This week I sat and chose to answer three fan questions that I get over and over at panels (including this past weekend), so I figured people would really want me to answer these right away on here.
Dear Mr. Cuti,
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Thanks a bunch!
I had always been making up stories, even as a kid, but that was out of necessity. You see I was born in Brooklyn, NY and was a member of an all Jewish gang, with the exception of me, the Sicilian Kid. Our worst enemies were the Italian kids across the street . We had several fights, bloody, but not fatal. Then one day, my parents insisted I go to church and there I found myself surrounded by my worst enemies with none of my friends to back me up. When I saw these kids approaching I smiled and said, "Wanna hear a story?" Everybody loves stories so they listened instead of punching. I became the neighborhood storyteller, but I never considered making it a profession until I joined the Air Force as a Security Policeman. I spent many hours on guard duty and I needed something to read to keep me from going out of my mind. Creepy Magazine was one of my favorites and one day I said, "I can write this." I sent in a story. JIM WARREN, the publisher, published the story. Then I wrote another tale, then another, and Creepy published them all. When I left the service I attended one of the earliest comic book conventions, PHIL SEULING'S New York convention around 1969 where I met WALLY WOOD. We had met before when I picked up one of his portfolios and called him for an interview, but this time he had suggest that I work with him as his assistant. Thus, my career as a comic book writer was off to its start. Since then I've had hundreds of short stories published, penned a handful of screenplays, and written about twenty novels based on science fiction characters, Captain Cosmos, Moonie, and Starflake.
Dear Mr. Cuti,
You have been writing for so many years. What made you choose the science fiction genre over all the other types of genres?
Although I've written stories in several different genres, romance, westerns, horror, and detective mysteries, you are right, my favorite genre is science fiction, especially, space opera. The reason is because one of the first shows I ever saw on television when I was a kid, was Captain Video and his Video Rangers, starring AL HODGE and DON HASTINGS. Later I became a fan of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet starring FRANKIE THOMAS. There was actually a series of books based on the show. I collected all eight and read them voraciously. Then there were the eleven Tom Corbett comic books produced by Dell. Next was the Space Patrol along with a 35 foot rocket on tour for kids to enter. My mother took me on a surprise visit to see the rocket Terra IV and I talked about it for weeks. All those shows were done live with very poor production values but along came Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and an era of TV shows, shot on film, was born. My own series, Captain Cosmos starring myself, is my wish fulfillment to become a space opera hero. I may never be listed among the lexicon of great fictional starship captains, but I hope, someday to at least be a footnote.
Hi Mr. Cuti,
What is the best story you have ever written? What is the worst?
In all honesty, I've never been asked a more difficult question. As I've mentioned I've written hundreds of stories, of varying degrees of quality. Some are favorites while others I look upon with a shudder. Glancing back, only when I'm forced to, I try to forge ahead to my next story. Okay, you've forced me to return to my past, so I will.
For a story which holds up well and is satisfying, I would have to pick "Cilia" from Vampirella #16, illustrated by FELIX MAS. It is told in the third person, a style I have never used before or since, from the point of view of a young sailor who had survived a sea disaster, along with his captain. Since he was delirious from his injuries, he is forced to investigate, after his rescue, how he and his captain were able to survive so long being set adrift at sea. He discovers they were cared for by a strange, but beautiful sea creature, Cilia, who is only half human. Months later, after his recovery, the young sailor encounters strange stories concerning the captain's new wife, Cilia. He then becomes a witness in the terrible tragedy where Cilia is executed by the suspicious villagers and the terrible revenge by Cilia's family. It was the closest I ever came to an H.P. LOVECRAFT story.
My favorite, by way of a complex tale which worked out well was "Twin Burial" illustrated by RALPH REESE. It involves twin sisters, one of them passes away and the surviving sister is so overcome by grief that she takes sleeping pills to relax. Since the wake takes place at their home, the undertakers carry off the live sister by accident, for burial. The tension involves the question if the live sister, now awake in the grave, will be rescued before she runs out of air. She is, only to return to her room and, mistakenly, be taken away a second time by the undertakers. The story was featured in Marvel's Tales of the Zombie #2 and was credited to "Chuck Robinson," a nonexistent person. At the time, I was persona non gratis with Marvel and an unknown person came up with the nom de plume of Chuck Robinson.
Now, for my worst. This is much more difficult because in comics there is such a strong contribution from both the writer and artist, to the success of a story. I have seen some of my weakest stories saved by some very fine artwork and have thrown up my hands in disgust when a nice tight story, with strong characters, and a strong plot, is wrecked by indifferent artwork. This happened to me recently but I will not cause problems to the persons involved by identifying the story. Instead, allow me to turn attention to a novel I was writing.
I was working on a Moonie novel and when I was only three chapters to completion, it dawned on me, this is a piece of crap! There was no solid plot, the characters were flat, and I didn't have a cleaver ending. My partner, NAKOMA DeMITRO, was expecting a novel but I did not want to see this one in print. Then I noticed a single chapter in the novel about a pair of gynoid (female version of "android") assassins who are out to kill a professor/scientist of Hades University. I blew up the chapter to fill an entire novel and everything fell neatly into place, including the ending. The novel is "Moonie meets the Sweet Assassins," and is among my favorite Moonie novels. So, can I apply the unwritten novel as my worst story?