Here’s the fifth interview on collaboration. This series celebrates collaborative creativity in honor of the Shared Worlds summer camp, which challenges teenagers to build and share imaginary worlds.
Comics writer and editor Roy Thomas is a legend of the Silver Age. He succeeded Stan Lee as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics and he brought sword-and-sorcery to comics in grand fashion by introducing Robert E. Howard’s iconic characters, Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja, to comics readers.
Since the 1960s, Thomas has written scripts for Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Captain America, Thor, Doctor Strange, and many more. He’s tackled adaptations of classic novels, such as Moby Dick, and epic poems, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey. He’s written for the big companies (DC and Marvel) and for numerous independent companies.
Below, Thomas gives his take on collaboration and emphasizes the value of knowing who you’re working with.
What are the benefits of collaborating on writing? How do you do it? When does it work? How does it positively affect the final product?
Roy Thomas: It seems to me that since no two writers are alike, you can often get more than 100% of a writer via a collaboration. Of course, there’s also a chance of watering down individuality, but it’s a tradeoff, and it seems to work very well especially in media which, like TV and film, and for that matter comics, are often if not always collaborative by necessity.
I started doing collaborating as a way to keep alive creatively at a time when I’d been doing a lot of work and could use some additional inspiration… Dann, for instance, because she was almost totally unfamiliar with comics, would often come up with something I wouldn’t have thought of.
Can you share some advice (and maybe some words of caution) for fiction writers setting out to collaborate?
Roy Thomas: I haven’t written collaborative straight fiction, really… though Gerry Conway and I did once collaborate on a few chapters of a never-sold Kull novel… but my best advice is to know your partner. Know if he/she responds best to suggestions if they’re worded tactfully, or humorously, or if bluntness is just fine.
Most teams, if they’re meant to survive and thrive at all, will arrive at this meeting of the minds by trial and error.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor. Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.