An Interview With Joe Staton - Co-Creator of E-Man, Kilowog, & the Huntress

Written by Bryan Stroud

Joe Staton at NYCC 2008.

Joe Staton (born January 19, 1948) is an American comics artist and writer best known for being the co-creator of the hero E-Man. Joe started his comics career at Charlton Comics in 1971 and gained notability when he teamed with Nicola Cuti for the super-hero series E-Man (1973). Staton produced art for various comics published by Charlton, Marvel, and Warren Publishing during the 1970s.

Hired initially by Roy Thomas to work for Marvel, Staton was then recruited by Paul Levitz to work on DC's revival of the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics (and later Adventure Comics). In these titles he illustrated stories including the origin of the JSA and the death of the Earth-Two Batman. Staton also illustrated the solo adventures of two female JSA members created during the revival – drawing The Huntress and Power Girl in Showcase. During that time, Joe additionally drew Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, the '70s revival of the Doom Patrol (in Showcase), and the Metal Men. In 1979, Staton began a two-and-a-half-year run on Green Lantern during which he co-created the Omega Men with writer Marv Wolfman.

Joe Staton, in addition to his wonderful talent, is just a flat out wonderful guy.  I've called on him a few times since this first enjoyable interview and he's always been generous with his time.  In fact, my bride and I enjoyed a nice dinner with he and his lovely wife Hilarie when he was a guest at the Denver Con.

This interview originally took place over the phone on February 18, 2011.

Adventure Comics (1938) #458, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Jack Abel.

Bryan Stroud: You’ve done a lot of work over the years and for so many different publishers. I’ve seen credits for Charlton, First Comics, Archie, Marvel, DC and I’m sure I’m missing some. Was there any place you felt more comfortable working?

Joe Staton: I was always pretty comfortable at DC. I always felt like I understood those characters pretty well. I was very comfortable at Charlton, too. They let me do whatever I wanted to do.

Stroud: I realize that what with the life of a freelancer being what it is, even though you’re doing work for a particular publisher you’re still kind of not working for them as such since it’s the same home studio.

Staton: Exactly. Basically you’re day labor. And you never know when your day is over.

Stroud: (Chuckle.) How long does it usually take you to crank out a page?

Staton: When I was really productive at DC, in the late 80’s I would normally pencil three pages a day. At least two pages of superhero stuff per day and then through the 90’s when I was doing Scooby I’d routinely do three pages a day.

Stroud: That’s moving right along.

Staton: Well, there’s a lot more drawing on a superhero page. I doubt if I could do that now, but I was pretty productive back then.

Stroud: Did you do everything yourself or did you get help on backgrounds?

Staton: I never quite figured out how to work with assistants. I’ve had people who helped me with different things over the years, but I think the most I ever worked with anybody was with Bruce Patterson when I was penciling and inking Green Lantern. He did a lot of my backgrounds and he was really good at that and eventually he inked the book. I’d call Bruce my main assistant or co-worker or whatever the right term might be.

Stroud: Green Lantern had to be a fun assignment.

Green Lantern (1960) #107, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Joe Giella.

Staton: Yeah, I really liked Green Lantern. I bought the first Green Lantern issues off the stands when they came out.

Stroud: Clear back to Showcase?

Staton: Yeah. Green Lantern was always one of my favorite characters, ever since those tryout issues. I really wanted to draw Green Lantern, and was glad I had a good run there.

Stroud: At one point didn’t you work with Gil Kane a little bit?

Staton: I did. I was working on E-Man in ’73 or ’74 and Gil called me up out of the blue and asked me if I’d like to do layouts for him. He seemed to like the way I did figures in space. He was annoyed by people who always did close ups with cropping. He was always trying to cut corners and get people to do his work for him. I was thrilled to do it. I think I worked for Gil for about a year and I learned a lot. I learned quite a bit just by watching Gil put a page together. After a while I was a pretty good Gil Kane. (Chuckle.)

Stroud: Did it intimidate you at all to take on a character like Green Lantern who had been so well established and especially by someone of Gil’s stature?

Staton: Of course! Gil wasn’t working on Green Lantern when I worked for him but I certainly was formed a lot by what Gil had done on Green Lantern. He was mainly working for Marvel when I worked for him.

Stroud: I thought it a bit ironic that Roy Thomas hired you while at Marvel and then Paul Levitz at DC and the irony to me was that in the case of Paul he hired you to work on the JSA All-Star book and Roy is maybe the ultimate All-Star fan.

Staton: Well, Paul actually hired me off the bat to do The Karate Kid. I was finishing Ric Estrada’s layouts, but I guess the next thing up was the Justice Society. I really loved that title. I loved the idea of doing something from the 40’s and bringing all the Wally Wood stuff into it. I never really warmed up to Karate Kid that much, but I loved the Justice Society.

DC Super Stars (1976) #17, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Bob Layton.

Stroud: I fell in love with the JSA when they began reintroducing them in the classic Crisis crossovers in the 60’s.

Staton: When DC did reprints of the 40’s material in the back of books, that’s when I really got to know them.

Stroud: Really classic characters to me and even though a lot of the Silver Age versions are revamps of them, it’s always impressed me what Gardner Fox and company were able to do with them. I sometimes wish Alex Toth had got more involved like he did with the Golden Age Green Lantern.

Staton: Oh, yeah. His stuff was great.

Stroud: I see you’ve worked on Power Girl and the Huntress and the Legion, Doom Patrol, Metal Men and others. Did you take many cues from the prior artists?

Staton: I generally tried not to make too abrupt of a change from anybody else. I would kind of pick up on what had gone before. You can’t help changing things a bit, but I always tried to be respectful of what had gone on before.

Stroud: Is it true that you got to work some with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito on the Metal Men?

Staton: Actually I did not work with Andru and Esposito on the Metal Men. I did work with Ross on an issue or two of the Justice Society. The Metal Men I did was with Marty Pasko. I think I inked that job myself. I was a later generation on the Metal Men, but I certainly would have loved to work with them. I’m a big Andru and Esposito fan. I loved Ross, what little contact I had with him.

Stroud: I’ve heard many great stories about Ross and it was a real pleasure to get acquainted with Mike. I’ve wondered what Ross was like, but I understand he wasn’t as gregarious as Mike.

Staton: (Chuckle.) I wouldn’t say he was gregarious, but he was an awfully nice man. We hit it off because his father was, I believe, a classical violinist in the Cleveland Symphony, but he didn’t have any records of his father’s performances. One of my best friends was Leslie Gerber who was a dealer in antique records and an authority and we tracked down a record for Ross of his father.

Marvel Fanfare (1982) #50, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

Stroud: Fantastic!

Staton: I had a good connection with Ross.

Stroud: That must have made his whole week.

Staton: It certainly made his afternoon. (Chuckle.)

Stroud: Apparently you and Marv Wolfman developed the Omega Men. How did that come about?

Staton: It was pretty much Marv’s idea. Marv wanted to generate DC’s version of the X-Men, so it was generated off Marv’s ideas and I did the design. We went back and forth a little bit on those and we came up with the stories. Marv was always good with ideas.

Stroud: I’m always impressed with how prolific some writers can be. Len Wein’s recent work for DC showed me he hasn’t missed a step.

Staton: So many of the writers are just great that way. For the artist it’s often just a matter of endurance. After a while you’ve sort of been there and done that, but the writers have to come up with new ideas all the time. I don’t’ see how guys like Marv and Len and Steve Englehart and Mike Barr, a lot of the guys of my generation, just kept coming up with good ideas and adventures all the time. That’s got to be even harder than drawing.

Stroud: The two disciplines certainly have their pros and cons. Maybe more mental versus physical, for example.

Staton: Joe Orlando once told me that old comic book artists are prone to bad backs and alcoholism.

Stroud: (Laughter.) Joe would have known. He’s another I’ve heard many great stories about. I know that Carmine Infantino has had some physical ailments directly related to his chosen profession.

Staton: It will do it. You have to get up and move around every once in a while.

New Guardians (1988) #1, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Mark Farmer.

Stroud: Of course, the whole problem, if you can call it that, with being a freelancer is if you don’t produce, you don’t eat.

Staton: That’s right. Nobody pays you for showing up. (Chuckle.) Joe told me that when he was hired to edit on staff at DC it was like retiring. He’d go into the office and it didn’t matter if he did anything, they gave him money. (Chuckle.) It wasn’t like having to actually work or draw or anything.

Stroud: That did seem to be the brass ring at the time. I noticed you served for a while as art director at First Comics. What was that assignment like?

Staton: We basically proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was not cut out for management. (Laughter.) I don’t think I was too bad at it, but my way of working generally is “Tell me what you need and come back when you want it and it will be done.” Being an art director involves sitting in meetings and everybody decides what to do and figuring out who has to do it, make sure they’ve done it and if they haven’t done it to keep on top of them… I’m just not cut out for that.

There was one time I was proud of being the art director. We had shifted from one printer to another with a different kind of separations and we brought everybody in who could hold a brush and Bruce Patterson was involved in that, Doug Rice, and we all kind of re-colored the entire line overnight. When you can bring people in and get them to focus on something like that, that’s a good feeling.

Stroud: That does sound like a satisfying and Herculean task.

Staton: Yes it was. (Chuckle.)

Stroud: Let’s talk a little about some of your special projects. I saw a credit for the 9-11 Project, for example.

Staton: The comics companies wanted to do something to contribute after 9-11. Everybody wanted to do something. I had such a long history with Paul Levitz and had worked with him so much that he picked me out as one of the guys to do a page with him. I was really proud of that. We did our page, which I think stands up. It’s a really sweet page. I was very pleased to be involved with that.

Batman & Robin Adventures Annual (1996) #2, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Terry Austin.

Stroud: It sounds like a great honor. I don’t know precisely how many people were involved, but I’ll bet it was a limited pool.

Staton: Yes and you know everyone wanted to get in on it.

Stroud: You both pencil and ink. Although I’ve learned in speaking with other artists that’s not completely out of the realm as a lot of wonderful, well-known inkers also pencil.

Staton: Yes, but even a good penciler will sometimes get an extra finger on a hand or lose count of just how many panes there are on a window or something. It’s better if an inker can actually do some drawing and figure things out while he’s working on it.

Stroud: Do you have a preference between the two?

Staton: Actually, I really like doing both. Sometimes I’m not that thrilled inking my own stuff because there are certain lines I’ll make by reflex that I’d rather not have in the drawing, so it’s better to work with an inker who can take my stuff in a direction that I’d like and maybe couldn’t do it myself. There are also things of mine I’d like to ink. Specifically, doing something that I know matches the kind of lines and shadows that I’d put down. Then there are times I’ve just inked…actually I’ve inked quite a bit of other people’s pencils, I’ve inked Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema both on The Hulk. One of the best times I had was inking Elfquest over Wendy Pini’s layouts. That was a lot of fun. Looking at how Wendy inked her own stuff, I tried to approach her layouts bringing her feeling for textures and things over into my inking.

It’s good, especially if the penciler has his or her own style and you can compare what you’re doing to what they’ve done and you learn a lot that way.

Stroud: That had to be excellent grist for the mill. I know that when I saw that it struck me as how different a project it was compared to other work you’ve been involved with.

Staton: One funny thing I realized was that my inks on Wendy ended up with a lot of Wally Wood in them. Mainly because of bringing in those black and white patterns and working on the space the way he would. It seemed to match up with Wendy’s style pretty well.

Showcase (1956) #97, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Joe Orlando.

Stroud: Ah, Woody. What a gifted man. It’s heartbreaking how things ultimately ended up for him. And now mere mortals cannot afford the pages he worked on.

Staton: When I started at DC on the Karate Kid, he was doing a lot of finishes at that time so I looked a lot to his work. I’d always followed his work, but I tried to pick up on how he used his space especially. The way he would set such a solid, three dimensional setting with the use of black and white. I tried to pick up a lot from him. I had the chance to meet him just a few times toward the end, but I really thought a lot of his work.

Stroud: Yes, and it’s kind of neat that you got to do some work on Power Girl, which was one that he and Ric Estrada first worked on together.

Staton: That’s right and according to Joe Orlando every time Woody brought Power Girl back he tried to make her bust larger and see if anyone would try to stop him. (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud: It’s funny how the Comics Code was to deal with at the time.

Staton: Well, didn’t Kirby have to draw shorts on the Silver Surfer for more or less the same reason?

Stroud: It might have been. Perhaps even more ridiculous was the shorts on Fin Fang Foom. (Mutual laughter.) Shorts on a dragon. C’mon.

Staton: That’s right. Where do dragons buy their shorts? (More mutual laughter.)

Stroud: And how is it everything got shredded off the Hulk but those pants?

Staton: Atomic irradiated purple pants.

Stroud: Or one of my all-time favorites, Elasti-Girl’s amazing growing costume.

Staton: I always wondered about Elasti-Girl growing so large and yet having that short skirt.

Silver Surfer Annual (1988) #1 pg.4, penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

Silver Surfer Annual (1988) #1 pg.8, penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

Silver Surfer Annual (1988) #1 pg.20, penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

Stroud: And how about the Atom? His costume materializes when he shrinks, but what happened to his street clothes. Julie Schwartz, where are you when we need you?

Staton: He could have probably given you an explanation, too.

Stroud: I wouldn’t be surprised. He was there pretty much from the beginning.

Charlton Bullseye (1975) #2, cover by Joe Staton.

Staton: And in addition I think he was H.P. Lovecraft’s last agent. His memories went back beyond comics.

Stroud: Exactly. I’ve gathered that a lot of the sensibilities he brought to the comics, such as coming up with a cover and then building a story from it hailed right back to the pulp era. Apparently it was a common technique then.

Staton: It makes sense. You’d need more lead time to get your color separations done, then to have a writer knock out 120 pages overnight or something.

Stroud: I see some notable inkers who worked on your pencils include Dick Giordano and Bob Smith. Did you have a particular favorite as far as inkers?

Staton: Well, Bob Smith, who inked me on Plastic Man, is now inking me on some work at Archie. We’ve worked together well. I’ve always liked Bruce Patterson’s work on my Green Lantern stuff. I mentioned we worked together, but when he inked his own stuff he had a nice, crunchy pen line and his inking seemed real solid. It always seemed like the people had some meat on them when he inked. I really liked what he did. I’ve done some stuff with Horacio Ottolini out of Argentina. I guess I’d say he’s probably the best inker I’ve ever worked with. Remember when I said that the best inker is one who can see where you’re going even when you couldn’t quite get there? That’s really the best situation and Horacio has kind of a European, kind of a Wally Wood thing going. I did some Batman stuff with him and some Femme Noir, which is a creator-owned property. Horacio always made everything seem really real. I really liked what he did.

Stroud: Do you remember the center spread that you did for Amazing World of DC Comics #15 with Wonder Woman?

Wonder Woman (1942) #245, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Frank Giacoia.

Staton: Oh, with Hitler?

Stroud: That’s it.

Staton: I had not thought of that in years, but now that you mention it, I do remember it.

Stroud: Do you remember if it was specifically for that book or was it for something else?

Staton: I have no idea after all these years. I’m thinking it was for the book, but I really don’t know.

Stroud: Well, it’s a really beautiful piece of work. A nice, big 2-page splash with the Justice Society including the Golden Age Green Lantern.

In addition to the Karate Kid I see you also worked on the Creeper over Ric Estrada. Did you ever get to meet Ric?

Staton: I did meet him a couple of times just in passing at the DC offices. Unfortunately I never really got to know him. I think I came in to DC at a time when they were really kind of short of people and Ric seemed to be working around the clock laying pages out and they would be handed off to different people to do finishes on them. So they were really working him hard then. He had enough on the page to know what you were doing and they expected you to bring a lot to it. He was a very hard-working guy.

Stroud: Sounds like you were working off some loose stuff.

Staton: It had everything you needed.

Stroud: It’s interesting how some pencils are nearly non-existent and others, like a Jack Kirby almost make you wonder what the point of inking them might be.

Staton: Brian Bolland pencils are more detailed than most finished inks. Of course he does all his stuff on the computer now, but like you said, “Why do you need somebody to ink this?”

Scooby-Doo (1997) #106, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Heroic Age.

Stroud: Joe Rubinstein was telling me that with the advent of the computer inking sometimes isn’t even needed any longer since they can reproduce them in such a way that it comes out as well.

Staton: You do hear from time to time that one of the companies is going to do away with inkers. So far, it’s just been a rumor, but with Photoshop and many of the younger guys doing such over-the-top full pencils you wonder why is it being inked.

Stroud: It’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out eventually. Of course how many times have they predicted the demise of the entire medium? It does seem to manage to come back from the brink each time, though.

Staton: I think over the last 40 years I’ve lived through the-end-of-comics-as-we know-them at least three times. Probably more than that. I remember sometime in the early 70’s being at science fiction or maybe a comics convention and Maggie Thompson of all people was saying there probably wouldn’t be any comics in the next five years. (Chuckle.) Fortunately Maggie called that one wrong.

Stroud: I keep hearing distribution is the big problem. Maybe digital versions are the future.

Staton: They tell us print is dying totally, so I don’t know.

Stroud: It looks like you were the go-to guy on certain special projects. We already talked about 9-11, but I also saw credits on the superhero stamp album and some Big Books and Heroes Against Hunger, too. Is that because of your request or are you someone they automatically think of?

Staton: A little bit of both. For a long time at DC if there was anything odd that needed doing they knew I enjoyed doing it. Or maybe guys who are my pals like Paul Kupperberg or Marty Pasko or somebody like that would be editing and they would think of me when they needed something done.

Stroud: Reliability always shows through.

DC Challenge (1985) #7, cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Steve Mitchell.

Staton: You’re talking about special projects, one thing I’d like to mention is the Batman book about land mines. That wasn’t something I really had a big interest in, but I really got interested in it while we were working on it and I think I did some of my best work on that book. Bill Sienkiewicz did an amazing inking job on it and Denny O’Neil gave us a great script. That’s one I’m real proud of.

Stroud: I’m impressed with Denny’s gifts. Some of my favorite comics from back in the day were written by him and I just love the Knightfall novel he did.

Staton: Speaking of people coming up with good ideas, Denny was at it before I got into the industry and he’s still at it. He’s kind of the poster child for enduring writers.

Stroud: He told me a great story about how journalism prepared him for working in comics. To summarize he said he got used to working with editors and understanding that his words were not made of diamonds.

Staton: (Laughter.) That’s a wonderful thing to know.

Stroud: It’s been interesting to learn about how different editors worked in different eras, from the old iron-fisted types to the nearly irrelevant ones at later points when “rock-star” artists could do nearly whatever they wanted, deadlines notwithstanding.

Staton: The transitional time, like when Bernie Wrightson and others were coming in, had people who were determined to do comics, and because they wanted to do comics and do them right, you had some very different attitudes compared to the earlier talent, I think.

Stroud: I would agree. You had the generation who did comics because it was what was available or maybe for a quick payday and then those who came later who really had a desire to work in them.

I guess this time with you wouldn’t be complete without discussing your E-Man character. Can you describe that evolution?

E-Man (1973) #1, cover penciled by Nicola Cuti & inked by Joe Staton.

Staton: Well, that was when I was young and really enthusiastic. (Chuckle.) I had a positive attitude toward the work and Nick Cuti was editing at Charlton. Nick, and here’s another connection, had worked for Wally Wood and had lots and lots of ideas. George Wildman, who was editing, was willing to give Nick a shot at a lot of things and at one point they were thinking of a new line of Chalton superheroes. But management kind of shot that down. George wanted a chance to do some of the clever things that Nick had in mind, so he let Nick go ahead with his character, which was E-Man.

I had worked with Nick quite a bit on the ghost stories at Charlton. In fact, that was what I started out doing there. And we had hit it off really well. I really liked working Nick’s scripts and so I was the guy who got called to do the visuals on E-Man.

He told me his original idea, and I really hated it. (Chuckle.) He originally thought E-Man would be a worker who was caught in an atomic explosion at a plant or something. I said something like, “Oh, no, Nick. That’s just like some old Stan Lee stuff.” So Nick said, “Well, I’ll think of something else.” So he called back and said, “How about E-Man is this life form from an exploding star?” I said, “Well, that sounds cool. Nobody has ever done that.” And I think that’s true. I don’t think anyone has done a character based on that idea before or since, so we went from there and Nick had all these great ideas. The great thing with Nick was that he had such likeable characters. Nick is such a sweet guy and such a nice person that it comes across in his characters.

Stroud: How can you go wrong?

Staton: Yeah. We really clicked and he gave me my head on coming up with the visuals. Throwing in jokes or whatever I felt like. We worked really well together. I’m proud of E-Man. People tell me it’s the best stuff I’ve ever done and I sometimes ask, “Well, what about the other stuff I’ve done for the last 40 years?” (Chuckle.) But it was good stuff. I’m still proud of it.

Stroud: Rightly so. I was looking at some of the covers and they remind me very much of the painted covers on the old Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom books. Were they painted or do you know?

E-Man (1973) #10 cover painted by Joe Staton.

Staton: They were painted. Pat Boyette lived in Texas and he found the world’s cheapest color separator in Texas. It turned out that you could get painted, color covers separated cheaper than Charlton could do them by hand in house. So they told us all if we were interested in painting covers, (for no more money, of course,) we could give it a shot. So several of us did painted covers. Don Newton did some brilliant Phantom covers and Tom Sutton did some really nice horror covers and painted them. So that’s how that came about. We had a shot and it didn’t cost Charlton any money.

Stroud: So, you were the painter on the E-Man issues?

Staton: Yeah. They were all acrylics.

Stroud: Beautiful stuff that really stands out.

Staton: It was different for the time.

Stroud: Do you color or letter at all, Joe?

Staton: I have lettered--at Charlton. They’d send you a script and you’d send the art back, inked and lettered. There were no steps in editorial that had to be done, so I lettered a lot of my stuff at Charlton. I’m not especially happy with lettering, but I can do it. When I was doing work for Charlton my poor wife had instructions not to talk to me when I was lettering, because I would start to write down what she said rather than what was supposed to be in the script.

Stroud: (Laughter.) Occupational hazard, I guess. I’m reminded of a story Russ Heath told me about working at home and being occasionally interrupted by his wife and it would take him awhile to figure out where he was at, just wreaking havoc with a rhythm.

Staton: My wife grew accustomed to my saying, “Hold on, I’ve got to wash my brush. I don’t want the ink to get hard.” You have to laugh at things like that.

Stroud: Its small wonder you guys keep the hours you do. I’m sure at times it’s easier to work in the middle of the night.

Millennium (1988) #1 cover penciled by Joe Staton & inked by Bruce Patterson.

Staton: When I first started at Charlton my preferred working hours were to awaken at four in the afternoon and work until four in the morning. My wife was teaching then, so she would be coming in when I was just getting ready to go to work. That just really didn’t work. So I eventually readjusted and keep kind of normal human hours now. It’s amazing she lasted through those first years, but she did.

Stroud: I notice that you’ve inked the very unique work of Fred Hembeck, who is also a big fan of yours.

Staton: I’m a big fan of Fred’s and a friend of Fred’s, so that works both ways.

Stroud: I’ve been working my way through his Omnibus and it’s been great fun.

Staton: Break out your magnifying glass.

Stroud: Oh, yeah. A few of those did not reproduce well and some of that copy is really tough to pull out, at least for these middle-aged peepers. At any rate one of the segments mentions you specifically and how much he loved your work on some title that escapes me at the moment. I just thought it was neat that you guys got to collaborate later.

Staton: I really liked what little bit of inking I got to do with Fred. I think he’s like Jules Feiffer with his characters commenting on the world.

Stroud: An apt comparison. I have to confess that initial exposure to his work left me scratching my head, but it grew on me in a hurry.

Staton: And then the curlicues on the knees.

Stroud: Gotta have those. (Chuckle.) I was looking at a particular story you’d done, “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne,” and was really struck by the retro style art kind of reminiscent of Dick Sprang…

Staton: Oh, yeah. That was on purpose.

Stroud: Was that directed or something you came up with?

DC Retroactive: Green Lantern (2011) #1 cover by Joe Staton.

Staton: I think it was my idea and I don’t think anybody objected to it. It was based on the approach I took to the Justice Society, except I was looking more directly at Dick Sprang. I had one of my very best inking jobs ever on that in George Freeman. With George that was definitely a case of an inker seeing where you’re going and taking it the rest of the way. We really meshed on that one.

Stroud: It’s a neat job. I love the retro feel to it and yet it still manages to be contemporary in its own way. I think it showed your chops as far as adaptability, too.

Staton: Alan Brennert did that script. He doesn’t do many comic strips but when he does he really hits all the human notes and makes it seem like people relating to people.

Stroud: That reminds me of Denny again. He told me he much prefers writing human scaled characters and for that reason really loves doing Batman. He said something to the effect that how do you relate to a Kryptonian who cannot be hurt? I’d never really thought of it in that way and it stuck with me.

Staton: Alan Brennert also wrote the origin of the Black Canary story that I did in Secret Origins.

Stroud: I haven’t had the pleasure.

Staton: I think it was in the last issue and practically nobody in the world saw it. But it has the Earth One Black Canary dying of cancer while the second Black Canary from whichever Earth we are, is at her bedside and I practically wound up in tears drawing that story. It was all about the humanity of these characters. It was just really lovely stuff. And Dick Giordano inked that one. If you ever get a chance, compare the inking that Dick did on that Black Canary story to what George did on the Bruce Wayne Autobiography. They’re two of my best inking jobs and two of my best stories, but they look completely different. To me they don’t look much like the same person had anything to do with them.

Stroud: I’ll make it a point. It was announced awhile back that you’ve got the Dick Tracy daily. Now that’s not the first time you’ve worked on that character, am I right?

Staton: Which direction are you approaching this?

A Dick Tracy commission done by Joe Staton in 2016.

Stroud: Well, you’re not a stranger to Dick Tracy.

Staton: I always say I was reading Dick Tracy before I could read. (Laughter.) Which, I think, is true. I was so impressed and drawn to the world Chester Gould had created that I would look at Tracy even before I could read the stories. I think one of the things that drew me into comics was Dick Tracy. So I’m kind of winding up where I started.

Stroud: I’ve speculated more than once that a lot of the success that Batman and maybe to a lesser extend The Flash enjoyed is because they’ve got the most interesting gang of villains or rogue’s gallery and I think that goes right back to Chester Gould.

Staton: Yeah. A lot of people compare Tracy to Dick Sprang’s Batman. A lot of that overlaps for me. It’s kind of a world of its own.

Stroud: Well I know that back in the day it was certainly the brass ring to land a syndicated comic strip. Is this something you’ve pursued actively? Is it as prestigious as it used to be?

Staton: It’s not the big deal that it was at the height of the comics, but it’s something I’ve really wanted to do, and I’ve always been able to think in terms of comic strips because I came to Tracy so early. For a while in the 90’s I penciled Mickey Spillaine’s Mike Danger strip, which didn’t get a lot of distribution, and I did one of the first graphic novels for Andy Helfer at DC. A crime story done in four panels on a page, so it looked like a comic strip.

Some people feel that the few panels in a strip constricts you too much and you can’t go crazy with layouts, but I don’t know. I think it’s a good way to tell a story. I’m comfortable with it.

Stroud: I certainly wanted to congratulate you. It’s got to be a very satisfying achievement in more ways than one.

Staton: Thank you.

Joe Staton, Nicola Cuti, Paul Levitz, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein at a convention circa 1974.

Stroud: Any other interesting projects you’re doing?

Staton: Well, I just did some work for Archie where Archie and the gang are trapped in computer games, like in Tron. And I also recently completed an illustrated version of Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” for Penguin and that’s out now. So I guess I’m still doing odd things and returning to the old. I’m currently working on an issue of Green Lantern Retroactive, written by my old friend, Len Wein. Whatever you’re doing, I’m your man. (Chuckle.)

Stroud: Still fully employed and it’s served you well for, what, 40 years now?

Staton: 40 years as of April 19th .

You can see more from Joe (including his convention schedule) at!


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.