Bob Haney Interviewed by Michael Catron Part Four (of Five)

Posted by on January 10th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Team-Ups in The Brave And The Bold

CATRON: Right. Now you were doing Brave and Bold team-ups from the beginning, even before they were Batman.

HANEY: I created the team-ups. I had a meeting with Irwin Donenfeld, George and I. Julie [Schwartz] had been editing the book. I had worked on it years before. Under Kanigher, I had done Robin Hood, Silent Knight, Viking Prince, blah, blah, blah. Little stories. OK, so now some years had gone by. Julie’s doing it. They weren’t happy with the sales and I guess Carmine [Infantino] was Editorial Director, right? I think I have the right time.

CATRON: Gee, I don’t know if he was that early or not.

HANEY: Maybe he wasn’t yet. But he was soon.

CATRON: Right. But at that point Brave and Bold was doing Showcase-type material.

HANEY: With Julie editing it, right?

CATRON: Right. And they —

HANEY: They weren’t happy. The sales were dropping or something. So they gave it to George. Right?

CATRON: I think that’s right.

HANEY: Oh, yeah. It has to be George. Yeah. And me. Because I was George’s writer. OK, so we sat down and I said — and we had a meeting with Irwin Donenfeld. That I can remember pretty well. I said, “How about —?”

There had been team-ups. I didn’t create team-ups. It’s not that big a thing to create the idea, anyway. I said, “Well, how about we wheel one of the major house characters and have a guest-team guy with him each time?” That was the concept at heart.

And I wanted Superman, right? [Laughs.] Well, that was Mort [Weisinger]’s preserve. And he was jealously guarding that. He wouldn’t let us have Superman. Of course, he was close with Liebowitz and he’d be — there was no way we were going to get that. So I said, “All right. Batman.” Well, obviously — wow. Well, Batman — Wait a minute, who was editing? Julie was editing it or somebody else.

CATRON: That would have been about the time Julie came in.

HANEY: So I said, “We’ll keep Batman as the wheelhorse.” It was a very calculated thing. Because he was, after all, the second biggest character in the house. I liked Batman. I actually preferred him to Superman, it’s just that Superman was bigger. I said, “We’ll wheel him with guest characters.” And I started doing it in Brave and the Bold.

Wait, I’m a little bit out of synch, here, to be accurate. Because I didn’t do Batman the first few team-ups.

CATRON: Right. I was just about to —

HANEY: No, the first few team-ups were not Batman.

CATRON: Atom and the Flash —


From The Brave and the Bold #53 (May 1964). Art by Alex Toth. ©1967 DC Comics

HANEY: Let’s get this straight. Some of the early stories were different. Then they threw some of Julie’s stuff in there. I didn’t really get total control of the book for another half-year because there was some other stuff that — Kanigher did one and somebody else did one and Bob and Julie did some stuff. [According to the Grand Comics Database (www.comics.org), Robert Kaniger edited The Brave and the Bold #52 (“3 Battle Stars” — Sgt. Rock, Haunted Tank, Johnny Cloud, and Mlle. Marie) and Julie Schwartz edited The Brave and the Bold #61-62 (Starman and Black Canary).]

Anyway, when I finally got around to just teaming Batman as the wheelhorse with another superhero each time, that came a little later. I kept watching the sales figures. Every month, we’d look at the sales figures and if he was teaming with Wildcat, how did it do? Well, if it did all right, we’d throw in Wildcat again. So it was a very cold, calculating thing. I remember Carmine being in on the meetings. So he must have just started as editorial director shortly thereafter. He liked the way I was handling the book and the book was a solid seller. That’s all they were interested in, right?

I did a lot of my best work on Brave and Bold. I did good solid stories and plots and I had some fairly, reasonably imaginative ways of linking up the characters, or creating a plot that tied in with the particular guest star. Even Batman himself. I can remember half a dozen stories that I thought were superior.

A lot of kids — a lot of our fans liked it. We got a lot of letters. The book sold well. And I did the damn book for what? Thirteen years?

CATRON: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

HANEY: I even got huzzahs from Paul Levitz. [Laughs.] Until he fired me off the book years later.

CATRON: [Laughs.] Well, I’ve got some early issues here. Here’s the first one, apparently, Green Arrow and Manhunter from Mars.

HANEY: Yeah, that’s it. Yeah.

CATRON: Then there’s a Flash/Manhunter from Mars.

HANEY: Right, right.

CATRON: That’s just a couple issues later. And Flash and Doom Patrol.

HANEY: Right.

CATRON: And, of course, Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad.

HANEY: Yeah, the first Teen Titans.

CATRON: Right. Before they were called the Teen Titans. It was just a three-way team-up, apparently.

HANEY: Right. I came up with the name. Teen Titans. Which is no great shakes but I mean, now — how many years later? — under Marv [Wolfman] it became a major title. In those days, as I may have said in our last phone interview, the PR research that they had done showed — this is still the early ’60s — the average reader was a 12-year-old boy living in Dayton, Ohio. [Laughter.] Who was not that sophisticated. So a lot of my stuff I wrote in the ’60s was aimed at him. Generic little boy. It was simple stuff. It was not sophisticated.

We were still working under the Code, pretty much. It’s pretty quaint reading it now, you know. I don’t pretend it was any great thing. I was proud of the work I did on Brave and Bold because I was a journeyman writer and I was churning out the stuff and they were solid stories. I put a lot more work and effort into them than the money I got for them. You know?

Those plots were tight and the dialogue was good and I worked hard on them. It was easy to write a crappy, quick story. Like the war stuff for years, you know. But this stuff was hard work. A lot of guys wrote in and liked the stories. There was a lot of plot. There [were] a lot of twists and turns in them and creativity — and it sold.

CATRON: This was the big period of upheaval over the Vietnam War, the hippy movement, and all this kind of stuff.

HANEY: Well, I was involved in that. I went to Washington a few times. I was against that war. I went to antiwar meetings as early as — Arnold and I went. Arnold’s an old liberal — as early as ’64 and ’5. We went to meetings of the old Left against that war. Later I was in Washington. Anyway, that’s a side issue. But the ’60s were a great period. [Laughs.] They were a great period here in Woodstock. For many reasons. [Laughter.]

CATRON: Including that concert over in Bethel, right? [Laughs.]

HANEY: Yeah, well sure. Yeah. The concert. Fifty miles away. I had friends there. My son went, in fact.

CATRON: Oh yeah?

HANEY: He was there the whole three days. I was going down to meet him and a friend of mine who was there — a radio guy — called and said, “You can’t get through. Don’t try to come down.” But some of the musicians I knew were down there.

Blame it on the barber

CATRON: So Bob, where did all that dialogue come from?

HANEY: That awful stuff?

CATRON: [Laughs.] Yeah, that awful stuff.

HANEY: Some of that stuff you did hear around here. That’s what some of the people who were criticizing me didn’t appreciate. Around Woodstock, you did hear some of that. You heard a better form and a more raunchy form. You couldn’t put that in the comics. I had to water it down and make it kind of juvenile. But, you know, some of the rap — my barber here, he’s an old ex-hippy. But he’s a great rapper. His stuff’s very creative and very interesting and very adult. I used to go get a haircut and I’d come back and type in all his dialogue that he’d given me in my ear while he was cutting my hair. [Laughter.] I never told him I was making money out of him. When I wrote Karate Kat years later I used a lot of his dialogue. Young people who worked on the strip — it was TV cartoons, animation — they met me and they said, “Where’d an old guy like you learn all this kind of hip talk?” [Laughs.] I didn’t tell them it was my barber in Woodstock.

Haney’s signature slang: panel from “Large Trouble in Space-Ville!” in Teen Titans #12 (Nov-Dec. 1967 penciled by Irv Novick, inked by Nick Cardy and lettered by Morris Waldinger. ©1967 DC Comics Click to view larger image.

Anyway, the dialogue in a lot of the stuff for the Teen Titans was very — you know, what can I tell you? It was quaint and it was maybe funny to laugh at, not with —

CATRON: It is interesting to look back. There’s a particular story that I’m going to jog your memory here on a Teen Titans story. It was called “The Astounding Separated Man.” [The Brave and the Bold #60, June-July 1965.] In that story, it’s like the kids take over the town and they’re all running around with transistor radios and riding on Hondas. At the time, of course, Honda was a synonym for motor scooter.

HANEY: Yeah, of course.

CATRON: It was well before they brought any automobiles over here. To me, I look back on that story as sort of a snapshot of a certain period in American history.

HANEY: Yeah, talk about dated. Of course, well, comics, they’re just the lowest form of popular culture. What the Germans called kitsch. Nowadays, of course, they’re art. And they are much better; they’re much more — great creativity and serious talent. But in those days, they were — read Jules Feiffer. Jules Feiffer did one of the — in that book of his, The Great Superheroes, is that the name of it? [The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer, Dial Press, 1965. Reprinted by Fantagraphics Books, 2003.] His analysis is quite good. It’s kid’s junk. Kid’s poison. Adults have their junk. Whether it’s booze or sex or whatever. Kids needed junk. And the junk was comics for years. That’s why it sought the level that it did. But all of a sudden, as much as comics were shamed and put down and attacked and vilified, we wrote a lot of “literate stuff.” Quotes around the word “literate,” in the sense that a lot of kids finally learned more about reading the English language from that than anything else. Because they would read comics but they wouldn’t read, maybe, what the teacher assigned.

CATRON: Or they’d read it and not remember it because they just weren’t interested.

“The biggest movies of all are all comic books.”

HANEY: Look at the effect that it’s had on Hollywood. I mean, comics — Hollywood feeds on comics now. The biggest movies of all are all comic books. Independence Day — I happen to know the father of the producer, the young producer, who just got a check for $40 million. And that’s a comic book!

CATRON: Sure. Of course it is.

HANEY: Young Devlin, Art’s son [Dean Devlin], who is the producer of that movie, grew up on comics. Spielberg used to come to the DC office. I don’t know if anybody remembers that.

CATRON: Tell me those stories.

HANEY: There were kids that used to come up. Some of them you sort of remembered — you didn’t know all their names. It was only years later — and I’m trying to remember who told me this — he said, “You remember that one kid? That was Spielberg!” I don’t remember him personally, specifically. But Spielberg used to come up and hang out when he was 12 or 13. He was a comics fan.

My best story about fans, though, is when Carmine was editorial director. Late ’60s, we’re talking, right? I came into the office one day, I’d just come down from Woodstock. There’s Carmine standing with sort of an elegant-looking middle-aged gentleman, who didn’t look American. And Carmine had this funny look on his face.

He said, “Hey, Bob. Come over here. There’s someone who wants to meet you.” Carmine didn’t really know who the guy was. It was Alain Resnais, the great French director. Are you familiar with him?

CATRON: More by reputation. But I know who you’re talking about.

HANEY: Yeah, right. Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima mon amour. Anyway, he’s a middle-aged guy at that point. And I said — I know a little French — “Oh, Monsieur Resnais!” I thought to myself, “What the fuck’s he doing here?”

Well, Carmine had no idea who he was. Because Carmine’s not a cultured guy, particularly. Or maybe he didn’t go to French movies, I don’t know. But the guy had come up to the office. Somebody had brought him up or something. And he’s interested in looking at how the work was produced. Especially in the production room. And he says, “Ahhh! Brave and Bold!

And I said, “Yeah?” Because that was my baby, you know.

He said, “Oh, so marvelous. The black and whites. The camera angles. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!”

This great, this film director — And I say, “Well, Monsieur Resnais, I am a fan of yours, too.” [Laughter.]

It was a nice moment. But it was so funny. Ironic. But then Spielberg as a kid came up. It all goes back to what I said a few minutes ago. The influence of comics. I remember when the first Batman and Superman movies came out, right? I said to people, “They are going to make unbelievable money, whether they’re good or bad.” And they said, “Why? How do you know that?” And I said, “Because for decades, a couple of generations have grown up. It’s pre-sold.’’ And they did. They made unbelievable amounts of money. Spielberg — most of Spielberg’s movies are comic books. Brilliantly done. He’s a very brilliant guy, you know. I’m not taking anything away from him. But he — you know, they’re comic books. And he’s the first to admit it. They’re just — and they’re done, of course, by a brilliant guy, with modern production methods and all the other stuff they use today. Like Jurassic Park, with all the modern computer stuff they can do, these amazing things. So finally comic books can be brought to life. What was the appeal of comic books before? Well, you couldn’t do that in any other medium. But a guy sitting at a drawing board with a pencil and big sheet of paper could, in a minute, draw a tornado. He can draw a dinosaur and have it bite somebody’s ass. Look at King Kong, the best special effects of the day. They look pretty crude today. But here, finally, in the modern movies, you can do justice to what a comic book can do. Now, as I understand it, with the computerized stuff, you don’t even have to do it with sets and mock-ups. Or models. You can just do it, right?

CATRON: Yeah. Now you can just draw the comic book on the screen and integrate the actors into it.

HANEY: Yeah, right. I watch these things on television on how they create this stuff; it’s marvelous. Of course, I’m still a literary type. A story-man type. I would rather watch two guys talking, if what they are talking about is interesting and significant and grabs me, than 47,000 dinosaurs charging down the avenue. Why is Shakespeare still the greatest dramatist? Well, you know, it’s people talking at each other, but it’s also the great depth of it along with the great resonances of it all.

CATRON: Well, all right, I think that brings us to Metamorpho.

Next: In the conclusion of this five-part interview, Bob Haney talks about collaborating with artist Ramona Fradon on Metamorpho, working for Filmation, the failure of cartoonists to unionize in the ’60s, Carmine Infantino’s undoing, Jenette Kahn’s arrival at DC, reviving Batman and leaving DC for good.

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