10 Surprising Stories From George R.R. Martin About His Connection To Comic Books

George RR Martin made an appearance at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 but not for the reason most fans would think. While “Game of Thrones” has rocketed Martin to a level of fame rare for authors, his body of work stretches over four decades. Two of those have recently been turned into graphic novels with Avatar Comics. 

“In The House Of The Worm” was illustrated by Ivan Rodriguez and adapted by Jon Joseph Miller. The story is set far, far future and our sun is finally going out. A small remnant of humanity is left and they”ve retreated into an underground bunkers, living a hedonistic lifestyle of leisure while tunnels below them are lost in darkness. Martin describes it as “A baroque horror almost.”

“Skin Trade” is a horror framework housing a hard-boiled noir story. A female private detective werewolf living and working in a decaying Mid-Western town. 

But while Martin was on hand to talk about these adaptations, the real story was in his anecdotes about growing up on comic books.

Image Credit: Avatar Press

#1 – He was the first comic book fan.

“I am actually the first comic book fan, I think. In 1964 the first Comic-Con in New York City in  Greenwich Village. Thirty people showed up and we met in one room on a Saturday. I was the first one to show up. My badge said #1…so I”m the first comic fan.”

#2 – His childhood in small town New Jersey made him crave a wider world.

“You write what you read and I grew up reading sci-fi/fantasy. I was born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey. It”s a blue collar industrial city across from New York Bay. But Bayonne was very much self-contained city despite being close to New York City. We didn”t have much money, we lived in federal housing projects down on 1st Street and I went to public grade school on 5th Street. And that was my world. My world was five blocks long because we never anywhere. We didn”t even have a car. And I think it was hunger for me from a very early age to experience more than those five blocks.”

#3 – He was not a fan of reading at first.

“I learned to read in school of course and in my era you learned to read with ‘readers.” They were full of the adventures of ‘Dick and Jane.” Dick and Jane and their little sister Sally and their dog Spot. This was the dullest family in the history of Earth. And I couldn”t see the charm of reading about Dick and Jane. Oh boy they were boring.”

#4 – Science fiction got finally got Martin interested in books.

“For me, the prose writer who had the most profound effect on me was Robert A. HeinIein read comic books voraciously but I didn”t read BOOK books. […] But then someone gave me a Robert A. Heinlein book ‘Have Space Suit, Will Travel” and suddenly I was going to the moon and to Pluto…with no Dick and Jane. Instead I was with PeeWee and the Mother Thing and fighting Wormfaces and boy I was hooked.”

#5 – His allowance would stretch really far.

“I had an allowance of a dollar a week, which would at the time buy me 10 comic books. And now I wanted to buy these science-fiction books and they cost $.35 so I had to sacrifice three and a half comic books but it was worthwhile. I would buy paperback books off the spinner rack. For years ‘The Puppetmasters” was one of the scariest alien invasion books ever written became my favorite book.”

#6 – He read comic genres growing up that have all put disappeared.

“I was there in the 50s. When I was young, I read all sorts of comics. The superhero comics which were all coming pretty much from DC then. Superman. Batman. The Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. But of course I was reading other types of comics. Comics in those days were much more varied then they became in subsequent decades. The superhero comics were there but so were war comics and western comics. Romance comics – those were for the girls though I didn”t want to touch those. I mean there were comic genres that are entirely forgotten today. Hot rod comics which I read voraciously. I was a big fan of hot rods and racing cars because my family was poor and we didn”t own a car so the fantasy of owning a car was very exciting to me.”

#7 – ‘The Fantastic Four #4″ changed his life.

“After I started reading science fiction I stopped buying comics for about a year. And then one day I was at the spinner rack at the Kelly Parkway Candy Store where I got my paperbacks. And right next to it was the comic rack and I noticed this weird looking comic called ‘The Fantastic Four” and it was issue number 4. But it looked sort of interesting. One of the guys on it was a monster yet they seemed to be superheroes of something and it was from some bullshit company that didn”t even have a name but I bought it. So I was right there for the beginning of Marvel renaissance. 

The Fantastic Four was just a revelation for me. Especially in the early issues. They had real conflict. The Thing HATED being the Thing. And there was a real rage in him. When he fought with The Human Torch it was a real fight. It wasn”t friendly bickering between families like it became in later decades, they came to blows. There was a rage in the Thing that was directed a Reed Richards also for not curing him…for getting him into this situation in the first place. There was a sexual tension in the early issues. When they brought in the Sub-Mariner you know, Sue was attracted to him. It was genuine triangle for a few years…would Sue pick Namor or Reed. And you didn”t know what was going to happen because Lee was so unpredictable. The Marvel characters had a depth the DC characters I grew up with didn”t.”

#8 – He owes a lot to Wonder Man.

“I wrote a letter to Marvel [when I was a kid] in praise of ‘The Avengers #9″ issue that introduced Wonder Man. He comes along and he”s really powerful and he joins the Avengers as a new hero and he”s really a plant who”s been sent in to destroy them from within. But then when the crucial time comes he can”t bring himself do to it so he revolts against his evil masters and dies heroically in the same issue they introduced him. And I look back on it now from a distance and think ‘My God the influence over my work is enormous.” He seems to be a hero to the outside world but he”s really a villain. But when it comes to the point where he”s supposed to murder someone he can”t bring himself to do it and he pays the ultimate price for that and dies heroically. And I”ve been stealing from that every since.”

#9 – Even fictional death should feel meaningful.

“Death is a pretty serious business. I remember when I was on a TV show in 80s ‘Beauty and the Beast” and Linda Hamilton was the star and after two seasons she left. It was more dramatic to write her out and bring on a new Beauty [then to end the show]. The network supported us in killing her but wanted us to get past it very quickly. We had a big fight with them about it. The next episode was her funeral and the next 12 episodes was the search for her murderer and Beast”s vengeance but the network was like ‘people don”t want to be sad.” Kill her and never mention her again. Death should hurt just like it does when death happens to us in real life. It”s a gut-wrenching event we can”t easily shrug it aside.

I want my readers to feel emotions. Fiction is about emotion. I want you guys to read my books and laugh and cry and be scared and if the character is in jeopardy I want you to be afraid to turn the next page. And not all the emotions are good ones.”

#10 – The secret of writing is to be a bit of a gambler.

“There”s no secret. You have to write everyday. You have to read widely. That”s one thing I try to hammer home because fans read a lot but they read very narrowly. I also read mystery novels, and historical fiction [and other works]. The more you read the more you see the techniques being used. Read widely and read voraciously and don”t give up.

Writing is not a career for anyone who wants security. You have to be a bit of a gambler.”