Category Archives: Comic Books

Remembering David Anthony Kraft / interview Part 2 of 3

Besides being a Marvel Comics editor, a freelance Marvel Comics writer, and publisher of Comics Interview magazine that occasionally covered Real American Hero, David Anthony Kraft also had two important other connections to G.I. Joe. One was that he was the original editor of Marvel Books. This was an imprint that started up in 1982 as a way for Marvel to publish storybooks and coloring books and get them into outlets like Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us. Kraft recalled editing 1983’s The Spy Eye, and while I didn’t confirm his involvement with the 1984 illustrated storybook Operation: Disappearance and the 1983 reprint of three issues of the regular comic book, The Trojan Gambit, it’s a distinct possibility.

Read Part One here or skip to Part Three. Continuing the excerpts of our 2019 phone interview:

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A FIEFDOM IN MARVEL BOOKS

TF: I’ve always wondered about Marvel Books. Did it exist before you the editor? Were you the only editor? Were you the art director? What was Marvel Books?

DAK: Uh, me. [LAUGHS] But I didn’t originate it. It came down from on high — Jim Galton, who was the CEO of Marvel at the time. And he had a background in publishing paperbacks and books and things before he came to Marvel. Really didn’t know much of anything about comics. He was always looking to steer Marvel in the direction of kids’ books and places it wasn’t: story books, kids’ books, novelizations. Just the kind of stuff that I guess was his familiarity. His area of expertise.

However that came about, it came down through Sol Brodsky. Sol was Vice President [of Special Projects]. I had a great relationship with Sol. And I had a pretty good relationship with Jim Shooter. [But] there were like opposing departments at Marvel. A simplified version of the Balkanization process. Lots of people who were unhappy under Shooter’s regime would flee over to Sol’s department. [CHUCKLES] And among them, eventually, Marie Severin and John Romita, and lots of other people. Sol wrote me a contract. I had bought a house [in Georgia], and I felt like I was in with the mob: I had a first mortgage payment one week. Second mortgage the next week. I had a note for the furniture and everything the third week. The fourth week was taxes, utilities, insurance. So I had to run as fast as I could. And finding freelance, it’s like two jobs. One is you talk to editors or whoever and to pitch stuff and you get work. But the other one is doing the work. Well, if you need that much to keep going, there’s not enough hours in the day to find the work and do the work.

So Sol did me a good turn. I’m sort of like the invisible DAK in certain areas at Marvel. There was all the big, top creators, John Buscema, Roy [Thomas], and people like that, that had contracts, that guaranteed them work. And then oddly enough there was me. [CHUCKLES] The last of the writer/editors, and Sol got me a contract that Marvel had to provide me at least as much money as I needed by contract and if they failed to so, they still had to pay me. I of course [still] had to do the work. […] In the course of that that’s how I ended up editing Marvel Books. They created this whole new division. And who better to edit it than me because Sol and I had worked together well and had done so for years. […] So I had a fiefdom that was independent from regular Marvel and Shooter’s side.

KRAFT’S OFFICE

TF: Did you have a desk, an office, a floor?

DAK: Absolutely. And here was the funny part. [While I had a contract,] I was not on staff, I was still freelance. It was the same as saying to John Buscema or Jack Kirby “you’re going to have so many pages of work a month and we’ll guarantee you this.” It was a peculiar situation. Even though I was freelance, I had an office and everything, but I didn’t have office hours or anything like that. But I needed a place to meet artists and writers and licensors and people like that. It couldn’t be at my [New York] apartment [which I had in addition to my house in Georgia]. That would be very strange if I was representing Marvel and editing Marvel Books, “Hey, come up to my eastside apartment.” [CHUCKLES]

What was really funny, was when we moved from 585 Madison to 387 Park Avenue South, there was a huge memo posted everywhere, because freelancers used to come in, artists and writers, they would hang around in the bullpen. And in the artists’ case, they’d pull up a chair in the bullpen and do some of their freelance there and talk to other people. And in the case of writers, we’d scarf an office, [if] we had to do an editorial or this or that. Anyway, there was this posted thing all over the offices,When we go to 373 Park Avenue South: No freelancers shall have space in the offices. And I went to Sol and said “How is this going to work? How do I edit?” And I was doing a lot more than Marvel Books, and a lot of it for Sol. But I’m like “How do I do this if I can’t do it in the office?” And Sol was like “Let me worry about that.” And he was a VP [of Special Projects] back then, long before Shooter was [a different Vice President]. And so when we got to 387 Park Avenue South, not only did I have an office, it was diametrically opposite of Jim Shooter’s. [CHUCKLES] Which was news to me! It was like holy cow!

What was so funny about that was A) I was not the instigator in that. But it was really delightful because I only answered to me. I was like the DAK over there and then there was Shooter over there. And I don’t think he cared a lot for that, even though we tended to get along. […] Because I had my own department, I didn’t have to follow certain mandates. At that time, say, Don McGregor was persona non grata and had fallen on the bad side of mainstream Marvel. [But] it didn’t mean I couldn’t use him in my department or have him in the offices. So I think my having certain people over there, including Gary Groth [CHUCKLES], probably was looked poorly upon by Shooter, who was diametrically opposite of me. I don’t know, I don’t want to speak for him. Eventually they said “we need the Marvel library” — There was an internal staircase that connected us to the executive floor at 387. And they said “We need access to the Marvel library, and that needs to be down here.” To use the words of Jim Galton, very corporate speak-stuff, that redounded to my benefit even more. If they needed the Marvel library down there, guess what? Now my office was [up and] around the corner from Galton and the executive floor. [LAUGHS] 

TF: Oh, you got bumped up and your office became the Marvel library?

DAK: Yeah, my office on the Marvel level became the library, and I got moved up to the executive floor with Stan and Galton. And I was still freelancing. Crazy days.

———— [End interview transcript]

Kraft couldn’t recall the precise length of his time running Marvel Books, but he estimated it was a year or less.

DAK’s other key connection to G.I. Joe was that he helped Roger Slifer edit the second season of GI Joe Extreme, and he in fact wrote four episodes. Read about that in Part Three, or jump back to the 1970s in Part One.

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Remembering David Anthony Kraft / interview Part 1 of 3

David Anthony Kraft died recently. He was second-best known for writing Marvel’s The Defenders, Savage She-Hulk, and was the consultant for the young readers Spidey Super Stories. About his thoughtful and subversive work, Peter B. Gillis recently said on Facebook “He was one of the editorial crew up at the old offices in the big room, one of those who would get me past the receptionist—one of those of us who were dead set on changing the face of comics.” But DAK, as his friends called him (and Kraft called himself!) was best known for his wonderful Comics Interview magazine — full title: David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview — which Kraft edited and published from 1983 to 1995 — a whopping 150 issues!

A lot of early info about G.I. Joe filtered out through Comics Interview, as key issues featured interviews with Larry Hama, Buzz Dixon, and Steve Gerber on both Real American Hero comics and television. But hundreds of writers, artists, and projects got covered as well, and it’s a real document of an era. Actually, it’s more than one era! (For example, that Ninja Turtles issue above has nothing to do with Joe, but isn’t a 1985 interview with Eastman and Laird valuable to history?)

Before I get to Kraft’s 1983 and 1996 G.I. Joe connections, I want to set the scene with an excerpt from our 2019 phone interview. Kraft was a talker, and while I did ask questions, I was also able to just shut my mouth and let him go for long stretches. Although this recollection predates A Real American Hero and the controlled and successful Jim Shooter era of the 1980s, I love peeks behind-the-scenes at Marvel, and this is a good backdrop for Kraft’s decision to leave The House of Ideas a decade later. In 1972, Roy Thomas succeeded Stan Lee as Marvel Editor-in-Chief. Kraft had already worked in publishing as a teenager, and then in early 1974 joined Marvel as an Associate Editor working alongside Don McGregor, both under Thomas:

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DAK: I happened to enter comics, Marvel anyway, at a moment of ultimate anarchy, almost. It became anarchy after Roy [Thomas] stepped down [as Editor-in-Chief]. [But before that] what happened was Roy was editing like 40 color titles [on top of] writing all of [his] books. He didn’t have time to micro manage and to look over your shoulder. And he paid more attention to the major books, which made sense. If the books weren’t major books, basically you would talk to Roy and say “Here’s the direction I’m going to take,” and he’d day “cool” or “not cool.”

And then he had a little green file box of index cards of who was using what villains in which books that month. So that there wasn’t an unfortunate contradiction or duplication. The books would be written by the writers, or plotted by them, and drawn, and then [scripted], and then come to Don [McGregor] and me for editing. And there were some writers, and I’ll spare them and not mention names, [whose books] we would shove back and forth, like “You take this book,” “no, you take this book.” Because the continuity would be really, really bad, or the writing would make no sense, and we’d have to rewrite it. There were books that we would fight for, like Marv [Wolfman]’s [Tomb of] Dracula, or Starlin’s book, that I always grabbed. And then the books Don and I were doing nobody looked at except Don and I. So we were, before writer/editors existed, in effect writer/editors, because it wasn’t like Roy read them before they went to the printer, or Stan. They got make-readies after they were printed, and if you fucked up, they would call you on the carpet. So I made it a policy not to fuck up. Simple, right?

Basically all I did was go to Roy on my first color series, Man-Wolf, and I said he’s like a copy of a copy. Marvel has Werewolf by Night, like the Wolf Man in the Universal movies, and now you’ve got a blurry xerox copy of a generic — he around runs menacing people. [FLATLY] Rrrrr. Where’s the future in that? I always say this because post-Star Wars, it’s easy to [assume that space fantasies were popular and the norm], but this was before Star Wars. I’m going to make him a science fantasy character and take him to outer space where he’s a god and do this and that, because that’s something you haven’t seen with a werewolf. And I was kinda worried that Roy would turn it thumbs down. He was like “Sounds cool, go for it.”

Beyond that, he never looked at a plot. He never had any input. Apparently I was okay because he never called me on the carpet. Don and I would write our books, then they would go and be lettered, then they’d be inked, then they would come back and we would editor on the books, then they would go to the printer. Then Stan and Roy and everybody else would see them. That’s the Marvel I came to.

And then over time it became more and more like DC. I worked at DC in ’75. But I used to regard them with disdain and do horrible things. Gee, I don’t know why they didn’t warm up to me over there! They were all these guys in ties and suit jackets. They were all sitting in offices with clear glass. It was like a menagerie of zoo animals. It was so not like Marvel. At Marvel there’d be shit going on, we’d be having fun, but we’d still be working. So whenever I would go up to DC, I was such a hippie, I would go up barefoot with my knees hanging out of my pants just because I hated how constrained it was. Eventually that become Marvel. Then it became all of these offices, with glass, everybody sitting inside. [LAUGHS] It was like Omigod! It became bureaucratic and then more and more layers, and therefore more separated areas.

When there were three of us [editing] 40 color books a month, there wasn’t time for that sort of shit. You couldn’t form your own little area, your own little clique. But over time, eventually it turned into DC as I see things. And there was a lot of crap from that anarchy. As much as I like Steve Gerber, and as good as Steve was – and we all did this — he’d write himself into a corner. Because you were trying to come up with a good cliffhanger. So you’d do whatever was best for the story and you would come up with a great cliffhanger. And then you had to do the next issue and figure out how in the hell you’d get out of that. There was a lot of desperation involved with it. Sometimes the stories never really were satisfying and they meandered and they lost their thread. But you would have never had Howard the Duck and lots of other stuff if you had some kind of regimented little menagerie of editors in their little glass-fronted offices. I love the anarchy period because I could run amok and do whatever I wanted. Later on when it became not fun, I transitioned back to publishing.

[End interview transcript]

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In Part Two, we get into actual G.I. Joe-related matters — the connection to Real American Hero in 1983 just as Kraft “transitioned back to publishing,” and then in Part Three, a hectic three months 13 years after that.

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G.I. Joe #35 by Mark Bright

In the numbered 30s, the monthly G.I. Joe comic was a scheduling challenge. The series was about to get a new regular artist, certain issues needed to advertise key toys based on the scheduling of particular TV commercials that hyped the comic, and of course, every issue needed to be approved by folks at Hasbro. Issues #35 and #36 had six artists between them, one of whom was Mark D. Bright.

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Remembering Denny O’Neil / interview

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G.I. Joe Yearbook #4 by Salmons

GIJoe Yearbook 4 pg 60 TEASE

Tony Salmons had a brief connection with G.I. Joe.

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Remembering Russ Heath

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Podcast – Department of Nerdly Affairs

Rob Paterson and Don Chisholm take a biweekly deep dive on their podcast, Department of Nerdly Affairs. Their topics range from Taiwanese comics to Chinese webnovels to hero pulps to indie RPGs. Recently I guested, and we three talked about G.I. Joe history, toys, comics, and animation. Thanks, gents! Listen here.

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G.I. Joe #44 cover by Zeck & Beatty

GI Joe 44 cover original art detail by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

Mike Zeck needs no introduction. Here’s a short one anyway. He’s best known for four things: a three-year run on “Captain America,” the 1986 “Punisher” miniseries that made Frank Castle into a real character and not a Spider-Man foil; and 40 or so unbelievable G.I. Joe covers. His career in comics is bigger than that, but you only asked for a short introduction.

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G.I. Joe #26 George Roussos original color guide art

GI Joe 26 pg14 COLOR GUIDE detail Continue reading

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G.I. Joe Yearbook #3 by Ron Wagner

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

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