Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tales of Michael Ellis & Ted P. Skimmer

The magical world of comic books is filled with innumerable mysteries, both major and minor. Over the last few weeks, I've played a bit part in solving two of the minor ones. This is that story.

I am currently working on putting together a lengthy run of the original Justice League of America series. To complement this, I've also completed the 8 issue Index series put together by Murray Ward for ICG/Eclipse back in the 1980s. Thanks to the virtues of good timing, it covers the entire original run of the book, complete with tryouts and special issues. Since I'm not worried about the relaunched Justice League book that began in 1987, this is perfect for my needs.

During my perusal of the index issues, I noticed that Justice League of America #255 had a bit of an oddball credit. The plot was from Gerry Conway (his last involvement with the comic he wrote for more issues than anyone else), but the scripter was one "Michael Ellis". The text indicated that this was a pseudonym, but did not identify the writer in question. Considering that the issue was still relatively recent at the time of publication, I wasn't surprised by this. I figured the Internet would clue me in immediately.

As it turned out, I was wrong. All my search initially yielded was more questions about who "Michael Ellis" really was. That is, until I found the Amazon blog of J. M. DeMatteis. In the comments section of an entry about his new work The Life and Times of Savior 28, he makes this statement :

...and that's why I decided to use the "Michael Ellis" pen name [for Captain America #300]. (The name, by the way, comes from a Monty Python sketch and was suggested by Mark Gruenwald.)

Well. That certainly put a different spin on things. It was especially interesting because the only credits for a "Michael Ellis" on the GCD were that issue of Captain America and the JLA book. Plus, DeMatteis took over as full writer for the League with #256 and shepherded the book through its finale (setting up his far more memorable run on the relaunch with Keith Giffen).

I put the knowledge I had gained up on the GCD mailing list, and fellow member Allen Ross took the initiative to ask Mr. DeMatteis directly on his blog. You can read that exchange on this entry. As you will see, Mr. DeMatteis confirms that he was "Michael Ellis" in both instances. That knowledge has since been added to the GCD's entry on the comic.

I was pretty proud that I had helped unearth this little bit of secret knowledge. Little did I suspect I was about to do it again!

A few days later, I was reading some of my new JLA comics, and noticed a letter from a "Ted P. Skimmer". This rang a bell for me, and I was reminded that Ted later was putting together the lettercolumns for the JLA book and other DC titles. However, unlike others in that position, he hadn't really gone on to do a lot besides lettercols. Tamsyn O'Flynn had put together a decent number of writing credits after breaking in doing lettercolumns; Ted only had (as far as I could find) ONE. Whatever happened to Ted P. Skimmer?

As I again fired up the Google Search, there was something nagging at the back of my memory that I couldn't put my finger on. Then I found an answer, but it wasn't quite what I'd expected...

Bob Rozakis worked for DC Comics in a variety of capacities for a number of years. More recently, he masterminded a series called "Secret History of All-American Comics" that appeared in Alter Ego and Back Issue magazines. It proposed an interesting "alternate reality" wherein, among other things, Flash and Green Lantern became the iconic multi-media stars, rather than Superman and Batman. This fun little exercise in "What If?" led me to this particular entry on Mr. Rozakis' blog during my search for Ted.

Why? The entry jogged my memory of where I had seen Ted's name before my lettercolumn nostalgia : many installments of the "Secret History" were built around interviews with AA Comics staffer Ted P. Skimmer! At the time, I just brushed it off as my comics-filled mind playing tricks on me. Now I had seen for myself that the names were identical. What's more, something about Bob's wording turned on the proverbial light bulb over my head. In fact, it was just one word that explained so much.


The Ted in the "Secret History" segments was obviously fictional. But if Ted P. Skimmer had also been a real person working for DC, Bob wouldn't have gone to such lengths to concoct details for a fake Ted. There would surely have been an acknowledgment of the REAL Ted P. Skimmer somewhere. Unless...unless there was NO SUCH PERSON as "Ted P. Skimmer" at all!

You can read the rest in the comments section of that entry and in Bob's follow-up to my question, "Ted P. Skimmer and Me". As it turns out, Bob Rozakis himself had been the "real" Ted P. Skimmer in those old comics, and had dusted off the old pseudonym for the "Secret History". And apparently, I'm the first person that put two and two together about the truth. Wild.

(There's also this amusing footnote.)

Neither of these are earth-shaking revelations, but I feel really good knowing that I've added a small bit of knowledge to comic book history.


Enik1138 said...

Ted Skimmer also appears as a character in V #8, published by DC Comics in 1985, written by Bob Rozakis! I discovered it while doing my study of the issue on my website, PopApostle. You can read the study at this link if you're interested:

C. Elam said...

Haha, wow, thanks for the info and the link. I only read the first issue of DC's "V" series, so I totally missed that. Great find!