Interview: Daryl Edelman On His Comic Book Journeys & More!

After attending the University of Northern Colorado, Daryl Edelman moved to Manhattan in 1986 and became a writer and editor for Marvel, Archie, and DC Comics, working on such popular titles as X-Men, X-Factor, Captain America, Wolverine, Transformers, and many more. Hired at Archie in 1991 to update their then stuck-in-the fifties characters, he introduced Sonic the Hedgehog to America, and soon after was hired at DC by comic book legend Joe Orlando. After time away from comics working in children’s and educational publishing, Daryl Edelman has returned to comic books, recently freelance writing features for Disney’s Marvel Super Heroes Magazine. His toe back in at Marvel as well, Edelman works part-time there as a freelance proofreader while pitching ideas, writing a spec script, and trying to get back on full time at the House of Ideas. With his wife, Regina, he recently completed writing their six year collaboration, Garments of Fleas, a novel based on her triumphant story of escape from poverty in Brazil. Edelman’s first solo novel, Comic Book Marginal, is in the works. Visit the couple’s literary blog at http://reginaedelman.blogspot.com

Nicholas Yanes: This is the question on the minds of every comic book fan out there: how did you manage to first get into the comics industry? From your LinkedIn profile, it seems that you went from college straight to editing for Marvel.  How did you get your foot in the door?

Daryl Edelman: Yes, Marvel was my first job after college. How I got there started long before that. I grew up in a turbulent and confused environment. Comic books soothed me. I was seven in 1965 when Stan Lee said I belonged in his Merry Marvel Marching Society. All I ever wanted was to belong, to draw and write and somehow join my bullpen gods. As the universe would have it, I met Dan Levine, the (now famous) trombone player from New York City, in college. When friends introduced us and he heard my last name he said something like us Jews gotta stick together since we were at school in rural Greeley, Colorado. Funny truth is, I’m not Jewish. (In the Sunspot story I wrote that John Byrne drew in Marvel Comics Presents #79, Euphy Aguilar is my mom’s maiden name.)

Anyway, city-slicker Dan knew Don Daley, a Marvel editor, because, if I remember correctly, they had the same girlfriend at different times back in New York. I arrived in Manhattan in June 1986 and Dan put in a good word for me with Don. I took a cab to 387 Park Avenue South, rode the elevator ten floors up to the Marvel offices, interviewed with Don, showed him stuff I’d written and confessed the sundry ways Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and John Romita saved my life. He said he couldn’t hire me right away, but that I came at a good time because his assistant Dave Wohl was leaving end of summer. Don said I could start in August. One of those exciting first fall days walking the hallowed halls of Marveldom, I passed Sid Jacobson’s office. He waved me in and shouted, “Edelman, eh?! Come’ere!” For the record, I’m not Scott Edelman’s brother, Herb Edelman is not my father, and my wife was not previously married to Ascher Edelman.

Yanes: The 80s and the early 90s was a popular time for comic books. In addition to The Watchmen and The Dark Knight being published, X-Men #1 and The Death of Superman sold millions of copies. Can you share some thoughts about what it was like to work in the industry at that time?

Edelman: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was an age of foil-embossed covers and gritty stories. It was an epoch of bloody coups. Late 80s, I moved on from Don’s office to be Bob Harras’s assistant on X-Men and related mutant titles. Jim Shooter was deposed as Editor in Chief and Tom DeFalco ascended to the throne. Bob hired a shy kid named Rob Liefeld, (we had lunch with him on his first visit to Marvel), and Todd McFarland reinvigorated Spider-Man. Sales skyrocketing, guys were buying leather sofas on royalties and bonuses. Spider-Man’s wedding at Shea Stadium and reception party was a blast. It was a heady time of luxury and kids with credit, and then Marvel declared bankruptcy and everyone got letters to declare their stake. Still, the garden is good.

Yanes: You worked on the Sonic The Hedgehog comic book. What were some of the difficulties you encountered adapting a videogame character into the comic book medium?

Edelman: The Archie publishers, Richard Goldwater and Michael Silberkliet, handed the editorial reigns of Sonic over to me after Paul Castiglia had hired Scott Shaw to pencil issue zero but was having trouble getting a workable script. After reading the rejected script and Sega’s Sonic bible, I saw the problem was a ton of characters who all had to be introduced on the first page. I called writer/artist Michael Gallagher because I knew him from Marvel and told him to set up the splash like an old Avengers page with the heroes in cartouche on the left, villains on the right—and we were off. Shaw quit after four or five issues so I hired Dave Manak, a guy I knew from Sid Jacobson’s office at Marvel. Sega loved everything I sent them, stories and art. Soon there was a Sonic morning cartoon with Jaleel “Erkel” White as the voice of the blue blur. The animation studio, DIC, sent me visual reference and little more. We were free to create and we had a great time creating characters who weren’t even in the games or cartoon. No one said a bad word. Everyone loved it.

Yanes: Many videogames now come with comic book tie-ins. Given that videogames are so much more popular than comic books, can you provide some insight as to why marketers think this type of cross promotions are beneficial?

Edelman: I suppose it’s just that, Nick, marketing promotion, a sort of loss leader, fishing for a hit like Sonic the Hedgehog, which was promoted everywhere, as Howard Johnson’s giveaways, in Sega game code magazines, as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, as well as in a series of Saturday morning cartoons. It’s become a rare phenomenon, and I believe the longest running comic book title based on a video game.

Yanes: Since you first entered the industry in the 80s, how do you think the comics world has changed?  Additionally, do you think the industry is adapting well to the digital revolution?

Edelman: There’re so many changes, man, a huge difference between now and my first time at Marvel. I have a code of confidential honor, but everyone knows we live in a digital electronic age and the mechanical age is past. Seems all publishers in every medium are putting a good share of resources into keeping stride with digital and online change. And I think everyone’s doing a good job transitioning from horseshoes to new ideas in this new Digital Age of Comics. Disney, Marvel Studios, and a wealth of international talent grows exponentially, more gifted writers and artists on the way communicating and working with each other on the World Wide Web. There’re so many more accomplished publishers, and now graphic novels are published by big trade companies and have their own category on the New York Times Best-Seller List. Everyone’s books look and read better and better, and go more places. Comics from the late 80s/early 90s look like we put them together with sticks and spit compared to glossy comics today. Heck, Mad is a real full-color glossy magazine now!

Yanes: The novel you and your wife recently completed, Garments of Fleas, seems to be completely different from the types of stories found in comics by Marvel, DC, or Archie. How did you feel working in such a different genre?

Edelman: I feel good about creating from the scratch of our experiences and owning our work. Garments of Fleas is the story of my wife Regina’s patient escape from the karma of family poverty born of slavery two centuries ago in Brazil. When we married in 2001, neither of us had an idea one day she’d write a novel. How mysterious our paths to meet and fall in love to write a book together. You see, she brought me to life by showing me how to write a novel on sheer guts. Regina’s the real deal, a heart and soul writer, but English isn’t her first language. I think together we wrote a new English, a strong hybrid bridging North and South America and the history of migration and slavery from Europe and Africa. I’m bias, but I think Regina’s story is a masterpiece of language, ideas, and emotion, something no one ever said before. She’s a new voice for the never heard.

Yanes: It is clear that both you and your wife are deeply emotionally invested in Garments of Fleas. What are you hoping that those who read Garments of Fleas will take away from the novel?

Edelman: Regina’s story is an illumination on the folly of man, a lesson in patience and how to get over. A literary agent in Harlem, Marie Brown, wrote of Regina’s story, “It is through our experience that we have the courage and determination to share our stories with individuals who may benefit from personal lessons. Your memoir…present[s] an inspirational and original view on how one can recover from life’s unexpected and unfortunate events.” The novelist Scott Heim wrote Regina an email after reading a portion of our manuscript and said her words contain the necessary beauty to carry the story. Poet Alfred Corn and novelists Maxine Hong Kingston and Darius James follow our blog all because of Regina. I should mention that she saved my life. I’d be dead without her. She told me, there’re no problems, and that’s a lesson coming from her. Now, I look around, seems everyone causes themselves and everyone else problems that aren’t really problems at all. I guess in the end, I hope readers take courage and inspiration from Garments of Fleas, to think with reason and act to end suffering caused by ancient and primitive philosophies of money, religious superstitions and politics. Regina always says, we should be flying to the stars already, but here we are stuck in violence, unaware we’re animals on a rock spinning lost in space.

Yanes: You are currently working on your first solo novel, Comic Book Marginal. Could you share what this novel is about and why fans NEED to keep an eye out for it?

Edelman: Comic Book Marginal is gonna make people’s jaws drop. Mike Chabon wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the comic book world, but he didn’t live the life. I did, and I lived it a rough and tumble way no else did because of where I came from. As I hinted at the beginning of the interview, my childhood was outside the dimension of “nice” society most people know, and was a unique and painful lesson, mine alone. I suppose that’s why Regina and I are together. We understand each other because we went through similar processes of marginalization beginning in childhood. Comic Book Marginal then is a near-death story about searching for redemption everywhere, in art, work, and love. And though none of the characters in Comic Book Marginal represent any real or dead person or institution, you can be certain my story is authentic like no other about the comic book world, and based on hard-won lessons of bizarre experience that could only happen to me.

Yanes: Finally, is there anything else that you’re working on that fans should look forward to?

Edelman: Besides Garments of Fleas, Comic Book Marginal, Marvel Super Heroes Magazine, and the spec script I’m working on (I’ll keep you posted), I should mention I’ll be a guest at the Big Apple Wizard World Comic Con May 21-22 at Penn Plaza Pavilion. http://www.wizardworld.com/daryledelman.html If you’re in the New York City area, please stop by our table to say hi to Regina and me. Hey, thanks so much, Nick. I really appreciate you taking the time to ask such thoughtful questions. It was a pleasure to answer them.

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