author interview – Don McGregor: Bonded Comix Part I

We at 007Forever are delighted to present this in-depth interview with Don McGregor, pioneer of independent authors` rights in comics and author of the glossy GoldenEye movie novelization in graphic novel form, and the in-depth Bond adventure The Quasimodo Gambit.

We hope this two-part interview will stimulate your questions for the upcoming chat with Don on Wednesday, June 14 at 007Forever. Don has a lot more of the scoop on comics, James Bond, “I Spy” and much, much more to share Wednesday starting at 9:00 p.m. E.S.T. — join us! One of the most popular writers at Marvel in the 1970`s, Don struck on his own to work with Paul Gulacy (yes, the Gulacy who created the visually stunning James Bond adventure Serpent`s Tooth) to publish SABRE, a graphic novel now in anniversary re-release. Later with Marshall Rogers of illustrated Batman fame, “Dauntless Don” struck again with a second graphic novel, Detectives, Inc. , (and again five years after that in a Detectives, Inc. mini-series with legendary artist Gene Colan).

McGregor started his writing career at Warren, scripting stories for Creepy and Eerie. Later, invited to Marvel, he wrote the cult-hit Killraven series in Amazing Adventures and acclaimed Black Panther stories in Jungle Tales. After he published SABRE and its follow-up on-going series from Eclipse, Don wrote two Nathaniel Dusk, P.I. mini-series for DC and then a Killraven graphic novel for Marvel. Don revisited the Black Panther in the pages of “Marvel Comics Presents” before landing the writing assignment for Topps Comics` revival of the legendary ZORRO.

In working with ZORRO Productions on the project, Don developed his take on the classic western hero by surrounding him with strong adversaries and interesting allies. In his analysis of the standard ZORRO motifs over the years, he came to the conclusion that ZORRO should have a strong female counterpart. Thus, Lady Rawhide was born. First appearing in ZORRO #3, Lady Rawhide (as illustrated by Mike Mayhew under a cover by Adam Hughes) rapidly became a fan favorite and she was spun off into her own mini-series.

When Topps stopped publishing comics, both ZORRO and Don landed at Image Comics, which ZORRO Productions selected to publish their character`s adventures. Image is presently reprinting the second Lady Rawhide mini-series and trade paperback collections of the ZORRO stories, and they`re also re-publishing some of Don`s creator-owned work under their imprint. Don and artist Tom Yeates (they teamed up for ZORRO vs. Dracula) create the daily adventures of ZORRO for newspapers around the country including the New York Daily News. Don`s recently released 20th Anniversary Edition of SABRE garnered as much praise as it did originally, as did the re-release of Detectives, Inc. Now the second DI story, Detectives, Inc.: A Terror of Dying Dreams has been collected in trade paperback form for the first time. (All three should be available through your local comic book shop, and are available to them through Diamond Comic Distributors` STAR System.)

–Don is also a wonderful guy who is passionate about the things he loves most; things like family and friends, the world of James Bond 007, ZORRO, Hopalong Cassidy, and communicating passionately to others through the unique medium of comix.

Matt: Why did you choose to work in the comics industry?

Don: Well, I`m not sure if I chose it or it chose me. Before I was writing comics, I actually was working on novels and films. I learned at an early age, once I got hold of my dad Francis McGregor`s 8mm Bolex movie camera, that if you wrote the script, and if you directed the film, and you acted in it, a number of great things happened:

1. You always won the fights! And since, in those early 60`s days I was often doing some kind of a James Bond or private eye riff, well, this was terrific! It didn`t matter how big the guy was. He could give me a look and say, “Don, I can pound you into the ground. You know it and I know it.” But then, I`d just show him the script, and answer, “Well, sure, we both know that, but see, right here, in the script, it says, “I win!” So, here`s how we`re going to do it!” But even better was

2. You ALWAYS got the girl! This was infinitely preferable to real life and I thought I would dedicate my life to it. We even rigged a briefcase to shoot out a torrent of white gas to take out one of the bad guys, in one of the films. Now, understand, I`m no technical whiz, and I don`t remember who came up with the way to pull this off, but we were filming up at my grandparents` house, Alfred and Marguerite Besson`s house, and they had a lot of land to play make believe in as if it was real. I played out a lot of fantasies there during my young years, rode a lot of invisible horses, you better believe it. Anyhow, my grandfather had a workshop there, and someone figured out how to hook up one of the old insecticide spray containers he had into that Bondian attache case, after the first attempt we`d made to gas the bad guy failed miserably! This time, as the villain opened the case, we pumped down on the canister and the white clouds shot out of the nozzle and engulfed him! It really worked! I don`t even want to give thought to what kind of stuff may have been inside the insecticide tank before we filled it with talcum powder!

Some years later I actually created Detectives, Inc. as a film vehicle, for Alex Simmons and I to play the lead characters of Denning and Rainier. So, now finally, here comes the transition to comics. I`ve given you a few brief, hopefully scenic detours here. But before we ever got around to acting Rainier and Denning out, I`d gone to my first comic con. And something clicked!

I was writing, as I`ve already mentioned, and I`d always loved comics, I just hadn`t really thought about writing them. But after meeting Alex Simmons at that New York City Comic convention, and after we started acting together, and coordinating our own fight sequences, something else clicked during the year until the next con.

Matt: You mean, “Why not do a comic book?”

Don: Alex was multi-talented, and at the time he did a lot of illustrating. It struck me that comics is considered a visual medium, even if, like film, it needs a written word, first. Comics are also a literary one, and that combination makes it truly unique as a medium. But, if you were going to get seen, if you were going to get read, how to do it?

Well, you could write a script and send it. But the downside for writers is that an editor has submissions coming in and they end up in a stack. I talk about this a lot with my students in the course I teach at the School Of Visual Arts. You don`t want to get caught in that pile. Most editors seldom have time to go through those pages, and the higher the stack grows, the more intimidating it becomes.

If you`re an artist, you come in with samples of your art, and people can see right away whether they like it or not. They can say, “Hey, I like this, but this sucks!” And at least you have some feedback. But a writer, the first thing the editor sees is just a jumble of words on page upon page.

So, it was kind of like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, “LET`S PUT ON A SHOW!” and I said to Alex, “Let`s do Detectives, Inc. as a comic. Because I knew then that people could look at it, they could see that you had a grasp of the mechanics of comics, how words and pictures worked together, plus it did what I always wanted to do: TELL A STORY!

And I loved comics. I have never thought they were a second rate medium. Yes, I was primarily focused on books and film, but that didn`t mean I didn`t have this passion for comics. From the first time I saw them, all the color and pictures and words, it was like discovering this incredible treasure. Years later, when I created Ragamuffins, I tried to capture what that love for comics was IN a comic itself.

Matt: What appeals to you about being on a deadline with projects like ZORRO or James Bond, 007?

Don: Deadline! What appeals to me about the deadline? Well, one writer once said, “You know, Don, there`s a reason why they call deadlines DEAD lines!” I think what you`re after is more the format that the story is going to told. So, for instance, in James Bond: The Quasimodo Gambit, once I know what the format is, in that case a three-issue mini-series, I more or less know the page count I am dealing with. I know I can approximate the structure of a novel, because I have the room. I know that I have to take into account where the books should break, so there is at once a sense of completeness to the books, that the reader has gotten something from that one book, but that it also flows into the next, and hopefully makes the audience want to know what happens to Bond and that cast of characters next.

That, by the way, is a much different kind of project than adapting a Bond film like “GoldenEye” for comics, in a three-issue “monthly” format. But more on that later.

And still different, say, would be doing graphic albums, like Detectives, Inc.: A Rememberance of Threatening Green or A Terror of Dying Dreams. These are self-contained stories, but the page length is shorter, and you have to deal with that challenge. It`s as much a question of what won`t be in the story as much as what will make it.

Like James Bond, I`ve done ZORRO in different formats. When I was doing the monthly comic series for Topps, I was always aware of the, more or less, 30-day time span between issues. This has a tremendous difference on the way you approach a story than, say, if it was published bi-monthly. Now that I`m doing the ZORRO newspaper strip there is always the constant reminder that another day has gone by. The upside of this is that there is a concrete re-enforcement of the story-telling. Every day, you hold the paper in your hand, you see the strip, and when it works, there`s that incentive to get you back to the blank sheet of paper. But the downside can be that it does appear every day, and if you haven`t written a day`s strip yet, it`s intimidating.

On top of that you have to face a whole different sort of choices and challenges as a storyteller. In a graphic novel, the audience gets the whole story at one time. The impact of the story and what happens to the characters and the thematic thrust of the story is immediate!

But a strip has an audience coming to it in different manners, and you have to be aware of this! Some people only get the Sunday paper, and thus they may only have exposure to what`s going on once a week, in that Sunday.

Others only read the paper during the week. Often, many buy it and read it on their way to work. So, I try to make sure the story can track from Sunday to Sunday, yet that there is never any repetition, because you have to be aware that in the long run, one day, those stories may be collected into a single volume, and then the story must flow seamlessly.

Oddly, what with all the horrendous lurid screaming headlines in the paper, one of the constant things you have to contend with is what someone might say, “Well, this can`t be in a family newspaper!” But that only seems to apply to the comics page. The fight is to tell a compelling story, one that has meaning, one that will move the audience. I try to make each day`s strip work singularly, but at the same time flow into the next. Yet, I`m not always trying to do the same thing with each strip. As varying as I will make the visual approach of each strip, from one panel to four, from silent to one just with captions, to those that are comprised of dialogue, I also want to have different emotions to the strip. Sometimes, I want the audience to laugh. Sometimes I want them to be moved by what they have read. Sometimes I just want to compel them to say, “Man, I can`t wait to see tomorrow`s paper and see what happens next!” If someone who buys only a Sunday paper, let`s say, said, “You know what, I`ve got to buy Monday`s paper, because I`ve got to see what happens to ZORRO next!” Well, I can`t think of a compliment that would mean more to me. And sometimes I want to jolt the audience.

Sometimes it`s the storytellers job to disturb. And if you are reading the daily newspaper, and you haven`t come across something that disturbs you, you aren`t really reading that newspaper, I`ll tell you that. In the Daily News, ZORRO is carried on the same page as Ann Landers. Ann`s column can have topics that deal with domestic violence, drugs, incest, you name it, but put that into a story with pictures, on the same page, and different eyes and with different agendas somehow are still of the mind that comics are a kid`s medium.

Well, no! Comics are as varied a medium as books and film, and just like the best in those mediums, the best comics have a voice and strength that are uniquely their own! And then again, there`s another aspect about deadlines, they change from project to project. A Daily strip deadline is “always” there! It never changes.

–Read Part II of this interview (linked below this story) and hear all about James Bond: The Quasimodo Gambit, James Bond: GoldenEye, and more! There will also be a special opportunity to purchase unique McGregor work at Bond Weekend III, September 2000 in New Orleans!

**Check out:

Zorro Productions

Zorro Strips: Daily Update

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