I sat down with Glenn Herdling to talk comics and to discuss the first two novels of his ‘Piper’ Series. During our conversation, he also told me about his days as a Marvel Editor and a comic book writer.
He took us inside the first novel, ‘Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island’, and revealed how the character was born and teased where the second book, ‘Piper Houdini: Nightmare on Esopus Island’, will take readers.
Horror Fuel: “So, comics, huh?”
Glenn Herdling: “Yeah, comics. I have some experiences with writing some horror things for Marvel in my time there including one of the long forgotten characters, Simon Garth, the original Marvel Zombie. I brought him into the fold. He isn’t really a toxic zombie, more of a Voodoo zombie type. That’s what I have in the Piper Houdini novel, Voodoo zombies.”
Horror Fuel: “I’m a big fan of Voodoo zombies.”
Glenn Herdling: “Yeah, they are a lot of fun. They bring kind of a supernatural bend to it, it’s not a virus but someone actually has to curse someone, and they are based in reality. There are stories in Haiti where people have gone missing and people thought they were dead and suddenly they turn up. They’re basically brain dead and these Bocors have actually put spells on them and they really thought they were dead.”
Horror Fuel: “I find them really interesting. One of the first horror movies I remember seeing was ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’.”
Glenn Herdling: “They go into the real zombies. That was a really creepy movie.”
Horror Fuel: “Yeah, I probably was a little too young to be watching that. Thank god for late night TV and parents that are asleep [laughter].”
Glenn Herdling: “[laughter] That’s what I used to do and watch ‘The Twilight Zone’ [laughter] on my little black and white TV in my room. I was always so thankful that after ‘The Twilight Zone’ the ‘Honeymooners’ was on. [laughter] I needed to watch the ‘Honeymooners’ to get ‘The Twilight Zone’ out of my head.”
Horror Fuel: “[laughter] I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t done something similar.
Horror Fuel: “How did you get your start in comics?”
Glenn Herdling: “Begging? [laughter] No, I’ve been a comic book fan since I was in third grade, a Hulk fan. When I went to college, I was majoring in English. I actually sent a proposal to Marvel. Then I called them to see if they had received my proposal and I asked them if there was actually a chance of me getting work there and that I was actually going to be interning at Random House and I didn’t want to accept the internship at Random House until they gave me some notification about if the proposal was going to be accepted or not. The woman I talked to said, ‘Oh if you want to internship program we have an internship program.’ And I’m like, ‘You do?’ And she said, ‘Come on in and we’ll see what we can do for you.’ So I got an internship with one of the editors, Carl Potts. I got my foot in the door there and the rest is history.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s awesome.”
Horror Fuel: “You’ve been involved with so many different comics. What are your favorite comics that you’ve worked on?”
Glenn Herdling: “I really loved my time working on ‘Spiderman’ and as an editor. I just had a blast. But then ‘Deadpool’ is a big favorite of mine. I only wrote a couple with Deadpool. Those were fun as well. Those are my top two. I wrote ‘Namor’ for two years. ‘Namor’ was an interesting character. When I was a kid I’d pick up this book called ‘Marvel Superheroes starring the Hulk and ‘Sub Mariner’ we printed stories from old ‘Hulk’ magazines and old ‘Sub Mariner’ magazines. I would always read the ‘Hulk’ and never read the ‘Sub Mariner’. Then when I was given the opportunity to write ‘Sub Mariner’ I was like, ‘My god, now I have to find out about this character so I had to do a whole lot of research about him. I started getting really into the character when I started writing it. He’s one of the oldest characters in the Marvel universe. He was around when ‘Captain America’ was created. He goes back to the ’40s. The history of the character was so robust. I had a blast writing that for two years.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s very interesting. Personally, I’m a big ‘Deadpool’ fan. I can’t wait for the sequel.”
Glenn Herdling: “Yeah, Deadpool is awesome. I won’t even ask if you liked the movie because if you like the comic you have to love it.”
Horror Fuel: “He’s just so sassy.”
Glenn Herdling: “Yeah. I got to write the all silent issue of Deadpool. Mike Marks was the editor and said that there was this old GI Joe comic that was done all silent and I want to try to it with Deadpool. I was like, ‘Mike the whole thing about Deadpool is that he is the merch with the mouth. How?” I said okay [laughter]. I wrote the silent episode of Deadpool and I think it works.
Horror Fuel: “Really? I’ll have to try to find that one.”
Horror Fuel: “What is your opinion on the flood of superhero movies we are seeing these days?”
Glenn Herdling: “I love them. Right now I’m not following too many of the mainstream comics. They’ve gotten so convoluted with the stories and many of the characters. Captain America is now someone else. The Hulk is now someone else. There are several people wearing the Spiderman costume. I find it so hard to follow that I kind of dropped it. I get my fix from standard superheroes from the movies. I really like what they are doing in the Marvel cinematic universe. They are really sticking true to the basics of those characters. Unfortunately, I can not say the same thing for the DC universe. They are straying too far. They are trying to make Superman dark and gritty and he’s not. That’s not who he is. That’s Batman.
Horror Fuel: “You can only have so many brooding men at one time before it gets annoying. Personally, I’m waiting on the next Deadpool movie. Ryan Reynolds does a fantastic job.”
Glenn Herdling: “You and me both. It didn’t make a great Green Lantern, but he’s a great Deadpool.”
Horror Fuel: “Is there a lesser known hero you would like to see on the big screen?”
Glenn Herdling: “I really want to see ‘Kazar in the Savage Land’. I always thought that he would make a great movie. It’s ‘Tarzan’ meets ‘Jurassic Park’. How can you go wrong with that, right?”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds cool. And who doesn’t love dinosaurs? That’s what I was for Halloween.”
Glenn Herdling: “I went one Marvel Halloween party once as Barney getting eaten by a raptor. This year I went as a demon with a zipper face.”
Horror Fuel: “Awesome! I’d love to see that.”
Horror Fuel: “What was your favorite part about writing comics?”
Glenn Herdling: “What I really liked about writing for Marvel was, it’s like a playground. You’re not starting from scratch you are starting with an established storyline and established characters. It is what are you going to do to contribute to Marvel history? I got to play in this sandbox that had been created by Stan Lee and added to by so many other writers over the years. Now, it was what toy was I going to bring to the sandbox? What was I going to be able to bring? That’s what I really loved, playing on someone else’s playground.”
Horror Fuel: “Wow. I imagine that it is a very interesting job.”
Glenn Herdling: “It was great. When I graduated college and then going into work every day. I lived in New Jersey and I commuted to work by train and there would be all these guys in suits and they’d be pouring over their Wall Street Journals on the train and they had their briefcases and their heads would be hung down low. Meanwhile, I would be there on the train dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. I would have my comic books reading or I was writing and I’d have my Tandy laptop and I ‘d be writing with some pages spread out in front of me. And people would always give me this eye. Then, I’d pack it up and head across the park and I’d have a chipper in my step, ‘I’m going to work’ [laughter].”
Horror Fuel: “It always helps when you love your job.”
Glenn Herdling: “Yes, it was great.”
Horror Fuel: “Are you still writing.”
Glenn Herdling: “Now, I’m spending most of my creative time writing my ‘Piper’ books. I’ve been offered some comic book work. But anything I do while writing freelance takes away from me writing my next novel. I don’t really take on much that comes my way anymore. I’m trying to establish ‘Piper’.”
Horror Fuel: “What made you want to make the jump from comics to writing novels?”
Glenn Herdling: “f you go to the ‘Piper Houdini’ website you will find a blog on how ‘Doctor Strange’ influenced ‘Piper’.
Way back when, I had pitched a story to the editor of ‘Doctor Strange’ at the time. He was looking for a new writer. By the time I pitched the proposal to him he said, ‘Oh, Glenn. I’m no longer the editor of ‘Doctor Strange’. But I am editing Namor. Would you like to write that?’ I said, ‘Yeah.” and the editor was like ‘All right, get me a plot on my desk by Friday.” That’s how I got the ‘Namor’ job.
The proposal for Doctor Strange languished in my files for a long time. In it, I introduced a teen-aged mage that would take over for Doctor Strange. For years it didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t even think about it until the Harry Potter craze. I said to myself, ‘You know what, let’s take it this out.’ So, I blew the dust off of it and went from there. I made the character a couple of years younger and I made him the nephew of Doctor Strange. I thought it would be great to have this brooding occult figure introduced to this 12-year-old kid who is now running around his sanctum and I thought it would introduce some different types of stories for Doc. I pitched the revised story to the editor-in-chief at the time was like, ‘Nah Glenn, we are going in a different direction.’ Then I asked myself, ‘Why am I giving all of my ideas to Marvel? Why don’t I try to do something where I would own the property?’ I first thought about doing it as a comic book. The original character was Duncan Strange. I changed it to a female protagonist, but I needed someone to take Doctor Strange’s patriarchal role. When you think of magicians, who is the first person who comes to mind?”
Horror Fuel: “Houdini.”
Glenn Herdling: “Houdini, yes. I made Houdini the figurehead. I knew a little about him. I really started delving into him. He never had any kids of his own. What happens if towards the end of his life he is introduced to the niece he never knew he had? So, I changed it from a nephew to a niece and brought her into his life. The magic ensues.”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds interesting.”
Glenn Herdling: “It was a lot of fun. The whole discovery process, to take that original story I created for Doctor Strange and have it take place 90 years in the past. There were so many elements that I was able to keep even though I brought it into the 1920’s and used characters from Houdini’s life. There are actually only two-and-a-half-fictional characters in the story–all the rest are real historical figures.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s awesome.”
Horror Fuel: “What age group is the novel for?”
Glenn Herdling: “It is for the same people who enjoy the ‘Harry Potter’ novels. I loved the ‘Harry Potter’ series and they got darker as they went along. I’m doing that with ‘Piper’. The first book starts not as grim, but the second book is more grim and I expect to go a little darker as I go along.”
Horror Fuel: “I’m going to have to get a copy for my niece.”
Glenn Herdling: “You should. You’d enjoy it too.”
Horror Fuel: “Good point. It would also be a good way to introduce that magical world to our nieces, nephews, sons, and daughters.”
Glenn Herdling: “You right. The second book includes H.P. Lovecraft as one of its characters. I incorporated a story he wrote into the book. He was Houdini’s ghostwriter for a story called “Under the Pyramids” and it seamlessly fits into the novel as part of the plot. I’m hoping that it will introduce a lot of younger readers to Lovecraft.”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds fantastic.”
Horror Fuel: “If you will tell us a little about the first book.”
Glenn Herdling: “Sideshow freaks discover a baby near the drain pipe. They take her to a doctor on the boardwalk who was famous for saving a lot of premature babies. For the next 12 years, the freckled redhead is shunted from one foster home to the next, seeking a place to belong. Then, a cadaverous man claiming to be her father whisks Piper away to her uncle, who happens to be the world-famous escape artist, Harry Houdini. Houdini is skeptical at first but soon begins to teach her magic tricks. Unlike ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Piper Houdini’ features a cast of real historical characters—including famous sideshow freaks that are the targets of a murderous psychopath. Many of the freaks starred in Tod Browning’s Freaks, including Johnny the Half-Boy and the Living Skeleton. In the book, you learn that someone is killing them and Piper has to find out why and how she is tied to it all. Piper also encounters a sassy vampire named Flapper, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s daughter, a boy whose brother is a zombie, and the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley. That’s when she discovers that she has more to do with what’s going on than she first realized.”
Horror Fuel: “Wow. Okay. I like that you include real accounts and people in with the story. I saw a documentary recently about the freaks of Coney Island.”
Glenn Herdling: “Their whole approach to life and it wasn’t really far from what Tod Browning’s interpretation. What was great about that movie, and things like ‘The Walking Dead’ is that it’s not the zombies that are the walking dead it’s the living. It’s the same thing with Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’. It wasn’t the people in the freak show that were the freaks, it was the so-called “normals”. ”
Horror Fuel: “Very true.”
Horror Fuel: “You’re novel is out now?”
Glenn Herdling: “Yes, it is. The first two books are out. I just launched the second book.”
Horror Fuel: “Are both available on Amazon?”
Glenn Herdling: “Yes, they are.”
Horror Fuel: “Will there be another book in the series?”
Glenn Herdling: “There are going to be at least five books in the series.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s wonderful. I hate when there are only two or three books in a series. You start getting really into the story then it’s over and you’re left feeling like you need more.”
Glenn Herdling: “Exactly.”
Horror Fuel: “Do you ever plan to do a comic to go along with the ‘Piper’ series?”
Glenn Herdling: “I would love to adapt ‘Piper’ as a comic book. If I do I would love to use the cover artist John Kissee. John did the original proposal for ‘Duncan Strange’. You can see some of his artwork on some of Piper.com’s links. I just love his work. It’s so eerily charming.”
Horror Fuel: “The cover of the first book is great.”
Glenn Herdling: “The second cover is good too.”
Horror Fuel: “I haven’t seen that one yet.”
Glenn Herdling: “I’ll send it to you. What he did for the second cover, you can tell the character has gone from innocence to experience from one story to the next. On the first, she’s smiling brightly as she easily escapes from her chains. On the second one, her hair is shorter and she’s scowling. You can tell that she’s gone through some shit.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up the phone for my interview with Glenn Herdling. With his extensive background with Marvel, I felt a little intimidated, to be honest. But that was quickly put to rest. I was pleasantly surprised by this talented man who was filled with laughter and stories and a conversation that was as easy as sitting down with an old friend.
I look forward to following the journey Glenn will take us on in the ‘Piper’ series. You can pick up your copies of ‘Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island’ and the second book, ‘Piper Houdini: Nightmare on Esopus Island’ now on Amazon. To stay up to date on Glenn’s novels and projects visit his website, the ‘Piper’ site and follow Glenn on Twitter, Facebook, and on Pinterest.
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