Janet Heatherington and Ramona Fradon – Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con 2006
This interview was done at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con in April of 2006 and was published in June, 2006. I still regularly see Ramona at San Diego Comic Con and occasionally on panels.
Ramona Fradon is one of the great silver age penciler-creators. She co-created Aqualad and Metamorpho. Fans remember her for long run on Aquaman, the early Metamorpho stories and Super Friends. She is also well known for drawing the Brenda Starr newspaper strip for 15 years. I met her at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon and did an interview on April 29th. We cover a wide range of topics, taking careful consideration to not duplicate questions she had just recently answered on a panel (moderated by Janet Heatherington) about her career. You can hear that panel here.
Now on to the interview which includes a special appearance by another popular creator.
Jamie: How are you Ramona?
Ramona Fradon: I’m fine, thank you.
Jamie: Are you enjoying Toronto?
Ramona Fradon: Oh yes.
Jamie: Have you been out to see the sites at all?
Ramona Fradon: No I haven’t, I’ve been sitting here drawing steadily.
Jamie: Are you making money?
Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. It’s very nice.
Jamie: Okay to start off, I’ve recorded your panel and I’m going to try not and duplicate those questions. At the beginning you said you read comic strips. What strips in particular?
Ramona Fradon: Oh I like all the daily newspaper strips. I liked Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, Alley Oop, Mandrake the Magician and more. The only one I didn’t really like was Brenda Starr (laughter). I never read it, I didn’t like the way it looked.
Ty Templeton (to Ramona): Hi, I can’t let this convention end without saying you are one of my favorite people in this business. I love absolutely everything you have ever done. My name is Ty Templeton and I worked on Plastic Man at DC. We’ve shared characters. I didn’t want to interrupt this conversation but I at some point just had to come by and shake your hand.
Ramona Fradon (to Ty): Thank you very much.
Ramona Fradon (to Jamie): Lets leave that part in (laughter).
Jamie: Okay (laugher).
Jamie: You said your father got you into becoming an artist. How did that go about?
Ramona Fradon: Well, he just kept saying it was conditioning. When I got to high school I took a lot of art courses. Not because I was particularly interested in it, but because it was something I could do. I had neglected studying so I couldn’t get into college with the grades I had. So I went to art school but I didn’t have any idea of what I’d do.
Jamie: So you just went along with the flow?
Ramona Fradon: Yeah, I went a long with the flow. When I got out I was just bewildered. I had no idea and I just got steered into cartooning.
Jamie: When you were learning art was there any particular influences that you had?
Ramona Fradon: Will Eisner. I just thought he was incredible when I first saw the Spirit. It was just the way it should be you know? There was a mix of serious and cartooning.
Jamie: Did you ever get a chance to meet him?
Ramona Fradon: I was nominated for an Eisner and at one point I was on a stage with him and shook his hand.
Jamie: He was here two years ago.
Ramona Fradon: He was a genius, definitely a genius.
Jamie: Oh yes. You mentioned that you almost worked with Fox?
Ramona Fradon: I got a script from Fox and I returned it because I heard they didn’t pay. I then did three scripts for Stan Lee at Timely. The last job was for the dogs (laughter). It was bad.
Jamie: Were there any other publishers besides DC and Marvel that you worked for?
Ramona Fradon: No, just those two. And mostly DC.
Jamie: So you never bothered with Charlton?
Ramona Fradon: I never knew anything about them. I was lucky.
Jamie: At DC how strict was the creative process of drawing? I know they were a lot more strict than Marvel.
Ramona Fradon: Well DC was interested in maintaining a certain format. When I started they wanted to maintain the 6 panel grid, two panels to a line. They didn’t really want to deviate from that. But as time went on they got looser. By the time I finished I could make any type of layout that I wanted. I mean, they were strict at first, they were very worried about the continuity from one panel to another.
Jamie: The storytelling?
Ramona Fradon: Yes, sometimes I could get something in the wrong place.
Jamie: Did you every deviate from the script at all?
Ramona Fradon: I never wanted to. Unless it was something that was so horrible to draw (laughter). The most that I would do is when the writer would say… and this is the thing that made me quit cartooning… there was a panel where I had to draw thousands of roses being dropped out of an airplane. And I thought, I cannot do this, this is just insane (laughter). So you have to think of ways of abbreviating the idea, the impression. Thats the only way I would change things.
Jamie: You’ve spent a long time on Aquaman. Do you know why Aquaman stuck around while other superheroes didn’t?
Ramona Fradon: I really don’t know. I guess it was all the silly young men that kept reading him. He’s changed though, I don’t see him as the character at all.
Jamie: Are you surprised Aqualad is still around after all these years?
Ramona Fradon: Yes, I never understood while he had any appeal to begin with (laughter).
Jamie: I know you took some time off and then they called you back to work on Metamorpho.
Ramona Fradon: Yes, I think I was out for about 3 years. George Kashdan called me and asked me to at least help get it started. I then stopped again around 1973 I think.
Jamie: Why did you stop?
Ramona Fradon: I had a baby. She was clinging to my knee while I was trying to draw and it was terrible. So I just quit.
Jamie: What went into the creation of Metamorpho? Were you given any visual cue’s on how he should look?
Ramona Fradon: No, no, we did do a lot of talking about it. The first sketches I did and I think I may have them somewhere.. I made him a conventional type hero with a cape and tights and whole thing. That didn’t seem to work, then we talked some more. I think I finally figured it out that since he was based on 4 basic elements that he should be divided into 4 parts and that he shouldn’t have any clothes on. I mean.. otherwise, how would he do that? So it just evolved as we reasoned it.
Jamie: Do you know why they ended his series?
Ramona Fradon: I don’t know, I know it sorta fizzled out and they keep trying to revive it from time to time. I think his time you know..
Jamie: It came and gone.
Ramona Fradon: Yeah.
Jamie: So how did you end up working at Marvel?
Ramona Fradon: Well, I didn’t “end up” (laughter). It was the 70s, I was retired for about 7 years and there was the womens movement. They had a Womens strip and they wanted a women to illustrate it. I heard somewhere that Stan Lee really loved my work on Metamorpho and maybe they were hoping I could still draw that way, but my drawing was really rusty. And besides, it wasn’t the same story.
Jamie: Yeah, not the same character. The Cat is not Metamorpho.
Ramona Fradon: No, not at all. My drawing has always been really influenced by the script. It tends to change with the script and that was quite different.
Jamie: The last story that I know of, that you did was an 8 page Aquaman for Just imagine Stan Lee’s Aquaman.
Ramona Fradon: Oh that’s right, yeah. That was hard to do. That was bad. I mean, I was rusty. It’s very hard to get back into illustrating a script after you’ve been gone a long time. That was not my proudest moment (laughter). And I hate the colors. There is a woman down here she’s got that.. have you seen her coloring? It’s beautiful! The computer stuff is just bad. Jamie: Going back to Metamorpho, do you know how they decided on the colors of the character?
Ramona Fradon: I don’t know if I did that or not. I have a feeling that I did. I never colored so I’m not sure how I would have. I don’t know.
Jamie: Did you like inking your own work?
Ramona Fradon: No. It was like doing it all over again.
Jamie: I heard Kirby said the same thing.
Ramona Fradon: I never got a handle working with a brush. You never know what it’s going to do.
Jamie: As of late a lot of your work is being reprinted by DC. Hopefully you are being compensated for that?
Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. DC has been really good about royalties, they really have. I can’t complain. I get paid better now than when I was first drawing them (laughter).
Jamie: That’s good to hear. Have you seen the new [Showcase] Metamorpho trade?
Ramona Fradon: Yeah.
Jamie: Do you like it better in black and white or color?
Ramona Fradon: I think I’d like to see it in color.
Jamie: So you have no interest in going back and doing comics at all?
Ramona Fradon: No.
Jamie: Been there done that?
Ramona Fradon: Yes. It’s WORK. I don’t draw easily. I’ve seen some of these artists and they just spin it out. Marie Severin is like that. She’s just do-do-do-do and it’s a finished drawing. I can’t do that. I really struggle. It’s hard unless I’m up against a deadline I just put aside all inhibitions and just draw. Then it’s easy. Otherwise it’s just hard for me. I keep editing and changing.
Jamie: I’m trying to think of a Brenda Starr question that hasn’t already been asked…
Ramona Fradon: On Brenda I did my own inking.
Jamie: You penciled and inked that?
Ramona Fradon: It was a more comic style. It was easier to ink that. Every week, 7 pages. I used to number the panels. 25-26 panels a week, penciled and inked. It was just a grind. It was horrible (laughter). And it wasn’t like the strip was making a million dollars either. The Syndicate was so cheap. In over 5 years I didn’t get in increase in pay.
And not only that I used to get the receipts, the statements, and I began to notice that when the receipts went up, the production costs went up. And that was what my pay was based on. This went on and I thought it was crazy. So I got a lawyer. Then it didn’t happen anymore. They are just criminals.
Jamie: They didn’t want to pay you any more?
Ramona Fradon: I just can’t say enough bad about the Syndicate. Everybody I know that worked for them was treated badly by them. They’re all criminals in expensive suits.
Jamie: You mentioned Dale Messick left Brenda Starr under bad circumstances.
Ramona Fradon: She hated them. She made them hundreds of millions of dollars over the years with movies rights and merchandising. They fired her actually and they didn’t even give her a wrist watch. They probably ripped her off for all those years too. She promised she’d live forever so they’d have to keep paying that puny pension they gave her.
Jamie: Okay, you are doing commissions now. Is that going well for you?
Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. It’s as much as I want to do and I can do it whenever I want.
This was originally published in May, 2007. I feel I should note that some Filipino artists have given a different version of events regarding their working for DC.
A much younger me with Carmine Infantino. Picture taken at Hobby Star Toronto ComiCon, April, 2007
Carmine Infantino is a legend in the comic industry. He’s best known for drawing/co-creating the Silver Age Flash that first appeared in Showcase Comics #4, which gave birth to the Silver Age of Comics. He was also the artist involved in Batman’s “New Look” and his work on Batman spurred the famous Batman 60s camp TV show. In the 70s he was promoted Editorial Director of DC Comics. As Editorial Director he would make many changes to DC Comics, among them promoting artists into editor positions.
Infantino would also be an uncredited contributor for the late 70s Superman 1 and 2 movies and personally approved Christopher Reeve as the actor to play Superman. This interview was done live at the HobbyStar Toronto Comicon on Sunday April 15th. Along with me was my friend Nancy asking questions and along with Carmine was publisher J. David Spurlock helping Infantino with some details of his career.
Jamie: You mentioned in another interview that you had created your own superheroes when you were younger?
Carmine Infantino: Yes.
Jamie: What Were those Superheroes?
Carmine Infantino: That I worked on?
Carmine Infantino: Jack Frost was one of the very first ones I created, that was sort of a Superhero. That was around 1941 – 42. That was the first thing I worked on. No, I worked for Fox before that. They gave me a script, I did it, they didn’t like it and didn’t pay me. That was my beginning.
Jamie: You mentioned that you created a character named Captain Whiz..?
Carmine Infantino: I was a fan of Captain Marvel. A big fan. In fact, when I took over DC I brought him over remember? So I was fan. I created a character called Captain Whiz and the Colors of Evil. I created a whole bunch of characters, I forget the names, all I used were colors. Purple, Orange, Gray, so on and so forth. Then Julie (Schwartz) was looking for a character, the Flash, I told him I had this thing, I couldn’t sell it. I did everything I could to sell it.
We had a tradition, Julie and I, where we created a cover we were always trying to one up each other. We always did cliff hanger covers, you know like in the old serials, at the end you’d the guy in a car and it would go off the cliff and that’s how it ended. The next week you’d see the guy outside the car, hanging onto the cliff. So finally one day I decided “I’m gonna fix this bum” and drew a cover with both Flashes on it (Flash #123, introducing the concept of Multiple Earths). But by the time I got home, he already had a script for me.
Julie was a very good editor. I worked for him for about 35 years. We did a lot of work together, he and I. We did Adam Strange. I didn’t create Adam Strange though, I was in Korea at the time. Someone else did. What else did we do..
J. David Spurlock: Pow Wow Smith, Detective Chimp.
Carmine Infantino: That was all before the Flash. Comics were dying at that time. The Flash opened up an all new era for comics.
J. David Spurlock: Elongated Man. Super-Chief.
Carmine Infantino: Oh yeah yeah, Super-Chief. It was not an incendiary character. From there we tried Sports too. Strange Sports. Remember that? It was a very difficult one to do, with the captions and everything. To promote Action, that’s why I did it that way.
J. David Spurlock: He also did Airboy and the Heap in the Golden Age.
Carmine Infantino: Yeah I wrote some of those.
J. David Spurlock: Animal Man.
Carmine Infantino: Animal Man. On the Flash I did little hands pointing at the captions. You don’t read captions as a rule, so I drew hands (laughter). It was just a gimmick.
Jamie: I understand you created Poison Ivy?
Carmine Infantino: Yes. The only reason she came about was because of Catwoman on the Batman show. They wanted more female villains. What was the other one I did.. the Silver Fox! And then Batgirl. That show, because of it we were selling a million copies a month. But that show, when it died, so did the comic books. Because it was so corny, y’know, Pow! Zam! You couldn’t take Batman seriously for a while. So we had to rebuild him.
One of the great writers was Eddie Harron. He was the Editor in Chief of Stars and Stripes, a famous newspaper during WWII. He worked on Captain Marvel and did a lot of work at DC. He and Bill Finger were brilliant writers. Eddie was just as good, if not more creative.
Nancy: One thing I rarely hear anybody talk about in interviews are the colorists. I love the coloring on the old DC covers from the 60s.
Carmine Infantino: That was Jack Adler, but he didn’t do the coloring. He farmed it out to different people. Tatjana Wood, she was a terrific, unbelievable, brilliant colorist. She was Wally Woods Wife, then ex-Wife. There were 3 other people besides her and I had to approve it.
She knew I hated the color purple. And she would purposely stick it in there, she’d fight me all the time. She was a wonderful colorist. Sorry I can’t remember the other guys name.
Jamie: When you were promoted to editor, did any of the other editors have a problem with that?
Carmine Infantino: No, no, no, they bought it right away. If they didn’t, they kept their mouths shut.
J. David Spurlock: They wanted to keep their jobs, so they kept their mouths shut (laughter).
Carmine Infantino: There was no fooling around, they accepted it immediately. I didn’t have any problems. If I had, I would have thrown them out (laughter). I did get rid of some of them. I reshaped the company because I wanted more artists as editors. There wasn’t enough of that at DC so I brought them in, [Joe] Orlando, Dick Giordano, and that helped quite a bit.
Jamie: Joe Kubert as well.
Carmine Infantino: Joe as well, I’m sorry. Bob [Kaniger] got sick at that time. Kaniger was a fine editor. So I asked Joe, could you please take over? And he did and it worked out quite well. They were all good, all 3 were excellent.
Jamie: In the 70s, were you involved at all with the CCA, the Comics Code? The guideline changes?
Carmine Infantino: No, I wasn’t involved in that at all. We just went right through it. What happened was we just ignored it after a while. Y’know when it broke? When Stan and I both did the drug stories, you remember that? Stan did it first.
J. David Spurlock: They couldn’t do any type of drug story and they both did an anti-drug story.
Carmine Infantino: Only thing was different was I got some guy in there to make sure it was wholesome first. Stan did it crazy, having some guy jumping off the roof. It was haphazard. He got yelled at for it. I was a little more careful.
Jamie: Going back to Captain Marvel. What are the details of you using the character?
Carmine Infantino: I just went to them [Fawcett], said I loved the character. They said, fine, take it, just give us a percentage. It was that simple. I put Julie Schwartz as an editor of that book and that was a mistake I made. C. C. Beck wanted to be the editor but he never said a word to me. He should have said something, I would have given it to him. He knew what the character was about and how he worked, he knew the flavor. Julie didn’t know the flavor of it.
J. David Spurlock: Julie’s background was in science fiction. Everything he did was based in science fiction really.
Jamie: So you didn’t have to convince Kinney [then DC owner] to buy Shazam or anything?
Carmine Infantino: I didn’t ask anybody, I just did it.
Jamie: You went over to the Philippians to get some artists. Who came up with that idea?
Carmine Infantino: Me, because we ran out of decent artists. There was a Filipino named Tony De Zuniga who was already working for DC. He said there were a lot of cartoonists over there making peanuts. Unfortunately, I put him [De Zuniga] in charge in the Philippians. The rule was, you paid them a certain rate, a good rate, and you get 10%
J. David Spurlock: They set up a studio, De Zuniga and his wife set up a studio in the Philippians and they would hand the scripts out to the artists there. The artists would turn in the artwork there and they would forward it to New York.
Carmine Infantino: I wanted certain artists and I wasn’t getting them.
J. David Spurlock: He was wondering why am I not getting Nester Rodondo and Alex Nino, who were the top guys and instead getting other people? Then Carmine went to San Diego and one of the Filipino guys went to him and wanted to know why he was ripping off the Filipinos? They asked, why are you only paying us $5 a page? He said, no I’m paying you $50 dollars a page. She [De Zuniga wife] were keeping $45 dollars a page and paying them $5 a page.
Carmine Infantino: That’s what she was paying them. I got rid of her immediately. She wrote to me ‘How dare you tell me what to do. Don’t tell us how to run our business.’ And that was the end of that. Then I put Nestor [Redondo] in charge and he started doing the same thing.
J. David Spurlock: They actually felt like, because the Filipinos were used to being paid so little, it was a waste to pay them anymore.
Carmine Infantino: It was so bad, Nino walked around with no shoes.
J. David Spurlock: When he and Orlando and DeZuniga first went over there, artists from all over the country shoeless and with their families would show up.
Carmine Infantino: They were starving, starving. It was a very sad thing to see. When we got there, I knew there was going to be a problem. The car that we had alternated as a cop car and had a machine gun sitting on the roof. The hotel said, this is a big problem, you shouldn’t be riding around that way. That was when the Marcos was in charge, the dictator. They got a little piece of everything too. After a while everybody came here. Alex Nino is in Japan now, that’s what I heard.
Jamie: In the 70s there were a lot of returns coming in from the newsstands…
Carmine Infantino: You know who complained about that? Neal Adams. Neal had a fan, a big heavy fan, he was a dealer. He came yelling at me ‘You killed the Deadman.’ I said, ‘what are you talking about?’ He says, ‘300,000 copies of that was sold, you shouldn’t have killed the book.’ I said, ‘that’s interesting, I only printed 275,000 of them.’ (laughter) Neal was spreading that story around. It was his writing that ruined it.
J. David Spurlock: That was just fluffed up stuff. That was when people started to figure out that when there was a new book or a Neal Adams book there was a greater market then what they were seeing at the newsstands. People were finding out where these comics were coming into town and were making deals to pay somebody off, and take stacks of hot new comics and they wouldn’t make it to the newsstands. He [Adams] was talking 100,000, 200,000 a book and yeah some of that did happen, but Carmine, he amazingly remembers a lot of those numbers.
Carmine Infantino: It was maybe a couple thousand of them. Neal was imagining things. It wasn’t major. I remember those numbers. Bat Lash, was my favorite book. I couldn’t make it work. I wrote it. I desperately wanted to keep it, but I couldn’t do it. The numbers talk, you don’t talk.
Jamie: Were you at all suspicious about the returns?
Carmine Infantino: We knew they were stealing some, but it was a minimal amount. When you print 300,000 or 400,000 and they steal maybe 5000 it doesn’t mean that much.
Jamie: Comics were 10 cents for so long..
Carmine Infantino: Then 12, then 15..
Jamie: Do you think the industry hurt itself by keeping them so cheap for so long?
Carmine Infantino: What they are doing now with the thick ones? That’s a pretty good bargain. Black and white, 15 dollars. I had some work in them and they are selling quite well ain’t I right?
Jamie: Yeah the Showcase books.
Carmine Infantino: So are the Marvel ones. I get paid well for them so they must be selling well (laughter).
Jamie: But do you think it was a mistake to keep them so cheap for so long?
Carmine Infantino: You couldn’t do anything about it. The distributors would really dictated the price. Plus the newsstands, they had to make a certain amount on a book and if they didn’t make that, you were off the stands. You know, there was a diminishing space for comic books. Can’t make money, they don’t want it. Used to be you’d sell over 6 million books in a month, now you sell 250,000. There’s something wrong. The whole business. The creativity part doesn’t mean anything. It’s the business end that dictates what happens, unfortunately.
Jamie: I know you tried other formats.
Carmine Infantino: I tried everything. Big, small, everything. It didn’t work. The big ones, we even gave them boxes to put them in. Even that wouldn’t work. We tried anyway.
Jamie: Did you go to any of the early comic conventions?
Carmine Infantino: No. Well, I think I went to some as an editor, but not as an artist. There was a teacher that started all that, you remember his name?
Jamie: Phil Suiling.
Carmine Infantino: Suiling. He began the market that never existed before. That was Phil.
J. David Spurlock: He became a distributor, Seagate.
Jamie: Did you ever think the Direct Market would ever overtake the newsstand market?
Carmine Infaninto: No, never realized it. It was never that big. When I was there it was selling a couple of thousand a month, at most. We didn’t change to it all that much. But I heard it grew like hell later on. Comics couldn’t exist without it now. Different, lots of changes.
Jamie: Are you surprised they are still publishing comics books these days?
Carmine Infantino: Well they aren’t making money that’s for sure. It’s the tail wagging the dog now, they have to put them out for the copyright. They gotta do it. They make their money back 10 times over with the toys and games and films and everything.
As I said, the tail is wagging the dog. They have to keep doing it. Pulps began, then comics took over. Comics will have to develop into something different.
J. David Spurlock: The Graphic Novel format is doing well in bookstores. Most of it is Manga.
Carmine Infantino (to Nancy): You read any Manga?
Carmine Infantino: What is the secret behind it? I can’t figure it out.
Nancy: I don’t know. I used to watch the cartoons and I used to like those. The Manga I don’t know, I read more comics.
Carmine Infantino: They are very popular for some reason. And they’re very static you know?
Jamie: There is a lot of emotion in it.
Carmine Infantino: Is that what it’s about? There is a lot of sex too isn’t there?
Nancy: It depends on the book. There are some more extreme genres. Manga plays on the girls a lot with the drama. But this got me thinking, were you involved in the romance period?
Carmine Infantino: I drew them, yes. We tried again to bring them back, the titles. Joe Simon created them, so I made him do them. They collapsed like that. In those days it didn’t interest them. It couldn’t touch what they do on TV. Forget it, y’know? It’s too calm.
Jamie: Siegel and Shuster.
Carmine Infantino: I never met them. They got screwed badly, no question about it. They both died. Joe had bad eyesight. He was coming home from a movie and he got mugged. But they settled with DC, and what they get.. 25 grand a piece I think, and some licensing. There is a lawsuit still going on about Superboy. They haven’t settled it. DC made an offer but the family wants a lot more. I have no idea what they are offering.
Jamie: You went and worked for Marvel.
Carmine Infantino: Yeah, I worked for a lot of people. Marvel, Hanna-Barbera, I’m all over the place, I never hang around for very long (laughter).
Nancy: Did you only retired recently?
Carmine Infantino: No, I’m retired… Jesus, David.. when did I retire? I was retired and then he made me come back (laughter).
J. David Spurlock: Well, it was a gradual thing. On occasions and even recently he’s accepted special projects. He recently did a cover for DC. He was still doing the Batman comic strip up until the early 90s. He was working steadily early 90s, and he was teaching at the same time.
Jamie: Where were you teaching?
Carmine Infantino: The School of Visual Arts.
J. David Spurlock: That was the school that Hogarth co-founded. A lot of people taught there. Joe Orlando, I taught there. Kurtzman, Eisner, the greatest comics people all taught there. And some of them went there as students. Ditko went there, Wally Wood.
Jamie: Did you go to school there?
Carmine Infantino: Yes. I studied there with Jack Potter. He too was a big fan of design. But he had such a complex way, he just threw in everything that you knew.
J. David Spurlock: It’s a different orientation. Most people think of, what I refer to as draftsmanship. They trying to put dimensions into the drawings. He wasn’t worried about that. He wanted to do something more interesting. Something to keep you artistically aware, so he was looking for something different. His teachers gave him a different orientation. He’s a big fan of art, you go into his apartment he’s got art everywhere.
Carmine Infantino: The French Impressionists. I’m a very big fan of their work. And Amedeo Modigliani especially. You know his history? After they brought his casket through the streets of Paris his girlfriend jumped out the window. There is a plaque on the street marking where she died. Now that’s true love (laughter).
This interview was originally published in July, 2007. With Dave the first thing many people think about is his controversial views. I read his writing in issue #186 and his Tangents series as well. I must admit, when I first thought about interviewing Dave I had envision getting him in room and going after him like a pissed off Mike Wallace on crack over those views.
But then I met him and discovered that in person Dave was extremely nice and courteous. He also had a “spider sense” for when somebody was taking a picture of him and he would turn and smile for the camera, even while he was in conversation with others. At TCAF 2005 I saw Dave squinting at a map looking for his table as he had a signing to go to. It was in another area that I had already been to so I offered to walk him over. Later on that convention was the first Doug Wright Awards, I showed up early as did Dave and he struck up a conversation with me. They had examples of Doug’s work on the walls and we looked at them with Dave describing what was great about Doug’s work.
At another convention a female friend of mine wanted to get a sketch from Dave but was a apprehensions about meeting him for obvious reasons. I volunteered to get the sketch on her behalf and she stood line with me until we got close to Dave and then she left. She liked Dave’s work but didn’t want to have a bad experience meeting him. When I got to Dave he asked what I wanted and I said Cerebus and Jaka. He said he would only sketch 1 character and I chose Jaka. Dave did the sketch, looked over to Gerhard who was still working on backgrounds on Dave’s sketches and then did a quick Cerebus sketch too. Both Gerhard and Dave noticed my friend who left the line. Gerhard left his table to have a talk with her and Dave told me later on he almost did this too, but he had a long line of fans wanting sketches.
I don’t think I could go as far as to say Dave and I were friends, but we were friendly to each other. I also didn’t have the heart to go after him regarding his views anymore, even though I disagreed with them. I also had doubts that Dave would allow/agree to that type of interview either as he had his rules. Instead I proposed doing an “introduction” type interview for comic readers who were online, but didn’t read much in the way of comic magazines. I was once one of those type of comic readers. That said, I did learn about his short stay in a psychiatric facility. I had heard other creators reference this but it was good to get the story from him. It was also interesting to get his story about DC’s attempt to buy Cerebus from him, with actual dollar figures and why he turned it down.
I should probably also say that it was once believed that Gene Day died because of how Marvel treated him. I’m friends with one of Gene’s brothers (they live about a half hour from me) and I was told while Marvel’s treatment didn’t help, Gene’s family has a history of heart problems and Gene put his love of work and greasy burgers over his own well being.
After this interview was done, Dave took all the typed questions, attempted to burn them on a CD and then mailed said CD with a sketch on it. Sadly, the burn did not go right, but Dave tried again and got it right the 2nd time. This wasn’t really necessary but Dave wanted to learn how to do it.
Dave Sim Interview
Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus. He began self publishing the comic book in the late 70’s, promised to do 300 issues of the book and did so. It’s a feat few see anybody else repeating. Along the way he selflessly taught people how to self publish their own comic books, helping many to realize their dream of publishing their creations. A few of those self publishers managed to get rich or get better paying work afterwards. With this interview we talk about Dave’s start with comics, Cerebus, the help and difficulties he encountered along the way, what’s he doing now and a lot more.
Note: This interview was done via fax machine. Dave normally only allows interviews to be 5 questions, but let me ask him 20. So an extra thank you goes out to Dave for allowing the extra questions and for being a great interviewee.
Jamie: Assuming you read comics as a boy, which ones did you read regularly?
Dave Sim: I read the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman line of comic books, Superman, Action, World’s Finest, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, later branching out into the rest of the DC line and then Marvel Comics, Warren and then undergrounds by the time I was fifteen or sixteen.
Jamie: I take it you were a big fan of Conan during the 70’s?
Dave Sim: No, I wasn’t really a big fan of Conan in the 70s. I had read all of the Robert E. Howard material once and then-reading the lesser L. Sprague DeCamp knock-offs that came later-swiftly lost interest. I really should go back and find the Howard material at some time and re-read it. I would pick up the occasional issue of Conan if I liked what Barry Smith was doing on it-such as the “Frost Giant’s Daughter” issue that reprinted the black & white strip or the two-part “Red Nails” story as it originally appeared in Savage Tales magazine, but early on-with Dan Adkins and Sal Buscema inking-it just looked like a really bad Marvel comic to me. By that time I was starting to draw on my own, so a comic needed to have something more to it in order to get me excited creatively or make me want to swipe the style of the artist. Barry inking himself definitely had that effect on me. Barry inked by others definitely didn’t have that effect on me and most of his work at Marvel was inked by very incompatible talents.
Jamie: If you didn’t like Conan, why did you create Cerebus to be a parody of it?
Dave Sim: The decision to do Cerebus was based on my insight that what had made Howard the Duck successful was the “funny animal in the world of humans” motif whereas everyone doing work for Quack! (my intended market) was doing all funny animal strips. Since Howard had modern-day sown up that, to me, left the possibility of a science fiction “funny animal in the world of humans” or a sword ‘n’ sorcery “funny animal in the world of humans”. Science fiction required drawing a lot of straight edges and learning how to use French curves properly, so that left only one possibility. Coincidentally I had the unused mascot for Deni’s fanzine and I did a sample page for Mike Friedrich which turned out to be the splash page of issue 1. The fact that it was successful was a very hard lesson in what happens when you do something because you think it’s commercially viable rather than being what you want to do. I was stuck going through the checklist of sword ‘n’ sorcery clichés and was quickly running out of them.
Jamie: Considering Cerebus started off as something you believed would be commercially viable, if you were able to go back and re-do your comic career all over again what would you do differently?
Dave Sim: I’m afraid that one of my core beliefs is to never traffic in the hypothetical which I suspect is one of the reasons that it was possible to finish Cerebus. If you make a choice and then live with the consequences of that choice you are always moving forward. If you make a choice and then spend all of your time trying to assess the different choices you might have made and the possible outcomes of those hypothetical choices, then you just end up spending your life treading water and getting very little done. I conducted my comic-book career the way that I conducted it and it ended up the way that it ended up. I only see what happened, not what might have happened.
Jamie: How did you meet Gene Day?
Dave Sim: I met Gene Day in the summer of 1974. We had started corresponding in the fall of 1973 after John Balge and I had interviewed Augustine Funnel for Comic Art News & Reviews. Gus had started writing for Al Hewetson’s Skywald magazines and told us about his roommate, Gene Day, and that we should talk to him about doing some work for CANAR and that I should ask about doing some work for Gene’s Dark Fantasy. I had already arranged a bus trip up to see my aunt and uncle in Ottawa so I decided to make a side trip to Gananoque on the way and stay over for a couple of days. It ended up being the first of many such trips.
Jamie: I’ve always heard he was your mentor. What exactly did Gene do for you?
Dave Sim: Gene really showed me that success in a creative field is a matter of hard work and productivity and persistence. I had done a handful of strips and illustrations at that point mostly for various fanzines but I wasn’t very productive. I would do a strip or an illustration and send it off to a potential market and then wait to find out if they were going to use it before doing anything else. Or I’d wait for someone to write to me and ask me to draw something. Gene was producing artwork every day and putting it out in the mail and when it came back he’d send it out to someone else. He would draw work for money and then do work on spec if the paying markets dried up. He kept trying at places where he had been rejected. He did strips, cartoons, caricatures, covers, spot illos, anything that he might get paid for. He gave drawing lessons and produced his own fanzines. It was easy to see the difference, to see why he was a success and I was a failure. It was in the fall of 1975 that I bought a calendar and started filling the squares with whatever it was that I had produced that day and worked to put together months-long streaks where I produced work every day. The net result was that I started to get more paying work and a year later I was able to move out of my parents’ house into my own one-room apartment/studio downtown. I doubt that would ever have happened without Gene’s influence.
Jamie: Gene died an early death. Can you tell me about Gene sleeping at Marvel’s office to fulfill a deadline and the health problems that stemmed from that?
Dave Sim: Yes, Gene died at the age of 31 from a heart attack. He had been working for Marvel for several years at that point. He started as an inker which was the thing that he was the fastest at, so he built up a really good reputation as a guy who could turn a late job around in a hurry. He was so fast, the people at Marvel were convinced that he had a whole studio of Gene Day clones working night and day, but it was just him. When I’d go and visit him, he’d have piles of 11×17 photocopies of the jobs he had done-he traded his weekly Cap’n Riverrat cartoon to the local weekly newspaper, The Gananoque Reporter for free photocopying.
When Mike Zeck left Master of Kung Fu to work on Captain America, Marvel was left without a penciller for the title and the editor persuaded Gene to step in which instantly cut his revenue by a substantial amount-he was a much slower penciller than he was an inker. He also ran afoul of then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s strict rules about storytelling-that you needed to do the basic six panels to a page method with occasional lapses if you had a good reason for it. Gene, of course was a major fan of Jim Steranko-style storytelling which was exactly what Jim Shooter was opposed to and they locked horns over the subject many times with Gene doing continuous backgrounds in his panel-to-panel continuity (one large background on the page with the action taking place in individual panels set against the one background). Shooter would tell him not to do it and Gene would do it, finally doing I think a five-page sequence that was all one background. At the same time he was doing outside assignments at Marvel including a story for one of the black-and-white magazines (I think it was) which Gene was supposed to pencil and ink.
The deadline got moved up or something and they told Gene on the phone that they were going to have the story “gang inked” over a few days. This was something that Marvel did pretty regularly in the 70s to keep books on schedule. They’d get five or six guys to sit in the bullpen and ink a job to get it done faster. As you would expect, the results were usually horrible. One of P. Craig Russell’s first jobs for Marvel was part of a gang-inking on an issue of Barry’s Conan. For the longest time, my impression of the story was that they had phoned Gene and wanted him to come down and ink the job and that Gene had done so out of loyalty to Marvel even taking the train to Manhattan because he was afraid to fly. It was years later that his brother Dan mentioned to me that what Gene was concerned about was doing as much of the inking himself as he could to keep the job from being a total abomination. The more I think about that, the more it explains what happened. Gene showed up at Marvel and they gave him the address of the hotel he would be staying at. He went there and the place was covered in cockroaches so Gene went back to Marvel and asked to be put up in a better hotel. Nothing fancy, just a place without cockroaches. That was when Tom DeFalco gave him the choice of the roach-infested hotel or sleeping on the couch in Marvel’s reception area. Gene chose the latter, not realizing that they turned the heat off in the building overnight (this was in the dead of winter). So he slept there with his coat pulled over him and developed as a result a kidney infection which stuck with him the rest of his life.
In retrospect, I think the problem Marvel had was that they had no policy for the situation. They had found their solution, they were going to get the job gang-inked. When Gene insisted on coming down to work on it, it just didn’t make sense to them editorially to pay for a hotel room for him given what that was going to add to their costs on the story. For Gene, it was an obvious plus-by coming down and working on the story it would be that much better looking than it would be being inked by whoever happened to be around at the time. But, how the job looked wasn’t as big a priority for Marvel as having the job done. What to Gene looked like a sensible improvement solution looked to Marvel like a needless expense and intrusion by a troublemaker. The same could be said of Gene locking horns with Jim Shooter. To Gene, he was trying to make the book better and more interesting. To Shooter he was making it unreadable and therefore uncommercial.
On Gene’s side of the argument, sales were up on Master of Kung Fu-it had always been a marginal title since Paul Gulacy had left, on the verge of cancellation and now it was turning into a fan favourite again. On Jim Shooter’s side of the argument, good nuts-and-bolts six-panels-to-the-page storytelling always sold better in the long run for Marvel. John Buscema’s Conan outsold Barry Smith’s by a wide margin, as an example. Eventually Shooter fired Gene and I think that, as much as anything, killed Gene Day. His heart and soul were at Marvel Comics. His lifelong dream was to work in the House that Jack Built. Of course, what he failed to see was that working in the House that Jack Built even became an untenable prospect for Jack. And, of course, interviewing as many professionals as I had in my fanzine days, I had a much clearer idea of what Marvel and DC were actually like and just how ruthless the editors could be when the situation seemed to call for ruthlessness (which, as they saw it, it usually did). I knew that in a lot of ways the worst thing you could bring to the table as a freelancer was unwavering company loyalty. For many of the editors at the time, that was just inviting them to rip your heart out. Which, to me, is exactly what Gene did. And exactly what Marvel did.
Dave Sim – 2007 Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con
Jamie: Prior to Cerebus you did work for other comics. What happened that made you want to self publish instead?
Dave Sim: That was a combination of things. Everyone that I did work for I was either a minor guy on their roster and so didn’t get the attention that I thought I needed or I was a major guy on their roster only because they were too small to get anywhere. They’d announce that the new issue would be out in July and then write you in August saying they hope to get it out by November. There was a sense of time slipping away while I waiting for everyone to get to the project that I was in. Gene was more interested in getting Dark Fantasy out than Hellhound, his proposed comics title. And then he acquired the rights to do an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Pigeons from Hell and I knew that was going to push Hellhound even further back. I had printed samples in Quack and Oktoberfest Comics and Phantacea No.1 which I had drawn from someone else’s script, colour covers with black & white interiors and what I figured I needed was a few more samples like that where it was all or mostly my work inside the book. So that was why I decided to do three issues of Cerebus, do it bi-monthly and make sure it came out on time, keep the price the same, keep the format the same, keep the logo the same, have a letters page, keep it to twenty-two pages-basically do all the things right that I thought the other guys were doing wrong and if I fell on my face, well fine, I’d fall on my face and I’d stop complaining about what a lousy job everyone else was doing and just go back to doing it their way. But, at least I’d have three issues of my own comic book to put with Oktoberfest Comics and Phantacea so that editors could see what I was capable of. And as it turned out I was right. To this day, I try to emphasize how important it is to come out on time and everyone just ignores me. They want to know the secret to self-publishing but they don’t want that secret. That secret just sounds like a lot of hard work. Which it is.
Jamie: I understand you worked for Harry Kremer at Now and Again Books, in what years did you do that?
Dave Sim: I worked for Harry beginning December 1st of 1976 when he opened up the downstairs at 103 Queen St. S. which is across the street from where Now & Then Book is now. The hours were 10 am to 9 pm Thursday and Friday and 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and for that I got a grand total of $75 a month. It was all Harry could afford. And I rented my one-room apartment at 379 Queen St. S. for $120 a month which meant that I had to make $45 a month from drawing and writing just to keep a roof over my head. I had about $1,000 in the bank from selling Harry my comic-book collection to help buy some time, but it was definitely sink or swim. As it turns out it was sink, swim or move in with your girlfriend which Deni and I did in April of 1977 so I only had to come up with half of the rent which I think still worked out to about $120 a month.
Jamie: How did Harry help with Cerebus?
Dave Sim: Harry helped in a lot of ways with Cerebus. For starters, he was running the comic-book store that I was living in (it was really my first home, my parents house was just where I slept and stored my comic books) when the direct market started and he was stocking new comic books as well as back issues, new comic books which included ground level titles like Star*Reach which showed me that there was room on the shelves next to Marvel and DC. Then he agreed to publish Oktoberfest Comics in 1976. Through that experience, I found out roughly what it cost to do a black-and-white comic on newsprint with a colour cover and realized that it was a lot more affordable with the new high-speed web offset presses than I had suspected which started me thinking about doing one of my own. And before the first issue was published, he agreed to take 500 copies which, when you consider that our two distributors-Jim Friel of Big Rapids Distribution and Phil Seuling of Sea Gate Distributors-were taking 500 and 1,000 copies respectively tells you what a great vote of confidence and commitment that was from a single comic book store. And then he would also buy artwork from time to time. He bought the complete issue 4 for $220, $10 a page. It may not sound like much, but it definitely paid for a lot of Kraft Dinners which Deni and I pretty much lived on for months at a time. We had our ups and downs over the years-he got seriously offended when I started charging $100 a page U.S. He liked my artwork but he really didn’t think it belonged in that price range. But there’s no question that Cerebus couldn’t have made it through the first few years without his help and, particularly, without the existence of Now & Then Books. Today (6 June 05) would have been his fifty-ninth birthday if he had lived.
Jamie: Is it true that Cerebus was supposed to be titled Cerberus? If so, how did it change?
Dave Sim: What happened was that Deni-before I knew her-had decided to put out a fanzine modeled on Gene Day’s Dark Fantasy. When I met her, in December of 1976, that was what she had come into the store to find out-would Harry be willing to carry copies of her fanzine if she published it? I volunteered to help and wrote down my name which she recognized from the work I had had published in Dark Fantasy. The name she had come up with for her fanzine was Cerebus. So I did a logo for her, the one that was on the first forty-nine issues and told her she really should have a name for her publishing company in the same way that Dark Fantasy was published by Gene Day’s House of Shadows. Her sister came up with Aardvark Press and her brother came up with Vanaheim Press, so I put them together and made it Aardvark-Vanaheim Press. And then I drew a cartoon aardvark with a sword as a mascot. At that point someone realized that the name of the magazine was misspelled. What she had intended to call the magazine was Cerberus, the name of the three-headed dog in Greek mythology who guarded Hades. So I suggested that we just say that Cerebus was the name of the cartoon mascot. The printer in California ran off with the originals and the money for the first issue, so the fanzine never did come out. And that was when I started thinking about my own “funny animal in the world of humans” for Quack! so I decided to draw a sample page of Cerebus the cartoon mascot in my best Barry Windsor-Smith style (see question 6 above).
Jamie: Somebody made counterfeit copies of Cerebus #1. Can you tell us the difference between the two so the online buyers won’t be fooled?
Dave Sim: The easiest way to distinguish the real Cerebus No.1 from the counterfeit is that the inside covers are glossy black on the counterfeit and a flat black on the real ones. The next easiest way is that if you look at the areas of solid black on pages 9, 10 and 11, they look “dusty”. That’s because the counterfeit was shot from a printed copy where there was already a slightly speckled quality because it was printed on cheap newsprint, so when that slightly speckled quality was photographed, the-now doubled-slightly speckled quality ended up looking like a fine layer of dust over the entire page because there is so much solid black on those three pages.
Jamie: Did you ever discover who made the counterfeits?
Dave Sim: I have my suspicions as to who did the counterfeit but, no, the FBI never managed to catch the guys who were selling them-the “mules” folded their operation as soon as word started to spread-and therefore there was no route to anyone who was behind the scam. I certainly wasn’t about to accuse anyone publicly without evidence to support it but, yes, I’m pretty sure I knew who did it.
Jamie: I hear that after issue #11 you over-worked yourself into a nervous breakdown. What were you doing at the time?
Dave Sim: Twenty-six years later on, I think it would be more accurate to say that I had achieved a false level of transcendence that I had been looking to achieve through LSD-the psychic equivalent of a massive and pleasurable electric shock-that left me incapable of reassuring my wife (within her own very limited frames of reference) that I was okay: with the result that she freaked out at one point and called my mother and she and my mother locked me up in a psych ward at the local hospital for a couple of days.
Jamie: How did you recover from a nervous breakdown and continue on?
Dave Sim: There really wasn’t anything to “recover” from. I had gone through the false transcendent state and come out the other side. The only thing I really needed to recover from was the massive doses of depressants they had given me in the psych ward. That took two or three days during which all of my muscles and motor functions were seriously malfunctioning-it felt as if I had pulled every muscle in my body so that just speaking and walking required Herculean forces of will in order to achieve. Essentially, at that point-never again wanting to experience that severe crippling effect-I began to live two different lives simultaneously. I learned how to portray myself as a normal person in order to keep my wife and parents from locking me up in any more psych wards while at the same time I began to explore all of the thoughts and experiences that I had had over the period of the false transcendent state and began to work towards putting them all down on paper in the Cerebus storyline. When I realized, a month or two later, how large and difficult a task that was going to be, I decided to make Cerebus into a 300-issue project in order to encompass it all and leave room for my own best assessment of the aftermath. The documentation of the state itself went from about issue 20 to about issue 186. I was able to stop leading my double life once I was divorced in 1983 and I no longer had the on-going threat hanging over my head that my freedom depended on my wife and mother believing me to be sane.
Jamie: How did you meet Gerhard?
Dave Sim: I had heard a great deal about Gerhard because he was the “golden boy” of his high school clique, one of whose members was Deni’s high-school aged sister, Karen. He was the chief set designer and star of a high-school production “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and also an illustrator and the high-school clique was his major support group. They collectively believed in him and his prodigious abilities to the same extent to which he didn’t believe in himself: which is to say thoroughly and completely. At one point the high-school clique was having a Halloween party and Karen, Deni’s sister, and Bob her boyfriend and later husband came by the apartment to smoke a joint with Gerhard and his (then) girlfriend Laurel. So far as we know that was how I met Gerhard. It would’ve been Halloween of 1981 or 1982.
Jamie: I’m surprised more artists don’t try and pair up with somebody to help out with backgrounds. Why do you think you and Gerhard have worked so well together for the past 20 years?
Dave Sim: I’m surprised, as well, that more artists don’t pair up with background artists. The history of the comic-book field is filled with things that worked really well that no one else ever attempted. Look at Will Eisner’s The Spirit-what a great idea to do a comic-book supplement for newspapers and yet no one ever tried it again. It’s certainly something that I would recommend. I suspect fine arts courses and architectural schools are filled with guys who just have a love of drawing still-life’s, which is all that backgrounds are. Of course Gerhard grew to hate pen-and-ink drawing which had been one of his abiding passions when he had to do the volume of drawing required, so you won’t be seeing him recommending it as a career choice anytime soon. But, yes, I do think that guys who love writing and lettering and drawing people should look around for guys who like to draw inanimate objects. Mutual tolerance would, I think, best describe how the collaboration worked and how it continues to work. If I really needed something to go in the background, I’d be specific with Gerhard but if not, I let him do whatever he thought would look best. I always got my own best results by doing what I thought was best and always got second-rate results when someone was telling me what to do, so it just seemed natural to me to treat Gerhard the same way. If you want the best results let the guy call his own shots.
Jamie: I recently read that DC made an offer to buy Cerebus from you at one point. When did that happen and how much did they offer?
Dave Sim: Those negotiations took place over the course of 1985 to 1988, I think it was. Ultimately they offered $100,000 and 10% of all licensing and merchandising and that I would be allowed to keep doing the monthly black-and-white and Swords of Cerebus on my own. In the middle of the negotiations I came up with the idea of the High Society trade paperback and selling it direct to the readers which brought in $150,000 in the space of a few weeks and made their offer look kind of puny by comparison. What I wanted to develop was a Superman contract-a contract that would have been fair to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster-where DC could pick the revenue thresholds, but at some point we would split all revenues 50-50 just as is done with syndicated comic strips. No go. They made a final offer to give me the whole $100,000 all at once or half now and half later on which, to me, completely missed the point. You start with a dollar amount and negotiate upward, you don’t say “You can put it all in your right front pocket or you can put half in your right front pocket and half in your back pocket.” When I realized that Paul Levitz wasn’t going to budge, I packed it in.
Jamie: Now that Cerebus is done are you more open to selling it?
Dave Sim: No, not really. The difficult part is done now-actually writing and drawing the 6,000 pages so it’s more like it’s nice that the book still keeps us busy, me with answering the mail and Ger doing the business side and renovating the house and both of us working on Following Cerebus and developing a website for selling the artwork and putting together a First Half package of the first six volumes in a boxed set for Christmas, 2006. If we sold it we’d just have a pile of money and nothing to do. I really like being one of the two Cerebus custodians. Part of the fun of sculpting a statue over twenty-six years is spending the rest of your life washing the pigeon droppings off of it every day.
Jamie: I understand that since Cerebus ended, you are now organizing your archives and this will likely take another few years. What do you plan to do with your archives when you are done?
Dave Sim: Actually I have a lot of help from the Cerebus Newsgroup readers at Yahoo.com who are working out all the computer technicalities and Margaret Liss of the www.cerebusfangirl.com website who has started scanning in all of my notebooks. After that it will be all of my comics material starting with my first fanzine in 1970 through until the present day, all of the paperwork and correspondence, interviews, reviews, etc. in chronological order. As she scans that, she’ll be “key-wording” each document so that it can be indexed for content and you’ll be able to type in, say, “Kevin Eastman” and it will call up every document that mentions him. The idea is to arrive at a point where that becomes the primary research resource for Cerebus. Someone wanting to do an interview like this, I can just go through and check off the questions that they can find answers to in the Cerebus Archive so that I don’t have to keep answering the same questions over and over and over. Basically the same thing that I did with the Guide to Self-Publishing where I went out and promoted self-publishing through the Spirits of Independence stops for a couple of years and then wrote down everything I had been telling people and now I can just give them a copy of the Guide to Self-Publishing if they come to me for advice. I almost never get asked about self-publishing anymore for that reason.
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.
Almost all of my early interviews was done by e-mail. This interview was my first face to face with somebody. I really wanted to interview Jerry Robinson because he was a part of golden age comic book history. It took place at Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon. April 29th, 2005 and was originally published on June 2005. I had met Jerry at the convention, asked him for an interview and he agreed but after his signing was done.
I waited (about a half hour) and we went into a quiet room to do the interview. What I wanted to do in particular was ask about his history and find out first hand some things I had read about Siegel and Shuster that I wasn’t quite sure was true or not. I has also recently read Gerard Jones Men of Tomorrow and was really exciting about all of the new info it had revealed. Jerry was able to fill in some holes for me, making me very happy.
Jerry Robinson created both The Joker and Robin the Boy Wonder. He spent 20 years drawing comics before becoming a political cartoonist. He was also instrumental in getting a settlement from DC Comics in the 1970’s for the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Part of his story and this interview surrounds his role as it is described in the recent critically acclaimed book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones.
Jamie: What Year were you born?
Jerry Robinson: 1922.
Jerry Robinson: A long time ago. Before you were ever even thought of (laughter).
Jamie: My Dad was born in 1940.
Jerry Robinson: Oh boy, my you’re a youngster.
[Note: I’m 30 years old, but Jerry Robinson has full rights to call me a youngster.]
Jamie: What did you do prior to assisting Bob Kane on Batman?
Jerry Robinson: Well, nothing professionally. I started right in on Batman. I came to New York at 17 and was going to college. I started with Bob in that same year in 1939. I just did it to earn my way through college. Little did I know I’d still be talking about it 60 some years later (laughter).
Jamie: Did you say you met Bob through college?
Jerry Robinson: No, no. I met Bob through a strange circumstance. I had sold ice cream after I had graduated high school, in the summer before going to college, to earn enough for the first year, or semester. I was very light, only 98 pounds. On the track team as a matter of fact, very slight, almost as slight as yourself. So peddling Ice Cream on the bicycle all summer on the cart I dropped to probably no more than 78 pounds. Then my mother insisted I take $25 dollars, that’s all it took, to go up to the mountains to the resort and she said, “fatten up.” She was afraid I wouldn’t survive the first semester in college (laughter).
Just by sheer chance, I went out to a tennis court one day and I was wearing a white painters jacket and at the time you decorated them. So I had cartoons all over mine. I had drawn for my high school paper but that was my only involvement in cartooning. So I was wearing that painters jacket as a tennis jacket and I was trying to find a partner at the tennis court. Tennis was a family sport, my brothers were champion players. So I was standing there looking for a partner and felt a tap on my shoulder and heard “Who did those drawings?” I thought I was going to be arrested or something (laughter).
I turned around and said “I did.” “Well, those are pretty good. I just started a new feature called Batman and the 1st issue is on the stands. If you come with me I’ll show you.” We went down to the village and bought a copy. I was 17, he was about 24. He said, “If you come to New York, you’ve got a job. I need somebody to help me on Batman.”
I was going to go to Syracuse College, but I had also luckily applied to Columbia. I quickly called Columbia to see if my application was still good, which it was, then I called Syracuse and told them I was not coming. I called my parents and told them I’m not coming home, I’m going right to New York as I had a job. I went to Columbia and began moonlighting on Batman.
Jamie: So it was Bob Kane you met at the resort?
Jerry Robinson: Yes, he was the one that tapped my on the shoulder. Then I met Bill Finger.
Jamie: Yes, I was about to ask about him as well. What was he like and how did you meet him?
Jerry Robinson: Well, I met him through Bob as he wrote the scripts. He and Bob really co-created Batman.
Jerry Robinson: Unfortunately, only Bob’s name is on it. I started an award for Finger, similar to the Shuster Awards here that will be given at San Diego this year. It’s The Bill Finger Award and this will be the first year.
Jerry Robinson: Bill never got credit. He died broke. It’s a tragedy.
Jamie: Yeah, that’s what I heard. Do you have any photos of him by any chance?
Jerry Robinson: I don’t, we didn’t take pictures at the time. There are some that exist and have been published.
Jamie: I’ve seen one, but that’s it.
Jerry Robinson: I’ve only seen two or three at the most, different shots. One he’s playing Golf, one is a head shot.
Jamie: Yeah, I’ve seen one where it looks like he has a painters cap on and he’s looking sideways.
Jerry Robinson: Yeah. He was a great guy and was really a mentor of mine. He was 24 or 25 when I was 17. I was coming from a little town to New York for the first time in my life. I was going to University and going to my room at night and drawing all night. He took me around New York, showed me museums, foreign films, plays. He was very well read and a well rounded guy. He was my first cultural mentor.
Jamie: What was Bob Kane like?
Jerry Robinson: Well Bob was.. he had a great flair in his drawings. He was a comic artist before starting Batman, so it was a very difficult transition for him to go through, from comic art to doing more realism. So he struggled with the art. I think it’s easier to go the other way around. I started out doing illustration and later I did a humor strip that went for 17 years through syndication. That was an easy transition, being able to draw realistically to drawing humor. Not so easy the other way around.
Jamie: How long did you work on Batman?
Jerry Robinson: I think from 1939 to 1947.
Jamie: Wow. Why did you stop?
Jerry Robinson: Well, I wanted to do something more. Something under my own name. I wanted to do more creative writing and do different things. I never liked to continue to do something for too long. I like new challenges. I went on to do a lot of different comic strips. I partnered with Mort Meskin, we did strips for DC and other publishers. We did Johnny Quick, Vigilante, The Black Terror, Fighting Yank. Then I worked with Stan Lee for 10 years. I did a lot of stuff during the 50’s, crime, science fiction, war, which I enjoyed as each book was a different challenge.
Jamie: Yeah, they published everything.
Jerry Robinson: Yes. I really wanted to be a political cartoonist, so around 1961 I quit to do political cartoons. I did them for 33 years and I wrote and drew my own feature. That was 6 days a week and it was syndicated throughout the US and abroad. In between I was a book illustrator, did books and advertising. I curated a lot of shows (at museums). I traveled around the world, went to about 43 different countries. Did a lot of exhibitions and was a part of international juries. So it’s been a very interesting and satisfying career.
Jamie: I imagine so. I know for part of that career you went to the National Cartoonists Society. I understand you became the President at one point?
Jerry Robinson: Yes I served as President of the National Cartoonists Society and later on became an editorial cartoonist and served as President of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. A lot of Canadians belong to that.
Jamie: Yes, we have a strong group of political cartoonists.
Jerry Robinson: Very strong, yes. I have an International Newspaper Syndicate (called Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate) that started in 1979 and we represent the leading cartoonists in some 75 countries now. Including many Canadians I just visited, like Brian Gable, Bado (Guy Badeaux), all top, top cartoonists, world class. Dave Anderson of the National Post, Patrick Corrigan of the Star, Andy Donato of the Sun, all great cartoonists and others too. Roy Peterson in Vancouver, Dale Cummings from Winnipeg. For a country of this population it has an extraordinary number of great cartoonists. I’m very, very pleased to have them in my syndicate.
Jamie: Now the National Cartoonists Society, what is that, is it a bargaining agent or a social society?
Jerry Robinson: No. We did have committees and took up professional issues, but it wasn’t an union. It was a professional society for professionals, we discussed professional problems. We exchanged ideas and met socially as well. It was started during world war one, when a number of cartoonists started going around entertaining at hospitals for wounded soldiers. They one of them said “Gee, we ought to form a more organized group.”
There was about 6 or 8 of them to begin with and it grew to 3500 today. There was Milton Caniff and Rube Goldberg and other popular people, mostly strip cartoonists it started with, then other genres joined then, later editorial cartoonists as well. The editorial cartoonists had their own problems and later on they formed their own organization, The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. A lot of them belong to both. The NCS is like the parent organization. The Magazine association which I mentioned earlier also formed their own group to discuss their own problems. But NCS is still like a parent and it’s still running.
Jamie: Did you ever do any comic strips?
Jerry Robinson: I did one that went for several years. Called Jet Scott, it was a science adventure. I also helped friends on various ones; none that were my creations.
Jerry Robinson: Yes, just for periods of time when they needed me. On Jet Scott I did daily and Sundays.
Jamie: I was wondering if you read the book Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones?
Jerry Robinson: Oh, sure have!
Jamie: Your name appears in there quite a bit towards the end.
Jerry Robinson: Gerard interviewed me quite a bit for the book. It was a remarkable book. He did great deal of research.
Jamie: Oh yeah.
Jerry Robinson: There were things there that I didn’t know myself (laughter). I would recommend the book. Also Kavalier and Clay.
Jamie: Yeah, it’s fictionalized —
Jerry Robinson: Yes fictionalized —
Jamie: But a lot of it rings true.
Jerry Robinson: I met Michael Chabon in San Diego last year. I had the honor of getting elected to the Hall of Fame at the Eisner Awards. Along with Jules Feiffer and Al Capp.
Jamie: Yes I know of them.
Jerry Robinson: Michael had gave the keynote address, he’s a very charming man and really bright.
Jamie: How familiar are you with Siegel’s and Shuster’s past, I have some questions but I don’t know if you would know about them.
Jerry Robinson: I know some of it.
Jamie: Okay, there is a story about either Siegel or Shuster was a mailman and they had to deliver something to DC’s offices and that demoralized the staff at DC and somebody gave them a tip or and told them not to come back?
Jerry Robinson: No that is a mix of two different stories. Siegel did become a mailman, he had a writers block from the trauma of losing Superman. He would walk by a newsstand and see Superman all over the place, there, in movies, etc.. and he would literally get sick to his stomach. He couldn’t write anymore but he had to support his wife and child. There was a government agency he worked at, sorting mail, he wasn’t a mailman on the street. It was a very simple, non creative job. It’s what he had been reduced to.
And Joe, he was certifiably blind, he had bad eyesight even when I first knew him. So he couldn’t draw. He was supported by his brother but he got a job as a messenger. He delivered packages like mail and one time, he did by chance have to deliver something to DC Comics . . . Joe told me that story himself.
Jamie: Okay, so it was Joe then. That’s something I wanted to clear up as I heard two different stories about that. In the 50’s Siegel went back to work for DC and in the 60’s he stopped. I heard he tried to copyright Superpersons or something like that. Do you know anything about that?
Jerry Robinson: Well I know it was a long drawn out legal battle over the years. He (Siegel) had really created a Frankenstein (DC) and they could afford to hire the top lawyers and draw out the negotiations for years and he couldn’t afford to do it. From time to time they sued them and it just dragged on with more lawyers. It was a sad time for them.
Jamie: Do you know exactly why he left DC in the 60s?
Jerry Robinson: In the 60’s, no I don’t know.
Jerry Robinson: I know originally they were cut off once they had started the suit. They were fired and they had no income. I know they had a rapprochement for a period of time but it was nothing substantial.
Jamie: And there was another court battle in the 70s. It either went to a district court or to the Supreme Court…?
Jerry Robinson: Well, it went through a number of courts but not to the Supreme Court. It never got to that level. It was always lost in lower courts.
Jerry Robinson: I think if they brought suit under the proper clause, which is very involved technically, but conceivably they might have won in the Supreme Court. But they didn’t have the wares at the time. Jerry had already had a heart attack. In fact, the night before we had settled it Jerry had ordered me to settle it. I couldn’t tell the other side because then we’d lose our leverage, but he was afraid he wouldn’t survive the negotiations. He wanted to leave his wife and child with some security.
Jamie: Okay do you know what state it the case was filed in . . . was it New York?
Jerry Robinson: Yes, they were all filed in New York State. I can’t tell you what level it stopped at, but they never won, either because of technicalities or it wasn’t written up properly or they didn’t have good representation. The initial error was at the very beginning when they sold it but it wasn’t filed properly, the details would be too long, but they might have won on other grounds. But it never went to the Supreme Court. I don’t think a jury ever got to hear it. So it was drawn out, you are talking about billions of dollars when it comes to Superman.
Jamie: During the court case, I believe Carmine Infantino was the publisher of DC Comics at the time.
Jerry Robinson: Yes.
Jamie: Where was he in all this?
Jerry Robinson: As far as I know he was never involved. We never dealt with him. They were owned by Time Warner and we negotiated with Time Warner, their vice president and their lawyers.
Jamie: In the 70s, Jerry wrote out a 10 page letter and apparently sent it out to everybody and it helped get the media on his side initially.
Jerry Robinson: He did do that, but he didn’t get much headway. The media discarded him. It was only after he got on the Tom Snyder show and that was national, and got some of us professionals involved to help him with it did it start to go somewhere. That gave us the leverage we needed to negotiate with Time Warner. Also the movie was coming out at that time and that gave us leverage as well.
Jamie: About that letter, do you know if Jerry wrote that during the court case or after it? Men of Tomorrow is a bit murky with that.
Jerry Robinson: Well, it was probably written in between court cases. Siegel was frustrated as there was no settlement and he didn’t get anything. It was out of desperation he wrote that. He tried a lot of things. As you can imagine he was very frustrated and depressed. I mean Superman is one of the greatest properties in the 20th Century. He was stripped of everything and couldn’t make money for his family. And they (Siegel and Shuster) were both terrific people. I knew them both well. I even double dated with Shuster (laughter).
Jamie: There are two stories about Jerry Siegel appearing on TV, and I don’t know which one is true. There is one, it wasn’t mentioned this way in Men of Tomorrow, where he was in a talk show audience and he stood up and told everybody that he was the creator of Superman and he had to make a living bagging groceries. Apparently you saw this, was that on the Tom Snyder show?
Jerry Robinson: I remembered that it was the Tom Snyder Show yes. I saw it yes, I was working late for a deadline and I heard the name Siegel and Superman and I looked up and that was the first time I was aware of the their plight. I had thought they had made a settlement in the previous years. I was very upset in hearing that and immediately called Jerry in California and begun to work on restoring their rights. Neal Adams had also called them and we teamed up. I got the National Cartoonist Society, I wrote up.. what you would call a declaration of support. The Society had brought Siegel and Shuster in and I had went over to the Society of Magazine Cartoonists, they are an organization filled with mostly New Yorker and humor type cartoonists and they gave me the floor. It so happened it was all on the same day so I raced over, addressed them on their plight and they passed the same resolution unanimously. I went to other organizations, the screen writers and called all the names I knew like celebrities like Jules Feiffer and others there was this one science fiction writer . . .
Jamie: Harlan Ellison?
Jerry Robinson: No, I know Harlan and he would have, but I didn’t know him at the time.
Jamie: I believe the names are in Men of Tomorrow.
Jerry Robinson: Maybe, I don’t think they got all of them, actually. But what happened after the signing and we had a celebration at my apartment and Siegel and Shuster were over and I met Eli Wallach and his wife on the way there. Not that they did anything, when they heard about it they asked “what can we do?” and I told them we just got done the signing and that’s how they ended up being there. So there was Jules Feiffer and everybody was there. We had promised to give the scoop of the signing to Walter Cronkite for his program, he was the top newscaster. So we all gathered in front of the TV at that time. We had broke out the bottle of champagne waiting for him to announce it. At the very end of the show they had a sign and an animated Superman in the background flying across the screen and he said “At last, truth, justice and the American way has won.” We all toasted and everybody was crying and it was a very moving moment.
Jamie: That happened right after the settlement?
Jerry Robinson: Yes.
Jamie: I know you said you had everybody sign a declaration, but was there anything legal involved or like a boycott because I understand Neal was talking about doing boycotts. Was it anything like that or just a show of support?
Jerry Robinson: It was a show of support, we really didn’t have to go to that measure. What I personally did was use my persuasion on the Vice President of Time Warner, I called the night before the settlement in order to restore their names. Time Warner depends on talent of all kinds, it’s a multi media company, it does movies and everything. I said look, you are going to get a lot of bad press. Be aware of what you are doing if we can’t come to a reasonable solution. Restore their names, their dignity depends on it. So they finally agreed on it, but that was the night before the settlement. They were afraid that restoring their names would give them a claim in the future.. not that they don’t deserve it. They got a settlement but not what they deserve, they really should have been multi millionaires.
Jamie: Yes . . .
Jerry Robinson: But they had security for the rest of their lives, at the time they were both really destitute.
Jamie: What do you think about the future of comics with graphic novels?
Jerry Robinson: Well, the future is unknown, but I think it has a tremendous future. The comics are in the hands of creative people and it’s a very versatile media. The parameters keep expanding. Who would have foreseen the work being done today with graphic novels, in different mediums at different levels, computerized works of art? But in my analysis the creativity and the art is surviving. The form might change though, technology always dictates what is going to happen. It happened with newspaper strips and comic books, it depends on a confluence of events. I wrote about this in my book, it would take too long to go into detail, but that’s the bottom line. It took a number of events and people at the right time and the right place for it to happen.
Jamie: Thank you very much for the interview Jerry.
Sadly, Jerry Robinson passed away late in 2011. I still see him, his wife Gro and occasionally his son Jens at conventions, often right before the Will Eisner Awards.
I also interviewed Neal Adams about his role with Jerry and Joe Shuster’s mid 1970s settlement. That I will publish later this week. I should say that writer Brad Ricca has a fantastic book called Superboys that goes into great detail about Jerry and Joe’s fight for their rights. I highly recommend his book as it was a story that really needed to be told.
I should note that Marc Tyler Nobleman has a picture book called Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman that revealed a lot of new information of Bill Finger. Among which that bill has a granddaughter and great grandson who are now receiving royalties for Bill’s work. Today Bill Finger is recognized as co-creator of Batman. Jerry would be very, very happy with that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention’s Marc’s Boys of Steel picture book that also added some new information regarding the creators of Superman.
One thing I learned about this interview is that creators can never take their rights for granted. You would think that after all these years with the horrible stories of Siegel and Shuster, Jack Kirby, Bill Finger and many others that publishers these days would never try to screw somebody that badly. Especially by 1989. Scott McCloud’s Creator Bill of Rights was drafted the year prior.
You’d be wrong.
You remember that movie Men in Black? The funny one with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones? Did you know the movie came from a little seen black and white comic book published in 1990? This month we interview the artist from that comic, Sandy Carruthers. In the interview, we reveal some shocking details about how Sandy was compensated (or how he wasn’t) and we look at some other work of his including Captain Canuck.
Jamie: When did you break into the comics industry and what was your first work?
Sandy Carruthers: 1988? 89? Around there. It was the California based Malibu Graphics Sci-Fi wing (Eternity Comics). They published a B&W anthology series called ‘The Shattered Earth Chronicles’. I submitted a proposal ‘Twilights Last’, and they took it. From there, they started to send me comicbook work.
Jamie: How did you end up drawing Men in Black?
Sandy Carruthers: The editor, Tom Mason, called me and asked if I could read the script. I liked Sci-Fi and UFO stuff, so I grabbed it up. The writer Lowell Cunningham was situated in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jamie: I understand you got no compensation from the movies? Was there a contract between you and Malibu Comics?
Sandy Carruthers: Nope! Not a cent of the $857,000,000 profit made from it. Go figure. I was hired with a contract that only gave me rights to my ORIGINAL art (meaning, if they reproduce it…then they pay me)…I wasn’t the creator, Lowell was. What did I know? They only published 8000 copies fercripessake!
Jamie: How did Lowell make out on the Men in Black?
Sandy Carruthers: He did very well. Lowell is a clever man….he was the creator, after all, and established it right away. I say, good on ’em!
Jamie: On the issue of creating, how much of Men in Black was visually established prior to your coming on? Did you have to contribute anything visually?
Sandy Carruthers: There were no visuals . . . just a script. Everything you see is mine, mine, mine.
Jamie: When you say the contract was only for the original art, did you not get a page rate?
Sandy Carruthers: Malibu worked on royalties, not page rates. They paid an up front amount ($250.00 per issue) and if the title met a certain ratio, I’d get a percentage. MIB did okay. Again. Small publishing house. I was glad to be printed, to be honest. Money? Fahhh!
Jamie: Was the contract the same for the 2nd mini series you and Lowell did together?
Sandy Carruthers: That was the standard Malibu contract.
Jamie: Would you contribute to a TPB reprinting your original two series?
Sandy Carruthers: No.
Jamie: After going through that experience, what would you recommend young freelancers/creators do in a similar situation?
Sandy Carruthers: Evaluate the contract. Talk to a lawyer about ‘what’s in it for you’…weigh the value of your work. Think, ‘What if…. movie, merchandise, tv series’ and apply it to the terms. Cover your ass! Honestly? It wasn’t a fact that I was ‘screwed over’ by Malibu. I just didn’t think it would go as far as it did. Malibu was very good to me during those years…live and learn, and carry on. Life is too short, and so am I.
Jamie: I had a talk with Neal Adams last summer in which he talked about a publisher’s moral responsibility to spread the wealth on such success, rather than sticking to the letter of the law or contract. What is your view on moral vs. legal responsibility?
Sandy Carruthers: Most large comicbook publishers work on assembly lines. They are corporations that have one solid objective: to make money. I like the current trend that’s happening now. Traditional Book Publishers breaking into the Graphic Novel industry. These publishers treat their creators with great respect.
Again, read the fine print. Dare to call the shots. Most comic book creators are just so happy to be published by the ‘big two’ that they get clouded in their judgements, business wise. The big guys know this. Hey! It ain’t personal, it’s business! Really, creators call their own shots. The bottom line is you can always say “no.”
Jamie: What did you think of the two movies?
Sandy Carruthers: I liked the first one…the second was redundant same-o, same-o. Seriously, I wish the humour would’ve been in the vein of the Coen Brothers…more dark. Alas! They went for the bucks, though! Loved the ending, though . . . we are marbles!!
Jamie: After the movie came out, Marvel did new Men in Black comics and there were cartoons, toys, video games, etc.. Were you involved in any of it?
Sandy Carruthers: No. God, no.
Jamie: I understand Richard Comely turned Captain Canuck into a comic strip and you drew some of it during the 90s. Can you tell us about that?
Sandy Carruthers: Comely came out with Captain Canuck:Reborn during the 90’s. I contacted him and he wanted me to draw Catman (splatter)..the series went kaput and Richard had me illustrate the daily comic script that was to be in the newspaper. That was hell! Dailies are no fun, folks…. way too much deadline pressure. That really didn’t go anywhere either, but it was fun working on the good Captain!
Jamie: Did the comic strip actually see print somewhere?
Sandy Carruthers: Very little. Maybe two papers picked it up.
Jamie: You and Mark Shainblum are supposed to be reviving Captain Canuck. What is the latest on that?
Sandy Carruthers: We started a limited series and produced an ashcan. We even lined up Canadiana penciller Jeff Alward to work on issue 2, but alas… the latest on it (from my perspective, anyway) is it’s fairly dead in the water.
Jamie: Dave Sim mentioned when he first published Cerebus, only one Canadian store would stock it – the one he used to work at. Considering all the starts and stops Captain Canuck has had over the years, do you think Canadians don’t support home grown work enough or is our market just too small?
Sandy Carruthers: A little of both, really. It all depends. In this day of Global Neighborhood, what does it matter? With Canadiana, I have readers all over the world (even Iraq!) …what does this say? It says Canadians have an excellent potential for export here, so…have at ‘er, I say!
Jamie: As of late you’ve been working on Canadiana, a new female patriotic Superhero. You’ve been putting it all your webpage for free. What are your long term plans for the character?
Sandy Carruthers: She hasn’t been updated because I ‘ve been too busy. At this point, it’s free comics for everybody! We want her to be set in peoples minds…where she goes is anyone’s guess…possibly animated cartoons or live action. Perhaps print. Time will tell!
Jamie: Canadiana is different in that she doesn’t have the stereotypical Canadian personality. Why did you make her cranky?
Sandy Carruthers: Haha! Perhaps because she’s sick of the stereotypical Canadian personality. We Canadians are a lot crabbier than we let on! I blame the winters.
Jamie: One of the supporting characters in Canadiana is a psychic Naomi. Are you a believer in psychics?
Sandy Carruthers: Actually, I do. I think there’s enough uncanny stuff out there to warrant a second glance. Plus it’s fun. Granted, there’s a lot of snake-oil salesmen out there, but there’s some genuine stuff. Also, it sparks my imagination, and that ‘s what it’s all about!
Jamie: You have another online comic called The Ronin and the Lily. I noticed it starts off very much like Lone Wolf and Cub. Was that an influence?
Sandy Carruthers: Honestly? No. I wrote and drew that because I had just gone through a nasty spell in life known to many as divorce. Here I was a single dad with my daughter surviving. That’s really what The Ronin & the Lily is about. This man and child wandering/growing together. And then, I stumbled on Lone Wolf and Cub, and exclaimed ‘d’oh!’
Jamie: Do you have plans on continuing Ronin and the Lily?
Sandy Carruthers: Probably not. It was created for its time, for me. Though I shouldn’t say never.
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’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.