Guest Post from Author Jon Morris: When Comic Book Authors Appear In Their Own Books

Today we have a GUEST POST from author Jon Morris, author of The Legion of Regrettable Superheroes!

 

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When Comic Book Authors Appear In Their Own Books …

Superhero comics are known for playing fast and loose with physics, reason, and believability. But that kind of loosey-goosey storytelling also allows for some genuine surprises. With every major city, as far as these comics were concerned, packed to the rafters with superheroes, it only seemed to make sense that they and their creators might somehow meet – right in the pages of the comic!

Although they didn’t start the trend – that appears to have been launched by cartoonist Sheldon Mayer in an early issue of The Flash – Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are the faces most associated with the motif. Their frequent appearances within the pages of The Fantastic Four – the most famous collaboration between the two – as well as other books delighted readers and encouraged other creators to set foot in their own universes.

Hundreds – if not thousands – of creators have stepped into the four-color world of comics, but here’s a handful of genuine stand-outs…

Grant Morrison-Grant Morrison (Animal Man vol.1 No.26)
Although he was far from the first creator to wander into the pages of the very comic he was writing, he’s possibly the one contemporary writer most associated with Grant Morrison-5the theme. In fact, Morrison himself coined the term most commonly used to describe the phenomenon of a creator being a character within his own story – he described it as the act of donning a “fiction suit.”

His groundbreaking run on Animal Man – a little-known character with a camp reputation, prior to Morrison’s metatextual revivial – not only relaunched the character’s career, but his own. In the final issue of his run on the book, he made an appearance for the benefit of saying goodbye to his protagonist and to thank the many fans the book had accrued.

Of course, becoming a character in a superhero universe cuts both ways. Following Morrison’s farewell to Animal Man, writer John Ostrander recruited Morrison, in the form of an ill-fated character named “The Writer,” to the lineup of his team of nihilistic ne’er-do’wells, the Suicide Squad. Sad to say, The Writer received a fatal plot hole early in his sole appearance.

Cary Bates-1Cary Bates (Justice League of America vol.1 No.123)
The annual team-ups between the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America were a hotly anticipated occasion for dedicated comics fans. Uniting the original superheroes of DC Comics’ Golden Age and their successors from the Silver Age always promised big, crowd-pleasing events.Cary Bates-2

Naturally, this led to the obvious problem – how do you top last year’s adventure? The combined might of the JSA and JLA had faced off against crooks from both worlds, evil duplicates from other dimensions, foes from the future, and other major bad guys from the darkest corners of the DC Universe. So when it fell to writer Cary Bates to create a new, exciting enemy to face the greatest heroes of two worlds, he naturally chose – himself!

Bates and other members of the DC editorial office had occasionally appeared in their own comics before, a trick made possible by resigning them (and all of us) to the non-super-powered Earth-Prime. Using a device left behind by the visiting Flash, Bates and his writing partner Elliot S.Maggin cross the dimensional barrier, gaining tremendous super-powers along the way. Decked out in a garish costume and recruiting classic DC villains to his side, Bates ensured that he’d write a crossover that was genuinely different than any that had come before.

John Byrne (Fantastic Four vol.1 No.262)
Byrne et al - 1

Byrne-1Like Cary Bates, author/artist John Byrne made a regular habit of appearing in his own comics. In fact, he was effectively a supporting character in his fourth-wall-busting run of The Sensational She-Hulk. Prior to that, though, he was inheritor to the most famous creator appearances in comics – Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s frequent appearances in the pages of The Fantastic Four.

Helming the writing and art chores on a still-celebrated run on the book, Byrne inserted himself into what was possibly the most momentous event he’d yet delivered; The Trial of Reed Richards.

Richards – the eponymous Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four – was facing judgement for the apparent crime of saving the life of world-eating alien being Galactus, and therefore dooming thousands of inhabited planets. As the Fantastic Four’s official chronicler – both within the context of the story and without – Byrne finds himself summoned by the practically omnipotent alien Watcher to observe and report on the proceedings. Not to spoil the conclusion, but Mister Fantastic goes free on all counts. Probably didn’t hurt to have the writer standing nearby.

Byrne-2John Byrne again, with Roger Stern, Ann Nocenti and Ron Wilson (The Thing vol.1 No.7)
Speaking of John Byrne, the appearance-happy creator inserted himself into a storyline release during Maervel’s tongue-in-cheek “Assistant Editor’s Month” event, where the rules of storytelling were deliberately suspended.

In this issue, rock-bedecked superhero The Thing faces off against the absurd “Goody Two-Shoes,” a man dressed like a hell-raising Hummel figurine and packing a pair of bombastic boots. Their struggle is fairly convincing, with the Thing finding himself battered, beaten, and almost defeated by the sinister stomper – until the big reveal. It turns out the story in question was the in-universe version of that fight, puffed up so as to make a better story, and the Thing had actually beaten Goody Two-Shoes handily (pun intended).

One reader who remained unpleased was Ben Grimm, The Ever-Loving Blue-Eyed Thing, himself! Storming down to the offices of Marvel Comics, the Thing confronts artist Ron Wilson, writer John Byrne and assistant editor Ann Nocenti about the fabricated adventure which portrayed him almost losing a battle against a piker. These three (Stern, not a part of the creative team, got away with a warning) hold the honor of being the few members of the Marvel offices to have been, in canon, knocked around by one of their own superheroes. The violence which earned them that accolade was, thankfully, entirely off-panel.

Swan and Donenfeld-1Curt Swan and Harry Donenfeld (Superman vol.1 No.145)
Throughout the Sixties, Marvel Comics had built a brand on the personalities of their major players. The bombastic Stan Lee, always happy to be promoting, peppered his “Soapbox” columns in the back pages of the books with the latest antics and accolades of the legendary Marvel Bullpen.

By contrast, at the time, DC Comics’ creators worked in relative obscurity. Despite an occasional mention in the letters pages, creators didn’t receive printed credits on the stories they wrote, and many of the contributions of assorted writers (in particular) remained opaque to the readers.

So it was a surprise to see longtime Superman artist Curt Swan – whose depictions of the Man of Steel would go on to define the character for thirty years – and the company’s then-publisher Harry Donenfeld show up in the pages of the very comic which Swan drew. Then again, the story in question was an absurd April Fool’s Day story which saw Superman’s world turned upside-down. Friends were enemies, enemies were allies, and nothing made a lick of sense. You’d practically not even notice the two men smiling approvingly from the corner of a single scene …

Robert Kanigher (Wonder Woman vol.1 No.158)
Kanigher-1Editors sometimes have the unhappiest jobs in comics. Between turning away talent, shooting down untenable ideas, and occasionally having to shut down promising titles, it can be an unforgiving job. But it was much harder of writer/editor Robert Kanigher when it fell to him to fire the entire supporting cast of Wonder Woman’s ongoing title!

Kanigher had written and edited Wonder Woman, and fans were somewhat uneasy with the alliance. Kanigher had been better known for his very well-received war stories, and for having created a popular second-stringer heroine named The Black Canary, but his Wonder Woman stories had put the book into dire straits with its fans.

The solution? It involved a return to form, and that meant effectively firing the comics’ supporting cast. Wonder Woman’s bizarre paramours Bird-Boy, Bird-Man, Mer-Boy and Manno were brought into Kanigher’s office alongside weird gelatinous foe The Glop and Wonder Woman’s teenage and infant selves (both stars of their own adventure series). It was there he delivered the unhappy news that every one of these weirdos was out of a job, while Wonder Woman would be returned to her roots by the new creative team of Mike Sekowsky and Ross Andru – both of whom also appear in this story, bowing and kow-towing to the all-powerful editor.

About the Book

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The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History by Jon Morris

Release Date: 2017-03-28
Published by: Quirk Books
Format: Hardcover
Genre:  Comics
For Ages:  10+

Meet the lesser of all evils!

Every hero needs a villain. But not all villains are dangerous—some are incompetent, comical, or just . . . weird. In his follow-up to The League of Regrettable Superheroes, author Jon Morris presents over a hundred of the strangest, most stupefying supervillains to ever see print in comics. Meet D-list rogues like Brickbat (choice of weapon: poisonous bricks), Robbing Hood (steals from the poor to give to the rich), Swarm (a crook made of bees; Nazi bees), and many more.

Drawing on the entire history of the medium, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains affectionately and hilariously profiles oddball criminals from the history of comics.

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About Jon

Morris Jon_K Pitroff_edited

Jon Morris is a cartoonist, graphic designer, and author of The League of Regrettable Superheroes (Quirk Books, 2015).

 Since the late 1990s, he’s operated the blog Gone & Forgotten, an irreverent look at the lowliest and most unfortunate stories and characters that comic books have offered. He lives in Seattle.

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