It has been my pleasure to chat with Danny Fingeroth recently. Danny has taught comics writing in many places, including at an art school in Milan. Danny is a longtime Bob Dylan fan and will be doing presentations about the Nobel Prize Winner at this spring's Bob Dylan Conference in Tulsa. This is all in addition to his wealth of experience as a writer and editor for Marvel Comics (where he ran the Spider-Man comics line, including the issue that introduced Spider-Man's symbiote costume) and having written numerous fascinating books about the comic industry.
Note: Above photo by Edward Liu.
Paul: Could you please describe how your relationship with comics began? What were the very first comic you remember enjoying? Also how old might you have been, and where were they from?
Danny: When I was a kid, we got the New York Post (from the Dorothy Schiff era—pre-Murdoch), which had daily comics and color Sunday comics, which may have actually been in their Saturday editions. Less frequently, I’d see the comics in the New York Daily News, including Dick Tracy and Dondi. Sequential art seemed to always be around and I enjoyed reading the comics, having them read to me before I could read them on my own. I was a fan of Popeye cartoons, and I think my parents then got me a subscription to Popeye comics. My cousin Steve gave me my first superhero comics—probably Adventure Comics featuring Superboy. By the time I was around five or six, I was reading much of the DC superhero line, as well as some humour comics, some Archie, even some Millie the Model, which they had at my barber shop. This was before there were comics shops, so my comics were purchased at newsstands and candy stores. (Popeye was the only comics subscription I had.)
Paul: Can you say how you approached making working within the comics industry a career?
Danny: I have been involved in creative things since I was a kid and studied filmmaking in college. When I graduated I wasn’t sure where and how I would use that training. As a native New Yorker, I thought that working in comics (which, like film, uses words and images to tell stories) might be interesting, especially since I was a lifelong lover of the comics medium. I was able to arrange for an informational tour of the Marvel offices, and that eventually led to me being hired as Larry Lieber’s assistant editor in the company’s British Department, which, as the name suggests, prepared material—mostly reprint, but some new—for publication in weekly, black-and-white comics in the UK. While many staffers and freelancers at Marvel came from the ranks of capital-F Fandom, many others were people whose life paths had, for whatever reasons, brought them to the Marvel offices. I was part of the latter group, which included people like Ann Nocenti and Howard Mackie.
Danny: It was probably new recap splash pages for Marvel’s British weeklies, and also promotional and cover copy I did for that line, all of that stuff was uncredited. My first published story with my name on it was a two-part Avengers tale I co-wrote. It was kind of surreal, seeing my name credited on the splash pages of real Marvel comic books. The most magical moments from the beginning of my career to the present day are when the pencilled artwork for something I’d worked on, as writer or editor, arrives. You have an idea in your imagination of what a given panel/page/story you’ve described in words might look like, but when you open the envelope—or download the file—containing the art, that’s the moment when words become visually realised and, if you’re lucky, take your breath away.
Paul: Moving on from comics you have also written a number of books. I'd like to ask about The Stan Lee Universe and A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee. In writing those did you get to know the gentleman well at all?
Danny: I did two lengthy interviews with him for the book that I think went beyond the standard Stan-interviews. (I’m considering publishing the full versions at some point.) But even when he was being frank, I think there was a hesitancy in him to fully reveal himself. I may have gotten a look at Stan without hype once or twice over the years, which was fascinating. Of course, the construct that was the public Stan Lee was also fascinating. It may seem obvious, but one difference between Stan privately and Stan onstage was simply that everything he said onstage was bombastic and theatrical, whereas, in private, he was much quieter and, more significantly, could get pretty reflective. Interestingly, the public might have gotten their closest glimpse of the “real” Stan in the last phase of his convention appearances. (At that point, I was no longer serving as his moderator.) That era is controversial because people were justifiably concerned about whether shlepping him around to conventions was in the best interests of a man in his mid-nineties. Overall, it wasn’t. But I do think, even then, he did genuinely enjoy sitting on a stage and answering questions from fans, speaking conversationally with them (still very funny), and allowing the public a glimpse of what hanging around with Stan Lee might really be like. In a way, I’d say that I also got to know something of the “real” Stan when, in researching the biography, I went back and reread his 1960's letters page responses and bullpen bulletins (before they became standardised). He revealed more of himself in those things than I realised when reading them as a kid.
Danny: I do enjoy them. I actually spent four years (2013-2017) working with the Wizard World convention chain, inventing, organising and moderating panels for them. They gave me pretty much free rein to do whatever offbeat and strange panels I wanted (as well as more conventional spotlights, how-to’s etc). For instance, I did a “Baseball and Comics” panel with the curator of the Louisville Slugger Museum. And I brought indy legend Ben Katchor to a mainstream Wizard World show, where he and the amazing Dean Haspiel did a panel of readings from their work. I was Stan Lee’s regular moderator when he did Wizard shows. At some 4-day shows (Philly, Chicago, etc), I would do 15 or 16 panels. It was a fun marathon. Like being a vaudevillian.
Note: Danny Fingeroth in conversation with Harvey Pekar in 2009 at the YIVO Institute/Center for Jewish History in NYC. [Photo by Gary Dunaier]
Danny: I’ve probably done more than 500 convention and other panels over the years. Maybe closer to 1000 by this point. I’m planning to be at San Diego Con this year, and I’ll actually be doing a comics panel (X-Men at 60) at something called Switchyard, which is not a comics con, but a general pop culture con, the week right after Memorial Day. Art Spiegelman and Maia Kobabe will be guests. It’s connected to the Bob Dylan 2023 Conference, where I’ll also be on a few panels, including doing a “Dylan and Comics” presentation.
Note: Above, Danny Fingeroth (right) moderates a panel of (left to right) Jerry Robinson, Irwin Hasen and Jules Feiffer at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in 2011. [Photo by Gary Dunaier]
Danny: Don’t forget, I worked at Marvel Comics for 18 years, and, in the years since, in numerous comics-related companies, venues, and situations, so I met many comics pros before I ever attended a con professionally. I hadn’t attended many before I got into the business, so hadn’t met many pros before that. I recall being in general starstruck meeting and working with childhood idols. Meeting Jack Kirby was a memorable experience, a definite moment of being starstruck. When I first came to Marvel, he was doing The Eternals, and Captain America, etc. But he was living on the west coast and I didn’t have any reason to interact with him. Then he left the company and all that unpleasantness between him and Marvel erupted, so I certainly had no professional reason to be in touch with him.
Paul: There's a daft question I like to ask anyone that has worked on or enjoys superhero comics. If you could have one superpower, or the abilities of one character, what power or whose abilities would you chose?
Paul: Can I ask what you are up to these days? What does the future hold for Danny Fingeroth?
Here's a link re the Dylan conference: https://dylan.utulsa.edu/world-of-dylan-23-june-1/. I'm also doing a short "Dylan and Comics" presentation during the conference.And I'm doing a "Mutant as Metaphor: The X-Men at 60 panel" at Switchyard. None are solo panels: All with brilliant co-panelists.