Rude Chapbooks 09.30.11 | EXTRA: Five Questions for Steve Englehart

In a comics career dating from the early ’70s, Steve Englehart has written titles as diversified as Vampirella and Fantastic Four, Phantom of Fear City and Justice League of America. Here he pauses to chat briefly with “Rude Chapbooks.”


All things considered, Steve Englehart enjoyed a banner summer. On the solstice itself, Tor, that longtime bastion of quality fantasy and science fiction, released his latest novel, The Plain Man1, in hardcover. Then, seven weeks later, Alter Ego #103 arrived with an interview of him by Richard Arndt—25 whopping pages in Roy Thomas’ storied fanzine. Finally, last week, Arndt published a nine-page coda (dealing with his subject’s stint at DC) in Back Issue #51.
Englehart, of course, merits such attention. Among many other feats, his comics C.V. includes defining runs on Captain America and Dr. Strange at Marvel and Detective Comics at DC. At the former, moreover, he co-created a character named Shang-Chi (d.b.a. Master of Kung Fu), and for Marvel’s Epic imprint, Englehart’s Coyote numbered among the first creator-owned titles in the mainstream. Further, on a lark during the summer of ’73 with the work subsequently compiled as Avengers/Defenders War2, Englehart inadvertently may have midwifed the modern comics “event”—although your cranky columnist in no way holds him accountable for subsequent industry idiocy in that line.
Englehart made an impression immediately. Never once, from the start, did he condescend to his readers, trusting them to follow wherever he might lead. One of his earliest scripts, for instance, opened with quotations from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, while a second nonchalantly referenced Carlos Castaneda and a third dropped the arcane Judeo-Christian term tetragrammaton. In short, by no means typical funnybook fare.
That said, by e-mail recently, Englehart graciously broke from work on his next novel (tentatively titled The Arena Man) to answer a quick quintet of questions:
Rude Chapbooks: In light of Richard Arndt’s Alter Ego/Back Issue career retrospective, how do you feel about your time in the comics industry?
Steve Englehart: I’m pretty satisfied with what I accomplished in comics as it stands. I think if I were writing comics today, I would hate the bureaucracy, but there was much less of it when I did my stint so I really don’t have any great dislike.
Rude Chapbooks: If you could borrow a time machine from Kang the Conqueror and visit your ’70s self, just then entering the industry, what advice would you provide to “Stainless Steve” as most salient?
Steve Englehart: Stop doing work for hire. But I don’t know if I’d have listened…
Rude Chapbooks: Compared to novels, games, and other forms wherein you’ve worked during your career, what feature specific to writing comics did you most enjoy—and why?
Steve Englehart: Oh, I loved the artwork. Every script I wrote, I saw in my head how it could be drawn—so I knew it would work—but I also knew it would come back to me with someone’s artistic vision of it, and that was always exciting to me. Obviously, games et al. had art involved, but not as much of it, so closely aligned with the story, as comics.
Rude Chapbooks: The Plain Man prominently featured as supporting players Coyote and Scorpio Rose, whose adventures Image compiled a few years ago. To what extent have you considered continuing those adventures in comics or entertained offers to do so?
Steve Englehart: It rather belatedly occurred to me that characters I own are characters I own whether I’m doing comics or not. And with novels, I can use them with a lot more depth and detail, so why not keep them alive in my current endeavors? I have no problem with them spinning off, back into comics, but I’m really not thinking about comics at all right now. That said, each novel takes place one to two years after the previous one, and I’m already referencing events that aren’t in the novels, so I could see graphic albums to cover some of those, but I imagine it would have to be someone else wanting to take that route.
Rude Chapbooks: Like most comics creators, over time, you worked on various projects that either never came to term or died a-birthing—like The Prisoner, Marvel’s interpretation of the British TV show teaming you and the late, great Gil Kane. From among such projects, at whatever stage of development and abandonment, about which one in particular do you recall feeling the most regret?
Steve Englehart: Off the top of my head, I most regret getting pushed off West Coast Avengers3. There are two reasons: One, I was just getting into about a year’s worth of interesting story, with Hawkeye and Mockingbird splitting the Avengers down the middle (with Mocky being a character I really liked). And two, it marked the end of the Marvel Age, or the Bronze Age, as you prefer. Pushing me out was the first move out of several in Marvel’s transformation from the House of Ideas to a cash cow for corporations, which led to their bankruptcy, which led to their current state of decompressed stories and miniscule sales—and as a guy who loved what they were as a fan before he was a pro, that’s very regrettable.
1. The Plain Man constitutes the third adventure of immortal alchemist Max August, a former rock DJ gone John Dee. Behind a cover by Richard Corben, the series debuted in 1981 with The Point Man, a Dell mass-market offering. Last year, Tor (at last!) reprinted it in trade paperback and followed it with a first hardback sequel, The Long Man, bearing a cover blurb from none other than Michael Chabon—he of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay fame.
2. Englehart has always preferred the noun clash—a blissfully civilized predilection in these bellicose times. In any event, the gonzo, groundbreaking meeting of the two teams commenced in The Avengers #115 (first series), led to The Defenders #8 (also first series), and, in the coming months, braided between the two titles before climaxing in The Avengers #118 and concluding in The Defenders #11. Englehart scripted everything, with Bob Brown and Sal Buscema as pencillers.
3. Between the series itself and annuals, Englehart wrote three and a half dozen adventurous issues starring this mid-’80s superteam, which springboarded from a four-issue miniseries scripted by Roger Stern. Amusingly, only Christos Gage’s current conception of the character in Avengers Academy has ever rivaled Englehart’s WCA take on Dr. Henry Pym, an ur–“Marvel Age” hero to which Englehart, on his website, has admitted no affinity whatsoever. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Alter Ego #103, courtesy of TwoMorrows Publishing.


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