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"Nodding and smiling and pretending to get it" - An Interview with Tom Peyer

Tom Peyer’s 20 years in comics have seen him write Hourman, The Authority, The Legion of Super Heroes and Tek Jansen amongst a multitude of other titles.  He was the editor of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol and also served as editor on Animal Man and assistant editor on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  Currently writing the Atlas Unified event for the revived Atlas Comics, Tom also curated a book of found poetry based on the baseball calls of Phil Rizzuto.

A thoroughly engaging chap, Tom graciously agreed to share some ribald tales from his days working alongside Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Mark Waid at DC in the 1990’s.


Your first work alongside Grant was editing the latter half of his Doom Patrol run.  Did you encounter much trouble from upstairs during the run, given that it was so far removed from pretty much everything else DC was publishing (and had published) at the time?  Can you imagine one of the big two publishing a title deviating so far from the standard superhero template these days?

By the time I arrived, Doom Patrol was humming along well. I think I was the fourth editor.  DC knew what it had.  It was a very big deal for me personally, though.  Doom Patrol was my favorite comic.  Just a year earlier, before DC hired me, I was buying it each month and really looking forward to every issue.  And now I'd get to be the first kid to read each script.  Nirvana.  And the experience didn't disappoint.

There was this one month where I was really busy and I let the days get away from me.  So I didn't read Grant's latest script until the penciller had drawn two-thirds of it, which is a big transgression for an editor.  It was the Beard Hunter issue, #45.  I just knew it would be great, it always was, so I let it sit there and dealt with other stuff, or failed to, I don't remember.  Then I finally read it.  And of course that's the one Grant decided to use Jesus Christ in.  I expect you know your late 80s-early 90s DC history very well, and you know that Jesus Christ was a pretty hot-button choice for a guest-shot at the time.  So I had to run it upstairs and pry a decision loose quickly.  And in the end we had to turn Jesus into an old man with a white beard who might be God.

There was another issue, #54, "Aenigma Regis" that was filled with hallucinations and symbols and I just didn't understand it.  I wasn't smart enough.  But I wasn't going to let my ignorance get in the way of Grant's story.  I thought too much of him and his work.  So I just let it go.  That's my proudest Doom Patrol moment: doing something no editor should ever do, just nodding and smiling and pretending to get it.

Anyway, I think a big publisher could be ready for another Doom Patrol these days.  You can see them kind of groping toward a freer direction with a couple of new projects, like Dial H.  If something really original popped up they might just leap at it.


I take it Doom Patrol was selling fairly respectable numbers during your tenure as editor.  Whereabouts in the sales hierarchy did you sit?  Did the sales levels contribute to how far left-field you could take the title?

It was right on the border of respectable sales, either just above or just below.  We did numbers that would make DC extremely happy today, but were considered kind of disappointing then.  It's not like if we were doing better we'd have been more conspicuous and vulnerable to interference; like I said, DC knew what it was publishing and it was making just enough to squeak by.  And I don't remember anyone messing with Sandman.  Of course, if we were doing Sandman numbers, they'd probably now be collecting every third panel into a sticker book, which could be seen as some kind of violation I guess.


Issue #51 featured a ‘revival’ of sorts of unused Silver Age character Yankee Doodle. Whose idea was it to dredge that one up out of the DC vaults?

A few of us were pretty amused when the stat of the original Showcase cover surfaced at DC. Putting that character in Doom Patrol might have been Stuart Moore's idea, or mine. A hypnotist could get me to remember. I do recall asking Grant if he wanted to write the second story of a 60s DC character. It is said that in that moment all of Glasgow heard the blood crashing to his penis.


Scott Lobdell of all people recently brought back Danny The Street and The Men from N.O.W.H.W.R.E. in Teen Titans, and China Meiville's aforementioned Dial H series is very Doom Patrol-esque.  Do you think its time for a reappraisal?  Do you think its gotten the critical attention and acclaim it deserves?

Mind if I rant?  Because as enlightening serious criticism can be, the things that made me care about comics have nothing to do with critical acclaim.  I care about escapism.  About relief.  From responsibility, from unhappiness, from people who use the things you enjoy against you, who judge you.  I'm not anti-intellectual.  I'm anti-authority.  Comics are anti-authority in their bones.  "I like Superman and I don't care if you say it's crap. If you say it's crap that makes Superman even better."  We're letting that slip away.  The ethos that asserts that pleasure is more important than respectability.  That being "respectable" means you're falling in line, not that you're getting respect.  Fuck respectability.  To me, that's comics.


You were largely responsible for the Doom Force Special, in which a stellar line-up of artists all try and one-up each other by drawing the worst Rob Liefield pastiche they can.  Did you get a lot of negative reaction to that from people who picked it up expecting a 'straight' Image-style book?

The Doom Patrol readers thought it was pretty funny. If fans of 90s Image even flipped through it in the store, I don't think we ever heard from them. 


Grant once remarked that you’d be the only person he'd trust to pick up the baton of 'his' Doom Patrol. Did you ever have any plans on taking over or resurrecting the title?

I'm honored that Grant ever felt that way.  Maybe it's because he and I both really loved what Arnold Drake did with them in the 60s.  I have brushed up against the Doom Patrol in the intervening years.  I wrote one DP story for the Silver Age crossover, and more recently I wrote some DP interstitials for the DC Nation block on Cartoon Network.


When you took over editing Animal Man there was a rumour that Grant would return for a six-issue arc.  Do you remember why that didn’t happen?

I don't remember anything about that, sorry.


You wrote two years worth of Hourman stories, based on the character from DC One Million.  How did that come about?  Was he a character who particularly appealed to you?  Did Grant have much input into your direction for the book?

Grant had everything to with it.  He had a lot of faith in my writing and encouraged me so much.  He even saw that I was too lazy to create my own character and he gave me one of his.  He wrote a short email with some suggestions of where to take Hourman, and I used them all.  Bethany was in that email, and so was Snapper.  I don't remember if Amazo was or not.  There was a lot of me in Hourman and Snapper, but there was Grant, too.  And what a great experience it turned out to be, with Rags Morales and Tony Bedard and the whole creative team rowing in the same direction.  I'm lucky they let us do it for two whole years.


You contributed to numerous JLA projects in the late 90's, along with Mark Millar and Mark Waid.  Was it this that led you all to pitch in together for Superman 2000?

I mentioned I was lazy, right?  That Superman 2000 proposal that carried my name alongside Grant's and the Marks' had not one single contribution from me in it.  Not one idea.  We were all friends, we all wanted the same things out of comics, and we all loved the Justice League and hated gritty so-called realism and wanted to write together.  We even talked about living together, like the Monkees.  So my name stayed on the proposal even after I checked out.  Even than, the ensuing Superman 2000 drama had so little to do with me, I can't even say I was directly involved.


You filled in for Mark Millar and Frank Quitely during their Authority run, how exciting was it getting behind the wheel of the (then) most controversial franchise in comics?  Were you given a very short leash given the worries over Millar's more outre material?

I had a lot of fun with that Authority story.  It was the beginning of a great friendship with the editor, John Layman; that was the best thing about it.  And it was an exciting time to write those characters; it felt like all eyes were on us.  And I have to say, it was an all-time great comic; reading what Warren Ellis and Mark did made my head spin.  I didn't think I even approached their level of quality, but I guess I'd be the last one to know if I did.  As for the length of my leash, I don't remember being told not to do anything in particular.  Mark is a little more tickled by shock value than I am, so the Powers probably weren't too afraid I'd show the Authority blowing Jesus or something.


You returned to DC briefly in 2008 for a short run on The Flash.  It seemed to be a period where DC didn't really know what they were doing from one month to the next - has that contributed to your distancing yourself from the comics field in recent years?

Well, I don't imagine DC thought it was some big coup to put a 90s writer on The Flash.  I'm pretty sure they were already working on The Return of Barry Allen, but in the meantime they had to keep publishing issues and they needed a warm body to write them.  That's what was going on if they were smart, anyway.


In the spirit of DC’s New 52 and Marvel Now, which corporate funnybook would you like to reboot?

I'd turn M.O.D.O.K. into a good guy and switch his acronym to Mental Organism Designed Only For Kindness.  He'd give away most of his money and move to a poorly insulated sixth-floor Manhattan walkup with a blind attendant whose primary job is to bathe him with a sponge mounted on the end of a long pole.  It would be difficult for M.O.D.O.K. to get around, but he'd do his best.


The last person I interviewed for the site, Andrew Hickey - author of An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers - was at that time in the midst of writing a book about the Monkees.  Seeing as how they've come up again and - obviously - everybody loves the Monkees, who's your favourite?

When I was very little, I saw an episode of The Adventures of Superman where a circus clown used a fake gun that turned out to be made of candy; he took a bite out of it to demonstrate.  That's when I learned some things on TV were fake, but I jumped to the conclusion that all fake things on TV were made of candy.  So one time on this show Circus Boy the tent caught on fire and everyone was scrambling to put out the flames.  Feeling really smart, I told my sister not to worry, it's TV, they're using candy fire.

Which makes Mickey the best Monkee, because he played Circus Boy

Thanks for your time Tom, and I look forward to Marvel commissioning the M.O.D.O.K. book.  In a world where we're looking toward a Rocket Raccoon movie in 2013, anything is possible...

You can find more from Tom at his Tumblr site and on Twitter.