blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Michaux Dempster: This is Michaux Dempster, and I am interviewing Tom De Haven about his new novel It’s Superman! (Chronicle Books, 2005). Tom, thank you very much for coming.

Tom De Haven: Well, thank you.

MD: For the first question that I have is about when DC Comics contacted you, it was, was it 1996?

TD: Ninety-seven.

MD: Ninety-seven? OK. How did you feel when you realized that they were contacting you about writing a novel about Superman?

TD: Well, it was actually very flattering, of course. But the worry that I had immediately was should I do a novel with a character that I don’t own? So I had to think about it, but I didn’t think about it very long, really. I just thought this is, this is too good to let go, and since they were giving me carte blanche pretty much I figured I’d go with it, and I haven’t regretted it at all. It’s fun.

MD: You’ve been a really avid reader of comics and graphic novels since you were a boy. Can you talk about how you began to be fascinated by comics?

TD: Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with how I grew up to be a narrative writer. From the very beginning when I was six or seven years old I . . . well, first of all, I found this comic book once when I was seven, and the cover was so fascinating to me that I was trying to decode it. It was a Dick Tracy comic book and I didn’t know who Dick Tracy was, but it had this character running through the rain, and in the front, in the foreground, was this woman with no eyeballs sitting against a boulder with two little children next to her, and one of the children was glowing in the dark. I had no idea what this was but I remember picking this up and looking at it and making a story about it. This is great. This is bizarre. That’s when I began. Of course I bought that comic book and then found a newspaper strip with these four pals, and I was trying to figure out how all this worked and what was the story. So I think that my fascination with the comic strips comes back to, I mean really fed my fascination with storytelling, I think, and the visual verbal blending, the words and the pictures, I think, have a great deal to do with how I write. So yeah, so it’s always been there, since like I was six or seven years old.

MD: And you . . . was it a Dick Tracy strip that you actually you found it buried . . . somewhere?

TD: I found it. I found this old newspaper buried in the in the dirt under an old summer house, and I pulled it out and it was a year old and I found a strip in there and tore it out, which I still have. I have it in a scrapbook. But I remember looking at this thing and just wondering who these people were and how the progression was from pal to pal and what was the story. And so I think I taught myself, and this is not uncommon for a lot of people who are interested in comics, I taught myself how to read reading comic strips when I was very, very young. But I also think I taught myself how to tell stories, or at least got fascinated by stories by reading comics.

MD: Sure. Because so much happens between the panels and you have to decode that . . .

TD: You have to fill it in. Yeah, fill it in.

MD: If you were to play a game of connect the dots starting with your first experience with comics and ending with the writing of It’s Superman!, what would the main points, the main dots, of that progression be?

TD: I think that’s fairly interesting, and easy. I wanted to be a cartoonist up until I was in college, and so I drew comic strips. And then, when I got into college, my drawing abilities seem to have come to a dead stop, but I still loved writing stories. So by the time I got out of college I was writing fiction, but I wasn’t drawing anymore, and I got a scholarship to go to an MFA program. And at the end of the program we had to make a kind of five-year plan. For one thing we had to do our thesis, and we had to do our thesis defense, and we had to, like, what are we going to do? And so I had this idea I wanted to do this novel about comic strips and the whole history of comic strips in fictionalized form. So this is like 1973, I had this idea, and I didn’t start the book until 1980, which was the Funny Papers trilogy. So that led me to writing this series of novels throughout the Eighties and Nineties and it’s about the history of comics from the 1890s through the 1970s. And because of that, those were the, those are the books that DC Comic editors saw and liked, and so they called and asked me if I would like to do the Superman book. So it’s a very direct route.

MD: And you used a lot of the history and the research that you did, obviously for the Funny Papers trilogy, for It's Superman! as well.

TD: Oh yeah, especially, the second book in the trilogy was set in the 30’s, and that was set in like one month of 1936, December of 1936, and Superman goes from 1935 to 1938. So I had to do some research on the other ends. But I certainly had my basic Thirties research down. And I’ve taught Thirties classes, “History and Culture of the 1930s,” so I’m probably more familiar with the 1930s than I am with our own time.

MD: So did you know a lot about Superman, the character, in the comic stories? Had you read a lot of Superman strips before you were contacted to do this? Or did you have to do a lot of specific Superman research?

TD: Well, I knew Superman from my boyhood. There was the Superman of the Fifties and Sixties, and then the Chris Reeve movies, and the George Reeves television show. I knew that Superman, and I had some idea of the earlier Superman because of my research into comics, but when I agreed to do this, DC Comics began sending me their archive books, bound books, of all the early Superman stories from 38 and 39 and 40, 41. And plus I got all of the comic strips from the newspapers of Superman, and that was very surprising because Superman was very, very different in those days. He was a kind of skinny little guy who looked a little like a dark-haired James Cagney. No, he wasn’t muscle bound, and he also very, very political in a sense that he came along with the Depression and he was a kind of junior New Deal-er who, what he did in the first couple of years was not fight any super-villains or anything, but was to clear slums, and expose corrupt politicians. And my favorite stories is when he destroys a couple of Detroit automobile factories because they’re producing unsafe cars, and this is like 1938, 1939. So he was very, very political. He was created by these two young Jewish kids who were very much into FDR and what was going on then. Once he became Superman, and a corporate entity, and so, so valuable, that part of him was less evident in the comic books. But he does change, as you know he’s almost 70 years old, so I went back to the original Superman and made him kind of ordinary looking and not muscle-bound, and trying to get someone in the story who kind develops a certain social conscience and, as he is going through the 1930’s and seeing what’s going on.

MD: Sure, sure, and then, the novel, I remember there are parts when he goes and he sees, not race riots, but people doing things that are very prejudice and policeman acting unconscionably . . .

TD: Killing some guy, right, burning down a courthouse.

MD: . . . and Superman gets really upset about this.

TD: Those stories, by the way, particularly that one which took place in Texas, is real. Of course I’ve put Superman into it, but that’s, that particular story, about a black man who was being tried for murder and then this white mob burned the courthouse. And to protect this prisoner they put him in the safe, they locked him in the safe. And then the building got so bad that everybody else ran out, and this poor guy was burned to death in the safe.

MD: Goodness.

TD: So that story was real, I just put Superman into it. But all those things that he sees going around in the 1930s was actual, was real.

MD: That is really different from the Superman that I think most people know, where he is fighting the super-villains and Lex Luthor. And I think that does say a lot about the culture in the 1930s, and what people wanted in their superheroes.

TD: The thing you have to remember is that he was the first. I don’t think that’s the reason, necessarily, why he stayed around seventy years, but it certainly was important that he was the first. And what he could do those guys could just make it up. I mean there was no precedent for this kind of character, so they made him very much like themselves, a nerdy guy in real life and their fantasy figure and elsewhere.

MD: Sure, with the glasses.

TD: With the glasses, well, so did both of those guys who created him wore glasses.

MD: Isn’t that funny.

TD: Couldn’t get a date.

MD: That’s probably part of the appeal, isn’t it, with Superman and other superheroes in general? A lot them have these sort of nerdy alter egos where they have trouble, trouble like regular old people do, and then they can transform all of the sudden and do these amazing things that no one would believe.

TD: Oh, yeah, that’s why it appeals to 10, 11, 12, 13-year-olds just on the verge of adolescence. I’m sure that whole idea that, “Yeah I may look like a nerd, and I can’t do anything, but underneath I’m really certain I’m special.”

MD: And nobody knows it but me.

TD: And nobody knows it.

MD: One thing I was very surprised about when I read the novel was that you put Superman into a 1930s, very historically accurate New York, rather than Metropolis, and can you talk about how you made that decision?

TD: Well, yeah, I mean I wanted to do a realistic novel that’s set in the real 1930s. So I had the problem, well, Metropolis isn’t a real city, and I could I have gone the route of the stories, but I just thought, well, I know New York so well in the 1930s, for one thing. I wrote two novels set in the 1930s in New York, it was a wonderful time, and if I began to make things up it wouldn’t be half as fascinating: the theater and the politics and things. And so I decided to put it into New York. Which in the comic books it’s always assumed that Metropolis is either New York or Chicago or one of these big cities, but in fact, when Siegel and Shuster created Superman, it was Cleveland. Superman was originally in Cleveland.

MD: Oh, isn’t that funny.

TD: The first couple of stories they actually call it Cleveland. And not only that, but it’s Cleveland, but the skyscrapers are Toronto because Joe Shuster used Toronto because that’s where he was born. So you have an amalgam of Toronto and Cleveland, which is where Superman was, and I knew neither of those cities so I figured, well, where would Superman go if he, where would anyone go in the 1930s, or now, if they were going to try to break into newspapers or media or radio or television? You’d go to New York.

MD: Sure.

TD: So that’s why I moved that there.

MD: The voice of the novel really struck me, just the first few pages. It’s very streetwise, very snappy, lots of 1930s slang that I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but it just gave the novel this real atmosphere. Right away it just put you in this fictional time and place. How did you go about creating that voice? What kinds of decisions did you make about vocabulary and sort of how cynical-slash-innocent you wanted it to sound?

TD: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m a totally undisciplined, untrained researcher, and it turns out, I mean I didn’t intend this, my career, to be mostly about books which I had to research and are set in other periods of time. That’s . . . I didn’t start out to do that. And so when I started doing that I didn’t have any idea how to research, but what I’ve come to do is not only read histories of the times, but what I really try to do is read newspapers, magazines, fiction, plays, all that kind of stuff that was written or produced, published in the actual time period that I want, which is how I get a lot of the details, how I get a lot of the slang, which I know it’s right because it was in a novel or a play published the same year that I’m writing. And I do collect books of slang, and my approach to writing is to use very colloquial American English, and and there is nothing snappier than 1930s, 1940s American English. And so it’s fun. Gotta watch out you don’t put too much into it, so it seems like a parody of that kind of stuff, but I really do love trying to imitate, not only speech patterns, but a certain kind of a literary mode of the 1930s, which is a kind of a pulp mixed with a neo-realism, or a socialist realism, that kind of stuff in the theater. That’s how I go do it, it’s half-assed but it somehow comes together.

MD: Yeah, it definitely does. And I think you’re right. It’s sort of this streetwise, but very authentic, kind of sound that the whole novel has.

TD: Well, one of the things I do when I’m researching, too, is I always figure out when these, my characters, were born, and then I figure out when they went to school and what was going on in their lives when they were young. And then I figure out those things must have had an impact on them. So if I’m doing Mr. Kent, I figure he was born like not too long after the Civil War. And what would it have been like for him growing up then? And then Clark coming along in, during, World War I, so he was growing up in the Twenties. So those kinds of things I take into account when I am trying to create characters so that they seem products of their own time rather than mine.

MD: One thing that I always noticed about you, both in the classes that I’ve had with you, in graduate level MFA writing classes, and in your books, is your ability to just sort of be really off the cuff with these ideas about character and plot. You’ll do it in our workshops and you’ll say, “Well, what about this? Why don’t you have your character do such and such?” And it will be something that would have taken me all day to think of. And you seem to have an endless supply of these ideas, and in It’s Superman!, I really noticed it because even the minor characters have these little details about them. The villains have family problems. There’s this one guy that has a dad that puts him down and talks down to him all the time and doesn’t think he’s good for anything, and just different little tidbits about the characters. How do you come up with so many? What’s your secret?

TD: Well, there is no . . . I guess it’s just a kind of that’s how I’m made. I just kind of make up things or think of things, but I keep notebooks all the time and put down little things, and also I’ll just jot down odd little business that I read about. For instance, in the Superman story there was . . . there’s a character who is one of Lex Luthor’s henchmen, but he’s a defrocked Catholic priest, and how that came about is I was reading something about the 1930s and it said that there were a lot of men who went into the seminary after the Depression began because they couldn’t get any other work. They had no vocation, no religious vocation, but it was a way of getting off the street, getting fed, getting housed, getting clothed, and I thought, Well, that’s an interesting predicament. What if you kind of got into that and then you realized, Oh, God, but I really am a priest now. I have no vocation, I’m fed, but I’m really bored. And that’s how I created that character.

So I had this thing in the back of my head for a long time. This would be interesting, but if someone gets involved in this what would you do? So that’s where it came from, and I just jot all of these little things down. And what I’ll generally do with a character is start with one little quirk, like Lex Luthor is in the midst of all of this racism and xenophobia of the 1930s. Here’s this incredibly villainous, awful man who will not tolerate anyone using racial epithets around him. This is a really interesting quality, but when you look back under it he doesn’t want anybody using racial epithets because he doesn’t think anybody’s worthwhile, including the people he’s chastising. But I thought that was an interesting quality, that he would be much more advanced in thinking in the 1930s, or at least seem that way. So I played with that, and then out of little quirky things that don’t quite fit together you make a character. The little trick of it is that you put things that don’t add up, you put something where someone is actually villainous, and you put something where he’s really, really good to his mother, and then the character has certain body to him because he’s not one note. So that’s the trick version of the answer. Of the other thing is that I just kind of try to keep all of these things in notebooks and try and use them, put disparate things together and see if they create something interesting.

MD: Yeah, I think it’s the disparity that probably makes the characters really come alive, like you say you wouldn’t expect Lex Luthor to have a conscience or the appearance of one, of anything. But giving him the characteristics about, like you said, the racial epithets, not being able to tolerate them, and being so good to his mother. How did you come up with his family history? Lex Luthor has a really interesting past in this novel.

TD: Well, it’s interesting, cause when you take these characters in, there’s things like The Encyclopaedia of Superman! and stuff, so I was reading all this stuff and everybody has histories in the comic books, in movies, but they’re all different. It depends on what comic book, or what year, or what movie, and so the Smallville Lex Luthor is way different from my Lex Luthor. So, well first of all, I wanted to have a certain connectedness between these two characters who don’t meet for almost 400 pages in the novel, but I wanted them to have similarities. Like Clark is an exile. He’s an alien who just comes to this place where he doesn’t belong, and Lex Luthor is kind of an exile from where he is because his father’s a murderer and the family has to take off and assume all of these different identities. So I had this certain thing where Clark has to assume identities and Lex has to assume identities and they’re both displaced people. And so I was trying to play with these two things, how one could turn out to be heroic from this experience, and how one could turn out to be absolutely villainous and despicable from these experiences. And so that was . . . I was trying to keep a parallel throughout. In the earlier version there was much more about his history, and I had to cut it because it was the way longer version of the novel. So he was even more interesting I think in first version.

MD: Is that the thing that you miss most about the longer version, the thousand-page version, of the novel?

TD: Well, I liked that, I liked Lex Luthor, and I had much more. He was much more connected to Smallville. His father was, did the murder in Smallville, and there was all these kind of connections between the Kent family and the Luthor family in the original version, and that was very interesting to me, but very complicated, so I took it out. So I do miss that, but there, what I did when I cut the book was basically not just cut things about particular characters, but I cut whole characters out, which was painful, but it was probably less structurally damaging than something else that I might have done.

MD: I see, so rather than cut plot points . . .

TD: . . . or make scenes shorter, or things like that. I took out whole threads of characters that don’t exist anymore in the book. Like there’s this Russian spy, which I really loved. She was kind of a Mata Hari kind of thing, kind a character, who was trying to get, get the robots and bring them back to the Soviet Union. But I had to leave her out. She was good. She was really good.

MD: You always remember the stuff that you had to cut out. How long did it take you? You wrote the novel, to me, fairly quickly. I remember you started at your writer’s retreat up in Maine one summer and came back with like 200 pages finished then. And then you pretty much got to a thouand pages by the spring of that following year. And you had done all of your research and everything.

TD: Yeah, I had done all of the research, I mean the book, actually because I knew I was going to do it from ’97 on, although I was doing other projects and I didn’t sign the contract till 2001. I was doing research whenever I could, I mean, I knew I was going to be doing this next Thirties novel, so I didn’t just start the research when I signed the contract in 2001. But I didn’t have to do a lot of research after I did the contract. But if it wasn’t for that writer’s retreat up in Maine, on Norton Island, I don’t know how I would have gotten this thing done because I had about forty pages done when I went up there the first summer and, you’re right, I wrote about 150 pages in three weeks. It was just amazing. And then I worked, I had about 200 pages, and then I worked all year long.

I actually did get to go back to the island again and work, pretty much finished, the novel the following summer. So it took, well actually, I remember I signed the contract sometime in January 2001, so from September 2001 till September 2004. I guess so that’s basically three years, that’s a long time. I used to write novels a lot faster, but also this was a thiusand pages. It’s also a very plotted novel, which I’m generally not very good at, but I wanted to plot this thing out. And so it took a long time. But when I had the thousand-page version, which they gave back to me, I think, in the beginning of December last year and said, “We need this back this back by January 30 and you need to cut half of this novel.” So after Christmas, I think, like the day after Christmas, or maybe it was the day after New Year’s, it was somewhere when I could finally could get way from the house because of Christmas holidays and stuff, I just went down to Virginia Beach and stayed there till I cut this thing.

MD: I remember that. And I remember you saying that you were going, and you really did. You just disappeared, and you went down there.

TD: Yeah, there was no other way I could have done it—nobody around, I didn’t know a soul in Virginia Beach. I figured it would be kind of deserted. At least the boardwalk hotels would be deserted. And it was. There was nobody there, and I was just, I had to get up in the morning and go out and get a cup of coffee and come back to the room and work until dinner time and then go try to find someplace or order room service and work for another three hours. It was pretty intense, but I’m really glad I did it.

MD: And that was all cutting, just all day long?

TD: Was cutting, cutting and rearranging. Yeah, a lot of things that had been like woven through the story I plucked out and put it in chronological order rather than flashbacks and things like that.

MD: I see. So a thousand pages. Have you ever had a manuscript that was that long before?

TD: Funny Papers was nearly that, but I signed a contract for Funny Papers in 1980 or ’81. It was supposed to be this novel that would start in the 1890s and it ended in the 1980s. It was supposed to be all in one book, and then I started and the first book that became Funny Papers was about six to seven hundered pages that I had written, what became part of the second novel. As I was going along, and I said to myself, “Oh, my God, this is going to be the world’s longest novel when it gets published.” Andso then I talked to my editor, and at that time I had about a thousand pages, and the end was not in sight. So we decided to just publish Funny Papers separately. So that was, I had done about a thousand pages on that one, but certainly Superman is the longest one after that.

MD: So you didn’t know that Funny Papers was going to be a trilogy when you first started? It was supposed to be just one novel?

TD: It was supposed to be one generational saga about a comic strip that goes from the 1890s to the 1980s. But I got so interested in the whole period, the nineties and the thirties and all this, there’s no way I could have done this so short.

MD: Why do you think, what is it about the way that you write that gets the manuscript so long in the first place? Do you think it’s the speed at which you write that you just get so many pages, because you write in big chunks at a time? Or is it something else?

TD: Well, I really get to do that, I mean, on Norton Island these past two or three summers. You know I can get about twelve to fifteen pages of manuscript a day, which is pretty amazing, but I sit down at my desk around eight o’clock in the morning and get up around seven at night, except for a walk during the day. But that doesn’t happen except for those three or four weeks in the summer. I think what happens is that I just get interested in these characters, I just get interested in who they are, and then I begin to think of more things that they could do, or what, and then I have to go research some things to make it plausible, and then I get really involved in it and I just . . . in Superman there’s all these minor characters that you mention that I really fell in love with, those gangsters, and their molls, and the woman who owns the bar in Newark, all of these minor characters. And I just wrote lots and lots and lots about them. They became more real to me, and then I knew that I would have to cut this stuff. But I don’t mind that because the more I write the more real they are to me, and presumably then they’re real, they’ll be realer to the reader. And when I go back to cut them there’s still that reality that I put into, invested in the characters is still going to be there even though it’s much less page-wise.

MD: Another place that I noticed that in It’s Superman! was, was Lois’s boyfriends.

TD: Yeah Lois’s boyfriends. I really like Lois’s boyfriends.

MD: She has a string of them.

TD: She does. And I didn’t even know when I first started that the guy who was the cop who was gonna be sitting out, who was sitting outside of the hospital room, the girl in the book would become a boyfriend of her later. That just evolved, and I just . . . because she comes to go to the hospital room, and he’s a cop, and he insists on taking her pocketbook because she has like a scissors or nail file in there and he’s not going to let her in with a prisoner. And she thinks, “He’s cute, he’s really cute,” and from that point on I said, “Well, maybe she’ll meet him again,” and I did, and so he became her other boyfriend in the book. So these things just evolve, and that’s what’s so much fun for me.

MD: How did you come up with the idea to put Clark in Hollywood as a stuntman for a while? He goes out to California, and he works as a stuntman, and of course he’s great because he can’t actually be hurt and he can do all of these crazy things because of his powers. What made you think of that?

TD: Well, first of all, the idea was this was going to be a Thirties novel, which, if I was going to do a Thirties novel, I have to do a big city reporter kind of thing—which was the end of the book, the New York section—and then I had to do a kind of going across America in the Thirties and the Dust Bowl thing, like the Grapes of Wrath kind of thing to it. That was the second part of the book, but I also thought if you’re going to do a Thirties novel, you have to somehow have Hollywood because it was it was the ’Dream Capital’ of the world in the Thirties. And I mean that everyone thinks, when they think of Hollywood, they think of the Thirties and Clark Gable, and all of those kind of people, and I thought it, Well, gee, that would be fun to have them go there. I didn’t know anything about California, really, in the Thirties, to be able to write about it, so that was . . . took a lot of stuff where I had to read about California. And then I started reading about the movie industry, and then I started reading about the smaller studios that you never hear about, and suddenly I said, “Oh, God, yeah,” all of those crummy little studios that made all those Zorro serials and Gene Autry and all that kind of stuff, that would be a job for him. Because he goes out to California, he’s eighteen years old, nineteen years old, he has no skills, but he can’t be hurt, so why not try to go into the movies and be a stuntman and jump off a cliff? So I thought that was kind of natural, but it only evolved out of me saying I know he has to go to California. And I didn’t know when he was going to California if he was going to get involved in the labor strikes, because there was a lot of stuff in the agricultural, in the big valleys and everything, there was a lot of stuff going on in the Thirties, John Steinbeck also pointed out, or Hollywood. And at first I had him do both, but again, when it was cut I just decided, well, the Hollywood would be the thing to stick to, especially since that’s how he gets his costume.

MD: And it’s a good connection to the opening of the book, too, because it opens with Superman in a movie theater, Clark in a movie theater helping the stop this robbery that’s going on. And then he goes back to the movie theater later to think. So he’s got this connection with the movies from the beginning, from the opening scene.

TD: Well, that’s deliberate. He begins at a movie theater and ends at a legitimate theater. There’s this kind of thing, of a playfulness, like this is imaginary, but in a theater. But that was deliberate.

MD: At what point in the writing did you decide to do that, to have the theater connections?

TD: Well, I knew I was going to have the theater connections in, and also have him say someplace along the line that being unique like this makes him feel unreal, like a character in a story. So I knew I was going to have this stuff about California, movies and movie theaters, and plays, and all of that kind of stuff as little motifs running through the piece. And I also knew, once I realized that Our Town premiered in February, in 1938, and that’s always been my favorite play. I never miss a production of Our Town anywhere. I’m a sucker for that one. So I thought, Oh, God, I have to have him go to the opening night of Our Town because he’ll be in New York. But I didn’t know it would be the end of the story. I thought it would be . . . I was gonna originally end it in June of 1938, which is when the first Action Comics with Superman was published, and this is February. So I was going to put in a few more months, so it would actually end in June, but then I said “Nah, this is close enough to June,” and to end at the premiere of Our Town where I could get all of these themes of the book, about everything is connected and the ordinariness of life, and how ordinary people are important. And I thought, “Nah, this is perfect,” this is, and I can get all of the cast together except for Lex Luthor in the theater and basically do this kind of play on . . . it’s where I think the end of the last chapter says that the cast takes a bow, which is basically referring to the cast of Our Town, but it also is the cast of the novel.

MD: One more question, and then I think we’ll be about done. You mentioned Smallville before. All that has really come out since DC Comics first contacted you. Smallville has gotten really popular, and you see Superman lyrics in all kinds of pop songs, both before Smallville and after, but it seems like there’s a Superman revival. There’s a movie coming out around which you had to write your novel. Didn’t you have a deadline so that the debut of the novel didn’t eclipse or conflict with?

TD: Yep, if I didn’t make that deadline last January, I would have been in real trouble, because the movie is coming out in June and they would not let this book come out at the same time as that movie because of the gearing of the movie, and the movie’s contemporary Superman, and there’ll be novelizations and all kinds of stuff in the bookstores, and they weren’t going to let my novel come out at that time. So I thought, Oh, my God, I had to, I made sure that it got done. But to answer your question, it’s true. I told, or suggested to my editor, at DC, because I have an editor at DC Comics, but I also have an editor at Chronicle Books. I said, “Why don’t you ever put out a CD of all these Superman songs?” I mean there’s millions of them. I went on the web, and looked at all of The Kinks and Donovan and all these new ones, and “Kryptonite in My Pocket” [“Pocket Full of Kryptonite”] and all this stuff. And they said, well they, don’t think they hadn’t thought of it, but to get the rights to all these things was a headache, so they hadn’t done it.

But yeah, there’s . . . Superman appears in songs, constantly, which is really strange. And Smallville, I mean I started this book, agreed to do it, before Smallville came along, which is odd, because some reviews have been saying that I did this, this is my version of Smallville, but I started before Smallville. I was first.
And then there’s Superman coming out this summer. Why? I don’t know. This is the last question. I think that Superman is a really valid American hero, and I think I was really privileged and happy to work on this character who is personification of of an American archetype. He’s the ultimate orphan. He’s the ultimate alien. He comes from another planet rather than another continent. He’s an orphan like so many American characters are where you have to invent yourself. He is the original mobility man. I mean Americans are just . . . that’s all they are, mobile, moving from one place to another, and here’s Superman, the first character who could fly and go anywhere he wants basically in the blink of an eye. So he really connects to American fantasies and American archetypes.

But I think he’s also very . . . he’s from the Heartland, he’s very simple, and he’s very good. He might be considered corny sometimes, but his philosophy would be, “You get what you get, and you do what you can. You go out and you do the best that you can.” That kind of very plain American philosophy, I think it says something to us now. I mean, I don’t claim that this is my 9/11 book, but I certainly was . . . it began, this book, right after that when we were all out in shock from that thing and thinking, Oh, God, what has happened to our country, and what are we becoming, and why are we reacting like this, or acting like this, or reacting like this? And you get Superman and you say, OK this is . . . you go back, and this is what you know, this is what American can be and this is a plain, ordinary, hardworking, decent hero.

And I think that is one of the reasons I think why the Superman movie is going to successful. Why Superman is . . . you go into any store you see this: Superman t-shirts, right? You go to the automotive store there’s like Superman logos on steering wheel covers and mud flaps for trucks. There’s something about this character. It’s not just that the “S” is pretty cool, because there’s other logos and images and symbols that have lasted. And he’s been around for seventy years and that’s why I think he just he kind of reinvents himself, or is reinvented, over the decades. And he means different things to different time periods, and I think he means something very specific to us now. And I think it’s going back to he’s very basic ordinary midwestern, solid, decent, and that’s what I had fun with. I really had fun with that because I could tease it as Lois does and call him a “hayseed Harry” and a “Kansas cornball” and all these kinds of things. But even she, I think, she has a grudging respect for this guy who’s very dogged and just does what he’s supposed to do and tries to help out. So I think he’s a good character. It was an opportunity for me to write a real hero. As flawed as he is, he’s not really flawed. He’s still a good guy, as opposed to my other characters, in my other books, who are really screwed up. So it was fun. It was fun.

MD: Wel, thanks so much for being here, and best of luck with the novel.

TD: Thanks, thanks Michaux. It was fun, good questions, thanks very much.