Friday, January 24, 2014

...An Interview With “Awkward” Augustine Funnell...

The following interview was conducted at the home of Dave Sim on the night of June 16, 1973. Augustine Funnell was in the town of Kitchener for the second annual Fan Fest held at Now and Then Books. Twenty-one years ago that day, Gus Funnell was born in Kingston, Ontario.

After a dismal high school life, he graduated from grade twelve with first class honours. “I had enough good marks to go into university and continue in some sort of English course. But I decided I didn’t want to because I know nothing about the English language. I just like the words.” He hitchhiked across Canada before getting a job as an engineering accountant and then decided in June 1972 to give it up for writing. In August, he sold his first script to Al Hewetson, editor of Skywald Publications. “I’ve been living on unemployment insurance and what little I make off writing ever since.”

Gus Funnell’s published stories include “Monster, Monster On The Wall” (Nightmare #12), Monster, Monster In The Grave” (Psycho #13), “The Monstrosity” (Psycho #14), and “Ghouls Walk Among Us” (Psycho #15).

Soon to be released are “Monster, Monster Rise From Thy Crypt” (Part III of the Monster, Monster Saga), “Shift: Vampire” (in an all-vampire issue), and “The Devil Sent Us Death.”

In this interview, he talks about Skywald, horror, Denny O’Neil, fans, awards, censorship codes, underground comix, Monster, Monster and Augustine Funnell. 

Q: How much rejection did you face in becoming a comic book writer?

Augustine: A substantial amount because I wrote an average of three scripts a week. The one that I eventually sold in August (1972) I think was rejected three or four different times. So if I wrote an average of three scripts a week and this started in January and I didn’t sell anything until August there had to be a lot of rejections. Plus I was also writing poetry which was getting rejected right and left. There was no way anybody would touch my stuff. I kept track. I had almost a submission a day for 1972. I only sold three things in 1972, so that leaves you three hundred and sixty-two rejections. That’s not just three hundred and sixty-two pieces because some of them were multiple submissions, like five poems at a time. So maybe it was something like seven hundred rejections last year.

Q: How about the companies that rejected you, which ones did it in a nice way?

Augustine: Marvel and Skywald did it in a nice way. I also wrote to DC, Warren and Gold Key. Charlton I tried as well and was rejected. They had nothing whatsoever to say to me. I didn’t even get to see them. They’re in Connecticut of course. But I got the standard rejection slip sort of thing. They’re already typed out and all they do is type in your name and somebody signs a fictitious name and they send it back.

Q: What was the atmosphere, as far as you could see, around the various comic book companies?

Augustine: At DC it seemed disruptive. There was no cohesion at all. Everybody seemed to be part of a little group and, while there wasn’t open hostility, there was underlying hostility. Group A did something Group B didn’t like. Things flowed very smoothly at Gold Key because their pattern is so set that there’s no room for any variation. Over at Marvel I didn’t get much of a chance to see how things ran, but they seemed smooth from the people and the way they talked to each other. It seemed that everything was running smoothly, but that is not a very valid observation because I wasn’t there long enough, just the 20 minutes to talk to Steve Gerber which I’ll always be happy for because he was kind enough to take the time to talk to me. At DC I was surprised though, because of the comic company being the large company it is, that there was so much division. Nobody or no groups seemed to be together on what they were doing. I can’t give specific instances, but it just didn’t seem to be smooth. There were people who almost openly hated other people. Whereas Marvel’s image has always been the big friendly bullpen, the DC image has always been the big cold corporation. That’s probably the best description you could give it.

Q: What about Skywald?

Augustine: The only people I saw there were Herschel (Waldman) and his secretary because Al was still here in Canada, (yay). And Herschel was very good. He took time – I don’t think I tore him away from any pressing problems. Or maybe just because I had sold something to them he was interested in meeting me. He showed me original artwork and upcoming covers and (Pablo) Marcos who did the first story. The deadline I saw on my script when Al returned it to me was the 25th of September and I was at the Skywald offices on the 25th of September and the artwork still hadn’t been returned, so it was probably a day or two past the deadline. So I didn’t get to see that story. But I got to see some of the other things. And Herschel explained some of the basics of comic companies to me, which was interesting to say the least. There was a lot I didn’t know.

Q: You said that you met a number of people you liked and didn’t like in New York. Who were some of the people you liked?

Augustine: I won’t answer the brother to that question. Denny O’Neil has to come first and then Cary Bates, Jeff Rovin, Joe Kubert, Howie Chaykin and Alan Weiss. These are the people who stick out most in my mind because I had a chance to sit down and talk, either individually or collectively, with all of them. Archie Goodwin is a man I forgot. May I rot in hell for forgetting him. Archie was very, very decent. I hate myself because I told him he was insane because he was dropping the “Make War No More” from the Kubert line of war comics which he took over. I just said “You’re insane!” because that meant a lot to me. He thought it was childish or something like that. But I didn’t really get a chance to talk to Kubert, but what I saw of him I liked. But except for those I mentioned I didn’t get a chance to talk to very many or get to know them at all. Steve Mitchell – I got to talk to him and had a fairly good time – as well as John Warner who was working for Gold Key. He suggested that I go down to Gold Key and talk to them.

Q: What do you think of Denny O’Neil?

Augustine: He’s the greatest comic writer alive, the greatest comic writer who has ever lived or who ever will live, simply because of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. I can’t think of another writer who could have pulled it off with the finesse and raw power that he did it with. Everything was moving. You knew that there was a point made after you read the story. It wasn’t something you had to look around for. It wasn't something you could make up in your mind. He got it across. There were no two ways about it. One of the best things was when Green Lantern actually had heroin stuck in his veins and freaked out. But that would never happen to a super-hero and nobody but Denny O’Neil could have pulled it off. As I’ve said, if the guy was an absolute scum of the earth he’d still be my favourite comics writer because he’s so good. But he’s that much better in my mind because he was kind enough to take the time to talk to me for twenty minutes when he had many, many more important things to do than to talk to a guy who had sold the big total of one comics story at that time. He had better things to do but he still talked to me. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I was totally insane about writing comics.

Q: What is the importance of Shazam and Comic Fandom awards to professionals?

Augustine: To professionals like Denny O’Neil, not much. Because Denny knows what he can do and he’s not interested in awards. For people who are interested in awards, it’s one of two things. It’s either to feed the professional ego or because they really care about comics. So it’s a little bit of both. As Denny said, “That and thirty-five cents will get me on any bus in town.” It doesn’t mean as much as, say, the Oscar. But it is necessary as far as I’m concerned for the industry to have an award. It is necessary for the fans, not the average reader, the fan. There have got to be awards; it adds glamour and mystique and excitement to the whole thing. Say your favourite story has been nominated and that you’re hoping it will win. It helps the fans more than it does any of the professionals. The Academy of Comic Book Arts has drawn all the companies together in a good way, for a common cause of picking the absolute best. In a field that reaches so many people there has to be a judgement of the best. It is absolutely necessary. It’s necessary in films. If there was no judgement, it would be absolutely worthless to do it. You have to have a “best” of everything.

Q: Have comics reached their peak with the Green Lantern/Green Arrow material, or are there other plateaus to reach?

Augustine: For me, comics reached their peak with Green Lantern/Green Arrow because of my personal beliefs. There are many fields we can go into, such as pure science fiction the likes of which Brian Aldiss writes – who is one of the top writers today. It could be something of a futuristic nature. Nothing is basically futuristic today. We had the New Gods which is from a future time so to speak but it was all happening on present day Earth. You can go backwards or forwards. It’s definitely not dead, or the possibilities are definitely not dead. There are possibilities that are not being expanded upon as they should be. And not being as high up as I’d like to be in comics, I can’t offer positive alternatives. No field is totally drained of what it could deliver to the populace. It couldn’t be.

Q: What is the appeal of the horror stories you write to the average reader, as you see it?

Augustine: To the average reader who is fourteen or fifteen, it has to be just the horror of it. To the people I’m writing for, hopefully there’s a point behind the story. To the average reader it’s just the horror of a monster which almost always has to be present to make it interesting. Because the kids that age don’t see the pure horror in the average everyday person. So it has to be just that there’s a monster there and that story is involved in the life/and or death of that monster. That’s the only appeal it can have to the average reader.

Q: What do you hope is the appeal to the fan or more mature reader?

Augustine: I hope to get across a point of human decency, just to be decent to other people, to be fair. Screw prejudice and be equal and don’t hurt people. That is the kind of point I’m trying to get across. That doesn’t apply for all my stories. Some of my stories are written just to appeal to the average reader, just plain horror stories that I enjoy writing. But I would like some of the better stories I’ve written to have a point, which a mature reader can say are legitimate, which have something to do with peace or fairness or equality or this type of thing. That’s what I’d like. Maybe it doesn’t always come across.

Q: How much of the “Monster, Monster” character is there in Augustine Funnell?

Augustine: I like to feel that I’m the same type of person – downtrodden and being kicked right and left. But it isn’t true. So there is actually none of him in me. I would like to think that I had a valid reason to write something like that, that I knew what I was talking about. But I don’t. I just know what should be. So there’s no Monster, Monster in me, although there are people like that. Unfortunately, they can’t turn into werewolves to right things. They just have to take it. The only reason there is a Monster, Monster Saga now at Skywald is because I believe in the ideals that I do, and because Al liked it of course.

Q: A number of comic book writers have said that one of their motivations for writing comics is a literary vengeance against something that irritates them. For example, they will make up a character in a story and kill him just to get rid of their own hostilities. Is there anything like this motivating you to write the Monster, Monster Saga?

Augustine: Yes, I’d like to take a gun or a Bullwhip and shoot or whip every person I meet, just to do it. But I know that’s wrong. However, I can take it out on paper. And when I do it on paper, I don’t have to do it to anyone else. I’ve already done it. There’s no personal thing. There’s no one I hate who gets killed in a story or has anything rotten happen to them. When I write a story there is nothing in my mind which relates to any person or deed, before the final draught of the story, as to how it turns out. There’s nothing of value in it at all. It’s just that it is so easy for me to release pent up anger over things in the world that bug me. Say the war in Vietnam bothered me. The horror story I write would have nothing to do with the war, but there might be a moral point there. By getting out one moral point, I’ve taken away the anxiety over the other point.

Q: Do you think that the publishers and writers and artists and editors in comics underrate or overrate the intelligence of their average readers?

Augustine: Neither, they know which side their bread is buttered on. They know what the reader wants and they’re delivering just that. They neither underrate nor overrate. They know exactly what it is the readers want, good or bad.

Q: Do you do any other writing besides the horror?

Augustine: Yes, I’m very much into science fiction short stories. I finished two just before I came up here (to Kitchener). I think they’re very good. I hate to say that, but they’re good. The ideas are good, I’ll put it that way. But I think I’ll be doing more of the short story science fiction because I’ve got to start getting more markets. I like writing other things. I’m also writing a little bit of poetry right now. And I write humour as well. None of which have sold yet.

Q: Do you think that it would be beneficial to Skywald if Al Hewetson were to establish Warren-style awards and hand them out at a convention to his own artists and writers? Would it inspire better writing and artwork?

Augustine: It might. But you’ve also got to remember that there are only four writers in the Skywald organization: Ed Fedory, Jane Lynch, Al Hewetson and me. And I don’t think that Al, writing as much as he does, could actually give an award. As for the artists, they’re all Spanish; they work through an agency. It’s just a job. What do they care if they win the Skywald Highballs Award? What difference would it make? I don’t think it would make that much difference, unless I’m wrong and they really enjoy their work. But the fact that we get our comic illustrators from an agency doesn’t seem to indicate the kind of avid interest, say, that I have in writing for instance. It just doesn’t seem the same. I think if we had American artists who were regulars, and a lot of different writers other than the four of us, it would definitely serve as an inspiration to write better, especially if you had a write-in from the fans so that Al Hewetson or Herschel Waldman or Ed Fedory didn’t have to hand out the awards. That would probably be the best thing to inspire you to write better, because the fans are the guys who control what you do. So if they voted, it would probably be tremendous. We could have that right now if people would send it in.

Q: Why does Skywald have only four writers?

Augustine: Al Hewetson, as you know, writes a lot of the material, the majority of the material. He has picked three other people whose work, I believe, he likes. He likes that material and he doesn’t need other writers. As long as he continues to produce as much as he does, and can buy stories he likes, then he doesn’t need other writers. If he falters in production, then he might buy the occasional extra story from one of the other three or may buy a new story from someone else. But there’s absolutely no need for it right now because, as far as filling the magazines, Al is writing enough and the three of us are contributing enough to keep them going.

Q: Who do you have to meet still, those professionals you said you wanted to go to conventions to meet?

Augustine: Stan Lee, I think, because he spearheaded the whole relevance movement with Spider-Man. Everyone at Marvel just about. The only one I met at Marvel was Steve Gerber. I’d like to meet Jack Kirby. Neal Adams, I’d like to meet, if only because of his work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Steve Ditko, what can I say about Steve Ditko? Wally Wood, Jerry Grandenetti, Reed Crandall. I’d also like to have met Syd Shores. Al and Syd were good friends and I liked the work that he did. Berni Wrightson I just saw. I think we may have said hello in New York. But I’d like to meet him. I said hello to Mike Kaluta. If you want to call that meeting, okay, but we didn’t have a chance to talk. Will Eisner is another man I’d like to meet.

Q: You mentioned meeting Denny O’Neil and Cary Bates in New York. What were your impressions of them?

Augustine: It surpassed the selling of my first story. Because of the utmost respect, I mentioned a moment ago, that I had for these people, there is really no higher goal that I could have had. They were really decent people. And when you respect the work of someone and find out that he’s a decent person you respect the work that much more. It’s a very nice circle in that way. There were a couple of people that I, unfortunately, didn’t get a chance to talk to like Berni Wrightson. But I got a chance to talk to Howie Chaykin who was very nice to talk to because there was no one else around; there was a chance to have a serious discussion devoid of all insults prepared to tear apart your humanity. Howie has a penchant for just totally destroying you if there is anybody watching. And it’s funny, it’s not cruel. He’s funnier than hell, he really is. But I talked to him in the reception room and he showed me some of his artwork which was very good. And I enjoyed that because I wasn’t being insulted because there was nobody else around to listen to him. I had a good time with Alan Weiss. Al Weiss treated me more like I was one of the boys sort of thing, though I was nothing. It certainly helped because that’s what a professional is, not just someone who produces comics. It’s their public relations as well. A professional can’t be a professional without having an amount of human decency to the people who are buying the stuff.

Q: What do you think of the underground field?

Augustine: I don’t like most of it. I do not like the porno aspect of the underground field. For many years you couldn’t have a nude chick in a magazine. The undergrounds seem to have gone hog wild. Because they’re not governed by any comics code, they decided to go strictly into A-1 sex. One guy has ultimate class and that’s Richard Corben, because everything he does has a plot. The sex is just a sideline; it is not the important thing. The important thing is the theme or the plot of the story. He’s got a reason for writing the story and there’s usually a reason for putting the sex in as well. But usually, like with the magazine called Bizarre Sex which shows a giant penis ripping through the streets of New York City, big deal! That’s the cover. Oh hallelujah the Lord has come. That’s the god -- it seems to be for them. If you’ve got that then you’ll sell the magazine to all the perverted freaks. I like some of the horror things they’re coming out with though. The artwork, on the average, is pure shit. I don’t like it. It’s not classy; it’s not clear and it’s not concise. The undergrounds could outsell the established comics if they just injected them with some class. They could take relevancy themes and make them work because the people would buy them. Their print run, I think, is much smaller than your average comic magazine. So the people who are interested in relevant stories, and can’t get it in the overgrounds, could get it in the undergrounds. I think if they tried they could do quite well. At present there are only a few good points about them. One, they’re a new dimension to comics. So I’m very much in favour of them even if I don’t like the majority of the things presented.

Q: Do you have any code or such at Skywald?

Augustine: No, none, except horror of course.

Q: So, while admittedly improbable, it would be possible to have the same things in the Skywald books that are in the undergrounds at present?

Augustine: Improbable, most definitely yes! But I don’t think it would be possible because if we started such things we’d become just another underground magazine. And neither Al nor anyone else wants that, at least as far as I know. As well, I’m quite sure that the undergrounds sell less than us, although I have no facts to bear me out on that. So why should we jeopardize our present sales to cater to what I feel is a minor audience? Both financially and creatively it wouldn’t work, at least not with the present setup.

Q: Do you think that you’d have any more freedom in the underground field?

Augustine: No, because the underground field basically is just sex and a lot of stuff that isn’t even interesting, at least to me. It’s just perverted. I wouldn’t have any more freedom because I wouldn’t want to write that stuff. I’ve got more freedom where I am now, because that’s just the kind of stuff that I like to write. Something I saw once, a bit of graffiti or something, was “Freedom does not mean fuck-all goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean that and the opposite of that is the idea that undergrounds are based around.

Q: Perhaps the fans who read the overground comics are the same ones who read the underground comics?

Augustine: I know people who would never touch an overground and yet are buying underground stuff. My own situation is that I buy both regularly. I don’t know very many people who buy both. It’s mostly just one or the other. I have several friends who just buy underground comics. The overgrounds have no appeal to them at all. The undergrounds do, I think, because everything does go whether they like it or not. They like the idea of everything being able to go whether it’s in good taste or not. And, of course, I know a few fans who buy only overgrounds and won’t touch undergrounds. But you could, on an overall ratio, be 100% correct.

Q: Do your friends buy it because it’s comic art or because it’s pornography?

Augustine: I think more because it’s pornography which they can’t get in comic art anywhere else.

Q: How did it happen that you made the character in “Monster, Monster” into a continuing feature for Psycho?

Augustine: The day that I left to see Al Hewetson, I received in the mail a letter from him informing me that Monster, Monster was a continuing character. So I assumed that when I got there (St. Catharines) we’d be discussing it. And he wanted a plot outline from me. This we worked out over a few drinks, which was very interesting. He was drinking, I think it was, sherry or it might have been bourbon and I was drinking wine, I believe. And it was about three thirty in the morning and we had had a couple of drinks. We were tired and we were just about chain smoking and feeling rather, rather good at that time of the morning when we had passed the point of exhaustion. We’d make points back and forth. And if one guy made a good point, it was like, “Ahhh, that’s it! That’s the whole thing!” The other person just said, “Wow, wonderful.” If a bad point was made, it was an instantaneous “Blechhh!” I made a couple of the worst points, just to be able to say. “Let’s make a bad point now so we can both puke!” And we worked this out in an hour and a half. And we’d get so far and I’d say, “Well, that’s it, eh?” And Al would say, “Oh, no, we’ve only gone three pages!” And I had something like twenty pages worked out in my mind for a third story. And we’d go a bit further and I’d say, “Yeah, that’ll be okay.” And he’d say, “Hell, no, you only have four or five pages there.” Finally we had about eight pages of ideas set. I could expand on them any time and that was the important thing. It was pretty good when we finished because we both knew what we had. Through the stupor of a couple of drinks, alcoholic beverages/liquid stimulants and fourteen packages of cigarettes, we had everything down pat. The only problem was waking up the next morning and remembering all of it, which was my problem because Al had told me what he wanted. He expected to get it and I had to remember it. After a couple of drinks I don’t pay ultimate attention. But I enjoyed that visit with Al because it was the first time I had ever met him, as a matter of fact.

...And so concludes this representation of the Awkward Ones interview with Dave Sim as it originally appeared... Augustine, along with UK-based Skywald-influenced artist John Gallagher and your “Horrible Host” are hard at work compiling and completing the collected edition of “The Monster, Monster Saga”, which will gather together the original published seven chapters along with the previously unseen chapters eight and nine, thus bringing to a conclusion the highly popular and successful series… …Miss It Not…

If you would like to purchase a signed copy of either “The Complete Illustrated History Of The Skywald Horror-Mood” by “Archaic” Al Hewetson or a signed original edition of Nightmare No. 22 just click on the link below

or the Augustine Funnell Books link in the links section... Both are long out of print, very valuable, highly collectible and extremely hard to find tomes... ...Miss Them Not...            

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