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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Writer, Novelist
Elliot S! Maggin
Elliot S! Maggin is an observant Jew (adherent of Judaism).
Excerpts from: Bruce Bachand, "Interview: Elliot S! Maggin", published in Fanzing
(The Independent Online DC Comics Fan Magazine) Issue #9, August 1998 (http://www.fanzing.com/mag/fanzing09/iview.shtml; viewed 6 December 2005):
Elliot S! Maggin was the principal scriptwriter for DC Comics' Superman titles during the 1970's up until the mid-1980's. He has written two Superman novels (Last Son Of Krypton and Miracle Monday, both which are currently out of print) as well as numerous other stories, articles, interviews and projects. One of his most recent publications is the novel KINGDOM COME (which is available through Warner Books) which came out in February 1998. It is based on the very successful DC comic book mini-series KINGDOM COME by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. (It is well worth mentioning that Ross contributes a number of new painted illustrations to the Maggin novel!). Sales have been steady for the Maggin novelization. It is over one hundred thousand words full of action, characterization, and plot sculpting.
BRUCE BACHAND: Our readers are going to want to get to know you a bit better as well as have some input of yours on writing KINGDOM COME (KC). The questions are as follows. Thanks again for being gracious enough to give of your time and energies!
What have you been reading over the past week in fiction or non-fiction?
ELLIOT S! MAGGIN [ES!M]: In the past week or two: A comic book called Superman: For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, a book called Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Scott Card's new Alvin novel Heartfire, and the manual for my new Nokia phone...
BB: You are going to be "stranded on a desolate island" for 20 years as a consequence for all those speeding tickets (heh, heh). What 5 books would be with you if you had any input in the matter?
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
The Essential Mark Twain
A good English translation of the Kabbala (maybe to learn how to fly home)
Buber's I and Thou
Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig
BB: Quite the interesting choice of books to take with you on the deserted island. I am especially intrigued by your choices of Buber's "I and Thou" and of an English translation of the "Kabbala." Buber's book is an ironic choice for a man who will be living in isolation! The "Kabbala", being those writings of the mystical Jewish sages and rabbis, is an equally specific, but brilliant, choice. What impact have these books made on you?
ES!M: I think I first read Buber's I and Thou in college, and like a lot of what I read then it pretty much tumbled off my horizon. Then I read it again for the first time just a year or two ago when I got involved with a weekly reading and discussion group with a bunch of old-fashioned-type guys who like to read. Got me really excited. Got a little annoyed with myself that I never met the guy, especially considering that he was still alive and healthy when I first read the book. He was a religious liberal Jew - a fairly rare bird at the time - who used to love calling up his orthodox friends on Saturday morning (Orthodox Jews believe you shouldn't talk on the phone on Saturday) and gleefully holler "Good Shabbas" over and over into the phone until his more ritually observant friends realized they were the butts of some sort of existential practical joke. I got a sense from Buber of the notion of spiritual religiousness as opposed to - though not necessarily in opposition to - ritual religiousness. He was a very modern old guy, I think. I and Thou is a very short volume that probably ought to be read more slowly than I - as a guy wrapped up in a vital civilization and entangled in a growing culture - would be inclined to do so.
As for the Kabbala, I have a rabbi friend whose father gave him this wonderful 5-volume English translation of the Kabbala and I told him years ago I'd like to read it. He lent me all five volumes and I tried to read them. He asked why I was interested and I told him because I wanted magical powers; I wanted to be able to fly. He said that wasn't a good enough reason to study Kabbala, but if you wanted to fly, that was the place to figure out how. I got about a third of the way through the first volume and bagged it. I think it was like reading a Greek translation of Tolkien's Silmarillion. The little linguistic flopadoodles just don't translate. The composers of the Zohar - the actual title of the compiled books of Kabbalistic information - spent so much space playing with Hebrew words and numerological values, that in English, no matter how good the translation, most of it makes no sense. So the past few months I've actually been studying Kabbala in a small class with my rabbi friend, who turns out to be quite the mystic himself. I haven't relented on my actual reason for studying, but he's let me hang out with him anyway.
BB: Could you also capsulate Buber's thesis about relationships, as you understand it, for our readers?
ES!M: Oh geez. You know, I can translate the premise of Vonnegut's work to "Dammit, you've got to be kind." But Buber writes pretty much in shorthand to start with. You can sit and ponder his choice of a preposition for hours - which is why I'd take it to isolation with me. It might use up a lot of time I'd otherwise waste learning how to shoot down coconuts with a home-made bow and arrow. (Maybe Ollie Queen would have had a happier life if he'd discovered Buber earlier.) But how's this: An exploration of the relationship between the individual and his spiritual and sociological environment.
Actually, I don't think that quite does it. And please don't mistake my tackling this question at all for any notion of expertise or even acquaintance on my part with these subjects. This is about as rudimentary as it gets. But I think if you want to know about Buber, you might do it by first knowing about Descartes. The Cartesian model first breaks apart everything the individual supposes but doesn't know for sure, and eliminates it from contention. So what Descartes is left with is the simple understanding: "I think, therefore I am." From that point, Descartes built a collection of premises based on the axiomatic "truth" of his own existence. Buber was much more spiritual, and I think he was more willing to acknowledge the existence of God than he was to affirm his own "reality." I kind of like that about him...
BB: How long have you been married? What have been the three greatest blessings or rewards of working at marriage?
ES!M: I first got married in 1983 - then again a week later; to the same lady. We couldn't coordinate the rabbi's and the minister's schedules, so we did it twice -- first in New York and then in New Hampshire. That lasted five years. We got divorced. That lasted three years. Being married, staying married, and coaxing a failed marriage back up on its feet -- not necessarily in that order -- are probably the three most difficult things I've ever done. Dealing with each other on a day-to-day basis gives both of us an enormous sense of accomplishment, but not so enormous as to make it worth the effort if we didn't love each other. The person you marry isn't necessarily the person to whom you are eventually married, and you have to be able to deal with a person's changes, his or her -- or your -- disappointments along the way, and all the rest. If you do it right, you end up loving each other more and more as the years go by, for who you become and for what you come to accept and appreciate -- and for nothing like the reasons you thought you would. Maybe the continual surprise and delight are more important than the sense of accomplishment. I guess I've got to think about this one some more...
BB: Norman McCay [a Dutch Reformed clergyman who is the main non-super character in Kingdom Come] is a great character. His perspective radiates throughout the story with human passion, doubts, concerns, and curiosity. He sees the actions that unfold as an interpretation of the Book of Revelations. It seems odd that despite the fact that he reads the Christian scriptures that he never mentions the name of the person Jesus the Christ. His God seems more like either a Jewish God or that of a deistic Unitarian; somewhat more transcendent than immanent, generally speaking. Not very personal in the present. Was it a conscious choice on your part to not make Norman blatantly Christian? If so, why?
ES!M: Interesting that you asked me that, and you're the first one who has. Two points for you. The fact is, I didn't realize that Norman never once mentions the name of his messiah until I reread the book after it was published. Certainly Norman's God is immanent; He answers prayer pretty much immediately. I can only attribute Jesus' absence to my own Jewishness. I guess I loved Norman, and I just wanted to make him more like me. I consider it, frankly, a flaw in the narrative. I spent so much time and so much effort trying to make Norman's character consistent with that of a Christian minister and his perceptions consistent with Revelations, that I completely overlooked the tenets of his tradition. Mea culpa.
BB: While in the midst of getting pummeled by Captain Marvel [in Kingdom Come], Superman realizes that he understands the true nature of "magic". I am finding it difficult to understand the explanation of "magic" as spoken through the mouth of Clark. Could you verbalize in a way that may help me and other readers better grasp your thoughts? You seem to be saying that is more supra-rational rather than irrational in nature. Is this an accurate observation?
ES!M: Yeah, that's accurate. I'm not sure I can do better than that. I believe in magic. I have a lot of friends who are stage magicians, but I'm not talking about their type of magic. I'm talking about real magic -- Merlin's magic -- the kind of magic you conjure up to write stories. It's one of those things you don't define; you just feel. At that moment, after a lifetime of practical, logical, hardheaded pursuit of truth and justice, he realizes what it is. It may elude him too, later on. Who knows?
BB: Do you see Superman as a man who prays and\or worships God regularly? If so, what would the Man of Steel pray about from your perspective?
ES!M: I give all my characters religions. I think I always have. It's part of the backstory. It's part of the process of getting to know a character well enough to write about him or her. Jimmy Olson is Lutheran. Lois is Catholic. Perry is Baptist. Luthor is Jewish (though non-observant, thank heaven). Bruce and Batman are both Episcopalian and I said so in the text though it was edited out erroneously. Clark - like the Kents - is Methodist. Superman is something else, but I never did buy all that Kryptonian "Great Rao" nonsense. I do think Superman essentially adheres to a kind of interplanetary-oriented Kryptonian-based belief system centered on monotheistic philosophy, and I've got some ideas about it that I haven't yet articulated other than as backstory. I think Superman is too humble to ask for things in prayer, but I think he prays by rote, and constantly, the way some of us talk to ourselves in the shower.
Webpage created 6 December 2005. Last modified 6 December 2005.
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