In Meta-Messages, I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” This time around, we take a look at how Steve Skeates intentionally “poked the bear” a bit with a parody of Harlan Ellison in the pages of Aquaman.
As I mentioned in a few other posts in the wake of Harlan Ellison’s passing, he was a massive celebrity in the world of science fiction, fantasy and comic books in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Not only was a highly acclaimed writer, but he was also a very successful writer, which made him a true icon of the era. Not only that, but he also had an over-sized personality, so he seemingly lived the life of the writing “rock star,” as well. For the group of young writers who made up the second generation of comic book writers in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Ellison was a considerable influence. On top of all of that, Ellison actually crossed paths with a lot of these people as whenever Ellison was in New York, he would go to the same parties that guys like Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin would be at, and that “older” generation (guys in their late 20s/early 30s) would bring the young generation (guys in their very early 20s) to these parties and there would be a lot of hero worshiping going on.
I’ve written about how Roy Thomas worked with Ellison on an Avengers/Hulk two-parter where Thomas then worked in more than 20 references to Ellison’s short stories. I’ve also written about how young Mike Friedrich was so struck by Ellison that he actually wrote the writer into an issue of Justice League of America and had the author actually woo Black Canary!
However, not every young writer was quite as impressed by Ellison. Steve Skeates was a little bit in the middle between the groups. He had started writing at Marvel before Roy Thomas even, but was younger than Thomas and Denny O’Neil.
Ellison was famous, even back then, for being very protective about his work. One of his most famous stories at the time was the classic Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” a story he fought a lot with Paramount about.
Well, Aquaman #50 had on its title, “The City on the Edge of Nowhere”…
Ellison wasn’t a fan of that title being so similar to his. Skeates’ reaction ended up in Aquaman #53. He explained to Jon B. Cooke years later in Comic Book Artist,” I enjoyed making fun of Harlan Ellison. Whenever he came to New York, Harlan would end up at these sci-fi parties that Denny. Gerry [Conway] and I would also get invited to. I knew that he was somewhat upset with my title, “The City on the Edge of Nowhere,” which was similar to his Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” I hadn’t talked to him since I had done that so I said, “Oh yeah, he’s upset?” Wait until he sees this!”
“This” was Aquaman #53’s “Is California Sinking?”
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