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.
As some of you know I go to comic book conventions and cover them, usually as a member of the press. My first convention was in the summer of 2002 which means I’m coming up on 15 years now. So I’ve been thinking about all of the stuff I’ve learned over the years covering conventions and decided I would share them for anybody who is either just starting to cover comic conventions or thinking about doing so.
If you are there to cover the con and have fun, remember that covering the con comes before having fun. This means if there are things you want to do as a fan conflict with things you should do as a member of the press, then do the press thing. Especially if you are working for another website and not for yourself. If the convention has given you a free ticket to get in, you should do the job that you’re there to do and not just have fun for “free.” There have been several conventions where pro-wrestlers I really liked were there and doing a panel, people whom I’ve always wanted to meet and ask questions. Sadly, doing so conflicted with covering comic related stuff so I wasn’t able to do it.
Just because the convention gave you a press pass doesn’t mean owe the convention a positive review. Some conventions are run badly or at least did not work out as well as they hoped. You can and should be the voice of the people who paid money to be at the con, both vendors and fans. When I was writing convention reports I’d talk to the exhibitors that were at the con. Sometimes exhibitors will tell you something completely different than they say to the convention organizers or what they say out loud when convention staff are nearby. They might do this in fear of petty retribution by the convention organization, be it getting kicked out other shows the organization is doing, getting a poor spot on the convention floor next show or something like that. Some people just don’t want to say negative things about somebody’s work to their face. Go with what they tell you, as they know you are press and they want the word to get out.
Some people very loudly complain about the convention and are not shy at all. It might be the same complaint every convention, every year. The market is evolving and they refuse to evolve with it and they get mad at the convention for it. For example, it was (and still is with some dealers) common practice to mix up the dollar bin books so that fans would need to look through all of them to find the books they want. In the old days die-hard fans would go through all the books and find some they want and maybe pick up something they didn’t originally plan on buying, which is why the dealers did it. It was also much less labour intensive to have them mixed up then putting them all in order. These days more and more fans just won’t spend the time to do that anymore. If the books aren’t sorted so they can quickly find if what they’re looking for is there, then they move on. Either another dealer will have them sorted (and they’ll pay $2 or $3 for the same book if it’s easy to find) or they’ll buy it on online. Vendors who don’t adapt see their sales falling and they blame it on the convention. It’s always best to get a variety of views and not let just one or two colour your view of the whole convention.
I get a number of people asking me the details about who I work for and the purpose of my coverage. Have business cards to give them. Some people will really appreciate them and it looks more professional. Sometimes you’ll get a business card back that will have a way to contact them that’s not public and can be useful down the line.
Look at how other professionals are dressed. Are they wearing Wolverine and Walking Dead t-shirts? With rare exceptions they’re not. Dress in normal clothes and not like a fan. Feel free to buy and wear those clothes when you’re at home, but while you’re at a convention, don’t pay money to be a walking billboard for a company’s product. It’s a subtle thing, but if you don’t want professionals to treat you like a fan, then don’t dress like a fan. The rare exceptions I’ve seen a professional dressed in fandom clothes are usually older creators wearing a t-shirt of a character they created. If you’re Len Wein and you co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing you’re totally permitted to wear a t-shirt with them on it.
With many conventions you really need to pick and choose what you’re going to cover as conventions are multifaceted and have a mix of comics, gaming, celebrities and other stuff going on. When I first started covering conventions I tried to cover it all, but that quickly got frustrating. Especially when some parts of the conventions weren’t very receptive to the press. In my case it was covering the celebrities. They wanted everybody to pay for photos and often there were mechanisms to block anybody from taking a photo without paying for it, including the press. In one case a celebrity did a panel, but had the convention block access to anybody with a press pass from attending said panel. At that point I stopped covering celebrities and decided I was there for the comics so I would focus on the comic aspect of the convention.
Plan ahead and have backup plans. Have a schedule of what you’re going to do and when it’s happening. This means if there is panel you wish to cover, get there a head of time. If the convention doesn’t clear out the rooms, you might want to attend the panel prior to it while its ongoing so you’re in the room when the next panel starts. If you have to miss said panel (this always happens to me at least once per convention), think about what else is going on that you can cover and rearrange your schedule to compensate. Sometimes this is a bonus as you get something nobody else is covering, effectively giving you an exclusive and learn something new that’s really interesting or cool. Best part will be passing this along to your readers.
Not every creator is going to agree to what you want or even follow through on their promises. I’ve had creators skip out on doing scheduled interviews, then refuse to make alternative plans to do the interview at a different date (or even some other method after the convention). Some have agree to having their panel recorded at one convention, then refuse the same request at another. I have even helped a lost creator find their room they’re doing a panel in and then said creator refused to have the panel recorded. It’s best to not take this stuff personally. For starters you’re not entitled the the professional’s time. It also doesn’t do you any good to hold on to the anger. Let it go and just know that you can’t rely on that creator in the future. There are lots of people who want coverage and many that aren’t getting the coverage they ought to.
Assuming you use electronics, have spare charged batteries and/or chargers with you at all times. This is especially true for cameras and tablets/laptops. Sometimes things get left on or a battery that you thought was charged suddenly isn’t. It really sucks not having the tools you need to cover something. Also, bring a notepad and pen(s). It’s often just easier to pull it out of your back pocket and write stuff down. Especially if you are taking pictures of pro’s you’ve never seen before. I always make sure I write down their names in the order that I took the pictures, even if I know who the pro is. I also write down something about them to identify the picture. Something like green T-shirt and glasses, standing with book, etc.. This will really help when putting names to faces. The photos of people you know mixed in with these photo’s will help assure you that your putting the correct names to faces.
After the convention is over for the day, if you have any writing to do you should spend at least part of your evening writing. I know with most conventions there are parties at night and it’ll be tempting to go to said parties but again, if you’re there to do a job, then do that job. Otherwise, you’re going to need to make up the time somewhere else to meet your deadline which may involve missing sleep – which is never a good thing to do on purpose. Often I have a tablet (with keyboard) with me and when I’m getting dinner at a restaurant I’ll pull out the tablet and start writing while I’m waiting for food and my bill. Squeeze in your writing where you can. If you miss something you wanted to cover and there is nothing else between now and and the next thing you want to do, find the press room and use it to get some writing done. The less work there is to do after the convention is over the better it is for you.
If you ARE at a party with lots of professionals, know that your presence might be a downer at the party. Because you are press, people might be more guarded about what they talk about in fear of what they say getting spread online, even if you reassure them that’s not going to happen. Also if you are conversing with a pro at a party, don’t ask them the same fanboy questions they’ve probably been asked 2 dozen times that day.
Another thing you will notice is different press organizations get different levels of access. If it’s a TV show with a camera crew, they are probably going to be able to get the interviews with people you can’t just because of how large their audience is. Same goes for the more popular websites that cover comics. Don’t fret over what other people are doing as covering a convention isn’t a competition. If you have stuff you wanted to do, go and do that and be happy with it. Not everything at a convention gets coverage and often people/events that aren’t big names are very appreciative for the coverage you bring.
If you do this long enough, some creators who you’re used to seeing and chatting with are going to become very popular. Then you’re not going to be able to just walk up to their table and chat with them like you used to anymore. Chip Zdarsky and Agnes Garbowska are two examples for me right now. For years I would walk up to their tables, make small talk with them and ask them for a picture. Now their tables are usually surrounded with people and sometimes they just do signings at specific times. Be happy for their success. You may still see them at a panel or elsewhere outside the convention itself.
Beyond that, do try to enjoy your time at the convention. While you still need to work and focus your energies to that end, the work you are doing should still be enjoyable. Otherwise, why do it?
I went to San Diego Comic Con again and this year things went a little differently for me.
First, I got a direct non-stop flight from Toronto to San Diego, which was nice because normally I have at least 1 layover ever when I fly there. On the flight back I saw quite a few comic peeps I recognized. The flight was also significantly cheaper than what I normally pay.
I landed in San Diego on Tuesday and got around to do some things in San Diego before the con, like go to the Coronado Beach. The sand looked like gold and I saw small crabs in the barnacles. I also saw the hotel that was in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. I’m told it’s been used in a lot of TV shows and movies.
Normally I land in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, go straight to my hotel, check and get lunch, unpack, relax for a bit, then head down to the convention to get my badge. All of this makes for a really long day, so coming in Tuesday made it much easier on me. The only problem is needing to find a Hotel for Tuesday only and having to pack up and leave on Wednesday to your comic con hotel. As I’ve learned a couple of years ago, even if you get the same hotel the staff will have a different room for you for the convention days and you’ll have to move to that room.
For the con itself what was different was that I didn’t spend that much time on the exhibit floor. There were days where I didn’t hit the exhibit floor at all. I didn’t go there on Thursday or Saturday. I was only on there for a bit on Friday and Sunday towards the very end. Normally I make it a point to walk every isle and see everything. This year I felt fine skipping about a 3rd of the exhibit floor.
In previous years in the non comic area’s you’d sometimes find booths with a couple long boxes of comics or trades. Often it would be a mix of odd stuff that they’re just trying to get rid of and you’d get a decent deal. The last couple of years I haven’t seen any comics at all in that area, so I skipped it. The publishers (big and small) and back issue dealers are primarily in Hall B & C then you find artists alley, some artists collective booths and original art dealers in Hall’s F.
I discovered some booths I normally shop at either had smaller spaces or reduced/changed what they had brought. Bud Plants booth was half of what it normally is. There were a couple of underground dealers that didn’t have much in the way of old underground collections like they normally did. I also noticed Mile High didn’t bring any GNs and was only selling back issues, which was a switch. As a result I bought less than I normally do there.
I don’t know how the publishers are doing when it comes to selling their books but I haven’t heard any complaints. When I typically walk by their booths I see lots of people in them. I did find it a little odd that the Image Comics booth didn’t have any Savage Dragon trades there. Considering Erik Larsen was an Image founder you’d think they’d bring something. It’s pretty sad when the publisher you help create decides to abandon you at the biggest show of the year.
The moment the con announced the show was closing in a half hour all the dealers started taking down their “wall” comics and packing up. I didn’t talk to many dealers about how the show went, but when dealers start packing up early (or at least as early as they’re allowed), that’s almost always a sign it was a bad show and they just want to cut their losses and get out of there ASAP.
I know dealers are increasingly unhappy with the con because they feel back issue buyers can’t get into the con because tickets sell out so quickly. I have no doubt that’s true, but I think there’s more to it. I think there are less people buying back issues than before. Those that do want a good deal (EG: below guide) and normally dealers that exhibit at San Diego can’t give them that deal due to the high costs of being there. Discounts don’t always pay for themselves with volume sadly.
I also suspect a lot back issue buyers are older and they don’t like the difficulty of getting tickets, a hotel room and the large crowds. Plus all that is really expensive. It’s much cheaper and more convenient for them to buy online and/or go to a closer, quieter convention. I’m wondering what a traditional comic convention might look like without any back issue dealers and I might actually see that within my lifetime.
The slower sales may also have something to do with the smaller crowds this year. It’s been said that San Diego’s switch to using badges with RFID chips made it harder for people to pass (or counterfeit) badges and get in. The less crowded exhibit floor was nicer for the attendee’s that were there. I suspect another reason the floor was less crowded was due to people playing Pokemon Go around the con. Even on Wednesday night I saw numerous people walking around in circles looking at their phones. One professional I talked during the day to told me his daughter was out playing Pokemon Go at that moment.
During my TCAF post I mentioned I was unhappy with my camera and was getting a new one. I got a Canon Powershot SX710 HS and am quite happy with it. There camera does not get the best rating on the various review websites, but it worked well for my purposes. I’m learning to not just blindly follow reviews & ratings and instead focus on what the pro’s and cons of the camera and applying that to what I’m using it for. I don’t think those reviewers have taking pictures at comic conventions and darkly lit award ceremonies in mind when doing their reviews.
I am especially happy with how using the sport scene worked on the Eisner Award pictures. I took a whole bunch of pictures in that mode (over 2,000 of them) but that allowed me to get better pics than usual. I’m typically in the pro seats behind the tables, which is quite a ways away from the stage. My camera ‘s 30X zoom was used to the fullest to get pics of people on stage and less than that was used on the big screens showing what’s happening on the stage.
Surprisingly I did not see any celebrities outside of the Eisner Awards. Normally San Diego is crawling with so many celebrities I end up seeing somebody somewhere even though I only focus on comics programming. For example, one year during a Ted Naifeh panel the back door opens up and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, etc..) walks out. He apparently just wanted to go outside for a smoke. He came back in after the panel was done and was giving an interview to a camera crew as the audience was leaving the room. Of course it’s entirely possible I did see one, but didn’t know it was a celebrity.
I was quite happy to be able to audio record some panels with creators whom I’ve never met in real life before like Christopher J Priest, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron. I was only turned down by one creator but I knew in advance that was a strong possibility. I’m not bothered by it as I was able to record him at at another convention recently. The only disappointing situation I had was a creator who wouldn’t let you take a picture of him unless you bought a $15 print/sketch.
The panels I recorded can be found on the audio page of my other website. Also at that link is the Will Eisner Awards recording and pictures to both the convention and Eisner Awards. I should warn you that there is a bit of swearing of almost every panel. Off the top of my head the YA? Why Not? panel does not have swearing, but the rest I can’t vouch for. The saddest panel was the Darywn Cooke tribute, while you won’t hear this on audio I can tell you from being there that several panelists were in tears at the end. What’s also sad was that there was no tribute panel for Paul Ryan, who worked in the comics industry since the 1980s. I’m hoping a convention that’s local to where he used to live puts something on for him.
As always with San Diego there usually multiple panels I wanted to be at and record happening at the same time. I shockingly did not record a single panel that Mark Evanier was on. The same goes for Paul Levitz except for a surprise appearance at the Fan vs Pro Comic Trivia challenge. I sometimes question the choices that I’ve made when it comes to which panels to cover, but in the end I’m very happy with all the panels I got. I just wish I had a 2nd person who could go to the panels I can’t be at and record them, despite the extra work that would bring.
The only panel I did not like that much was one about goal setting for creative people. I only came in part way through but it was clear to me that this was a rewording of a standard SMART goals course/lecture that almost everybody in business has to take at least once. The main difference was the presenter telling people to draw their goals instead of writing them down and an artist was demonstrating how to do so with large paper flip chart and markers.
There are official video recording of panels going on now. It’s something called Comic Con HQ but they are understandably only recording the panels with the widest commercial appeal thus far. Outside of the Will Eisner Awards which was live streamed online there is no overlapping between us that I know of. If they do decide to record everything I’ll have to decide if I want to keep recording or even if I can. Chances are they’ll want exclusive rights to the panels.
I also got to see and hang out with some friends which is always great, but there were many people whom I usually see that I missed this year or only saw very briefly / in passing. While that happens every year, it seemed more pronounced this year. I think I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to find and say Hi to people next year.
Of those that I did talk to Donald Trump’s name came up a lot when the conversion drifted outside of comics. Everybody was speaking about him in an “OMG how can anybody vote for this freaking lunatic?!?” type way. He was also the butt of many jokes when people were in front of a microphone.
I am very much looking forward to going back next year, where it’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. I learned that there are supposed to be extra panels on the two creators next year and that sounds great.
Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown. Published by Drawn and Quarterly.
Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus
By Chester Brown
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Price: 21.95 USD, 24.95 CAD
This is Chester Brown’s new book that was published earlier this year. The book contains a number of biblical stories that reinterpret the stories of women in the bible and specifically the women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. Chester’s last book, Paying For It was about his experience being a John and using the services of prostitutes. Chester believes prostitution should be legalized and uses these biblical stories to further that goal. This might seem odd because laws and moral disapproval of prostitution comes from Abrahamic religions, but Chester backs up the reinterpretations with research. Within a lengthy notes section Chester goes into detail to which biblical scholars, their books and earlier versions of biblical scripture he used to come to his conclusions.
I suspect this book will be more interesting to those who are into Christianity and biblical studies. Fundamental Christians who view the Bible that absolute truth and the word of god will likely be upset, but reading the notes section (if they get that far) may awaken them to the reality that the bible as we know today is heavily edited. There are earlier scriptures that tell different versions of the stories, issues with how certain words were mistranslated among other things (google Bart D. Ehrman if you want to know more). People who have no interest in religion or prostitution may not find this book all that interesting.
While I did enjoy this book and do have an interest in this stuff, I suspect people who are expecting another Louis Riel or Paying For It might be disappointed in this book. This collection of short stories doesn’t provide the satisfying feeling of Chester’s longer stories.
So I went to TCAF a week ago. I did my usual audio recording of panels and took some pictures of creators. Normally I try and get pics of all of the creators there, but I was unable to this time due to recovering from a cold and dealing with back pain.
This year’s TCAF was a little different in that the ground floor wasn’t so crammed with creators and publishers. One of the back rooms was being renovated so they weren’t able to use it. Other areas where they would normally have tables on both sides of the isle only had tables on the 1 side. This made walking around and browsing much more pleasurable. I also noticed a lot of new faces this year as well. I think having a bunch of different creators with new (thus more popular books) is good for the overall vibe of the convention. Seeing so many new/good things to buy I think gets people spending money and enjoying the event more. I imagine it leads a more positive conversations among creators after the event if they all sold a lot of books.
They were able to more effectively use the 2nd and 3rd floors in terms of putting creators up there. I doubt they got as much foot traffic as the usual places creators were but when I was there people were there browsing and shopping so I hope they did okay. They also put most of their big mainstream creators in a new spot (the Masonic Temple) which was about a block away from the Library. I never got to visit there but I’m told it was really nice. My understanding is the place was mainly used for signings and wasn’t a place where creators sat all day selling their stuff.
One panel I attended for myself was about dealing with back pain. It was aimed at creators who are at their drawing tables (or computers) all day. I did not record it because 1. I came in late after the panel started and 2. It was a very visual panel with lots of slides showing drawing of bodies and things you can do prevent and manage back pain. Personally it was a very useful panel and I’ll be seeking out Kriota Willberg for more information.
One of the oddest things I saw while in Toronto was a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk selling back issue sets of comics. I only got to do a bit of shopping myself and I did the majority of it in the last 10 minutes of the show. I bought Mary Wept at the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown and Bernie by Ted Rall. I’m about half way through the Bernie book now and I’m enjoying it. The book is like comic version of a Bernie Sanders speech, but with historical and economic information to back up the points he makes. So far it’s covered income inequality and the move of the US Democratic Party to the Center/Right in the 1970s and how it doesn’t represent progressive Liberal voters.
I did something else I very rarely do at panels and that is ask questions. I did this at the Chester Brown panel that quickly went from being about the book to being about sex workers and how/why the Catholic church has worked to criminalize their profession. I don’t disagree with anything that was said but I think room started getting tense as not everybody was comfortable with the criticism of the Catholic church. I tried to steer the panel back to talking about the book. That said, Chester might want to consider making a book about the history of prostitution and how/why it’s illegal. I think much of what was said at the panel would make for some interesting reading.
The Doug Wright Awards were a bit different this year. For starters Brad Mackay wasn’t there due to a family emergency. Dustin Harbin stepped in to host the awards. Usually they get some celebrity involvement in the awards but there was none of that this year, which was fine as it wasn’t needed. The awards ran a bit quicker than usual which was good as they got off to a late start.
I feel I should note that I’m not that happy with my camera. Last year I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 that had multiple review sites saying it was the best point and shoot camera out there. Those sites are wrong. The biggest problem with the camera is the Auto Intelligent Scene picker setting. The camera examines the shot you want to take and then picks the scene mode best for that shot. Sounds great doesn’t it? Problem is, nearly half of all the scene modes say it should be used with the camera on a tripod. So when you’re taking pictures by hand you get blurry or bad pictures and you normally have no way of knowing what you’re going to get.
I took the majority of the pictures at the show at either Portrait or “Food” setting, but still wasn’t happy with the results. Some of it is because the camera takes the shot right when the flash is shooting, which leads to wicked shadows behind the people and flash light washed out faces. I plan on buying a new camera before San Diego Comic Con and I think I’m going to sell this one on Ebay. My previous camera took much better pictures but I stopped using it because of increasing delays between pressing the shutter button and getting the shot and also inconsistent flash settings. Also, it took 4 AA batteries, which increased the cameras weight and my backpack weight due to me having spares.
I went to King Con and a related event from March 11 to 13th. King Con is a local comic/gaming convention. Originally King Con was just a gaming convention, I never attended it but my understanding is it was on hiatus for a while before our local public library took it over last year. Now it’s half gaming convention and half TCAF like convention, but on a very small scale.
On the 11th, I went to the Screening Room (local mainly indy movie theatre) for a showing of Seth’s Dominion, which is a documentary about the cartoonist Seth. They gave out tickets for a door price of the latest Palookaville book. Seth gave a small introduction explaining that they were going to start with two short animated cartoons done using Seth’s work. One was called the Great Machine, the other Kao-Kuk. Seth wanted it known that these stories were not typical of his work.
The documentary was a mix of Seth talking about his life, his work – both personal and commercial, it showed a number of his friends talking about him, Seth’s parents were discussed too. I was surprised to learn about some of the things Seth does for himself, this includes developing puppets and doing a show with them and his building a large model city. In between all this are animated short Seth stories.
After the show there was a question and answer with Seth himself. I counted 35 people in the theatre. Among the things Seth revealed is his puppet work is going to become it’s own movie. Seth talked about his relationship with Joe Matt and Chester Brown and said they’ve grown apart because they don’t see each other very often. He said when they all lived in Toronto they were constantly talking comics and sharing their work with each other for feedback, but now that they’ve grown more experienced in their cartooning they don’t need that feedback anymore.
Seth talked about the importance of establishing rules in comics and working within them, then breaking those rules. Seth said he really liked the animation of his work in the documentary and he had nothing to do with it. Seth gave all the credit to the person behind the documentary director and animator Luc Chamberland. He liked it so much he’s now thinking about doing some work in Animation.
Seth revealed that the next Clyde Fans is almost done. He needs to revisit what he’s done and he believes he’ll be making some changes to it. Seth also talked about his relationship with computers. He said he went from hating them to tolerating and using them, but he still keeps his computer on the 3rd floor of his house while he works in the basement so it’s not a distraction.
On Sunday I came back to chit chat with some of the creators, which was nice. I also came across a pirate musical group called Capt’n Tor & The Naer Do Well Cads. They were going around and singing songs, drawing people to tables that weren’t getting much traffic on the first floor. Here are 2 of their songs. Personally I like the 2nd one better, but both are fun to watch.
I only got a couple of books for myself at the convention, one was Lucifer’s Sword by Phil Cross and Ronn Sutton and Epochs #1 by Cody Yeo, Greg Moser and Christian Wolf.