Written by Bryan Stroud
Paul Kirchner (born January 29, 1952) is an American writer and illustrator who has worked in diverse areas, from comic strips and toy design to advertising and editorial art. Paul attended Cooper Union School of Art but left in his third year, when (with the help of Larry Hama and Neal Adams) he began to get work in the comic book industry. He started with penciling stories for DC’s horror line and assisted on the Little Orphan Annie strip. In 1973, Ralph Reese introduced Kirchner to Wally Wood, for whom he worked as assistant for several years.
In the mid-1970s, Paul wrote and illustrated the surrealistic comic strip Dope Rider for High Times. For Heavy Metal he did an equally surrealistic monthly strip, the bus. His the bus strips were collected in a book published by Ballantine in 1987. A new edition was released in 2012 by French publisher Tanibis.
In 1983–84, Kirchner did the licensing art and in-pack comic books for the Robo Force robot toy line from CBS Toys. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, he wrote and drew comics features for He-Man, GoBots, ThunderCats, G.I. Joe and Power Rangers magazines, published by Telepictures.
Paul stopped doing comics from the mid-90s to early 2010s. Between 2013 and 2015 he drew new episodes of the bus which have been published in various magazines in the US and Europe. He also re-launched Dope Rider for High Times. He is currently doing a comic strip, Hieronymus & Bosch, which is featured in the comics section of the Adult Swim website.
Stay tuned after the interview to read 4 full comic stories that Mr. Kirchner worked on!
Paul was yet another Continuity Associates alumni and had a few choice stories to share about his time there. Short, sweet and enjoyable.
This interview originally took place via email on February 16, 2012.
Bryan Stroud: It looks like you had some art training. What sparked your interest in the field?
Paul Kirchner: I was a comic book fan as a teenager. After high school, I moved to NY in 1970 to attend Cooper Union School of Art. I got a job working in a comic book store and began attending comic conventions. I wanted to get into the field myself.
Stroud: What led you to Continuity?
Kirchner: A classmate of mine at Cooper Union knew of my interest in comics and was a friend of Larry Hama, who was Wally Wood’s assistant at the time. I went to visit Larry at his apartment in Brooklyn to show him my work. That same night, he took me up to meet Neal Adams at Continuity, then located at 9 E. 48 Street.
Stroud: Were you strictly a colorist at the time?
Kirchner: I did some coloring on Neal’s storyboards when there was a crunch. I also penciled a job that he then inked, “Deep Sleep.” (He had to pay for the pencils out of his own pocket as he had had his portfolio stolen when he was sleeping on the subway, and it contained a penciled job he was supposed to ink, among other things.) At Continuity, I did a lot of assisting work for Ralph Reese, penciling in backgrounds, etc., as did Larry Hama.
Stroud: Who did you meet there?
Kirchner: Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Jack Able, Ralph Reese, Vicente Alcazar, Russ Heath, Mike Hinge, Pat Broderick, Scott McLeod, Lynn Varley, Ed Davis, Mike Nasser, and Cary Bates (with whom Larry shared a small office) all had desks up there at one time or another.
Frequent visitors included Gray Morrow, Al Weiss, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Rick Bryant, Joe Barney, Denys Cowan, Sergio Aragones, Frank Brunner, Greg Theakston, Val Mayerik, Alan Kupperberg, Joe Rubinstein, Walt Simonson (who always had a blanket over his shoulder like Linus, for some reason). Cartoonists who came into town to drop off a job at Marvel or DC would often drop by Continuity and hang out for a while. It was casual and there were always people there. Jim Steranko and Bernie Wrightson sometimes came by and there are other people I’m probably forgetting.
Stroud: How long did you spend time at the studio?
Kirchner: I was up there pretty regularly when I lived in NY, from 1972 – 1975, and then would come by and hang out whenever I was in the city for about ten years after that.
Stroud: What did you learn?
Kirchner: I learned a lot from working with other people, getting their often harsh criticism, and watching how they went about things. Picking up the tricks of the trade.
Stroud: How was payment handled or were you there more for the association?
Kirchner: You got paid based on what percentage of a job you were responsible for. You generally had to wait until the check came in to get your share, though Neal gave people loans when they needed the money. A lot of the time I was just hanging out, though.
Stroud: Do you have any particularly fond memories of the time spent?
Kirchner: Yes, lots—enough to fill a chapter. We did a lot of things as a crowd. We’d all go out to eat together, or to catch a new movie. We had a lot of parties.
One time, Larry Hama brought us all down to Chinatown to watch authentic, non-sub titled Kung Fu movies, and we were chastised by a woman in the audience because we were making too much noise. “This is not Disneyland!” she said in a strong accent.
When Neal was away for a weekend, a bunch of us played a terrible practical joke on Joe Rubinstein, pretending we were all high on LSD and messing up the studio. (Mike Nasser had dummied up a fake piece of Neal Adams original art that we defaced.) Joe has never forgiven us, to this day.
We all went to a strip show together when it came out that none of us had ever been to one. Chaykin reached onto the runway to pick up a sequin that had fallen off the stripper’s G string and told her, “I’m saving this as a memento for my Nipponese friend,” handing it to Larry.
Chaykin was an extremely funny guy. When he and Alan Kupperberg got together it was like a professional comedy team the way they played off each other. Ralph Reese was very funny, with a sort of devastating sarcasm. No one could deflate you like Ralph. Neal was the alpha dog; he’s a mover and shaker, he motivates people and gets things done. He was always trying to form a union of comic artists in those days. That didn’t happen, but Neal was one of the people that helped get creators more rights.
Stroud: Did you rent any space at Continuity?
Stroud: Did you interact with Neal much?
Kirchner: Yes, a lot. Neal had his desk in the front room right in the center, with desks on either side. I think there were five or six drawing tables in the front room. Neal liked to talk while he worked and didn’t enjoy people who had no conversation. There was one guy who was pretty laconic and didn’t pick up on Neal’s conversation starters. Finally Neal stated, “You’ll never make it as a comic book artist.”
“Why is that?” asked the guy, startled.
“Because you don’t have anything to say,” answered Neal.
Every once in a while someone would come up to the studio to show Neal his portfolio. This would always interest the rest of us because of the suspense: if the guy was good, Neal would make a few calls and get him work right away; if he wasn’t, Neal could be devastating. I once saw him start flipping through the pages of a guy’s book faster and faster and making fart noises with his mouth. One of the regular visitors—already a working professional—wanted Neal to appraise a page he was proud of. “There are so many things wrong with that that it will take me about 20 minutes to go over them.” Neal said, “I’m too busy right now, but could you come back in two hours?”
It sounds cruel but Neal would actually explain what he thought was wrong with your art and that was invaluable.
Stroud: It looks like you took a page from his book in your focus on advertising work and storyboards. How did you settle on these specialties?
Kirchner: I was doing comics and then got into doing toy-based comics like He-Man and Go-Bots for Telepictures, a company that put out magazines based on toy lines. In 1986, an ad agency was impressed with my work on the Go-Bots and brought me in to do storyboards on that line. From then on, I got steady work from then and still do today. I find storyboarding fun and I am fast at it.
Stroud: Were there any particular benefits to your association there?
Kirchner: Yes, I got to meet a lot of great people and had a lot of fun. I miss the camaraderie.
Stroud: Did you enjoy your comic work?
Kirchner: Yes, but I always worked too slowly to be very successful at it. It was only when I got into toy design and advertising, where the deadlines are tight, that I learned to pick up my speed and work efficiently.
Stroud: You did some strip work. What was that like?
Kirchner: The first professional work I did was on the “Little Orphan Annie” strip, assisting Tex Blaisdell. Neal recommended me to Joe Orlando, who was an editor at DC. Joe gave me some horror scripts to pencil that Tex would ink. Tex was a friend of Joe’s and Joe wanted to help him out.
By teaming us up, he could give Tex a high inking rate and me a low penciling rate (which I was happy to get). Tex and I hit it off and he had me assist him one day a week on Orphan Annie. It was the day before the week’s strips were due, and I would bring them from Tex’s house in Flushing back to the Daily News building in Manhattan, where I would slip them under a door at about 2 am.
Outside of that, the only strip I worked on was “The Bus,” for Heavy Metal, and that only had to be done once a month.
Stroud: I see you were one of Wally Wood's many assistants. What did you learn from Woody? Did you enjoy the experience?
Kirchner: Working with Wally Wood was a life-altering experience. I wrote about it at length in a piece that was published in the Comics Journal and reprinted in Bhob Stewart’s Woodwork. Woody was a great friend and mentor.