An Interview with Gary Cohn, Co-Creator of Blue Devil
Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin have contributed greatly to modern pop culture. With amazing artists like Paris Cullins and Ernie Colón to bring their visions to life, the dynamic duo of Mr. Cohn and Mr. Mishkin have given comic books vibrant characters and worlds to explore. Blue Devil and Amethyst, to name a few as examples.
I managed to get an interview over email with Mr. Cohn, and I asked him a few questions about his life. The following read is very insightful, and I learned a few things from his answers. Here is a look into the life of Gary Cohn:
When did you two ﬁrst meet?
Dan and I have known each other since our early teens, so mid-later 1960s. We met in a synagogue youth-group and formed a core of friendships there that continue to this day. We were both comics obsessed, and sparked each other’s interest in writing.
How did you two end up working with each other?
We were always brainstorming ideas and creating characters together. Dan went to Michigan State, and after a year in a NY college, so did I. We became roommates in the dorm and our comics jones continued, along with our brainstorming. After college I went to work in construction for a year, then went to the Popular Culture Studies master’s program at Bowling Green State in Ohio. A year later, Dan came there too (he was newly married). We shared an ofﬁce (we were teaching assistants). Dan started corresponding with DC editors (and maybe Marvel, too) and eventually one of them at DC bought a pitch for a 3-page story. Our ﬁrst sale. It built gradually from there.
When did both of you meet Mr. Paris Cullins?
I was in introduced to Paris by DC editor Dave Manak. Dave assigned 19 yo Paris to a story of mine in one of the mystery magazines. It was called “Trollbridge.” We found that we had similar senses of humor, and became friends. When Steve Ditko passed on doing Blue Devil, I suggested Paris as the artist.
Was Blue Devil the ﬁrst idea pitched to DC?
I don’t recall. Honestly, I think AMETHYST came ﬁrst. We created BD (Blue Devil) because editor Manak asked us to come up with something new for Ditko, so on the phone (I lived in NY, Dan lived in Michigan) we brainstormed something that would have every single element we loved about Ditko’s Marvel work and the early years of Marvel superheroes in general. As I said above, when we showed it to Ditko, he was unimpressed.
Did you two ever pitch individually?
Sure. THE BARREN EARTH, which I created with artist Ron Randall, was mine alone. I pitched a bunch of other things, and sold some (and then had them cancelled before they saw light of day). Dan and I continued to pitch together (there was a TRICKSTER mini-series idea, for instance), but that window began to close.
What happened with the Trickster mini series?
It wasn’t bought. It was considered, but whoever ultimately had the power to decide what got scheduled, passed on it.
Do you think that DC gave you a harder time than necessary?
Was it easier to become a writer back then?
I really don’t know what it takes now. I do see new writers breaking in all the time. I don’t really know how that works anymore, but it’s surely very different.
Why did Blue Devil's run end?
Quite simply, sales fell below a cut-off number. WHY that happened is complicated an speculative, but once Paris left the book after the 6th issue (he returned for the Summer Fun Annual) we never really had the same momentum again.
Did you two have more fun writing Amethyst or Blue Devil?
Which of their kids do your parents love best? Get it? :)
When pitching an idea to DC, was there anything they were looking for?
As I said about BD, they were looking for something for Ditko. For BARREN EARTH, the editor of Warlord was looking for an interesting new backup series, and she and Ron and I were friendly…we’d already done some work together. AMETHYST, I think they might have been looking for something a bit girly, and we already had something. For years after the BD pitch, Dick Giordano would show our proposal presentation to other writers and artists and tell them that it was the model they should use. Again, things are very different now.
How do you both feel about the way your characters have been handled since you both have retired from DC?
We didn’t retire. “Did he fall or was he pushed?” I’ve never been happy about anything they’ve done with Blue Devil, although I felt that Bill Willingham “got” the character in SHADOWPACT. I liked the nine minutes of DC NATION animation for Amethyst, and I’m looking forward to Amy Reeder’s take on her that’s coming out in February. But I’ve never liked what DC has done with Amethyst (what little I’ve seen) in the DCU. She was never supposed to be part of the DCU.
Also, what would you say writers have done wrong with Blue Devil? I know this might be a lengthy question, but I am basically asking where you think they keep going wrong.
This can be short. They’ve either made him TOO comedic or TOO serious. The original BD walked a fine line, helped by the amazing “bounce” of Paris Cullin’s art.
I know fans are curious about these things: is there anything either of you wanted to do with Blue Devil or Amethyst that was never done?
If both of you could do it over again, is there anything you would have changed about the characters?
I wouldn’t change anything about the characters. For BD, if Paris had been able to stay with the character, we might still be doing that book today. For Amethyst, my only change would be the sexual assault threat we had in the ﬁrst issue. I wouldn’t do that now.
When you two wrote the characters, are there any details about them that fans wouldn't know?
Sure. The writer always should know more than he’s telling.
I know DC cosmology can be a little confusing going from New Gods to Christianity to even Gemworld. Was there any order editorial wanted you both to stick by?
No. But I think it was a huge mistake to bring any Christian cosmology into the DCU.
How come you think it was a mistake to bring Christian Cosmology into DC?
Good question. I think that the mainstream mythology is so pervasive (God/Devil, Heaven/Hell, etc) that it actually gets in the way of creating a comics mythology. It’s why when we created Nebiros he had his own “hellish” dimension, like Dormammu in Dr. Strange. DC has been in an awkward position with Christian cosmology because they can’t simply treat it as just another mythology to cherry-pick without offending many readers… maybe as a Jew who grew up surrounded by this stuff all the time I just think it’s a boring, unimaginative myth system. But maybe as a non-believer who thinks it’s a mythology that’s done more harm than good, I’m okay with trivializing ideas like “hell,” in the way that it’s depicted in, say, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW.
Was there anyone else in DC you would have wanted to write other than the characters you two have created?
I liked playing with some of them. I’m sorry we didn’t get to do that Trickster mini, for example. In BD we did get to use a lot of DC characters. As the regular writer… no, I don’t think I really would have wanted to write any of the main characters, although I would have taken the offer! Regular work is always desirable.
What advice would both of you give to a fan looking to write comic books?
Write and write. Read and read. Do the hard work of becoming a good writer. Learn the craft. If you want to knock on the comics door while doing that, go ahead. Again, I’m not really sure how to become a comics writer in the 2020s, but becoming a writer is always the same journey.
Are there any speciﬁc details about a pitch that fans should know?
Nope. Like I said, the game is so different now that I really don’t know what to do that will work for a newbie.
What talents would you two recommend developing for this industry?
Learn your craft, develop a thick skin, don’t make enemies if you can avoid it, don’t over-estimate your skills but don’t come down hard on yourself, either.
Last but not least... is there anything either of you would want to change if you could go back?
Sure. I’d want to keep going successfully after 1984, instead of tanking. I’d want to have found a level of employment security, steady work that would have provided a solid income. I would have liked to have made a few million dollars, with the Amethyst toy line becoming a successful reality, followed by an Amethyst and BD movie. I’d have liked to have had a green light to write the wrap-up Barren Earth maxi-series.
Do you think that DC gave you a harder time than necessary?
By the way, an Amethyst movie is an excellent idea. I think she would really go over in 2020, probably even more than in the 1980s.
I heard a rumor from a pretty reliable source just yesterday that DC has “Big Plan” for Amethyst. We’ll see what that means.