Why anyone would want to know anything at all about Christopher Priest is a mystery to Christopher Priest. However, since people won't stop asking for a bio of Christopher Priest, Christopher Priest has found a moment in a bizarrely busy day to hack one out off the top of Christopher Priest's head.
James Priest was born James Christopher Owsley in 1961 in Queens
New York. He grew up in New York with his mother, Lillie Mae, and his
sister Debra. When he was ten years old he asked his mother for a
typewriter, the typical and obvious request of a ten year-old. His mom got
him a Royal portable manual typewriter, which Priest proceeded to ruin by typing it to death.
Priest was a geek. He stayed in his room and wrote all day long. He lived
in his own Mark Waid-style fantasy world. He was a big Legion fan. He
wrote almost exclusively super-hero fiction and science fiction. He always
wanted to be in comics. Not so much as a writer but as the guy who HIRED
the writer. He'd later find out that guy was called an "editor."
In 1976 Priest enrolled in the New York School of Media Arts on West 49th
Street in earshot of Hell's Kitchen. He was a so-so student, interested
mostly in music, art, and his super-heroes. In his senior year, Priest
entered the city's Executive High School Internship Program. He applied to
three law firms and to Marvel Comics. He blew off all the law firm
appointments, but showed up at Marvel on June 6, 1978 with a class project
in hand— a comic book he wrote and drew (yes, drew).
Priest beat out three other candidates for the internship at Marvel, and
started working there in the fall of 1978. He mostly made Xeroxes of Tomb
of Dracula. No, almost exclusively Tomb of Dracula.
Marvel was run by some new guy named Shooter. Stan Lee actually worked in
the office, and Priest benefited from many meetings and 1-on-1 bull
sessions with Stan The Man (with whom he is still friendly today). John
Romita Jr. was the key operator for the Xerox machine. Marie Severin was
the art director. Dave Cockrum was the cover editor. Editors Al Milgrom,
Dennis O'Neil, Ralf (The Waste) Macchio, Mark Gruenwald and others were
his torturers, and he learned a lot from them.
His mentors included Larry Hama, who Priest worked directly for as
assistant editor (first on CRAZY Magazine, and then on the CONAN books).
O'Neil (Priest's drill instructor/abuser on POWER MAN & IRON FIST),
Shooter (15 Drafts of the Captain America Graphic Novel), and Roger Stern,
the most patient guy in comics, who allowed Priest to hover over him
asking endless questions.
It was the greatest job in the world, a special time when the House of
Ideas absolutely earned the title.
In 1984, Priest was promoted to full editor at the age of 22, becoming (as
far as he knows) the first African American editor for a major U.S. comics
publisher. He was put in charge of the SPIDER-MAN books because, at an
editorial meeting, none of the other editors stepped forward to take them.
Also that year, Priest sold a script (one of his first) for a FALCON
1-shot, and Shooter gave it to some new kid named Paul Smith. When the
pencils came back, everybody in the office fell over themselves gawking at
Smith's pencils, but nobody read the story. So Smith got discovered but
Priest also collaborated with another new guy, some kid named Dan Jurgens,
on one of Jurgens' first jobs (an issue of DAREDEVIL). Jurgens left Priest
in the dust (but at least calls every now and then).
Shooter commissioned three more FALCON stories, teamed Priest with some
OTHER new guy named Mark (now M.D. or "Doc") Bright, and the two
of them hammered out Priest's first published work, the FALCON LIMITED
SERIES. Again, to his knowledge, Priest is the first (1983) African
American published writer in mainstream comics.
After the FALCON, Jim Shooter took Priest down the hall to editor O'Neil
and, literally, told O'Neil that Priest-nee-Owsley would be O'Neil's new
writer on POWER MAN & IRON FIST, which Priest began with issue #111 or
so and wrote until the series ended with #125. Priest was teamed with Doc
Bright, and the two forged an infamous book-killing team that continues to
Priest and Bright have collectively spent $2.5 billion dollars on long
distance charges talking on the phone. They've spent more time on the
phone than two heterosexual men ever should, but they're not a couple.
Editor Larry Hama offered him CONAN THE BARBARIAN, which Priest began with
issue #172 and wrote until he was fired (for reasons still unknown to him)
on or about issue #213. Priest was rescued from poverty by editor Pat
Reading, who offered him CONAN THE KING with issue #50. Priest wrote six
issues until Marvel canceled the title (oddly, without Doc Bright's
involvement) with #56.
Priest and Bright collaborated on SPIDER-MAN v. WOLVERINE #1, a smash
success. Marvel has for whatever reason never done a #2, perhaps out of
respect to Priest and Bright's book-killing record.
Editor Priest-nee-Owsley worked with a lot of new writers and artists,
helping to start the careers of Kurt Busiek, Len Kaminsky, Peter A. David,
Marc Silvestri, Kyle Baker, Mark Beachum, Joe Quesada, Adam Blaustein,
Geoff Isherwood, and others.
*Office Wars (TM)* at Marvel earned Priest an exclusive writing deal which
paid him more money to stay home than he was making coming into the
office, and in 1987 (he thinks) Priest vanished from the Marvel offices in
a swift, bloodless coup d'etat. Editor Jim Salicrup was sitting behind
Priest's glass desk the very next morning (and suddenly, Ned Leeds was the
Priest continued under exclusive contract to Marvel for the next year and
a half or so. Once Shooter left the company, Priest felt it just wasn't
home anymore, and went non-exclusive, following his mentor O'Neil to
(shudder!) DC Comics, a place that had always frightened him. He sent
(then) Editor Bob Greenberger twelve pitches (including something called
AVENGER, which was later cannibalized into THE RAY), and let him know that
he was available for work at DC.
There O'Neil put him on the Green Lantern series in Action Comics weekly,
and stupidly paired him with Bright, sealing the book's doom. Priest also
wrote the 12-issue maxi series THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, for which he was
After ACW folded, O'Neil, Bright and Priest developed a new GL series for
DC, but then *Office Wars (TM)* at DC ended with Andy Helfer, a longtime
Priest pal, taking over the character from O'Neil. O'Neil's approach was
basically Carl Sagan. Helfer's approach was basically Keith Giffen. Priest
spent 13 months re-writing EMERALD DAWN #1 about twelve times and finally
quit the series after he'd plotted issue #2 (the series was successfully
taken over by— Keith Giffen).
Post ED, Priest quit the comics biz and, like Superman in KINGDOM COME,
settled into a quiet life far, far away, driving big Greyhound-style buses
for Suburban Transit in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while developing THE
SPOOK, a prestige series, for Director of Development Mike Gold at DC, and
for Hamm & Kitchens (the original BATMAN film) in Hollywood.
In 1990, Gold offered Priest-nee-Owsley an editorship at DC, which Priest
promptly and politely declined. But Gold was persistent, and Priest had
recently married and thought it was probably a good idea to get a cushy
desk job so his butt could spread wider than a Volvo (which it did).
Gold ran a department at DC that intrigued Priest, the Development Group.
This was where DC tried out new formats, new ideas, new lines, and it
provided Priest the opportunity to stretch creatively.
Priest came to work at DC Comics in June of 1990 and began by hanging a
huge poster of Malcolm X holding a machine gun over his desk. He shared an
office with editor Brian Augustyn and assistant editor Kim Yale, neither
of whom quite knew what to make of Priest.
Priest brought his high back leather chair from Marvel, along with an
elegant desk lamp and a Macintosh computer. In those days, computers were
as rare as blacks at Republican conventions, and there was some anxiety
about the new guy with the nice chair and the computer.
DC Executive Vice President and Publisher Paul Levitz seemed to enjoy the
new nutty editor, and spent a lot of after-hours time with Priest talking
philosophy, politics, comics, and ways to make the market more inclusive
of women and minorities. Levitz and Priest enjoy a friendship that endures
in spite of Priest's repeated online jabs at the company.
At DC Priest inherited some new stories written by DC veteran Jack C.
Harris, and became convinced Harris would be perfect for a re-vamp of THE
RAY, a project Priest had mentioned to Gold he wanted to get going. Priest
put THE RAY on reserve and called Harris in.
Priest handed Harris a list of available characters and asked him which
one he'd want to work on. Harris immediately chose THE RAY, and the
project began. Priest pitched his AVENGER idea to Harris, and Harris
pitched his own concepts to Priest. The amalgam of ideas created the RAY
miniseries, drawn by new guy Joe Quesada. It has also contributed to
ongoing controversy of Who Created The Ray and Priest Stole The Ray From
Harris, etc., all of which was distorted by media accounts and office
politics and all of which Priest deeply regrets.
Priest worked in the Development Group, working on THE RAY, THE QUESTION
QUARTERLY, ARION THE IMMORTAL, SPELLJAMMER, DRAGONLANCE, and developing
CLAW THE UNCONQUERED, a martial arts book he can't remember, and several
other projects (mostly in new formats) that never made it to print. Priest
eventually was put in charge of the IMPACT line of comics for younger
readers (and PLEASE don't put that silly exclamation point in place of the
"I"). He moved into his own office across the hall from the
eerie chain-smokers at VERTIGO, including a calcified Tom Peyer who
wandered the halls aimlessly, frightening Priest.
About the same time, artist Denys Cowan approached Priest to help him
develop a new line of comics targeted to an ethnic plurality. Priest
joined creators Dwayne McDuffie, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle in
developing what would eventually be the MILESTONE comics line. At contract
time, Priest withdrew from the project for personal reasons, and remained
on staff at DC as MILESTONE's in-house liaison.
With the eventual commercial failure of the IMPACT line, and his
detachment from the MILESTONE line, Priest began to look in other creative
directions. His marriage was going down the tubes, so he decided to go
freelance in an effort to spend more time at home with his wife. DC
offered him a new RAY series, this time as writer, and a
book-to-be-named-later, and Priest went home to New Jersey and his (now
ex-wife) where he wrote THE RAY and developed XERO, an original
creator-owned series, for DC.
It was about this time Jim Owsley became Christopher Priest. He never
discusses the true reasons behind his name change, but insists every story
you may have heard about it is absolutely true.
In 1993 Priest had lunch with Editor In Chief Bob Layton of Valiant Comics
and let Bob, a friend of 15 years by that point, know that he was
available to work for Valiant. Bob asked Priest to write up a few sample
scripts on spec, and he'd see. Bob did pick up the check, however.
A few months later, Layton's executive editor offered Priest three issues
of SOLAR: MAN OF THE ATOM, and asked Priest to shake up the stagnant book
by mucking with the status quo. Together, Priest and the exec developed an
ambitious, complex 3-issue arc designed to throw regular SOLAR readers for
a loop, and position Priest for possible regular scribe duty if
negotiations with Dan Jurgens became unproductive.
The approved story was then given to the SOLAR editor, who apparently
wasn't included in much of the earlier discussion and didn't understand at
all the origins the bizarre 3-issue script on her desk.
Priest subsequently moved to Pennsylvania, where he busied himself on
JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE (#18-36) and the RAY (#1-28) series. It was
there he received a phone call from the SOLAR editor informing him that,
because of a scheduling snafu and the upcoming Birthquake event, Priest's
3-issue arc had to be condensed into 2 issues. She allayed Priest's
concerns about the work involved by cheerfully telling him she'd already
re-written the two end chapters into one story and it was already being
The resultant mess was one of the most loathed stories in the SOLAR
series. Adding insult to injury, Priest discovered Valiant staffers had
Xeroxes of his pages taped to their doors, mocking the work and the
writer. The Internet filled up with anti-Priest posts. The door to Valiant
Priest later moved to Colorado Springs, where he lives as he writes these
words. Soon after his arrival, Fabian Nicieza called him to invite him to
pitch material to the New Valiant, something Priest was quite less than
enthused about doing. But Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, and the eerie Tom
Peyer all said Fabian (who was once Priest's whipping boy at Marvel) was
Mr. Okay Guy.
Fabe wanted a buddy book for his new Acclaim comics line, so Priest called
his Power/Fist collaborator Bright who at first declined because of their
book-killing track record (and his commitment to Milestone's ICON). But
Priest persisted, and Bright came up with a buddy concept that later
became the currently shipping QUANTUM & WOODY.
Currently, Priest lives in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, writing
QUANTUM & WOODY, SOLAR: HELL ON EARTH (Fabian's olive branch for
Priest's earlier Solar debacle), XERO (the best book that nobody is
reading) and STEEL (with Denys Cowan). He is developing LEGEND OF THE
BLACK LION for Acclaim, touring off-and-on in support of QUANTUM &
WOODY, and in general not spending nearly as much time chasing women as he
He still talks to Bright too much.
Priest's adventures in the comics trade continue in:
Adventures In The Funnybook Game
Oswald: Why I Never Discuss Spider-Man
The Last Time Priest Discussed Racism In Comics
Milestone: Finally I Was There
The Priest Curse
Good Morning, Mr. Chips
The Last Time Priest Discussed The Viability of Black Characters
Whatever Happened To Quantum & Woody?
Black Panther Series Commentary
The Death of The Black Panther
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of The Crew