Comic Book Biography: LOU MOUGIN

lou-mouginLou Mougin was born in 1954 in Iowa, has lived most of his life in Texas. He has been a comics fan since his mother bought him a copy of Mouse Musketeers in the late 1950s. He wrote a large amount of comics-based articles in the ’80s for Amazing Heroes, The Comic Reader, Comic Collector, and other fanzines, and did many interviews with comics pros for Comics Interview and The Comic Book Show, a local cable-access TV show in Dallas. Mougin has had stories published by Marvel, Eclipse, Heroic, and Claypool.

First Comics News: How did you start collecting comics?

Lou Mougin: Ho boy…well, back when I was about 4 years old or so and in the hospital, my mom bought me a copy of Dell’s Mouse Musketeers.  That was Tom, Jerry, and Tuffy in the time of the French Musketeers, and it was such a fun read that it led to my total downfall.

I collected all sorts of funny comics from 1959-63, and this was the heyday of the funnies, remember…Dell, Harvey, Pines, later Gold Key, and even Archie were riding high then.  DC also had a solid humor unit, with funny animals like Fox and Crow and the superlative Sugar and Spike.  Comics were more accessible then, more geared to kids.

Once or twice in there, I investigated a super-hero comic, maybe anAdventure Comics with Superboy, but very rarely.  Finally, on a trip up to the drugstore in ’63, I had Mom buy me a copy of Metal Men #2 and World’s Finest Comics #135, I believe.  That was my intro to superherodom, although I may have bought Magnus, Robot Fighter#1 before that.  From then on I discovered the rest of the DC hero books, then Marvel (first one of those was a Tales of Suspense with Iron Man vs. the Mad Pharaoh), and became a complete superhero junkie.  It was pretty near the start of Marvel’s Silver Age, and most of the DC hero books had only been out since the late Fifties, so it was almost like getting in on the ground floor.

1st: When did you start collecting information about the comics you read to produce your indexes?

Lou: I had assisted George Olshevsky on his Marvel Comics Indexes and done some work for Murray Ward on his Offiicial DC Index series.  Then I started writing fan fiction set in the DC Multiverse, and decided that it would not hurt to go through there and index all the Silver Age titles just to keep things straight.  It was fun but a lot of work at the same time…I had to borrow tons of books in order to fill gaps, and there probably still are some.

The first one I produced was the Supergirl index, because I was writing Supergirl fan fiction and Transformer Man, my host at the time, wanted to run it on his site.  So I wrote one up, complete with all her guest shots, and we posted it.  I did not stop there, though.  I was hooked, and I went on to index Superman and his related books, plus Batman, whom we had already done in prep for an index that never was published, and all the rest of the Earth-One heroes.

It was a heck of a lot of fun to try to make sense of Superman’s snarled chronology and get all his stories under one roof.  I think just the list of flashbacks that takes place before the Earth-One canon in the Superboy index takes about 7 pages.  They were always backing and filling in historical details about life on Krypton or Kal-El’s babyhood on both Krypton and Earth, or untold tales of Superboy, or how Jimmy Olsen got his job on the Planet, and so forth.

The fun bit was determining the cut off points:  where the Earth-One stories started and where they finished.  Generally, I held Detective Comics #225, with the first Martian Manhunter tale, as the cut of  point.  However, there were a few stories that went further back than that…for instance; I think all the Superman / Batman team up stories are on Earth-One, as is the run of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.  The cut off at the other end is generally Legends or Byrne’s Man of Steel and Miller’s Batman: Year One.  Anyway, that is my rule of thumb.

1st: Fantico published your first hero index, how did you get the job at Fantico?

Lou: As far as I know, Fantico did not pub any of my hero indexes.  The only things I wrote for them were a few Avengers articles.  The editor asked me to, after being steered my way by Cat Yronwode.

1st: How did you meet Cat Yronwode?

Lou: Back when her work first started appearing in comics fanzines, such as The Comics Journal, The Comics Reader, and such, I noticed the quality of her writing and wrote her a fan letter.  She wrote back in an excellent hand-written letter, “Wowie zowie!”  She apparently hadn’t gotten that much fannish attention yet, which was soon to come.  This was a bit before she started her “Fit To Print” column for The Buyer’s Guide.  We traded a lot of letters and I sent her copies of some upcoming articles that got printed in The Comics Reader later.  Soon enough we became phone pals and I called her a whole bunch of times.  She was great to bounce jokes off of!  We also had a long talk the night John Lennon died.  We were great pals through the Eclipse days and beyond.  Haven’t heard from her in awhile, but I trust she’s doing well.

1st: Amazing Heroes was the most popular magazine about comics in it day, how did you get involved with them?

Lou: Well, Dwight Decker was a friendly acquaintance of mine.  I had published a few articles in The Comics Reader that were well received, and he had asked me to come write for The Comics Journal, but I was not into that.  So instead, he offered me the chance to do something for Amazing Heroes, a much more fan-friendly magazine, instead.  I pitched them an article on Warren comics I had written for Comics Scene but failed to sell there.  Kim Thompson liked it, so did some of the readers, and I immediately had requests to do a lot more hero histories.  In fact, I did so many that I asked for a break!   Maybe that was a mistake, because I did not sell as many afterwards. However, it was a long and fun relationship.

1st:  Was this what lead to your involvement with the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe?

Lou: What led to my limited participation there…mainly writing a few entries…was my being a pen-pal of Mark Gruenwald’s from hisOmniverse days.  I wrote a batch of articles for Omniverse #3, which ended up never being published.  When Mark got the ‘go ahead’ to do The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Peter Sanderson asked me to do some of the entries for the book.  I wrote one on Kraven and I cannot remember what else.

1st: How did you end up doing hero histories on Airboy?

Lou: I was a big friend of Cat Yronwode and later of Dean Mullaney in the day and they knew I was a buff of Golden Age history.  I do not know if I had asked if they would like an index of the Hillman Airboys, which Don and Maggie Thompson ended up doing.  However, they did wind up asking me to do a history bit on the original Airboy and the Heap, which were fun.  Even Chuck Dixon liked them.

1st: What is it like selling your first story to Marvel?

Lou: Fantastic!  That was my first-ever comic script sale…the Inhumans stories.  OK, time for another origin story.

Way back just after Mark Gruenwald started working for Marvel, he was putting out a little newsletter called The Alternity Report for fans of Omniverse .  There was a column in there about continuity glitches that had never been resolved in Marvel stories.  One of them was about what happened to the Inhumans between their last story inAmazing Adventures and their appearance in the Skrull-Kree War inAvengers; there was a gap there.  I mentioned it to Mark in a phone conversation and he asked, why don’t you try to script a story with the answer?  They were running an “Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe” series in the middle of What If? at the time.  I jumped at the chance.

I wanted to do it like a mini-epic, and my first draft featured just about everybody I could think of, plus the Inhumans, tied it in with a Steranko SHIELD story, and ended with the villains, the Trikon, being a creation of Thanos.  Mark quite rightly told me to put the brakes on it, told me he’d fallen prey to the same over complex story syndrome when he was starting out, and just to try and simplify it down.  So I went back to the typewriter.

At that point, maybe, I started thinking of the intro of the first Inhuman, Medusa, in Fantastic Four #36.  She was on some French island, in a regular outfit, and nobody had explained what she was doing there.  Nor, really, had they explained quite how she got separated from the other Inhumans, how they came to look for her, how Black Bolt lost his crown to Maximus, and so forth.  In addition, I wanted to do a story that was more exciting and had more human drama than the other stories they’d been running in the Untold Tales spot…the Inhumans moving their Great Refuge, the origin of the Cat People, and so forth.  Okay stories, but not enough conflict and drama.

Soooo…the results were the five Inhumans stories, which fit in just before Fantastic Four #36 and then after #48.  Richard Howell, who’d been an editor of some of my fanzine articles, drew them quite well.  Then…wouldn’t you know…What If? went to one-story-per-book, and the Untold Tales spot was cancelled.  The thing had to wait about 8 or 9 years to finally get published.  If it’d shown up when and where it was supposed to, it would have looked a lot better.  Right now, I look at it, and my dialogue makes me cringe!  Still like the plots and Richard’s art, though.

1st: What type of feedback did you get from this story?

Lou: Outside of one review in Amazing Heroes, practically none.

1st: You had primarily done text pieces, at this point in your career. How did you make the transition to plotting Airboy?

Lou: Just in conversation, I think I told Dean that the Heap, the big swamp-monster from the old Airboy Comics, had fathered a son in his human identity, and I wondered what had happened to him and his descendants.  So he gave me the ‘go ahead’ to try and write some Heap stories telling what had happened to Von Emmelman’s son, grandson, and great-grandson.

I was under the influence of Watchmen at the time and the scripts superficially looked a lot like those kinds of Alan Moore pages.  Plus I probably (no, definitely) had too much dialogue.  Therefore, Cat and Dean called in Len Wein to pinch-hit and rewrite the stories.  He liked the plots, though, and followed them pretty faithfully.

Originally, the story was called “Regenerations”.  The reference would be first to Von Emmelman’s regeneration from a dead WWI pilot into the Heap; second, to each new generation of the Von Emmelman family in a story; and third, to a spiritual battle each of the Von Emmelmans would have during the course of the story.  In the case of the Heap’s son, it was his turning away from Nazism; in the case of his grandson, it was learning that combat wasn’t just what he was expecting it to be; and in the case of his great-grandson, it was a battle against cocaine addiction.  So that is how those things worked out.

1st: What was it like to work with Len Wein?

Lou: Well, I did not quite work “with” him!  He got my scripts, rewrote them, and Carmine Infantino drew them up.  I met Len at a San Diego Con shortly after the stories were published and he made a point of stepping aside with me and giving me some pointers about comics writing.  He also said that he thought they were good, solid plots.  I had our picture taken together…the Horrible Hairy Heap Brothers.

1st: Had you been a fan of Len’s work?

Lou: I thought Len’s JLA work was the best between Denny O’Neil’s and Steve Englehart’s.  His JLA / JSA team ups with the Seven Soldiers of Victory and the Freedom Fighters are still classics.  I also enjoyed the heck out of his Batman and some of his Swamp Thing work.  My favorite of his scripts is one you may not know about…a little one-shot story in Marvel Spotlight featuring the Warriors Three, Volstagg, Fandrall, and Hogun.  It reads like a 1940’s Warner Brothers screwball comedy, and it is a heck of a lot of fun.

1st: Mark Gruenwald had been your editor on the Offiicial Handbook, did he come to you and ask for an origin for the Swordsman or was this something you pitched to him?

Lou: How it came about was thus:  I had gotten copies of the Inhumans pages (see below) and took them with me to a San Diego Con, where I showed them to Tom DeFalco, the Editor-In-Chief of Marvel at the time.  I asked him about getting work and he said Mark was looking for stories to put in the back of Avengers Spotlight.  I had not been keeping up with Marvel for the last few years, so I started racking my brain for a character I could write that would not require me to chug down several years worth of funny books.

Then–voila!  Like Archimedes in the bathtub, inspiration hit.  If you write about a dead character, you do not have to worry about stories you have not read featuring him…there aren’t any!  The Swordsman filled the bill.

I started cogitating about the story when George Olshevsky, Murray Ward, Dennis Mallonee and some others went out to dinner.  Started pulling together the few shards of information we had about the Swordsman, who was a real mystery man…in his first appearance, he was said to be wanted by a whole bunch of countries.  For what?  When he fought and beat Captain America, he mentioned that men had died at his hands before.  What men, and when?  Finally, in an issue ofCaptain Marvel, he was shown speaking French.  Another clue.

When I put all those things together, it suggested to me that the Swordsman could have come from French Indochina (later Viet Nam) around the time of the Communist revolution.  I also thought it would be neat to hook him in with the Crimson Cavalier, a French hero Roy Thomas had done in a cameo in Invaders.  (Gruenwald joked that I was trying to do a Philip Jose Farmer thing there.)  I pitched the idea to Mark at the Marvel table the next day, and he liked the concept.  However, he told me not to set it in Vietnam, as that would tie the story down too much to a specific time.  Instead, I put it in Sin-Cong, a country the Avengers liberated from Communism an issue before the Swordsman first appeared.  That worked.

I wanted to do an anti-Communist story, but it could not be a stupid anti-Communist story.  That would not play anymore.  Instead, I had to show the reasons why somebody (in this case, the Swordsman) would choose to ally himself with the Commies, and then why he would see, a little too late, that he’d become the tool of a greater tyranny.  You can give all your heart, soul, and mind to a cause, and find out that it is the wrong cause.

Don Heck, who had originally drawn the Swordsman, was assigned to do the art and I really loved it.  It was like seeing a mid-SixtiesAvengers issue again.  Mark liked it, DeFalco liked it, and even Stan Lee wrote and said he liked it after I gave him a copy.  Didn’t get any more scripts sold there, though!

1st: When did you start doing indexing for the Grand Comic Database?

Lou: Hmmm, probably in the early 90’s.  I had been part of APA-I, the indexers’ APA, for a few years and then drifted away from it.  When the Internet opened up, the Grand Comics Database became something of a more centralized version of that.  I forget exactly who told me about it, but Bob Klein invited me in.  My first offerings were indexes of Hillman’s Airboy and the IW / Super comics.

However, I was mildly obsessed with getting data on all the Golden Age hero comics that had never been indexed.  Before the 90’s, that would have been impossible, at least for me.  However, at the time, there were a lot of 1940’s comics, which had been put on color microfiche, and I borrowed tons of them from two sources and indexed them.  That way, I was able to provide the Grand Comic Database with data on most of the runs of Fawcett, Quality, Nedor, Harvey, Prize, Fox, Fiction House, MLJ, Timely, you name it.  I was also able to read and research a whole bunch of Golden Age comics.  They were a lot of fun.

1st: What is APA-I, and how did you get involved?

Lou: APA-I was an amateur press alliance for comics indexers.  Twenty or so people would get together a contribution of at least four pages, usually a comic index or something related, make about 25 copies of it, and send it to a central mailer to be distributed to the members.  There were lots of different indexes distributed, covering DC, Marvel, Archie hero stuff, Magnus, etc., etc., ad infinitum.  Since I’m that kind of data buff, I reveled in it.  Cat got me into that one, but I eventually left it for the Grand Comic Database in the Internet Age.  Haven’t been active in the Grand Comic Database for several years, either, but I’m considering getting back in, I dunno.

1st: Why don’t the indexes contain your issues summaries?

Lou: If you mean plot synopses, it is because they were not in the Grand Comic Database format at the time.

1st: How did you get involved with Hero comics?

Lou: Dennis Mallonee had been a friendly acquaintance through George Olshevsky.  All of us, including Murray Ward, usually ended up staying over at George’s house for the San Diego Cons.  After he started publishing Hero Comics (later Heroic), I was looking for places to pitch stories.  Sparkplug seemed like an intriguing character to me, so I worked up a plot and pitched it to him.  He took it.

1st: You wore every other issue of Icicle, why every other issue?

Lou: Wasn’t intended to be that way!  He just asked me to do something with Icicle and Icestar vs. two villains, filling out a loose plot situation.  That was “The Wages of Synn” and the dialogue there is some of my favorite.  Unfortunately, the art turned out so badly that I can’t hardly read the thing.  I think he used a couple of my leftover plot elements for the story two issues after that, I can’t remember.

1st: You wrote the Sparkplug stories in League of Champions, what was it like working with Jim Valentino?

Lou: Well, it was sometime before his breaking in at Marvel and, later, Image, so it wasn’t like, “Oh my gosh, I’m working with the famous artist of Shadowhawk!”  He was assigned to do the art on the first Sparkplug story and did a very good job of it.  However, he did provide Dennis with some notes, which were critical of the storytelling, which Dennis passed on to me, and I found them quite helpful.  He also said that he enjoyed some of my ‘zine articles and liked working with me.  That’s always a plus.

1st: The series must have been popular, it lead to a mini-series. Was this your idea or Dennis Mallonee’s?

Lou: Originally, Sparkplug was going to be the permanent backup in League of Champions.  I think that was after I wrote the sequel to Valentino’s story, which was drawn by Scott Clark.  Germany had recently reunited then, and, since Sparky is a German character, I thought it’d be a heck of a fun thing to use Germany as the locale for the stories.  I had (still have) a good friend, Mike Davis, who’s a German and who served as technical advisor.  So I said, “I want to send Sparky to Germany,” and Dennis said, “Okay.”  The reason the three Sparkplug books have two-chapter stories is because they were written as League of Champions backups.

Then Dennis decided to put it out as a mini-series, which was fine by me.  Scott Clark was going to do the art, which was fine by me.  Except…Scott jumped ship to go to Image without finishing the first issue, and it had to be finished by somebody else, which left us with a REALLY uneven looking package!  (The finisher was going thru a personal crisis at the time, though, so it isn’t all his fault.)  Thankfully, Henry Martinez, my favorite collaborator of all, came along with the second issue.  We meshed greatly, and completed the last two issues.

Unfortunately, Heroic went out of business before the third issue could be published.  However, you can see the stories that were intended for it on the Sparkplug section of the Heroic Publishing website whenever they come up.

1st: The series was cut short at two issues, was this because of sale or part of the over all difficulties that Hero Comics was having at the time?

Lou: Part of the overall difficulties.  You’d have to ask Dennis.  I just think he was putting out too many comics at the time, many times without the right talent.

1st: After Sparkplug, you continued at Hero with another League of Champions and Flare.

Lou: Yep.  I was pitching more stories to him and I wanted to do a League story, kind of in the style of Roy Thomas’s Avengers.  I’m a nut on team books.  I felt the League stories hadn’t featured enough action and battles before, and the story, “Mole in the Mountain”, was a lot more action-oriented than most of its predecessors, I felt.  Henry Martinez drew the first issue and, again, I loved it.  You’ll know how old it is when you see George Bush, Sr. is the president shown on the cover.

After that, I was scheduled to be the regular writer on League, so I wrote up Marvel-style scripts for the next twelve issues and an annual.  Unfortunately, the company went belly-up after the first part of “Mole” got published.  That was disappointing.  The whole two parter is finally scheduled to be published this year, at the end of August.  We’ll see what it looks like then.

1st: That issue of Flare is featured at do readers have to know any back-story to enjoy the story?

Lou: Gee, I wouldn’t think so!  It was just a one-shot story.  I was planning on doing a longer arc of Flare stories, but they never saw print.

You have two new comics coming out; can you give us a little information about them?

1st: First, is the CHAMPIONS ANNUAL #3 on sale August 31, what can you tell us about the annual?

Lou: This one should be “Mole in the Mountain”, the story I mentioned above.  It was keyed by me reading about Mount Weather, the mountain that the government intended to use as an emergency headquarters in case of atomic attack.  The president shows up in the story for a super drill there, and while he’s inside, the bad guys snatch him, dump him in another dimension, and replace him with a duplicate.  The Champions get wind of the plot, though they don’t know all the specifics, and have to try and defeat a guy who looks like the president of the United States in the most heavily guarded security area in the nation.  The first half is by Henry Martinez, the second half is by another excellently talented guy whose name escapes me (sorry!), and I think you’ll enjoy it.  For the art, if nothing else.

1st: Next is Sparkplug #3 coming out in early 2006. This has been a long wait for fans of the mini-series. What can you tell us about the concluding issue?

Lou: Well, if you don’t want the story spoiled, don’t go to the Heroic website! The concluding issue will reveal the story of Sparkplug’s long-lost brother Tomas, the reason he’s been killing people, and the final battle between Tomas and Sparky.  It’s a corker!

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