My long search had led me here, to a dark, seedy bar in the east end of Pittsburgh . It was here, I'd learned, I'd find my quarry, David Lawrence. A haze of cigarette smoke and the aroma of stale beer met me as I slipped through the door. On the jukebox, Francis Albert Sinatra crooned to a bartender named Joe, ordering one for his baby and one more for the road. Forever barred from Hollywood for his blood-feud with leading man John Cusack, long-time comic book writer Lawrence was at last ready to return to the medium that brought him first fame— Uh, excuse me. It's not a “blood feud” with John Cusack. I threw him out of a bar. Once. Over ten years ago. I like most of his movies…
Look, I'm writing this. That's what I'm afraid of.
Trust me. Every woman who broke my heart said that.
Lawrence first came to prominence in the 1980s, a decade which gave us MTV, new wave music, Ferris Bueller, and perhaps most importantly of all, Lawrence's top selling series EX-MUTANTS.
I'm starting to feel like a really bad true Hollywood story or that guy Philip Seymour Hoffman played in Along Came Polly.
Are you feuding with Hoffman too? I'm not feuding with anybody! Except possibly you. How did you break into comics?
I answered the phone. So it works like telemarketing?
Your parents stopped having children after you came along, didn't they? I was working on scripts for my own amusement when I met David Campiti, several years before he broke into the business. When he set up his first publishing venture I was one of the people he called. He had a very vague outline of a project they wanted to do and asked if I'd be interested. That was Ex-Mutants?
Close. A nuclear war ravages the earth, the survivors become hideous mutants, fighting and killing for life's simplest necessities. One, a great doctor, finds a way to reverse the mutation, and cures four women and one man, creating perfect specimens to repopulate the earth. To defend themselves, they are trained in the ancient art of the warrior. They are the…wait for it…Young Ex-Mutant Samurai Humans! You were interested?
I was appalled. I heard the title and I ran shrieking into the street, praying someone would run me down. What changed your mind?
David told me how much they'd pay me. For $ 25 a page I was a whore. I'm still a whore today, but a much more expensive one. But a funny thing happened. As I worked on the story some of the implausibilities become opportunities. Against all odds, the damn thing was good. It also didn't hurt that Dave found a really good young artist, so we ditched the silly name, and the rest was history. That was Ron Lim. He went on to be very successful. How was he to work with?
Ron was, and I assume still is, a wonderful guy. It was just phenomenal, watching his work mature. Every Tuesday we'd sit around waiting his latest batch of work. You could see him improving literally page by page. How did you guys work together?
Almost everything we did was full-script. After a while, if there was a problem, we'd get on the phone and work something out, he'd finish the art based on our discussions and then I'd script the pages when he sent them. But the vast majority of it, and of all my work, is full script.
Any reason you work that way?
Maybe I'm a dinosaur. Hardly anybody else did at the time. I assume it's the same today. I can't speak for anyone else, but I always felt lazy going the plot/art/script route. If you're writing for movies or television, you don't give the actors a plot to shoot from, and add the dialogue later.
What other titles did you work on?
There were the Ex-Mutant spin-offs; New Humans, Wild Knights, Solo Adventures. One of my favorites was Lunatic Fringe, super-heroes in sort of a crazy world where everything phony is real. Japanese monsters destroyed Tokyo yearly as they migrate across Japan, pro wrestling is real but only pretends to be fake. Ronald Reagan is senile and just thinks he is in charge of the government…um, that last one might not be fiction
I also did some work on Justice Machine and a smattering of work on Hero Alliance . A couple of eight pagers. I love eight pagers. They're a lost art. When I was growing up, some of them had more plot than your year-long crossover epics have today.
What did you like about those Hero Alliance stories?
They were human interest stories. It was fun to take exceptional people and put them in everyday circumstances. It's sort of the reverse of conventional drama, where generally you place ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances.
I actually served briefly as editor on Hero Alliance near the end of it's run when Innovation was revamping it. Kevin Juaire, another person I really enjoyed working with, was returning to the title. We had very different approaches to storytelling, and it seemed like an interesting idea to put the two of us together. We worked out12-issue outline. It could've been something special.
Unfortunately, Innovation went under before it saw the light of day. I think Kevin and I lost about $300 apiece on phone calls. The world was a cruel place before e-mail.
What work were you proudest of?
Ex-Mutants could easily of been the worst kind of garbage. It was one of the first titles to feature strong, heroic, independent female lead characters. In a world where Susan Richards, after a quarter of a century, was still the Invisible Girl, and where Wonder Woman still swooned at the sight of Steve Trevor's manly biceps, our characters were trendsetters. I think they were forerunners of Xena, for instance. Not that they were a direct influence, but an early part of the cultural wave that made it possible.
What are you plans for the future?
Well, it is St. Patrick's Day, so I was thinking a nice Irish red ale…
I meant writing.
Right now I'm developing a Robin Hood series.
That's popular right now, with the new BBC series and Russell Crowe movie coming up.
None of which I knew of at the time I came up with it. Mine's a twist, but a different one. Marion is actually the hero, using her position in the court to find opportunities to fight Prince John. His soldiers, unwilling to admit they were bested by a woman, make up Robin Hood. As the peasants hear of Robin, they sort of rally around the story, so Marion sets out to find a Robin Hood.
Sounds like fun.
Let's hope so.
That I'd like to do most of all is a series of titles based on American history.
Sounds pretty dry. I hated history in high school.
It's not the subject that's dry. It's the teaching. Take George Washington for instance. All we know is the old man on the dollar bill with bad teeth.
He was a big, powerful man, with tremendous flair and charisma. As the second son in Virginia aristocracy, he was in no way singled out for greatness. He had a drive though, and determination. He hungered for fame and glory. He thrust himself forward as a young man at every opportunity. His first mission ended in an ignominious defeat, and his youthful inexperience helped ignite a world war.
Yet somehow, this callow boy became a great man. He overcame some of the most lopsided odds in history. When it was over, he was offered a crown, and refused it. George the Third never understood it. Napoleon on his deathbed said ‘They wanted me to be another Washington .' We've lost the man, inside the icon.
Sounds more interesting than I thought, but will anybody buy it?
In a prestige format, with bookstore placement, I think it could do well, and help establish an image for a company that wants to do high-quality, out of the mainstream projects.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Yeah. Get out of here and let me get back to work before I end up walking the streets with a sign that says “Will Write for Food.”
EX-MUTANTS NEW HUMANS WILD KNIGHTS SOLO EX-MUTANTS.