Written by Bryan Stroud
Bob Wiacek (born January 7, 1953) is an American comic book artist and writer, working primarily as an inker. Bob got his start in the mid-1970s as a member of the "Crusty Bunkers" inking collective at Continuity Studios. For a short time in 1975–1976 he inked backgrounds (over Curt Swan's pencils) on Superman for DC Comics after which he moved on to regular inking work for DC. Then, in 1978, he began a long association with Marvel. Wiacek has inked over such pencilers as Carmine Infantino on Star Wars; John Romita Jr. on The Uncanny X-Men; June Brigman on Power Pack; John Byrne on Sensational She-Hulk; Walter Simonson on X-Factor; and George Pérez on Brave and the Bold. Wiacek also taught first-year students at the Joe Kubert School for a brief period in the early 1990s.
Yet another veteran of Continuity, Bob Wiacek has cut a pretty wide swath with his artistic abilities and he's a nice guy, to boot. I got to meet him at the Denver Con a couple of years ago and got a nice Man-Thing sketch from him, too.
This interview originally took place over the phone on November 12, 2010.
Bryan Stroud: Which road led you to Continuity?
Bob Wiacek: It was kind of an interesting process because I had just finished with my third year at the School of Visual Arts and what happened was that I was showing my portfolio. I had known Mike Kaluta for a good number of years, since ’68 to be precise, so I went over to his place and showed my stuff and at the time he was finishing up the cover to his last issue of The Shadow. He said, “I’ve got to take this cover over to DC. Do you want to come along?” I said, “Yeah, sure.” I showed my stuff up there and they weren’t too impressed and they said, “We’re not looking for anybody.” So he said, “I’ve got another idea. Let’s go to Continuity.” So he took me over to Continuity and Neal [Adams] looked at my stuff and said, “Your drawing’s not that great, but your inking is kind of nice. You’ve got some nice things going on, so how would you like to work for Continuity inking backgrounds?” Of course I said “Yes.”
So that’s how I got it. And I still have those samples to this day, which is interesting because I’ve been going through the Wiacek Archives here. (Mutual laughter.) I found a lot of my old stuff and the very same inking samples that I had shown him. In fact, one of the inking samples that I had shown was my inks over a penciled Steranko Shadow piece that you may have seen in Comicscene #1 and Steranko Archives #1. I had shown the very same piece to Steranko a year before and he exclaimed, “Yeah, there’s some damn good stuff going on here.” He showed me my weak points and my strengths to boot.
Stroud: It’s interesting. Everyone has universal praise for Neal’s talent, but on the other hand they say he wasn’t much of a teacher.
Wiacek: I can say that he and the late Dick Giordano, God bless him, were a good balance. Neal could tell you what was wrong and he was absolutely right. He couldn’t show you how it was wrong or how to make it better. He’d say, “Look at this, look at this, look at this.” Finding out for yourself by studying other artists was one way to go. Now Dick, on the other hand would show you, and would demonstrate his techniques on how he inked with brush and pen. He was a very patient man. So learning from both of them was a real education.
Stroud: It sounds like they had an excellent partnership and unfortunately it didn’t go longer.
Wiacek: The first Crusty Bunker assignment I worked on, which wasn’t credited as such was the 4th issue of Doctor Strange by Frank Brunner. It was credited to Dick Giordano. Dick was supposed to ink it, and he did the first couple of pages, but he couldn’t finish it because of scheduling problems so Neal and the Crusty Bunkers took it over. Dick would ink a few figures here and there but Neal inked most of the figures with Pat Broderick. I started inking things like asteroids and speed lines and other outer space stuff. So that was how I started out.
Stroud: So, it was a very collaborative effort.
Wiacek: Oh, yeah. It was pretty much up to Neal who to give the stuff out to. On one particular job which was penciled by Dave Cockrum called “Good Lord!” for Marvel’s Sci-Fi black and white magazine. Pat Broderick inked the alien creature plus the monsters which appeared in the story and brought out the Wally Wood-EC look that Dave wanted. Neal and Russ Heath inked the figures while the backgrounds were left to the rest of the beginners like myself.
Yes, Russ Heath would occasionally join in and ink figures on other Crusty Bunker assignments. It was great having him up there to see the gorgeous work he did on Sgt. Rock. And of course Dick and Ralph Reese would lend a hand. You probably know about all the other people that were there.
Stroud: I’ve been picking it up as I go along. Every so often I’ll get a surprise. Now did you actually rent space or just drop in from time to time?
Wiacek: In the beginning, no, but eventually as I started getting work on my own doing backgrounds for other artists that came up to Continuity. In fact I shared a little corner studio with Terry Austin. So yes, I eventually started paying rent there.
Stroud: How long were you there altogether?
Wiacek: From the summer of ’74 to ’78 or ’79. Let’s call it ’78.
Stroud: A fair amount of time. Who do you remember meeting there that left an impression?
Wiacek: Not just one person, but all. It was an interesting place because it was between Marvel and DC so many went there after working hours. You’d see Wally Wood up there once in a while. Mike Hinge had a studio in the back. Cary Bates was up there writing. Jack Abel rented space. Bernie Wrightson would come by and of course I mentioned Mike Kaluta. Howard Chaykin and Walter Simonson you’d see occasionally. All the “Young Turks” as they were known. Even Sergio Aragones. (Chuckle.) Every time he paid a visit was a joy.
I don’t know how well this will translate, but I remember one day he was working there up in the main studio with Neal. In the beginning Neal wanted to kind of look over the shoulder of a new person to make sure what he was doing was good. So Sergio was working on something. What it was I have no idea. Somebody was changing the radio stations at one time and had put on a Spanish radio station and you’d hear the Spanish DJ and all of a sudden Sergio just goes off on this Spanish DJ thing for about 5 minutes and he was so good, he had me just cracking up. He sounded exactly like the guy on the radio. He was using that crazy sense of humor and just really getting into it. He kept going on and on and it’s kind of hard to describe if you weren’t there. I had no idea what he was saying, but the way he was saying it was so funny. He perfectly captured the inflection of the guy’s voice on the radio immediately. Sergio is just a great guy.
There was an interesting thing one time when I was working late at Continuity and Larry Hama was going up and down the halls asking, “Does anybody have some free time? Woody could use some help.” So I asked, “Hey, Larry, what does he need?” To which he said, “He just needs you to outline some backgrounds on this job he’s inking.” I said, “Really? I’d like to do that. Sure, I’d love to work with Woody.” So he gave me the address. Woody had been living in an apartment in New York City at the time. I went up there and he was very nice to me. He showed me to a drawing table and told me what to do. He was inking Stalker #1 penciled by Steve Ditko. I was outlining backgrounds because everything had to look like his rendering, of course. He gave me a sandwich and I had a great time talking to him. He was a very quiet man. Having always been a fan of his work, it was ecstasy just working alongside him. He and Ditko were two of my favorite artists growing up so here I am inking with Wally Wood over Steve Ditko. It couldn’t be better.
Stroud: It’s sad how many greats we’ve lost.
Wiacek: Very. Just this last year we lost Giordano, Williamson and Frazetta. Recently Gene Colan. An era is passing right before us.
Stroud: What do you feel you took away from Continuity?
Wiacek: Just the fact that I was learning what inking was all about. You come in thinking one thing and you go in there and you learn something else. They really taught me about the business side of things, too. I made my share of mistakes, let me tell you, but that’s how you learn. Not just the work, but your whole attitude as well. I learned that just being there and being in the business and having such great teachers like Dick and numerous others was invaluable. Oh, and Al Milgrom was another one who would come up there occasionally. Sometimes even Jim Starlin. The names are coming back to me now. Milgrom would be up there a lot along with Wally Wood. Plus they were both good friends with Jack Abel.
Stroud: And after all it was a changing cast of characters from what I’ve been able to gather.
Wiacek: Yes, all the time. The whole experience really helped me later on to get jobs on my own. There were negative points, too, but I don’t really have to go into things like that. If you expect everything to be great, you’re going to be in trouble.
Stroud: How did the compensation work up at Continuity?
Wiacek: I was paid for everything I did. I remember the first check was for $25.00. (Laughter.) I never forgot that. I wish I had made a copy. It was from that issue of Doctor Strange I told you about earlier.
Stroud: Somebody was telling me that Neal had this very sophisticated and indecipherable system for deciding how to pay on these collaborative jobs.
Wiacek: Yeah, apparently he would go through copies of the whole job if I remember correctly and he would ask what you did. Then he’d make notations on what everyone had done and we would be paid accordingly.
Another job that comes to mind was a story which appeared in Journey Into Mystery #2 called “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” penciled by Gil Kane and beautifully inked by Ralph Reese. Unfortunately because the deadline drew near, Ralph could not finish it. So the Crusty Bunkers came to the rescue. Neal inked most of the remaining figures, but if you’d look closely at the last page, you’ll see where the Jack the Ripper figure, though mostly inked by Neal, the right arm was inked by Ralph Reese.
I also remember Russ Heath penciling a Ka-Zar job that the Crusty Bunkers were inking practically at the same time. Then Marvel needed it back real bad so they had some amateurs in the bullpen up there finish it. To see the pencils and the way they were ruining Russ’ work was a crying shame. I mean at least at Continuity if it was rushed it was rushed by people who knew what they were doing.
Stroud: That sounds a bit like the story Greg Theakston told me about the Alan Weiss “Slaves of the Mahars” story that had to be inked practically overnight and then sat on Joe Orlando’s desk for a week after all was said and done.
Wiacek: I don’t believe if you’re going to have the thing laying there for two weeks, you separate the job and give it to different inkers. That’s just not the way to do things, especially if it’s not the inker’s fault. Many get the job late to begin with.
Stroud: I’ve heard a few stories about some editors. Murray Boltinoff, for one.
Wiacek: Murray Boltinoff was actually my first editor. I was working on Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes inking Mike Grell at the time and Vinnie Colletta was the art director. I was tried out on the backup first and showed it to Vinnie and he really liked it. “Let’s give this guy a shot at the book. If he does really bad, we’ll throw him off,” he exclaimed. So they gave me the book. Everybody was saying, “Oh, boy, Bob, Murray’s not the greatest editor to start with.” So I was having butterflies in my stomach, but I have to say he never gave me any problems. Except deadlines, which all editors do. I’d heard stories and I’m sure the stories are true, but for whatever reason he didn’t lean on me like he leaned on everybody else.
Stroud: You hear all sorts of things. I have it on very good authority that Murray and Arnold Drake worked together famously. And then you’ve got Joe Kubert, who seemed to be the only guy on the planet who really got along with Bob Kanigher.
Wiacek: Right. I don’t think even Russ Heath got along with him.
Stroud: No and Russ was pretty blunt about it, too.
Wiacek: I can imagine.
Stroud: He said Bob would look for your weak spot and he was careful not to show it to him.
Wiacek: There are some artists, personality-wise, who will look for your weak spot and I’m thinking of somebody already, but I’d rather not say who they are at the moment.
The only thing I didn’t like, and bear in mind I was very insecure when I first started at Continuity, was the unnecessary elitist attitude. You’re very nervous at that stage because you don’t want to make any mistakes and yet you’re going to make tons of them. Some took advantage of you being the new guy at Continuity and those who came to visit as well. To me it just wasn’t needed. It was like the bullying thing you go through in school and you think you’re going to get away from it, but you find out when you get to the real world they’re still going to be there in one form or another. That was an experience, because I learned more about myself and found out who the people were who cared and honestly wanted to help and those who really couldn’t care less. You have to sift through that and just say, “I won’t let this bother me.”
Stroud: That gets to be an art in and of itself.
Wiacek: To this day. You know years ago when I met Jack Kirby in 1968, that was a beautiful experience. I spoke to him on the phone before that. Jack was a regular guy. He was in the phone book and you could call him up and just talk. Now if he couldn’t because of a deadline he’d say, “Hey, I can’t talk right now. I’ve got a lot of work. “ But he would talk to me and I remember two friends and I went to see him when he visited Marvel. He actually took us to lunch, but I thought we were going to pay for it. We’re like these little minions listening to the man who practically created comics. We had the time of our lives to hear him regale about life in and out of the comic book business. Not only did he buy lunch, but he did a drawing for each of us. I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, this is beyond belief.” Things like that, you don’t forget.
It reminded me of the first convention I went to in ’67. I didn’t even know comic conventions existed before until some friends came up to see me one day in my apartment in New York City where I grew up. I was 14 years old at the time and they said, “Hey, they’ve got conventions for comics.” So we went. I think it was at the Commodore Hotel. They’d been putting them on since ’66 or maybe the year before.
The first professional I met was Jim Steranko. He was just starting to get noticed for his work on Nick Fury. Not only the first pro, but the first new pro, because he was still very much the new guy on the block. He answered all my questions and did a sketch for me along with going through how he was a magician and an escape artist. As he was leaving, with a beautiful girl on his arm, naturally, I remember people yelling as he walked toward the door, “Hey, Jim! Do a trick for us!” He looked back at us, took this book of matches and lit it, put it in his mouth and walked out the door. (Mutual laughter.) Another example of things that you do not forget.
Stroud: Oh, of course not.
Wiacek: At that same convention I met Bill Everett, Dick Giordano and another gentleman who had unfortunately died very early in his career, Rocke Mastroserio. He did a lot of Charlton work which was solid good comics, but what really sticks out in my mind, though is the work he did for Creepy and Eerie at the time. Really phenomenal stuff. Very graphic and photogenic. Very much the consummate craftsman. Dick Giordano always spoke very highly of him, but he died in, I think ’67. Not too long after that convention.
In fact I remember my first time at Marvel. I met John Romita, Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe. They each had desk in this small room. They were just so nice and were very happy to show me the original art to the comics they were doing at the time. Very hospitable and a joy to be with. Marie was just such a doll.
Stroud: It’s a shame we can’t hear from her any more. According to Irene Vartanoff, she’s completely and totally retired and only will make contact with friends. No fans allowed.
I’ve heard the legend of the phony ink blot, but were there any other particularly memorable times you have from Continuity?
Wiacek: The ink blot. Oh, yes. I wasn’t there at the time, but I heard all about it. (Chuckle.) My stories aren’t quite that colorful, but I do remember one time I had the radio on too loud and got yelled at to shut it off in a very descript manner. Jack and I got into an argument now and then, but I didn’t realize a lot of times when he was kidding. When I got to know Jack better it became clearer: “Ah, he’s trying to push a button here. Now I know what he’s doing.”
But when the realization hadn’t hit me yet he was going on about how William Shatner was a terrible actor. “What are you talking about? He’s not the greatest actor, but he’s certainly not the worst.” So we were bantering back and forth and it hit me, “I’m not working, and I’m bantering with this guy about William Shatner. What’s wrong with this picture?” And it was ongoing and everyone had heard it and they never let me live it down. “So, is William Shatner a great actor, Bob?” I thought maybe someday I’d get to meet Shatner and tell him what happened. (Laughter.) Back then I wish he could have come over to Jack and say, “Hey, what do you mean I’m not a good actor?”
These were the things that could pop up at any time when you were at Continuity. You just never knew what to expect.
Stroud: The place seemed like a magnet for those in the industry.
Wiacek: It really was, more than you know. The most interesting part was the fact that during the time that Tom Snyder was interviewing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with Neal about getting their due for the creation of Superman. Then later on in the program he interviewed Noel Neill, Jack Larson and I think Robert Shane. Then one day I’m in the studio and I heard this commotion and I go out in the hallway and there’s Neal and he had brought Jack Larson up to the studio with him. “Oh, my God, I’m meeting Jimmy Olsen!” (Mutual laughter.) It was kind of nice. You really never knew what to expect.
Stroud: Only in New York City. Did your time up there open some doors for you, Bob?
Wiacek: Absolutely. Getting my gig with the Legion of Super-Heroes was definitely a direct result. Inking backgrounds and secondary figures for Mike Grell, because he would occasionally come up there. I received an opportunity through working with Al Milgrom to work on Guardians of the Galaxy. He liked what I’d done on Legion of Super-Heroes and Archie Goodwin, who was Editor-in Chief at the time decided to get me started there.
I’d helped out on one issue of Captain Marvel inking Al’s work and he really liked what I had done, so again I’d got the job through Continuity, because he’d seen my work there and said, “Your stuff looks pretty good. Would you like to ink a page to help me out?”
Again, it was just being there where most of the time these professionals would just come by when they needed help.
Stroud: The right place at the right time. I think it was Bob McLeod who was telling me that Neal had done him a favor by calling Marvel and said, “I’ve got a guy here who can letter. Give him some work.” Basically getting your foot in the door and going from there.
Wiacek: Exactly. There was also a time when Neal didn’t think I was ready when Seaboard was starting to produce their first run of Atlas comics. Now they’re making a comeback.
Stroud: I’d read about that. (Note: As many may know it’s been announced that Mike Grell will be editor in chief at the resurrected Atlas.)
Wiacek: I’ll be interested to see how they do. Back then, though Pat Broderick was going to be the penciler on Planet of the Vampires and Neal said to me, “Well, maybe you should do up some samples and if you’re really good we’ll put you on the book with Pat.” So I said fine and I did, but they didn’t go over too well. I understood so they got somebody else to do it. But he did give me the chance. So I appreciated the opportunity and also the honesty in saying I wasn’t ready yet and looking back on it, I probably wasn’t.
Stroud: Did your experience there have anything to do with your teaching at the Kubert School later?
Wiacek: No, it had nothing to do with that. I remember meeting Michael Chen. I’d see him at conventions and he invited me to give him a call sometime, suggesting I might like to teach up there. It was one of those things where you’re at a convention and, “Hey, why don’t you come and do this?” That’s pretty much how I got that job at the Joe Kubert School. It had nothing to do with Continuity. That was in ’90 and ’91 when I was there.