Last week I talked with author Hal Johnson. We even talk a bit about his debut novel, Immortal Lycanthropes. If you didn’t catch it, I reviewed Immortal Lycanthropes for Comicbooked.com We also talk about roleplay gaming, Classic Doctor Who, and Silver Age Marvel Comics among other things. You know, all the stuff that really matters.
If you are not familiar with Hal Johnson, well the bio on his website might be confusing. And if you try to read his blog, well you better know a thing about cryptology. But these are the sort of things that you make you want to know more about this upcoming novelist.
We met at Chelsea Market, an upscale Manhattan mall/food concourse. But it was not any gourmet coffee shop or trendy eatery that brought us there. We met at the market because its across the street from Google, where he was running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Yes, he’s Google’s Dungeon Master. And, when he is not writing stories about shapeshifting animals that can not die, he’s part of the friendly sales team at Midtown Comics, in New York City. (just a note, Midtown Comics is my Local Comics Shop, and I have known Mr. Johnson, for almost 7 years in that capacity.)
This is your first novel -
HAL JOHNSON (HJ) It is not the first full novel I have written, it is the first novel I’ve gotten published
Does your writing focus on Young Adult Fiction?
HJ:I like young adult fiction. I think of as kids books. When I was a kid there was no Young Adult Fiction, really. You read kids books then you read science fiction. Maybe other people did other things but I just switched over to science fiction. I didn’t really call anything Young Adult. Even, I guess The Chocolate War was a young adult book, but I just thought of it as kids book with swearing in it. I do like young adult fiction quite a bit, and I still read it,
I never really aimed at being a young adult writer. I’ve lucked into everything in my life that has been good. I lucked in to this. A guy I knew worked for HM for an editor. I gave him a like some stuff, he showed it to his boss. She was relatively positive, but she was like we don’t publish this kind of thing. We talked, and Clarion (a division of HouMif) did Young Adult (fiction) I tried it as young adult. It’s young adult novel because the protagonist was young, and there is not a lot of sex. If it had been an “grown up” novel there would probably have more filth in it. Charles Manson used to be all over this book, and they took it all out. They were like, “Can you take out Charles Manson” so I took out Charles Manson. We fought quite a bit, but in a friendly way. I think they let keep a lot of stuff, but my natural potty mouth is not in this book because I was trying to make it friendly for 13 year olds.
I was trying to write a book that I would like when I was 13. Everything I liked when I was 13 except for boobs is this book.
Is there anyone one book, or writer that started you on your path to being a writer?
HJ: I love Daniel Pinkwater (who is invoked in the dedication of Immortal Lycanthropes). He was a huge influence on my life. I first read him in fourth grade. I once heard William Gibson speak, and he singled out William S. Borroughs, he (Gibson) said, “If I hadn’t read that, I’d be a very different cowboy.” I thought that was a cool thing to say. Pinkwater, I would have been a different cowboy. I wouldn’t be a cowboy I’d be astronaut. To the extent that Pinkwater changed my life, this book is then very heavily owes him a debt.
I got a of my books, used from garage sales, and I read a lot of older books. I ended up with real affection for 19th century adventure stories. This is inspired very heavily by that, Treasure Island was a big influence. A friend who read it said it was like The Jungle Book in reverse. Instead of a human who lives among animals learning to be human, it’s about an animal who lived among humans learning to be an animal. Those are those books that I was thinking of when I wrote it. Stevenson, Howard Pyle and Mark Twain.
What keeps you geeked these days? What keeps you coming back to comics?
Inertia? I love comics, but I often hate comics. They’re vexing, I collect a lot old comics. I really like a lot of Silver Age. I don’t have to collect that much anymore cause they put everything out in reprint volumes and that’s enough for me.
So your collecting is not about an investment?
I like getting a neat comic and putting up on my wall, that exciting, but it’s the stories. I like a lot of 1960’s humor comics. I like DC and Marvel from the Silver Age.. I like a lot of Dell and Gold Key Humor and a lot of independent comics. There is no love hate relationship here. And I love superheroes. I love Spider-man, I love Superman. I like what Spider-man has been doing these last few years, the Dan Slott stuff.
I like Spider-man, he’s was a great character because he’s an everyman. But by the time I was reading him in the 1980’s he’s been to space several times, he’s gone to other dimensions. He’s fought along side the Fantastic Four. And now he’s part of the Avengers, and he’s on every team.
So you still play Dungeons & Dragons
I used to roleplay with a group back in high
school, in 1983 with friends who I met because of Doctor Who.
I love Doctor Who. But I have never seen the new series.
I like Patrick Troughton.
So what’s next for Hal Johnson?
I have a couple of novels in the work. The one I have finished a draft off. Instead of being a boy’s novel is a girl’s novel. With the idea that you can put them next to each other and they’ll make more books.