Monday, August 6, 2007

Digest Comics Interview with Nick Cuti - 2007


We interrupt our daily profiling of Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest to present our very first
interview at Digest Comics! I've been doing them for a while over at The Aquaman Shrine and Treasury, and getting to talk to people whose work I really admire is one of the greatest thrills of doing these blogs(if not my life).

As I began to talk about the later issues of Best of DC Digest, I realized that it would be really interesting to hear from the then-editor, writer/editor Nick Cuti. Since the digests were all reprints(most of the time), who better to get a behind the scenes glimpse on how they were put together than the editor?

I couldn't figure out how to contact Nick until I realized I could go through
our pal Joe Staton, who had done an interview with me for One email to Joe and about an hour later, I was in contact with Nick! Thankfully, Nick did not laugh at my suggestion at an interview or say something like "You want to talk about what?"

Digest Comics:
How did you end up as editor of the digests?

Nick Cuti:
I started my career at DC Comics as Joe Orlando's assistant. Joe was in charge of Special Projects, which ment merchandising. I helped to design a Supeman peanut butter tub, a Batman coloring book and a Wonder Woman school portfolio holder. It was fun, but I wanted to get into real comics and so I transferred over to Dick Giordano's division as assistant to Len Wein.

Although Len was great to work for, I wasn't doing any editing on my own. Dick was sympathetic and so he put me in charge of the digests. They weren't doing well, it seemed only Archie and Harvey had any success with digests, so Dick figured I would either turn them into money makers or run them into the ground. I loved the digests and had a ball working on them but I did run them into the ground.

All my decisions about the contents were made from the heart, what I would buy if I saw them on the shelf, but I was obviously out of touch with the fans.

DC: How were the contents decided? Was it decided from high up "do three Supermans, two Batmans..." etc.?

They had a schedule but between the "Superman" and "Batman" required series, I was given flexibility. For example I came up with the idea of publishing a "Kryptonite" issue which would reprint all of the stories about the different forms of Kryptonite and what effects they had on Superman. I even did a single page which listed the different Kryptonites and their effects, as a sort of reference book.

How much say did you have on what stories to reprint in an individual issue?

Dick and Len were very good about backing me up on my special issues but they were also very supportive about which stories I chose for the regular issues.

Publishing Funny Stuff and Sugar and Spike was definitely unusual by the 1980s. Was this an attempt to see if a younger audience was still there for this kind of material?

As I mentioned only Archie and Harvey seemed to have success with the digest sized comics so I thought I would look into the DC humor books and that's when I discovered Sugar and Spike. I thought they were terriffic. I called Shelly Mayer, their writer/artist/creator, and he did a new cover for each issue. I couldn't wait for them to pop up on the schedule so I could put together another issue and chat with Shelly. I loved his stories about the old days of comics. He was a very witty and likeable person, reminding me of my old friend, Joe Gill.

Were the more unusual digest-headliner choices (Super Jrs, Plop!) because people on DC were fans of the material?

NC: I have to take the blame for those as well. I was never a big super hero fan and so I was always trying to find a new direction for the digests. I believed superheroes should be in full sized comics where their action could be fully exploited and the off beat stuff could be in the digests. Mad put out pocket-sized versions of their early stories so I thought Plop! would be a natural.

When I ran accross a pamphlet with the Super Jrs. I figured they might work as a Christmas special. I was certain I was on the right track but sales figures don't lie and they kept dropping.

Speaking as a kid growing up reading a lot of reprint books, they frequently seemed just thrown together, with no editorial "voice". When you took over the digests, you started up regular editorials and even a letters page. What inspired you to try this? Did you receive the kind of feedback that you were looking for?

NC: I was seriously trying to turn the digests into a viable media and so I hoped for reader support but it never came. We received only a few letters and...oh, those sales figures.

DC did a lot of superhero, horror, war, and funny animal themed digests, but never really any sci-fi ones. As a big sci-fi fan, did you ever want to do an all-space-hero collection(Adam Strange, Space Ranger, Atomic Knights)?

I am a huge sci-fi fan, especially concerning Space Opera but even I wasn't naive enough to think that a sci-fi digest would succeed when all the other genres had flopped. That's why I eventually did my own space opera, Captain Cosmos, the Last STARveyer. It's not exactly successful but I put it out as an act of love for the genre.

I think I did approach Len and Dick about the possibility of sci-fi digest...once. Their laughter could be heard throughout the offices.

The Manga format, which is hugely popular now, is very similar in size and style to the digests. Any chance we'll ever seen an E-Man digest? Those stories are charming and timeless, perfect for a big collection!

Hey, flattery will get you anywhere. I never even considered such a thing but now that you mention it I think it's a fine idea. If you can find a publisher who agreees with you, I'm sure Joe and I would be happy to give it a try. Thanks for bringing it up, Rob!

I was thrilled to get to talk to Nick about the digests. I loved them as a kid, love them now(as if you couldn't tell), and Nick was extremely friendly and generous with his time, answering my geeky questions. Thanks Nick!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nick!

Really fun stuff. As a guilty-pleasure Charlton reader, especially of the Ghost books, your writing credit is always a selling point for me.

(No offense to Joe Gill, who probably wins the all-time-QUANTITY award - with ACG's Richard Hughes coming up fast? - but yours take the Quality honors.)

Always great to hear this kind of backstory, on (one of) the sites that Rob is fast making "...of Record" on their given topics.

-Craig W.

John Platt said...

Great interview!

bob said...

Good to hear from Nick (and I loved his E-Man stuff with Staton). Especially good to read about his interactions with Sheldon Mayer, and getting to work with him on those new covers. I might never have discovered Sugar&Spike without those digests.

Anonymous said...

Nice to know someone recognizes classic work from a classic person!

I'm a fan of Nick's comic book stories whilst I was growing up and to know him personally is quite an honor.

Bring on Oldies, they ROCK!


Anonymous said...

Folks, if you enjoy Nick Cuti's work, you should check out the excellent magazine CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT. I became a Charlton fan when editor / Popeye cartoonist George Wildman was managing editor, and I started seeing the name "Nicola Cuti" on lots of stories. Nick's a great writer and a great guy.

D. Pitchford