As a pre-teen and still later, as a teenager all through the 1970s, while I, month in and month out, year after year, decade after decade, I bought and read numerous Marvel and DC comics, and so-called independent comics, when they were around as well, Steve Englehart comics were always put at the very top of my reading pile, to be read, first!
The reason was that Mr. Englehart’s writing really ‘spoke’ to me, almost as if I was reading about real people, spying in on their private lives. From Captain America to The Avengers, from the romance between Wanda (The Scarlet Witch) Maximoff and The Vision, a synthetic android artificial life form in the shape of a man, with the implanted memories of a ‘real’ human, Simon (Wonder Man) Williams. And then, there was the off-beat romance of Mantis and The Swordsman, and the sheer tragedy of it all.
The Captain America title, under Steve Englehart’s writing, touched on numerous social issues, including racism, U.S. Presidential corruption, the intriguing three-part ‘The Captain America of the 1950’s’ storyline, and so much more!
Steve Englehart kindly took some time off, from his retirement, to speak to me about his writing background, how he got started in comics, how he progressed to novels, and back again, and he even touched on his TV and movie work! I want to thank Steve Englehart for taking the time to talk to me!
First Comics News: Can you kindly tell us where and when you were born, and where you went to school and grew up?
Steve Englehart: Indianapolis in 1947. My dad was a reporter/editor, with a job in Dayton, so we lived there till I was three, then we
moved to Louisville, lived there till I was 13, and then we moved to Indianapolis.
1st: That’s interesting to me, about your dad, and his being a reporter, in Dayton. Dayton, Ohio? I’m a Canadian, by the way, in Nova Scotia. But there are two reporters/journalists in my family, also. My older brother James, and my sister, Carol. You also mentioned Connecticut, further down. My sister Carol, is a journalist in Connecticut. How old were you if you recall when you first discovered comics? Do you recall the first ones you were exposed to, bought, read, and enjoyed?
Steve: I think I started reading comics when I started reading. I don’t actually remember, but neither do I remember a time when I wasn’t into comics.
Steve: I’ve told my wife for years that I’m seventeen.
1st: What were your favorite comics characters and titles growing up?
Steve: Dick Tracy Monthly, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories (both for Barks’ ducks in the front and Murry’s mouse in the back), and Batman.
Steve: Early on for me was before there were any Marvel books. I read DC for superheroes because that’s all there was – and some of it was worthwhile. Dick Sprang’s artwork, and the occasional good puzzle for Batman to work out. Looking back, we know 1950s DC was pretty bland, but I couldn’t tell at the time because there was no alternative. I liked Dick Tracy better, though. The book was reprints of the
newspaper strip, and Chester Gould was a genius at darkness and weird non-super villains. Plus, the strip was still going strong in the daily paper. And finally, Carl Barks’ ducks are absolutely great, and Murry’s 3-part mysteries were wonderfully drawn and legitimately ominous. I consider everyone I just named to be a great creator, and there they were, even in the ’50s.
1st: I understand that your first published work was in the late Warren Publishing’s Vampirella # 10. Can you kindly tell us how old you were when you broke into comics as a writer, and can you expand on how that happened?
Steve: The story in #10 was actually me being amazingly lucky enough to be Neal Adams’ art assistant; the story was by Denny O’Neil. I spent a year or so pursuing an art career, and then one summer day, I got a chance to sub for Gary Friedrich on staff at Marvel, and that led to my dialoguing a story which appeared in Monsters On The Prowl # 15. I found I liked writing and Marvel liked it as well, but Marvel wasn’t going to fill up my dance card just yet, so I then wrote several issues of VAMPIRELLA, coming full circle.
1st: I’m an artist, myself. By chance, do you still retain samples of some of your art from those days? I’m guessing perhaps that you haven’t done any art in some time? Either way, if you still have some of that art, and could provide images of the same, we’d love to run some, with the interview, if possible. I didn’t know you were once an artist; I always think of you as a very gifted writer.
Steve: I don’t have any art handy now. But my published stuff is detailed on my page. Look for entries that have the addendum “(art)”.
1st: Thank you for the link! We’ll be looking at that, in detail! Before (Jim) Warren Publishing’s Vampirella # 10, had you previously sent in any comics writing, plots, or scripts that were not accepted?
Steve: Nope. I was then living in Connecticut, not too far from Dick Giordano and Gil Kane, so I ran art stuff past them, giving me professional opinions without involving the mail. I never submitted anything to the companies.
1st: Before writing for comics, did you previously do any writing for comics fanzines, and if so, which ones?
Steve: Nope. I’m very boring.
1st: You are hardly that! If it’s not too personal, where do you live, now?
1st: I remember, when growing up, that your Captain America and Avengers run were captivating, and I faithfully bought, read and enjoyed them, month in and month out, year after year. There was just nothing else out there like your take on these characters and background characters and subplots, except perhaps for Don McGregor’s take on Black Panther and Killraven. You always had a fine sense of pathos. Where did all this insight into real people, in your characters, come from? I always had the sense, reading any of your writing, like I was reading about the lives, the good times, the bad, the suffering, of seemingly real people. Where did all this insight on real people, in your characters, come from?
Steve: That’s just me, for better or worse. I probably got an eye for detail and story from my dad, and the sense of people from drawing them, since to be a good artist, you have to grasp feelings. I just naturally like to live inside different heads and show what I’m seeing from in there.
1st: Your writing was always much better than a lot of other stuff I was reading, alongside it, by many other writers, who shall, of course, go unnamed. Which is one of the biggest reasons I was so interested in talking to you. I’ve been reading your bios online, in terms of all of the numerous comics series you have written, over the decades, your novels, your work in TV and movies, and I then realized that I have read and still own most of your work, in my collection.
Steve: I’m retired, but writers never really need to retire. Over the past few years, I’ve been working on a massive project, a writing challenge I set for myself — when I wasn’t traveling or hitting (a few) Comic-Cons, or hanging out with my grandchildren. I had no time limit, being retired and all, so progress on the project came in fits and starts. Then came this here pandemic, and I was home all the time, so the project has been getting a lot more attention. I’m not convinced it’ll ever be published because it’s so not big, but it was primarily for my own satisfaction. I’m getting what I wanted, and beyond that, we’ll just have to see.
1st: I won’t ask what this project is, because neither one of us wants another writer to steal your ideas. But, this said, I hope you will get this project completed and shopped around. Whether you realize it or not, Steve Englehart is still a big name, in comics! By the way, I didn’t catch them during their first run, when new, but I much later discovered your Malibu Comics superhero title The Strangers. And, once I did, I spent several years trying to track down every single issue of that series and reading them one at a time. Eventually, I owned and enjoyed them all, every issue. Coyote was another favourite, in Eclipse Magazine, followed by Eclipse Monthly, and then, still later, in Coyote’s comics title! How did The Point Man prose novel come about that you wrote and had published, around 1980 or 1981, and what was the inspiration for that?
Steve: When I left Marvel in the mid-1970s, I intended to leave comics altogether; then I got asked to resurrect DC. After that, I was gone for sure. I wanted to write about sex magic and other things I couldn’t do, in Dr. Strange.
1st: I have a lot more questions that I would like to ask you about your vast career in comics, prose novels, TV and film, but we’ll start with these.
Steve: I’m happy to answer questions but let’s keep the total to a reasonable number. I’ve got that project to write!
1st: Of course. Agreed, and that makes perfect sense. One question I would like to ask, and some of our readers may not be aware that these exist, is that, in addition to your ‘The Point Man’ novel that you wrote, you also wrote and had published other prose novels, including The Plain Man, and The Long Man. I don’t have these yet, but I am planning to purchase them, from eBay or Amazon. Are these two other novels based on the same character, I assume? And, when were these written and published? And are there other books as well, in that series?
Steve: The Point Man was a stand-alone novel, but twenty- five years later, I thought it’d be interesting to pick up with Max August again (since he became immortal after the first book), and so Long Man, Plain Man, and Arena Man (playing off point – line – plane – cube). Point Man had inadvertently become an interesting time capsule for 1980, so I deliberately set the new books in specific times, to make them time capsules. Long Man is Halloween 2007, Plain Man is Midsummer 2009, and Arena Man is Spring 2011. Max doesn’t age but the times around him change – which is what interests me about immortality.
1st: May I ask how you broke into writing for television and movies?
Steve: I created The Night Man, the comic, for Malibu. Malibu sold the TV rights to Glen Larson, of Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider fame. There was no contractual obligation on Glen’s part to have me write any TV episodes, but he took the chance and my episode became the most often rerun in the series. So then I was a TV writer. It’s much like the Marvel story: if the door opens, go on through.
1st: Anything you would like to add, or questions that I should be asking, but haven’t, or anything else you would like to share, to wrap this up?
Steve: Nope. I think we’re good.
1st: As you know, from some personal email correspondence, I’ve wanted to talk to you for First Comics News for many, many years. I’m so very glad that it has finally happened!