As many of you have probably heard by now, Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox was named one of the best new Biography ebooks by BookAuthority!! 6th place!!
I am shocked that a first book written by a no-name about somebody most people have never heard of would make it on such a list. At the same time, I’m touched to learn that one of the reasons that my book made the list was because of all the nice things people have been saying about it. According to BookAuthority’s “Frequently asked questions:”
Books that were chosen to be featured on BookAuthority are ranked (#1, #2…) based on their star rating.
The star rating for each book is calculated using a sophisticated algorithm, taking into account signals such as:
✔ Public mentions of the book
✔ Recommendations, ratings and reviews
✔ Analyzing user behavior and sentiment
✔ Sales history and velocity
✔ Book age, information and editions
In other words, it is the passion and support of the comic community that is bringing Gardner Fox’s contributions to light. It has been an honor to bring his story into our cultural milieu once again, but you are the ones helping keep it there.
In thanks and celebration, I decided to put off the next entry of my Missing Works mini-series one more month in order to open up December’s blog post for an interview with all my supporters!! To do this, I took to social media and offered to let each supporter ask up to three questions. The results of this open approach are as follows:
1) What is your view on comics as an educational tool, especially for English language learners, delayed, or disabled readers?
The idea that comics somehow stunt readers’ abilities is well refuted at this point; however, this bias persists in some circles. My personal view is that any form of reading is a valid form of reading and comics, in particular, can be an excellent educational tool. Increasingly, comics are making their way into textbooks and I have seen more and more textbooks that are completely in comic book format. Japan has been ahead of the curve on this with many of their textbooks and manuals taking the form of manga. Another place in the world where I see this conversation coming up is in Mexico. I have heard multiple stories, some first hand, about people learning both English and Spanish from reading comics in their home towns.
The same reasons that language learners find comics particularly helpful are also at work for delayed readers. Comics can enable a reader to understand the major points being made even if they don’t understand all the words on the page because the images provide context clues. This not only increases reader comprehension but also makes it more likely they will finish the book and earn that sense of accomplishment that will keep them reading. This is in contrast to big blocks of text that can sometimes be hard to read and might even be overwhelming for some people dealing with visual impairments or other issues such as ADD.
That said, comics can actually pose increased difficulty in some circumstances. Thankfully, there ways to make comics more accessible to these groups. One example I recently saw was a program Lane Community College’s Center for Accessible Resources uses to isolate the parts of the page according to perceived importance and puts them in what the program assumes to be the most efficient reading order. This feels like one of the fields of study that is really picking up steam.
2) How do you think we should discuss societal changes when reading comics from different periods?
Sweeping uncomfortable parts of our history under the rug doesn’t help anybody. In fact, I think it is more problematic to pretend that we have always been “woke” so to speak. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” To erase or censor comics that shine a light on the injustices that were once normalized is also an erasure of the pain that was caused by those injustices. And that pain is important to process and understand in order for us to truly move forward. This is why I believe that contextualization is so key.
If it were up to me, I would leave older comics the way they are and include in-depth disclaimers to preface problematic material with relevant information that might help the reader understand the social climate that produced the work at hand and the ways in which our society has since changed. That way, a wider range of readers can be ready to join these kinds of discussions with a basic toolkit in hand.
3) I am combining a couple of questions here. One person wanted to know if Fox’s writing had an effect on Denny O’Neil and another wanted me to discuss the “1968 talent purge at DC Comics” in further detail.
Ah yes, the little talked about Writer’s Strike. This attempt at unionizing had several starting points with the primary being when it was discovered that some writers and artists were getting paid more than others. As news of this imbalance spread, a group of writers decided to try and negotiate for better treatment. This group included Gardner Fox, Bill Finger, France Herron, Otto Binder, and Arnold Drake. Further, as DC began reprinting stories without giving their creators royalties, John Broome felt like DC was flat out stealing from him. The members of the group believed their demands for medical insurance, fair pay, and a retirement plan were fair under the circumstances. Still, after what happened during the first attempt at unionization during the 50s, there was a strong fear that those involved would be blacklisted and kicked out of the company. Sadly, it was a common belief at the time that writers were interchangeable, so artists felt that risk more acutely. The only artists that participated in the cause at all were Mort Meskin, Carmine Infantino, and, thanks to Otto Binder, Kurt Schaffenberger.
As expected, DC president Jack Liebowitz did not approve of the group’s demands. Bob Haney did get the two dollar pay raise he wanted; however, the opportunities to see the results of that raise were diminished as writing assignments began to be passed over to other, mostly younger, writers. One of these writers was Dennis “Denny” O’Neil.
Knowing now that he was essentially a scab, O’Neil has said he isn’t sure what he would have done had he been aware of the full situation because he needed the money at the time. Regardless, he was a perfect choice to write the JLA title after Fox was “pushed out” because they both wrote about relevant social issues. Some of this may have come from their mutual Catholic backgrounds. I would have to do some digging to find out if O’Neil ever explicitly talked about Fox being any kind of influence on him, but one would have to assume that O’Neil was at least reading some of Fox’s work before he stepped into his shoes. After all, one must know the rules in order to break them in the right ways and that is arguably what he did during his Justice Leauge run. It might also be fair to assume O’Neil didn’t think Fox went far enough in his explorations of social issues because Fox was not one to forcefully rock the boat and believed that the story itself should always be at the forefront.
4) Can you ask Gardner Fox if he can come to my mother’s house this weekend to play cribbage?
Ummm….. Gardner Fox did love to play games… I suppose there are some ways I could try and reach out to him. I would need to know a lot more about your mother though…
5) Have you ever thought of doing a podcast of your own? I think a lot of us would listen.
I actually did have a podcast for a little while! My cohost was @Dodgy86inthemix and it was called Grappling with the Graphic. It focused on using comics as a way of talking about real-life issues. We even had @AaronMeyers on as a guest to talk about how he collects comics in a healthy manner. That episode, unfortunately, never aired and the podcast as a whole was eventually abandoned. As much as I loved the project, there is no hope for a continuation of it because I have since cut ties with Comic Crusaders. (If you really need to know about the fallout, you can read about it here: As a part of Sirens of Sequentials, I have popped on The Siren’s Call a couple of times, but podcasting has been put on a back burner for now. If that ever changes, I will most certainly let you all know.
6) Do you aspire to write a comic book, either independently produced or for an established publisher?
That’s a good question… I’ve written a few comic scripts and found it very enjoyable. Creative writing is something I hope to find the opportunity to do more of in the coming years… Just maybe I have been talking to an enthusiastic illustrator about this possibility, but it feels a little early to say more than that.
7) If you could write a Golden Age Character, who would it be?
It would be really fun to write a Hawkgirl series in the same style as the Lois Lane comics of today. Behind the scenes, both of these women are doing a lot of work! I would love to write about Hawkgirl uncovering the mystery and saving the day alongside Hawkman instead of the way their stories are usually depicted. While we do get a fair amount of that in those Golden Age stories, a simple shift in the main perspective might yield some intriguing results that could become a veritable playground.
8) Is there a Silver Age story arc that you would like to see revisited?
That’s a really hard question!! And one many comic creators have clearly taken seriously. One of my favorite examples of that is “The Secret Spell” by Gerry Conway, which delves more into the backstory of Zatanna and her father Zatara. When I met him at last year’s Rose City Comic Con, he described it as a fun one to write. Maybe a third entry into the Solomon Grundy saga told across All-Star #33 and Showcase #55?
9) What comics writer today (in your opinion, of course) best carries on the spirit of Gardner Fox?
This was something that has been brought up before. Working backward, @HaikuFictionDJU first pondered if Gardner Fox was the Neil Gaiman of the Golden Age. I hadn’t considered it before, but, as I stated then, there are a fair amount of similarities. They both write in a wide range of genres, use archaic and mythological touchstones, and produce a mix of novels and comics. Surprisingly, @neilhimself actually responded to my tweet detailing this comparison! Gaiman stated, “Well Gardner Fox was definitely one of the first writers to really impinge on me. A JLA/JSA crossover when I was 6…” (6:09 PM · Apr 1, 2019). Sounds like he is carrying on the spirit of Gardner Fox to me!
10) Which is heaven on Earth to taste, Brownie batter, Yellow Cake batter or the corn syrup from a Mego Elastic Hulk?
The trickster is revealed!! If Mr. Cimino here wants to taste the goo that comes out of one of his prized Mego Elastic Hulks, that’s his choice. I’m going to go with Brownie batter myself. In fact, I think I am going to bring that heaven down to Earth when I get done with this here soon…
11) For this last question, I am once again combining a few submissions because they seem to be pushing for a similar response: who will be the subject for my next biography?!?
Bill Schelly’s death impacted me in some pretty big ways. I cite him three times in Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox! Before his death, I was at a point where I wasn’t sure I really wanted to take on such a large project again, but then it felt like a void opened up in front of me. I kept thinking about all the comic greats he could have written about and how those greats might not have their stories told now… After they have given us so much, I couldn’t just walk away from them. So, I started putting together a list.
People like Bill Finger have already gotten a major spotlight put on them and I would rather put my time and attention toward those who need it more. In response to who the next-most-worthy “Forgotten All Star” might be, if twitter buzz is any kind of indicator, my answer is Roy Thomas! I really can’t say more than that…
After searching my heart, I realized I already knew who I wanted to put in the spotlight: the father of comic fandom himself: Jerry Bails.
When looking at who would be the most important figure to bring into today’s discussions, Jerry Bails becomes an obvious choice for me. Without his work, comic scholarship as we know it might not even exist. Several of his projects were ahead of his time and they made it possible for others to follow his path and do academic work on comics as well. Not only do I see this as an opportunity to break down the boundaries between comic fandom and scholarship, but I have also read a lot of his personal letters already and I feel the kind of emotional attachment to him that makes me want to spend the time needed to write a book on the little known luminary.
As we move into this next year, I will continue to focus on Gardner Fox, but I will also be digging into research mode as I work to share the story of Jerry Bails now too. Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. I hope we will be on this journey together for a long time to come ❤️
Extra shout outs and thanks go out to @mschwach, @Elastic_Hulk, @spiderbob007, @traitken, and @msnyds1 for providing me the meaty questions to dig into.