The Best Loved Man In Comics: A Birthday Tribute To Archie Goodwin
Archie Goodwin, born this day in 1937, had a career in comics that's staggeringly impressive by virtually any standard, but that's never really the first thing anyone talks about when his name comes up. Mention him, and the response you get won't be about the writing and editing that he did in thirty years working on superheroes, or his collaborations with artists like Walt Simonson, Howard Chaykin and Alex Toth, or how he was at the forefront of revitalizing the industry through licensed comics, or how he helped to shape an entire generation of creators, or even his long tenure working on newspaper strips. At least, not at first.
No, the first thing that anyone will tell you about Archie Goodwin is that he was, in the words of authors Tim Pilcher and Brad Brooks, "the best-loved comic book editor, ever."
In an industry where editors are often in conflict with creators just as a natural consequence of the creative process, Goodwin's geniality was legendary. He literally won awards for it --- specifically the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award at the 1992 Eisners --- and was credited even after his death as a "Guiding Light" in Starman, one of his final projects.
His personality was so notable and well-known in the comics industry, in fact, that Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck immortalized him as a member of a trio of villains during their run on Batman Adventures. Alongside The Perfesser, based on long-time Batman editor and general know-it-all Denny O'Neil, and the Mastermind, based on editor and long-term planner Mike Carlin, Goodwin was the inspiration for Mr. Nice, a crook who just couldn't bring himself to be mean to anyone.
Once you hear about how genuinely good he was as a person, though, rest assured that the discussion will turn to how genuinely great he was at making comics. As a writer and editor, he had an incredible record of successes in comics, with a hand in everything from Vampirella to Transformers to Starman to Marvel's Star Wars, and he's often credited as helping to save the company during the lean times of the late '70s.
As an editor, he was put in charge of Marvel's line of original graphic novels and the Epic imprint of creator-owned titles --- the same imprint that introduced American audiences to Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. At DC, his projects included James Robinson, Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg's Starman, the non-traditional superhero title that explored the idea of legacy and, in a lot of ways, defined the best of the '90s for DC Comics.
One of his greatest accomplishments, though, came when he was brought on to write and edit Detective Comics in 1973, taking over from Julius Schwarz and given a mandate to help sagging sales. After realizing that there wasn't much you could do to change Batman and grab readers' attention that way, Goodwin realized that change would have to happen in the book's backup feature.
The result was one of the best collaborations of the decade: Goodwin and Simonson's award-winning Manhunter.
Manhunter crammed an astonishing amount of adventure into the short stories that ran in Detective --- thanks in no small part to Simonson's ability to draw beautiful pages with ten or more panels to get as much in there as they could --- and forty years later, it still holds up as a high point of both creators' considerable careers.
Sadly, Goodwin died in 1998 after a ten-year battle with cancer, leaving behind an incredible legacy of creativity, and an emptiness in the industry that may never be filled. Perhaps most importantly, he left behind a lesson. He showed that great work could come from earning the trust of his collaborators and employees.
In an industry and a medium that's always been defined by good guys and bad guys, Archie Goodwin was one of the best.