An Interview With Al Milgrom - Inking, Editing, & Creating Comics in the Bronze Age!

Written by Bryan Stroud

Al Milgrom (wearing his Marvel Comics shirt) playing paddleball in the Marvel offices, 1982.

Allen L. Milgrom (born March 6, 1950) is an American comic book writer, penciler, inker and editor for both DC & Marvel Comics. He is best known for his 10-year run as editor of Marvel Fanfare; his long involvement as writer, penciler, and inker on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man; his four-year tenure as West Coast Avengers penciler; and his long stint as the inker of X-Factor. In 2017, he was awarded a Inkwell Awards Special Recognition Award.

You'd have to go far and wide to find someone with more experience and talent than the great Allen Milgrom.  From his extensive inking work to his editorial runs and the many, many wonderful artists he's collaborated with, the man is a walking, talking encyclopedia of Bronze Age comics knowledge and a great guy to boot.

This interview originally took place over the phone on January 8, 2010.

Adventure Comics (1938) #457, cover by Al Milgrom.

Bryan Stroud:  How did you get your start?

Allen Milgrom:  My first year in the business I worked for Murphy Anderson as a background inker.  That was my first paying job in the industry.  I came out to New York from Michigan with samples.  My childhood buddy Jim Starlin had come out a year earlier.  He was in the Navy and after his discharge, this was the early 70’s, he came out to New York and started getting some work and I was in college and came out here after I’d graduated. 

Jim was doing stuff for Marvel and DC and doing breakdowns or layouts for John Romita on some of the Spider-Man material and when I came out I wasn’t quite ready to get work on my own, but I was good enough to start doing some background work for Murphy.  I showed my samples up at DC and either Joe Orlando or maybe it was Carmine Infantino called Murphy in and asked, “Murph, could you use help from this guy?”  “Yeah.”  So shortly afterward I started working for him. 

I had actually done one inking job prior for Charlton and that was while I was still living back in Michigan and I got that through Rich Buckler.  He was already out here and he was starting to get some work and a friend of his here named Jim Janes had penciled a job for Charlton and he wasn’t a good inker or didn’t feel he was a good inker, so they needed one for the job and Rich told them about me and the next thing I know I was inking a short 5 or 6 page Charlton job for maybe ten bucks a page.  I remember my mother was horrified at how little money it was.  And frankly I did not do the best job in the world, and I wasn’t really ready yet, either, but Charlton, God bless ‘em, (chuckle) they couldn’t afford to be very choosy about the work even though they had some very good people working for them. 

So that was my first experience.  Jim Janes was an interesting guy.  He lived on Staten Island and he did some comics.  I know he did some Legion of Super-Heroes at one point for DC and I believe he must have moved to California, because I’ve seen his name on the credits of some of the DC animated shows.  I don’t remember which ones off hand, but I know he’s done stuff for them.  So he’s one of these guys who was a good solid artist, but he didn’t seem to have a distinctive enough style to stay in comics, so he ended up getting probably a much better paying gig on the West Coast doing the animation for a lot of these characters.  Storyboards and so forth.   

Incredible Hulk (1968) #250, cover by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  Sort of following in the footsteps of Mike Sekowsky and Alex Toth.

AM:  Yeah and Kirby did that for a while, too.  Gil Kane may have, too.  A lot of guys who either got fed up with comics or could do better doing storyboard work or whatever ended up doing that.  My good buddy from Michigan, Mike Vosburg did some storyboard/animation stuff for a while and now he’s doing stuff for motion pictures including the Narnia films.  And Brett Blevins, who is a very good artist and did comics for a while who was…well, not exactly my protégé, but when he was 13 he started sending samples to me when I was an editor at DC.  I thought he had a lot of potential and when I went back to work as an editor for Marvel I told him to stay in touch and send me more samples and I would sort of go over his stuff and send him critiques and tell him how I thought he could correct the work.  He’s very good and I believe he’s doing storyboard work for the Batman cartoon show and I think he makes a lot more money doing that than he ever did doing comic book work. 

Stroud:  Now weren’t you considered to be one of the Crusty Bunkers at Continuity Associates?

AM:  Anybody who did any work to help out on a Continuity job was considered a Crusty Bunker, so I did some work under that banner, I guess. (Chuckle.) 

Stroud:  Was it by design or something you just fell into?

AM:  Anybody who happened by the studio…we’d go there to hang out.  We’d talk to Neal (Adams), to watch and see what he was doing.  Jack Abel rented space there.  Jack was a good friend of mine and again one of the old-timers, as it were and also a fellow background guy for Murphy Anderson at one point, unfortunately.  Unfortunately, because Jack had actually been inking Superman for DC and at some point, they told him that look, that slick house look that DC had used for many years, the stuff that Bernie Sachs and the Barry Brothers and Joe Giella and Frank Giacoia, all those kind of guys, he had a look sort of in that ballpark.  I’m not saying it looked exactly the same, but in any case, at some point Carmine told him, “Look, we’re not using the style any more and we want everybody to ink like Dick Girodano.”  Jack at the time said, “Well who else inks like Dick Giordano?”  Which was a valid question.  And at the time Carmine said, “Well…Vinnie Colletta.”  And Vinnie…I can kind of see where Carmine made that judgment.  There was a very slight surface resemblance between Vinnie and Dick’s, but Dick’s was so far superior.

DC Special (1968) #28, cover by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  Oh, yeah.

AMJack was just flabbergasted.  He got very discouraged and for a while there just was doing backgrounds for Murphy and I used to ask him why he hadn’t gone back to Marvel (this was all before my time, mind you).  He’d been inking Iron Man over Gene Colan at Marvel and apparently, they loved his stuff because one thing Marvel lacked in the early days was good inkers.  They had Dick Ayers, who was not too slick and they had few others.  They had Joe Sinnott who did a little work early on and so forth, but they really lacked polished inkers for a long time.  But Jack said he felt that since he left Iron Man to go back to DC that Marvel wouldn’t give him any work.  The truth is they would have been happy to have him back.

Stroud:  I’m sure you’re right.  They had so few standout inkers at that point I would imagine they’d have snapped him up. 

AM:  Now (Steve) Ditko inked his own stuff and that was terrific.  There were some other guys.  Don Heck would pencil and ink his own stuff and other people’s stuff.  George Roussous inked a lot of Kirby and some Ditko and so on but I think Abel, being an old-school guy and taking into account that the industry had been so vindictive in the past to the old guys in some ways.  If you went to the competition they wouldn’t necessarily take you back.  I think that was especially true of DC in those days.  Less so for Marvel, but I don’t think Abel realized that.  I used to yell at him after the fact: “Jack, what would it have cost you to try to go back to Marvel?”   He said: “Well, I should have…”  So anyway, he was actually doing backgrounds for Murphy for a while and Dave Cockrum had also done backgrounds for Murph and at some point, Wayne Howard (the Wally Wood imitator).  He did a lot of work for Charlton on his own and he was also doing backgrounds for Murphy which was good because Wayne was a very solid guy who did good brushwork and of course being a Wood impressionist and Wood being heavily influenced by Hal Foster and Murph being heavily influenced by Hal Foster - it was a good mesh.

Stroud:  You mentioned Vinnie Colletta earlier and he had kind of a reputation as a hack inker.

Defenders (1972) #17, cover penciled by Ron Wilson & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  I wasn’t really a friend of Vinnie’s and I didn’t like his work, but I did like it when I was a kid and he was inking Kirby on Thor.  You can’t hurt Kirby.  You can help him, but you can’t hurt him.  The stuff is so powerful and the stories are so well told.  It’s such exciting, dynamic stuff and as a kid I would look at that stuff Vinnie inked and thought: “Oh, yeah, it looks like Hal Foster,” which of course was highly inaccurate.  Just the fact that it was a lot of hatchy pen work and of course that was not true of Foster at all.  Foster inked virtually everything with a brush. 

Vinnie’s stuff had a different look to it and I just thought, “Oh, that looks good.”  And I liked it as a contrast to the stuff Sinnott was inking on FF or Giacoia was inking on Captain America, so as a kid I certainly liked Vinnie’s stuff well enough. But as I got older and I could see a lot of the rendering he did was just sort of meaningless hash marks and lines for the sake of lines.  They didn’t really give you a tone, they didn’t give you a texture, they didn’t define muscle mass or anything like that and of course years later when I saw that he would wholesale erase backgrounds rather than ink them, or (chuckle) I know one penciler told me, “You know I did this whole sequence and there was a crowd and there was backgrounds and Vinnie drew in a brick wall and inked it in black.”  He covered up all the extra stuff but the main figures were there, but everything else, he just put a brick wall in front of them.  That will save you some time, I guess. 

You know as fast as Vinnie was, I’m not sure how much time he really saved doing that, but I guess he must have figured he was saving some and Kirby used to draw these sort of ornate 1930’s and 40’s style buildings; Manhattan style buildings but having that kind of brick work and filigree and all kinds of stuff going on and Vinnie a lot of times would just take the shape and ink a skyscraper.  Make it a skyscraper with glass windows and not make it with any detail.  Just drop everything out.  When I found that out it tended to lessen my (chuckle) regard for Vinnie as an inker. 

Stroud: (Laughter.)  I think you’re in good company based on some stories I’ve heard before.  He didn’t have much of a fan club. 

All-Star Comics (1940) #67, cover by Al Milgrom.

AM:  One time he was inking a job of mine and I wasn’t too thrilled about that, either.  By the way, as far as inkers, when I went to work for Murphy, he had two sayings.  Murphy, as you probably know, is a funny guy and likes to make puns, but also would pass along things like this:  “Allen, you know the first two rules of inking that you should know?”  “What’s that, Murphy?”  “When in doubt, black it out; and we’re paid to ink, not think.”

Stroud: (Laughter.)

AM:  And of course, he was being facetious because of course nobody thought more about the work he did on stuff than Murphy.  He certainly never just inked what was there because he would always add that Murphy Anderson polish to it, that finish.  In some ways it was great and admirable and in some ways, it probably disguised the identity of the penciler.  I know that at least one time a penciler mentioned to me that he wished Murphy would just stay a little closer to his pencils and not turn it into Murphy Anderson every time, but he also said, “Look, Murphy is a great talent and I love his work, I just don’t want my work to look like his work necessarily.”  That was Irv Novick, I believe.

Stroud:  Yeah, I got the impression when I talked to Carmine Infantino…he didn’t come right out and say so, but I got the idea that he wasn’t real happy sometimes with Murph’s inking over his pencils. 

AM:  I can understand that on one level because if you see Carmine’s pencils, if you see it when he inked his own stuff it had a very different look to it.  Carmine’s stuff in the 50’s and 60’s, the Detective Chimp stuff and probably even when he was inking those Elongated Man stories for DC he had a very graphic, modern-looking approach and I think I read one time…I don’t know Carmine well in that I never sat down and had any long conversations with him, which I regret, but he said he had trimmed down a fountain pen and used that to ink with and you look at some of the line work that he did and you can sort of see it.  It’s got kind of a dead line sort of look to it and you get that little hook at the end of the line sometimes when you’re using that kind of a pen. 

What If? (1989) #4, cover by Al Milgrom.

Murphy inked his work with a lot of brush and a lot of rendering and a lot of good, solid, Murphy Anderson-ish and Hal Foster-ish kind of rendering of form and Carmine’s stuff was sort of sleek and angular and Murphy’s stuff was very round.  Now having said that, I loved the combination.  I thought it almost didn’t make sense, but sometimes loving the stuff you grew up with reading, with the Flash and Adam Strange stuff that they did together was great.  It had Carmine’s story telling and graphic design layout sense and it had Murphy’s beautiful rendering and I just loved the combination. 

Stroud:  Unbeatable.

AM:  Yeah.  Terrific.  So, I can see why Carmine might not have loved it, but at the same time the end results were great and the same is true when Murphy inked Gil Kane.  It was something of a mismatch also but again the finished product was quite good when Murphy inked him on Green Lantern or the Atom or whatever.  I wonder who Carmine did like as an inker?  I wonder if he liked Joe Kubert?  Then again, Joe Kubert took it over and made it look a lot like Joe Kubert

Stroud:  As a matter of fact, I asked him and he told me his favorite inker was Frank Giacoia.

AM:  Okay, I can see that.  I was going to guess possibly Dick Giordano also because Dick has that sort of angular, 50’s and 60’s sort of commercial/graphic look and I liked it when he inked Carmine.  I don’t remember what all they did together, but I know they did some of that Human Target stuff and that was a nice look.  Slick and crisp blacks and so forth, so that was a nice look, but Giacoia, yeah, I could see that.  And you know what, I actually own an original page of Carmine’s from the first Deadman story. 

Stroud:  Goodness!

Richard Dragon Kung-Fu Fighter (1975) #2, cover penciled by Alan Weiss & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  Yeah.  It’s a real nice page and I bought it somewhere at a convention or something and it was inked by George Roussous and George, who was a very sweet guy…he was a little rough in the inks.  He was from that Morton Meskin school and his stuff, I thought really worked on Carmine and again because it was more graphic.  It was angular and it had real juicy blacks.  Not quite as polished as the pen work, but that page that I have is very nice.  I like that whole origin story that he did.  I don’t think he inked Carmine a lot, and maybe that’s because Carmine didn’t like his work.  I don’t know for sure, but at least on that one story he made it look good at least to me.  Do you remember the story?  Actually, it’s the page where Deadman is still alive and he’s talking to the girl in the circus and they’re standing in front of a mirror and it’s a 2/3-page sort of a splash page.  It’s quite a nice page.  He’s putting his hand to her head or something and she’s upset.

Stroud:  Yeah, I’ve got the reprint volume, The Deadman Collection, so I think I know exactly the one you’re talking about.  Boston Brand is talking to Lorna or whatever her name was, the circus owner.

AM:  Yeah. 

Stroud:  That is an outstanding page and probably worth a mint, too.

AM:  It probably didn’t cost me an arm and a leg, either, back in the day.

Stroud:  That’s just it.  I don’t know if you keep up at all, but those old pages are just skyrocketing in value it seems or at least what they go for.  Value can be kind of subjective, but they’re commanding some impressive prices. 

AM:  I know that to be the case and (chuckle) in one way I guess it’s good because it means if I ever get desperate enough for funds, which I may…I’m not getting a lot of work these days, and Archie Comics, although I enjoy working for Archie, the rates are very low, relatively.  The work is a lot easier, relatively, but there’s also not an unlimited amount of work available.  And since I’m not getting any work from DC or Marvel at present, selling some of the pages might end up being a necessity.

Stroud:  Do you think the way the industry has been going that inkers will become altogether obsolete?

Captain America (1968) #231, cover penciled by Keith Pollard & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  I’m sure the companies would be happy to eliminate inkers if the quality they can get from computer scans was there, because it’s a business.  They’ve already done it to letterers, but I tip my hat to Archie Comics because they still use letterers.  They still letter on the boards.  And according to Victor Gorelick, they’ve looked into computer lettering and really it doesn’t save that much money.  Maybe it doesn’t save them any money by using a computerized font.  I’m not sure why that’s true.  DC and Marvel have done it.  I’m glad, though, because my friend Jack Morelli, who was a staple at Marvel and then when they went the computer route the next thing you know he was doing work for DC and then they went the computer route and the next thing you know he was working odd jobs; driving a tow truck, working for the school system up where he lives and basically when I started working for Archie I said, “Do you need any letterers?”  They said, “We could use one or two to help out our main guy and I hooked Jack up and he started doing some work for them and Bill Yoshida who did the vast majority of Archie’s lettering, who I think was in his 80’s passed away a couple of years back and then suddenly Jack became their primary letterer.  Maybe even Clem Robins is doing work for them. 

Stroud:  I’m not sure.  I know he was working with Mike Mignola on Hellboy at Dark Horse recently.  I do know that Clem, Todd Klein and Tom Orzechowski all do both methods but will still hand letter.

AM:  Maybe it’s Todd who is doing some work for Archie.  I haven’t talked to Tom in a long time, but he was another old Detroit guy. 

Stroud:  Tom’s been busy with a few things, primarily Savage Dragon last I knew.

AMJohn Workman still does a lot of hand lettering, too.  In fact, he’s working for Archie right now and other places.  I’m working with him now on some of that new look Archie stuff if you’re familiar with it.

Stroud:  Yeah, wasn’t Breyfogle doing some of that?

Batman (1940) #296, cover penciled by Sal Amendola & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  Yeah, Norm, who I don’t know well, though I published some of his work in Fanfare back in the day, he just did one.  I’ve inked several of them.  One over Steven Butler, one over Joe Staton and a couple over Tod Smith and I’m working on one right now by Rod Whigham, however I think this may be the last one they do.  They weren’t as popular as they’d hoped so that experiment is going away. 

Stroud:  That’s unfortunate.  I didn’t pick up any of the books myself, but it looked intriguing. 

AM:  I guess they thought they’d do some slightly less funny, slightly more controversial stories and use a more straight, serious cartooning style, almost like a romance comic, I suppose.  At least some of the stories are adaptations of prose novels that Archie did in conjunction with Walt Disney.  I guess Disney published them, using the Archie characters and Archie adapted them back to comic book form.  That was sort of an unusual chain of events. 

First, they were written and now they’re written and drawn and they started out under Disney’s auspices and now they’re back under Archie’s.  Archie is an interesting company that way.  They have all those superhero characters and they’ve leased those back to DC some years back and DC was doing The Fly and The Shield and all that stuff and now they’ve done it again.  I don’t know what DC is doing with them.  Maybe they’re just putting together a line.  I’d like to find out, because the one character that I’ve always wanted to do, professionally, and never have is The Fly.  That was a comic I really loved when I was a kid when it first came out.  I don’t think I even knew it was Kirby at the time, or Joe Simon and/or Kirby at the time.  But I remember getting that first issue and just thinking it was the greatest thing ever and finding out later that it was Kirby.  I liked the character.  I liked the mood of it, the whole premise, the orphaned kid and all.  I just loved it, and I’d love to work on that character.

Stroud:  Hopefully the opportunity will present itself. 

Spider-Man (1990) #25, cover penciled by Mark Bagley & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  I’ve got to try and track down who at DC is doing it.  Certainly, at this point nobody wants to give me any penciling work, but they might be willing to let me ink something.  I’ve done some inking for DC recently. 

Stroud:  Which projects?

AM:  A lot of stuff with Starlin the last couple of years and also last year I just inked a six-issue Ambush Bug series by Keith Giffen.  Basically (chuckle) they’ll only let me ink other really old guys. 

Stroud:  There does seem to be a little age bias out there. 

AM:  I don’t know.  It may or may not be true.  They may just not think my work is current enough to look good over the current new crop of pencilers.  They never say that.  They always say, “Oh, yeah, we’ll keep you in mind,” but really what that means is they’re trying to forget you.  It’s how they get rid of you when you call or write.  It’s hurtful, and the difference is when my generation of guys got into the industry we were excited to work with guys whose work we’d always read.  Working with Murphy, one of the last things I did, the last thing I penciled probably for DC was a 3-issue team-up of Hawkman and Adam Strange and I penciled it and Murphy inked it. 

That was a big thrill for me because I liked those characters from when I was a kid, but again, not only had I worked for Murph, but I grew up really enjoying his work and it was a treat to get him to ink me.  I’ve been inked by Jim Mooney and Giacoia and Joe Sinnott…a lot of Joe Sinnott, and we were glad to work with those guys and we made sure they always got plenty of work and we kept them busy and so on and so forth and the current crop is sort of coming in where the pencilers have their own inkers or the inkers have their own pencilers depending on which way you want to look at it and they don’t seem to want to keep the old guys employed, which is kind of a shame.

Stroud:  Very much so.  By the way, speaking of thrills, I notice that over the course of your career you got to ink both Kirby and Ditko at various points.

Avengers (1963) #154, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  Yeah, in fact, since you bring it up, I’ve inked Kirby and I’ve done cover sketches for Kirby.  When Gerry Conway was Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, he liked my cover layouts and Kirby was working for Marvel again, but he was living on the West Coast and didn’t want to have to sift through copies of pencils again to figure out what cover scene to do.  Gerry told me: “Here.  Figure out the cover scene for this issue and then do a sketch and Kirby will draw the pencils.”  I said, “Okay, but on one condition:  I want to ink Kirby’s pencils on it.”  I always described it as a Kirby sandwich.  I was the bread and Kirby was the meat.  I would do a sketch, he would do the pencils and I would do the inks.  I didn’t get to do all the ones that I did sketches for, but a fair number. 

I did a bunch of Avengers covers, Iron Man, Defenders and Ghost Rider.  Some time after that, I was at a San Diego convention and they were selling some Kirby artwork.  I think it was Jack’s son, maybe or at least some relative of his.  They were selling some of the covers that I’d inked and I guess Kirby had a deal with Marvel at the time where he got all his originals back.  I don’t know if anybody told me that at the time, but there they were selling off a bunch of covers that I’d inked and I said, “Oh, I inked these, I’d really like to buy some of them.”  And they gave me a very, very cheap price.  Certainly, by today’s standards.  At the time it was probably just a little inexpensive, but now it’s absurdly inexpensive and I brought back as many as I could afford at the time.  I’ve got a nice little handful of Kirby covers. 

Stroud:  Fantastic.  It doesn’t seem like anything with Jack’s name on it goes for less than four or five figures these days. 

AM:  Yeah, it’s astonishing and you know maybe even more astonishing because he did so much work.  If there’s anybody out there where there’s no shortage of their work, it’s Jack Kirby.  But on the other hand, I think it’s a testament to just how good he was and what an impression he made on several generations of both fans and artists. 

Stroud:  Yeah, and obviously continues to inspire.  In fact, it appeared to me that the cover to Firestorm #1 looks reminiscent of Jack’s work.  Am I off base on that?

Firestorm (1978) #1, cover by Al Milgrom.

AM:  No, not at all.  I was very much going for a Kirby sort of powerful look…in fact, I’ve told this before; at the time when I was doing those covers for DC, what happened was that I was doing cover sketches for Kirby and a fair number of covers for Marvel on my own.  I was up at Continuity and I was showing off the stuff to Neal, because that’s what we did.  (Chuckle.)  “Oh, look, Neal.  Look what I got to do.  I did these sketches for Kirby and I did these other covers,” and at the time I think Neal was dating Jenette Kahn

So, he said, “Let me borrow these a minute.”  Jenette was apparently hanging out in one of the other rooms at Continuity at the time.  I didn’t know it and he went and showed them to her, and the next thing I knew I got a call from Joe Orlando saying, “Yeah, Jenette really likes the covers you’ve been doing and wants you to do some for us.”  At the time I was working primarily, if not exclusively, for Marvel.  So, I said, “Okay, sure,” and I started doing some work for DC, but the funny thing is I went in and talked to Joe, and he said, “Well, Jenette likes your covers, but we don’t want you to do those covers that look like Marvel covers.”  And I said, “Oh?”  It didn’t really make sense to me because I was too young and stupid and ignorant to question it, so I tried to alter my style to look more like what I thought of as DC stuff which was, of course, exactly what Jenette did not want.  I worked for Marvel and she wanted me to do stuff that was in that vein. 

So, I started doing these covers for Orlando and after awhile he called me into the office and he said, “Yeah, Jenette’s not happy with the stuff you’re doing because it’s not like the stuff you’re doing at Marvel,” and I said, “Joe.  You told me not to do stuff that looked like Marvel,” and he replied, “Yeah, I know, I know.”  No apology, no “Gosh, I made a mistake.” 

I don’t know if he resented Jenette telling him who to use, or I don’t know if he was trying to sabotage me or if he was just resenting Jenette telling him what to do.  I have no idea.  I don’t think it was necessarily malicious.  If I’d have been a little older and a little more confident I’d have probably told him, “Look, I either do it the way I do it or there’s no point in me doing the work for you,” and maybe then Jenette would have been happier.  Maybe what she really wanted was for Jack Kirby to do covers for DC (Laughter.)  Certainly that (Firestorm) cover had a Kirby flair to it.  By then I’d been hired as an editor at DC, as well as freelance.  On Firestorm I definitely wanted a Kirby feel to that first cover.           

Incredible Hulk (1968) #271, cover by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  Well, you certainly pulled it off and you mentioned in an e-mail that you felt that was one of your few characters that had some legs.  I found it fascinating that Firestorm and Killer Frost had a fairly juicy role in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

AM:  I didn’t even know that.  I never read that series.  By the time that was coming out I was so busy working every day and every night and weekends and holidays (chuckle) that I hardly read any of the comics.  I should probably get the reprinted edition and read it over.  Is that the one George Perez did, and inked by Jerry Ordway?

Stroud:  Yes.

AM:  Artistically I thought that was a great, great combination and I really liked the way it looked, but I never actually read it to see what was going on. 

Stroud:  I think you’d enjoy it and as I said it should be somewhat gratifying to see your characters, not necessarily in a pivotal role, but they are spotlighted in a couple of places and I thought that was a nice tribute to you and Gerry’s work.

AM:  Well, Gerry certainly.  Firestorm, when I did it, lasted all of five issues.  That, of course, was the time of the DC Implosion. 

Stroud:  It sounds like they had to chop off everything possible at the time, so I certainly wouldn’t call that a failure.  That sounded like pretty dark days.

AM:  It was a weird, weird situation.  If I recollect things properly, and I’m not sure I do, apparently what happened was DC and Marvel got together and every couple of years they’d have to raise the price of the comics by about a nickel and they got together and said, “Look, it’s crazy to have to raise the price every couple of years, so why don’t we just double the price from a quarter to fifty cents, add a lot more content so that it’s actually a good value for the readers, and just jump up to fifty cents and not have to keep pussy-footing around every couple of years with these five cent increases every time the paper costs and printing costs go up.”  So, they had a sort of gentleman’s agreement to do this. 

Kamandi (1975) #53, cover by Al Milgrom.

So, what happened was DC was gearing up and they were promoting “The DC Explosion,” and they were doing a weird thing.  Instead of actually doubling the page count, which would have made sense; comics are 32 pages, and they printed them on these giant sheets of newsprint called signatures, and what they would do is they would print 16 pages at a time.  So, they’d do two of those for an entire issue and they would fold, fold, fold and then trim them and then you had your 32-page comic book.  So, they were going to add a half a signature, so DC decided to go from 32 pages to 40 pages, which was only an additional 8 pages, so it was an additional half signature.  So, it was a little more expensive to do that because now you had to get half that sheet of newsprint and fold it and cut it.  It would have been more efficient to do an additional 16 pages, but they were afraid to jump up the page count that much. 

So, they went through this whole process and they had the agreement with Marvel, that they were both going to do it and DC was creating all new material so they came out with a bunch of new titles and a bunch of new backup features.  In that same month that they brought those out, Marvel did the lead features, but they used a lot of reprints with maybe some new material.  And what happened was Marvel did it for one month and then they went back to the old format.  Without telling DC.  So, they basically pulled a bait and switch.  They said, “Yeah, we’ll go along with that.  We’ll both go so the whole industry will be suddenly pay twice as much with an increase of an 8-page count, blah, blah, blah,” and they basically reneged on the deal.  They backed out and went back to the 32-page count. 

So, DC’s out there with their now over-priced comics and Marvel maybe raised their price by the traditional nickel, but they were still thirty cents compared to fifty cents and they basically just slaughtered DC on the newsstand.  DC was stuck there with an unwieldy, in terms of the expense, product.  I suppose if you want to look at it from a cynical business aspect, Marvel was very smart to do it, but kind of dishonest.  Then again, what’s the old term?  A verbal agreement is worth the paper it’s written on.

Stroud:  That’s it. 

Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #290, cover by Al Milgrom.

AM:  Nobody had any legal duty to stay at that size, so they basically screwed DC.  So DC, which had been expanding and had been promoting the DC Explosion now had to cancel 40% of the titles and they fired 40% of the staff, which sounds worse than it was because basically they fired several of their new hires, so it was me and Larry Hama and neither of us were really affected by that because we just ended up working for Marvel; both going right back there and working as editors.  I don’t know who else they had to get rid of, but I don’t think they had to fire too many people on staff who had been there for long periods of time, if anybody.  They kept Jack Harris and the other new editor was actually Ross Andru, who I always thought would have been better off remaining a penciler.  Not to disparage his editorial abilities.  I don’t even really remember what he edited, but I just thought Ross was a terrific artist and it was a shame for him not to be doing probably what he did best. 

Stroud:  Exactly.  You see it in other professions quite often, too.  Just because you’re a good journeyman or whatever at whatever you do doesn’t necessarily mean you should be thrust into an executive position. 

AM:  Yeah, it’s the Peter Principle.

Stroud:  That’s it, although in your case it seems like the reports I’ve heard held you as a pretty beloved editor when you held that title.

AM:  Well, gee, I’m glad to hear it.  I don’t know who said it, but it’s very nice to hear.  With me, it was kind of an experiment.  I love comics and I just wanted to do comics and I’d only been in the business a handful of years, really.  I started in ’72 working for Murph and one year later I’m doing some work on my own, so this was maybe ’77 when the DC Implosion happens.  I’d only been in the business really 4 years, not counting my year as a background guy and I wanted to see how the other half lived.  I knew how the freelancers lived.  (Laughter.) 

Iron Fist (1975) #14, cover penciled by Dave Cockrum & inked by Al Milgrom.

I wanted to learn the process of editing and I wanted to see what it was like trying to put together the right talent to make an interesting package and be involved in all the phases of it and frankly when I took the job at DC I don’t know that I really thought of it as a long-term gig.  I just decided, “I’ll try this out for awhile.”  And at the end of the year when they said, “Good-bye,” I said, “Okay, back to freelancing,” and I went over to Marvel and actually said, “Hey, DC fired me.  Any chance of getting some freelance work?”  And DC, by the way, at the time said, “Hey, you guys get first priority in terms of freelance.”  But nobody offered me any work up there at the time.  I didn’t really go actively looking for it, but nobody came down to my office and said, “Hey, Al, before you leave, you want to become the inker on this, or pencil this or that?”  And probably the truth is, with the cutbacks, they may not have had work available and would have had to can somebody else to give us work.  Can freelancers, that is. 

So, I never really thought much about it.  I went back to Marvel and said, “Hey, any chance of me getting some more work here?”  And Jim Shooter said, “I think we might have something for you.”  “Great.”  That same day somebody gave me some Star Wars pages because it was in a deadline bind, and I thought, “Okay, back to work.”  I thought they were going to offer me a book or two, but Jim, who was newly minted as the Editor-in-Chief, offered me an editorial position and I thought, “Well, I don’t think I really got the full impact of the editing job after only one year,” so he convinced me to take it.  So, I proceeded to work as an editor for Marvel for five years.  So, if the people liked me, or were happy with me as an editor, I’m glad to hear it.  Or maybe that means I wasn’t doing my job.  I don’t’ know.  (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud:  It’s interesting the different theories you hear as far as what does and does not make a good editor.  It seems, especially in the era I like to roam, the Silver Age, so many of them were just tyrants and yet the product seemed to turn out well enough for all that.

AM:  As a matter of fact, one of the things that was interesting is, since I worked for both Marvel and DC as an editor, which at the time was a little unusual, but I think has become a lot more commonplace in recent years, but working for DC, Joe Orlando had an interesting theory about it.

Weird Western Tales (1972) #44, cover penciled by Jim Starlin & inked by Al Milgrom.

In the old days, he said cartoonists would do the whole job themselves.  They’d write, they’d pencil, they’d ink, and they’d probably letter, and sometimes color.  Of course, those were the newspaper strip guys primarily.  Joe said:

“But what happened was, as the demand for material grew, and they started having to come out with comics books with new material, not just newspaper strip reprints, there was just no way that a single guy could do the entire job.  Not if he wanted to stay on deadline.  So, people would tend to get pigeonholed in the job they did best and/or fastest.  So, you’d get a writer, and a penciler, and an inker and a colorist, and the editor’s job was to take all those different and disparate people, and sometimes desperate people, and meld them into a cartoonist.” 

So he felt his job as an editor was to do that and we used to discuss what made for a good story and what made for good story-telling and what with Joe being an artist he tended to be somewhat visually oriented, but he also had a good sense of story and drama and so on and so he was a real good guy to learn that from and then when I went to work at Marvel, Jim Shooter had many of his own ideas about it, and of course Jim had been one of the youngest, if not the youngest writer ever to work for DC Comics.  In many ways he sort of espoused theories of editing that were very similar to DC’s.  That was really where he got his basic training.  He had very strong ideas of what made for a good story, and visually what made for good story-telling and I know Jim’s gotten some bad press over the years, but I think that his basic ideas, his theories of story-telling and drama, both in terms of visually and the story content, were very sound. 

The problem was that it was hard to implement all those things exactly the way he saw them in his own head.  And whenever you couldn’t do it the way Jim saw it in his mind’s eye, he felt like either you weren’t getting it, or you were sort of trying to undermine him.  That became a problem ultimately with him, and some of the freelancers, but in terms of the way he said things and expressed things and illustrated them, I think he was very sound and he had very good, solid ideas about it.  But I think in some ways, if Jim could have had the ability to clone himself, he would have written, drawn, and maybe inked everything (chuckle) that Marvel did.  Maybe not inking.  He never claimed to be an inker, but he did have theories about what inkers should do and what their work should bring out in the pencils and so forth.  Anyway, it was interesting getting both his viewpoint and Joe Orlando’s and they both had really good ideas and I tried to implement some of them, but always your own personality sneaks in there, too.

X-Factor (1986) #92, cover penciled by Joe Quesada & inked by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  Oh, of course and it sounds like Joe was another popular editor back in the day. 

AM:  He was.

Stroud:  Tony DeZuniga and a couple of others spoke very highly of his mentoring and coaching and the time he would take to help them develop their talents and ideas.

AM:  I think the Filipino guys also used to get American comics or reprints in the Philippines and Joe, because he’d been a guy who had been an EC artist, and they really loved the EC stuff I’ve heard, so he was held in very high regard, so they would take what he said very much to heart. 

Stroud:  The story that Michael Golden and Bob Smith did for “Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure”.  Do you think they depicted you very well in that?

AM: (Laughter.)  Yeah, I thought it was a funny story.  Bob Rozakis wrote it, I believe.  He came into my office and I was editing Batman Family at the time, and he said, “Al, I’ve got an idea for a Bat-Mite story,” and I said, “Oh, really?  Bat-Mite?  In this day and age?”  “Well, here.  It features you.”  So, I said, “Sold!”  No, I don’t really remember the details, but it was probably something like that and I was flattered and of course amused, and I actually own that entire story. 

Stroud:  Really?

AM:  Yeah, I bought that from Michael Golden.  “Mike I’d like to own that.”  I bought his share and Bob’s share.

Stroud:  Oh, good deal.  That’s a nice little thing to have sitting around, I’m sure.

AM:  It’s cute.

Stroud:  I’ve got to admit when I was looking through my volume of “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” and saw that one in there…

Rom (1979) #39, cover penciled by Al Milgrom & inked by Gene Day.

AM:  Oh, really?  It’s in there?  (Laughter.)

Stroud:  I thought, “What?”

AM:  I’m not sure I’d have gone that far.  “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.”  I guess the fact that Golden drew it had something to do with it.  He’s such a popular artist.  A phenomenal talent.  I don’t know what he’s doing these days.     

Stroud:  Beyond the commission work I don’t know myself.  Do you do commissions, Al?

AM:  I do.  It’s funny.  I don’t have a website and I’ve never advertised anywhere, but between word of mouth and also Spencer Beck, the art dealer, who puts some of my stuff up on his website.  He’s gotten some inquiries and some guys who commission something will then mention it to their friends or they’ll post it on this comic art fans board where they’ll say, “Hey, I just got this great commission from somebody-or-other and people will then contact you and as a matter of fact I’ve got a handful of them lined up right now.  My problem is if I have freelance work for one of the companies I tend to put the commission stuff aside.

Stroud:  Sure.  Priorities.

AM:  Well, in some ways it makes sense, because you want to keep busy and keep your name out there so you’ll get work from DC or Marvel or whoever, but at the same time, in terms of the amount of time involved, you’d probably do a little better doing commissions.  (Chuckle.)  So, in some ways it would almost make more sense for me to do more commissions and less stuff for the companies.  Well, right now I couldn’t do less stuff for the companies, other than Archie, which is keeping me supplied with semi-regular work.  I had one commission where a guy wanted a fairly difficult recreation of an old cover that I’d done and there was no excuse for this, but I think it took me more than a year to get it finished.  It wasn’t that hard a cover, it’s just that I kept getting busy with deadline work and kept putting it aside.  Toward the end he was getting a little annoyed with me and rightfully so.  But I did get it done and I did a very good job recreating the cover and when he saw it he said, “Well, it was worth the wait.” 

Action Comics (1938) #862 Variant, cover penciled by Keith Giffen & inked by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  All’s well that ends well.

AM:  And he proceeded immediately to ask me to do another commission for him.  I actually want to try to get that going in the next week or so.  I’ve got a couple things to finish up and then I’ll be working on that as well as a handful of others, so I’ve got stuff to keep me busy.  I like the commission work.  It’s fun and is usually less tedious than having to draw an entire story, which I’m so out of the loop and so out of practice that I don’t know if I could any more.  I mean I haven’t drawn a story, let alone a complete issue of anything in a number of years and I like to think it would come back to me if I got an assignment, but I don’t know that for a fact.  I’m most happy doing inking these days. 

Stroud:  It seems that might be your greatest forte, even though you are a multi-talented threat between writing and editing and penciling and inking.  I think I even saw a stray lettering credit for you someplace.

AM:  I don’t think I ever lettered anything.  God help me if I did.  I can’t letter and I make no pretense. I colored a job once.  It was a humorous job that I did for I think Bizarre Adventures for Marvel.  I did a story about Santa Claus trying to deliver presents in New York City and the problems he ran into there.  I wrote it, I penciled it, I inked it and I colored it, but I think that was the only time I ever colored a job and it was like pulling teeth. (Chuckle.)  It took far longer than it should have.  I kept sticking my hand in the wet dyes.  It was good, though, because I could really appreciate the work the colorists do, which in the old days they did fairly quickly.  Now, of course, it’s a much more difficult and elaborate process.  Another case of the computer making life harder rather than easier.  You can get much more ornate coloring and more detailed coloring and stuff like that, but in the old days if a book was running late you might get it sent out like a week before it was supposed to go to press and you would still get it done.  Now, if you get something in there less than 5 weeks ahead of the printing schedule, you incur all kinds of late fees and you can’t possibly make the deadline. 

Stroud:  This is progress.

Fantastic Four (1961) #204, cover penciled by Al Milgrom & inked by Joe Sinnott.

AM:  It’s sort of like one step forward and four steps back, but again the kind of color you get nowadays on the computer…there’s just no comparison.  And it’s not always necessarily a good thing.  To a certain degree, the coloring is so ornate that sometimes it either gets very dark or there’s so much color it sort of drowns out the line work.  As an inker that’s especially hurtful, but also in some ways I think they’re trying to take these black and white illustrations and turn them into Alex Ross.  They can almost do that.  They can really saturate it with so much color. 

I remember there was a job I inked over Starlin a few years back for Marvel.  He did an issue of Captain Marvel…why not?  And this was when I think Peter David was writing it and Jim drew it and I inked it and he put in a lot of very nice, fine-lined detail, which I inked faithfully and then when the book came out I remember somebody called up and said, “Al, you really butchered Jim’s stuff.”  I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?”  They said, “Did you see the issue?”  I said, “I haven’t really looked at it.”  I dug it out and looked and sure enough everywhere that I did any rendering in pen, the colorist had decided, “Oh, look.  He shaded this with a pen, so I’ll go him one better and shade it with a bunch of gray tones.” 

So, there would be some rendering on Captain Marvel’s ribcage, say; nice crisp, visible lines, and it would be colored almost like an airbrush effect of fairly dark gray.  So instead of having these crisp ink lines, it was just a mass of a sort of gray, amorphous shapes.  And the guy who called me up thought I had done a bad job…thank you very much.  I said, “I’m going to send you a photo-copy of the inked page, and you tell me what you think,” and when he got it he said, “My God, what did they do to the artwork?”  I said, “They COLORED it.”  And he said: “Oh, I had no idea.”  “Well, maybe before you accuse somebody of doing a bad job, know whereof you speak.”  Obviously, it was one of those ego things on my part, but I think I complained to the editor and he said, “Hey, Al, that’s the way we color these things these days.”  I said, “Okay.”  What can I do?  To get any more work, just try to go along.

Stroud:  As an inker I’ll bet you felt a certain degree of satisfaction doing your Warren work in black and white.  

Weird War Tales (1971) #56, cover by Al Milgrom.

Weird War Tales (1971) #56, cover by Al Milgrom.

AM:  I enjoyed it.  I did very little for Warren.  But what I did do was a couple of Carmine Infantino jobs.  Of course, that was a bit of a treat because again it was one of my all-time favorites from when I was a kid growing up and I tried to mesh, as I always do try, to mesh my inking style to Carmine’s pencil style which was, again, a lot more angular and graphic than you might know when Murphy inked him, for instance.  I had a good time with it.  It’s funny, because I did, I believe, three Carmine jobs altogether.  There’s actually a fourth job that I started and didn’t finish when Warren went under.  So, I still have that job, partly inked, which I’m trying to figure out how to sell it and get some use out of it.  It features this warthog character that Nick Cuti created called Cronk, I think it was.

Stroud:  I’m not familiar with it.

AM:  He was a humanoid warthog with the body of a man but the head of a warthog and it was an ongoing series and one of the three stories I’d previously inked for Warren was one of his.  I also did one about some sort of sports story that maybe Bill Dubay had edited.  It was a football story and I inked that and used a lot of Zipatone for tone and then I did another one about a black tennis player, probably loosely based on Arthur Ashe, I’m guessing, and I used marker and crayon to get tones on that one and I remember Jim Warren wrote me a note saying that he really liked the first story that I inked, but that he was less impressed with the second one because he just didn’t think the tones were as good as the line work in the Zipatone.  I think I dropped him a line back saying, “I understand that, but I’m a relatively young artist and I’m trying to develop my vocabulary and I wanted to do this to stretch my muscles and trying other ways of getting tone on a story.”  I never heard back from him, but he was right, I think the first story was stronger, but I didn’t think the second one was horrible.  It helped me learn some stuff, which I think was important, too.  But my run was three stories and I have this fourth story and I’m actually trying to see if I can sell it to Dark Horse because they’re doing Creepy and Eerie now I understand.

Stroud:  That’s right. 

Iron Man (1968) #80, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  I contacted an editor up there and said, “Look, here’s this story and Cuti says that Jim Warren said it would be okay to use.  The copyright was returned to the creators and therefore if you think it’s a viable story…”  It’s an 8-pager and I think I’ve got 3 or 4 pages inked, so I figure I could finish inking it and get paid and divvy up any remaining money for the story, penciling and inking between the entire creative staff, which was Nick Cuti, Carmine, myself and whoever lettered it. 

Stroud:  That would be cool.

AM:  It would be cool, but I don’t know if Dark Horse is going to go for it.  In fact, I’ve got to remember to write back to them and see.

Stroud:  It’s worth a shot.  I hope something comes of it. 

AM:  By the way, at some point I went off on a ramble.  We were talking about inking Kirby and Ditko and I started talking about doing cover layouts for Kirby, but I always had this thing in my head where I wanted to work in some capacity with all the original guys who I loved at Marvel.  When I say that, I mean the original four guys who did most of the very early stuff and that was Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers and Don Heck.  Those are the four artists and of course Stan Lee

So, doing that stuff with Kirby was one of them.  I’ve inked and been inked by Don Heck, so I got him, and I’ve inked and been inked by Steve Ditko.  I think Steve only inked a cover of mine, but I’ve inked a number of his things over the years, and Dick Ayers, I had never worked with, either inking him or penciling something for him to ink, but a few years back now, I don’t know how many, five or six or seven, some little independent publisher…I think they were Mecca Comics or something like that, though they didn’t seem to have anything to do with Mecca or Islam or anything like that, but they had hired Dick to do some stuff for them.  It was very weird. 

1st Issue Special (1975) #7, cover penciled by Steve Ditko & inked by Al Milgrom.

They were posting stuff on the internet and they were really sort of trying to create the atmosphere of Marvel of the 60’s, I think, but they got Dick to draw a pinup of one of their characters and they offered me a chance to ink it.  It was for a nominal fee, but I did actually finally get to ink Dick Ayers as well.  I did also pencil one short story for Fantastic Four Annual or something that Stan wrote, so I actually got to work with all five of the original big five at Marvel.  Actually, I should say I did work with Larry Lieber who worked with them back then, too.  He didn’t work on any of the major characters, but he was doing Westerns and would fill in on stuff here and there.  I’ve inked Larry and I think I maybe drew some Hulk strips for him.  Newspaper strips back when they were doing newspaper strips of the Hulk briefly.  I think I either laid them out or penciled them and Giacoia inked them.  I have a vague recollection.  So that’s where I was originally going with that story when I got sidetracked.

Stroud:  That’s quite the accomplishment, especially when you consider how iconic those names are and what they mean in the history of the genre. 

AM:  I’ve been lucky that way.  I’ve worked with many if not all of the guys I really admired when I was growing up as a kid.  I’ve inked Carmine, I’ve inked Gil Kane, I’ve been inked by Murphy, of course and I’ve actually inked Joe Kubert on a couple of Sgt. Rock stories, so.

Stroud:  That’s a rarity in and of itself.

AM:   And I’ve been inked by Jack Abel and inked Jack Abel and he was a good friend as well.  Yeah, but about the only guy I never did any real considerable work with, outside of helping on some Crusty Bunker stuff, I never inked Neal Adams.  I don’t think Neal’s ever inked me.  He’d probably run screaming from the room if he had to.  (Mutual laughter.)  I’ve actually been inked by Russ Heath, which is sort of unusual.  It was on one Mister Miracle cover that I did.  So, I’ve had a chance to really work in some capacity with almost all the guys whose work I grew up liking and admiring and that’s kind of a nice thing to have on your resume.

Stroud:  Very much so.  I noticed that you had a run there for awhile with the Legion and I wondered if that assignment was intimidating at all considering how fussy Legion of Super-Hero fans can be.

Secret Society of Super-Villains (1976) #10, cover penciled by Al Milgrom & inked by Jack Abel.

AM:  I wasn’t intimidated until I got the job and I started getting letters from these guys and they had a lot of ideas and I think they sort of felt like you should listen to their ideas.  But that’s not really what an editor does.  I mean, look, if they’d sent in an idea and it was good I might have done it, but a lot of times the fans have ideas about what they’d like to see the characters do, but if you do that it’s like the death of the character. 

I’ll give you the best example:  At Marvel they used to get a lot of letters about Ben Grimm being The Thing.  They would write in and say, “Poor Ben Grimm, the Torch can turn back into a regular looking guy and Reed Richards can return to normal after he stretches, but The Thing is a monster…”  They wanted to give him the power to be able to become Ben Grimm at will and Stan had actually played around with that.  Sometimes he would have him change to Ben Grimm at an inopportune moment or Reed would find him a cure and he’d have to give up the cure like in “This Man, This Monster,” where he’d have to become The Thing to save the world from some situation.  Shooter said this, which was very insightful:

“The fact that they want him to be able to turn into Ben Grimm at will doesn’t mean you should do that.  Because then the character is no longer empathetic.  All that means is that it’s their way of saying, ‘I feel bad for him.’  They empathize with his situation.  If you then give him the cure to the situation, then the empathy’s gone.  The Thing is not a tragic, heroic figure if he can turn into a normal human at will.” 

I thought that was a really brilliant observation and an example of what the fans would like you to do, but if you did it, it would ruin the character.  So, I kept that in mind with the Legion and I would politely listen to some of their suggestions and then I’d go ahead and do whatever the hell I wanted. 

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) #64, cover penciled by Ed Hannigan & inked by Al Milgrom.

AM:  I’d hire guys who were good writers and good artists and go from there.  I was only at DC for one year.  That was my editorial tenure almost to the day.  We had problems with deadlines so I called in a bunch of my buddies and I remember Starlin did an issue or two of the Legion and I got Joe Staton to be inked by Jack Abel, which was kind of interesting and I remember Wiacek inked some and Howard Chaykin did an issue for me. 

So, I got a bunch of guys who had never been associated with the Legion to do Legion stories for me and it kind of got things back on track.  Jim Sherman did several issues of the Legion and he was a really good artist and I remember some fan writing in and saying, “You can’t fool me.  This guy is really using a pseudonym and it’s so and so.”  Which was totally wrong, Jim was an actual human being.  But Sherman drew really cute girls and he shared space up at the studio where Walter and Chaykin and Starlin and Frank Miller all worked at one time.  He did not have a long career in comics.  He used to do a lot of commercial work in storyboarding and comps and things like that for advertising.  He did some female American Indian character in a yellow costume.

Stroud:  Dawnstar.

AM:  Yeah, Dawnstar, thanks.  This guy drew her really cute and sexy and I think I got him inked by Bob McLeod, and maybe Joe Rubinstein and it was nice stuff.  Beautiful stuff.  And the lucky bastard actually got to draw The Fly for Archie when they did that short revival under the Red Circle banner back in the early 80’s. Of course, I was exclusive to Marvel at the time and couldn’t have done The Fly even if they’d wanted me to.

Stroud:  I always think of Mike Grell with DC at that time.

AMMike is one of the few artists I didn’t work with.  I used to bug Marvel when I was working on staff for them to try and hire him.  I said, “Look, this guy is popular, why don’t we hire him away from DC?”  They said, “Well, maybe as an inker.”  They were very snobby about his penciling.  I thought, “Hey, the guy is popular and he’s developing.”  He was very obviously a Neal Adams influenced guy in the early years, but I liked Mike and it turned out he was maybe even a better writer than he was an artist and I thought he would have been an asset.  I also tried to hire Jim Aparo to come work at Marvel.

Avengers West & Avengers East, a poster penciled by Bob Hall & inked by Al Milgrom.

Avengers West & Avengers East, a poster penciled by Bob Hall & inked by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  Really?

AM:  I thought with his Batman stuff and his urban drawing chops he’d be a good artist for Spider-Man.  He said, “No, no, they keep me busy up here.  I’m fine.”  I offered him a very good rate.  I think maybe it was better than the rate he was getting at DC and I think he felt like I must be lying to him.  That’s just conjecture, of course.  It was one of those things where on the phone I could sort of hear him hesitate when I offered him the rates for penciling and inking.  He used to letter his own stuff, too.

Stroud:  He thought it was just too good to be true. 

AM:  That was my sense because there was this hesitation on the line.  I offered what was near our top rate to him and he hesitated and I thought he couldn’t believe the rates could be that high, but at the time Marvel was paying better rates than DC.  But he declined, saying DC had been loyal to him all this time.  I said, “I understand, but if you ever change your mind…”  I’m sure he was thinking, “Who is this guy?”  I don’t think he had any idea who I was or who I worked for or if it was legitimate.  I never met Jim and I think that was the only time I ever talked to him.  Maybe he thought it was some prank call and I was recording him to play it back to DC.  I don’t know what he thought.  I also once called Will Eisner to see if he’d do some work for Batman Family.

Werewolf by Night (1972) #32, cover penciled by Gil Kane & inked by Al Milgrom.

Stroud:  Wow!

AM:  It was the funniest thing, because Murphy had worked for him on the P.S. Magazine for the armed forces and after the one year I worked for Murphy he actually took over producing that magazine (Eisner had given it up).  Murph put in a bid to the military and got that gig.  He said, “Hey, why don’t you come work for me?”  I said, “I’ve got to do comics,” and he said, “Okay, I understand.”  Anyway, he gave me Will’s phone number and I called him up and said, “Hi, Mr. Eisner, my name is Allen Milgrom and I got your number from Murphy Anderson.  I worked as his assistant and now I’m an editor at DC comics and there’s a book that I edit called Batman Family and I would love to have you do a cover for it if you’re willing.”  He said, “Oh, no, no, no.  I can’t.”  I said, “Why not?”  He said, “Well, I never draw Batman.”  I said, “Well, yeah, that’s sort of the point.  Everybody loves your Spirit stuff and you’re a great artist and we’d love to have you do it and it would be a real coup for us and we’d pay you the top rate.”  He said, “Oh, I just don’t think I’d do the character justice.”  I said: “No, no, you would, but I understand you don’t really want to do it.”  “Well, maybe another time.” 

As I hung up the phone, Mike Gold, who was an editor at the time also at DC, comes lurching into my office and he said, “Did I just hear that correctly?”  I said, “What’s that?”  “Did you just call up Will Eisner and ask him to do a Batman cover?”  I said, “Yeah,” and he goes, “You’re my god.”  I said, “But he turned me down.”  “But you called Will Eisner!”  “Well, what was the worst that was going to happen?  He’d either say yes or he’d say no.  It’s not like lightning was going to strike me dead.”  Having the temerity to ask him, he said, “I don’t care.  It takes balls to call up Will Eisner!”  “I don’t see why, but okay, thanks.”  (Chuckle.)  I got a lot of mileage out of that story over the years.

Stroud: (Laughter.)  I bet you have. 

AM:  I never got so much cachet as when I was turned down by an artist to do a cover for me.  I also tried to get Steranko to do some stuff for me and he was funny, too.  “I want the top rate.  I mean the top rate.  The Neal Adams rate!”  “Yeah, I hear you.”  Then we never were able to reach an agreement on that, either.  Not getting Steranko is not as impressive as getting turned down by Will Eisner, I guess. 

Captain Marvel (1968) #43, original cover art penciled by Al Milgrom & inked by Bernie Wrightson!

Note:  As we were wrapping up, we got to talking a little about Bernie Wrightson and Al shared this terrific remembrance of his friend:

AM:  I didn’t even tell you about the apartment building in Queens that we all lived at.  At one point I was living there with Simonson and Chaykin and Wrightson were living in the same building and at some point, I think Bernie moved out, Kupperberg moved in, Kupperberg moved out and Roger Stern moved in.  Not in the same apartment.  There were two or three apartments in the same building that were occupied by comic folks.  While Bernie was living there we were very friendly.  He’s a really sweet guy and a super, super talent.  Unbelievable.  I felt like I was relatively adept at using a brush, but I’ve never seen anybody who can do with a brush what Bernie can.  Pen, too.  That’s drawing ability, but his use of brush…in fact; I’ve got a bunch of his artwork.  I bought some stuff from him and also one day, (chuckle) he called Walt and me and we had our apartment upstairs and Bernie had his a couple of floors down and he says, “Look, you guys, I’m throwing out a bunch of art work that I don’t need any more and don’t want any more and do you want to come down and see if you want any of it?”  We said, “Sure,” and we went down and basically, he was throwing out stuff that were roughs and there were some finished pieces that he didn’t have any use for and partly finished pieces and so on and so forth, but just such gorgeous stuff and so of course Walt and I traded off. 

He would take a piece and I would take a piece and then anything left over that nobody was interested in I said, “Look, if you’re going to throw them out, I’ll take them.”  So, I’ve got all kinds of fascinating little Bernie Wrightson sketches and finished drawings and half-finished drawings and a couple of pinup pieces that he did that I bought from him and also one entire story he did for Warren which was one of my favorites.  I think maybe that one was written by Bill Dubay and it was like a riff on Little Nemo in Slumberland.  These goblins or demons would come and push this kid’s bed like almost out the window.  It was like Little Nemo waking up at the last minute and being on the floor outside his bed, but in this case, it turned out he wasn’t imagining it.  It was a really cool story. 

Stroud:  Talk about a treasure trove.  Holy cats.

AM:  Like I say, if the work doesn’t pick up I may end up having to sell all this stuff, but what are you gonna do? 

Stroud:  Can I have first refusal?  (Laughter.)

Super-Team Family (1975) #14, cover by Al Milgrom.

Speed Demon (1996) #1, cover penciled by Salvador Larroca & inked by Al Milgrom.

What The (1988) #1, cover penciled by Jon Bogdanove & inked by Al Milgrom.


Bryan Stroud

Bryan Stroud is a longtime fan of DC Comics, particularly the Silver and Bronze Ages, and has been published in a number of places over the last decade plus, to include the magazines Comic Book Creator andLurid Little Nightmare Makers and websites like The Silver Lantern and Comics Bulletin.  Bryan wrote the afterword to “Think Pink,” is a frequent contributor to BACK ISSUE magazine, Ditkomania and co-authored Nick Cardy:  Wit-LashHe and his indulgent wife have dined with Joe and Hilarie Staton and Jim Shooter.  He owns a comic book spinner rack that reminds him of his boyhood.