Talk about your harmonic nerd convergences: John Hodgman spoke with George R.R. Martin about Marvel Comics in yesterday’s episode of public radio’s The Sound of Young America. In one corner: George R.R. Martin, author of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire and its #1 New York Times–bestselling latest installment A Dance with Dragons, executive producer of the HBO television adaptation Game of Thrones, and inspiration for Dynamite Entertainment’s own comics adaptation A Game of Thrones, whose first issue debuts tomorrow. In the other corner: John Hodgman, nerd-friendly writer, comedic cultural commentator for The Daily Show, and “I’m a PC” guy, filling in as the radio program’s guest host. The topic: One of Martin’s first pieces of published writing, a piece of fanmail published in Avengers #12 in 1964 when Martin was 16 years old.
Hodgman used the letter, which entered wide Internet circulation a few weeks back, to kick off the interview. And he was probably kidding around when he asked Martin to explain why his 16-year-old self believed Avengers #9 to be superior to Fantastic Four #32, as his letter had argued. But once Hodgman jogged Martin’s memory by reminding him that Avengers #9 marked the debut of Wonder Man, Martin knew exactly why he liked the issue so much. His explanation to Hodgman is a solid exploration of why the early Marvel superhero comics were so groundbreaking for the genre — and in offering it, Martin seems to come to the realization that that issue had an impact on his own writing that resonates with him to this day. (For readers of the book or viewers of the show, the influence will be obvious.)
Read a transcript of the relevant section below, then listen to the entire interview.
[George R.R. Martin:] I liked Wonder Man. And you know why? [Laughs] Now it’s coming back to me vividly! Wonder Man dies in that story. He’s a brand new character, he’s introduced, and he dies. It was very heartwrenching. I liked the character — it was a tragic, doomed character. I guess I’ve responded to tragic, doomed characters ever since I was a high-school kid.
[John Hodgman:] Especially those who might die at any minute.
That’s right. Of course, being comic books, Wonder Man didn’t stay dead for long. He came back a year or two later and had a long run for many, many decades. But the fact that he was introduced and joined the Avengers and died all in that one issue had a great impact on me when I was a high-school kid.
I imagine it was pretty surprising, in a comic book at that time, to see a whole story arc resolve tragically in that way in one issue.
Yes. It’s hard to understand, I think, from the vantage point of 2011 exactly what was going on in comics back in the early ’60s. The Marvel comics that I was writing letters to were really revolutionary for the time. Stan Lee was doing some amazing work. Up until then, the dominant comic book had been the DC comics, which at that time were always very circular: Superman or Batman would have an adventure, and at the end of the adventure they would wind up exactly where they were, and then the next issue would follow the same pattern. Nothing ever changed for the DC characters.
The Marvel characters were constantly changing. Important things were happening. The lineup of the Avengers was constantly changing. People would quit and they would have fights and all of that, as opposed to DC, where everybody got along and it was all very nice, and of course all the heroes liked each other. None of this was happening. So really, Stan Lee introduced the whole concept of characterization [chuckles] to comic books, and conflict, and maybe even a touch of gray in some of the characters. And boy, looking back at it now, I can see that it probably was a bigger influence on my own work than I would have dreamed.