Editor’s note: The comics industry lost a legend this past week with the passing of prominent scribe and editor Len Wein. Instead of drafting a brief summary of the legacy Mr. Wein left behind, we decided to reach out to Richard Rubenfeld, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Eastern Michigan University, to see if he would share his memories of a person who helped change the craft for the better. Professor Rubenfeld, I’m humbled to say, agreed.
By Richard Rubenfeld. Although I seldom got to visit with my old friend Len Wein in recent years, I am saddened that there will be no more opportunities to do so.
I first met Len on July 31, 1965 at the first Academy of Comic-Book Fans Comic Convention, hosted by Dave Kaler and held at the Hotel Broadway Central in Greenwich Village, New York. Knowing no one else at the show initially, I was lucky to have made Len’s acquaintance early that day. We hit it off quickly. Len introduced me to people that day who are still among my closest friends. Len and I soon became charter members of a New York-based group of comic fans named TISOS (short for The Illegitimate Sons of Superman). TISOS also included future comics luminary and early Wein collaborator, Marv Wolfman. Regularly visiting the DC and Marvel offices and meeting monthly in our homes from 1966 until 1970, TISOS members attended comic and science fiction conventions together, visited Jack Kirby and other comics creators living nearby, and often accompanied one another as we made our comic book purchases at local candy stores and newsstands. The monthly gatherings stand out particularly in my memory because they were filled with laughter and rich discussions about old and new comics, movies and television shows. Strong opinions were voiced and there were frequent disagreements, but nothing was taken too seriously. We had a lot of fun.
Even in the heady company of the TISOS gang, Len was often the center of attention. And why not? He was witty, extremely knowledgeable about popular media and quick to share his ideas and opinions. Gifted with a keen sense of timing, he was also consistently funny and upbeat. His enthusiasm for comics and desire to work in the field were unflagging. As a teenager, he was already publishing his own fanzines and writing and drawing stories featuring his own characters. Len was well versed in comics history and first set his sights on a career as an artist. His fertile imagination, strong storytelling skills and encyclopedic knowledge of all things comics, already obvious to all of us in TISOS, led to Len becoming one of the most important, prodigious and influential comics writers of his generation. How wonderful for me to be around at this early stage in Len’s career!
Most people who have enjoyed Len’s work and followed the adventures of the many characters he created and co-created at DC, Marvel and other publishers are unaware of the many serious health and physical problems that plagued him throughout his adult life. He used to joke about not being long for this world, but fortunately, he was wrong about that! Unwavering in his enthusiasm, even as his own body was failing him, he kept going, writing as long as he could, even attending this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
Len was a good friend, twice agreeing to be a special guest and panelist at two of the comic art exhibitions and symposia I put together at Eastern Michigan University, where I taught until my retirement three years ago. It certainly wasn’t the modest honoraria or accommodations that brought him to the Midwest. A longtime resident of southern California, Len joked that only friendship would make him experience Michigan winter. He brought that up on more than one occasion!
On his last visit here in March 2014, before heading to campus for the exhibition and panel, we talked briefly about his friends as well as current and recent projects. Len said that Harlan Ellison was a close friend and always an inspiration for him as a writer. When asked about the Silver Age creators who were so influential in his decision to work in comics, he specifically mentioned Joe Kubert, John Broome and Jack Kirby. In addition, Len was excited about his cameo appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past, at that point still not released publicly, and tickled by Hugh Jackman’s remark that he had a career thanks to Len’s co-creation, Wolverine. Len also was happy to be part of the creative team for DC’s Before Watchmen, reminding me (not that I forgot) that he was the editor of the original Watchmen mini-series. Expressing his admiration for Alan Moore’s writing on Watchmen and Swamp Thing, another Wein co-creation, he enjoyed writing the Ozymandias miniseries and was delighted with Jae Lee’s art for it. Talking about series he had yet to tackle, after writing stories for such seminal characters as Superman, Spider-Man and Mickey Mouse, Len quickly noted that the Shadow was top on his list.
Len Wein was larger than life in some ways, and I am happy that his considerable accomplishments in the comics field guarantee him a significant place in the history of the medium.
I will miss him most as a friend. My life has been much richer because of him.
Richard Rubenfeld, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Art History
Eastern Michigan University
A special thanks goes out to Jesse Rubenfeld, who helped us put this piece together.