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Article originally appeared in Amazing Heroes #44 (April 1, 1984)
Robert J. Sodaro has written numerous articles on superheroes, trading cards, toys, movies, and music for various magazines. He is the features editor of Comics Values Annual (Krause), and is also the author of a book on fast food toys and collectibles entitled Kiddie Meal Collectibles (Krause, 2001). His book’s Web site is located here.
Harlan Ellison Meets Daredevil!
by Bob Sodaro
When the name Harlan Ellison is mentioned, the image that comes to mind is one of a renowned author and award-winning storyteller who is fiercely dedicated to his writing.
As Ellison himself puts it, “A writer writes.” In his view, for a writer not to write is the greatest of sins; a writer’s first dedication is to the written word. For if a writer does not write, he is inflicting a grave injustice not only on himself, but on his potential audience as well.
As if to prove this philosophy, Ellison himself has written for virtually every medium, from short stories and novels to, screenplays and non-fiction. As a result of his extensive and impressive range of activity, the name Harlan Ellison is almost legendary among SF and comic fans. Such is his stature in the minds of fans that the next statement should come as quite a shock.
Harlan Ellison is writing Daredevil #208, a story called The Deadliest Night in My Life.
Yes, dear reader, that is correct: Harlan Ellison has actually plotted and scripted (in conjunction with noted writer Arthur Byron Cover) a comic book.
Longtime fans will remember that Harlan worked on a few issues of The Avengers and The Incredible Hulk back in the early ‘70s. Those books, which were scripted by the regular Avengers/Hulk writer at the time, Roy Thomas, remain some of the best-known (and best written) comics of that time period. Well, the situation is somewhat different this time around.
Denny O’Neil, an old friend of Ellison’s and current scripter of Daredevil, was entering the hospital for some routine tests, and asked Ellison if he would be willing to fill in for him. Ellison, a comic book fan from way back, jumped at the favor. Referring to a long-due Batman story he had promised to then-Batman- editor Julius Schwartz, Ellison said, “Only doing a favor for a friend like this would have kept me from doing the Batman story for Julie Schwartz first. Julie is going to be very upset when he finds out about it.”
In preparation for the task, Ellison contacted writer Arthur Byron Cover to assist him. Although Ellison does read comics, Cover, who writes a comics review column for Mile High Futures, a comics shopper), follows them more closely and thus is more familiar with the current events in Daredevil’s life. Evidently Cover hag been interested in breaking into comics for some time now, and is using this as his opportunity to do exactly that.
Being as knowledgeable with movie scripts as he is, Ellison approached the writing of this comic in the same fashion: he took the story and wrote it as a visual screenplay. “Arthur took the first pass at the treatment, which ran about five pages, then I went to work on it.” The version that Ellison eventually turned over to Marvel was 24 pages in length. According to Ellison, the reason his treatment was so long is that he gave it the works, including the dialogue and motivations, in order to “show the people at Marvel that we could write a comic book.” Another reason for the length of the treatment was simply because, in spite of his admitted proficiency as a writer, this was Harlan’s first comic, and like many first timers, was simply unsure of how long it should run.
Bob Budiansky, Editor of Daredevil, liked the story so much that he immediately commissioned David Mazzuchelli to draw it. As excited as Harlan is about his being asked to write the comic, he is that much more enthusiastic about Mazzuchelli’s rendering of the script. “David Mazzuchelli is one of the hottest young artists I’ve seen in years,” Ellison exclaimed. “His stuff is spectacular.” Ellison pointed out that unlike many of the trend setters of the past, Mazzuchelli’s art was neither gimmicky nor tricky, it was simply good solid art.
Using expressions like “The art was a joy to see,” and “The man is a terrific artist,” Ellison ran on about the excellence of David’s storytelling abilities. “The script was so visual that the art carries the whole book...I don’t think we have 300 words in it.”
In support of this sentiment, when Denny had to return to the hospital for further tests, Marvel inquired if the authors were interested in penning a follow-up tale. Even though the story was originally intended to be self-contained, Ellison included a “stinger” at the end of the tale, so that someone could pick up on it if he was interested enough. Which is exactly what Art Cover did when he went solo on issue #209. He picked up Ellison’s tag to the previous issue, and wrote Blast from the Past.
This reporter remarked that it was very interesting that, when asked, many comic book writers express an interest in someday leaving comics behind, and “do some real writing” (i.e., books; TV, movies). After expressing his opinion of how phony this attitude was, Ellison pointed out that all writing was “legitimate.” “I do not conceive comics as being a step down in art,” he stated. “Len Wein and Berni Wrightson created Swamp Thing and that’s hard. . . that’s high art.” Coming from a writer of the stature of Harlan Ellison, that is high praise indeed.
Further’ to stress his point Ellison continued by saying, “You can’t tell me that Percy Crosby’s Skippy, or Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, or Walt Kelly’s Pogo, is less than Art.” So enamored is Ellison of this particular medium that eyen though he enjoys a considerable reputation in his own right, he flatly stated, “I would go to my grave a happy man if I were known as the man who created, Pogo.”
As anyone who is aware of this man, or of his work, already knows, Harlan Ellison is very outspoken and critical in his opinion of the state of comics today (see The Comics Journal #53, Special Winter Edition, 1980) Ellison wryly stated that with issue #208 of Daredevil, all of the people whom he had taken to task will now have a chance to take shots at him. To Ellison, not only is this Just, but he really wants to know what others have to say about his first attempt at comic book writing. “I did what I thought was a dynamite Daredevil. . .I’d be interested in knowing what Frank Miller thinks of it.”
Ellison feels that many writers who come into comics from other fields very often try to pull up some obscure facet of the character and bring it to light as they attempt to write the issue. This was not Harlan’s intent at all with #208. What he was interested in was bringing DD back to his roots. To return the character to what he originally was intended to have been: A blind adventurer who/was without fear. Interestingly enough, Ellison confessed that he was more excited about the impending publication of Daredevil #208 than he was about his forthcoming book.
In his closing comments, Ellison remarked that “there is nothing demeaning in writing for comics. It’s only demeaning when you do it badly.” To this we can only heartily agree. Having a writer of the stature of Harlan Ellison, not only write a comic, but actually be honored that he was asked to do so, certainly adds a good deal of credibility to a genre often termed as “throw-away” fiction. Perhaps, now that Mr. Ellison has taken the plunge, others of his ilk can be cajoled into following his lead. Imagine. . .comics being penned by Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, or Isaac Asimov. . .oh well, we can dream, can’t we?
Bob Sodaro last wrote about Marvel Bloopers in AH #43.