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Tony Puryear, Hollywood and Comic Books Bio 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:

Tony Puryear is an artist, co-writer and co-creator of the epic sci-fi graphic novel Concrete Park. Writer of “Queen Of The South”, Screenwriter of Eraser. Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Tony Puryear, Hollywood screenwriter and Comic book writer/artist, discussing key phases of his diverse career, from his childhood encounters with Jack Kirby & Phil Seuling, his advertising career under the mentorship of James Patterson, directing music videos for 80s hip hop stars, becoming the first African-American screenwriter to pen a $100 million-grossing film, Schwarzenegger’s “Eraser”, partnering with post-Marvel Stan Lee, and co-writing, drawing, coloring and lettering the critically acclaimed Afro-futuristic comic series, Concrete Park.

🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, Thumbnail Artwork, CBH Podcast ©2021 Comic Book Historians.

Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders.

Tony Puryear, Afro-Futurist Biographical Interview by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Tony Puryear
00:00:30 Segregated biracial kid
00:04:08 Confederate statue
00:07:08 Early reading Marvel comics
00:09:25 Family background
00:11:05 Meeting Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko
00:15:05 Me & Kirby Story
00:17:54 Write like Kirby & Draw not like Kirby
00:19:53 Kurtzberg Gate, nine-panel fight grid
00:21:26 Kirby’s influence
00:23:53 Brown University became a chef ~1978-83
00:25:18 Why cooking?
00:26:07 J. Walter Thompson Ad Company, James Patterson, Burger King ~1983
00:29:12 Goodyear
00:29:55 Temporary blinding
00:32:17 Trained by James Patterson as a writer
00:35:21 Directing music videos: LL Cool J, K-Solo, EPMD
00:37:33 LL Cool J and Biz Markie
00:38:39 Selected for Walt Disney Company’s Writer Program ~1990
00:42:19 Writing scripts for Disney
00:44:37 Ownership of those scripts
00:46:01 Bette Midler
00:47:27 Hired by Sidney Poitier at Columbia
00:50:48 Writing Eraser, Arnold Schwarzenegger film ~1994 | le Carré, McKee
00:53:53 Sale of Eraser script on White Bronco Day
00:56:17 Call with Arnold Schwarzenegger
00:58:12 Rewriting of Eraser
01:00:18 Arnold Schwarzenegger
01:02:18 Replacing Chuck Russell
01:04:16 Alan Silvestri
01:05:21 James Coburn, James Caan
01:08:30 Stan Lee, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry
01:11:04 Eraser: The alligator scene
01:13:42 Eraser: The railgun
01:15:35 Eraser: Gender fluid, Gay bar scene
01:17:14 First Black screenwriter to pen $100 million-film
01:17:47 Erika Alexander
01:20:07 Tom Clancy
01:21:45 Fahrenheit 451
01:23:42 François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451
01:24:50 Ray Bradbury
01:28:12 Transition to television | Street Time, Richard Stratton
01:31:10 Film schools
01:32:13 Hillary Clinton, poster
01:36:34 Concrete Park: Is it Afrofuturism?
01:42:41 Erika’s brother Robert Alexander’s involvement
01:44:16 Dark Horse, Mike Richardson
01:46:26 Influences of the story: Stan Lee
01:48:33 Broke off with Dark Horse
01:49:16 Division of duties
01:50:41 Was it a strain, doing this with wife?
01:52:36 Continuing your concluding the Concrete Park story
01:54:30 Fan reaction
01:56:47 Great fantasy has maps
01:59:25 Concrete Park, Black Lives Matter movement
02:02:45 Film references | Fincher’s Alien 3
02:05:06 Introducing the characters | Game of Thrones
02:06:27 Kirby’s Fourth World – New Gods
02:08:28 Shapeshifters in Concrete Park
02:11:06 McGregor’s jungle action Black Panther
02:11:45 Best American Comics book, 2013 | Jeff Smith
02:13:35 Comics Cast, Joyce Brabner ~2016
02:16:04 Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
02:18:48 Trump’s rogues’ gallery: Gangsters ~2018
02:20:10 Back to TV: Queen of the South
02:21:41 Do you describe yourself as an artist who…
02:23:32 If you were to attribute… who would you say?
02:25:46 Wrapping Up

#TonyPuryear #ConcretePark #AfroFuturist #Eraser #ComicBookHistorians #Afrofuturism #ErikaAlexander #HillaryClinton #ArnoldSchwarzenegger #AfricanAmericanScreenwriter #ComicHistorian #CBHInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH

Transcript (editing in progress):

Alex:          Welcome again to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, I’m Alex Grand with my co-host Jim Thompson. Today we have a very special guest, Mr. Tony Puryear, who has a very diverse and extensive career; first as a chef, then in advertising, directing music videos, writing films for Hollywood, and also being an artist and co-writer on his hit comic series, Concrete Park. Thank you, Tony, for joining us today….

Tony, thanks so much for joining us today.

Puryear:     I’m happy to be here, you guys. Thank you.

Jim:            So, let’s start at the beginning. You grew up in the Bronx. Is that correct?

Puryear:     No. Actually, I’m from Queens, in New York.

Jim:            You’re from Queens, you went to school in the Bronx.

Puryear:     I went to high school in the Bronx… So, in that regard, I am like the rep who currently represents that district, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who represents both, a piece of the Bronx but also Northern Queens, where I grew up. I grew up in a neighborhood called Corona; East Elmhurst, Corona in Queens.

I’m 63 years old, so I’m old enough that Malcolm X was our neighbor down the block.

Alex:          Oh, wow.

Puryear:     And Malcolm X died in 1965, so that really dates me, but we knew Malcolm X. Also, I knew Louis Armstrong. Because Louis Armstrong lived in our neighborhood, lived in Corona. That was a great honor. I only realized years later how awesome he was. We knew him as the local celebrity, Louis Armstrong.

I grew up in Queens, went to high school in the Bronx, this high school called Bronx Science. So, it’s a big commute, you’d have to take the subway; a long way. I’m a bi-racial kid at the time when there weren’t as many bi-racial kids as there are now. My dad’s black, my mom’s white; we live in a black neighborhood in Queens. The white side of my family, my mother’s family, had disowned her for marrying a black guy. They told everybody she was dead.

So, I grew in a black context, I went to segregated schools. You have to understand, I was born before the Voting Rights Act was enacted.

Alex:          Your parents got together in the ’50s? 1950s then?

Puryear:     Yes, they did. They were married in 1955. You understand, their marriage wasn’t even legal in the United States, in many states of the union till 1966; I think with the Loving decision.

Jim:            Yeah, that’s right?

Puryear:     So, we lived in New York, which was very accepting, and very polyglot, and mixed-up. My old neighborhood now is very Latino, and is Indian, and everything else. But back then, it was a black neighborhood and we were very accepted. Yet we never traveled South. We never went to visit the south or anything because my parents’ marriage was illegal and bad things could’ve happened.

So, in that regard, I’m like Obama, Obama’s born the day before me, on August fourth. My birthday just passed, it’s August fifth. So, his parents were thinking along those lines too, obviously. He’s a little older than me.

Alex:          That’s true.

Puryear:     But in my time, that marriage was not so popular or common.

Alex:          And you came out very light…

Puryear:     Very light.

Alex:          But with that and with your light eyes, you identify as African American, is that right?

Puryear:     Absolutely. And it’s very funny, on Zoom, I come out very, very pink but either way, I’m light. Look at me…

[chuckle]

Jim:            Yes.

Puryear:     I’m like this old secret agent of blackness because I could pass or whatever, but that was never a life choice. I could have made it. It was the ‘60s. I mean you have to understand, my first school was a segregated school; de jure, by law it was segregated. By 1964, integration came to the North, I was literally in the first busing in the north which eased racial integration. I remember the white parents throwing garbage on us and everything.

Alex:          Wow.

Puryear:     So, my life choices were kind of made back then. I was a black kid. And of course, New York City is full of black people, ‘who look like me’. What is race anyway? It’s like a weird social construct but because of the times I come from, I’ve always identified as black.

Alex:          There’s definitely cultural aspect to that. There’s an ethnic aspect. So, it’s not just the color of the skin, a lot of time.

Puryear:     Yes… Uh-huh.

Jim:            So, Tony have a question, before going back into like early comics and things, it’s related. How was it when your ex-wife Erika would say to the press, things like, “He’s the blackest white man I’ve ever known” and those kinds of things. Sometimes, you get labeled as white. Does it bother you at all?

Puryear:     No, no. As I say, I should write a book because race is this interesting social construct in America. I just read a beautiful article by a light skinned black woman, who was talking about taking down confederate monuments. She said, “You want to see a confederate monument, look at me.” She said, “I have light colored skin.”

There’s this weird reason, because of slavery, because that one drop rule where if a child had one drop of black blood, they were black. Well, that obviously served white masters who needed as many slave bodies as possible. So, that old master can have several bastard black children, they all became his slaves no matter how light they were, etcetera, etcetera.

I come from a line of lighter skinned black people, but again, race being a social construct, but also a social category and a cultural category. Yes, I grew up identifying as a black child, the school integration did that to me as well. I don’t of mind whatever people want to call me, that’s fine.

Jim:            That was a great piece on the “I’m a confederate statue”.

Puryear:     Yes, here I am. I’m America’s legacy. Most black people in this country have some mixture of white in them.

[00:05:00]

Jim:            So, when you were growing up, did you face any prejudice or any issues on the other side? Were you ever derogatorily called white by others?

Puryear:     No.

Jim:            You were fully embraced.

Puryear:     I was very lucky, and the black community has traditionally been embracing by large. I’ll hear light skinned black people say, “Oh I had a tough…”, that wasn’t my experience. I was a lucky kid. I grew up in a context… New York City, I mean there’s lots of Puerto Rican kids who look like me. There’s lots of mixed kids in New York and the black community was very accepting. So, I never had an issue on that side of the street. No.

Jim:            Yeah, I’m about the same age as you, one or two years younger. And I grew up in Richmond, Virginia where those statues are.

Puryear:     Oh my god!

Jim:            So, in my mind they all talk about preserving history, to me taking them down is the historical moment. That’s the thing that’s history.

Puryear:     Exactly right. History is a continuity. It doesn’t stop in 1865 with the demise of the Lost Cause and all that stuff. No, no, no, no. History goes on. I’m history, and what I do here matters. What we do here matters. That’s history too.

Jim:            Let’s talk about comics for a little bit…

Puryear:     Yes, sir.

Jim:            Because I know the time period that you’re coming on because it’s not different from mine. When did you start reading?

Puryear:     When I was a little kid, there were comics in the barber shop. There were comics everywhere. There were comics at the drug store and comics at Woolworths? Remember Woolworths and all that kind of stuff?

Jim:            Oh, yeah.

Alex:          Is this the early ‘60s then?

Puryear:     Yes, sir. I grew up loving comics. From a very early age, I was a Marvel fan, and not a DC fan. I found the DC Comics of the early ‘60s to be very corny. Lightning Lad and those sort of 20 stories…

[chuckles]

The imaginary stories they had to have Superman having you… “What if Superman was married to Lois Lane?” All that kind of stuff. I thought the Marvel Comics of the early ‘60s, of course, this was the Silver Age, they were amazing, and they were cool. The superheroes operated in a recognizable New York City, and I loved that. I love that there was Spider-Man swinging through Manhattan. There was the Fantastic Four, they had a building. To me, that was very grounded, very real, they all had problems, etcetera. I was a Marvel guy from early on, in the early ‘60s.

Alex:          Did you like the Kirby-Ditko aesthetic? Were you looking for any particularly thing when you’re looking at that stuff?

Puryear:     At the time, at first, I didn’t recognize the names of it all. Didn’t mean anything to me. But the Marvel Comics also has a certain look, and to me that was all Kirby, Kirby, Kirby. The way Fantastic Four looked. The way Thor, swinging his hammer, could reach all the way back, way back here in a way no DC superhero ever did. Because they drew from a very square sort of proscenium arch looking at Superman. Superman back then was being draw by people like Wayne Boring and…

Carmine Infantino was about as good as it got in DC comics. I mean, he’d have the Flash running like this. But that was nothing to the amazing perspective, the amazing cosmic feel of Thor, and Fantastic Four and all those comics. It’s amazing how many of those comics Jack Kirby was drawing in any given month… But that’s the look I like. I later realized who it was that was doing all that.

Jim:            Your parents were both artists?

Puryear:     Yes, but my dad worked as a salesman. My father was a liquor salesman, and he was a black guy who’d go out into black markets in places like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit; these for his markets. Buffalo the real tent towns of the Midwest. And my father was the guy from the head office, who’d come out to the liquor stores and wholesalers in the black market, and say, “Come on, we got a special two for one on Dewar’s White Label Scotch.” That’s what my father did. He’d been a photographer. He had been a photographer in World War II. He was over there in Europe; he landed at D-Day, all that stuff.

My mother went to art school. She went to what was then called Carnegie Tech. She went to school there with Andy Warhol. She was from that generation, back when his name was Warhola you know, Polish kid in her arts school…

Alex:          Yeah. That’s cool.

Puryear:     They both were artist, and so I could draw from an early age. They always had me making stuff up and doing stuff with my hands. So, that was my background, yeah.

Jim:            But at the same time your Mom wasn’t thrilled about your interest in comics, right?

Puryear:     You’ve got my whole biography here, somehow. You’re like probably from the CIA or something… That’s exactly right. Like many kids of that time, I would take my allowance and I was supposed to get my new milk or whatever at lunch, or what have you, at school, and I would go and buy comic books.  Then I’d have to hide them from my mom. And every mom who’s ever had a boy kid knows that the kid is hiding the comics under the bed or somewhere in the closet. They on to me, but we have this sort of charade, where I would hide the comics and my mother would tacitly, I guess, go along.

Jim:            You’ve talked about Kirby it seems, like more than Ditko or Romita, or any of the others. We’re going to get to that more when we get to Concrete Park because I think Kirby is a huge influence.

Puryear:     He’s a huge influence. And I knew him as a kid so…

Jim:            That was what I was going to ask you. I had read that you had met him as a kid in New York?

Puryear:     Yes, sir.

Jim:            Please tell us about that.

Puryear:     Okay, somehow the interest in comics kept all through… I’m talking about 10, 11, 12 years old, those key ages. I started to realize who was who, as far as on the method. I like the Ditko work a lot too, and I loved… Ditko had like the most incredible hands in the whole comic book business. Like when Doctor Strange would cast his spell. You know the Ditko hands, right?

[00:10:02]

Jim:            Absolutely.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     When Spider-Man would shoot the web.

Alex:          Yeah, it’s perfect.

Puryear:     I like the Ditko stuff very much too, and he only did a small run really, when you look at the whole industry. A small run on Spider-Man, who was amazing. And everybody knows the Ditko thing where Spider-Man is lifting the giant piece of machinery, you know he has to…

Alex:          Right.

Puryear:     Great. I love all that stuff… And Doctor Strange looks so scary the way Ditko drew him with his narrow face. He drew him like a super villain, to me.

Alex:          Yeah, like Vincent Price or something, right?

Puryear:     Yeah, yeah. But the stuff I like. the stuff that caught my imagination as a storyteller, as a kid, was Kirby, Kirby, Kirby. Tales of Asgard, amazing. And they used to sell these little paperback books. They’d be about this big, The Collected Tales of Asgard, for instance, and in black and white. And even in black and white, the artwork was so dynamic.

So just to make a long story short, by the time I was in junior high school, and then high school; I’m talking about 1971, ’72, ’73. They were having some of the first New York Comic Cons, and really, these were crude, crude affairs where people just sold crates of comic books. That was really it. It’ll be in some crummy hotel. There was a hotel that’s built next to Grand Central Station. It was called the Commodore, after Commodore Vanderbilt. It’s now Trump blah, blah, blah, Trump International or something. Trump bought it in the ‘70s.

But back then, it was a crummy smoke-filled hotel. People smoked indoors it’s hard to even breath. Conjure that world… But they would have these Comic Cons and they’d have these guys with their racks and racks, or crates and crates of comics. Then they would also have ballroom events in the hotel. There you can see Jack Kirby, and he would speak.

Alex:          What year do you think this was?

Puryear:     ’71, ’72?

Alex:          Okay, early ‘70s.

Puryear:     It was the guy, Phil Seuling who would have these big Comic Cons.

Alex:          Yeah, so this was the Seuling convention then.

Puryear:     Right. And I knew Phil through a kid who I went to high school with. But even at the time, like ’71, so I was still in junior high, Kirby would speak. Kirby had this really weird backwards way of talking; that didn’t make a lot of sense, I got to say, as a kid.

Alex:          Yeah. Like Yoda or something.

Puryear:     Right. The one thing I ever heard him say that made sense was, “You know, when you and I get angry, we kick a can down the street or something. When Thor gets angry, he knocks the top off a mountain. That’s the whole thing.” He says, “Look at The Hulk, he just gets mad all the time.” Well that made sense, but a lot of stuff Kirby said, I couldn’t even can follow it because it was very non-seq or whatever.

But you could also see him half an hour later in the room with the guys with the crates of comics. He’d just be standing there holding court, and kids like me would bring our drawings, and he’d look at them… And my drawings were awful… And he’d be encouraging. He’d say, “Yeah, so yeah try a little harder. I think you’re lazy. You have to… Like that. “ So, he was a real mentor figure to a whole flick of kids, and we’d go day after day to see Jack Kirby. It’s just a subway ride away for me on the #7 train. So, I would see Jack Kirby.

Can I tell you a Jack Kirby story? I’ve told this…

Jim:            Please… Absolutely.

Alex:          Please.

Puryear:     One day, we’re in one of those rooms, he smoking a cigar, everybody’s smoking. It’s a little room, and these guys with crates of comic books. And New York being New York, there was always some edge of violence. I’m there, showing Kirby my drawings, suddenly from across the room you hear someone say, “Mother fucker!” And then, boom, boom, boom, and you hear the sound of a flight. Just boom, and the violence fills the room. Someone was stealing a comic or something, and two guys are a punch off. On the carpet, this ugly stained carpeting, they’re fighting and they’re grabbing each other shirts like men do. There’s blood coming up, and Kirby…

We’re all, for a moment like this, were frozen. I’m a little kid, and I was short for my age. And Kirby, who was very short… Kirby goes… He takes me by the hand, he goes, “Come here. I think we can take these guys.”

[laughter]

“I think we can take these.” I’m like terrified. I’m a kid. He pulls me across the room… This is a true story… And he confronts these guys. He says, “Hey, why don’t you guys pick on someone your own size.” And he meant it. He absolutely meant it, like he would fight these two guys right then and there. And because he was Jack Kirby and because he had that authority, because he had gray on his hair, and for a lot of reasons, they stopped.

Alex:          He was probably 45 or something at that time?

Puryear:     He was born, I think, 1917?

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     So, he’d be 53, 54.

Alex:          53, 54, okay.

Puryear:     Poor little guy with a cigar, but just as tough as hell.

Jim:            Oh, that’s great.

Puryear:     An authentically tough guy. And he says, “Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size.” A line of dialogue from a Cagney movie, as corny as that. “Why don’t you guys pick on somebody your own size.” They stopped the fight and then they carry on and everything, and Kirby, we go back over and start talking about comics and drawing. At that moment, I thought he was god. He walked on water, to me. That was my idol.

Jim:            When you came out here in 1990, to Los Angeles, did you look him up? Did you see him…?

Puryear:     No. I didn’t think to, at all. At that time, I was very much in this ‘movie head’. I had been directing music videos back in New York. And so, when I got here, I was so happy, and I was living in the valley, working for Disney, then I moved to Venice. To this day, I don’t drive. I don’t know how to drive. I never learned how.

Jim:            I was just going to ask you that because Variety mentioned that in their article in 1995.

Puryear:     Yeah, yeah, never learned how to drive so it didn’t even occur to me to go out to where Kirby was in Thousand Oaks, or any of that stuff. No, didn’t do it and I regret that.

[00:15:02]

Jim:            Okay, so when do you sort of age out of comics as a kid? High school or…? Did you follow Kirby over to DC, when he made the move?

Puryear:     Oh, man. I thought that was the greatest thing ever. I remember writing papers in high school at Bronx Science, I was a very dis-affected kid. By that point, I wasn’t going to a lot of high school, I was a real truant. I was a real trouble maker. I was spraying my name on… Bronx High School of Science, if you look at it, it still is diagonally across the street from what was then called the Pelham Subway Yard, where they parked all the #6 trains, and then all the IRT trains were parked right there when it was the 1870s. We’d sneak into the subway yard.

So, I didn’t do a lot in high school, but the thing that engaged me was English class and sure enough I was up here writing papers, and then homework about the new gods and all that stuff. I thought that was great.

Jim:            That’s really interesting because I had read where you said you trained yourself to not draw like Kirby. That it was important to you…

Puryear:     Yeah.

Jim:            Not to do that. And I mean this is a compliment. I think you write like Kirby in some sections.

[chuckle]

There’s a quote in Concrete Park, “The stranger’s too fast, too strong. Kill him and kill Silas for wealth and power.” And it’s like the cadence of that, and the rhythm is so Kirby-esk.

Puryear:     Thank you. I never would’ve have thought of that. But that’s a good point. That’s true. People talk shit about how he wrote the Fourth World comics. I thought they were great. I thought the P.A.C.K., are you kidding me?

Jim:            Oh, yeah. No, absolutely one of my favorite comics of all time. And there you have it, you read that dialogue, and just for a couple of parts, it’s there.

[chuckle]

We’ll talk about it later, but the other part you do on that, is when you get to the gate.

Puryear:     Yeah. The Kurtzberg Gate.

Jim:            The Kurtzberg Gate. I think it’s not really… I mean obviously, it’s not a gate. It’s a person but I think it’s almost you having to face the Kirby heritage.

Puryear:     That’s exactly what it was. You hit the nail on the head because, it’s just what Miles Davis would say about Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong played more horn than anybody else has ever played. And if you pick up that horn, you must deal with that giant mountain in your road which is Louis Armstrong. You can go against him, you can go with him, but you must deal with it. Black people have this great expression in the black church, that you’ve heard repeated in R&B songs, when speaking of God, they say, “So tall, you can’t get go over him. So low, you can’t get under him. So wide you can’t get around him. You must come in through the door.”

And so, the Kurtzberg Gate is my way of saying, “Kirby is there on the road, you must come in through the door. You can’t get around him.”

Jim:            And you do it with the nine-panel fight grid.

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            That is so iconic. I saw that, and I was like, I know exactly what he’s doing.

Puryear:     Thank you. And that was an amateur’s crude attempt. You’re exactly right. Just sort of process that, that thing of Captain America fighting Batroc.

Jim:            Yep.

Puryear:     Unbelievable. The Two-Gun Kid, I think, gets one like that too.

Jim:            Exactly. I was going to say the same thing. I think there’s a Bullseye one, too in the ‘50s. Yeah, there’s a few.

Puryear:     Kirby influenced me in so many ways, including he did a thing that I love in another author, Charles Dickens. Where Charles Dickens will have these great names, Magwitch and Mr. Sowerberry, and Oliver Twist, those great names. And Kirby would do that over and over again with Armagetto, and even, the great one is Scott Free, Mister Miracle, Super Escape Artist. That’s a great Dickens-esk name. So, if you look at Concrete Park, we have Scare City, which is to me, channeling Kirby.

Jim:            Clack-clack guns, the weapons?

Puryear:     Oh, the guns, they’re also called like that, yes. Onomatopoeia, thank you.

Alex:          In Kamandi there’s an insect with that name, right?

Puryear:     Oh, click-click.

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     It’s a cricket.

Jim:            But clack-clack in the sound effects.

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            It’s so Kirby.

Puryear:     Yes, and I’ll tell the world. I mean, when I came up with the name Scare City, for a minute, I went, “Thank you, Jack.” To me that’s kind of a Kirby-esk beat.

Alex:          Yeah. That’s like a city on Apocalypse or something.

Puryear:     Yes, Apocalypse. Armagetto. Scott Free, what a great name. Kamandi is a hysterical name.

Jim:            For me, reading that, I thought it was like, you know how Kirby took over The Losers at DC, I felt like Kirby had been hired to redo 100 Bullets. That’s what your book was, to some degree.

Puryear:     There is a strong, strong Kirby influence. As a kid, he opened up my imagination. He did that thing writers were supposed to do, it’s to make you want to be a writer. You know how the Beatles made more people want to join bands and be in bands. And similarly, for the punk movement. In 1976, ’77, The Ramones tour England, suddenly every kid in England has got a punk band. That’s Kirby. It’s like he makes you want to have a comic book.

Jim:            We were interviewing Gary Groth, and he talked about the influence of Woodward and Bernstein sending everybody, of his era, to journalism school.

Puryear:     Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jim:            Which is what I majored in, for that exact reason.

Puryear:     Oh really, how about that. That was a myth for our time, wasn’t it? In the ‘70s.

[chuckles]

Jim:            Sadly.

[00:20:00]

Puryear:     That was a real beautiful myth.

Jim:            All right, I only got like five minutes to get us through your advertising career. So, you go to Brown as an art major?

Puryear:     Yes,

Jim:            But at this point, not to do comics, obviously.

Puryear:     No, no. I’m the world’s biggest goof off. I kind of goofed off at Brown too. But the Brown Art Department is built on the site of H. P. Lovecraft’s old house.

Alex:          Oh, wow.

Puryear:    I always like that you know.

[chuckle]

Alex:          You’re channeling Kirby energy and that’s a metaphysical other worldly, Lovecraft-y and things too, every now and then.

Puryear:     In a different world, that perfect son of Lovecraft and Kirby is Mike Mignola.

Alex:          [chuckle] There you go. That’s true.

Puryear:     Look at his work… Yes. I went Brown, became a chef there. That’s where I got into the chef-ing thing. I paid my way through school by working in restaurants, and afterwards…

Jim:            You got suspended a few times too, right?

Puryear:     Kicked out of Brown five times, I still don’t have a college degree after four complete years of Brown. I’m a high school graduate, but I was doing a political organizing in everything that there was, I was against it. There was apartheid, there was nuclear power, there was everything. I was that guy. So, I was cooking in restaurants, and going all over New England, speaking…

Alex:          What year is this part?

Puryear:     This is ’78 through ’83.

Jim:            So, why cooking? How did that come about?

Puryear:     We had cooks in the family. Again, light skinned black people who got to work in the house. My father’s people, his mother and all his aunts, they were those big fat black women who’d come to Thanksgiving with the two Turkey in the van… It was those women. And I learned to cook from them. And I cooked at Brown in the dining hall. It was awful. You would see a beautiful meal would come by, I’m doing the dishes, a beautiful plate… Somebody just stubbed out a cigarette in it because the privilege of Ivy League kids… But I learned to cook. And so, I ended up, till about 1983 being the chef at this gourmet seafood joint.

A lot of mob guys came in. That influenced my later career. I wrote Eraser because I knew these mob guys. So, I was a cook. And then I went to New York City, and summer of ’83, a very important summer because I was also working as a DJ in clubs. Suddenly, music video came in, and 1983 was the summer of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Huge video. Billie Jean. Kids would pay to come to venues I would host, just to see the videos. Because a lot of kids, especially black kids, in Providence, Rhode Island, didn’t have MTV yet. But they’d come and pay me a couple of bucks at the door to go see these videos and dance to Michael Jackson.

Then I got the idea, “Oh man, I’d love to be a music video director. So, I went to New York City in the summer of ’83. And I’d heard that all these guys directing these videos had worked in advertising. So, that sort of got in my head, so I applied for work at some of these ad agencies. And the place where I got the most traction was a place called J. Walter Thompson. Big ad agency, they had the Marines and Ford Motors and Kodak, all these big brands. And the creative director there was Jim Patterson. He’s now James Patterson, this big novelist. The world’s bestselling author.

Jim:            So, he didn’t seek you out, some reports have that he sought your food designs…

Puryear:     No, no, no.

Jim:            You went and applied for the job.

Puryear:     Yeah, and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had some storyboards I had drawn, thinking that would be the thing. And they kept passing me up the line, the different art directors at Thompson said, “Oh, you ought to talk to Jim”, and I’m like, “Who the fuck is Jim?” I’m being fobbed off to some Jim guy.

[chuckle]

Jim turned out to be James Patterson, and he was the creative director. And he had written the jingle Aren’t You Hungry for Burger King Now. He was the guy who realized that everybody watching TV late night, they were stoned, they were hungry. So, he would have Elisabeth Shue, the Burger King girl. She became later, the movie star, Elisabeth Shue. But she would be like, they’d show big food, like this… and then she’d go, “Come on, we gotcha. Didn’t we get you’re hungry?… You know you’re hungry.”

Jim:            So, this was after Burger King went through its flame broiled period, and then hired two different ad agencies, and there was a real attempt to up their awareness? Was this a new ad campaign that you were working on?

Puryear:     No, I mean this was… Let’s see… ’83, ’84, ’85, ‘86 when I was working on, Thompson had the Burger King account and had successfully positioned themselves as tasting better than McDonald’s.

Jim:            Right, the burger wars.

Puryear:     The burger wars. That was exactly the time, and Patterson hired me among other things because he liked the fact, I had no advertising background. They had a lot of people working there who had gone to school at the University of Texas and all these other schools that have advertising majors. He thought it was cool to have an amateur, and also somebody who’d been a chef. He said, “Just make the food look pretty, man. Come on”, because the food didn’t look as pretty as it should.

Alex:          So, because of you being a chef, and your sense of food design is what caught his eye then.

Puryear:     Yes, and also, I could express myself visually. I could draw story boards, and I don’t know, he was that kind guy who would hire a weirdo hire…

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     Almost to pissed his other creatives off, to be like, “Look I’m hiring guys off the street who’re chefs, so you guys better step up your game.” I was partly a strategic hire too. I don’t know what I was doing.

Jim:            Did you do Goodyear as well?

Puryear:     Yes, I worked on Goodyear for a while but Goodyear was the most corporate client we had. I did print ads for Goodyear. Man, they were so conservative. I mean, Burger King was conservative.

I’ll tell you a quick story. We would go flying down to meet the franchisee of Burger King. Their headquarters were in Miami, and you meet these guys, they were all from the Midwest with plaid pants and white belts, and white shoes. Those were the clients. They would look at our work for Burger King and say, “You know boys, it’s creative… It’s a little too creative. So, can you scale it back by about 20%?”

[00:25:06]

[chuckle]

That was the brief, 20% less creative. Yes, sir. That was advertising.

Jim:            I’m going to turn you over to Alex. You’re there, we know what you’re doing, but then you have some kind of eye injury, or something, an accident…

Puryear:     Oh my god!

Alex:          So, you’re working on advertising, design, and then there was a temporary blinding. What exactly happened?

Puryear:     If you can imagine this. I mean, I was being paid nothing too. They used to say advertising is a great job, if your parents can afford to send you. I was making $16,000 a year, but Patterson gave me the assignment of making the corporate film every year. There’s like a corporate Christmas film. So, you can imagine there were 2,000 people working there in this big Madison Avenue headquarters. It was on Lexington but it was very much in Madison Avenue. And so, I made the Christmas film.

One day, I’m filming the Christmas film with a Super 8 camera because we did different media, Super 8 video. And I scratched my eye with the rubber eyepiece of the camera.

Alex:          Okay, like a corneal abrasion or a corneal ulcer, something like that.

Puryear:     Scratched my cornea, simple as that. Scratched my cornea, and got a bad infection. The infection went my other eye as well…

Alex:          Oh, no.

Puryear:     Because tear ducts communicate.

Alex:          Were you wearing contact lenses?

Puryear:     No. I just scraped my cornea, and kept on working. But by that night, I was like, “Urgh…” In incredible pain. It’s very painful. I went to the Emergency Room, I had this high fever, blah, blah, blah.

Alex:          Oh, really.

Puryear:     They had to pack my body in ice and all this dramatic shit. The fever came down, blah, blah, blah. I had bandages on both my eyes. When I went to the eye doctor afterwards…I had an old German Jewish eye doctor, named Dr. Frankfurt, who been in the camps. He had a big purple tattoo on his arm, Dr. Frankfurt. So, he didn’t give you any bullshit. He looked at my eyes and he was like, “I’m very sorry, you’ll never see again.” “What?” He said, “I’m sorry you’ll never see it again.”

Alex:          So, this was like there’s a lot of corneal scarring and things.

Puryear:     Yes, in both eyes, it was black. Just fucking black. Forgive my language, that’s how I talk, I’m from New York.

Jim:            It’s okay.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     Yeah, so it was very bad, and very scary. But over the course of a year, he sent me to see these specialists… They freeze the surface of your cornea, and they scrape them with a scalpel, literally, like the torture of the damned. It was crazy. But over the course of the year, I got my eyesight back.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s good. They scrape the scar tissue off, it kind of heals. They’d give you some drops and things. It’s a long-term process.

Puryear:     Yes, like plastic surgery. Let’s diminish that scar. You got it exactly right. And it was weird because I’m tapping my way through midtown Manhattan, on Lexington Avenue with my little cane and Patterson was like, “You know I can’t fire you. That would really be against the law because you’re handicapped. I can’t fire you. But now, you can’t be an art director anymore, so you got to write the commercials.”

So, he had me writing commercials. And he was really a writing mentor. He’s a very mean… You know I love him. But he’s a mean, unforgiving son of a bitch too.

Alex:          Was he very East Coast in his mentality?

Puryear:     I don’t know… East Coast. I mean he was very… How do I say this?… I’ve met people who are smarter than Jim Patterson. But I never met anybody who used more of his intellectual horsepower for his work. His mind was very organized like that. Everything was on yellow legal pads. This day, he has 15 books being written by different ghost writers and he’s got them all on legal pads, and he’s just organized, and focused, and hard working. And he was very unforgiving of people who didn’t work hard like that. So, his work ethic was like … Like this.

Alex:          I see.

Puryear:     And he scared us all to death. We were all scared to disappoint him. So, that made me a writer. And he would take a blue pencil through your shit and just be like, “No. you said that already. It’s redundant. You don’t have to say that yah, yah, yah, yah.” He’s a great editor.

Alex:          But he trained you at writing. Is that what you were saying?

Puryear:     Yes, very much, very much. and so, by ‘87, I was trying to write my first screen plays, and they were bad. I remember, once going to Patterson asking him to invest, because ‘87 was like the summer of, She’s Gotta Have It. I want to make a movie like that too. I said, I could do that. I need investors.

Alex:          So, basic writing and directing, all that was going on your mind in the late ‘80s.

Puryear:     Yes, sir.

Alex:          Were you also directing the music videos around this timer, or was that before that?

Puryear:     A couple of years later, probably about ’88, ’89, ’90.

Alex:          Oh, it was later. Okay, cool.

Puryear:     But by ’87, I’m thinking I want to be Spike Lee. And I wrote a script, I went to Patterson, asked him to invest and he said, “It’s just not funny.” I was just like, “Ouch, that’s so…??? And he said, “And from my nickel, which by the way you’re not getting…”

[chuckles]

“You need to rewrite this whole thing.” That’s how he would speak to you. He was so tough, but without a tough Obi-Wan Kenobi like that or whatever, without a tough mentor, I wouldn’t be the writer I am. I think I have a decent work ethic now, but it’s thanks to him.

 

Alex:          I see. That’s great. So, you would say you more creative rather than rigid and disciplined, but then he kind of put some of that discipline in to you.

Puryear:     Oh my God. creative work means nothing if you don’t organize your shit, and make sure… It’s great to have something creative but we need to fund it. And 9:30 on Monday won’t do; the meeting’s at 9:00, period. It’s the stuff like that. So, yes, we worked weekends. We all wanted to please him, and it made me a good writer, I think. I mean, it made me at least, a hard-working writer.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s awesome, that work ethic, I think is really important. Tell us about the aspirations to become the next Spike Lee, and then start to direct the music videos, because they’re music videos LL Cool J, K-Solo, EPMD.

[00:30:07]

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Alex:          Tell us about that.

Puryear:     Because I could draw storyboards, at that time music videos were blowing up. I knew a couple of people so I’d go… You know that song Rhinestone Cowboy, where you’re walking down the streets of Broadway, that was me. I swore I was never going to be like my father like a salesman, but here I was on Broadway with my little chase of samples, in this case, storyboards. [overlap talk]

Alex:          [chuckle] Like an encyclopedia salesman.

Puryear:     Yes! Like Willy fucking Loman. And I’m knocking on the door of like, Russell Simmons Def Jam, and other record labels that were all on Broadway, or either on Time Square, or on Lower Broadway, down in the village.

I’ve never got a job from Russell Simmons. To this day I hold a grudge. But I started getting jobs from these other small hip hop labels. There was a label up in Broadway called Sleeping Bag Records. I did their corporate film, and then I did a video for them with Biz Markie, KRS-One, they worked for Sleeping Bag. And then finally, I got to do EPD who was their big artist. You know EPMD? Did that video, and that led to doing K-Solo. The EPMD video had LL Cool J and it’s how I got to work on the LL Cool J project.

So suddenly, I was working, but the budgets for these were microscopic, and if you went over budget, that came out of your pocket. So, I think I lost money on all the videos I ever did but…

Alex:          Oh man, okay, but definitely probably learning experience. I’m sure.

Puryear:     Great learning experience, great to be in the editorial, when you’re putting it together and you realize, “Oh God, I didn’t shoot my coverage. What am I going to do?” The video I did for EPMD was called You Had Too Much to Drink. And it’s a simple thing about a guy getting drunk. The chorus is, “You over did it, homes. You had too much to drink.” I’m sitting in the editorial bay, and the editor is saying to me, “You didn’t shoot it, homes. We don’t have enough to cut.” So, those were learning experiences.

[chuckle]

Alex:          How was LL Cool J and Biz Markie in them, to work with in the late ‘80s.

Puryear:     Oh my… I mean EPMD, one guy was hardcore business, Parrish Smith. He was hardcore. His partner Erick Sermon. Erick Sermon had kind of mush mouth, he talked like this, “Waz up, how yah doin… Wuzza dancers at. I wanna see the dancers. Wuz the dancers?… “ You know, like that. But they were business like.

LL Cool J, lovely guy, but he would come on set and get everybody high, 11:00am the set is working really great. We’re filming, everything’s great. Noon, everybody’s having lunch, LL Cool J brings all this weed. By one o’clock, everybody’s like, “Let’s shoot it.” They’re like null and void.

Alex:          [chuckle] That’s amazing.

Puryear:     I like LL Cool J, he’s from Queens, like me. But LL Cool J brought the buzz, and everybody got high and then everybody was useless.

Alex:          I don’t know about you ladies and gentlemen, but I’m having a great time. Jack Kirby, LL Cool J, all in one thing. This is a lot of fun. I’m telling you.

Puryear:     I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve had this weird colorful life. That’s true. I’m very lucky.

Alex:          [chuckle] So, now this is kind of a sec order to 1990, but Jim and I were discussing your 1995 Variety article, Yesterday, but there is a sentence, “Can a former chef and Madison Avenue man”, that’s the advertising reference, “A self-proclaimed dilatant who paints, writes, cooks, composes, and computes but never learned how to drive, find happiness in Hollywood?” Tell us about five years earlier, in 1990, you were selected for the inaugural class of the Walt Disney Company’s Writer Program. There’s a lot of interesting writers that came out of that as well; writers from Mad Men, Once Upon a Time, Psych, Chicago Fire. So, tell us about getting accepted into that. Walk us through that process.

Puryear:     Sure. The picture I wrote, that wasn’t funny, that Jim Patterson said, I wasn’t getting his dime or his nickel, a black producer in New York City had read it, and she recommended me to the Disney Program. And it was 1990, they were looking for minority writers. And again, I mean here’s a whole question about race, a social construct. The Disney Program at the time was called the Disney Minority Writers Fellowship. It was that because Jeffrey Katzenberg really was stung by criticism. He was running the studio. He was stung by criticism from the NAACP that all of Hollywood studios had a horrible record behind the camera, in terms of hiring minorities. But Disney was the most egregious offender of all.

So, he created this program, very proactive. Let’s go get a bunch of black writers. Let’s train them up, minority writers of all kinds and all stripes. Let’s train them and really show the world that we’re committed.

Alex:          Wow. That’s cool.

Puryear:     So, they did that program, they had an agreement with the Writers Guild, paradoxically, that they couldn’t pay us what a normal guild writer would be getting then… Back then the Writers Guild minimum was like 50grand. They paid us 30grand or like three fifths of what a guild writer would normally get… [overlap talk]

[chuckles]

Alex:          Really?… [overlap talk] What the heck?

Puryear:     Right there. But for $30,000 I was very happy to take it. I was broke. I was missing teeth. In New York City, things were bad. I was starving. So, I came out to California, only to discover that the first class of the Disney Minority Writers’ Program looked a lot like me. In other words, it was a bunch of very, very light skinned, could pass for white almost, black writers and minority writers. There was a Latina writer, her name was Natalie Chaidez, whom I worked for just last year on Queen of South. But Natalie Chaidez is a blue-eyed blond, very Anglo-looking Latina. And there were several of them, Maya Forbes who could pass for white, looks like me, she ended up writing Monsters, Inc and all these pictures.

[00:35:03]

I sort of fit in, and I was one of those acceptable Hollywood black people for Disney… That got me started though. Learned a lot there.

Alex:          So, there was like, “I’m glad to be here”, but then there’s also little like, “That’s a little suspicious that it’s like the light skin.”

Puryear:     True. Yeah.

Alex:          But I mean life’s double-edged, I guess, sometimes.

Puryear:     Life is like that. And at the time, I was like, “Well I’ll take it.” They promised to get us into the guild. They promised to introduce us to a lot of people; that didn’t really happen but they did do things. Like they brought in Robert McKee, the guy who wrote that book Story for an intensive three-day thing. You’re locked in a room, for three days with Robert McKee, who was like an old alkie who like was late for his first drink.

[chuckles]

He was sort of like a mean guy… I hate to say this, I’m probably… What’s the word, slurring him or libeling him, but he’s a mean guy but his teaching was great. I mean, Robert McKee knows what he’s talking about for sure. Thanks to him I wrote pictures that got me some success. So, there you go.

Alex:          So, now you were writing scripts for Disney.

Puryear:     Yes, sir.

Alex:          And how long was the program exactly?

Puryear:     It was a year for each person, but they re-up me for a second year. So, we’re talking ’91, ‘92. It was a time when it was like the beginning of the downslide of Eddie Murphy’s career, but Eddie Murphy still the biggest black thing in Hollywood.

So, a typical pitch to me from a Disney executive would be, fill in the blank for the coded racism of all this… “Okay, it’s New York City, Leroy is a fast talking, jive talking New York street guy, okay. And he stumbles on to some gold.” I’m sitting there going, “No, I’m not writing this picture. This picture is already racist. Fuck you.” [chuckle] so but that’s the kind of pictures that they would pitch to us.

Literally, I ended up writing a picture of for Disney called Talk Fast which was about the black radio business. And I still ended up writing per their guidelines, a picture about a fast-talking young black guy who breaks into the black radio business.

Alex:          So basically, they’re plotting ideas to you and then you write a script?

Puryear:     They were pitching things to us; we also could pitch things to them. I come and go, “Okay, I’ve got script about the 1931 squadron of black women aviators in Alabama, who later went on to be in the Women’s Air Corps.” And they’d be like, “No.” Okay, so then we pitch them something else.

Alex:          Fascinating. I also find that the terminology is interesting, because in comic world, that’s like they plot it. But in movie world, it’s called a pitch.

Puryear:     Uh-hmm. And it’s a pitch because it may not go anywhere. It’s like, “Picture this, New York City, 1995…” It’s a pitch.

Alex:          [chuckle] I love that.

Puryear:     And then you learn the skill, this served me good in stints later on, of going in a room totally like a salesman again, and say, “Okay,” it’s like the opening scene of The Player, right? The guy comes in, “The scene is devastating. Rain coming down, umbrellas lit from below with the candles…” You pitch it. That’s a pitch.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     So, we go on pitching back and forth at Disney, but they have a very narrow bandwidth about the kind of pictures they wanted their black writers to write.

Alex:          It’s funny you’re bringing back all these emotions and memories, because I was a film minor in college, back in the ‘90s. So, it’s funny, you’re bringing back these feelings that I’ve forgotten about, actually.

So, now when you were writing scripts for that… So, Disney would retain ownership of those scripts?

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Alex:          Okay. Were there scripts that you’d had written, that’s part of that program that people may have seen later, that we’re produced?

Puryear:     No, I don’t think any of us ever had a produced picture out of that. There were 30 writers in my class in the first Disney program. And partly, it’s because… I mean, it was window dressing. It was like, “Look NAACP, look all these negros we hired. How great we are.” There was that aspect to it too, but I think, just none of our pictures broke out. They weren’t that good. I don’t know… But no, the Disney machine kept on going without us.

Alex:          I see what you’re saying. Were they as hard on you as Patterson was?

Puryear:     No. Not at all. They were, not to criticize, but they were sort of sloppy, disorganized. They have this giant headquarter on their lot. They built this new building, that everybody called “Mouschwitz” because it looked like a giant… Like a thing in the cemetery where you put the coffins above ground, a mausoleum.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     And they called it the “Mouseleum” too… And they had thousands of executives, spending billions of dollars, making hit or miss pictures. Although, coming out of that Disney program. I met somebody really great. I met Bonnie Bruckheimer, who I believe was Jerry Bruckheimer’s wife at some point, whatever. But she was business partners with Bette Midler, who was on the lot. And Bette Midler who, when Katzenberg and {Michael) Eisner took over that studio, Bette Midler helped them with a series of really good successful middle-brow pictures. She really was big for a moment.

Then Disney moved on, and when I met Bette Midler, she was sitting there complaining, “I helped build this. The new iteration of this studio, and now, they won’t answer my phone calls.”

Alex:          Wow. Okay. The rise and fall of Bette Midler, who would have thought.

Puryear:     Yeah, really. And I wrote a picture for her, that didn’t go anywhere. I guess, it didn’t make it in the end. But she was a great boss to work for, very funny. You know how there’s different kinds of, in baseball there’s both speed and quickness? Speed is how fast the guy runs the base pads but quickness is how fast they’re off the base. Bette Midler had quickness. Bette Midler was like this… and was sharp with the joke.

So, she was a great boss to work for. But our picture didn’t get made.

Alex           Huh.

[00:40:00]

Jim:            This was all Touchstone brand, right?

Puryear:     Back then they also had a second label called Hollywood Pictures and that’s who I worked under. But yes, Bette Midler was affiliated with Touchstone, yes, that’s correct. Hollywood Pictures is no more.

Alex:          Now, when did you start writing Eraser? When was that? And that’s the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, huge blockbuster. Vanessa Williams, someone I had a crush on in high school. When did you start writing that story? What year do you think?

Puryear:     Okay. Well, by ‘92 I’d written a picture for Bette Midler that didn’t go anywhere. I got hired by Sidney Poitier at Columbia to write a detective thriller for him. It was the last picture… He had to deal with… You heard of vanity deals, right?

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     Where a lot of stars… Back when Patrick Swayze had a vanity deal at some studio. Meaning they give him a secretary, they give him some offices, they pay them his overhead and they develop pictures which either do or don’t get made. A lot of those vanity deals, the pictures didn’t get made.

Well, Sidney have made a lot of great pictures for what was then Columbia Pictures that turned into Sony. So, they had Sidney Poitier on this deal, and I wrote a picture for him. It didn’t get made and they sort of gave him the kiss off, they named a building after him and then they ended his deal.

Alex:          Oh wow. Was he a nice fellow?

Puryear:     Very strict. I’d go to his house, and there would be the Oscar, that he got for Lilies of the Field. He should’ve have gotten it for Heat of the Night, but he didn’t. ’66, he got the Oscar. The Oscar was from 1966, and so many people had held it, that the gold rubbed off.

Alex:          Oh, no.

Puryear:    And you could see the lead. He used to say things to me like this, he would say… Actually, he didn’t say… He had a man to do his yelling for him. Sidney would get mad at me and stand up and leave the room. He wouldn’t debase himself to do the yelling, but he had a guy… He was from the Bahamas, and he had this other guy from the Bahamas who would say, “You know, Sidney is very, very angry with you. You’re such an impudent young man. You say everything that’s on your mind. Look at Sidney, he’s very angry. I don’t know if he’s going to come back.”

Then Sidney would always come back, and Sidney, his way of making peace with me, because he was so furious, he’d go, “You want a sandwich, kid?” I’ll be like, “Yeah.” So, Sidney Poitier would make me like a tuna fish sandwich.

Jim:            That’s amazing. It’s like the Key & Peele routine with Obama, where he was half the angry guy.

Puryear:     Yeah, yeah. Sidney had this guy named Cedric who was another Bahamian… And you know, by the way, here’s the root of it. Though Sidney grew up dirt poor in Miami, Florida. He was from Cat Island in the Bahamas. Grew up real poor, couldn’t even read blah blah blah. Still from that British Bahamian upbringing, there’s certain ways you speak to your social betters and your social inferiors.

Alex:          Yeah, yeah.

Puryear:     So, Sidney spoke to me like I was the pool boy, a little bit. At the same time, I’m an American, no man is my better. So even though he was Sidney Poitier, and I’m very intimidated by him, he’s To Sir With Love. I mean, he’s Sidney Poitier. I’m going to speak my mind and say, “Sidney, I don’t think that’s a great idea.” And Sidney would turn purple and stand up, and leave the room… Because the pool boy had spoken out of turn.

[chuckles]

Alex:          Ha! Amazing.

Puryear:     So, I seen him around. I haven’t seen him in years, but I mean I would see around after that and he was always very kind to me. He’s a great guy. He’s a gentleman but he was mad at the way I spoke.

Alex:          Yeah, he had a British sense of social structure, it sounds.

Puryear:     Yes, very much. So, by ’94, I had agents, they were awful. They were gonif. You guys speak Yiddish? A gonif, like a thief. These guys will steal your front teeth. They were my agents. That’s the agent I got. And I was writing all these big science fiction stuff, and they were like, “Why don’t you write something simple, like boy meets girl. Something we could sell.”

I thought, I can’t write boy meets girl. I don’t know how to do that. But I could write boy saves girl, that I could get my head around something simple. And I’ve been reading a lot of John le Carré. I love John le Carré’s books. He’s this amazing writer. He has good secrets that he holds back and deploys like little atom bombs. I thought that’s great.

I had known all these mob guys up in Providence, Rhode Island, and they always told me as like a joke that the Witness Protection Program was bullshit. The Witness Protection Program was Swiss cheese. Those marshals make $40,000 a year or whatever they make; they make nothing. You just slip a guy like that a fazool, and he’ll tell you where the witness is.

Alex:          Ha! For a fazool, no less.

Puryear:     For a fazool, yeah.

[chuckle]

So, I thought, okay, the Witness Protection Program is no good, but there should be like this super marshal, who will save you, no matter what. By the way, also this is partly coming from Ian Fleming. Ian Fleming’s conception of James Bond, he said was a guy who will break your neck, a killer. But he’s also Saint George of England. He’s also that guy.

I wanted to make a hero like that, so I created the Eraser. The guy that will hide you, and save you in the Witness Protection Program, no matter what. He’ll break a neck, but he’s Saint George of England. I wrote that in ’94. ’94 was the summer of Speed, when Speed had come out and renewed the action picture

Alex:          True.

Puryear:     And I knew a woman who knew the guy who managed Keanu Reeves, and she read Eraser. She thought it was good… It took me a year to write it. I couldn’t have written it without the lessons of Robert McKee, and I thought it was a tight, good little John le Carré influenced thing with good secrets.

Alex:          And you didn’t have Arnold in mind, when you wrote it.

Puryear:     Not at all.

Alex:          I mean you’ve seen the movie Commando with Rae Dawn Chong, and then The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston. Was any of these in your mind? Or was it more in the spy – federal genre?

[00:45:09]

Puryear:     It was dark and little… To me. I thought of a guy, the Eraser, as a guy you wouldn’t notice sitting in an airport. Whereas you would notice Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Alex:          Yes. So, almost, it’s a little off script, a little bit there.

Puryear:     Yeah, yeah, I mean, we used to say, who’s my favorite producer? The producer who buys my movie. Who’s my favorite movie star? The movie star that gets my movie made. So, if they’d have put Jackie Chan in the movie, I would’ve have been happy if it got made.

Alex:          [chuckle] That’s true too. Yeah… Just get the movie done, yeah.

Puryear:     Here’s a true story, if you got time.

Alex:          Yeah, of course.

Puryear:     About the tale of Eraser.

Alex:          We’re having a great time. Yeah. Keep talking.

Puryear:     I was broke, living in Los Angeles, behind on my rent, living with a roommate, we had lived through the Northridge earthquake, but I took a year to write Eraser.

I knew a woman who knew the manager for Keanu Reeves. She read it. She liked it. She took it to this young manager at that firm, and he was like a reptile. His name was Daniel. And he called me T. He was like, “T, this script is very commercial. I can sell this tomorrow. It’s very commercial. Let me sell it, buddy. I’ll sell it for you.”

[chuckle]

I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. Please.”

So, the next day, he put it out, in like this bid situation to a couple of studios. He had leaked it out, made a competitive bid, and by the end of the day it sold to Warner Bros, in a competitive situation with Fox. And the weird thing was, it was the day of the OJ Simpson low speed chase.

Alex:          Okay. White Bronco Day.

Puryear:     White Bronco, at five o’clock, there’s two competing bids for my script and we’re sweating it up… 5:05, the low speed chase starts. It’s a Friday, everyone’s glued to the TV, including us. Warner Bros stops. Fox stops. Everyone’s watching OJ. And that took two hours, going up highway. I’m like, “You’re going to screw the sale of my script! I need money, please.” Finally, OJ drove home, the cops arrested him… 7:30, Warner’s makes the final offer. They got the script. I sold the script on that day.

Alex:          Now, are you able to say for how much they sold this script for?

Puryear:     Yeah, yeah. It’s sold for a quarter of a million dollars.

Alex:          Nice. That’s awesome.

Puryear:     Which, I mean, I was going from zero, from less than zero… I remember at 7:30 that night, business affairs of Warner Bros had made their final offer, $245,000. And the manager, this new manager I just met, this reptile, he goes, “You know my client doesn’t want to tell his parents $245,000. He wants to say a quarter million dollars… Will you just kick in the extra 5,000 bucks, and we can all go home?”

[chuckles]

And so, they did. And that was how the deal was made. I was so afraid. I was so afraid that this guy would screw it up. But that’s how that deal was made. And I went from zero to a check for quarter million dollars. It blew my mind.

Alex:          Yeah, the power of Hollywood. That’s awesome.

Puryear:     Yeah. And then I hit the lottery a second time when Warner Bros slipped it to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lorenzo di Bonaventura was the head guy there at Warner Bros, and he gave it to Arnold on a ski lift that winter. Arnold read it, and liked it. And Warner’s had never made a picture with Arnold. He’d made pictures everywhere else in town, so they were eager to get him. And he signed on.

He called me up one night, Arnold Schwarzenegger… I live right up the block from his office. I lived in Venice and right down the bottom of the block was his restaurant. And Arnold called me up one night, and he goes, “Hello, Tony, this is Arnold. How are you?”

[chuckles]

He says, “So, I read the script today. It’s very good. What do I wear?”

This a true story. And I’m thinking like a writer, I go, “Well, metaphorically, he’s a loner. He wears a veil of pain. He wears black a lot.” He said, “No, no, what do I wear? Because you know in Commando, I’m having the short haircut. And then in The Terminator I’m having the leather jacket. So, what do I wear?”

And I said, “Well, you wear a bunch of cool shit, man. You’re a marshal, you got to let your strap, you got a lot of guns.” “Thank you. Thank you. Okay.”

Alex:          Yeah, guns I understand that. Yeah.

Puryear:     And he goes, “Also, what is my gun?” I’m like, “Really? What do mean?” He said, “Well every time I’m working also with Jim Cameron, he’s giving me what is the latest gun.” So, I just bullshitted right there and then. “Well, maybe it’s a railgun where there it’s firing fucking ceramic projectile at a quarter of a million miles an hour.

[laughter]

“Thank you. Thank you.” So, he hung up. And then the next day, he signed on.

Alex:          That’s great. The railgun. It gets it every time, right?

Jim:            This makes such sense, because he was just coming off of True Lies.

Puryear:     Yeah.

Jim:            So, the guns and the wardrobe would make total sense…

Puryear:     Yeah.

Jim:            That he invested in that.

Puryear:     Yeah, and he wasn’t thinking in metaphors. He wanted to know what he’s supposed to wear.

Alex:          Yeah, very concrete question… So, were you excited to hear that he was part of the project? Or were you like, “I was thinking of a different guy? Was it more like the commercial aspect of you, was excited, or was it the artistic aspect of you was disappointed?

Puryear:     I was happy to have a job. Him planning on to do the movie, meant the movie got the proverbial green light. That triggered a production bonus for me which was the same as what they paid me to buy the script.

Alex:          Nice.

Puryear:     That stroke of a pen, suddenly, I doubled my money. I don’t mean to be a mercenary about this but… that’s how it happens.

Alex:          Survival.

Puryear:     And then immediately, a phase of my contract kicked in, where I wrote a rewrite. Then they hired a bunch of other writers do rewrites. They hired me back. I wrote 13 different drafts of that script.

[00:50:02]

Alex:          Oh, okay. So, you were doing the rewrite to that.

Puryear:     But so did 13 other writers.

Alex:          Okay.

Puryear:     When we went to the Writers Guild for arbitration, they got a big crate with 56 different draft of Eraser. This is all taking place in a year.

Alex:          Wow.

Puryear:     And Frank Darabont wrote on it. Chuck Russell, who no one liked… I would say this honestly. Chuck Russell, the director, he did a lot of rewrites trying to write everybody off the page. In the end, the Writers Guild awarded me and a guy named Walon Green, credit for the picture. Walon Green wrote The Wild Bunch. Great writer and a real gentleman; lovely guy. But there were 13 other writers too in addition to me. But I kept getting paid to rewrite it. I got a lot of money just rewriting that damn picture, over and over again.

Alex:          It was feeding you for a while.

Puryear:     Oh dude, the weird thing was, that help me get other jobs because, A) my name was in the paper, like you saw on Variety, “He sold the picture”… but B) the word got around, that at least I acted professionally when it came time to do the rewrites. And I didn’t hold a grudge that I kept getting fired off the picture… But that’s life… Another the guy comes in, then you replace him.

So suddenly, I started getting other work, and booking other work because I had a decent reputation.

Alex:          Did you write Vanessa Williams’ character, originally, as an African American woman?

Puryear:     No, that’s Arnold. You notice, he had Rae Dawn Chong. He’s had Maria Conchita Alonso.

Alex:          Yes, so that was Arnold. That’s cool.

Jim:            That’s interesting.

Puryear:     Because he was looking for somebody age appropriate, but also, he knew that a lot of his audience was people of color.  Arnold always thought that.

Alex:          Wow, that’s awesome. I like Arnold, so that’s cool.

Puryear:     One weekend, we were locked in a hotel doing these rewrites, and we were sweating, and we were eating pizza, and it was two days of awfulness. Then we had to drive up to Arnold’s house to pitch him the new rewrite. And we go up there, Arnold has just been in Vail, Colorado somewhere, skiing. He comes in looking like a god, looking like the sun is shining just for him.

Alex:          [chuckle] Perfect. Perfection.

Puryear:     Including Lorenzo di Bonaventura from the studio. We’re all sweaty, beard stubble, and I say, “So Arnold, I think in the end, the train runs the guys over.”

“That’s great. Thank you. Thank you very much.” That was it. He was cool like that. I mean he’s a big movie star.  That’s that story.

Jim:            Did you ever talk politics with him?

Puryear:     No. Like a lot of self-made men, he had a very disdainful attitude about people maybe who weren’t as self-made as him. There aren’t that many, who are as self-made as Arnold. So, I thought he thought politicians were grubby and sort of beneath him.

He was a classic Leo. I mean I’ve met guys like him, alpha dogs, big dogs like Bill Clinton, another Leo like that, self-made man. Arnold had a really strong sense of himself that he knew what he was doing and other people could be kind of stupid about things. There was that. So, there’s two different sides, an admirable guy in many, many ways but also a guy who’s like, “Look at this guy, he’s stupid.”

Here’s a story…

Alex:          We’re going to add, impersonator on your resume here, because you are funny.

Puryear:     Oh my god… Here’s the story… Beginning of the picture, everything was great… “My good friend Chuck Russell is directing this picture. He’s my good friend. I’ve been skiing with Chuck Russell. He’s great. He did The Mask.”

Okay, that was at the beginning of the picture. By the end, everybody hated Chuck Russell. I went on the set one night, and everybody is like non-cooperating with him as hard as they can. The grips were pushing the dolly or pushing as slowly as they can. Everybody hated, hated, hated Chuck Russell. And I was with Arnold one time, when he called up Terry Semel, I think, the head of the studio, about replacing Chuck Russell. And he’s going, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with this director…”

So suddenly, Chuck Russell had gone from being, “My good friend Chuck Russell”, to being, “This director”. And Arnold is going, “You know I hear Joel Schumacher is available.” Right in the middle of the picture, in the middle of production. It was like that. So, Arnold could be disdainful and impatient, like a self-made man. That was him. I liked him.

Alex:          Yeah, kind of an artist in some ways, and he’s the muscle guy, Mister Universe, right? And there’s maybe a little bit of an aspect of a Henry Ford type of personality maybe in there.

Puryear:     Self-made… And he partly won, if you’ve seen that movie Pumping Iron, he partly won by mind fucking all the other competitors.

Alex:          That’s right.

Puryear:     Lou Ferrigno couldn’t take it. He’s like, “Look at you Lou, you’re not in shape. I’m in shape. Why are you not in shape Lou?”

Alex:          [chuckle] Yeah, I…

Puryear:     And he kind of mind fucked him right out of the competition.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     That’s Arnold too, he can be mean.

Alex:          Yeah, and kind of mischievous about it too, a little bit.

Puryear:     Yeah, yeah, yeah. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, in front of their civic center. And there’s a giant steel sculpture of Arnold Schwarzenegger doing the pumping iron, posing… [overlap talk]

Alex:          [chuckle] Perfection.

Puryear:     That’s where he does his Arnold classic body building thing every year, in Columbus, Ohio, of all places.

Alex:          Yeah. Of all places, but they love him there, go figure.

Puryear:     Oh, his big. He’s big in Columbus.

Alex:          I watched Eraser last night, just so you know.

Puryear:     Oh my god.

Alex:          But there’s a couple little points I wanted to go through which I found interesting. First, Alan Silvestri did the music to this and the Bodyguard. Did the producers kind of be like, “Okay, he did good music for them, let’s put them over here too.” Do you know about how he got involved in that?

Puryear:     Alan Silvestri was good friends with Frank Darabont.

Alex:          Okay, there you go.

Puryear:     One of the writers brought on, and Frank Darabont was good friends with Chuck Russell. We all couldn’t understand why Frank and Chuck got along, because Chuck was not a nice human being. Frank Darabont is a true gentleman, a real good guy.

[00:55:00]

And so Silvestri was something they talked about together, and Frank Darabont had worked with Silvestri on other things, or just knew his work. They got Silvestri, they were very happy. And Frank Darabont was happy for his friend Silvestri to have the chance to write a big action score like this, with things blowing up. That’s how that happened, I think.

Alex:          It’s not just Arnold, there’s some really notable actors in this. You got James Coburn. You’ve got James Caan. It’s cool to just see these people. These are classic people. These are people from the Bruce Lee era here, that are in this movie. Was that fun to see?

Puryear:     Yes, and Caan and Coburn actually really go back, meaning like James Caan before The Godfather, he’s in the Howard Hawks picture. I can’t remember if it’s Rio Lobo or Rio Bravo with John Wayne.

Jim:            It’s not Rio Bravo, it’s Rio Lobo.

Puryear:     Okay. Thank you. [overlap talk]

Jim:            Because it’s a James Caan thing, Mississippi.

Puryear:     Mississippi. Thank you. So, James Caan is from back then, and of course, James Coburn from back in like Magnificent Seven.  So, that was great. But of course, both of them were older too. So, Coburn, had nearly lost a couple of steps, that was interesting to see. And I’d really admire him very much. And then there was James Caan who was in that phase of his career where he’s playing everything… Like this…

[chuckle]

Kind of funny… “Hey, I don’t know… Bada-bing, bada-bing.”

Alex:          Yeah. “Ay… Oh… Hey.”

Jim:            But Coburn had slowed down by that point?

Puryear:     I thought so.

Jim:            That’s interesting because like years, years later he was in the Nick Nolte movie Affliction. He’s incredible in that movie.

Puryear:     That’s right. That was great.

Jim:            He’s great in that.

Puryear:     Yeah, listen, when I say slowed down, I just mean, you meet your heroes, and some of them are exactly like you think they are. And then some of them are older, and they’re sitting in a chair, and they’re not moving that much, there’s that.

Alex:          Right? There’s a bit of a mortality.

Jim:            He wasn’t Magnificent anymore.

Puryear:     Yeah. Magnificent… But then, the funny thing is I love James Caan, but I thought he was not scary.

Alex:          Right, because him like fighting Arnold fisticuffs, but he’s very charismatic though.

Puryear:     He’s charismatic but I had made the right… I had hoped for somebody more menacing.

For instance, this picture was produced by Arnold Holtz and Kopelson was just coming off of The Fugitive. Great picture, and Tommy Lee Jones has that great combination of intelligence and a kind of menace. That would’ve have been a great bad guy in Eraser. James Caan, I thought the minute he comes in, I thought, he’s kind of funny, He’s kind of likable… “Hey…” You know.

Alex:          [chuckle] You’re great with these impersonations. I’m amazed.

Puryear:     He had a certain rhythm going by then, that was not so scary.

Alex:          Yeah, yeah. I see what you’re saying.

Jim:            Although James Caan kicking the shit out of his brother in law, in Godfather…

Puryear:     Oh, come on, James Caan back then was great.

Jim:            Couldn’t be better.

Alex:          That Rollerball… Remember Rollerball?

Puryear:     Yeah. And he just great in Misery.

Alex:          Oh yeah…

Puryear:     He’s that middle-aged writer…

Alex:          That’s right, oh my god.

Puryear:     “Please, please, don’t cut my legs…”

Jim:            Bottle Rocket also.

Puryear:     That’s right.

Alex:          Bottle Rocket, oh my god, yeah.

Jim:            He’s great in Bottle Rocket.

Puryear:     I liked him in Elf.

Jim:            Oh yeah, me too.

Puryear:     But, you know, I worked for Stan Lee for a while, and Stan Lee would never say a bad word about anybody. Stan Lee, the worst you’d ever get out of him was, “I didn’t care for it… I didn’t care for it.”

Alex:          What year did you work for Stan Lee then?

Puryear:     Oh god… Stan Lee, it’s like 15 years ago.

Alex:          So, in like 2005 or so?

Puryear:     Yeah.

Alex:          What did you do for him?

Puryear:     We were both clients at UTA, and I hated my agent, and Stan hated his agent. That’s the first thing Stan said to me. He’s like, “You with UTA?… I don’t care for them. I think I’m going to change.” But he had a project… This is a good story… And forgive me. This is what I do. I tell stories.

Alex:          No. These are great stories.

Puryear:     Stan had somehow been hooked up with Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the widow of Gene Roddenberry, Nurse Chapel from Star Trek. And Majel Barrett-Roddenberry had this thing where she always was finding pieces of the true cross, you know what I’m saying? She would find a piece of writing that was presumably the last thing Gene Roddenberry ever wrote. Now, she did that a lot… [chuckle] So, I don’t know.

So, she had a piece that Gene Roddenberry had written, and she and Stan Lee were in business. And Stan was looking for a writer, so UTA sent me over, we got along real well. So, we worked for a year on this thing. It was called Galaxy’s End,  it was called Stan Lee Presents Gene Roddenberry’s Galaxy’s End, created by Tony Puryear. It was a TV show, I get the created by, but they get the front credit.

So, we pitched this around, and it became obvious, back then, that every executive in town wanted to meet Stan Lee, and get their picture taken with Stan Lee, but nobody wanted be in business with him. Because he had bankruptcy, he had this guy who stole all his money.

Alex:          Stan Lee Media, yeah.

Puryear:     We worked together for a year. It was lovely. Lovely guy, and me as a partisan of Jack Kirby, in the whole Stan and Jack thing. I told him right up front, I said, “You know, I love Jack Kirby and I knew him as a kid, so in my mind, like you stole everything from Jack.” And people even warned me about working for Stan, like, “Stan has a way of getting the best out of you, and then he gets the credit.” That’s what they would say.

Alex:          So, you told him this?

Puryear:     I told him this in the nicest way I could.

Alex:          What’d he say?

Puryear:     “I know what you’re thinking. I know what you’re thinking. But this is a collaboration, Tony, you’re going to get a lot of credit.

Alex:          Ha! Okay.

[01:00:00]

Puryear:     He was lovely to me. Beautiful man.

Alex:          So now, a couple other points of Eraser is the alligator scene. Did you write that scene, by the way?

Puryear:     No.

Alex:          That was part of the rewrite. The interesting thing was, that was like early CGI going on in that scene.

Puryear:     Oh yeah. And you know how things come in waves in movies? Eraser premiered in the summer of ’96. That same summer, Tom Cruise’s first Mission Impossible premiered. And he’s in a restaurant somewhere in Eastern Europe with this guy, to escape Tom Cruise has explosive chewing gum and he throws it at the giant water tanks, and it explodes. And the water comes out, and Tom Cruise escapes. And there’s that beat in Eraser too, to escape in the middle of the reptile house, the Eraser shoots the reptile glass and then alligators all come out.

We were like, “Oh my god, it’s the same thing. We’re going to be crucified because Mission Impossible came out first. But nobody even cared.

Alex:          No one connected it… Yeah, I don’t think people are trying to connect the dots.

Puryear:     But that’s how we were thinking. We were like, “Oh my god…” We were like sweating it. But that is true. I had been fired off the picture for like the fifth or six times… I’m hired back. I went up to the production offices. By this time, Chuck Russell is all involved, they’ve casted. And I’m walking in the hallway of Warner Bros, and there’s all these sketches of alligators. And I’m like, “What the fuck is this?”

But the guy, and the producers, where the Nazi writer is like, “Wasn’t he for the same baby. Man, you never said baby.” “I said, baby.” I’m walking down the hallway, I’m like, “What are these alligators?” And they had put alligators in the picture, and that have been from previous rewrite.

Oh, but I wrote the scene afterwards. We were locked in this hotel room at the Four Seasons, and Chuck Russell said, “I need a joke for the alligator scene; a button at the end of the scene.”

Alex:          Yeah, “luggage”.

Puryear:     And I was so disgusted with the whole process, as I said, I didn’t like being locked in room with Chuck Russell. And I said, “He says… You’re luggage.” He was like, “That’s it. That’s it. We’re going to put that on the Guinea hat.”

Sure enough, the crew all got hats, that says “You’re luggage.”

Alex:          [chuckle] I saw that scene. I was like, “Tony wrote that line.”

Puryear:     I wrote that line, and now, it’s on the Arnold highlight reel. Like you can actually see a reel of Arnold saying all his things.

Alex:          His one liner, yeah.

Puryear:     And “Consider that a divorce” and even his one liners, where he’s going, “Arggghhh…” you’re like that… and then, “You’re luggage” is in there. I’m like, “Oh my god”, I’m part of Hollywood history for this thing I said with contempt.

Alex:          Right. It’s funny how things work out like that though.

So, now, two more points. I remember when I was watching this, first that one scene where James Caan kills that young Fed in the airplane – very cold. I was like this guy’s evil. But the second part, the technology of it was like a gun shooting through the walls, and it’s like X-raying…

Puryear:     The railgun… Yes.

Jim:            Did you do that one?

Puryear:     That’s what I said to Arnold…

Alex:          That was amazing. That was like new guns technology or something.

Puryear:     Right, but that’s what I said to Arnold on the phone.

Alex:          The railgun.

Puryear:     Because I read that the Navy had these things. They’re mounted on ships. And they don’t have x-ray vision, but the x-ray vision somehow crept in there, because it was a cool visual.

Alex:          It is a cool visual. They did that in Total Recall when he was trying to get on Mars and [overlap talk]

I love it. I loved it though.

Puryear:     And it’s funny how it all works out. I mean the guy who gets killed with the railgun was an old actor friend of mine named Cylk Cozart. He’s visiting Vanessa with the roses or something, and he gets killed, and Vanessa has to run…

Friends of mine ended up in that picture. One of the other evil marshals, working with James Caan, is a guy named Nick Chinlund, who later on is in Con Air, made for evil. I went to Brown with him, and a lovely guy, but his face is like, “Grrrr…”

Alex:          [chuckle] That’s great.

Puryear:     He’s one of the bad marshall’s.

Alex:          Oh, and also, Jim, I don’t know if you know this, but in the airplane, the guy that was sitting at the computer telling James Caan where the shit was going down, that’s the actor that played Peter Parker’s uncle’s killer, in the Toby Maguire Spider-Man.

Puryear:     Wow.

Jim:            I didn’t know that.

Alex:          Yeah, you guys should watch it, and you’re going to be like, “That’s Uncle Ben’s killer! Get him now before he kills Uncle Ben, six years later.

Puryear:     Right. If only we can do that…

[laughter]

If we could go back, you know, like in the Marvel Comics, we would go back.

Alex:          All right, then the last part of Eraser, I studied this last night, I never thought I’d study Eraser, but there was a gender fluid, gay bar scene in that film.

Puryear:     Right.

Alex:          Was that part of you, or was that a rewrite also.

Puryear:     From the beginning, there was the guy who gets saved by the Eraser. His name is Johnny C. That came in somewhere, where it would be funny for Arnold to have to go see him again. I can’t say that’s mine, but I know when we was locked in a room at the Four Seasons… “Where’s the funniest thing where Arnold could walk in and get the guy?” and it was in a gay bar.

Alex:          I don’t usually see that like in movies at that era. I just thought, it’s a unique movie actually, if you sit down and check it out.

Puryear:     There’s some bad things in it that some of it’s so cheesy. And you know what? What’s funny is there was a period where we were all locked in together, and Chuck Russell kept… and I thought it was like passive aggressively taunting me. Because he kept saying, he wanted to hire me to play that Johnny C role, that mook from Providence

[chuckle]

He kept joking about it. “This fucking guy just save my life. My tongue would have been hanging up on the wall like this old… Forget about it.” He’s like, “Tony, that should be you. I’m going to hire you…” I’m like, “I’m not going to be in this movie. That’s too embarrassing, and weird.” So, they got a great actor. He’s dead now.

[01:05:00]

I forgot the brother’s name but he great in that role, but…oomph.

Alex:          Now, just two more points, then Jim is going to take over

Puryear:     Yeah. Please.

Alex:          One, first of all, the audience should know that you are actually, I think this is correct, you’re the first American screenwriter of African descent to write a $100 million summer blockbuster for that film.

Puryear:     That’s correct. I’m like Jackie Robinson there.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s a huge achievement, and then the film went on to gross nearly half a billion dollars worldwide wide.

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Alex:          And that was another, happy moment for Arnold, obviously. He’s like, “Okay, I chose the right script.”

Puryear:     Yes. “Right. Right, right.”

Alex:          Then also then around this time, is a successful time, you met Erika Alexander. Now, did you meet her while she was doing Living Single.

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          So, she was actually working because that had just started, right, when you guys met.

Puryear:     She was three years into it.

Alex:          Oh, she was three years in.

Puryear:     Or two and a half years, because it ran for five years. There was someone trying to… Here’s a quick story.

Alex:          Yeah. Got ahead.

Puryear:     Who was trying to manage me? It was Suzanne de Passe, who had been instrumental in promoting the Jackson Five, back at Motown. She had her own production company. She produced Lonesome Dove, that TV miniseries. So, she wanted to manage me. I said, “Well who else do you manage?” This is 1995, “Who else do you manage?” She listed off some people she managed, she mentioned, Erika Alexander.

Even back then, I was painting people. I had made a little money by painting celebrities and selling some paintings.

Alex:          I see.

Puryear:     So, I said, “Oh, I’d like the paint her. She’s very beautiful.” Suzanne de Passe, said, “We can arrange it.” So, a dinner was arranged with me and Erika Alexander, down in Venice. And the managers were all sitting there. Turns out, they had said to her, “We represent a painter who wants to paint you.” Well, they didn’t represent me, and neither did they represent her. It was like a hustle. It was just a lie. So, Erika and I started talking, and I did paint her. I ended up painting her. We started talking… We were both seeing other people, but I liked her so much and she liked me. I was very lucky. So, we got married in 1997, we got married.

So yes, I started seeing her while she was in the middle of Living Single.

Alex:          That’s cool. I actually watched that show in high school.

Puryear:     My god, you’re a baby.

Alex:          High school teenage boys have crushes on random people on TV…

Puryear:     Oh, yes.

Alex:          And she was actually one of the crushes I had in high school.

Puryear:     She’s great. Funny as hell, a dark-skinned black woman representing for dark-skinned black women, with those braids and everything. She’s a role model… Just the other day, I did a live thing with Erika, and Stacey Abrams, and Ayanna Pressley. Ayanna Pressley, the representative from Massachusetts. And Ayanna Pressley said, “Quite frankly, seeing you as playing a black woman lawyer on TV made me want to go to law school.”

Alex:          Yeah, that’s awesome.

Puryear:     She said that to Erika. So, Erika was a pioneer. I’m very proud of her for that.

Alex:          Yeah that’s great.

Jim:            One comment on Eraser, and then I’m going to talk about Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451. You had said you conceived it as sort of as le Carré…

Puryear:     Right.

Jim:            But at the time, Tom Clancy was really big too. Did it become more Tom Clancy focused?

Puryear:     That wouldn’t be an adjective any of them would use. The director of Warner Bros, “It became more Arnold-esk.”

Jim:            Which makes sense because those two are in the same zeitgeist.

Puryear:     As you say, picture Terminator…Terminator, naturally, you know, naturally.”

[chuckle]

Suddenly, it became about the guns. It always had the airplane stunt in it, but something Chuck Russell did contribute, which I liked, was not only does Arnold jump out of the plane without a parachute and catches the parachute in mid-air, that was mine. But then as he’s descending in the parachute the plane comes around and tries to run them down in mid-air. That was an Arnold-esk kind of beat. And then, it even has the button, where he lands and he says to the kids, “Where is this?” and the kids says, “Earth. Welcome.” That’s chuck Russell who wrote that.

It wasn’t Tom Clancy, it was more like, “How can we make this a big summer… Picture the trailer, Arnold has to be walking through flames with guns. That’s the whole orientation of the trailer, and the movie was made to the trailer, if you can picture that.

Jim:            Let’s talk about Fahrenheit 451 which you wrote and it’s never been made.

Puryear:     Right.

Jim:            But you worked on it for a long time.

Puryear:     Yes, and I was lucky with that. Warner Bros turned around after I sold Eraser, and they immediately put me with Oliver Stone. I worked for a year with Oliver Stone, on a picture that wasn’t made, but Stone was a very interesting mentor.

And then the next picture I booked, Warner Bros liked me and they put in a room with Mel Gibson’s people. I didn’t need Mel till after I got booked to do the movie but Fahrenheit 451… Wow, would love to take a crack at that, so I did.

I’ve worked with them for a while, I had a weird relationship with Mel Gibson, but I only saw him in moments. Unlike a guy like Oliver Stone, who I worked very closely with. But they ask me. Because by that time, ’96, when Eraser came out, I had a business online, where I was trying to tell stories online. So somehow, at Warner Bros, I was presumed to know about the future. Like there’s this thing called the internet and Tony knows about it.

[chuckle]

So, they slotted me in for Fahrenheit. They thought it was a prestige picture and it would be a good chance. And so, I was supposed to write an information age remake of Fahrenheit 451. What difference does it make if people are burning books if everything’s digital anyway?

[01:10:00]

And how do you parse that out? How do you work that out?

I just saw thing today about all the misinformation coming out from like QAnon, and all these sources. And we were trying to anticipate some of that, we didn’t know how crazy the world we get. But yes, what does burning books- what’s that even mean in a world with digital information?

Jim:            So, had you even seen the (François) Truffaut film.

Puryear:     Yes. Yes, as a kid. They used to run it on TV all the time.

Jim:            But it wasn’t really, had any bearing on what you were doing, because it was going in a totally different direction.

Puryear:     They approached the Warner Bros head, which was smart. They were like, “Look, A) it’s a novel of ideas- burning books, what does it matter, what if you burn the last copy of Shakespeare, what would that world be like?”

It’s about a nazi, Montag. And he turns, the worm turns and he becomes an un-Nazi or an anti-Nazi. But as a novel of ideas, it had a great first act, it had a great setup up. Then it sort of peters out, and doesn’t have much drama to it, particularly going out the back. So, the assignment to me was, make a strong third act and it was presumed that Mel Gibson was going to play Montag. So, we know about him. He runs around, he acts all manic, he shoots, he runs… Have a third act with conflict, drama, and some suspense and action, so that was the brief.

Jim:            So, were you a Ray Bradbury fan?

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            Because he wasn’t a fan of the movie. I read a piece…

Puryear:     That’s true. That’s true and Ray Bradbury, among a lot of screenwriters and writers in Los Angeles, Ray Bradbury is kind of a famous tale. Because he wrote Fahrenheit, I know he’s living down in Venice, in Santa Monica, living near where I lived. You could pass on Venice Boulevard, the house where Ray Bradbury was said to have lived.

Jim:            Lovely house.

Puryear:     Yes. And he was said to have gone to the UCLA library, and paid with quarters to type his manuscript. And so, that was like a famous LA story. To this day, I’ve never met Ray Bradbury, now gone he’s gone. But that was a very inspirational tale, and so I thought this is a precious thing that I have to take seriously.

Jim:            You guys have a fascinating amount in common, actually, because he was a painter.

Puryear:     Oh, really. That I didn’t know.

Jim:            I have three prints of his.

Puryear:     Really.

Jim:            A tree with different… Halloween time, and winter time, lovely. I’ll send you a picture of them.

Puryear:     Thank you. I didn’t know that.

Jim:            Yeah, and a screenwriter.

Puryear:     Yes. I love his adaptation of Moby Dick.

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     He’s great.

JIm:            I’ve read the screenplay. It’s great.

Puryear:     Oh man. That was a good old rip-snorting adventure movie that also had some of that poetry in it. That’s a great movie.

Puryear:     I read Bradbury, and he could be a cantankerous guy. They asked him about 451, and he ripped it to pieces. And I just thought, if Bradbury told me he didn’t like my tie, I would have been crushed by it. I wondered at the time, if you were getting that kind of feedback, but you never met him.

Puryear:     No. But I will say this, I think the job of adapting a story is not to slavishly just reproduce it.  Fahrenheit 451 to me, the way it went into its second and third act, as it were, would not have been a very satisfying movie.

Thought, we all read it in high school, it provoked all our young minds. So, how to keep those virtues, but also make a movie, that has to be its own thing. A lot of adapters, you now actually have to sort of start sacrificing things, and throw things out of the boat to keep the boat alive; to keep the boat floating.

Jim:            You just get the spirit of it.

Puryear:     Right. And it’s his own thing… If it’s a musical, you got to walk out singing the song, right? If it’s a movie, you got to walk out saying, “Man, that was great when he jumped off that thing. I didn’t see that coming… Boom!” That’s what movies are about, to me. They got to move, and they got to move you. This is the other thing, Fahrenheit, as it went on… The Truffaut film has this in spades. It’s about as chilly, and cold, and unmoving as a picture could be.

But when I teach screenwriting. I tell the students, I say, “They’re called moving pictures because they’re supposed to move you. So, to make a satisfactory picture, that also moved you coming out the theater, that was the goal.

Jim:            We certainly want to get to Concrete Park, so I don’t want to do too much more. But I want to talk about your transition to television because you hadn’t worked in TV until you did Street Time, right?

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Jim:            And that was with Richard Stratton. So, I’m curious about him as a character, and as a person.

Puryear:     Lovely guy, ex-con, he was doing 25 years in the federal slam in Atlanta. But he had become a jailhouse lawyer, and he found a technicality in his own case. Richard Stratton got caught shipping like a cargo container worth of hashish in to the port of New York or the port of Boston or something. They had him within the rights, and he was going to do his 25 years, but he found a technicality in his case, and got out. And he sold to Sony, this series about living on the street because you can only do your time in prison but you do your time in the streets, and the parole system. So, it’s a unique angle on a cop show, so, he sold that.

He was a great writer a great mentor. Sony the studio, I think faulted him, maybe not being… He wasn’t the most experienced show runner.

[01:15:00]

So, they were just the issues of like making the army move; feeding the army. He was not as tip top maybe, at that. And then so that was their way in to sort of try and replace him, or find fault with the show. But it’s a great experience. we worked in Toronto.

Jim:            And you enjoy doing the television?

Puryear:     Oh, very much. I came out here, I thought I was going to direct pictures. That was my goal. I didn’t intend to sell Eraser like that, and be slotted it in as a so-called successful writer. I wanted to direct. My idol is Francis Ford Coppola… John Houston, Oliver Stone. They wrote pictures. They got Oscars. They got to direct. I wanted that to be my career path.

It’s funny too because, just to give you the example, when I wrote the script Eraser, I’ve booked a lot of smart work after that. Working for Oliver Stone, working on Fahrenheit. When Eraser the picture came out, which was really like, a middle brow, not that smart kind of picture… You know what I’m saying? It was nice. I got a lot of good things out of it. But it was right here… I was not booking smart work after that. People were pitching things like, “Die Hard in a cave. Okay, there would be spelunkers, and there’s terrorists with these spelunkers.” And I was like, ”Oh my god, this is going to be my career. It’s going to be so awful.”  So, my career took an interesting… I would say bad turn, after Eraser came out, as successful as was it was. I was also working here… Where I thought the script had been more here…

So, yes, TV was great because it was like the things I wanted to do, directing pictures. You’re with a group of people. You’ve joined the circus. You’re eating and working together, that was great.

Jim:            Now, I read a piece and I think you were talking about people going into film careers. But you talked about that… Well USC and other film schools are great, that you can get an education, and become a film director based upon another great institution, and this is dated somewhat, but you said Blockbuster, was also where you could learn how to become film director.

Puryear:     Well, yeah, and lots of people will tell you that.

Jim:            Tarantino certainly would.

Puryear:     Quintin Tarantino didn’t have to go film school, but he saw every movie.

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     Seeing every movie, by the way, is no guarantee that you’ll write or create good movies, or direct good movies. But knowing the moves, knowing what works, knowing why Magnificent Seven by John Sturges is a better picture, say than Ice Station Zebra directed by the same guy. One picture was better than the other. Why? Well, you have to know these things. So yeah, I would say that, that working and trying to sell your work is a great education.

Jim:            Did you become acquainted with the Clinton’s because of Erika?

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            Talk about those because 2008 is a big year for you professionally; going back to your art…

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            Because of that poster, talk about that a little bit.

Puryear:     Sure thing. By 2008, Erika had become a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. She had been asked to do a fundraiser for Hillary with Women of Color out here in Los Angeles in 2007, which she did. It was very successful. And Erika introduced Hillary, and gave a really barn burner of a talk.  And so, the Clinton machine looked at Erika, and said, “She’s great.” So, Erika became a surrogate for Hillary; spoke all over the country for her. She became friends with both President Clinton and Secretary Clinton, and later on, back then it was Senator Clinton.

So, you know Obama had that amazing poster by Shepherd Fairey, and Hillary’s graphics were all those kinds of very square democratic party union, just like… That’s the worst. And the Hillary team mentioned to Erika, they could really use something colorful. And Erika said, well, my husband’s a really good designer. So, I designed a poster with a great photograph by Brian Adams, the rocker.

I was there when Hillary first saw it. I had been sort of trying to be a little tongue and cheek to make sure look like Eva Peron or something colorful and iconic looking, and risking going into that Evita Peron territory. But Hillary saw it and she just laughed out loud; she has that great horse laugh. She laughed out loud and said, “Oh my god, you made me look like Eva Peron.” But she liked it. And then to me, that was golden. So that was a good moment and the poster was nice.

Jim:            And it’s in the National Portrait Gallery in DC?

Puryear:     Yes, it is.

Jim:            That’s amazing.

Puryear:     It’s amazing. Right there with like Gilbert Stewart’s portrait of Washington, or the Brady photographs of Lincoln, and then Hillary Clinton. in this iconic moment. So, I was very proud of that.

Jim:            I hesitate to even bring this up, but I think it was probably in 2016, you and I were corresponding constantly, and you probably don’t know that was me.

Puryear:     Okay.

Jim:            Every time I posted something about Hillary Clinton, not always, in the most favorable way possible.

Puryear:     I understand. I understand.

Jim:            And I can count on you to respond almost immediately. I would just wait for it. Here comes Tony.

Puryear:     Oh my god, you know, I love her. I think she has integrity. you hear so much bad stuff these days. Of course, these QAnon people think she’s a pedophile running the Pizzagate Conspiracy, but that’s bizarre because she’s a decent woman. I can’t say all the time, but the things I know… I’m just here to tell you, having spent some time with her, she’s extraordinarily decent and hard working. She thought those were the virtues that would get somebody to be president.

[01:20:00]

And in this cockamamie world, you’ve got the bad side of the coin like Two-Face as president, and any of her virtues don’t seem to matter. That blows my mind, I’m sure blew her mind too. So, I love her.

Jim:            And I mine we’re only concerns about running the campaign. I wasn’t linking her to pedophilia or anything.

Puryear:     Listen, they successfully painted this portrait her… There’s a deep strain of sexism in America too. It’s like, “I just don’t like her. I just don’t like her. She’s pushy. She’s cold.” Please, she’s the most qualified candidate ever, who ran for president.

Puryear:     That Matt Lauer interview that he did with her, was what convinced me that the sexism was just all across the board.

Puryear:     Even from presumed Liberals you’re going to see Joe Biden’s VP pic. And whoever it is, you’re going to hear some of them saying, “I just don’t like her, Kamala Harris, she’s pushy.”

Jim:            Oh, they’re already ready for Harris.

Puryear:     “Susan Rice, who is she really? I don’t like her.”

Jim:            Okay, so Alex, let’s go right to Concrete Park and I’ll be back in just a minute.

Alex:          Alright, so now Concrete Park, I reread that the other day, first would you consider it an example of Afrofuturism? Is it an example of that? Because there’s multiple peoples of color represented in this.

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          Is it Afrofuturism? Or is it not necessarily that.

Puryear:     Well it cuts two ways. I would say yes, in so far as, it was created by two comic book creators of color.

Alex:          Yeah, because if the audience doesn’t know, you co-wrote it with Erika Alexander…

Puryear:     That’s right.

Alex:          Your wife at the time. And you tried to pitch it as a film, or as a series, or something. Tell us about the whole genesis of it.

Puryear:     In brief, we were pitching to a guy at Sony Screen Gems. They had made a lot of money doing Resident Evil. They’ve made a lot of money doing Resident Evil pictures. They’ve made a lot of money with black pictures, starring Vivica Fox, that whole cadre of people.

We were pitching to the guy at Sony Screen Gems, he stopped us right in the middle. He saw some of our pitch more pitch materials black faces. He said, “Let me tell you something, you’re wasting your time. Black people don’t like a science fiction.”

Alex:          Oh, wow.

Puryear:     And he goes like this, “We who love science fiction.” He says, “Black people don’t like science fiction just because they don’t see themselves in the future.”

Alex:          Wow, that’s crazy.

Puryear:     Crazy racist.

Alex:          “They don’t see themselves in the future.” I think that’s a terrible comment.

Puryear:     It’s a terrible comment, and he said it because he felt black people were essentially nihilistic.

Alex:          He used those words?

Puryear:     Yeah. And we were like, “Whoa…” So, we walked out of there so mad, that we decided to make a graphic novel. We decided all the barriers to entry are relatively low, you can do it yourself. So, Erika had never written a comic book. I had never written a comic book. I never drawn a comic book. But we thought we couldn’t do it, and we would try.

Alex:          You could draw. You knew that and you’ve done story boards but actually drawing a comic, that’s another level you’re saying.

Puryear:     It’s a whole different animal because it’s not about how pretty your pictures are. Though I love the guys who draw pretty. It’s obvious from my style, I love Jaime Hernandez.

Alex:          I felt that when I read that. Yeah.

Puryear:     Nobody draws like him. He’s a genius. But he tells stories, that’s the thing. He could be doing stick figures and we’d follow his writing because the stories are great. Jack Kirby drew people with rectangular and square cubic knee caps. I mean he just drew crazy, but you follow the story.

Drawing comic books is a very different discipline from drawing pretty. And how to draw them with clarity, that’s a whole another discipline to learn because I see so many comics today that I can’t follow. Each panel is drawn with tons of cross action, tons of raze and stuff that I can’t follow the story again, so trying to draw with clarity. We taught ourselves, based on that awful experience with that racist guy.

So, the answer to your question is yes, it’s Afrofuturism in that black people created it. It’s got a broader brief or ambit thing for its ambitions because yes, we want to see a future with all kinds of people of color in the future. Different gender orientation too. Because we have seen so many bullshit visions of the future. I’m looking at you… Mocking Bird, what’s that series?…

Jim:            Hunger Games.

Puryear:     Thank you. There is maybe one district in there, where I saw some faces of color. But really, like all these apocalyptic futures… That’s what happens, black people didn’t make it. They are cut off?…

Jim:            That’s true.

Puryear:     Like a paper bag test? Where we don’t pass the test and no more black people? And you know, there’s a billion, zillion Asian people on this Earth and I never saw them in any of those futures either. I don’t know…

Alex:          Yeah, that’s a good point.

Jim:            I think there’s one Asian character in the Hunger Games books.

Puryear:     And then isn’t that great, and then we can all…

[chuckles]

Someone said, “What’s the definition of kitsch?” The definition of kitsch and bad taste, isn’t in the first tear drop… “Oh, isn’t that great there’s an Asian.” Kitsch is the second tear drop that says, “And isn’t it great we can all feel that way.”

[chuckle]

Yeah, no, I thought those futures were inherently racist, and so we set out to make a book. Jack Warner’s thug, Louis B. Mayer said, “You want to send a message? Call Western Union.” I didn’t want to make a book that was good for you, like spinach or that would sell you lessons. But I didn’t want to make a book that just by its prettiness and its funk, and its sense of excitement represented people of color in the future.

Alex:          Right.

Jim:            I will say Warner’s has that quote but he also greenlit Fugitive From a Chain Gang which is an incredible narrative about race and about things.

[01:25:06]

Puryear:     Please, it may have been Mayer… It was Louis B. Mayer who started the Oscars and the Motion Pictures Academy as an anti-union thing. So maybe it was Louis B. Mayer…

Jim:            No, it was Warner but it still existed.

Puryear:     [overlap talk] Oh, okay. No. He made great pictures. I’m a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is great, you’re exactly right, and that may have been,,, Who is guy? Darryl Zanuck who worked for him later on, with him at Fox. But he made those great 30s pictures. I love those.

Jim:            The social problem films that Warner did.

Puryear:     So, that’s Concrete Park. It is Afrofuturism.

Alex:          So, it is Afrofuturism. And so then, you decided to basically kind of crash course in comic storytelling telling as far as art, and also, you’re a script writer. So, you and Erika Alexander were co-writing. Also, Erika’s brother was involved? Is that also right?

Puryear:     Erika’s brother… He didn’t have much involvement in the comic, but it was Erika’s brother, Robert Alexander, who said there should be a science fiction thing called Concrete Park. And that was the start of it. I love that title because it’s like an oxymoron yeah, like Jumbo Shrimp. I grew up in New York City where there’s lots of concrete parks.

Alex:          Yes, and that’s what I was going to ask, because there’s a concrete plant park in the Bronx, I think.

Puryear:     Yeah, my elementary school, the school yard, there wasn’t a tree anywhere to be seen. All the school yards in New York. They look like Westside Story with the chain linked fence and the concrete, and that’s your park. That’s where you play. So that influenced us very much.

We’re influenced by a couple of things. The old Ben E. King song, Spanish Harlem, where he says, “There’s a rose in Spanish Harlem… It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete. But soft and sweet, and dreaming.” That’s a beautiful image. So, we want to make a future with something beautiful on rough circumstances, Concrete Park.

Alex:          Yeah. It is beautiful. And you’re right, it has that urban kind of feel to it. You’re right.

Now, did you pitch it to multiple publishers as the comics? Since it wasn’t going to be a movie [overlap talk]

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          And how did you end up with Dark Horse and Mike Richardson? How’d that all happen?

Puryear:     Mike Richardson is a genius. I had prepared a bunch of solicitation letters, to kind of reach out to different publishers. Never got a bite from… You can fill in the blanks, of all the indie publishers. I was writing my letter to Mike Richardson, and it had a couple of pictures. It had this spread… Let me see if I can show it to you… It had a couple pictures from Concrete Park but I haven’t written the text yet. Because somebody had slipped me Richardson’s email address….

Here’s the spread.

Alex:          Yeah, beautiful. Yeah.

Puryear:     And I just had these pictures. I didn’t have any text, to Richardson yet, and I hit send by accident. No Dear Mike, Hello… I got an instant email back. “That’s interesting. Who are you? I might be interested in publishing something like that. Who are you?” Signed, Mike Richardson.

Alex:          Nice.

Puryear:     Whoa! Because all the other places, not even a peep of interest. So, I started communicating with Mike Richardson. That was just luck. I’m one of the luckiest people in world. We were very lucky with that.

Mike’s a great guy. He understands comics art. He’s a lover of artists. He wrote me an email and said, “I believe in your talent.”

Alex:          Oh, wow. That’s great.

Puryear:     Pretty great thing to hear from anybody.

Alex:          It is.

Puryear:     But from Mike Richardson…

Jim:            Did he offer any input on the content at all? Or was he all like, “You be you.”

Puryear:     You be you, except he asked us for one thing. He said, “I see a lot of post-apocalyptic futures; a lot of dark futures. Is there any hope in your book?” And we said, “Yes. We see people building something beautiful even in the midst of all this bad news, and chaos.” I’m essentially an optimistic guy, and we hope for beauty…

He had other input. He didn’t care. He’s said, “I see what you’re doing. It’s great.”

Alex:          Wow, that’s interesting… So, you mentioned Jack Kirby, Jaime Hernandez, as far as influences for this story. Did you have any other influences other than those two? Although, I do see a lot of those two in that, but also your specific thing, obviously. Tell us about other influences.

Puryear:     Stan Lee, in this way… Stan Lee once broke down for me what the elements of a 20-paged comic or 22-paged comic would be. He said, “You start with a mystery… Why is Spider-Man and Daredevil in the same place? Of course, they’re going to fight. Why are they there? Boom, boom, boom! Then you deepen the mystery. Then you do this… Then you do this…”

Alex:          Wow.

Puryear:     “Then you play it off… Introduce the cliffhanger.”

Alex:          That’s cool.

Puryear:     And he drew me a little timeline. Just like this, on a little piece of paper with little hash marks, going “This is what you have to have.”  He said, “It’s two and a half action scenes, a mystery, and a cliffhanger.” That’s his formula for a comic book.

There was a while when Concrete Park was being published as a monthly. And I followed that. I tried to have that rhythm; where there’s action, there’s a mystery. There’s a bigger action, there’s a bigger mystery, dah, dah, dah, and a cliffhanger.

Alex:          Was it meant to be a miniseries or an ongoing series?

Puryear:     At first, we did it in the Dark Horse Presents. They had an anthology, and we were doing eight pages at a time. And we could have gone on with that forever, but Mike said, “Oh, I think you guys are ready for a 22-page book.” His big concern was with creator owned comics. “Would you finish? Could you deliver on time?” We proved that in like seven issues of Dark Horse Presents, eight pages at a time.

Then he said, “I think you’re ready to do a monthly. Can you do a monthly?” I said, “Yes, I think we can.” We did the monthly. It did okay, but it didn’t sell that well. And he said, “I think you can really do better by doing a graphic novel. By combining these stories, by doing a series of graphic novels.”

[01:30:02]

So, we took our first Dark Horse Presents stories, smoothed them out somewhat, to put them in our first book which looks like this one. And then the second book was all the original materials from the monthly comic, plus; that’s like a hundred pages of material. And then, we’re going to do more. Then finally, just this past year we broke off with Dark Horse.

I loved working with them and everything, but the books hadn’t sold as well as we wanted, and also, we wanted to be free and unencumbered. And Mike had the entertainment rights which we thought, he wasn’t doing anything. But like at first, they’re doing great. Like they’ve got a series on the air now, Umbrella Academy.

Jim:            Yep.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     They’re doing very, very well with, but we thought out of all his many properties that he was trying to set up with TV shows and everything, maybe we were sort of lower down on the list, for whatever reason. I have nothing bad to say about those guys, they were great. Dark Horse was a great place to work. But we parted ways last year.

Alex:          I see. Now, as far as the division of duties, basically you and Erika co-wrote it, and then you did the pencil, inking, coloring, lettering, right?

Puryear:     Yes. We did this sort of Marvel style, meaning we would talk about the story. I’d go and draw pages. We’d talk about them again, and correct, and change, and tweak. And then, write dialogue.

Alex:          Were you both writing the dialogue then?

Puryear:     Yeah, it was collaborative; from starting the stories it was collaborative, making the outline, agreeing on all that. But at a certain point, I was like, “We can’t talk about this anymore, I have to go out and start drawing.”

Because again, not, was it my first comic book drawings but I had none of the savvy or the experience to draw on, than how Kirby did where he could just be drawing pages every day. That wasn’t me. I’m drawing every panel, and I’m redrawing it, and tracing it on a light box. It was that crude… I’m redrawing, and redrawing.

So, I work kind of slowly so it’s good when I started drawing when I did but it worked out to be Marvel style. You know what that means.

Alex:          Yeah. Dynamic, kind of back and forth, and then you kind of put it together.

Puryear:     But it’s the artist who’s pacing out the rhythm of the story like how you get to that cliffhanger on the lower right corner of the page, that makes you turn the page. That was an interesting education. We got better as we went, I think.

Alex:          Was it a strain doing this with your wife? Collaborating creatively on something, with your wife.

Puryear:     Yes, we have been working together a long time and it’s almost like, sometimes you go on a dry-cleaning business or something, a mom-and-pop or anything. And they’ve been doing it a long time and mom-and-pop are kind of squabbling, and tired, without giving up too much, that became part of our marriage because we worked together so intensely for so many years.

Sometimes, we go to bed on an argument. “It should be blue.” “It should be red.” “It should be blue.” “Red.” “Good night.” “Good night. Grrrr.” That can be difficult for any couple.

Alex:          That’s interesting the ma-and-pa analogy, and kind of the frustration.

Puryear:     Yeah. I love her, and we still work together. We still do TV projects together. But we hit it really hard. There’s a great line, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that Ben Affleck, The Town. That Boston picture?

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     I forget the actress’s name, but she plays this sort of skanky girl that Ben Affleck has been dating. And she says to him, “We smoked it to the filter, didn’t we?”

[chuckles]

That’s what me and Erika did. We smoked it to the filter.

Alex:          Yeah, it’s a good way to put it.

Puryear:     We worked really hard. It does have its strain.

Alex:          I know what you mean. So, then you still work together, and it was an amicable divorce.

Puryear:     Yes, it was. It’s hard and sad, and it came in 2016 when Hillary lost. We both were on the road working for Hillary. I did another poster for Hillary. I did a victory poster for Hillary that never got seen. I was ready there in the Javits Center for the night, her victory. And then it didn’t happen.

So, yeah, there were a lot of strains on the marriage in that year. But we continued… We have a couple of scripts we wrote together, that we’re trying to set up. And things we do together now.

Alex:          So, are you working on continuing your concluding the Concrete Park story.

Puryear:     Yes, and whatever medium that happens in.

Alex:          I see, so it could not necessarily be comic, basically. It could actually just be like in a movie as a conclusion or something, or maybe put it all in a movie or TV show.

Puryear:     I have a volume three that’s drawn about halfway; drawn and scripted, working there.

Alex:          Oh, really.

Puryear:     Yeah, I’d love it to come out and be its own thing. One of the things Dark Horse was looking to do was to do a big omnibus edition when the whole thing was finished. Drop them four big books, getting bigger each time like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. That’s still on our minds but these days TV has been very much on our minds too.

Because of Black Lives Matters, there’s some unique opportunities for black creators and friends of mine.

Alex:          Yeah. Right, it’s opened up a bit.

Puryear:     And so, we’re looking at each other like, “Well why not us?… Why not Concrete Park.”

Alex:          Sure. That makes sense. And if Umbrella Academy is doing well, maybe this is the time for Concrete Park to hit the screen.

Puryear:     You know, because of Covid, there’s been this amazing slow down, unfortunately, in TV, going for a TV production. Lots of people stock up on script and projects, how are they going to shoot them? And then people say, the way they shot the Mandalorian is becoming our model now, where it’s like two guys in a warehouse with a digital background that’s dynamic that moves with the shot.

Alex:          I see.

Puryear:     Mandalorian, it looks great, but it’s produced in this very low labor-intensive way. It’s all guys, sitting home with computers.

[01:35:05]

Alex:          Yeah, it’s a socially distant way of filmmaking.

Puryear:     Yes, it is. So, maybe there’s that for Concrete Park in some future. Right now, nobody’s shooting anything.

Alex:          Now, the fan reaction was very interesting. There’s a great critical reaction to Concrete Park, you guys, both did convention appearances.

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          Was that a fun experience?

Puryear:     The best.

Alex:          Yeah, tell us about that. Tell us about the fanfare.

Puryear:     We loved it. Dark Horse was very supportive. We always did signings. They encouraged us. We brought a lot to the party. We would make a lot of merch; we made plastic flowers for people to wear in their hair like Luca, our lead character. We made posters, and giveaways, and T-shirts, and all that jazz. We have booth babes. We got in to the whole spirit of the thing, so we had a ball. We met all kinds of people.

One day, I’m sitting there, hawking Concrete Park and outcomes Lee Meriwether, former Miss America and former Catwoman, from the old Batman TV series. She couldn’t have been nicer. I got my picture taken with Lee Meriwether; I was on cloud-9.

Alex:          [chuckle] Yeah, because you’re still a comic fan under all this stuff.

Puryear:     Oh, and an old ‘60s TV fan. You meet the nicest people at Comic Book Convention. Comic fans are lovely. They can be kind of unwashed, or smelly, but good people. Families, we saw some of the same families year after year, now, we’re all friends on Facebook and all that stuff. So, that was cool great. Not many authors get to be so high touch with whatever fans they have. We made new friends, new fans.

We also did a whole other second circuit of like black events. For instance, there’s this DJ who just retired. This guy, Tom Joyner, who appeared both in the Dallas, I believe, and Chicago radio markets. And he did a big thing every year called The Tom Joyner Family Reunion; one of these big black events at a hotel, where people pay thousands of dollars to come. Like a big black convention.

We sold more Concrete Park there than anywhere because Erika is a big black celebrity. People would line up and just buy boxes of our books. So, we have that circuit going on as well. We appeared on radio. We did a lot of radio, morning drive time radio. People would walk up to us in San Diego, and say, “I heard you on the radio.” So, it’s great.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s awesome.

Puryear:     Great experience.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s great. I’m looking forward to the next chapter in whatever form it may take.

Puryear:     Just off camera, I’ve got this huge digital drawing tablet that I invested in to draw Concrete Park Volume 3. It’s coming. We have some great places we want to take the story in. And over the past years that we’ve been doing Concrete Park, actually, we saw Game of Thrones and how well they did that. You want talk about somebody raising the bar, for what an immersive story world could be. I thought they did a very good job with Westworld just recently, and also Watchmen. Amazing.

Alex:          Amazing.

Jim:            Watchmen was amazing for that.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     And Doctor Manhattan turns out to be the dude… The whole thing.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     Great, from top to bottom.

Alex:          It was.

Puryear:     The Game of Thrones by the way, even in the time we sold Concrete Park, when Game of Thrones started appearing, we started reading the Game of Thrones novels, we love them. But that’s why there’s a map.

Alex:          A map, yeah that’s awesome. I love that and they actually have a glossary at…

Puryear:     We have the glossary. The glossary was something we always were going to do, but the map, man, we were like, “Great fantasy has maps. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, must have maps.

Alex:          You’re right, Kamandi had a map, I think.

Puryear:     That’s right. That’s right.

Jim:            First issue.

Alex:          Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I love that…And video games, like a lot of video games have maps and stuff.

Puryear:     Yeah.

Alex:          Like Zelda. Zelda had a map, I remember that.

Puryear:     That’s how I got into the internet and everything was in 1995, -6, whatever. There was this old video game, Myst.

Jim:            Sure.

Puryear:     And it had a map and everything, and I wanted to make interactive games for a minute, and then people said to me, “No, the good place to tell stories is on the web, man. Forget making CD – ROM games. Don’t make games. Be on the web.” So, I’ve been on the web ever since, telling stories, doing stuff. Maps. Got to have maps.

Jim:            Kirby was ahead of all of this though, with the internet stuff, with OMAC.

Puryear:     Oh, yeah.

Jim:            There’s an OMAC aspect to this too. But OMAC had all of that stuff…

Puryear:     You’re right.

Jim:            And such social critiques… Just amazing.

Alex:          Yeah, OMAC, that’s a good connection. Yeah.

Puryear:     The book had not been written yet about Kamandi, and about OMAC, and a lot of Kirby’s later works. His eye problems got so wonky that everything, after a while had a slant to it. Everything was a little weird, but his ideas, he just kept on going.

Jim:            Oh, in those issues of OMAC, it’s amazing. Just one after another.

Puryear:     You’re right?

Alex:          Yeah, I don’t think about OMAC much, but I do love those comics. Yeah.

Jim:            I’m glad you mentioned Watchmen because I was going to say, that I remember teaching Watchmen in class and it wasn’t tracking well with the students, especially. And then 9/11 happened, and it became an entirely different device. And I wanted to say that, to some degree, I see that with Concrete Park, after this year’s Black Lives Matter movement. Because that first couple of pages of the very first story with Isaac in Los Angeles is exactly where we are at the moment.

[01:40.001]

Puryear:     I live in downtown LA. I lived in a 110-year old building; 10-storey building with these great old… The early skyscrapers of LA, they were 10 stories high.

Jim:            Love those buildings.

Puryear:     Right, and I’m on Broadway when the riots happened after George Floyd. There’s a big convenience store in the ground floor of my building, with the ‘Sells $ tube socks’ and everything; a discount store. The looters broke the windows, went in and looted it all, and set it on fire. So, I’m here on the fourth floor, looking out my window as the flames are coming up, going, “Oh my god. this is like the apocalypse.”

But bad times are coming too, I mean, here we are, we’re having this lovely conversation about comics. I’m so glad you guys invited me to the party like this. But the economy is going to be bad. There are going to be shortages. Bad stuff is coming. I’m not preaching gloom and doom; I have a lot of hope about the future.

But I also think we’re in a very funky time. So, we sort of saw a future like that coming. You might get shot for a truckload of water, or you might get shot for food. That was part of our vision for Concrete Park Part 2.

Jim:            That’s really interesting, that you mentioned Broadway because I always took my students to the LA Conservancy walk through on Broadway. Going into all the classic theaters and things, that are now retail electronic stores, and different things, or churches, or whatever. And I love that particular street, probably more than anywhere else in LA.

Puryear:     I live a block from the Bradbury building where they shot Blade Runner.

Jim:            I was going to say… So, that theater that’s across the street…

Puryear:     The Million Dollar.

Jim:            Is just brilliant.

Puryear:     Yes. Sid Grauman built theater. The same guy who made the Chinese Theater.

Jim:            And I miss the cafeteria every single day. I love that place.

Puryear:     Yeah…So, if I had to distil a couple of the issues we were talking about in Concrete Park- we’re talking about race, we’re talking about gender fluidity, we’re talking about scarcity. And when I hit on the idea of calling the city Scarce City, I say, “Oh, now we’re in the home stretch.” That’s a great simple way of talking about it.

But you know, good science fiction is always about now. Like 1984 was really about 1948, etcetera. Concrete Park, we’re talking about scarcity. We’re talking about why are water rights in the Amazon being privatized by Nestle to the extent that indigenous people can’t get water, unless they pay for it. That’s part of a message of Concrete Park 2 or the feeling of scarcity.

Jim:            So, I want to talk about film references a little bit, or influences. Excuse me, if I missed it, when Alex was talking to you. But City of God seems like one of the obvious ones.

Puryear:     That was a big, big influence on us; the heat, the way it looked. It’s very perverse ended up working Alice Braga on Queen of the South because she was in City of God. But we loved that look. We love District 9, showing science fiction… Normally, the aliens always land in Washington DC or New York. Why… But landing in Johannesburg is already a great idea. We love that film.

Jim:            I mean obviously, the tattoos go back to concentration camps and things, but I wondered if Fincher’s Alien 3 was also an influence.

Puryear:     Only after we did it. We were pages, and pages in, and I’ve drawn the barcodes, only to remember, that the people had those barcodes on the back of their heads in the Fincher… Was that the Alien 3?

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     So, yes, I guess that was in there. It’s a very common trope. As a matter of fact, I was kind of committed to drawing it that way, and Erika was like, “You know the real cool barcodes are those QR codes.” I said, “I can’t draw those on people’s faces.”

Jim:            What I love about the bar code is that you have the number and then the bars surround it, in an imprisonment kind of a way. I feel like the people are the numbers and the bars surround them in a trapped way.

Puryear:     That’s right. And we wear those prison bars on our face. That was the whole thing. That was my argument to her about, “Let’s not do the square code. Let’s do the bars.” Thank you.

Some of the characters, no longer have their bars, and why?… We get into that later on… People call your bar and grill. Like Luca, the lead woman character doesn’t have the barcode on her face. Why? We talk about that.

Jim:            Yeah, I think the barcode is a central part of it. And exactly what you’re saying.

Puryear:     I’m glad you noticed that, thank you.

Jim:            When you were doing it, and introducing the characters, your graphic sense isn’t traditional comic sense at all, and that you’re having these intros, like old school- here’s the catch up, here’s a character reference points. Did you meet any resistance to doing that? Because I love it. It’s a great start to the series.

Puryear:     To me they’re like the beginning of Jules and Jim with like freeze frames, and like dah-dah-dah… Bam!

Jim:            Right.

Puryear:     Dah-dah-dah… Bam! And then you cut. And so, you introduce a character… I do have these big graphics because I kind of realized, we were trying for Game of Thrones-sized cast and there’s, even though now, in the two volumes it’s like 56 speaking parts.

[01:45:00]

And we want to visit them all. There’re main characters, just like in Game of Thrones. There’s main point of view characters and those point of view characters, yeah, I get those big graphics, Luca… bam! So that was meant to be like film freeze frames.

Jim:            You’ve mentioned Game of Thrones several times, but I’m struck by the Kirby Fourth World aspect of it with New Gods because it’s, sure you’ve got Orion, and he’s central but now, here’s Metron. It goes through it, linking split and gives you all of those. And the characters are not straight villains in the way that…

Puryear:     Of course.

Jim:            Especially, Silas is Metron to me. We don’t know what he is.

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            So, I really had such a Fourth World feeling to it…

Puryear:     Oh, I’m glad. And Kirby couldn’t stop himself. He was like Dickens in that like halfway through a book, if he came up with something great, he’d just throw it in there anyway. Even though he hasn’t thought about it from the start. Like halfway way through New Gods you get the bug or the Forager, that kid, and all of the bugs with Mantis. Suddenly, he’s like, “Oh, I can work Mantis into this as a bad guy.” But I know he didn’t have that from the start. He just one day said, “There should be this guy, the bug. He’s great.”

Jim:            It’s leaking out of his ears. It’s like, “Oh, who’s that guy on a horse?” And it’s like, that’s just because it’s Kirby and he can’t help it.

Puryear:     Or the story. So, I says, “Jack, who’s the guy with the surf board? And he says, “That’s the Silver Surfer.”

[chuckle]

And he goes, “Galactus needs a herald.” I said, “Oh, that’s pretty good.” That’s how Kirby was.

Alex:          Stan actually admitted that. That was Jack’s thing.

Puryear:     Yes, because he had Galactus, they want to do like a god-like character in this world.

Alex:          A god thing.

Puryear:     But to make a good story, that guy is like the end of the story, that like two issues in the guy finally shows up, but in meantime time there should be a herald. I can see Kirby going, “Yeah, and the guy comes in. They have a fight. The Fantastic Four doesn’t know who he is. They fight. They mix it up. The Thing throws him across the city. He throws The Thing…” And then you got a story.

Alex:          Yeah, also, I like how you confront… I like how I’m blurry as I’m saying this… But the shape changer… I’m actually shape changing, as we speak.

Puryear:     You are!

Alex:          But the shape changer in Concrete Park. There’s a natural intrinsic issue of gender fluidity and being a shape changer. And I like how you go right to it in Concrete Park, where the shape changer is that dude, but it’s a woman now, and then now it’s a she, and then she is kind of to seducing him in his room late at night. And then shape changes back into the dude again, when she rejected, and then he runs away. I was like, “Wow. I guess all shape changers must have this.”

Puryear:     Well you know, why shouldn’t they? I mean, I just read… Of course, maybe you’ve seen this, where the Wachowski siblings now say, the Matrix was as an analogy for trans life. What it’s like to grow into your butterfly from the cocoon, and be that trans person male, that’s Neo.

Okay. I buy that. But I’ve seen shape shifters before, but a lot of times, if they were male, or if they’re a woman and they’re a seductress, they stay a woman. But we needed a little humor. We had all these characters, and we were trying to come up with this guy and looking for a name. I used to work with seafood when I was a chef. One of the fish we used to work with was called the monkfish. And so, this guy, his name was Monkfish, suddenly. And I thought of this skinny Jamaican or African looking guy, a dark-skinned guy.

We literally did do some of this… Figuring, “Okay, we’ve got characters color. So, have we got an Asian guy? Have we got…” I know that’s a little weird but it’s just like what they used to call foxhole movies. Like The Losers or foxhole movies, Sergeant Fury – there’s the Jew, there’s the Italian, there’s the black guy.

So, we needed a dark-skinned black guy, and we said, “He should be funny.” Next thing you know, his name is Monkfish, and he’s changing gender. Yes, into women. We thought that would be funny. He would win a beauty contest, as a woman.

Alex:          To degree, he kind of reminded me of Turks from Daredevil or something.

Puryear:     Oh, yeah. Yeah, and the thing is, about Monkfish, we haven’t seen what his real, real identity looks like. He just goes around as a human dude but maybe he’s a fucking green alien, or whatever, that just does this human beat, because it’s another planet. You’re allowed, in science fiction.

Jim:            He and Madman Fontaine are the ones that visually just jump out at you.

Puryear:     I’m glad you like them.

Jim:            I mentioned Kirby, obviously, and New Gods, but the other one that I would say that was happening just shortly after that, that is one two three intro of characters, over time a little bit, was McGregor’s jungle action Black Panther.

Puryear:     You know I’ve never seen that. I hear about it. Maybe I faded away from comics at that point. I’ve heard it’s good.

Jim:            It’s good. But it’s got that same kind of characters and some of them have sexual ambiguity like Venom. You should definitely read that.

Puryear:     Okay.

Jim:            It’s great… So, it’s your very first comic. You’re feeling your way, and you’re with somebody who’s never done a comic, and you guys suddenly appear in the Best American Comics book, 2013. That’s where I first read this.

Puryear:     Wow.

[01:50:00]

And those were some good early pages. They were a good introduction to Concrete Park because that was our first story in Dark Horse Presents, and they selected it for that. That was great.

Jim:            You must have been especially grateful to Jeff Smith for selecting that.

Puryear:     I ran in to him two years ago. I was in Columbus, Ohio where I saw Arnold. They do a big comic thing in Columbus and everything. And I ran into him, and I thanked him. I was able to shake his hand and say, “Thanks for selecting us.” That was a great send off. And it gave us some clout, at Dark Horse, of course.

Jim:            Oh, absolutely. Some clout and some reinforcement that you guys were on the right track. And you’re in there with so many amazing creators, that must have been a real morale boost for you guys.

Puryear:     That was a great moment, and it got us good things in a lot of ways. It made Dark Horse take us a click more seriously. It got us press. Other people started interviewing us. Also, yeah, it told us that even those eight pages which were kind of an introduction of a couple of characters, Isaac and then Luca, and Lena her lover, who maybe be like… That’s our Tony Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez influence that Lena is a ghost. And who may or may not be able to be physically real in this world.

Anyway, that was the validation that people follow that, at least. That it raised some good questions and they want to see more. That was great.

Jim:            So, let’s move on and just very briefly, touch on the other things you’ve done since then. You had mentioned 2016, and the hardship of going through that year, in terms of what happened you were doing Comics Cast 2016 with other comic creators. With the people that did World War III, illustrating with some other people. You guys were all doing a project. Talk about that project, some.

Puryear:     I can’t remember a single thing about that. That’s like a blank to me. I really mean it.

Jim:            But you were covering that as a reporter, almost, for the conventions.

Puryear:     Forgive me. I didn’t recognize the name Comics Cast. You’re right. I remember what we did. We went to Cleveland. We went…

Jim:            That was the official name.

Puryear:     Thank you. Because we worked with Joyce Brabner, who’s the widow of Harvey Pekar. Joyce was great, and Joyce had me and a bunch of cartoonists to come down to the conventions and cover them. And so, I went to Cleveland, where Joyce lives, and that where the Republican Convention was. I was on the floor when that Michael Flynn started leading that chant about “lock her up”. It was the scariest thing.

And you want to talk about racial identity… There I was, people mostly probably wouldn’t figure I was black. Wouldn’t figure out I was certainly a secret democrat or whatever. I’m there on the floor, drawing sketches of people, and they start to chant, “Lock her up. Lock her up”. It was so scary. Cleveland was scary. I met Bikers for Trump, guys carrying guns. It’s open carry state, that was crazy.

Comics Cast, you’re absolutely right. I was thinking of a radio thing. We went to Cleveland and then on to Philly. I was so, just convinced she was going to win, of course. And to see all…

Jim:            I remember that. [chuckle]

Puryear:     Yeah. Oh man, and to see Obama, and to see all the great speakers there and everything, that was a great experience. So, it was great to be with other cartoonists. I still stay in touch with a lot of those guys.

There’s a sikh guy named Vishavit… I can’t say his name, Vishavjit Singh. He’s the Sikh Captain America. He goes around with a turban, dressed as Captain America. He’s great, and a great cartoonist. So, we made some really good friends doing that. That’s what we did in 2016. Thank you.

Jim:            You did a coloring box…

Puryear:     Yes, with

Jim:            Right. Great writer, probably best known for Fight Club.

 

Puryear:     He does business with Dark Horse, and so, he had this adult coloring book. And they had their… It was about seven or eight stories, and the most risqué story, in terms of race, was the story I illustrated for him. And I think, as much as anything else, they hired me to do it because they were covered then. If there was controversy about it, they’d say, “Well look, a black guy drew it.” Because it’s like a sex club with people a masquerading as Harriet Tubman and all this stuff. And it’s a little… It was bound to be controversial. It actually worked out just fine, and Chuck turned out to be a great guy.

Alex:          Is there a sign-up sheet for this club?… Nah, I’m just kidding.

[chuckle]

Jim:            How did you do that, in terms of, did you visualize the colors and then removed them? Or did you do it as…

Puryear:     Not at all. Dark Horse showed me some work that other people had done. No disrespect to these other artists, but I thought it was kind of busy. You know my style, I draw with heavy black outlines and not much inside the holding lines. So, that’s one of the things that leads people to think it looks like Jaime Hernandez. It’s is because, I don’t do crosshatching. I don’t spot blacks inside the characters even. I don’t do much of that. So, my work is like anti-crosshatching. It’s the anti-Jim Lee, the anti-wild storm.

Now, I’m really dating myself again, but my work goes away from that. So, they had a lot of people who done these coloring things, and I said, “No one’s ever going to be able to color that. The areas to color are so small.” So, I tried consciously to make Tony-style, black outlines, empty spaces, that’s all. I didn’t visualize any colors. I just tried to make good black and white drawing that would be easy to color it.

Jim:            That’s interesting because your somebody who uses coloring, the way some use inking.

Puryear:     Yes. Short answer, yes.

Jim:            And yet, you’re expecting the colorist to bring that same level. I’m curious about the book now.

[01:55:00]

Puryear:     Yeah, and you’ll see that some of these people are like… I was like, “Who’s going to color that? The crayons, the markers, it can’t be done. The book is this big… It’s like… “ But I tried to make good, interesting Tony style illustrations, that would be easy to color with markers.

Jim:            Yeah. I think I saw a Charles Vess coloring picture once, and I thought, I don’t know how anybody would do that.

Puryear:     Yeah, some of the work is beautiful as black and white illustrations. It’s great.

Jim:            And then you’ve also got a series of paintings you’re doing in relation to Trump’s rogues gallery, so to speak?

Puryear:     Yes. Every day, I get up and I see the news and it’s like so… I’m an old leftie… My resume used to say, “Proudest Accomplishments: Helped stop the Vietnam War.”

You know, that’s me. And so, to see Trump, very early on, I decided this was a gangster administration, bunch of criminals. I know Trump from New York City. Trump was always a criminal. In New York, he’d go like this… The guy’s mobbed up. He’s like this. He’s one of the… He’s a goodfella… He was always a gangster. He was always mobbed up.

So, I made this series called Gangsters, where I treated them like rappers, gangsta… You know, with G-A-N-K-S-T-A, ganksta. Every day, I do… They’re like political cartoons except I use manipulated photographs, and I try to make funny headlines. And just trying to call attention to how criminal his stuff is. But I also did a series of paintings to go with those. We had a gallery show in early 2018, here in Los Angeles which was great. Very well attended. Sold some prints. Didn’t sell my paintings so I still got them here.

But yeah, I love to paint. This sort of animated me. These past four years, I’ve done more visual work, than I’ve done in a long time. Just fighting the Trump administration.

Jim:            And then you also, you went back to television.

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Jim:            Please tell us about that.

Puryear:     I loved Queen of the South when it first came out. And I had written a feature script for RKO. RKO, that old film label that did King Kong. They were back and they were remaking their old library. So, they had a picture in their library called Lady Scarface, which had come out obviously, as a response to the Howard Hawks, Scarface.

It was an awful picture with Judith Anderson, the woman who played Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. She’s like, “Now, I’m the mob boss. I’m Lady Scarface. See…rah, rah.“ It was awful. But I wrote this picture, they asked me to write a picture of a young Latina woman coming up, fighting to break into the drug gang because she has to, to stay alive. Blah, blah, blah.” I wrote that for RKO, and it was a perfect writing sample for Queen of the South.

I love the show so much, and an old friend of mine, that I had lost touch with Natalie Chaidez was the show runner. So, I submitted my script to her. I said, ”I think I’d be a good match for your team. A good fit.” So, they put me on the team. And I got to write Queen of the South which, as I’ve said, is very like the feature that I had already done.

I loved it. That was a great bunch of people. Great cast, hardworking. Filmed it in Dallas, substituting for Mexico. [chuckle] So, I loved that experience. That was great.

Jim:            This would be my last question, but do you describe yourself as an artist who also writes, or as a writer who loves to draw? Or are you truly both of those together but not in a Jack Kirby way where you’re a writer artist necessarily, but you just have two pathways that sometimes collide.

Puryear:     Interesting. It’s a breath mint. It’s a candy mint. It’s two mints in one. Tastes great, less filling.

Jim:            I was going to do Reese’s Cup, but that may be more controversial.

Puryear:     But there it is. Is he black or is he white?

Jim:            Yeah,

Puryear:     I think your last example actually, like Jack Kirby. Like a writer artist, artist writer. I am that guy. I don’t see any difference, in the two hats at all. The storytelling, I grew up with. As I said, I got to be there for the Marvel age of comics that made me a storyteller. I mean, obviously, there were movies back then too, 2001 blew my mind, The Godfather

Jim:            Blade Runners seems like an important movie.

Puryear:     Blade Runner, very important… I saw that movie a hundred times. I saw it a lot in college, then after college, 1883. To see it, in Providence, Rhode Island, you had to drive over the river to go to East Providence to see the movie.

One night we came out of the movie, East Providence, there was an old railroad bridge, an old railroad trestle that was up in the air like this… And you drive past it. One night we came out, it was on fire, blazing into the night. And we said, “Oh my god, it’s Blade Runner. Our whole world has become Blade Runner”… That was a very influential movie on me, of course.

So, I’m a writer artist, and I’m a guy wants to tell stories. And I’ll do it in whatever medium.

Alex:          Quick question before I conclude. If you were to attribute you’re inking, on your art, to a Jack Kirby inker… If you were to say which Jack Kirby inker would you most [overlap talk] to you, would you say, Chic Stone, or who would you say?

Puryear:     Well, I love Chic Stone’s heavy outlines.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     You know who inks like that? It’s Mike Allred, who’s very influenced by Chic Stone. But you know what, the truth is, I draw really big because my hand shakes. It’s so funny. My pencil drawings have some liveliness to them. It’s like they’re fresh and they’re okay. Then I sit there and I try to ink, and my hands starts going…[sound].

[02:00:00]

In the past couple of years, I got to be friendly with Mike Royer who has the most amazing hands. So, steady, so clean those lines. I could never in a million years ink like that. Not to mention with pen and ink, or brush and ink. Amazing. So, I don’t think there’s any of Kirby’s inkers that my stuff looks like. I think my stuff looks like a guy… If traditional comics are drawn Two-Up, meaning twice the size of reproduction… I’m drawing on my digital tablet, or back then on paper at like Four-Up, so that my shaky hand won’t betrayal itself in the inking. Because I hate the way my ink work looks. I like the pencil drawings.

All those guys were such pros, had such steady hands, even Vince Colletta. Ink anybody off the page, those guys are great. My stuff doesn’t look anything like… As I say, there are heavy holding lines.

Alex:          Yeah, I think that’s why I was thinking Chic Stone because of those heavy holding lines you’re talking about.

Puryear:     Right. But I also was influenced by Jaime Hernandez, that those things have to have thickness and a thinness, and a rhythm. But I wish I could ink like those guys. You want to break your heart, I saw some Jaime Hernandez originals, and they’re small. Their hands are so steady, perfect and clean. Those lines are so clean. No white out, never… It’s just beautiful. Even his panel boarders are drawn by hand not with a ruler. I could never do that stuff. So, my inking is the worse part of it, that’s the worst.

Alex:          I can safely say that Jim and I love your stuff, and your art and…

Puryear:     Thank you.

Alex:          Pencil and inks and color choices and all that.

Well, this has been a fun episode of the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. We had a really unconventional guest today; a wonderful delight to chat with. Really knowledgeable. Love the Jack Kirby… Really quick recall. I’m just really impressed. Tony, thanks so much for joining us today.

Puryear:     Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me. I hope to see you guys again in the real world.

[02:01:42]

 

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