technology has gotten much more advanced (and expensive!), I still like paper when I can get it. Same goes for prose; I have a Kindle, and I’ll get a download if what I want to read is unavailable or too expensive for a hard copy. But I’ll take a “real” book any day.
Paul: What does the future hold for you? Are there any projects you are working upon you would like to promote?
David: I’m currently writing a second VENOM: LETHAL PROTECTOR retro mini-series for Marvel, and have a short story coming out in VENOM: BLACK, WHITE & BLOOD. Other than that I have a couple of indie projects that are in the works: issue #2 of HEROES UNION for Sitcomics, and a manga-influenced 1-shot, “Gladstone’s Revenge”, for GLADSTONE’S SCHOOL FOR WORLD CONQUERORS. There are a couple of other things in the talking stages but, of course, indie release dates are oftentimes, shall we say, “casual”?
Paul: Thank you for your time David. It is greatly appreciated.