Monday, September 15, 2014

A Very Special CMNS: The Kim Metzger Interview

Dear Ones, today is a day most huge because we have the long awaited interview with Kim Metzger, who designed the iconic Saturn Girl costume from the Silver Age.  You know, the one that looks like this:

As is true of most things awesome, this interview  was a group effort.  Reader Ed Hyde helped me locate Kim, so he gets a big thanks for that. Now, lets pick the brain brain one of the very few fanboy doodlers who achieved the near-impossible: His idea became part of a comic he loved.

While many of us, myself included, have been known to doodle new looks for our favorite characters, most of us those end up in the trash.  But not Kim Metzger.  Kim not only got to see his sketch in print, this design was used for decades of Saturn Girl appearances in the Legion of Super-Heroes.  And it's not like she was a minor character.  For those who don't aren't nerdlingers, Saturn Girl was one of the original three members of the Legion.  Incredible!  Now let's get to it:

For those who don't know, how did you make the jump from coming up with a new design to actually getting it in the hands of the decision-makers?

I was able to do it because, at the time DC was looking for a new costume. Not for Saturn Girl, but for Supergirl. The man who had edited the Superman titles since the end of WWII, Mort Weisinger, was retiring. The new people coming in wanted to make some changes, and this included changing Supergirl’s outfit. They asked readers for designs for a new costume, and I decided to take a shot.

But, while I was working on Supergirl, I kept thinking of a letter that had appeared months, maybe years, before in Adventure Comics which, at the time, was where the Legion of Super-Heroes appeared. A reader had written in asking if the costumes for the female Legionnaires could be "little more – a little less?" The response asked who the reader was thinking of, Saturn Girl. The opinion was that if they abbreviated nearly any of the costumes for the other "girl Legionnaires," they might not get past the Comics Code.

But that made me think of Saturn Girl’s costume. I considered it to be an ugly thing. (Then again, Saturn Girl herself didn’t do much for me, either.) When the Legion got their feature in Adventure, they were drawn by an artist named John Forte. Forte had been the artist on "Tales of the Bizarro World," which was the feature the Legion replaced in Adventure. Forte was great with the blocky Bizarros, and he could do some terribly sexy women. All you had to do to realize that was look at his version of Dream Girl when she first appeared. But Saturn Girl wasn’t one of those sexy women, and her outfit didn’t help. So I decided to try giving Saturn Girl a new look.  (It was kind of a moot point by this time. It was 1970 when the call went out for a new look for Supergirl. Forte had died in 1966 at the young age of 47.)

(And here's a look at Dream Girl, when she first appeared:

Note that the boy she chose is the one who offered to get her drunk. Watch and learn, fellas!

I wasn’t an artist. But I had gotten in the habit of making "art" of some of my favorite comic book women by using carbon paper. For those of you who weren’t born when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, carbon paper was used to make duplicates of records, letters, and about anything typewritten by putting a sheet behind the sheet that was being typed on, and another sheet behind the carbon paper. Whatever was being typed would then have an instant copy made by the carbon paper leaving an imprint on the paper behind the carbon, a "carbon copy." Carbon paper was also used with mimeograph paper that made some of the earlier fanzines.

Anyway, I traced the form of a one-time Supergirl villainess, drew my costume over it, and then sent it, with my Supergirl design to Weisinger at DC Comics and, without warning, in Action Comics #392, my outfit made its debut.

(Can you imagine how you'd respond if your submission suddenly showed up in a major publisher's title?  And it's not like this was a one-time appearance, like this one:

Speaking of which, anyone know how to get in touch with Dave Elyba? -adam)

Did you design any other costumes? Did you get any feedback? Did you happen to save any of those designs so we can see them?

I tried, believe me. But, the issue after my design first appeared, the Legion was dropped from Action Comics! The new editor, Murray Boltinoff, decided to have Action devoted entirely to Superman. Boltinoff was also the editor of Superboy, and decided he’d have the Legion make occasional appearances as the Boy of Steel’s back-up. The fans made it clear they weren’t happy with that idea, and, eventually, Superboy became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and then The Legion of Super-Heroes.

I did try submitting some other Legion designs at the time, but none of them were accepted. And I soon learned that other fans were submitting their own designs, much better than mine. And I also learned that many of the Legion fans who were my age hated the new outfits, and some blamed me for the existence of the other outfits, even though the newer outfits were eventually designed by the talented Dave Cockrum.

One other thing: In the past, I’ve stated my Saturn Girl costume was inspired by an outfit worn by Diana Rigg on The Avengers. (A British TV series of the 1960s, no relation to the Marvel Comics super-team.) Perhaps it was, but, looking back, I don’t remember consciously looking at the outfit when I designed Irma’s costume. At that time, I was thinking several costumes of several super-heroines were actually glorified bathing suits. So I decided Saturn Girl would have the first cutaway bathing suit as a costume. Some people refer to it as the "bikini costume." But it was never a bikini, it was a cutaway. 

Were the fashions of the Legion a cautionary tale? In other words, are we *really* going to see bouffants again like we did with the Silver Age Phantom Girl?

I think the bouffants were mostly the idea of the aforementioned John Forte. Besides the Legion and the Bizarros, Forte’s main title was Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. There was a running theme in Jimmy’s comic that Jimmy was forever encountering some pretty exotic woman, some of whom would fall in love with him, some of whom he would fall in love with, and, sometimes, the attraction was mutual, but something would end the relationship. (One of my favorites was where Jimmy fell in love with an alien woman. But, when they finally met face to face, hers was a race of giants, and Jimmy broke it off. I know a lot of people these days, especially on deviantART, who would happily have stayed with the giantess.) Anyway, a lot of those women also had the bouffants. It was obviously something Forte liked. Whether or not they’ll ever return in real life, it’s hard to say. Depends on if the nostalgia for the style ever becomes big.

Pick the most useless Legionnaire: Dream Girl, Princess Projectra, Dawnstar. There is no wrong answer. How did Triplicate Girl get into the Legion? Three scrawny girls isn't much more effective than one scrawny girl.

Some people may know that, for three-and-a-half glorious years, I was Staff Editor on Comics Buyer’s Guide, assistant to Don and Maggie Thompson. Why I lost that job is a story for another time. But, the first time I mentioned being a Legion fan, they mentioned when a friend of theirs, also a comics fan, visited them years before. I think they were preparing dinner or something, and left the friend by himself. He was drinking something of having a light snack at the same time he leafed through a Legion story. As they told it, they suddenly heard him laughing out loud saying "Bouncing Boy? Triplicate Girl? Matter-Eater Lad?" They then had to come to his aid because he was choking on whatever he’d been swallowing at the time while reading the comic book.

In other words, the Legion has always, admittedly, had it more absurd elements and members. If I had to chose, I’d have to select Matter-Eater Lad as the most questionable member.

But this question ignores something that, I think, has always been an unmentioned part of the Legion’s appeal. I know that I, and I’m sure other fans, read the Legion and thought "All I have to do is get a power, make my way to the 30th Century of Earth-One, and I can probably be in the Legion! If some of the people who are already there can make it, I can make it!"

Keith Giffen also recognized that, which is why he was able to do some stories where the Legion didn’t take itself quite so seriously – especially his Legion of Substitute Heroes Special.

Have you been able to follow the Legion through all of its various incarnations? If so, which is your favorite era and why?

I was a big fan in the 1960s, especially during Jim Shooter’s era, even when he was doing the "Legion of Shooter Heroes." (Every issue featuring Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, etc.) And, I realize I may be in the minority, but I loved what was being done by Jeff Moy and company. That was the Legion I considered to be my Legion, and an amazing job was being done keeping up with the various members. But someone decided it had to be dark. After the original Legion Lost series, I began to lose my fondness for the group.

Which Legionnaire's costume was actually *worse* when it was updated?

I’d have to say Cosmic Boy’s, and I could never understand why it was updated. Dave Cockrum said he didn’t touch Cosmic Boy’s costume because Cosmic Boy was such a square, his costume fit him perfectly. I don’t agree with the "square" part, but I do think the outfit was just right for him.

When they altered it slightly (Grell, I think, though I don’t know if he actually designed it), you just had the black panels and leggings on it, no signs of any other cloth. I had two theories about it: That it was a ferrous material that Cosmic Boy kept on with his magnetic powers or, Cosmic Boy coated his skin with something that made him grow little, hairy hooks and the costume was velcro.

There will now be a pause while everyone reading this goes "Ouch!"

Your favorite Legionnaire's costume ever?

I think I’d say Ultra Boy’s. Something that bothered me when the new designs began to pop up after my Saturn Girl outfit appeared was that someone decided to redesign Ultra Boy’s outfit. And I didn’t think it needed it. If nothing else, it used brown, and you don’t see enough brown on super-hero costumes.

 I've seen that you've also written some stories of your own. Any chance you'll make those digitally available? If not, can you tell us a bit about them so we'll know what we're missing out on?

 I have a novel. I published it by print-on-demand, and it can be ordered at a decent price through Amazon.

Its basic idea is Captain Marvel (Shazam!) in reverse: An 25-year-old aspiring comic book artist accidentally turns herself into her character, a 12-year-old super-heroine! And she can’t change back. I had one person at a con telling me that was a really depressing story. It isn’t, I tried to do something with a sense of delight to it. In the years since, however, I’ve been told it reminds people of someone else: Mary Sue. (In a nutshell, a "Mary Sue" is where the character is a proxy of the author.  The author is inserting him or herself into the story under the guise of the character.  EDIT:  Apparently, I used a different definition than the original.  A "Mary Sue," in it's original form, was a character that was ridiculously perfect in every way... much like most John Grisham characters and the protagonist in the tv show, "Covert Affairs." - adam)

I’ve a number of stories I’ve written in my deviantART site. Some are vignettes, some are comic-book scripts never drawn, some are short stories, and some are, to be honest, some of the worst puns you’d ever want to lay eyes on. I need to warn people, though, they’re going to find the subjects of my gallery (a collection of art I’ve commissioned from others over the years) a little strange.

If you were in charge of the entire comics industry, what would you change?

I know I’d probably sink it, but I’d strive mightily to turn it away from the Dark Side. Yes, there are some characters that are dark and should stay that way, Batman being the best example. But not every character or comic book should be dark.  (Amen! - adam) I didn’t care for Man of Steel and I may be one of the few fans not looking forward to Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice. Superman is not Batman, Superman should not be a dark character. Only in an Elseworlds story or Injustice should Superman be dark.

What was your reaction when Saturn Girl's costume was changed *from* your design?

At first, I was hoping it was a temporary situation, that fans would howl for the return of my design. But, in the years since, I’ve been thinking about it, and something occurred to me that did not occur to the admittedly hormone-controlled teenager who designed the outfit: Imagine if you’re a woman walking around in that costume. And you have the ability to read the minds of everyone around you who is looking at you. Can you imagine some of the thoughts you might pick up? It might be a good way to steel yourself against other’s emotions, but I don’t know if you’d care to do it full time. (Around *Legion of Super-Heroes* 280 or 281, I seem to recall that Saturn girl was trapped in the 20th century and commented that she was picking up thoughts "worse than wolf whistles" from the locals regarding her costume - adam)

I’ve often thought of doing a short-story, and might’ve done it had the Legion not suffered its most recent cancellation. Imagine a convent on an asteroid, under an Argo City-like dome or something, with a population of nuns. And they learn Saturn Girl is coming to visit. They’re all excited, she has fans there, they can’t wait for her to arrive – and she shows up in the cutaway costume. There’s a lot of shock, probably more than a little judging. But then Saturn Girl catches the real reason for her visit – a criminal, a psychopath who has disguised himself as a woman, as one of the nuns. And Saturn Girl dressed in that costume, figuring his thoughts would lead her to him. (Yes, I know, there would probably be some of then nuns who would find Saturn Girl in that outfit to be – interesting. But I theorize their thoughts wouldn’t be quite the same a the man she’s after.) When Saturn Girl takes the crook to prison and returns to Legion Headquarters, she puts her regular outfit back on.

Given that H-E-R-O and the 1980's version of Suicide Squad were the two best comic book series ever, what is the distant third and why?

That’s hard for me to say. Due to finances following a move for a new job last year, I don’t have the ability to buy comic books as I used to. Suicide Squad, Dial H for H-E-R-O, the New 52 version of Wonder Woman (which the mythology buff in me really likes – the Greek deities were NOT nice creatures) I follow in the trade paperback collections. I’ve been enjoying Spider-Man during and following the whole Superior Spider-Man series, and I’ve always liked The Hulk, though not as much since Peter David left. And, though it goes against what I was saying about my dislike of things dark, I do like Afterlife with Archie. That may be because I know that John Goldwater, the editor who spurred the creation of Archie, was one of the major factors behind the Comics Code Authority. And, even after the Code’s revision in 1971 following Stan Lee’s Spider-Man drug stories, the one kind of monster that could still not appear in Code-approved books, were zombies. So, to see Riverdale overrun by Zombies, that’s a kick. And I imagine John Goldwater, where ever he is, is wishing he could come back from the dead himself right now and visit the Archie offices.

Have you done any non-comic related art? Where can we see it online?

Again, I’m not an artist. What’s in my gallery on deviantART  is stuff I’ve commissioned from other artists. Most of it is based on my ideas. But I didn’t draw any of it myself. Everything in my gallery that is text, however, is my stuff.

How could Dave Cockrum have been so awesome and yet have been of mortal flesh?

I don’t know. I did get to meet him face-to-face a few years before he died. He appeared at a Sunday IndyCon in Indianapolis. I was able to find for him something he didn’t have himself and wanted (Roy Thomas’ Superman:War of the Worlds Elseworlds story) and got a lovely sketch of Storm by him. He did right by the Legion and X-Men. (In the early 80s, there was a talk of a Marvel/DC Legion/X-Men crossover, but they went for the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover instead.) We need more people like him in comics today.  (I remember the talk of the Legion/X-Men crossover.  As memory serves, the New Teen Titans were insanely popular so that was the way DC chose to go.  It's a shame.  It's also worth noting, as another reader pointed out, that elements of Saturn Girl's costume were appropriated by Cockrum in Storm's original/iconic look. - adam)

Did you see the LSH animated series? What did you think?

I enjoyed it, it was helping a lot of kids and adults who had never heard of the Legion find out about the group. It had to be toned down slightly for Saturday mornings and, since today’s Superboy is the clone, they had to make it Superman in his earliest days in the costume. But I thought it was fun. And I like that they worked the Ferro Lad/Sun-Eater storyline into it.

What effect do you think the influx the comic-based tv shows, movies and animated series have on the printed comics?

It’s hard to say. Nick Fury was black, Samuel L. Jackson, in fact, in Marvel’s Ultimate line before the movies came out. I think we should enjoy this while we can, because, like westerns, like secret agents, like the heyday of Freddy and Jason, this eventually is going to burn itself out. While I like Ant-Man (Henry Pym was the first Marvel hero I encountered), I’m not sure how many movie-goers are going to buy the concept.

Best LSH character in a bad costume?

Probably Dawnstar. One of my best friends is one of the biggest Dawnstar fans you’d ever want to meet. Yes, there are Dawnstar fans. Her power is a utilitarian one, useful but not really that great in battle. But my friend has a fetish for women with wings and long hair. So he loves Dawnstar.

Worst LSH character in a good costume?

Sorry, but, again, Matter-Eater Lad.

Tyroc.: Will we ever be able to mention him without cringing?

This takes me back to the aforementioned Murray Boltinoff. I get the feeling that Boltinoff was something that fans just would not be able to understand these days: He was a man working in comic books to whom it was all just a job. He tended to stumble onto things by announcing in the letter columns of the comics he edited that he was against them. He didn’t see any big fandom for the Legion, so he took them out of Action and put them in Superboy on a semi-regular basis until the fans made it clear they wanted them on a regular basis. He didn’t think comic books should be relevant (this was in the wake of the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series) and fans made him do a relevant Superboy story (though relevance had little place in a series set decades in the past – though it could’ve capitalized on the 50s nostalgia craze). He told fans not to send in any of their "amateur" scripts because he had pros like Cary Bates and Bob Haney writing the stories, and kind of kicked off the Junior DC element of the 70s – what we’d now call interns. He said no one wanted to see Golden Age heroes teaming with Batman in Brave and Bold, and soon had to have Batman meeting Wildcat (though Boltinoff NEVER understood the multiple Earth concept).  (Wildcat showed up in some weird places.  Not only did he show up with the Earth-One Batman in the B&B, but he also teamed up with the Creeper in the second issue of Super-Team Family. - adam)

Well, fans were saying that there should be a black Legionnaire, so Tyroc was created. I think the fans were hoping race relations would’ve improved some in the thousand year future that the Legion represented, but you couldn’t tell it with Tyroc. He was eventually written out and the black Invisible Kid came in, a much better character in the minds of most fans. Consider Tyroc to be to the Legion what Apache Chief was to Super-Friends.

Any advice for fanboys and fangirls who dream of leaving their stamp in comics history like you did?

The hobby has grown so much in the decades since I created that outfit. Most of the civilized world (and especially Hollywood) knows what ComiCon in San Diego is. The Doctor and Daleks are appearing on weekly American magazine covers. And, above all, in San Diego, Chicago, New York, anywhere there’s a major comic book or science-fiction show, fans can show their portfolios to editors and maybe get assignments. (When I was with Comic Buyer’s Guide, I was part of a group of aspiring artists and writers overseen by Dennis Jensen, the last inker to do justice to Carmine Infantino’s art. And we had a 15-year-old kid come in who was a Mozart of comic-book art, he could just sit down and draw stuff that would blow everyone else away! While he was still in high school, he was given a test script to draw by DC for The Shadow! That was Brandon Peterson. Google him if you don’t know who he is.) So fans today have access to much more than they did when I was their age – especially the Internet.

Looking back at my life in comics, I’ve come to look at myself as the Ann Marie of comic books. Ann Marie was a character played by Marlo Thomas in "That Girl," a series that ran on ABC from 1966 - 1971. She was an aspiring actress trying hard, but never quite making the big break that made her a star.

Over the years, I’ve submitted ideas and scripts to DC, Marvel, Archie, and others. I’ve had a few things published in the adult mini-comic "Goodies" under my pseudonym, Zeke T Grimm. (An anagram of my real name.) But I just never quite made the breakthrough.

But don’t let what happened to me discourage you. I could’ve tried to work a lot harder, I did not. Keep at it. Never give up on your dreams.

Well, that was all kinds of amazing.  Thanks so much to Kim for taking the time to share his thoughts with us.  He'll always have a place in comic history, and that's a pretty dang cool thing to be able to say.  Best of luck, Kim!

Meanwhile, I'll see you fine people again tomorrow!


wordsmith said...

Thanks for a great interview, Adam--I learned a lot about Murray Boltinoff, who played such a large part of what was then my favorite series, the LoSH. I believe that the Dave Elyea who designed Mal's costume in Teen Titans #49 is the same one who contributes to the "Captain Comics" webpage; I'd leave a link but I'm inept. It's a fun site, you should check it out.

Also, I agree with Patrick McEvoy's assessment from 2 posts ago about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; the first season was more miss than hit, but it improved radically in the second, and kept it going for most of the rest of the series.

wordsmith said...

And I believe the reason that John Forte drew so many bouffants was that they were a popular style then, which I can jussst dimly recall while squinting my memory (yes, I'm old).

Adam Barnett said...

I'll see what I can find at Captain Comic, wordsmith! Thanks!

Shar said...

What an absolutely fascinating interview--kudos to you both! I think Saturn Girl's costume looks somewhat like the actress Chris Noel's cut-out bathing suit in the 1968 film For Singles Only, here's a link to an image:

Btw in Adventure #398 the editors give a shout out to some readers who've sent in Supergirl costume designs; among the readers cited is "K. Haven Metzger of Columbia City, Indiana." There's also a snippet of a costume design with cut out sides... ;)

Anyway, thanks again for a great post and interview!


Patrick McEvoy said...

Great interview - thanks!