Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ageism in comics?: Gerry Conway talks with Cary's Comics Craze (exclusive interview - flashback)

Have you ever wondered if there is such a thing as age discrimination in the comic book industry? Is it possible publishers and editors feel like certain writers and artists have aged out at some point?

Gerry Conway circa 2011
Since this is a topic that is hardly discussed, this week Cary's Comics Craze reposted a 2010 interview I did with artist Norm Breyfogle, who brought up the topic during a lengthy phone interview.

So I decided to get feedback from another comic-book veteran — a legend in the industry, in fact — who is about the same age as Breyfogle (DETECTIVE COMICS, BATMAN, ARCHIE and the three-issue HELLCAT limited series).

I interviewed writer Gerry Conway via Facebook in the spring of 2010 when the co-creator of the Punisher was 57 years old. (Shameless plug: Consider being a fan of “Cary Ashby – reporter & comic book blogger" on FB.)

The response from Conway, now 63, may surprise you and is certainly enlightening. Without further ado …!

NORWALK, Ohio (March 31, 2010) — Veteran comic book writer Gerry Conway doesn’t subscribe to the ageism concept in black-and-white terms.

The long-time AMAZING SPIDER-MAN scribe broke into the industry at the age of 16 and was Marvel’s editor-in-chief for about two months between 1975 and 1976.  Conway began writing ASM when he was 19 years old and continued to do so until he was 22.

“Sure, there are many older writers and artists who can’t get work now and strictly speaking, it’s because of their age, but not because they’re being discriminated against by editors or publishers,” Conway said.

“They’re being discriminated against, if that’s the proper term, by readers and fans because these older writers and artists aren’t producing work that the readers and fans of today are interested in seeing.

"It isn’t ‘fair’ in the sense that these older talents still have a great deal to offer, but you can’t legislate taste or fashion and the sad fact is that in the creative world, taste and fashion are the ruling factors that influence your viability as a writer or an artist — not your age,” he said.

“Yes, there are people capable of doing the same quality of work that they did years ago when they were fully employed; but the market for that work no longer exists and either they must adapt to the new market and produce work that is of interest to new readers or they have to accept retirement,” Conway said.

“The proof, to my mind, that there is no ‘ageism’ as such at work here is the fact that there are still several active writers and artists working in comics who are over the age of 50. Some are over 60,” he continued.

From 1988 to 1990, Conway was the regular writer for THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN and WEB OF SPIDER-MAN.

At that point he became the story editor for the television series “Father Dowling Mysteries” and worked in the television industry for many years as both a writer and producer.

But Conway, whose last comics publication (at least as of 2010!) was published by Topps Comics in April 1993, has been able to find recent work again in the comic book industry.

In the summer of 2009, DC published his limited series, THE LAST DAYS OF ANIMAL MAN.

“In fact, given the reality that many editors now working are former fans of writers and artists in my age bracket, there’s almost a predisposition on the part of these editors to give their former heroes the benefit of the doubt,” Conway said.

“But that benefit of the doubt only goes so far. Writers and artists my age and older have to produce work that people today want to read. If we can’t, we have no right to blame it on ‘ageism,’” he said.

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