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DF Interview: Comics writer David Avallone reminisces about his dad, pulps writer Michael Avallone
By Byron Brewer
Two men, two generations, a lot of colorful heroes.
Pulp fiction writer Michael Avallone brought many a story to life during his prolific career, including those of pulp heroes and hard-boiled gumshoes. His was a life of incredible creativity.
That life came to an end in 1999, but fresh works from Avallone are on the way to anxious readers yet again. How can this be? Dynamic Forces asked his son, David Avallone – writer of modern tales of some of the same pulp heroes – this and more.
Join us for a very special story of two creative minds, one last name.
Dynamic Forces: David, your father Michael Avallone was a prolific novelist throughout the 1950s through the ‘80s, but may be best known for his writing of pulp magazine stories, the forerunners of modern-day comic books. How did he happen to get into this line?
David Avallone: I think dad always wanted to write, and he broke in the hard way. He just wrote, and submitted to the magazines, over and over, and to publishers, over and over, until someone bought something. His first published novel was The Tall Dolores, but it’s worth noting it was the SIXTH novel he wrote. The first five did all eventually see print.
I think he’s best known for the paperback work… but his very first story was published in Weird Tales during the waning days of pulp. It’s a pretty good one, too, called The Man Who Walked On Air. I know he loved Weird Tales and considered that sale a big feather in his cap. He submitted a few to them before they bought that one, though. Through the fifties he wrote for the detective magazines, like Mike Shayne, Ellery Queen and The Saint … a lot of them serialized versions of his Ed Noon novels.
DF: Is it by irony or design that you yourself are writing many a pulp hero for the modern-day world, properties like The Shadow and Doc Savage, Man of Bronze? And how would your dad, who passed away in 1999, feel about that?
David Avallone: Mostly irony, with a side of design. I met Joe Rybandt at SDCC 2014. I knew Dynamite published a lot of the old pulp heroes, and of course I mentioned in passing that I had been raised by a big pulp fan, in a household with all the Bantam reprints and quite a few tattered original issues. I think Dad would be thrilled out of his mind – and possibly a little jealous – that I got a chance to write The Shadow and Doc.
DF: Tell us about Michael Avallone and his friend, Ed Noon.
David Avallone: Ed is the protagonist of 36 novels written between 1953 and 1989, and dozens of short stories. Dad put himself in everything he wrote… but Ed is the autobiographical character. Ed is a World War Two veteran, a Giants (later Mets) fan, baseball nut, Gary Cooper fan, old movie obsessive, etc. He’s taller, and (sadly) not Italian-American, but in persona and outlook, he’s Michael Avallone.
DF: Your father did a fantastic amount of work during his day, writing under his own name but also 17 pseudonyms. Is this something you have considered/done with your writing, or was it a matter of what he had to do during those times?
David Avallone: Dad rarely volunteered to use a pseudonym: he was very proud of all of his work. He used nom de plumes when writing gothic romances, because publishers believed – right or wrong – that women were more likely to buy books by Jeanne-Anne Dupre, Dorothea Nile and (no kidding) Edwina Noone, rather than Mike Avallone. He also used what are called “house names”. A lot of people wrote Nick Carter books, but the first three in the modern series were by dad.
It’s funny: he was one of the few guys to admit to doing some of the series/house name work, with the result that a lot of shoddy writing under those names is credited to him. If you see him listed as the author of a Rod Damon or Stuart Jason book, there’s only about a thirty percent chance it’s actually something he wrote.
As for me… in some of my movie work I’ve used pseudonyms. In fact, most of the screenwriting I’ve done has been ghostwriting, credited to another person. I don’t have any regrets about that, That said, I’ve been incredibly pleased with the creative freedom I’ve been given in the comics world so far, and I’m happy to have my name on this work.
DF: David, I understand that for many years the Ed Noon series was out of print but that in 2012 Story Merchant Books has been rolling them out again as ebooks. Is this still the case, and does this include any Ed Noon books your father might have written that were never before published?
David Avallone: We’re still rolling out the books, slowly but surely. Currently we’re up to 24 of them (as seen here: http://bit.ly/EdNoonAmazon), with another 12 still to come, of which I think five are unpublished. The last few are particularly wild, some of his best work.
DF: With your father and now you: Tell us, in your estimation, why pulp heroes are such an enduring lot and why, even today, writers love to tell stories of these well-traveled icons.
David Avallone: Better writers than I have been answering this since Aristotle wrote his Poetics and I don’t know that I can improve on it. I think we all wish we lived in a world where the powerful were also the righteous. It’s so often not the case in our own world. Doc Savage and The Shadow (and Superman and Captain America) are decent and incorruptible and virtually unstoppable. This is the appeal of religion as well. We all dream of Justice with a capital J. The fictional world lets us get the outcomes we wish we had in this one.
DF: Aside from pulps, Michael Avallone wrote movie novelizations and TV tie-ins, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Friday the 13th Part III, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and even The Partridge Family. Is there a connection between that aspect of your father's work, and what you're doing today?
David Avallone: With the exception of original, creator-owned books, a lot of comic book writing is very similar to writing TV tie-ins. You're taking characters and worlds previously established by other writers and artists and telling new stories with them. In cases like Dynamite's Bionic Woman, for example, it is exactly like TV tie-ins, for shows that have been off the air a while. Because of the connection to Dad's work I would absolutely love to write a Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic, or work on Planet of the Apes stuff. It would have an appealing synchronicity.
DF: What would you say your dad’s legacy as a writer is, and how has his life’s work affected you as a comic book writer (as well as a film writer, editor and director, which you also are)?
David Avallone: Above all, dad was a story-teller. His books are compulsively readable. They race along at a breakneck speed, and sometimes logic falls by the wayside, but the pacing and the fun never flags. He knew how to keep it funny and keep it moving. I have always tried to learn that lesson and do the same in all of my work. He was also very good at titles and opening lines/scenes. He was raised on Hollywood’s output of the 1930s, and when I was a kid he shared all those movies with me. I try to bring everything I learned from him, and those movies, into my work. I worked a lot of 1930s movies and culture references into the Legenderry: Vampirella series, which was a lot of fun for me.
DF: How would a modern-day Ed Noon function in a 2015 comic book? What changes would there be and what would stay the same? Is that something David Avallone would love to write someday?
David Avallone: Dad did something very unique with Ed Noon. He aged. Dad didn’t constantly update the origin story to keep Ed eternally 30, and he didn’t keep the stories set in the 1950s. A subtext of the whole series (which becomes text by the end), is old age and even death. In the last published book, High Noon At Midnight, Ed is a man in his late sixties and he’s a little too old to be punching folks, and his sanity might be going.
In the very last (unpublished) book in the Ed Noon series (spoiler alert, I guess), dad introduces a character based on me, a long-lost bastard son (helpfully if unsubtly named “David”.) In 1999, I did a web series adaptation of some of that book, titled Since Noon Yesterday. Champion Googlers could probably dig up the episodes in the dark recesses of the internet. He even wrote a David Carstairs Noon adventure called The Ninth of Never. If I was going to do something in the future with Ed Noon, I would probably pick things up from there. I bet it would make a fantastic comic book… though it might feel a touch schizophrenic to write it.
DF: David, your father Michael knows you too are writing pulps. What does he have to say to you and what do you have to say to him?
David Avallone: I like to think he’d be proud and happy to see me chained to the machine, as he was, typing happily away. He was very supportive of my work; the best cheerleader you could have. His favorite writing advice was to grab them with the first line and never let go. He might remind me of that important first principle. He also liked to quote his old pal Robert Bloch’s line, “No one would read about a guy called Doc Civilized.” (I reference this joke in my Doc story.)
What I would say to him is easier: thank you. Thank you for indoctrinating me into the pulps, thank you for introducing me to all the beautiful and crazy stuff I missed because I had the bad fortune to not be born yet. In short, thank you for everything.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank David Avallone for taking time out of his busy schedule to reminisce with us about his father, Michael, and the industry that gave birth to our industry. Thanks, David!
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