By David R. Black
I recently had the privilege of speaking with William Wininski, the writer of DC's early 1970's teen humor book A Date With Debbi.
DRB: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Mr. Wininski.
WW: Please, call me Willy.
DRB: OK, sure. Before we discuss your work as a writer, why not tell us a bit about yourself?
WW: Well, I was born on February 29, 1924 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.....
DRB: So that would've made you 45 years old when A Date With Debbi debuted in 1969.
WW: No, I was only 11 at the time.
DRB: Huh? I thought.....
WW: February 29th only comes around once every four years, so I prefer to think young.
DRB: Uh-huh. So anyway, you were middle aged when you wrote the series. Was it hard for you, writing about the adventures of a teenage girl?
WW: No, not really. My two daughters were 15 and 12 at the time.
DRB: So you'd pump them for story ideas?
WW: No, not directly. They weren't too receptive to the idea. Remember, Debbi was a high seller for DC at the time. We even got a spin-off four months after issue #1 hit the stands.
DRB: Yes, Debbi's Dates.
WW: That's right. Anyhow, I didn't want the whole country to read about my girls' exploits, so what I did was when they had their friends over, I'd eavesdrop on their conversations. My office (I worked from home) was located adjacent to their bedrooms, and whenever they were talking, I just pressed my ear to the wall and listened.
DRB: And the stories you wrote were based on your daughters' friends?
WW: Right. Remember "Heidi's Homeroom Hijinks"?
DRB: Who doesn't? It was in the extremely popular eighth issue.
WW: We sold twice as many copies because of that story. The lead character was based on Heidi Swenson, my oldest daughter's best friend. Well, she was her best friend up until the issue saw print, anyway. Never heard a peep about her afterwards.
DRB: Wow! So the scene with the dead frogs and peanut butter actually happened?
WW: Based on what I heard, yes. The issue sold well, but we took a lot of heat over it.
DRB: The Comics Code Authority refused to approve it, right?
WW: Yes. In those days, we couldn't do anything without their approval. My editor, Abner Sundell, fought them tooth and nail. He had the artist, I can't remember who it was anymore, re-do a few panels, and the CCA grudgingly gave their approval.
DRB: Even today, the controversy from the story remains. In his decision to pulp last year's Elseworlds 80 Page Giant, Paul Levitz cited "Heidi's Homeroom Hijinks" as one of the reasons. I remember him saying that "DC will not create another dead frog-peanut butter scandal."
WW: I didn't know that.
DRB: There was another controversy involving one of your stories, right? Issue #4 of Debbi's Dates......
WW: Yes, the issue where Neal Adams did some of the art. Just as it was ready to go to the printers, Abner called me up and said we needed a quick fill-in story. Confused, I asked why. He said that Carmine Infantino [DC's editorial director at the time] had some problems with Neal's art.
DRB: Problems? With Adams' art?
WW: Yeah. Carmine said that the art was too good. Neal had made Debbi too sexy looking, and that was a no-no. Nothing against good looking women or anything, but Carmine couldn't allow Debbi to compete with Wonder Woman. He thought that hormonal teenage boys would stop buying Wonder Woman, switch over to buying Debbi......
DRB: And sales of Wonder Woman would drop.
WW: Right, and we couldn't have that, could we? That's why Neal's contributions to the issue were turned into the illustrated text story that saw print. Abner was pretty mad, and to make matters worse, Carmine took Neal off the book and put him on another.
DRB: Neal Adams would've been the regular artist on Debbi's Dates?
WW: That's right. Never happened though. Carmine put him on either Green Lantern or Green Arrow, I can't remember which.
DRB: Green Lantern/Green Arrow? Wait, what month was this?
WW: I'm not sure, but it was in early 1970.
DRB: That's incredible! With Neal's art and Denny O'Neil's scripts, Green Lantern/Green Arrow went on to become a classic! The realistic look at drug abuse, racial issues....
WW: Carmine said Neal's more "realistic" version of Debbi wasn't cartoony enough for the book's feel. He told Neal that if he wanted to do realism, he had the perfect series in mind.
DRB: Wow! We owe those classic GA/GL tales to Debbi's Dates!
WW: That's right.
DRB: Was Neal's departure responsible for the fill-in art you did in the following issue?
WW: <laughter> I can't believe anyone remembers that! But yes, Neal did art for the next issue [#7] that was also scrapped. We were in a pickle, so I pencilled and wrote a seven page fill-in featuring Debbi's cat!
DRB: "Angel the Wonder Cat!" Vince Colleta inked it.
WW: <laughter> And even he couldn't make it look good! And that's saying something!
DRB: We've gotten a bit off track here, so tell me: What are your favorite stories from either of the two Debbi series?
WW: Probably "Through the Mirror," where Debbi meets Josie, the red headed gal from Archie Comics. I had fun playing on all their similarities. Freckles, the goofy boys they dated.....
DRB: I bet the lawyers at DC and Archie didn't like it though. There were talks of a lawsuit. Accusations that Debbi was just a "female clone" of Archie.
WW: And Josie isn't? <laughs> Seriously though, the lawyers were just looking for another Captain Marvel-Superman spat to make it look like they were worth their keep. We had very friendly relations with the staff at Archie.
DRB: Any other favorites?
WW: The Superman guest appearance story turned out pretty good. I was originally against the idea. You know, Superman belongs in the DC Universe, Debbi doesn't. Debbi was in her own universe, the Debbi-verse I called it, and shouldn't have been crossing into the mainstream superhero books. It could've ruined everything I had been building towards. But by the end, when Superman plants a super-kiss on Debbi, I no longer had any reservations.
DRB: So it all worked out? No regrets?
WW: Not at all. Besides, as it turned out, writing Superman turned out to be fun. Is his super-kiss power still in continuity? Have other writers used my idea?
DRB: Ummm, I don't think so, but rumor has it that it'll be coming back soon. Once the writers re-introduce Beppo the Super Monkey and Silver Kryptonite. As we wrap this up, what are you up to now? Any plans for returning to the comics industry?
WW: No, not really. I'm content in my retirement. I recently submitted a proposal to DC for a new Debbi series, but it was turned down. The powers-that-be said that Grant Morrison already has plans for her.
DRB: Yes, in his Vertigo revamp of Swing With Scooter. The latest buzz says that Scooter will be a recovering drug addict, and Debbi will be his prostitute/love interest.
WW: Quite sad, really.
DRB: Yeah, the era of the teeny-bopper is long over. Thanks for your time, Willy.
WW: The pleasure was mine.
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
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