Talking Comics with Tim: Brian Cronin
Back in the mid-2000s, Brian Cronin and I worked together at the earlier version of this blog, The Great Curve. Currently, of course, Cronin is known for great work at Robot 6’s older sibling blog, Comics Should Be Good. Out of that, in mid-2005, Cronin launched his very popular Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed weekly feature. In fact, that particular feature became so popular in late April Plume released a book by Cronin, Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed, in which he “demystifies all of the interesting stories, unbelievable anecdotes, wacky rumors, and persistent myths that have piled up like priceless back issues in the seventy-plus years of the comic book industry”. I caught up with my fellow CBR-based writer to chat about his new book.
Tim O’Shea: What were some of the hardest questions to research?
Brian Cronin: Among the legends in the book, I would say that the one about George Lucas and the old Uncle Scrooge story would be the hardest, as Lucas is not exactly the easiest fellow to come into contact with, so after quite some time trying to find information about it, I luckily was able to come into contact with his friend (and the editor of the great Carl Barks’ tribute volume, Uncle Scrooge McDuck–His Life & Times), Edward Summer, who was invaluable in getting an answer to that question.
O’Shea: In terms of the questions that were sent in, were there one or two that just seemed completely implausible at first, but to your amazement turned out to be true?
Cronin: Honestly, I think most of the stories have enough of a “truth” feel to them that I generally am not surprised by them turning out to actually be true. Far more often I will be surprised by a story that I’ve always heard to be true actually turn out to be false.
If I were to choose one, though, I guess I would go with the judge who was inspired by a Spider-Man comic strip to introduce electronic monitoring bracelets for criminals.
O’Shea: While the research you do is the core of the original columns, sometimes a great deal of information develops in the comments section of the posts. How did you go about trying to distill some of that element in the book, or could you.
Cronin: I think that the comments are generally just the same as any other source – book, article, interview, etc. – and they get worked into the story as such (well, with the credibility being checked out, of course). And naturally, everyone whose comments or suggestions led to a legend that was featured in the book got an acknowledgment at the beginning of the book!
O’Shea: The book is much more than a compilation of your past columns, how long did you work on compiling the book and what were you able to add when revisiting certain portions of the book’s topics?
Cronin: Compiling the book probably took a bit longer than actually writing it, since it had to be a 50/50 split of new legends and old legends, but it also had to be a pretty even mix for each group of characters (to wit, it couldn’t be two Hulk legends, twelve Fantastic Four legends and three Captain America legends). I worked on the compilation in a hilariously low-tech fashion – just a piece of paper that I would cross out legends until I had just the right balance.
I was actually mildly surprised at how much time it took to re-write the legends into book form. I believe it took me roughly two weeks to write the initial draft, plus a week or so to incorporate changes from my personal editor, John Mihaly, before I submitted the book. I’ve never had problems with carpal tunnel before – not until I wrote that book in two weeks! So it was quite an experience.
O’Shea: While you are a savvy comics journalist and researcher, at the end of the day, we’re both comic book fans. So, I have to know, in researching these legends, were there any particular legendary creators that you got to talk to that you found yourself in disbelief that you were?
Cronin: Honestly, 90% of the creators have been so cool and so open about discussing their history with me that it really takes you out of any sort of disbelief. J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Evanier and Karl Kesel, to name three, have been extremely giving with their time. More recently, Jackson Guice answered a query with an amazingly in-depth reply.
O’Shea: Granted the backbone of this book is comics, but comics’ impact can be far-reaching–just as that one Dutch inventor who was foiled by Donald Duck…What were some of the more unique topics that you found yourself delving into, thanks to the comics’ research?
Cronin: It would definitely have to be all the legal stuff. I am an attorney, so I’m used to it, but even so, there is a lot of legal jargon that you have to get through to get to some of the information about trademark, patents and copyrights that come up in the book. And then to have to translate that knowledge to the layperson is a challenge.
O’Shea: How did the column first come into being–and what led to the book deal?
Cronin: It all began when I, myself, fell for an urban legend and Walt Simonson was good enough to correct me about my mistake. If you check out the sample pages posted on Comics Should Be Good you can see my introduction, where I explain it in greater detail.
As for the book deal, after doing the column for long enough and seeing the great amount of support readers have given it, I figured it would make sense to try to see if a book was possible. So I found a literary agent, Rick Broadhead, who signed me and he manged to rustle up a book deal for me!
O’Shea: If response is strong enough, would you be open to doing a second book?
O’Shea: What else do you have going on (other than the blog, being an attorney and sleeping periodically)?
Cronin: With the release of the book, I figured it would be a good idea to launch a new site, so I have a new web site for various legends from the worlds of entertainment and sports called Legends Revealed! You can visit it here.