First Comics News: Who helped you create Black Lightning and how did he come to be?
Tony Isabella: No one helped me create Black Lightning. Everything vital to the character was created before I ever pitched Black Lightning to DC. How he came to be is that I first created Jefferson Pierce, his schoolteacher secret identity, and built Pierce brick by brick until I knew pretty much everything about him…even though some of what I knew would never make it into the comics.
Once I knew who Jeff Pierce was, I added the super-hero elements to my creation. The actual Black Lightning name was inspired by this Wonder Woman cover showing her trying to lasso a black lightning bolt that was about to strike a building. She was saying something like “Hera help me stop this black lightning bolt!” I thought Black Lightning was a catchy name and used it.
Why did I create Black Lightning? Because DC was about to publish its first comic book headlining a black hero…and that hero would have been a white racist who turned into a black man. I’ve written about this character – The Black Bomber – in the past and the idea was as awful as you might imagine on every level. DC wanted me to punch up the two scripts they had purchased and then take over the book. I refused.
Ultimately, I talked them out of publishing that character and the
promise that I would create a new and different super-hero to be their first African-American headliner.
1st: Why is Black Lightning a great character?
Tony: Because Jefferson Pierce is a realm very relatable superhero.
He’s a reluctant warrior who would rather be a father and a teacher, but who knows he must use his powers for the community in which he lives. I think most readers see something of themselves in this character.
1st: What do you think of the upcoming TV series of Black Lightning?
Tony: I’m excited. Though I’ve no official role in the series, I have spoken with Salim and Mara Brock Akil, the show runners, and their vision for Black Lightning fits within my own concepts of my creation.
The show will have heart, meaning, super-hero action and, in combining those elements, also provide a platform for discussion of serious matters.
1st: You also created Black Goliath, for those who do not know who is Black Goliath?
Tony: Bill Foster was Hank Pym’s colleague at a time when Pym (aka Ant-Man, Giant-Man, and Goliath) was trapped at a giant size. They were working to reverse that condition. Later, Foster used their work to become a super-hero himself. I wanted to call him Giant-Man, but I was told Giant-Man had sold badly near the end of his run in Tales to Astonish. We went with Black Goliath to distinguish him from the Pym incarnation of Goliath, but I was never happy with that name.
1st: While working at Marvel, which character did you have the most fun with?
Tony: I don’t have a favorite per se, but I did enjoy writing a series of short stories starring the Rocket Racer for Jim Salicrup when he was an editor of the Spider-Man titles. The only character I didn’t enjoy writing wasn’t a Marvel hero. It was Lin Carter’s Thongor, a fourth-rate Conan knockoff.
1st: You also created Misty Knight and Tigra, how are these characters the same and different?
Tony: I created Misty Knight to be a partner for Danny Rand. She was intended to be a sort of smart-ass big sister who would always have his back and mock his naivete. But it was Chris Claremont who did the heavy lifting on her later on and took in some interesting directions.
As for Tigra, as I see her, she’s a woman coming into her own and dealing with life situations she never imagined. She faces all that with courage and sometimes desperate humor. When I wrote her, she had a tweaked version of Spider-Man’s repartee.
1st: Do you have any advice for novice writers?
Tony: Four quick pieces of advice.
Don’t talk about writing. Just write.
Get it in writing.
When you’ve gotten it in writing, have a lawyer look it over.
It’s better to be the first person to write your original creation than to be the 300th person to write Batman or Spider-Man.
1st: How did it feel to win the ECBACC Pioneer/Lifetime Achievement (PLA) Award?
Tony: It was the greatest honor of my career. Black Lightning is my favorite comics creation and to be recognized for creating him and for my other work with characters of color told me that all of my past struggles were worth it.
1st: What can people find at your blog
Tony: I write about new comics from around the world and about classic and not-so-classic older comics. I review movies, many of them cheesy monster and horror films. I write political and social commentary. I write about my career. I write about the conventions and other events I attend. Pretty much whatever strikes my fancy at the time I write the blog, which is updated daily most of the time.
1st: What are you currently working on?
Tony: I’m writing a new Black Lightning series for DC Comics. I just finished a book on comic books that hit the newsstand in July 1963. I have two other books in the works. I am preparing my Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales, which are legendary. I have a bucket list of over 300 things I want to write before I kick the bucket and am working on several of those. It’s almost easy to say what I’m not working on.
1st: How have comics changed over the length of your career?
Tony: There has been greater recognition of and more respect for the creators as comics have become a dominating force in the world of entertainment. Thanks to the Internet, despite all the hostile elements to be found in it, creators can reach out to one another and to their fans as never before.
When I started working in comics and would tell people that I wrote comics, their first question would almost always be:
Does that mean you draw the pictures?
Today, that first question is almost always:
Do you know Stan Lee?
That level of recognition for a comics creator is a wondrous thing. And, by the way, yes, I do know Stan. He was one of my first bosses in comics and we still keep in touch. Excelsior!
1st: Would you rather have Black Lightning or Black Goliath’s powers and abilities?
Tony: Black Lightning’s. I’m comfortable with my less-than-giant
size…and smart enough to realize Black Goliath is a much bigger target.
1st: Do you have anything to say to all of the people who have enjoyed your work?
Tony: I thank them for following me all these years. I hope I can continue to entertain and inform them for many more years to come.