Trevor Von Eeden speaks out on 40 years in the industry

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Comics were a wonderful, colorful world of fun and escape for me, and since I’ve always enjoyed reading (my first great love), I’d devour both words and pictures with immense delight. It was almost impossible to believe that those fun little booklets were actually created by grown, adult human beings—real people, just like myself! I thought at the time that they must’ve been some pretty wonderful folks to actually be around—much less BE! I knew that the people I saw on the big screen at the movies were just actors, playing a part in whatever scenario, comic, tragic, or dramatic, that was being enacted—but the people who actually wrote and drew comic books (and the newspaper strips) seemed to be able to create their colorful, entertaining, wonderfully larger than life fantasies completely by themselves—with just an ordinary, blank piece of paper to start with! The whole experience of discovering and reading comics was a truly magical one to my young, impressionable 8 year old mind. A feeling that lasted well into the next few decades, all the way into my young adulthood, and beyond! But I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit here…

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Besides being a wonderful stimulant to my mind, and creative imagination, comics also stimulated my desire to draw (moreso than write—my literary tastes ran more to the classics that I’d been exposed to in my classes at school.) Drawing was originally inspired by the visions in my head put there by the many books I’d read—the best writing is the most visually inspired, I believe—and my desire to see on paper what I’d only seen inside of my head. That childhood pastime grew into a full-fledged mania, bordering on obsession, by the time I’d arrived in the U.S., and been exposed to the vast universe of American comics contained in the expansive collections of my best friends in Junior High, and High School—Perry Perez, and Albert Simonson. I spent the majority of my time in classes after that doodling and practicing drawing in the margins of my notebooks (faces and figures were fun—hands, and especially feet, the most difficult.) I’ve always loved the hugely imaginative fantasy, and unabashedly exaggerated, larger-than-life sensibilities and adventures that I found in the comics pages (no coincidence that my first comics were Kirby/Lee productions!) I devoured any and all of ’em that I could get my insatiably greedy hands and eyes on.

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I got the chance to actually live the dream of being a comics artist myself when one of my best friends, Al Simonson, sent some of my ballpoint drawings to DC for a critique—and a form letter returned, with a handwritten note to “drop by if you’re ever in the neighborhood” at the bottom. Two seconds later (just kidding…it was actually five… 🙂 I appeared at the Midtown Manhattan reception desk of the DC Comics offices, which were conveniently 45 minutes away by subway, from my home in the Bronx (back in those pre-9/11 days, anyone would just walk into DC Comics, right off the streets.) They noticed the color of my skin, along with the quality of my 16 year old scribblings, and decided to have me pencil the adventures of their first ever original black super-hero, Black Lightning—
Black Lightning was DC Comics’ first African-American hero with his own title (1976)
Black Lightning was DC Comics’ first African-American hero with his own title (1976)
coincidentally then in the works. I eventually received co-creator credit for co-designing BL’s original costume (along with editor Jack C. Harris, and Tony Isabella—who had initially created the character, and his powers) along with drawing the first 11 issues of his debut series. So at 16, going on 17 (as the song goes) I became DC Comics first black artist, as well as the youngest they’d ever hired (don’t know if that record’s still existent today), with co-creator credit for their first black super-hero on my resume, to boot! For the record, the black GL knock-off John Stewart had debuted a short time previously—but Black Lightning was DC Comics’ first original black super-hero—and the first to have his own book/title. I’d just started my freshman year at Columbia University after graduating from Brooklyn Tech H.S., and the DC management eventually called me into their offices, to tell me pointedly that they’d like me to quit school, and work full-time for them. Needless to say, this was not a prospect at all unpleasant to me, so I officially withdrew from Columbia U. (with an offer to return at any time) and devoted my energies whole-heartedly to my exciting new venture in life. Btw, over two decades later, in 2003, I did indeed return to Columbia, in order to take a few classes I thought would help hone my skills in writing my first book, “The Original Johnson” click to continue

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