A Great Talk With D.G. Chichester!
D.G Chichester has been writing comic for many years. Talking to him has been very interesting. Despite the fact the “D” in his name stand for Daniel. The fine gentleman ask me to address him as “Dan”
Paul: Can I start things off by asking how your relationship with comics began? What were the first comic you recall really enjoying or that may have inspired you to write comics?
Dan: My older cousin Mark was probably my initial comics pusher. In an attempt to possibly get me to go away, he gifted me a mighty collection of random comics and Mad Magazines, which were just a feast of image and humour and strange wonders to page through, especially for a bit of a loner and introvert. I was especially hooked on the DC ones, no doubt having to do with the initials. 😉 After I ran through those, I started going after my own, with weekly bike rides to the local newsstand, across what seems even now to have been impossibly busy roadways for a little kid to navigate. This would also cause long delays in family vacations, as I insisted on detours to yard sales and junk stores in the hopes of scoring something in the dusty boxes and bins. (I specifically remember finding a treasure trove of titles in a basement antique/junk store Putney, VT, and begged my parents for a return visit when we went that way again. But the store had closed and taken its titles elsewhere.) Early titles that made a huge impression would be The Flash and Green Lantern, with a heavy dose of Phantom Stranger and House of Mystery. Discovering The Warlord seemed like an invitation to a truly other world. (I had no real knowledge of Burroughs at that point.) The Flash of Two Worlds fed my imagination and hope that “Maybe there ARE heroes out there I can visit!” The only title I ever wrote a letter to was Firestorm — and it got published!
Paul: I know well the thrill having a letter published. That sounds incredible.
Dan: All these comics were amassed in organized piles in dresser drawers. (Not sure where I actually kept my clothes.) They were read and re-read, with no thought to the cracks on the spine or fingerprints on the covers. None of these things were a drive to want to work in comics, though. While I identified that there were creators — Neal Adams, Eliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, Denny O’Neil, Archie Goodwin, Jim Aparo, Mike Grell — I never imagined myself being one of them. (Or later getting to know and work with some!) If anything, I think they drove my interest in storytelling and a passion for the fantastic and adventurous — which, in its own way, was a path to writing comics after all.
Paul: Who was your first editor? ... or how did you get your "foot in the front door"" at Marvel Comics?
Dan: These are truthfully different questions, because my initial editorial experiences were not due to a creative foot in the front door. I came in through the side door. I was in the back half of my junior year at NYU film school and had pretty much drained my limited bank account (and more of my parents’!) in creating my “thesis” film — a self-indulgent little Twilight Zone number that was supposed to be my ticket to Hollywood. And yet here we are. 😉
Paul: This is all fascinating. Truly.
Dan: In an attempt to be more responsible, I visited the student employment office, and saw a notice for a typist at Marvel Comics. Comics had been my life, and my most intense form of entertainment up till my early teens. But they had fallen off my radar in the years in between. Even so, I figured, “Hey, I’m a fast typist, and I sort of know comics, and that sounds like a pretty good place to type.” So, I entered into the Marvel Offices through the 11th floor lobby — home to “the suits” and operations. The job was in the foreign licensing department — but they had just assigned it to someone else. Even so, they did me the courtesy of an interview, and liked what they heard enough to suggest there was something available on 10 — home to the world-famous bullpen and editor’s row. This would be as the assistant to the assistant to the editor in chief. (Got that? Two assistant layers down!)
Paul: What you have described sounds like such an incredible opportunity.
Dan: That big presence at that time would be Jim Shooter and having that proximity to overheard conversations might even qualify as “editorial exposure.” But the main thrust of the job was answering calls, sending out FedEx packages, reviewing submissions (Hey Kid, no future for you, but here’s your no prize!), and generally running interference and errands. And then, at the end of the school semester — I resigned! To the shock of everyone, because NO ONE resigns from Marvel Comics. But I had a better paying summer job already lined up, and I was more focused on finishing school and having bank for graduation. (Which in my case would come in December vs. a full senior year.)
Paul: I am gripped.
This part 1 was great exposure to the inner workings, even if I was too introverted and overwhelmed with imposter syndrome to make the most of it! But part 2 was the real “in the door” as over the summer I was contacted by the Epic Comics office. I had limited exposure to them while on the Marvel side, but they’d heard enough good things (or were so desperate) that they wanted to offer me an assistant editor’s position. While I explained I still had a semester of college left, they were willing to work around my schedule — and so I entered into that job in the fall of ’85, with the expectation this would be another “short term” gig, and I’d be West Coast bound by the spring.
Paul: Crickey you travelled a fair bit!
Dan: In the thick of not just an editorial office, but the Epic offices, I’d now get schooled in comic book production that was of a higher order. Epic’s titles generally had a different grade of art (painted, illustrated) and execution (better paper and printing). I also had my comics DNA rearranged around “creator owned” — the mainstay of Epic’s mission.
Paul: I always loved the EPIC imprint Marvel created.
Dan: Both of those POVs would continue to serve me in life and as a professional, throughout comics and into my next phase as well. (Not knowing any of that would be the case but just going with the flow has served me surprisingly well.)
Paul: So, your first editor was who?
Dan: My first “on a job” editor was Archie Goodwin — who in addition to already being a comic book icon at that time was also my boss at Epic. The first real creative work I would do was to write the English language script for a Spanish story that was to run in the very last issue of Epic Illustrated. It was a short piece and a pretty straight forward job, but even so Archie schooled me in my choices. (Including shaking his head and rolling his eyes when I nervously/eagerly wondered if this might qualify as a credit in the book itself. Answer: not so much! LOL.)
Paul: Archie Goodwin is obviously a legendary name and figure within the comic industry.
Dan: I would say my first in depth editorial exchange was probably with the equally legendary Mark Gruenwald. My writing partner at the time was Margaret Clark, and we had pitched and sold a short 8-page DrDruid story for Solo Avengers. Mark took an extraordinary amount of time with his feedback and guidance on the plot and script to make it better. This has always stuck with me as an expression of Mark’s character and care — and I feel was very influential to me in terms of how to approach a story as a writer and how to be an effective editor.
Paul: Shooter, Goodwin, and Gruenwald — That is not a bad way to learn!
Paul: Could you describe please who is in the lovely group photo above please?
Dan: With Terry Kavanagh, Catherine Schuller-Gruenwald, Howard Mackie, Carl Potts, Bob Budiansky, Paul Kupperberg, Larry Hama - plus special guest James Enstall of #geektomeradio. (For those not in the pop culture know, you’re looking at significant creative contributors to Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, The Punisher, Peacemaker, GI Joe, Transformers — and, oh yeah, Daredevil.)
Paul: I assure you I realise the significance of every person in that incredible photo. It leads me neatly onto my nest question. Can you say how you came to write Daredevil please? Who was your editor? It is such an iconic Marvel character.
Dan: I have told this tale before, but it’s a good one — well, certainly it was good for me!
Paul: In which case I would love to hear it please.
Dan: I had been writing a series of non-Marvel books — the Shadowline, out of the Epic offices — that had helped me get better as a storyteller. Those and a fair amount of other work had been done in tandem with my writing partner at the time, Margaret Clark. But as I left staff at Marvel, I needed more solo work — both as a confidence and financial booster. (Co-writing means you benefit from another brain, but you also split the paycheck!) One of those solo titles I’d taken on was my most solid foray into Marvel storytelling, and that was Nick Fury.
Dan: I knew that Daredevil editor Ralph Macchio liked what I was doing on that title. He’d mentioned it once or twice, and I’d heard it from some colleagues. But I never considered that work to be any kind of stepping stone to one of the big characters at Marvel — certainly not Daredevil, which had both Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti’s recent runs as very, very high water marks.
Dan: I was visiting my parents at Thanksgiving, and got a call from my friend Steve Buccellato. Steve had also been my assistant editor when I was editing at Epic — while simultaneously also being my editor on those books. (An unenviable push/pull situation for him, which he managed quite well in the end!) Steve related that he’d just heard that Ann was planning on leaving Daredevil, the writer’s spot was therefore open — and he thought I should take a swing at it. “Ralph likes your work…” he reminded me. But I still thought it was way too early in my career and self-confidence to score that kind of assignment.
Dan: Even so, I overcame that screaming imposter syndrome, at least to ask Ralph — in as offhanded a way as possible — “Hey, I hear Ann’s leaving, would you mind if I put in a proposal?” Ralph, ever affable, responded with a pleasant, “Sure, happy to read whatever you’d like to put down.” But I think it was Ralph being agreeable as much as anything. The subtext to my anxiety ridden mind was probably as much, “Sure, kid, have at it, but don’t get your hopes up.”
Dan: The result was a written pitch — which I still have, one of the few surviving pieces of writing from those days! The two big conceits were, A) Treat the city as a character and B) It’s time to REALLY take down the Kingpin. I didn’t detail out the exact HOW — I had no idea — but the essence and intention rang a bell with Mr. Macchio. Astounding a number of folks — chief among them me — he awarded me the chance to put on the horns and pick up the billy clubs. Just in time to race toward the #300 issue where I would then have to deliver on exactly that takedown I’d proposed.
Paul: Gregory Wright has mentioned you are good friends. Can you say how that friendship began at Marvel?
Dan: That friendship — which I’d rate among my longest, best, and most life-changing + life-affirming — predates Marvel by a good stretch.
Dan: Greg and I met in film school at New York University. He was not originally part of our existing film “crew” — a collection of students who typically worked together on projects. But when one of those members left unexpectedly, we had an opening. Greg’s obvious technical skill and filmmaking passion made him a contender for the spot — plus the rest of us were introverts almost to a fault and we thought his bigger than life personality might also help us get more intros to the opposite sex. 😉 That last part never resulted in much, but his bag o’ filmmaking tricks were a huge boon and he and I quickly fell into each other’s orbits in an even stronger fashion, our personalities, sensibilities and standards for good work (and impatience and disdain for less than that) both meshing and complementing.
Dan:That friendship extended into rooming together in the far reaches of Brooklyn after college. As detailed in another answer, I had already secured a gig at Marvel and continued to work there after graduation. When Greg was looking for some “cash to pay the rent” employment right after NYU, he was about to take on a gig at the nearby supermarket. I suggested he audition for the receptionist role at Epic Comics instead - a position he was vastly overqualified for, but I figured had to make better use of his innate skills and talents than the neighbourhood meat department. (The fact he easily secured this makes me indirectly responsible for everything he then accomplished as an editor, writer, colourist; as well as him bringing in Dwayne McDuffie — so I’m also indirectly responsible for Milestone. LOL.) I am delighted that we have remained friends all these years, using each other as sounding boards and support in life and work.
Paul: Can you discuss at all the Milestone group of comics? Dwayne McDuffie was obviously a trailblazer as it were for comics that published characters of various colours. We you good friends?
Dan: Please note my "role" in the creation of Milestone is a JOKE. Only by the extension of me getting Greg a job at Marvel…and Greg getting Dwayne a job at Marvel…and Dwayne then being in comics…and then long way around his brilliance and talent and Dwayne-ness goes around to creating Milestone. So — NOTHING else intended or presumed or projected! In no way am I putting myself into that epic epoch in a formative way!
Dan: That said, yes I was very friendly with Dwayne. He was MUCH better friends with Greg. I met Dwayne through Greg, also at NYU, where Dwayne was in the Master's program. When Dwayne arrived at Marvel we reconnected, and I always enjoyed and respected his camaraderie and talent and ideas. I'd specifically seek him out for an ambitious Hellraiser multi part story; and he later "returned the favour" to an extent with a chance to do some writing for Milestone, on Hardware, and with the amazing Blood Syndicate team in Long Hot Summer.
Paul: Could I ask a broader question about the comic industry please. What are your thoughts about digital comics? For example, these days do you prefer to read comics on a tablet/laptop etc or do you prefer paper comics? What is your preference?
Dan: Well, digital comics are here, and they’re not going away. They’re a necessary evolution in terms of reach and sales and opportunity. Especially for creators who see the chance to get their work out there via “non-traditional” means, if they can’t afford to print, and can’t get a publisher or crowdsourcing.
Dan: I don’t know that the format is totally solved. While ComiXology has set a standard of sorts — also adopted by apps like hoopla — it also changes the way you read a comic, with it’s potential to zoom in/zoom over from a panel — as opposed to the traditional way of reading which, while you focus on one panel you can still take in the page as a whole and appreciate the interconnectivity there.
Dan: Then you’ve got the webcomics, which are the single scroll down the web page. These are a new thing and require a new thinking in terms of pacing and delivery. That’s not bad — just different. Or then there’s the substack comics experiment, which seems to have largely (oddly) landed on big single image pages or PDFs or redirects to .cbr files — a rather clunky reader experience given the big $ they threw at a lot of brand name creators to come in and jumpstart that medium on that newsletter platform. I’m a fan of something like this succeeding, even for my own ideas and enterprise — but it feels like an add on rather than an all-in.
Dan: At a certain point some things “break” what a comic is and become something totally new. I was an early proponent of some kinds of “interactive comics” — which were/are also not totally solved and are neither movies nor comics. So…complicated. 🙂
Dan: Nothing beats a tangible comic in terms of portability, battery life, the tactile feel. Maybe that’s nostalgia, but I also think there’s something that connects you more when you turn the page. (As opposed to swipe it.) If I had my preference, I’d have more print comics. But there’s the matter of space — and $, too. While I do spend my money on the right properties, I do a lot of finding of new stuff in the digital format, especially through hoopla, which clearly has some great comic book curators at work.
Paul: Can I ask how you feel about comic conventions? Is that a part of your job as a writer you enjoy?
Dan: I’ve always really enjoyed cons. As an editor, I felt it was my responsibility to give fans and prospective talent a way to connect with the titles, character, companies in a more direct way: remember, my initial experience predates all this instaweb magic! 🙂 As a creator, I felt the same. There was always a great chance to engage with people 1:1, get a read on what they liked — and learn from what they didn’t. Like any job, you can get into the “day to day” of writing stories, and this was always a great reminder that there’s a magic to this that you (I) should never take for granted — as evidenced by the curiosity and real enjoyment I would generally get from fans who would choose to engage.
Dan: The best part is when there’s more discussion, vs. “Here, can you sign this?” “Back in the day” I felt I got a lot more “in person trolling” — the cocksure comic snarker who’d purposefully confront me at a table with an opening line of, “Your work sucks!” and “You’re ruining (such and such) character!” But my tact was to not let them off the hook. “Great, now tell me WHY.” And in them being forced to articulate it, we’d have a real conversation and actually learn something. At least I felt I did.
Dan: Now, until recently, I had not done a con for MANY years. The late nineties was the last one, at an amusement park (Knoebbel’s) in Pennsylvania of all places. I remember going in feeling this was a big step down from the major shows that had flown me in and blah blah blah. I was having to drive there, wheel my cart of goodies over, set up in what seemed to be a sad little auditorium room. It was humbling — but also as it turned out VERY human. It really reinforced that 1:1 and there wasn’t a person there who wasn’t really grateful, to be meeting the creators who were there. At that point in my comics career — really wrapping it up to some extent, in that phase — I needed that type of reminder to be more connected. And I needed that connection, too.
Dan: I wouldn’t do another show until summer 21, when I was invited to Terrificon — and then again, this last summer of 22. Since I had been “off the market” for essentially forever, there was a real positive energy from the folks I met. Somewhere between, “I never thought I’d meet you…” to “I thought you were dead!” (OK, that latter one is my internal monologue!) I’m game for more shows, but I have to find out who to talk to, to get invited, but that Knoebbel’s show remains my level set of how to act and what I’d like to expect. This last Terrificon had a great focus on comic creators, and beyond the fans there was also a great chance to connect with some old editorial friends. There is actually a picture of that: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10159065161882218&set=pob.569855199.... Is it part of your job? Well, the primary job is to write. But nowadays especially you’ve also got to be on top of marketing yourself, so in that way it is an important way to get some energy going and report back on it.
Paul: Do you have any fun convention stories you can share? For example, can you ever say you have been "starstruck" as it were at a convention?
Dan: Not so much. I’ve seen some celebs or personalities at a distance, but if I’ve closed it I’ve treated them as people and they’ve been generally the same in kind.
Dan: Probably the biggest geek/awkward moment was meeting Bruce Campbell at a book signing for his first book. My wife, also a fan, couldn’t come at the last minute because she was pregnant. The way I explained this in my stammering way was, “My wife’s a big fan, she couldn’t come, she’s pregnant — but that has nothing to do with you.” The look on his face was one step away from calling, “Security!” LOL.
Dan: At a more recent tattoo convention I was nerding out at bit meeting the character actor Robert LaSardo, who was a real gentlemen and interesting character.
Note: Robert LaSardo is famous for his roles in many , may things. On this occasion I'll let the readers Google his name.
Paul: That sounds interesting.
Dan: As a kid, I remember being at a Star Trek con, and being very amused/horrified as a couple of Trekkies tried to explain to Jesco Von Puttkamer (literal rocket scientist and science advisor to Star Trek: The Motion Picture) how a wormhole worked.
NOTE: Dan is under BLADE in this uniquie image.
Dan: During one of the long rows of autograph signings at the “Marvel Mega Cons” I was seated next to the incredible Sergio Aragones, who I knew well-ish from being the production editor on Groo the Wanderer at Epic. I thought I had a pretty good patter for folks coming up for a signature, but it was also apparently way too repetitive — especially if you’re stuck next to me and having to listen to it over and over! Sergio made a comment — not cutting, but on the order of, “Why don’t you vary it up a bit?” That was excellent, con-earned advice from a seasoned pro on the importance of being more human and authentic.
Dan: At the same con, I was talking with Stan Lee about the changes we had planned for Daredevil. He listened politely, and then hit me with, “Well, I hope you know what you’re doing kid!”
Paul: What does the future hold for you creatively?
Dan: I’m sure the quote comes from a more informed source, but I think it’s at the start of an Ed Wood movie where the character intones, “We all want to know about the future. It’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.” Everyday I commit to live a creative life by creating something. “Create something new everyday.” Is a good principle to live by. “Even” in my corporate/client assignments, I always find some way to spin it so that I’m bringing more than “the ask” and infuse some quality of narrative or storytelling that isn’t expected or try to imbue more humanity, intrigue or a “clever” turn of phrase.
Paul: That is a great way to live.
Dan: Once a week I put out a newsletter that involves a combo of new material (stories, essays, ideas on creativity and writing, video or audio projects); a reflection on some writing that I’m into; and a bit of nostalgia on my earlier comic career. That’s at storymaze.substack.com - folks who subscribe get a free copy of the Hellraiser comic “story bible” I wrote for the launch of the book back in the eighties/nineties. …. Not too long ago I was privileged to do the audio book narration for my good friend Evan Skolnick’s Video Game Storytelling book. (https://www.audible.com/pd/Video-Game-Storytelling-Audiobook/0593411781)
Paul: I will have to check them out.
Dan: I regularly play some quirky character or other in the fun audio/video productions of filmmaker Mark Bellusci. Here’s the latest: https://vimeo.com/750068096 ...I am working on a long gestating new horror/adventure comic (a kind of “‘the good place’ meets ‘from dusk ‘til dawn’” with artist Karl Waller, which we will have more news on publishing plans in the spring. I’m doing regular promos of the WIP, usually Wednesdays on social media. Here’s one: https://twitter.com/dgchichester/status/1577720412263387145?s=20&t=JFCiVA2yeppvIN8yjYXdkQ
Paul: You’re a busy man it seems.
Dan: And coming out of a visit to the recent Terrificon in Connecticut over the summer, I was approached by two publishers about potential comic projects: TBD on what those are and whether they become “for real” — but both would be fun and unexpected creative endeavours. Any other creative ideas are always welcome! 🙂
Paul: Dan, it has been an absolute joy talking to you. Thank you