SciFi Diner Podcast Ep. 139
The SciFi Diner Podcast
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Interview: Peter David (Novels: Star Trek: The New Frontier Series and Babylon 5, Comics: The Incredible Hulk, Aquaman, Young Justice, Supergirl)
Peter Allen David (born September 23, 1956), often abbreviated PAD, is an American writer of comic books, novels, television, movies and video games. His notable comic book work includes an award-winning, 12-year run on The Incredible Hulk, as well as runs on Aquaman, Young Justice, Supergirl, and Fallen Angel.
His Star Trek work includes both comic books and novels, such as Imzadi, and co-creating the New Frontier series. His other novels include film adaptations, media tie-ins, and original works, such as the Apropos of Nothing and Knight Life series. His television work includes series such as Babylon 5,Young Justice, Ben 10: Alien Force and Space Cases, the latter of which David co-created.
David often jokingly describes his occupation as “Writer of Stuff”, and is noted for his prolific writing, characterized by its mingling of real world issues with humor and references to popular culture, as well as elements of metafiction and self-reference.
David has earned multiple awards for his work, including a 1992 Eisner Award, a 1993 Wizard Fan Award, a 1996 Haxtur Award, a 2007 Julie Award and 2011 GLAAD Media Award.
Peter David’s paternal grandparents, Martin and Hela David, and Peter’s father, Gunter, came to the United States in the 1930s after the political situation inNazi Germany deteriorated to the point that Martin’s Berlin shoestore became the target of antisemitic vandalism. David was born September 23, 1956 in Fort Meade, Maryland to Gunter and Dalia, an Israeli-born Jewish mother, to whom David credits for his sense of humor. He has two siblings, a younger brother named Wally, who works as a still life photographer and musician, and a sister named Beth.
David first became interested in comics when he was about five years old, reading copies of Harvey Comics’ Casper and Wendy in a barbershop. He became interested in superheroes through the Adventures of Superman TV series. His favorite title was Superman, and he cites John Buscema as his favorite pre-1970’s artist.
David’s earliest interest in writing came through the journalism work of his father, Gunter, who would sometimes review movies, and take young Peter along if it was age-appropriate. While Gunter would write his reviews back at the newspaper’s office, Peter would write his own, portions of which would sometimes find their way into Gunter’s published reviews. David began to entertain the notion of becoming a professional writer at age twelve, buying a copy of The Guide to the Writer’s Market, and subscribing to similar-themed magazines, in the hopes of becoming a reporter.
David lived initially in Bloomfield, New Jersey, where he attended Demarest Elementary School, but later moved to Verona, New Jersey, where he spent his adolescence. By the time he entered his teens, he had lost interest in comic books, feeling he had outgrown them. David’s best friend in junior high and freshman year in high school, Keith, was gay, and David has described how both of them were targets of ostracism and harassment fromhomophobes. Although his family eventually moved to Pennsylvania, his experiences in Verona soured him on that town, and would shape his liberal sociopolitical positions regarding LGBT issues. He would later make Verona the home location of villain Morgan le Fay in his novel Knight Life, and has often discussed his progressive views on LGBT issues in his column and on his blog.
David’s interest in comics was rekindled when he saw X-Men #95 on newsstands, and discovered the “All-New, All-Different” team that had first appeared inGiant-Size X-Men #1 (October 1975), which he subsequently purchased at a comic convention, his first in years.
A seminal moment in the course of his aspirations occurred when he met writer Stephen King at a book signing, and told him that he was an aspiring writer. King signed David’s copy of Danse Macabre with the inscription, “Good luck with your writing career.”, which David now inscribes himself onto books presented to him by fans who tell him the same thing. Other authors that David cites as influences include Harlan Ellison, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert B. Parker, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Robert Crais and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Specific books he has mentioned as favorites include To Kill a Mockingbird, Tarzan of the Apes, The Princess Bride, The Essential Ellison, A Confederacy of Dunces, Adams Versus Jefferson, and Don Quixote.David has singled out Ellison in particular as a writer whom he has tried to emulate.
David attended New York University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. His first professional assignment was covering theWorld Science Fiction Convention held in Washington in 1974 for the Philadelphia Bulletin.
David eventually gravitated towards fiction after his attempts at journalism did not meet with success. His first published fiction was in Asimov’s Science Fiction. He also sold an Op-ed piece to The New York Times, however, his submissions overall were met with rejection that far outnumbered those accepted.
Comic book career
Peter David and Larry Stroman at a comic book signing for X-Factor in the early 1990’s
David eventually gave up on a career in writing, and came to work in book publishing, first for Elseviser/Nelson, and later working in sales and distribution for Playboy Paperbacks. He subsequently worked for five years in Marvel Comics’ Sales Department, first as Assistant Direct Sales Manager under Carol Kalish, who hired him, and then succeeding Kalish as Sales Manager. During this time he made some cursory attempts to sell stories, including submission of some Moon Knight plots to Dennis O’Neil, but his efforts were unfruitful. Three years into his tenure as Direct Sales Manager, Jim Owsleybecame editor of the Spider-Man titles. Although crossing over from sales into editorial was considered a conflict of interest in the Marvel offices, Owsley, whom David describes as a “maverick,” was impressed with how David had not previously hesitated to work with him when Owsley was an assistant editor under Larry Hama, and thus, when he became an editor, he purchased a Spider-Man story from David, which appeared in Spectacular Spider-Man #103 in 1985. Owsley subsequently purchased from David “The Death of Jean DeWolff”, which ran in issues #107-110 of that title in 1985. Responding to charges of conflict of interest, David made a point of not discussing editorial matters with anyone during his 9 to 5 hours as Direct Sales Manager, and decided not to exploit his position as Sales Manager by promoting the title. Although David attributes the story’s poor sales to this decision, such crossing over from Sales to Editorial, according to him, is now common. Nonetheless, he says he was fired from Spectacular Spider-Man by Owsley due to editorial pressure by Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, and has commented that the resentment stirred by Owsley’s purchase of his stories may have permanently damaged Owsley’s career. Months later, after Shooter was replaced by Bob Harras, Harras offered David The Incredible Hulk, as it was a struggling title that no one else wanted to write.
During his run on Hulk, David explored the recurring themes of the Hulk’s multiple personality disorder, his periodic changes between the more rageful and less intelligent Green Hulk and the more streetwise, cerebral Gray Hulk, and of being a journeyman hero, which were inspired by Incredible Hulk #312 (October 1985), in which writer Bill Mantlo (and possibly, according to David, Barry Windsor-Smith) had first established that Banner had suffered childhood abuse at the hands of his father. These aspects of the character would later be used in the 2003 feature film adaptation by screenwriterMichael France and director Ang Lee. Comic Book Resources credits David with making the formerly poor-selling book “a must-read mega-hit”.
It was after he had been freelancing for a year, and into his run on Hulk, that David felt that his writing career had cemented. After putting out feelers at DC Comics, and being offered the job of writing a four-issue miniseries of The Phantom by editor Mike Gold, David quit his sales position to write full-time.
David also took over Dreadstar during its First Comics run, with issue #41 (March 1989) after Jim Starlin left the title, and remained on it until issue #64 (March 1991), the final issue of that run. David’s other Marvel Comics work in the late 1980s and 1990s includes runs on Wolverine, the New Universe series Merc and Justice, a run on the original X-Factor, and the futuristic series Spider-Man 2099, about a man in the year 2099 who takes up the mantle of Spider-Man, the title character of which David co-created.
At DC Comics in 1990, David wrote a seven-issue Aquaman miniseries, The Atlantis Chronicles, about the history of Aquaman’s home of Atlantis, which David has referred to as among the written works of which he is most proud. He would later write a 1994 Aquaman miniseries, Aquaman: Time and Tide, which would lead to a relaunched monthly Aquaman series, the first 46 issues of which he would write from 1994–1998. His run on Aquaman gained notoriety, for in the book’s second issue, Aquaman lost a hand, which was then replaced with a harpoon, a feature of the character that endured for the duration of David’s run on the book. He also wrote the Star Trek comic book for DC from 1988–1991, when that company held the licensing rights to the property, though he has opined that novels are better suited to Star Trek, whose stories are not highly visual. He and Ron Marz cowrote the DC vs. Marvel intercompany crossover in 1996. David also enjoyed considerable runs on Supergirl and Young Justice, the latter eventually being canceled so that DC could use that book’s characters in a relaunched Teen Titans monthly.
David’s work for Dark Horse Comics has included the teen spy adventure, SpyBoy, which appeared in a series and a number of miniseries between 1999 and 2004, and the 2007 miniseries The Scream.
Other series David worked on in the 1990s include the 1997 miniseries, Heroes Reborn: The Return, for Marvel, and two creator-owned properties: Soulsearchers and Company, which is published byClaypool Comics, and the Epic Comics title Sachs and Violens, which he produced with co-creator, artist George Pérez.
David’s early 2000s work includes runs on two volumes of Captain Marvel, which debuted in 2000 and 2002.
David and his second wife, Kathleen, wrote the final English-language text for the first four volumes of the manga series Negima for Del Rey Manga.
In 2003, David began writing another creator-owned comic, Fallen Angel, for DC Comics, which he created in order to make use of plans he had devised for Supergirl after the “Many Happy Returns” storyline, but which were derailed by that series’ cancellation. That same year, he also wrote a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series for Dreamwave that tied into the animated television series broadcast that year. DC canceled Fallen Angel after 20 issues, but David re-started the title at IDW Publishing at the end of 2005. Other IDW work included a Spike: Old Times one-shot and the Spike vs. Dracula mini-series, both based on the character from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel television series.
David with writer Dan Slott at Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan, October 25, 2007, promoting the beginning of David’s tenure as writer on She-Hulk.
In 2005, David briefly returned to Incredible Hulk, though he left after only 11 issues because of his workload. He also started a new series, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, beginning with a twelve-part crossover storyline called “The Other”, which, along with J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man, and Reginald Hudlin’s run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man, depicted the webslinger as he discovered he was dying, lost an eye during a traumatic fight with Morlun, underwent a metamorphosis and emerged with new abilities and insights into his powers. As tends to be the case when fundamental changes are introduced to long-standing classic comics characters, the storyline caused some controversy among readers for its introduction of retractable stingers in Spider-Man’s arms, and the establishment of a “totem” from which his powers are derived. David’s final issue of that title was #23.
David also wrote a MadroX miniseries that year, whose success led to a relaunch of a monthly X-Factor (volume 3) written by him. This was a revamped version of the title starring both Madrox and other members of the former X-Factor title that David had written in the early ’90s, now working as investigators in a detective agency of that name. David’s work on the title garnered praise from Ain’t it Cool News, and David has stated that the opt in/opt out policy and greater planning with which Marvel now executes crossover storylines has made his second stint on the title far easier. However, his decision to explicitly establish male characters Shatterstar and Rictor as sharing a homosexual attraction to one another (a confirmation of clues that had been established in X-Force years earlier), drew criticism from Shatterstar’s co-creator, Rob Liefeld, though Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada supported David’s story. David would eventually win a 2011 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book for his work on the title.
On February 11, 2006, David announced at the WonderCon convention in California in that he had signed an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics. Fallen Angel, Soulsearchers and Company and David’s Spike miniseries were “grandfathered” into the contract, so as to not be affected by it. The first new project undertaken by David after entering into the contract, which he announced on April 5, 2006, was writing the dialogue for The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, the comic book spin-off of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower novels, which would be illustrated by Jae Lee. He would also script the subsequent Dark Tower comics as well.
David took over Marvel’s She-Hulk after writer Dan Slott’s departure, beginning with issue #22. His run, which won praise, ended with issue #38, when the series was canceled. He also wrote a 2008-09 Sir Apropos of Nothing miniseries, based on the character from his novels, which was published by IDW Publishing.
David’s other 2000s comics based on licensed or adapted properties include Halo: Helljumper, a 2009 miniseries based on the Halo video game, a 2009 Ben 10: Alien Force manga book published by Del Rey, Ben Folds Four, a “Little Mermaid” story in Jim Valentino’s Fractured Fables anthology that was praised by Ain’t It Cool News, an adaptation of the 1982 film Tron that was released to tie in with that film’s 2010 sequel, and a John Carter of Mars prequel to the 2012 feature film.
On November 24, 2011, David was one of the balloon handlers who pulled the Spider-Man balloon during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
David’s career as a novelist developed concurrently with his comic book writing career. David had been working at a publisher that went out of business, and a former coworker from that publisher became his agent, through whom he sold his first novel, Knight Life, to Ace Books. Although the sale was made before he wrote any comic books, the novel was not published until eighteen months later, in 1987. The novel depicts about the reappearance of King Arthur in modern-day New York City. Another early novel of his, Howling Mad, is about a wolf that turns into a human being after being bitten by a werewolf. Ace Books also hired David to write the Photon and Psi-Man novels, though they published them under the “house name” David Peters, over David’s objections. David updated Knight Life years later when Penguin Putnam brought it back into print in 2003, and made it a trilogy with the sequels One Knight Only and Fall of Knight, which were published in 2004 and 2007, respectively. Penguin would also rerelease Howling Mad and the Psi-Man books under David’s actual name.
David first began writing Star Trek novels at the request of Pocket Books editor Dave Stern, who was a fan of David’s Star Trek comic book work. His Star Trek novels are among those for which he is best known, including Q-in-Law; I, Q; Vendetta; Q-Squared; and Imzadi, one of the best-selling Star Trek novels of all time. He created the ongoing novel series, Star Trek: New Frontier, a spin-off from Star Trek: The Next Generation, with John J. Ordover in 1997. New Frontier continued until April 2011, with the publication of Blind Man’s Bluff, the final New Frontier novel on David’s contract at the time, after which the series’ future was unclear to David. David’s other science fiction tie-in novels include written five Babylon 5 novels, three of which were originals, and two of which were adaptations of the TV movies Thirdspace and In the Beginning.
His other novel adaptations include those of the movies The Return of Swamp Thing, The Rocketeer, Batman Forever, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man. He also wrote an original Hulk novel, The Incredible Hulk: What Savage Beast, based on story ideas that he was not permitted to use in the comic book, and an adaptation of an unused Alien Nation television script, “Body and Soul”.
David’s 2009 novel Tigerheart is a re-imagining of Peter Pan with a mix of new and old characters, told as a Victorian bedtime story, much like the classic tale. It was praised by Ain’t It Cool News, and honored by the School Library Journal as one of 2008’s Best Adult Books for High School Students. His Sir Apropos of Nothing fantasy trilogy, Sir Apropos of Nothing, The Woad to Wuin andTong Lashing, features characters and settings completely of David’s own creation, as does his 2007 fantasy novel, Darkness of the Light, which is the first in a new trilogy of novels titled The Hidden Earth. The second installment, The Highness of the Low, was scheduled to be published in September 2009, but David has related on his blog that it has been delayed until the winter of 2012.
David’s 2010 novel work includes Year of the Black Rainbow, a novel cowritten with musician Claudio Sanchez of the band Coheed and Cambria, that was released with the band’s album of the same name, and an Fable original novel The Balverine Order, set between the events of Fable II and Fable III. In April 2011, David announced that, in addition to another Fable novel, he and a number of other writers, including Glenn Hauman, Mike Friedman and Bob Greenberger, were assembling an electronic publishing endeavor called Crazy Eight Press, which would allow them to publish e-books directly to fans, the first of which would be David’s Arthurian story, The Camelot Papers. David explained that the second book in his “Hidden Earth” trilogy would also be published through Crazy Eight.
David (at far right) on a panel on comic book writing at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. Beside him (left to right) are Jim McCann, Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente.
David has stated that he tries to block out different days and different times to work on different projects. He usually works in the morning, for example, on novels, and does comics-related work in the afternoon. Having previously used Smith Corona typewriters, he writes on a Sony Vaio desktop computer, using Microsoft Word for his comics and novel work, and Final Draft for his screenplays. When writing novels, he sometimes outlines the story, and sometimes improvises it as he is writing it.
David previously wrote his comic book scripts using the Marvel Method, but due to his tendency to overplot, as during his collaboration with Todd McFarlane on The Incredible Hulk, he switched to the full script method, which he continues to use as of 2003. He has stated that he prefers to plot his comics stories in six-month arcs. He has also stated that when he works on a particular title, he always does so with a particular person or group of people in mind to which he dedicates it, explaining that he wrote Supergirl for his daughters, Young Justice for a son he might one day have and The Incredible Hulkfor his first wife, Myra, who urged him to first accept the job of writing that book. David has further explained that the events of his own life are sometimes reflected in his work, as when, for example, following the breakup of his first marriage, the direction of The Incredible Hulk faltered, with the Hulk wandering the world aimlessly, hopelessly looking to be loved.
David has stated that his favorite female character of his own creation is Lee, the protagonist of Fallen Angel, which he says is derived from the positive female fan reaction to that character. Characters that David has not written but which he has expressed an interest in writing for the comics medium includeBatman, Tarzan, Doc Savage, the Dragonriders of Pern, the Steed/Peel Avengers, and Dracula. He has specifically mentioned interest in writing a Tarzan vs. the Phantom story.