Man in Black
updated 10/13/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/13/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT
In the modest Knoxville, Tenn., townhouse he shares with fiancée Dorothy Tompkins, a microbiologist, Cunningham sleeps easy. Over the past five years he has been living frugally (save for the fridge and two computers) off the low "six-figure sum" he received from Columbia Pictures for the MIB idea. He now has a five-year contract with Marvel Comics to bring Men in Black back to print, plus a deal with Columbia Tristar Television that puts Men into the WB Network's Saturday morning cartoon lineup on Oct. 11.
Cunningham, the son of an accountant and a state office worker, was a philosophy major at the University of Tennessee when a buddy told him of the belief, held in some UFO circles, that there exists a secret government agency ferreting out aliens among us. He sent an outline to a small California publisher and went on to write six comic books over the next two years.
Cunningham—a skeptic of the MIB theory—believes the continuing popularity of J and K reflects a desire for security. "It's satisfying to think there's someone out there who's in control," he figures. On the other hand, who's to say the MIB are totally fiction? "When I was a teenager, there was Watergate, so I understand paranoia."