Richard: What does it mean being the literary executor for the estate of Lester Dent the creator of Doc Savage?
Will: As literary agent Lester Dent literary properties, my job is to find opportunities to publish Dent stories, some of which have never been printed before. Last year, I sold a new version of "Sail" to Otto Penzler’s upcoming Black Mask anthology and an unpublished noir novel, Honey in his Mouth, to Hard Case Crime. Both will come out this year. The most exciting sale has been, of course, getting Moonstone to collect all of Dent’s Doc Savage radio scripts. Since most are original stories, this is a big event for Doc fans. Inasmuch as Conde Nast Publications owns the trademark to Doc, they played a big role in making it happen.
Richard: Why use Kenneth Robeson to write under?
Will: Kenneth Robeson was the house name under which all Doc Savage novels have been traditionally printed under. Lester Dent hated the name. He would have rather written as himself. But Street & Smith insisted upon it for the practical reason that if Dent were ill, Doc Savage Magazine still had to come out every month. So other writers pitched in. When I did my Docs, using Lester Dent plots, it seemed more logical to write as Robeson instead of using the double byline of Dent & Murray. Unlike Dent, I love the name since I grew up reading "Kenneth Robeson."
Richard: What are the main differences in the Destroyer and Doc Savage?
Will: Both Doc and Remo are significant pulp superheroes. Both were the product of intensive training—Doc was raised by scientists and Remo was trained by the Master of Sinanju, Chiun. They had great wild and wonderful adventures. One thing they had in common was they didn’t use firearms. But a big difference was that as a doctor, Doc had taken a vow never to kill. But Remo was a trained assassin. He killed with such wild abandon that Doc would probably have sent him to his crime college to have his memory wiped clean and be taught a new trade! And of course while both series were often humorous, The Destroyer was full-blown satire. I was lucky to write for both series. And it’s becoming increasingly likely that my latest Doc, The Desert Demons, will find a publisher before too long. A cover has already been painted.
Richard: What is it about Doc Savage that excites people?
Will: Doc Savage is an inspirational character. Some fans like him because he’s the world’s strongest, smartest, most dynamic man. Others because he’s an enigma. Still others just love the kind of adventures he has. He’s an important figure in American popular culture because so many later heroes can he traced back to him in one way or another—Superman, Batman, James Bond, The Man from UNCLE, Mr. Spock, Buckaroo Banzai... the list is endless. I’ve had people from many walks of life tell me they were inspired to become a doctor, or scientist or archaeologist, or what have you, from Doc Savage. I was recently contacted by a marine scientist who’s planning to teach a college course built around Doc Savage. Me, Doc inspired me to become a pulp writer.
Richard: What were these radio scripts used for originally?
Will: Lester Dent’s Doc Savage radio scripts were broadcast nationwide in 1934-35 in the first-ever Doc radio program. Because it was a 15 minute show, Dent couldn’t adapt his novels as serials, which is what he wanted. So he did new stories. He did adapt The Man of Bronze and we included two versions of that origin story in the Moonstone collection. Doc fans tell me they’re thrilled to finally have their scripts all in one handsome volume. Kudos to Moonstone’s Joe Gentile for making it happen, and production guy Erik Enervold for doing such a stupendous design job. Tom Roberts’ art was a bonus, as were the other added art contributions.
Richard: When you edit the scripts what exactly do you do?
Will: Editing these scripts required first determining which versions were final and then copyediting them for errors, and the usual stuff. Most of the hard work was figuring out smudged words, since we were working off carbons, and editing out the Cystex ads, which Dent wrote into the scripts. I left a few in to capture the flavor of the show. The proofreading on this book was a real nightmare, but we got it done. Fortunately, Dent had the scripts professionally typed back in the day so they were pretty typo-free. And he numbered them so I didn’t have to figure out the order!
Richard: Who makes up Doc Savage's band of associates?
Will: Doc Savage had five assistants, and occasionally his cousin Patricia Savage. For the 1934 radio show, only Monk appeared in most episodes, Ham occasionally, But the others—Renny, Johnny, and Long Tom—rarely, except in the Man of Bronze adaptation. Pat Savage was left out, alas. When I got involved in the 1985 Doc Radio show for NPR, for which I adapted The Thousand-Headed Man, we got everyone in.
Richard: Are there any pulp heroes that you would like to work on that you haven't?
Will: Moonstone seems to be taking care of most of my pulp desires, but I have yet to write a Shadow story. Anthony Tollin and I have been discussing a short story in which The Shadow meets Doc, but we have yet to work out the required permissions. Beyond that, I have my second Spider story coming out this year, "Tomahawks from Hell!" And two more Phantom tales, "The Skull that Started it All" and "The Devil’s Kettle." Although they involve separate Phantoms, they are linked. I started a Whisperer story years ago. With Sanctum Productions’ first Whisperer reprint coming out in April, maybe I’ll have reason to finish it. But my biggest dream is to finish the Doc Savage novels I started years ago.
Richard: How did you and Steve Ditko end up creating Squirrel Girl?
Will: Actually I created Squirrel Girl in script form without any artist input. Tom Morgan was originally going to draw it, but when he dropped out, I requested Ditko and got him. Ditko did a great job in bringing my baby to life. He invented that knuckle spike. It wasn’t in the script. I based Squirrel Girl ironically enough on a long–ago girlfriend who read comics and was into "critters"—wild animals of all types. Coincidentally, she was big Ditko fan. I think I got the idea because I had a bunch of squirrels running around my roof and sometimes coming in through my open bedroom window and inspiration struck.
By a strange coincidence, although I never described SG physically in my story, Ditko somehow managed to capture the likeness of my old girlfriend. I’ve been thinking of pitching Marvel a Squirrel Girl project. She’s defeated most of the major Marvel super villains. It’s time she met her match in The Ultimate Pistachio.
Richard: Do you enjoy writing about super powered heroes such as Superman and The Hulk?
Will: As a frustrated failed artist, I love writing prose stories about classic superheroes. I’m really looking forward to doing one of my favorites, The Green Hornet, for Moonstone. I have had a few disappointments along the way. I wrote an X-Men novelette that never saw print. I started an Avenger’s tale, which told the untold story of the mayhem that took place when the revamped 1963 Iron Man showed up at an Avenger’s meeting unannounced.
And I had a Fantastic Four plot not make the cut on an anthology. These were mostly due to a change in editors. It’s a shame my X-Men story is unpublished. It starred the 60s X-Men. I called it "Track of the Trinoculus."
Richard: Do you ever fantasize about going on an adventure?
Will: Sure. Who hasn’t? The ability to fantasize about adventure is part of what makes a good adventure writer. And I have had my share of adventures, although not on the scale of Doc Savage.
Richard: How can someone contact you?
Will: I can be reached at Cartomancer@netzero.net .
Richard: Any final words of wisdom?
Will: Words of wisdom: DC Comics editor Julie Schwartz said it best: Be original.
Whenever I’m asked to contribute to an anthology whether it be The Green Hornet or the upcoming Cthulhu’s Reign, I always try to vibe what the other writers will probably do and then write something so utterly different from the average plot that my story will stand out. People tell me I often succeed.