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Famous Fanboys

Famous Fanboys: Tom Scharpling Pt. 1

The television writer and radio host talks Iron Fist, the Defenders and more

By Dan Brooks

Tom Scharpling
He loves basketball, the Martin Short comedy "Clifford," and his Abba box set; but for Tom Scharpling, host of the comedy, music, and talk radio show, "The Best Show" on WFMU, it doesn't get any better than an issue of IMMORTAL IRON FIST. 

When not busy with his day job as writer and executive producer of the hit TV show "Monk," Tom Scharpling's work on "The Best Show"-Tuesdays, 8-11PM, live on WFMU or online at WFMU's official site-has resulted in some of the finest radio comedy going today.  A typical episode, if such a thing exists, goes something like this: Scharpling plays a couple of songs ranging from Paul McCartney gems to Jay-Z hits, he talks to listeners such as "quality caller" Samir and the doo-wop and horror movie loving Spike, chats with in-studio guests like Patton Oswalt and Aimee Mann and he engages in hilarious calls with one of the many insane characters played by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster.  But in the end, it's Scharpling's ability to blend all this with his smart, biting wit and genuine warmth that makes the show so enjoyable. 

Even better, "The Best Show" has proven to be a comics-friendly destination, whether it's unabashed aficionado Scharpling discussing the latest Marvel movie, talking about his trip to the New York Comic Con, or getting a call from INVINCIBLE IRON MAN writer Matt Fraction.

In part one of our two-part interview concerning all things comics, the proud New Jersey resident discusses his personal favorites, the super hero team he likes more than the Avengers, and what Marvel movie adaptation he'd love to see.


Marvel.com: Very simply, how did you get into comics?


Tom Scharpling: I started buying super hero comics from the deli that was near my house, [when I was] growing up.  And I don't know what did it, but I was always onboard with Marvel, and DC characters never did anything for me as a kid.  I just started buying comics and scraping together whatever money I could and buying everything that came out.

Marvel.com: You often say during "Best Show," "You think I want to be here?  I could be at home reading a comic book!"

Tom Scharpling: [Laughs] Yes!

Marvel.com: So I'm curious, what are you reading now?

Tom Scharpling: Let me think.  Matt Fraction just sent me some Thor stuff and THE ORDER.  There's a Thor thing he did [that I'm reading], and I'm just getting up to speed on X-Men, which is always a thing that I've checked in and out of for my entire life.  So now I'm checking back in.

Marvel.com: Do you have any favorites or any favorite storylines over the years?

Tom Scharpling: You know, when I was a kid, [one of] the first things that I was buying would've been the John Byrne/Chris Claremont UNCANNY X-MEN run.  Buying those every month was awesome.  That meant a lot to me back then, and the Frank Miller DAREDEVIL stuff meant a lot to me.  That's just unbelievable.  As much as that stuff, those kind of more

appreciated works, meant something to me, the comics that I actually read the most of would be [titles] like POWER MAN AND IRON FIST; the second tier books of the day, whether it be DEFENDERS, or POWER MAN AND IRON FIST, or DOCTOR STRANGE.  I always weirdly gravitated towards the Defenders over the Avengers, because the Avengers just had everything locked down and were on it.

Marvel.com: Right, well, they were kind of stacked.

Tom Scharpling: Yeah.  Exactly, it's a fully loaded squadron there, and the Defenders were just this group of third stringers, where it's like, "Ugh, these guys are losers, and they don't like each other either!"  Guys would just check out for huge stretches.  For some reason, the messiness of that appealed to me.  Just how chaotic that was. 

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST, in the best sense of things, was just pure junk. "Hey, what things are popular now? Blaxploitation movies and kung fu movies!"

Marvel.com: Put 'em together!

Tom Scharpling: Yeah.  [Laughs]  That's it.  "That works together.  Let's do it."  Whenever they talk about a Power Man movie or an Iron Fist movie, it's like, come on!  It's right there! Power Man and Iron Fist together, that's the movie!

Marvel.com: Would you have Luke Cage in his current gear or would he be in yellow and blue?

Tom Scharpling: [Laughs] Yellow!  Yellow!  Of course he's in yellow!  With the weird wrist bracelets, and that weird headband kind of thing, I don't know what you call it.  But it would be that lineup.  And that's why when I read the IMMORTAL IRON FIST stuff that Matt Fraction did, which I was a fan of before I got to know him a little bit, which was an exciting thing unto itself, I was like, "Man, this is so awesome," because it was taking a thing that was so under-respected and giving it real weight and depth, but it was still fun.  It wasn't a comic that was not a blast to read.  It was totally exciting and fun to read, but it also had the gravity that I was glad to see given to a character that I always liked.

Marvel.com: When I think of my dad's generation, they all grew up reading comics but they seemed to leave it behind at some point.  I feel like people in their 20's and 30's have kind of stayed with it, and that's a large part of the comic book audience now.  So, do you see some kind of a change in the way they're written now compared to when you were a kid? Did they grow with you?

Tom Scharpling: You know, that's really interesting, because I think part of the problem is that they grew.  I don't necessarily like that comics grew with adults.  It's a reality and that's just how it's gonna be because that's who's buying.  A huge share of the marketplace is coming from people who are not 10. 

When the comics are just too serious, it's always a turn off to me.  No one got into this stuff because it's so serious.  When it's like, "Who can be the biggest badass," and that's all that matters-just being hard and harder and just being tough-but there's no fun in it, [it's disappointing].  It's just, "Man, this is not fun."

Marvel.com: I think that's why ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN has been so popular.  It was the definition of an all-ages book.  There were great fights but the book had a lot of heart to it.

Tom Scharpling: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN [is] great.  That was another book I loved. And there were real stakes with what was going on.  This mattered.  It wasn't just like reading something that didn't matter.  And the thing is, when it has that sense of fun, the heart kind of goes hand-in-hand if it's done right, and the stakes go hand-in-hand.  [Laughs]  I like fun stuff. 

One thing that was not the most fun thing but was just jaw-droppingly great is the Ed Brubaker CAPTAIN AMERICA run.  That's unparalleled.  To pull off some of the concepts and things that he was pulling off, and actually giving you a queasy feeling in your stomach because it's like, "Oh, man!  The world is getting taken over here!  This is horrible!" But it was really just effective.  I was just blown away by that.

Marvel.com: Would you say that comics have influenced your work on "Best Show"?  Because the characters that Jon Wurster has created kind of make up a comic book rogues gallery for you.

Tom Scharpling: [Laughs] Yeah, I think that's evolved from it.  He does not read comic books; [I] know he is not a fan of comic books, really.  But everybody knows the idea of having super villains; the idea of "good guys and bad guys."  That's a phrase I throw around a lot [on "Best Show"].  Comic books helped shape that to a point, also: it's just, "eh, these are the good guys, these are the bad guys."  You have to be an adult at a point, and go off and maybe figure out who the actual good guys and bad guys are in actual real life.  But I love black and white lines being drawn like that, and I'm sure that that influences the show to a degree.

Check back next week for part two of our interview with Tom Scharpling!

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Hilarious and totally on-point. I remember buying comics at the stationary store in my one-horse town. They only had Marvel and Archie. Heard about this at the end of the Best Show!The 8/18 show in the Best Show archives!