Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Michael Fleisher Interview

On a flight of wild abandon I contacted Darren Schroeder of the Comics Bulletin to see if he could put me in touch with Michael Fleisher. Lo & behold he did and Mr. Fleisher was more than kind enough to answer my questions. We exchanged emails over a few months, & while my interview skills are sadly lacking, Mr. Fleisher was gracious to indulge this long-time fan (-atic).

Here for the first time on Matching Dragoons, Michael Fleisher:

Dwayne @ Matching Dragoons: Did you have an interest in Westerns prior to Hex & Scalphunter?

Michael Fleisher: I have adored Westerns for as long as I can remember. My parents were divorced when I was a kid, I lived with my mother, and my dad would come collect me on Saturday afternoons and take me to a double feature---usually a pair of Westerns, sometimes a Martin and Lewis comedy---and then out to dinner. My interest in Westerns dates back to the 1940s, long, long before either Jonah Hex or Scalphunter were even a twinkle in anybody's eye. (I don't think that Scalphunter was very special, by the way, and have no interest in discussing it.)

D@MD: Concerning western movies, what films would you put on the top of your list and what films would you not watch again?

MF: I have always loved Westerns. My childhood favorites were Randolph Scott and then, much later, the Clint Eastwood westerns.

D@MD: Your work on the Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes is fairly well known, how did you transition from that to writing Jonah Hex?

MF: Sometime in the early-to-mid 1970s, I dreamed up the idea for my encyclopedia of comic book heroes, and I asked for and received permission from Carmine Infantino for me and my assistant, Janet Lincoln, to utilize the DC Comics Library as our principal research resource. In the course of this research, I became friendly with Joe Orlando, and it was he who offered me the opportunity to write my first comic-book story---starting with mystery/horror stories and leading eventually to writing the Jonah Hex stories after John Albano retired from the series.

D@MD: Do you have a specific story line, from any character you wrote, that you are proud of?

MF: All in all, I wrote somewhere in the vicinity of 650-700 comic book stories in the course of my comic-book career---for DC, Marvel, and other comics publishers---but my work on Jonah Hex was indisputably my best work, and "The Last Bounty Hunter" was probably my most path-breaking story. For me, the experience of writing Jonah Hex was always close to magical.

D@MD: What was the motivation behind having Jonah get married? Did you get any resistance from the editors on the idea?

MF: No

D@MD: Did you have any plans for a final fate of Mei Ling and Jason prior to Jonah Hex being canceled?

MF: No

D@MD: In one issue Jonah meets his mother again after several years. I always had the impression that she had turned to prostitution but on rereading the book, it is never clearly stated (except for the term 'tramp' thrown at her). Was my impression correct or was she just down on her luck?

MF: I'm sorry, Dwayne, I don't remember.

D@MD: Any thoughts on or about the upcoming movie?

MF: None.

D@MD: Was the move to "Hex" based on low sales of "Jonah Hex" or was it a creative decision (as was alluded to in a letters col?) Who was the main idea guy of putting Jonah in the future?

MF: The decision to close down Jonah Hex was a DC sales decision.
When Jonah Hex was canceled, I managed to keep Jonah alive for a while by catapulting him into a Mad Max future.

D@MD: You said in a different interview that you didn't go much for sci-fi. What about the series HEX was the hardest part to pen?

MF: I've read very, very little science fiction and, as you note, I haven't much interest in it. Catapulting Jonah Hex into a science-fiction future was a last-gasp attempt to keep Jonah Hex alive (in the publishing sense) and I will not claim the s/f Jonah stories were among my best work. I have read very little science fiction, I am not at all well-versed in, or knowledgeable about, science fiction, and, as I've noted, the "Hex" series was a last-gasp attempt and not a
very meritorious one at that.

D@MD: Do you think HEX suffered from the change in artist to Keith Giffen or was the end already in sight by the time he signed on?

MF: I cannot recall when Keith Giffen signed on, and I cannot recall precisely when "the end was in sight."

D@MD: What was your favorite and least favorite aspects of the HEX books?

MF: If memory serves me, I wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 600-650 comic-book stories in the course of my career, and the Jonah Hex series (*not* the Hex series) constituted the very best work I ever did in comics.

D@MD: Touching on the current run of Jonah Hex for a moment, DC has used some folks from the first run, Tony DeZuniga and Russ Heath in particular. If you were contacted to have any input for a story would you be interested?

MF: If I were contacted to produce another Jonah Hex story, I would respectfully decline. I had a lengthy run with Jonah and gave it my best shot. Let's let the new team take the new series wherever they feel it should go.

Sadly, Mr. Fleisher didn't send a response to this question:

D@MD: I really enjoyed "The Last Bounty Hunter" since it seemed like something that could really happen (quite often dead crooks would be displayed for viewing. I was really surprised when I read of Elmer McCurdy and how closely that story matched the end of Jonah and the following Secret Origins story when his corpse was discovered. Did you consciously use that storyline or was it something that sat in your subconscious?


SallyP said...

What a wonderful interview! It was clever of you to figure out a way to contact him, and it sounds as though he as just as pleased to be remembered.


Sleestak said...

Score! Loved his fantastic Specter and Jonah!

Abe Lucas said...

It wasn't your questions that were lacking, it was his answers.

Still, congrats for getting the chance to ask some questions. I'm not surprised he doesn't remember much, considering how he and other writers crank out so much stuff, though Chris Claremont seems to remember every line he kept or crossed out.

I love Scalphunter!

Sea-of-Green said...

Wow, this is a great interview! Unfortunately, it's true that people who work in publishing for a very long time -- either as writers, or artists, or editors, etc. -- DO tend to forget details about things they did. There's just so much stuff ongoing that details about certain projects get lost in a morass of deadline pressures and what needs to be done on current projects. ("Hey, do you remember what it was like to work with this author?" - "Huh? What author? Did I work with that author? I don't remember!") That appears to be why many of his answers were sparse. It didn't have anything to do with your interview skills or questions -- you did great! :-)

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

There were several other things I wanted to ask him, some regarding what he is doing now, maybe what he wished he had worked on.

I realize that while I study & go over the text of each Jonah Hex (and occasionally rag on the timeline), the writers & artists were doing a job and a hard one at that. Being on a monthly deadline for multiple books can be grueling (heck I have trouble posting pictures 4 days a week).

It was very nice of him to respond and I am very very thankful.