Written by Bryan Stroud
Murphy C. Anderson, Jr. (born on July 9, 1926) was an American comic book artist, known as one of the premier inkers of his era. Starting in the Golden Age of Comic Books - in the '40s - he worked for companies such as Fiction House and Ziff-Davis before joining the ranks at DC Comics in a career that lasted over fifty years. He worked on such characters as Hawkman, Batgirl, Zatanna, the Spectre, and Superman, as well as on the Buck Rogers daily syndicated newspaper comic strip. Murphy also contributed for many years to P.S., the preventive maintenance comics magazine of the U.S. Army.
Anderson received an Inkpot Award in 1984 and was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1998, the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Inkwell Awards Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame in 2013. Mr. Anderson passed away on October 22, 2015 at the age of 89.
Murphy was a true Southern gentleman to me when I finally managed to track him down. He was in my top 10 of hoped-for contacts as he had such a huge career in DC's Silver Age and I loved his work to boot. I was so awestruck at being able to chat with him that I didn't even mind that this interview took a few turns into unusual territory. It was simply an honor to get to speak with him.
This interview originally took place over the phone on May 23, 2008.
Bryan Stroud: I understand you were very good friends with Ira Schnapp. Can you tell me much about him?
Murphy Anderson: Well, we sat side by side in the production department for quite some time at DC comics. They gave me a desk there so I could be handy to my editors. So that’s why I got to know Ira. He was a letterer and did a lot of other things there in the production department.
Stroud: Some of the most famous logos were designed by him as I understand it.
MA: That’s correct. He was with DC almost from the inception. I think he was a relative of Jack Liebowitz. I think I’ve got that straight. He was a relative to one of the higher ups, and I think it was Liebowitz.
Stroud: Well, it must not have been a case of nepotism, because obviously he had the skill.
MA: No, I think Ira always earned his way, there’s no question about that. He was very good and competent. And if you want to know what little I know about him, he was I think born in New York in Manhattan and lived most of his life in Upper Manhattan.
Stroud: So, a lifetime New Yorker, then.
MA: I think so, yes. He had no accent, that’s for sure. Other than New York. He was not a big man, but he was wiry and I think he had to have been quite athletic in his younger days. When I knew him, he was 10 to 15 years my senior at least. maybe even 20 some years as I get to thinking about it.
Stroud: I know when I spoke to Gaspar Saladino he had only nice things to say about Ira, and you for that matter.
MA: Well, I can only say nice things about Gaspar, so if you talk to him he’s a very good source and he’s quite knowledgeable about art and the comics.
Stroud: Yeah and a wonderful human being to boot. I always enjoy chatting with him.
MA: He’s one of my favorite people. I don’t see him often enough. Have you talked to him recently?
Stroud: I’m supposed to talk to him later today. I had a question for him earlier, but Celeste told me he was out for a little bit, so we’ll be chatting a little bit later this afternoon. I’d be happy to pass on your greetings.
MA: Yes, please do that to Celeste also.
Stroud: I’d be delighted to, sir. You collaborated a lot with Julie Schwartz on cover designs and it was quite effective, obviously, but I was surprised when Carmine [Infantino] told me that they were done actually before the stories were written.
MA: In most cases, yes, that’s true. Julie would ask me to bring in ideas and we’d have a color conference. I’d scribble down ideas and maybe some little sketches of something specific and he would also be thinking of things too before we’d talk. Then we’d sit and throw ideas around and very often come up with something totally different than what we’d started out with. But that’s the way it worked.
Stroud: Wow, so just a purely creative process then.
MA: Yeah, talking about it and thinking about it. And when things would come up that would jar your mind and you’d think in another direction, perhaps. Julie told me, and I have every reason to believe it, that was a device used in the pulp magazines to get the covers done.
Stroud: Okay, so it was a holdover from his days of doing science fiction. That makes sense.
MA: Well, yeah, Julie was an agent, a science fiction agent and represented most of the big names of science fiction writers and pulps at that time.
Stroud: He had a long career and it seems like you two were pretty good friends. I’ve seen lots of photos with you both together at the conventions.
MA: Yeah, we hit it off almost right away because we had so many interests in common. Both of us were really nuts about science fiction and his was an earlier association with it and it was wonderful for me to talk to him and find out things I never knew except in letter columns and that sort of thing.
Stroud: He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and seemed to stay sharp right up to the end there.
MA: Oh, yes, he was. A real gentleman, too. All the way.
Stroud: It’s good to hear. I’ve heard nothing but good stories about him.
MA: No, I mean you’d have to find somebody who was willing to bend the truth a little bit if they said something bad about Julie.
Stroud: Joe Giella was telling me that when he would ink after Carmine he said he enjoyed it, but that Carmine’s pencils were a little on the loose side. Did you find that to be true?
MA: Well, that’s part of the problem working with Carmine’s stuff, but mostly it was that he was very stylized and he couldn’t always draw realistically and that is difficult for someone inking as a realist to interpret and not lose the flavor of what he’d put down. I’ve felt that his pencils were always best when he inked them himself.
Stroud: He told me when we spoke that his favorite inker on his pencils, when he couldn’t do it himself, of course, was Frank Giacoia, so it’s interesting how different people see things to their satisfaction.
MA: Well, the fact is that they were somewhat similar in their tastes as far as artists that they liked so I can see why he and Carmine would hit it off. But they kind of grew up together. They’d known one another since they were very young.
Stroud: Yeah, it sounded like they had a long-term relationship before they ever entered the business.
MA: I’m not sure it was before they entered the business. They may have met one another as young pros. I’m not sure.
Stroud: Lew Sayre Schwartz was telling me that you two were roommates at the Y once upon a time.
MA: Not roommates, but we had rooms at the 63rd street Y.
Stroud: That’s the one.
MA: Not roommates, as a matter of fact we met one another, oddly enough, in a bookstore, but I had seen him in a sketch class at the Art Student’s League and we were both in a very large class and hadn’t met or talked to one another, but we were at a bookstore after one of the classes and started up a conversation and that’s the way we got to know one another.
Stroud: It was kind of humorous, he said at the time that he kind of looked down his nose at the fact that you were doing comic book work and he was doing something more respectable by being an errand boy.
MA: Well, Lew never really wanted to work in comic books. At least he never openly sought out the work. He became Bob Kane’s assistant. That’s how he got involved in comic books. But he had always wanted to crack the syndicated market. He was a big fan of Caniff’s and…I should say he is. I’m sure he still is.
Stroud: Yeah, and he raves about Roy Crane.
MA: Oh, yeah, Roy Crane. All the syndicated guys in that period. I liked them, too, you know, but to me comic books were an entering point. It was a place where you could get your feet wet and go on to bigger and better things.
Stroud: Yeah, and it was a good place to get noticed at the time, too.
MA: Yeah. That’s true. And it helped to have a batch of samples for when you called on a syndicate. They could see how well you could draw and they could see your ideas and so forth. It did help me a great deal when I auditioned for the Buck Rogers strip.
Stroud: Oh, yeah. And you had such a nice long run on that. I seem to recall reading somewhere that it was like a dream come true for you.
MA: It was, yeah. As a matter of fact, I had two runs on Buck Rogers in the 40’s. After the war I settled in Chicago. Fiction House agreed to give me freelance work and they were very good about that, so I tried to move back to Chicago. I spent quite a few of my Navy years in Chicago and I met my future wife there, too.
Stroud: So, Chicago was good to you.
MA: Yeah, absolutely. My favorite town in many ways. But my time in the Navy I was sent to an RT school, a radio technician school. There was a test and if you passed it you had no choice. You had to go to an RT school. The test was done by an Annapolis grad who headed up the school in Chicago. He was out of the Navy for some years, because he’d lost most of his hearing. That was William C. Eddy. Captain Eddy. He’d been a Captain in the Navy. An Annapolis grad, too. That was quite a thing to be under his command in the sense that he was the commander of the RT school. And later, after I’d finished the first trial in the RT school they called me down and said, “Look, you didn’t quite pass. If you’re interested in being a radio technician we’re going to let you stay for another month.” I said, “Well, really I’m here under protest more or less. I didn’t really care to come to the school.” So, at that they bundled me up and sent me down to the visual aid section of the school. It was in the loop in Chicago at the time.
Stroud: So, an interesting kind of roundabout way to get there.
MA: Yeah, and Captain Eddy headed up the school, but I think he was running the building that they actually had the barracks and stuff over on Lake Street right by the “L” tracks. I recall a number of people in the buildings who were Navy personnel living there. They’d made some kind of deal with the Navy I guess. I’m not talking from first hand knowledge, just stuff I’d heard. Maybe the Navy owned the building. Anyway, he was quite well-known around Chicago and then New York and other circles. I’m digressing a little, but it was an interesting time for me. I’d like to run down some stuff on Captain Eddy. Anyhow, he was over this school, but he was an amateur cartoonist himself and that’s why he’d taken an interest in anyone with those leanings, and when he had this visual aid department set up he tried to attract as many guys like myself into the school and to make them part of the program at the school. We designed the visual aids for the classrooms.
Stroud: Oh, for the training then.
MA: That’s right. And the classrooms, where they had the entire top floor of the Lake Street building set up as a Navy primary school. The first month was the weeding out month to get rid of guys who weren’t really showing an aptitude and from there you went to a 3-month school and once you cleared that you went to a 6-month school. There were only four of the 6-month schools scattered around the country. I think one in the California area, one in the Gulf of Mexico area, one on the East Coast and one in Chicago. So once you graduated from the 3-month school…well, it was very heavy stuff to be honest with you. And if I’d really pressed and wanted I guess I could have stayed with that. A good friend of mine I went to high school with went through the whole thing. We both had similar interests back in high school and he said, “You would have made it all right.” We’d met one another and were both the same age and probably would have lined up in the same category.
Stroud: Well, it sounds like it was some good experiences for you.
MA: Oh, yeah. Well, I enjoyed it. The whole thing with the Navy. Since we were doing artwork, I mainly worked on the bi-weekly newspaper that we had.
Stroud: It sounds like after a fashion it set you up well when you did your work on the P.S. magazine for the military.
MA: Right. I became very much a fan of teaching with comics through the P.S. magazine.
Stroud: When you were doing that was it through Joe Kubert or Will Eisner?
MA: No, Joe Kubert had nothing to do with P.S. magazine until fairly recently. He’s probably done very well with it, but Will took the idea and started P.S. in about 1950. Well, after the war.
Stroud: I’ve seen many copies of it over the years and it’s still a very strong going concern. It’s neat to see.
MA: Yes, I still have an awful lot of copies of it. Mint copies, by the way. They inundated me with it during the years that I held the contract. I have about a 10 or 12 year run of P.S. and I’ve always kept them squirreled away. For what reason I don’t know, but they made far more than I needed and I said, “Look, I don’t need all these.” “Oh, no. Take ‘em, take ‘em.” They were just getting rid of them. (Chuckle.)
Stroud: You’ve got plenty of mementos of the time.
MA: Oh, yeah. More than enough. If you ever hear of anyone interested in P.S. magazine, I have a fair collection. Really a lot of people in the service, especially the Army, have collections of them. I encountered them quite often.
Stroud: It’s a good reference, so I can’t blame them.
MA: The artwork made it more palatable to the average young guy out of high school. If you got out of high school and were drafted.
Stroud: And it’s usually easier to show someone something than to tell them, from a teaching standpoint.
MA: Oh, sure, absolutely, and you get their interest with a comic to refer to. And teaching was more effective with it in some cases. At least get them interested enough to pursue it.
Stroud: Certainly, and for a training aid holding the attention is half the battle.
MA: Right. So someone came up at DC comics and mentioned Will Eisner a couple of times and they got to talking about Will Eisner and that he needed an assistant. He was losing someone he’d had for a number of years and I said, “Gee, I wouldn’t mind talking to Will.” So we set that up and I went down and talked to Will and so for two years, almost two and a half years I worked for Will on his staff.
Stroud: Was he a good one to work for?
MA: Oh, yes, absolutely. A wonderful man.
Stroud: A pretty light touch? Was he editing things or did he just let you do your own thing?
MA: No, he owned the business and P.S. magazine was a monthly contract and he did his share of the work on it, but usually he would do it toward the end of the period on the magazine. He’d help out when we were having trouble with deadlines or some sort of thing. Any type of trouble, he’d pitch in and help. He’d pencil, ink, do anything, you know.
Stroud: He was a very gifted man.
MA: One of my favorite people. He was one of my favorite artists before I ever got into the industry. And he became one of my favorite friends, too.
Stroud: He left a tremendous legacy and people still refer back to him on a lot of the work that has followed. Truly a giant.
MA: He was marvelous and I think people often overlook him when they ask about the influences on the modern comic book. There’s really only one answer as far as I’m concerned and that’s Will. He was all over the place back in those days, doing work for major publishers. He had a staff and he attracted some of the best artists and a lot of them were trained under him and went on to become big name pros in the business. Not just in comic books but in the syndicates as well.
Stroud: And if I’m not mistaken wasn’t he the one to first use the term sequential art to describe it?
MA: I wouldn’t want to get into an argument over that. It sounds like something he would come up with, but I’m not sure. We never discussed it. I’m sure he wouldn’t have claimed it if he hadn’t.
Stroud: Not the glory hound kind of guy.
MA: It wasn’t necessary. His actions spoke all the volumes of words that you’d need.
Stroud: A great legacy. Al Plastino was telling me that when he was working alongside Curt Swan a little bit that he was the easiest guy in the world to ink because of all the detail and the blacks and everything was included. Did you feel that way as well?
MA: Oh, absolutely. Curt was a dream. The easiest guy ever to follow.
Stroud: All the reports say he was a wonderful guy, too.
MA: Oh, yeah. I guess he and I…well, I got out of it probably before he did, but he had been in the Army very early on and then got out.
Stroud: I was told by someone that you along with Al had re done some of Jack Kirby’s stuff when he was doing Superman, is that correct?
MA: Oh yes, yes. Al was involved in that, too. It was goofy stuff. If it was an inker, to ink, say Curt’s stuff or maybe someone like Boring on Superman and then trying to keep things consistent.
Stroud: Carmine told me that you were the one who created Adam Strange’s costume, is that right?
MA: Basically, that’s true. I designed the cover for Julie and I’d come up from North Carolina. At the time I was down there working with my father, and I came up maybe once or twice a quarter. Every few months I’d come up to New York and work on covers and sometimes bring something back. I worked in my father’s taxi cab offices. I was in effect his manager. I was bouncing all over. Between his work and trying to do things up in New York, but I was a kid, so…
Stroud: That sure must have kept you going.
MA: Well, he needed me at one time, so I moved back to North Carolina.
Stroud: Can’t fault your priorities.
MA: Well, he held in there until the taxi cab fleets started moving out of the smaller towns. The owner-operator is basically the way it works these days.
Stroud: A lot of your work was in the science-fiction field, such as Adam Strange and the Atomic Knights. Was that by choice or just what the assignments were?
MA: No, I liked science fiction and that’s one of the reasons I liked working with Julie. My first job was with Fiction House and fortunately they had a science fiction pulp as well as a science fiction comic book and I was busy with work on both of those publications almost from the get go. It really was quite a dream come true that I found a job that would allow me to do that. I worked on it until I was about 18 and subject to the draft then it was off to the Navy. I couldn’t enlist in the Navy due to a condition I had called amblyopia and I wasn’t qualified to go into the Navy originally, but when I was drafted and sitting down at Fort Bragg waiting to be assigned, a Navy officer looked over my stuff and said, “I’ll take that gentleman.” And someone said, “No, sir. Due to his vision, he doesn’t qualify.” He looked at him and said, “Sergeant, take this man over and check his binocular vision.”
MA: I saw 20-20 with my good eye and you know I saw 20-20 with both eyes that way and I got into the Navy. (Chuckle.) Sitting there in the buff while they’re arguing about that. Well, maybe not in the buff, but a lot of the examination went that way.
Stroud: (Laughter.) Not the most dignified way to wait on an executive decision.
MA: When I got to Bainbridge the guy there didn’t want to take me. I said they’d already qualified me and after awhile he said, “Oh, okay, go on. I don’t think they’ll keep you there but go ahead.”
Stroud: (Chuckle.) It sounds very familiar.
MA: Yeah, and of course when I contracted for P.S. myself for 10 years and worked with Will on it for about 2 years, so I know quite a bit about the Army, too. They’re not much different than the Navy.
Stroud: (Laughter.) No, they like to think they are, but they’re not. My experience overseas with the Marines made me chuckle when they’d quickly explain that the Navy and Marines were separate services.
MA: (Laughter.) A lot of them would get in trouble with the top brass in the Navy. They’d find out who they belonged to. I have great respect for all the branches. They’re all terrific. I always felt that it would be good for every young person to have to go for some military training.
Stroud: You learn a lot and I think it adds to your appreciation for your country when you serve. You stayed pretty much exclusively with DC for many, many years. Was that because they were more stable at the time or were you just comfortable there?
MA: No. I worked for Fiction House, but after the war they started to weed out a lot of the weaker companies and Fiction House was hanging in there, but they couldn’t pay the page rates that other companies were paying. When I finally moved back to New York from Chicago they had a little bit of work for me, but not enough that I could depend on it, so I had a suitcase and went out there and talked to everybody that would listen to me and I wound up doing most of my work for DC.
Stroud: And a large body of work it was. When they brought back the old Golden Age characters you were often the first one to draw them such as on The Spectre and Starman and Black Canary.
MA: Yeah, well of course Julie and I were aware of my involvement in comics as well as pulps and he really liked to use me as much as he could on the science fiction angle stories and when he wouldn’t have work, which was rare, I would get something from one of the other editors. I did some romance comics and I did a little bit of other DC stuff. Working for Ziff-Davis, they were one of the weaker companies I was telling you about, but I actually came back to New York basically because of a guy I knew in Chicago; when I was in Greensboro I was freelancing for him, too, and he was the art director for Ziff-Davis and he told me they were opening up a New York office and I told him I might be interested. They told me about Jerry Siegel. They had hired him to establish a comic book line for them and so that was a double reason why I came back to New York.
Stroud: It seems like a lot of your peers like to paint these days. Al Plastino sent me some copies of his oils and watercolors and Frank Springer paints and so does Joe Giella and it looks like you do as well. Is that just a passion or something that develops naturally after awhile?
MA: No, I don’t consider myself a painter. I’ve made a lot of color recreations. You might call that painting. I think it’s just coloring in a black and white drawing.
Stroud: Okay, so not necessarily pure painting as such.
MA: No, I never considered myself very good at oil painting. At school I tried, but it wasn’t attractive. You have to wait too long for the oil to dry and the thing to dry and so forth.
Stroud: It’s a patient man’s game. Can you tell me a little bit about your new work on Captain Action?
MA: Well, they’ve contacted me and I’m doing a cover for them. They want me to do some other work and they’re getting me off the ground. I think at the convention they got a lot of attention and interest at their booth in New York about a month ago. They asked me if I’d come in and spend a little time with them.
Stroud: That should be kind of interesting. You apparently had a shot at it back when Gil Kane was doing it and it just didn’t work out, is that correct?
MA: No, I was tied up working for Will at the time and the thing is I was the first comic book artist to work on Captain Action. I did a number of boxes for them direct for Ideal Toys. And I introduced Captain Action in other things they had going. Most of the Captain Action stuff though was the boxes. Those were mine that I did for Ideal Toys.
Stroud: Okay, so you were the first one after all, just not in the comic book line.
MA: Yeah, I don’t know of anyone who would contest that, although Gil and others worked on Captain Action when it came to the comics. I was working for Julie at the time, but just doing covers and things and working for Will and just didn’t have time for anything else.
Stroud: There are only so many hours in a day. And only so many you can spend at a board.
MA: Well, my time with Julie had already been pretty well booked up with the Atomic Knights and stuff like that. I continued to do some of that work all the while I was working with Will. I had an agreement with Will that if I came in early in the morning I wouldn’t get into trouble if I used an hour or so of my time before work time to work on my other work. Will said, “No problem. No problem at all.”
Stroud: Obviously an easy guy to get along with.
MA: Right. Of course, he believed in everybody working on the P.S. project. He asked me to set aside time to work on that, going to the reviews and things of that nature and also orientations, I guess. I was one of the writers. I went to Fort Irwin once in connection with that and went to Fort Bragg a number of times, meeting up with the editor himself or the co-editor. So, I spent time at many a military post and spent some time in Germany on the project at one point.
Stroud: Wow, so you even did some international travel as well.
MA: Yeah. It was very interesting, but a little hard on my wife as she had to take care of things while I was gone.
Stroud: Yeah, nothing like being a geographic widow. It makes it tough sometimes. What memories do you have of Gil Kane?
MA: Oh, they’re all good memories. We had so many of the same interests. We could sit and talk for hours about most anything. We worked alongside one other, which very rarely happened. We’d meet socially, too. He and his wife would come over and so would Joe Giella. Joe Giella was dating Shirley at the time and he’d bring her up. We’d sit for hours and chat. We had a good time.
Stroud: It’s nice to have co-workers who are friends.
MA: I knew so many, through Fiction House and Ziff-Davis and of course DC.
Stroud: I noticed recently one of your old Hawkman covers was sold at an auction online for five figures.
MA: Well, it doesn’t surprise me too much. I know that it just depends on so many things. Scarce things have a bigger value.
Stroud: I don’t imagine you had any inkling at the time that some of your work would go for that kind of money these many years later.
MA: No. You try to hold onto it; at least I used to try to hold onto it, but very often it was gone before you even had a chance at it. These comic executives working in the production department always had control over it and sometimes they’d come back and tell me I’d better go back and get what I wanted. I only took my own work, so I managed to get some of it at least.
Stroud: Well it sounds like you had easy access anyway. I know there’s been lots of controversy over the years of things being lost or disappearing when they shouldn’t have and that kind of thing.
MA: Oh, yeah, that happened. With me not too much because I was there during the period. I knew all the guys in production quite well and I can’t think of anyone I didn’t have a good relationship with.
Stroud: Anyone who’s ever mentioned you has described you as a true gentleman and so I have no doubt you had wonderful relationships.
MA: I can’t speak for anyone but feel like I got along well with people.