Pushing The Limits: Interview With Don McGregor
Don McGregor does what all good writers do and that is push the limits.
McGregor made his name writing the Black Panther and Killraven (Jungle Action and War of the Worlds, respectively) for Marvel Comics. However, he also made a name by putting minorities as lead characters and writing them as real and honest as their Caucasian or heterosexual counterparts.
While his comic books, Detectives Inc. and Sabre, were never seen by the Comics Code Authority, because they were among the first independently-produced comic series and the narrow cage that writers were stuck in to tell their stories, McGregor’s work has been honored by groups in the African-American and LGBT community.
In a telephone interview with McGregor, the writer said he had not kept up with the two Marvel titles for which he is best known since he left the series.
"I don't think you can come to those characters and series objectively when you have lived with them so intimately for so many years,” McGregor said. “You know what you intended to do, and what you never had a chance to do with them. I don't think you can come to reading those books without emotional subjectivity, and all those other writers have the right to do any damn thing they want with the characters. For all I know, they could be better than anything I ever did, but I haven't read them. And I hope that spares both sides."
However, readers were picking up his comic, Detectives Inc., from Eclipse Comics, which featured Denning and Rainier, a black and white private detective team set against a backdrop of real New York City locations, faithfully rendered by the artists.
McGregor wrote the series with Alex Simmons providing the art. The two met in the 1960s at a New York City comic book convention that was arranged by convention organizer Phil Sueling.
"The cover from SABRE #7 (1983), which included the then provocative child-birth sequence and the first kiss between gay males in a color comic book series in the early 1980s."
Originally, Detectives Inc. was intended to be a movie that McGregor and Simmons could act in, back in the late 1960's when the writer still lived in Rhode Island. He said they both loved to do their own stunt sequences.
“Alex was multi-talented. He could also draw, so I had the idea to do Detectives Inc. as a comic and sell it at the Con,” McGregor recalled.
Before the project was completed, he worked out several dozen plotlines before he wrote a complete script.
The book would garner further accolades as in its first story, “A Remembrance of Threatening Green,” it was the first prominent comic to feature a lesbian character, according to the Gay Time Web site.
“I could never understand why the big companies were so determined in the 1970s that you couldn't have any gay characters,” McGregor said. “As a storyteller, all I wanted to do was have the stories reflect the world I knew. If the bottom line color in comics was supposed to be green, why did they exclude different races and people with different lifestyles?”
McGregor said that one woman contacted him and thanked him for the characters.
“I had a woman who contemplated suicide tell me that it had emotionally affected her and it had moved her to tears. It was amazing to see how a story like this could have such an emotional impact.”
Admitting the book was inspired by the 1960s action show I Spy which starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, McGregor said that although Hollywood admires the chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the two were “no Cosby and Culp.”
“I have made sure in every comic there was a reference to I Spy, just a little homage. To me, Denning and Rainierhave seen I Spy and loved the series too,” said McGregor.
McGregor, a contributor to Starlog magazine, confessed that one of the “great pleasures of his life” was interviewing Culp.
“Originally, Starlog wanted me to do an interview about his time on The Greatest American Hero, but I wanted to write up on Robert’s career and it turned out that is exactly what he wanted,” he said.
From that interview, the two – Culp and McGregor -- became friends.
“It was funny, but it was one of those interviews I did not really need to study for,” said McGregor. “I had been such a fan of Bob and his work, as an actor and writer; I really did not need a list of questions. But for him, I had one ready. I was really nervous before that first phone call. My wife, Marsha, said she'd never seen me that nervous.”
"Don McGregor in that time period of creating DETECTIVES INC and SABRE, jumping in a way he should never even think about doing today without getting hurt, real bad."
McGregor would also make the comic book world nervous as he pushed back against even more societal taboos with his book Sabre.
“When I wrote Sabre, it was totally different from what I was writing with Detective Inc.,” the writer said. “The character of Sabre was partly inspired after I saw the movie Sea Hawk and I thought, 'The Sea Hawk should actually be a black guy, not white.’ But Hollywood would never have a black hero in a film in the 1930s, and the comic book medium was pretty restrictive going into the 1970s.”
The opportunity to publish an independent comic book where he owned the rights appeared. Dean Mullaney, currently of IDW Publishing, started his own company, Eclipse.
“I created Sabre and I knew I had better give the readers something if they were willing to pay six dollars for the book. (Thanks to Dean), I could virtually do anything I wanted, as long as it was in 38 pages. From our time period today, it may be difficult to believe that doing an interracial couple, like Sabre and Melissa Siren, could never have happened at the established comics companies.”
McGregor said that a prequel to Sabre, entitled Sabre: The Early Future Years, has a completed 190-page script, and Joe Pruett, head of Desperado, says they have an artist ready for it.
“You won't have to have read the original books to enjoy the book, but this book is for the fans who have asked me so many questions over the years about how Sabre and Melissa got together, about Blackstar Blood and Crimson Dawn. Or why Midnight Storm is so angry with Sabre. Well, this book answers all the questions,” McGregor said.
As for Detectives Inc., IDW Publishing reissued the series into a large hardcover book.
McGregor is hard at work on a new Detectives Inc. story entitled “A Fear of Perverse Photos – A Repercussion of Violent Events.”
"The Chapter Title Contents page for the upcoming printed script version for DETECTIVES INC: A FEAR OF PERVERSE PHOTOS/ A REPERCUSSION OF VIOLENT EVENTS."
"I have written more than 70 pages and it's one of the few times I can quote the opening line of dialogue and actually have it read as a proposal piece,” he said. “Rainier says, ‘So, let me see if I have this right: You want us to break into your apartment and steal all the dirty pictures you've printed off the Internet?’”
McGregor calls it a “complex story, dealing with many areas of sexuality.” He hopes to have completed it in the future either for Desperado or IDW.
“I believe the people who loved the original books will want to know where their lives have gone, and will find a compelling story unlike anything I have ever written,” McGregor said. “And I'll be the first to know if I haven't, I'm sure! And the first to know if I have!"
For more information on writer Don McGregor, visit his site at DonMcGregor.com.