Where were you in your career prior to writing Black Panther in “Panther’s Rage,” and how did you come to be assigned to this project?
I have never thought of things as stages of my career, not even stages of my life, if I give it thought. There’s just what I was doing at any given time. Before I made the move to New York to work at Marvel in Editorial in about ‘73, I had always been writing stories from the time I was six or seven years old. In my teens, I was writing novels. I was in the midst of one titled Hit, Run and Chase that I abandoned at 250-pages because the story had veered unexpectedly into a courtroom drama, and that wasn’t something I wanted to expend so much energy to write. I was also making 8mm and Super 8 films, most with a private eye character of my own, Jim Dancer, and pastiches of James Bond. Later, I created Detectives Inc. as a short movie for [comics creator and actor] Alex Simmons and I. Eventually, before I did my second Phil Seuling Comic Con in New York, I talked with Alex about doing our own comic. That led to working at James Warren’s magazines at Warren Publishing—Creepy, Vampirella, etc.—with Archie Goodwin as editor.
When I got the call to work at Marvel for a $125.00 a week job, I left the house I owned with three bedrooms, a fireplace, cellar, garage, and a view out the window of a pond, plus a two block walk to a private stretch of ocean beach. I was proofreading comic books that Marvel was reprinting from various genres, including JUNGLE ACTION. Some of these stories were incredibly racist and I couldn’t help saying I could not believe that in the 1970s the company was publishing this stuff. I said something along the way somewhere, “Couldn’t you at least have an African character as the hero?” I wasn’t even thinking of T’Challa and the Black Panther.
When Marvel began to expand the amount of titles they were doing, JUNGLE ACTION was among the ones they would put [two thirds] new material in and a reprint story in the last [third], to keep the cost down on a title that Editorial did not believe would have great sales. This was a genre that wasn’t selling high numbers in that time frame.
It was an unwritten rule that if you were a writer working in Editorial, somewhere along the way you would probably be given something to write. I was told after being there for some time that I would be writing Black Panther, and that it would be thirteen pages every two months. It would be Black Panther in Wakanda too.
What were your thoughts on T'Challa going into “Panther's Rage”? What picture of him had you formed from prior stories and how did that inform what you wanted to do?
Thanks to [Marvel editor] Jim Salicrup, because all my comics were still back in my home state, he leant me all the Black Panther comics so I could read everything. Remember, there weren’t five decades of books on a character to go through back then, so that was something feasible to do. In the beginning, it was a lot of research as well as reading the comics.
I know I decided pretty quickly that it was going to be one long story with a lead villain. Among the first thoughts were that virtually all the characters would be Wakandan, because all the mythology that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby established is that it was a super-scientific nation hidden with so much technology that no one could find it—with the exception of some White villain stumbling onto it and discovering vibranium once in a while. How many times could you go to that well in a series starring T’Challa?
Having all the major characters be Wakandan meant all the characters had to be Black. That was the only thing that made sense to me. That became somewhat of a problem for Editorial as the series progressed. I suspect they hadn’t thought that through when telling me to set the stories in Wakanda.
I also thought the stories had to be connected. If Black Panther were to come back to Wakanda and every two months for thirteen pages he encountered a new villain, the Wakandans would want to tell him to go back to America, life was much calmer before he came back. But if the story was about the results of his being away, and the idea of revolution led by a strong character came into play, there would be plenty of conflict, plus other themes I could explore as a writer.
How did Rich Buckler become involved as the initial artist and why was his participation so important?
Rich Buckler and I had met up at Marvel Comics and became friends. Rich had his own little office space and we would discuss our passion for comics and storytelling. When the opportunity came to do Black Panther, Rich said he’d draw it.
Editorial did not want Rich Buckler on a low priority book. They wanted Rich for A-List titles like FANTASTIC FOUR and AVENGERS, the big stars of the line. But Rich was insistent, and I truly believe that it was because of Rich that I was able to do the kind of storytelling that you see throughout “Panther’s Rage.” I could ask for anything, and Rich never said, “No, that’s too difficult.”
Rich found a place for me to live up in the Bronx so I would be near where he lived, and I would go to his place at night after work and pose as Black Panther, trying to give him the essence of how I saw T’Challa.