Terrificon 2022 built this year’s convention around Spider-Man’s 60th birthday, so the party would not be complete without long-time Spider-Man scribe Gerry Conway.
Conway’s four year run on The Amazing Spider-Man (as the direct successor to Stan Lee on the flagship title) gave fans numerous memorable moments, none more memorable than the “Death of Gwen Stacey” storyline. He would also create The Punisher during his run, and would return to the character in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Web of Spider-Man.
We got a chance to speak to the legendary comic writer at Terrificon 2022 about Spidey, The Punisher, Tombstone, and Marvel’s horror characters in this exclusive interview.
You have worked in the industry for decades, and have a long, storied history with Spider-Man, but how did you initially get the writing assignment for The Amazing Spider-Man?
Gerry Conway: Back when this was happening, Marvel was a fairly small company and there were three primary writers and a few free lancers working for them. I was the third writer for the company after Stan Lee and Roy Thomas and when Stan gave up books, Roy would take the books he wanted and pass on to me the ones he didn’t want. Stan gave up Thor, and Roy didn’t want to write Thor, so I began writing Thor. When Stan gave up Fantastic Four, Roy was happy to write it because he likes writing group books. So when Stan gave up Spider-Man, Roy didn’t want to do it, so it was passed on to me.
I had previously written the character in a few Marvel Team-Up stories, so they were comfortable with the way that I wrote him and I had John Romita as a mentor, looking over my shoulder and advising me.
One of your biggest creations from your Amazing Spider-Man run is of course the Punisher. Were you surprised when he exploded in popularity years later outside of the Spider-Man comics?
Conway: Sure. I mean, initially he was just a ground-level, anti-hero villain for Spider-Man to fight and more interesting than others. We knew that he had some reader popularity, but he sort of faded out after I left the book, and other writers didn’t use him as much.
Then in the ’80s, Steve Grant and Mike Zeck brought the character back and it hit the zeitgeist. Since then, a lot of talented creators have come along and used him as a Rorschach Test with their own interpretation of the character for the times that he is operating in. He’s kind of perfect for that because you can take any attitude you want in terms of what he does.
You also co-created Man-Thing at a time when Marvel started to bring in horror-based characters when the Code starts to relax, what are your memories of working in the Marvel horror genre?
Conway: Well, I initially started writing supernatural stories for DC Comics with House of Secrets, House of Mystery, and The Witching Hour, and I’d always enjoyed horror fiction and horror stories., so it was a natural genre for me to work in. Roy Thomas had became Editor-in-Chief and he was tasked with expanding the horror line, and with the Comics Code relaxing, that opened up possibilities for a market that our competition was not addressing. Roy brought in titles like Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, and each had a unique style, so it was a natural for me; I always like writing them.
Which character did you enjoy writing the most from that set?
Conway: Werewolf by Night, Jack Russell, who I co-created with Roy Thomas and Jean Thomas and Mike Ploog. Roy and Jean passed the concept onto me, and Mike Ploog and I developed the character from there. I liked writing that character as it was a first person supernatural book with a teen hero, which was kind of my niche there.
We recently spoke to Alex Saviuk about the creation of Tombstone in Web of Spider-Man. What are your memories of creating that character, who has also grown in popularity over recent years?
Conway: That came out of a situation where Alex, Sal Buscema, and I were working on the secondary Spider-Man title, and we really couldn’t effectively create storylines for the main supporting cast of Spider-Man. So, as a result, we focused on the secondary supporting cast, and that included people like Joe Robertson, who was an editor at the Daily Bugle.
In the course of telling his story, I came up with a long, convoluted noir story, and I always had an attachment to Dick Tracy type-villains for Spider-Man; a street-level villain that had some sort of weird physical attribute that sets them apart. As a result, I was playing around with idea of a villainous albino character called Tombstone. It seemed like a pretty perfect set-up.
If Marvel were to put together a “Best of Gerry Conway” collection, what would you want included in it?
Conway: You would obviously have to put in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122, but I think you could also include some of my run on Thor, with the “Dark Nebula” storyline, the Tombstone storyline, and I’m pretty proud of my Werewolf by Night run, the first eight or ten issue of that, as I generally tend to think in terms of runs, over individual stories.
The recently released The Amazing Spider-Man: Man-Wolf at Midnight Epic Collection contains the bulk of Conway’s run on the title, and the first appearance of The Punisher and Man-Wolf. Major sections of Conway’s Thor run can also be found in the Thor: Ulik Unchained Epic Collection and Thor: Into the Dark Nebula Epic Collection.