INTERVIEW: Jo Duffy
"Actually, it's become very chic to like Japanese comics and animation, but it's sort of a lifelong passion of mine."
--Jo Duffy, interviewed by Dwight Jon Zimmerman, in Comics Interview #27 (1985)
Writer and editor Jo Duffy was one of the first manga fans to work in American comics, and her time and place were surprisingly appropriate. In the late sixties and early seventies, Marvel was looking for foreign markets. Stan Lee spoke on Japanese radio in July 1969, and shortly thereafter Kosei Ono and Ryoichi Ikegami began scripting a manga version of Spider-Man. It was the first of many strange crossovers between Japan and Marvel's America, which included live-action TV series and anime by Toei, actual Japanese translations of Marvel comics (today courtesy of Shogakukan), and more (such as Capcom's video games). Jo Duffy brings perspective to those early years, as well as to her subsequent bizarre adventures throughout the comics (and manga) industry.
Entering the comics industry as a proofreader for Marvel in 1977, Duffy rose to Managing Editor of Epic Illustrated and worked on almost all of Marvel's comics as editor (Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Elektra: Assassin, Elfquest, Groo) or writer (Power Man and Iron Fist, Star Wars, Fallen Angels), before leaving the company in the late eighties. Since then, she has written comics for Marvel and other publishers (Wolverine, Catwoman, Bloodpool, Glory), self-published with a Japanese artist (Nestrobber), and rewritten manga into English (Akira, Memories).
PULP: When did you start working in comics?
Jo Duffy: 1977. My name started appearing on comics on a series of gushy but extremely sincere fan letters around '72 or '73. That was before e-mail so if you got a letter printed you were like "Oh cool!" and you'd exponentially send many more letters. A lot of people who became pros in the late '70s were the unofficial letter column gang: Dean Mulaney, Kim Thompson, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Rob Roadie, Peter Sanderson, and my apologies to anyone else I've forgotten.
PULP: How did that lead to your job at Marvel?
JD: In two different ways. First, the regular Marvel editorial staff knew me since they knew my letters. But also, a very dear friend of my family knew a friend of Stan Lee, and Stan was such a gentleman that even with a connection that slight, he introduced me to Marvel and that was what got me in the door.
PULP: Was that when Archie Goodwin was editor?
JD: He was Editor-in-Chief, he was the guy who hired me. The first time I met him, he was one of the staff editors, but there must have been six Editor-in-Chiefs in the period between '73 and '79. When he became Editor-in-Chief, he called me on board, and then a year later he was no longer Editor-in-Chief, and I was this inheritance. I'm not sure the next group of editors was pleased to have me, but I was Archie's legacy. Then a couple of years later I worked with him again when he came back to be in charge of the Epic division.
PULP: Didn't you co-edit one of the Daredevil issues with Denny O'Neil when Frank Miller was doing the pencilling?
JD: Actually, Al Milgrom and I were the editors of Daredevil before then. At the time I was also writing it, although only because the regular writer was desperately late and I was a warm body. I had done some work with Frank Miller, who at that point was completely unknown outside of the editors, and I knew he was just nutty, nutty, nutty for Daredevil. So I campaigned like a maniac to get Frank Miller a Spiderman-Daredevil crossover job. I was heartbroken when Gene Colan left Daredevil, he'd drawn some of the very few stories I'd written, but I said, "Hey, can I call Frank and give it to him, because I think he'd be swell?" and luckily everyone let it happen.
Denny [O'Neil] came to Marvel after that, and because of similarities between Batman and Daredevil they thought that would be a good editing fit for him. It was a big sacrifice to me to pass over the book, but how can you pass over giving the book to Denny O'Neil? He became my editor at Power Man and Iron Fist, and later I worked for him at DC just as Frank did. Just to make it more interesting, Denny was the editor who gave Frank the monthly writing assignment on Daredevil, but I had already given Frank his first writing assignment, a short piece about Daredevil's billy club.
PULP: So you gave him his first assignment?
JD: No, he had worked before for other companies, but I assigned him his first Marvel job: five pages of Doc Samson fights Unus the Untouchable, and then I gave him his first writing assignment and his first Daredevil assignment.
PULP: Was he talking about Japanese comics at this time?
JD: Actually, no I think how Frank got his interest in Asian comics from his friend Laurie Sutton, who had lived in Japan for a while, and had a bunch of ninja and samurai comics that she just adored. So she showed these to Frank, and he just adored the stuff. We all adored Bruce Lee, and we all liked certain Hong Kong movies. Archie Goodwin was also a fan and we would go to the movies after work on Friday.
PULP: Like Shogun Assassin?