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QRD #28, January 2005
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David Lawrence Interview November 2004

David Lawrence was the writer of the underground hit comic The Ex-Mutants in the 1980's as well as several spin-off series associated with it.  The comic was a post-apocalyptic series about trying to bring mankind back after the only survivors have mutated.  So anyway, more below...

QRD - How did you become a comic book writer & why did you stop writing comics?

David - I'm not sure how I became a comic book writer.  It was an accident, really.  I didn't pursue it doggedly, it just kind of fell into my lap.  I don't know that I stopped writing comics so much as comics stopped being written by me.  It's kind of like the ex-girlfriend who didn't tell you she broke with you, but doesn't return your calls.

QRD - The Ex-Mutants was originally supposed to be a spoof titled something like "Young Ex-Mutant Samurai Humans."  How did it become a more serious book?

David - We finished up the first issue and there was this realization "This thing is pretty good.  Maybe we shouldn't slap such a stupid name on it?"  Not a lot of what happened in the series was really planned, it was all sort of evolutionary.  I'd even write cliffhanger endings with no idea how I'd get out of them.
For instance, the end of the first issue, with the threatening shadowing figures surrounding the Ex-Mutants, I had no idea what was up there.  I sat down to write issue two and asked "What would you least expect next?"  So instead of going in a normal direction, the Ex-Mutants are dancing up a storm at a party instead of being attacked.  It was just sort of a magic moment of inspiration, and set the tone for all the rest of the series.  It would never be what you expected.

QRD - How did The Ex-Mutants go from being the dark post-apocalyptic series you were working on to the comic that Malibu did?

David - Dark?  I don't know about that.  I used to describe it as a light-hearted post-nuclear adventure series.  The message if there was one, and I didn't really think about it at the time, seems to be no matter how bad we fuck up we'll get by.  Or was it oob la dee, ood la  da, life goes on?  I had nothing to do with the Malibu version, so I can't speak to their thinking.  I glanced at a couple of issues, just sort of cringed and fed them to the cat.  The cat died, so it was murder.

QRD - Why did Ex-Mutants bounce around to so many different comic companies?

David - Was just those wacky Eighties, I guess.  If I had it to do over again, I'd do things differently.

QRD - What is it you'd do differently?

David - Eternity and Amazing were related companies.  Originally, Eternity had two editorial staffs in two different locations, with very different philophies about the type of projects we wanted to produce.  A decision was made to launch a seperate imprint.  I was working in the offices of what  became Amazing Comics, so it was natural that I went in that direction.  Later, these differences led to the abortive attempt to launch Pied Piper Comics.  Maybe it should have been apparent to me that there was a certain level of disfunctionality in the companies from the start, but I was a young guy, having the time of my life, and just went with the flow, thinking that some of the people in the company with more experience than I knew what was best.  I was in sort of a key position, writing the most important property published by the company, and overseeing what would have been a line of related titles.  I wish I had insisted on more communication among the parties.  In retrospect, there was not enough of an effort made to reconcile our disagreements, and everybody involved lost out because of it.  I realize that explanation is probably clear as brick, but its been a long time, and I realize now that I didn't necessarily think every thing through as smartly as I could have.  I don't want to sling mud at this distance, even accidently,  in anyone else's direction.

QRD - Do you know who owns the rights to the Ex-Mutants & the rest of the Shattered Earth cast?  Do you see yourself ever buying them?

David - It would take an infinite number of lawyers with an infinite number of typewriters, and eventually they'd produce a complete episode of Gilligan's Island, but probably never this question.  I think Marvel eventually bought Mailibu, so they would claim to have whatever rights Malibu laid claim to.  Eternity/Malibu conceded that Ron and I owned all the characters we created and the stories we'd done; they just sort of claimed they owned the right to do their own version.  It was unfortunate.  I think that it would have been best for everyone if we'd just sat down and talked.  Everybody lost as things turned out.

QRD - Marvel will probably get a movie in production about them before too long then, they have movies in production for some fairly obscure characters like Killraven & Iron Fist.  Have you ever tried to contact Marvel about re-starting the series?  It seems like it could be done to fit in with the tone of their Marvel Knights books.

David - We actually got a movie feeler way back then.  I don't recall all the specifics, but someone approached us about an option.  Of course, an option is a million miles from actual production, but it was exciting.  Unfortunately, it was at just about the time when things began to break down.
Glasshouse had some brief discussion with Marvel about the characters some years ago, more with an eye to clearing up the conflicting claims of ownership than having Marvel publish the series.  I'd have no objection to writing the series at Marvel though.  I'd be thrilled to do it.  Certainly more people would see the book than if we relaunched it on our own somewhere else.

QRD - I assume the Ex-Mutants was somewhat inspired by Cold War nuclear fears.  Did you grow up thinking the world would end by the year 2000?

David - I'm old enough to remember the duck and cover drills in grade school.  The teachers would march us out into the hall and we'd sit on the floor by our lockers with our heads between our legs.  That would have saved our lives when the H-Bomb came?  I realize now it was just so the teachers wouldn't have to spend their last moments on earth listening to a bunch of kids shreiking and crying.  I grew up in an era when there was always that vague fear that the bomb would drop.  My great fear wasn't the world ending by the year 2000.  It was getting hit by a bus before I got laid for the first time.

QRD - Have you done any comics since the Shattered Earth comics?

David -  There was Lunatic Fringe, sort of a humorous super-hero series.  I did some work on Hero Alliance, including a complete revamp for a relaunching with the very talented Kevin Juaire.  I was sad that that never happened; Innovation went out of business and Kevin and I got stuck with some huge phone bills; again this was in prehistory, before unlimited cell phone plans and e-mail.  I wrote Justice Machine for about twenty minutes, did some work on Lost In Space but never actually got to write an issue.  Just odds and ends here and there really.

QRD - I read you had plans to do some historic comics dealing with the Revolutionary War & Civil War, are you still planning to do this?

David - I'd like to, but besides having to interest a publisher there's also the problem of finding an artist who could do it.  They would have to have a tremendous interest and knowledge already, there's simply no way to provide someone with all the relevant reference material.  Plus, they'd have to know how to draw horses; they're not just people with extra legs, you know.  Hello?  Are you listening John Severin?  That would be a dream come true, working with him.  I have a lot of respect for guys like him, Murphy Anderson and the like.  Real long time pros.

QRD - What is the rumor with you being a pseudonym for another writer about?

David - It's just a part of my wraithlike air as a man of mystery.  Actually I have some issues of Dr. Strange from the Sixties that were written by David Lawrence.  Definitely not me, since I was only six years old in the Summer of Love; I was eighteen in the December of Disco, but I try to forget about that.  I've read that first David Lawrence was a pseudonym for Bob Kahniger, who I remember writing Sgt. Rock, Brave & the Bold, World's Finest and others.

QRD - Living in Pittsburgh where David Lawrence is the name of a relatively famous politician & then being accused of being a pseudonym, do you have weird identity issues?

David - Other than the fact I cut down trees, I skip and jump,  I like to press wild flowers?  Not related to the psuedonym thing, but the politician is another matter.  Davey Lawrence was the mayor of Pittsburgh in the fifties and the governor of Pennsylvania in the sixties.  I used to get asked a lot if I was related.  There was also a David Lawrence Hall on my college campus.  When I'd have classes there I'd usually have to show the professor my i.d. before he would believe it was my name.  I probably should have run for office here, but then I'd have to put up with attacks from Ann Coulter and her reptilian ilk.
I'm actually descended from Davey Lawrence the bookie, who was a contmeporary of the mayor.  They had identity issues.  Every once in a while my grandfather would get popped for writing numbers.  The confusion didn't sit well with the mayor.  Don't know if it's true, but I'm told the mayor once called my grandfather and asked him to change his name.  As the story goes, he growled into the phone "You change your fuckin' name!  I had it first!" and slammed down the receiver.  I don't know if it's true, but I hope it is.

QRD - You’ve said that you would like to write Ex-Mutants again, would you want Ron Lim to be the illustrator?

David - Ron was a lot of fun to work with and growing by leaps and bounds as an illustrator.  Compare his work on Ex-Mutants #1 to his work at the end of our time together and you'll see what I mean.  We used to get real excited at the office on the day his new pages came; this was in the old days, when you actually had to mail pages all over the country to get stuff done.  I think it was Tuesdays; we'd call it Ron Lim Day, and sit around like kids on Christmas and ooh and ahh over them.

QRD - What have you been working on for the past ten years?

David - Mostly trying to get laid before that bus really does hit me.  I always thought it would be really sad to die a virgin.

QRD - In The Ex-Mutants there was a lot of sexual content & drug references as well as extreme violence at times.  Was this something you intentionally wanted in the comic or something that became necessary in the story?

David - I didn't think so much about the violence at first.  You know, it was just a comic.  I cringe a little bit at that first issue, the wisecracking heroes slicing people in two.  I toned it down a lot after that.  The big action scene in issue #3 was a food fight.  Towards the end of our time I'd begun to address the question more directly, actually having the characters deal with how callous they had been.
I think the sex and drug thing has been exagerated.  There was really only one implied sex scene in the book, and it was pretty mild.  The Ex-Mutants got drunk at a party, a couple of them smoked a joint once.  They were teenagers, you know?  It just seemed natural for them to try these things.  I know there was some fear of a backlash around the office, so I sort of pre-emptively addressed the question editorially in those issues.
Strange though, when you think about it.  There was worry about mild sex and drug references, but not a whisper about a fight scene where a character is sliced in two.

QRD - There might have only been one openly implied sex scene, but one of the premises was there was one male character who was supposed to impregnate the three female characters to re-start the human race.  Not to mention the three girls looking like supermodels; just that would make sexual tension in the book.  As far as the drug references, I guess that there was something with Wild Knights (the guys who had a farm with pot on it where the Ex-Mutants smoked weed) & their series where maybe they weren't shown drinking or drugging, but it felt obvious it was going on off stage.  Would you agree with that?

David - There was a throw away line about repopulating the earth, theough obviously Belushi knocking up the girls in turn would have made for a very different series.  When you think about it, that wasn't really very feasible, how can one man and four women repopulate an entire planet?
Actually, a lot of the original premise was kind of crazy.  What sense did it make for Doc to expend so much time and precious resources on this project, how could he possibly expect it to work?  Part of the explanation that I constructed for myself, after a while, was that Doc was nuts.  Over time, I was going to turn everything over on its head.  Doc was going to go from mentor to the main villain in the series.
I had a story in mind for later on where one of the girls would become pregnant, with one of the Wild Knights.  Doc would be incesed and kidnap her for this, furious that she would pollute the pure race he was trying to create.
I didn't actually have anything to do with the Wild Knights series Eternity eventually published and don't know anything about it..  There were two or three issues written by Dennis Duarte, a very neat writer, that Eternity didn't use.  I did have the Wild Knights growing pot, along with their food crops.  Just sort of seemed natural to me that a biker gang would do this, not that I really know anything about biker gangs, unless you count reading Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.
I didn't think much about pot use back then and I still don't.  I think it's nuts that it's illegal, a waste of money and effort better spent in other places.  I don't really know if I was trying to make a statement.  I was just sort of allowing my characters to develop naturally.

QRD - Do you think Ex-Mutants would be better received today than it was when it came out?

David - It was pretty well received at the time.  Between the original run and the special edition I think #1 sold in the neighborhood of 100,000 copies.  It was one of the very few black and whites to continue doing well when the bottom dropped out of the market.

QRD - Do you wish the series had been in color instead of black & white?

David - The series would probably have switched to color before too much longer.  I was all in favor of it.

QRD - How did the video game come about & did you have anything to with it?

David - No involvement other than trying to sue to get my fair share of the profits.  Sadly, it was apparently one of the crappiest video games of all time so there were no profits.  At least none my lawyer could find.

QRD - What is your involvement with Glass House Graphics?

David - David Campiti at Glass House is my agent.  He's been very successful representing artists.  Writers in this business are another matter, though.  There's very little respect for them.  I've heard several editors over the years say something like "We hire artists.  We don't hire writers; we buy stories."  By that they tend to mean plots, and I'm much more character driven than plot driven in my writing, so as you might guess I don't get a lot of work.  However, David does invite me to all his parties, and that means a lot.

QRD - Do you still read any comics?  Which ones?

David - It's been a long time since I followed any comics.  I don't have a lot of time, and it's so difficult to just pick up an issue and have any idea what is going on.  I think the industry, or at least the major companies, painted themselves into a little bit of a box with tight continuity and title interrelation.  I know the idea is to keep ongoing readers hooked, but it makes it very difficult for a casual reader to come in.  I'm taking college classes again, at the tender age of 43, and can barely keep up with that.
There are certainly creators and series that I respect and remember fondly.  It's almost a cliche to pay homage to Will Eisner and the Spirit.  I certainly tried to learn storytelling from Eisner, though I don't pretend on my best day to be in the same league.  I have a tremendous regard for the work of Alan Moore, though I'm going back to Watchmen and Swamp Thing days.  At various times I thought that Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart were brilliant.  Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams were favorites at one time.
I've got a tremendous respect for the founding fathers of the Golden and Silver Ages.  I'm almost afraid to start a list for fear of those I leave out.  Jack Kirby, I'd have given anything to have 8 pages of script drawn by him.  My fondness for multiple splash pages and double page spreads I think comes from him.  There was a character in Lunatic Fringe called Streak, a super-speedster who happened to be an illegal immigrant.  I almost got to do a Steak story with Carmine Infantino.  One of my great regrets is that it didn't happen.

QRD - Anything else?

David - Where are my lovely parting gifts?  My year's supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat?  You know, on Oprah they give you a car sometimes.  Honestly, thanks for the chance to reminisce, it was fun.  If you actually get any response feel free to forward it on to me, I might even reply personally.  After all, I'm just a lonely bitter middle-aged man with nothing better to do than revel in past.  Of course, by the past I mean before George W. Bush stole the presidency and wrecked my country.  Take that Ann Coulter!