KC Column: Archie Goodwin (MAR 2009)

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Archie, Walter Simonson, and Manhunter from Manhunter: The Special Edition (1999). Art by Simonson

Archie Goodwin died 11 years ago this week, on March 1, 1998*, after a long struggle with cancer.

Before I tell you a little bit about who Archie was (if you don't already know), let me tell you a bit about who Archie Goodwin is today.

I know that's an unusual concept for someone who's been gone for more than a decade, but I see Archie everywhere today. I can't go to a comic convention and not hear an Archie story within hours of the show's opening. His name comes up frequently in phone calls and emails with old friends.

I can't read a Batman story without seeing Archie. Literally. A while back, some artists (I think maybe Tim Sale was the first), started subtly changing the look of Commissioner Gordon to appear more like Archie, in tribute, and other artists have picked up on it (to varying degrees) over the years. It's uncanny the way that Gary Oldman's portrayal of Gordon in the current Batman movies looks like a young Archie. I saw a commercial for the Lego Batman video game the other day, and even Lego Gordon looks a little like Archie!

Now, Jim Gordon and Archie always looked a bit alike anyway, so the differences are slight. But they are there. Or maybe as Archie grew older, he started to look more like Gordon. I dunno. It makes for a better story the other way.

It's heartening to see that that some of Archie's very best work - in Creepy and Eerie - is currently being reprinted by Dark Horse Comics in gorgeous hardcovers for a whole new audience. As a youth, Archie loved the classic E.C. comics of the Fifties, and that he was able to grow up and produce his own versions of them (with a unique Archie twist) for Warren was amazing.

And of course, any true superhero comics fan should have already read Archie and Walter Simonson's Manhunter stories. (Collected as Manhunter: The Special Edition by DC Comics. Bad DC! This is currently out of print! For shame!) This was one of the most important comic stories of the 1970s, winning numerous awards, including two Best Writer awards for Archie and three Best Story awards from the Academy of Comic Book Arts (a group composed of other comic book professionals). It's more of a tribute to these creators and this work that in over 35 years, this version of the Manhunter character has never been brought back from the dead (sorry to ruin the ending for you, but you should have already read this!) and hopefully, never will be.

But the real reason why Archie Goodwin is still around today and being talked about in comics is because he is most often described as the "best-loved comic book editor, ever." I think that could be easily extended to one of the "best-loved people, ever." And that's why Archie will continue to still be around, for a long time. Because love like this never dies.

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Archie from Alien Legion #3 (1984)

I didn't know Archie all that well, although I do remember that he was one of the first people at DC (that I didn't already know) to ask me out to lunch, a kindness that I will always remember. I'm sure I didn't say much. Having lunch with one of your heroes is often an overwhelming experience, and probably not always that much fun for the hero. Archie broke the ice by telling me that one of the local businesses we walked by to get to the restaurant used to be a hardware store that used to have a big rack of comics in the back. I don't know if Archie knew I had a background in comics retail and loved to talk about old comic stores but we had a great time talking about the "old days."

I got most of my Archie-lore from hanging around with Walter and Louise (Weezie) Simonson, the unofficial caretakers of Archie's legacy, along with the amazing Anne T. Murphy, Archie's widow. (There's a great interview with Anne in Blake Bell's I Have To Live With This Guy! a fascinating examination of comic book couples, published by TwoMorrows.) Walter has told me lots of stories of the "new wave" of young comics creators who were flocking to NYC in the 1970s and looking for work, many of whom ended up crashing on Archie and Anne's sofa. Weezie, under the name of Louise Jones, worked with Archie at Warren on Creepy and Eerie. If ever there was a book about Archie (and there should be!) Walter and Weezie should write it.

If I remember correctly, by the time I went back to DC in 1991, there were rumors that Archie was already sick. I don't think it was exactly a secret that Archie had cancer, but there was such respect for him that I don't think that many people were talking about it - certainly there was no gossip about it. I think, perhaps, that people just couldn't believe that such a horrible thing was happening to such a nice guy.

Thing was, that if you didn't know Archie was sick, you would have been hard-pressed to figure it out. He still had his wonderful sense of humor and propensity for practical jokes that kept everyone on their toes. And in terms of his skills, he was as sharp as can be. An amazing sense of calmness and professionalism clung to Archie in those days, and I don't think either one ever left him. Archie never really taught me anything, directly, but I learned so much from just watching him.

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Archie from Swords of the Swashbucklers #11 (1987)

Here are my two favorite Archie stories. The first one was handed down to me by Mike Carlin, the other one I was a participant in.

Set office hours for both Marvel and DC for editorial-types were always kind of lax, not adhering to the usual 9 to 5 at DC since the days where editorial was required to wear ties (the 1960s), or probably never at Marvel. But by the 1980s, things at Marvel had gotten so slack that some editors weren't coming into the offices until 11 AM or later. Marvel was all about control in the 80s (do your own research), and some of the higher-ups didn't like the laxness of the Editorial Department, so (according to Mike Carlin) an edict went out that said something along the lines of "all editors must report to work by 9 AM!"

The next morning, editor Archie Goodwin duly reported to work by 9 AM - wearing pajamas, slippers, and a bathrobe, which he proceeded to wear for the rest of the day.

Nobody ever brought up the memo again.

My second favorite Archie story was set in Hawaii at a Comic Distributor Sales Meeting back in the days when comics could actually afford such junkets. (Perhaps DC sponsored this, I forget now.) It has sort of crept into legend as "The Day That Archie Goodwin Fell Off a Cliff in Hawaii". It even appears in Bryan Talbot's great collection of comic book bar stories, The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends (2007, Moonstone), although by then it had morphed into the kind of overblown alcohol-fueled legend that makes for an excellent story ([Archie] "plummets two hundred feet, to land unfortunately, in the Pacific"), but not a terribly plausible one. (200 feet?!? And survived?)

Here's how I remember it (although Mike Carlin told a funnier version at Archie's memorial service).

A bunch of us DC folk were taking a stroll around the hotel grounds after a relaxing dinner. The grounds were truly a picturesque paradise, and as the sun was just going down, remarkably beautiful. The hotel was situated near the shore on land rising out over the ocean, and there was actually a pretty steep drop-off at the edge (although not anywhere near 200 feet). Surprisingly, there were no fences or guard ropes - the ground just fell away to the ocean.

The trail we were walking on was right next to the ledge, and I think most of us took turns walking up to the ledge, seeing how far down the ocean was (pretty far) and slowly backing away. Not Archie. He didn't bother to stop and look over. He just took off ahead of us, walking pretty rapidly right next to the edge. Someone may have yelled out "Hey, Archie! Watch out!" but he wasn't having any and kept walking briskly ahead of us. Until he wasn't. Suddenly we couldn't see him anymore. He had fallen off the cliff!

Horrified, we rushed to the point where we last saw Archie and started looking down for him. Luckily, the drop wasn't too far at that point on the cliff, maybe 15 feet to the ocean. But at first we couldn't see him anywhere. After a few very tense moments, he popped to the surface and managed to climb onto a piece of coral that was sticking out of the ocean, about 10 or 12 feet from where we were. He was safe for the time being. But how were we going to get him back to the mainland?

Carlin and I looked at each other. We were the largest and supposedly the strongest of the group (probably not really). So we laid down on the ground, about halfway over the edge as other people in the group (including Andy Helfer and Karen Berger and I can't remember who else) grabbed our legs so we wouldn't fall in too. Mike yelled for Archie to jump to us, and we would grab him. I had a quick moment of "really?" (I couldn't swim), swallowed hard, and resolved that's what was gonna have to happen. So, Archie jumped...

..and he just missed us and fell back into the ocean. A couple of minutes later, he was back up on the coral for another try. By now, he was laughing. There was quite a bit of witty bantering going on between Archie and Carlin and Helfer by this point.

This time we grabbed him. However, by this time he was too exhausted to crawl up over us, and we couldn't really pull him in from the angle we were in without letting go of him. But someone from the back (I still don't know who- maybe Helfer, who was stronger than he looked) reached over the top of us and grabbed Archie and pulled him in.

Archie was pretty banged up. He had scraped into the coral several times, and there were a few deep gashes on his arms and legs. If you've had that happen to you, you know how painful that can be. So Carlin and Helfer took him to the Emergency Room, where Archie was checked out and treated. I don't really remember exactly what the rest of us did that night, but I spent the first hour or so just shaking, as I was pretty scared. I also believe there was much drinking (even me, who usually didn't) while we were waiting to hear from them. They didn't get back until about 4 in the morning. Archie spent the next couple of days in pain, but we didn't hear any complaining from him. I broke a toe later on that trip, playing beach volleyball (only I could trip over a grain of sand at a beach), and I was a bigger baby about it than Archie ever was about his injuries.

The story's not that actually funny, but there is a punchline. Sometime later, Archie confessed that the whole thing was a practical joke - he had pre-planned the whole thing. Earlier in the day, he had scouted out the location and found the perfect place where it could appear that he "fell off a cliff" - only "falling" a few feet onto a ledge. What he forgot to take into account, several hours later, was high tide, so he therefore ended up in the ocean instead of on the ledge (which may have been just grass all along as when some of us went back to find the ledge later on, we couldn't find it).

The most amazing thing of all was by this point, Archie had already been through several rounds of chemotherapy - and had beaten it each time, only to have the cancer come back within a few months. He was healthy when this incident took place, but that he would attempt to pull off a stunt like that - just to make us laugh - was pretty amazing. But that was Archie.

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I could write a whole 'nother column about Archie's career and great work. He was a real triple-threat guy in comics. Here's just some of the highlights:

As a writer: look for his Creepy and Eerie (reprinted by Dark Horse) and Blazing Combat (coming soon from Fantagraphics) work at Warren, Manhunter and various Batman stories for DC (most notably Batman: Night Cries, painted by Scott Hampton), Iron Man and Star Wars for Marvel, Secret Agent X-9/Corrigan and Star Wars newspaper strips, both drawn by Al Williamson, and the wonderful adaptation of Alien (with Walter Simonson) published by Heavy Metal and long out of print, but very much worth tracking down.

As an editor: he was Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics from 1976-1978 and later Epic Magazine and the Epic Comics line, both for Marvel. Archie was instrumental (with Roy Thomas) in bringing the Star Wars license to Marvel, a move that Marvel historians say probably saved the company at that time. Archie was also instrumental in publishing early English translations of Moebius as well as Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, both for Epic. For DC, he has edited Starman, Batman: The Long Halloween, Azrael, Jack Kirby's The Losers (soon to be collected), and numerous graphic novels. Archie also edited the long-running Batman: Tales of the Dark Knight. It is a testament to him that so many people loved working with Archie, that book had 3-to-5 years' worth of completed inventory at the time of Archie's death. And again, much of Archie's best work as a editor was for Warren on Creepy, Eerie, and Blazing Combat. He's also credited with providing the mythology for Warren's Vampirella, as well as writing many of her greatest stories.

Finally, although he's not as well-known for it, I think some of my favorite Archie work was his work as a an artist (or more correctly, cartoonist). Archie provided a introductory cartoon for most every issue of the Epic Comics line, usually a "self-portrait" of himself, dressed as one of the characters in the book, and usually in some ridiculous situation. Archie would hate for me to say this, but frequently, they were the best thing in the issue.

There are lots of Archie Goodwin cartoons scattered all over comics, in various zines, and even some inter-company newsletters. They really would make a great collection.

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From FOOM #14 (1976)

And finally, here's my favorite Archie Goodwin comic strip. It really captures the pure essence of how Archie's sense of humor could be low-key yet tremendously inspiring at the same time. When I was younger, I had it up on the board by my desk. Unfortunately it didn't survive many, many moves over the years. I just put up a fresh copy.

Long Live Archie Goodwin.

KC CARLSON can't type right now. Where's my Kleenex?...

* Although, of course, Wikipedia, being Wikipedia, has two different dates listed as the date of his death, just inches apart. Archie probably arranged for that. Most sources state the March 1 date is correct.

Got comments or questions about this column? You can contact KC at AuntieKC@WestfieldComics.com

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