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Don McGregor Biographical Interview by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview comic writer Don McGregor on his road to Black Panther, discussing his childhood, jobs out of high school, his first experience with social justice at a Hopalong Cassidy fan meeting, Phil Seuling Comic Convention, introducing himself to Jim Steranko in 1969, heckling Jim Warren into a job, meeting collaborator Billy Graham, and writing the first interracial kiss in newsstand comics. Don also discusses the comics and book writers and artists that influenced his writing as a kid in this kick-off episode including Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, Jim Steranko, and Reed Crandall. He also discusses Black Panther fighting the KKK, antagonism with editorial, Killraven, Archie Goodwin & Jim Shooter, the personal issues he was dealing with in the middle to later 1970s that affected his writing output, writing Michael Golden’s first Marvel work, Dagger, and Sabre with Eclipse, working with Dean Mullaney, Ragamuffins, working at DC Comics with Nathaniel Dusk, Julius Schwartz, Dragonflame with David Anthony Kraft, work for hire with Marvel, Black Panther’s Quest for Marvel Comics Presents, Detectives Inc sequel with Gene Colan, the Detectives Inc Movie, Topps, Zorro, Dracula, Jurassic Park, Golden Eye, Lady Rawhide, Tom Yeates, Ultimate Ragamuffins and beyond!

🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians, Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.

Don McGregor Biographical Interview 2019 Part-1
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Don McGregor
00:01:23 My first exposure to comics | Hopalong Cassidy 65
00:04:30 Hopalong Cassidy 1951 | William Lawrence Boyd
00:05:54 Why William Boyd is one of my heroes?
00:07:04 My childhood comics | Dick Tracy, Chester Gould
00:10:00 Dick Tracy, Hopalong Cassidy, Terry and The Pirates
00:11:22 Dick Tracy & Hopalong Cassidy storytelling
00:13:28 First time you wrote a letter to comics editor
00:14:12 Phil Seuling Comic Convention, 1969 | Jim Steranko
00:17:32 When I went to work at Marvel Comics
00:18:33 Beginnings of you as a writer
00:20:41 Evan Hunter(Ed McBain)
00:24:03 Stirling Silliphant
00:24:56 Fantastic Four letters | Kirby and Stan Lee
00:26:01 Diana Rigg – The Avengers
00:27:03 Alex Simmons and me
00:31:52 Three Dimension, Assassin Street | 1st Detectives Incorporate
00:33:05 Phil Seuling Comic Convention 1970 | Jim Warren
00:35:23 Heckling Jim Warren convention in New York
00:38:55 Meeting Billy Graham
00:40:49 Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Louise Simonson
00:42:00 Vaughan bidet painting | Archie Goodwin
00:45:18 Creepy Magazine cover, Tom Sutton
00:47:34 Interracial Kiss in Warren’s Creepy 43, 1972
00:49:41 Richard Corben, Reed Leonard Crandall, Milton Kennedy
00:51:33 Were you a fan of the EC Comics?
00:52:35 Working at Marvel, 1972 | Reading the reprint books
00:59:13 Did you met the people that did your stuff?
01:00:02 Vampirella, Howard Chaykin Anthology book
01:01:48 Who was editor-in-chief, 1972?
01:02:38 Was there any competition among writers at Marvel?
01:04:48 Rich Buckler
01:08:13 Jungle Action 6
01:09:07 Black Panther, Avengers, Fantastic Four
01:12:56 Kirby’s New Gods, Black Panther
01:16:36 Creation of Killmonger
01:19:04 Problem that came with the Black Panther is
01:19:38 Rich Buckler, Gill Kane, Billy Graham
01:22:50 If you’re a black artist
01:24:55 Write to the strengths of artists
01:28:43 Venom’s character from the beginning?
01:30:58 Venom being gay? | Killraven
01:36:33 Interracial kiss, it would just be a shame if DC were to do it before Marvel
01:38:35 Was you influenced by EC Comics while doing Panther rage characters?
01:44:00 Dwayne McDuffie about Jungle Action & Panthers rage | How important it
was
01:48:00 Robert Culp influenced me
01:50:20 The bird and the sprite because…
01:51:59 John Warner
01:53:57 You instilled a love of comics in me
01:54:34 People that I worked with
01:55:08 Gene Collin | Killraven
01:59:10 Billy Graham
02:00:12 Wrapping Up

Don McGregor Biographical Interview 2021 Part-2
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Intro
00:01:00 Black Panther vs the Klan
00:11:55 Archie Goodwin
00:12:25 Killraven
00:20:48 Less Work at Marvel 1976
00:22:20 Power Man
00:24:28 Quentin Chase – Personal Divorce
00:26:00 Christmas 1977 No Money
00:32:23 Radio Drama Series Night Figure
00:35:13 Filming Fight scenes
00:35:45 Wrote Michael Golden’s First Published Comic
00:38:36 Vampire Tales
00:42:05 Hodiah Twist – Copyright Law 1978
01:01:11 Pitching Dagger to Marvel then Sabre to Eclipse
01:08:27 Sabre with Gulacy vs Eisner
01:13:30 Detectives Inc with Marshall Rogers
01:16:50 Ragamuffins for Eclipse
01:23:14 Final days of Warren
01:27:54 DC Comics – Nathaniel Dusk
01:32:23 Julius Schwartz
01:36:34 David Anthony Kraft & Dragonflame
01:44:31 Detectives Inc with Gene Colan
01:48:06 Panther’s Quest Marvel Comics Presents
02:10:15 Panther’s Prey 1991
02:17:43 Lone Ranger for Topps
02:19:19 Spider-Man 27 Gun Story
02:27:43 Dracula vs Zorro & other licenses
02:35:57 James Bond GoldenEye
02:39:04 Lady Rawhide
02:43:05 Conclusion

#DonMcGregor #BlackPanther #Killmonger #JungleAction #InterracialKiss
#HopalongCassidy #ComicBookHistorians #CBHInterviews
#ComicHistorianInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH

Alex:             Welcome again to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Today we have one of our comic book heroes, famous writer, Don McGregor. Don, Thanks so much for joining us today.

McGregor:   Hi guys, how you doing? Thank you for calling.

Jim:              I was 12 when Jungle Action came out. And I can’t tell you how excited I am to do this interview.

McGregor:   Thank you.

Jim:              Your work really, really was important. You and Steve Gerber were super important to me at that early age. So, I just wanted to start by saying, thank you.

McGregor:   Well, thank you… I recently was at a convention not too long ago, and a woman came up to me to get one of the Black Panther, Panther vs the Klan books, the one with T’Challa latched to the burning cross. And said she was six years old when she read it. I said, “What did you think of that when you saw it?” I can’t even imagine, at six years old, how would I reacted to that comic, if I saw it at that age. It’s just amazing to me that some of the people who had seen these are very, very young.

Jim:              I was 12 to 14, for Panther’s Rage, that was like my prime…

McGregor:   Right… Yeah.

Jim:              Let’s go to your early days. You were born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1945. What were your circumstances? Were your parents workers? What did they do? That kind of… Just early background stuff.

McGregor:   All you need to do is read Ragamuffins, and it’s all there.

Jim:              Okay.

[chuckles]    

McGregor:   Because that’s all based, and in fact I could take you… The places what Gene (Colan) has drawn in there, they’re all based on places and photographs. A lot of it actually, all these years later, still exist. When Li’l Randy is going up Main Street, and he climbs up in a cement wall, he’s pretending to be a cowboy. He’s leaping over a gap in the wall, that leads up to where the person’s house is. And he’s pretending it’s a canyon, he’s leaping his horse over and everything.

All of that is still there. The firehouse, I don’t think the store where I actually first saw comics is still there.

McGregor:   But that story, actually is exactly how I first saw comic books. My mom would cross me across Main Street to go to Kindergarten. And I was supposed to stay. I wasn’t supposed to go back across Main Street. Eventually, if you’ve read Ragamuffins, you’d know I do and I get hit by a truck, But that’s another story [chuckle] entirely. But then again, guys, it’s always another story.

But then anyhow, the first time went up that street, and I was supposed to stay, just on the sidewalk. There was a side street where… and I believe the store was called the Charlie Murray’s. And when I went into that store, in those days, they used to have comics up on wires up on the ceiling. And they were hung by metal clips. And they actually, they would stream all around the entire… Like banners, all around the ceiling. The store owner could move the comics, he had a hook that he could grab the wire mesh and pull the comics around until you got to the book, or magazine… but I think it was all comics. I don’t think there was any magazines there. Those were all comics… And I just remember, that was just love at first sight,       

Alex:             Oh, nice.

McGregor:   I’m five years old, all those colors, all those amazing stuff, and so it probably was my first exposure to comics. The first comic I ever got, I must have been five or six years old… I know it was Hopalong Cassidy #66. And there was nothing I loved more than Hopalong Cassidy, when I was a kid.

And still like I… I got to meet his wife, in later years of being involved in doing conventions with that, Hopalong Cassidy and such. Just, it’s going to be hard for you to imagine the Hopalong Cassidy was as big as Star Wars.

When the Hopalong Cassidy newspaper comic strip premiered open in the Daily News, it was February of 1951, and over a quarter of a million people line 42nd Street.

Alex:             Wow.

McGregor:   And he was standing outside, just dressed in this Hoppy outfit. His wife Grace was watching from the windows inside the Daily News.

[00:05:01]

And he was out there from 10 in the morning till midnight, in the cold. They hadn’t expected those kind of crowd to appear. And he did not leave, and he came up… They had to bring in firemen… Other people that be… Because they needed security. They didn’t have enough security, and they didn’t expect this to go on that way. And he stayed out until midnight. He was out there from 10 in the morning till midnight.

McGregor:   When he came in, Grace said to him, “How could you do that?” He said, “If they can come out to see me, standing in the cold, I could stand there to shake their hand and thank them.” And that’s the kind of guy that William Boyd was.

Alex:             Wow, nice,

McGregor:   And I never told this story before, I know it’s getting a little side-tracked, and I’ll get back to the comics in a minute. But just to give you an idea why William Boyd is like one of my heroes.

In 1951, William Boyd goes to, I think he’s in Alabama. Pretty sure it’s Alabama. Grace told me this story. He was one of the first people to really merchandise a character. I don’t know whether who it was, Gimbal’s or it was Macy’s, they’re having big showcase there. And everybody was lining up and when Bill get’s there, the lines where set up. You see all these white people in one line and then you see black people in another line. And William Boyd says to manager of the store, “What’s going on here?”

And the manager says, “Well, we’re going to let the white people go in, and then we’ll let the coloreds go in. And William Boyd says, “It’s first come, first served, or I’m leaving. I’m not staying here.” And he broke the race barrier line in 1951 in Alabama. He’s still my hero.

Jim:              Wow, that’s great.

McGregor:   That story told, you asked about the comic, the reason I brought it up is… I got my first allowance; I got a dime for the week. My dad gives me a dime, and a kiss in the morning. As I go up to school, I stop of at Charlie Murray’s, there’s a Hopalong Cassidy comic. And it’s a Hopalong Cassidy #65, and I said,”Gahh, let me have that.” And he takes the thing down from the rack and I give him my dime.

When my dad comes home, my dad says, “Well, what’d you do with your allowance?” And I says, “Hey, look dad, I got a comic book.” And he goes, “Comic book?  You spent your whole allowance on a comic book?”

So, the next week, I get my second dime, and I go… I walk back up and they must have got next month’s Hopalong Cassidy in. Well, you know, I have to have that. Pulled it down from the rack and no, I got my second Hopalong Cassidy. And when my dad comes home that night, and he goes, “So, what did you get with your allowance this week?”

“I got another comic, dad.” I think I lost my allowance for a couple of months then. Then when I started writing comics, I said, “I am writing them now, dad. What are you going to do now?”

[chuckles]

But nobody ever stopped me really, from reading the comics. Because I had a comics collection from… I don’t remember a time, before that, that I didn’t. People didn’t read the comics to me, so somehow, obviously, I could read enough of those comics to get the story. I don’t really recall, because I just always read them. I don’t remember a time… To be honest, I can’t remember a time I can’t read. I know my mom tells me that I always go up to my grandmother’s house. I could go and pick out the records when I was three or four years old, that I wanted to play.

I don’t know if I could read, the thing is, I don’t have a memory of it, I know what she told me. And as with the comics, I do remember… I think it was the measles, that if you get the measles back in those days, they thought you couldn’t read. And one of the comics I read… Because I had a subscription, I’m sure of that. Obviously, I got to read comics. I had a subscription to Dick Tracy from Harvey Comics, by the time I’m seven, or eight. I don’t really remember exactly. But I know it’s before Harvey’s even studied the sense of the Dick Tracy’s scripts.

 

 

And I remember getting the measles and my mom having to read Dick Tracy to me. And it’s just not the same, having Dick Tracy read to you as opposed to reading it yourself. That was during Chester Gould’s heyday as a storyteller. He’s just incredible… [inaudible]

Alex:             Yeah, he is. You were a fan of his crime stories, basically, right?

McGregor:   Well, yeah, and westerns. I think I really like the westerns then and I really like the privates eyes a lot, but the Dick Tracy stuff, I liked a lot. I still do.

Alex:             Oh, that’s cool.

McGregor:   That’s stuff from 1948 to 1952, I can remember going up to my grandfather’s place, and remember, I was growing up in the State of Rhode Island.

[00:10:11]

My grandfather would get The Sunday News, he didn’t get The Daily News, so I could only see the Sundays. We didn’t go up there all that often, but he stored all of the newspapers that they got. They had a lot of land and a lot of buildings on it. He raised chickens among other things. So, they had a room out there where all of the newspapers were stacked up to the ceiling. And I would go through and try not to topple those scraps on top of myself and try to pull the Sunday News out and read them. So, I only got to read the Sundays for Dick Tracy, and Hopalong Cassidy, and Terry and the Pirates.

I just remember really being captivated by the storytelling and everything, even as a kid. When I got to do a newspaper strip on my own, it was like, that was something a kid in Rhode Island, again, could never have imagined that he would have a chance to do.

I can remember one of the first sequences, and it still stay with me to this day. It was Dick Tracy going up against Crewy Lou, who is obviously, one of the first lesbian characters in comic strips, for sure. And there’s a sequence where she steals Dick Tracy’s police car, not knowing that his baby, Bonny Braids is in the backseat of the car. And they get police chased after Bonny Braids and Bonny Braids… I mean, Crewy Lou doesn’t know that the baby’s in the back, till the baby starts crying. And at one point, Crewy Lou is driving up to the mountains, trying to get away from the helicopters and the police cars chasing her. And the baby’s crying and Crewy Lou reaches back and punches Bonny Braids and goes, “Holy Christmas!” and then we see Crewy Lou abandons the car in the middle of the woods, the baby’s crying and the wolves are coming around the car… I think the Sunday ends with the wolves on top of the car jumping at the windows and everything.

Then the next Sunday is like… Well, there’s Dick Tracy and Sam Ketcham arriving in the woods and they see the car. They get out of the helicopter and they go running up and Dick Tracy throws open the backseat, and you see through the doorway through backseat there’s no Bonny Braids, there’s just torn up backseat springs, where the baby was. And dark splotches where they might be blood. It was like, “Wow”, it really stayed with me, storytelling-wise.

And the same thing with the Hopalong Cassidy, there’s a cliffhanger where Hoppy was driving over on a bridge, and they cut the wires, and he and Topper go plunging into the falls. And so, the next week, he’s like, I don’t know, Hoppy’s someplace else, and you go, “Well, how did the hell did he get out of that?” And as a storyteller, it was already influencing me.

Jim:              Were you still reading comics into your teens? And also, when was the first time you wrote a letter to a comics editor or to a letters’ page?                   

McGregor:   I have no memory of that time period really very much. So, I was doing so many things. I know I wrote a lot of them. The only ones I really kind of remember are the ones to S.H.I.E.L.D. I don’t remember the letters specifically, why I remember them particularly, is because I wrote every issue, and I really loved what Steranko was doing, and loved his work.

Jim:              So as late as that you were still following comics, in the ‘60s then.    

McGregor:   If [inaudible] you see the original issues of S.H.I.E.L.D. you will see I’m almost in every issue. [chuckle]

Alex:             Oh, cool.

McGregor:   I went to one of Phil Seuling’s comic conventions. This is probably 1969, and I guess it’s the first one I went to. I had followed the Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. s hardbound. I really, really love his stuff. I had the S.H.I.E.L.D. s, and the ones that were in Strange Tales, I guess, it was.

Jim:              Strange Tales.

McGregor:   I don’t remember. But I have it all in hardbound. And I went to get them… Jim was at that convention and I wanted to get them autographed by him. And so, when I went up to him, to get it signed, I don’t know, we started talking. I handed him the books and he said, “You’re Don McGregor?” And I’m thinking, “How does Jim Steranko know who I am?  I said, “Why should Jim know who I am?”

[00:15:01]

And he says, “Listen,” Jim says, “I’m having a party at my hotel room tonight. Don’t let anybody know, I’m going to give you the number. Come down and join us tonight.”

Jim:              Wow.

McGregor:   So, that’s how I met Jim, and got to be friends with Jim.

Now, as to why, it was two years later that… When I started writing, say the Black Panther books and Killraven. Not so much the Warren stuff because you got letters for the Warren material, but I was still living in Rhode Island at the time so, when you see letters to your stories, you were seeing them, often, months after you wrote them. Because the stories didn’t appear right away.

But when we were doing the Black Panther stuff, we were so tight on deadline, and because they were series, and because Marvel really had, in those days, the letter spaces were really a part of the package. Especially, if you were a big comics fan. And I got very fortunate that… Thank God for the readers, because Marvel editorial, not very fond of those books, what so ever.

I thank God for the fans because many of them loved the books. And they had an effect on them, and they wrote many, many letters to the books. So, later on when I went to a convention, I met Dean Mullaney, Peter B. Gillis, Mark Gasper, number of people. Since they wrote every book I did, and I wrote, sometimes, 10-paged letters, analyzing what these books were, what they were saying. And what they meant to them, I knew who they were, immediately.

I say, “Hey, you’re Dean Mullaney? Dean, we got to talk.” And so many of my friends, to this day, are people I’ve met through the books. We already have that in common, a shared love of comics. And the fact that they had so much passion for the books. Again, thank God for the fans.

Jim:              Yeah, I remember the books that I loved the most were the ones that had the best letter pages too. Because, the people that were writing were the people that had similar sensibilities to me. So, it was your books, it was Tomb of Dracula, it was other things, and it was like I looked forward to the letter pages as much as I did anything else. It was great.   

McGregor:   When I went to work at Marvel Comics, and one of the things that was probably dismaying to me, and it only speaks to my naivety, at the time. but I really think I thought it was going to be like Stan’s Bullpen Bulletin pages, that the whole panel was… It was everybody urging everybody on to do more and do better. You know, just that very, very positive environment. It was just like any other place, filled with politics, and a lot of back stabbing and a lot of stuff where…

To see writers who were writing about heroes who would then be like trying to climb over the backs of other writers to get titles that they felt were better sellers, or would advance their careers, or get them into a position to do this or that.

Alex:             Interesting.

McGregor:   I found, it was for me, dismaying. All I want to do is write my stories and leave me alone.

Alex:             I see. Yeah, so it was not what you expected.

Jim:              Before we get to Marvel… And I want to hear all of that, because that’s fascinating to us. But I wanted to just ask a couple of questions about your beginnings of you as a writer. You worked for the Providence Journal? Was that your first professional writing work?

McGregor:   I think the first thing I had published; I had won a poetry thing. It was national. And so it was… In fact, that’s one of the few things I actually can still quote. Because most of the stuff… I could quote other writers’ lines to you, not my own.

Other people tell me, “Don, do you remember you wrote this?” and they will know that line because it spoke very directly to them. Pretty much, I’m not, going back over my own books, because I’m in onto my next project. And every project just demands its own particular research, focus on what that book is about and developing the themes of it, and characters, and some of the books more than others. If someone asks any questions about them or there’s some other project that’s been done at a later point in time, and I’ve got to go back.

I know when I went back to do the Killraven graphic novel with Craig (Russell). I think that was the first time had gone back to the stories. And I didn’t actually read all the stories. I actually… If I was doing an Old Skull scene, I just read his scenes to make sure I had his voice and everything I had written about him.

[00:20:04]

And I had also, wisely, in earlier issues, done… For me, wisely, done character histories. So, it were pages I actually just go and it would pretty much give me all the information I needed, historically, about the characters to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything or that I was screwing something up that I have established for the character. I was trying to be very, very careful about that. I’m not saying I never made a mistake, but I sure hope… I was doing everything I could to make sure I didn’t…

Jim:              Well, since you brought up other writers, and saying you could quote them, let me ask one final question before moving on to Alex, and Warren Comics. During this early formative period, who were the writers, not comic writers but other writers that were influential in your own style, and in your content?

McGregor:   Probably, the writer that has the most profound influence on me was Evan Hunter.

Alex:             Yeah, exactly.

Jim:              Yep.

McGregor:   Who is also known as Ed McBain. And I don’t… I’m not a 100% sure of this but I’m pretty sure I’m remembering this right. At the time I was reading both Evan Hunter and Ed McBain, but it was before he had revealed that they were the same person. Because I know I started reading… When I read Buddwing, I don’t think I knew that the Evan Hunter who wrote Buddwing, which was a regular novel, as opposed to a genre piece like 87th Precinct novels were, I don’t think that I knew he was the same writer.

McGregor:   You were talking about being a certain age when you read, say the Black Panther or Killraven, and so they had an impact on you. I think that was the kind of way it was with Buddwing for me. It’s all about the guy who wakes up on a park bench one mourning in Central Park, and he doesn’t know who he is. And the book is either a novel about 24 hours in one person’s life, trying to find out who they are, or it’s an entire lifetime.

It’s brilliantly done, so that when you finally realize, “Oh, wait a minute, this can also mean this, and this can also mean that”, and it’s also a novel about New York City. To me, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain was a great New York City writer.

So, even though I was growing up in the State of Rhode Island, reading those books… When I got to New York, I don’t even understand the up and down. I eventually got that, “Oh, yeah, the numbers go this way and they go that way.” If you give the street names, I had no clue where… I don’t understand the horizontal grid, I don’t understand anything in the stories, in real life, the view of that… But I did understand is the city.

He’s the one who taught me about storytelling, and about, not just storytelling but human nature, and about how to explore human characters. I remember Dean Mullaney was saying to me one time, “Wow, Don, I read the book See Them Die. And as I am reading it, I think, boy, this book took Don and blew him away.”

It truly did. It was like one of those books. It had such emotional impact with me and probably… You take that stuff in and I think somehow, subliminally it influences you as a storyteller. I can remember it seeming like, in the book Doll, he had killed Steve Carella. And I remember, being on the bus, my first time coming from New York City back to Rhode Island, on New Year’s Eve. It looked like he’s killed Steve Carella, and he had everybody reacting to Carella’s death. And I remember just having tears streaming down my face. And I’m actually talking out loud in the bus, going, “You son of a bitch, you had no right to kill Steve Carella.”

[chuckle]

I lost it. It was too much… And I think it was the same year that Ian Flemming had died, and I knew there’d be no new James Bond novels coming out. And so, to lose James Bond and Steve Carella within months was just… Probably a little too much for me to take at the time. So, he was one of the writers.

Stirling Silliphant who wrote the Route 66 series. The thing I really got from Stirling was, you could try, every time out. And you could try to knock it out of the ball park. Maybe sometimes, you win, and maybe sometimes you fail, maybe you struck out. But it wasn’t because you weren’t trying. And it wasn’t because you weren’t trying to take the opportunity that you had the chance to reach an audience, to reach people, that you weren’t trying to give them something. And I promise you this, believe me there are a lot of times I just failed miserably. It wasn’t because I wasn’t giving it everything I had at that moment in time.

Alex:             Were you a fan of Fantastic Four with Kirby and Stan Lee?

[00:25:00]

McGregor:   Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure you’ll see letters in there for all the books. I…

Alex:             In there also… Yeah, so you have letters there. Okay.

McGregor:   Don’t ask me, but I’m sure every once in a while, somebody will post on the internet. I’m sure there are Fantastic Four letters and I’m sure there are Spider-Man letters. I’m sure of that. I know there’s some letters in The Flash because… And this goes to show how little artwork was valued back in those days. One day, a package arrives at the house here where I’m actually living now. And I looked, it’s from DC Comics. I go, “What the heck is this?” It was all the original art to The Flash story that introduced Barry Allen’s parents.

Jim:              Wow.

McGregor:   And they sent me all the original art for the letter that I had written to The Flash. I had that artwork for years, and unfortunately, who could tell the way things… Never can tell the way things are going to go. In the ‘70s when I was living in New York, I still had all that artwork. And it was at the time when video tape didn’t exist, we were a long way from DVDs and Blu-rays and all that.

In those days, it was really hard… The only way you could see a film or a TV show that you really loved, the only way you could see it again was on 16mm. And a lot of people in comics were film buffs and fans. And I actually traded The Flash artwork, I think for an episode of the Avengers with Diana Rigg. Because I really loved Diana Rigg and Patrick McNee.

Understand that in 1971 or three or whatever it was, to be able to have an episode of the Avengers, complete was… We used to have film nights, like on Friday nights we have people over that would be able to show films. I haven’t watched any of that stuff for 40 years. It’s so much easier now, just throw a disc in. [chuckle] Who knew there’d be a time, okay, you could buy all Diana Rigg Avengers for like 30 bucks.

Alex:             Now, your first comic work was with Warren Magazine. Was that the first place that you applied your writing to, as far as the comic world, is Warren Magazine?

McGregor:   In those years, I was going to comic conventions, in Phil Seuling’s comic conventions. And when I met Jim Steranko, and went down to his room that night, I met Alex Simmons. And Alex and I became really good friends.

Again, understand that all of us had a love for the same things, we all loved pop culture. So, it wasn’t just comics, but it was TV shows, and it was movies, and it was books. We loved it all. But the one exception would be, a distinction would be, that’s just we’re at the comic book convention. We loved comics and so that kind of was like, put you in a rarer audience than the general audience which still looked down upon comics.

So, it was great when you’re around people who really understood what you love about this comic or that comic… So, when I first met Alex, and I was like doing films, I was shooting stuff on 8mm, back up here in Rhode Island. And I had realized pretty early on, by the time I was 16, 17, somewhere in that time frame, if you wrote the movie, and if you starred in the movie, and if you directed the movie, a couple of things really happen. You always won the fights. And my friends would say, “Don, I can break every bone in your body… what do you mean you’re…” I said, “You and I, we both know that. But see, here in the script, it says I win. And this is how we’re going to do it.”

And I loved doing stunt work, and I could do my own stunts, and fight scenes, and put them into a story. But I was only playing around with that. And even better was, you always got the girl. This is all infinitely preferable to real life and I thought, “Why don’t I just devote my like to this. This is great.”

When I met Alex, again, we both loved to read the Republic serials, we love stunt work, we loved film, and so we started doing films together. Alex would come up from New York and we would do films together. But we also both loved comics. Alex and I were doing a lot of fight scenes together, because I knew that I could trust Alex, and Alex knew that he could trust me. Because when you’re doing stunt work or when you do action, fight scenes, you got to be really careful. A lot of times you’re dealing with people who…

I was doing a stunt sequence, and I had a real machete that I found in some woods in one point in time.

[00:30:02]

So, I was doing a fight scene, and I didn’t know about fake weapons, so we’re using the real… I was working out of the choreography for the fight and I was on the dock over water. The stunt was supposed to be that the bad guy would swing at me with the machete, and I would jump back and this weapon would go past me. And I would come in and grab his arm, and then punch him, and then take him, throw him off the dock into to the water.

We had rehearsed it a number of times, but a lot of times, when the camera starts going, people suddenly put everything into it. And this guy actually kind of like lunged forward, whereas before I was… Good thing I was leaping back because the blade of the machete actually tore through my shirt, went right across my stomach.

Now, fortunately, I was going back so it don’t really… Basically, it left a red line across there. Now, because it’s film, I didn’t stop. I kept doing the stunt… You know, grabs his arm, hit him, throw him in the water and then look… Then I go, “What the fuck are you doing? That’s a real machete! You could have killed me with that thing.”

And I bring that story because with Alex, I think, the one time we were doing a stunt where he was swinging an axe at head, I had to get underneath it, and I knew with Alex, you could do a stunt like that. That we’re both being careful with what we do. If you had one mistake here, and someone’s going to get seriously hurt. So, we started doing our own stunts together.

And then I decided … This is how Detectives Inc. actually first get created. They weren’t created for comics, they were created for film, for Alex and I to play in film. And I’d written a screen play called Death Game of Three Dimension. And that was the first Detectives Inc. Then I actually wrote a short story because I was actually taking stories around New York, and I wrote one called Assassins Street. And I was taking that to places like Mike Shayne, Mystery Magazine. I’ve been talking to them, to Mike Shayne people because… I wasn’t trying for comics. I love comics. I didn’t have anything against comics but then I said to Alex, “Hey, why don’t we do our own comic book and go to the comic… We’re going to Phil Seuling’s thing next year, why don’t we do our own comic?” And that became the first Detectives Inc.    

Alex:             Oh, yeah. Right. Right. I remember because that was your first draft basically, of that. Is that right?

McGregor:   We actually did it, Alex. I mean, it was like, all right… We even had deadline problems because Alex had to come up and finish it, days before the convention in New York. He came to Rhode Island and we sat down every day to get it finished and get that book together and collated, and it had a Pepto-Bismol pink cover.

There’s very few copies of that, that I know of that exist. I think Doug Moench had one. I’m not sure if I know of anybody else who actually have copies of the book. I’m sure they do. We finished the book up in time for the convention. This is by 1970?       

Alex:             Yeah, ’71 at Warren, yeah.

McGregor:   If I hadn’t done that, the Warren stuff probably would not have happened. Alex and I went to the Phil Sueling convention that year. We were young guys. We didn’t want to have to sit behind the table to sell the damn book. We wanted to go and have a good time at the convention. In those days, somebody actually would man the table and they would sell other people’s books.

So, we actually, I don’t know… I don’t remember what we had to pay them. They took some kind of percentage, I guess or whatever. And it was worth it for us to do it, and we could get around. I take my Detectives Inc. around and hand it out to people and show what I could do.

It wasn’t like there was an active pursuit like I wasn’t even actually thinking about, “Well, I’m going to be doing comics.” Because at the same time, I was writing stories and I was still filming things. I loved all of it and I was doing it all. So, whatever project I was involved in at any point in time, that’s the one where my focus, and my energy and intent was.

They had panels, as they do today. Jim Warren was on the panel.

Alex:             Oh, okay.

McGregor:   And as we went to see the panel, I handed out Detectives Inc. to everybody going up on the stage. Because I had realized, even at that point in time, especially when there were panels, if the people weren’t talking, often times, they were scarcely listening to what the other people were saying. [chuckle] It wasn’t that important to them. They were involved in their own thing. 

Alex:             Yeah.

McGregor:   And Jim Warren was up there, and it’s like anytime anybody was speaking, the other people were looking at Detectives Inc. and you can see that Pepto-Bismol pink cover, like anywhere from the audience. Now, and just to go to show that I had no… I don’t recommend that this is a way to go, it shows that I had no plans like this would get me published at Warren Magazines. There was no thought of that at all. Most of the time, anything I’ve said or done, 10 seconds before I sort of did it, I had no idea on what I was going to say or do.

[00:35:18]

Alex and I are sitting in the audience, and Jim Warren is up on panel… And I’ve told the story with Jim Warren present, in one of the last conventions I’d seen him at, this may now be two decades ago. Definitely during the ‘90s, probably. Probably around about the time I was doing Lady Rawhide and Zorro. I think somewhere around that time frame.

For a while, Jim Warren came back, and he was doing a convention in New York. I had met up with Jim. It was the first time I’ve seen Jim for quite a while at that point. And Jim will tell you all these stories are absolutely the way they happened.

At that point in time, Warren was talking about going mail order only with his magazines. And because he was going mail order, he could put content into the stories that you couldn’t do if you were selling in the grocery stores or the mom-and-pop stores, or wherever. It was going to make history. His comic books were going to be the best comics ever. No comics were going to be as good as his. He was doing the best comics and he was doing his Jim Warren launch.

And I raised my hand, and Jim Warren points to me and he goes, “Yeah, what’s your question?” or something like that. I got up and said, “Well, if that’s true Mr. Warren, why’re you publishing the kind of crap you’re publishing?”

[chuckles]

This didn’t go over too well with Jim and he just… He went ballistic up on stage, whatever. Which I don’t blame him, to be honest with you. But when it was over, when the panel was over, Jim Warren came rushing off that panel, he came down and came to where Alex and I were getting up and getting ready to leave.

McGregor:    He was like, “Hey, Hotshot!”, which is what he started to call me that weekend. “Hey, Hotshot, come over here.” Then my name became Hotshot, I think, for quite a while, because he was big Terry and the Pirates fan, and he continually referred to me as Hotshot Charlie.

Alex:             Hotshot Charlie, good.

McGregor:   “Hey, Hotshot, come over here. How dare you ask me a question like that, in a public forum?” or something like that. And I was going, “I think it was an honest question”, or something like that, “I don’t know, I’m 20-something years old. What do I know?” And Jim goes, “Name one story. Name one story I ever did that was crap.”

“Now, I’ll be honest with you Jim”,… Alex, I… There’s not a thing I would do now, because I understand it could have consequences to a person’s career later on… But I wasn’t in the business at the time. I didn’t know anything about that kind of thing… And I named a story. And I still legitimately, to this day, I’m sorry, the story is crap. Okay? I’m not going to tell you what story… But, Jim Warren says, “Oh, yeah? All right. Come with me.”

Alex and I followed Jim, and he goes into… In those days, they used to show movies. They might have been there actually for 24/7, but I don’t want to swear to that. But if they didn’t, they showed them way into the night. Because again, that’s the only way you could see old stuff, was like if you went to some kind of film retrospective. And the comic conventions Phil would have at the time, were showing old movies.

I don’t believe I ever attended any of them because we were always busy doing stuffs, other things, so I was not going to them. But we go in to the darkened room. It’s huge. Huge room. And I can see that Jim is walking down, looking up the aisles… He’s obviously looking for somebody. And eventually, he sees the person, and he motions the person over.

This 6’6” black guy comes out and Jim Warren goes, “Don McGregor, this is Billy Graham. Billy Graham, this is Don McGregor.”        

Alex:             Oh, wow.

McGregor:   “Don McGregor, tell Billy Graham his work is crap.” And because it’s absolutely not true, I said, “I didn’t say the artwork was crap. I said the story was crap.”

[chuckles]

I think he was amazed that I didn’t lose my cool about it, or I didn’t get flustered or rattled, or I don’t know what. I swear to God to you, if I’d gone up to Jim Warren at that convention, and said to Jim Warren, “Geez Jim, I love your books. Your books are the best comics ever. Nobody does comics as good as…” None of what happened after that would have happened.

Alex:             Right.

McGregor:   It only happened because of the sequence of events that I had just said to you.

Jim Warren actually takes a step back. He says, “I’ll tell you what, Hotshot, play your cards right, and I’ll take you out to dinner tonight.” So, I end up going out to dinner, Alex and I, go out to dinner with Billy, and with Jim.

[00:40:05]

Despite that beginning, Billy Graham, and Alex and I have become very, very, very good friends.

Alex:             Oh, wow.

McGregor:   I think Billy saw, in Alex and I, that we were younger versions of himself. Like these young guys who just love comics, loved everything, and nothing was impossible, and I think Billy really… This is my interpretation of it, and you could ask Alex what he thought about it but I think that was probably what he enjoyed about it. And we got to be good friends. When I needed a place to stay in New York City, I would come and stay with Billy, up in Harlem, or I would stay with Alex in Spanish Harlem.

So, this has now became a real big influence of my life because it was just opening entirely new worlds for me. Billy took me to see Jeff Jones and to… About that time, Louise Simonson was with Jeff, and they had parties for comics people. I don’t know whether it was once a week or once a month, but Billy was invited, so Billy said, “Come on, Don. We’re going to go.” And that was the first time, sitting around a room filled with people who all loved comics.

So, I got to do a lot of stuff. I had a lot of exposure… Because a lot of white people continue to tell me, “You can’t go up to Harlem at 2 o’clock in the morning. You’re going to get killed, Don…” As it’s always been, it’s white people trying to make you afraid. I don’t care what that was all about.

And later this year, hopefully, we’re still working on the production values.  We’re going to re-shoot all of Billy Graham’s artwork for Sabre, An Exploitation of Everything Dear, we’re going to come out, in a deluxe prime, all of Billy’s artwork restored, and it’s in the process. I forgot I owe his granddaughter a letter. I will get to it. I talked to Dean. I have talked with Dean this weekend and it’s one of the things I will get around to doing.

Now, that doesn’t end the Warren’s stories yet. It takes you to the point but, yes, I met Jim Warren, he’s good, and we go out to dinner. And the next day, I was coming to a big room into the convention. I don’t know… The display room, I guess. There was an open section in the beginning, Jim Warren was standing, and he had a painting that was covered. It had a coverlet over it.

Jim says, “Hey, Hotshot, come over here.”

Alex:             [chuckle]

McGregor:   So, I come walking over and he says, “You really think you’re a Hotshot, don’t you Don.” And I said, “No I don’t.” And I really didn’t. I’m just trying to do the best I can. So, Jim Warren goes, “Okay, I have a Vaughn Bodē painting under here.”

Alex:             Oh, wow.

McGregor:   “And I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to lift this coverlet up, and I’m going to count down from 10. I’m going to give you 10 seconds, and then when I get to one, I want you to give me a story for this painting.

Jim:              Oh, wow. That’s great.

McGregor:   And I go, “What?…”, in my head, like, “Uh… Okay”. So, Jim starts, “10, nine, eight, and he’s lifting up the thing there is the Vaughn Bodē painting, and I’m looking at it, and I got nothing.

Alex:             [chuckle]

McGregor:   “Seven, six, five, four…” And I’m still staring at it like a deer in headlights. “Three, two…” and the one thing I know guys, there’s only one thing I know, I don’t have anything in mind. I had no idea. But know that when he gets to one, I’m going to start talking. And he was, “Two, one…” and I start, “Okay, there’s two guys and…“ And Warren says, “Whoa, Hotshot… I got professional writers,” I’m not going to mention any of their names now, “Who want to do stories. This is a Vaughn Bodē painting, you think I’m going to give it to a nobody like you? Are you kidding me? Get out… you’re not getting a Vaughn Bodē painting.”

So, we had this discussion, and okay, I’m not doing it. Four months later, I get a call from Jim Warren. By that time, I was ready for him, and I had started writing stories… And let’s get this very, very clear, you’re getting $25 a story, and they owned everything. So, if you did an eight-page story for them…

But I got really, really, really spoiled. My editor was Archie Goodwin. And Archie was one of the best people in the business, fair, honest, and anything he told you was to make your story better. That had nothing to do with his own ego, the way he would write the thing was like it was your story. So, I had written a number of stories for them…And you got to send them on a Monday, I think I wrote one eight-pager then I… It’s not an eight-pager, I started doing 10-paged stories, and then I started doing 12-paged stories… And you still got $25 a story, no matter how long it was. So, you can honestly see, I was not in this for the money. Obviously.

[00:45:01]

It was like, “Now, when is this story going to be out? What was the story going to be about? And how can I, you know… What can I do with this, now that I have the chance to tell this story?” Somewhere along the way, I had sold a number of stories, maybe like a half a dozen stories to them, or something. And I got to know Jim, when I was in the city, sometimes I would go work with Jim on the magazine, at night, he was letting me help him do some stuff on the magazine.

I was good friends… Billy was the art director; he was the first black art director in comics. Billy was the art director at the time, so I was seeing Billy. When I would go into the city, I’d either be staying with Billy or I’d be staying with Alex. At that point, I get a call from Jim Warren, he goes, “I’m going to send you the scripts I got from the people who done this Vaughn Bodē painting. And I want you to take one of them and I want you to write the script around somebody else’s script.”

I said, “I’m not interested.”

He goes, “No, Don, I know what I’m paying you. You can’t afford to turn this down. You’re going to be involved with the cover.” I said, “I’m not interested in that. If you want to send me a copy of the painting, so I can look at it and come up with my own story, then I’ll do it. I’ll do that. But don’t send me other people’s scripts, because I’m not reading anybody else’s scripts.”

Alex:             Yeah.

McGregor:   It wasn’t because I was better than anyone else, I just had no interest in doing it. All I want to do is tell my own stories. I don’t know what would be wrong with that.

So, finally, Jim kind of gave in and said, “Okay, I’m going to send you the painting.” And that ended up being the first story that actually saw print. This is the first story I wrote was the first one that saw print.

And because of Billy… Billy put my name and Tom Sutton’s name on the cover of the magazine. Because creator’s names didn’t, you know, like the artists and writers. They did not get put on the cover of Warren magazines… Yup, Billy ended up doing it. And I didn’t even know the story had been drawn. I’m still living up in Rhode Island, one day, I get a package, and then there’s Creepy magazine, with my name on the cover and then mine is the lead story. Tom Sutton had drawn it. I had not seen any of it before, and Tom did everything I asked for.

Alex:             Nice.

McGregor:   If I wanted continuity shots, if I wanted the point of view shots, if I wanted a reverse angle shot, and if I wanted it through a sniper scope, whatever it was, Tom did it and more. Archie Goodwin edited it, and man, was I being set up. Boy, I wished that it was always, always going to be this way. The story had to come out like exactly the way I wanted it to come out.

Well, I was really in for a rude awakening but that was down the road.

Alex:             And just a couple of bullets from the audience, so When Wakes the Dreamer is listed as your first story, but it did not see print until 1973 in Eerie #45. But the one that saw print first was The Fade Away Walk, in Creepy #40 in 1971. You had the first interracial kiss, in Warren’s Creepy #43, 1972, The Men Who Called Him Monster. And in that story, The Men Who Called Him Monster did you get any mail on that? Was there any fan reaction at the time?

McGregor:   Well we have to go back at that a little bit. When that scene was written, I didn’t write an interracial kiss in that scene, that story. It was about a private eye… Plot: private eye who’s looking for a missing teenager. He goes to see the kid’s teenage girlfriend. She’s working at a McDonald’s. And script was drawn overseas by José González, and it looks great. The detective looks like Sidney Poitier.

 

Alex:             Yeah.

McGregor:   And he’s asking her about her missing boyfriend and about what happened, and I really knew… Again, you had really tight space in a Warren.  You don’t have a lot of room, and so all that scene had to happen in one page. And so, I wanted to try and get as much emotional impact as I could out of it. And my description to the artist for the last panel was, I said, “This is the clincher.” And what I meant was… I’m using an American slang for, “This is the one that should emotionally slam the scene home to the audience.”

The artist reads it and, thinks I mean, “Okay, they kiss.” And they got this passionate kiss. Well it doesn’t make any sense at all. I mean, here’s this older guy and she’s this young girl who is like worried about her boyfriend… like why? What is that scene doing there? But it does make history for being the first interracial kiss in American comics.

Alex:             In American comics, yeah.

McGregor:   Later on, it’ll happen on purpose, in Killraven.

Alex:             You mentioned Tom Sutton, but there was also Richard Corben, illustrated stories of yours, there’s Reed Crandall. So, were you fans of Reed Crandall and Corben at the time?

McGregor:   Love Reed Crandall. I was very fortunate; I had an uncle who was a real asshole. He really was terrible. I’m not going to… I’ll try again not to mention any names, He was growing up in the ‘40s.

[00:50:00]

So, at that time, he had really great taste in comics, and when I go up to my grandma’s house, when I went up the attic, I found all his old comics. He had The Little Wise Guys of Charles Biro, Daredevil stuff, a lot of the Reed Crandall military comics, Blackhawk stuff. Unfortunately, mom burned all those comics in about 19… Probably, when I was about 10 or 12 years old. I don’t… I used to tease my mother all the time, and I think it was making my mom feel too bad. At times, I would say, “Mom, if you hadn’t burned those comics…” [chuckle] [inaudible]

Alex:             Yeah. In the late ‘50s. Yeah.

McGregor:   I had exposure to those comics pretty early on. So, along with the comic strips, which I really dearly loved… I always buy my own comics as well, so a lot of it would have been westerns. I really like the westerns. A lot of exposure to Milton Caniff. I can’t say Caniff had a lot of influence on me in the earlier stuff, because I hadn’t seen enough. When I was doing the Marvel stuff, it’s not really very much Will Eisner-inspired because I hadn’t seen enough Eisner at the time. But there’s a pop culture full circle kind of thing, where when somebody yells, “His”.

I was more influenced by Steranko. All those interior title page designs for Panther’s Rage, and Panther Versus the Klan. I always love that kind of thing when I saw Jim doing it in the S.H.I.E.L.D stuff, and I just took that idea and ran with it, and did my own versions of it. But I do pay homage to it with Malice by Crimson Moonlight, it’s very much inspired by Dark Moon Rise, Hell-Hound Kill! that Steranko did.

Alex:             So, were you a fan of the EC Comics?

McGregor:   Yeah. Al Feldstein did some incredible things. But I didn’t see a lot of the EC Comics when I was younger. I’m not sure when I had my first exposure. I loved a lot of the EC stuff. I don’t remember where I first got exposure to them, I’m sure when they were reprinting them somewhere, but I don’t remember when that would have been…

One of the first times would have been when I was doing stuff at Warren. Because Warren… I don’t know if Forry Ackerman did it or if Warren had done it, or they both did it together, they did a hard cover. That’s probably my real first exposure. I really love that stuff; I think some of that is so far ahead of its time.     

Alex:             Yeah.     

McGregor:   Specially some of the shock, suspense stories as well. Ganges is so far ahead of its time. Outstanding.

Alex:             Outstanding.

end part 1

start part 2

Alex:             Now, when you were at Warren, did you leave Warren to then do the proofreading job with Marvel in 1972? Did you work at both? Because you first work at Marvel was Journey Into Mystery #4 which was cowritten with Gardener Fox. How did that all come about?

McGregor:   Because they called me in Rhode Island. Time, like I have told you earlier… I was traveling into New York. Whenever I had enough money, I would just get a roundtrip ticket, take the bus in New York, stay with Billy and Alex for as long as I can. When I totally ran out of money, I’d used the bus ticket and come back home. I had worked for the National Guard for a while, and I stayed with that.

To be honest, like most people probably would have stayed with that because it was a government job, but my temperament wasn’t such that I should probably stay there. I’d probably ended up in the grave. I wrote a story called This is the Valiant One, Signing Out that Billy Graham drew for Monsters Unleashed at Marvel later on. That’s all the stuff about the soldier being called before a promotion board and being accused of being prejudiced against military policeman. It’s all based on facts.

At the timeframe that I was there, this was during the spell when there’s a lot of riots going on throughout the country… Not going to go into various stories on that, but because we had people in that unit that were racist and had said stuff like killing blacks. It was in very terrible times. And I reported them to the captain of the unit or whatever it was. And then when they put me in front of the promotion board they decided, I guess, that I was prejudice to the military policeman. I could see the lay of the land. And I was in a cellar that was in an armory. It had bars on the windows, that are ankle high, the view outside was on the hill. There’s people’s feet walking by it… I was going to get out of there…

So, at any rate, I was working a number of different jobs. I’ve heard somebody from editorial, recently, they keep changing the story about my getting there… That they’d saved me for life as a security guard. That that’s just all I ever would have been if they hadn’t offered me a job at Marvel Comics.

Well that’s bullshit. I had a house with three bedrooms, and a fireplace and a garage, and had a view of a pond across the lake, and three blocks away was a private stretch of beach, an ocean front. And I gave it up for $125 a week job at Marvel Comics.

McGregor:   So, I want to know how many people would do that. And I had a daughter, that was at the time… I would imagine Laura was about two, I guess. Something like that. But it was a chance to write… I love Marvel Comics and I was already writing for Warren, and I was very close to selling stuff to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and Cosmopolitan. That’s where I really was aiming toward. That’s why I had the collection of short stories were able to come about. Those are stories, originally, that I had written when I was peddling my stories.

I never went to Marvel Comics, and I never went to DC. Doing the comics at Warren was just fine for me. I had a good relationship with Jim Warren. I had good relationship with Billy Graham. Like really, except for the money, there was no problem there.

When I went to Marvel to do the editorial job, in the beginning, I mean I really was kind of like there as kind of as an editorial gopher… But a majority of the job was reading the reprint books that went out. And so that’s how the Gardner Fox story comes about. Some of the reprint stories were like horror stories they did in the ‘50s, and while I don’t, to be honest with you, recall what the problem was. It was something that the Code wasn’t going to approve that was in that story. I don’t have any memory of what it would be. So, they wanted me to rewrite it, to write a new ending or something, that was suitable for the Code.

I have no memory of what that was. It has me listed as writing with Gardener Fox, never met Gardener in my life… Okay, if you want to put it… That’s probably what I did, I guess, but it was really just writing some new ending or I think maybe we had to change a few panels here and there. I really don’t remember what the deal was.

That was the job I was doing there. I was reading the reprint books. And part of those reprint books was Jungle Action. And so, one of my reactions was, to the Jungle stories, and saying something to editorial like, “I can’t believe you guys are putting out this racist stuff.” This, in the 1970s. “I just can’t believe you’d reprint this stuff.” I wasn’t even thinking of the Black Panther, I know I had said something like, “Can you at least have a black character that’s a Jungle arrow?”

[00:05:04]

I wasn’t thinking that they rewrite new stuff in there or that… I had no power in those days at all at Marvel Comics. I was just there proofreading the reprint stories.

But there’s a lot of unwritten rules in the comic industry at that time. And one of it was like, if you had an editorial job, and you’re on staff, that somewhere along the way you would be given a chance to write something… When I was given the Black Panther and Killraven, I was given those books, I found out later… No reason for this person to lie to me about it. And it was Steve Gerber who told me that he was on a meeting when they decide, “We’ll give Don this Jungle Action Black Panther thing because jungle strips don’t sell.”

At that time, I think Joe Kubert have been doing Tarzan for DC, and I guess it hadn’t done very well. And I think the general attitude in people with the suits was that, like I guess, they’ll toss in the comics… What the hell in that genre can you sell? They felt these books are going to die, and they could tell me that I had my chance. And I think they knew I had no political aspirations. I wasn’t trying to become editor-in-chief. I had no interest in it whatsoever, and/or if I did, I was going about it in the strangest way possible. I was only involved in doing whatever work, as it came in, and when I had the chance, writing my stories.

I think at that time I probably was still doing some stories for Warren but… I know Jim was upset with me because I went over to Marvel. “Don, you were training with me, now you’ve traded down.” And I said, “Jim, you’re paying me…” I think by that time, I was getting $40 a story. “You’re paying me $40 a story. Give me a break, Jim.” But Jim and I stayed friends. I’m still friends with him to this day.

Alex:             Syd Shores did some art for your story in Chamber of Chills #5, 1973. Did you meet Syd?

McGregor:   No.

Alex:             No. Okay… So, a lot of times, you’d put in a script, and it’s not like you’d meet the people that did your stuff, right?

McGregor:   Well, that’s actually not the case for me, but in that story, yes. I don’t remember exactly how I got the offer to do a story… That would be one of the places that if you were starting out to them… Because the Warren’s stuff didn’t count. It didn’t matter what, people will say, The Fade-Away Walk, and/or The Men Who Called Him Monster, A Tangible Hatred, a lot of those stories, a number of people were involved… Especially, The Night the Snow Spilled Blood. I think Jim Salicrup, I always teased Jim, to this day. I say, “Jim, I never got better than that, right? I peaked.” [chuckle]

But those stories didn’t mean anything for Marvel editorial at all… But when you got offered things, because… There’s only one story I could think of that I wish I had never done, and they wanted me to adapt an August Derleth story in the comics, Vampire Tales or something. And it’s not because I think I’m a better writer, or a storyteller than Derleth. I didn’t agree with the story, I didn’t like what it was about, and I tried to turn it into the best comics I could. But I think it involved a little kid somehow. And it was like, it’s not the kind of story I would do.

I would’ve said no, but I also knew that if I said no, that’s just not the way things were done. And like, so the first time you’re offered a story you say, “No, I don’t want to do it.” I couldn’t find any way that I could just say no, and not have it have real consequences.

Somewhere in that same time frame, I was told, I was told I could do a six-page story in that horror anthology book or whatever it was. And editorial didn’t like it and even said they shouldn’t have let me get away with it because it wasn’t good comics or something. I don’t know. You know, people can judge for themselves because the story is the story. It’s still the same story that I wrote. I had no problem with that story. I mean, yeah, it’s like with a lot of it, I wish a lot of it were better. But for a six-page story… Give me a break. [chuckle]

McGregor:   No better or worse than anything else that was in there. There’s a couple of lines… I think I liked the last lines and the ending. It’s very kind of in a Rod Serling kind of vein.

Alex:             There you go.

McGregor:   If you’re being so cryptic on this, probably it’s a poor Rod Serling, but still evolves, you know, a good influence or whatever. So that’s how that story came to be.      

Alex:             So then now in 1972, was basically Roy, the editor-in-chief at the time you joined or was Stan still editor-in-chief at that time? Did you talk much with Stan Lee around this time?

McGregor:   Stan was not in editorial all that much. He had his own office, off to the side, but Stan was very much going around doing promotion for Marvel and doing speaking engagements and things like that. He was there. I didn’t see all that much of Stan, but I certainly had some dealings with Stan. Especially when it came to doing the interracial kiss at Marvel Comics because that ended up being a much bigger situation than I had realized it would be, when I started to do it… Oh, does that answer that question, Alex?

[00:10:09]

Alex:             Well, it kind of does. Yeah… And Jim is actually going to take that baton and talk about, a little more officially, your time at Marvel. So, go ahead Jim.

Jim:              Before I get into Jungle Action and Killraven, I want to talk a little bit about the people you were working with in 1972, or at least the people that were fellow writers and artists at that time. Because this is my favorite Marvel period. Really. The Steve Gerber, (Steve) Englehart’s Doctor Strange… Starlin. What was it like? Did you guys realize just how cool your comics were at that time? Was there a competition between you to churn out the best stuff?

McGregor:   No, I think most of the stuff you’re talking about, the people were doing it independently from wherever they were situated. I don’t really remember even meeting Jim Starlin, I might have come crossing… Because I was on staff in the beginning. You might’ve run across more people because that’s where you work. You weren’t at home writing or putting the stuff together. There were people I was close with, especially… As when I was really close with Rich Buckler, and Craig Russell, and Billy Graham, and they’re all artists.

You have to understand the books themselves, when they came out, were not really thought of fondly by the Marvel editorial. Other than the Black Panther or Killraven, I can think of three people, off the top of my head, that liked those books. And that would be Jim Salicrup, and David Anthony Craft, and John David Warner. There may have been others, I’m not saying there wasn’t, I don’t know. But those are the three I can really think of, in terms of writers that I actually hung out with to an extent. But that would have been like more later.

Because a lot of stuff happens in between ‘73 and ’75, not just with the books, with my personal life, everything comes apart then. The scenes, it’s a turbulent time and it’s full of really big highs, a lot of excitement and really becoming aware of the readers and the fans, and having a real intimate connection with them, and at the same time fighting to do the stories that I wanted to do and becoming really good friends with the others I was working on.

McGregor:   Yeah, I didn’t get to see the others who work on those short stories, but when I was first up in the officers, I don’t remember how we first met. But Rich Buckler had an office space up there. Rich had a lot of power those days at Marvel. He was doing a lot of covers for them. He was doing important A-list series like, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, or whatever books Rich was doing.

He was doing a lot of covers, so he was very much in demand, it gave him a lot of leeway into what he wanted to do at that time. Somehow while Rich was there, we met and got to be friends. And I think it was because we both want to do comics. I really had to stick, that is what I wanted to do, storytelling wise. And thank God Rich, embraced that, and anything I virtually asked of Rich he did…

There’s so much work, because remember, no matter if you spend one hour on a page, you spend a day on a page, you spend a week on a page, you get the same amount of money. So, like many people are trying to turn this around as much as they can because they’re trying to make a living, and at the same time they’re trying to do the best work they could do.

So, it’s a dichotomy there, and I get very fortunate because when I was given the Black Panther to do, Rich said he was going to do it. They didn’t want Rich on books, they want him on important stuff. But because Rich wanted to be there… And Rich got me to move out to the Bronx.

Before that point in time, I have been staying with Alex Simmons. By that time, Alex was now out of Spanish Harlem, and he was living in Brooklyn. So, in the beginning, I was kind of staying with him while looking for a place, and it was Rich Buckler that found me a place up in the Bronx because Rich wanted us to be together.

I’m working on staff during the day, and then I would go back up to the Bronx at night, eat dinner, and then I would go over and stay at Rich’s for an hour or two, and I would actually get to pose and say, “No, the Black Panther is going to be like this.” You can see photographs of me, that still exist, of me doing Panther poses for Rich, and designing a lot of the title pages. That takes nothing away from Rich. Rich had to pull them off. I remember, I would say, “Hey Rich, can we turn the page on the side so we could do that waterfall?” And it was where I felt I could get the most extreme height for the waterfall.

I mean, you have to continually remember that we only had 13 pages of the story that had to last the readers for two months. That’s not a lot of pages that get the audience to invest in your characters, in your story, in what this is about, to come back the next time around.

[00:15:05]

I was well aware, for instance, if I wrote W’Kabi, or Taku, or in Killraven, M’Shulla and Old Skull, whoever it should be, if I wrote them off of one issue, that meant the reader did not see them for four months. If I left them out for two issues, that’s half a year. That’s really a long time to ask an audience to invest in a character. So, I was very determined. That was one of the things, I was always trying to address that the characters in each issue, that they had a presence and there was something new about them that you would learn if you were an old reader. And if you were a new reader, you would be introduced to those characters so you would know who they were. But there were a lot of things to consider before you could start those scripts.

Jim:              So, when you and Buckler were working on the very first one, Jungle Action #6, was there a notion that you all were going to break a lot of rules, and really do just something extraordinary? Because it’s not just the writing, which is sort of unprecedented in terms of how style and things, but the story itself with its Steranko style title pages and certain other aspects of it. It really did stand out on the market, it’s different from your average Marvel book. It was like nothing I had seen. Was that really trying to achieve something completely different?

McGregor:   Well, I hope as a creator, you just… That’s part of being uniquely who you are, for better or worse. I had no interest in what other people were doing. That’s their business, not mine. I can love it, or hate it, or be in between about it, but I’m coming at that as a fan. To be honest with you, by the time I was writing the books, I’m invested in writing the books.

When they gave me the Black Panther, I was told basically one thing, “You’re going to be doing the Black Panther, and it set in Wakanda.” So, at that time, there had been very few Black Panther set in Wakanda stories. If there were over half a dozen, I’d be hard pressed to like say how many over half a dozen.

Jim:              Yeah. there was that Avengers issue with Buscema, and I can’t think of a whole lot… And the Fantastic Four, obviously. But there wasn’t very much at all was there?

McGregor:   No. but there were a lot of Black Panthers. I read everything. And in those days, you could. And the fact, Jim Salicrup lent me his books because, at that time, much of my stuff was still back in Rhode Island, so, I didn’t have access to it yet. Because in the beginning, when I first started writing it I probably was still living with Alex. But when I actually first started. I’m not sure of that. but like right after that, would have been moving up to the Bronx. Because I know when Rich and I do Morbius, the Living Vampire together I’m definitely up at the Bronx because when I do the conclusion of that first story, the cops came to my apartment at midnight. So, that part of it is emblazoned in my mind, and I definitely have to be in the Bronx by that point in time.

So, within a very short time of being given the books, now as I was reading the books, I’m like, “Okay, what do I like, and what don’t I like? And what do we have?” Because there was so few stories, and because you’ve got this great concept between Stan and Jack, on the Black Panther, Wakanda and this hidden super-secret African society, but essentially the place, at that point in time, is basically the palace… I don’t know, maybe there’s some woodland area, and the Vibranium mound… because you don’t have like…

McGregor:   Say, the first two Fantastic Four books, well, you got the Fantastic Four like Wingfoot is in there at the same time and then you get T’Challa. So, you get six characters right there, that you’re going to be dealing with, and you’ve only got two issues. I guess… I don’t really remember the stories off hand, but it meant that… From the beginning, I thought, “Okay, so T’Challa is going to come back to Wakanda.” Because they had him in New York, teaching in school in Harlem.

Now, why the king of an African nation would be a school teacher in New York, is beyond me. I understand why they did it. They wanted to get T’Challa into the United States so that they could have him be a part of the adventures with the other superheroes, and eventually he becomes part of the Avengers… I don’t know that he has much to do there… Anyhow, I don’t have much memory of it, but…

Now, I’ve got to find a reason when he comes back… One of my first thoughts I remember having was, “Okay, we’re doing a bimonthly book of 13 pages. And it’s a superhero, so there’s going to be a super villain in there somewhere. And if I do them as separate stories, that means every issue there has to be a new villain introduced, and then there has to be something that they’re doing.

Eventually, I thought, well, after three or four issues, the Wakanda should just go to T’Challa, “Why don’t you go back to America? Because before you showed up, we’d never had any problems.” So that was my first inclination… Okay, this has got to be one story. It’s all going to be linked together.

[00:20:02]

So, that the adversaries that he’s coming up against… Oh, it’s, there’s a reason for that… And then that led to the creation of Killmonger. Somebody who, if a king abdicated his kingdom, who’s… What’s going to happen? There’s a revolution and… War was going on at the time so, that was something… I guess, I thought there was a lot of stuff I’d be able to write about there, and it would anchor the character. So, that began to develop the idea of doing the story as a novel.

Jim:              It’s interesting because it occurs to me that Kirby was doing this with his New Gods book as well, where there’s a central villain, but each month you would be introduced to the various lieutenants, and they carried the story forward. But the real tension was waiting for the return of, or the appearances of the master villain in it. And I can’t think of very many examples of that on a long period of time except for yours and Kirby’s New Gods.

McGregor:   I’ll take your word for that. I mean…

[chuckle]

I think the New Gods was done later than the Black Panther. We’re talking ‘73 for the Panther. I think isn’t this New Gods stuff at DC a bit down the line or…?

Jim:              No, no, it’s the same period of time.

McGregor:   Okay. Quite possible. I don’t know. It’s so far field… It wasn’t a part of my reality. My reality was the Black Panther, and trying to figure out, “Okay, what is this going to be?” And it just seemed to me, it had to be tied together. And then originally it was to be like 10 books, I think. I knew thematically, there was going to be a major theme that ran through the entire course of the storyline and then each issue would have its own minor theme, but they would also amplify the major theme of the story.

McGregor:   I’m not sure why 10, because even though it was an extended story. I think as I mentioned earlier, I really loved the old Republic serials. I’m not sure why I didn’t do it in my head as 12 or 13. It seemed, I guess, it’s just I had 10 stories. I haven’t got it all flushed out, just the idea, “Okay, it’s going to be 10.” It did eventually become 13 with the epilogue because the center stories needed a lot more room than I had initially given them for the themes that I wanted to deal with.

So, at the same time that it was coming up with that, because I worry about everything, I thought, “Okay, that’s all the Panther stories, maybe there should be novels, if I stay with it…” So, before I even wrote a page of Panther’s Rage, I realized when I was reading the books that no one has ever mentioned the Black Panther’s mother. And if you notice in Panther’s Rage, I never mentioned his mother at all. So, I thought, okay, the next storyline will be, he goes to South Africa, and has to deal with apartheid while he’s searching to find his mother, who for some reason, and I don’t know what the reason was, wasn’t in South Africa.

Unfortunately, by the time I was finishing Panther’s Rage, I was in the midst of a very emotional divorce. I was going to custody courts to keep seeing my daughter. I was fighting with editorial all the time. It was a very tumultuous time, and I realized I’m not going to have the focus and energy that I would need to research doing a story set in South Africa. And that’s how the Panther Versus the Klan becomes about. Because I could take him Monica’s home state in Georgia.

I had noticed that already there was an extremism that was starting to appear in America. The Klan was on an insurgence in various states in the union. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon are loud with the very strict religious groups who felt their way was the only way and there was no other way. It seemed to me, well that’s something worth writing about. And I don’t need to do a tremendous amount of research to bring him over to America. And so that’s what kind of made me lean in that direction. And also, something I wanted to write about and it would be a totally different kind of story.

I wasn’t interested in writing the same story over, and over and over again. In going back to the beginning, so now I also decided in doing Panther’s Rage, T’Challa needed a villain and that again… Now, we’re working on an idea that the stories are going to be connected, started working on the creation of Killmonger. As much acceptance that character has these days because of the movie, you have to understand that he was not accepted by Marvel editorial at all. While he appears on the first cover, after that he was not allowed to be on the covers anymore.

And your just your question is, “Why is that Don?”, well, the reason is, because they were not used to a black character that was as angry, and as ferocious, and as strong as that Killmonger was. So literally, he couldn’t appear on the covers again, and if you think I’m just saying that, you just have to look at the covers. He doesn’t appear again until after years with the books, and when he does, he wasn’t even scheduled to be on that cover.

[00:25:14]

McGregor:   I need to back up for one minute on this, because I had no power over the covers. What you see in those covers, I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Love some of those covers, the only way that I had anything to do with them is they’re inspired by my stories. Because those books were low priority, they weren’t A-list books, editorial would go over them with whoever’s going to do the covers, whether it was Gil Kane, whether it was Rich, or whoever might be doing the covers, they would go over with the artist and discuss what the cover was going to be. I had no input into it whatsoever.

The cover with T’Challa is being attacked by the ice wolves. Originally when Rich, drew that cover, only the wolves are on that cover. And if you look at the cover, you can see there’s a little figure of Killmonger. Editorial had decided, “No, no, it’s got to have a human villain in there”. And they didn’t have the cover redrawn. They had Rich put Killmonger between the wolves’ legs. It was like a tiny little action figure and it looked like, “Look, he’s back, Killmonger.” And that’s the only time he appears on the cover of a book from the first time that he was introduced into the series. And then he’s allowed on the last book of Panther’s Rage, which is two years and some months later he’s allowed back on the cover.

Alex:             Who at editorial would you say…

McGregor:   I’m not getting into the he said, she said thing because you know what? We do that and then suddenly it becomes, “Oh, it’s because Don doesn’t like that person, or he doesn’t like… or that person doesn’t like that person.” And the problem is, you’re not looking at what the situation, what you could do at pop culture and what you couldn’t, and there were unwritten rules.

The problem that came with the Black Panther is, I’m given an edict, “You’re going to do the Black Panther set in Wakanda.” that’s it. Everything else is whatever I came up with, and then discuss with Rich, and we had to pull off… And unlike the movie, by the way, we don’t have millions of dollars. We can’t go to a set designer. We can’t go to costume people. It all has to come in from when you’re first creating the stuff. So, now you’re trying to create the villains, create the themes, create stories and it all has to be put together within the bi-monthly schedule. [inaudible]

Jim:              I remember that cover that you’re talking about because it had a purple background and Klaus Janson inked it. It was striking though. You were lucky because you had two of the principal Marvel cover artists working on the book at various times. Because you had Rich Buckler and then it was followed by Gil Kane. So, you had tremendous story sense as your collaborators. Not to mention once it becomes Billy Graham.

McGregor:   Because Rich fought to be there. Whatever storytelling ideas I had, Rich had no problem, because we’d be sitting side by side while we were working on those initial books. It’s amazing that Rich had half a year on the Black Panther. He did three books and by that time he, it was just the way he could continually fight off. I don’t know how Gil Kane got to be on the one issue in between. Gil wanted that extra work that month, I don’t know. Maybe he liked that genre, I really don’t know because I didn’t know Gil that well. I certainly had met Gil and talked with him maybe briefly, but I didn’t really know him. Not like I did Billy Graham and Rich Buckler.

McGregor:   So many people think that I got Billy on the book. I didn’t have anything to do with getting Billy on the book. Yes, Billy and I were good friends… And by the way, you mentioned When Wakes the Dreamer, which was the first story I sold to Warren. The reason it didn’t see print until years later was that Billy liked a number of the scripts I had done for Warren, and he took them, along with The Vampiress Stalks the Castle This Night, When Wakes the Dreamer and a couple of others, and he had taken them because he was going to draw on them. And yes, he drew the first page of When Wakes the Dreamer, which was often my page layout. And I still have that original line. It was beautiful.

But Billy was the art director at Warren at the time, and I think he just didn’t have time to spend doing the artwork that he wanted to do. And I think that’s eventually the reason why Billy quit. He didn’t want the staff job. He wanted to be an artist. Billy wanted that freedom. Not to just be like…  would give him freedom so that he could do a lot of things. Billy had a lot of talent. Billy was truly a Renaissance guy.

But you know, Billy also wrote, he also acted, he also did stage designs. He did stuff for the Amsterdam News. He was really a busy guy. And when we do the Sabre, Exploitation of Everything Dear, a storyline that Billy drew, which hopefully will come out sometime this year, with all the artwork restored and seen in a way that you’ve never seen it before.

I’ll tell a lot of the stories about my times with Billy, but I’m not going to say them here. One thing though that I realized… Oh, a lot of the adventures that we had… At the time that I was with Billy, he was living the life he wanted to live in Manhattan and that was his city.

[00:30:04]

But now, I know he’s got a granddaughter, I’m thinking… It’s kind of like the old Bob Seger song Against the Wind. He has the line, “What to leave in, what to leave out”, and now that I know he’s got a granddaughter, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know, some of these stories, maybe… I’m not sure.” At one time I’ll tell a lot of Billy’s stories that I just have always kept so that they’ll be preserved in the book that showcases his artwork.

But anyway, I didn’t choose Billy for the Panther’s Rage book. I didn’t have that power to do that, Marvel editorial put him on. And the deal was, in those days… And I don’t care who wants to admit it and who doesn’t want to admit it… Most of these people do not want to admit where they were at in 1973, and 1974, and 1975. But if you are black and you are an artist in comics… And by the way, I don’t know if there were any black writers yet at Marvel Comics, but if you are a black artist, you would normally be put on a black title.

McGregor:   So, Billy, say for instance, was on Luke Cage, Power Man for the longest time. And that’s the reason that Billy ends up on Black Panther. Later on, obviously, that would change. But at that point, editorial was not crazy about the fact that everybody in the series was black. Now he asked me about what, was I trying to be ahead of my time? Was I trying to do stuff like that to show, “Oh, look we’re…” I don’t remember the phrases that were used…

Here’s the whole reason why there’s a black cast of characters in Panther’s Rage. I am told that the stories are set in Wakanda and T’Challa returning to Wakanda. What is Wakanda? It’s a hidden African nation that nobody knows it’s there. It’s so sophisticated, T’Challa has found a way to keep everybody from knowing where it is. Doesn’t matter what country it is, they can’t get in there. You can’t have stories where there’s white people just keep stumbling into Wakanda, and finding Vibranium, and trying to steal it. There’s got to be other storylines.

But that also means that every character is a Wakandan. So, that means… Where are the white people supposed to come from? And so, as the stories went along, it became more and more of a problem. Where is the white people? They bring the Avengers in.

But as I was doing the conventions, and I was meeting people, and the people were writing for the book, a lot of what was given the applause by the media for the movie, is stuff that was in the books back in 1973 to ’75. But the only reason it was done is because it’s set in Wakanda, and that means that all the characters have to be Wakandan. Therefore, you virtually had an all-black cast except for Venomm.

Jim:              And I want to talk about Venomm because I think he’s an important character as well in terms of breaking ground, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. A few art questions on this, that one issue that Gil Kane did is interesting to me because I think a lot of fans of the series remember that issue especially, and it even shows up in the movie because Gil Kane was a great jungle animal artist. He worked on Tarzan strip and he really knew how to draw animals. That sequence with him and the rhino is just brilliant, and I remember that very vividly. Did you try to write at all to the strengths of the three artists that worked on the strip, or did you just keep it the same throughout?

McGregor:   Okay. I’m sure I didn’t know that Gil Kane was going to draw the issue that he drew.

Jim:              Okay.

McGregor:   I don’t know how it got to be there. I think the issue looks terrific. I have one memory or two memories of that particular book. Obviously, it was a much different situation than working with Rich, because I was with Rich all the time. So, we were always going over the pages, and Rich and I were also doing Morbius the Living Vampire, and we did the Hodiah Twist story, the Vampire Tales as well. So, Rich and I were together a lot doing different stories and we work very, very closely together.

McGregor:   I really had no contact with Gil. The two things I remember about that issue is the title page because Gil didn’t do the title, But Now the Spears are Broken. Danny Crespi actually did, who was the head of production at Marvel at the time and Danny was really kind to me.

I remember Danny saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll do this page the way you want it done.” And he got the book and I want the broken spears in there and the lettering for the title, and he hit it like… He had a bundle of corrections of things that he was supposed to do. And they definitely would not have given that to Danny. That was Danny being kind. And I think, both John Verpoorten and then Danny Crespi thought, “this business is going to eat this kid up.” And I think in their own ways, at times, they tried to be a little bit of a buffer trying to protect me from powers that may not be so benign. So, Danny did a lot of the work on that. And the only other thing I remember is that the sequence where I had all the murder clues.

[00:35:02]

Originally, the mise en scene was all in the big palace sequence, and there were no closeup panels of it. And that was Gil went that way. At first, I wasn’t sure, we were pretty much too much in the face of the readers? But when it finally got done, and when I finally saw it, it’s like were we even playing fair with the readers because now, it’s right there and they can’t say it was just locked in and hidden in the background. So ultimately, I was kind of glad that he went that route. But that was to show you how much I was thinking about how a story should be told, for any particular scene.

Now, the difference with Billy is I could design a page any way I wanted and Billy said, “You design whatever you want done, I will get it drawn.” And Billy was terrific. I mean that part of it, again, I got really lucky. I was with somebody who’s really talented and who believed in what I was doing. Because really, as a writer, you could bleed onto the paper. You can care all you want, but if you don’t have an artist to bring you to life, I’ll tell you, you’re just dead in the water. So, I got very fortunate that I had Rich and Billy for the Black Panther, and then ultra fortunate that Craig Russell, but that’s a whole other story.

Jim:              So, let’s talk about the actual characters you created for Panther’s Rage. Because they are indelible. Venomm, I want to talk about, because he was the one white character, and probably I won’t say the least intelligent but the least eloquent in his phrasing, and in his talking. What were you trying to do with him? You ultimately made him into an incredibly sympathetic character. Did you know you were going to do that from the very beginning?

McGregor:   I think you can assess that, reading the stories, to be honest with you. I always hope that when people are finished with say, Panther’s Rage, that if they went and back read the books from the beginning, they could see, “Oh, Don was setting this up as early book one, or book four.” Take Kantu for instance, he’s like from that first page with rhino charging, he becomes a major character and he keeps appearing throughout.

McGregor:   Obviously, the ending he’s there… I didn’t tell anyone, if I had, I’d never would have gotten it through. As time went by, one more I learned to keep my own consult. And by the way, I never talked to other writers about what gig I’m going to do in comics, certainly, at that time. Because they’d want to tell you how to do it; how they would do it, “Oh, no, I have an idea.”

You’ll never be able… Or people can say it, but there’d be absolutely a lot. That’s why I never discussed what I was going to do. Not even with, I’m sure that Rich never would have known, Billy never would have known how Panther’s Rage was going to end. They knew what I was doing when they got the script. There might be somewhere down the line, that I might say, “Oi, Billy, you make sure, you need to do this because I’m going to pick up on that later.” Well, what I was going to do with it probably I’d never told, even though certainly it would have been safe to tell Rich and Billy. They would never have gone to anywhere where you could be told that you couldn’t do it.

Because editorial’s, most often, they’re going to tell you, “No, you can’t do it.” And if you’re told, no, you can’t do it. And then you try to go ahead and anyhow, and do it, then that’s open defiance. Then it’s going to be war. And ultimately, you’re not going to get anywhere as a writer, it’s not going to help you get to where you need to go. You need to find a way to stay as much away from them as possible, and concentrate and focus on what the story you’re trying to tell because he was also the first gay character I have ever made.

Jim:              Well that’s exactly where I was going. I was gonna ask you, did people ask you about that? Readers, or editorial, or did you just spring that on people?

McGregor:   Obviously, I was very careful of that. If you notice, because the thing was… Don’t forget, I was doing Killraven at the same time. So, I was kind of alternating. On one month, I guess Killraven came out, the next month the Black Panther, and back and forth. So, when I was doing Killraven… Again, I got a lot of things to consider. What am I going to do with this? Again, that was a book, I think, they had high aspirations for it in the beginning when they started Killraven. They had a lot of named art on it, but the title went through three different artists and writers, I think, in the first three issues. Well that’s kind of a death knell for a book, anyhow.

Science fiction wasn’t noted to sell. I think if the initial thing had been able to be done the way with the talent they had initially started it with, it would have been totally different. But now you had three separate writers and I was starting with the fourth issue. And I’m sure I’ve made an enemy here, but I think the writer doing it said, “I’m going to tell you everything you have to do.”

I said, “I really don’t care what you’re going to do. I just want to write my own stories. You guys are writing like four or five books a month, can’t you possibly just let me write my own stories?” But they didn’t think I was a good enough storyteller to do that. And so, when the fans started reacting so much to the book, there was a lot of antagonism about it.

[00:40:08]

There’s a lot of egos at play there but also there was also things what you could or what you couldn’t do.

McGregor:   And I knew early on, for instance, that I was going to have the M’Shulla and Camilla get together. Pretty quick and to bring her into the group, I knew this was something I’m going to do. I might not know exactly what I’m going to do with it, or how I’m going to evolve that. And I did the same thing I did with Taku and with Venomm, every issue they had a scene, they had a scene that was just theirs.

Jim:              That jail scene is my favorite scene in the entire series.

McGregor:   Oh great. [chuckle] All the characters had a scene that was theirs. And if you’re looking at the approach to leading up to Camilla and M’Shulla being together, it’s kind of the same format, if that’s the word I want to use. But continually you see, that’s the two of them together and it’s very intimate. There’s a real connection between the characters, but they’re not the same characters. They have really totally strikingly different personalities.

But while doing the Killraven thing early on, and I had just done a couple of sequences, with them together, it was then I got called into the editorial office. They want to know if an artist has objected to “the salt and pepper relationship”. That’s their quotes, not mine. And so, then I was being asked if I was going to do a salt and pepper relationship in the Killraven strip. And I knew it was too early. If I told them I was, I was going to be told I couldn’t do it.

A lot of times. when you’re speaking with people in comics, you have to figure out a way of expressing it that they’ll get and that they’ll understand. And at that time, Modesty Blaise was a big favorite of many people working in comics. So, I said, “I basically, right now, it’s just mostly Blaise and Willie Garvin, your friends and warriors together. That’s something like that.”

Then I kept hoping that you guys would come along and keep saying, “God, when are you going to get these two together?” But I had an artist quit the book, so now I know I have to be really careful with the Venomm and Taku stuff. And I knew I could never have him come out. Then I was already on shaky ground with interracial stuff.

Thankfully, the readers really did start as well. When I felt that I had enough support from the readers I could say, “Okay, I want to go see Stan on this.” I could’ve just gone to Stan. Stan had an office there. But it’s all protocol. This is just like being in the military. If you go and you sidestep the sergeants and lieutenants, and you go to the captain, you’re basically declaring war. And that would mean everything I want to do in those books would become more difficult to do.

So, then you had to do it according to the politics of the place. So then, I went into editorial, saying, “I want a meeting with Stan to discuss to him an interracial kiss.” Because now if they turned me down on meeting with Stan, then they have to explain why it is. Then if it gets to Stan and is questioned about it… “Why wouldn’t you pass it?” Going that way, Stan was the one who could actually make that kind of decision and say, “Yes, it could be done.”

It seems like odd that this was even us discussing this, in 2020, but in 1973, ‘74 whichever year that was, it wasn’t. And so eventually, there’s the big meeting with Stan, me and editorial… But I knew how to approach Stan on this kind of thing. If I had a shot at all of doing it. Because it’s not enough to just write it. If you can’t get it to see print, if it can’t become a reality that you can hold in your hands, what’s the sense of even doing it? You’ve got to have a shot, knowing that you’ve got a chance to make it reach the audience.

McGregor:   So, we met with Stan, at some point. I know Stan said, “Don, can’t she be green?” And I said, “Well, you know Stan, what are you going to do? Well she isn’t, she’s white… “ He goes, “I’m just concerned that PTA in some place downtown is going to see this.” Editorial said, “Do you want your kids seeing this in the comic book?” And I said, “Well, you know, the thing is, Stan, I don’t know, I’ve heard rumors that DC has been talking about doing an interracial kiss on one of their romance comics.”

Jim:              [chuckle]

McGregor:   “And I think it would just be a shame if DC would have to do it before Marvel.” And so, Stan was, “Oh, I don’t want that, Don.”

Jim:              So, did you just make that up?

McGregor:   No, I didn’t just make that up. I knew that that was going to be a real persuasive factor. If you approached it that way, you had a real shot. And then Stan says, “Okay, I’ll tell you what, Don…”. Then editorial said, “You could do it, but you have to handle the panel, and knock out colors.” And knock out colors means that both characters would be colored purple. Apparently, their idea was so that nobody could take the panel…and hold it like, “Look, there’s an interracial kiss going on here.”

By this time, I’m being called into the editorial office on every single book I… They don’t care which book it is.

[00:45:01]

The book comes out and then this like, you know, I’m called into the editorial office and we have to have some discussion. So, when that book came out… So, a lot of times the books didn’t really get read until they were in make, ready for view, the lower tier books.

And the line was expanding at the time. The only reason these books kind of got to exist is there wasn’t time to go over every single book. And the books that were really being gone over where Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four, the big titles, Thor, or whatever were considered the big titles. These 13-page that became full books later on, they definitely didn’t get the same amount of attention. And now Marvel was expanding into its black and white line, everybody’s always over extended. And so that’s how those stories managed to get through.

But when that book did come out, I remember being called at the editorial, “Look at this! Look at this panel.” And there of course, that last panel was in full color. And I just… “Really? How’d that happen? You guys should be doing a better job. When you guys are editing these books, you’ve got to be doing a better job.” And that probably was getting close to when, like my timeframe there was already limited.

Jim:              I wanted to ask you a question about the entirety of Panther’s Rage for a minute. Alex asked you about EC comics earlier and there’s a lot of aspects of that that seemed like on individual storylines, seemed like they were very EC-influenced in terms of the characters like Macabre. They were grotesque, hard kind of images.

McGregor:   I hadn’t seen that stuff enough of that time to be influenced by. I could promise you EC never entered my mind while I was writing Panther’s Rage. So literally, any other questions you have about it, it just wasn’t there. Just like saying, I didn’t really have the exposure to Will Eisner. Now, later on when I was doing the adaptation for The Moonstone, those adaptations were clearly inspired by Will Eisner. I saw a page that Eisner had done, and said, “Oh, I could get a hundred pages of that novel in the one page of comics, if I do what Will did with his Spirit page. It is exactly inspired by Eisner. There’s places in Zorro’s Lady Rawhide, I can show you sequences in that are clearly influenced by Milton Caniff. Like they’re definitely Caniff inspired. But with Panther’s Rage, there’s no EC in there at all.

Jim:              I’m going to pay you a big compliment on this. In that, I think that ultimately this is a work that is talking about war and the aspects of war in the same way that (Harvey) Kurtzman explored the Korean war during Two-Fisted Tales in those. And I wondered, was that ultimately, was this Vietnam War influenced? Because this was about the horrors of that kind of combat, and the effect it has on people.

McGregor:   It’s definitely about war. But with that, so is War of the Worlds, which is the reason why later on I got to work… When I was going to do Detectives Inc., the original story that Alex (Simmons) drew back in 1969… I had written two Detectives Inc. stories. Alex was going to start drawing the second one, I don’t remember how we got sidetracked, and it didn’t happen. But I bring it up because there were two storylines in those first two stores.

One, Denning has to shoot a kid to save Denning and Rainier’s life, but in 1969 version, it’s dealing with the South Bronx gangs and they’re in a rooftop of the South Bronx. The second story was about the Vietnam War called The Night They Died. When I finally got the chance to do Detectives Inc. again, the first story, we really dealt with college campus riots. Well, I guess it was 1979, 1980 when I wrote the first Detectives Inc., nothing was going on in the college campuses, so it no longer interested me to write about it.

And that became the story where they were up at the South Bronx, because I really wanted a sequence that would be so emotional and devastating, and I wanted the idea to explore that… A lot of times in comics, when people have to kill somebody, they don’t have to live with the killing. And it brought such a humanity to Denning’s character because Rainier had so much going on, his personal life is such in shambles.

The second storyline, like I said, originally it was going to be about the Vietnam War, but now I’d just come off of Killraven, the Black Panther, and even Sabre… Whilst Sabre deals, maybe even more specifically with war, at some extent. Although the plotline is like set in 2020, remembering that I wrote it in 1977, and that book almost didn’t get finished because it was so controversial.

McGregor:      But in going to Detectives Inc. I thought on the second storyline, would be the murder of a woman who’s gay, on a beach up in the… I suddenly forgot the name of the park…

[00:50:00]

Anyway, but every place is actually real. All the scenes that are… On Sunken Meadow Park, that’s where that takes place. I actually worked that all out, physically went out there and enacted the entire crime scene, so I would know exactly where everything was. I could take pictures of everything, and Marshall Rogers would have exact representation of what that place look like.

But it seemed to me, that was something more than I wanted to write about because I couldn’t do gay characters at Marvel at that time. If I’d ever come out with Venomm at that point in time, that would have been my last book. I would just have pushed them too much, too fast, too quick. It wasn’t going to see print. So, when I got to do Detectives Inc., the major restriction was that was 46 pages of story, and that’s it. That was set in stone. But within that 46 pages, I could do anything I wanted. And I’m still proud of what we did with that book. The kind of work that Marshall Rogers, put into it. The kind of storytelling we did, but that we were able to do gay characters who were very human, and put it in a very empathic storyline.

One of my favorite reviews I’ve ever gotten was from a gay writer who realized, because most critics don’t understand the things that limit you. I had 46 pages and tried to tell a story convincingly, then you could take Rainier, who basically had only stereotype in his mind for lesbians and turned him into somebody who now really kind of has a friendship with this woman and understands her pain, and what she’s been through. So, I’m really glad to this day that we get to do that story.

Jim:              I read what Dwayne McDuffie said about Jungle Action and Panther’s Rage. Can you talk about that a little bit? How important it was to him?

McGregor:   Oh, how important it was to me that he wrote it. I mean that Dwayne McDuffie, this guy is so talented. One of the best men I’ve ever met in my life. When he wrote the original piece, I think Dwayne wrote it… He had a blog page. But I don’t know if that’s where it first appeared on that or it was a version of it. And somehow, I had become aware of it. So, when are we going to do the Masterworks, and add all these features, and Cory Sedlmeier was really great, kept his word to me and said, “If I do the introduction, I’m not going to gloss over all the problems that we had to make this book a reality.” And Corey was very much supportive of that and left the introduction long before, so we’re able…

He came over more than once to get material for the back of the book, so we could do these DVD type extras of stuff that; artworks that you’ve never seen, script pages, the backs of the envelopes and stuff where you could see notes and how things… You could really kind of get an evolution of behind the scenes of what help shape to put this material together. So, while that was being done…

McGregor:   By this time, Dwayne and I were friends and knew each other. So, I called and asked Dwayne, if it would be alright if we used his piece for the Marvel Masterworks book on Panther’s Rage and a lot of the Jungle Action Black Panthers. And he said yes, but he wanted to rewrite it. I said, “No, you don’t have to do anything.” He just said, “No, no, you can use it if you let me rewrite it. I wrote about other the writers in there.” I said, “Dwayne, my ego can take it. That’s fine. Keep everything you’ve done. I’m not…” He said, “No. I want to write a piece on those books.” I said, “Dwayne, whatever you want, do it.”

So, I had not actually seen the finished piece, and when the book came out, Marvel had not sent me a copy. I had worked with Corey, I had read the introduction that I wrote to go over because Corey gave me access to that, but I didn’t know what the book looked like.

On the day it came out, my daughter was coming to see me, by train from Pennsylvania. She was in Pennsylvania at the time, so the entire family was coming in…  I got a feeling this was maybe around the holiday… So, I was going to go down to Penn station to pick them up and I said, “Oh, I’ll stop off at this kind of book store on 14th Street, which is just about six blocks walk from Penn station. I’ll stop in, I just wanted to see what the book looked like. And I couldn’t because they had it sealed in plastic.

So, I had to go buy my own book and I was walking down the sidewalk toward Penn station to meet my daughter… I don’t look at the stuff that I did. I’m reading Dwayne’s piece. I had tears in my eyes by the time I was done then. He was so kind to me, and that the books meant so much to him. That’s somebody that talented and have such strong feelings about it.

Jim:              It’s a beautiful piece. I mean, it really is lovely to read.

McGregor:   Yes, it is. I’ve been very fortunate. A lot of the readers, thank God for the readers. Thank God for Dwayne. I mean I miss him every day. I was actually working with Dwayne… The problem that you guys see right now, I was having… It was a different version of this, where I was almost getting sick every day and I was waking up with the taste of blood in my mouth every day.

[00:55:00]

So, I guess, it gives you an idea of how I really didn’t know whether my days were numbered or what exactly, how this all going to play out, because the doctors weren’t able to figure out what was causing all of it and I remember telling Dwayne… I hadn’t yet met his wife, Charlotte. Charlotte was supposed to join us that night. We were meeting at a restaurant in Manhattan, and I remember saying to Dwayne, “Don’t let these motherfuckers rewrite history, Dwayne. You know what was going on in the timeframe these books were being done.” I’d never had… Dwayne was much younger than I am, and I surely didn’t think that I was going to outlast him. And I thought if there’s one person I would entrust with the history of that, it would be Dwayne.

When Dwayne died, I was working on the Ben 10 for him. I had been in California. I’ve been invited to Robert Culp’s memorial service. You asked about people who influenced me. Certainly, Robert Culp is one of them. I can’t imagine who I would be without I Spy. I don’t… The kid from Rhode Island, growing up, could never have imagined that he would get to know Robert Culp. And that we would actually spend time together. In fact, he wanted me to adapt one of his scripts into comics like… Bob… He wanted Gene Colan to draw because he loved Gene Colan’s artwork, and so did I.

Jim:              Well I’ve never heard this. He was really into comics?

McGregor:   Oh, Robert Culp’s totally in to comics. So, that’s why the Nathaniel Dusk is dedicated to him. There’s a couple of episodes of I Spy that if you know anything about pop culture back in that time in the ‘50s and ‘60s, especially with movies, maybe even TV shows, if they used it, if somebody was seeing you reading comics, that was an indication, virtually, that the person was slow-minded, that they weren’t, you know…

Jim:              Yes.

McGregor:   It was like a shorthand that movies used, ”Okay, this person”, you know, “Look, he’s reading a comics. How dumb is he? He can’t be smart.” By then, I Spy is a couple of episodes, I know one is I think called Sparrowhawk, they’re in Las Vegas and they’re sitting around poolside, by a hotel pool, and they’re reading comics. There’s another one, they’re reading comics as well. So, in one, Bob is reading Dick Tracy and another, I think he’s reading a Charlton comic called Konga.

I said to him, “Bob, Konga? What the hell? You’re out here reading Konga!… Okay. Whatever you say.” But yeah, he was a big Terry and the Pirates fan. That was like his favorite comic of all time. And I managed to get him some Terry before Dean Mullaney went into these superlative editions of Terry and the Pirates.

He wrote a screenplay. He was actually actively… He had just sent me the screenplay for Terry and the Pirates. I can’t believe it Robert Culp had called and said to me, “Don, would you read this over for me, and give me notes?” You’re Robert Culp. What do you mean give you notes? Like anything you want to do, as far as I’m concerned, is fine.

So yeah, I really appreciated him… [inaudible]

Jim:              Oh, that’s fascinating. So, when he’s doing Greatest American Hero, he’s totally into comics and has a sense of all of that, doesn’t he?

McGregor:   Yes. Oh, absolutely… Absolutely.

Jim:              I’ll never watch that show with the same… Now, I have a new perspective. That’s fantastic. I’m gonna finish up with Panther’s Rage. But I wanted to ask you about one issue, and this is an indulgence, but I’m going to take it. There was that issue with the dinosaurs in the pit. And the character, I can’t recall his name, but he’s kind of a mystical, mythical sprite of some kind, and in it with the bird finally dying in the tarpits.

Jim:              Is there a connection between the bird and the sprite? Because he disappears when the bird dies. And I just wanted to say that’s one of the most poetic issue also… I said what my favorite scene was, but that’s an issue that I love. You’re always poetic, but that one especially, just held up incredibly well for me. And I wondered if what your thoughts were on that issue especially.

McGregor:   Okay. Number one, somebody wrote a really incredibly in-depth piece on that particular scene you’re talking about, but to be honest with you, that type of question there is no answer to, for me. I really believe what you find in that scene, that’s for you to determine if you have to explain what it means to the person, you are really taking away any power it might have in the way that it speaks to a person. That’s the most answers that I can give you in terms of, I’m not going to tell you what you should be thinking about that either. You know what you feel, you know what your experience is. What I’m hoping is that will be a sequence that people just respond to, and they relate to it, and it says this to them. It won’t always say the same thing to everybody.

I remember John Warner told me, that with the last issue of Killraven, The Morning After Mourning Prey, because many people still analyze what that book’s about. “You have to be listening”, and he has a certain piece of music that he would play every time he read it. “You have to be listening to this music to really understand that piece.” I said, “John, whatever works for you. If that’s what you need. Then that’s what you should do. And if it brings you enjoyment and at the same time it gives you a sense of meaning that you didn’t have before, then I’m all for it.”

[01:00:08]

So, I’m glad you feel that it was poetic, and that it spoke to you on that level… It’s just amazing to me that the books we’re talking about right now, they’re over 40 years old, and the fact that so many people still come up to me and they know exactly where they were when they read a particular book, what impact it had to them, what it said to them.

And I don’t know why it should surprise me because I have my own stuff. I think about certain things, like Buddwing, or See Them Die, or like Steve Carella dying. I know exactly where I was, particular books, and what it meant to me. And that I don’t know who I would be if those books, that movie, those TV series weren’t part of my life. So, it all depends on how you relate to it individually.

The only thing I hope is that when people started to read one of the books that they would start reading it and say, “Oh, this is just another comic that I’m going to plough through and I’m just going to throw it on the pile. And I’m onto the next one.” I was hoping that some people would get something from it and go, “Oh, wait a minute, let me go back. I need to pay attention here. This isn’t just another comic to get through for the month and then get to next week’s comics.” I hoped it would be something.

The storyteller can’t really ask for much more than that. That there are people out there that care so passionately about these stories that relate to them so much, and been able to relay that to me over the years. I mean it’s just…

Jim:              You instilled a love of comics in me. That is why I’m 60 years old and I’m talking to you today about comics.

McGregor:   Oh, that’s why I’m 74 with a voice that can hardly talk and I’m talking to you and even though I’m… I really appreciate what you guys do because once the history of these things are lost, it’s gone.

Alex:             Yeah, that’s true.

McGregor:   If I could do something to help… Like when Rich died, I was with his widow, Mila. And Mila was crying, one time I was with her and, “Please don’t let them forget Rich, Don. Please don’t let them forget Rich.”

“Not as long as I’m alive, Mila.” And if you notice, if you’re on my Facebook page or you’d go up on the DonMcGregor.com website, you’ll see, it’s like I’m very, very, very fortunate. Before we end this, let me say, not only do I get to work with Tom Sutton, and Rich Buckler, and Craig Russell, and Billy Graham, but then down the line I get to work with… With Jose Ortiz, and Esteban Maroto, and Mike Mayhew, and Dwayne Turner. I, Dwayne and Mike became really best friends. Like a lot of the others… Gene Colan. I love Gene dearly.

At one point, I saw Gene… I went to the hospice the day before he died, I guess. And I spent the day with him and into night, because I got incredibly lost coming back, trying to get back into Brooklyn again. I got so lost, I was for hours lost, in Brooklyn. But I spent hours sitting with Gene. At first, I was sitting in a chair and we’re talking and Gene still had a question even when he was a day away from dying, that I quoted a line to him.

Like I can’t quote my own material but I can create other writers. And I remember like telling him a line from like Buddwing that I’ve always loved. “I’m tired of people looking at me and seeing only of themselves. When you look at me, you see me, but you see nothing. Nothing at all.” He says, “Write that down, Don. Write that down.” He wanted me…

I take a T.S. Elliot poem. “We shall never cease from exploration, but the end of all our exploring will be to return where we first started. But to know the place for the first time.” And here’s was Gene, only has a day of his… “Don, write that stuff down for me, so I can study that stuff tonight.”

For last two hours, I guess, we were together. I just sat on the edge of the bed with him and Gene has these huge, large, incredibly strong hands, and we just held hands, I sat on the bed, and I quoted things to him and told stories back and forth.

Oh, I could tell you a quick Gene Colan story.

Jim:              Yes please.

McGregor:   The first thing Gene and I ever worked on together was Killraven, Something Worth Dying For. And later on, I did Hodiah Twist story called The Hero-Killer Principle! and that was much later. I don’t know how many years later, but at least four or five years.

Jim:              Four years later. Four years because ‘74 is the Amazing Adventures #26 and the other was 78.

McGregor:   Okay… You guys know all this stuff better than me. I knew it was sometime later, because for Gene… One time we’re talking, I’m with his wife, Adrian. Adrian is going, “Gene never, he never talks to me about the stories he’s drawing.” But he’s stopping about every person, and he’s saying, “Hey, look what’s happening now. Look, it’s happening now.”

[01:05:02]

And I think it was just the kind of story that Gene really, really liked. And so, one day I’m talking to Gene and I go to Gene… “Yeah, you drew the Serpent Stallion in such a… You really captured the Serpent Stallion exactly what I want you to do. You understood everything. It’s like you were inside my head Gene. Then Gene goes like, “Serpent Stallion?” “Yeah. You know, in Killraven” “What’s Killraven?” “When you and I worked together on the Killraven thing.” Then he goes, “We worked on the Killraven?” “Yeah, Gene. You even drew Camilla Frost nude. Do you remember? And then they had the Serpent…

[chuckles]

“Serpent Stallion? Don…” So, Gene never… And he goes, “The first story we ever worked on was Hodiah Twist.” And I say, “It’s not, Gene. I swear to God it’s Killraven.”

At some point in time, because Gene and I worked together a lot, at the end of his life he was living fairly close to where I was. So, I would try to stop and see him once a week, or once I knew he was there. In the beginning, I had no idea he was living that close to me.

One time, he had to have dental surgery and I said, “Gene, I’ll take you there.” And we’re driving to someplace in Brooklyn, and if you know anything about living in this city, like wherever there’s doctor’s places, or a dentist place, there’s no place for you to park. It’s like crowded, and I had to find a place to park, and Gene was saying, “Okay, Don, I’m going to go and have this thing cut out. I’ll get a car service home.”

“Don’t Gene, you’re not going into have surgery and be alone. I’m going to find a place to park this car and I’m going to go wait for you.” He goes, “No, Don. You don’t have… I said “Gene, you could ask a lot more of me than this.” I love Gene Colan. I love working with him, and I feel profoundly privileged that I got to be a part of his life. And I told his daughter, Nancy, “As long as I’m around, nobody’s going to forget your dad.”

I just feel there’s a real… It’s a necessity. I’ve told Billy Graham’s granddaughter, Shawna… Again, Billy is such a part of my life. And right down to when I was going to do the Ku Klux Klan stuff and Billy got the press grip. He called me up. He goes, “Don, are you sure you want to do this?” I said, “Yeah, want to do this. Yeah.” He said, “Hey listen, Don, I’m up here in Harlem. The Klan isn’t coming up here to get me. You’re living out in Queens. Are you sure you want to do this?” And I’m joking with Billy, and I say something like, “Oh, come on Billy. They can take a joke, can’t they?”

[chuckle]

McGregor:   I can still hear Billy’s tone of voice now… “No, they can’t, Don. They can’t.” That’s part of just the friendship Billy and I… I still remember the very last phone call that we had together, with that being safe as Sabre, The Exploitation of Everything Dear. That will have my last lines that I remember to this day. Because Billy said it’s something that he didn’t have to do… And we didn’t have no idea at the time that it would be the last time he and I never would talk again.

Alex:             Well, this has been awesome, Don. We’ve had a great time listening to your personal history of your life as well as your life in comics on the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grant and Jim Thompson.

[01:08:05]

Alex Grand:
Welcome back to comic book historians podcast with Alex Grant and Jim Thompson. Today, we have a very favorite guest, Don McGregor, a writer extraordinaire. We’re really happy to have him. We actually did a very lengthy first half of the interview. And now we’re here to discuss more about his career continuing toward the present time. Don, thank you so much for joining us today.

Don McGregor:
Hi Alex, how are you doing?

Alex Grand:
Good. So basically we actually covered a lot of material. The Origins of Detectives, Zinc, Black Panther, we covered a good amount of Killraven. Jim, go ahead.

Jim Thompson:
We finished Panther’s Rage, but we didn’t get to your next storyline, which was abrupt and cut short. But I want to talk about it because it takes us out of Africa and to the… Basically the clan. So let’s talk about that. How did the next storyline come to be.

Don McGregor:
Are you afraid to say the title Jim?

Jim Thompson:
No.

Don McGregor:
The Panther versus the clan. This is what we’re talking about, right?

Jim Thompson:
That’s what we’re talking about. I’ll say Panther versus a clan all day long. I’m fine with that.

Don McGregor:
There we go, Jim. The first thing that I guess I should cover on that is that anytime I’m doing a project or I’m committed to a series, that Black Panther was really the first series that I was going to be doing. So I’m considering looking at everything and in those days you actually can read all the Black Panther books. I’m trying to figure out how the Marvel com book, how it looks so I can have different kinds of stories taking place there. But before I even wrote the first issue of Panther’s Rage, I knew that I had that plan for about 10 books and I thought, “Well, where am I going to go after I do this story?” There’s a part of me that’s… I’m already worried about that. And I thought I wanted to do a story about the T’Challa going to South Africa.

Don McGregor:
And I realized when I was reading all the early books that Stan and Jack did, one of the books, when they brought him to America, they had never mentioned his mother. There was funny stuff about his father, but nothing about his mother. And if you read the Panther’s Rage books, you realize I didn’t mention his mother at all because I thought, okay, his mother is been held captive in South Africa. I don’t know why. I don’t know what the explanation is. And why his father has never talked about his mother, but I now have got a storyline to go to it in my head. I thought, well, if I stay with the series, I have a place to go to a completely different kind of story. So I’m just not interested in doing the same story over and over again.

Don McGregor:
So I really was going to take him South Africa, but by the time I finished Panther’s Rage, I was going through a divorce. I was going into custody courts to see my daughter. I knew I just… Emotionally, it had been very draining. It was an exciting time, but it was a turbulent time and a lot of things that really affected my life and where things were going to go, at the same time, losing the books. At any rate, when I was getting toward the end of it, I realized I can’t do the South Africa. I can’t do the research that’s going to be needed. I just didn’t have the energy or the focus to what was going on in my life. And it was 1976. It was America’s bicentennial. And I thought, well, this will be my birthday gift to America, the Panther versus the clan.

Don McGregor:
And it going to be a lot easier for me to write because it was set in the states and I didn’t have to do a lot of research on it. And I had noted at the time that extremism was more prevalent in this country. Not to the extent it is right now, own [inaudible 00:04:05] right now. Well, some of the clan was having some kind of resurgence, the reverend Sun Myung Moon was in. So one of the other groups, I couldn’t use the reverend Sun Myung Moon obviously. They could sue, but I could do a group that was kind of like theirs and look at the different extremist positions that were assaulting America in many ways. And various ethnic groups of people or people with different sexual persuasions. This is something worth writing about. And then it was just coming up with a storyline that would be strong enough to bring him back and bring him into the states with Monica.

Jim Thompson:
Now, I had heard that there had been some pressure put on you to have some white characters. And then that was one of the motivations and then they were surprised when the white characters were mainly clan members. Is that a true story?

Don McGregor:
Yeah, it’s a true story. In the beginning, when I was doing Panther’s Rage, thank God for the readers and the fans, because they were very supportive of the books, but in the hallowed halls of Marvel comics and an editorial, not so much. I can think of three people that Ashley really liked those books. And one of them is Jim Salicrup. He helped me get the books to read, to research the Panther, Dave Craft and John David Warner. The only few I can think of that Ashley were positive about the books. So it was a precarious place to be. I think when they gave me the assignment, it was just the Black Panther in Wakanda, but I don’t think editorial had thought it all the way through. So what did that mean? Well, as I said to research the books and okay, we’re going to do that.

Don McGregor:
That meant that all the characters had to be Wakandan or essentially all the characters, because it’s their mythology, not mine. And I debated this with them many times. You are the ones who said, it’s a hidden African nation, nobody can find it. They got such technology that no one, except the act every once in a while a white person gets stumbled in and find vibranium, “Oh, we just steel that vibranium.” That’s right. Well, how many… I’m doing a regular series and if every book you had white people stumbling into the Wakanda, that scene was going to west end very quickly. And I was thought T’Challa needs a villain. That’s just his. And then I felt it had to be connected because if you’re doing a bi-monthly book and in the beginning, we only had 13 pages. Well, every storyline a villain comes up and threatens Wakanda somehow and the Panther has to fight them, after about three stories or so I would think most of the readers are going and most of the Wakandans would be going, Hey, Charlotte, things are a lot better when you were back in America, go back.

Don McGregor:
We don’t need you, you was a threat every two months. It’s got to be connected. And that’s how the idea of doing it as a novel. And I thought they would all… If I stayed with it, they would all be novels. So you’d have one in Wakanda and then you’d have one, like I was going to do South Africa and then I would bring them back to Wakanda and then I would take him… So the stories would have a variety to them and yet places to go with characters. So when the book started appearing and all the characters where were Wakandan, I think editorial was prepared in 1973 for a book that had essentially an all black cast of characters and much of what’s in the film that that so many people praise and like, where it’s set in those early stories.

Don McGregor:
I mean, it was… I wanted to create Wakanda as a separate special place. I would talk to [inaudible 00:08:11] about the coloring and say, like [inaudible 00:08:14] like the moon, it’s never just pale yellow in Wakanda. There’s always clouds cutting through it. It’s always a Frank Frazetta moon. Maybe orange or maybe blood red. I just wanted to create the ambience of this place. You can’t see it any other place unless you come to the series and that Wakanda is its own environment. And every time you pick up a book, you’re thrust into that society and those characters. But as a child was not used to having an all black cast or characters. And they wanted to bring the Avengers in. And the more I met with people of all races and sexual persuasions, I realized it was important to keep it just the Panther.

Don McGregor:
I didn’t want the white guys having to come in and save the Black Panther. He can handle things very much on his own. May cost them a lot, but he’s going to persevere and he’s going to do it. And so, I just stood fast on that. And then when I started to do the clan stuff… And right away, there was immediate reactions within the offices. And I remember… One of those meetings in the editor’s office and they were not crazy about the clan stuff. And I said, “For the past two years, you people have been bugging me for white people, give me white people, I want white people. I give you white people, and there’s just no pleasing you folks.”

Alex Grand:
I mean, you shoved those white people up their butts is what happened.

Don McGregor:
Yeah. Kind of.

Jim Thompson:
Do you think that had anything to do with the book being canceled? That you were doing the clan storyline?

Don McGregor:
Sure. It has something to do with being canceled from the book. It was very difficult. These days they would probably promote the book along those angles. But back then, no. I mean, it was the lowest selling book. When I was originally assigned books and I found out later after all of this, that they thought jungle action and the Killraven stuff, were going to die. And they didn’t mind me being on editorial. I think it was because I had no political ambitions. If I wanted to try to become editor in chief, I was going about it in the strangest way possible. And to be honest with you, I never wanted to edit. I just wanted to tell stories. But I knew why being on staff… I could protect the books as much as I could because that was right there. And if things were going to be changed, I would have a chance to try to defend them.

Jim Thompson:
Do you want to talk any about the ending of the clan and how you didn’t get to finish the story?

Don McGregor:
No, Jim Shooter somehow was aware that this conversation took place just before he was editor. So I don’t know how he knew this, because he’s commented upon it. But when I was like, “Go.” I was told I was too close to the black experience and I held up my white hands like, “Well, wait a minute. What are we talking about here?” And Jim Shooter says, “That was just a gentle way of letting me down.” And you here’s all I know, that’s what I was told. And I was off the book and economically things were getting very, very tight and severe and it meant I wasn’t doing the book anymore.

Alex Grand:
But who is editor in chief at that moment? Was it Marv Wolfman or Archie Goodwin or something?

Don McGregor:
Archie was one of the great guys in the business.

Jim Thompson:
Yes. Just as far as timeline, who was editor in chief at that moment?

Don McGregor:
In fact, Archie is the one who got me to come back to Marvel comics after I was told that I would never be allowed back into the offices of Marvel about two or three weeks before my son was born.

Jim Thompson:
Why don’t we move to the Killraven stuff? Because we haven’t talked about that except for one key aspect, which was the kiss, the interracial kiss. That we talked about in the last episode. But I want to talk about more than that. I want to talk about primarily… And I know you worked with some other artists on that series, including I think maybe your first work with Gene Colan, I’m not sure. But I want to talk mainly about one of the two artists that I associate with you the most. And that would be Pete Craig Russell, because I’d never seen anything more poetic than what you guys were doing at that time visually. What was that like? What was that collaboration like? Talk about that series a little bit with us.

Don McGregor:
First of all. I got incredibly fortunate. I mentioned earlier that when I was assigned these books, editorial really thought this was going to die. They were bi-monthly books, jungle genre material was not really selling in comics. I think Joe Cooper had been doing Tarzan and DC didn’t have good luck with that. If he can’t sell Tarzan in and that genre, how would another hero in that kind of situation sell? I think they had high hopes for the wars in the beginning. But what happened was it went through three different artists, I believe. Three different writers. And so, when the book has just in this first three issues, that many diverse talents in it. I think the hopes they had with it from the first issue were now dashed. Again, science fiction was not as a genre at that time that people felt had much of a chance.

Don McGregor:
And that’s how Craig Russell got involved with the projects. And I got really, really fortunate. I had Rich Buckler and Billy Graham on the Black Panther and they really cared about what they were doing. We were all very, very close, together and, or on the phone all the time about these books. So if they were virtually left alone, if I had been doing Spider-Man and at the time, for instance, I would never have been allowed to do those stories. So when it came to, Craig and Killraven. Craig had done an interview somewhere in a fancy. The fancy market was really just starting to grow, have more titles, is this thing. But it was still fairly small and unlike today with social media where the comics are all over the place, being written about [inaudible 00:15:09], just like you guys doing, but there wasn’t a lot of that.

Don McGregor:
The comics journal existed. I know Dean Delaney did one. And so did Frank [inaudible 00:15:19] and I do other small imprints. Apparently Craig did an interview on a book that he had worked on for Marvel comics. He complained about what they did to his art. I don’t remember the details or anything like that. I didn’t know Craig at the time, but how Craig got onto that book was Craig was in the doghouse with them. And he’s not yet the Craig Russell, but that was in a year he’s going to become a… The reason that he got Killraven was they needed artists, raw books were being done. And we went from Gene who did one of them. And I see in one of the letters calls that I guess Gene was going to maybe do others.

Don McGregor:
I don’t really know what happened there because people do think that I chose Billy Graham for the Black Panther. I didn’t have that power in those days. I couldn’t choose an artist. The same thing with Killraven, they put Gene and then they put Craig. Craig and I hit it off right away. I mean, he wanted to do the best work. He was capable of doing… He knew I wanted to do the best work that I was capable of doing at the time. And so it was just… It was terrific and Craig just kept getting better every single issue so that not four issues in the Killraven, all the writers are going to Craig say, “Hey, why are you staying on that rinky dink book of the McGregor’s? I could get you five times the audience that, that book gets. Come work with me.” Thank God for Craig, Craig just said, “I’m perfectly fine where I am.” And he stayed with it right to the end. And it was just… Those are beautiful looking books.

Alex Grand:
Did you guys chat about potential layout ideas together?

Don McGregor:
I did a lot of layouts on the Black Panther. I did not do a lot of layouts. Sometimes I would have suggestions on how I wanted a scene to go, but if Craig came up with something better. That was fine. It’s like when you work with an artist over a period of time, you find what ways work best for you together. So Billy would be as totally separate on what worked for him and it would be for Craig and what worked for Craig. And I just was very fortunate to have these really, really talented people. Now in between that after Killraven and after the Black Panther, and I’m going to try to read that section later, but when I was told not to come back to Marvel comics again, later on I was at… I think forbidden planet was doing some kind of function and I didn’t normally go to a lot of those.

Don McGregor:
I’m not sure why I went that particular night, but it was filled with comics people. And so many of talented artists and writers coloursist, letterists, et cetera. They were all in New York in those days. So I’m at this… I feel solely must’ve been putting on, but I don’t remember what exactly what it was about. Anyhow, Archie Goodwin came up to me and said, “Don, would you come back to do Killraven?” And I said, “Well, I wouldn’t be interested unless Craig withdrawing it.” And Archie tells me, “Yeah, Craig’s interested in drawing it.” And I said, “Well, because Jim Shooter was still head of that place.” And I said, “Well. Who am I [inaudible 00:18:50] you or Jim Shooter?” And Archie said, “You only have to deal with me.” I said, “Well, then if Craig is going to do it and you’re going to be the editor, I’m in. I’m ready to do it.”

Don McGregor:
Understand I can’t end everything in one graphic novel, but I can satisfy the story situations that have been set up with his brother and I can bring that all together. The other stuff was way too vague for me to do all in 148 page story and Archie was in agreement with that. He kept his word to me on everything. There were some mistakes made in that book and I had corrected them and brought them in for corrections and Archie wasn’t in the day I left them off. Well, somehow those corrections never got made, but Archie did call me in when the black lines came in and I called him. I said, “Archie, I spent all this time. I corrected this material and none of it’s been done.”

Don McGregor:
And Archie investigated the situation said, “Don, you’re absolutely right. It’s our mistake, not yours.” And he went to the printers and told them to redo, that these corrections had to be made because they were… Especially the fans of Killraven, there were a couple that certainly were at odds with the timeline that had been… I said I had done about those characters. So Archie, he was just great. I can’t say enough positive things. Archie was my first editor at Warren magazines. And the first story I ever did, Archie edited and Tom Sutton drew it. I didn’t even know it was being done. And it comes into this, everything I asked for, if I want to reverse angle shots, continuity shots, quite a few shots, whatever it was, Tom Sutton could do it in war. And I thought it was going to be that way all the time, like, wow. And then I got to Marvel and things were a lot different.

Alex Grand:
When I look up your output at Marvel, it seems to be kind of less towards 76, 77. What was the amazing reason for that? Because Jim Shooter became editor in chief in 78. So what was your impression of what was happening at 76 and 77 that led to have less writing output at Marvel?

Don McGregor:
I don’t know the answer directly to that. I mean, after letting go on the books, I know John David Warner gave me some work and there was a lot of… Editors were shifting all the time and like one editor would tell you something, if there’s a new person coming in, they would tell you something else. And like, “Oh, editor’s not going to use your work.” And there was just a lot of unsettling events happening that I wouldn’t have access to. I was not part of… And I quit the editorial job mostly in hopes of keeping my marriage together, which didn’t work.

Don McGregor:
And so I was alone out there at the time. Because I’d met a lot of fans and now there was a lot of talk and I started working on Sabre. I didn’t realize a Sabre was going to end up being just as explosive because of the race situation, because it dealt with race. And then later on, it was going to have gay characters in it. Let’s just say there were a lot of people not… That wasn’t very acceptable in comics in those days. And so I was doing a lot of work there and I was trying to survive, but things were really pretty tight money-wise. And so-

Jim Thompson:
Alex is mentioning your slow down in 76. I would point out that you were on power man at that point. Issues 30 through 35 you’d also did in 28. So you were working in 76 and I wondered what you thought about going from Black Panther to PowerMan. Did they give you that book because you were the black guy? I mean, because you were the black experience person?

Don McGregor:
That’s before that line gets said, it’s the only time I ever asked for a title. I’m not sure what the background is, but Luke Cage was open. Whoever had been writing it, wasn’t going to write it anymore. They needed a writer. And it didn’t really have anything to do with Luke Cage being black, even though I spent a lot of time up in Harlem and Spanish Harlem. So I knew of the writers that were living in New York city. I could write about those places intimately, because I stayed there many times with Billy Graham or with Alex Simmons. So I had a lot of experience with that, but what I really wanted to do was write a book about New York city.

Don McGregor:
I loved being in New York city and Cage was a street level Manhattan based service. So, I really like… And I wasn’t taking anything away from another writer, because there’s a lot of stuff that was very dismaying to me that writers would do to one another. I didn’t see artists do that, that much. Honestly to encourage each other. A lot of writers didn’t… And Larry in recently past couple of years mentioned that to me about writers. And I got to say, Larry from my experience is pretty accurate. So I wanted to do a location because I wanted to write about New York city and this book gave me the chance to do that. And you can see it right from the first page. It’s all about being on 42nd street at two in the morning.

Jim Thompson:
You really made the locale into almost a character in the book. Another character that was in the book, which I found really interesting was… This is where Quintin Chase comes into play and he had a wife and a daughter, but they were going through some weird friction at home. And I wondered if this was in any way, reflecting what was going on in your own life at the time.

Don McGregor:
Yeah. Probably, but all the books you invest a lot of yourself in them. Sometimes things that readers think, “Oh, well that’s Don writing about something in his own life.” Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with it. Other times stuff that actually does, people aren’t aware of it. And it really just depends. But yeah, I’m sure that had probably some kind of an influence on it. I can’t swear because a lot of 1976 to 1978, it was such an emotional time. It’s like kind of going into the abyss. And if you get lucky, you come out on the other side, but everything’s gray in there. I’m sure people like Dave Craft and Jim Salicrup, Steve Gerber and those people would probably remember much more about this. Alex Simmons, Billy Graham, Dave, Craig, they would be much more aware of some of the stuff that happened probably because it was so painful.

Don McGregor:
A lot of it… I just don’t remember. Getting on the other side of it. And once I was with Marsha, it was a different story entirely. So let me read you this little Christmas story about… This goes in between right after I’ve been taken off most of the books. I remember a Christmas season while I was still writing dragon flame. The money situation was desperate to put it mildly. I was with my daughter, Lauren. On one of our court-appointed weekends and we walk past holiday walkers on the Greenwich village street corners shouting about their [inaudible 00:26:25] Christmas trees and put it from upstate New York. Get yourself your own Christmas tree right here. We got the Christmas trees there is. A man in a ragidy blue sweater at us, there were broken pine dredges scattered over the broken gray slabs of sidewalk. I stopped walking, feeling lost hand in mind, remembering to jumble on my own childhood Christmas’s. I had $20 to my name.

Don McGregor:
$20 and it had to last through the week or maybe more, along would only be five years old once. And I very fiercely wanted her to have a Christmas tree at her dad’s house. Intermingle with those emotions was a sense of failure. I had the impulse to run back to the character offices and tell them I would write anything they wanted not me to write. Just so that I could easily afford a Christmas tree for this five-year-old girl. Would held my hand and though. And also some that I would not have to face such guilt as failure. The man in a ragidy sweater scooted at me to the doctors. [inaudible 00:27:28]. Shaking one of the trees, a puny thing with scrawny branches. Watch wakes, dropped down to the cement. Lauren stood to pick up a couple of greens, figuring the pine needles [inaudible 00:27:39] seeing shapes and visions I could not.

Don McGregor:
She did not know that a father felt like a loser on this cold night. $20 in my pocket. I thought, “Well, what the hell I can survive on $10 for the week, maybe even five if I have to.” It’ll be a tight week, you’re eating Campbell Soup every day, but I can have that. You want to get a tree, Harry? I called Lauren that after Harry Houdini, I also called her [inaudible 00:28:05], which I think she still likes to stay. And sometimes Wolfgang because she like Mozart. Can we? She asked. For sure, but we have to figure it out. We’ll have to look them over. I said, as the Hawker scowled at me in the dark and shut his other passed away, I wondered if he also sensed that I was a loser holding onto a branches close to her chest. Lauren looked at the branches, leaning against the batted station wagon. We’re seeing the master ragidy sweater and a few days growth beard. How much of your cheapest trees? I asked trying to be casual. 20 bucks. Excuse me? 20 bucks. Louder, his eyes already disposed to me.

Don McGregor:
I felt as if I’d been shot. I knew I was taking this too hard, making too big a deal of it. You have depression pause it in my mind and a lot faster as of self-pity. I walked over to Warren who was judging those Christmas trees with dark eyes. I know before feeling very sad is if not only her dreams, but my own were in danger. Honey. I said finding it hard to speak. Yes, dad. She asked turning to me. I looked into those deep dark brown eyes of five years and I said quietly. Honey, daddy doesn’t have enough money to get a Christmas tree. See there a lot of money, they more than I thought and well Dad just doesn’t have enough. She smiled at me as if I was being much too silly. That’s okay, dad. She said, worryingly. Have to worry. And then she held up the two branches shape that stair chest. See, I still got my branches and that’ll be enough. It was a Christmas story as some children’s book about the meaning of Christmas [inaudible 00:29:41] illustrations except that it wasn’t.

Don McGregor:
It was Greenwich Village with shouts and curses and car horns and grocery stores going back for the night. And there were no illustrations. There was already this dear daughter of mine whose words brought tears to my eyes that I could not explain. Tears that were a mixture of love and hurt and hope. I could not hold her close enough. She was five years old. She could not understand your father’s tears I’m sure, but she held me also, tiny on stretched up around my neck innocently with a lot of, I felt I did not deserve, I did not want to lose ever. I read about it now. So I won’t forget that time. And so that’s sometime she too may read about it. I wonder how she would remember that night. If she recalls anything of it at all.

Alex Grand:
That’s very emotional and heartfelt.

Don McGregor:
Somebody said to me… One person was read that piece said, “Don, if everything you wrote was that good. You wouldn’t be a bad writer.”

Alex Grand:
You’re a great writer, Don. All right, Jim.

Jim Thompson:
Were you done with custody when you were writing that?

Don McGregor:
That was still being fought. When I wrote that I was getting to see Lauren on weekends. It’s too complex to go into it. And on top of that, you guys are probably aware that in that timeframe, there was a lot of original artwork for Marvel comics. I’m not going to go into any more detail of this, except that I couldn’t believe that my divorce had this truce I would see the much of the original Marvel work that was going to vanish because lawyers and other people were going to take it away into the night. And I didn’t even know I was going to see it. I would not be able to prove it, but that’s still an outwork was hooked into in a tangential my divorce so, it was a very traumatic time.

Jim Thompson:
I could get lost in just asking you divorce questions because I don’t know if you know, I’m a divorce lawyer by profession, but I’m going to resist that and talk about what I think we can do to move ahead is kind of a little lightning round. I’m going to name some things and give me a little background, just a short thing on that. The first one I wanted to ask you about was-

Don McGregor:
I don’t really do short, probably because I’m five foot, four inches tall. No, I think I do short, nevermind.

Jim Thompson:
Totally up to you. Maybe these things don’t warrant a long story though. 1975, the radio drama series night figure that was going to run on WHBI FM. Can you talk about that for a minute or however long you want.

Don McGregor:
Obviously you realize I love all mediums pop culture. So, old radio shows. I loved those radio shows. And once I got together with Alex Simmons. Alex is multi talented and one of the things he does is act and we both loved old radio. So I had created a character called Night Figure and Alex could do about six to eight voices. I was capable of maybe two, but I could scream really well. Whenever the-

Don McGregor:
Maybe two. But I could scream really well, whenever the screams were needed. I think we did like a 10 minute sequence of a guy being eaten alive by rats, but we had a lot of fun doing it. It’s like, “Yeah, I really, really liked doing it.” And I still love Misty Accountant Mosses, I think probably the best horror mystery radio series ever.

Jim Thompson:
So did this ever air?

Don McGregor:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
For how long?

Don McGregor:
Just on Halloween night.

Jim Thompson:
Oh I see. So it was a one, it was not a series. It was just going to be a one-

Don McGregor:
Very often everything I do, Jim, does like, “Oh, I got storylines, wait a minute. I might have, I may only half a sentence or two, but you know, I kind of know storylines, oh, I’m going to go to that. I want to write about that.” Or if I have a title that really entices me, and I know it like the title is indicative of what that story is going to be about. In fact, I have a list of probably a hundred titles that if I went to that page on the computer, I could just see all those titles. And if I saw one, “All right, you know, that still sounds pretty good.” And probably I would do it. But I was playing around with film at the same time. So I was doing all these things while doing the comics.

Jim Thompson:
Is this preserved somehow? Is there a way for anyone to listen to this?

Don McGregor:
This is super eight stuff and eight millimeter, I guess I still have it, but you can’t view it. You could never do this these days. I mean, Alex Simmons and I used to go into Central Park and strap six guns, you know, around the waist and go hunt each other down in Central Park at three o’clock in the morning. I was talking with Alex about this recently and he says, “You know, these days Don, I’d probably get shot.” And unfortunately he’s probably, he’s not far wrong. We’ve had so many terrible incidents of black people being killed. But in those days we were having a great time.

Don McGregor:
Then we used to film Alex and then another friend of mine who just died recently, worked at CBS. So on the weekends, we would actually film fights. We were filming a film and doing big fight scene, we’re in the offices where they do the research for 60 Minutes and because both Alice and I liked doing our own stunts. And you know, again, it’s just trying to make what you see in pop culture, a little more real, you know? And having fun playing that kind of a thing.

Jim Thompson:
All right, let me ask you the next one I had. Marvel, around ’77, they were doing Marvel classics comics, sort of their view on classic illustrated. And you did a Edgar Allen Poe book with Michael Golden. I think it was his first penciled published work. Do you recall that?

Don McGregor:
I recall the book, but I really don’t recall the Michael Golden part of it, the parts that I really remember are, the Pit and the Pendulum, because I think every line from Poe’s short story is in that adaptation. And I had come up with a visual way to use comics for it. I started thinking with 12 panel pages, then it went to 10 panel or nine panel pages to six panel pages to when the rats are swarming over him and the pendulum is slicing him open, those are full page shots. And then I would reverse it as we went toward the end of the story and the other way, making the panels smaller and smaller. So that was a really, it was an interesting visual way to do Pit and the Pendulum.

Don McGregor:
And then with Tell-Tale Heart, I wish I had better lettering, but the idea was to have that sound effect of the heartbeat get larger and larger until the panels where the murder actually occurs within panels that are actually the shape of the heartbeat. So those who I remember.

Jim Thompson:
So you did several of these then? And were they mainly the Poe adaptations?

Don McGregor:
That particular book had, you know, because they were short stories, they had three, they had The Pit and the Pendulum, they had the Tell-Tale Heart, and then when Michael Golden did they had [crosstalk 00:37:25]. I had outside, like, yeah, I designed a lot of the pages for those first two stories, but I had no contact with Michael Golden. I mean, I know his name and I know that Renée Witterstaetter, I think she represents Michael. Outside of that, I don’t really know much more.

Don McGregor:
The adaptation of Wilkie Collins, Moonstone, which was like a 600 page novel, I pulled out every visual trick in the book, but every scene and structurally. Every scene in that book is in that comic. And I’m still proud of that, I really worked hard at these to make them. And there’s very little, there’s seldom, maybe a printing line or two that’s Don McGregor. The other, if it’s HG Wells, if it’s Poe, if it’s Wilkie Collins, whoever it is, it’s their writing, not mine.

Jim Thompson:
I have that Moonstone book, the Marvel version. And I’ve read the novel. I will look at that tonight because I can’t believe you got everything in there. That’s amazing.

Don McGregor:
Everything.

Jim Thompson:
So let’s talk about the black and white magazines just briefly on, oh, there I go again, but Morbius was a character that you did right there. And then I want to take that from that to the Hodiah Twist issue with Rick Marshall, that issue, and get your version of those events. But let’s talk about Morbius first.

Don McGregor:
How many stores do you want about what went on behind the scenes with Morbius?

Jim Thompson:
Two.

Don McGregor:
Because there’s a lot of great stories, but you know, but like, let me see…

Jim Thompson:
The two best ones please.

Don McGregor:
As a first thing, let me say, the Lighthouse of the Possessed and the sequence of that, you know, Tom Sutton drew the first one and Rich drew the second. That story was originally a Vampirella story.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, that’s interesting.

Don McGregor:
Yeah. See, there’s a lot of stories. Like when the police come to my apartment, while I’m writing one of the Morbius stories. See, there’s many stories behind the scenes. So anyhow, when I was doing this stuff, when Archie was going to leave Vampirella they chose me to do the Vampirella series. And it’s the only time I clipped with all the vampy stuff, clipped many of the key panels where Archie was doing like the history, so I wouldn’t violate whatever Archie had set up.

Don McGregor:
And I had done that story Lighthouse of the Possessed for Warren as a Vampirella story. And the editor at the time, said I had a political slogan in there, “No chicanery with Manary.” And so the editor goes, “You can’t use the word chicanery because none of the readers will understand that word.” So when I wrote the script, I actually didn’t use it in a caption, I didn’t use it in the dialogue. The description had Vampy and instead of like, Amanda Saint, I believe I had a male character bouncing off the stuff between Vampy and that character. And they’re walking through the [inaudible 00:40:42] at night and on the wall, I had, there’s a poster, “No chicanery with Manary.” I didn’t know whether Tom would include it or maybe a portion of it, right, because the characters could be in front of it.

Don McGregor:
The editor was so incensed I used the word chicanery that he says, “You can’t do the book.” So when the opportunity came to do Morbius, that’s too good a story to throw away. I just took Morbius and transformed Morbius, I mean Vampirella and the Vampirella character becomes Morbius. And the male character that was with Vampy now becomes Amanda Saint. Which apparently they’re doing in some, I don’t know, some books that are being done today, or maybe even some film edited adaptation. I’m not sure, but, so that’s how that originally came about. And so if you read that story, just try to picture it as a… Because virtually nothing’s been changed except the personalities. When Morbius is talking, obviously he’s reflecting, you know, Michael Morbius, but scene for scene, it’s exactly the same story. You didn’t know that. Did you?

Jim Thompson:
No, I didn’t. And I’ve read an awful lot of your interviews, I had not seen that. That is new information for me. So I’m glad you gave it to us. Should we talk about Hodiah Twist?

Alex Grand:
When we interviewed Rick, we asked him, because there’s this whole thing of his author credit went on your story and we asked him how that happened. He claims it was an accident and he’s, sorry, can you tell us what happened?

Don McGregor:
Absolutely can tell you what happened. And in fact, the other section that I was going to read to you is about to work for hire contract. Because that is all around the work for hire contracts. This piece is a little bit longer, but it’s all about the Hodiah Twist stuff. The system, as it existed in comics, whether you’re at DC or whether you’re at Marvel, that’s the way it was. I finished the Hodiah Twist story in March, the Quentin Chase plot synopsis had not yet found an artist. They were having trouble getting Marshall Rogers to do it and were considering other possibilities. Gene Colan was illustrating the Hodiah Twist story with all of those beautifully penciled faces which appeared as if they’d been painted, rather than drawn.

Don McGregor:
And I just wanted to make a comment, Gene so loved that story, that for years afterwards, I was with Gene and going right up to, I was with Gene the day before he died at the hospice, and sitting on the bed on his bed, like he was holding my hand. And I had brought at one point the Killraven, something worth dying for, that Gene drew to him, because Gene was the first one to draw the serpent. And Gene would always say, “Oh no, no, Don, the first story we ever did was Hodiah Twist.” I said, “No, it wasn’t Gene, you did a Killraven.”

Don McGregor:
“What’s a Killraven?” And even when I brought him the comic, when I showed it to him, he said, “Yeah, but the first story we did, Don, was Hodiah Twist.” And so he loved that story. And Adrienne, his wife had told me, she said, “Gene never reads ahead.” this is going to sound scotch. It was astounding to me when I read this because Gene was so powerful as an artist. It was like, is there anything he can’t draw? You can’t ask him to do? And so Adrienne said he’s continually surprised by the story, he’ll come to me and say, and he never does this, “Look, look what happens next.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean you didn’t know what was going to happen Gene?”

Don McGregor:
He said, “I never look ahead. I can only draw the page that’s right in front of me.” He said, “Because if I look ahead, I start worrying about how am I going to draw that. So I have to draw the page that’s in front of me and then go on to the next one.” And then I realized, Gene sometimes would, he’d like a scene so much that he would extend it.

Don McGregor:
But with, say with Nathaniel Dusk, I would be able to say to Gene, “Hey Gene, if you’re not up with me now, you need to catch up here. Because we’ve got a big ending coming.” And so he just understood the characters in my head. So many Gene Colan stories that I can tell you. But just he had done the Hodiah Twist story and I loved it. I’m starting to sound like I inked it.

Don McGregor:
But that story was written while the old work for hire contracts were still being enforced. Because what I’m talking about here, that’s in March, I’m going to go, like by July, I’m going to be guest of honor over in England for the big London comic fetching. And I took Marsha with me and Marsha was seven months pregnant, I guess at the time with Rob. And there’s a whole bunch of adventures there where they actually took us off the plane, weren’t going to let us come back to the States. And it became like the comic adventure people actually had to go to the media and threatened the airline companies going that they were holding an American comic book writer hostage and not letting them go back home to the States. But see there’s a lot of stories there, but they take way too long to tell all of them.

Don McGregor:
Anyhow, let me see if I can… Marshall Rogers agreed to do the project and asked that I write a complete script as I had with Hodiah Twist, I was committed. Detectives Incorporated was finally going to be done and now I have to make good on all those things I had told myself over the years that it could be. Obviously I couldn’t do it all in one book, but that first story I had to say, quite clearly, that comics can do anything a writer and artist want. Comics do not have to have a strict uniform structure, taught us to deal with sensitive subjects and not merely pretend they are addressing it. They can be about human beings, not only superheroes or caricatures. Already I knew that I would take those vague ideas I had had back on that Long Island beach and some long ago time, alien time of vast despair, and I would review them and then begin work, of fear intention with love and excitement.

Don McGregor:
Fear, you ask? Tension? But why? Because it was 11 years later and here was my chance to finally bring Denning and Renier to life, and all of the visions of the past decade refused to be tamed. I felt inadequate to the task. Which sequences would I have to reject to accompany the logistics of the project. Which segments of their lives should I show in the book?

Don McGregor:
As I began working on Detectives Incorporated, I received a phone call from the editor at Marvel comics. “We have a problem.” He said, that August afternoon. So I’d just come back from London and Switzerland, and I had really promoted the book while I was over there, because I had seen Gene’s illustrations of it, this story was well done back in March while the work for hire contract for still flux.

Don McGregor:
So they owned it. There was no, it wasn’t like I could, say, claim a copyright to it. They had that story, but they were trying to force everybody to sign work for hire. “We have a problem.” He said, that August afternoon. “We?” I asked, bemused, my head still filled with conversations between Renier and Denning. But I was trying to concentrate on this business world, suddenly brought colliding into the creative world, by the ringing phone. “Yes.” Said the editor, “We. It’s about that Hodiah Twist story you wrote sometime back.”

Don McGregor:
“I know the story.” I answered. “It took me three months to write, at the time you said it was the most beautiful story you’d bought. Remember? You mean that story? The one that Gene Colan illustrated and that I’d placed the dialogue balloons on the artwork. Oh, a long time back?”

Don McGregor:
“Yes. That story.”

Don McGregor:
“Well, what kind of problem could we have?” It wasn’t really a question I wanted to ask.

Don McGregor:
“It’s about the contract.” The editor explained. “The contract, the Marvel comics contract, the contract that must as of July, 1978, be signed by every writer and artist who wishes to work for the company. The contract that states in no uncertain terms that you are not a writer, but supplier of works for hire. And that as such, you have no claim to any further residuals or fees that might accrue from the story you have written. Be it merchandising or movie deals or television series or whatever.”

Don McGregor:
There was a very definite reason for such a new contract, several definite reasons, in fact. New copyright laws had come into effect in January, 1978. There were laws set up to legally protect writers in any medium, and they did not exclude the comics industry. Photographers, artists, all were protected under these new laws and the major comics companies were well aware of that fact, especially with multimillion dollar movie deals, ala Superman in the works. And with television begging for more of the Hulk and Spiderman and with merchandising of Wonder Woman dolls and Captain America motorcycles and other such stimulating toys at all same time high. It was big money time folks, and no one on the corporate level wanted to make any mistakes or let any of that moolah fall into other hands, besides their own. They could have done the decent thing for once in this industry. But no, they wanted it all, as usual. They could not arrange a contract whereby the creative people might see five or 10% of any sale, that was a directly a result of the product of those creative people.

Don McGregor:
The company could still have seen most of the edit income in their coffers, but no, we’re talking big money here, and they wanted it all. The corporate decision makers set their publishers and editors out to do their dirty work, the same people who had once written stories themselves. But these folks had to do their duty and [inaudible 00:50:55]. They were only doing their duty as Marvel’s representatives.

Don McGregor:
In July, 1978 Marvel presented their work for hire contracts. Every writer and artist was asked to sign that paper. The editors did not speak of coercion. However, if a particular person refused to sign that contract, he would no longer receive freelance work from the company. And once the major comic book writers and artists signed that contract, the people who were holding out and protesting it were doomed. As it now stands, anyone who wants to sign that contract, it is as simple as that, be it an artist, a writer must sign that contract.

Don McGregor:
The publishers editors gave them a chance to legitimately lay down the law to certain artists or writers whom they felt, weren’t always obliging. There were many who fought it. There were many who refused to sign. Who realized that what it meant to an industry they loved.

Don McGregor:
In July, I had been presented with a contract. I’d read through it painfully. If I had wanted to write more stories for Marvel, I would have to sign it. I understand though, I have not seen them personally, that similar contracts were simultaneously being presented at the other major comics companies. I cannot comment to those because I did not see them. I do not mean to single Marvel comics out on the score. I recount the events with Marvel because it was there that I had my personal experience.

Don McGregor:
I know tales of many other people who were presented with the same decision as to whether or not they would sign that work for high a contract. But those are their stories, not mine. I know of others only as hearsay. I write these lines, so that you, who might want to enter this field, who may have a love for comics, that can not be denied, will understand the situation. I do not mean to imply at any time, that I was the only one who underwent those painful decisions. I wasn’t. I do mean to imply that Don McGregor was singled out as an example, I wasn’t, no more than any of the others who refused to sign. It didn’t matter who you were. It was only the decision that mattered.

Don McGregor:
In July, 1978, I looked at that contract. Marsha was pregnant. The baby was due in September. If I could not write any stories at all for Marvel, it meant that the future looked dismal. I did not have only myself to consider anymore. I talked it over with Marsha, torn and anguished. I still remember the Christmas, when I could not buy a Christmas tree. Marsha is one of a kind lady. I had told her, “If I signed that contract, I’ll feel like a hypocrite. I am not sure I would be able to believe in anything anymore. Knowing that I would turn my back on it when it became inconvenient. I could not expect anyone else to believe in what I said either, if I did that. But is that reason enough put you through what could be hell?”

Don McGregor:
“I don’t want you to sign it.” Marsha had said, “But I don’t want you to do something you don’t believe in. We’ll make it through somehow. I don’t want you to sign this and have it tear you up.” I love that woman. “We’ll take the risk together.” She had said. She was as scared as I was.

Don McGregor:
Politely. I’m sure I said it politely, as I did not want to burn any bridges behind me. And there was still a part of me that [inaudible 00:54:11] of the early sixties. Politely, I told the editor then, that I could not sign the contract, but that I hoped one day they would have a magazine that would not come into the jurisdiction of the contract. Perhaps then we could work together again. There was a part of me, a foolish part, perhaps, that is rooted back in nostalgically innocent beliefs, that would still like to have parted with equal respect. Now in August, 1978, I was going to have to make this decision again. “We can’t publish the Hodiah Twist story unless you sign the contract.” I was told.

Don McGregor:
“But why?” I asked, I wonder if it sounded like a whine. Sounded like a whine to me, I did not want to sound that way. I wanted to sound self-assured, confident, virile, all those positive traits we wished for. “I wrote that story back in March of this year, Marvel comics bought the story back then. You have a little statement on the back of the check that says you own the material. It has already been drawn by Gene Colan. He has been paid for it. I assume the story was not being inked by [inaudible 00:55:11]. Therefore what’s the hassle?

Don McGregor:
The editor informed me that he has fought for the Hodiah Twist story. I must believe him, he says, he still loves the story, but they will not print it, not a chance, unless I signed the contract. He only has the story at heart, he sounds sincere. Then I am informed that he has high hopes for the Hodiah Twist story. If it does well in this one shot story, perhaps we could do it as a series, he is going to try to convince Mike Caluda for it to be a cover for the issue.

Don McGregor:
I have suspicions. I do not think they have anything to do with. I do not believe there’s anything personal in the events, if anything, they are inverse. The human being is forefiting, it has little to do with any writer or artist, except for the position they have taken at the time. This is a business. It is not for children who play by our rules or you don’t play. You keep your mouth shut. Oh, we’ll remember. I want to believe the editors apparent sincerity, I want to bask in the praise, but too often in the past, have I seen the creative’s ego massaged to sooth them into doing what the company wants done. Most of all, I wanted the story to reach its audience. Does more. It’s going to go into the editor in chief, coming in and telling me he won’t let Don McGregor make a liar out of him. The John Buscema.

Don McGregor:
And I’m going in my head like, “What’s he talking about? John Buscema, what’s John Buscema got to do with this?” And I told John Buscema that there would be no special deals for anybody, and certainly not Don McGregor.” Now I wasn’t asking for any particular, you know, give me something no one else has had. And in fact then the editor at one point really just said, ‘Well, go to the fancies and complain, but sign the paper anyhow.” And I just felt at the time, if I signed it, it was like you’re condoning and endorsing it. So does that work, did reading that segment, did that work for you guys?

Jim Thompson:
Yes, Don. Absolutely. But I have a follow-up question, which is, are you relating that to the, the, the Rick Marshall credit in the magazine, that you were left off the author?

Don McGregor:
One of the outcomes of that was that at a New York convention. And I don’t know why these people think they can get away with this kind of thing. It was told that I did not write that script. I can show you the script right now, Jim. If I can get my hands on it because we had to repaint all the ceilings. And I’m not sure where everything is right now, but when I was in Brooklyn, I could put my hands right on it. That details everything about that time period in those particular books.

Don McGregor:
So yes, they went to a convention, they thought, on a panel apparently. And somebody asks the question you’re asking. And Marshall apparently says that he wrote it and a credit comes on, when the book comes out. And I got a lawyer at the time, but really, I couldn’t afford to pursue it. You know? If Steve Gerber couldn’t get it for Howard the Duck, what was I going to be able to do with Hodiah Twist story? And it had already seen print. They’d already taken my name off it. But I’m sure that the editor was pressured by the editor in chief to … “The writers name doesn’t go on that story, print it, but his name doesn’t go on it.” And it’s all me.

Jim Thompson:
So yo be totally clear, it was a deliberate act for these purposes that you described and not an accident in any way?

Don McGregor:
You know what Jim you assess it.

Jim Thompson:
Okay.

Don McGregor:
I wasn’t even there when … I don’t know why they thought. Because obviously as soon as it was done, people were calling me to tell me, “Hey, this is what was said today. And this is what was done.” An accident, I don’t think so.

Jim Thompson:
But today, everyone acknowledges, there’s no dispute any longer. That’s clearly your story, your creation and everything. Correct?

Don McGregor:
You’d have to ask other people. I can’t answer that. You know, I created another Homes type character, Alexander Risk, and my hope is still, because it’s entirely written. At one point, Tom Sutton was supposed to draw it. And Tom actually did 20 pages of it, and it saw print in a thing called Fantasy Illustrated. And I had written the next 20 some pages and Tom had done those. And then that magazine folded. But later on, when I was back working at Marvel, when I came back to do Panthers Quest and Panthers Prey, and then did the Spider-Man stuff. Marvel was going to go back to doing creator owned material. And that thing was voted on by committee, I think three times, that they were going to print it. And then Marvel decided to go against the creator owned stuff.

Don McGregor:
So the Alexander Risk stuff, the House of Hell Theory, which is two of the major differences with that character and Hodiah Twist is, one is kind of a combination of the Thin Man and Sherlock Holmes, it’s about a married couple. So the dynamics and the emotional complexity became something really interesting for me to write about. And later on, Mike Mayhew did some great illustrations on it. And then I just recently did some really great drawings on it. Will it happen? I hope it’s one of those things that get done before I die along with Young Saber. And I hope there’s some chance maybe that Lady Rawhide, Other People’s Blood can afford it to be done. You know, we’ll have to just see, I don’t know.

Jim Thompson:
You’re definitely skipping ahead to things we want to ask about, especially for me Lady Rawhide. One last question, which is going to feed totally into Alex’s whole series of questions, which is when did you pitch Dagger to Marvel and who turned it down? And then in that course, you’re going to say what Dagger actually is.

Don McGregor:
Well, I don’t know that I actually pitched it to Marvel. I knew there’d be too many problems doing it there. And I know I was working on it at Mad Genius, which was Steve Gerber, Dave Kraft, Jim Salicrup. And a lot, a lot of times I would go, Mary would have been there every once in a while, Janie Errands. And so in that timeframe, because Jim Salicrup was going to do, he wanted to do a newspaper that was on comics and it would come out regularly. I don’t remember, Jim would have to tell you what exactly what he wanted to do. Dagger was originally created to be like a strip running in that paper that Jim Salicrup wanted to put out. But it was too ambitious and too much material that had to be channeled. And I just thought that’s not the right format for it.

Don McGregor:
And then Dean Malaney, who I met through the books, I met so many great people. The people who loved the books, really loved the books. The people in editorial who hated the books, like people seemed to really love these books, or they really, really hated them.

Don McGregor:
So I was at the apartment at my place with Dean, probably watching movies. Cause this was before VHS was around and we spent hanging out that night. And the next day I got a call from Dean and Dean says, “Hey Don, can I publish Saber?” And I had already changed the name to Saber. I know this is going to sound odd, but these characters become very real to you. And somehow the name Dagger just wasn’t for him, he was Saber. And so Dean said, “Well, can I publish Saber?” Because I had the poster for the character. And I said, “You don’t publish comics. How are you going to do it Dean?”

Don McGregor:
“Yeah, but I want to publish comics.”

Don McGregor:
And I said, “Well, you know, I want to own everything.”

Don McGregor:
“You got it.”

Don McGregor:
“I want to have final say, and anything that’s done. I will make copy. Nothing can be changed unless I change it.”

Don McGregor:
“You got it.” I had probably half a dozen things I said to Dean. And he said, yes to all of them. And I said, Well I guess you better come over then.” That’s how Dean and I [inaudible 01:04:03] free from the big companies didn’t mean that race things wouldn’t still bubble. And it bubbled for two years. And at some point, would it ever get finished?

Don McGregor:
Meantime, I’m struggling to stay alive economically. So that happens during that timeframe of the lawn and the Christmas tree stories. And I’m going to read, I have picked that out from … I’ve written about that sequence in a piece I did on the history of Detectives Incorporated. And I want to read that to you guys because it’s going to answer your questions more solidly than I can just trying to remember it. Because it was written in the timeframe. And so much of the stuff, it’s very accurate to what happened then.

Don McGregor:
There were new editorial shakeups at Marvel in the beginning of 1978. And I went back to work on a couple of scripts for the company. One of them was a realistic police story featuring Quentin Chase. It was entitled a Touch of Euphoria, a Touch of Death. I have found after working on Saber that interracial elements could still bring fire to the eyes of certain folks. Somehow fire and threats.

Don McGregor:
I thought it was the late seventies and we were past all that rabid misogynation taboos. When I began to realize I was living in Manhattan and that the attitude I took for granted was anything but. One editor, upon seeing the story quietly and sincerely asked me if I quote, “Believed in this mixture stuff, it makes me sick to think of all of those beautiful Nordic blonde women, taking their blood, think of all those racists losing their ethnic purity.” He wasn’t joking. That’s why I insisted that the married couple in a Touch of Euphoria, a Touch of Death, remain interracial since that was a major reason, I had wanted to write the story, to show we had not come as far as we may think and that often we make innocent people-

Don McGregor:
He had not come as far as we may think and that often we made innocent people pay a price in suffering that gets higher all the time.

Don McGregor:
Marshall Rogers’ name had been mentioned as an artist for the story, and I was ecstatic about that. It almost seemed too good to be true. I could not believe they would let me handle a story that touched on child pornography, interracial marriage, miscarriage, and drugs. Plus, they had given me the go-ahead to do a new Hodiah Twist story too.

Don McGregor:
I wrote a full script for The Hero Killer Principle as opposed to the 34-page plot synopsis I had done for A Touch of Euphoria, A Touch of Death. The reason for this was so that I could be paid as I wrote the Hodiah Twist story. I was going to get married in March. So with my marriage upcoming, I was so desperate for cash that I sold him the plot to Quentin Chase piece for only $50, all of that work. Of course, it was understood. I was scripted as soon as they assigned an artist and the pencil pages came in, whenever that would be.

Don McGregor:
Kevin didn’t last long. Some editors aren’t autonomous, and others have editors looking over what they do. A Touch of Euphoria, A Touch of Death, which had been described by one editor as awful, realistic stuff, that’s really going to work well, despite the interracial nonsense came under another’s eyes.

Don McGregor:
Suddenly they wanted me to cut pages out of the story. I said, “No hard feelings though, but this is a story I really want to do. And I had put it precisely the way I want to present it. If it can’t be done that way, let me buy it back from you guys at $50, and I’ll do it somewhere else.” I stayed to work on finding another publisher.

Don McGregor:
I called up Dean Mullaney of Eclipse Enterprises, and I said, “I need $50 to buy this plot back,” and that I would transform it into a Detectives Incorporated script. “Is that okay?” I asked. “Go ahead,” he said. And then I suggested that we get Marshall Rogers to do the book for Eclipse.

Don McGregor:
I guess the editors at Marvel didn’t think I would actually buy the story back, just because I didn’t agree with the changes. The editor in charge was friendly. Okay. The story will stay as it is to stay as it is. I’ll even give you a few extra pages. Now, just out of curiosity, you were bluffing, weren’t you? You didn’t really have anybody to sell that story to, did you? I should have bought the story back when I had the chance, but I didn’t. The idea for Detectives Incorporated is now in the back of my mind.

Alex Grand:
Now, Saber is really important. I wrote an article, which you’ve posted on your Facebook about how it’s really important in this sequence of important graphic novels, in the history of the medium. People say Will Eisner’s Contract with God is the first graphic novel, but Sabre comes out actually before that. How was the overall reception with readers? Did it do well in the direct market? And how did it do in general? And were you happy with it?

Don McGregor:
Yeah. I had a heart attack when I was 40, and Marsha felt that it was Sabre that did it-

Alex Grand:
Oh, really?

Don McGregor:
… because I said something to her, “This book is breaking my heart.” I wasn’t thinking I would even be having a heart attack. It was just the things that would happen to that book. Where like say Detectives Inc, even though it had the first gay characters for mainstream comics, there was no problems with anybody working on the book. It was fine.

Don McGregor:
Saber, every book had stuff that happened to it, outside of the writing of it. And so, the first one got held up for two years. I actually wrote that probably in the ’70s, going into ’77.

Alex Grand:
Oh, wow.

Don McGregor:
But it took two years to draw those 38 pages.

Alex Grand:
[Paul de Lacy 01:09:53] does a beautiful job, from what I’ve seen.

Don McGregor:
Paul’s a great artist. Unfortunately, he had a problem with the fact that Melissa was pregnant, didn’t want Melissa pregnant in the story. In fact, I have a note on the calendar as late as May of that year of publication, he was talking about turning Saber white. Now, he’s not going to do that, because 20 some pages or more of the book had already been done. No artist is going to throw away that kind of work and start from the beginning.

Don McGregor:
By the way, the book wouldn’t have come out. Like literally we discussed that. I’m not changing it. If I was going to change him, might as well stay at Marvel Comics and do what they want. Why am I going to go out and try this?

Don McGregor:
And in the beginning, when Dean and I first talked about it, the difference between Will’s book, A Contract with God and Saber, is that Saber was going to be sold directly through the comic book pocket. Now, a lot of people didn’t believe the comic book market could support a book.

Don McGregor:
In those days, the people in the suits thought it was like between 10 to 50% of their audience, and a book couldn’t survive economically. And when Phil Seuling first saw the note from Dean that we were going to charge $6 for it … Now, remember this is ’77, ’78. Dean, I think still has Phil Seuling’s note, $6 for comic, with about 10 exclamation points.

Don McGregor:
Fortunately for us, the book sold out within two or three months, and we were into a second printing.

Alex Grand:
Oh, great.

Don McGregor:
But get the book finished. And if you think I’m just making this up, there is … If you look at the credits, not the credit’s page, the [inaudible 01:11:51] for the copyrights and everything, that’s on the inside cover. And there’s a line in there that sometimes they use on DVDs these days when they’re … whoever’s talking, it’s their thoughts, their ideas. It’s got nothing to do with us. We’re not responsible.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. There’s a disclaimer or something.

Don McGregor:
Well, take a look. There’s a disclaimer on Saber that says, “The views expressed in [inaudible 01:12:16] … I mean, the general area, “The views on this book are those of the author, solely of the author and not the artist and publisher.” And Dean, the only way he could finish, the artist did not want just his name being there, he wanted Eclipse’s and Dean’s name to be there. But honestly, he had no problem. Dean Mullaney and I have worked for 40 years together in this business. And there’s just everything in the world to tear people apart. We’re still best friends.

Alex Grand:
Right. And the depictions that were at the time risky to them, that they’re mentioning is the depiction of the childbirth and the kiss between-

Don McGregor:
Now, I had a choice of artists. It wasn’t like when I was working at Marvel, where I didn’t have a choice of artists. And I chose Billy Graham, because I knew that Billy … I’ve hung out with Billy. I’ve met transsexual people with Billy and gay people. And so, it wasn’t going to be a problem for Billy to draw gay characters.

Alex Grand:
Right. Right. And kissing.

Don McGregor:
Billy really was a renaissance guy. So there wasn’t like, I’m going to go in here. Oh my God, I got to fight everything just to get the material done.

Alex Grand:
Right. Just a quick note for the listeners, so they know that you were referring earlier to … You actually did a series of Saber for Eclipse, with Billy Graham and then Jose Ortiz. And that the first two issues were reprinted, the graphic novel in color. So it was like a way to see it in color as well.

Alex Grand:
Another thing also, I wanted to kind of ask. You described the origin of Detectives Inc. last time. And you also referred to working with Marshall Rogers. Was there a difference as far as collaboration style or discussion of layouts as a compare and contrast between Rogers and yours approach and Colin’s and yours approach?

Don McGregor:
Well, every artist is different, just as every writer is different. I was closer with [Gene 01:14:14], because Gene and I had become very close friends over the years. So I was closer with Gene than I was with Marshall. I really didn’t see Marshall all that much, except when we first … I saw him sometimes, because he was living way uptown in Manhattan. By that time, I’m living in Brooklyn with Marsha and Robin’s born, so I didn’t have the freedom of travels that I did say between ’76 and ’78.

Don McGregor:
Basically, I could go where I wanted to go when I wanted to go. And here, it was like, I wasn’t going to just take off. And money was tighter at that time too. Because again, it took a year-and-a-half or more to get Detectives Inc. finished, the first book. And so again, it was a thing of trying to survive during the production of that book. But Marshall was great. I mean, I was asking for a lot of stuff.

Don McGregor:
One of the best reviews for me, there was a gay writer writing about … and it’s up on the internet, so it’s called the writers room and saying how I only had 46 pages. And the fact that the reviewer actually understood the composition of the book. What you’re faced with, it’s 46 pages.

Don McGregor:
I can do anything I want within the 46 pages, but I’m not going to get any more … It isn’t like I can say, “Oh, can I continue to the next issue? Or can I do this?” It really was a thing where I was locked into the 46 pages. And I’m still really proud of that book, what we handled in it and the way we handle it. And we had Tom Orzechowski lettering, we had Marshall, just doing everything that I asked for and more. I had flashback sequences, and I had them like one flashback and another flashback. And there was one where [Rainier’s 01:16:13] ex-wife might be having a flashback on one page. Rainier might be having a flashback on another page. And then at the end, they’re both remembering the same thing. So like memories in the middle. And it’s fairly complex stuff to get across.

Don McGregor:
You need to communicate to the artist what needs to be done. And Marshall took it even a step further. He had two flashbacks happening at the same time. I would never have been that audacious to ask for that, but Marshall could make … He put so much time and effort and his talent for doing that kind of thing. He was just amazing.

Alex Grand:
I want to talk about one more Eclipse project. You had mentioned in the last interview that Ragamuffins was somewhat autobiographical. Your childhood was a big part of the script. Dean Mullaney published it in Eclipse in 1983. In 1985, all three stories were packaged as a Ragamuffins one-shot. And Gene Colan did it with pencils and there was this push to do it with pencils rather than inks. First, was it full script and was that different than the Marvel method let’s say, that Gene was used to? Was there any issue as far as full script versus a collaborative plot first? And then why did you want it to be straight from the pencils?

Don McGregor:
Because I love Gene’s pencils. And going back from when I was working in a toilet on Marvel, in ’73 to ’75, I saw a lot of original artwork of Gene’s and saw the pencils before they were inked. And Gene had a lot of great inkers, but I always wished that some of that texturing that he could do that was so totally Gene, that there was a way to capture that.

Don McGregor:
And so, when the time came to do Ragamuffins … Because to be honest with you, I had Ragamuffins set from about 1969, 70, along with Detectives Inc. But when I get a chance to do … We were going to test to see if there was an audience there at the comic book shops. And I was leaving Marvel, and we’re going off on our own. I probably wouldn’t have wanted to do Ragamuffins, but I knew for me to come off of the Panther and Killer even, and Luke Cage, and do this series about little kids growing up in the 1950s, with flash forwards in time, and eventually there would be back flashes that would show the parents at five years old, from the early 1900s and up. And it would give you an idea of the …

Don McGregor:
It would be a look at America, what changed in the 20th century, what didn’t, what parents think they’re teaching kids, what kids really learn. It was just so many things. And I held that series for years for Gene, because I knew Gene would understand was all in these kids’ faces. And Gene would be able to relate to those little kids. And just to give you example of the [inaudible 01:19:18] one was the mother crosses the little boy, Randy, who’s five, across the main street and tells her he’s got to stay on a sidewalk and just stay off the side streets and walk to school.

Don McGregor:
And he’s listening to everything the mother’s saying, and she’s reading in the rules and everything. And as soon as she walks away and Randy turns around, I told Gene, “When he turns around, Gene, we just see his face, and we know immediately anything is possible. He’s on his own now. Nobody can restrict him. He can be anything he wants.”

Don McGregor:
And Gene just marvelously, like he’s inside my head, could capture that look. Same thing with Nathaniel Dusk. He totally understood the 1930s. He lived it, he lived in Manhattan. And it was great to be able to print his pencils and have them done correctly there.

Don McGregor:
Going back to Ragamuffins. We’re doing the ultimate Ragamuffins book, and it was supposed to come out last year, but the pandemic as with the young Saber material, held everything up. And plus, we’re working on reprinting all the Billy Graham Saber material, because his granddaughter has it. And we just have to figure out a way to get it re-shot, so we can restore all of Billy’s artwork, a lot of which was really messed up, with bad coloring for two books. And it was just a lot of things that really affected that book. And that’s why said to Marshall … Actually, it was little later. So it was like when [inaudible 01:20:56] his stuff came out.

Don McGregor:
Oddly enough, Ragamuffins almost sabotaged Saber. It’s a long involved, complex story, but it was disheartening. And I think [inaudible 01:21:08] book is breaking my heart. We were off the stands for what half a year. And it took half a year for me to understand what was really going on, what was really holding things up. And part of it was because Ragamuffins got printed in Spain. If Ragamuffins hadn’t been printed in Spain, which seemed like a plus when it happened, because Gene and I were going to get paid again for it, ended up being a nightmare.

Alex Grand:
You said in Spain, the country?

Don McGregor:
Yeah. Because for years, the last Ragamuffin story, which was 20 pages long, it was called The Pack Rat Instinct. And Gene had drawn it. And I had placed on my copy to it, and it was all about collectors. And Dean at the time told me, “Don, anybody who’s a collector, there will not be a dry eye in the house, when they get to the end of the story.”

Don McGregor:
Ragamuffins was appearing in Eclipse monthly. And when that magazine folded, Dean was still going to do Ragamuffins. And they had it in something called Anxiety Times. Well, that book probably didn’t come out. It had a Ditko cover, but that book didn’t come out. And then they were going to put it somewhere else. Somewhere over time period, the artwork got lost and had never been found. So those 20 pages of Gene Colan artwork was just beautiful.

Don McGregor:
I mean, for over a decade, I searched Canada, searched throughout the United States, any place where it conceivably could have ended up. I think I actually know what happened to the artworks, but I’m not a 100% sure. I’m not going to go into detail who might have done what. But Dean found the original scans for all that artwork. So we’re going to come out with the ultimate Ragamuffins, that includes 20 pages of Gene Colan pencils, never before seen.

Alex Grand:
Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

Don McGregor:
So it’s going to be great.

Alex Grand:
Now, you also returned to do some work for Warren Magazines in 1979 through 1983. You did some work for [Rook 01:23:24]. What was your impression of the end of Warren at that time while you were turning some work in for them?

Don McGregor:
Well, I didn’t see a lot of Jim then. I don’t think Jim actually was in the office very much. Originally, when I first started there, Louise Simonson was the editor and everything was … Louise and I got along great. I never had any problem working with Louise, that’s for sure. I know Louise left, and I can’t remember who we placed her, or if that became a little more problematic. But also, I think the magazine itself, the company itself was … I guess nobody was really sure what was going to happen, but …

Don McGregor:
The only real incident I remember, and this is after Louise left, I had done a series called The Mist, and it was about a woman. And a cult group thinks she’s the reincarnation of this character that they worship, but they’re also involved in international skullduggery. And two CIA agents are tapping the apartment of the woman who was basically just an average person.

Don McGregor:
So the CIA people have qualms about what they’re doing, because they’re just violating these people’s rights on the thought that she … because of this occult group. And it was very much like Luke Cage, a very New York City story. And it was supposed to be done by an artist in New York City. Well, it wasn’t.

Don McGregor:
And for some reason, whoever was editing the book at the time, didn’t like the artwork for two or three pages, and they just yanked them, without replacing them with anything. Beyond that, they also had … I had one of the CIA agents saying he got involved with CIA, because he thought he was going to meet the dragon lady. And now here he is, bugging an innocent family that currently isn’t involved in anything. This editor changes some of the dialogue, and he changed it …I had them talking about Chinese food or something, and the editor changed it to an Asian word, a racist word.

Don McGregor:
In fact, I’m so mad when I see it. It was like on a Friday afternoon, I said, “I don’t even dare call them.” I’m so angry that they put this out under my name. And so, I waited till the next week of Monday, and I call them. And I’m really, really upset. And a lot of times these people, they think if you’re going to behave badly, they want you in a public place. If they’re going to behave badly, they want it behind closed doors, so there’s no witnesses to what either they said or did.

Don McGregor:
So we go to this restaurant, and I talked about taking the dragon lady thing out. I like, “So why are you taking this stuff about the dragon lady out?”

Don McGregor:
And they went, “Oh, well, nobody knows who the dragon lady is.” What do you mean? If you’re involved in comics, it doesn’t even matter. The dragon lady has taken on, just the term itself has taken on kind of a perception in and off what do you know [inaudible 01:26:47], and you personally know the dragon lady, the idea of a dragon lady, the idea of it. And to think that nobody in comics would understand it was just … And then for them to use this slang slur for Asian people, and I bring this up. They said, “We know how your characters would talk.”

Don McGregor:
I took the fucking magazine and tossed it across the restaurant. I’m lucky I didn’t go over the table and just strangle this guy. I said, “You guys got a real problem, because this is a continuing story, and I’m not writing anymore, unless I know I can see it before it goes to print, and you don’t rewrite any of my material ever, ever again.”

Alex Grand:
I think there is a page from 1984 or something, and it was a Wally Wood Wizard King page, but the dialogue was totally changed by Bill Du Bay into a really sexist, really bad kind of dialogue that was pointed out, that Will Du Bay had changed the words to a much worse version. So what you’re telling me reminds me of that.

Alex Grand:
How did you get hooked up with DC Comics? Around ’83, ’84, you started working on Nathaniel Dusk with Gene Colan. Who at DC said, “Don, come on over and write something?”

Don McGregor:
First, it was Gene Colan Jane that got me to go over, “You got to go see Dick Giordano and talk with Dick.” And I knew Dick slightly. I didn’t know him really well. But I liked Dick. And so, I know went to office, and we were talking. And we both love private eyes. And so, I mentioned … I had three series of mine. One was Alexander Risk, one was Nathaniel Dusk, and the other was a character, a psychic detective called Sebastian Edge. And I had the three names on the back of a notebook.

Don McGregor:
And in fact, originally Alexander Risk was Alexander Dusk, but I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like the sound of [Der 01:28:46] and Dusk. It just didn’t flow, but Alexander Risk just flowed. It was a hint to that character, that the character is taking a risk with his entire life. And with Dusk, and in fact, I would tell the colorist, it doesn’t matter if it’s high noon, Dusk’s world is always dusk. Everything’s there. You can see it, but it’s not all obvious at first glance. And Edge was the same way. There was like the edge between dimensions of what’s real and what’s not real. So it was playing through the three strips I really, really wanted to do.

Alex Grand:
How was DC in general to work with, let’s say, compared to your experience that you had before you at Marvel? Was that just an easier experience? I looked at this 50th anniversary party and footage, and you were in it. Julius Schwartz was there.

Don McGregor:
That guy was pretty energetic in that video.

Alex Grand:
That guy in that video. Yeah. You remember? Right? And you looked very happy in that video.

Don McGregor:
Yeah. I loved the book.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. So you had a good time there? It was a positive experience?

Don McGregor:
Yes, mostly. I mean, especially with the second book, I got to be my own editor. So it was like, there was no … Although, Alan Gold was fired when we worked on the first book. The only problem was Dean and I had already done Ragamuffins and how to do color and pencil’s with Gene’s work. So when we were discussing the first Nathaniel Dusk, I said, “Okay, when it’s time to do the coloring, just give Dean a call, because he and I had discussed it. And Dean will tell you what we did, how technically what you need to do to pull it off.”

Don McGregor:
And when the first issue came out of the first series, I got a phone call from Gene. I’m out in Brooklyn. Gene has called me from Manhattan. And Gene had … He had a copy of the book, and he was all upset. [inaudible 01:30:56], “They ruined my artwork, Don, they ruined it.” He says, “The lines are dropping out everywhere.” And I’m going like, “What are you talking about? There shouldn’t be anything … ”

Don McGregor:
And so, I said, “Let me go into the city, let me go see the book.” And he was absolutely right. Line-work was dropping out all over the place. I hadn’t seen the coloring. So there were bright yellows, and there were pinks and stuff that you should never see in the world of Nathaniel Dusk. And the artwork, the lines were dropping out of Gene’s work. So I went into production and said, “What’s going on here? Didn’t you guys call Dean Mullaney to find out how to do this?”

Don McGregor:
And he said, “We’re a big company. Where did you see him? We can’t call some small company like Eclipse.” So I said, “Let me get this straight. You can’t make a phone call to find out how to do it right? And you would ruin Gene Colon’s artwork because you can’t make a fucking phone call?”

Don McGregor:
Want to know why I get crazy? That would drive me crazy. So then on the second series, I actually went and spent … and Tom [Cuzco 01:32:05] has talked about this, had writer come and like spend hours, till 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, discussing the coloring approach to Nathaniel Dusk. And then we finally get the printing right, and that ends up … The second Nathaniel Dusk series is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

Alex Grand:
And did you have much interaction with some of the older guys, like Julius Schwartz, for example? Did you have much interaction with them? Any story about those kinds of guys?

Don McGregor:
Yeah. I did a Batman story, because Dick Giordano now asked me after we were doing the Dust stuff, what was my favorite DC character? And I said, “The Batman.” And so, Dick says, “Yeah. Work a Batman story out.”

Don McGregor:
And so, I did, and I was very thorough about it, because it was dealing with pedophiles. And I was consulting with somebody who was a head of the vice squad in the police station down west, to make sure I had everything accurate about the kids, what happens in their head, what they think and how they’re manipulated, and the story tell … The opening has Batman up on top of one of the [inaudible 01:33:15] going, “Well, maybe I can’t stop this from happening in the city. And maybe I can’t stop that from [inaudible 01:33:20], but nobody’s taking kids in my city.” And then it’s his pursuit.

Don McGregor:
And the guy, he said, “If you help one kid or family get through this [inaudible 01:33:33] things to do [inaudible 01:33:36] well, that would be worth doing.” So anyway, I worked that story up and apparently Julius Schwartz did not like it.

Alex Grand:
Oh, really? Okay.

Don McGregor:
And he called. I wasn’t home. He called up, and he yelled at my wife, yelled at Marsha. And I’m sorry, Alex, you got a problem with me, come to, and we’ll handle it face to face. You don’t take it out of my wife. You don’t yell at my wife. Now you’re asking for trouble.

Don McGregor:
And I got on the phone, man. And I yelled at Julius, “Give me that story back. I haven’t paid a cent for it. If you don’t like it … Well, give me a gimmick story. I want new gimmicks.” I said, “I’ll do gimmicks. Send the story back.”

Don McGregor:
So years later, I’m at the San Diego Comic-Con with Bob [Shrek 01:34:25]. and Bob and I are friends, and I talked to Bob. And Bob was asking me, “How come you’re not doing anything for DC?” And I said, “Well, I had this Batman story.”

Don McGregor:
And I told him what it dealt with and everything. He said, “Well, let me see it.” And I said, “Okay.” [inaudible 01:34:42], “Just give me two pages of it. I don’t need the whole script.”

Don McGregor:
Well, to be honest with you, editors always say that, but then they’re asking you questions of, “Well, what about this? So what about that?” Well, you said you all want one or two pages. If you want the whole thing, here it is, you’ve got the script. And I knew with this kind of subject matter everything was going to have to be very detailed on how you were handling it, how I was handling it and what was going to be in the story. But Bob wanted a one or two-page synopsis. So I did it. And then Bob wrote me back and said, “But I can’t see the characters, Don. It’s like they’re wearing Kabuki masks.”

Don McGregor:
And [inaudible 01:35:27] obviously you’re trying to impress me that you’re more alert than your average comic book editor. But that said, if you want to see what the characters look like, you need to read the script. So that script was under discussion. And then I got a call from Bob. He said, “Don, I got to have you. We got to have lunch together.” Right.

Don McGregor:
So we went to someplace in Manhattan to have lunch. And he said, “Don, I thought I was going to have more control over the projects I was doing than I actually have. And I thought I would be able to get this thing through, but they’re making me do stuff with Frank Miller. And if they’re making me do stuff with Frank Miller, what do you think they’re going to make me do to Don McGregor?”

Don McGregor:
And you know what? He was being totally straight with me, totally honest. And I said, “Bob, I understand. Neither one of us are going to be happy if I have to weaken that story and everything.” So the story to this day has not yet been done, but I still have it.

Don McGregor:
So who knows? One day, maybe we’ll see.

Alex Grand:
I’d like to see that happen. David Anthony Kraft, who passed away recently-

Don McGregor:
I love DAK.

Alex Grand:
When we interviewed him, it was a big impact on me personally, just because he really was one of those major forces that perfected the art of the comic history interview. I looked up to him a lot, and as you know, I wrote his obituary for The Comics Journal. And he just meant a lot to me. Of course, he meant more to you, because you guys knew each other much longer and were really colleagues and friends. He published some of your work, some of your non-comics work, Dragonflame, Other Bedtime Nightmares, and The Variable Syndrome. Those were prose works. There was an ad I remember seeing, with a gun to your head, Don McGregor, getting killed by the comics industry. Tell us about that association. How was it writing prose books, and how did that whole venture do?

Don McGregor:
Dragonflame book, we went into a second printing almost right away.

Don McGregor:
We had a different … Because the first cover we used … Dave and I work at side by side and Dave had different cover stocks and designs. And so, he had me going through it, and I picked out one, it was a deep maroon-ish red. He said, “Of course you would, Don. That’s the most expensive cover stock there is.” But we did it, and we did it. Dave did it with that version.

Don McGregor:
See, Dave wanted me to write the ads, but I wasn’t used to writing about myself. Dave wanted me to do introductions, and he wanted me to do the ads. And I resisted him in the beginning. I thought, “Oh, these are short stories, but they speak for themselves. I think.” And I was still used to …

Don McGregor:
Even though I did my own letters pages, there was also always a kind of editorial. We, as opposed to like, say I’m saying, I thought, I did. So there was still some kind of thin veil between me and the audience. And I said to Dave, “Are you supposed to brag on yourself? I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t know how to do the ads.” And I was walking up … I couldn’t figure out …

Don McGregor:
And I was walking up. I can figure out these days where I walked into a room, I’m walking up Broadway past one of the new newsstands, and I see that National Lampoon cover with a gun to the dog’s head. And the copy was, “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll shoot this dog.” Wait a minute.

Alex Grand:
Was that National Lampoon or something?

Don McGregor:
Yeah. Yeah. National Lampoon. It was the only issue of National Lampoon I ever bought. So I’m on my way up two Dave’s. So I got to show this to Dave, “Dave look. Look what National Lampoon is doing?” And to be honest with you, I don’t know if it was a combination of me and Dave, or Dave or me, but the idea came, “Oh, why don’t we do an ad, if you don’t buy this book, the comics’ industry will shoot this author?” And actually the gun, because it was real 357 Magnum. We had been firing it up in the hills of Ohio. It was Paul Glacier’s gun and Craig Russell was with us I think. Craig took the photographs and that hand holding a gun is Paul Glacier’s.

Alex Grand:
That’s amazing.

Don McGregor:
And believe me, I wanted to check that gun all the time, because I had seen what that gun could do earlier in the day. I always felt the movies kind of exaggerated things. But when you fire a 357 Magnum, the flame does come out of the gun. It sounds like if you fire three or four times in a row, you’re like death. And if it hits the small tree branches, it’ll break right through them. So having that gun pointed that way was kind of like, even though I did all kinds of expressions for it, but then that was a way I felt I could do an ad and it would be making a commentary on my experiences. I don’t think the big companies who are used to an upset writer, doing something like this. And I know one editor said, “If I see that picture one more time, I’ll pull the trigger myself,” in print. And I remember saying to Dave, “Well, apparently the ad [inaudible 01:41:25] gets them.” Dave got it.

Alex Grand:
Was it Dave that approached you to publish pro’s work. How did that start?

Don McGregor:
I was writing the Dragonflame book already and I had gone over two Dave’s, Dave was doing The Defenders. And he was having a real difficulty writing. So he wanted me to come over. [inaudible 01:41:50] was drawing to Dave’s specifications, but the final script hadn’t been done. It was done in Marvel style. And so Dave said, “I’ll pay you to write the last 12 pages of this book.” And so, while because I wrote them at his place. And while I was writing The Defender’s stuff for him, Dave was reading Dragonflame, and he really liked it. And sorry. So maybe there was an introductory chapter to Dragon that was isolated and unto itself. And I think Dave said, “Oh, maybe we’ll publish that.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got other short stories that I’ve done from the sixties on.” And so, I know Dave started writing those and then he said, “Why don’t we do a collection? Let’s do a bunch of the stories.” And that’s what he was talking to me about doing introductions.

Don McGregor:
And eventually when I did the first one, I’m sure Dave probably felt like I just created the Frankenstein monster. Because when I thought, “Okay,” The thing is that every story was different and for different time periods. And I thought I should write about that. It’s not particularly about what those stories are about, but where I was at when I was writing them. And so, that began the first introductions. And some of the stuff I was reading to you, Investigating Detectives Incorporated, that was in the back of the Variable Syndrome book that Dave published. And Dave of course was very much a guest to work for hire contracts. So when I wrote that stuff for him that went into the back of that book and at some point Ain’t It Cool News website did a review on that piece saying, “Anybody who’s interested in working in comics probably should read this piece, because it does talk a lot about what writers have to face, it isn’t about just writing the stories.”

Don McGregor:
And every gig that you get, a lot of times, you may think you only have to make these strong decisions in the beginning. But if your name is going on those stories and you’re going to have to live with those stories, it means probably there’s going to be more than one time that you have to fight for the story. If you don’t believe in them, how can I expect you to believe in it Alex, Jim, whoever.

Alex Grand:
So you and Gene worked on the sequel to Detectives Inc, as a three-issue mini-series around 1987.

Don McGregor:
It was a screenplay and I was directing the movie. As that was not the storyline that I originally was going to do. The original story it was going to be called A Horror of Burning Places. And it was about the bombing of abortion clinics, because as you know, Alex, I’m always looking for safe subject matter. And I actually had it cleared with the arson inspectors, as long as I signed my life away, I could go to the places that had been burnt down. So I really wanted to, I felt it was the only way if I could experience what the things were like, I would know what things smell like, what they look like, what the people who have to do that for a living, what they do. And so, that was the story I was going to do. When the chance came to write and direct a Detectives Inc movie. Well, I knew I wasn’t going to have the money to go around blowing up buildings. And so, I was looking around for something that I want to write about and I felt it was important enough to do a Detectives Incorporated story around.

Don McGregor:
And I was watching TV late one night and I think I was just flicking through the channels. And I saw som kind of thing where people were talking, but it was about domestic violence. And the numbers of the most of abuse that happened in this country, I haven’t kept totally up-to-date with it, but the figures were so huge, and so astounding. I said, “I need to research this?” And this seems like something worth writing about. And so, that’s how A Terror of Dying Dreams came about. I’m selling those books at San Diego Con, right? And my daughter lives in San Diego. So one is called A Remembrance of Threatening Green. And the other is called A Terror of Dying Dreams. And we had all the books in different boxes. But when I’m sitting at a table, I was signing things, if you look back at like, “Oh my God,” I said, “Which book is that in? Which box is that in?”

Don McGregor:
And so, I wrote in big red letters on the box it’s like, “Savior, green, terror.” so that all of the… I would know which box I had to go to, to get that particular work. So now my daughter’s left me off at the airport and she’s going back home and I’m on the plane and somebody over at Las Vegas, “Is Don McGregor on this plane?” How does anybody know that Don McGregor is on this plane? There was that. So then they called again, and then I said, “Yeah.” “So, you need to come out here.” And they lead me out onto the guide walk and there’s all these very, very stern-looking men and women, all apparently FBI people, people that, and I don’t know what’s going on. And they go, “Are you Don McGregor?” “Yeah.” “Did you write Detectives Incorporated?” “Yeah,” “Because we got boxes out there with the word terror written in red on the box.”

Don McGregor:
I said, “Wait a minute. Do you really think that if there was a terrorist, they would actually write in big red letters,” and I swear to God they were [inaudible 01:47:46] going, “Don, this isn’t a joke.” “Okay. Okay. I got it.” I had no idea that anybody would never even crossed my mind. Eventually the books did get allowed on board the plane that they were just books.

Alex Grand:
Don McGregor’s always in the thick of the action. The new Panther’s Quest from Marvel Comics Presents, Jim has some questions.

Don McGregor:
Am I boring you guys?

Alex Grand:
No, it’s not boring. And I love it. I’m pretty sure Jim loves it too.

Don McGregor:
Okay. I need something positive here.

Alex Grand:
What I love is how you tell the stories, everything that you say there’s passion. To me so far, it feels like whatever has happened, adversity or victories, there was passion either way. I find it very fascinating and fun. You’re like the van Gogh of comic writers or something.

Don McGregor:
Let me see if I’ve got an ear. Hold on. That ear I’m not sure.

Alex Grand:
And we really appreciate you lending us your ear today. So, all right. So Jim, go for it.

Jim Thompson:
So John, I want to talk about the comic itself for the Panther’s Quest, which you did in Marvel Comics Presents 13 through 37 in 1989. What was it like? You had been off a Panther for a long time. And in the meanwhile, Jack Kirby had done his run and there had been other things. What was it like going back to the Panther?

Don McGregor:
When I came back to do Panther’s Quest, Michael Higgins kept wanting me to do the Panther. And I said, “No, I’m not coming back.” I love the Panther, but I didn’t want to come back and fight with them all the time. I said, “I don’t want to go on spend 30 to 40% of my energy fighting with you guys over what’s in the book. I love T’Challa, but I don’t want to…” So I think there were like two or three months worth of haggling over that. And once I said, I would do Killraven, because Craig was interested in drawing it, that’s when I gotten… Then soon as I said that, Michael Higgins said, “Oh, then we’re doing Killraven.” “No, I mean, I didn’t say.” “Now we’re doing the Panther.” I said, “No, no.” And then I said something like, “I always wanted to take him to South Africa.”

Don McGregor:
And Michael, he has said right away, “We’re doing it. We’re doing it.” “But we’re not doing it, because it’s not going to be a story of the Black Panther goes into South Africa and solves apartheid. That’s not the story I want to do.” He said, “Great, what are we going to do with Don?” And I swear to God guys, I’m not making this up the very day that I’ve written the first two pages of the story, Michael Higgins calls me about midnight and he goes, “Don,” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’m off the book.” And I go, “What do you mean you’re off the book?” “I’m not doing the book.” “Well, that’s your book.” He said, “Yeah, but I’m going, I’m not there anymore.” And I thought he was kidding me. I was like, because I had put him off for so long. I thought, “Oh, he’s just like,” I was like, “Oh, I’ll teach Don. I’ll tell him I’m off the book.” He really was off the book. And I didn’t know what that meant about the project.

Don McGregor:
And I called the editor in chief and said, “Okay, well who’s editing this book?” And they’re telling me, “Oh, it doesn’t matter who’s editing it.” “Oh yeah, it definitely matters who’s editing it, because it means whether I’m going to write the book or not.” A lot of times the editors think they’re judging you, whether they want you for their project. Going into the eighties and nineties, my view was completely the opposite. I’m looking at you to see whether we can work together and whether you believe in this project and if you don’t, I’m going to go elsewhere. So, but I met Terry Kavanaugh and man, did I have a lookout?

Alex Grand:
Oh. Good. The editor in chief at that point was Tom DeFalco, I think, right?

Don McGregor:
Yes. One of the bizarrest, most surreal conversations I ever had in the halls of Marvel Comics was with Tom DeFalco over Panther’s Prey. And so, I’m going in, the third issue of Panther’s Prey has come out and that’s basically Monica Lynne’s book, she’s in it throughout. And there’s a sequence where about half the book is T’Challa and Monica together discussing why, whether they should get together and have sex or not. And what the ramifications, all the reasons why they shouldn’t. And like it’s a lot of times it doesn’t matter what kind even clarity that people may have. If the desire is so strong, it’s really going to be hard to deny that. So that scene was a long scene. And when the book came out, I had, of course I’d seen the artwork, I’d seen the coloring. [inaudible 01:52:32] a part of that project and Steve Masson doing the coloring. He was absolutely great.

Don McGregor:
So Terry backed me on everything on that. And I walked into the office suddenly, and I was going to see the third issue. And started saying, “I did them over here, take a look Don.” And I so, “Wait a minute. I got to go to the bathroom and come back and I’ll look at it.” So I go into a bathroom. When I’m finished, I’m over at the sink and I don’t know how he knew I was in there, but in one of the stalls was Tom DeFalco. And he says, “Don, you can cost Terry Kavanaugh his job.” Well, they know how to get you. They know the things they use against you. I didn’t even know. I don’t know how he knew I was there, because those are closed doors. I wasn’t speaking to anybody.

Alex Grand:
You know what happened? His spider sense went off. That’s what happened.

Don McGregor:
That might be it. So then I said, “What are you talking about?” So when he comes out, we get out into the corridors and he’s very upset. He said, “You’ve got Monica Lynne in that book without panties.” Now Alex, there’s many things I may forget, maybe not notice. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that if there were panels in there where Monica was without panties, I think I would have spotted that. I think I would know.

Alex Grand:
I’ll do it on deep search later today to try to find those.

Don McGregor:
When you find that book, she definitely looks sexy, there’s no doubt about that. So it’s not like he’s going on a tirade about it and finally I said to him, “Well, Terry’s got the books up there. Let’s go look at the books.” So we’d go to Terry’s office and he takes one of these, he takes Black Panther’s Prey 3, he goes through it and he said, “Oh, I guess there was eight pages with her without panties.” Throws the book on Terry’s desk and walks out, no apology, nothing like, “Oh, sorry, I made a mistake. I don’t know why I thought that or somebody told me that and I just believed it.” Gone. So anyhow, the book exists the way that it exists. I love the character. So like I said, I mean, I was resistant about coming back to the character, because there were a lot of fights over it when I was originally doing it.

Don McGregor:
And I just didn’t want to put myself in a situation where once again, I was having to either defend or fight for anything I was doing with the character. And I thought, “Nah, I don’t want to do it under those circumstances.” And Michael kept assuring me that we wouldn’t. And also, I had never read any of the other Black Panther stuff that had been done. Not because I think that whatever I do is better or worse than what the other people have done. People will ask me about Jack Kirby coming on and doing the Panther? Well, number one, Jack Kirby doesn’t have to ask Don McGregor anything, it’s Jack Kirby. Without Jack and without Stan and without Dave [inaudible 01:55:31], without Gene Colan and people like that, the books that we come to love so much wouldn’t exist. So Jack can do anything as far as I’m concerned that he wants.

Don McGregor:
But my feeling was I wasn’t going to read the books. Part of the problem was I was so involved with the character, because every day for almost three years, I’m trying to hear T’Challa’s voice in my head. How would he handle this? What would he think? So, the characters become very real to you in many ways, because you’re living with them all the time. You live with them more than you do most of the people that you meet in your daily life. And I thought, “I don’t see any win situation in here,” because people also are going to ask, “Well, what do you think of that person’s work? Or what do you think of this person’s work on the Panther?” And I don’t see how you can come to it objectively when you’re so personally involved in the thing. I just thought, “It’s better for me.” It’s already a painful experience. I didn’t get to finish the Panther versus the Clan. I didn’t know I had plans for those books and but like they’re cut off.

Don McGregor:
And I thought, “You know what? Now I was investing my time in Sabre.” So that was gone. And by the time we were coming back of one of the prerequisites I had is I didn’t have to read anything. I could take the character from where I left off and then start. And that became the first issue of Panther’s Quest. And that ended up escalating, because when Gene came onboard as the artist, he was doing stuff at DC and something happened where suddenly he needed pages right away. And I didn’t even yet have, why the Black Panther’s mother hadn’t been heard from, it was in South Africa. And everything I came up with doesn’t answer this, why not this? And then I swear to God, just a day or two before I’m going to stop writing the thing and Gene, he calls and says, “These pages suddenly all came to me, I understood what the end, how it ended, what answered all the questions and I’m ready to get down long and as fast as I can.” And thank God, because but I still didn’t have the villains, I didn’t have the plot structure.

Don McGregor:
Yeah. I know how it was going to end and I knew what the story was and thematically, I knew what I wanted to go after, but I was still going up to the Schomburg Museum and doing research two or three days a week. And they were really great to me finding, because you needed to have photographic reference and they needed to have references that spoke about this aspect of apartheid and they were really, really great. And I know one of the people at the museum said to me, “Don, are they really going to print this at Marvel?” And I said, “Well, all I know is I’m going to write it. If you see it, then yes they did.” And so, the hardest thing about it was doing it in the eight-page chapters, because that kind of changed the, you always had to be contending with that aspect of it.

Don McGregor:
However, when I was writing, now I’m four issues and Gene is drawing it. And I had now had the name of the lead villain person was that we eventually would learn has the Panther’s mother and I’d go off on vacation. And when I came back, it was really hard to see much stuff on South Africa in that time period. But I came back and it was a National Geographic that had a whole feature on South Africa. So I’m browsing through it and I see this name, it’s the name of the villain? He actually exists. And he’s in the civic courts of South Africa. I call Terry, “Terry, I have to change the name of that character. He’s real, there’s a real person with that name.” And I had to find a name that I think it was five letters for the first name so that we could change it to [inaudible 01:59:41]. And very often Marvel doesn’t date when a story’s taking place. But if you notice Panther’s Quest I think says June 1983, I think it is something like that.

Don McGregor:
And then again, when I was going through that National Geographic, they had changed the passport laws. So what I had written was thoroughly accurate for the time period I was writing it. But now in that intervening month they had changed the passport laws. So I said to Terry, “There’s no way, Gene’s already drawn it. The only way we can make this accurate is set it at this particular time when the passport laws was still intact.

Jim Thompson:
You’re getting exactly where I was going with these. So I don’t have to ask the questions, because that you’re writing something that’s evolving. If you had written this, when you originally were going to write it, it would be an entirely different story to some degree in certainly the experience of writing it would be a very different experience from what you were in, at this point in time when things are changing and when it’s very much in the public consciousness in a different way than it was back when you were thinking of it as the first story, right?

Don McGregor:
I personally think I’m a better writer in the 1980s and maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much traumatic stuff going on it as there was in the seventies. But also, with Nathaniel Dusk, I had enough room to do the story that I wanted to do. With Panther’s Quest, originally, if you know this business, most often when something is done one way that gets set in cement pretty quick. So Marvel Comics Presents were basically eight-page chapters. And normally they ran eight books, maybe 10 for a lead feature. Whereas obviously Panther’s Quest, I think around chapter 12, Terry says, “Don, I got to give him something,” because wherever we have editorial meetings, they want to know how many chapters is this going to be? And I’m still researching it. As I research it, it influences what the new scenes are going to be and where the story is going to go. I don’t know until I delve into that aspect of South Africa. So I said to Terry, “To be honest with you Terry, I don’t know.” And I said, “Tell them 25.” 25 seemed like it’s all I could think of.

Don McGregor:
And so then, God bless Terry. I’m sure Terry got so much flack on that and he shielded me from it all, because I know there was a sequence of Panther’s Prey where I didn’t find out until last year, man, they were having things on the carpet. I swear to God, not a word was said to me. I didn’t even know any of that was going on. So while we were doing The Panther’s Quest, at one point, there was a piece of information that I needed to get to the audience, but I needed to get to it like it was one of the major characters Zanti Chikane was going to get shot. And so, the information, after that, there’s no way to give the audience, the information that it needs and I said, I’d need, but I can’t fit it in eight pages.

Don McGregor:
So I went to Terry and I said, “Terry, I’m not trying to drive you crazy. I know all your inventory you have when he got eight-page stories, I need 10 pages for this chapter.” “Don I can’t do it. I don’t have…” I said, “I will write any character you want a six-page story and I’ll have it for you in time for that issue with the Black Panther.” And he said, “Any character?” And I said, “Yeah.” “Sub-mariner.” So I went and that’s how Danger in Paradise I think that’s called. Marsha actually colored it and Jim Lee drew it and it’s believe it or not, a totally silent Don McGregor story. However, the first version I wrote, wasn’t silent. Hey, you know what? Only I would go back and rewrite the entire thing. And I’m like, “Okay, let’s do the silent version.”

Don McGregor:
And then, oh, and then just one more thing. At the end, when I was finally on chapter 23, I couldn’t have as big an ending as I wanted. So I went to Terry, I said, “Terry, I need 16-page chapters at the end. Can we do double-sized?” And Terry said, “Do whatever you want Don.” And that’s where you’d get to have that really big ending of 16 pages. And thank God it was Gene Colan and Tom Palmer and everybody doing the artwork and could get it out.

Jim Thompson:
How is Colan in doing it? You had to adjust your writing clearly to do those smaller segments, but you had talked about him and how he approached comics with that limited amount of space where things were going to be very tight, very controlled. Was it actually easier for him to keep it in line, or was it harder for him?

Don McGregor:
No, Gene was Gene. I mean, I don’t know that he ever thought one job was more difficult than another. I know he didn’t like to do, like he said, “I wouldn’t be too good at doing James Bond,” because he didn’t really like doing high-tech gear and things like that. I think he liked doing the Panther stuff. And both he and Adrian liked the storyline. Obviously, it was something we’re handling something important and it was just great working with Gene on it. Well, I’ve got a great Gene Colan story on there. Since you asked now, I’ll give you this. I think I wrote about it probably when he reprinted the book whole, about the middle of the story, there’s a sequence where there’s something that’s called necklacing that went on in South Africa at the time. And if you were part of the black townships, if you were a spy for the white government and you were caught, they would put automobile tire over your head and around your neck, filled with gasoline and set on fire. And I knew I couldn’t avoid it.

Don McGregor:
If it was just being cowardly and not refusing to address what’s really happening there. But some incidents in a story. You have like only a number of limited number of ways you can go. So for instance, if this guy is being threatened by the township and he’s got the tire, well, one the Black Panther could come in and save him. But that kind of makes a political statement. And I want to keep the story very human, because at its core, the story is about a son trying to find his mother and how a racist regime can make the most basic human drive, almost impossible. So, the other ways it could go is that the Panther goes to save him when he gets killed. So there weren’t many ways that I didn’t like it. I know everything I hated. I just, and I know I’m coming up to the scene, I got to figure out something that I should do. And so, I had put a little boy in it called Theodore Olebogeng, and earlier in the story. He was only meant for that one appearance.

Don McGregor:
Suddenly I realized, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. If I bring the little kid back and an innocent victim is caught up in this, it keeps the story, very human.” And it in within those, that one eight-page page installment it kind of makes a statement of what the story is about the main theme all the way throughout. So I brought him back and I gave him a brother, Wally Olebogeng, basically, it’s the Beaver Cleaver in South Africa, Wally and the Beav. And it’s little Theodore that gets caught in the flames. And there’s a chapter where T’Challa is in tears, holding this little boy, and he’s going to get him to the white hospital and to try to save him. And it’s the whole chapter, it’s just him trying to get the kid there. And then at the end of it, the doctors come out and they really tried to save the kid, but Theodore has died.

Don McGregor:
So I get this call about midnight for Gene. And Gene was just love to call it midnight, that he would oftentimes at night and Gene goes, “I can’t do it Don.” “You can’t do what Gene?” “Don’t ask me to do it. I can’t.” “You can’t do what Gene?” “I tried to do it Don and I can’t do it. We’re not doing it.” “We’re not doing what Gene?” “You know what, Don?” “No, I don’t know what.” So we go like this for like about five minutes and then Gene goes, “The kid it’s about the kid.” “What about the kid?” “The kid doesn’t die. It’s too heartbreaking Don, I can’t do it. I tried. And it hurts too much. Every time I try to draw it, I can’t, I can’t do it. Don’t ask me. You’re hurting me too much.” I said, “Gene,” and I’m panic, because to me, if that emotional moment is what I want, I don’t want the audience off the hook. I want them to feel what Gene is feeling. I want them to care. And I feel like that scene has done that.

Don McGregor:
And so, I don’t know. Gene must go on, because he knows for about 10 minutes there’s no way and I’m begging him, “Gene, please, you got to do it this way, it just weakens the story?” And then finally Gene just goes, “Get out of here, Don. I do it exactly the way you want.” Gene you just love it. People don’t know that a lot of times Gene would like to tease you.

Jim Thompson:
So the whole time it was just a joke. He had already done it?

Don McGregor:
Yeah, he’d already drawn it.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, that’s that’s great. I never heard that story.

Don McGregor:
I think when he realized I was probably going to have a stroke, “I’m going to tell Don. Okay, Don, I did it. I did it. I drew it just exactly as you want it.”

Jim Thompson:
Let’s talk about the next Panther story that you did and the last one you did the 1991 Panther’s Prey. What were the circumstances that made you go back and do a third, well, third or fourth, depending on how you count it story?

Don McGregor:
Well, I told you right from the very beginning I had thought about that they would all be novels. So there was Panther’s Rage and really there was supposed to be The Black Panther’s Quest, but that didn’t happen. The Clan stuff happened instead. So when I came back, because I had mentioned, I still had it in the back of my head that I wanted to do the South Africa stuff. And then when it became feasible to actually do it, and then Terry wanted me to do another Panther story. And so, then it was like, “Okay, come back to Wakanda, because a lot of people wanted to see those characters W’Kabi and [inaudible 02:11:13] and Ramonda, and all of those characters.

Jim Thompson:
Sure, it’d been a long time.

Don McGregor:
You know, it was a challenging thing. It was kind of scary, because so many people had really powerful, strong feelings for those Panther Rage stories. And so you better come with something like if the story doesn’t hold up, people go, “Oh man, I wish he hadn’t come back and done it.” So we work really hard on it. And one of the best decisions I ever made was Gene Colan wasn’t going to be able to draw it. Gene was tied up with other stuff. So I was looking through different artwork that Terry has. I hadn’t seen any, I was, I think I was actually, after I was at the…

Don McGregor:
Yeah, I think I was actually after hours, at the Xerox machine, xeroxing some artwork to take a look at, take home, and trying to determine who should be drawing this thing. And while I was at the Xerox machine, Chris Ivy came up to me, and Chris said, “I’m going to use Dwayne Turner on the Panther book.” And I said, “I don’t know Dwayne. I’ve only seen eight pages of his artwork.” And it was like nothing. It was like a Marvel war room kind of story or something. Nothing like the kind of stuff I was going to be doing. And then Chris said to me, “Well, you know that Black Panther’s his favorite character.” And so then I thought, “Well, I’d rather have somebody who’s just starting out, but loves the character, and it won’t just be another gig, because it’s not going to be just another gig to me. It’s going to be important.”

Don McGregor:
And I couldn’t have chosen better. I mean, I don’t know, right from the get-go Dwayne and I, we just got along famously. We became friends, with our families. I used to visit, when he was still on the East Coast, visit Dwayne and Robin all the time. In fact, when I’m out on the West Coast, Dwayne is one of the people I’ll see. And the other one, who is also on the West Coast, is Mike Mayhew. Because again, Mike was just starting out, and again, like twice, I got really, really lucky. These people really had talent. They were willing to work hard at it. I had some artist say to me, “You write difficult scripts, Don.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t do easy. If you’re looking for easy, you need to go someplace else. That’s not what this is about.”

Jim Thompson:
Overall, you’ve been incredibly lucky, haven’t you, with your artist collaborations?

Don McGregor:
Yeah, absolutely.

Jim Thompson:
When I think about it… I also thought, sadly, I think out of the Black Panther artists, none of them are living, are they?

Don McGregor:
Dwayne Turner is. No, Gene, and Billy, and Rich. See, I mean, Rich… Just the other day I posted up on my Facebook page… You know how they do those memory things? And they added one where it’s Rich, because I was facing some really serious health problems at the time. And here’s Rich, who had obviously really… I don’t think it was known at the time, how severe his health problems were. But Rich writing about, “Give Don some support. Let him know that you care about him.” And the fact, having that in Rich’s words, was very, very fortunate.

Don McGregor:
They didn’t want Rich Buckler on that Black Panther book. Rich Buckler was too important an artist. And if Rich hadn’t just said, “No, I’m working with Don on it,” I don’t know that I would have gotten to do those books. Because they weren’t reading them, but they were looking at the artwork. So Rich’s artwork was so powerful, that even though they really did… After the first issue with Killmonger, and Richard put Killmonger on the cover, I was told that Killmonger couldn’t appear on any other covers. And I think that just, they weren’t used to a black character that was that angry, that bitter, that strong, that ferocious.

Don McGregor:
Again, if you think I’m just saying that, look at the covers. Killmonger doesn’t come back until after a year, and it’s a cover Rich drew with the wolves, the ice wolves attacking him, against that snowy background. And I guess editorial decided the wolves aren’t enough. And so what they did, they had Rich draw like a little Killmonger action figure. The wolves don’t get changed at all. The little action figure, it’s just posed between their legs or something like that. And then there’s a sign, “He’s back! Killmonger.” I guess they felt it needed a villain on the cover. And then they allowed him to be on the cover for the last book. But I don’t think that the ending… Oh man, people were going crazy, when the ending, on the cliff, and the little boy [Kantoo phonetic 02:16:32] comes into it. Man, they weren’t expecting that. And now, let’s just say it wasn’t a harmonious reaction.

Jim Thompson:
I could talk about Black Panther with you for the entire day, because it was one of the most formative comics for me, because I was 12 or 13, and it meant everything to me. I mean, it was the comic that got me, why I’m sitting here right now, probably. So I almost hate to leave Black Panther, because this is the last Black Panther conversation I may have with you. And it’s been a pleasure talking about that character.

Don McGregor:
Thank you guys, and thank you for your kind words. It really… It’s people like yourselves, people who have reacted to what these characters in these books have meant to them. And I’m fortunate that every book, some people like, “That’s the one,” and then… So I’m glad there are people who like Detectives Inc. as much as they like Killraven, or the Panther, or…

Alex Grand:
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Okay. You did Lone Ranger and Mars Attacks in 1993 and 1994 for Topps. How did you get set up for Topps, and how did you approach those licenses?

Don McGregor:
Jim Salicrup and I have been friends since he first started at Marvel in 1973. So I’ve known Jim since he was about, I think he was between 14 and 16 when he started doing stuff at Marvel, working, doing whatever. He helped me with those backup pages. Jim found a lot of the stuff for the backup pages, that I would say, like the original Kirby covers, I would have had no idea where to go for them. And Jim certainly was one of the people… He knew my work going back to the Warren days.

Don McGregor:
In fact, in something that Jim was doing for some magazine, doing an interview… They had a thing about favorite stories, favorite covers, I don’t know. Anyhow, the story that he put down at the time, was The Night the Snow Spilled Blood, that Tom Sutton drew. And so Jim has a story about how much, that when he started, he had to run over and tell he wrote the X-File comics, and it was a friend of his. And so I often joke with Jim and I said, “Yeah, Jim says The Night That Snow Spilled Blood, that’s your best story Don. You peaked, and too bad you peaked so early.” That is just kind of a standing joke.

Don McGregor:
So I was close with Jim, and Jim was the one who’d be like, “I never thought I would get a chance to write a Spider-Man story.” And it was Jim that came to me, and asked me if I wanted to do a Spidey story. And I used to bring my son. My son was about, I guess, 10, 11, somewhere in that area. So he had the full run of Marvel comics, and he used to hang out with Jim. And I think Rob thought that every kid gets to do that. No. Because he would get to do that.

Don McGregor:
And I thought, okay, I wanted to do a story… I said to Jim, “Well, I want to do a story about guns. That’s been something on my mind.” The gun thing isn’t just happening now. It was happening then. And so Jim said, “Go ahead and do it.” And so it was going to be a two part story, and I wrote it, and Jim… Because I didn’t talk to Marshall Rogers at all. It was Jim that thought, “Oh, I liked Detectives Inc. with Marshall. Let me see if I can bring Don and Marshall back together again.” And he found Marshall was no longer living in the city. He was, I’m not actually sure where, but anyhow, Jim located him, and he said okay to the story.

Don McGregor:
So, I mean, I actually took Rob out. I had a guy who was with the fire department. We went to where the cops in the Bronx have a shooting range. And I took Rob out there to make sure he could shoot all the guns I said this kid’s going to have in the story. Because I really try to research these things, with the people who know this kind of stuff. And so then hopefully you come up with something of value, and maybe it just being capturing what it’s really like.

Don McGregor:
But the story somewhat was motivated by the fact… I was editing the Detective Inc. movie, and there’s a scene where the Denning character, played by Alex Simmons, is talking about why he doesn’t want to carry a gun, because in the first detective story, he had to kill a kid. And so he doesn’t want to have to carry a gun. And we’re actually working on editing this sequence on the film.

Don McGregor:
And I get a phone call and it’s, “Your son has just been attacked by a gang, and held at gunpoint.” And the synchronicity of it, that I’m working on this very subject matter, and find out that Rob, at 3:00 in broad afternoon… He was taking soda bottles back to the soda place. I asked him to take them and cash them in. He’s walking out in brightest daylight, and these five people come and take him behind the store. They said for him to give them all their money, and then he already had. They said, “Well, if we find any money on you…” And they put a 9mm in his mouth, and threatened to kill him if they found any money on him.

Don McGregor:
And fortunately one of the houses on the side street saw the activity and came out, and they ran away. But my son had gone through this terrible thing. And then… Anyhow, we had to go to the police precinct, and he was going through the mug books, and actually spotted one of the people. And the police are all, “We don’t know if we can catch… We’ll see. They’re out in the Bronx somewhere. They’re part of some kind of gang.” And I remember walking out with Rob, and Rob asked me, “Dad, did they have to kill me before the cops would do something?” So what do you say to your son in a situation like that?

Don McGregor:
So anyhow, that was the motivation for me to write that Spider-Man story, and that was thanks to Jim. And so when Jim… But the problem was, now Jim had been at Marvel for years, and Jim really liked the first or… So he said, “Well, I think I want to just run it. Rather than put it in the new Spider-Man title, I’m going to run it as a collection, collect it into one volume.” And me being me, I said, “Look, there’s a couple of scenes I couldn’t put in. Can I get extra pages?” This is what Jim says. “Oh, okay. Yeah, you got four extra pages.” Whatever it was. Never asking for more money. Give me more pages. I need these pages, then I can put this back in the story.

Don McGregor:
But then after that was done… I don’t know. Somebody was late with the Spider-Man title. And Jim said, “I don’t want to run something secondary, so I got to take that story, and put it in the next two issues of Spider-Man.” Okay, so right about that time… And you’d have to ask Jim more about this. I don’t know. Jim got the offer from Topps to become executive editor. And the problem was that the story had been approved by Jim, it was all written, it was all drawn.

Don McGregor:
Part of the story, at the end of it… And I worked this out with Jim saying, “Here’s what I want to do. Spidey’s got a Spider Sense. He knows this little kid… Because he’s trying to find this kid, before some kind of accident happens with a gun. And Spidey’s in another dangerous situation. And the little boy wants to help Spidey. He’s got to save him. And when he shoots, he actually shoots Spidey, and blood comes spurting out.” And you know dramatically, that just would have… I built that thing up for 40 some pages, so that when you got there, that was going to have some kind of emotional impact.

Don McGregor:
Somebody else came in to edit over those books, and said, “Oh no, no. Spidey can’t get shot.” Now this is all about who’s got the power, and who doesn’t. And they could have just left that story alone. And Jim fought for it, but Jim was on his way out to go to Topps. And the closest they would let me come, was that a bullet went through his webbing. They wouldn’t let him get shot at all.

Don McGregor:
And to me, if that story… Because again, I was working with people who dealt with gun issues on a daily basis. If we helped one kid, if that story stayed with some people and helped them, then to me, that was worth it. And certainly you didn’t have to start a thing with Don McGregor. You could have gone and edited your own books. It wasn’t like I went off and did it on my own. I went through my editor. It was drawn, it was done, and then suddenly this is going to be censored.

Don McGregor:
And that person came up to me when I was getting the Bill Finger Award, and my kids know about this guy. So, my kids say, “Oh, he’s trying to get to you.” And my grandson and my daughter are trying to keep me away from this guy. And because Lauren is a very attractive young woman, this German guy wants a photograph of her. And as I turn, that person is right there. “Hey, I want to congratulate…” I said, “You need to get the fuck away from me. The only way this is ever going to be right, is if you could repair that story to where it was, before you had to sabotage it. Because other than that, you can’t make it right.” So, am I still emotional about it? I was talking with Rob, we were coming out of the Avengers thing, and I said, “Well, you notice in my old age I’ve calmed down.” So maybe not completely.

Alex Grand:
But that’s good. I’m glad you addressed the Spider-Man, because that was something that we had wondered about. In the later ’90s, kind of mid to later, approaching other licenses as well. You did James Bond’s Golden Eye in 1996 with Dark Horse. You did Jurassic Park Lost World. Like you mentioned, that there was an X-Files, then there was also Dracula Versus Zorro in 1993, and you had gone on to do more with Zorro later. What were you doing with Dracula Versus Zorro, and approaching the character in general, with the newspaper strip with Tod Smith and Tom Yeates?

Don McGregor:
Again, boy did I have a great series of artists to work with. Originally Jim came to me about doing Zorro as a series, as a monthly series. And I had never done a monthly book before. I wanted to work with Jim, but I also knew that if I said yes, it was going to be a major section of my life. And I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that. Dwayne McDuffie had been talking to me, I guess, about doing some stuff for Milestone. So in the beginning, when Jim first talked to me about it, I wasn’t sure. And Dwayne McDuffie was talking to me, Milestone was starting up, and I had this really strong story that I wanted to do somewhere, that dealt with AIDS, the race card, and a lot of different stuff, but I didn’t have a character for it.

Don McGregor:
And then Marvel was actually asking me to come and do an X-Men thing with Professor X. I know what they wanted. They wanted me to develop this alien planet, kind of the way I do with Wakanda. They just had the idea down, but I didn’t really care for the people. I was like, “This is… They’re going to get all the benefit from it. I’m sure there’s more money in it, but it’s going to be a fight.” And so then I went to Jim, and said, “Okay, I’m going to do the Zorro thing.”

Don McGregor:
And then I went to San Diego, and I went with Dwayne McDuffie and Dennis Collins to the Spaghetti Factory, and they were talking about me doing something at Milestone. And in fact, they sent me all those bibles that Dwayne had done. Holy moly were they thorough. And I talked to Dwayne about the storyline I wanted to do, that I just mentioned to you, and he didn’t balk at any of it.

Don McGregor:
So I went home and I was reading the bibles, but I already was committed to Jim for Zorro, and I knew there was no way I could do a monthly book. On top of that, Jim was adding things to it. So I had, we’ll say, written the first three issues, so I knew what time period I had things set, and I was introducing all the major characters, from Lady Rawhide, and Machete, and Moonstalker, and the different characters. And then Jim said, “We’re going to do a Zorro zero.” I said, “But Jim, I’m on book three.” He said, “Nevertheless, you’re going to do it. I don’t care. Make it mind-numbingly brutal. You got 12 pages. Just do it.”

Don McGregor:
So now I’m having to come up with that story, and then Jim… Because I wasn’t originally scheduled to do Zorro Versus Dracula, and it ended up, the person that was going to do it was committed to other stuff, and wasn’t going to have time to do it. So Jim says, “I’m going to have you do Dracula Versus Zorro.” Well, doing Zorro is a particular… You’re doing research. You got the mission system, you’ve got early Los Angeles, you’ve got the Indian cultures. There’s so many things to research, but suddenly if you’re doing Dracula Versus Zorro, now we’re over in Spain, not California. And then I have to make sure… The only way I could see that this worked, is that you came with respect for the mythos of Zorro and Dracula. And then I had Tom Yeates drawing it, and that’s a gorgeous looking book.

Jim Thompson:
It’s a beautiful book. I mean, one of my favorites. It’s just gorgeous. His Dracula is… I mean, every scene of that is just amazing.

Don McGregor:
It’s just amazing. And if I designed the page… Like the page with Zorro doing the flaming Z over the three panels, I designed that page. I was doing… The Gene Autry Museum was doing a Zorro exhibit, and the Zorro people wanted me to go there. When I got there, they… It was great. I mean, they were showing films, they had costuming. And they had that page up, and the only person who got credit on it was Tom. Now I don’t want credit for anything I didn’t do, but God damn it, that page would not exist if I didn’t do that work. And I said, “I’ll walk out of the Autry Museum now.” I said, “You know I get a credit line on there.” I don’t want credit for anything I didn’t do. But if I worked my ass off to try to make that story work, I want the credit for it.

Don McGregor:
And later we worked on the newspaper strip with Tom, and I always love newspaper strips. I love the challenge of the storytelling, trying to get people to come back and buy a paper the next day saying, “I got to see where that, what happens next.” And Tom was just, he was just great to work with. And to be in the Daily News, and papers like that. The kid who saw the comics in the 1950s, when I was six years old. It was like… It meant something. And I realize, again, that the Zorro strip, newspaper strip, is probably in my top five favorite things I’ve ever done.

Alex Grand:
Tom lives close to me. Him and Bud Plant, and some other people, came over to my house for an afternoon, couple of months ago, maybe six weeks ago. But Tom is great. We were going over his Prince Valiant, and some other things, and what’s interesting is he doesn’t like superheroes that much, but he likes costumed adventurers, like Zorro, and other things, and Prince Valiant and whatever. But even though he has this classic illustration, and he has a very smooth, soft, kind demeanor… It was funny. He was saying that he really has a very social activism side to him, that’s very passionate, and very strong. And the way he was talking about that… For me, it was interesting to see that there was this classicist, but then someone that actually likes a little bit of civil action, and civil disobedience.

Jim Thompson:
Alex, you brought up something I just wanted to raise real quickly. You were describing Yeates, and you said that he was a traditionalist sort of, but that he had this other side, that was a social activist.

Alex Grand:
Absolutely, yes.

Jim Thompson:
I thought you were talking about… That you were going to link in with Zorro, because that’s what that description is.

Alex Grand:
Zorro is like that actually.

Jim Thompson:
Zorro’s exactly like that too, which leads me to a question to Don in terms of, Zorro is an odd character, in that he’s in Western settings, but the story isn’t necessarily strictly Western in some ways. It requires more research, and it’s a period piece, and it has that masked hero aspect to it. So, I know you were a big Ed McBain fan, and other, mainly more hard-boiled detective kind of things. Are you a Western fan? What was it like writing [crosstalk 02:35:08]

Don McGregor:
First of all, I love pop culture. Everything in my life mostly has been about, how close to real life can you make pop culture? And I think I realized, looking back on the books that… And I don’t know if this is true or not, but it might be, that there was an awareness that, “Hey, pop culture lied to me about this.” And there was a lot of, “Well, let’s try to rectify that lie a little bit, and get closer to stuff that really moves us as human beings and everything.” So there was certainly an element of that. But do you know that if you’re doing your own stunts in movies, and you’re writing this stuff, well obviously you really love it. And Zorro was one of those characters that I really, really loved.

Don McGregor:
We had the same thing with James Bond. If you had ever told a kid living in Rhode Island, that one day I’d get to write James Bond, I was like, “What? Are you guys crazy? Why would they let me write James Bond.” I was a fan of the books before they were movies. Those are just great. I have one regret with the Bond stuff. There were a number of things, because this stuff was being done overseas, and you were asking about licensed characters. In the beginning you had to sign so many things. I had to sign a thing that said, you wouldn’t bring any notoriety or shame to James Bond, and I said, “What do I have to do, fuck sheep?” What could I do that would be…? I mean, this is a… And they said, “Well, you know the churches watch James Bond very carefully.” What church endorses James Bond? He kills a lot of people, and he goes to bed with a lot of women. I’m not sure how many churches advocate his way of life.

Don McGregor:
And then when we were going to do… I was going to do the plot line about the bombing of a skyscraper in Manhattan, by a religious group. There was a lot of questions about that, but you can go as far back as Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die. When Bond first comes into New York, and Felix Leiter was driving him over the bridge, and then he’s looking at Manhattan down below, and Felix Leiter says, “Look at it James, the biggest bomb site in the world.” And that’s 1955. You think it’s any less now? I don’t think so.

Don McGregor:
But the only thing that they… I kept fighting them on changes, and I’d left… I don’t know why I gave in on this. Because the end of it… I had introduced a woman character that was with one of the lead bad guys. And he gets killed early on in the book. And my thought was that when the big ending happens, the woman comes after Bond to kill him. And they meet off over Rockefeller Center, and you’re always trying to find very visual places to take these scenes. There’s a Hitchcock kind of influence, like, okay, let’s set this in a place that looks visually dynamic.

Don McGregor:
And so Bond… The woman comes after him and he’s got her in his gun sights, and he sees her face, and he realizes that he’s her Blofeld. He killed the man she loved. And I know that moment would have just had power to it. And I don’t know, they changed the ending, and to this day… They were wrong. All I can say is they were wrong, and I should’ve fought for that ending. But they had been very nice about giving in on other things, and I let it go, so I regret it to this day.

Alex Grand:
Lady Rawhide, and I think your daughter was actually dressed up as that, and if I’m-

Don McGregor:
Not my idea. Not my idea.

Alex Grand:
Not your idea. And what was Lady Rawhide, and how did your daughter become involved in it? Because I think even the illustrations of the character, are of your daughter still, right?

Don McGregor:
Well, that’s when Dynamite did some scurrilous stuff, and Mike Netzer drew that from a photograph of Lauren and I, with Lauren as Lady Rawhide. I created all those characters. Part of it, like when I was talking about doing a monthly book, and I realized there’s no way I can do [inaudible 02:39:46] women in it. And so when I’m… Whether it’s the Black Panther, or whether it’s Zorro, or James Bond. Whatever it is, I’m going with a thing, this is what I really like, and I don’t care about this, and trying to get to where you reflect the characters accurately. And I was like, “Well I need a woman character in here.”

Don McGregor:
And that was basically the start of Lady Rawhide. There was a lot of discussion about her. At first, I had her named Lady Rawhide. Then I’d gone out to dinner with Marsha, and a woman friend of hers. And I changed the name to… I think, Jim had questioned me on whether we should use Lady Rawhide, and I changed it to Lady Mayhem. And I said this at the table, when I’m out to dinner with Marsha and this woman Leslie, and Leslie says, “Well, sounds like Lady Rawhide is a better name. Rawhide’s tough. It endures. Mayhem sounds like a woman out of control.” And I said, “Well, you’re absolutely right.” And I called Jim back. I said, “No, Jim. It’s Lady Rawhide again.” And, Jim was just, he was just terrific. He says, “Ah, Don’s idiosyncrasies again. This is what he needs.”

Don McGregor:
And I, Jim had, we had samples done by different artists, and I gave a Lady Rawhide page, one of the double page spreads as well, jumping Tornado over these chimneys and rocks, and coming toward the audience, and not a easy double page spread to do. And man, Mike did a knock out job on it. I can’t remember what the fourth page was, but anyhow, once again, I was really glad, I lucked out, chose the right guy.

Don McGregor:
The thing in the beginning was, Mike didn’t have a lot of exposure to Zorro, and so he kept thinking of the Batman connection, and the first pages that he drew, Zorro’s face were really grim. I said, “That’s Batman, Mike. That’s not Zorro. Zorro comes into this, he really believes in what he’s doing, he believes he can get it done, he believes he’s doing it for the right reasons, and that he can make it come out right. And he really has this lively persona.”

Don McGregor:
And then once Mike got it, I sent him some DC Zorros. Because part of… Again with Zorro productions I said, “If I can’t do the DC Zorro people. If I can’t do Sargent Garcia, I can’t do Bernardo, or Captain Monasterio, I’m not interested in doing the book.” They said, “No, you can…”

Don McGregor:
And the great thing was that I had Jim in my corner, and when a book needs an advocate, and as Lady Rawhide often did, or there was one point where they wanted to censor something from the book. And I had worked up in my head. I said, “I have to quit the book. I know where I’m going, and if they’re having problems with this, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do that down the line.” And I’m sitting in Jim’s office. I’ve worked up this big speech in my head over the weekend, telling Jim why I have to quit the book, and I can’t do it anymore. And I’d say I got two sentences out. Jim said, “Wait a minute, Don. Are you telling me you can’t write the book you want to write?” I said, “Yeah, because they…” And Jim gets on the phone, calls them up and says, “If Don can’t write the book he wants to write, we’re out of the Zorro business.” Now, if you have an editor-in-chief that will do that for you, you better praise that person, and love them to death.

Alex Grand:
That’s great.

Jim Thompson:
Alex, when I hear any talk of sheep fucking, I’m thinking it’s time to wrap things up.

Alex Grand:
But that’s also a Western reference possibly. So I would say Don, thanks so much, really, for hanging out with us today, and going through your career the way you have. You have really great stories. You tell them so well. And I just love the passion that you have, as you live it, and as you discuss it. And really, thanks for making that so evident today, and really, you’re awesome. And we are big fans of yours. Thanks so much for being here.

Jim Thompson:
Absolutely.

Don McGregor:
Thanks so much, Alex.

 

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