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June 20, 2009

OP-ED: Talk of Punisher with Gregg Hurwitz --- And A Contest Where His Writing Worlds Collide

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I still remember the morning I got the call. Axel Alonso, the executive editor at Marvel, had asked the question, but my mouth was still hanging open. “Well?” he said.

I rewound in my head. Axel had just asked if I wanted to write the first Punisher arc after Garth Ennis ended his legendary six-year run on the title. Garth had redefined the character, brought Frank Castle blazing into the 21st century. It was from reading Garth’s work on the character that I’d first realized, years before Marvel rang me up, what comics could do. And that they might be something that I’d want to write instead of just read.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Of course I want to.”

“You got any ideas for the arc?”

“About 20 years’ worth.”

I was a Punisher kid, you see. That first miniseries? I remember when it hit stands; I remember the owner of the shop where I played foosball and bought comics telling me, “You gotta read this dude. He’s like a hero and a villain all at once and he’s not afraid to waste guys.” It was my favorite book by a mile. The first appearance in Spiderman, the unlimited series, the blip into Captain America, the Daredevil romps—I bought them all. I started my career in the book world writing thrillers and in hindsight, it’s amazing how much those early Punisher tales influenced the themes I love to work with—vigilante justice, vengeance, the sundering of family.

When I attended my first Comic-Con as a creator (highlight: playing softball for Marvel in the annual DC rivalry game), I was walking the vast floor when I spotted a foosball table on display by a comic book booth. Never one to pass up a game, I went over, waited my turn, and played. Eventually the owner showed up, dropped in the ball, and we played a good, hard match.
I thanked him after and walked off. I’d gotten halfway up the aisle when the lightbulb went off. I walked back. “Are you Phil,” I asked, “who used to own a comic book store called Heroes?” He looked nonplussed, but he nodded.
I said, “You’re the guy who introduced me to the Punisher when I was a kid. You sold me my first issue. And now I’m here writing the title for Marvel—and it’s all thanks to you.”
That was probably the best part of my trip to San Diego that year.

I pitched Girls in White Dresses as The Seven Samurai—except Frank is all seven samurai. In the arc, I introduce a mystery at the outset, an instinct I brought in from writing thrillers. There’s a strong suspense element to the story, some investigative beats, and all the mayhem one would expect from a Punisher tale. I was grateful for a chance at the title that had meant so much to me as a kid. The only drawback was that I couldn’t read my favorite comic book anymore; I was writing it!