James Felder edited Daredevil during the DeMatteis/Wagner run and the Kesel/Nord run. Here he talks about his start at Marvel and his work with the creators on DD.
Kuljit Mithra: How did you get your start at Marvel and what got you interested in comics initially?
James Felder: I got my start at Marvel, like most editors used to, as an intern. The internship was something I did to kill time during a slow semester at NYU. I always liked comics, but had fallen out of it a bit during high school. During college I was mostly reading DC stuff (Doom Patrol, Kid Eternity LS, etc...) and Japanese stuff. I kind of quickly got back on the Marvel bandwagon once I was there. I interned at Marvel, because it was the only major company taking interns at the time!
Mithra: Did you plan on being an editor, or did you really want to be writing?
Felder: Both. I've always wanted to write. The editor thing was a good way to pay the rent and learn about the craft. It definitely was a learning experience.
Mithra: How did the 'Stanhatten Project' get started? Is this where your 'Professor' nickname came from?
Felder: Stanhatten got started because everything at Marvel was a self-replicating system, except writing. For editors it went: intern-assistant-associate-editor in terms of training/promotion. For letterers and colourists, they got trained up in the bullpen. Pencilers and inkers got trained up with the Raiders. Writers were always a kind of default of cold submissions and former-editors. We used former-editors because they knew a lot of minutae we were looking for in writing, because they had to look for it themselves when they were editors! Howard Mackie was getting ready to leave Ghost Rider, and I was up a tree on who to get--so I decided it was time to expand the writer's pool. My mentor, as far as story structure, cast construction, etc... was a saint of a guy named Mark Gruenwald, who has since passed away. He taught an assistant editor workshop, and a lot of the initial structure of Stanhatten I cribbed from him. I used to drag him in once a semester to give a specific lecture that I was very fond of to the students. I did it through NYU because that's where I went, and I knew the administration enough to figure out how to get it done. The "Professor" nickname I got from editor Mike Rockwitz when I was an intern because he thought it was funny I was doing my college homework when things were slow around the office!
Mithra: You began editing Daredevil with issue 344, as part of the Marvel Edge line. Were you a big fan of Daredevil?
Felder: I liked Daredevil a lot, because I'm a big mystery and crime buff, and Daredevil is the closest to that. Truthfully though, Thor and Hulk are probably my faves--as characters.
Mithra: Did you think breaking up the different 'universes' in Marvel was a good idea (Edge, Spider-Man, Avengers, etc.)?
Felder: I don't think the line-break-up was a good idea, but I don't think anybody in editorial did. That was one of many decisions made because upper management was freaking out about dropping sales--some of which was the fault of the books, some of which, as we know in hindsight, weren't. This seemed to them like a good idea, since Bob [Harras]'s relative isolation of the X-Men books had benefited them over the years. It, honestly shouldn't have mattered to Daredevil, which at its best is a separate book--but the "Edge" name ended up shoving more guest-stars into it, which hurt it I think!
Mithra: The first creative team on Daredevil for you was J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Wagner and Bill Reinhold. I interviewed DeMatteis a few years ago, and I just wanted to ask your side of some of his comments about his stint on the comic. He mentioned that editorial was trying to 'fix' the Jack Batlin identity. What was your take on the whole Batlin story with DD and did you feel the remnants of the Fall From Grace story had to be put to rest?
Felder: Most of managment, and I think most of us on the editorial row, felt, I believe, that the "Fall From Grace" storyline had gone on too long, and ceased to be effective as a status quo. The Batlin identity I was never fond of, but the decision to take him out was made long before I was on the book--and just took a while to happen. I probably would have done it though when I got on!
Mithra: Whose idea was it to finally let Foggy know that Matt was DD?
Felder: Now this happened a while ago, so I might be fuzzy on the details, but I believe it was JM's idea. It kind of just popped up in the plot (not in the initial timeline/springboard), and the reasoning was (like with Aunt May) that it made him look even MORE stupid that he never knew. I agree with this. It did put us in a bind with Karl [Kesel] though, because we had to introduce SOMEONE in the cast who didn't know his identity, or it wasn't a secret!
Mithra: DeMatteis wanted Daredevil to be in his original yellow costume. How receptive were you to this when he proposed the change out of the armoured costume? Which Daredevil costume do you like the best and why?
Felder: To clarify things here, JM and Ron were hired by [former editor] Marie Javins when she was given the title. Then the book was given to me when she quit with them on it--so I was not a part of the decision. It was a general consensus in editorial, myself included, that it was time for the armour to go, though. Again, I might be remembering it wrong, but I believe the story goes that Marie approached JM about writing the book, getting ready to say he would HAVE to change the costume, and before she could, JM said he only wanted to do it if he COULD change the costume. It was kind of funny. I think the idea of the yellow costume return was JM's. I love the yellow costume, but my favorite is the red costume because I'm a huge Wally Wood fan and it's a perfect Wood-ism to make this basically black leather costume during the coloured-underwear trend at Marvel during that time.
Mithra: He also said that he left the title after a disagreement over the tone and direction of the book. He eventually left the book with issue 350. What was interesting about this situation was that DD appears in both his yellow and red costumes at the end of the issue. Were there plans to keep DD in his yellow costume for a longer period of time? I do recall that DD appeared in other titles with his yellow costume on.
Felder: I might be remembering this wrong, but I believe the intention was always to go back to the red costume. The yellow one would be taken out every once in awhile as a treat to the readers--like they used to do with Spidey's alien costume.
Mithra: When did editorial decide that a complete change of direction for DD was needed?
Felder: At the time, because of falling sales on everything, there was a lot of pressure for "fixes." It's really suprising that there weren't more changes going on at the time! That being said, Bob Harras and I both agreed that a change of tone was needed. I sat down with the original issues, and tried to figure out what in the original concept we should emphasize for our readers in this time, and to me it was the action-hero-Bruce-Willis parts: just as Miller knew for his time it would be interesting to pull out the Clint-Eastwood-grim-crime and martial arts elements that were popular at the time. Speaking as a huge Frank Miller fan, I think we do a diservice to his run to just do a carbon copy of what he did. We won't do it as well, and it won't play as well for our time. I did not dig the formula of "Frank did 'Born Again,' let's do 'Fall from Grace.'" All those storylines with the armor and stuff were just flipovers of classic Miller stories. I understand why he was angry when we were doing all those Elektra stories.
Mithra: Were there any worries that the complete switch of tone from serious to 'wise-cracking' DD would not be taken well by DD fans?
Felder: Not really. Sales were dropping so quick, that I felt it was needed, and things couldn't get any worse fan-reaction-wise. I don't know what it was like on your end, but I got a really nice reception to Karl [Kesel] and Cary [Nord], and the sales went up, which was considered a big shock on editorial row.
Mithra: Cary Nord had done some fill-in issues during DeMatteis' stint, so was he the first candidate to work with Kesel? How do you think Nord handled the pressures of the regular gig? It seemed he needed help on many issues with layouts etc.
Felder: Cary had a hard time doing a monthly, but that was my fault. I wanted him to do it. I used to get [Rick] Leonardi (who was a bagpiping buddy of mine) to help out sometimes. The layouts were actually not a time thing, it was something I wanted to do because it seemed the best way to up Cary's learning curve (storytelling-wise, not art-wise--I think Cary's a brilliant artist) as fast as possible and it was originally a Bob [Harras] suggestion. You know Larry Hama had been trained as an artist by Wally Wood, so you can imagine I was having a good time keeping it in the family, so to speak!
Mithra: There were many great issues with the Kesel/Nord team. Which issue stands out for you?
Felder: The Mister Hyde issue was my favourite, because it was what I wanted to use as the model of "here is our modern story/status quo." When you have a set-up like this, it actually makes good use of the alter-ego of the lawyer--and it is a story that only DD could do. It also was very early on in their run and I was still buzzing with the excitement of getting in script and art every day.
Mithra: What did you think of the introduction of 'Razor' Sharpe? How about Deuce?
Felder: I loved Razor and you could tell Karl was having fun writing her stuff--Karl is the sweetest guy, and you could tell he thought it was funny to write someone so nasty. I liked Deuce. He wasn't a favourite with me or anything. It started out more as a gag Karl suggested (he liked the sound of the name) and Karl, being the good writer that he is, surprised me by actually doing some cool stuff with it. If I knew at the start how the dog would play out, I probably would have been more gung-ho about it when he first suggested it! I also liked what Joe [Kelly] did with Deuce and DD and Deadpool (that was after my time, though).
Mithra: Were there bigger plans for the Danny Levin character?
Felder: My rotting brain fails me...who was Danny Levin?
Mithra: He was the detective that helped out Daredevil during his fight with Absorbing Man.
Felder: I don't remember Danny (which might give you some idea on how important he was going to be in our plans!)
Mithra: Do you think the supporting characters in Daredevil are more interesting than Daredevil himself?
Felder: I think in a super-hero book, it's the supporting cast that makes the book sing. I'll tell you truthfully, that even though you need the blood and guts (and the violence is fun) those fights are the least important part of the book. It's the soap opera elements in a book that make you care about the hero when he goes into the fight. Daredevil, being a more "real" book, goes double for this. That being said, I think sometimes the supporting cast takes over, which IS a bad thing--all that "Pantheon" stuff in the HULK a few years ago is an example of this.
Mithra: Kesel has said that his least favourite DD issue was the one with Absorbing Man. He said there was miscommunication between the two of you, so it didn't work out as planned. What happened with that issue?
Felder: Honestly, I don't remember the specifics, but I will tell you that, while I did the day-to-day editing of the book, there were two senior editors over me who had final approval on the finished book. There were a lot of horror stories where they decided a story wasn't "Marvel-style" just as it was leaving house. When the fans, and most of our writers at a writer's conference, expressed how much they liked Karl's run, these two editors, I think because they were intimidated that a DC person was doing so well, starting riding us real hard. That's why at the time for the first time in years a non-X-Men book at Marvel (DD) got the cover of Wizard, and yet the writer, penciler and editor were no longer on the book! I'm sure you've heard the horror stories of former creative teams on the X-Books, so you know what I'm talking about! Mark Waid went through with the chief what Karl did but at a greater magnitude. Karl, having a sweet nature, never complained, but trust me, it was a HUGE pain in the ass.
Mithra: I've heard that Kesel wanted to make Matt Murdock the Mayor of New York. Is that rumour true? And if it is, why didn't editorial let that happen? Were there many elements that Kesel wanted that didn't make it into the comic?
Felder: That is true. It was actually kind of cool. Bob nixed it because he had a rule that you couldn't do anything that significantly violated the continuity of "reality"--ie the mayor would have to be Guilianni today in every Marvel Comic. Bob had a lot of rules like this. He had one where no super-hero was supposed to have a beard because the "kids" wouldn't want to read about someone who looked old. You'd have to sneak Hercules' beard past him. There were a lot of rules, and I think a few were made up just to slow our momentum.
Mithra: One of the many grievances DD fans have with the title is the lack of a commitment by a creative team to invest time in the title. Just as the Kesel issues were doing well, it was announced that you left your position as editor and then Kesel decided to drop DD because of his work at DC (or was it the other way around?). Did you quit your editing position to concentrate on writing instead? Can you explain your reasoning at the time?
Felder: Karl actually quit about a week before me--but neither were the direct cause of either. The lack of commitment has to do with the fact that the management is not committed to the creative teams, so it becomes progressively harder to stay on a book the longer you are on it. There's a reason, whether good or bad, that creative teams stay on at DC, but people seem not to like to go back to Marvel no matter what administration is in power. That being said, no one consciously, is trying to be shitty. Everybody from the president on down to the proofreader (God-bless Flo Steinberg!) is trying to make the book as good as possible--they commit their lives and make a living doing this--but everyone has different ideas, so often it is hard to get things stable with all the pressure on (low) sales now. Of course when a team works and stays, it's a beautiful thing--and we should appreciate it for the small miracle it is! When I quit I certainly wanted to concentrate on my writing, but that wasn't the main reason. It was more that I felt I had learned all I could on the job and that the administration was just going to make it harder to do anything that I believed in. After my mentor died, and I saw the horror stories going on with the creative teams, I did not want to invest my time/life in a company that would not hesitate to toss me out if it would cover someone's ass. I love the Marvel Universe like most fans, but I do not love Marvel Inc. I don't think Marvel Inc. loves anyone over the long term. Sad, but true. If you've ever seen "Death of a Salesman" you might have a sense of what it would mean to invest your life in Marvel Inc..
Mithra: And finally, after DD, you wrote some issues of Ka-Zar, Captain America:Sentinel of Liberty, and I think a Deadpool issue too. What kind of projects are you currently working on and are they still comic related?
Felder: I have some weird comic stuff in the works, but not guys in long-underwear stuff, so I doubt you'll be seeing me at Marvel any time soon. I have a studio I started with two friends (Kevin Somers and Brian Smith) called the Haunted Swamp Studios and we create concepts for animation, toys, video games, etc... We just sold a cartoon/toy line that should be on the Fox network in late 2001. I'll keep you updated.
(c) Kuljit Mithra 2000
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
Black and White
Roberto De La Torre
Carmine Di Giandomenico
Tommy Lee Edwards
Elektra Hand Devil
Fall From Grace
Justin F. Gabrie
Devin K. Grayson
Alex Irvine & Tomm Coker
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