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HARLAN ELLISON: BRING ON THE DANCING FROGS, Part 2
[editor's note: This interview with Harlan Ellison and Newsarama was conducted prior to Ellison and Fantagraphics agreeing to a moratorium on making public comments about the pending case between the two parties. Out of observance for that decision, the final question of this interview, which concerned the disagreement, has been removed. For more: http://harlanellison.com/heboard/unca.htm]

by Zack Smith

As his 73rd birthday approaches, Harlan Ellison remains as passionate and opinionated as ever. The award-winning author, activist and self-proclaimed “pain in the ass” has recently seen the release of the long-awaited second volume of Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor from Dark Horse Comics.

The ten-years-in-the-making anthology features adaptations of his work by a who’s who of comics’ greatest talents, including Neal Adams, Paul Chadwick, Richard Corben, Gene Colan, Gene Ha, Tony Isabella, Martin Nodell, Rags Morales, Steve Niles, Steve Rude, Eric Shanower, Curt Swan, Ty Templeton and Mark Waid, just to name a few of the many contributors.

We recently got to ask Ellison, who will be the subject of the upcoming documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth and whose story “The Discarded” will be adapted for the ABC anthology series Masters of Science Fiction, some questions about Dream Corridor and comics in general. Well…actually, sometimes he asked the questions. Read on to see what we mean…

continued from Part One

NEWSARAMA: Harlan, would you give any thought toward doing more comic book adaptations of your work, or possibly doing an original idea for comics in the future?

HARLAN ELLISON: Well, I, uh, that requires, uh, being able to see the future. I don’t….I’m enormously pleased with where we are right now. I have done a lot of different adaptations for a lot of different books. Kelley Jones and I did “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” for Weird Tales the comic, ah, and I’ve done Justice League and, and, and, Batman, and all the other things, and I’ve adapted a lot of my stories, such as “Crazy as a Soup Sandwich” for the Twilight Zone magazine. I’ve done a lot of work in the last, I don’t know, 30 years or so, and then you go back maybe 40 years or so when I did Avengers and The Incredible Hulk, where Roy Thomas did the scripts around my stories.

I can’t say that those weren’t a gift, and that I don’t have a lot of other projects. I mean, I’m going to be 73 in May, fer chrissake, and I’ve only got a finite number of them left, and whatever captures my interest is what I’m going to be working on.

I’ve got a miniseries that I’m working on now with Paul Chadwick at DC. I don’t want to talk about it, except we’ve been working on it for about two years, and it’s quite a…(clicks tongue). It’s quite a…it’s not so much that it’s so big, although it’s a large, there is a large canvas for this particular series that Paul and I are doing. It’s also a, um – ah, what the f**k, I don’t know. It’s, it’s a good deal. (laughs)

NRAMA: Now, you just mentioned having a finite number of years left. You’ve had a number of other long-gestating projects besides Dream Corridor, and if you could, you know, get just one of them out, which one would it be?

HE: Whew! (clicks his tongue) Shoo, that’s a…that’s a…(pause). That’s a, that’s a stumper.

For…my piece of mind, and to have people stop sniping at me, of course, I’d like to get The Last Dangerous Visions out of here. It’s this giant Sisyphean rock that I have to keep rolling up a hill, and people will not stop bugging me about it. You would look at all the stuff I have done, and then they start yelling at me about that which I haven’t done. I suppose I would want to get the complete Blood’s a Rover finished and out, the full novel. There’s a bunch of short stories that I’ve got halfway finished, like “Bring on the Dancing Frogs,” and a whole series about a psychic detective that I’ve been working on.

(pause) I dunno, kiddo. If I had to pick one, I’d probably pick none of them, and I’d just use the time I have left with my gorgeous wife, because time spent with Susan is the best time. And speaking of the devil…(Susan has just come in with some snacks; Ellison tries to get one). I guess that’s about as close an answer as I can give you.

NRAMA: Now, I’d like to talk a little about the current state of comics with you. First off, as a big fan of the old Captain Marvel comics, how do you feel about Monster Society of Evil?

HE: Well, I like Jeff’s work on Bone, and I…(munches for a moment)…it was okay. I don’t know, I always have trouble…you’re going to have to interpret my mumble because I’m eating a snack, some chicken – I get bothered by recycling the same characters over and over and over again, people feeling that they have to put a new slant on it.

It’s part of the cultural amnesia that troubles me, where if you mention someone like John Tenniel, or you mention, uh, uh, uh, I don’t know, Magritte, people don’t know who you’re talking about. If you mention Lee, people will think you mean Stan Lee, or if you’re younger, maybe Jim Lee, but if you mention C.C. Beck, no one knows who the hell you’re talking about.

Jeff is doing a very fine job with his version of something that, in my estimation, didn’t need to be redone! You know, the original exists, and just because you can think of a variation on how to do it doesn’t mean you should do it! It’s like, why are they remaking good movies? The original of The Longest Yard was sensational! And they remade it with, uh…hold on, what’s the name of…

NRAMA: Adam Sandler.

HE: …they remade it with him, and it was bulls**t! Why, why choose to make it twice just for the new generation?! It’s all right to make money, making money is just fine, but you can make money with originality. But if you keep bastardizing the audience, giving them the lowest possible denominator…I’m not saying Jeff’s work is like that, or anything like that. I want to make that perfectly clear: I am in no way putting down what Jeff is doing. I’m just saying that personally, to me, there’s a lot of stuff people do over that doesn’t need to be done over!

NRAMA: What are some things you’re currently reading that you’re enjoying, and who are some newer creators that you currently enjoy?

HE: Well, I’m reading the Conan books, I’m reading Peter David’s Fallen Angel, I’m reading the, uh, uh, the amalgamated graphic novels of Seven Soldiers of Victory that, uh, uh…

NRAMA: Morrison.

HE: Yeah! That, uh…Jesus Christ! I can only think of the name “Jim Morrison…”

NRAMA: Grant.

HE: Grant! Of course. Jesus god, what am I…I had a brainfart and the world “Grant” fell out of my head. I’m reading Midnighter, reading, ah, (clicks tongue) the hell else…? Samurai, the series being delivered to me by Dark Horse, I think that’s absolutely exquisite and I love it. Perhapanauts, I think they’re pretty nice…I just pretty much cannot read the Marvel stuff. It’s…it’s just…I’ve been in that elevator before.

NRAMA: I was curious about what you thought of Identity Crisis and some of the other crossovers, because I’m guessing you were not a fan…

HE: Horses**t. A maximum amount of pointless s**t. Not to be too candid about it. But then I think a maximum amount of pointless s**t was Civil War. I think the maximum amount of s**t was all the pointless crap they made you read at DC after the, uh, the uh, Infinite Crisis, I mean, just a really bulls**t, forcing people to buy a lot of comics they wouldn’t otherwise read to tell a story that doesn’t even tie in very well. They should be ashamed of themselves!

The, ah, the company’s in business to make money. But when everybody’s imitating themselves, just, just cannibalizing their own material, then I don’t want to know from it! It’s not art anymore, it’s not even entertainment! It seems to me impossible to pick up almost any Marvel comic with any of the regular characters – up to and including the bogus “death” of Captain America, which is even more bogus than the death of Superman – and read it, and enjoy it, because you don’t know who anybody is anymore! I can’t give you any answer to that!

My wife was an X-Men fan for ever and ever and ever, and even she is scratching her head about (the book), you just don’t what the hell it is! The characters die, they come back, they get recycled, they got a new identity, they change the uniform, they get married, they get divorced – well, what do you think, folks? Maybe, instead of taking people in and out all the time, you should get people who know how to write a f**kin’ story, who understand what internal logic is all about in the story, where you don’t have to kill someone to have a moment of drama.

And…ah, f**k. It’s this generation of writers who’ve been raised on television, and not good television either. They are not writers who’ve been raised with the tradition of the stage, and theater, or even the movies that had much originality. And they’re all sort of imitating each other. Which is why, whenever you see something by, uh, um, (clicks tongue)…boy, I just had another brainfart. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen…?

NRAMA: Alan Moore.

HE: Right, Alan. When Alan writes something, whether it’s a superhero thing like Tom Strong, or something unique, like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, you get freshness! Newness! Alan Moore is an artist! There’s a difference between people who are on that tier of quality – and there are very few of them – it’s like the difference between real writers and hacks who turn out bestsellers. Or, to be more specific, let’s say the difference between mystery writer Donald Westlake or Robert Crais, and hacks like Carl Hiaasen and Grisham!

There’s, there’s, there’s an enormous difference between them! Grisham is a perfectly decent craftsman in his own way, although he’s tone-deaf in what he writes, and you may go, “Oh! How can he say such a thing about writers?” but I respect and admire good writers! You want to read a good writer, read Gerald Kersh! You want to read a good writer, you read Joyce Carol Oates, or Read Connie Willis! Don’t read The Executioner #255! Although some of my friends have written stuff like The Executioner #255 – that’s why I don’t give a quote unless it’s something I’ve read and liked. They impose upon me to get a quote because they think I’ll do it, and I’ll say, “No, I can’t do that, it’s not something that I would recommend.” And they get pissed off, because they expect you to do it pro forma. Many people do, in this business, and in many other businesses where they give quotes, but I…anyway, am I keeping to the theme of this..?

End of Part Two

Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor is available in shops and bookstores now.

Tomorrow: Harlan Ellison on comics for kids, the Spirit, and Gary Groth.

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