This interview was originally published in July, 2007.
I have a horrible confession to make. When I was at a convention looking for somebody to interview, I was actually looking for Kevin Maguire. I did not know what he looked like so I was walking through the artists alley looking at names on the tables and saw a Kevin and immediately went over to introduce myself and ask for an interview.
Kevin Nowlan agreed, but said he had just done a long interview about his career that was now out in the TwoMorrows Publishing Modern Masters series. He asked me to pick it up and try to not ask him the same questions. This was a reasonable request and not unusual either. I usually try my best to avoid asking the same questions as I think one of the goals of an interview is to learn something new about the subject so I was glad Kevin made me aware of the Modern Master’s book on him.
Since Kevin agreed to the interview I felt I ought to go through with it. I was able to pick up the Modern Masters book right at the convention itself and took it home to read it. Little did I realize how great of an artist he was and felt dumb for not knowing who he was before. I came up with questions and did the interview via e-mail. Off to the interview.
Interview with Kevin Nowlan
Kevin Nowlan is a jack of all trades when it comes to comics. He’s known for penciling, inking, lettering, coloring and even color separations. He’s also done a bit of writing. Nowlan is probably best known for his work with Alan Moore on the Jack B. Quick stories within the ABC line of books, but he’s been working in the industry since the early 80s. Kevin answers questions about his early experiences in the industry, his art, Alan Moore, recent Witchblade & X-men work, and more.
Jamie: I imagine there wasn’t a lot of professional comic artists in Nebraska where you grew up. Who was the first comic professional you met?
Kevin Nowlan: No, Nebraska is pretty much a comic artist free zone. I think Gil Kane was the first professional artist I met. The Fantagraphics guys went out to eat with him when I was visiting them in Connecticut. I was too frightened to speak but I hung on his every word.
Later, I saw him again at conventions and inked a couple of stories that he penciled. For a while, I seemed to be his go-to inker at DC. They kept calling me every time he was scheduled to pencil something.
Jamie: I believe you inked both Gil Kane and John Buscema’s last work, which was in the comic Superman: Blood of my Ancestors (what a title, yeech!). Did you feel at all uneasy about inking another artist from the golden/silver age?
Kevin Nowlan: No, but I wasn’t as comfortable inking Buscema’s pencils as I had been with Kane’s. With Buscema, there was less information on the page. The book was in limbo for a year or more after Gil died. He’d penciled the first 24 pages but no one could think of an appropriate replacement penciler. There just aren’t any Gil Kane Juniors out there.
John Buscema seemed to make sense. Their styles couldn’t be more different but the book already resembled a Conan Annual so who better than John Buscema to finish it?
Jamie: Early in your career you worked for Fantagraphics. How did you first meet Gary Groth and work for him?
Kevin Nowlan: I sent them some sample drawings and they published them in The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes. They were just starting to move toward publishing comics so Gary tried to get me involved in one of those projects.
Jamie: What projects was he trying to get you to do?
Kevin Nowlan: A Harlan Ellison story, “Eyes of Dust” and an adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s “Welcome to Hard Times”. Those didn’t work out but “Grimwood’s Daughter” a 5-part back-up story in “Dalgoda” was one of my first assignments. It was written by Jan Strnad. I hope it will be collected one of these days.
Jamie: You said Al Milgom gave you some solid advice on your first work for Marvel. What advice did he give you?
Kevin Nowlan: He warned me about trying to draw faster and encouraged me to just work at drawing better. He said that many of the really fast artists who cut a lot of corners have trouble getting work when times get tough. I took it to heart but I’d still like to pick up a little speed. Some of my favorite artists work or worked incredibly fast: Owen Fitzgerald, Kirby, Buscema, Byrne.
Jamie: When you draw normal people they end up looking much more ‘real’ than the standard superhero comic artist. Where did you learn to add in those very human looking flaws to the characters and do them well?
Kevin Nowlan: I try to imagine how the characters and settings would look if they were real so that I’m not doing a new version of someone else’s drawing. Then I exaggerate the proportions or gestures or expressions to give the drawing a little punch. But I like to start with reality. For instance, when I was a kid I copied Superman drawings by Curt Swan and put the little parallel lines under Superman’s shoulder even though I didn’t really understand what they were. Later, I tried to draw a shoulder by looking at the way the deltoids connect with the triceps instead of just repeating someone else’s abstraction. But I never like to get too clinical about it. Those things evolve as you work on them until eventually you have your own abstraction.
Jamie: Another thing I really admire is your ability to draw detailed facial expressions. Do you have people pose for you and take pictures for reference?
Kevin Nowlan: I’ve done that before but I don’t make a habit of it. It depends upon the requirement of the job. I vacillate between realism and exaggeration. I went through a phase where I was taking lots of photos for reference. Nowadays I’m more likely to make stuff up and if it doesn’t look right at first I’ll keep sketching until it does.
Jamie: You mentioned in your Modern Masters interview that you go to the library to get reference material on things. Are you still doing that today or does Google take care of that?
Kevin Nowlan: Yeah, Google is a lot faster. You can find 50 photos of fire hydrants in two minutes. But there are still things that you’re more likely to find at the library.
Jamie: You were working when comics were printed on newsprint. Today the printing process is much different and comics are generally printed on much better paper. How did the upgrade in production qualities change the way you work?
Kevin Nowlan: It’s easier to be subtle now. The printing isn’t just better, it’s more consistent. Letterpress ink could look great or it could be run light and you’d lose half the color. The art has to be a little more refined than it did on newsprint. You see everything, whereas newsprint would soften the images up a bit.
Jamie: I have to wonder, your work in comics is often short stories, pin ups, inking and so on, all over the place. Do you make your living on comics alone or do you have outside work?
Kevin Nowlan: Mostly comics. I do a few commercial jobs from time to time but nothing steady.
Jamie: You spoke to Alan Moore on the telephone over the Jack B. Quick work for the ABC line. What was he like?
Kevin Nowlan: He was terrific. I had a little trouble with his accent but I got most of it. He was also surprisingly open to any of my concerns or preferences.
Jamie: You are the co-creator of Jack B. Quick. What did you contribute to the character?
Kevin Nowlan: The visuals. I don’t think Alan had anything specific in mind for the appearance of the main characters. Or if he did, he didn’t share it with me. It wasn’t until the third or fourth story that he described what someone would look like, and that was a secondary character, Mr. Murk from the Dairy.
Jamie: Will there be any new stories with the Jack B. Quick character?
Kevin Nowlan: There will if Alan decides to write them. I don’t know what his plans are but I don’t see much point in doing a Jack story without him.
Jamie: In X-Men First Class Special, you gave Jean Gray the smallest boobs I’ve seen on female superhero in a very long time. Did that sail through without any uh.. suggestions from editors?
Kevin Nowlan: Yes. The editors, Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby were as
obliging and supportive as any I’ve worked for, almost to a fault. I think I needed someone to step in and point out that I’d drawn Jean Grey way too thin on the cover. But I was trying to suggest that all the characters were young, barely out of their teens. I think I was more successful with Bobby and Hank on the story inside. For some reason, exaggeration seems to work better when you’re drawing males. But females come in different shapes and sizes. I’m trying to avoid drawing them like they all have the same bodies.
Jamie: You’ve been inking Witchblade over different pencilers lately; Matt Haley, Stephen Sadowski, and Rick Leonardi. Are you supposed to keep it all looking similar?
Kevin Nowlan: No. I don’t think that would be possible. They’re three very different artists.
Jamie: Are you inking on paper or doing it on computer?
Kevin Nowlan: On paper.
Jamie: How many more issues of Witchblade are you doing?
Kevin Nowlan: Three.
Jamie: You have also worked with DRAW! magazine showing penciling and inking. Do you have any desire to teach comic art?
Kevin Nowlan: I’ve thought about that a little. In the right situation I think it could work.
Jamie: In your Modern Masters interview, you mentioned wanting to do a complete Graphic Novel. Are you any closer to doing that?
Kevin Nowlan: I hope so. The Man-Thing graphic novel is back in my hands now and I’m hoping I can clear my plate and finish the remaining pages later this year.
Jamie: Was that supposed to one of those thin 80s Graphic Novels with Steve Gerber?
Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con. Tony is holding his just awarded Inkpot award.
This Interview was done via e-mail and was originally published in May of 2000. I decided to bring it back now due to the news of a Black Lightning TV series. Tony was one of the first comic creators I got to “know” via online when I joined the internet. He wrote a Tony’s Online Tips column and posted frequently on usenet (and old pre web browser based message board of sorts). Tony had actually requested letters for X-Files (Topps) on usenet and I was one that replied. I got a number of them published in the Topps X-Files series, particularly towards the end of the series.
I should also note that Tony stopped doing Tony’s Online Tips back in 2010. He currently writes a blog and you should probably read his Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning Facts in regards to some of the things he says here in regards to the character.
If you read Comic Buyers Guide or visit Tony’s Online Tips, you already know who Tony Isabella is. For those that don’t, he’s a long time writer who has also been an editor and comic shop owner. He has recently been getting some freelance work and he is here to tell us about his work, his past and some things he’s involved with outside of comics.
Jamie: What do you do differently that separates you from most comic writers?
Tony Isabella: I don’t know; maybe my deodorant isn’t strong enough.
Jamie: Which method of writing do you use most and prefer? “Marvel Style” or full script?
Tony Isabella: I’ve been using full script almost exclusively for several years because that’s what was requested by the artist or required by the editor. However, I went with “Marvel Style” on my MARVEL COMICS: DAREDEVIL story with Eddy Newell because a) I wanted to make sure I still remembered how to do it, and b) Eddy and I wanted to show we could do it. However, I should point out that my plots are fairly detailed. They even include some dialogue.
I don’t have a strong preference for one method over another. I’m adaptable to the needs of the story, the needs of the artist, and the needs of the client.
Jamie: I know you’re doing a Daredevil one-shot. When is it coming out and what is it about?
Tony Isabella: It’s one of six “Marvels Comics” one-shots; these are the comic books published within the Marvel Universe itself. They come out at the end of May. Ours features a Daredevil unlike any you’ve seen. Eddy has done his usual magnificent best to make me look good. And that’s all you’re getting out of me.
I think that a reader spending $2.25 for a comic book deserves to experience all the surprises within that comic book first-hand and not after having already read about them elsewhere. I’m proud of this story; I want my readers to get all they can out of it.
Jamie: In the May edition of Gauntlet Magazine you tell a story about Jim Shooter nixing a Ghost Rider story you wrote which had some religious elements in it. Do you think he did that because he wasn’t religious himself?
Tony Isabella: I think he did it mostly because he could, although I was also told at the time that he was an agnostic and the story offended him. I think if you look at interviews from creators who were working at Marvel at the time–I left for DC shortly after he came on staff–you’ll see a picture of an arrogant guy who didn’t really know too much about the Marvel Universe. He certainly never grasped that he was trampling on the conclusion of a two-year story approved and supported by three previous editors.
Jamie: Do you have any other stories that didn’t make it to Gauntlet that you can share here?
Tony Isabella: I think I covered the Ghost Rider stuff pretty thoroughly in that article. As for other stories, heck, I’ve got lots of them…and if I keep writing a daily online column I’ll probably get to them all by next Thursday.
Jamie: Do you have any new work you can announce yet?
Tony Isabella: Sadly, no. I don’t like to announce stuff until I’ve finished it and been paid for it. I do have a project awaiting a contract, various proposals being looked at by various editors, and a number of characters and concepts I’m developing.
However, out on the stands now is the first chapter of the three- issue back-up serial I wrote for Claypool’s ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK #83-85. It’s a little ditty called “Better Read Than Dead.” It’s sort of a parable for our times involving Elvira, a library bookmobile, and a censorious group called Protect Our Old People.
It was a very satisfying story to write.
Jamie: You’ve been doing daily columns at Tony’s Online Tips for a long time. Do you think your column is responsible for you getting your recent assignments?
Tony Isabella: I think it’s certainly helped. It keeps my name out there before the readers and those editors savvy enough to appreciate/understand online promotion. And it’s also been a useful tool for promoting the assignments I get.
Case in point: CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY’S TORCH, the novel I wrote with Bob Ingersoll. It had the best sell-through of any of the Marvel novels to that point; an impressive number of copies were sold through my website via Amazon Books.
Jamie: In your column, you are a big booster of Archie Comics. Why?
Tony Isabella: I honestly enjoy their titles. The late Frank Doyle was one of the best comic-book writers in the history of our industry. George Gladir has done many excellent scripts as well. And Craig Boldman has turned JUGHEAD into one of my favorite comics.
I also think the rest of the industry can learn a lot from Archie Comics. Their characters are among the most visible in comics and I’ve found their digest magazines in nearly every supermarket I’ve ever visited.
Their comics are wholesome reading for younger readers, though I’d like to see more variation in the body types and skin colors of the high school students.
Finally, Archie serves a segment of the comics-reading public that is generally ignored by all other publishers and most direct market retailers. I think they can attract new readers to our stores and to a lifelong love of comics.
Jamie: With Tony’s Online Tips, you do a lot of comic-book reviews. How many comic books get sent to you per week or month?
Tony Isabella: I’ve never kept a strict count, but it’s over 300 items a month. I try to read as many as I can, but I have to set aside some time to actually write the columns…and to take care of my kids…and to answer interview questions.
Jamie: What comics do you buy on a regular basis?
Tony Isabella: Very few. Mostly stuff I don’t get sent for free and off-brand titles that seem interesting. I do buy extra copies of everything I write because my relatives are much too cheap to buy copies for themselves.
Jamie: Okay, I’m going to spill the beans. You were the secret “Deep Postage” compiler of The X-Files letters pages for Topps Comics. I understand there were quite a few behind the scenes problems doing those comics. Can you tell us some stories about the problems you faced?
Tony Isabella: The basic problem was that whoever was approving the comics over in Chris Carter Land were the poster kids for anal retentiveness. Although it’s possible that they were so picky because they never wanted the comics out there in the first place.
The main reason the comics fell behind schedule was because it took so long to satisfy the X-Files people. They went over *everything* with a fine-tooth comb, including the letters columns.
After I had written a couple of letters pages, I started writing them 50-75% longer than Topps could actually fit into the issues. That way, after the X-Files folks made their cuts, Topps still had enough to fill the pages. This also saved me from having to return to completed columns and add additional material.
I rarely ran negative letters in these columns because the editors were afraid that the X-Files people would want even more changes in the material. Almost from the start, there were never enough useable letters for our needs. That’s why I started including the “Deep Postage” news items…and making up letters completely.
I also wrote the Xena letters columns, but those were a lot easier to produce.
Jamie: Do you know why Topps Comics stopped publishing comic books?
Tony Isabella: Given the market conditions, falling sales, and the difficulties in producing their best-selling title, which was The X-Files, the company opted to get out of comics for the time being. I hope Topps gets back into comics publishing in the future because they were a terrific client. They paid well. They paid fast. And the people I worked with were very professional.
Jamie: You are best known as the creator of Black Lightning. I was curious what kind of research did you do before creating him?
Tony Isabella: The first series didn’t require much research. Although it was somewhat grittier than other DC super-hero comics of the time, it was still fantasy-based.
The second series was much more realistic. I did research for two years before writing the first issue. I went to Cleveland’s inner city, interviewed all sorts of people, tutored gang kids, and did my best to get it as right as I could without losing the fantastic elements entirely.
Jamie: You have often said that another writer doing Black Lightning would be like crossing the picket line. Why do you feel that way?
Tony Isabella: I’ll try to make this short. I was unfairly fired from the title I created, a title on which I was doing the best work of my career. As far as I’m concerned, this is an ongoing labor dispute between myself and DC and will remain so until they do the right thing by me. Which the company will likely never do.
There’s a lot of history between myself and DC over my creation of Black Lightning. Promises that weren’t kept. The fabrication that the artist of the first series was a co-creator of the character. The failure to promote the use of the character outside the comics industry to any great extent. And so on.
Given all this, my position is that no one other than myself should write Black Lightning. I’m ready and able to write as many Black Lightning comics as DC is willing to publish. They need no other writers for this creation of mine.
Jamie: Some of your fans know you went through a serious period of depression, can you tell us about that?
Tony Isabella: I was diagnosed with clinical depression around the time I was fired from Black Lightning. I probably had it all my life, but it was that event…along with some personal problems in my life which shall remain personal…which triggered self-destructive behavior on my part and convinced me to seek medical help.
I got some therapy. I got some drugs. The first worked well, the second didn’t. Eventually, my therapist and I found other ways for me to deal with my depression. Being here for my kids was the most powerful motivating factor in my improved condition.
I’ll suffer from depression my entire life, but it’s an enemy that I know and that knowledge gives me power over it. There are more than a few graves on which I want to dance; I intend to live long enough to accomplish that modest goal.
Jamie: Outside of comics, you are running for the board of your local (Medina County) Library. Can you tell all the stuff you do that’s involved with that and how is it going?
Tony Isabella: One doesn’t run for a position on the board, one applies. When there are vacancies on the board, they are filled–alternately–by the Medina County Commissioners and the presiding judge of the Medina Court. I’ve applied for the last two openings and never got as far as an actual interview.
The Commissioners eliminated me because I had an agenda, which is to say I think the First Amendment is a good thing. The judge went with the typical political hack; God forbid he should appoint an average citizen to the board.
Currently, I have “divorced” myself from participation in library matters in protest of the board’s decision to put filters on some of the library’s computers. It was a blatant attempt to mollify the Medina Christian Coalition and didn’t even succeed on that base level. The cowardice of the current board disgusts me.
I’ve been exploring the possibility of legal action to overturn the board’s decision, but, without the assistance of the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, that probably won’t happen. I don’t have the financial means or legal expertise to challenge the board without help…and the ACLU has turned down my every request for assistance.
I still support the ACLU. I know the organization doesn’t have the manpower to fight every battle. But it was very disappointing when they walked away from this one. Especially since they had gotten involved with library concerns previously.
Jamie: You were also a comic book store owner for a while. Can you tell us more about that?
Tony Isabella: Cosmic Comics was easily the most successful comics shop in the Cleveland area for nine of the eleven years I owned it. We had a full line of comics–the only store that did–and a good selection of magazines and paperbacks.
I enjoyed running the store and serving my customers, but I wanted to get back to full-time writing. Seven years into the gig, I was ready to sell, but my waste-of-oxygen attorney was never able to find a buyer who could actually afford to pay me even a fraction of what it was worth.
Unfortunately, Cosmic Comics lost its location…right on the heels of my suffering a considerable financial loss from my involvement with the International Superman Expo of 1988. The new location was so awful that I couldn’t hire or keep good employees. This led to an increase in employee theft and in shoplifting.
Add the afore-mentioned attorney, later disbarred from the practice of the law, albeit not soon enough to help me, and the store became a money pit for the last two years of its existence. I didn’t make a dime from it in those final years.
It’ll make a heck of a book someday. Might do for comic shops what Psycho did for motels.
Jamie: As a former editor, retailer and long-time freelancer, you have a wide perspective on the industry. What do you think needs to be done to improve it?
Tony Isabella: We must look beyond the Direct Sales Market, beyond the flavors of the month, and beyond the editors and publishers who have slim knowledge–creative or historical–of the comics art form. And we must stop pissing off the readers who have stuck with us for years and years waiting for us to get our acts together.
That and hire me a lot more often.
Jamie: I was wondering what your opinion is on current legal battles between Marvel and creators over the rights of characters, battles such as Joe Simon with Captain America, Marv Wolfman over Blade, etc…
Tony Isabella: I hope they win and win big. The comics industry has treated creators abominably since its earliest days. I’d love to see these guys balance the scales a bit. As far as I’m concerned, if the comics industry can only exist by treating its creators poorly, then it doesn’t deserve to exist one more day.
Jamie: Anything else you want to say?
Tony Isabella: Often readers ask why I’m not writing more comics. They ask the same question of many other comics creators as well. The answer, more often that not, is that editors and publishers aren’t hiring us. If they hire us, we will write and draw.
If readers want to see more comics by favorite writers and artists, by creators who aren’t this month’s flavor, they absolutely must do three things…
One. Let the editors and publishers know, frequently and politely, that you’re ready to give them your hard-earned cash for new comics by these creators.
Two. Actually buy the comics we do. Let’s suppose, for example, that MARVELS COMICS: DAREDEVIL #1 turns out to be the best-selling of the six specials. Odds are someone might figure Eddy and I had a little to do with that success…and that someone might hire us for more projects.
Three. Assuming you like the comics we do, write the editors and publishers and let them know you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us. Tell your retailer you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us. Tell your fellow readers you liked them and convince them to buy more comics by us.
Thanks. You’ve been a lovely audience. Don’t forget to tip the interviewer as you leave. He’s been working his way through beauty school and obviously needs all the help he can get.
Much younger me and Neal Adams – before he started charging for photo’s with him. Photo taken at 2005 HobbyStar Toronto Fan Expo.
Originally published in October 2008. I asked Neal about his role in helping Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with the mid 1970s settlement for Superman. Some bits of information conflicts with Jerry’s version of events. Neal tells his version with more storytelling flair. I was also able to ask him about the Academy of Comic Book Artists, which was a short lived organized gathering of creators.
A couple of years ago I did a sit down interview with Neal Adams. We had a great hour long interview regarding his role in getting Siegel’s and Shuster’s 1970’s settlement with Time Warner and a few other topics. Sadly, I discovered my MP3 player was set up wrong and it didn’t record the interview. While at San Diego I saw Neal and he agreed to do the interview again. I also asked him questions regarding the Batman: The Dark Knight movie that had just come out just prior to the convention.
Jamie: When did you first learn about Siegel’s and Shuster’s plight?
Neal Adams: When Jerry Siegel sent a letter to various newspapers and organizations including the Academy of Comic Book Arts. I was the president of the Academy of Comic Book Arts and got the letter and read it. It was about 9 pages long and outlined everything that was happening to Jerry and Joe.
Jamie: I understand you took time off to be their representative to help them out?
Neal Adams: Well, obviously I could not be their legal representative, but it seemed like their legal representative was not getting the job done. Whatever they perceived the job to be or whatever Jerry and Joe perceived the job to be because they wrote this letter. Or Jerry wrote this letter. Clearly he was crying for help. And in crying for help he was saying they were not being helped by their lawyers who had promised they would intercede for them after a 15 year period where they were to remain silent and to depend on the legal system to return their rights to them. So the had stayed silent for those 15 years between the ages of 45 to 60 years old and now their lawyers weren’t answering their phones, according to them. They really had no answer to their question of how they would get what was promised to them.
So they called out for help. I realized that somebody had to do something about it and thought about who that somebody might be. It seemed to me that even if the newspapers responded, they would just write stories and for certain DC or Marvel wasn’t going to do anything about it. The people that owned DC weren’t going to do anything about it, I mean they might, but that was pretty much a long shot.
So really the question came down to who was going to help them? I felt I was in a better position than most people because while I was dependent on the companies for a certain portion of my income, I wasn’t fully dependent. I had a reasonable understanding of the situation finally and I could become involved. So I resolved myself the fact that this thing would not end this way and it had to end in a favorable situation. And that DC and their owners would be reluctant to deal with it that way so I had to somehow represent Jerry and Joe publicly to make the issue important. So I volunteered to do that. The boys had accepted my help, not my legal help, but my vocal help in the media and anywhere else I could get it. For the next 4 months I dedicated myself and my studio to undoing this tragedy. At the end, we did.
Jamie: I understand you got them on the Tom Snyder show?
Neal Adams: Yeah I had to go on the show myself because Tom was concerned that Jerry was too vehement and perhaps angry and Joe who was legally blind was too mellow and wonderfully pleasant. That created a kind of dichotomy between the two characters. He felt that I would be able to modify that to present a straight up story. So I appeared on the show, the boys appeared on the show and we did, I don’t know an hour or a half hour, I guess it was a half hour and discussed this. The boys appeared on a number of other shows. That sportscaster, Howard Cosell had a show at the time and they appeared on there. What I did was convince Jerry to come to New York. I hosted Joe to come in from Queens to be in these various interviews. I managed to convince the news stations that perhaps simply with petty cash they might convince the boys to stay in town long enough to get some kind of resolution to this. They cooperated to the extent that they could, they couldn’t pay them but they helped out as much as they could, so they kept the story alive. We worked pretty hard on that and like I said, we turned it around.
It took the help of the cartoonist society, it took I guess some people in the studio of good will, who helped out. In the end it turned out favourable for everybody. I told the Warner’s people from the beginning that it wasn’t necessary for this to become a controversy. They could have paid the creators of Superman the same amount of money they pay a good assistant or associate and they would be happy and there would be no problem. It wasn’t necessary to prolong this torture and make a blot on the face of the industry. And so in the end, perhaps because of pressure, perhaps because reason prevailed, they saw the wisdom of being reasonable and they agreed they would in fact not only pay the boys and give them medical insurance and give them benefits that one has when they work for a company. But they would also make them a part of their presentation of Superman, because now with the boys being taken care of they can introduce them at openings at where the movie was appearing and have them as guests at conventions. So in the end their reluctance to deal with the situation, when it turned around to being co-operative and being positive turned into a benefit to Warner’s and DC Comics. As I told them in the beginning that is what it would be.
Jamie: I remember you said before that the Tom Snyder’s show has never been rerun.
Neal Adams: Well, it’s a various odd thing. I don’t want to cast aspirations on anybody but I talked to Tom Snyder subsequently and he told me that they looked to run the show again and couldn’t find the tape. Which is… kinda odd.
Jamie: I know Jerry Robinson says he got involved after seeing them on one of the shows, thinks it was the Tom Snyder show.
Neal Adams: I think he got involved after I called him. (laughter)
Jamie: Really, you called him?
Neal Adams: Jerry Robinson was the President of the Cartoonists Society. And I decided I would enlist the aid of the Cartoonists Society and the logical thing would be to call Jerry Robinson. So I did, and asked if we could have some kind of meeting to see what the cartoonists society could do to help this situation. We had taken it quite a far distance, we had appeared on all these shows and had all these conversations and interviews. We were sort of getting to the end of the rope because Jerry had a heart condition and it really wasn’t good for him to stay away from his job and to endanger his health by staying in New York and staying under this tremendous pressure. Joe, on his part, because he was legally blind, was constantly banging his head on taxi cab doors as I was taking him from one place to another.
Jamie: Before when we talked you mentioned the Cartoonists Society got other organizations together and wrote a letter?
Neal Adams: Well, they proposed writing a letter. They had a meeting at what was called the Allied Chemical Building at the time. It was very nice. One big room with a big old table in it, a spotlight above the table, lots of space and they were having their meeting in this building and at the end of the meeting they proposed that they write a letter decrying the situation. Then they asked me if that was fine, if that was a really good idea. I kinda made a speech at that point. It was perhaps an angry speech. And I implied I suppose, that people in this room that I was speaking to, owed their living to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And that the comic book business certainly wouldn’t be what it is without Jerry and Joe. The concept of just writing a letter was not exactly what I considered to be the right amount of energy. Perhaps I said it in a little more angry way. Anyway, I got up and left. It was as I said, a rather long speech, about 15 minutes. So I said you guys do what you want to do, I’m leaving.
So on my way out there was a fellow by the door, reasonably well dressed, the place had a coat room. I was going to get my coat and there was a guy standing there. An Irish guy, or he seemed Irish to me. He stopped me and he said, “You know, that was a pretty good speech.” I said “Well, thank you but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.” He said “Well, it was a good speech anyways.” He says, “You know what you ought to do?” I said “I’m trying to do everything I can do, what you do think?” He Says, “Well you ought to hold a press conference.” I said, “Well, that would probably be a good idea but I have no idea on how to hold a press conference.” He said, “You know what building this is here?” I said, “The Allied Chemical Building on Times Square” (but it’s not the Allied Chemical Building anymore.) He said, “This is the headquarters of the International Press Corp.” I said, “Really? That’s very interesting.” And then he said, “Do you know who I am?” I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “I’m the president of the International Press Corps and if you want a press conference, you just say the word and you got it.” Whoa! So I took him by the arm gently and took him over to the Cartoonist Society and said Gentlemen this is the President of the International Press Corps and he’s offering to have a press conference for us. Within a reasonable period of time, in a few days we had a press conference. And it was.. a press conference tends to attract a lot of attention. And it did. Artists from around the country presented their point of view, some in anger, some in sympathy, and it received a lot of attention. At that point Warner’s seemed to feel that perhaps they be willing to make a deal. Not that they were reluctant to make a deal before but they seemed to be perhaps a little bit more anxious to make a deal. So we managed to put together a deal for Jerry and Joe. Maybe not the greatest deal in the world, but it certainly made it possible for Jerry and Joe to live out the rest of their lives in reasonable comfort. Which I considered to be my job.
Jamie: Do you remember what day that press conference happened?
Neal Adams: No, but you can probably look it up.
Jamie: You also told a story about putting more pressure on DC management and you going to Florida for a convention.
Neal Adams: Well, when we finally got down to negotiations and in the lawyers office there seemed to be problems on whether Jerry and Joe were going to get their names back on the strip. I had been very quiet about it because negotiations were going on between lawyers and business men. I noted that people were overlooking certain things. The representative for Warner’s asked me if there was a problem? I said, “No, but I think Jerry and Joe’s name ought to go back on the strip.” They said, “No, that’s not going to happen.” I said, “Well, I think it ought to.” So the question came up if that was a deal breaker. I agreed that in fact, it wasn’t a deal breaker. Jerry and Joe were too exhausted from this process that they had gone through to stop it, so I wasn’t going to make this a big deal.
I had a plan. Because I realized this whole thing was going to go south, the idea of putting their names back on. So I went back to my studio. I had been invited to go to Florida for a convention. So I talked to Jerry Robinson. I told Jerry, “Look Jerry, tomorrow you’re going to get some phone calls from the newspapers and probably from Warner’s.” He said, “Why are they going to call me?” I said “Well, because I’m going to be gone.” He said “What do you mean gone?” I said “Well I’m going to disappear.” He said “What do you mean?” I said, “Well I’m just going to go to Florida for a convention but I’m not going to tell anybody where I’m going. I’m just going to be… gone.” And I said, “And you’re going to get some phone calls.” [Jerry says] “What about?” [Adams says] “Well, you’ll see.”
So what I did then was, the newspapers were calling me to find out what was going on. I announced to them that the deal had been made, we’re fine. They said, “You’re happy, everything is fine?” I said, “Well, just about.” [Reporters] “What do you mean just about?” [Adams] “Well, In the end DC Comics and Warner’s have not agreed to allow Jerry’s and Joe’s names to go back on to the comic book character they created.” The newspaper guys would say, “Well how do you feel about that?” I’d say, “Well, how could I be happy about that? It’s their strip, they created it. It’s not going to cost the publishers anything to have their name on it, it’s just recognition that they created it. I don’t understand what the problem is.” They said, “Why are you letting it happen?” I said, “Well Jerry and Joe are in ill health and I can’t make it an issue, but I think it’s a damn shame.” After about 4 or 5 phone calls like that I went home, got on a plane and flew down to Florida.
So about mid-morning I’m with Jack Kirby with my family and his family and we’re in the lobby of the hotel and somebody comes running over with a phone. Said it was Jerry Robinson on the phone. So I got on the phone with Jerry and said, “So Jerry, what’s happening?” He said, “Go sit down.” [Adams] “Why?” He [Jerry] said, “Go sit down.” Fine, I go and sit down in a chair. He says, “Let me tell you about my morning.” He says, “Turns out all the reporters in town have been calling him and apparently Warner’s asking what’s this idea about their names not being on the strip.” I said, “Well I don’t know, I said the deal can go ahead. I just mentioned it along the way.” Well, he had just got a call from the Warner’s guy, who told him Neal Adams had disappeared from the face of the earth. And he’s been calling all morning because reporters keep calling and asking him about what’s going on about Jerry and Joe not having their name on the strip? And it’s not going to cost anybody anything? Why is it important? Why are they doing this? Why are they making them sign this contract? So he’s [Jerry] talking to the guy [Warner’s] saying “What’s going on? Where’s Neal?” [Jerry] “I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t know where he is.” [Warner’s] “Well, maybe you can help us. Maybe we can work something out and help settle the newspaper guys.” Jerry said, “I think you’re talking to the wrong guy. You’ve got to remember, I’m the President of the Cartoonist Society. We have syndicated comic strip artists all of which sign their name to their work. So I don’t think there is anybody I know that wouldn’t be in sympathy with the idea of Jerry and Joe getting their name on their strip again. I really think you’re talking to the wrong person, I can’t help you there. If anything, we are totally against this idea.” So the guy at Warner’s said, “Okay. Their names are on the strip again. Are you happy now?” Jerry said, “Well, we’re almost happy.” [Warner’s] “What do you mean, almost happy?” He [Jerry] said “You know, the guys have been through a lot. Wouldn’t it be nice, before they started receiving their money they got a little bonus to pay for their expenses, for the trouble they’ve been through the last several months.” [Warner’s] “What number were you thinking of Jerry?” Jerry named a number. The guy at Warner’s said “Fine. Anything else?” [Jerry] “No, I think that about covers it.” So Jerry managed to put the icing on the cake. Me, I was in Florida having breakfast with Jack Kirby and got to tell him the whole story.
Jamie: I know that you were involved with the Academy of Comic Book Artists. How did that start?
Neal Adams: I think there was a lot of rumbling going on in the field. There was union talk and other talk and the truth is, it was Jim Warren who came up with the idea. He thought there ought to be a group, an academy. Maybe he did it to stop the complaints going on, maybe it did it to show he was a good guy, I don’t know why. So it was really Jim Warren who started the whole idea and everybody agreed. Unfortunately or fortunately the publisher sorta tried to make themselves a part of it. In fact Stan Lee was the first President involved. Which seemed a little strange to everybody. It put a lot of pressure everybody. But Stan insisted he was a freelancer like everybody else. Nobody quite agreed with that, but after all he was in charge of hiring and firing 50% of the people in the business so one could hardly argue with Stan Lee. After he was no longer president, Dick Giordano became President and I was the 3rd President. All through that time we got things going. I did an awful lot of the work because I’m kinda a work horse. And I can’t say that Stan did anything. Stan was a figurehead, and a good figurehead in my opinion. The work, as usual, was rested on me.
Jamie: What were the things that was accomplished through the organization?
Neal Adams: We didn’t really accomplish much with the organization. The things we did accomplish were intangibles tangibles. First of all we put a shock and a scare through all the publishers. Because when people started organizing and getting together, the nature of doing that does scare the management. So we gained a certain amount of respect with the publishers. In fact there was a dispute between Marvel and DC Comics and they called upon us to settle it, and we did. We called a meeting and settled the dispute. I don’t actually remember what the dispute was at the moment, but that’s kind of strange if you can imagine, a freelance organization being in a position of settling a dispute. Another thing we did was during our first meeting, one of things I did was I went around and told everybody what my page rate was. Nobody wanted to talk about what their page rate was, but once they discovered what my page rate was they were able to compare page rates, they then made demands on their editors and publishers that they should be paid at least as much as Neal Adams. So when you form an organization like that you can’t easily make a super point about a solid thing like we went on strike and we got this. We couldn’t go on strike. But there were things that happened because people were listening to us. We were making changes within the group. Everybody was meeting one another that hadn’t met before. Jack Kirby had never met Joe Sinnott. So there’s these intangibles that you can’t easily codify but in fact were very, very important.
Jamie: DC contracts. I know DC is has been reprinting a bunch of your work.
Neal Adams: What do you want to know?
Jamie: I know when DC published Deadman reprints with your name on it…
Neal Adams: Well, what happened was DC was nice enough to pay me an additional royalty for using my names on the books. I say nice enough. Well, yeah, nice enough to capitulate at the end of a series of discussions. In which I never got angry. But they were still nice enough to work with me. And I think that’s a new attitude with DC comics. I think DC has gotten a lot more human, a lot better at doing business with individuals. And as a result they are now going to a project I call, printing all the rest of my crap. Which they call, DC Classics. So all the other stuff that didn’t appear in either Deadman, Green Lantern and Batman is going to appear in these three volumes. It’s pretty nice.
Jamie: Before you talked about lawyers and moral rights versus legal rights.
Neal Adams: I don’t think lawyers know very much about moral rights so I guess it’s not exactly a topic that I strenuously get involved in discussing. Lawyers seem to be, for whatever reason, they don’t seem to have that switch in their psyche that says even though this may be legal, it’s not right, and I ought to back away from this because it’s wrong. Right and wrong seem to be gray in the law. So a lawyer will more likely depend on the law rather than what’s right. I don’t think this is true, always with all lawyers, but it is a standard of the business of lawyering. To allow the bending of morality, their judgment of right and wrong to be satisfied by if it’s okay in the law. You see it on television all the time. You see television shows about legal firms who think it’s okay for somebody to get an award for, and use the word award as if it was some kind of prize, of an amount of money that is unrealistically high compared to the offense. So that the law firm may receive such a large percentage of that. So it’s not up to me to make these kinds of judgments that, when you watch these television shows. If the goal becomes to make lawyers rich and that’s the way it’s reflected on television shows, live in fancy apartments and drive fancy cars and to smoke cigars on their balconies, if that’s the goal of the legal business, that’s hard to believe it is a good system. It’s a very, very bad system. Making lawyers rich and destroying the lives of companies and individuals in unfair proportion makes no sense. I don’t know why. It’s sort of like when I was a kid they made the lottery unlawful and people were arrested and put in jail and then they made it legal, then had the state run it, and it paid for the educational system, especially in New York, and therefore it became okay. So why were all those people thrown in jail? I don’t know how that makes sense. I don’t know how people who spend their families’ money on the lottery are justified in participating in gambling on a regular basis. I just find it very odd that morality slides around so much under a system that’s essentially run by lawyers. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Jamie: What are you doing with Continuity Studios lately?
Neal Adams: We’re doing a lot of work on the Internet. We’re doing CGI animation. New forms of what we call Animatics for the Internet that’s kind of an animation. We’re really busy producing what’s called content for the Internet. I wish we could put our signature on it all the time so when you are on the Internet and you see an animation of a refrigerator or interactive game play for selling or involving you in a new company’s product that we could say, “Hey! That’s ours.” But you really can’t at this point do that. We’re all over the place. Very few things are like comic books where you do your thing, sign your name and everybody knows you did it. Most everything else is kind of a group effort.
Jamie: Last question here. Did you see the new Batman movie and what did you think?
Neal Adams: I did and I loved it. It is based on to a lesser degree than I might appreciate on, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” [Originally published in Batman #251]. Or at least that’s what the author of the story says. So it would be really hard for me not to like it. Also I believe in stories as stories and not just vehicles for superheroes to knock down buildings, or to dress up in funny costumes. So I would have to say this is my kind of Batman, probably, MY Batman.
During my research into comic book history I learned about Lobo, the first black comic book character with their own solo title. This was published in 1965, long before Marvel’s Black Panther. There was little to no information about Lobo’s creators. It was known that Tony Tallarico drew the comic book.
I had read online that Tony was to receive a Pioneer Award at the 2006 ECBACC Convention. I reached out to William Foster III regarding contacting Tony for an interview. He was only able to provide me with a mailing address, advising me Tony wasn’t able to appear at the convention and he had read an acceptance speech on his behalf. From the mailing address I was able to find his phone number.
I called on a Sunday and got voice mail. I left a message introducing myself, my desire to interview Tony and saying I would call back next Sunday. When I called back next Sunday Tony was there and was happy to do the interview. We spoke and I transcribed the interview. The interview call and it’s transcription is reprinted below. It was originally published in August 2006.
I figured that would be the end of it until March of 2010. My editor got an email from an upset DJ Arneson, who was the writer and editor of the Lobo comics and insisted he was also the creator of the character. He gave specific details on what inspired the character and felt Tony’s version of how the character was created were wrong. DJ also disputed many of Tony’s statements regarding Lobo’s cancellation too. My editor suggested I do an interview with him to get his side of the story, which I did. I e-mailed DJ, proposed an interview and he agreed, giving me his number. We did the interview and that was published in April of 2010.
With both interviews we talked more than just about Lobo. Tony a long career in comics and we discussed some of the editors he worked with and his work appearing in the notorious Seduction of the Innocent. We also talked about his work on The Great Society and Bobman & Teddy two political parody comic books that got mainstream media attention at the time. DJ Arneson was the last editor of Dell Comics, which was once the largest, most successful comic book company in North America. Besides Lobo, we talked about Helen Meyer, who was the President of Dell Comics and likely one of a very few female company Presidents in the United States at that time. We also discussed other creators at Dell, how licensing worked for comics and his work outside of Dell including his writing for Tower Comics & Archie.
Below is Tony Tallarico’s interview, then please make sure to read DJ Arneson’s as well.
Tony Tallarico worked in the comic industry from the 1950s to the 1970s. His work ended up in Seduction of the Innocent, he created the first solo character book devoted to a black hero, and he’s done a number of what Scott Shaw! calls Oddball Comics. In this phone interview we go through his comics career and what he’s been doing since.
You can either hear the interview here:
(30 minutes long, 28 megs – turn your volume up)
Or read the following transcript.
Jamie: What was your first work?
Tony Tallarico: Oh!
Jamie: Do you remember that?
Tony Tallarico: Yeah, Of course (laughter). I did some things for Charlton when Al Fago was the editor. They were for Hot Rod and Racing Cars. I did a bunch of cartoon cars, very similar to the Disney movie Cars. Only they were done a long time ago. Before that I was an assistant to a cartoonist. His name was Frank Carin who was an animator.
Jamie: Did you do any animated movies at all?
Tony Tallarico: No, and he wasn’t doing any animation either. When I knew him he was doing comic books. He was packaging these small sized comic books for Acme Supermarkets. There were 4 titles, I remember them distinctly. One was Doh-Doh the Clown. Another one was Captain Atom that Lou Ravielli did. His brother was a famous sports illustrator. Dave Gantz did and it was a teenage character. The 4th one was the first comic book and the first work really that Jack Davis did was called Lucky Stars. He had just come up from the south. I don’t know how he met Frank Carin but that was the very first comic book he did. Before he even worked for EC.
Jamie: Oh wow, I didn’t know that. You said Captain Atom. Was he like a superhero?
Tony Tallarico: Yes.
Jamie: Any similar relationship to the Captain Atom from Charlton that came later on?
Tony Tallarico: No. This was way before. It was probably.. I’m going to take a guess.. I was still going to high school.. probably 1950.
Jamie: You were working for Charlton. What was the company like then? How did it operate?
Tony Tallarico: Al Fago had an office on 42nd street and Broadway, right on Times Square. The building was just torn down a couple of years ago. It was very impersonal, you just go up, show him what you had. If he had a script for you you’d take it back. Otherwise you’d play the game of calling him up asking for work.
Jamie: I know later on Charlton was known for paying very low page rates and it was piecemeal. Was it like this?
Tony Tallarico: No it was a little better at this time. I mean, they weren’t paying anything great, but I think they were paying about $25 dollars a page.
Jamie: That was around 1950s?
Tony Tallarico: That was around 1950. Early 50s, 51 tops.
Jamie: I’m curious, I know L. B. Cole worked on some of the covers of the books that you did. Do you know him well?
Tony Tallarico: Well, I knew him. I don’t know if he’s still around.
Jamie: I’m not sure either.
Tony Tallarico: He was also the editor of Classic Comics for a while. He was also the editor of Dell when Dell pulled away from Western Publishing to start up their own comic book operation. He was the editor.
Jamie: What was he like?
Tony Tallarico: (sigh)… he treated me very nice.
Jamie: He treated you very nice.
Tony Tallarico: He always did. But a lot of people did not like him. And there was always talk that he was on the take. I can only say that he was always the one that took me to lunch. I never paid for a lunch. I never gave him a nickel and I never even heard of it. Lately I have heard stories like that. I can’t believe it.
Jamie: Moving up a little bit at Charlton you were working on Blue Beetle. And I know some of your work ended up in that notorious book Seduction of the Innocent.
Tony Tallarico: Yes it did (laughter). I was working for a Sol Cohen. He was the editor of Avon Comics. This must have been 1953-1954.
Jamie: That would be about right.
Tony Tallarico: At that point they were taking paperback covers that they had, they had the separations all done and transporting them into comic book covers. And the one that I worked on was… it was one of these whip and black stocking covers that they had. I edited down, cut it down so there was very little showing. But that’s one of the ones that made it into the book.
Jamie: (laughter) The one you toned down is the one that made it in the book.
Tony Tallarico: Right. Had I never toned it down it would have been on the cover! (laughter)
Jamie: That’s funny.
Tony Tallarico: They were notoriously cheap, Avon. And so was Sol Cohen. But they paid well and they had good people working for them. Woody was working for them at that time. Everett [Raymond] Kinstler was quite a number of good guys doing work there. A. C. Hollingsworth worked. Oh I know, Rex Maxon.. [also Wally Wood and Joe Orlando]. He did, I don’t know if it was his first comic strip but he did Daily Tarzan. He was really more like a pulp illustrator. He had that rough.. it did not translate well in comics. For some reason he was very friendly with Sol Cohen so he got lots of work. He did Kit Carson, that was the book that he did.
Jamie: I know you did a lot of work with Bill Fraccio? (wrong pronunciation)
Tony Tallarico: Fraccio. (correct pronunciation)
Jamie: How did you meet him?
Tony Tallarico: I met him at Frank Carin, Bill was doing some work for Frank. He was doing a thing called Sunny Sunshine. It was a little girl character for Sunshine Bakeries that they gave away every few months. Frank was the packager of the book and Bill worked for him. That’s how we met. We did a lot of things together.
Jamie: Yeah there is a lot of mix up if he was inking you or if he was penciling.
Tony Tallarico: It’s not a mix up because we were doing both. I would pencil some, he would ink some, visa versa y’know one of those things. I was really the guy that went out and got the work. Bill never liked to do that. It would depend. If he was working on something else I would start a project too and do pencils. It was a fun time.
Jamie: I want to move over to your Dell work. You did an important comic book called Lobo.
Tony Tallarico: Yes. Two and a half issues.
Jamie: Two and a half? What happened to the other half? I know two issues got published.
Tony Tallarico: Well I have some of the pages here. They never got published. Lobo.. well lets back up a little bit here. At this point L. B. Cole is no longer the editor at Dell. His assistant a guy named D. J. Arneson hey, nobody had first names, they had letters. D. J. Arneson was the editor. He had an idea for a book and he approached me with it. I did a sample cover which showed it to Dell. Dell turned it down, they didn’t want anything to do with it. We went over to a book publisher and he loved it. It was the Great Society Comic Book. It was the first Adult Political Satire. Nothing had been done for a while since Kennedy was assassinated. This was the first humorous look at politics some two years later. We did it and gee, it got on the New York Times best seller lists. It was featured in Newsweek magazine. It was in a hundred newspapers as a news story, not as a book. It was on radio, television, we sold foreign rights to it, did a real bang up job on it.
Just about that time I had an idea for Lobo. And I approached D. J. Arneson and he brought it in and showed it to Helen Meyer. Helen Meyer was the editor of all of Dell. She was the first female to become the president of a publishing company. A very important historical note, Helen Meyer. She loved it. She really wanted to do it. Great, so we did it. We did the first issue. And in comics, you start the 2nd issue as they’re printing the first one due to time limitations. We did the 2nd one and it was being separated while the first one was being distributed. All of the sudden they stopped the wagon. They stopped production on the issue. They discovered that as they were sending out bundles of comics out to the distributors and they were being returned unopened. And I couldn’t figure out why? So they sniffed around, scouted around and discovered they were opposed to Lobo. Who was the first black western hero. That was the end of the book. It sold nothing. They printed 200,000 that was the going print rate. They sold.. oh.. 10-15 thousand. It was tremendous because they never got on to the newsstand. So that was the end of Lobo. It’s kind of funny because after all these years Temple [University – School of Arts and Sciences] honored me for doing it. It never succeeded on the stands but it did break a little ground I hope.
[Note: They gave Tony a Pioneer Award – Lifetime Achievement in the Comics Industry on May 19, 2006]
Jamie: It did because afterwards you saw black heroes everywhere. Marvel put out Black Panther.
Tony Tallarico: Yeah but that was much later.
Jamie: That was much later, but Lobo was the first one.
Tony Tallarico: Yup, this was 1966. Marvel Comics.. they were late 70s or even early 80s. A great deal of time has passed and by then it was an accepted thing. It wasn’t a novelty. And it wasn’t meant to be a novelty. Lobo was a veteran of the Civil War who was accused wrongly of a crime who tried to.. y’know it was not goofy, it was a pretty straight thing. But it never got off the ground. Simply because the distributors were prejudiced bastards.
Jamie: Who wrote Lobo, the first issue?
Tony Tallarico: We wrote it together D. J. Arneson and I. It was my idea and I knew what I wanted to do and he just put it together.
Jamie: Okay that was the big question we all had. We knew that you drew it but we didn’t know who created the character and what was behind it.
Tony Tallarico: I created and D. J. and I, we wrote it together. It wasn’t really writing, it was interpreting the character, I guess we wrote it.
Jamie: Was he scripting it or more plotting it?
Tony Tallarico: I really plotted it. He scripted it.
Jamie: Okay, you did the plot and he did the script?
Tony Tallarico: mmm-hmm.
Jamie: Before you mentioned The Great Society and then you did Bobman and Teddy.
Tony Tallarico: That was the sequel to The Great Society.
Jamie: I was wondering, how did those sell the newsstand?
Tony Tallarico: They sold very well. I was on Walter Cronkite on the news. He did an interview with me. I couldn’t believe it (laughter) this is a comic book we’re talking about here. But like I said, we had no humor for like two years and this broke a comic relief. In fact, about two years ago I got a letter from the Johnston Library in Austin Texas. I don’t know how they tracked me down. They said they would like to have a copy of the book and anything else I may have to put into their library to put into their permanent collection. I looked around and I sent them a poster of the book that we used and a copy of the book.
Shortly after that I got a letter from Linda Bird Johnston asking “Do you have an extra one for me?” (laughter) I said sure and I sent her one, and she sent me an autographed picture of herself. Now this is funny, I have it hanging up on my studio with a lot of other stuff. About 6 months ago I discovered her signature faded. You can’t read it and it looks like an unsigned photo. In the throws of next week or so I’m going to send it back to her and say “hey, did tricky dicky do this? (laughter) and can ya re-sign it for me.”
Jamie: I know those books, they had covers that were made with anti-tear paper?
Tony Tallarico: Yeah, it was really a very lightweight board. Instead of a varnish on it, they had a varnish that looked like Kansas. It had a tooth to it. It really bulked up the cover. Because a lot of these were sold in bookstores, very few of them were sold on the newsstand.
Jamie: Wow. Did you sell very much on newsstands or was it..?
Tony Tallarico: No, no, it was like maybe the American News Company. The better newsstands, the ones in airports.. not the mom and pop stores. But we had very little returns and we sold a heck of a lot. We sold maybe 5-600,000 and this was a $1 comic book. This was an unheard of thing.
Jamie: Quite a bit more than 12 cents.
Tony Tallarico: Oh yeah, and it was not a kids book. It was an adult book.
Jamie: Was wondering why you didn’t continue doing more of them after Bobman and Teddy?
Tony Tallarico: Well because the fad ended. It was a quick fad. We were kind of lucky because Batman and Robin were on TV as a put on and that helped the sales of Bobman and Teddy. The Great Society sold 500,000 and Bobman and Teddy sold 150,000. The writing was on the wall, you’re not going to do another one.
Jamie: I know you went over to Warren and did a lot of work for them.
Tony Tallarico: Oh yeah, in fact Bill and I worked together. We had.. I can’t think of it.. we made up a name..
Jamie: Oh yeah, Williamsune.
Tony Tallarico: Williamsune! Tony Williamsune.
Jamie: I had heard Al Williamson he just left Warren at the time and he didn’t like the name because he thought people would confuse you with him so you had to change the spelling of the name a little bit.
Tony Tallarico: Right.
Jamie: I know you drew one of the earliest Vampirella stories in the first issue.
Tony Tallarico: That’s right. In fact I worked on the character sketches. I think they used some of them. But I definitely did stuff on the first issue of Vampirella. I got a Christmas card from him, I get a Christmas card from him every year.
Jamie: From Jim Warren?
Tony Tallarico: Yes.
Jamie: What is he up to these days do you know?
Tony Tallarico: Yeah he keeps saying he’s going to come back, he’s going to do this and do that but I don’t think he has the money to do it. At that time he was really in with the distributor. Which most comic publishers were. It’s a big nut to finance. By the time you get paid it’s 6-7 months. If you putting out a bi-monthly, you putting out a lot of money for art, printing, distribution and so on. It’s a big nut. I mean, a major publisher like Dell could do it, no problem. Even Timely or Marvel at that time they had their own distributor. Atlas was the name of the distributor but which was the same company.
Jamie: At Warren publishing, they everything in black and white just about. Did you like working in black and white vs. color?
Tony Tallarico: Yeah it was fun and it was different. With the exception of The Great Society, Bobman and Teddy and a couple of things I did for Classic Comics I never got the say on the color. It was given out to the coloring studios and whatever color they put in that was it. This was an opportunity to do black and white, just what you wanted that was it. So it was good.
Jamie: Did you do any work for Marvel or DC in your career?
Tony Tallarico: No. It’s funny because when I graduated from high school, I went to a high school that specialized in art. It was called the School of Industrial Arts. A lot of people in the business went there. Al Toth, who just passed away, Joe Giella, anyway, when I graduated I won the Superman-DC award which was a drawing table. And it’s the one I’m still using! That was my last touch with Superman. Our paths just never crossed. I was always doing something else and I just never went there. The same thing with Marvel. The closest connection to Marvel was.. oh Cracked? or Sick?
Jamie: Oh yeah one of those..
Tony Tallarico: Yeah, one of those things.
Jamie: Might have been Brand Ech or something like that.
Tony Tallarico: Yeah right. That was uh.. Layton? He was the editor. I really got out of the comic book area in the early 70s. Well the comic books left me. In the 70s the whole business went kaput. Luckily I was able to transfer over into doing children’s books. I’ve been doing children’s books ever since. My wife went though a count several months ago. It was over a thousand titles. That’s a lot of children’s books. One series that I did for Kids Books has sold like 16-17 million copies world wide.
Jamie: Yeah I heard about that one.
Tony Tallarico: That’s an enormous amount. And it’s still selling, they just dressed it up a little. Put on a new cover or whatever.
Jamie: Was there a particular character or genre that you liked to work in within the comic industry? Did you prefer cowboys or horror or was it all just work?
Tony Tallarico: It was a little of everything. I did whatever I could get a hold of it. Most people did. I don’t know any artist that really specialized in a particular thing. Can you think of one? Jack Davis was pinned into doing westerns until he went to EC. Then he started doing everything. The only think I don’t think he did was a romance story.
I did a romance cover one time for Charlton. You have to remember Charlton paid very low and because of that you had to do an awful amount of work. I did a splash page where a couple is embracing and the girl has 3 hands. I meant to whiten one of them out, but I never got to it (laughter). And it went all the way through! (laughter) it was kind of funny. The editor didn’t think so, but hell, it was his fault too, he looked at it.
Jamie: Yeah, he didn’t see it himself so..
Tony Tallarico: Right.
Jamie: Well lets go back a little bit and who were your inspirations for drawing was it like Caniff or..
Tony Tallarico: Oh sure. In my days it was Caniff, Raymond and Noel Sickles. Those were the three. For illustrators, of course [Norman] Rockwell and Al Parker and Austin Briggs those were it. Austin Briggs did comics, he did Flash Gordon for a long time, Al Park was more of a designing illustrator.
Jamie: Did you ever try to get into comic strips at all even as a ghost?
Tony Tallarico: Oh yeah. I and my wife did a strip for 17 years. It was called Trivia Treat. It was 3 panels on a page. One was an illustrated question. The next two were written questions. And there was an answer upside down. It was based on Trivia. It was based on whatever was popular, Hopalong Cassidey, whatever. The thing lasted 17 years.
Jamie: When about did it start?
Tony Tallarico: uh…
Jamie: do you know when it ended?
Tony Tallarico: It ended in the mid 90s. By that time my wife had withdrawn from it and my son was writing it. He also does a feature for Tribune Syndicate. Tribune was the Syndicate for this, Trivia Treats. My son does a thing called Word Salsa. It’s a word search puzzle that is half in Spanish and half in English. It’s been running for about 3 years and it’s in about 75 papers.
I also did a thing called Zap the Video Chap. Which lasted a year, that was for the McNaught Syndicate. And I ghosted some stuff. I did Nancy for a while, Davey Jones which was an adventure strip. I can’t think of any others.
Jamie: Did you do any cartoons or advertising?
Tony Tallarico: Oh yeah sure. I had a studio in the city, or space in the city with an ad agency. And I did lots of stuff. Ford, sing a song issue. Pan-Am was a very heavy user of comic books. For the GIs to take a Pan-Am flight back to the states when they got week or 10 day leave or whatever.
Jamie: Did you do any other work for the army or was it just through Pan-Am?
Tony Tallarico: No, it was strictly through Pan-Am.
Jamie: Did you serve any time at all, in the army?
Tony Tallarico: No.
Jamie: Managed to bypass all that eh?
Tony Tallarico: It was just one of those things. I was too young, then I was too old.
Jamie: I guess you’re one of the lucky ones (laughter).
Tony Tallarico: Yeah, right exactly. I didn’t plan it that way.
Jamie: I guess you’re parents did.
Tony Tallarico: I doubt it. Speaking of my parents, when I was 12-13 I told them I wanted to be an artist and they were really happy about it. As the word got out through the family they said they were nuts and I was wasting my time. Well, 50 some years later I don’t think I wasted my time.
Jamie: If you made a good living out of it then you definitely didn’t.
Tony Tallarico: Yeah and I enjoyed it, I still enjoy it and I’m still doing it.
Jamie: So what are you doing now and days?
Tony Tallarico: Kids Books are my primary account. I do just about everything that they & I come up with. Just stepping back a bit, I also create my own stuff, and sometimes my son writes it with me. Just about everything I come up with, Kids Books sponsors and publishes. Right now I’m doing a series of picture find books based on classic stories. The first one is based on Tom Sawyer. I think we’ll be doing about 10 or 12 and after that it will be famous people. Muhammad Ali is in there, Rosa Parks. It’s their life stories, but with hidden pictures in it. So the kids will be a part of the story.
DJ Arneson was the editor of Dell Comics between 1962 and 1973, the company stopped publishing comics after he left. He also did some freelance writing, both for titles he was publishing at Dell and for other publishers. Much of his comic book work is uncredited. DJ originally got in touch with us when he read the Tony Tallarico interview I had conducted in 2006 and disputed Tony’s version of events. This lead to doing an interview about his career in comics done mainly over the phone but with some questions by e-mail.
Jamie: There is very little information about you out there. When and where were you born?
DJ Arneson: I was born in Minnesota, small town out on the Midwestern plains. I was born in 1935 that makes me 74 years old as of right now. Moved to Boulder, Colorado, graduated from Boulder High School, went to the University of Colorado, then went to the army and worked for Counter Intelligence. I worked out of the American Consulate in Stuttgart, Germany for a couple of years. I moved to Mexico and completed my education, majored in Philosophy, minored in Psychology. I returned to this country, ended up in New York and for a period of time at Dell Publishing.
Jamie: Did you have any siblings?
DJ Arneson: I have two sisters. Both younger than myself.
Jamie: What did your parents do?
DJ Arneson: My father was killed when I was 5 years old. My mother was self employed and that pretty much covers that.
Jamie: What does DJ stand for?
DJ Arneson: Don Jon. D-o-n J-o-n.
Jamie: Did you have any interest in comics growing up?
DJ Arneson: Yes, as a little kid. I grew up basically during the 2nd World War. The war was over on my birthday in 1945. I remember that period rather well. I also remembered reading comics at the local pharmacy. They had displays and kids would sit there and read them for free until the proprietor would say “the library is closed.” Then we’d all scoot out and then come back the next day. It was very common reading at the time. I had a collection as probably every kid my age did, which would eventually been worth kajillions, I suppose. They ended up in somebody’s attic and ultimately I’m sure, in the trash sadly as tons and tons of comics were.
Jamie: So, you don’t have any of your old comics anymore?
DJ Arneson: No. As a matter of fact, tragically when I was younger, I was more interested in the new comics than the old ones. While I was at Dell I had a collection of everything Dell did while I was there, as well as all of the comics from other publishers. I had a room in the basement that was stacked with comics. My young son would bring his friends and they would revel in comic books. We moved to Europe in 1973. I bought a VW pop top camper and we traveled around Europe for a couple of years. Anyway, when we sold our home in Connecticut in 1973 all of those comics disappeared. My youngest son at the time, who was 7 lamented that. There was a treasure trove of comic books that simply disappeared. That was pretty much the history of any comic I collected at Dell.
Jamie: That is a shame.
DJ Arneson: It is. You read stuff in the New York Times, this comic is worth this much, or somebody is looking for a copy of Superman or whatever. At one point I had some of this stuff, but it’s all gone.
Jamie: What made you want to work in the comic book industry?
DJ Arneson: Well, as I said I went from Mexico to Denver, Colorado and came to New York. I answered an ad in the New York Times for an Editorial Assistant. I was interviewed for the job that turned out to be at Dell Publishing. I was interviewed by the editor at the time, his name was Leonard (Len) Cole. I was also interviewed by Helen Meyer who was the President and I was hired for the job of Assistant to the Editor. About one month later, this was April, 1962, Len Cole was.. lets say let go, without getting into the details there. My understanding is that he was “let go” but what the actual circumstances were, I do not know. Helen Meyer called me into her office and asked me if I was capable of doing this job. I said yes I am, and she said okay, you are now my comic book editor. So I didn’t come into comics with a long history of working in them. I came into the publishing industry and it turned out my entry was through Dell Comics. I was there until I moved to Europe. Prior to moving to Europe, I had gone to Helen Meyer and told her I wanted to go freelance and become a freelance writer. She said she couldn’t accept that, but offered me the opportunity where I could come continue as staff editor, come in for half a week and the balance of the week I would be for my own work. That was a deal I could not refuse, so I did that for 2-3 years. Ultimately I went full time freelance.
Jamie: Did you do any writing for comic books?
DJ Arneson: Yeah, I wrote comics while I was at Dell under a couple of conditions, one was as editor – there were times when a writer would deliver material that was frankly unacceptable. In which case I wrote the script for the comic that was due. We were always under deadline pressure. When the work was due to go to the artists, there wasn’t any flex time in that. So on a few very limited occasions I re-wrote the script, going by the original storyline that was submitted to me by the writer, which was the practice of the time. I’ll go into a little detail about that. When Dell chose to publish a comic, I would select a writer and that writer would do a brief storyline out of which I would determine if it was a good story, and then the writer would do a synopsis for me, which I would then approve for a script for the comic book. By the time that came in the deadline pressure had begun and it had to go very, very quickly to the artist. On a limited number of occasions the script was simply unacceptable I had to rewrite it. Once I had established that I was doing freelance writing, and I cleared that with Helen Meyer and she was very cognitive that I was writing comics for Dell. From that I segued into going full time freelance.
Jamie: Did you work for other publishers doing freelance writing?
DJ Arneson: Sure. I did work for Charlton, Gold Key, I very briefly did stuff for Archie. That was maybe 2 or 3 stories in 1 or 2 issues.
Jamie: Do you remember what issues or series?
DJ Arneson: Well, I did Dark Shadows the first 2 issues. I created the comic book from the TV series. It was a popular Television series. Wally Green, who was an editor of Gold Key had the license to do the comic book. I did the first 2 for sure and I might have done more after that. Also I did, when I was little they called them big little books, they were little fat books, but I did one of those for Dark Shadows. [Note: This was Dark Shadows Story Digest Magazine #1]. I did a bunch of stuff for Charlton.
Jamie: For Archie I assume they were just random stories?
DJ Arneson: They were done anonymously and I’m reluctant to even mention doing them. I recall they required storyboards that had to be sketched. At the time I was not a credible sketcher. I only did a couple of stories and like I said, I’m almost reluctant to even mention them. I do recall they required storyboards and that just didn’t come naturally, I’m a better writer.
Jamie: So you only wrote, didn’t do any artwork at all?
DJ Arneson: No, no. I wouldn’t presume to be an artist then. Whatever I do now is strictly amateur stuff. But no, I did not illustrate.
Jamie: Did you know George Delacourt?
DJ Arneson: Sure.
Jamie: What was he like?
DJ Arneson: George Delacourt was the President of Dell. He was involved in an extremely limited way. He wasn’t in his office at all. Helen Meyer ran the company and did it very, very well. My interaction with George Delacourt was extremely limited. Yes we met, I was in his office on 3 or 4 occasions. We never did lunch or anything like that (laugh). He was kind of an old guy at the time and left the management and running of the company to Helen Meyer.
Jamie: My next question was about Helen Meyer, what was she like?
DJ Arneson: She was very business driven and very personable if you were able to reach her. Let me put it this way. She was a very proficient business woman. When you dealt with her, it was strictly all business. But she had a very warm side, I’d say as I dealt with her on a steady basis. We would take a cab to go to a screening of a movie or a TV series, projected to be opening in the following fall. We would have conversations in the cab that were comfortable. I was 26 years old at the time and she would say you’re more like my son than my editor. At the time it was nice to be considered that way. My point is she was very personable to me. But she was very difficult with some, because she was all business. She knew what she wanted and her decisions were virtually always good. She was the boss. So there was normal reaction of somebody, an editor of a book or magazine, that you had to go through the boss. And it would depend on the circumstances of the meeting. But my recollection and memory of her is very, very warm.
Jamie: Where you the only editor at Dell at the time?
DJ Arneson: We had an art department for the production of the covers. There was no stable of artists or staff artists. There was art director for the comic book covers. I reported directly to Helen Meyers, that is to say the editorial material that I requested from writers, the synopsis and manuscripts. Ultimately the manuscripts would end up in Helen Meyers’ office. I’m not suggesting that she read all of them. If I had a suggestion, a comic book idea or whatever, she would be the last word.
Jamie: When the comic were written at Dell, how were they done? Was it full script or “Marvel” style?
DJ Arneson: At Dell it was all written directly from scripts. That is the writer… and I didn’t really have any women writers at the time. That’s really a bad commentary isn’t it? But there just were none. They were very similar to a screenplay. Also while I was at Dell, I read tons of screenplays as we considered them possible comic book clients. Point is, at Dell comics the manuscripts or storyboard, and I don’t mean art storyboard, but screenplays with description of the art, everything broken down in panels, the art and the dialog all created at the same time. The level of art direction in the panels would vary. In some instances the writer would say ‘backyard’ or whatever, a simple description of what was called for. In others, I would say they over directed because that was part of the fun in my mind is coming up with the images and writing them out. The short answer is they were not done in the Marvel style.
Jamie: You came in just as Dell and Western Printing split. Do you know what that was all about?
DJ Arneson: My recollection is when I joined, Dell Comics was Dell Comics, plain and simple. Len Cole was the editor and I do not know for how long he had been the editor. I frankly don’t know the circumstances of what the split was about. That was between Len Cole and Dell. I don’t know what the break up was other than what I subsequently learned the financial and ownership considerations. Dell broke with Western, Dell Comics maintained the Dell Comics logo. Dell created a new line of comics and a lot of what was published was an attempt of getting a hold of the glory days of comic book publishing that Dell had during the late 40s and 50s.
Jamie: It was in 1962 that Four Color Comics stopped and a bunch of 1 shots or 2 issue runs were published that would have normally been in Four Color. Do you know anything about that?
DJ Arneson: No. I don’t know anything about that. Which one shots are you referring to? We did do a lot of one shots. Often times with television clients, they would run for a period of time and it would be more than a 1 shot. As far as movie clients, they were 1 shots because once the movie came out, that was the end of that.
Jamie: Dell got the licenses for TV series and even some musical acts like the Monkee’s…
DJ Arneson: I wrote the Monkees.
Jamie: Oh you did! I understand the artist was Jose Delbo?
DJ Arneson: Jose Delbo, he was really a terrific person, a wonderful illustrator. I don’t know anything about him now. The last I dealt with him was on a political satire comic called First Cowboy Comix. It made fun of Ronald Regan and Delbo illustrated it and that was the last contact I had with him. That was in the 1980s. But yes, Jose did the illustrations for the Monkees and I wrote it.
Jamie: Was there a lot of having to go back to the licensor and getting it all approved with the Monkees?
DJ Arneson: No, there was no approval. We had the license to do it and there was no approval by the licensor. We did the comic and I don’t recall ever a licensor getting back to us. It all would have been after the fact as the book would have already been published.
Jamie: Was all the licensors like that?
DJ Arneson: While I was there I don’t recall any licensed product that required approval by the licensor.
Jamie: Going back to the Monkees for a bit, I know there was a paperback of Monkees comics put out by Public Library, were you also involved in that?
DJ Arneson: No, I don’t know anything about it.
Jamie: What was John Stanley like?
DJ Arneson: I did not know John all that well. He was an established writer long before I met him. He had a close relationship with Helen Meyer, Dell’s president.
Jamie: What was Don Segall like?
DJ Arneson: Don was a reliable writer whom I counted on when a new title was acquired to deliver a manuscript quickly.
Jamie: I know you disagree with what Tony said about the creation of Lobo. What is your version of the events of how Lobo was created?
DJ Arneson: Tony Tallarico illustrated Lobo. He did not create the character, I did. He did not plot the storyline, I did. He did not write the script, I did. And he did not approach me with the original concept or idea. The concept, development and writing that became Lobo were mine.
It’s totally out of character for me to bother commenting on this kind of off-the-wall petty issue but in this case I’m compelled to do so because, frankly, it staggers me to believe that Tony said what this interview indicates he said. I cannot fathom why he would do so. It is an egregiously self-serving statement which, in addition, is personally demeaning to me by baldly stating, among other flatly false claims that: “It was my idea and I knew what I wanted to do and he (D.J. Arneson) just put it together.”
My responsibilities as editor included researching and developing material for new comic books as well as hiring the writers, illustrators and others required to produce Dell Comics. Tony was among the illustrators I hired; I never hired or assigned or used him to write anything.
I developed the original premise for Lobo (originally Black Lobo, a title Helen Meyer rejected as inappropriate at the time–this was the mid-60s when civil rights and other social issues were volatile) from the book The Negro Cowboys by Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones; Dodd, Mead, 1965. The book sits in front of me on my desk.
On reading the book in 1965, I recognized the potential for a black comic book hero based on historical fact; the Buffalo Soldiers, the name given to African-American Union soldiers in the American Civil War. A number of those soldiers went west and became cowboys following the war and I conceived Black Lobo as a dramatic characterization of this little-known history. Again, this was 1965, a time when African-Americans were still referred to as Negroes, for example. Sit-ins, segregation and social upheaval were still entrenched in the United States. Martin Luther King was still very much in the future as a national figure and symbol of the revolution underway. The idea of a black comic book character, much less the title character in his own comic, was unusual to say the least. That Helen Meyer, a trail-blazer in her own right as the only female president of a major publishing company, and incidentally, the highest paid female executive in the country at the time, made the decision to publish Lobo is a tribute to her intelligence, foresight and sensitivity.
I added other elements to the original Black Lobo character concept, e.g.: Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger etc. as well as the familiar adventurous spirit of the American cowboy of popular western novels and cowboy movies of that time to dramatize and expand the character and storyline to portray a black comic book hero; there were none at the time. The intention was to create a series, but that didn’t happen as comic book historians and enthusiasts now know. Bummer.
Tony illustrated a mock-up cover, titled Black Lobo, which was presented to Helen Meyer along with the proposal I wrote based on what I described above. Helen Meyer agreed to publish the proposed comic book as Lobo.
I then wrote the script and Tony Illustrated the comic book from my script for which we were each paid Dell’s going rates for writers and illustrators (embarrassing low, but that was a lifetime ago); that is, the rights to the character and the comic book were not bought by Dell but automatically became copyrighted Dell property as was the usual procedure for commissioned work. An entirely different process is followed for the contractual acquisition of original material. I mention this to underscore the fact that Lobo was not offered to Dell as a property created, owned or copyrighted by anyone outside the company.
I have no idea on what information or source, proprietary to Dell or other, Tony based his explanation for the discontinuation of Lobo. Sales were the primary basis for the continuation or discontinuation of a series title. I neither have now nor did I have at that time any intimation or suggestion that Lobo was discontinued because anyone was somehow conspiratorially “opposed” to it. On the other hand, I know very well, as I’ve briefly stated above, where Lobo began.
Jamie: I know you did a couple of political comics with Tony Tallarico, the Great Society and Bobman and Teddy. Can you tell us how those came about?
DJ Arneson: The first one was The Great Society comic book. Let’s me jump back a little bit, there was 2 guys at Dell that I knew, Dick Gallon an attorney and Peter Workman who was an editor at the time [Note: Workman used to do sales at Dell Publishing]. They had a notion to do a political satire. I had done one of the earlier ones with Jack Sparling, that name may or may not resonate. Jack was an illustrator of comic books as well as other stuff. He and I did a comic, well, it was book, called a flip book. It was political satire and it was the first book that I ever had published and that was in 1964. It was called Instant Candidates 1964. We’d done that and actually Helen Meyer was upset when she learned I had done that. As that was done at Simon and Schuster. She was concerned that I had gone outside the company and said why didn’t you bring it to me? My understanding at the time was that editors went outside the company just because of the presumption of… it would somehow de-legitimize if somebody inside the company had published the book. That’s pretty easy to do. Anyway I had the notion of another political satire based on a superhero. Superheroes had been revived at the time.
Jamie: Especially with the Adam West, Burt Ward Batman show.
DJ Arneson: The sense I have now is that there was a resurgence of interest at the fan level of comics. I got an occasional fanzine. They were mimeographed, done by ardent, earnest, I expect young people who were very enthusiastic about comics. It was my sense was that there was a resurgence of interest in comics in general. They had taken umbrage at The Seduction of the Innocent in where Wertham had challenged the morality of comic books and that they corrupted youth. I know that you’re familiar with that part of comic book history. Tony and I were friends. He was a very reliable artist. I could call Tony with a book that was under pressure and he would be able to produce that quickly, which was essential at the time. When it was due, we only had a prescribed period of time and Tony was always good about being able to produce something quickly. He was also willing to do stuff on spec. That is he would do a cover for a comic book idea or other things. When you are freelance your time is your livelihood and you measure it carefully. Tony did a cover concept for The Great Society comic and I took that to Dick Gallon. He and Peter Workman were in the process of developing a publishing company called Parallax publishing. It later became Workman publishing an enormously successful publishing company. They published the Great Society comic book and subsequently the follow up Bobman and Teddy.
Jamie: Around 1966-7 Dell began publishing some original superhero comics as well.
DJ Arneson: (Laughs) Are you referring to Werewolf, Dracula and Frankenstein? I wrote them.
Jamie: You weren’t publishing under the code so you were able to get away with that.
DJ Arneson: Yeah (laugh). Dell attempted to do some superheroes. You know, it was an attempt. It will be judged by comic book readers and comic book historians. I understand they have been pretty well panned. I’ll take credit or the blame for the writing. Tony illustrated them.
Jamie: Around 1967 there were a bunch of reprints going on, yet new material was being published. How did you decide what to reprint and what new stuff to publish?
DJ Arneson: I don’t know what you are referring to?
Jamie: Some series like Alvin and Combat, the latter issues were reprints of earlier issues.
DJ Arneson: I don’t know anything about that. You mentioned Combat. I thought that was a great series. I’m just reflecting here. Sam Glanzman illustrated Combat. He was really into it, but I’m digressing.
Jamie: So Dell Comic shut down around 72-73?
DJ Arneson: To the best of my knowledge, there was no in-house editor after I left. As I described a little while ago, when I gone to Helen Meyer and put in my resignation and said I was going to be leaving. She offered me this opportunity to remain on staff as editor of Dell comics but come in 3 days a week, and the balance of the week was for me to develop a freelance writing career. For a young, hope to be, freelance writer you couldn’t have a more wonderful opportunity. I did that for the remainder of the year, which I promised her I would do that. After the year was up, I went back and wanted to go full time but she kept me on under the same circumstances. Then it comes down to a specific year, I know I bought a house in Connecticut in ’68 and during that time I was still going in. The final termination as DJ Arneson as Editor, freelance editor, as I was freelancing for Dell was in 1973.
Jamie: Did you do any writing for comic book publishers after that?
DJ Arneson: No, well, wait a minute. I wrote for Charlton. A comic book for Charlton. I wrote for an Undersea guy for.. Tower Comics?
Jamie: Tower comics? Yes. They were in publishing from 65 to 69.
DJ Arneson: Okay yes. I remember they wanted me to do an Undersea guy [Agent]. I did the first issue and I remember I was about to take my family on a long trip to Hamburg or somewhere. I remember I went home and wrote it that evening. That went fast, sometimes it does. I remember there were a lot of undersea stuff, tunnels and rafts and something like that. I remember writing it, but I don’t think I ever saw it. A lot of stuff I never saw. You know, you write the manuscript, you send it in and that’s the end of that.
Jamie: I did see your name attached to a Doctor Graves Magic book when I searched online.
DJ Arneson: I know I did some Romance comics for Charlton. Doctor Graves, that rings a bell but I think that was a, there were comics but it was also..
Jamie: An Activity book?
DJ Arneson: Puzzles and maybe a magic book. There might have been magic tricks in it or something. A lot of this stuff I don’t even have copies of, I wish I did.
Jamie: I noticed certain titles continued on being published at Charlton after they stopped at Dell, like Ponytail. Do you know anything about that?
DJ Arneson: No. Now Ponytail was written and drawn by the creator Lee [Holley], he was a very nice guy when I met him on a couple of occasions when he came to New York. That had originally been a comic strip and Dell did the comic book, I was the editor and he essentially produced the whole thing and sent it to me at Dell Publishing. That was the only comic book that was done outside of the structure that was in place, with synopsis, storyline, storyboards, pencils, inks, colorists, letterers, and so on.
Jamie: When it came to licensing, was it somebody coming to you saying ‘okay we have to do a comic about this property now?’
DJ Arneson: No. As far as the movie studios, they would send the screenplays to me at Dell when there would be movies coming out. And Dell didn’t take that many movies at the time. They were sent to us based on the incredible popularity of Dell as a comic book publisher. From the point of view of a movie production company, a Dell comic client was a bonus. It got the word out about the movie. We would get screenplays by the bundle, well one at a time, but they’d get stacked up on my desk and we had tons of them. We would also get them for television shows that were forthcoming. The decision were often on the screening in the spring for a series that would be released in the fall. I would go with Helen Meyer or in some instances by myself and watch the screening of the Beverly Hillbillies for example. So that was the process, screenplays would come to my desk and I would read them. In most cases they wouldn’t make very good comic books and in some cases it would make sense. I would send them to Helen Meyer and say I believe this would make a good comic book. If she agreed, we would get the license from Warner Brothers of whomever and produce the comic book. It would be based on the screenplay, that is we didn’t create new characters. It would be a comic book of the movie. With a TV series, to use Beverly Hillbillies as an example, we would follow the series in the sense of the characters and the circumstances.
Jamie: Do you know who the distributor of Dell comic were?
DJ Arneson: My recollection was that Western was still distributing. They were printing, I went to the plant at one point. There was still a connection there with Western. But those details I didn’t really have a lot to do with. I was more into producing the comics and once the artwork was out of my hands, that is went to the printer, along with the color specs, that was the last I saw of it. I’m digressing again, but there were tons of storyboards and once they went to the printer and they were done with it, my guess is it was shredded. All of that original art. Some of it terrific and some of it kinda sucked, depending on one’s notion of what is good art, but all of the original comic book storyboards disappeared.
Jamie: That’s too bad.
DJ Arneson: I think so.
Jamie: After you stopped working at Dell I see you did a number of adapted story books for children?
DJ Arneson: I did some original stuff, I did some adaptations.
Jamie: One of them I seen was a Computer Haters Handbook?
DJ Arneson: Yes (laughs), also The Original Preppy Joke book and The Original Preppy Cook book. Those were published by Dell. I was no longer directly connected to Dell, other than I had a lot of friends down there. In the Cook book there are some decent recipes, by the way.
Mike Royer, Richard Kyle and Erik Larsen. From San Diego Comic Con 2011, Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.
From about 1998 to 2012 I did interviews off and on for CollectorTimes.com under the column name Coville’s Clubhouse. The website stopped updating in 2014 and has since gone off line. I’ll be reposting my interviews here one at a time in no particular order and in some cases be talking a bit about the interview. This one is was published online in the July 2012 edition of Collector Times.
This interview with Richard Kyle was the last one I done. I was “retired” from doing interviews but this was an opportunity that I could not resist. I had learned from Bob Beerbohm that the first person to use/create the term “Graphic Novel” was Richard Kyle. In 2011 San Diego Comic Con was celebrating 50 Years of Comic Fandom and brought in a number of people involved with the earliest comic fanzines and Richard Kyle was one of them.
After a panel he was on, I asked him about doing an interview some time after the con was over. He agreed and we exchanged phone numbers. I called him, we did the interview, I transcribed it and mailed it to him for review. Then I broke my right foot. Richard mailed back an altered transcription which I read, I knew would want to make changes to but didn’t do anything about it for a while. My office was upstairs and I was living downstairs on a lazy boy chair as my foot needed to be elevated at all times otherwise it would swell.
After my foot healed somewhat and with some prodding from Richard, I got back to the interview and we worked out an mutually agreed upon transcription of the interview. I also got Richard to give me permission to post the original column, giving his definition of the Graphic Novel. He also had another column that he wanted posted as well about his theory on comics, which I happily did.
Some of the interview goes into more detail about what he meant by Graphic Novel. Around this time there was much discussion online about what a Graphic Novel was by people in the industry. Some would say it had to be an original story, not a collection of previously printed comics and that Maus & Watchmen weren’t really Graphic Novels. I heard Will Eisner on a panel insist it wasn’t about “two mutants smashing each other” not long before he passed away. Others felt it had to be a complete story that ended and books like The Walking Dead series didn’t fit the definition. One creator believed it was the story that mattered and not the format. Some creators still have animosity towards the term and only have it on their books begrudgingly, in part due to what could be incorrect assumptions of what the term is supposed to represent.
I thought the best thing to do was to go to the source, Richard Kyle and get his take on what he meant when he created the term Graphic Novel. The interview covers more than just his definition of the term Graphic Novel, but I’ll let you read about the other things Richard has done within comics in the interview itself.
Richard Kyle came up with the term “graphic novel” in a 1964 article titled “The Future of Comics.” He was a contributor to early comic fanzines and often argued that the comics industry should publish more sophisticated stories for an older audience. He was also a comics retailer and in 1976 co-published the first book identified as a “graphic novel,” Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger. I met Richard at the San Diego Comic Con 2011 and he agreed to be interviewed about his thoughts on the graphic novel.
Jamie: I guess we’ll get started with your background. Where abouts were you born?
Richard Kyle: Oakland, California in 1929. A couple of months later the stock market crashed.
Jamie: Did your family go through hardship during the Great Depression?
Richard Kyle: Not the Depression itself, initially. My father had tuberculosis and was on 100% medical disability from the Navy, so there was enough money to get by. He’d been in the submarine service – I think he served on the D-1 – and a chlorine gas accident had seriously damaged his lungs. Tuberculosis set in. He died when I was four years old, and although my mother remarried, the years afterward were not easy. It wasn’t until the war came along that things began to get better. Then there were jobs for everyone. So after my mother and stepfather divorced, I left school to work. I got my education from science fiction magazines, pulp magazines, detective stories, and comic books. On balance, they were no worse teachers than the ones in public schools.
Jamie: When did you get interested in comic books?
Richard Kyle: Apparently with comic books with the first regularly published comic book – Famous Funnies. Maybe its first issue. At the time, there weren’t any others for me to see. Now I know it was made of up of newspaper comic strip reprints. Then, I didn’t have a clue.
One evening I went to the corner grocery with my stepfather to get milk and bread. Right beside the cash register was a pile of comic books. I’d never seen anything like them. They cost a dime, the equivalent of two dollars in today’s money, and that was a lot in the Depression – so I knew better than to ask for a copy. Especially since I couldn’t read worth beans. But, read ’em or not, I was in love with comic books the minute I saw them. They were something new, and I’ve always been in love with new.
I haven’t any memory of actually buying a comic book early on. I know I must’ve read practically everything that was being printed, however, because I have scraps of memories of so many of them. From New Comics to Pioneer Picture Stories to the early Funny Pages, to the newspaper strip reprint comic books and so on. Although I don’t remember most of them in detail, I do remember individual strips. Siegel and Shuster’s “Dr. Occult,” and “Radio Squad,” “The Clock,” “The Wake of the Wander,” and others. The Clock was probably the first masked character in comic books, although his mask was just a square black cloth with slits cut out for the eyes. He left a card behind, something like The Saint. It said “The Clock Strikes,” or something like that. He had his own private torture chamber –really-that he used to get the truth out of bad guys [laughter]. As near as I recall, there was an episode where he had a guy hanging up by his hands, trying to keep his bare feet off broken glass.
“The Clock” was created by George Brenner who later would take him over to Quality, where Brenner became editor. At Quality he would also do “Bozo, the Robot,” about a guy fighting crime inside a giant, rocket-propelled hot water heater with arms and legs and lots of rivets-an early-day Iron Man-and a strip called “711,” about a guy – inmate #711 – who escaped jail every episode to fight crime. And then broke back in at night to hide his secret identity. Something like that.
But they’re only pieces of memories until just a little while before Superman appeared. Then I-and the other kids-suddenly became conscious of comic books as something unlike anything else. Guys stopped collecting Big Little Books and started collecting comic books. We got them used from a nearby Salvation Army store.
I loved Siegel and Shuster’s “Slam Bradley,” in Detective Comics. As long as it was drawn by Shuster, I liked it more than “Superman.” Then there was Paul Gustavson’s great “Fantom of the Fair,” for Amazing Mystery Funnies, about a caped crime-fighter who lived in the catacombs under the New York World’s Fair. It was produced by Funnies Inc., one of the original comic book art studios. And over at Blue Bolt, from Novelty Press, Funnies Inc. had Bob Davis’ terrific, and now virtually forgotten “Dick Cole, Wonder Boy.” He wasn’t a costumed character, but the strip was a great favorite of mine. Funnies, Inc. also produced “The Human Torch” and “Sub-Mariner” for Timely/Marvel, along with Tarpé Mills’ forgotten “Fantastic Feature Films,” another favorite.
In fact, I guess it was Funnies Incorporated that I was a fan of more than any single publisher, including DC-although I was a great Batman fan. I’d initially been a full-on fan of “Superman,” then Joe started doing halfhearted layouts. But when it was Siegel and Shuster together it was a great strip.
Jamie: Yes, they put together a studio and were asked to crank out a bunch of work quickly and the quality of it went downhill.
Richard Kyle: Still, they also had a unique touch. Take “Slam Bradley.” Slam was a detective, he had a partner named Shorty. He was Slam Bradley’s pal. The little guy rode around on Slam’s shoulder a lot of times. He was ridiculous when you think about it, but as a kid without a father, I identified with Shorty. A lot of other kids my age did too. There were a lot of ’em in orphanages in those days. But, Joe left to produce “Superman,” even though Jerry was still writing the stories, it wasn’t the same. There was a magic between Jerry and Joe that made their work together unforgettable.
Once, I was talking with Jerry about how much I liked “Slam Bradley,” and he said that it was created after “Superman” but published first. That it was a more realistic development of the “Superman” idea, which the publishers of the day thought was too far-fetched for the customers. And if you think about it, Fawcett’s “Captain Marvel” has the same structure as “Slam Bradley”-in one, a young boy is literally transformed into a strongman, in the other a little guy gets to ride around on his shoulder, almost becoming him.
Jamie: Jumping ahead, how did you discover comic fanzines?
Richard Kyle: A science fiction fanzine I subscribed to mentioned Dick Lupoff’s fanzine Xero and praised its comics coverage. I subscribed, and Dick asked me to write a piece about the Fox line of comics for him. [Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego #101 has just reprinted it.] At the same time, comics fandom was forming, and because of the Fox article I became a part of it. I’m not an organizer, so my contribution to the creation of comics fandom was mainly the comics stuff I wrote.
Jamie: From what I’m reading, you came up with the terms “graphic novel” and “graphic story” in Capa Alpha #2. This was in 1964. How did you come up with those terms?
Richard Kyle: It’s curious. Until recently, I thought I’d invented them solely for Capa Alpha. But a while back, I discovered an earlier remark in an old letter of mine where I said “there ought to be a name for more serious comic book stories.” So it must have been in the back of my mind.
I was aware that Lev Gleason’s editor Charles Biro–Daredevil, Boy, and Crime Does Not Pay–called his more grown-up comics “illustories.” And, as I’ve mentioned, in the mid-’30s a few comic books tried putting “picture-stories” in their title. And then Picture Stories from the Bible, of course. (And that in the ’50s, EC had identified their new and lame half-text, half-comics stories as “picto-fiction.”) But they were really “shame names,” except Biro’s, that tried to avoid the perceived semi-literacy of “comic book,” not names created to describe the form accurately and to celebrate comic books for what they really are.
I wanted a name to match the kinds of stories I wanted to read-that is, stories for guys in their late teens to their mid-forties that used all the conventions of the “comic book” without apology, sound effects, motion lines and all the other devices that a lot of editors and writers and artists were ashamed of. I was aware of how careful I would have to be, given the failure of earlier attempts. So I thought of basic words and terms. “Novel” and “story” were about as basic as you could get. And “graphic”-my dictionary told me-was exactly right. [I used the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, definitions 1, 2 and 3.] The words felt good in my mouth, too, and that was important.
So, “graphic story” and “graphic novel” were it. And why these commonplace words were called pretentious, or why comics for grown-ups were, too, I’ll never know.
However, no one in Capa Alpha commented on this column-nor any other column of mine. So when Bill Spicer, the publisher of Fantasy Illustrated, invited me to take “Graphic Story Review” over to FI, I jumped at the chance. His magazine, which would be renamed Graphic Story Magazine, was the single most important and influential fan magazine of that time.
I soon realized no professional would take the advice of a fan. I had thought the comic book publishers would be smart enough to at least test a comics magazine in a good-looking, uncontaminated format that had only grown-up stories in it. But none of them ever did-except Lev Gleason, Charles Biro’s publisher on Boy, Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay–and he chickened-out before Tops’ first sales figures came in. Tops was the same size as Life magazine and was displayed with the grown-up periodicals, so it had a job penetrating the market. However, its final sales figures for Tops weren’t that bad at all. I know because I was working for a major San Francisco magazine distributor at the time. A lot of the big newsstands sold out three or four times.
It is amazing how conservative comic book publishers have been over the years. Even in the days when they were taking in money hand-over-fist they were afraid to do anything new. The publishers needed a demo. They’ve always needed a demo.
Years later, in 1976, there was an opportunity to provide that demo, and when Denis Wheary and I published George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again in hardback we subtitled it “A Graphic Novel.” It had taken its time, but once that demo stared the publishers in the face they finally accepted it-after Will Eisner legitimized the term, with a book that wasn’t a novel. The publishers were afraid to the end.
Jamie: Now did you see Graphic Novels as a literary designation, for stories that were more sophisticated regardless of how they were published or more of a format, like a think hardcover book?
Richard Kyle: Both. Because one requires the other. In the literary world “short story” and “novel” don’t just describe the length, they also describe the complexity of the material and suggest the seriousness of it. So I saw the graphic novel as having content that was as complex and serious as a motion picture or a text novel.
Jamie: You weren’t thinking about the Europeans-?
Richard Kyle: No. The Wikipedia entry for “graphic novel” says that I created it to describe European comics, and that I regarded them as superior to American comics. That’s wrong. Some were, some weren’t. At the time I came up with the term “graphic novel” in 1964, I hadn’t seen-or heard about-any of the European albums except “Tin-Tin”. I was introduced to the others in ’70 or ’71 by Fred Patten, a comics fan and member of LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, who became my partner in an international comics and fiction bookstore. We carried only new, in-print, books and magazines. No back issues. Fred wrote and spoke French, so we had access to everything, fan and professional, that was being published in Europe. But that was years after I introduced “graphic novel.”
It’s true enough that up to that time, with few exceptions-say a piece by Jack Cole, or Will Eisner or Kurtzman or Krigstein or Kirby or Alex Toth or-very soon-Jim Steranko, American comics seldom presented what I would regard as serious graphic novels or graphic stories. And, even when the exception came along, it was almost always presented in a format that made it seem shoddy and cheesy until you took a second look.
Actually, I shouldn’t say “serious” in this connection. I should say “grown-up.” I didn’t demand that the stories be thoughtful and profound and grim and all that. Just something that would interest and entertain me as a grown-up. But despite exceptions, despite superior packaging, the Europeans weren’t doing that much better than we were. They had brilliant layouts by Guido Crepax, Hugo Pratt, Druillet, and Mobius, but we had the guys I mentioned, Cole, Eisner, Kurtzman, Krigstein, Kirby, Toth, and Steranko, and others, who were admired by the Europeans.
Anyway, despite the refusal of the American comic books publishers to experiment with a fan-created term and format, “graphic novel” eventually caught on, and the professionals were forced to accept it. Even public libraries have a graphic novel section now. And it turns out that despite all the professional resistance here in the U.S., they’d been using the term in Portuguese for years-as “novela grafica,” or something similar. I wish I had known. It would have been a lot easier to talk professionals here into using the term if professionals there, even in another language, were using it.
Jamie: Some people think a graphic novel needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. That it can’t continue on, book after book, with an endless narrative. Do you have an opinion on that?
Richard Kyle: You can do anything with a graphic novel that you can do with a text novel – good or bad. Somebody once described a novel as a full-length portrait of the author’s universe, and a short story as a detail from that portrait. That applies to the “graphic novel” and the “graphic story” too.
Jamie: Something sequential-like?
Richard Kyle: No, not sequential. At least, not completely. I’d say “Narrative Art.” “Sequential” is a beautiful, important-sounding word that seems to describe comic book art at large. But it doesn’t. It only describes newspaper strip art. Reality isn’t merely a series of so-called “still” pictures strung end-to-end, like a movie or newspaper strip. It’s endlessly complex, and the comic book story – the graphic novel and the graphic story – has the capacity to portray that world more fully, more realistically, than the simplistic cause-and-effect world of the daily newspaper strip.
Jamie: In what way?
Richard Kyle: The comic book story couldn’t develop in newspapers. There was only a limited amount of space, three or four panels, except on Sundays, where the best they had to work with was a page. And newspapers were in the news business, not the comic strip business. They hired news editors, not full-time comic editors. Comics were tolerated because they brought in readers, not because they wanted comic strips defiling their newspapers, taking the place of real news — and the newspaper syndicates served those papers. Many editors were openly hostile to comics. And still are. They’ve never understood that just as newspapers cover current news, comics in those same newspapers cover current emotions. The syndicates are no better.
A sort of exception was Will Eisner’s “Spirit Section,” and it was inadequate. Despite Eisner’s best intentions, there was the short story limitation. Not much room fro growth there.
Jamie: What kind of growth?
Richard Kyle: The panels of comic book stories – graphic stories and graphic novels – relate not only to the frame behind and the frame ahead, as the frames of newspaper strips and movies do, but, like a hologram, they relate to everything – not only the frame in front and the frame behind, but to the whole page or spread or book, just the way we relate to the universe around us. Our modern conception of “time” hasn’t been with us very long. Just a few years ago, before the invention of the movies, the ordinary person would describe “time” as an endlessly flowing river, formless, without boundaries. Then, after the invention of movies, he’d describe time as something like a movie reel that could be run backward into the past and forward into the future, like H.G. Wells’ brand-new Time Machine. It was natural, then, that people would see newspaper comic strips as analogs of movies-as “paper movies.” We accepted that conception of time as real because we could easily visualize it, correct or not. But movies don’t report reality, they represent it. We can’t run life backwards and forwards like a reel of film in a movie projector.
We’re part of the universe, and the universe is a part of us. Somehow or another, like waves and particles in physics, comic book stories combine a serial view of time with another view – a hologram that embraces everything, from a “full-length portrait of the authors universe” to “a detail from the portrait.”
It’s a matter of time. The thing about both newspaper strips and comic book stories that differentiates them from other forms of pictorial storytelling, is their conception of time. When you put a border around a comic book illustration, it becomes a new universe. And that frame contains all of the conventions of the comic book story within it. If, say, you take all the borders off a Hal Foster “Prince Valiant,” something goes wrong. And if you put frames around the pictures in a New Yorker spot cartoon spread, that seems equally wrong. Why?
“Prince Valiant” which used no word balloons or sound effects, but it’s clearly a comic strip. It has the frame around its panels. Occasionally Foster uses the vignette without the frame, but it’s understood to be there. Within those frames is another universe, complete in itself, like an equation. However, “before-and-after” is good enough for a cartoon spread.
A panel may represent any amount of time. I remember a lecture given by Burne Hogarth, who drew the Sunday “Tarzan” strip and taught drawing and anatomy. He showed one panel from his Sunday “Tarzan,” and explained how that single panel represented 15 minutes. And it did. He had crammed 15 minutes of time into this one panel. His inspiration was Michelangelo and the Renaissance artists.
If you look at photos of the Sistine Chapel you can see that Michelangelo’s use of the idea of painting a picture in time. And Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer may have had his origin in a panel of the Last Judgement. The figure is in extreme perspective, so that as your eye tracks from the back of a panel to the foreground it gives a sense of dynamic movement. The seemingly broad exaggerations that people see in Jack’s work are Jack’s way of telling a story in time. Instead of having a dozen little frames, as Krigstein might, he would have one large and powerful frame containing the same information.
But the thing about the so-called “still” picture is that it isn’t still. The nearest thing you can find is that represents a still picture is a terrific blur. We live in a world of blurs. The whole universe is moving at incredible speed, in every direction. But we’ve so accustomed ourselves to the blurs, to the selective seeing, that we don’t see them. They merely provide fodder for comic book critics, along with the sound effects, thought balloons, and the rest of the conventions. Jack knew this, and he drew the blurs.
You take a picture of somebody, even with a good camera and they can be alive and dead in the same photograph because the camera hasn’t stopped time, it hasn’t slowed down the bullet, it has just made reality a little less blurry. If you’ve seen photographs of insects that are taken by electronic microscopes you see them in extraordinary detail because you are seeing them almost completely frozen in time, close to absolute zero. Truly “still.” they look unreal, alien.
The impressionists re-saw the way we looked at things. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” was painted while he was in a mental hospital, true enough, but consciously or unconsciously, Van Gogh was painting a picture of the blazing Einsteinian universe – before Einstein.
The graphic novel has the potential to re-examine the world and see it on fresh terms. You do that by seeing something other than a river flowing by. There is something else that time is. It’s doing something sequentially and not sequentially at the same time. In Eastern philosophy, there is a sense of the world being a gestalt, that it’s all happening everywhere, all at once, right now. There isn’t a past, present or future, There is now. The conception of time is seen as an artifice.
But you asked about “sequential.” I think Eisner successfully applied this sequential terminology to his own work, the post-“Spirit” stuff when he started doing his self-described “graphic novels.” But the sequential universe is entirely cause-and-effect, before-and-after. It doesn’t see the other side of anything. You need enough pages to do that.
Jamie: With graphic novels, do you think they need to be a minimum number of pages?
Richard Kyle: They need enough to fully exploit a complex storyline. If it’s just an incident of something of that kind, no matter how long it is, it’s still not a novel.
There are short graphic stories that have done it – Steranko’s “At the Stroke of Midnight,” Krigstein’s “The Master Race,” Metzger’s “Möbius Tripp,” and work by Cole and Kurtzman and others – so it clearly can be done.
Jamie: Nowadays, it seems the graphic novel term applies to the physical format. They really don’t care about the content. Do you agree with how the term has evolved over the years?
Richard Kyle: Probably not. As near as I can tell, the term is made to describe something thick that has some sort of pictorial narrative. But if you notice, people-including the news media-also confuse matters with straight novels. They’ll still describe, say, a non-fiction book by a well-known non-fiction writer as a “novel”-either because it’s thick or because all thick books are novels. Or because all bestselling books are novels. Or something. But some genuine graphic novels are being done, I think, and that’s what counts. It’s always that way in the arts.
Jamie: I’m not sure if you are aware of some thicker books that were published prior to George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again–Lynd Ward’s novels-in-woodcuts, Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer, Milt Gross’ He Done Her Wrong. Dell did a couple of paperbacks that were all comics and St. John published another, The Case of the Winking Buddha. Have you seen any of those things?
Richard Kyle: I don’t know anything about Obadiah Oldbuck. Lynd Ward’s books are novels-in-wood-cuts, pantomimes on paper, one picture to a page, wordless, soundless, with time presented as simple before-and-after. They are fine books, but they’re not comics. Some interesting novels-in-woodcuts were also done in France during the ’30s.
In the case of the novels-in-woodcuts there is no delineation of time except before-and-after, and very little of that. So, although I enjoy them, they don’t deal with time satisfactorily.
As for the paperback-size comic books, I thought they were pretty lame, with disappointing breakdown. I read a couple of them. The writing was pretty poor. They were over the top, caricatures of private eye novels with smart-ass remarks and that kind of stuff. But none of them were labeled graphic novels. The publishers called them comic novels or something.
Jamie: Would this be The Case of the Winking Buddha that St. John put out?
Richard Kyle: I don’t know. Probably another one. There were three or four different companies. I never thought they were serious works. It was kinda like doing a deliberately lame motion picture. A near-inadvertent “Airplane.”
In any case they weren’t called “graphic novels” which is what the argument seems to be about. So the answer is that there may have been comic book stories that people might have called “graphic novels”- but they weren’t labeled that on the book itself. Which could be true of a lot of the stuff like that Milt Gross book.
Jamie: He Done Her Wrong?
Richard Kyle: Yeah, that was a parody – a funny one, I recall – of the woodcut novels, which was very popular at the time. It was a spoof.
Jamie: What do you consider to be the first graphic novel? There are a number of claims to the first one.
Richard Kyle: The only thing I’ve ever said was that Denis Wheary and I – he was my partner in publishing George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again – published the first book labeled a “graphic novel.” It was a hardback, bound in blue cloth, with silver stamping. The term “graphic novel” appears on the dust jacket copy and the title page.
You can call things anything, however. In Eisner’s case, he called a collection of short stories a graphic novel. But before he did that, Joe Orlando who had access to Bill Spicer’s Graphic Story Magazine, where there was a discussion of graphic novels, used the term on a romance comic. [Jamie’s Note: Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (1972) was called a “graphic novel”].
Jamie: For a while there Eisner was saying he had created the term and that he even published the first one, but he would correct this towards the end of his career.
Richard Kyle: At that point I hadn’t paid much attention to inside-comics for several years. But there was an article in the local Los Angeles Times. They used the term with Eisner’s name on it, and it was obvious that they were working from material supplied by DC Comics. I wrote letter to DC and included a copy of Metzger’s book, published two years before Eisner used it. They talked to Eisner and Eisner ran a quote about having come up with the term independently, which is not implausible.
However, he also used the term “graphic storytelling” which isn’t the best coinage I ever made but it was mine. Then Eisner then came up with a book title Graphic Storytelling and there were some other things. It was clear that whether consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, Eisner picked up the title from our reviews of “The Spirit” in Graphic Story Magazine.
In the beginning I didn’t make any effort to identify myself with the creation of the term. I was certain that the pros, being what they are, pros, weren’t going to take suggestions from some fan in the jillikins. That turned out to be the case, and when Eisner began producing his collections and calling them “graphic novels,” well, then, the professionals had finally spoken. I only made an issue of it when Eisner began to lay claim to the term. If it was important enough for Eisner, then it was important enough for me. Eisner had read my reviews of his work. He knew me.
Jamie: I believe they’ve just discovered some letters between Eisner and Jack Katz where Katz was talking about The First Kingdom as a graphic novel, this was before Eisner even started A Contract With God so some people think he might have picked it up from there.
Richard Kyle: He could have. But Beyond Time and Again was the first book labeled a graphic novel.
Jamie: With Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again, you said you published over a thousand of them?
Richard Kyle: A hair over or under 1,000 copies. Somewhere in that range. The records are packed away.
Jamie: Do you recall the markets it was sold in? Was it in both what would be become the direct market and in bookstores as well?
Richard Kyle: No. Remember there was no direct market. And the regular bookstores regarded every kind of comics except Disney reprints as something out of a sewer. We sold a lot of books pre-publication. We sold them retail at conventions. And to large dealer-wholesalers like Bud Plant and Bob Sidebottom. We sold a lot of copies at my own bookstore. And through my Graphic Story World / Wonderworld magazine, which had a circulation of almost 3,000-a big circulation before the direct market.
Jamie: Over the years the term “trade paperback” has become interchangeable with the word “graphic novel.” Do you know how that came about?
Richard Kyle: I don’t know. I haven’t been in touch with inside-comics stuff since I closed my bookstore. But I imagine they borrowed the term from mainstream publishing-mainly to avoid calling them some fan name, I expect. However, the thin and flat 8 ½ x 11 format doesn’t really lend itself to commercial success-it resists bookstore display. It’s too tall. It doesn’t shelve well. It doesn’t “show spine” at all well. We’ll see. People seem to like saying “graphic novel.”
Jamie: Jim Steranko did a book called Chandler: Red Tide and people consider it a proto-graphic novel because there was a lot of text and some panels with some word balloons. Do you consider a book like that to be a graphic novel?
Richard Kyle: I’ve only read the original book and Jim was dissatisfied with that. He seems to feel much happier about this one. I’ll have to see what the new Red Tide looks like to make any judgment. I’m looking forward to it.
Jamie: Okay, with the term “graphic novel,” some people feel the term diminishes comic books. Was that the intention?
Richard Kyle: No. I’ve never had anything against comic books. I read ’em.
My objection is that comic book publishers have seldom published anything for grown-ups. And when they do, they try to hide it. If adults want to read comic books mainly directed towards much younger people, fine. In fact, of course they do. And among text novels, Treasure Island is a favorite of mine, and Tom Sawyer, and there are a whole slew of children’s books are among my favorites, not just comic books.
My argument is quite simple. If you want to reach a five-year-old child, you publish five-year-old child stories. If you want to reach ten-year-old children, then you publish stories a ten-year-old would be interested in, and so on. If you want to sell to a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old then you publish a book that a thirty-year-old or an eighty-year-old would want to read. It seems simple. But, no.
Most comic book publishers will tell you they’re not in it for the art, they’re in it for the money. Well, if they’re in it for the money, then why don’t they test the market, so they can make more money? Why don’t they find out if they can sell something to sixteen-year-olds in addition to the fourteen-year-olds that they already have? And so on.
And if they are only interested in the money, then why don’t they go where the money is-to young adults with a lot of disposable income? There is something wrong with the comic book “industry.”
For a time, Marvel was so successful they could have easily have tested the market with a good-looking, magazine-size, graphic story magazine of at least 100 pages of new stories, in full color and priced right for an older, more affluent, audience-a good solid magazine that published in the same issue every month, on a running basis Smith’s or Buscema’s “Conan,” Archie Goodwin’s and Gene Colan’s “Dracula,” the Englehart/Starlin “Master of Kung Fu,” and Jim Steranko’s great “SHIELD,” which was always too sophisticated for little kids but a hit with adults.
They didn’t. And it’s strange, because Marvel did publish the next thing to it, the first issue of the Savage Sword of Conan, 8 ½ x 11, in full process color, and it sold out and had to be reprinted. But they never did it again. The rest of the industry did no better – except for one shining moment-when Dick Giordano gave the go ahead for The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen books. Heavy Metal has always been too esoteric for a general audience. Marvel’s Epic was simply lame.
And then look at the case of The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. They came out, they were a huge success, they made an unbelievable amount of money. It may have saved DC Comics from just being folded up and written off. And what did DC do? They got in a silly argument about censorship with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the creators of all that money-and the guys who had made a great success with a new format. So Miller and Moore quit and went to other companies, more or less permanently. It’s just dumbness, it’s incredible that these people could have been so foolish. Many years have passed, but I don’t know of anything dumber in the business.
DC couldn’t experiment intelligently. They came out with tabloid-sized comic books in a brand-new format. You remember ’em? And what did they put in them? Reprints. I recall standing in a line at a grocery store, and they had the tabloid-sized comics displayed by the cash register. There were two guys behind me. One of them said, “Hey, Tarzan!” and the other said, “Forget it. It’s just a reprint.”
And on top of that, because of the format DC was using, they couldn’t publish the complete original comic book story. So they dropped four pages or so. Instead of offering more, they offered less. What a way to promote a new format. Then they came out with Action Comics Weekly, a sure disaster from 3000 miles away. It was, I suppose, DC’s idea of testing.
Jamie: Any last words, Richard?
Richard Kyle: Yes. The idea of the graphic novel, and the graphic novel itself, did not originate with the professional comic book writers or the professional comic book artists or the professional comic book editors or the professional comic book publishers – it originated from the demand by comic book fans themselves for grown-up comic book stories.
And even though many years have passed, every comics fan should remember the industry’s folly, because it is waiting to happen again.
I went to San Diego Comic Con again and this year things went a little differently for me.
First, I got a direct non-stop flight from Toronto to San Diego, which was nice because normally I have at least 1 layover ever when I fly there. On the flight back I saw quite a few comic peeps I recognized. The flight was also significantly cheaper than what I normally pay.
I landed in San Diego on Tuesday and got around to do some things in San Diego before the con, like go to the Coronado Beach. The sand looked like gold and I saw small crabs in the barnacles. I also saw the hotel that was in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. I’m told it’s been used in a lot of TV shows and movies.
Normally I land in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, go straight to my hotel, check and get lunch, unpack, relax for a bit, then head down to the convention to get my badge. All of this makes for a really long day, so coming in Tuesday made it much easier on me. The only problem is needing to find a Hotel for Tuesday only and having to pack up and leave on Wednesday to your comic con hotel. As I’ve learned a couple of years ago, even if you get the same hotel the staff will have a different room for you for the convention days and you’ll have to move to that room.
For the con itself what was different was that I didn’t spend that much time on the exhibit floor. There were days where I didn’t hit the exhibit floor at all. I didn’t go there on Thursday or Saturday. I was only on there for a bit on Friday and Sunday towards the very end. Normally I make it a point to walk every isle and see everything. This year I felt fine skipping about a 3rd of the exhibit floor.
In previous years in the non comic area’s you’d sometimes find booths with a couple long boxes of comics or trades. Often it would be a mix of odd stuff that they’re just trying to get rid of and you’d get a decent deal. The last couple of years I haven’t seen any comics at all in that area, so I skipped it. The publishers (big and small) and back issue dealers are primarily in Hall B & C then you find artists alley, some artists collective booths and original art dealers in Hall’s F.
I discovered some booths I normally shop at either had smaller spaces or reduced/changed what they had brought. Bud Plants booth was half of what it normally is. There were a couple of underground dealers that didn’t have much in the way of old underground collections like they normally did. I also noticed Mile High didn’t bring any GNs and was only selling back issues, which was a switch. As a result I bought less than I normally do there.
I don’t know how the publishers are doing when it comes to selling their books but I haven’t heard any complaints. When I typically walk by their booths I see lots of people in them. I did find it a little odd that the Image Comics booth didn’t have any Savage Dragon trades there. Considering Erik Larsen was an Image founder you’d think they’d bring something. It’s pretty sad when the publisher you help create decides to abandon you at the biggest show of the year.
The moment the con announced the show was closing in a half hour all the dealers started taking down their “wall” comics and packing up. I didn’t talk to many dealers about how the show went, but when dealers start packing up early (or at least as early as they’re allowed), that’s almost always a sign it was a bad show and they just want to cut their losses and get out of there ASAP.
I know dealers are increasingly unhappy with the con because they feel back issue buyers can’t get into the con because tickets sell out so quickly. I have no doubt that’s true, but I think there’s more to it. I think there are less people buying back issues than before. Those that do want a good deal (EG: below guide) and normally dealers that exhibit at San Diego can’t give them that deal due to the high costs of being there. Discounts don’t always pay for themselves with volume sadly.
I also suspect a lot back issue buyers are older and they don’t like the difficulty of getting tickets, a hotel room and the large crowds. Plus all that is really expensive. It’s much cheaper and more convenient for them to buy online and/or go to a closer, quieter convention. I’m wondering what a traditional comic convention might look like without any back issue dealers and I might actually see that within my lifetime.
The slower sales may also have something to do with the smaller crowds this year. It’s been said that San Diego’s switch to using badges with RFID chips made it harder for people to pass (or counterfeit) badges and get in. The less crowded exhibit floor was nicer for the attendee’s that were there. I suspect another reason the floor was less crowded was due to people playing Pokemon Go around the con. Even on Wednesday night I saw numerous people walking around in circles looking at their phones. One professional I talked during the day to told me his daughter was out playing Pokemon Go at that moment.
During my TCAF post I mentioned I was unhappy with my camera and was getting a new one. I got a Canon Powershot SX710 HS and am quite happy with it. There camera does not get the best rating on the various review websites, but it worked well for my purposes. I’m learning to not just blindly follow reviews & ratings and instead focus on what the pro’s and cons of the camera and applying that to what I’m using it for. I don’t think those reviewers have taking pictures at comic conventions and darkly lit award ceremonies in mind when doing their reviews.
I am especially happy with how using the sport scene worked on the Eisner Award pictures. I took a whole bunch of pictures in that mode (over 2,000 of them) but that allowed me to get better pics than usual. I’m typically in the pro seats behind the tables, which is quite a ways away from the stage. My camera ‘s 30X zoom was used to the fullest to get pics of people on stage and less than that was used on the big screens showing what’s happening on the stage.
Surprisingly I did not see any celebrities outside of the Eisner Awards. Normally San Diego is crawling with so many celebrities I end up seeing somebody somewhere even though I only focus on comics programming. For example, one year during a Ted Naifeh panel the back door opens up and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, etc..) walks out. He apparently just wanted to go outside for a smoke. He came back in after the panel was done and was giving an interview to a camera crew as the audience was leaving the room. Of course it’s entirely possible I did see one, but didn’t know it was a celebrity.
I was quite happy to be able to audio record some panels with creators whom I’ve never met in real life before like Christopher J Priest, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron. I was only turned down by one creator but I knew in advance that was a strong possibility. I’m not bothered by it as I was able to record him at at another convention recently. The only disappointing situation I had was a creator who wouldn’t let you take a picture of him unless you bought a $15 print/sketch.
The panels I recorded can be found on the audio page of my other website. Also at that link is the Will Eisner Awards recording and pictures to both the convention and Eisner Awards. I should warn you that there is a bit of swearing of almost every panel. Off the top of my head the YA? Why Not? panel does not have swearing, but the rest I can’t vouch for. The saddest panel was the Darywn Cooke tribute, while you won’t hear this on audio I can tell you from being there that several panelists were in tears at the end. What’s also sad was that there was no tribute panel for Paul Ryan, who worked in the comics industry since the 1980s. I’m hoping a convention that’s local to where he used to live puts something on for him.
As always with San Diego there usually multiple panels I wanted to be at and record happening at the same time. I shockingly did not record a single panel that Mark Evanier was on. The same goes for Paul Levitz except for a surprise appearance at the Fan vs Pro Comic Trivia challenge. I sometimes question the choices that I’ve made when it comes to which panels to cover, but in the end I’m very happy with all the panels I got. I just wish I had a 2nd person who could go to the panels I can’t be at and record them, despite the extra work that would bring.
The only panel I did not like that much was one about goal setting for creative people. I only came in part way through but it was clear to me that this was a rewording of a standard SMART goals course/lecture that almost everybody in business has to take at least once. The main difference was the presenter telling people to draw their goals instead of writing them down and an artist was demonstrating how to do so with large paper flip chart and markers.
There are official video recording of panels going on now. It’s something called Comic Con HQ but they are understandably only recording the panels with the widest commercial appeal thus far. Outside of the Will Eisner Awards which was live streamed online there is no overlapping between us that I know of. If they do decide to record everything I’ll have to decide if I want to keep recording or even if I can. Chances are they’ll want exclusive rights to the panels.
I also got to see and hang out with some friends which is always great, but there were many people whom I usually see that I missed this year or only saw very briefly / in passing. While that happens every year, it seemed more pronounced this year. I think I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to find and say Hi to people next year.
Of those that I did talk to Donald Trump’s name came up a lot when the conversion drifted outside of comics. Everybody was speaking about him in an “OMG how can anybody vote for this freaking lunatic?!?” type way. He was also the butt of many jokes when people were in front of a microphone.
I am very much looking forward to going back next year, where it’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. I learned that there are supposed to be extra panels on the two creators next year and that sounds great.
So I went to TCAF a week ago. I did my usual audio recording of panels and took some pictures of creators. Normally I try and get pics of all of the creators there, but I was unable to this time due to recovering from a cold and dealing with back pain.
This year’s TCAF was a little different in that the ground floor wasn’t so crammed with creators and publishers. One of the back rooms was being renovated so they weren’t able to use it. Other areas where they would normally have tables on both sides of the isle only had tables on the 1 side. This made walking around and browsing much more pleasurable. I also noticed a lot of new faces this year as well. I think having a bunch of different creators with new (thus more popular books) is good for the overall vibe of the convention. Seeing so many new/good things to buy I think gets people spending money and enjoying the event more. I imagine it leads a more positive conversations among creators after the event if they all sold a lot of books.
They were able to more effectively use the 2nd and 3rd floors in terms of putting creators up there. I doubt they got as much foot traffic as the usual places creators were but when I was there people were there browsing and shopping so I hope they did okay. They also put most of their big mainstream creators in a new spot (the Masonic Temple) which was about a block away from the Library. I never got to visit there but I’m told it was really nice. My understanding is the place was mainly used for signings and wasn’t a place where creators sat all day selling their stuff.
One panel I attended for myself was about dealing with back pain. It was aimed at creators who are at their drawing tables (or computers) all day. I did not record it because 1. I came in late after the panel started and 2. It was a very visual panel with lots of slides showing drawing of bodies and things you can do prevent and manage back pain. Personally it was a very useful panel and I’ll be seeking out Kriota Willberg for more information.
One of the oddest things I saw while in Toronto was a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk selling back issue sets of comics. I only got to do a bit of shopping myself and I did the majority of it in the last 10 minutes of the show. I bought Mary Wept at the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown and Bernie by Ted Rall. I’m about half way through the Bernie book now and I’m enjoying it. The book is like comic version of a Bernie Sanders speech, but with historical and economic information to back up the points he makes. So far it’s covered income inequality and the move of the US Democratic Party to the Center/Right in the 1970s and how it doesn’t represent progressive Liberal voters.
I did something else I very rarely do at panels and that is ask questions. I did this at the Chester Brown panel that quickly went from being about the book to being about sex workers and how/why the Catholic church has worked to criminalize their profession. I don’t disagree with anything that was said but I think room started getting tense as not everybody was comfortable with the criticism of the Catholic church. I tried to steer the panel back to talking about the book. That said, Chester might want to consider making a book about the history of prostitution and how/why it’s illegal. I think much of what was said at the panel would make for some interesting reading.
The Doug Wright Awards were a bit different this year. For starters Brad Mackay wasn’t there due to a family emergency. Dustin Harbin stepped in to host the awards. Usually they get some celebrity involvement in the awards but there was none of that this year, which was fine as it wasn’t needed. The awards ran a bit quicker than usual which was good as they got off to a late start.
I feel I should note that I’m not that happy with my camera. Last year I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 that had multiple review sites saying it was the best point and shoot camera out there. Those sites are wrong. The biggest problem with the camera is the Auto Intelligent Scene picker setting. The camera examines the shot you want to take and then picks the scene mode best for that shot. Sounds great doesn’t it? Problem is, nearly half of all the scene modes say it should be used with the camera on a tripod. So when you’re taking pictures by hand you get blurry or bad pictures and you normally have no way of knowing what you’re going to get.
I took the majority of the pictures at the show at either Portrait or “Food” setting, but still wasn’t happy with the results. Some of it is because the camera takes the shot right when the flash is shooting, which leads to wicked shadows behind the people and flash light washed out faces. I plan on buying a new camera before San Diego Comic Con and I think I’m going to sell this one on Ebay. My previous camera took much better pictures but I stopped using it because of increasing delays between pressing the shutter button and getting the shot and also inconsistent flash settings. Also, it took 4 AA batteries, which increased the cameras weight and my backpack weight due to me having spares.
Paul drew the 2nd comic I ever bought, which was D.P. 7 #2. I would eventually go on to collect the entire series. It is one of my favourite comics of my youth. Paul drew all 32 issues of the comic but Lee Weeks drew the D.P. 7 Annual. The entire New Universe line of books were panned back in the day, but many noted that D.P. 7 was easily the best of the bunch and is fondly remembered by fans like myself.
Paul and D.P. 7 writer Mark Gruenwald worked together on the first 6 issues of Quasar. While I didn’t collect it I did buy the odd issue, particularly the issue that had Quasar go to the New Universe and visit the D.P. 7 cast of characters. I’ve never had any desire to buy original art but I had a serious look at Paul’s D.P. 7 pages. If I saw something I really liked for a decent price I likely would have bought it. Sadly most of the good pages I would have been interested in had been bought already.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21
Paul’s most famous 80’s comic was The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, which featured the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. I also enjoyed Paul’s run on Fantastic Four with Tom DeFalco in the 90s. I know those comics get a bad rap but they were fun, fast paced, popcorn reading. At the time comic industry sales were crashing and if I remember Dan Ravi’s Comic Wars correctly the editors were put under immense pressure to increase sales every quarter in spite of this. DeFalco (who was then the Editor in Chief) and Ryan did their best to do entertaining stories while keeping the upstairs people happy. Their run was filled with with gimmick covers, shocking revelations (Alicia is really a Skrull named Lyja the Lazerfist!), costume changes and more. Paul would go on to draw many more comics for Marvel, DC and other publishers.
Paul had been drawing the Phantom newspaper strip since 2005 and I always happy that he found solid, steady work as he fell out of flavour in comic books. Sadly, many artists do not and are heavily reliant on the convention circuit and fan commissions to support themselves. Many more just don’t get any more work in comics and have to go into some other field. Paul’s consistency and clarity in telling a story were among the qualities that lead to him having a long and successful career in comics.
I’ve been going to comic book conventions since 2003 and have been audio recording panels and awards since 2005. Along the way creators have spoken about some behind the scenes happenings that don’t always become public knowledge.
On the Comics Can Be Good column at CBR, Brian Cronin writes about the 1993 DC Bloodlines Annuals. In these annuals a new superhero character was created, which was a selling point to get fans to buy these books. The vast majority of these characters were not very popular and went into comic book limbo almost immediately after their appearance. The same thing happened with the 1993 Marvel Annuals that had new characters in them too.
Creator Mike Grell wrote the Green Arrow Annual #6 and came up with a character called The Hook. Grell was at the 2008 Toronto Hobbystar ComiCON and was on a panel along with Bob Layton and David Michelinie. It was called The Men of Iron / Sketch Off Panel where Layton and Grell did sketches and all 3 talked about their careers, focusing mainly on their time on Iron Man. The panel was moderated by Blake Bell.
The conversation drifted towards working with editors and around the 37:30 mark, David Michelinie spoke about declining to work on the Marvel annual (he was writing Amazing Spider-Man at the time). Mike Grell spoke about working on the Green Arrow Annual #6.
Michelinie: I remember one year in the annuals. (…) One year they had everybody create a new character which Marvel would then own. So I declined to do the annual that year. You always have a choice. You can always say no.
Grell: DC had that policy. There was a line of books that they did. They mandated that everybody had to create a new character and by the way, it was work for hire and DC owned the character. Being a professional prostitute [laughter from the panel] I did, but I accidentally created a good one. I had already sent in the outline for the story as soon as it went in I went “OH CRAP! THAT’S A GOOD CHARACTER!” [Laughter] I got on the phone with the editor and I unsold it. [Lots of Laughter] The character that I created, I convinced them it wasn’t very good. The character I created, the one that showed up in print was this war veteran who had a prosthetic hand or a prosthesis and when he would active his power, his hook would become this giant hook/claw thing that could cut through anything. By the time I’m done the editor was going “Yeah that’s great! That’s great!” *Whew!* that was close.
Marvel and DC likely did this because of Image Comics. They began publishing in 1992 and very quickly became the #3 publisher in the industry. Image was creating lots of new characters that had fans excited. Marvel and DC likely wanted to counter with their own “exciting” new characters but didn’t want to pay creators for them. So they got what they got. I should say that not all characters to come from this were a bust. Garth Ennis and John McCrea created Hitman, who had a well loved solo series.
I can’t speak for all creators, but I think with a lot of creators would really hate to have created a character and have it earn all sorts of money and none (or very little) of it going to them. It bothers them a lot and it can bother them for the rest of their lives. Much like if somebody broke into your house and stole your prized possession and then flaunted it in front of you at every chance they got for the rest of your life and you can’t do anything about it. The pain is such they’d rather not have created the character at all.
Plus there is always the possibility that they might use the character in a situation where it’s much more agreeable to them. It could be with another publisher or even the same publisher with different editorial policy down the line. Some creators work in other mediums like prose books, cartoons, video games, etc.. and those other fields may provide better deals. There is simply no reason for creators to provide good characters to non paying publishers if they think they’re going to regret the decision.