Written by Bryan Stroud
Greg Allen Theakston (born November 21, 1953) is an American comics artist and illustrator who has worked for numerous publishers including Marvel & DC. He is known for his independent publications as a comics historian under his Pure Imagination imprint, as well as for developing the Theakstonizing process used in comics restoration. Theakstonizing is a process which bleaches color from old comics pages, which are then re-colored for reprinting.
For much of the 1970's Theakston helped organize the Detroit Triple Fan Fair, credited as one of the first conventions in the United States dedicated to comic books, eventually owning it.
Theakston built his portfolio and expanded to paperbacks and magazines, including Dell, Ace, Ballantine Books, and Galaxy Science Fiction - among others. He was an original member of the Crusty Bunkers, and worked closely with Neal Adams at Continuity Studios between 1972 and 1979, producing animatics, storyboards, comic art and various commercial advertising assignments.
In 1975 Theakston started Pure Imagination Press which publishes comics and companion/reader books, including The Betty Pages, The Complete Jack Kirby, and The Steve Ditko Reader.
The Continuity journey continues with a long, fascinating chat with Greg Theakston, who had a volume's worth of stories to share about his time there. Developer of the "Theakstonizing" process, he's been in on some interesting times.
This interview originally took place over the phone on September 17, 2010.
Bryan Stroud: How did you end up at Continuity Studios?
Greg Theakston: I met Neal Adams at the 1970 New York Comic Con, sporting a beard. That’s where I also met Frank Frazetta, Jeff Jones, Berni Wrightson, Vaughn Bode, Jim Steranko…I mean that was like a landmark show for me. I was sixteen at the time.
Stroud: No kidding. That’s a Who’s Who right there.
Theakston: And Bill Everett, who was dressed in a gray sharkskin jacket and a black shirt, and he had pushed the sleeves up and rolled up the cuffs. I didn’t even know what smarmy was at that point, but I knew smarmy.
Stroud: (Laughter) Quite the fashion plate.
Theakston: Yeah…not so much. So, Neal Adams and Jim Steranko in 1970 were red hot and on fire. This may have been pre-Continuity. I don’t remember exactly when I arrived there, but it was in the early 70’s. Before 1974 certainly. ’71-’72 maybe. And it was a Mecca, because Adams had come out of a studio system with Johnstone and Cushing. Lou Fine was working there. They had taken Neal under their wings and he understood the obligation of the creative to tutor the next line of creatives because there was no school. The only way you could learn to be a comic book artist is to try and fail miserably every time or show your stuff to a guy who knew his stuff and he would say, “This is what you’re doing wrong.”
So, Carl Lundgren, an illustrator, and myself would visit there whenever we were in New York. Carl and I were still living in Detroit. Two or three times a year we’d scrape together enough dough to go to New York City and try to break in the business. At the time I got there Neal was renting about a third or half of the studio. He was sub-letting from a larger commercial art studio. Carl and I got there about 7:30 one night. Somebody called us and said, “There’s this gigantic jam going up at Continuity right now and they’re looking for people to come and pitch in.” It was a Pellucidar story by Alan Weiss. An orange cover, I believe. I don’t think it was the first story. I think it was the second. Now Alan had a bad reputation for being late, which goes with his astrological sign. So he had arrived at the DC offices on a Friday, on time, job completely penciled, very proud of himself, out to prove everybody wrong. “I can make my deadlines.” Joe Orlando, the editor, looks at it and says, “Yeah, but it was supposed to be inked, too.”
Stroud: Oh, no…
Theakston: Twelve pages. “Really great pencils, but…” So, he goes to Neal and says, “Neal, I don’t know what to do. Can we corral some guys and maybe get this thing done by the end of the weekend for Monday?” So word went out on the grapevine, and all these young bucks came out of the woodwork. I think that [Ralph] Reese and [Larry] Hama were already there sharing a studio space. I know Jack Abel was there. So as Carl and I are arriving, Jim Starlin and Berni Wrightson are leaving. There were twelve pages and its about half done. This is a Friday night turning into Saturday morning.
So, working out of two different rooms were Carl and I and Larry and Ralph and Neal. I don’t think Terry Austin was there yet. I don’t think [Bob] Wiacek was there yet. And of course, Weiss himself, kind of overseeing the whole thing. Brushes and pens flying everywhere. So of course, I’m the low man on the totem pole in this situation, so I’m inking backgrounds and filling in blacks. Neal would do the faces and the major figure work and he’d leave spaces open that were supposed to be blacked in and he’d put an “X” there and you’d fill in all the areas with blacks. Carl and I put in two or three hours and Neal and I think Larry kept talking about “Crusty Bunkers.” How it was kind of a funny sounding phrase. I got there a little late to learn just how it all started, but Neal kept saying “Crusty Bunker.” So, it was decided that we were the Crusty Bunkers.
So, the twelve-page job was pretty well finished. I’m pretty certain Alan wrapped it up. He took it in on Monday, to an amazed Joe Orlando, very self-satisfied. The job looked great. I mean you’ve got Jim Starlin and Berni Wrightson and Ralph Reese and Neal Adams inking your stuff.
Stroud: Hard to go wrong.
Theakston: And everybody was doing the thing they excelled at. Everybody had the personal expertise and the job looked spectacular. Alan goes in to see Orlando on Monday morning and plops it on his desk and the following Friday he comes in to get his check and he happens to go through the production department and there it is, just sitting there. No stats, no coloring. Five days later it’s still just sitting on the shelf in the production department. “Well apparently you didn’t need this on Monday, did you?” I mean Alan could have inked two pages a day and got the whole thing done by himself.
Stroud: How strange.
Theakston: After that, word kind of got out that if you were jammed up with a job, the Crusty Bunkers could turn it out literally overnight. So, whenever there was a pinch, or somebody had maybe a little more time and just wanted Neal Adams to ink, they’d shove a job in our direction. And when I finally moved to New York City, there were moments when I’m pounding the pavement looking for paperback cover work and I’d stop in at Neal’s. It was a place where all of the new guys felt welcome and they washed up there. I worked on Crusty Bunker jobs where I would take an hour and fill in some blacks for Neal. Two or three pages and didn’t even expect to be paid. Because it was fun to just be sitting there inking with Neal. Very interesting guy. I owe Neal up and down. Most of us that went through those doors do. Rich Buckler, Howard Chaykin, Wiacek and Austin, Marshall Rogers. Mike Nasser particularly.
It was the first opportunity that you really had to work in a professional situation. And if you were doing something wrong, Neal would tell you and you wouldn’t do it wrong any more. He had come out of the studio system where he had learned. And he was acutely aware of how important it was to orally transfer the art that we were doing. And when I eventually moved there in ’78…and by the way I would take these 7- or 8-day sojourns to New York City to deliver a job and try to dig up some more and he let me sleep there in the back room on a stinky couch. In the far back room, they had a big sofa. So, it was free rent. All you needed was airfare and food money.
Stroud: No small consideration.
Theakston: And a lot of guys took advantage of that. I always tried to contribute back to the studio. I mean there were plenty of times when it was one in the morning and the place was empty and what do you know, there’s two buckets of white paint. “I’ll paint the room, or I would take some Glo-coat and wax the studio floor.” I remember sleeping in the back room, which was hermetically sealed, so it was a really good room to sleep in, and Neal comes in about 10 or 11 in the morning and he wakes me up and says, “Hey, what’s the deal with the floors?” I said, “You know, I thought I heard some Brownies in here last night, but I might be wrong.”
So, an hour or two later I get up, stretch, get my clothes on and go into the front room and Neal announces to all the young bucks there in the front room, “I don’t’ want to see you guys scuffing up this floor. It looks beautiful.” And I mean to tell you every evil eye in the room looked in my direction. In retrospect I understand what was going on, but at the time I didn’t. Here were all these guys from all over the United States trying to break into comics and I didn’t feel competitive, but all of these guys did. It was never announced or anything, but it was always… I wouldn’t even try to say they were trying to curry favor, but it was every man for himself and I didn’t feel that way. Because I was getting work on the lowest tiers from men’s magazines and painting cheap paperback covers. But getting work on my own.
Stroud: Keeping body and soul together anyway.
Theakston: Well, I was just doing what I wanted to do. And in a lot of respects this was the only “in” that these guys had toward becoming a professional artist. These guys are 20, 21, 22 with not fully realized personalities. To some extent myself included. There were moments of…slight discomfort. You know, young bucks are rutting around and scratching. I was talking to [Alan] Weiss about this once. I said, “You know, every once in awhile you’d go into the front room in Continuity and you say something and everybody’s back stiffens but Neal’s and you know that you’ve just crossed some invisible line. You don’t even know what you did!”
The studio probably had 12 guys working in there at any given time, so you’re dealing with 12 different personalities, and you’re 22 and don’t know yet how to deal with different personalities.
During the time that I worked there it was like a Conga-line of wannabes. Somebody would show up and Neal would take them under his wing and provide him with some direction. Neal was doing a lot of storyboard work at the time and animatics, and while I had not yet mastered drawing, I could color like a mo’fo’. My coloring really excelled. Neal even used to let me color the faces and special effects.
Stroud: Quite a compliment.
Theakston: Yeah. I would occasionally touch something up, but pretty much I just cranked it out. We’re talking hundreds of storyboards. His agent would come in at three or four in the afternoon expecting eight storyboards with 20 panels apiece due the next morning. Which is the way commercial art works. The creatives dicked around until the very last minute. I would look at it some, and they’d come up with some horrible ideas. Really stupid stuff. But it wasn’t up to me to judge, it was up to the client. It was up to me to color. And everybody would have a box of markers. I guess there were at least 24 colored markers. They were these wooden boxes with row upon row upon row of markers, color-coded, so that you always knew where it was when you instinctively grabbed a flesh-tone, for example. And the front room by 3 or 4 in the morning in an alcohol-fumed smog. And everybody would be high.
Stroud: (Chuckle.) Oh, no.
Theakston: Yeah, you’d been breathing these fumes for 4 or 5 hours with no ventilation. There was this gigantor air-conditioner in the back, but all it did was recycle the fumes. And the markers would begin to give out and as the markers began to give out they would squeak. They would twitter. “Eee, eee, eee, eee, eee!” Neal used to call it “the insane twitter of Magic-Markers.” So, there is nothing but the classic rock station, Allison Steele, “The Night Bird,” and it’s the same twitter of drying out markers. And you never really knew who’s going to be there. There was the usual gang of idiots, but there was always somebody dropping in making a quick 200 or 300 bucks and in 1978 that was good money for night’s work.
When we inked for the Crusty Bunkers, once the job was inked, we would do a full-sized Xerox. There was a Xerox machine there that would do a full 150% art work reproduction and then someone would tape tracing paper on all of the Xeroxes and then everybody would take a different color magic marker and circle the things that they did and sign their name or initials or whatever, and then Neal would go through and calculate what he thought everybody had earned. That’s how we were paid. Backgrounds didn’t pay as much as figure work, but Neal would mentally calculate. “This, this, that, that. Okay, he gets $57.00.” And that’s how those jobs were broken up and paid for.
Theakston: We didn’t generally write bills; Kristine would just pass out checks. It was super cool. Because you’d get your check the next day.
Stroud: Can’t beat it.
Theakston: Oh, listen, for starving young men it’s a Godsend. “Oh, good Lord, I can eat again.” Neal would pass me a $20.00 and say, “Go to the bodega across the street and get some Entenmann’s,” which is a New York brand of cheesecake, coffee cake, biscuits, whatever, and that was a high-toned treat. Chocolate cake.
The third room back from the front room held an art-o-graph, which really sped things along. An art-o-graph is an overhead projector.
So, if the story has a call for a whale, you just go to the clip file, get a picture of a whale, slap it in the art-o-graph and trace it off projected onto your paper. It saved a lot of time. Neal would take an 8-1/2 x 11 paper and fold it in fourths and then he would do all of his layouts, four pages of layouts on this tiny thumbnail version. Which is brilliant, because if it will work small, it will work big. You could see the whole page. You’d put your hand over it and it was gone. You take your hand off of it and it works. So, Neal would do these fold-ups and then take them to the art-o-graph and blow them up and then he’d throw these roughs away. And man, there was this mad scramble for Neal’s garbage can. Because to him it was just a tool, some kind of function for him and not the final art. So, people were always rummaging through Neal’s garbage can.
Stroud: Didn’t you auction off a cast-off Deadman sketch awhile back?
Theakston: Yeah. He’d just toss these things in the garbage can and be done with it. It wasn’t even worth his time to wad it up. So, he’s in the art-o-graph room with all the lights off and he’s got an Entemann’s chocolate cake with white icing and sprinkles on the top, and he’s eating it while he’s drawing, and he says, “Oh, I do love those crunchy sprinkles.” And somebody not realizing that he’s in there working, steps in the room and turns on the light and there are roaches all over the top of the cake!”
Theakston: Mmmm. Crunchy sprinkles. Yes, it was like that. So anyway, we weren’t starving and actually there was this guy that came up, Bill, and he’s still working as an artist. Another guy from Detroit. A lot of guys from Detroit washed up there. Buckler, Mike Nasser, me, Terry Austin…I don’t think I ever saw Al Milgrom up there, but it’s not out of the question.
Stroud: Doesn’t Tom Orzechowski hail from there, too?
Theakston: Tom Orzechowski as well. I knew Tom when he was 16. And off the point here a little bit, Detroit had the first comic book convention in America. Maybe the world: who knows? We had guys like Jerry Bails who lived in Detroit. So, it was kind of a magnet. Richard Buckler used to show once-a-month a 16 m.m. film in his living room. Arvell Jones, Desmond Jones, all of us thrilled to something we hadn’t seen. So, we all got together and we all wanted to work for Marvel comics, but we all stink. Richard, who was clearly way ahead of the rest of us would give us critiques. So, it was a very unified fandom in Detroit, from, I would say, ’67 to ’70. Maybe a little after. We had the Fantasy Fan and Comic Collector’s Group. The F.F.C.G., which put out a news fanzine called The Fan Informer. I think by the time I left Detroit, twenty-three issues had been published, which is remarkable for any fanzine.
Stroud: I was about to say, that had legs.
Theakston: Once a month I would take a ride to the east side of Detroit and spend the night with Arvell and Desmond and we’d work on the fanzine. I don’t know if it was monthly at that point, but it was pretty regular. So, there was camaraderie among the people there and when we all ultimately hit New York we gravitated toward Continuity. A friendly island in the middle of a tsunami. And Neal always had work to do, so he was glad to have the staff to do it. Because if you were going to do fifteen storyboards in a night, you’d better have a staff.
Theakston: Ultimately in 1978 I moved to Lexington & 45th Street and Continuity was on 48th Street between 5th & Park, so it was a very, very short walk to work. Now, I could have worked out of my apartment, but I liked the camaraderie, the communal thing and Neal always had good paying jobs, so if there was nothing cooking on my desk I’d head over to Continuity.
So, I got a room there next to Ralph Reese and Larry Hama’s and later on Larry and Cary Bates’. On the other side, toward the front of the building was Wiacek and Terry Austin. I said, “Look, Neal, I really don’t need to rent space here, because I live 5 blocks from here.” New York City blocks are small blocks. I said, “I’ll tell you what: Let me be your studio manager and we’ll just trade off space for my services.” So, we wrote up a contract and I was the studio manager of Continuity between ’78 and ’80.
If somebody left the coffee on and burned the pot it was my job to clean out the burned coffee with a Brillo pad. Sweep up once in awhile. Neal wanted to upgrade the studio and he bought boxes and boxes and boxes of corkboard. We’re talking 2-1/2 feet by 18 inches. Slabs. And I started at the front of the studio, and as you’re facing 48th Street, the wall to the left, and corked the whole studio all the way to the back. Tenants bitched about that.
Stroud: Holy cow.
Theakston: The cement was really pungent and I’d be punchy by the end of the day. Part of my duties began with collecting the rent. I’m not going to name any names, but the deadbeats gave me a lot of trouble. “Oh, yeah, yeah. Catch me in a week.” So that eventually was turned over to his daughter, Krissy.
There was this constant ebb and flow of young guys in and out of the studio. And the guys from California for some reason, you knew they wouldn’t be there at the end of the month. Mark Rice. John Fuller. California guys just couldn’t take New York. It ate them up. I remember John Fuller arriving. He was kind of a tall guy with steel-rimmed glasses and sort of a John Lennon quality about him. Somehow you just knew instantly that this guy was in over his head. He went up to Dell/Whitman trying to draw Bugs Bunny or just anything, to get any kind of work and they looked at his samples and said, “Well, this is all superhero stuff. Go back and do some funny animal stuff and bring it back.” So, John took a Bugs Bunny comic book out of the studio library and put it in the art-o-graph and traced it off. And I’m thinking, “Look, they’re going to give you a script and you won’t be able to trace it off of an old Bugs Bunny comic.”
Stroud: (Chuckle.) This won’t do it.
Theakston: He was also diabetic and he stopped taking his insulin. I generally had the table to the right of Neal. There were four tables that faced 48th street with picture windows. Left to right it was Carl Potts, Neal Adams, Greg Theakston, Joe Brosowski. There were two tables behind us. One at the crook which Bruce Patterson worked at for a long time, the one in the other corner which Russ Heath eventually perched in. So I was literally Neal’s right hand man.
And there comes this moment when John Fuller comes out of the back room off the couch without his shoes on, and shuffling. I don’t remember precisely what Neal said, but I think he said, “I think it’s time for you to contact your parents and get some money and go home.” He was in insulin shock.
Stroud: Not good.
Theakston: I don’t hold anything against Mark Rice. He’d been a child actor in the Bob Cummings show among other things, but at the time, he was a very pissy character and I won’t say we nearly got into “it,” but there were moments where the situation became tense. And there were moments like that with Alan Kupperberg. Neal and Paul had a falling out, but he would occasionally show up and it was another case of “Why is this guy so pissed off?” It took me years to realize that he had terrible parents. That made him unhappy. I couldn’t relate to it because I had great parents. [Howard] Chaykin, too. He had real issues with his father. He would take it out on anybody at the drop of a hat.
You would know who was going to be a keeper and who was not. You could tell probably within the first week if this guy was going to work out or not. And Bill from Detroit comes in. and he’s living out of the back room. He comes shuffling on some morning and Neal looks at him and he says, “When was the last time you had something to eat?” Bill says, “Last night.” Neal says, “What did you eat last night?” “Half a tube of toothpaste.” So, Neal passes him a ten and says, “Go get something to eat and then come back and do some work.” So, we’re sitting there and directly across the street from the studio on 48, second or third floor, there’s always been some debate about this. I always thought we were on the second floor. Nasser is pretty sure it was the third. I think he’s right in retrospect. Anyway, it’s got a pretty good view of the street and we see Bill dodge traffic and go towards the Alpine, which is like a high-falutin’ restaurant for a hamburger. Neal saw what was about to come and announced, “Not there! Not there!” Now we’ve got a Burger King right around the block where at the time you could get a hamburger for .79 or a buck or whatever. You could eat for a week on ten dollars and Neal sees him walking into the Alpine and just shakes his head. There goes that ten bucks on one burger.
It was that kind of savvy that would save you or doom you in New York City. Don’t spend eight dollars on a hamburger. And of course, he was gone within the month.
The point in coming to Neal’s was, this is a jump-off point. You could take the work that you had done with Neal, point to it and say, “Look, I’m being published by your company.” So, Bill…I don’t know what he’s like now, but he was an oddball then, I’ll tell you that much: he shows up at DC and he’s got a zebra-skin bathroom rug tied around his neck and a wrestler’s mask on with his portfolio. He shows up at the receptionist’s and says, “I’m here to see Carmine Infantino.” The receptionist says, “Do you have an appointment?” Bill says something like, “No, but he’ll know the genius that I am when he sees my work!” The guards then escorted him out. At that point I learned that you have a lot more credibility if you show up in a suit and a tie with an appointment.
Let’s see, who else was there? Bill Draut, who had a hell of a pompadour for an old guy. He lived with his two cats.
Stroud: Just one of those eccentricities, I guess.
Theakston: Tex Blaisdell showed up. He worked there for a while. And I kick my ass around the block for not interviewing these guys. Here they were, sitting down at work and I could have just set up my tape recorder and got all this history. And Russ Heath. What a character. I remember we were working on a Peter Pan records “Spider-Man vs. Dragon Man” story. It’s Friday and we’re trying to finish this thing up and get out the door before closing time and Heath rolls in at about 4:30 and says, “What have we got?” “Spider-Man vs. Dragon Man.” “Okay, give me a page.” And the very last panel of the story Dragon Man is turned into a tiny lizard. So, Russ inks this little lizard, inks it, washes out his brush, and hands the page to Neal and says, “Who wants to go for drinks?” That was Russ Heath’s work ethic.
He’s one of the seniors, one of the deans. This guy had been around since forever and he would say, “Ah, I’m a little tight until my next check. Can you loan me twenty bucks?” “I’d rather have you do me a drawing for twenty bucks, but yeah, here’s twenty bucks.” Now let me phrase this carefully: He had overdrawn his salary to the point…well, generally the tops of the desks were covered with a piece of matte board and when the matte board became dirty, you’d just peel it off and put a new piece of matte board on and throw the old one away. So, he’s got like a list of people he owes money to. (Chuckle.)
Stroud: Oh, boy.
Theakston: Well, on the other hand that’s very commendable. He’s at least keeping track. So, I come around behind him and I don’t know what the deal was. Delivering work maybe. I was just talking to him and I see this list and it’s like, “This guy owes $250.00 to everybody around here.” And he slaps his hand over this list and he says, “Nobody told you to look at my accounting!” I said, “Don’t write it on your desk.” The next time I passed his desk he had taped a piece of paper over it so you couldn’t see his accounting.
At some point, Mike Nasser was there and he was drawing something on Heath’s matte cover and the next day I go back to visit Mike in the seventh room back and Russ has taken a big Magic Marker and scrawled over the entire desk, “RUSS HEATH DOES NOT LIKE HIS DESK WRITTEN ON.” Mike is like, “What am I going to do about this? Paint the thing?” I said, “Have you got a Phillips head screwdriver?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Let me at this.” I get under the table on by knees and take out four screws, turn the thing over so it’s fresh wood and screw the thing back in. “Easy peasy. It’s all done.”
Theakston: Now you’ll have to ask Mike about this, because I don’t remember what happened, but there became this thing where he and Neal started doing pranks on each other. Ha! I can tell you exactly how it started. Mike Kaluta comes in and he pulls something out of his portfolio and says, “You want to see something really funny?” Neal had drawn this picture of Superman flying toward you; it’s in the Neal Adams Treasury I with a little bit of Metropolis in the background. “You guys want to see something really funny?” He takes this piece of acetate out of his portfolio and it’s black. It’s been trimmed into the shape of a giant ink spill. Neal is out. Kaluta puts this on top of this drawing of Superman and takes an empty bottle of ink and he places it strategically so it looks like a bottle of ink got knocked over and ruined his piece of artwork. Ha!
So, Neal walks in and it’s “Oh, my God! What happened?” We’re all snickering. He finally gets the joke and pulls the piece of acetate off and holds the thing up and says, “Who do we do this to next?” (Mutual laughter.)
That’s pretty congenial, don’t you think? So Neal goes out again and Mike takes the Superman drawing out to the art-o-graph and copies it, and Mike could do a pretty good Neal imitation, and then he takes the acetate splotch and he outlines it and then he fills it in with real ink. And he puts it back on Neal’s desk. (Chuckle.) And Neal comes in and says, “I know this joke!” Then he picks it up and it looks like his artwork is really f---ed up. And again, we’re all about to explode from trying to hold it in.
So, this started a prankster war between Neal and Mike, and Mike comes in one morning and his art table is gone. Neal has disassembled it and reassembled it in the very tiny bathroom. There’s no way to get it out. Mike is going to have to take it apart and get it out and reassemble it.
Stroud: Oh, geez.
Theakston: So, I’m in there working on the storyboards around midnight and Nasser comes in and says, “Where can I get 60 feet of rope at this hour?” “Sixty feet of rope? What are you talking about?” “Yeah, yeah. What I want to do is take Neal’s desk and go up to the roof and lower it down so that when he gets in his desk is outside the window.” I said, “This has gone too far. (Chuckle.) You guys need to cut it out!”
Stroud: (Chuckle.) This can’t end well.
Theakston: What next? Neal’s got to top this. And you know that Neal will. He’s the boss. He’s got to. Give up this rope idea. What happens if it kills somebody? And he even wants the light and all the papers to be on the desk as well. Antics went on like that a lot at that studio. I was very partial to Doritos. I would finish painting to deliver and I would have a fresh bag of Doritos on my desk, and when I got back half of the bag would be gone! I’d go up to the front room and Neal’s fingers would be orange. “You sonofabitch you ate half my bag of Doritos!” So, I started hiding my Doritos and Neal took it as a challenge. He’d come in when I was out and scour my office for my Doritos. I hid some behind some books and he found them.
Stroud: Just sniffed ‘em out, huh?
Theakston: Oh, yeah. He was a real munchie fan.
At some point Mike Nasser had…I don’t know whether to call it a breakdown or a revelation, but he found Jesus. He thought he was Jesus. Let’s just call a spade a spade. He thought he was the second coming. I’ve met a couple of people that have had afflictions that felt the same way. I don’t know what it is. And Mike rationalized it. He would explain to you how he was the second coming of Jesus. It got to the point that the amount of work he was doing petered out to the point that he didn’t have an apartment any more. I had known Mike since high school. I introduced him to Neal. I said, “Look, you can come and sleep on my couch and it will be a little island of security. Save up some money and get your own apartment. I’ll let you hang here until you get on your feet.” So, he was working not only out of my place, but out of Continuity as well.
One afternoon, Kristine calls up and says, “Is Mike there?” I said, “No, Mike’s not here.” She said there was a brownie on Mike’s desk. “Well, Daddy ate it, and he’s feeling really strange.” “It’s a marijuana-laced brownie! Mike Nasser’s eating them and they’re filled with marijuana. And tell your father to stop eating other people’s treats.”
So, at the end of two months I ask, “Mike, how much have you saved up?” He dips into his pocket and he says, “Thirty-seven cents.” I said, “Mike, you’ve got to go.” So, on the roof of 9 East 48th was this decorative façade, which had a really nice circular window, but it was basically a small room, so Mike took his stuff and he moved up there. If he had to use the toilet, he had a key to Continuity, so he’d just go downstairs, use the facilities and then go back up to his perch on the roof.
It was kind of a moment when his life went into shambles. Cross-country trips to California. Several. Kind of an Easy Rider self-discovery sort of thing. And it came to this point where I was kind of losing track of him. He finally shows up and I said, “What happened? What have you been doing?” He says, “Well, you know I went to the airport and I boarded an empty plane and I got into the pilot’s seat and that’s when security caught up with me.” “What were you going to do, fly a plane back to Lebanon?” I didn’t see Mike for a long time after that.
But, my favorite part of Continuity, aside from the good money that I made there, was Fridays. Because everybody who didn’t live in the city, who had a job to deliver in the city, showed up. It was an unbelievable line of celebrities. You could always count on Gray Morrow coming in. We had Sergio Aragones visiting. You never knew who was going to show up on Friday, but you always knew somebody would. “My God, Wally Wood!”
Stroud: Good night!
Theakston: Yeah. And you could interact with these guys on a reasonably professional level. Everybody was working. Fridays were always my favorite. Gray Morrow, what a dry sense of humor. Gray would not say anything for fifteen minutes and then he’d just lay something on you, like oh, my God! He was just waiting for the moment to actually say this.
Denys Cowan got his start up there. Carl Potts. Another one of those angry guys. And he despised smoking. And a client would come up, or the agent would come up with a new job and be talking to Neal and the guy would light up a cigarette and Potts would go into a huff and he would pry open one of these gigantic front windows and leave the room. Now Gray Morrow tended to smoke a pipe. But Potts was not going to give any guff to Gray Morrow. So whenever Gray came in with his pipe, Carl got into a huff and just left. Again, I was not equipped to deal with people with issues. I really kinda didn’t have any. I came from a happy home. I felt like the freak.
On Friday afternoons, Marvel had started a volleyball league.
Theakston: In Central Park. Every Friday afternoon at about 5 o’clock during warm weather we’d all get together and play volleyball. So once all the Continuity guys figured it out, we were there. Eighteen people. And it came to this point where there were so many people, we had to rotate people out and rotate people in. So, there would be four people on the sidelines watching the game and when that round was over, somebody would rotate out and somebody would rotate in. It was super cool, because in the heat of the game, you got to see what these people were really like.
Stroud: (Chuckle.) The façade comes down.
Theakston: Absolutely. No more of that. Guys that you thought…well, they might have been, but under the heat of the moment they became somebody else. And look, tell you what: If you’re that nice guy all the time and you’re that kind of prick at the volleyball games it sort of counteracts the notion that you’re a nice guy.
And the list of guys who played in those games. It was the Who’s Who of comic books at the time. Jim Shooter was always one of the captains. Steve Mitchell, Bob McLeod…in fact Bob was part of Continuity for a long time. He was Neal’s left-hand man. Alan Weiss. Anyway, at any given moment if a comic fan happened by and somebody started pointing out who all these people were, he’d orgasm in his pants.
I remember we set up a Saturday game once and 27 people showed up. We had a whole third team that had to be rotated in and out. Unbelievable. I’m not a very big guy, but I’ve got a tall leap. The ball would be headed over the net and I’d jump up and just put my hand out and the ball would just fall and there was no way to field it. I could have smashed it down on somebody’s face, but…it was all very subtle. It became known as the “Theakston dink shot.” Dink…
Theakston: If it’s just going to drop in front of you, yeah, what can you do? In my first game Steve Mitchell’s in the front row to my far right and I’m serving and the ball comes back to me and I punch it up to the far right and I say, “Steve.” And everybody’s like, “What? My God. We’re working like a team here.” “Yeah. The tall guy in the front row. I’ll set him up. We’ll make the point. It won’t come back.”
So that was part of the Continuity experience.
Mike Hinge, from New Zealand eventually ended up living in the back. He had very esoteric tastes in music. There was a really nice stereo up front and he would come in at one in the morning and he’d be playing something and it was, “What the f*** is this? You’ve got money for records, but you don’t have money for rent?” But it became obvious very quickly why he didn’t have money for rent. He’d say, (faux accent) “Aht Directors are all whores! They’re all whores!” Well, if you let that seep through during your interview, you’re not going to get a job. He’d be wearing a waffle long-john top and raggedy jeans and dirty work boots and go to interviews dressed like that.
Stroud: Great first impression…
Theakston: I always got out a nice suit for my first interview. I said, “Mike, why do you do that?” “So, they’ll think I’m poor and give me work.” “So, they’ll think you’re a failure and can’t get work anywhere else, so they’ll give you work?” Terrific…
He worked in rapidograph and “Gehman Mahkers.” Which were very brilliant at the time, but 10 to 15 years later, the markers faded. It became a completely different piece of artwork 10 or 15 years later. Not permanent whatsoever. You’d see him walking down the street and he had this scowl on his face. He looked like a leprechaun on a bad day. He had grayish hair and a beard, but with no mustache. And he always had this scowl on his face as he’s walking down the street. It finally came to the point I asked, “Hey, every time I see you on the street you’ve got this scowl. What’s the deal with that?” “I don’t want to walk around looking like a grinning fool.” “You don’t have to grin, but you don’t have to scowl either.” That was ultimately one of the reasons he wasn’t successful: this terrible attitude.
Jack Abel. Everybody loved Jack. Old workhorse. Probably the senior member of the entire office. He’d be plugging away, drawing and inking Mighty Samson for Dell and he would pin his artwork to his board with a pushpin. Everybody’s got their own work technique, but the top of his desk was chopped to pieces by 30,000 pushpin holes.
Theakston: I was very, very interested in ‘30’s and ‘40’s popular culture at the time. I had some common ground with this guy because he’d lived through it. Every once in awhile he’d say, “How do you know that?” “It’s my thing.”
Stroud: It sounds like things were happening around the clock.
Theakston: Oh, yeah. At any given moment something was going on. I’d go there in the afternoon and take a nap and I would then get up at six and come back in at midnight when all these guys were at their very dead end and it was like, “The Cavalry is here! What have you got?”
I met Lynn Varley when she was 16. She’s from Detroit as well. She was dating my best friend who was 18, which I thought was a little bit odd, but on the other hand she was f***ing gorgeous. And she eventually moved to New York City and was going to the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was friends with me and my first wife even after she broke up with Tony. We kind of maintained the relationship. So, she calls me up out of the blue and she says, “I’m miserable at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Is there any way you can help me get out of here?” I said, “Yeah, of course. Come on up to Continuity. There’s always work here.” So, she came up on a Saturday afternoon and we were doing some corn-chip storyboards. Some Frito Bandito rip-off, which you just knew was never going to make it to air. So, I gave her her first coloring lessons that afternoon and she became a regular member of the staff. And she eventually met her future husband, Frank Miller around there.
I’m having dinner when Julie Schwartz, Harlan Ellison and his wife, Lynn and Frank, and a science fiction writer from Hollywood. I can’t remember his name. And the guy who co-founded Dragon Con. And at the end of the meal, this is about 1991, the crowd presses ahead and she turns back and motions for me to sit down and she says, “I never got to thank you for changing my life.” And I just thought, “How sweet.”
Theakston: I don’t think Trevor Von Eeden was part of the studio. I do know he visited there often.
Stroud: He was kind of a wunderkind as I recall.
Theakston: Yeah. And Denys Cowan got his start there. Denys used to come in and sit with me. I had a record player in my room and a lot of records and I remember playing Chorus Line for him and somewhere during the first half of the record he said, “Hey, do you have Chorus Line?” (Mutual laughter.) “What did you think we were listening to?”
And Potts was in the office up near the front and he comes in all steamed because he thinks I’m playing my music too loud. He makes this fist at me. “What? You’re gonna beat me up?”
There was this thing with the air-conditioner. If it was left on all night it would freeze up the coils. It would literally turn it into a block of ice. This thing was so efficient that it froze the condensation and as studio manager, at 11:00 in the morning when it’s starting to get warm, my job was take care of it. So, I figured out that if you took a blow dryer and just set it in front of it in half and hour to 45 minutes, you’d get the A/C working again.
Stroud: Necessity is the mother of invention.
Theakston: There was also a latrine in the hallway. They weren’t really bathrooms because there was no bath in them. But the one in the hallway had a drain in the center of the floor and I said, “Hey, Neal. You know it would be really inexpensive, maybe $150.00 and we could put a shower in that room.” He said, “I don’t want this place seeming too much like home to these guys.” And it was an unwritten rule that you were not allowed to have TV’s. Certainly not in the front room. So, I was painting paperback covers and wanted to be amused, so I had a little TV back in my room. I know Neal disapproved, but he never said anything about it.
Stroud: What an experience, Greg.
Theakston: So…I’m sure none of these guys give a damn. Somebody comes in and says, “I know you smoke pot.” “Yeah.” He says, “I’m going to buy a pound. How much are you in for?” I said, “What does it work out to an ounce?” “$28.00.” “Give me two.” Nasser and I smoked a lot of pot together. We were getting ounces all the time. Marshall Rogers also smoked pot. He was there at the time. So anyway, I cough up the dough and the guy comes in and says, “Here.” Big brick in his hand. So, we go back, not quite as far back as Mike Hinge’s work area, but Neal had this very large room in the back. There was this lesbian martial artist who needed the room to practice her martial arts. She didn’t stay very long.
So, at some point Neal decides to put three more desks in here in an extension. There goes the couch that I used to sleep on, but I didn’t any more. So, Nasser and Rogers and (I can’t remember the third person) are set up. This is shortly after the “Russ Heath does not like his desk written on” episode and Nasser’s got this immaculately clean board. So, we upend it so it’s horizontal and my dealer starts cutting this pound of pot. And it was more than a pound because everybody got a really good count. So, there are four or five guys in the back room, all with an ounce or two and everybody starts pulling out papers to roll their own.
I said, “Hang on. Put your papers away. I’ve got an idea.” I take a credit card out of my pocket and I scrape the surface of Mike’s desk and there’s this really fat little pile of pollen which the wood had held onto. “Let’s make the first one out of this.” It was a fatty about the size of your thumb. And as we start to pass it Neal shows up.
Stroud: Of course.
Theakston: He’s not mad, but he’s letting us know he’s the boss and he says, “Are you guys doing drug deals in my studio?” “Yeah. But it’s the back room. Nobody will know.” Neal sits down in one of the chairs, an easy chair somehow got in there, and he says, “Pass that thing this way.” Neal was not all that much of a tight ass. So, we pass him this gigantic doob. I mean this thing was really a big fatty. He’s like, “Give me that,” like it’s some kind of challenge. He takes this gigantic pull and he holds it and he passes the jay to somebody else. Then he exhales. He said something like, “It’s no big deal.” He puts his hands on the rests of the chair and he stands up and he falls back into the chair in a daze. A man’s got to know his limitations.
We’re in Toronto in 1972 at a big convention at a university, and all my friends are there. Weiss, Neal, everybody. Apparently, I’d come in a little late because they’re all tripping on LSD.
Stroud: Oh, geez.
Theakston: So, there’s an open staircase leading to the second floor and Alan Weiss has a pack of cards and he’s balls-to-the-walls tripping. Look, if you don’t want it reported, don’t do it in front of me. He says, “You want to see something cool?” He stands up and goes to the rail and he peels all the cards over the rail and everybody who’s tripping on the floor is like, “Oh-h-h-h beautiful!” I said, “You want me to go down there and collect ‘em so you can do it again?” He said, “Nah. Kaluta’s down there and he’s a Virgo and he won’t be able to put up with the chaos.” I look over the rail and there’s Kaluta on his hands and knees collecting these cards.
Neal was perhaps the most gracious artist I’ve ever known when giving a critique. There was this thing where you were the big fish in the little pond. You were the best artist in your high school. And you would hit New York and you would ask Neal and you’d be expecting Neal to say something like, “Oh, this is the most terrific stuff I’ve ever seen,” and Neal would give you the real deal. I learned as much from watching him critique other people’s portfolios…even more than him critiquing mine. I remember watching Ken Steacy getting his portfolio reviewed at this convention and I’m wearing this long-sleeved polo shirt that’s tight at the wrists and real loose and ballooney sleeves, and Neal points to me and says, “Look at the way Greg’s shirt moves. See where it touches his body and where it just floats over it. You have to remember as you’re drawing something that there’s this moment where the cloth obeys the structure underneath it and sometimes it’s just free falling.” And at the end of the critique, Ken’s lower lip was trembling. This is the last thing he wanted to hear. But absolutely the most important thing that he should have.
Stroud: I can see that.
Theakston: Here was the real truth. And it was never done with malice. I do this to this day. The coolest thing anybody ever said to me when I underwent Neal’s critique. He would say, “Look, what I’m about to tell you works for me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t discard it. Put it on the back burner. Because it will make sense in two years.” So, you get, “This is what works for me. If I can convince you of any of it, it’s great, but if I can’t, don’t throw it away. It really works for me and you may find it works for you.” There were these moments, too, when I’d slap my forehead and say, “NOW I know what he’s talking about! Of course! I can see it now.”
Stroud: It falls into place.
Theakston: He never said no. Anybody that wanted a critique, he’d always give it. And really, as a Mecca for comic-book artists, I must have watched Neal do these critiques twenty or thirty times. It got to the point where I’m nodding my head. “Yep. I know that one. Yep, he’s right about that one, too.” I distinctly remember Neal saying the Solar Plexus is like a Roman shield. And he draws this Roman shield over my terrible drawing and it’s absolutely right.
At this point, I’m painting paperback covers while working at Continuity. Most of these guys haven’t done their first comic book job yet. So, I’m kind of the high man on the totem pole. “This guy is doing oil paintings. Good Lord.” So, I’m there on one of my occasional visits and I’d brought my paints with me. I had another set at home. So, in a taboret to the left of Neal’s table, top drawer, I leave all my oil paints. I was like, “Neal, if you want, feel free. Experiment with some oil paints. It’s all here.” I came by about two months later and they’d not been touched. They were still sitting exactly the same way that I’d left them. So, in some respects I had Neal’s respect.
Although unless you were somebody like Gray Morrow, he wasn’t one to really show it to you. There was a closeness that Neal and I appreciated that all of the new crop of guys didn’t get to enjoy. But there was a flip side to that, too. Because he’s a very competitive guy. I remember I had a really nice record collection and I’d bring them up to the front room to play them and Neal and I would sing along to these crazy old songs that nobody else knew. And he says, “Is there any period of music that you’re not really good with?” “I’d say 1948 to 1952 is my weak suit.” Then he got this smile on his face like, “Ha ha ha ha, well, I’ve topped you on that.” And there was a competition between Neal and I that no one else had to endure or enjoy, which is probably one of the reasons why we crashed and burned at the end.
Stroud: Just a little too close
Theakston: Yeah, though I wouldn’t say close. A little too competitive. Part of the whole psychology of Continuity was that Neal was on the top. He’s the guru. And here is somebody who can do something that he can’t. He never mentioned it, but I think it was a sticking point with him.
Jim Sherman came into the studio and at this point Lynn Varley is still working there and I’m kind of courting Lynn Varley - and Jim Sherman, who is blonde and pretty and very talented become part of the scene. And Neal knows that I’m interested in Lynn and starts being Cupid for Lynn and Jim.
Theakston: Now in the summer of I think 1980 Neal took a beach house on Fire Island and around late July I said, “Hey, you know, you keep inviting people out to your beach house. When are you going to invite me?” He says, “Oh, you can come whenever you want.” I said, “Cool.” So, I show up on a Saturday afternoon and Lynn’s there visiting. At this point the only way to get out of Fire Island is by ferry. The last one was at about 10:30 at night. So, I said, “Lynn, walk me to the ferry.” So, we’re walking to the ferry and having kind of a heart to heart and suddenly Neal comes charging down the boardwalk and says, believe it or not, “I’m not breaking up anything, I hope, I hope, I hope.” “Get out of my romance!” That was that moment where it’s like not only is Neal feeling competitive with me, but he’s getting in the middle of my shit. So very shortly after that I said, “Look, Neal, I think I’m going to just start working from home.” I’d come in once in awhile. I said, “I know I owe you a few hours as the office manager. I’ll come in on Fridays because that’s the best day and I’ll catch up on my last 15 hours or whatever it is I owe you.”
He says, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no. You misunderstand. You owe me another 84 hours.” “What?” “You rented a room that is fitted for two tables, not one.” “We never discussed this.” From the start I thought this was a one-table room and believe me, I could put my hand on my table and turn around and put my hand on the wall. That’s how big it was.
Stroud: Reminds me of a Japanese hotel room I once occupied.
Theakston: It was like 6 phone booths. So, he said, “That’s a two-table room. You’ve been racking up that rent and now you owe me 84 hours.” (Heavy sigh.) What do I do? I want to keep on good terms with Neal, but on the other hand, geez. I feel like I’m being raped. So, I call up the New York City Workman’s Rights Something to try and figure it out and it’s “Oh, no. Only one person can work in a room that size. It’s not a two-person room.” So, I tell him that and he says, “Well, Bob Wiacek and Terry Austin share studio space in the same amount of room.” So, it comes to this point where, all right, I’m still coming in on Fridays, putting in 3 or 4 hours each Friday in an effort to maintain peace between Neal and I. And part of the deal was I said, “Look, I don’t want to pay any money for this. I’ll work for it, but if I’ve got to pay money for it I might as well work at home.”
So after about two months of coming in every Friday and putting hours in he says, “This isn’t going fast enough. I want doors on all the cupboards in the front room and you pay for the wood.” I said, “That was not our deal.” “Yeah, but you’re not working this thing off fast enough.” Okay, so now it’s dueling personalities.
Stroud: The classic battle of wills.
Theakston: Yeah. I said, “No, that was not our deal. I tell you what, this two-table thing was not our deal either.” He says, “Well, buy the cabinet fronts or that’s it.” I said, “Well, that’s it.” That’s how Neal and I ended.
I never heard back from him ever again. We see each other at conventions and we don’t even nod. On the other hand, he doesn’t shout at me. There’s something to be said for that.
Stroud: Take the good with the bad.
Theakston: Also, very interesting, Neal had a 10-year lease on that space and developers wanted to come in and knock down the building on the right and on the left and the building Continuity was in and build a gigantic skyscraper, which they eventually did. But Neal was a hold out. He wanted money before he was going to be bounced from this space. So, it came to loggerheads.
Michael Golden worked for Neal at this period. They came up with Bucky O’Hare. A brilliant idea that went nowhere. Golden and Neal sat down and constructed this idea and all of the toy pieces that would go with it in an effort to sell it to a toy manufacturer. The gun was detachable from Bucky O’Hare’s hand and so forth.
Anyway, I won’t say the mafia word, but somehow, they got all the other tenants out of the building. Except Neal. Neal won’t budge. He’s got a 10-year lease or at least a long-term lease. They tried to burn the building down.
Theakston: They started a fire on the ground level and the last time I snuck in (wicked laughter) to Continuity because I was persona non grata, it stank like charred wood. Ultimately, I think he got 2.5 million to get out.
Stroud: That’s a tidy sum.
Theakston: Yeah, he was dealing in futures at the time. Sugar. That’s where he was putting his money. And every once in awhile the kids would come up and you’d meet the family. The Adams family, as we called them. And I won’t even go into that. It’s far too personal.
On the other hand…I’m a firm believer…and I know this from the very start. Not only am I an artist, but I’m a reporter, who is always interested in the journalistic aspect of life as well as being an artist, so when people did things in front of me, they didn’t realize there was a reporter on hand.
So, I’m up at Continuity and Neal’s not there. Kristine shows up and she’s still in high school and she says, “Oh, Daddy’s not here. I’m all out of money. I need some money.” Mike Nasser says, “I’ll give you $20.00. Don’t worry about it.” So, he gives Kristine a twenty-dollar bill. Later on, in the evening I hear this tussle in the hallway. Up in the reception area. I stick my head out the door to see what’s going on. And it’s Neal and Mike having a confrontation and Mike will confirm this, Neal will probably deny it up and down. He picks up this cripple and smashes him by the lapels against the elevator doors. This is clearly about Mike giving Kristine twenty bucks. I mean really. Mike’s a victim of polio. He walks with a limp. And Neal just manhandled a cripple?
Dave Spurlock of Vanguard productions is doing a documentary on Jim Sterankno and I was his first assistant and I said, “Dave…come on. I was his first assistant. I’ve got a lot of stories. Are you ever going to interview me? He said, “Well, Jim might not like what you say about him.” I said, “Look, are you a documentarian, or are you a suck-up? If he doesn’t like it, don’t include it. But really it should be recorded for posterity.”
Theakston: On the other hand, my newborn son needed an operation. Not a very serious operation, but it was $400 I didn’t have and Neal sat down and wrote me a check, Boom! Like that as soon as I told him. So he’s a complex personality.
Theakston: Yeah. He was an Army brat.
Stroud: That I didn’t know.
Theakston: Yeah, apparently, he was dragged all over the United States. That’s tough on a kid. And fascinating, same thing with Kirby, when they don’t talk about a particular topic you know that’s a hot-button issue. I knew Kirby for years and first started talking to him in ’69 or ’68 and knew him until he died in ’93. I think he only spoke about his father maybe four times. And I can’t remember Neal ever speaking about his father other than that he was an Army brat and his father dragged him around. Vaughn Bode had no problem telling me his issues about his father. It made Vaughn Bode what he was. He hated his father and made no bones about it. And the only way to escape his father was to go into a fantasy world and create a new world where his father wasn’t there. Which is one of the reasons he was such a brilliant creator.
I’m talking to Larry Todd and I said, “What happened to Wrightson? I thought he was going to be one of the most brilliant artists of the 20th century and suddenly it just fell apart.” And Todd says, “Well, his father died. He can’t kill him any more.” Ouch! And you know, you’re right. So, with the artistic temperament, it’s one of the reasons I’ll never be a great artist. I’ll be a functional, good, solid artist, but I won’t be a great artist, because I don’t hate my father. I don’t hate my mother. And I landed smack dab in the middle of all these guys with mommy and daddy issues. And I was completely unable to relate with them. “I had a happy childhood. Why are you so pissed-off all the time?”
Part of the point is that I lived through it to report it. Believe me the unrelated Continuity stories are just as horrifying…and funny.
Stroud: I have no doubt.
Theakston: Let’s see, what else can I tell you about Continuity? Oh. The missing Tarzan covers. Neal was hired by Ballantine to illustrate the Tarzan series they had just picked up. And he’s working on at least six paintings. You’d have to look it up. Six or eight paintings at the same time. And they’re pretty good. There’s just no getting around it. But Neal had this idea that people would wait for him to do his thing. When he did his contract with DC for Superman vs. Muhammad Ali there was a time schedule. And if he did not have the project completed by this particular time, money would be deducted from his check. DC had figured this out. By this point, Neal’s ego is so big he thinks that everybody will just wait for him. And I am pretty sure there is a contract clause for press time he’ll be penalized on if it’s not used. So, he’s working on these Tarzan paintings for Ballantine and the art director calls him up. He says, “These are all due next week. It’s now or never.” So, Neal I guess decides to finish his eight paintings and they’re all pretty much complete, but not done. And he starts looking around the studio. Can’t find them.
Theakston: He said, “Greg, you’re my studio manager. See if you can find these.” So, seriously. I’m the studio manager and I know where these will be? Not likely. So, I proceed to go through every square inch of ground in that entire place. This is a pretty big place. It’s the whole floor of the building. And they’re gone. Neal’s thinking, “Who stole my paintings?” And I would think that, too. “Which one of my so-called friends is a thief?” So, I’m sitting to his right and I’m thinking, “I’ve covered every square foot of the floor of this place. I’ve looked in all the shelves, I’ve looked in all the portfolios, I’ve looked in all the drawers.” And these are pretty big pieces. These are not easy to miss. And then it comes to me: I said, “Neal, I know where your paintings are.” And I drag a chair into the stat room, which doubles as the art-o-graph room, which is a dark room, stand on the chair and they’re on top of the stat camera. How they got there, who knows? But it’s the only place above the top of my head that I haven’t looked yet. And sure enough there they all were. I saved his ass on that one.
Stroud: Oh, I guess.
Theakston: You want to talk about saving ass? Gray Morrow comes up on a Friday. He says he’s got the assignment to do Space 1999. So, Gray comes up and he says, “I’ve got this job to do on Space 1999 for Charlton and I’m farming out the work.” The downside? He only has five stills. One is costume. One is the ship. One is a villain from episode three or whatever and so on. So Gray heads to the back of the studio. Everybody around here is going to get one story. Neal says, “Xerox these stills.” I made five Xeroxes of each of the stills. So, I turn one of the stills over and its ITC and the address is two blocks up on Madison Avenue. And we’re talking 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday. So, I call up the head of publicity at ITC and I say, “Look, we’re working at a handicap here. We’re supposed to do this thing for Charlton and we only have five photos.” The guy says, “Come on over.” So, I get there and he pulls out this two feet by 18 inches and 6-inch deep box. He opens it up and it’s got the plot synopsis for the first 13 episodes, proof sheets for the first 13 episodes and probably an additional 30 stills and a 16mm trailer. I said, “Wait a minute. You keep everything else, just give me the trailer.”
Theakston: There was a beautiful presentation booklet, 18 x 12 laminated. Twelve pages. So, I come back to the studio and say, “Gray, Neal. Come into the front room. It’s the mother lode.” I said, “Gray, can I do one of these stories?” “Oh, sorry. While you were away, I gave them all out to the other guys.” “You’re welcome.”
Stroud: No joke.
Theakston: It was that kind of thing that separated me from the rest of the pack at Continuity. The young guys. It doesn’t take too much to figure this out. And sure enough everybody else in the studio that got in on Space 1999 got paid for it after I saved the studio’s ass. No good deed goes unpunished. It was all just kind of comical. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s go to ITC, two blocks away on the 15th floor and get some material that might help.” It had not even occurred to Gray Morrow to look at the back of the still, get the address and go get some extra material. Really it was not a brain-buster.
I contributed to Continuity in a way that none of the other young bucks ever did. And in some respects, it put me at odds with Neal.
Stroud: It sounds like you were perceived as a threat.
Theakston: Yeah. How ridiculous is that? Me and Neal Adams? What kind of a threat am I? Good Lord.
Now there was the Animation House at 50 East 48th, one building over, and we tended to do a fair amount of work with them. After I left, Neal did this highly erotic thing and they got together and said, “If we could just run this thing one time on television it would make such a stir.” So, they did this highly erotic animated spot. A lot of work. And WPIX Channel 11 wouldn’t run it because it was so sexual.
There used to be this corkboard to the right of Joe Brosowski’s table and there was always interesting stuff being pinned up there. Neal got a hold of a picture of Barry Windsor Smith with his Barry Windsor shirt in gigantic circular signature. “Who are you?” “I’m Barry Smith.”
Theakston: “Yeah, I read your shirt.” And Neal meticulously, for nothing, re-lettered it, “Barely Christ.” In the same lettering! Ha! And Barry never visited the studio, so he never tore it off the wall, but everybody got a laugh out of it who did see it. Dear dead days…
Once or twice a month I’d straighten up Neal’s desk. All the correspondence in the upper left-hand corner of the desk, hot projects are in the middle, and stuff that I can’t figure out what’s supposed to be done is on the right. “I changed out the matte board on your table.” That was over and above the call of duty and…(laughter.) Neal is sitting there inking something and he says, “I’m the best inker in the business,” in a very self-satisfied tone. (Chuckle.) I kind of give him a fish eye to my left, and I go (hidden in a cough) “Niño” And everybody’s back in the room stiffens. “Did you really say that to Neal? My God!” And there’s a beat…beat…beat, and Neal says, “I’m the second-best inker in the comic book business.” (Mutual laughter.)
And that kind of sums up the situation with Neal and I. The guys would never, ever go up against Neal.
And he’d do these long, long jokes and the payout was like, “Oh, my God…” Now I admired his creativity in coming up with this thing and trying to sell it and he says, “In Japan, the land where they make all of the toys out of plastic, they have these gigantic cooling towers and the plastic particles that float up are collected in these cooling towers.” I take a piece of paper out and I write, “This is another one of Neal’s bullshit stories.” I pass it to Lynn Varley. She looks at it and laughs. He continues, “They’re trying to figure out what to do with all the plastic in these cooling towers and it’s really durable plastic. The best of the plastic, for some reason. So, they decided to use it to make cars. And that’s how Toy-oter, came to be.” Really? “Toy-oter?”
Ultimately Continuity was a lovely place to springboard into the business. Working with the master, complex as he was. I don’t have any bad feelings about Neal. He did me good turns. I did him good turns. It ended up in a loggerhead of ego.
One last memory: When they were trying to form A.C.B.A., he called a meeting up at Continuity and I swear there were 30 people in the front room who were trying to figure out how to set up A.C.B.A. Is it going to be a union? They finally decided it was going to be a loose organization that represented, slightly, the rights of comic book artists.
Marty Pasko was there and said, “I think this whole thing is a terrible idea.” Then why are you here? Just creating chaos? Oh, that’s right. You had a terrible childhood.
And in the crowd was Steve Ditko.
Theakston: Yeah, the man of recluse. He actually came out for it. And ultimately, they chose Stan Lee as the figurehead. Great. I wouldn’t call it a radical situation, but it was a moment where all of the creators felt like, “It can’t go on like this. We shouldn’t be working like the artists in the 1950’s and early 1960’s did.” Everybody was behind it, but it never delivered. All of the artists were behind it. The A.C.B.A. portfolio kept things going. It was just some sort of symbolic thing that didn’t do anything. It’s sad.
I guess for a moment there were 30 of the…I guess I won’t say top artists, because a number of them couldn’t make it into the city, but a number of the young artists and a good smattering of the older artists who would like to see some change. I think very shortly after that the companies began giving artwork back.
Stroud: So, something good came of it.
Theakston: Yeah, well the fact that thirty artists could get off their asses and meet at some predetermined location was a sign.
And I was there for the Siegel and Shuster battle. Where Neal came to bat for Siegel and Shuster. This is another one of those moments. There were moments when the guy could be magnificent. And there were moments when you just wondered. “How can you do this and then do that?” But people said that about Sinatra, too.
Neal was just a contradiction in terms. In some respects, he likes publicity, but he’s not very good at generating it.
Now Neal would go to bat for you. I was doing a painting for Atlas, Goodman’s last company and I said, “Neal, I did a good painting of Frankenstein and Jeff Rovin keeps rejecting it. I keep changing it to his demands and he’s rejecting it.” And Neal got on the phone and called Rovin up and said, “You know Theakston’s here and he’s very upset. He’s done his very best to fix this to your liking and you keep rejecting it.” There’s kind of a pause and “Well, all right.” So, he stepped up for me. And I don’t think he would have done that if he’d looked at the piece and said, “This is crap. No wonder he doesn’t want it.”