« If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block. » — Anton Szandor LaVey
I’m afraid the appeal of Archie Goodwin’s (1937-1998) writing has always escaped me. As you’d expect with a career as busy and prolific as his was, there are notable exceptions*. But I think, as is often the case in comics, he gets a lot of credit for tepid, formulaic writing that happens to be masterfully illustrated. You know, like just about every story from the early Creepy and Eerie (Goodwin was editor and principal writer of the Warren line for its first four years or so) with their groan-inducing ‘shock’ endings: “But I’m a vampire, and we don’t like competition around here!” or “We ghouls don’t cotton much to werewolves!” or “You’ve guessed my secret too late — I’m a witch!” or “For I am… Death!“
On the other hand, he was a fine editor and, by all accounts, a terrific human being. In 2013, Mark Evanier put it this way: « At a time when some editors in comics were notorious for treating their freelancers with disrespect and yelling, Goodwin had a sterling reputation. He always would. Archie was nice. He was honest. »
It is to his great distinction that even such divisive, eternally-acerbic figures as Jim Shooter (« First and foremost, everyone loved Archie. Archie had a manner about him that you just couldn’t not like him. While he was tough as nails, and he was probably the best that passed through this business, he managed to do it without offending anyone. He managed to be respected and remain friends with everyone and do his job. ») and Alex Toth (« None of us were working there [at Warren ] for the money, because there wasn’t much. We were working there to work with Archie. ») reserved naught but effusive praise for the man.
But you know what I really like about Archie? His drawing, which was all-too-rarely showcased. While he did adjoin thumbnails layouts to his scripts, Goodwin’s drawings rarely appeared in print, aside from some jokey editorial asides at Marvel in the 1980s. Here’s Sinner, written and illustrated by Goodwin, from Wally Wood’s prozine Witzend no. 1 (Summer 1966).
Despite all this, Archie Goodwin’s greatest claim to fame simply has to be the tremendous legwork he did as Nero Wolfe’s assistant.
« Archie Goodwin’s first prose story was published by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which warned him he could not use Archie Goodwin as a pen name because it was a Rex Stout character in the Nero Wolfe books. According to Goodwin’s wife Anne T. Murphy, the magazine’s editors ‘then were so delighted when he wrote back to say that it was his real name that they used the anecdote as the introduction to the story, which ran in the July 1962 issue.’ »
*Notable exceptions: The Success Story, with art by Al Williamson (Creepy no. 1, 1964) has actual bite. Despite its rote-EC-revenge-from-beyond-the-grave finale, it’s a bitter parody of real-life comic-strip parasites such as Don Sherwood (Dan Flagg, The Partridge Family) and Alfred Andriola (Kerry Drake). There’s the tragically moving Island at World’s End, illustrated by Gray Morrow (Eerie no.4, July 1966). And a handful of inspired little tales that truly fired up the creativity of a freshly-emancipated Steve Ditko: Collector’s Edition (Creepy no. 10, Aug. 1966); Second Chance! (Creepy no. 13, Feb. 1967); Deep Ruby! (Eerie no. 6, Nov. 1966); and my very favourite, Room With a View (Eerie no. 3, May 1966… their first collaboration!). If anyone’s interested, the Goodwin-Ditko outings have been handsomely collected in Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko (2013, Dark Horse).
It must be said that Goodwin knew how to match a plot with the proper illustrator. As he explained, « I always tried to write the stories for individual artists. Sometimes, I’d ask them if there was a certain setting or a certain kind of story they were interested in, and I also knew what they did best. » It’s a shame that, overall, the stories themselves were so timid and unambitious, so mired in the glories of the past. Some people can’t help pulling their punches, I suppose.
**To give you a fair idea of Marvel’s delusions of corporate grandeur at the time, Epic Illustrated no. 2‘s convoluted and deceptive editorial credits read thus: Stan Lee (editor); Archie Goodwin (editorial director); James Shooter (consulting editor); Marian Stensgard; Louise Jones; Larry Hama; Ralph Macchio (editorial); Roy Thomas (contributing editor); Maggie Thompson (contributing editor); Don Thompson (contributing editor). Dollars to doughnuts that Goodwin and Louise Jones did all the actual work.