A few years ago, while working at Charlotte Comicon, I found myself in a pinch. Registration for our cosplay contest was underway and I was down a judge. I made a beeline for the artist alley, searching for someone who could spare an hour of their time. Thankfully, a lovely woman by the name of Rose Eury stepped up to save the day. As a result of our impromptu collaboration, I met her husband, Michael Eury, a writer, editor and all-around fascinating character. Every convention that we have held since then, I make it a point to seek him out and say hello. Michael’s contribution to our 75 Years of Batman panel drew me away from other tasks I was supposed to be accomplishing, but was worth every minute. A local historian, as well as comic book historian, Michael is active in his North Carolina community preserving the past for generations to come, while advocating and raising awareness for those affected by hearing loss. I never tire of picking this man’s brain.
You have been an editor and writer of comic books. What brought you to that career path? Was it something you’d wanted to do since childhood?
Absolutely! I got sucked into the world of Batman as a small boy in 1966 when the Batman TV show starring Adam West premiered. A few years later, I remember reading a Superman comic book squirreled away inside my notebook during 8th-grade Algebra class; after seeing Julius Schwartz’s editorial credit I thought, “That would be a fun job.” (I failed Algebra.)
In junior high and high school I wrote and drew comic books starring my classmates as superheroes, including a comic called Eury Team-Up which featured my characters (Super-Redneck, Weaselman, Shaggy the Wonder Dog, etc.) teaming up with each other and sometimes with “real” characters like Spider-Man or the Three Stooges.
I majored in music education and had a short and unsuccessful career as a band director, but continued to read comics all the while. In the late 1980s I focused my energy into breaking into comics, starting with reporting for the fan press. My first comic script was for “Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham” in Marvel Tales, for editor Jim Salicrup. In 1988 I became an assistant editor (and later editor) for the now-defunct Comico the Comic Company and got to work with some talented people like Bill Willingham, Mike W. Barr, Adam Hughes, Steve Rude, and Arthur Adams. The next year I jumped to editing at DC, and in 1993 moved to the west coast to be an editor at Dark Horse Comics. Some of my editorial projects have been DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and Who’s Who in the DC Universe and Dark Horse’s Ghost and The Mask. Along the way I’ve written a lot of comics, from Looney Tunes to Sensational She-Hulk to Adventures of the Mask.
What were some of your favorite comics and characters growing up?
I knew Superman from reruns of the 1950s TV show, but once I started reading Batman comics, the Caped Crusader was my gateway hero to other DC characters. TV cartoons in 1967 also introduced me to Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. I also liked offbeat superheroes like Metamorpho the Element Man, the Thing, Plastic Man, and the Creeper. I also grew up watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Loved The Flintstones and Jonny Quest!
Tell me a little bit about Back Issue.
Back Issue is a full-color magazine published eight times a year by TwoMorrows Publishing of Raleigh, NC. BI goes behind the scenes of comics of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s—“Comics’ Bronze Age and Beyond.” It’s part history, part nostalgia. We started the magazine in the fall of 2003 and it’s still going strong—issue #78 just came out.
Each issue of BI has a theme: “Batman’s Partners,” “1980s Independents,” “DC Bronze Age Giants and Reprints,” etc. Plus it’s art-loaded, with images from comics, original art, and behind-the-scenes photos and sketches.
In your experience, to what level do you feel that E-readers and tablets have affected the comic book industry?
Digital comics are just a different platform for storytelling. For those Depression-era kids who read those early Golden Age comics, their platform was a pulp-paper 64-page comic book for a dime. Back in the 1980s, the platform transitioned to higher-grade paper and “deluxe” printing techniques. Now you can read a comic on a tablet. I’m happy that the characters continue to remain viable, no matter how their adventures are read.
At what point did you transition into the role of ‘comic historian’?
By the early 2000s, my comics career hadn’t turned out the way I’d envisioned and I was angry and depressed over my progressive hearing loss. So I blanketed myself in nostalgia—old comics, vintage TV shows (I’m a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show, BTW!), old toys, and trivia. I wrote a book about the history of a collectible toy—Captain Action, The Original Super-Hero Action Figure—and through it redefined myself as someone devoted to preserving stories from the past. Since then, I’ve written or co-written numerous comics-history books.
You’re something of a ‘community historian’ as well, with you and your wife, Rose, having founded Yesterday Forever Publishing. Tell me about your latest book “The Raiford Troutman Story”?
Not all heroes wear spandex! Raiford Troutman is a multi-faceted businessman here in my hometown of Concord, NC. He has also, rather quietly, financially supported a host of charities. During his childhood his father was a sharecropper; as a boy Raiford was raised in a shack and had farm chores and almost no playtime. He was also a high-school dropout. But through faith, determination, and hard work he became a successful businessman, mentor, and philanthropist. No silver spoon—he earned his fortune the good, old-fashioned way, and shared his fortune with others. Quite a guy!
I admire how active you are not only in the community in which you live, but as an advocate for those with hearing loss. You were diagnosed in 1994 with Otosclerosis motivating you to become a voice for others. What have been some of your most rewarding moments?
Thank you! My life was turned around by the inspiration of Superman movie actor Christopher Reeve, who spent the last nine years of his life a quadriplegic, but an advocate for people with spinal-cord injuries—a superman in real life! I’ve since tried to be a positive messenger to people with hearing loss who haven’t yet fully accepted their condition, to help guide them into taking ownership of their condition and moving forward.
The single most rewarding moment I recall is when I was delivering an empowerment speech called “Invisible No More,” where I described how many people with hearing loss feel invisible. Afterwards a young man approached me with tears in his eyes—he could hear normally but his dad couldn’t. He confessed to me, “Now I know how my dad feels.”
As a DC guy, let’s just get right to it: Batman or Superman?
That’s like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. They’re my two favorite heroes. Please don’t make me choose.
With the notable exception of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, DC film adaptations have never seen the financial success of their Marvel counterparts on the big screen. Yet, it is the exact opposite on television (Batman, Gotham, Lois and Clark, Smallville, Arrow, Flash….). Why do you think that is?
Re DC movies, it’s only been the past few years that Marvel has eclipsed them. But don’t forget that for their time, Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman (1989) were box-office hits, as were their immediate sequels.
But you’re right that in recent years, Marvel’s scoring on the big screen while DC has been doing well on TV.
Well, Marvel Studios (not to be confused with the X-Men, Spider-Man, or Fantastic Four film franchises) wisely built a film universe, one film at a time, growing anticipation for the next entry. I mean, really, several years ago, who could’ve imagined a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, much less it being a hit?
DC has scored on TV with a formula that was, starting with the Marvel Age of Comics, Marvel’s strength: soap opera with superpowers. That started with Lois and Clark, which was targeted toward women as well as fans, then with Smallville, which had a strong youth demographic (some kids watching Smallville in its earliest seasons were unaware they were watching the adventures of Superman). And now, Arrow, Gotham, and The Flash are essentially costumed General Hospital episodes. They’re infectious—watch one and you want to watch another.
DC’s about to parrot Marvel’s growing film universe with their slate of films. I wish them luck. I’m really curious about Suicide Squad. Jared Leto as the Joker? Cool casting!
What have been your most favorite and least favorite comic to film adaptations of all time?
Superman: The Movie remains my all-time favorite comic adaptation. Despite its camp, it was the first time an actor took a superhero role seriously. Christopher Reeve was perfect as Superman, at least for his time.
I also liked The Rocketeer, which, despite its Bettie Page substitute, was very close to Dave Stevens’ vision.
Of course, I’m also partial to the Batman TV show (now called Batman ’66, I guess…). But it was a product of its time—and has been unfairly criticized as camping up Batman. (Batman comics had become campy before the TV show premiered … but I do admit that television took the campiness to new heights. Batusi, anyone?)
Of Marvel’s films, I really like the first Iron Man, The Avengers, and both Captain America movies.
Least favorite? The disjointed Superman IV: The Quest for Peace made me want to cry. And I left Batman and Robin under a shroud of embarrassment. (George Clooney has purportedly offered to refund ticket prices to people who saw his Batman movie. I’m waiting for my refund.) I’m so-so about the X-Men movies; I’ve never been a fan of Marvel’s mutants. (But my 15-year-old second cousin is losing his mind over the upcoming movie starring his favorite character, Deadpool.)
You participate in a lot of comic conventions. What is it about them that brings you back time and again?
These days, I only attend the Piedmont NC-area conventions. I started to go to them a few years ago to promote Back Issue and my books, but have grown to like the family of fans in this part of the Tar Heel State.
I need to return to a major convention again. My last San Diego Comic-Con was 2006. Maybe I’ll make New York this fall.
But I like smaller, more intimate conventions where you can actually have a conversation about comics with someone … and one that’s not so packed that a bathroom break doesn’t take 45 minutes of crowd-wading.
I have read where some people think that the cosplay element is hurting conventions, while others blame it on the larger cons becoming ‘nothing more than Hollywood press junkets’; thoughts?
Well, the reason I stopped going to San Diego after 2006 was that it had grown too big for a “little guy” like me—how can Back Issue compete with Hugh Jackman? Still, I have tons of good memories from San Diego—which is, as a city, a slice of Heaven on Earth.
Cosplay is a blast. I love seeing the costumes on people of all ages. And the fact that it has become an art onto itself is wild.
I don’t subscribe to the opinion that these elements are hurting conventions—but they’ve certainly changed them. However, I don’t think that every con needs media celebrities; it’s nice sometimes to just focus on comics and comics creators.
It seems as though we are in an era of the Nerd, with it far more socially acceptable now for people of all ages to read comic books, as well as pop culture being immersed in all things comic related. That’s quite an evolution for comic books. Do you think that momentum will keep going? What do you see for the future of comic books?
I’m not sure what the future holds for comic books, but their characters and mode of larger-than-life storytelling has taken over movies, TV, cartoons, video games, and licensing. The sheer amount of merchandising of characters is unbelievable. In the ’80s, Hot Topic sold Madonna fingerless gloves; now they sell Harley Quinn clothing. Comics characters are now a fashion statement! And it used to be you were lucky to find a Superman or Batman T-shirt.
When I was a DC editor, I remember an editorial meeting, circa 1990, where DC president Jenette Kahn had just returned from L.A. and told us that our corporate parent, Warner Bros., considered DC a “garden of characters from which to choose.” Back then, however, Jenette was fond of saying that comics had a “limitless special-effects budget”—that on the illustrated page you could do just about anything. Now, of course, CGI has caught up with that. And that “garden of characters” has blossomed. Even the average guy on the street recognizes, say, Green Lantern or Thor, when a generation ago only the hardcore geeks knew those characters.
Re the momentum: It hinges upon quality. I think viewers will support these movies and shows if they’re good. However, the risk is, this mad dash to get more and more characters on the screen might trigger an implosion—too many superheroes. It’s happened before. I’m hoping it doesn’t happen again.
What was the first comic book you can remember buying? Your first convention you attended? Your favorite issue of all time?
The first comic I remember getting was Detective Comics #350, featuring the lame villain the Monarch of Menace. I was eight and was excited about the Batman TV that was about to debut and called my dad at work to ask him to bring home a Batman comic book for me. That was it.
The earliest comic I remember buying for myself was The Brave and the Bold #68, teaming Batman and Metamorpho.
My first convention? When I was an ECU student in the late 1970s, Charles Lawrence, who ran Greenville’s Nostalgia Newsstand, had comics swap shows. But I believe my first actual convention was one of Shelton Drum’s earliest Heroes mini-cons, in the early 1980s. (My first trip to San Diego was in 1988. It was also my first trip to the west coast.)
My favorite issue of all-time: It’s also Brave and Bold #68. You can’t beat your childhood favorite!
Thank you, Michael, for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Come and meet Michael Eury on May 3, 2015 at the Charlotte Comicon Spring Show!