By Kiel Phegley
We last brought you word from best-selling novelist and acclaimed comics scribe Brad Meltzer when he started the Siegel and Shuster Foundation to save the boyhood home of comic book legend Jerry Siegel
. Since then, the homepage for the Siegel & Shuster Society Society
has kicked off its month-long online auction to support the cause with items ranging from original artwork by comic luminaries such as John Cassaday, Alex Ross and Joe Quesada to VIP tickets to Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
But of course, Meltzer always has a mind to talk about comics just as much as he does about causes, so we rang him up in the midst of his book tour for his new novel "The Book of Lies" to talk background on how the Society got started, his long-term goals as a writer and how he lets his inner Marvel fan shine.
Marvel.com: When in your research process for "The Book of Lies" after you discovered the Siegel house did you make the shift from "I can't believe I've found this" to "I have to do something about this"?
It was at the exact same moment. When I went to see the house, I really did expect it to be something out of a Norman Rockwell painting where the apple pie would be waiting on the front porch. And what I saw was a mess. And I don't just mean it needs some paint. There are holes in the wall and holes in the ceiling, and the owner who was there, I remember she said to me, "You know, Brad…Cleveland won't even give us a plaque that says Superman was created here." And I said to her, "I'm going to get you your plaque, and I'm coming back." And I didn't know what I was going to do, but at the very least I knew I could afford a $100 plaque. And I just was determined to—look, it's silly that this woman doesn't even have a plaque and this hero that we all know [was] born in that house.
So the truth was that was probably two years ago, maybe minus a month, and I just started talking to people right then. And the more you talk about it, the more you realize that something has to be done. Obviously the one thing we needed was the most obvious thing of all: to raise money for it. It's not rocket science. It just needed money to fix it. So I started talking to people in Glenville and all I cared about was fixing the house. That was the only mission I had, and it just so happened that one of the people looking into things was a contractor, so bids were easily obtained. He knew exactly what it takes to fix the outside. So in a weird way we all just kind of stumbled onto each other.
by Chris Bachalo
up for auction
And I would say a while ago, I just started telling this story, and every time I told the story the reaction was always the same by the people in the comics community, which was "Just tell me what you need me to do." I remember the first people I wrote to were George Perez and Gene Ha, and within 10 minutes both of them had replied and said, "Just tell me what you need me to do." And George I think said, "I'll have something done by Monday." Then I remember calling Brian Bendis to tell him what was going on, and him saying, "Just tell me what you need." Same with [Ed] Brubaker and same with [Jeph] Loeb. Every person I said something to.
And when people say that, it becomes obvious. We have this community that hasn't always done right by its creators in the past, but I think when its creators or in trouble in the present, that's when we're at our best. That's the best part of being in this community is watching what happens when a crisis happens whether it's Dave Cockrum or William Messner-Loebs or all the people over the past couple of years. Every time something happens, there's no question that people will do everything they can to help their fellow writers and artists or whoever, and I love this community for that.
Marvel.com: And even though you've been in the comics game for a number of years already, are you making connections with new folks you hadn't known because of this cause?
Oh yeah! Listen, I don't know what's going to happen, but the [David] Letterman show called and said, "We want to be a part of this." Even [Stephen] Colbert, who I had met before—it was amazing to watch him come out. And now you're seeing that over the past week, other creators who I didn't know and didn't
by Joe Quesada
up for auction
have a connection to are e-mailing and saying, "I'd love to give something. I'd love to do something." It's incredible because we all have our own little cliques and circles, but I said, "I would love it if we could get a Curt Swan piece. Obviously the man's passed away. How can we get that?" And to have someone—I'll save it for a surprise—but to have someone call up and say, "I have this," it's humbling.
Marvel.com: As you've been compiling the items for the auction, have there been things that have come across your desk where you went, "Oh man, I really want to keep this for myself"?
Oh, you'll see me bidding on them. [Laughs
] Trust me, there are a couple of things that as soon as they came in, I thought, "This is going to cost me double what I could've paid for it." But it's for a good cause.
Marvel.com: You've set up waves of the auction to go through September. Have you started to get more things that might push this past that?
You know, we have enough that have just come in to do an extra week, but I think that from a strategic standpoint we don't want this to be the auction that lasts forever. We don't want the year-long auction. Just being honest, people run out of steam. And we don't want people to run out of steam, so I think what we're going to do is instead of doing a fifth week, we'll add items to the second, third and fourth week. And if we get much more than that, then we can figure it out. But the nice part is that it's going beyond the comic book community. We have people that are doing comic strips calling. Again, it's amazing to watch the depth and the breadth of people who feel something about their heroes.
Marvel.com: Once you've completed the auction and start work on the house, do you have plans to lobby the city and make the house a historical landmark or something along those lines?
& Hulk art
by John Romita Jr.
up for auction
The saddest part of this whole story is that it actually is a landmark. It was years ago made a landmark. I don't know if it was by the city or the county. But that's what's most disgusting. That's why when everyone says, "Well, it's not our responsibility," it's like, "Really? Because you made it a landmark. You said it was important. So why aren't you doing anything about it except letting it rot?" The long term plan will be left to far smarter people than myself. I just happened to be the person who had an OK enough rolodex to get people involved, and I think the rest depends on how much money [we get].
You know, I had a woman at a book signing yesterday in Washington D.C. say, "I do fund raising for a living, and I have some people in Cleveland who would love to do a fundraiser for you." Maybe that turns into gold for us, and maybe that just turns into a nice person who came to a book signing, but that's what we need right now. We need people who know other people to pass along word. In a weird way, I think this is all about shaming the right people into doing the right thing.
Marvel.com: Well, it's been a really weird week for me in regards to you, Brad, because earlier this week I was working and my mother calls me and says, "Turn on NPR quick! There's some guy talking about super heroes!" And it was you. And then not two minutes before I called you for this interview, I opened my mail, and my aunt has clipped out an essay you wrote about all this for a magazine to mail to me. I can't escape you!
] That's funny.
Marvel.com: Is it weird for you, though, to find yourself being this bridge between fanboys and the rest of society?
Here's the thing to me: the worst thing is that I always hated when comics as a medium were treated like second class citizens. It always gnawed at me. It gnaws at me that the writer's guild and the writer's union treats it differently. Somehow they've become the bastard sister, and to me writing should not be a pyramid where literary fiction is on top and genre fiction is below that and somewhere below that is comics and somewhere below that is comic strips and somewhere below that is coloring books. It's not a pyramid. It should just be a flat line. You show me any subgenre whether it be literary fiction or comics or anything else, and 90% of it is crap, and 10% of it is gold. And we have our gold in all of the standard things that people say when they mention their favorite comics, and I will hold those books to any other medium, to any other subgenre, to anywhere. Just because your fiction is serious doesn't mean it's serious fiction. I just think this medium for me has always been where the best storytelling is, so how could it ever be treated as anything but that? And that's it. It's not more complex or more intentioned that that. I just love it.
Marvel.com: To get into a little fanboy territory with you in terms of Marvel stuff, people have pointed at some of your comics and novels in terms of their bringing a real human dynamic to genre situations, which is what is pointed to as the keystone of the Marvel style. Had you followed a lot of the Marvel books when you were younger?
I can tell you my first Marvel book. It was the oversized SON OF ORIGINS compendium that had the first X-MEN and then a newer X-Men [story], and it had the first DAREDEVIL and then the Vietnam Daredevil story. It had the first S.H.I.E.L.D. with the LMDs, and I remember reading it and going, "What's this?!? This is different!" I would read those X-Men stories and those Daredevil stories and some of the great Spider-Man stories that always influence everything I do. And I don't mean that in a comic way, I mean that in my novel writing. That issue where Spider-Man is trapped under the giant piece of machinery is as important to any scene in my novel.
Marvel.com: You'll pick up comics like any other medium in finding out the new things that excite you, but with comics it seems that for a lot of people, the serial format makes them more habit forming.
Someone when I started writing comics went and read all of my novels and said, "No one in the publishing world is paying attention, but Brad Meltzer's been writing comic books in his novels for years, and no one realizes it." They're short chapters, and then you're out and you get another one. Then there's a short chapter, a cliffhanger, you're out and then another one. Then a short chapter, a cliffhanger, you're out and then another one…and I didn't consciously think about it. It just came from years of reading comics. It was like the Karate Kid painting the fence and waxing the car. You read 40,000 comic books, and eventually that 22-page format of "leave a cliffhanger and disappear" takes its toll on your brain, and that is 100% of where I get my pacing from. It's years of short chapters. We just happen to call them comic book issues.
Marvel.com: Do you keep up with the Marvel U today and the big super story that runs through?
Of course. I read everything. If it's good, I do my best to find it. I'm reading SECRET INVASION. I love what Brian's doing—I actually think he's doing better work on his Avengers books because he gets to do the character bits with far more space, and he knows my love for that. Of course, what Ed's doing on CAPTAIN AMERICA and DAREDEVIL. Loeb knows I read ULTIMATES. I read whatever's good. I love POWERS.
I think what Marvel is doing so well is letting the story live and affect the entire universe. It makes the story seem real, and therefore everything really exists as opposed to just existing for a couple of issues and then going back to where we left it. I think that's a great thing. I also am amazed at the story arc of Iron Man over the past three years. Having nothing to do with the movie, I have been amazed at what's been done with that character to make him arguably the most interesting character in the Marvel Universe right now. It used to be that for Tony Stark to be interesting, he's got to be drunk. And again, just to put it in context, it goes back to where Warren Ellis came in. I think you can mark that as the moment where things started, and that's amazing.
Marvel.com: Do you still make the weekly Wednesday sojourn to the comic shop?
You know, I go now probably every two weeks purely because of time. I'm pretty up to date. I don't have this week's books, but I have last week's because going and getting comics was the last thing I did before going on the book tour. [Laughs
] I still have all my issues still bagged of…what was it that was bagged? Not "Fall of the Mutants," but the one that was after it?
Marvel.com: "X-Cutioner's Song"?
No, but I do have that too. It was polybagged, but it wasn't "X-Cutioner's Song." What was after "Fall of the Mutants"?
Marvel.com: "X-Tinction Agenda?"
"X-Tinction Agenda"! I think that's what it was. I still have all my poly-bagged versions of it. I had a point where I was a completist. Obviously, I don't do that anymore, but if something's good, I'll rip open the poly bag.
Marvel.com: Are there any Marvel characters that you've had any ideas for that maybe in the future you'd like to write?
] Is that good enough? [Laughs
] No, I've said it before. It's X-Men and Daredevil.
For more of the Siegel & Shuster Society, visit its homepage