An Interview with Donald Glut, by Abhay

I noticed a promotional campaign for a vampire novel the other day:  PULP 2.0 Press, a pulp-fiction company, was promoting the re-release of BROTHER BLOOD, a "Blaxploitation" vampire novel written in 1969, set on Los Angeles's Sunset Strip.  The author's name-- Donald Glut-- rang a bell; sounded familiar.  Much later, I realized that I had seen his name any number of times in the last couple years, looking through the great old Warren magazines like EERIE for which he wrote extensively.  Some of you may also recognize his name from the novelization of the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Mr. Glut was gracious enough to agree to an interview.  I had intended this interview to concern his career in the comics, seeing as this is a comic book blog and all, but this one really didn't go as planned.  Over the course of my research, I found that Mr. Glut's comic career was just the tip of the iceberg, in a varied career in the entertainment business, which has included stints in film, rock music, Saturday morning cartoons, non-fiction, pulp fiction, voice-over, comic books, and possibly more. My thanks to Mr. Glut again for agreeing to the following, which I hope you enjoy.

As I understand from other interviews, you started making amateur movies as a teenager in Chicago, and then continued as a USC film student in the 1960's, where your student films included your own films featuring Superman, Captain Marvel, and the Spirit.  How common were those kinds of fan movies for superhero characters at that time?  I know that it's become relatively common lately, with youtube filled with these very lavish, comic book movies from amateur filmmakers.  But I don't really know the history of that sort of thing, I suppose.

Actually, I made my first amateur movie, a dinosaur film titled DIPLODOCUS AT LARGE, back in 1953 when I was only nine years old, still a few years away from being a teenager. Then, discouraged by the way that turned out, I went into “hiatus,” not attempting another amateur movie until 1956, when I made another dinosaur movie called THE EARTH BEFORE MAN. At that point I got bitten by the “bug” and making amateur movies became my main hobby. For a number of years I didn’t know of anyone else on the planet besides myself who was making amateur movies.

I didn’t start making superhero-type films until the early 1960s, after meeting artist (and amateur superhero-movie-maker) Larry Ivie. As far as I knew back then, Larry and I were the only two fans making films about superheroes.

What stood out to me about your amateur movies was that you were often making movies of some very particular comic characters or comic stories, like the Spirit or Superduperman.  Were there lessons you took from those experiences, especially when you ended up writing some of those same characters later on in your career?

I think the amateur superhero movies I made back then were as much influenced by the old movie serials made by Republic Pictures and other studios as much as the comic books themselves. So I don’t think my amateur movie-making had any real influence on what I did or saw later in life.

I guess 90% of what I know about film history is from that Peter Biskind book EASY RIDERS RAGING BULLS, and what I remember from that is how the auteurs of the late 1960's and 1970's  (some of whom like George Lucas and John Milius, I guess, were your classmates at USC), how they were reacting to the counter-culture but also to the great Italian directors, the French New Wave, European art films. What was your sense of it at the time? In reviewing your resume, you seem to have always been more inspired by the classic horror films, monster films, Republic serials-- fantasy filmmaking which has only really just become "acceptable," but at that time was probably frowned upon.

How true, and you summed that up very well. I was always getting in trouble at USC because of my interests in those kinds of movies. Once or twice the cinema department had seriously considered booting me out, not because of my film-making abilities, but because of my personal tastes, including the fact that I liked reading comic books! It’s ironic and also a little hypocritical that USC has been so financially enriched by contributions by people like Lucas who became rich making the kinds of movies I nearly got expelled for liking back then.

You mentioned in one interview, that after your film school years, you were a musician, you went from film school into the music business.  Were you in the music business in Los Angeles in the late 1960's?  Were you working in the music business during the Sunset Strip curfew riots?  I can't imagine you wanted for meeting interesting people.

I’d been a musician since 1957, having played electric guitar in various Chicago “garage bands” before making my Big Move to Los Angeles in 1964. When I graduated from USC, I was so soured by my experiences at that university and the faculty’s attitudes towards me based on my personal tastes, that – when a music opportunity came up that might lead to big things – I promptly went with it.

Yes, I was working in the music business in LA/Hollywood during the great late 1960's days of the Sunset Strip. I played bass guitar in the Penny Arkade, a rock group produced by then-Monkee Mike Nesmith. The infamous Sunset Strip riots happened in November of 1966. The Penny Arkade formed the following year. That was one of the best periods ever for rock music – and one of the most creative. Yes, I met a lot of celebrity rockers during that time, many of them friends of Mike.

At a certain point, though, in the late 1970's, as I understand the story, Forrest Ackerman calls you up and gets you involved in the business of writing comics, starting with the great Warren magazines like EERIE.  And you start there, end up writing stories for the very first issue of VAMPIRELLA, writing for Gold Key, writing for Marvel, creating your own barbarian comic DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE.  Were you in New York at the time, or sending in work from L.A.?

Around the same time, you're writing for kids cartoons like Scooby Doo, Dynomutt, the Flintstones, the Go-Bots, Transformers, and so on, up to and including being involved in the creation of the HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE characters.  Were you doing comics at the same time as your career in children's television or-- I'm a little fuzzy on the timing?  What was your average workday like at that time?

I did all of my comic-book work from Los Angeles (except on a few occasions where, on vacation, I wrote them from wherever I happened to be, usually Chicago). Yes, I was doing comics and TV animation writing – also books, movie scripts, etc. – concurrently. Back then, on days that I was writing (and really on a “roll”), I could write for maybe eight hours or more, sometimes into the wee hours of night. Now my work days tend to be shorter. I get cabin fever and like to go out at night, especially if there’s a party.

Compared to film and music, and so on, what was the culture of comics like at that time?  Did you feel a part of it?  There's less money in comics; probably less of the sex and the drugs than movies or music (but I'm guessing more drugs than children's television...?); creator rights weren't really respected at the time, from what I understand. Did you have a sense of what kind of people your colleagues at that time were?

I never felt like I was really “one of the guys” (that is, the closely knit community of comic-book writers and artists based on the East Coast), even when a lot of the New York comic-book talent moved to California back around the 1970s. I guess I’ve always felt more a part of the rock ‘n’ roll community, maybe because of my days as a kind of “street kid” growing up in Chicago. Some of that may have been retained in my personality, which may explain some things. You’re probably right about the sex and drugs, which have always been a big part of the music business, long before anyone ever heard of rock music. And no, creator rights were still in their infancy, at least as comic books (as opposed to strips) were concerned. Thinking back, I believe that pretty much everyone I knew was trying to do their best work.

You went from making Captain America fan films to ultimately writing Captain America comics.  I tracked down your Captain America run, four issues which involved Captain America fighting The Corporation on the set of a new Captain America serial.  What stood out to me, though, was you didn't write the conclusion of the story you were telling (which involved Captain America fighting the Ameri-droid)-- it was handed off to Steve Gerber mid-storyline.

That's something that seemed to have happened quite frequently in that era of comics, at least Marvel comics, that writers who'd begin a series or begin a story would often not be the one to conclude it; it happened any number of times to Steve Gerber too, actually, if I remember right.  Did you expect to write the ending?  Did you have plans for the book?  Did you feel... I don't know... did you feel "respected as an artist" during your time in comics?  Was that important for you while you were working in comics?

I also wrote the character Captain America into two TV cartoon episodes, for SPIDER-MAN and SPIDER-MAN & HIS AMAZING FRIENDS. As I remember things about the comic book, I was in Chicago on vacation when Roy Thomas – who, as I recall, had been writing the CAPTAIN AMERICA book – phoned from California and asked if I’d like to write an issue.  Roy, at the time, was also pursuing a screen-writing career and, to do that, had to cut back on some of his comics writing. Of course, I wanted to write one of my all-time favorite characters!

Anyway, the story had already been penciled from Roy’s plot and all I had to do was, as Roy termed it, “dialogue” the book. Roy must have liked the job I did, because he then turned the book over to me completely. And yes, I did plan to complete the Ameridroid storyline and continue beyond that. But then, Steve Gerber entered the picture and told the Powers That Be at Marvel that he wanted to write CAPTAIN AMERICA. Steve, of course, was a Big Name at the company, and, unlike me, part of that previously mentioned “community.” So, without warning or ceremony, the book was pulled from me and given to Gerber. I had indeed planned ahead, but I no longer recall the direction I would have taken that story. Yes, I think I did want to be “respected as an artist” back in those days.

In one of the interviews you gave about your work for Gold Key, you mention "I also had a problem working black characters into the stories. One of the editors was kind of paranoid that no matter how positively we treated a black character, the NAACP or Black Panthers or someone would picket our offices – or worse. And one editor was an out-right racist!"  Was that attitude prevalent at Gold Key? Was that attitude something you ran into often in comics?

Yes, that’s true. The company as a whole – at least the West Coast branch – seemed really concerned that if a Black character were portrayed in even the slightest negative light, or as an outright villain, there would be those kinds of problems. As to one editor being a racist, I’ll never forget this … Some other comic-book company had just issued a book about a little African American kid. I’ve forgotten the title, but it was the same as this character’s name. The book also happened to be written and illustrated by an African American. I was in one office, having a discussion with one editor, when the other editor came in carrying that book. He was visible upset, angry, red-faced and physically shaken. He threw the comic book on the first editor’s desk and exclaimed (I’m remembering this verbatim), “Can you believe this?! A [the n-word] has got his own book!” That was the first and only time I’d ever heard this person express such an attitude, and the other editor and I were just stunned.

I don’t think such an attitude reared its ugly head at the other companies, at least as far as I’m aware. Look at their books from that time and you’ll see lots of ethnic characters, good and evil. In the example I gave, I don’t think there was prejudice against minorities in general or by the company; it was just this one editor who, as I discovered that day, obviously didn’t like Blacks.

Is there a particular story you think of especially fondly from your time in comics?  I would have guessed Dagar since that was a character you created, but what was surprising in my research is that despite having written numerous books like Dagar or Marvel's Krull series, you mention that you weren't really a fan of that type of fan of sword and sorcery material; you mention in an interview how Dagar was created because that kind of fantasy material happened to just be hot at that moment.

Not so much DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE. I was never much of a sword and sorcery fan and didn’t enjoy writing it much, including the KULL THE DESTROYER and SOLOMON KANE stories I wrote for Marvel. Most S&S stories – to me, anyway – seem pretty much the same, the heroes virtually interchangeable. And with all the Gold Key restrictions I had to deal with, I knew from the start that I could never bring the book up to the level I’d have liked it to reach, especially with books like Roy Thomas’ excellent CONAN out there. I was quite proud, however, of some of my other series, like TRAGG AND THE SKY GODS, but especially THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR. And I really enjoyed writing THE INVADERS and WHAT IF?

I don't know if this is something you're okay talking about, but on your website, there's a cover of an adult comic you did with Brian Forbes called FANTA, published in 1984.  But I guess what stood out to me is if you did that in 1984-- you were doing adult comics around the same time as you were helping to create HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. I'm honestly not sure what the right question here is. Uhm-- what was 1984 like for you?

And... you know, as a kid, I never understood why they called that show the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, incidentally.  That used to confuse the heck out of me.  I was always waiting for the Masters of the Universe to show up and kick everybody's ass.  I don't know.  Just wanted to mention that.

Having grown up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money, I got into the habit early on to take on just about any job that came my way – especially when I had no idea what the future might bring – including the stories collected in the FANTA book, whose magazine series title was THE HOUSE OF PLEASURE (and other “adult” material I did for that publishing company), and also MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. I have no idea why the latter was called that. That was a name I didn’t make up. Someone at Mattel did (and was probably paid Big Bucks for it.). I did, however, come up with the name Fanta. And, as Fate would have it, I was surprised with a divorce around that time and lost most of what money I had at that time, including that earned by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. So my additional income made by writing those adult-oriented comics turned out helping me just to survive.

You become a filmmaker again, beginning with 1996's DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS, and continuing thereafter with VAMPIRE HUNTERS CLUB, EROTIC RITES OF COUNTESS DRACULA, MUMMY'S KISS, COUNTESS DRACULA'S ORGY OF BLOOD, MUMMY'S KISS: 2ND DYNASTY and BLOOD SCARAB, all of which you wrote, directed in and apparently sometimes appeared in singing songs.  For starters, what changed for you in 1996 that you ended up a filmmaker again?

I didn’t really appear in them singing songs, but worked some of my recorded songs – on which I both played and sang -- into the movies’ soundtracks. How did I get back into film-making? Easy – a producer friend, Kevin Glover, dropped by my house and said that the Playboy Channel had approached him to make a movie for them. He asked me if I’d like to write and direct it. I’d already worked with Kevin on several video projects, plus a cable-access TV show. So Kevin gave me this opportunity which I’d have been crazy to have turned down. I came up with the idea, story, title, etc. for DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS. But we decided we really wanted to own the property, not turn it over to Playboy. So off we went on our own, looking for investors, forming a company, and so forth. That’s how it all started.

The full story is in DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS: THE BOOK, which I later wrote for McFarland and Company, the same company that publishes my series of dinosaur encyclopedia books.

You've primarily made monster movies-- that kind of material sort of threads through your whole life, from your amateur movies to your work in comics to your other writing.  What do you think the appeal of that material is for you?  Why do you think it's something you keep going back to?

I really don’t know. I’ve loved monster movies ever since I saw CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON upon its original release back in 1954 … and then, a couple years later, reissues of some of the old Universal Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man and Mummy movies, in theatres before they were released to television. They just pushed buttons in me that have remained pushed to this day.

Five of your seven movies feature Del Howison, one of the owners of the Dark Delicacies horror bookstore in Burbank, four of them playing the same character, the Bram Stoker character Renfield.  Can you tell me about that?  Is that something that's based on your friendship with Mr. Howison, or did you want something linking your movies, a "continuity" like in the comics?

Both, really. Del and I are long-time friends, but initially I didn’t even know he was an actor. Then, about 10 years or so ago, I was hired to direct a short film called THE VAMPIRE HUNTERS CLUB. Del played himself in the movie. At the same time I was gearing up to direct my second feature length movie, which was originally titled SCARLET COUNTESS (released on video and DVD as THE EROTIC RITES OF COUNTESS DRACULA, although we’re going back to the original when we reissue it). I was struck by the clarity of Del’s voice and liked the way he delivered his line. That, plus his long white hair, conjured up in my imagination a new take on the Renfield character. I didn’t want my Renfield actor doing an impersonation of any previous Renfields, particularly Dwight Frye. And yes, I wanted to maintain continuity.

There was a brief time when it looked like a scheduling conflict would prevent Del from being in BLOOD SCARAB. But I waited it out and my producer Dan Golden worked it out for Del to come back to play “Rennie.” I really didn’t want to cast anyone else but Del in that part.

You've mentioned in interviews how filmmaking is the favorite thing, of all the things you've done.  Why is that?  What's the "good part" for you?  Is it being on set?  Is it the editing?  Or is it just the final product has a certain magic to it that your other work hasn't had?

My favorite stages of making a movie, I think, are the casting and directing. I really enjoy meeting actors and also the on-set experience of directing, with all the challenges that arise, some of them requiring immediate decisions. But I also love the experience of seeing a project come together from inception to completion. Before I even start writing the script, I can see and hear in my mind some approximation of the completed movie. And seeing that movie come together – stage by stage – is to me a real turn on, especially when the finished project bears some resemblance to the original conception. The same is true for me with music. I have a song in my head, then I write it, and then hear it come together in the recording studio. That’s a great thrill for me.

Many of your movies supposedly have a certain amount of nudity if not soft-core sexual content.  So, if you'll indulge me... Okay, you have the exploitation films of the 1970's, and it's before plastic surgery hit or everybody started waxing everything, so you see really normal-looking girls, which makes the movies, I don't know, dirtier somehow.  Then, you have the 80's, and the post-Porky's wave of bad teen sex comedies, where there's a fat guy, a nerd, a hot dog stand, and it's all mysteriously funded by Canadian tax dollars.  Then, the 90's, those movies get too dark, too serious; Shannon Tweed's constantly trying to figure out if Andrew Stevens is a serial killer.  And finally, the 00's, everything gets corporatized, synergized, and there are 5 billion super-depressing "sequels" to mainstream movies, direct-to-DVD sequels to AMERICAN PIE or VAN WILDER, RATATOUILLE 2: COOKING WITH FIRE or whatever.  And that's basically my sense of four-decades worth of T&A movies and/or American history.

And what doesn't make sense to me...  There are still outlets for exploitation movies-- netflix, say.  And more importantly, there's so much technology now that wasn't available before-- digital cameras, software, amazing things.  And it's not hard to find attractive ladies who'll take off their shirts, on the internet-- I'm pretty sure that's why they built the internet.  I'd expect those kinds of movies to have gotten really great in recent years, but that hasn't really seemed to have happened, at least that I've noticed.  I'm curious if you agree or disagree, as someone whose films may be linked to that genre.

I’m not really sure what you’re asking me. My company Frontline Entertainment has made four (out of a total of six) of what are called “soft core” movies (which we’re no longer making, let me point out). We were talked into this by one of our former distributors on the prospect of their making us a lot of money. They essentially were built around a series of simulated love scenes between good-looking naked actresses. But it’s very difficult finding young, beautiful women who will get naked and do such scenes, and who can also act. At least it’s difficult when working with the small budgets we’ve always had on our movies.

So, while all of the foregoing was going on, the comics, the kid's cartoons and the filmmaking, you're also an author of numerous books, the novelization of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, numerous non-fiction books about dinosaurs primarily, but also a good number of pulp horror titles.  I know that the great GROOVY AGE OF HORROR blog is particularly fans of your 1970's eleven-novel series, NEW ADVENTURES OF FRANKENSTEIN, most of which were only available in Spanish and German until recently.

PULP 2.0 Press is now re-releasing, BROTHER BLOOD, a book you wrote in 1969, a "horror 'blaxploitation' novel set in 1969 Los Angeles in and around the world famous landmarks of the Sunset Strip," again previously published in German.  What is it about these novels that you think are inspiring people to bring them back into print (or into print in English for the first time), decades later?

In the case of Pulp 2.0 Press, publisher Bill Cunningham is presenting them in some very creative formats. Bill is looking at these books as “productions” rather than “publications,” and as movie productions come out on DVD with all sorts of bonus features, so will these books. As far as the Frankensteins are concerned, when these stories were recently reissued by the Scary Monsters company, they were loaded with lots hundreds of extremely embarrassing (for me) typos, misspellings, repeated words and phrases, etc. Their presence was basically my fault. When I rewrote them for new publication, I was just learning to use Word … and I did the rewriting quite fast. As a result, the mistakes came in and I never caught them. They should have been dealt with by the editor, as they were all quite obvious (and easy, in my opinion) “fixes.” But they weren’t. And even some new mistakes managed to infiltrate the text. So now, when I sign a copy of one of these books, I won’t have to make anymore excuses. I hope!

What people expect of vampires seems to have changed a lot in recent years-- the big trend in vampires has been guys alive hundreds of years hitting on high-school aged girls, which people seem to find romantic instead of sad, somehow.  How do you think BROTHER BLOOD will fit into the "current landscape"?

It’s a very traditional vampire story, so maybe it won’t fit in. There’s no scene where some vampire hunter tells someone, “Now forget everything you ever knew about vampires. They can come out during the day, they’re not affected by crosses, they do cast reflections,” etc. The vampires in BROTHER BLOOD play by the old rules. And the book is very retro. No homoeroticism, no lesbian vampires, and so forth. Maybe it’s best if the novel doesn’t really fit in.

Was BROTHER BLOOD written while you were in the music business?  What was your life was like when you wrote the novel?  Was there something in particular going on with you where you felt like you wanted to see vampires devour the people around you?

BROTHER BLOOD (the original draft) was written just after my career with the Penny Arkade ended. So it would have been written in or around 1969, the same year that the story is set. At the time I was going through my “hippy” phase and spent a lot of time on the Strip, hanging around clubs like the Whiskey, the Galaxy, Gazzarri’s, etc. I had the really long hair, bell-bottom pants, boots, the whole works. At the time I also had a lot of African American friends and got to know more about what is sometimes called the “Black Community.” So those experiences might have had something to do with my decision to write a story that – in those pre-BLACULA days – would probably have been, if published, the first novel about a Black master vampire.

So as I mentioned above, your horror novels seem to have been better received in the Spanish-language and German-language.  Why do you think that sort of pulp fiction died out in this country before it did in other countries, like Germany?  That seems to be a recurring thing, where the U.S. comes up with some bit of pop culture, and other countries keep it alive longer than we do.

Hard to say. Mexico, too, was making movies into the 1960s that were basically imitations of American horror films of the 1930s and ‘40s. I guess we Americans are not only trend-setters, we also get bored a lot faster.

I can't really justify taking up your time to talk about other things, like that you're listed as an extra in the movie THE GRADUATE, or voice-over work you may or may not have done for Japanese anime.

Well, to address those issues really fast, I basically “crashed” THE GRADUATE set and walked through a scene – without pay, of course. They happened to be shooting part of the movie on  the USC campus. I never saw myself in the scene. Maybe the editor noticed the FANTASTIC FOUR comic book I was holding. And yes, in the past year I’ve done voice-over acting dubbing 21 (so far) Japanese movies into English, 20 Anime and one live-action.

When I was a kid, the kind of fantasy material that you've spent your career working with, it was not really a reputable thing. It sure didn't feel that way anyways.  Now with every year that passes, fantasy material becomes more and more recognized-- alien invasion movies get nominated for Oscars, novels about magicians and vampires become global phenomena, etc.  At the same time, it makes it more ordinary, and I don't think what I was looking for as a kid was more ordinary, another spoonful of ordinary. What do you think about what's going on?  Do you see it as a validation?

When I was a kid, there was something rebellious about liking the fantastic stuff, just like it was in liking rock ‘n’ roll music. And if you got a horror, science-fiction or fantasy movie that was even “pretty good,” that was really special. Today, the movies are almost all fantastic and rock music – a half century after those early 78 recordings – is mainstream, with the same four or five musicians on stage playing the same instruments, adopting the same stances and body language, you name it. It’s the music of the kids’ grandparents! There’s nothing rebellious or anything the kids can call uniquely their own, anymore, and I think that’s kind of sad.

I'm not sure what "finding your voice" means exactly.  But do you remember when you got to the point where you felt like you had a good idea what a "Don Glut thing" was?

Well, maybe this will answer that question. When I was a senior in high school there were a lot of things I enjoyed doing – making amateur movies, writing stories, playing music, drawing, and so forth. At the time – living in Chicago, basically a “blue collar” and sports-oriented city – I didn’t really understand that any of these “hobbies” could be turned into a profession. Then, as graduation day approached, our school had what was called “College Day,” where representatives from local and near-local colleges and universities came to make their pitches. One school was best for engineering, one for chemistry, another for business, etc. – none of which was for me.

Then, as a graduation present, my Mother took me on a vacation to Los Angeles. And it was during that trip that I learned, for the first time, that there was such a thing as USC film school – going to school to learn how to make movies! Imagine that! I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do at that point, but – especially after “College Day” – I knew what I didn’t want to do, which was work for the rest of my life some boring nine-to-five job. I think that’s where I found that “voice” you mentioned.