Len Wein is a cultural icon, behind the scenes. Well, behind the pages. As a comic book writer, he has leaped the tallest buildings in a single bound; working regularly for the giants DC and Marvel, having his stories adapted for film and TV, oh, and also being the co-creator of beloved characters such as Swamp Thing, Batman’s Lucius Fox, and a hairy guy named Wolverine.
This weekend, Wein will come face to face with his Australian fans at the GRAPHIC Festival – a notion he describes as surreal: “I never imagined I would have fans anywhere, let alone halfway around the world.” But if anyone understands fandom, it has to be Wein, who proudly praises his contemporaries and icons throughout our chat. And it’s a mixed bag, with Disney’s Phineas and Ferb sharing breath with screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. “Although, arguably the greatest influence on my work was the late, great Rod Serling – the creator of the Twilight Zone. I found there was music in his words. It was magical to listen to,” he says.
You could say that being a fan is what got Wein the gig to begin with. As a teen, and amateur fanzine artist, he was often hanging around the DC offices; buddying up with the suits. He was so well known in the hallways that once he finally got the nerve to submit stories, they hired him on the spot.
Yes, Wein is a fan first and foremost. In fact, he attributes his career to the fact that he writes the stories that he himself wants to read. “The fan in me is always right up front, saying ‘Hey no one’s ever done that story! Id love to read that!’” he says.
Nowadays, this friendly neighbourhood comic writer counts a legion of popular film and TV writers, authors, songwriters, and young artists among his followers. He finds the praise “very humbling”, stating that he is often treated as a sage. “I often get asked what part of the process I enjoy more, and to be honest, I enjoy editing the most. Because that way I get to control the entire package. I feel like it’s my book, even if I haven’t written a word of it,” says Wein.
But, Wein is an artist in the rare position of having his work adapted to the big screen – with perhaps the highest profile adaptation being Hugh Jackman’s now iconic portrayal of The Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. For a creative who takes joy in total control, surely watching his work be interpreted by actors and film crew must have been difficult? Quite the opposite, as his story would suggest. “When I started writing on the Batman animated series, I had to adapt one of my own comic book stories. When I turned it in, the producer said, ‘You made changes to your own story?’ I said, ‘Yeah, the original was a comic book, but these changes work better as an animated story.’ So, I don’t mind what they’ve done to my characters, mostly. You work for the medium you’re working in.”
It’s this openness to the creative process that has kept Wein not only relative, but vital to the world of comics over the past 40 years. His love for the art has left its imprint on Watchmen, the DC universe, and even animated series such as Nickelodeon’s Ben 10. As a constant creator, I couldn’t help but challenge him to pitch an Australian superhero to me, with the proviso that it couldn’t be called ‘The Kangaroo’.
“I think it’d be somebody whose origins come from the Outback, someone who comes from what makes the native aspect of Australia unique and beautiful. Not ‘The Kangaroo’. That would be horrible.”
BY CAMERON JAMES